Even fans of the CUL Report on anchor housing have got to agree that it would have benefitted from proof reading by a biologist. One small example:

The current residential system, which has been in place for approximately 12 years, is the product of more than 200 years of evolution characterized by what Stephen Jay Gould described as “punctuated equilibrium”: long periods of gradual and relatively insignificant change have been interrupted occasionally by moments of more dramatic transformation.

There’s nothing wrong with citing punctuated equilibrium, however quoted, in this context, but a more scholarly reference would have given equal if not more credit to Niles Eldredge. More amusingly, punctuated equilibrium is often referred to as “evolution by jerks,” a not so subtle reference to personality disputes in biology.

But that is small beer. The big example of biological tone deafness in the report is:

It was never decided that residential affiliation was no longer appropriate for Williams, or that there was a form of residential life better suited to the College and its students, but the introduction of the all-campus room draw made affiliation instantaneously meaningless, because students no longer lived in the same building, with the same collection of people, for more than a single year. The death of the old house system was thus thoroughly incidental, and the free agent era of today is the result of blind evolution rather than careful and deliberate design.

“Blind evolution”?! Isn’t this one of the classic lines of argument favored by creationists far and wide? Why, yes it is!

Actually, there are myriads of STRANGE PLANTS and ANIMALS having characteristics that to the superficial observer seem to be “without rhyme or reason,” that can not be accounted for by blind evolution, but show the handiwork of an intelligent Designer and Creator.

CUL, like all good creationists, does not think that “blind evolution” is a powerful force, does not believe that useful structures and practices can arise without the benefit of “design” by, presumably, groups like CUL.

Perhaps. Design certainly has a place in the governance of Williams. To cite just one of scores of examples, I think that the JA Selection Committee should have more members. This may be a good idea or it may be a bad one, but it is definately a question of design.

My issue with CUL is that they seem to denigrate the roll that evolution — blind or otherwise — played in the change in the house system from 1988 to 1992 or so. No rules were changed, but for some reason, the sophomores who had spots in the Gladden House recently vacated by Will Dudley decided that they did not want to live in Gladden. They wanted to live in Armstrong; not because Armstrong provided better housing (it didn’t) but because Mission had become the place that many, many sophomores wanted to live in.

The sophomores themselves had decided — without consulting with Will Dudley — that they wanted to live with each other, that they were better served by spending time and eating meals with Ephs that they would be at Williams with for three more years rather than with seniors who had other interests and priorities than chatting up the latest crop of sophomores.

The current housing system may reflect an evolutionary process, but that process is anything but “blind.” Former Housing Director Tom McEvoy (along with just about everyone else on campus at the time) recognized that the students — seeing perfectly well what sort of system would serve their needs — had ended affiliation themselves. Mission was more than 90% sophomores before any rule was changed. Campus wide room draw simply made more fair and rationale a system that had already evolved.

The CUL is filled with good and decent people who don’t seem to understand the history of Williams housing, at least in the last 25 years, and who are extremely distrustful of the idea that students might know what is best for themselves. Just as creationist can’t imagine the power of evolution, the CUL can’t seem to appreciate the ability of students to create their own communities, to recognize that they are better off organizing their lives in housing largely stratified by class year.

Good news: Dean Nancy Roseman is a biologist. If anyone can see through suspect appeals to the failures of “blind evolution,” it is she.

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