Although my criticisms of the CUL Report itself have been fairly harsh, I have tried my best not to question the motives or the competence of those involved. Yet, the more closely I read the report, the more it seems like the CUL never thought that any skeptic would read it carefully.

Consider pages 4-5 of the pdf version of the Report. (Note that you can only see some of this with the Record’s version.)

[T]he all-campus room draw is highly stressful (even painful) for many students,

Which is why, presumably, only 17% of them are in favor of getting rid of it.

and in its initial form quickly led to various kinds of residential segregation on campus (by class-year, by gender, by ethnicity, and by athletic participation).

As usual, the CUL blames all aspects of Williams life that it does not like on free agency. What evidence is there that free agency, instituted in 1994, led to a campus that was more segregated than the one in 1993 (when extensive trading was allowed within the confines of the affiliation system) or even the one in 1988 during the glory days of the affiliation system? As far as we know from CUL, there is none.

In fact, recall that former CUL member Tom Smith claimed that a

major downside of the affiliation system was that, over time, the housing groups developed their own identities. For example, when I was there the Greylock quad became kind of a jock heaven . . .

Now, I have my doubts about this, but perhaps Tom is right. If so, then it could very well be that free agency has decreased residential segregation, at least among athletes.

Again, the CUL would build up a lot more trust among its readers if it provided data to back up the various claims that it makes about what “led to” what.

In response, the CUL recommended in 2002 the introduction of certain constraints on the room-draw process (most notably, limiting groups to a maximum of 4 students, and “gender capping” dorms, so that no more than 60% of the students in any residence may be of the same gender).

This is not a fair summary of the 2002 reforms. A key aspect, and one of the most controversial, was the removal of the WSO Plans system whereby students could see where others had already picked. Why did CUL not mention this here? After all, the list of recommendations in that report only had three items. Why mention two of the three and imply, with the “notably,” that these are just two of many?

Jonathan Landsman ’05 pointed out how poorly thought out and executed these reforms were, at least in terms of evaluating their effectiveness. David Ramos ’00 still owes us a write up on pre-2000 aspects of the debate.

These constrains [sic] are widely unpopular,

Very true! Indeed, sometimes I suspect that the reason that CUL won’t reveal the Williams survey data that it has access to is that this data would support the claim that the happiest cohort at Williams was around 2000 or so, after full implementation of free agency but before the CUL’s reforms.

sometimes on insufficient grounds (“Why should I have to live near people I don’t know?”),

Don’t you love it when the CUL portrays Williams students as idiots? Has any Williams student at any time ever said anything like this? I doubt it. Students, I’d bet, say that they want to live near people they do know. They want to live near their friends, and near to people with whom they are likely to become friends. At the very least, they want to avoid living near people with whom they suspect they would clash. From a distance, it always seemed like a huge advantage of WSO Plans was that it allowed students who wanted to have a keg every night to live near others who thought that this was a desirable quality in a neighbor and far away from those who didn’t.

This segregation and self-segregation by “party style” — for lack of a better phrase — is highly desirable, at least after first year. We want students to mix well without regard to things like race, class, major, activities and other attributes that make it likely they will learn from each other. If they choose to not-mix according to unimportant attributes (like keg-hosting on Thursdays), the College should have no complaints.

but sometimes for the quite justifiable reason that they often lead to breaking up groups of friends that have already been whittled down to 4 (for example, it is fairly common for a group of 4 people to pick into a 6- or 7-room suite, leaving 2 or 3 free rooms, which means that later in the lottery another group of 4 will have to split up to fill these spaces).

I have read a lot of complaints about the 2002 reforms, but never come across this one. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t made, but the most important issue seemed to be the whittling down process. It is too bad that we don’t have data on how many groups were of size greater than 4 in the pre-2002 era so we might have a sense of the magnitude of the cost of this policy change.

Such constraints have achieved their intended goal of greater diversity in many dorms, although they have not been able to affect the distribution of students according to class-year.

Hmmm. Now, before reading any further, what, precisely, do you think the 2002 reforms “achieved”? Given that this paragraph starts with concerns about “residential segregation on campus (by class-year, by gender, by ethnicity, and by athletic participation),” the only fair reading, to my mind, is that segregation has decreased if not been eliminated. That is, the campus was segregated by gender, enthnicity and sports in 2001 but is no longer. (Class-year segregation has not changed.)

Now, if you are reading this in the Record, that is what you would conclude. Only if you read the pdf do you see the footnote that accompanies this last sentence.

Appendix 1 contains four graphs that show the degree of residential diversity in recent years according to class-year, gender, ethnicity, and athletic participation.

Now, to be fair, the CUL deserves kudos for providing this data to its readers. The more open that it is with the community, the more likely the community is to respect its judgment. But, in this case, the data largely contradicts what CUL claims. Looking at pages 19ff, it is obvious that there has been no change in the amount of segregation by sports or ethnicity (while gender capping has worked). In other words, the CUL is telling us in the text that its 2002 reforms worked while providing data in the appendix that shows clearly that, at least with regard to athletic and racial self-segregation, the reforms have had no effect.

Or am I missing something?

Facebooktwitter
Print  •  Email