Oren Cass ’05 has an interesting opinion piece in this week’s record by this name. From a brief summary of his essay — he thinks that the most meaningful part of college occurs outside of class, so professors should realize this and expect less from students in terms of focus on classes and homework — one might think he is being sarcastic. But his tone suggests that he is serious. He writes:

The presumption of obligation has always rested with the classes – “academics come first,” as the slogan goes – but I wonder if that should really be the case.

Most Williams classes are uninspiring and unimportant…. But they usually represent learning for its own sake and have little long term applicability.

While some may disagree with him there, I think that the alumni reading this blog would tend to agree with something else he said:

Most people who actually come through Williams will agree that time outside of the classroom was the most valuable, and most will wish they had even spent more time pursuing those experiences. Rare is the graduate who mournfully reflects upon the days he could have spent in the library but didn’t.

This is illogical — he argues against the worth of classes by drawing a caricature of a student who wants to have spent more time in the library — and it is certainly not unimaginable that some graduates do wish they could have taken more classes while at Williams. Cass goes on to argue that while students, parents, and future employers “realize” that time spent outside of the classroom is more valuable than time in class or time spent doing classwork, professors believe that classwork is more important simply because they have dedicated their lives to academic pursuits. But even if this is the case — and I doubt that everyone would agree with his argument — should we really try to decrease the level of Williams academics to allow for more time with friends?

I think this would be a bad idea, as it would undermine the emphasis on studying and learning upon which Williams College depends, and which convinced most of us that Williams was the place for us. After all, if we decrease the importance of classes and professors, what is the use of decreasing class size and hiring new good professors? We might as well have gone to a school where the classwork would be easy and we would have ample free time to pursue other interests.

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