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Tablecloth Colors

“Tom” sent me a link to a Record op-ed on campus life.

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

No kidding. EphBlog has made this prediction over and over and over again. The more control that Williams students have over life at Williams, the better. The more people (intelligent and well-meaning though they may be) that are hired by the College to “help,” the less active students will be, almost by definition.

The main rational used by CUL in establishing OCL three years ago — All the other schools have one so it must be a good idea! — was stupid then and it is stupid now.

Writer Ainsley O’Connell ’06 tells a depressing tale. Anyone who cares about student life at Williams must read the whole thing.

When I arrived on campus, director of campus life Doug Bazuin and his staff were a distant idea, not a reality. Barb and Gail administered activities on campus, helping students schedule events from their fishbowl office at the heart of Baxter Hall. Linda Brown administered room draw, her maternal warmth and firmness easing the process. Tom McEvoy (who has since departed) and Jean Thorndike provided big-picture support and served as liaisons between students and administrators. When students were moved to champion a new policy or party idea, Tom and Jean were willing to listen, and often to lend moral and financial support. The execution fell to students, but this sense of responsibility fostered greater ownership.

Great stuff. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to capture this sort of testimony, the thanks of current students to the staff members that have done so much.

But those with long memories will note what a mockery this makes of the CUL’s discussion in 2001 of the lack of staff devoted to student life. Indeed, if there is any table which demonstrates the dishonesty/incompetence of CUL over these last 5 years it is this description Staffing at Comparable Institutions. Click on the link. Let’s take a tour. (The line for Williams (all zeroes in bold) is at the bottom.)

First, note how the JA system magically disappears. The “50 junior advisors” for Bates are listed under “Student Staff” but, at Williams, they have vanished. Second, the CUL pretends that Dean Dave Johnson ’71 does not exist. The countless hours that he spent (and spends) working with the JAs and First Years doesn’t matter. Yet you can be sure that one of the “3 Assistant Deans” at Emerson does exactly what Johnson does at Williams, although probably not as well. Third, the CUL erases all the work and commitment of people like Linda Brown and Tom McEvoy, as evoked so nicely by O’Connell.

None of this is surprising, of course. Morty decided in 2000 that there were certain things about Williams that he was going to change. By and large, he has changed them.

O’Connell goes on:

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new initiatives and throw events open to the campus. For many, extracurricular activities had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from campus life, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals. Take Williams Students Online, for example, or 91.9, the student radio station: Their success lies in their student leaders, who have been willing to commit their time to making sweeping changes that have transformed WSO and WCFM, respectively.

It may have been reasonable for O’Connell not to see, in 2003, how this would all work out, but she is naive in the extreme not to see now that this evolution was inevitable. How shall we explain it to her? Imagine a different paragraph.

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new publications and manage current ones. For many, writing for and editing student publications had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing everything down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from the Office of Campus Publications, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals.

In other words, why isn’t it a good idea for Williams to create an Office of Campus Publications [OCP], with a Director of Campus Publications and a staff of Campus Publication Coordinators? After all, as the meltdown of the GUL in 2001 (?) and the Record‘s inability to pick an editor-in-chief this year demonstrate, students sometimes need help. They often make mistakes. Who could deny that having someone to “help” and “support” the Record (and GUL and Mad Cow) wouldn’t make those publications better? No one. Perhaps OCP would even have prevented the demise of Rumor and Scattershot.

But would the experience of the students writing those publications be better with a bunch of (intelligent, well-meaning) paid employees of the College hovering over them? No. That should be obvious to O’Connell. Writing for and editing the Record these last 4 years has probably taught her as much about life its own self as any aspect of her Williams education. If she had had a Doug Bazuin equivalent supervising her all this time, her experience would not have been as rich, her education not as meaningful.

As always, critics will claim that I am advocating that the College provide no help or support, that we abolish the Dean’s Office. No! Some support is good, just as some social engineering is desirable. But, on the margin, the contribution of the OCL is negative.

Vibrant means “long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail.” This is exactly why student institutions like WCFM, WSO and others (Trivia? Rugby? Current students should tell us more) are so vibrant. O’Connell acts as if you can have a vibrant organization or community without time and trouble, sweat and tears. In fact, you can’t.

O’Connell writes as if vibrancy appears from nowhere, that someone just sprinkles magic pixy dust on WSO and WCFM. No. Vibrancy, community, innovation and almost everything else worth having in this imperfect life require “unreasonably long hours” and “preparing everything down to the last detail.” You don’t think that Ephs like Evan Miller at WSO and Matt Piven at WCFM sweat the details? Think again.

Unfortunately, the Office of Campus Life and the Dean’s office, which oversees it, have not fostered this model. Instead, both offices have moved in the opposite direction, at times going so far as to render student involvement wholly superficial, as with the planning of this year’s Senior Week. The senior officers elected by the Class of 2006 do nothing more than choose tablecloth colors; it is assistant director of campus life Jess Gulley who runs the show. Hovering over student shoulders, the campus life staff of today is like a mother or father who wants to be your friend instead of your parent. The office should cast itself as an administrative support service, not the arbiter of cool.

Harsh! True? Current students should tell us. But note that this is not Gulley’s fault! I have no doubt that she is wonderful and hard-working, dedicated to making student life better. Each day, she wakes up and tries to figure out how to make this the best Senior Week ever. That is, after all, what the College is paying her to do. In that very act, of course, she decreases the scope of student control and involvement.

Back in the day, students handled almost all aspects of Senior Week. I still remember dancing the night away, in my dress whites, at Mount Hope Farm, the most beautiful Eph of all in my arms. No doubt this year’s seniors, 18 years younger than I, will have a fine time as well. Because of Gulley’s involvement, it may even be true that the events are better planned and organized. Yet everything that she does used to be done by students, hectically and less professionally, but still done by them.

The more that students do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

More commentary later. (Try to contain your excitement.) Lest the 2001 CUL table disappear down the memory hole, I have saved a copy below. (Apologies for the formatting.)

InstitutionProfessional StaffOther staffStudent StaffEnrollment
Amherst1 Director4 area co-ordinators53 resident counselors1700
Babson1 Dir of Campus Life/
1 Assoc Dir
2 resident directors371692
Bates2 Assistant Deans 50 junior advisors/
res. coordinators
Bowdoin1 Director3 Asst. Directors who
are recent graduates
39 resident assts1605
Bryn Mawr1 Director;
1 Asst Director
 35 hall advisors1886
Carleton1 Director2 asst dir [live in]54 resident assistants1858
Colby1 Dir/1 Asst Dir10 Faculty Residents45 resident assts1753
ConnecticutAssoc. Dean/Asst Direct. 21 housefellows1650
Emerson3 Assistant Deans4 residence directors [live in]32 resident advisors1207
Macelester1 Director/Assoc Dean1 Program Coordinator
3 Hall Directors
1 Operations Manager
35 student staff [appr]1774
Middlebury1 Asst Provost/1 System Co-ordinator5 ‘decentralized deans’
5 faculty associates
5 CRA’s [recent grads]
60 student staff2176
Oberlin1 Assoc Dean/Director2-3 Asst Dir/5 area coordinators52 resident coordinators2024
Sarah Lawrence1 Director 3 grad assistants/24 ras1388
Smith1 Associate Dean1 housing coordinator/
several residence coordinators
[10 recent grads]
31 head residents/house coordinators
22 community advisors
Swarthmore1 Asst Dean/Dir of Residence Life 29 Housing Comm Members1370
Trinity1 Associate Director –
reports to Dir. of Campus Life
5 live in residential fellowsnot available2215
Vassar1 Director /1 Asst DirectorFaculty House Fellows [9]10 proctors
house presidents
student fellows
house interns
Wellesley1 Director/1 Asst Dir1 Staff Assoc./14 live-in resident directorsnot yet available2319
Wesleyan1 Director/1 Assoc Director3 Area Coordinatorshead resident/
resident advsiors/
house managers
Wheaton1 Dir , Student Life
1 Associate , 1 Assistant Director
4 Area Coordinators43 Student Mentors1443
WPI1 director;
2 assoc directors
6 student hall directors [students]35 student advisors1226

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#1 Comment By frank uible On May 14, 2006 @ 8:03 am

One of the obvious intentions of the College administration in abolishing fraternities was the elimination of the then student independence over most of student social life (and much of student housing) arising out of its occurrence on properties not owned by the College (i.e. the fraternity houses and their grounds) – anal retentive of the administration wasn’t it? Of course, that intention was successfully executed from an administration perspective since most of the fraternity houses were deeded to the College as a result of the abolition, and at any rate thereafter the vast majority of students came to be housed (and to be engaged in most of their social activities) on College property over which the College could and did exercise (and has continued to have exercised) dominion, custody and control. The subject under discussion is merely a modern day extension of one of the major consequences of that long ago abolition.

#2 Comment By rory On May 15, 2006 @ 2:37 am

that table was published when there was a push to pay JAs to make them into “student staff”. As unpaid student volunteers, the JAs and the college have a less official connection than if they received any form of enumeration. Whether or not it is a good thing, their lack of payment explains not being counted.

Further, if memory serves me properly, Dave Johnson had not yet been hired as a Dean in ’01.

Just minor quibbles…I really think not respecting the traditions when replacing the status quo with the new system (such as Barb and Gail together in the calendar office) was throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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