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Snake Hunting

M. Esa Seegulam ’06 has an inspirational post:

And one by one, the voices of discontent rise from the graveyard of emaciated, spent, purple bodies. But crying one by one does nothing. It is time to get names. It is time we found out who our tormentors are. Who makes the decisions that work so well to suffocate the backbone of this institution? Who decides that houses will re-open on inconvenient days, that students will be housed in buildings that may well be deemed cruel and unusual forms of punishment for summer-time, construction-time, bulldozing-time, steel-cutting-time living? Which ogre is stirring a cauldron looking down at us and laughing? And how can we, as students, best turn the tables and pour some salt on this worm? Without the students, this campus will be destroyed, so we must get this snake before it gets us. For all those of you angry, bitter, disenchanted souls out there who feel that somehow the gold in your cow has dried up to more of a piss-colored yellow, know that there is strength in numbers. And this fall, I am going snake hunting. I shall begin my hunt on the trail of the Grand Dame of Student Dissatisfaction. My anti-venom shall be a little concoction I whipped up in the lab. I gave it the simple name: PUBLICITY. I invite you to join me.

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#1 Comment By David On August 19, 2005 @ 12:00 am

And, if any further evidence were needed that Schapiro and Roseman are highly talented, note that Esa writes:

Seriously, something is wrong here. Someone in the upper ranks of the administration is being paid a decent sum of money to make our lives A LIVING HELL and I want to know who it is. I already know who it is NOT. It is NOT:

1. Nancy Roseman
2. Morton Owen Schapiro

Riiiiight. The people in charge of the College have no connection to any of Esa’s complaints.

Anyone can run a College. It takes administrative genius to run a College and convince the biggest complainers that you are not responsible for any of the policies that they dislike.

#2 Comment By frank uible On August 19, 2005 @ 2:16 am

Let’s blow the whole thing up and start from ground zero.

#3 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 19, 2005 @ 8:47 am

David, I wasn’t saying that they have nothing to do with it. They are busy people and occupied with bigger things like raising 400 million dollars. They have others below them who make the decisions about when dorms close etc. I really don’t think Morty gets conference calls about whether to close Sage at 5:00pm or noon when he is in London raising money for the Williams Campaign. So to say that “the people in charge of the college have no connections to any of my complaints” is not accurate and I was not implying that. All I am saying is that from their point of view, whoever is in charge of those things is doing a good job because they can’t hear all the mutterings of dissatisfied students.

#4 Comment By Rory On August 19, 2005 @ 10:11 am

He doesn’t get those conference calls, but if he took a stand, think of how quickly it’d be fixed…

#5 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 19, 2005 @ 4:08 pm

Yep, but who takes a stand about something they don’t really know about? If your next in command tells you all is well, you trust that all is well. In this case, unfortunately, whoever is in charge of “all the little things” so to speak, doesn’t really care about what the students think; they just want to get the job done quickly and cheaply. In the end, the say to Morty that things are good. Who tells their boss, “I am a miserable failure and the people I really work for hate me”? I don’t think he ever hears that, and as long as Williams folks keep picking apart the argument and making stupid statements to dilute the larger topic, then this will continue to happen.

#6 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 19, 2005 @ 4:35 pm

I agree with Frank. Let’s just blow the whole place up.

Seriously, while Williams is not a bucolic heaven every day of the year, it sure beats the vast majority of higher education as well as “real life” after college. If students think living in a dorm next to a construction site is sub-optimal, they’re right, it is. But it’s a relatively short term problem, and it could be a lot worse. I had a girlfriend at the University of Illinois, and she shared an 8’x10′ cinderblock room with a roommate. If you sat on her bed, your feet ended up on the roommate’s side of the room. There was no affiliated living room — that was it. Furthermore, Julia typically attended lectures where the students watched the professors on video screens. With 600 students in a class, the only way the students in the back rows could see their teacher was to watch the monitors.

So while the students have every right to try and fix things at Williams if they think life at Williams is “a living Hell,” I can’t wait for them to get out in the “real world” and find out things were pretty darn nice in the Purple Valley.

#7 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 19, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

Mr. Creese, I hope you’re not brown, because you would most definitely be arrested and tortured for that initial comment if you are.

I guess the grass is always greener, your being in the treacherous “real world” and all. I spent ten weeks in that world this summer. I got paid for my work which was not affiliated with Williams and I paid my own exorbitant rent in Cambridge, cooked my own food etc. It was pretty sweet. All of my other friends who also got a taste of the real world agree that it’s quite awesome.

The University of Illinois is the University of Illinois. Because it sucks doesn’t mean we need to compare and be content. But don’t get me wrong. I am not in any way trashing Williams. I am happier here than anywhere else I may have ended up. People who know me know that I am one of those gung ho Williams psychos who bleeds purple (and pees gold). I love my Williams College a great deal and am very, very satisfied overall. What I am saying though is this: if I brought you a salad and made it absolutely, irresistably delicious with all sorts of yummy ingredients and you happened to just love salads, you’d probably be quite happy. Say though that you hated cherry tomatoes, and I had added some. I would imagine that since the only thing standing between you and a damn perfect salad was those red blobs, you’d just pick them out because hey, that’s a pretty easy thing to do. Leaving a dorm open for 12 more hours, in *many* cases, will not throw off this college in any way. B&G does not need to be running through *most* dorms in *most* cases ASAP, especially since they do not get to some rooms until a couple days after their closure. Opening a dining hall three days earlier will not send the college bankrupt if they budgeted money for the few hundred students who show up a bit earlier than the rest. This is a school situated in the middle of nowhere and it needs to recognize this. People get in at strange times and transport out is available at equally strange times. We spend more money to dig into hills and rolling land than other schools because of our location. We should spend more to accomodate our students’ unusual travel habits due to this situation as well.

Because we don’t have to watch our professors on a TV screen doesn’t mean we should give in to every little needless inconvenience. Say Williams decided to have only same-sex dorms with free visitation. Along the same lines, I can argue that the American University in Cairo has separate dorms with NO visitation allowed across the sexes so we should just sit back and be thankful that it isn’t that bad. It is this very unwillingness to correct the numerous small things that lead to bigger things being imposed. Again, I stress, needless. Most of these problems are easy to fix if it weren’t for a set of unwilling mid-level administrators getting in the way.

But you sir went to Williams before I was born. I don’t know what it was like then, but I believe you still used typewriters and kerosene lamps, so I would imagine that you’re pretty hardened up. But don’t forget that a large number of small things often amount to a big thing. And I only mean the kerosene lamp thing as a joke; of course I don’t believe you’re that old, in case anyone jumps at me for insulting an alum. Indeed you’re younger than my daddy.

#8 Comment By David Ramos ’00 On August 19, 2005 @ 9:46 pm

My experiences at the RISD (expensive, top-ranked art school) and my friends’ travails at Brown (expensive, blobby-curriculumed Ivy) remind me every day just how smoothly the Williams administration runs. “Like butter” is the phrase that I hear from the Williams contingent in Providence.

Case study: RISD’s registrar sends out grades on loosely-folded paper bereft of an envelope’s protection. Then the lazy/illiterate undergrads working in the mailroom put these grades in the wrong mailboxes. Just wouldn’t happen at Williams.

But I always do wonder about the hassles that the summer programs cause. When I was working at Williams, it was very clear that the Conference Office “owned” the campus in the summer, with scheduling priority over most buildings. That caused enormous headaches for everyone else — not only students, but also other administrative departments. Conference Office schedules made it hard for B&G to carry out repairs, or for OIT to upgrade equipment.

One of my colleagues suggested that, with the operating expenses (and opportunity costs) of summer conferences, the school wouldn’t be losing much money if they just paid B&G and Dining Services staff for 12 months, gave them three months off in the summer, and kept the campus dark until school got back in session.

Besides, I’m sure that the hellraising Mass Teacher’s Conference has done structural damage to Mission in their week of debauched orgiastic slayage.

#9 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 19, 2005 @ 10:55 pm

David Ramos’ comment is along the lines I’m thinking. Compared to other colleges, Williams does things pretty well during the school year. If the grousing is about how the school works when Williams isn’t in session, then yes, it’s not smooth.

Colleges shut down during the summer, both mentally and physically. Yes, the Conference Office is in charge, and (1) that’s a skeleton staff compared to the normal school year, and (2) they’re told to make money from outsiders and not spend any money in the process. Things get semi-screwy then. For example, staying in the top floor of Dodd (not air-conditioned) for a week in August when temperatures are in the mid-90s is great training for living in Africa. And yes, I was charged for the privilege. (My wife and I attended a “Theatre Week,” where a group of Williams alums attended a play a day and had discussions with/commentary from a Theatre professor. If you don’t mind sweating, highly recommended.)

Reunion and staying in a dorm during it is another example. Hot as hell this year, and directions on where to go, what to do are not always clear. Nothing terrible, just sort of amateurish, which is usually overlooked in the tidal wave of good cheer.

And yes, Esa, we used typewriters in my day (the PC wasn’t invented until the year I graduated and the Mosaic browser was 18 years in the future), but no, kerosene lamps were gone by 1975.

#10 Comment By Jonathan Landsman On August 21, 2005 @ 1:23 am

Perhaps you will find time for College Council this year, Esa? Esa was almost a MINCO rep to CC last year, until he dropped it out of being overcommited. But it seems you might find CC this year a great place to channel this fire in your belly, especially since your inclinations pointed you there once before. There you can contend personally with those that slow and “dilute” (your great verb) progress by settling for less on bad premises. I loved your salad metaphor — but next time, pick on something other than cherry tomatoes, which are just delicious.

But I can assure you that Morty DOES know that students are not happy with the early dorm closures (for an example). He’s been told point blank in College Council. And he and Roseman have both clucked sadly over the Conference Office’s “seizure” of the school during the summer. But if you follow that issue, you’ll find a strange phenomenon: everyone whom you would think has power will admit that the Conference Office reigns supreme over the summe, but you’ll be hard pressed to find one who admits to supporting it. It’s as if they were an invading parasite, yet obviously we invite the conferences in every summer. If students are sacrificed to a degree, our administrators MAKE us sacrifices.

If you decide to pursue this issue in a practical way, you’ll probably hear tones and rhetoric similar to what I heard when I fought for summer kitchens. Let me leave this advice here, then: it’s tempting to be polite, and nod assent when an admin sighs “The conferences own this place in the summer.” Politeness and a goodwill make you not want to ask Why, but ask it. And post the answer here.

#11 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 21, 2005 @ 4:41 pm

Thank you sir for your good advice. I too love cherry tomatoes, but this was a metaphor to those who always complain and say “leave them out.” I’m like, yo, you can pick them out if they’re there, but I cannot create them and add them if they’re not!

However, I am unsure whether being on CC would help with any channelling. Irene Addison more or less crapped on me, even when I had a position on CC. It seems it only made her hate me more, because now I wasn’t just one student, but was claiming to be a “representative” and since she absolutely despises students, it only made things worse.

By “publicity” I mean that I will definitely post accounts of all my adventures with names of administrators and their responses to my questions, should I ever get any. So hang in there, and if anything materializes, I shall let you, and the rest of the world, know.

#12 Comment By Jonathan Landsman On August 21, 2005 @ 8:20 pm

Irene Addison would be just another run of the mill administrator about which people complain, except that three years ago she took a step that I haven’t heard of anyone doing before or since, and unilaterally disbanded the Buildings and Grounds student-faculty committee. Whatever B&G complaint you have, she seems able to explain to you why she is not the person to come to. Yes, she has a special place in my esteem from my days on CC, dealing with her myself, watching others deal with her, and hearing other administrators’ opinions of the way she has served. It’s led me to think that Addison might genuinely dislike dealing with students . . . .

#13 Comment By Guy Creese ’75 On August 21, 2005 @ 10:03 pm

Why are we surprised the college likes to have the Conference Office run the place during the summer? Because it makes MONEY. It’s the same reason Harvard runs its Summer School. They can make a lot of money off of people who can say they took a course at Harvard.

Let’s say the administration starts crimping the style of the Conference Office. Less conferences get booked, because all the necessary rooms aren’t available. Less money comes in. Because it was assumed that money would come in, the administration has to make up the shortfall — raising more money from the Alumni Fund, pulling more money out of the endowment, laying people off, etc. Given the hassle of that, letting the Conference Office do its own thing is the path of least resistance.

So before you just complain about the dorms closing early or whatever, figure out a more attractive economic alternative. If you stroll in with a rock-solid spreadsheet and announce the college can (1) make you happier and (2) make more money, you’ll have someone listening, rather than clucking.

If, on the other hand, the problem is not systemic but personality-driven, keep track of the difficulties and then play Mickey the Dunce: “Gee, I thought so-and-so was the person to go to but according to him/her, he/she isn’t. Perhaps you can help me.” Over time, folks get tired of covering for someone…

#14 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 22, 2005 @ 12:10 am

Mr. Creese writes, “So before you just complain about the dorms closing early or whatever, figure out a more attractive economic alternative.” This leads me to believe that we’ve lost track of my intended point. Zero dollars and zero dollars don’t seem any more or less attractive when compared. I am not battling making or losing money. My point is that closing *most* dorms 12 hours later *most* times, especially at the end of the year, will NOT change revenues in any way whatsoever. My dorm last year, Sage Hall, was locked down around maybe 5:00pm (I don’t exactly remember). The sun set and rose again, and each day I made a little pilgrimage to the Frosh Quad, not because I was keeping tabs on the custodians, but because I felt all my JAness nostalgia and just wanted to walk through again and again. Call me weird, whatever. Anyway, my point is that each day as I passed, there was no massive overhaul of the dorms occurring and no new tenants were moving in. I left campus more than five days after the closing of Sage Hall and there still were no new inhabitants. The conference office was not attempting to make money by renting this building throughout those days.

MY POINT: If someone who cared about the students’ best interest were in charge, they would be more likely to say “Hmm…we are not going to be in any disadvantageous position should we allow that student who is sleeping on the floor in East with the JAs to sleep in his room tonight and take his flight to Turkmenistan tomorrow, so let’s leave the dorm open for 12 more hours.”

Net loss: zero dollars.

More attractive economic alternative: not necessary

#15 Comment By Loweeel On August 22, 2005 @ 12:39 am

Adding to the chorus of “you don’t know how good you have it”, dealing with the administration or any of the myriad bureaucracies at Columbia is a nightmare AT BEST.

It’s like a 16-legged conjoined octopus, and none of the arms are able to communicate with any others.

[Insert snarky Jamie Gorelick comment here]

#16 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 22, 2005 @ 12:54 pm

HAHA! I love the octopus analogy. Very original, I must say. But I feel like our little four-legged dog back at Williams that is quite capable of playing with itself when it wants, is aspiring to become that 16-legged conjoined octopus. We must not allow our doggy to become an octo.

#17 Comment By Eislerman On August 22, 2005 @ 2:12 pm

Esa,

I seriously doubt that. The attention to students drops a bit in the summer (which I think is actually explained in a letter to all summer student employees), along with the quality of life. A couple summers ago they had us living in Mission *while they were doing construction on it.* The point being, I don’t think you can draw parallels between the summer and the year especially closely.

Honestly, I think everyone gets a little spoiled by how well Williams treats people during the year; when it becomes more typically bureacratic-apathetic during the summer, it seems like you’re being neglected.

The incredibly abusive prose doesn’t help you make your case much, either.

#18 Comment By Loweeel On August 22, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

Esa — one of my biggest complaints about the administration and the student life changes at williams is that from the big things (housing) to the little things (dorm closing times), virtually every change has been against a substantial majority of student opinion. Me personally, and just my personal opinion, is that a highly-place bio prof is to blame.

I don’t think williams could ever get as bad as columbia, simply because there’s not nearly enough to manage with 2100 undergrads and maybe 200 grad students.

#19 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 23, 2005 @ 1:03 am

You really think my beloved NR is pushing to screw us over? But she’s SO nice in real, honestly, and at least she still meets with students who want to meet with her. The same cannot be said for the B&G High Priests.

As for Eisler, I am not only talking about the summer.

And about the abusive prose, well, sometimes I just get angry, okay? Send me some prozac and then tell me to calm down again.

#20 Comment By Eislerman On August 23, 2005 @ 8:23 am

Esa, unless things have really fallen apart in one calendar year (I was on campus last summer), yeah, it’s easy to bitch about Williams while you’re there, but once you leave for good you realize just how sweet you had it.

I mean, yeah, I didn’t always then practice what I now preach, but really, especially senior year, spend your time enjoying living in a natural paradise while someone takes care of everything except your schoolwork, not thinking about how things aren’t UTTERLY OPTIMAL.

#21 Comment By M. Esa Seegulam On August 23, 2005 @ 10:11 am

Yes, we have finally closed the circle. Please see post August 19, 2005 09:12 PM for my response. But also, thanks for the advice. I don’t plan on not enjoying Williams for my senior year. I always have enjoyed Williams and don’t think that will change anytime soon. I still maintain however, that some things, small, easy-to-change things, need to be changed. And the only reason they are not being changed is because we’ve been barking up the wrong tree all along.