Although we try to keep the amount of navel gazing on ephblog to a bare minimum, it looks like this is the week for lint-picking. In that spirit, I offer the following “fisking” — blog-lingo for a point-by-point critique, generally caustic — of a letter to be discussed at College Council tonight.

As members of the Williams College student body, we join together in denouncing the objectionable content currently under discussion on the EphBlog website.

Not a promising start. As our readers know, there is a fair amount of discussion at ephblog. Although I don’t think that the author objects to a discussion about tips or military service, it is hard to know. It is most likely that the issue is the contents of Lowell Jacobson’s ’03 quote collection, which is linked to from our Eph Blogroll; but even here — by eliding the distinction between the quotes themselves and our discussion of them — his meaning is unclear. For example, Professor Sam Crane has engaged in the discussion about these quotes. Does the author seek to denounce him? Or does he only seek to denounce those who defend the quotes, or the collective decision of ephblog to link to the quotes?

If you want people to take you seriously when you denounce something, you should be very clear about what it is you seek to denounce.

We further assert that EphBlog, like any media which exploits its link to Williams College but is not run by current Williams Students, should maintain on its main page a disclaimer.

Ephblog does not seek to exploit its link to Williams! Our topic is Williams, and all those associated with her. Under what reasonable definition of the word “exploit” could we be guilty of exploitation?

Even better, note the exception for current Williams students. I can imagine (barely) why it might be a good idea, as a matter of College/Community policy, for every webpage to have a disclaimer. (Of course, this would be beyond stupid, but it would be at least consistent.) But why do pages maintained by current students not need a disclaimer? Neither the Garfield Republican Club nor Democrats@Williams have disclaimers (that I could find).

Moreover, what does it mean to be “run” by current students? Among the authors on ephblog are three current students. Is a disclaimer needed if they are the ones that run ephblog? (For those who care, ephblog — like many collaborative efforts on the internet — is run by rough consensus, although our genius site maintainer, Eric Smith ’99, does almost all of the real work to keep the site, literally, running.)

This disclaimer should serve to clarify that the opinions expressed in linked external sites are not necessarily the views of the Williams College community, past or present.

Ahh! There’s the rub. The offending site does, in fact, represent the views — or at least a subset of the views — of the Williams community. Lowell is an alumni. He started the quote collection while he was a student. It was available on campus at that time. It is still linked to by campus sites, like the GRC. Many of the quotes that I, for one, find most objectionable are from real, live Williams students.

Any disclaimer which denied the connection between Lowell’s quotes and Williams would be a lie.

Now perhaps the author, in another example of sloppy writing, means “those truths that we can all agree on” when he writes “the views of the Williams College community, past and present.” In that case, he might have a point about Lowell’s collection. Yet the same point would apply just as forcefully to every other web page at the College. The members of the Williams Community, past and present, disagree about virtually every topic imaginable. No web page would or could or should represent the views of the entire community.

This would ensure that the site retains its commitment to free speech but at the same time does not implicate the wider Williams Community with the ideas and opinions expressed.

More sloppy writing. Presumably ephblog’s commitment to free speech is not important for this discussion. That is, the author would argue that we need a disclaimer even if we were against free speech. (In fact, we are not free speech absolutists here. We edit/remove comments that we think are inappropriate.)

Such a disclaimer would further prevent those unfamiliar with Williams College
and the climate of the campus, including prospective students, from drawing
inaccurate conclusions about the character of the Williams community.

Again, if this is really a concern, why does the GRC not need a disclaimer while the Williams Club does? Moreover, is the author denying that Lowell was a student on campus? That the quotes he attributes to Williams students are accurate? That there are students on campus right now who would agree with much of what Lowell has to say?

No one is more in favor of providing accurate information to prospective students than ephblog. Indeed, we believe that the more that applicants know about Williams, the more likely they are to want to go there.

In that spirit, it is probably a good thing that we have posted this letter here. Prospective students should know that sloppy-thinking/discussion-stopping PC gibberish is alive and well at Williams.

PS. The best part is that we have a new disclaimer, in addition to the one that we have had for several months! I hope that some smart CC member says, “Why do we need a letter if ephblog already has a disclaimer?”

PPS. I am curious to see if my personal defense of CC on several occasions will count for anything. Then again, no good deed . . .

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