President Morty Schapiro’s Introduction to the Diversity Initiatives merits careful study. It perfectly captures the confusion, obfuscation and borderline dishonesty which plague discussions of diversity at Williams and elsewhere. Although Morty (and Williams) deserve praise for the openness with which this study has been conducted — especially for the publication of a variety of data tables — the overall result lives down to my already low expectations.

The confusion and obfuscation start at the very beginning.

The most significant change in higher education during our time may be its increasing inclusion of students, faculty, and staff from groups that had previously been excluded from its campuses.

First, the notion that there was a great deal of exclusion at Williams and places like it is, historically, false. Morty may not have read The Chosen by Jerome Karabel, but those of us who have know that there is little if any evidence of significant discrimination against Asian American, Latino or African Americans (AALAA) since 1900 in elite admissions. If you had the grades (and the money), you got in (unless you were Jewish). If you didn’t have the grades and the money, you didn’t get in, regardless of race. There were, of course, individual acts of discrimination — see pages 232-233
of The Chosen for a particular disgusting example involving a Williams graduate — as well some schools, like Princeton, with particularly backward attitudes, but it is just false to claim that the number of AALAA students at Williams and other schools prior to 1965 would have been much higher in a colorblind world than it was in our imperfect world. It would not have been. Discrimination, at the admissions stage, probably affected dozens of students, not hundreds much less thousands. The real victims of elite discrimination in the 20th century were the Jews. The Report has little if anything to say about that.

Second, the most significant change in higher education — outside of exploding sticker price — in our time (meaning, say, post 1950) has been sorting by IQ. In the 1950’s, lots of not so smart (white) men got into Williams and places like it. (Not you, Dad.) Now, with very few exceptions, almost every student at Williams is from the far right tail of the Bell Curve.

Now, Morty knows these things, and there is nothing wrong with a little pablum from a college president. Yet issues surrounding diversity at Williams are difficult. The closer we can get to an honest description of the facts, the more progress we can make.

Although mission statements are mostly fluff, it is nice to see Morty provide a clear goal for Williams.

The College’s mission to provide the highest quality liberal arts education is enhanced by the rich variety of backgrounds and experiences that students, faculty, and staff bring to the task of educating each other.

I agree that the goal of Williams should be “to provide the highest quality liberal arts” in the world. I also agree that diversity of all types helps with that goal. I can’t imagine that Williams could be as good as it might be if there were, for example, no international students on campus. But it is a long leap from this premise to the actual policies that Williams currently follows, and even longer to the policies that people like Evelyn Hu-DeHart would like to see Williams follow.

More importantly, as every good economist (like Morty) knows, there are trade-offs. Every time you let in an under-represented minority (URM, which in a Williams context almost always means Latino or African American), you deny admission to someone else, someone who might be smarter, who might be poorer, who might even be a minority herself. (Williams denies admissions to dozens of Asian American applicants with much stronger SAT scores and high school grades than those of some of its URM admittees.) Williams is poorer because that student is not present. But she is also invisible. It is hard to judge the cost of rejecting her if none of us can clearly see what she might have added.

The hard decisions are, as always, made on the margin. The first 20 URMs that Williams admits are as good as any Jewish or Asian or WASP Eph. The second 20 are also. But by the time we get to number 100 of enrolled, not just accepted, we are talking about applicants with significantly weaker high school records than their classmates at Williams.

In the class of 2009, Williams is 20% URM. The hard question for those who love Williams is whether this number should be 10% or 30%.

One of the stranger parts of the discussion involves Morty’s desire to focus on “intrinsic” factors.

For all the progress Williams has made in becoming more open and supportive, the case remains that some people, because of factors intrinsic to them, are excluded from the College or have less full and satisfying experiences here.

Does this make sense? Morty implies that by “intrinsic” he means things like race and gender that we are born with, not factors like religion. (Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not one can be born a Jew.) The problem is that no one is born Hispanic, at least by the definition of Hispanic that is used by Williams.

Again, I realize that the Diversity Initiative can not be about everything and that it is reasonable for Morty/Williams to focus on some aspects of diversity rather than others. But, don’t claim to be focusing on “intrinsic” factors and then spend time on cultural ones.

Greater awareness of this fact, resulting from the compelling testimony of current and former members of the campus community and from analysis of data on student demographics and student experiences, led to the launching at the beginning of this academic year of the Diversity Initiatives.

Isn’t this borderline dishonest? Unless I am mistaken, there were no plans to launch a great big Diversity Initiative until the Nigaleian fiasco of last fall.

But the most disingenuous section of the Introduction involves those dreaded conservative critics, bane of left-thinking college presidents everywhere.

Several submissions to the Web site raised issues regarding the political beliefs of faculty. These echo concerns expressed more publicly about college faculties in general, usually in terms of suspected proselytizing to students. These submissions failed to gain traction through the Initiatives process, perhaps because few people, if any, on campus believe such proselytizing takes place, and because one’s political views are considered to be a characteristic that is acquired rather than intrinsic.

Why is this dishonest? First, Morty acts as if the primary, if not only, concern about political diversity raised by outsiders involved fears of “proselytizing.” But, as anyone can see, not a single outsider raised this concern. There are several discussions of diversity of political opinion among the faculty, but they almost all fall in the category of diversity-of-opinion-is-a-good-thing. Of course, few if any readers of the Diversity Initiative are likely to read those comments, so Morty can safely (?) misrepresent their contents.

I suspect that I speak for the vast majority of the political diversity camp when I claim that the problem is not that Williams has leftist professors. Some of my friends are leftist professors! The problem is that Williams has virtually no professors willing to publicly argue the Republican/conservative/libertarian view. That is a problem.

Second, Morty acts as if concerns about “suspected proselytizing to students” are crazy kookery. Why should such ridiculousness get any “traction” with the members of the Coordinating Commitee? Tell that to Jennifer Kling ’98 (and her family). The New York Times reported back in 1996 that

Jennifer Kling left Williams College here to join the National Labor Federation in Brooklyn with dreams of organizing the poor to create a more just world.

Instead, Ms. Kling found herself trapped in a cramped, tense apartment building, unable to walk outside. Every second was charted. During the day, she filed papers, wrote articles and worked a phone bank, selling advertisements in the organization’s publications. In the evenings, she was required to attend political lectures that would often go until 4:30 A.M., when she was finally allowed to collapse into sleep in a small room with five other women.

Six hours later, at 10:30, the wake-up call would come over the loudspeaker, and Ms. Kling and about 50 other members of the group, which has been called a cult, would start the cycle all over again.

”They didn’t encourage idle chatter,” she said. ”Time was precious. Every minute was pre-scheduled. They kept you so busy that you didn’t have time to think about leaving.”

It took a terrified Ms. Kling weeks to build up the courage to sneak out of the building one morning last year and take a bus home to her family in Missouri.

Scary stuff. The entire article is provided below the break. If any of our seminar participants were on campus in this era, please provide some background and details in the comments.

Morty might like to claim that this is just some sad story unconnected to “proselytizing” by the Williams faculty. After all, only those crazy conservative wingnuts think that this might be a concern at Williams, land of the open-minded professor.

Indeed, Western Massachusetts Labor Action became almost an institution on campus and enjoyed a reputation as a sort of Salvation Army with a political edge, a place where socially conscious students could go to work with the poor. Its connection to Mr. Perente-Ramos was not readily apparent, and the local group’s lead organizer was invited to economics and political science classes to lecture on the region’s social conditions.

Kling and others were sucked into this cult directly from a Williams classroom. My former professor Kurt Tauber, now retired, is mentioned by name. I believe that other Williams professors still on the faculty were involved as well.

Now, just because a few students were lost to one cult does not mean that having outside visitors is a bad idea or that students shouldn’t be encouraged to participate in social work in the local community. But Morty does us all a disservice when he pretends that “proselytizing” is a fringe concern. Nothing to see here. Just move along.

Why should a concerned alum trust the rest of the Report when it is so misleading about this sordid history?

All in all, the Introduction is weak. I realize that Morty (rightly) feels constrained in how “presidential” he must be in this context, but a little more directness and a lot less dissembling would have reassured me that the entire Diversity Initiative was a worthwhile project and not just a circular PC love-in, an exercise in which the people that mattered knew the answer before the first meeting was held. I am not reassured.


New York Times article:

Jennifer Kling left Williams College here to join the National Labor Federation in Brooklyn with dreams of organizing the poor to create a more just world.

Instead, Ms. Kling found herself trapped in a cramped, tense apartment building, unable to walk outside. Every second was charted. During the day, she filed papers, wrote articles and worked a phone bank, selling advertisements in the organization’s publications. In the evenings, she was required to attend political lectures that would often go until 4:30 A.M., when she was finally allowed to collapse into sleep in a small room with five other women.

Six hours later, at 10:30, the wake-up call would come over the loudspeaker, and Ms. Kling and about 50 other members of the group, which has been called a cult, would start the cycle all over again.

”They didn’t encourage idle chatter,” she said. ”Time was precious. Every minute was pre-scheduled. They kept you so busy that you didn’t have time to think about leaving.”

It took a terrified Ms. Kling weeks to build up the courage to sneak out of the building one morning last year and take a bus home to her family in Missouri.

This was the odd world of a fringe group that had remained relatively unknown and hidden until Monday night, when the police entered their Brooklyn headquarters, a cluster of buildings that group members called ”the cave,” and discovered a small arsenal of guns and explosives.

The group, which at different times called itself the National Labor Federation and the Provisional Communist Party, was established by Eugenio Perente-Ramos, who billed himself as a radical labor organizer, though the police and experts on cults have called him a cult leader. Experts familiar with the group say Mr. Perente-Ramos, who died last year, had a following of several hundred in the Brooklyn complex and around the nation in rigidly organized satellite groups, known in his jargon as ”entities.”

While the group’s stated aim was to mobilize the poorest workers to challenge the fundamental economic system, it appears to have achieved little in that arena. What has perhaps drawn the greatest attention to the group is its recruiting efforts among a very different target audience: idealistic college students.

Ms. Kling, now 21, was one of many Williams College students who were approached by a front group, Western Massachusetts Labor Action, that had strong ties to the Brooklyn office. The group has recruited at other schools in Massachusetts and Vermont, but its efforts have come under particular scrutiny at this elite private school of 2,000 students in this small Berkshires town.

For about 20 years, the local group, based nearby in Pittsfield, relied on volunteers from Williams. Although only three students, including Ms. Kling, joined the federation as full-time volunteers, a steady stream of Williams students helped canvass surrounding towns for new members, chopped firewood for the poor and attended meetings, among other tasks.

Indeed, Western Massachusetts Labor Action became almost an institution on campus and enjoyed a reputation as a sort of Salvation Army with a political edge, a place where socially conscious students could go to work with the poor. Its connection to Mr. Perente-Ramos was not readily apparent, and the local group’s lead organizer was invited to economics and political science classes to lecture on the region’s social conditions.

When the school held its annual community volunteer fair, Western Massachusetts Labor Action had a table there. One former student, Michelle Kang, noted that a class that involved doing community service included the group as one of the ways to meet the requirement.

”I remember getting phone calls all the time from them, even in my senior year, trying to get me to help,” said Ms. Kang, who graduated two years ago. She got on the group’s phone list after taking the community service class as a sophomore.

Yet what the group was doing with this help is unclear.

Kurt P. Tauber, a retired political science professor who sponsored the group on campus and helped it raise money, said its organizing work had been a disappointment to him. He said the group was obsessed with forms and bureaucratic detail — with precise instructions about where to put pencils and erasers.

While Dr. Tauber described the group as having a muddled, almost nonexistent political ideology, he noted that its bible was an organizing handbook that gave precise instructions on how to do everything from knock on a door to set up a desk. Dr. Tauber, who met Mr. Perente-Ramos in Brooklyn 13 years ago, said he was not impressed by him and did not like how he barked orders at people.

Yet Dr. Tauber, like others at Williams, saw the goals of the organization as admirable and continued to support it. And he admired the dedication of the unpaid organizers, who worked seven days a week, had no homes of their own and appeared to survive on doughnuts and coffee.

The group’s standing, however, plummeted last year when Ms. Kling’s experience became known and an expose in the campus newspaper, The Williams Record, publicized the local group’s connections to the Brooklyn office, suggesting it was more cult than political group.

Since then, the college has moved to discourage the group from coming onto campus and tried to educate faculty members and students about its questionable background. In the last few months, the group’s lead organizer has left, and its presence on campus has diminished.

On campus Wednesday night, a random survey of a dozen people revealed that most had not even heard of the group. Those who were familiar with it regarded it as something of a joke.

”They were a pretty weird bunch,” said Yamelin Castillo, who graduated in June and is working here. ”No one took them seriously.”

The group continues to work from its storefront office in Pittsfield, occasionally distributing leaflets here. A man who answered the group’s office phone today denied any connection with the Brooklyn group.

Yet there appears to be little doubt that the groups are linked. Peggy Uman, who started working with Mr. Perente-Ramos in the early 1970’s, said she moved here in 1975 to establish the group, having first cleared it with him. Then, until she left the group seven years later, she filed daily reports about her activities, she said.

Ms. Kling, despite her experience, remains ambivalent about her break with the group and was upset to read that five of her former comrades had been arrested on weapons charges, including Dianne Garrett, her sponsor. ”She’s a compassionate, caring person,” Ms. Kling said. ”She really cares about the poor. She would never use a gun.”

Ms. Kling objected to the characterization of the group as a cult, and said that no physical force was ever used to keep her there. But, she said, she does not want to go back.

In the first three months of 1995, Ms. Kling said, she was cloistered in Brooklyn. When her father was visiting from Missouri and wanted to spend the day with her, the group told her that she should not leave. Instead, he came to visit, and they were never left alone, she said.

The building was filled with bright people — including a number of lawyers — but it also was a tense place. Some recruits were clearly mentally ill, she said, and screaming arguments erupted regularly.

Dissatisfied with the life she was leading, Ms. Kling spent weeks plotting her escape. On that dark morning in March, alone in New York for the first time in her life, she wandered the streets of Brooklyn and tried to find a subway station.

”It was scary,” she said, ”but it felt wonderful to breathe the air of New York.”

If Jennifer Kling did not suffer from “proselytizing” in a Williams classroom at the hands of Williams professors, then the word has no meaning.

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