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.