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Fan Letter

Although this WSO thread has moved off topic, I liked this bit from Daniel Binder.

I agree that professors should be more or less objective in their teaching. Unfortunately, I have found that many fail to do that. In a number of classes I have taken, it has been clear that the professor was liberal. The best professors here avoid that. Before taking Leadership Studies 125 with Prof. McAllister, more than one person told me that he was one of the more conservative professors on campus. Once I took the class I really couldn’t understand what those people were talking about. He encouraged discussion on everything and never injected his own bias into the material. In fact, if a student made a point, he would take the opposite (liberal or conservative) simply to force the person to back up his or her views. I don’t want to turn this post into a fan letter, but my point is that McAllister seems to be one of the profs who really “gets” it and teaches fact, not opinion, but at the same time encourages students to form their own opinions.

1) It is certainly a true statement that McAllister is one of the “one of the more conservative professors on campus.” At Williams, if you’re a Scoop Jackson Democrat, you might as well be a charter member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.

2) I am pleased to see McAllister, an EphBlog author, praised in this way. I have heard similar praise for Marc Lynch and Sam Crane. Perhaps blogging makes you open-minded. Or open-minded people are more likely to appreciate blogs. Or something.

3) It would be nice to hear more details about the “many” professors at Williams who “fail” to be objective in their teaching. True? I am not looking to start a Horowitzian witch-hunt, but I do like details. Perhaps Blinder or someone else could supply them. It isn’t even necessary to name the professors. Just tell us what professor X did or said that, in your view, was not “objective” teaching.

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Don’t Want List

Brooklyn Bridge User Group, a blog by an anonymous member of the class of 1991, writes about her “Don’t Want” list.

books – my dad used to say, whenever Mom came home from a bookstore with a bag of new books, “But you already have a book!” He was only kind of joking. And they always had a decent array of bookshelves. For someone who has the most pathetically lame, mismatched, nonadjustable gaggle of bookcases known to man, I have far, far too many books. A quarter of them live on the floor. And when you consider that the only books I’ve been reading for the last two years are audiobooks, well, you see how stupid this is. I purge frequently, but still, new ones keep trickling in.

Indeed, they do. By the way, I think that BBUG is the Ur-Eph blogger. At least I don’t know any Eph who was blogging before June 2001. Do you?

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Show Us the Work

Swarthmore Professor Tim Burke writes about assessment and a liberal arts education.

I still want to know whether what *I* do in the classroom makes a specific difference that justifies the expense that students are paying, and whether *I* as a professional can do it better.

My answer: First, publish at the start of the semester (or the start of freshmen year) your goals for the skills that you want students to master. For the most part, these will be clear writing, logical thinking and the like, but you pick the goals. Second, publish (anonymously, if you prefer) the work that your students submit during the semester or during their four years at Swarthmore. Show us both their very first papers (which may fairly be taken as what they know before being taught by you/Swarthmore) and their very last papers. Third, publish the feedback which you gave them on their papers. This may or may not include grades, but the key part is the comments. What did you praise and what did you criticize? What concrete suggestions did you make? Fourth, have an open conversation at the end of the semester/BA about the progress which has been made and your contributions to that progress. Allow outsiders to chime in.

I try to capture some of this spirit in my syllabus. Alas, it is not clear when I’ll get a chance to teach it.

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Out of Hand

Marc Lynch reports

But I can say that the single moment which most floored me was when Michael Cook, the distinguished historian of Islam and author of the magisterial Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (condensed and affordable version here), introduced me not only as the author of Voices of the New Arab Public and associate professor at Williams College, but also as the blogger Abu Aardvark. And Bernard Lewis nodded along. This blogging thing really might be getting out of hand….

Indeed. Alas, there are no reports of famous people nodding along at the mention of EphBlog . . .

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Photo ID, #52

The last one was a challenge, but this one is not as hard, since it’s a building.

PICT2247.JPG

What building is this (the one pictured, and the one in the reflection)? What does this part do, and when was it built, and have you been inside it, and how do you feel about it? Etc.

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Africana Studies

There is a fun discussion at WSO about this post. Aston Gonzalez, who started the thread, does not seem to be my biggest fan.

What I think you’re missing is Kane’s blatant sarcasm and mockery of the Africana Studies program.

I am not mocking the Africana Studies program. I am mocking Williams for thinking that doubling (?) the size of the Africana Studies program does as much to increase “diversity” on campus as would spending the same amount of money on increasing the range of ideological views among the faculty.

Now, there are a lot of messy details in this dispute. Williams did not used to have an Africana Studies program at all. It used to be called Afro-American Studies, which is, as Professor Joy James can explain better than I, not the same thing. I also do not know if the budget has doubled. But you can be sure that Professor James did not take a pay cut when she left her position at Brown to come to Williams. Tenured Ivy League professors do not come cheap, either in terms of the salary they merit or in terms of the resources they require. A glance at the program’s homepage demonstrates that some serious money is being spent.

But the central point is that just because you think that Williams should spend more money on X and less on Y does not necessarily imply that you think money being spent on Y is being wasted.

These were his words: “The fact that KC isn’t at Williams is one of the worst faculty outcomes of the last two decades. No worries, though. We have a new department of Africana Studies. Who needs ideological diversity among the faculty? That would be too confusing for the students!”

He is chastising the College for not hiring a Poli Sci prof. who, in his eyes, believes and teaches from a different point of view. I completely understand and see the merit in that.

Good! Perhaps Gonzalez and I are closer to agreement than he thinks we are. We both agree that Williams benefits from having great teachers like KC Johnson and Joy James. We both think that, in addition to their qualities as superb teachers and researchers, Johnson and James bring something else to the College. In other words, even if they taught, say, chemistry, Williams would be pleased to have Johnson and James. But the fact that Johnson has a unique ideological viewpoint and that James has an expertise in a specific academic discipline means that they are even more desirable than their “raw” teaching ability would suggest.

Fine. All is rosy. But does Gonzalez understand that resources are limited, that Williams can not hire 500 professors, that choices must be made?

Imagine that Morty announced tomorrow that he was doubling the size of the Classics Department, that he had hired away a famous professor from Yale, that two new assistant professor positions had been created and that several new visiting positions and a lecture series were being funded.

Who could be against such wonderfulness? Could Gonzalez be so anti-Grecian (?) that he would deny the value of studying Greek literature? Is he so anti-Roman in his thinking that he might fail to see the value to Williams of more classes in Classics? I hope not!

Instead, I hope Gonzalez would see, not just the wonderfulness of the new additions, but also what those resources might have gone to instead. I hope that he would be aware of both what is seen and what is not seen.

At that point, we can have a conversation about the costs and benefits of the different ways that Williams can spend its money. There are benefits to doubling the size of Africana Studies. But are the marginal benefits of doing so — given that Williams already had a fine program with dedicated teachers — greater than the marginal benefits of adding the first contingent of non-liberal faculty? I don’t think so.

In the same thread, Daniel Blinder writes:

I do agree that more professors with viewpoints not conforming to the liberal norm would be good to have. I don’t consider myself conservative, but I’m also less liberal than a lot of people here.

Andrew Wang agrees:

Africana Studies is fine, but at the same time, the vast majority of faculty teaching in such fields are liberal and left-leaning. As an individual who does not always subscribe to the prevailing wisdom of liberal academia, I would find it refreshing to bring in experienced, well-respected, and skilled faculty who were NOT always left of center.

Agreed. On the margin, the thing that Williams needs most is ideological diversity among the faculty, i.e., a few conservatives/Republicans/libertarians.

However, my problem with his statement is how he discounts the entire Africana Studies program, and implies that its mission, purpose, and existence pale in comparison to that of one allegedly unique prof.

This is not what I believe. In fact, I expect to become more of a Joy James fan over time. I hear, from students, that she is a demanding professor who requires her students to think clearly and work hard. That’s my kind of Williams professor! The Williams professors/programs which I hold in contempt are the ones that do not require serious work from their students. Science gut courses for non-majors are the worst examples.

What angers is me is how Kane frequently, as Andrew W. said, “would rather see us return to the good ol’ days when we studied the works of “dead white men” to the exclusion of everything else.”

Life is short so I don’t expect Gonzalez to read what I write. But he shouldn’t pretend to know what I think if he isn’t going to take the time to find out. If students prefer Frantz Fanon to The Federalist Papers, if they would rather read Rigoberta Mench� than Plato, then more power to them. I may, on occasion, mock students for making these choices, but I will always defend their right to make them. The College should teach the courses and topics that students want to take (chosen from the universe of serious academic fields) and not the courses and topics that I (or Aston or the faculty) want students to take.

Indeed, this desire to respond to student preferences is one of the reasons that I do not like small, specially focused departments like Africana Studies. Better, I think, would be for these professors to be housed in large departments so that it would be easier to shift them around as student interests change. But this is a side issue to those raised by Gonzalez.

Yet the great irony here is that Gonzalez demonstrates the very need for greater ideological diversity among the faculty by his incorrect assumption that anyone, like me, who would criticize the increase of Africana Studies must be in favor of requiring that students read more Dead While Males. Some conservatives, it is true, do argue that. But many (indeed, most conservative Ephs) don’t. If Gonzalez actually had a conservative professor — someone who like Sam Crane or Marc Lynch taught her classes non-ideologically but who added her viewpoint to the public conversation on campus — he might realize that we aren’t all alike.

The debate on WSO includes this:

Little known fact: Reading exclusively Western literature does not promote diversity because all dead white men agreed with each other.

To which Gonzalez responds with “Amen.” Please tell me that this is irony!

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Admissions Questions

EphBlog’s favorite high school principal, Nancy Gannon ’89, needs some help.

My 11th graders are so excited about college applications and as we think about the steps they need to take, I’m strategizing about how to build a useful bridge to our alma mater. Any suggestions? I know many colleges sponsor trips (pay for our 11s to get out there & host them when they arrive) and other colleges do much more, but I’m not really sure who I’d talk to in order to forge a relationship. Would love some advice.

Good questions. Although I am somewhat plugged in with admissions (doing my first alumni interview tomorrow), I don’t have specific advice for Nancy. Gina Coleman ’90 certainly seems like someone worth reaching out to. Questbridge may be relevant.

What advice do our readers have for Nancy and her students?

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Don’t Know History

Adam Cole ’03 writes:

I thought this was interesting and relevant to the whole idea of the “purple bubble.” The Intercollegiate Studies Institute found that seniors at Williams scored lower than freshman on a 60 question multiple choice test on history, government, foreign affairs, and the economy. As a political science major, I always had good discussions about politics and current events, but I know that many students get lost in the day to day of being at Williams and forget about the world outside the purple bubble. Seems relevant for ephblog.

Indeed. But, glancing at the study, who really cares? Does it matter whether or not Williams graduates know about, say, the settlement at Jamestown? I don’t think so. I don’t care if every Williams students takes a course on American history or none do. I care that the courses are rigorously taught and appealing to students.

Also, as a rule of thumb, it is a waste of time to study surveys which do not release the exact list of questions asked.

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Durham-in-Wonderland

KC Johnson’s blog about the Duke (False Accusation of) Rape Case, Durham-in-Wonderland, continues to be the place to go for updates on this continuing miscarriage of justice. I hope that Morty and his fellow Council members are reading it closely.

The fact that KC isn’t at Williams is one of the worst faculty outcomes of the last two decades. No worries, though. We have a new department of Africana Studies. Who needs ideological diversity among the faculty? That would be too confusing for the students!

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Pay Cut

Great article on Michael Levine ’94 leaving behind a law career to coach football.

Levine reports that his former Eph teammates are supportive, if not jealous. “I keep up with a lot of them and they mostly think its pretty cool,” said Levine. “I think they can all relate to doing a job that your heart isn’t really in, just for the paycheck. Cat [Greg Catanzano ’94 now with CherryRoad Technologies in Irvine, CA] in particular — when he heard what I was doing, he thought for a split second, then said something like, ‘will you please talk to Jan’ [his wife]?”

Michael’s wife, Laura, is behind his career change all the way. “She is very supportive, even with the 75 percent pay cut,” said Levine. “We finally realized that all the money in the world doesn’t mean a thing if you’re miserable. I used to get depressed every Sunday night, thinking about having to go to work the next day. No more.”

Indeed. Too many Ephs go to law school. Glad to see that Levine corrected his mistake before too long.

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A Year in Photos: December

December: Dance Company
december-legs.jpg

Not much non-academic happens in the two weeks in December before break, but here’s a fun photo from Dance Company’s winter performance. Click here for more from that shoot.

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Tenure Track

If I were a lawyer for the College, I would not like this news release.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Sept. 6, 2006 – Williams College has announced the appointment of the following assistant professors to tenure track positions:

Shannon L Bryant, assistant professor of physical education. Bryant received her B.A. in organizational behavior and management from Brown University in 1994 and her Master of Sports Science in sports coaching from the United States Sports Academy in 2005. She has coached ice hockey at Hamilton College and with the Seattle Junior Hockey Association.

Erica R. Edwards, assistant professor of African American studies. Edwards received her B.A. in English and Spanish from Spelman College in 1999 and her Ph.D. in literature in 2006. Her teaching interests include, among others, African American literature, contemporary Black popular culture, and critical theories of race and gender. Her doctoral dissertation is titled “Contesting Charisma: Political Leadership in Contemporary African American culture.”

I have nothing against Bryant, Edwards or any of the other newly hired faculty. Good luck to them all! The issue here, related to the David Barnard situation, is that Bryant (a coach) is being treated exactly the same as Edwards (a professor). Both or in the same news release, both are described a “tenure track,” both are listed as “assistant professors.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. The exact tenure status of athletic faculty is not spelled out (anywhere that I can find) on the Williams website. But, if the College is, in an official news release, refers to Bryant as “tenue track” than someone like Barnard must also have been “tenure track” at some point. And, “tenure track” must lead somewhere, presumably to tenure or at least the athletic department equivalent thereof.

And, as we learned from Aida Laleian, tenured faculty don’t get fired.

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Real Opportunity

Mike McPherson and Morty Schapiro have an essay on “Making Opportunity Real.”

The sources of unequal college opportunity in the United States run deep.

Finding effective ways to act is a matter of growing urgency and importance. There is every reason to think that success in higher education will become continually more critical for individual success in our economy and society. And a well-educated populace seems indispensable for a healthy and flourishing society in this new century, both in economic and in civic terms.

I disagree with much of this, but lack the time for a decent critique. But, quickly, at what point will the critics of US higher education be satisfied? Do 25% of people need to get college degrees? Or is it 50%? Why not 95%?

And, obviously, why stop at a BA? If “success in higher education will become continually more critical for individual success in our economy and society,” then shouldn’t 25%, or 50%, of US citizens get Master Degrees or, better yet, Ph.D.’s? Isn’t the failure of our system to produce more Ph.D.’s a sign of its fundamental unfairness?

As always, free people making their own choices, cognizant of all the benefits and costs associated with those choices, is the best answer. What evidence do M&M have that their estimate of the value of a BA is more accurate than the estimates made by the people who decide not to pursue one?

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Library Tour

If you haven’t discovered on-line video, stop reading this right now. Save yourself. Those who have, and who aren’t afraid of wasting arbitray amounts of time, can check out the ever-growing collection of Williams-related videos at YouTube. Start with the library tour.

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Case ’75 Loses

Sad to see.

Rep. Ed Case conceded defeat to Sen. Daniel Akaka in phone call late Saturday after voters in Hawaii’s Democratic primary gave the liberal incumbent a wide lead.

Case conceded the race when returns showed he trailed by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent with roughly two-thirds of the expected vote counted. Akaka had 87,102 votes compared to Case’s 71,712.

“Losing is never easy,” Case said in his concession speech. “It doesn’t mean the ideas we put forward in this campaign are not valid.”

True. Now that Case will no longer be in the House of Representatives, how many Ephs are left?

By the way, if you think you would like to try political blogging, drop us an e-mail. EphBlog would like to sign up a blogger to follow the Eph elections this year. Chris Murphy ’96, for example, is involved in one of the more closely watched House races this year. If you think you have what it takes to write about politics, you should write for us. You provide the content. We provide hundreds of readers.

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Eph Love You Long Time

One of the more interesting discussion threads on WSO last spring concerned a “satirical” article (pdf, page 10) in Rumpus, a Yale humor magazine, entitled “”Me Love You Long Time: Yale’s Case of Yellow Fever.” The following is all you need to read to get the idea.

That’s right, Yale’s got a major case of what some (i.e. racists) might call “The Yellow Fever.” In fact, one sophomore girl claimed, “I’d never even heard the term ‘Yellow Fever’ until I got to Yale… I thought it meant you were taking a class on plagues.” For the uninformed, “Yellow Fever” is what happened when Dan Rather (probably) had the hots for Connie Chung [Rumpus Editor’s note: who didn’t have the hots for Connie Chung?], or what happened when Woody Allen dumped Mia Farrow for Soon-Yi, although that also involved pedophilia and some sort of incest. To put it simply, “Yellow Fever” is what happens when a Caucasian male and Asian female enjoy the
conjugal bliss that only true love can bring. One male sophomore said, “It’s a trend that people are definitely missing out on. I’ve dated three Asian girls. It’s less a fever and more a full-on disease… Asian girls are like SARS — they take my breath away.” One sophomore girl theorized that white guys are attracted to Asian girls because, “They [the guys] have this fantasy idea of the Asian wife: meek, submissive, Korean… We [Asian girls] are nimble, good with our hands, have less hair, and we age well. It’s a no-brainer.” But, as Confucius used to say, “Fortune cookie break both ways.” In other words, it takes two to do the horizontal dragon dance. “Yellow Fever” is more than an affliction of red-blooded, slightly-pedophilic Yale males dying to date the real-life manifestations of the sexpots from Sailor Moon and Samurai Champloo. Yellow Fever goes both ways.

Several Asian women expressed the same preference for Whites, Blacks…and every other race over their own. One Asian girl said, “I don’t exclusively like white guys, it’s just the traits which I find
attractive are more prevalent among whities. If I could find an Asian guy who’s six feet tall, built, talks with a Southern accent, and likes it when I call him ‘amigo’, there wouldn’t be a problem.”

I first heard the term “Yellow Fever” from a Harvard undergraduate in 1992. Did it appear at Williams before then? I certainly don’t recall it from the 1980s.

On WSO, Peter Shin pointed out:

Yes, it might have been the Rumpus’ INTENT to only poke fun at and ridicule the asian stereotypes, but whether or not that was actually ACHIEVED is a totally different matter.

Yes, Rahul, people KNOW that the article was meant to be amusing BECAUSE it is so ridiculous. It’s not that we’re all dense and unable to grasp this point, which you seem to believe. However, those people speaking out against the article are CONCERNED that such articles INADVERTENTLY will end up only perpetuating the stereotypes simply because of the author and editors’ ineptness.

The whole discussion is an interesting read, but no one ever seemed to address the facts of the matter. It isn’t a stereotype that couples composed of white men and Asian women are more common than the reverse (the contrapositive?), it is an fact. Or at least it was a fact back in the day at Williams and in US society. Questions:

1) What is the racial distribution of couples at Williams today?

2) What are the reason(s) for that distribution?

There is an amazing senior thesis to be written on this topic, but I don’t expect to see it anytime soon.

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Still an Option

This Berkshire Eagle article doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.

But Richard Nesbitt, Williams College director of admissions, said yesterday no similar plans are on the table at Williams, where he said generous financial aid and recruitment efforts have helped head off such issues. Early decision has been an option at Williams for about 40 years and usually selects about a third of the incoming classes.

“We’ve never really considered dropping early decision,” he said. “We’ve always felt it was something that makes sense for those students who really have done their homework and found a definite first choice.”

Good. Williams would be foolish to drop Early Decision.

Nesbitt said Williams has been able to mitigate through its financial aid record. The college promises to meet 100 percent of demonstrated need of students who are admitted, and has worked to limit the amount of student-loan debts lower-income students need to take on.

“Our need-based packages are as competitive as any in the country, so there is less worry they may get a better deal somewhere else,” he said.

This is true for the most part, but is it always true? For example, what happens when a student is admitted to both Williams and Princeton? Both meet her financial “need” but Princeton requires no loans while Williams (initially) expects her to borrow several thousand dollars. Does Williams meet the Princeton offer?

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SoulFire

Great article on Wyeth Lynch 00’s new restaurant venuture, SoulFire. Hopefully Boston Ephs can help support what sounds like a great concept (after all, the Williams network should be about more than just landing i-banking gigs). And hopefully Wyeth will be successful as fellow Boston-area Eph restaurant entrepeneur Jordan Tobins.

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Tax Breaks for the Rich

Inside Higher Ed reports:

Federal student aid — with its various needs tests — generally goes to low income students. But federal tax breaks for college costs, largely adopted during the Clinton administration, are having a significant impact on the amount of federal assistance going to wealthier students.

The average tax benefit received by families with incomes of $92,000 or more was greater in fact than the average benefit for those with incomes less than $32,000. This analysis comes from “Student Financing of Undergraduate Education: 2003-4,” released Wednesday by the National Center for Education Statistics. While the report is an annual look at tuition and financial aid, the study released Wednesday had the most thorough analysis to date of the impact of federal tax breaks as a student aid tool.

When the tax breaks were created, and in the years since, some critics have predicted that they would end up helping students who least need the help, and the new data are likely to reinforce that impression. Defenders of the tax credits have countered that many middle class families need support and that Congress and the administration are unwilling to make large increases in Pell Grants or other programs that are more focused on low-income students.

Is it really surprising that rich people can get the government to do what they want? Unfortunately (?), the report itself does not mention Williams specifically and much of the material is irrelevant to our focus here on elite education. But it does suggest a great senior thesis! How has the real cost of attending Williams changed over the last 30 years? The sticker price has, obviously, gone up, but the amount of tax breaks and financial aid has increased as well. Might Williams be cheaper now than it was in 1976?

The applicant (and admittee) pool has grown wealthier as well, at least among US citizens. So, even if the absolute dollar expense (adjusted for increased financial aid and inflation) has increased, the cost as a percentage of family income or wealth for the average student may not have gone up much, if at all. Curious about this? Write a senior thesis (or even an independent study) and tell us the answer.

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Open Access

Open access is a good thing.

When the Federal Public Research Access Act was proposed this year, scholarly society after scholarly society came out against the legislation, which would require federal agencies to publish their findings, online and free, within six months of their publication elsewhere. The future of academic research was at stake, the societies said, and both their journals and the peer review system could collapse if the legislation passed.

It is increasingly hard, however, to say that those societies reflect the views of academe on the issue. In July, the provosts of 25 research universities came out in favor of the legislation, saying that the current system of research publishing leads to outrageously high journal costs that are harming libraries and making it impossible for people to follow research. Now the presidents of 53 liberal arts colleges — at the behest of their librarians — are issuing a joint letter backing the legislation. And while it is unlikely that the bill will pass this year, the new letter that was released Tuesday is part of a broader effort by open access supporters to place higher education in a new position when the debate is renewed next year.

The letter is signed by the presidents of most of the best liberal arts colleges in the country, including Amherst, Wesleyan and Swarthmore — but not Williams. What’s up with that? Morty doesn’t like open accesss?

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A Year in Photos: November

After a brief hiatus, the series continues….

November: Tailgating
nov-homecoming.jpg
(click here for more photos)

This image is from the Williams v Amherst football game this fall (yes, we won). Remeber the Ephblog post mentioning that Sports Illustrated was thinking about covering the tailgate? Well, that happened. Even better, their uber-professional photographer that was scheduled to cover the event dropped out last minute, leaving the writer, Alec Morrison, all alone and desperate. Who did he call? Dick Quinn, the guru of Sports Info. And Dick Quinn gave him my name. And they, for lack of a better (or any) option, hired me. So, by a totally bizarre series of events, I ended up shooting for Sports Illustrated, and the photos appeared here.

That was, by far, the most terrifying shoot of my life (including my stint with the cherry picker). That the photographs even turned out is a miracle (probably because of my “take as many photos as humanly possible” strategy). The odds are on my side. A result of this technique is that if you were within a few miles of the game, I probably have a photo of you. Click here for the full gallery.

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Photo ID, #51

PICT2218.JPG

I took this picture right before sunset, when there is this beautiful “sweet light” (as my winter study photography professor, Cesar Silva, called it). So now that you know what direction this picture is facing, what building (whose shadow is in the picture) is it taken from, and what building is just visible?

(Also, in case you missed it in the comments from last week’s entry, note the new Photos section of the Categories feature, thanks to Eric Smith ’99.)

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Lloyd Thacker

Who is the Rasputin of the world of elite college admissions? Lloyd Thacker.

Even before Lloyd Thacker quit his job as a counselor in 2004, he had become something of a legend in the world of college admissions. His talks at meetings of deans and the rank and file of college admissions drew packed houses — and standing ovations — for his assaults on standardized testing, admissions consultants for students, enrollment consultants for colleges, early decision hysteria and just about every other trend in college admissions.

Admissions officers bought his book, cheered Thacker on, and donated to his new nonprofit group, but they quietly doubted he’d have much impact. He’ll run out of money, they predicted. He’ll never get any presidents to back him. He’s absolutely right about the issues, but the odds are stacked against him.

All of the sudden, however, there are signs that Thacker’s quest to reform college admissions just might have legs.

More background here.

No manifesto emerged. But the man behind a meeting last week to consider bold changes in competitive college admissions said Monday that there was wide support for identifying ways to reform the system.

Lloyd Thacker founded the Education Conservancy two years ago out of the belief that the admissions system is out of control and that obsessions over rankings, money, prestige and testing are hurting students. While Thacker almost immediately attracted fans in the admissions world, last week’s meeting marked a shift in his reform movement as many of the participants were presidents of elite liberal arts colleges.

Thacker will be a key figure in the debate on college admissions going forward. The meeting referred to in the article included Morty and there are quotes from former economics professor Mike McPherson.

Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and former president of Macalester College, says he always believed that Thacker’s “concerns were very real ones,” but that he had a “skeptical reaction” initially on whether Thacker could bring about change in the “competitive world” of admissions.

Now, McPherson says he thinks that Thacker has traction in part because the problems have become so bad. “There really is a kind of pathological situation, with students from good suburban high schools and prep schools and the admissions operations at top academic institutions where they are combining to make each other crazy,” he says. Even if the worst problem in admissions is “the failure of so many poor kids to go to college at all,” there is a sense that the hysteria at the top end is bad and diverting attention and needs to change.

Perhaps. All that I know for sure is the elite college admissions is much fairer now then it was 20 years ago, when places like Williams and Harvard colluded on financial aid offers via the Overlap Group and saddled thousands of poor students with excessive debts. Competition can work wonders.

By the way, with regard to the antitrust issue, how do you think Justice department lawyers will like this language?

Growing concern about the college admission environment calls for
immediate leadership among college presidents. If a group of
presidents were united by the prospect of improving the present
system, what might be the outcome and impact? Our meeting is
being planned to explore this opportunity and to formulate a
strategy for effecting meaningful and lasting change.

If a group of supermarkets or automakers or any-other-business-but-colleges “were united by the prospect of improving the present system, what might be the outcome and impact?” Well, they might be able to collusively raise prices, for one thing. Just saying!

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Noble on Internships

Missed this New York Times article last summer, despite the fact that it was written by a former students of mine.

But as many as half of all [summer] internships are unpaid or low-paid, career counselors say. Some students even effectively end up paying tuition to do unpaid internships because some companies, concerned about labor laws, require students to receive academic credit for the experience. And so college administrators nationwide have become more concerned about access to internships at all socioeconomic levels. The solution, they say, is to provide financial assistance.

In some fields — arts, fashion, the media and nonprofit and government work — unpaid internships are often a gateway to an entry-level position, said John Noble, director of career counseling at Williams College, which also has a program. ”We want to make these career fields accessible to a diverse student population,” he said.

Williams College has increased its stipend program to 120 grants this summer, up from 12. Williams, Princeton, Duke and the University of Pennsylvania will exempt students on financial aid from some of their summer-earning obligations.

A $1,320 grant from Williams College allowed Aaron Mieszczanski, who will be a junior in the fall, to take an unpaid internship with Lawyers for Children, a New York City nonprofit group that provides legal representation for foster children. Otherwise he would have spent his summer working as a lifeguard.

”It allowed me a lot of flexibility to look at nonprofits,” said Mr. Mieszczanski, who is from the Bronx. ”I could gear myself towards looking at a good experience rather than trying to make money.”

Trying to make money is, indeed, overrated. Perhaps I need a blogging internship of some type . . .

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Financial Aid Questions

One of the fun parts of EphBlogging is that it provides me with an excuse to meet all sorts of interesting people. Today, I’ll be having lunch with Daniel Barkowitz, Director of Student Financial Aid and Student Employment at MIT. His blog is a great source for the nuts and bolts of financial aid, like this recent post on parentage. We mentioned Daniel’s blog previously. If you have any questions, please add them in the comments and I can ask Daniel at lunch.

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Antitrust problems in ending early admission?

Over at Truth on the Market, Thom Lambert (co-blogger of my Antitrust and Contracts II professor, Dr. Joshua Wright), notes incorrectly suggests that Williams is involved in discussions on the future of early admission that give off the unavoidable whiff of forbiddencollusive behavior of the sort that elite higher educational entities have been known.

(UPDATE: 10:10 pm)
After looking into the story more closely, it appears that I based my conclusions on some erroneous data, although I remain as firmly opposed to eliminating ED as humanly possible. The meeting discussed in the article linked from TOTM was in June, so I apologize for and withdraw any implication that this was in response to Harvard’s costless PR maneuver. Based on that, I incorrectly concluded that the presidents were meeting “to discuss, among other things, collectively eliminating their early admission programs and reducing merit-based aid.” (as TOTM described the NYT’s description of the June meeting) in response to Harvard.

Obviously, if that WERE the scenario (which it is not), the analysis below the cut would be true (if not necesarily fair or charitable), and I suspect that any such descision-making would not happen in the future.

So, again, my apologies, and I’ll leave my commentary below the cut for posterity rather than eliminate evidence of my errors.

Read more

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Featured

The featured article on Wikipedia today is about Cornell. Like all such articles, it is amazingly well done. The article on Williams, while good, is nowhere near as comprehensive. Who among the Ephs will fix it? Upgrading this article would make for a great Winter Study course. Who will teach it?

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More Admission Changes

As a follow up to Harvard’s decision to end Early Action, The New York Times noted:

Officials at many elite colleges and universities said yesterday [last week] that they would carefully consider how to respond to Harvard University’s decision to eliminate early admissions, though none were yet ready to follow Harvard’s lead.

“This will be a big topic of discussion on all these college campuses,” said Richard L. Nesbitt, director of admission at Williams College. “It is something we will consider. Will we change? I don’t know.”

At Williams, Brown, Dartmouth, Cornell and many other highly selective institutions, students who apply early must, in return for early acceptance, give an ironclad commitment to attend.

Nesbitt seems more open-minded to change than I would have expected. Perhaps he is being polite and/or cagey. There is almost no chance that Williams will make a change now. It has too much to lose. It also stands the potential of making some non-trivial gains. First, students who, in the past, would have applied early to and gotten accepted by Harvard/Princeton, will now be tempted by early decision at Williams. Isn’t the appeal of having the whole process done by December 15th as great now as it was 25 years ago? Second, those students will need to apply to other schools regular decision, including Williams. Many will be accepted and some will fall in love with Williams. They will end up at Williams because Harvard and Princeton no longer provide an early admissions option.

Will either effect be large? Tough to know. But if even 25 kids, who would have gone to H/P, end up at Williams instead, that would be important to the overall quality of the Williams student body.

Critics argue that this forces low-income students to commit before being able to compare financial aid offerings from that college and others.

What a crock! This debate is really quite dishonest, and it will be fun to puncture many of the misleading arguments made by these “critics.” (Also, if you’re a New York Times reporter looking for someone knowledgeable who thinks that these “critics” are full of crudola, call me! I am highly quotable.)

Anyway, every Harvard kid whose family makes less than $60,000 per year gets a free ride. The family pays nothing. Princeton is even more generous, with no loans in its financial aid package. If you can get into Harvard or Princeton, financial aid is just not that big of a deal.

But that’s not the misleading part. The key issue is:

The reason rich kids have an advantage in early admissions — whether early action or early decision — is because the institutions themselves (places like Harvard, Princeton and Williams) give them that advantage.

These colleges consciously lower the bar for early admissions. If they wanted, they could fairly easily make the standard for early admissions the same as for regular. (Yes, they don’t know what the full pool will look like until January, but the applicant pools at top schools are remarkably constant in make-up from year to year.) But H/P/W choose not to do so. They choose to accept some applicants early who they know would not make the cut in the full pool. They choose to “advantage the advantaged.” See The Early Admissions Game: Joining the Elite for full details.

Yet it is their choice. Instead of getting rid of early admissions, Harvard could achieve its stated goal by simply letting in fewer applicants, only those applicants who it is certain would be admitted in the spring. That way, no other applicants are disadvantaged by early admissions. It doesn’t affect their chances one way or the other.

But that isn’t what Harvard choose to do because this debate isn’t really (just) about helping poor applicants. There are much more ideological forces at work. Beware of colleges looking out for your best interest.

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Staged

The trustees were recently in Williamstown. Does Morty think about relations with trustees in the same way that William M. Chace, former president of Wesleyan, does?

I had to keep in mind that the duty of trustees is, in fact, to “contribute.” I learned, however, that trustee contributions are a mixed blessing. At their best, they bring, as the euphonious clichs go, “time, talent, and tribute” or “work, wisdom, and wealth.” But only rarely did any Wesleyan trustee, even those with “talent” or “wisdom,” possess the kind of sophisticated knowledge about the academic workings of the institution to be any more than a kindly observer of it. And we in the administration behaved as if indeed we were being observed. Hence the careful design of our staged presentations to the trustees, the formal introduction of one or another precisely selected star faculty member or student to speak to them, the scrubbed and polished views of the budget. We did not seek to deceive, but to convey what we could to a body of people who knew far less about the institution than we did and whose connection to it was, in sum, charitable but quite imperfect.

What presentations were “staged” for the trustees during this last visit? Just asking!

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Discussion Wanted

Kenneth Flax wants to have a discussion about early decision.

princeton is cuttin loose too…amherst, williams and others are likely to follow suit.

I want to have a discussion. Why does Williams make it impossible for us to discuss this topic together?

WSO tries to fill this niche by allowing alumni logins, but mine doesn’t work and I think that the same is true for any non-recent graduate. EphBlog encourages this discussion, but Flax doesn’t know we exist and would probably rather have the discussion in a forum in which more students are likely to participate. It would not be hard for Williams itself to organize a forum with easy logins for both students and alumni (and faculty), linked to from the main page. Call it “The Virtual Log.” I predict that it would be quite powerful and popular, that it could serve as an example of the best way to create a cross generational community of learning, that it would encourage alumni to stay connected with the college.

Odds of Williams doing this in the near future? 5%

Now, to Flax’s comment, I think that he is wrong about Williams. (Amherst, because of Marx’s ideological leanings, is a different story.) Early decision serves too many institutional goals, too well and at too little cost for Morty to consider changing it so quickly. At the very least, I expect he will wait a year to see how things go at Harvard/Princeton.

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