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All Ephs Now

Jim Kolesar was kind enough to provide this background on Williams’s generous offer of help to Xavier. [Minor editing, comments and links added by me.]

Bill Spriggs ’77 suggested this form of outreach. He’s an economist who formerly taught at HBCUs and has contacts at Xavier.

Kudos as usual to the College for taking the time to answer questions from a frequent critic. Three cheers also to Bill Lenhart for agreeing to serve as point person for the College, despite being on leave. Longtime readers will recall that Lenhart, then acting Dean of the Faculty, handled the Nigalean scandal about as well as it could be handled, at least from everything that I have heard. Note also the role that networking played. The unsung hero of the story is the Xavier person who kept in touch with Spriggs and was, thereby, able to help out so many of her students.

Xavier’s pre-med program is legendary. They pump about one hundred students into medical school each year; almost all of those students are African American.

Race is something that I have assiduously avoided discussing in this whole debate. And, since I don’t know the races of the Xavier students who chose to come to Williams, I see no reason to comment now.

The rigorous nature of the Xavier pre-med program is quite impressive. From a statistical point of view, the key fault in my reasoning in the previous discussion is not so much in the SAT scores themselves — I would still bet that the average combined SAT score of the Xavier students at Williams is below the 5th percentile for Williams students — but in my failure to condition on other information that we know about Xavier. Marita Campos-Melady ’06 captures this in the previous thread by noting:

[H]ow can we be so arrogant as to think that Xavier students who would apply to come here would not be the best of the best. I mean they know what Williams is right? They have the internet and probably looked it up before they came right? And frankly I think anyone who wants to come here in order to continue their interrupted education probably has more than what it takes to be a Williams student.

This is a good point. If the Xavier students at Williams were a random sample of all Xavier students, then there would be a problem. But the pre-meds at Xavier are the elite. Moreover, the juniors/seniors of the program have, obviously, already demonstrated a serious committment and undergone a great deal of training. These are not average Xavier students. And, even among this select group, the ones that came to Williams, as Marita points out, are clearly some of the most ambitious and dedicated of them all.

Does this mean that I should retract my prior observations? No — although I would like to apologize for the obnoxious crack about the grading curve. My calculations on SAT scores, because they were conservative, are most likely correct. My claim that low SAT students at Williams have much more trouble than high SAT students on average is correct. My failure was in not noticing that the Xavier students at Williams are not a random sample of 1200 SAT’ers. Out of a large group of such students, they are the most serious, committed, trained and hard-working. Although they are unlikely to star in their Williams classes, they are also unlikely to do poorly.

I stand corrected.

As a result, some people consider the program a national resource. It seemed a shame to think that this important pipeline might be disrupted. The original intent was to keep the program as intact as possible by bringing to campus as many senior pre-meds and their pre-med faculty as possible. The potential numbers were large but Amherst and MCLA were eager to help.

It is one thing for the people that run Williams to use the resources of the College to help out some students who have suffered. I am glad to see that the College has opened its doors to Berkshire students enrolled at the effected schools. I think that it is a whole other matter for the College to make a sort of political statement on the value of this particular program at Xavier.

Not surprisingly, communication with people at Xavier proved difficult, Many students had already pursued other possibilities. Faculty have had to tend to pressing personal and professional concerns. In the end, we worked with faculty and staff at Xavier to identify and communicate with senior and junior pre-meds in the best position to take advantage of what Williams and Amherst could offer. We still hope to be able to bring some faculty.

It isn’t clear to me if Jim means that Williams contacted all the junior/senior pre-meds at Xavier (since these were the students in the “best position” to do well at Williams) or whether contacts at Xavier gave Williams a list of a subset of the junior/senior pre-meds.

As President Schapiro has said in his campus messages we feel very fortunate to have with us students from this very distinguished program. We believe we have a lot to learn from them.

I am too tired to start a fight over such pablum. Thanks again to Kolesar for providing this background information.

I have made this point many times before, but it is time to make it again. We discuss hard, difficult, awkward issues at EphBlog. If this upsets you, go elsewhere. Admissions — whether of first years or transfers — is one of those sensitive topics. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to shed some light on these areas since —- as evidenced by the previous display of ignorance about the predictice value of SAT scores — the College does not always do a good job of highlighting the truth.

But the really hard discussions arise when we discuss whether group X should be admitted to Williams. Sometime group X is football players. Other times it is wealthly-legacies. Today it is Xavier students. These are important things to talk about because, whatever has happened in the past, the College will be making these decisions all over again next year. We need to discuss, as a community, what future policy should be. Perhaps, next year, Williams should accept more star football players (or wealthy legacies or Xavier transfers) with 1200 SATs. Perhaps it should accept fewer. Opinions differ. Discussion ensues.

The awkwardness arises in the conflation of two issues. First, should we have more or fewer members of group X on campus next year? Second, do the X’s that we already have at Williams contribute much to campus life and/or struggle in their classes and/or suffer from a mismatch and/or “belong” here? The problem is that necessary discussions about the first topic (which we need to have) lead almost inevitably to evidence about the second topic (which is painful and awkward for all concerned). But there is just no avoiding both issues.

In my opinion, once you enter Williams, your past is irrelevant. I do not care about your high school grades or SAT scores, your crushing tackles or your rich daddy. You are you. You “belong” at Williams just as much as I did 20 year ago — or my father did in 1954. We are all Ephs now, all purple first. But, I will still use the average performance of people like you to determine whether the College should select more people like you next year or fewer. Choices need to be made and those choices can’t be made intelligently without data.

Big picture: I join with the rest of the community in welcoming the students from Xavier (as well as the other transfer students now on campus). You are all Ephs now, no better nor worse than the rest of we sons and daughters of Ephraim.

Now, it is true that a “welcome” from EphBlog is not the same as a welcome from Morty. The President of Williams would never say the things I say. But he knows that they are true. There is a reason that Williams Admissions department cares about SAT scores. There is a reason that Williams probably would not have accepted you had you applied a few years ago. It is certainly rude of me to point this out, but it is a rudeness born of honesty, of a refusal to play at the PC theatre that seems to be as prevalent at Williams now as it was 20 years ago.

If the Xavier students do well this fall, then I will be first in line to invite them back for the spring. Indeed, I would be the first to suggest that the College set up a permanent exchange program with Xavier. Time will tell.

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