Most interesting paragraph in the first issue of the Record this year is here:

For Sam Dreeben ’06, the July 12 campus tour was already unusual. With a tour group of undercover College dignitaries — President Schapiro and the Schow family — and unsuspecting prospective students, his job as a guide was to make Williams seem an idyllic mountain paradise of academic excellence.

I don’t remember then-President John Chandler escorting my family on our Williams tour in 1983. I don’t expect that Morty will be showing off the Paresky Center to my daughter in 2013. What is up with that? It’s discrimination, I tell you! Unequal treatment! Someone call the Justice Department . . .

What’s going on here, obviously, is that the College takes extra-special care of the big money-givers. You and I do not get special tours from the president. The Schow family — they of the Schow Science Library —- gets these tours, and much else besides. Comments:

1) Who are the Schows? There are no current Schows on campus and only two living alums: Howard Schow ’50 and Steve Schow ’81. I believe that they are father and son. Howard Schow has been a generous benefactor to the College, endowing a chair in biology and donating to the Chapin Library. Schow ’50 has had a very successful career in finance, founding PrimeCap Management and managing the extremely successful Vanguard Primecap mutual fund for many years. See here for all sorts of interesting tidbits on Schow’s career. My favorite part is Schow’s Law: “Hire only people who are very bright — and who are at least possible to like.”

2) How much money do the Schow’s have? Tough to know, but you can bet that the Alumni Office would love to. There is a Schow Family Foundation, but it has assets of just 10 million or so and, judging from its recent donations, is used to fund smallish gifts from the Schows. The real money is kept elsewhere. Given that Primecap is not a public company, it is very hard to know its ownership structure and profitability. Back of the envelope, I would be surprised if Howard Schow were worth more than a few hundred million or less than 25 million. The list of alums who have already given millions to the College and who, more importantly, have tens of millions more to give is a small one, certainly fewer than 100 and probably less than 25.

3) Morty’s actions — his special treatment of this wealthy and generous family — are right and proper. Money is power. The larger the College’s endowment, the more that Williams can spend on all sorts of good stuff. If you want more money, you need to get rich people to give it to you. Raising money is all about personal connections and individual attention. I am certain that the Trustees are pleased to see Morty spending (some of) his time this way.

4) Consider what Morty is up against.

The Schow Foundation also values the personal connections they have
in the Medical Center. Dr. Jordan Horowitz, M.D. and Chief of Staff, is a longtime family friend and has delivered most of the latest generation of Schows.

Make no mistake. The world of charitable giving is largely zero sum. Every dollar that the Schows give to the California Pacific Medical Center is a dollar that they don’t give to Williams. Given that Morty is competing with a guy delivering Schow babies, the least he can do is go on a tour with Schow teenagers.

5) What sort of advantages will the Schow grandchildren have over other less wealthly applicants to Williams? Good question! Plausible answers range from None to Lots. Colleges vary a great deal in the amount of preference that they give to the children of rich donors. In The Gatekeepers, Wesleyan is portrayed as providing few “development admits.” In Admissions Confidential, Duke is at the other end of the spectrum. There is a separate process for development (and alumni) admissions. The author describes how rich people who might give a lot of money get some preference, rich people who have already given money to places like Duke get more, and rich people who have already given lots of money to Duke get a lot.

If anyone is a development admit for the class of 2010, it is a teenager named “Schow”. How much of an edge does being a development admit give one at Williams today? I don’t know. I was surprised to read in the latest issue of the Alumni Review that Morty regular attends admissions committee meetings. I believe that he is the first president to do so in the history of Williams (correct me if I am wrong). You can bet that any Schow applicants will be discussed on a day that he is there.

How will the discussion go? Obviously, if young Schow has an AR (academic rank) of 1 or 2, she is in. But what if her combined SAT’s and high school grades put her lower in the pool? What if her SAT’s are 1300 or even 1200, toward the bottom 5% of the class? I think that she would still get accepted at that level. Once we get to 1100 or lower, I feel fairly certain that the College would say “No,” would explain that Williams just isn’t a good match for young Schow, how ever wonderful a person she no doubt is.

But all this is just speculation. Surely, we have a source with good information on this topic . . .

6) What sort of “stigma” would be associated with any Schow children at Williams? Not much, I expect. If you follow Williams closely, you have a sense of which families associated with Williams have the ability to give a great deal of money and which have already in fact done so. You can check to see which of those names are also associated with current students. Now, names are not unique, so just because a student is named “Paresky” does not mean that she is related to the Paresky of the Paresky Center. Also, not all development admits share the same last name as a major (potential or actual) donor. So, while there might be some sotto voce snickering among young Schow’s classmates (and professors!), I can’t imagine that this would affect her much. The same probably applies to the College’s other developmental admits.

It is hard for much of a stigma to be attached to a group like the offspring of large donors because a) the group is very small and b) few people know who belongs to the group and who does not. The same is not true for some of the other groups that receive similar preferences from the admissions office.

Finally, should we be discussing this at all? Is it fair to speak about specific 17 year olds and their chances of getting into Williams?

I think it is not only permissable but necessary. We have come across this question before in the context of tips and transfer students. At the cost of repeating myself, I’ll say again what I have said before.

Anytime we say that group X — football players, wealthy legacies, Xavier students — will, on average, have trouble at Williams because their academic achievemnts/potential do not, on average, match up with their classmates, we are being unfair to at least some members of group X. After all, some football players, wealthy legacies and Xavier students are smarter than almost everyone else at Williams and will demonstrate this fact in the classroom.

But the averages do not lie. A refusal to discuss the facts of the matter is a sign of condescension not politeness.

The smaller the size of group X, the more careful we need to be. Since there are 75 football players, we can be somewhat cavalier in discussing their average academic credentials since some will be well-above that average. Since there are only a handful of tansfer students from Xavier, it is a much more delicate matter (and one which I did not handle particularly well). In the case of a single student name Schow, we need to tread very carefully.

But there is no denying the iron law of Williams admissions. There are only 500 spots. Everytime you let someone in — whether they are a linebacker or a URM or a donor’s daughter — you kick someone else out. The trade-offs implicit in that process go to the very heart of what the Williams community honors and values. This is a discussion that we need to have. In fact, this is the one discussion that will never end.

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