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Who Claps?

Although my attempts to find someone live-blogging (or, better yet, a video feed of) today’s graduation has failed, we can be fairly certain that the end of the event is near. Nothing captures better the magic of Williams then the way that the entire faculty lines the path away from the ceremony and claps as the graduating class files through them. I still remember how fun it was to shake Alan White’s hands 18 years ago, how genuinely excited he seemed to share the event with me. [How pleased he was to see you go? — ed. Perhaps!] I wonder who will be shaking his hand today?


Harvard is, for better or worse, a very different place. It’s graduation, coming this Thursday, will only include 5% or so of the faculty. Harvard professors, you seem have better things to do with their time. Mostly only know a handful of seniors. It is not like they care much one way or the other. But, for me, the most emblematic part of the difference between places like Williams and places like Harvard concerns who does the clapping. At Harvard, the faculty walk through a path lined with students. The students applaud the faculty.

Consider the blog of Greg Mankiw, professor of economics at Harvard and former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers. Mankiw (who was my professor a decade ago) “teaches” EC 10, the introductory economics course at Harvard. I put teaches in quotation marks because the class contains around 1000 students. Mankiw only knows, only can know, I handful of them by name. Instead of the personal relationship that professors at Williams have with their students, Mankiw blogs for the hundreds of students who are, allegedly taught by him, the hundreds of students whose names he will never know, whose faces he could never recognize, whose voices he will never hear, whose writings he will never read.

But, that’s the deal at Harvard. If you don’t know that going in (and most Harvard students don’t), tough luck. Mankiw offers these thoughts on the differences between colleges and universities.

The most important choice a high-school senior faces when choosing where to be an undergrad is between research-oriented universities and teaching-oriented colleges. If you go to a place like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale, you get a famous faculty. But the first priority of that faculty is their own research and writing (and blogging!?), and they are more likely to shower attention on grad students than undergrads. If you go to a place like Amherst, Swarthmore, or Williams, you get a faculty whose first priority is undergraduate teaching. But you do not have a menu of graduate courses to sample from, and you do not have as vibrant a research atmosphere to experience. It is a tough choice.

Not really. As I argue in the comments to that post, this is a tough choice for the 10% or less of Harvard undergraduates who take significant advantage of the graduate courses and research seminars. Those who don’t would be much better off at Williams.

Correcting this market failure — in which the majority of students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off making the opposite choice — is perhaps the most important long term project of EphBlog.

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#1 Comment By Eislerman On June 4, 2006 @ 2:45 pm

Ah…I can’t believe it’s been two years. Senior week and dead week are truly a highlight of Williams (especially if you’ve had a ballbusting senior year), I really envy the ’06s over the last two weeks.

I was actually a little too tired to remember exactly whose hand I shook on the walk…

#2 Comment By Eislerman On June 4, 2006 @ 2:46 pm

Just read the entire post…Kane, I totally agree with you for once.

I must be getting old.

#3 Comment By David On June 5, 2006 @ 2:49 pm

Age brings wisdom. Just ask Uible!

#4 Comment By Jonathan Landsman On June 5, 2006 @ 8:10 pm

I hate to put sour mix into the sweet mead of reminiscing, but I don’t envy the seniors’ two weeks (more like three really, Eisler). I am certain they had an excellent time, but they got cheated a lot by the weather, a daily downpour that moved the “Mount Hope” dance into Towne Fieldhouse and probably ruined Six Flags (not that the theme park is in any way a highlight of the week, though it is funny to see a few hundred of the brightest graduates in the nation try to divy up and consume their bag lunches in an orderly fashion).

So I offer these small condolences to the seniors, but of course my great congratulations, and vicarious pleasure, to them in the main. My five year HS reunion was the night prior, or I’d probably have attended — mostly to see Evan Miller’s speech. I’ll be seeing if it’s posted online yet . . .

#5 Comment By Ronit On June 6, 2006 @ 2:10 am

Evan Miller’s speech kicked ass. That is all.

#6 Comment By Eislerman On June 6, 2006 @ 3:51 am

I don’t doubt it. If it hadn’t been for doing the bloody dance with TH, I’d probably have flown back for graduation just to see it.

#7 Comment By Eislerman On June 6, 2006 @ 3:56 am

http://www.williams.edu/home/commencement/miller.php

Wow. That might be the best graduation speech I’ve seen in my time at Williams.

#8 Comment By Anonymous On June 6, 2006 @ 10:09 am

It would’ve been the best graduation speech you’ve seen in your time at Williams except:

A.) You didn’t see it
B.) Your time at Williams is over.

#9 Comment By Eislerman On June 6, 2006 @ 2:15 pm

A) 5. a. trans. To direct the sight (literal or metaphorical) intentionally to; to look at, contemplate, examine, inspect, or scrutinize; to visit (a place); to attend (a play, etc.) as a spectator. (Cf. to see on, 21.) Also to see and (to) be seen; hence see-and-be-seen attrib. phr.

B) Your linear concept of time is narrowminded and heteronormative.

#10 Comment By Ronit On June 6, 2006 @ 7:52 pm

The copy of the speech posted on the Williams site is a little bit sanitized. He started off with (rough paraphrase from memory): “So…who wants to learn some dirty words in sign language? [laughter] No, don’t worry…I’m not that big an asshole.”