The CEP, after investigating the curriculum for possible improvements in the area of diversity, has identified 3 main areas for improvement: (1) student interests that can be fulfilled by faculty teaching at Williams [“student interests”]; (2) hiring priorities that would help Williams enhance it’s curricular diversity [“hiring priorities”]; and (3) Re-examining the People & Cultures requirement [“the PC requirement”]. The committee will be discussing the latter two in April and May.

Please note that all commentary in square brackets is mine.

Student Interests
Regarding student interests, CEP solicited student input, but warned them that more drastic change would take longer, urging students to focus on opportunities achievable by faculty already teaching at Williams. Over 100 students responded, and a few main themes emerged. The majority of responses focused on renewed/enhanced offerings in Asian/Pacific American Studies, Jewish Studies, and Arabic language. Minco was more general, and wanted more AfAm studies and South Asian studies. Because of these, CEP prompted the late submission of a courses in “the literature of British Colonialism” [which seems more like a caricature of a literature course than an actual course] and Jewish studies.

CEP noted that several departments, anticipating student desires, have made hires in that direction. Classics has hired a prof who can teach Jewish Studies, American Studies a specialist in Asian literature, and Comparative literature a person who can teach Arabic [but will hopefully be less controversal than Edward Said]. International studies has added a concentration in South Asia, and AfAm has added a capstone and introductory course while continuing its to-date unsuccessful efforts to hire a “Senior African-Americanist” [they SERIOUSLY need to come up with a shorter term]

My Commentary
I don’t have too much to say about this. I think it’s good that the departments are responding to student concerns, but they should not let student desires overwhelm the hopefully rigorous requirements of a major. Additionally, I think it’s a bad thing if students come to college and end up majoring in “themselves”, as it were… it seems the complete opposite of the Williams tradition of “uncomfortable learning”. Obviously, that’s what some people wanted to do all along, and that’s fine. But the college and the curriculum should encourage students of ALL backgrounds and political orientations to branch out to fields beyond their own backgrounds.

Hiring Priorities
The report contains very little on hiring priorities — the matter was apparently tabled until the Spring. It noted the desire to allow the new programs to take root, but not to starve the old ones.

My desire is that the college needs to find a professor who will teach the Warfare material that Professor Wood currently teaches. Professor Wood’s classes are both EXTREMELY popular and on an area completely neglected by every other department on campus (i.e., without ready substitutes). To me, this should be the number one priority upon Professor Wood’s retirement.

The PC Requirement
The committee opines that the PC requirement is probably not expanding curricular diversity, noting it

has virtually no effect on those students most concerned with diversifying the curriculum (who do not need a requirement to prompt them to take courses of this kind); nor has it markedly affected the curricular choices of most other students, inasmuch as approximately 90 percent of the student body, in the year before the requirement was put in place, would already have satisfied it of their own choice.

Instead, the committee plans to revisit alternatives that might expand curricular diversity, including a proposal that was thankfully, albeit narrowly, defeated in 2001 — a Social[ist in]Justice” requirement, which may replace or supplement the PC requirement.

My Commentary
As one might expect, I think that the idea of a Social[ist in]Justice requirement is not only misguided, but even less likely to affect the curriculum (and therefore even less necessary) than the PC requirement is. I will limit myself to the alleged need for such a program, because I think what I would say about the drive for such a push is both completely obvious and would only incite a flame war.

According to page 28 of the self-study data, less than 14% of the students in the sample self-identify as far-right or conservative. (I think that I, at the time, described myself as such, but only because the survey was based on an overly simplistic right-left spectrum, rather than something more accurate like a Nolan chart.) No group of students has more than 14% of students who identify as “far right or conservative” [“Right”]– Caucasians and Asians at 14%, Latinos at 13%; African Americans at 6%. In contrast, across all groups 55-60% of students identify as far-left or [modern] liberals [“Left”]. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume that the rest is comprised of left-leaning, right-leaning, and centrist moderates [“Middle”].

Assuming that none of the Right would not take such courses and that only half of the Middle would, it seems like a significant majority of students would already be inclined to take such a course or courses on their own — i.e., all of the Left and half of the Middle, a proportion totalling about 75% of the campus. Given the substantial proportion of campus who would already take such courses (given the above assumptions), it seems like the proposed requirement’s effect on the curriculum would be quite small. Instead, I think that this reflects a desire of a portion of the faculty, which was a minority in 2001, that students need to be educated about issues of concern to the Left from a Left perspective. Since I am not privy to the details of this, I cannot say for sure, but I seriously doubt that an Austrian Economics class focusing on, e.g., the impact of rent control and minimum wage and how they harm the poorest elements of society, would pass muster even if there were anybody on campus to teach such a class.

Many departments already include required classes from that perspective, none of which are in DIII, thankfully. It would have been awful to sit through preaching on how science comes with “social obligations” while I boredly made stick-figure doodles of Lysenko. Political Economy, Sociology, ANSO, WGST are all majors that include courses that I would group under that rubric. In addition, AFAM, Latino Studies, and Environmental studies also require such courses.

Given the pre-existing departmental requirements on top of the prevailing likelyhood of the majority students to take such courses anyway, it is unlikely that such a requirement would be more than marginally more effective than the PC requirement in shaping the curriculum.

Instead, I would offer my own suggestion. Obviously, this has to be a requirement that would shape the curriculum and be easy for students to fulfill. It should meet a gap in the curriculum (unlike PC or Social[ist in]Justice). I would propose a “Critical Reasoning requirement”, that could be fullfilled in a variety of ways. E.g., con could offer a course in Austrian Economics, Math an intro-level course in formal logic, Poli-Sci an intro-level course from a public choice perspepctive,… but many other courses could fulfill this as they are currently constituted or with only minor tweaking, such as an intro-stat course with examples about how you can make statistics say virtually everything you want, any compsci course that requires more than a trivial amount of programming, or a sociology class on improper samples. This would not only shape the curriculum, but give students a perspective that they are not either naturally inclined to or likely to encounter in their other courses.

Ideally, I would like to see Williams follow Swarthmore’s lead in integrating a full-fledged Engineering major with a vibrant liberal arts curriculum, but I daresay that I’d be holding my breath until I were purple in the face.

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