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Question One

The very first question asked at tomorrow’s CUL forum on anchor housing should be:

Is there anything that any student or group of students could say at this point in the process that would cause you to delay implementation of cluster housing until the fall of 2006?

It would be very helpful to get answers from every member of the committee. (I can’t even find a listing of the members. Who are they?) Presumably, there is a wide range of opinion among committee members about how much more study the proposal requires.

This question serves several purposes. Most importantly it frames the discussion as “Has the CUL conducted a thorough enough process in making this change?” rather than “Is cluster housing better than a lottery?” The first argument is a much easier one to win.

The anti-cluster forces (call them AAs for “anchors-away”) also need to get a sense of where specific members of the commitee are coming from. There are a lot of reasons why some members of the CUL might not be comfortable with the proposal. AAs need to provide those members with the information and evidence they need for the internal CUL debates left to come. Moreover, the AAs desperately need to lay the groundwork for a sort of minority report. Even if a majority of the CUL decides to vote in favor of cluster housing, AAs will be much more likely to succeed if they can get even 1 or 2 CUL members to publically dissent.

As always, the focus should not be on stopping anchor housing completely. The focus should be on stopping anchor housing this year, demanding more data, more time, more study.

Such a question also helps to bring to the fore the fact that this is almost a done deal. Without serious student opposition, the CUL will propose something and whatever they propose will be enacted immediately. CUL member Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 writes:

Nobody’s made any concrete proposal yet! Nothing’s been written, nothing’s been voted upon, nothing’s been made! The CUL has a pretty good idea of what sort of a proposal WILL be made, but even that could change if persuasive arguments were presented against it. PLEASE understand that–this isn’t an instance of CUL trying to slip anything by the students…I don’t see what’s so hard to understand.

Noah is clearly a good guy as well as a friend of EphBlog. He has handled himself most excellently throughout the WSO debate on the topic. But, I am afraid, he is quite naive in this score.

Smart college administrators like President Schapiro and Dean Roseman do not waste the time of the trustees with issues like anchor housing unless, for all practical purposes, the decision has already been made. As the Record notes:

Though details of the system remain up in the air, senior staff and trustees said yesterday that they intend to move forward this spring with arranging a more precise structure for the system, which may be in place as soon as fall 2005.

Again, if you know how colleges operate, you don’t need to rely on the Record for this. Trustees are not briefed on things that may or may not happen. In other words, the key decision — no more campus wide lottery — has already been made and approved. The rest is merely a mopping up operation.

Noah is, of course, correct that there are a lot of details (!) left to be worked out. But, in the absence of very organized opposition, whatever plan is delivered to Schapiro will be implemented. He isn’t waiting to know whether or not Carter and Bryant will be in the same cluster.

A final reason for asking the question — along with polite follow ups — is that it serves to set down a marker. If folks like Will Dudley say something that “1,500 student signatures requesting a delay would lead us to study this issue more thoroughly,” then the AAs have a target to shoot for.

Will Dudley, of course, is way too smart to ever say something like that, but you can always try!


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Comments Disabled To "Question One"

#1 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On January 24, 2005 @ 11:32 am

http://wso.williams.edu/cc/committees/committee_detail.php?ID=4 has a listing of CUL members.

The question you suggest is not as helpful as you think, partially because the answer you receive is too obvious. What can someone say that will change CUL’s mind or delay the process? Well, if someone were able to demonstrate to CUL members that the Cluster System was NOT the best system for Williams, that its negatives outweighed its positives, this would obvious do the job. Also, if someone were able to convince CUL that the process had been rushed in any way, than the CUL would agree to more time. However, due to the amount of time CUL has spent working on this proposal, I think that students will find it quite difficult to persuade CUL members that any part of it has been rushed.

Instead of wasting your time wondering if there is any one specific question which will change CUL’s mind (I highly doubt that there is), anyone disagreeing with cluster houses should think of the several most primary faults they perceive, and ask a question of the sort of “some students are very concerned about fault x. Have you given this fault any thought, and if so, please tell us why students should not be concerned about fault x.”

Currently CUL recognizes that there will be aspects of cluster houses which won’t be perfect. They feel that these imperfections are far outweighed by the positive benefits of cluster houses. Students who are able to demonstrate that
A. there are more imperfections than CUL thought, or
B. the imperfections are more serious than CUL thought, and that
C. these imperfections are of such a degree and magnitude that they far outweigh the positive benefits
to the CUL, will prompt either a delay or cancellation of the proposal.

#2 Comment By David On January 24, 2005 @ 11:45 am

Thanks for the link, but:

1) Who is the “Director of Housing”? Linda Brown?

2) Who is the “Dean’s Office Rep”?

3) This suggests that there should be 13 members of the commitee including 6 students. The link you provided has only 10 spaces listed including 4 students. Am I missing something?

#3 Comment By Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 On January 24, 2005 @ 11:48 am

…and I somehow missed the second half of your comments (so I appologize that my response comes in halves).

David–you’re right in saying that there is a very legitimate chance that whatever the CUL proposes will be enacted shortly thereafter by the administration. This is not something the CUL or really any student has a say over. What has not been finalized, is the actual CUL proposal. What I have been trying to say, is that while the CUL certainly feels now that Cluster Houses are best for Williams, it is not too late to persuade them otherwise. If CUL does not propose cluster houses, than they will not be implimented–that much is obvious.

As I explained to the Anchors Away fellows, the specific number of dissenting students doesn’t matter nearly as much as the reasons for their dissent. Personally, I don’t put much stock in petitions (its fairly easy for aggressive petitioners–as I’m sure AA will be–to get anyone to sign a petition about anything, even one the signees disagree with)–I think student opinion surveys are much better measures of student opinion. The reason why the CUL has not yet completed a survey of student opinion is because we are much more concerned with WHY students support or don’t support cluster houses than anything else. If 90% of students hated cluster housing primarily because they thought cluster was a bad name, would that be a reason not to recommend clusters? Now, obviously this is not the case, but it speaks to my point–the %age of students supporting the system matters far less than the reasons for their support or lack of support. The CUL has been doing everything in their power to solicit all possible criticism of the system, and in doing so, has been able to guage the total amount of campus support fairly well. The exact %age of students supporting the proposal isn’t really that important.

Please let any alumn, current student, or friend of the college with questions and concerns know that I would love to hear from them.

#4 Comment By Ronit On January 24, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

I don’t buy it.

The exact %age of students supporting the proposal isn’t really that important.

Sorry to be banal, but I’m pretty sure a large majority opposing the change carries more weight than a tiny opposition.

#5 Comment By Karen Untereker On January 24, 2005 @ 1:11 pm

Currently, the Director of Housing is Doug Bazuin and the Dean’s Office Rep is Matthew Boyd (a CLC). Also, Frosh Council never elected a first-year rep despite requests, so we are operating with one fewer student representative.

I hope that most students who think they oppose the proposal will come to the forum tonight to hear it in full and give it a chance. While I understand the tendency of students on this campus to oppose any kind of change, I truly believe that Cluster Affiliation will greatly impact Williams College for the better.

#6 Comment By David On January 24, 2005 @ 1:43 pm

I think that all Noah’s points are well-taken. Let me suggest some other questions to ask at tonight’s forum, along the lines that he suggested. (Again, I thought that the primary purpose of tonight’s forum was to provide CUL a chance to present their proposal and thinking. After students have had a chance to digest all that information, I trust and hope that CUL will hold another forum whose primary purpose is to get reaction from students who have had a chance to consider what CUL says tonight. That is, for the anti-cluster folks, tonight is about information not advocacy.)

Given that, here are some questions that should be asked tonight.

  1. CUL has used all sorts of data about other Colleges in formulating this plan. When will that data be made public so that students can examine it for themselves? How much time, before the proposal is finalized, will be the given to do this? [Commentary: One of the central values in scholarly inquiry is public nature of the search for truth. If CUL were to refuse to make, to the greatest extent possinle, the data that they used available for re-analysis by everyone, then I would be suspicious. But I expect them to make the data public since, one would assume, it probably supports their conclusion.]
  2. For more than 50 years, the “Odd Quad” has served a very special function at Williams. Its role as a central location for the many students that march to the beat of their own drummers — for students that are, in some sense, different from most other students — is extremely unusual. I don’t know of a single other college that has such a long standing tradition like this. Clearly, cluster housing will destroy the traditional role played by the Odd Quad. Question: Does CUL see this as a bug or feature of the cluster plan? What sorts of students, does it think, will lose out in the future because there is no Odd Quad?
  3. What are the costs of delay? That is, if there are many students with many reasonable questions about the proposal, why not spend at least 6 months look closely at it as a community? [Commentary: I realize that CUL has been looking at this proposal, in one form or another, for at least 5 years. I appreciate all the time and effort that they have put into it. But the fact remains that the larger community — including most students, CC, interested alumni, other faculty — have only recently started to focus on it. Indeed, unless I missed a news release or alumni letter along the way, it was only in the last few weeks that it because clear that the proposal entailed ending campus-wide room draw. (After all, you might have clusters and anchor houses while still allowing students to pick afresh each year.) I do not understand why the plan must be implemented right now. Better to have CUL publish a real, official proposal — including the exact procedures by which every tricky case (JA’s, transfers, et al) will be handled. Then, allow for 6 months of discussion and commentary on that specific plan. Then, next fall, CUL could summarize and digest and incorporate all that feedback, and then propose a final plan to the Dean.]

#7 Comment By Loweeel On January 24, 2005 @ 2:55 pm

4) Another issue is the august supplemental housing draw. Under the new system, at least as far as I understand it, there may be open rooms in some clusters while people are crammed into small doubles in “full clusters” when students return to campus, as some students will, over the summer, take leaves of absence, transfer, live off-campus if they find a great place, or decide to go abroad last minute.

But no, you can’t leave your cluster! But hey, according to CUL, cramming people into small doubles isn’t a bug, it’s a feature!

5) Information costs – if you’re living near people in your class year, it’s fairly easy to find out if they’re quiet or loud, their study habits, their cleanliness, etc. However, the information costs of rising sophomores finding out about rising juniors and seniors are a lot higher. Thus, it’s a foregone conclusion that no matter what “societal benefits” the CUL advocates that students may gain from this paternalistic imposition, individual students will suffer greatly in terms of living situation as, especially with limited housing options, people WILL be living near people they shouldn’t and can’t be living with successfully.

Maybe it’s just me, but I have a REAL problem with sacrificing students’ ability to study, sleep, live in a clean or messy environment, listen to music or have to be quiet early, to some vague abstract goal of “societal improvement”

The road to hell is always paved with the best intentions of societal improvements. We don’t need to look past Mao, Stalin, or Pol Pot to see that.

#8 Comment By David On January 24, 2005 @ 9:06 pm

I suspect that analogies to “Mao” and the like are much more trouble than they are worth. Don’t make me invoke Goodwin’s Law again!

Some more recent history, where good intentions no doubt played a part, is the change to paid House Coordinators. Has that change had the effects that CUL predicted it would have? If it has, I would be much more likely to believe that CUL is accurate in the forecasts that it is making now.