In its discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of free agency, the CUL claims that:

The most regrettable (and ironic) consequence of the free agent system is that increased choice has diminished student autonomy, which has traditionally been one of the most cherished values at Williams.

Lack of choice == “autonomy”? This doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as ignorance == strength, but makes about as much sense. To be fair, the next paragraph makes sort of clear that by “autonomy” CUL does not mean “choice of where to live” but “control over the affairs of the place where you do live,” or at least something like that. Note the claim that increased choice itself has “diminished” [read: caused] the decline. I doubt it.

Social life is now significantly less likely to be generated locally, or from the ground up, than was the case under the house system.

D’uh! Is it too much to ask that the CUL fess up and admit that it, and other parts of the College, are the direct cause of this unfortunate state of affairs? Consider:

  1. The College now has a Director of Campus Life and 4 Campus Life Coordinators. I have no doubt that they are all fine people dedicated to making Williams students happier. I am eager to believe that the money directed to this new bureaucracy — a bureaucracy largely created by CUL — is well worth it.
  2. The College now has 29(!) Housing Coordinators. I am still a little hazing on the role that HCs play. It sure seems like they do all the stuff that house officers (presidents, vice presidents and social chairs) used to do. Does Carter House even have a president anymore? If so, what does she do?
  3. The College facilitated the creation of ACE. Again, without being on campus, it is hard to know if ACE is a good thing or a bad thing. ACE certainly seems to make real efforts and Drew Newman ’04 provides an impressive argument as to its origin, function and worth.

But, whatever else made be said about DCL/CLC/HC/ACE and any other acronyms you’d care to name, they do not increase student autonomy. By defintion, they do things that students used to do for themselves. Back in the day, the students of Carter House decided who would be president, what dues would be levied and what sorts of parties to throw. Maybe they did it poorly. Maybe they did it perfectly. But they did it themselves.

Moreover, this was still the case up until 2001, at least. Perhaps these additions have made students better off. Perhaps not. Perhaps we would have been better off with them during the era of affiliation housing. But there can be no denying that they decreased student autonomy. (And yes, students are heavily involved in many of these acronyms, but each represents a centralization of planning, control and standards.)

And they were, to a large extent, CUL’s idea. CUL has no business blaming free agency for decreased autonomy when free agency co-existed perfectly well with autonomy without DCL/CLC/HC/ACE. If DCL/CLC/HC/ACE have not improved student life in the last 5 years, then CUL should recommend their elimination. (Unlikely, since DCL and one CLC and one HC are on CUL.)

Note that I am not arguing for this! I like Doug Bazuin. I am sure that Matt Boyd does a great job. I think that Karen Untereker ’05 argues eloquently in favor of anchor housing. But it is intellectually suspect for CUL to blame free agency for a decrease in autonomy that CUL itself has produced.

There was as much autonomy — student control over student life — in Carter House in 2000 as there was in 1985.

This is not because current Williams students are inherently less enterprising or friendly than their predecessors, but rather because the free agent system gives them a smaller stake in their local communities (which have become dormitory buildings filled with individuals and small groups, rather than houses filled with members)

As always, CUL provides no evidence for the claim that the Carter House of 2005 is less of a community than the Carter House of 1985. I have now described, in detail, what life was like in Carter 20 years ago. Does CUL deny the accuracy of that description? Does CUL claim that Carter today is even less of a community to any significant extent?

CUL is too ready to see “problems” in situations that might better be described as “reality” and too eager to believe that its efforts at improvement will actually accomplish its worthwhile goals.

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