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Goff-Crews: Practical Directions?

[Originally published 1/24/06 -KT]

Dear Seminarians,

As I first heard the story, Laszlo Versenyi used 1975 to mark the first year in the evolution of American higher education when he felt that he could no longer conduct a substantive exploration of Plato in his first-year courses.

Well over a decade earlier, in the fall of 1963, Allan Bloom had sat in the common reading room of Cornell’s Telluride House, writing similar concerns into the House Log. Those concerns would become, in part, The Closing of the American Mind. A few weeks later, the young Paul Wolfowitz would add to the log that Allan Bloom was the first “intelligent conservative” he had ever met.

At about the same time, John Sawyer was, with Kaplan and Goff’s petition against the fraternity system in hand– and with far more concerns about the social and academic systems of the College–, travelling with a group of students and professors to listen to Clark Kerr’s Godkin Lectures at Harvard.

Working from previous conceptions of the University– which he rather boldly declared “illusions of its inhabitants”– Kerr declared that the modern university was a “new type of institution in the world.” Lamenting that the previous century had “turned the philosopher on his log into a researcher in his laboratory,” Kerr outlined the vision of a MultiVersity– a dynamic institution serving divers and even incompatible purposes– an institution “neither entirely of the world nor entirely apart from it”– an institution whose fundamental pursuit of knowledge would extend far into its surrounding community.

Kerr’s handling of Mario Savio’s free speech movement would hamstring his position as President of Berkeley, lead to the election of Ronald Reagan as governor of California, and to Kerr’s own removal by Governor Reagan in 1967. On the “fraternity question” and so much more, however, Jack Sawyer would begin to parallel a similar vision at Williams. A cursory examination of the course catalogs of Williams versus other institutions reveals that Williams dared to be the first to act to change the content of American education– far “diversifying” the then-current disciplines and endeavors of the liberal arts college, and many other institutions in turn.


In assigning me to dissuss Kimberly Goff-Crews’ report (and Hu-DeHart in the background), David has given me an assignment that is most difficult for me– personally.

I tend to agree– structurally and intellectually– with the projects and course of action they propose, and the over-arching idea of expanding the breadth and focus of undergraduate education to new, and seemingly hightly relevant, “perspectives.” Yet on the other hand– I’ve written at least fifty or sixty pages pulling apart their individual sentences and dynamics… and questioning whether their project is as “coherent” as it seems.

By presenting the very general– and absolutely questionable– narrative above, I hope to suggest not only that there are many other conceptions of “diversity” that those assumed in Goff-Crews and Hu-DeHart– and that all these conceptions of diversity touch us very personally– but — also– as Clark Kerr suggested– that the seeming certainties and goals of “racial,” “sexual,” and other visions of diversity presented above may be “illusions” of the “inhabitants” of institutions such as Williams and other universities.

As Ronit so cogently remarked some weeks ago, does hiring a science professor “of color” (etc) advance the needs of a student from India, China, Mexico, Indonesia (etc). Of are there other considerations of “diversity?”

I am particularly stuck by Du-DeHart’s claim that Williams as an institution still “embodies” a “master narrative–” without adding more, I wonder if the participants in this seminar see the same? Among those of you who advocate change– does the claim of a “master narrative” of “white, male, heterosexual” “priviledge” make sense? Does it explain your experience, and your needs, and the needs of those around you?

Again, I could now summarize and pick apart Goff-Crew’s suggestions– what seems a rationally planned project of increasing “diversity”– and I may do so depending on your responses.

But what I hope is that you who read this will will look at the project of “diversity” as proposed by Goff-Crews as a reflection of the hopes of Versenyi and Bloom and Kerr and Sawyer– and imagine that there is much more going on here than these immediate and “literal” proposals, and that we need to (together) look much further afield.

In our discussions of grading– which began with remarks on a peculiar course in organized crime– we have seen a multiplicity of perspectives on “diverse” methods of assigning grades. I suspect that the Williams Community has an equally diverse series of opinions on what the curriculum of Williams College– and of the University in general– should look like, and the instruction and opportunities it should provide.

Thus, before I begin to comment on Goff-Crews’ and Hu-DeHart’s particular path of change and “diversity”– what are the paths that each of you envision? What would you like the College and “the University” to provide? What goals should the curriculum embody? And most particularly– what are the paths and opportunities you may fear that we will not follow?

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#1 Comment By frank uible On January 24, 2006 @ 4:19 am

For starters – I believe Williams claims that it is seeking to become more diverse. If that belief is correct, what is a precise definition of the diversity being sought? What are the virtues and costs of attempting to achieve it and of maintaining that achievement? Do those virtues outweigh the costs? If so, how? If not, should the nature and extent of the diversity sought be adjusted with the aim of making the virtues outweigh the costs, or should the search be abandoned? If to be adjusted, then redefine and repeat the analysis of the process.

#2 Comment By hwc On January 24, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

Ken:

I have found the the “diversity report” to be frustrating in the same way that I find Shapiro’s initiatives in housing and alcohol policy frustrating. My frustration derives from a lack of an clear rationale for these initiatives. It is almost as if there is a reluctance on the part of the College to just simply state what it is that they are trying to change or what it is they hope to accomplish.

On a broader level, I think the College has a reluctance to embrace the fundamental characteristics that make Williams unique. Those characteristics, in reality, create a clear image of the students the college seeks to serve and of clear institutional priorities. Furthermore, those institutional priorities have made the College wildly successful in the marketplace. Yet, nowhere is the College willing to enunciate those institutional characteristics and, in fact, the housing initiative, alcohol report, and diversity initiative seem to suggest that the administration is uncomfortable with those characteristics.

To me, the most telling expression of this conflict is the fact that the College is unable to publish a concise mission statement that identifies a specific institutional quality and instead relies on a rather generic statement concerning “offering the highest quality education”.

The end result is a series of initiatives, without a clearly stated objective, that have little impact on a very strong, self-perpetuating, and cherished campus culture.

#3 Comment By Another ’04 On January 24, 2006 @ 4:13 pm

But these initiatives are self-perpetuating of a campus culture in and of THEMSELVES: delicate question parsing and response. Each merely marks time in the same tugs of war over un-PC/delicate questions. All of these matters will be revisited, just as housing and housing groupings are constantly revisited.

What has an impact is each new generation of trustees, students, and committee chairs. And ‘cherished campus culture?’ That’s a moving target.

#4 Comment By hwc On January 24, 2006 @ 7:44 pm

Thanks, Another ’04. Your “marking time” comment pulled a lot of things into focus for me.

In a way, all of these initiatives are much like the college’s response to the faculty slur and the racial slurs by a drunk student last year: an expression of tempered disapproval, but no particular desire to get involved in the messy business of change.

#5 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 24, 2006 @ 8:14 pm

Frank, hwc, ’04 and All,

First, thanks for your responses. Because this is not the kind of seminar where we can look across the table at one another for guidance, I hope I may use them as a series of starting points in examining Goff-Crews (and Hu-DeHarts’) concrete proposals.

As you seem to note, the consultants’ section of the report, and the report in general, is more-than-complex in structure. I tend to prefer that proposals begin with a very short goal or mission statement and a series of bullet points, and literary theorists (and we later) that the policy recommendations of these reports are not clearly highighted by bullet points, or even vertical bars and bold titles.

Rather, they seem subordinated within the larger narrative of the reports, a narrative that (I think it is fair to say) seems disjointed and confusing … what do we make of how this is presented to us?

But before we get to that “narrative” and structure, perhaps it is time to do what others have done– pull out the specific proposals of this section of the report, and place them in something like bullet point structure (with my comments, which I’ll keep very brief).

Goff-Crews’ specific proposed action items (using her headers) are thus:

Proposed Diversity Initiatives to Improve the Quality of Student Life

1. Create [a] centralized academic support center:
(self explanatory?)
2. Consider reshaping transition programs:
Goff-Crews suggests that existing Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences summer transition programs have their components extended into term-time, “strengthening” their impact”.
3. Use New Residential Plan to Enhance Initiative: [my emphasis]:
Goff-Crews suggests the development of a “full-blown” diversity training model for HCs and JAs, and use the new house system as a “new opportunity” to enhance “awareness” of “diversity.”
4. Enhance Role of Associate and Assistant Deans in the Diversity Initiative Efforts:
Goff-Crews suggests that the Deans take a stronger role in campus life, that the officially make themselves available to address racial/diversity issues, and that they become more “connected” to such issues by assigning one Dean to diversity/race issues.
5. Make campus protocol and expertise on racial incidences transparent:
In short, appoint an Omsbudperson to as point-of-contact for racial issues, and distribute a policy document that outlines procedures.
6. Enhance diversity of Health Services staff:
(self-explanatory?)
7. Regularly discuss diversity issues among senior staff:
(self-explanatory?: senior staff should meet every six weeks to explicitly address these issues).
8. Consider creating fellowship opportunities to attract more diverse senior administrators to Williams:
(self-explanatory, but within, the suggestion is that current senior staff can explicity serve as mentors for a more diverse junior staff)
9. Recognize and enhance support staff efforts to support student development:
recognize that ‘support staff’ such as secretaries, dining services etc play a key role in student life, and “regularly” educate these support staff in diversity issues.

Do we believe in these proposals?

Regardless, the above is the real “meat” of the section, and again I have to wonder, why each section of the report does not begin something like:

INTRO: …
We therefore propose:
[series of actions]

and then proceed to justification and discussion? Other than giving me a headache to read through– what does the form used in these sections in tell us about intents?

Next, on the face of things, I agree with the basic logic of most of these proposals. I as much as proposed #9 in an earlier post; and who can argue with the fact that various better cross-departmental (Deans-Academic Departments-Staff-Housing Clusters) structures of communication would help Williams acheive goals? As for an Academic Complex…

But: did really I propose #9 as it is stated? The concrete content of Goff-Crew’s proposal seems to me to be largely formal: develop handbook of statements about “diversity” and “racial incidents,” and deliver these to the support staff with regularity. Encourage them to connect with the students on these issues on a more regular basis. And I keep wondering: how? If this comes down to a series of “formal” “rules,” I’m not sure of the effect. If it encourages students and faculty and others to interact meaningfully, and create their own relationships, understandings and solutions– I am more positive.

I see no discussion of such issues. A proposal such as an “ombudsperson,” while formally positive, seems to me both top-heavy and lacking in detailed substance. As stated elsewhere, I’d like to see issues rarely reach such a level; I believe that people will produce better solutions if they are free to– and first attempt to– do so among themselves.

Equally, I wonder if we could not look closely at proposals 1 through 9, propose four or five different structures and ways of implementing each goal? Would we not then have the task of approximately weighing the costs and benefits of each restructuring– and, in that process, learn a bit or more than a bit about the diversity we were trying to acheive at the same time? While Alex Woo has reminded me recently that such work can be very hard, for now, I’ll go so far as to suggest that this is what Williams is not doing above, and that some version of such a project is what we should be doing.

In my initial introduction, my hope was to quickly frame these issues within a far larger history of course-changes and corrections within the University– and within particularly relevant examples of the College’s struggle with related issues. What I hope we attempt is to see these immediate debates from what someone such as Don Gifford might have called “the farther shore”– from moments whose criteria of judgment were far different.

From your comments, I have drawn three salient judgments about the the “Diversity Initiative” — feel free to correct my understanding of your words:

Frank: “Williams claims that it is seeking to become more diverse… [but] what is a precise definition of the diversity being sought?” (And what are the cost/benefits of each form? Etc. I believe the project outlined above lacks any such final definition at its core, and that it hesitates from engaging in cost-benefit an analysis. Yet I believe it does have a vision…
hwc: “I… found the the “diversity report” to be frustrating[.] My frustration derives from a lack of an clear rationale for these initiatives.” I take the main point here to be “lack of clear rationale…,” and I agree. But: I believe the proposal texts themselves are truly difficult to “parse,” if not obsurantist… and that there are underlying (exoteric) rationales.
’04:Each… marks time in the same tugs of war over un-PC/delicate questions. All of these matters will be revisited… [and] that’s a moving target. With great respect to your idea of constant revision, what I’d like to add is that this seems to be a ship whose course is constantly being changed mid-journey.

In my next installment of this inquiry, I hope to re-visit the consultants’ report again, to trace some of its rationale and committments and draw what answers it may give to each of the three inquires above… and to place its intents within the history of “revisions” of the goals and “uses” of the University.

But for now, what do we make of the above proposals? For instance, how many students would like to see an “Academic Complex” at Williams? What would it mean for “character”– and the meaning of the Williams experience?

Here at WKU, we have a big round brick building that says “Academic Complex” on the side– a mid-70s addition that followed similar accoutrements at Berkeley and elsewhere. What is an Academic Complex? What does it mean to concentrate “academic” goals into such a “container?” And in terms of all our goals and rationales, our guesses at costs and benefits, how does such an “innovation” relate to the idea of having a hundred professors sitting on logs– and the fact that Clark Kerr was so worried about using that particular Williams value, as to place the image of its loss within the first page of the most important work of his life?

#6 Comment By frank uible On January 24, 2006 @ 9:49 pm

Ken: Neither the definition nor the weighing of virtues against costs need be digital. In fact I would be substantially surprised if either of them would turn out to be very quantitative in nature. However, my curiosity requires (certainly my support is not required) that my tiny and tidy mind understand approximately (but in some detail) the goal which has been set, what Williams plans to get out of achieving it and what would be the price for it.

#7 Comment By hwc On January 24, 2006 @ 11:48 pm

Ken,

Here’s the part that befuddles me. As I read the Ad Hoc Committee on Athletics, the Alcohol Task Force, the Housing Committee, and the Diversity Initiative reports, I see a common theme: that a minority of students (non-athletes, non-drinkers, non-whites, or Odd Quaders) feel a sense of estrangement from the dominant campus culture. Although never explicitly stated, concern over fragmentation of the campus seems to be the motivation for Morty’s initiatives.

The never mentioned elephant in the living room is the obvious question, “Do we need to change the dominant campus culture?” Because this question is not asked, all of these reports have an Alice in Wonderland quality, dancing around the core issues.

The Diversity Initiatives recommendations provide a perfect example. Of the nine bullet points you so kindly outlined, virtually none of them suggest any action involving the dominant majority on campus, with the possible exception of “diversity” training for JAs (I can only imagine having to sit through those sessions) and forcing the estranged minority groups to live with majority groups — something neither group seems to be particularly excited about. Beyond that, the initiatives all focus on the minority group doing things to feel more comfortable or changes aimed at the staff. Is it possible that so many great minds couldn’t think of a single role the majority student group could play reduce the sense of fragmentation on campus?

If the majority student group on campus is making minority groups feel marginalized, then how can you address any of these issues without at least considering the need for change within the dominant social group?

#8 Comment By Ken Thomas ’93 On January 25, 2006 @ 12:13 am

Frank:

As much as I believe in digital initiatives, I see no such solution here– I believe this is a problems that boils down to “face to face” interactions. Does anyone see another path.

hwc:

In your recent response, do you feel the real need here is for change in the “dominant social group?” If so, what do you feel is necessary?

[Note: As an experiment, this “revisitation” has been transfered to another thread of its own, preserving recent comments; please make further comments there (or protest the form).
The entire discussion above is now closed to comments and has been lowered in status by “one week” as a form of archiving. -K
]