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“Wealth” and Elite Education

Our Winter Study Seminar, “Wealth” and Elite Education, has started. See the syllabus for details. All are welcome to participate. We will keep this entry at the top of EphBlog until the end of the month and provide links (see below) to the discussions.

January 4: David Kane on “Introduction” to College Access: Opportunity or Privilege? by Michael S. McPherson and Morton Owen Schapiro.

January 8: TangoMan on Nicholas Lehmann interview.

January 15: Whitney Wilson ’90 on “Watch What We Do (and Not What We Say): How Student Aid Awards Vary with Financial Need and Academic Merit,” by Michael S. McPherson and Morton Owen Schapiro.

January 17: Glenn Yong ’11 on “Access to the Most Selective Private Colleges by High-Ability, Low-Income Students: Are They Out There?,” by Gordon C. Winston and Catharine B. Hill.

January 20: Chris Warren on “No Merit in These Scholarships,” by Fay Vincent ’60.

January 22: Professor Michael F. Brown on “Social Comparison of Abilities at an Elite College: Feeling Outclassed with 1350 SATs,” by Matthew B. Kugler and George R. Goethals.

January 24: Lowell Jacobson ’03 on “U.S. Tax Policy, Research Grants and Higher Education: The Undebated Billions,” by Wick Sloane ’76 and Jonathan Leirer.

During the month, we have also discussed related topics such as The Asian Campus (on increasing Asian-American enrollment at Berkeley), Predicting Academic Performance (highlighting those parts of a college application which are correlated with academic success at colleges like Williams), The Incredibles (discussion of elite high schools), Diversity Makes a Difference (about research on the effects of a diversity on business success)


Berkshire Boost?

A question-and-answer on College Confidential.

I heard Williams College gives admissions “bumps” to local students, from the Berkshire County area. If this is the case, how significant is this bump?

Residents of the Berkshires get a very substantial boost in the admissions process at Williams. The “bump” that you will receive is equivalent to that of a legacy or a recruited athlete.

That answer comes from MikeyD223, a knowledgeable participant at CC. However, I have some doubts.

1) The boost from being a legacy is nowhere near that provided recruited (i.e., “tipped”) athletes. Being a legacy is probably worth about 50 SAT points. Being a tip is worth twice as much and probably even more. In essence, if a coach really wants you, and you meet some (high) academic minimums, you get in. The coach is directly involved in the process, communicating explicitly with he alumni office. Legacy families don’t get nearly this much influence and access.

2) To the extent that there is a boost from being a “Berkshire” resident, I think that much/most/all of the boost comes from a direct Williams connection. Williams accepts many children of faculty and staff, not so much because they grew up in Williamstown as because Williams looks after its own. Do you think that Dick Nesbitt wants to tell Professor X or Administrator Y (cross reference the faculty/staff listings with the student directory for examples) that her little lovely isn’t good enough for Williams? No. Of course, Nesbitt does need to reject some/many applicants from faculty/staff families, but he doesn’t want to do it unless he has to. See Daniel Golden’s The Price of Admission for more details from across the country about this practice.

3) I do not think that a random applicant from, say, Adams gets much of a preference. Does anyone disagree? Why would the College admit such a student while rejecting an applicant from, say, Pennsylvania with a stronger application?


Williams Blogs

Williams Blogs are here! Great things will come of this.


Online Syllabi

A recurring suggestion from EphBlog (first mentioned five years ago) has been to put course syllabi on-line. EphBlog gets results!

Kudos to all involved! Comments:

1) This seems a very rough first pass. No doubt, many improvements will be forthcoming. You currently need a student login. Why? At a minimum, there is no reason not to allow alumni to see this material. Also, what about applicants and their parents? Aren’t we proud of all that Williams has to offer?

2) Note that all this information is already “public” in the sense that anyone can walk into Stetson and see the hard copy collection. There are no trade secrets here. If MIT can put its entire curriculum on-line and available to all (including syllabi, class notes, problem sets, lectures), there is no plausible reason for Williams to restrict access to syllabi.

3) The actual (but not plausible) reason for our recurrent inward-looking technological backwardness is that no one at the College seems to see where the world is going. Blogs, on-line course content, transparency and all the other stuff I constantly squawk about is not only good, it is inevitable. The sooner the College moves forward with these projects, the better off it will be.

4) Reunion classes might have fun arranging for the inclusion of some syllabi from their eras. Wouldn’t that be cool?


Sarah Hart-Unger ’02 describes the life of a surgeon’s wife.


Dan Klein ’06 notes that “intertextuality (especially of this trivial kind) is boring. My flaws are fun.”


So Sustainable

The Columbia Spectator frets today over my current institution’s “B” grade on the recent College Sustainability Report, even pulling out a former Spectator columnist to propose that grade “sounds a little generous.” Meow. Meanwhile, Williams’ phatty phat phat A- is included in a passive-aggressive little graphic above the article, contrasted with the “D-” grades handed out to Trinity University (Texas), Tulsa and Notre Dame. As if we needed another reason to hate the Fighting Irish. No mention of Amherst’s weak “B-” showing.

The front page of the same paper also includes a hilarious little refer to an op-ed column about the Middle East by a Columbia freshman. How do they tease the piece? “Staff writer Jordan Hirsch explains why Israel is not the bloodthirsty mess some think it to be.” Outstanding!



For those who care, here is a snapshot of our readers.

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Wick Sloane ’76 provides these comments on the Conclusion from College Access: Opportunity or Privilege? by Michael S. McPherson and Morton Owen Schapiro, thereby bringing an end to our Winter Study seminar: “‘Wealth’ and Elite Education.” Thanks to all our participants.


The ups and downs of teaching from Long Skirt, Blue Jacket ’06.


Diana Davis ’07 pops a math quiz involving dental floss.


Memorial Paddle

There was a memorial paddle for Nate Krissoff last month.

On Dec. 24th there will be a memorial Paddle held on the Truckee River with a paddle on a class 2-3 section from East Verdi to Mayberry Park in west Reno. If you would care to join us in commerating Nathan’s life and love of the outdoors you are encouraged to meet at Mayberry Park at 9am and we will be putting in at below the Mogul Diversion Dam on the Old Lincoln Highway in East Verdi at 10am.

Flow on the Truckee River at this time is about 400 cfs and the water is COLD. Please dress appropriately, there will be food and drinks afterwards. PLEASE help us get the word out to any folks that you might think would care to join us.

Did any readers participate? Tell us about it.


Pascal Baby Care

Having a baby soon? Greg Crowther ’95 has written a Pascal program to help you.

program Cycle;

age_in_hours : longint;
diaper_is_nasty : boolean;

(* Code for subroutines has been omitted. *)


age_in_hours := 0;

CheckDiaper (diaper_is_nasty);
if diaper_is_nasty then
age_in_hours := age_in_hours + 3
until age_in_hours > 720;

writeln (‘Congratulations, you’ve made it
through the first month.’);


Sound advice.


Ephs in Technology

DeWitt Clinton has started an Ephs in Technology group at Google Groups. Check it out. I liked this post.

Google SketchUp is running a “Build Your Campus in 3D Competition”.

It wouldn’t be easy to win, but the Williams campus is small enough and interesting enough, and the students talented enough, for us to do an amazing job.

And just think how cool it would be to use Google Earth and see
Mission, the new Baxter Hall (it’s still called Baxter, right?), the
Clark Museum, the row houses, Sawyer Library, Chapin Hall, and all the
rest in full 3D.

The website for the contest is here:

The deadline is June 1, 2007.

Anyone want to start a Team Eph?

Yes! What a great idea! Think of all the different talents from across campus and among the alumni (technology, design, art, landscape, architecture) which could be brought together for this. Any current undergraduates (someone from Gargoyle?) interested in impressing future employers should step up to lead the project.

Or, since I am always hassling the Office of Campus Life about all the time that they waste on stupid stuff, perhaps OCL could start up such a team and then turn it over to some students to run. (There is nothing wrong with OCL starting projects like this and getting them going. They should just turn them over to the students as quickly as possible.)

And no, DeWitt, you out-of-touch old man. It’s Paresky, not Baxter.


In Our Blood

What to make of this Williams reference?

Nonfiction. In My Blood. Six Generations of Madness and Desire in an American Family. By John Sedgwick. 414 pages. $25.95. HarperCollins.

John Sedgwick is part of a venerable Massachusetts family with connections to both George Washington’s Congress (the politically ambitious Theodore Sedgwick) and Andy Warhol’s Factory (Edie). He believes that this lineage has shaped his destiny. He cites manic depression as the trademark Sedgwick ailment, but his new book reveals other traits as well. The Sedgwicks have long struggled with their sense of privilege and worried as much about status as about sanity.

“In My Blood” has sent Sedgwick down a long trail of research. Only occasionally does he strain for effect, as when he lies down on a bed in the family manse in Stockbridge and tries to imagine the loneliness of Pamela, Theodore Sedgwick’s long-suffering and ultimately despondent wife.

Pamela was the daughter of a Williams, of the Williams College Williamses. It is to this ancestor that Sedgwick traces the family’s first amped- up signs of hypomania. That frenzied behavior would show up in Henry Dwight Sedgwick, known as Harry. He was a son of Pamela and Theodore’s, and his manic business dealings made him the first Sedgwick sent to the then-new McLean asylum for help.

There are “Williams College Williamses?” I did not know that. I thought that Ephraim Williams died without descendants, hence the bequest which found the school. Can someone clarify?


Photo ID, #67

Can anyone guess what building this is? Extra credit for referencing previous EphBlog posts on the subject.



EphCOI Version 2

The SoA is talking in Portland about on-line communities. Comments:

1) Williams needs EphCOI: Williams-connected Communities of Interest. If on-line communities involving alumni (and students/faculty/staff/parents) are ever going to work, it will only be in the context of shared interests of some sort. My thoughts now are more or less the same as two years ago. The main change is that a blog with new content every weekday is clearly the best way to start. Sign up one staff member to help (read: ensure that at least one new item appears each day) and then find one or two alumni and students to lead the effort. These will be the first authors.

2) Start small. There is no need to create 15 of these from the start. Prove that the concept is a workable one with just one or two sites. I will ensure that an Ephs in Finance blog will succeed. Perhaps Dan Blatt ’85 could be recruited for Ephs in Entertainment. Why not our own Ben Fleming ’04 for Ephs in Journalism? Jen Doleac ’03 for Ephs in Policy? When I took DeWitt Clinton ’98 out to dinner in San Francisco, he was filled with big talk about organizing an Ephs in Technology group of some sort, perhaps with Evan Miller ’05. Recruit them. But first demonstrate the potential (and Williams’s commitment) with a working example.

3) Be open. There must be no logins or passwords (except for authors, obviously). Anyone from anywhere must be able to read these blogs. Anything less will lead to failure. I, for one, certainly wouldn’t bother to participate. There is an argument, perhaps, for keeping some things hidden. For example, no outsider can see my internship posting on the internal OCC site. If it makes the powers-that-be nervous, fine. Hide stuff. Yet, for the most part, this is stupid. Hidden stuff will never be a common point of interest within any EphCOI because most readers won’t, obviously, be able to see it. In addition, I actually hate the fact that I can’t (easily) check to confirm that my listing is correct on the OCC site. There is no real reason for hiding this material. If OCC didn’t want too many outsiders to see it, they could just ask Google to not index that information (DeWitt Clinton can tell you how). But anything that is clearly labeled as “For Williams Students Only” is, obviously, not going to draw a lot of attention from non-Ephs.

3) Be friendly. A blog-savvy person from OIT, like Chris Warren, can help ensure that the blogs have all the standard feeds and options. Older readers will appreciate the ability to easily print things, especially long threads (something that might be nice for EphBlog). Younger participants will insist on RSS and the like. It might even be nice to include options to sign up for a (week) daily or weekly e-mail summary with embedded links. The key is that the EphCOI must make it easy for Ephs to participate in whatever manner they prefer with a minimum of hassle.

4) Start simple. Although there might be a case in the future for advanced tools like forums, there is no need for that now. A blog with comments will be enough. Note, also, that you must simplify the lives of the authors as much as possible. For example, you should handle spam deletion. Authors should have no other responsibility beyond posting and commenting.

5) Start now. The natural partners for this effort are OCC and SoA. John Noble, head of OCC, is an impressive individual who clearly grasps the importance of bringing alumni and students together. The more involved that alumni are with undergraduates, the more successful that OCC will be in its primary mission. SoA is — how to put this kindly? — technologically backward and inward looking. That will change with time. Perhaps the EC could force that change. But, as best I can tell, they have no idea how to create an on-line community that alumni will actually participate in. Nor do they have much inclination for learning from those who do. So, OCC should invite SoA to participate but press on without them if (when?) they decline to do so.

6) Be tolerant. The College and SoA find wide-ranging discussion scary. What if someone posting on Ephs in Finance says something like this, this or this? Won’t powerful people be offended? Perhaps. But (polite) free discussion and debate is the only thing that will cause people to participate. Censorship means failure.

7) Be polite. Although you can not (and should not) prevent Ephs from discussing and debating controversial topics in finance, nothing prevents you from ensuring that those debates are civilized, that participants are polite and that abusive commentators are banned. Do those things. Give all authors the ability to delete and edit posts and comments. Because Ephs are sensible, they will use this power wisely. But keep an eye on them just in case.

My forecast: I think that John Noble and Chris Warren have the perfect combination of technical skills and creative vision to make EphCOI a reality. By the end of Spring Break, I think that we will have an Ephs in Finance blog with several authors (me, some students, Robin Meyer for OCC? an alum working at SoA? John Noble?). I think that this blog will have new material each weekday and that this material will be interesting. I think that, each week, there will be scores of readers, both alumni and students. Some of the material will just be posts about finance Ephs in the news. Some will be information on finance-related job openings and internships offered through OCC. Yet the very best material will arise from the interaction of students and alumni. Students have questions about life in finance and alumni have answers. Williams just needs to bring the two groups together.

Once everyone sees the success of an Ephs in Finance blog, we will soon have an Ephs in Entertainment blog, an Ephs in Education blog, and so on.

Full Disclosure: I am an excessively relentless and unrealistic optimist.


Official Wiliams Blogs

For years I have been urging the College to start blogging. We need a blog from the Admissions Office (like the University of Chicago), a blog from Financial Aid (like MIT) and blogs which would serve as the focal points of EphCOI. Well, it looks like some of this is finally happening.

Lately I’ve been busy trying to get a blogging system up and running at Williams. The three main alternative were: send people to other hosting sites and just maintain a jump page, install (or let people install on their own) blogging software into peoples home directories, or set up our own multi-blog hosting system. The middle we dismissed after the very short thought experiment of trying to support 200+ users each with their own particular tweaks. The first option was appealing in many ways, but we’d lose out on the college brand (on a couple of levels – not only would we lose the in the URL, we’d demonstrate that we weren’t willing (or perhaps able) to support such technical work ourselves). If it had been only one or two people interested we still might have gone for it, but we’re looking at probably 10s to start with scaling up into 100s before too long. So, that left us with finding (or writing, as a last resort), installing, and supporting some multi-blogging software. This job fell to me.

Sounds about right. Chris Warren then provides all sorts of interesting technical details. His instinct to go with open source software is exactly correct. But what are the opinions of the larger Eph community of technologists? What advice would DeWitt Clinton ’98 or Stephen O’Grady ’97 or Todd Gamblin ’02 or Evan Miller ’06 (who built WSO blogs?) or Eric Smith ’99 or Ethan Zuckerman ’93 give the College as it wrestles with bringing scores of blogs under one roof? Suggestions, please.


Carpe Diem

A tribute to Nate Krissoff from Seth Borland ’03, his swim team co-captain.

I still remember when Nate Krissoff ’03 first called me “baby.” A few minutes earlier while scavenging the cheese selection at the “meet the president” party during First Days, another freshman swimmer introduced me to Nate. We had your typical get-to-know-you conversation, discussing our backgrounds, where we were from, and where we lived on campus.

He was from Reno, I was from Pittsburgh. He went to a prestigious west coast boarding school, I went to a small east coast private school. He lived in Fayerweather, I lived in Williams Hall. Though we had little in common we clicked, and for some reason I didn’t falter when he called me “baby.” It seemed natural, and without thinking too much about it, I also began using the word.

Rest below the break.

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SoA Executive Committee Meeting

Brooks Foehl ’88 of the alumni office kindly provides this information of the meeting of the Executive Committee (EC) on the Society of Alumni (SoA) starting today.

We’re looking forward to a great meeting in Portland, OR. We’ll kick things off with a reception and dinner with the Portland Regional Association on Thursday the 25th- EC members will attend and Morty will be the featured speaker as is the norm.

The Executive Committee of the Society will meet all day Friday and half of Saturday. Some of the topics on the agenda include: a conversation with Morty (we’ll actually have a discussion of his book College Access: Opportunity or Privilege co-authored with Mike McPherson), on-line communication strategies (our office is close to rolling out some new web tools- stay tuned), an update on the progress of The Williams Campaign, as well as reports from sub-committees working on volunteerism and issues of inclusion. Anyone who would like to pass along thoughts or suggestions for the Executive Committee can do so via alumni.relations _at_


1) Thanks to the alumni office for being open with these details. In the past, I have had trouble making public this sort of information. The more transparent the SoA is in dealings with alumni, the more successful it will be.

2) I am a candidate for EC membership. Since I haven’t heard anything yet, I probably didn’t get this year. Maybe next year! As with my rejection as a JA candidate 20 years ago, I don’t really mind this since the Ephs who are selected are all excellent choices. Who am I to say that I would do a better job than high quality people like, say, Kevin Hinton ’89 or Jordan Hampton ’87? I do think that the SoA would be better off making Ephs like me part of the process, but that will come in time. In any event, former EphBlog author Sharifa Wright ’03 is on the committee, so our voice will be heard.

3) I hope that the EC knows about our seminar, focussed on the same book.

4) I am deeply suspicious of these new “on-line communication strategies.” Although I recognize that the folks at the alumni office are good-hearted and dedicated, they seem not to have come to grips with some central realities of the internet. Points to keep in mind:

a) The people from Harris Connect are eager to cash your checks. Don’t write any. Harris doesn’t know what it is doing.

b) No one wants to remember another login and password. One reason why many (every?) previous attempt by the College to bring alumni together has failed is that the College is too inward focussed, too protective, too private. Now, I realize that certain information (e.g., tools for class agents, the alumni directory) must remain password protected. Fine. But everything else should be open, accessible to all. EphBlog has more alumni readers than anything that the SoA has done on-line (with the probable exception of Eph Notes) because we recognize that Ephs are busy people. You will not get wide participation if you make too many (any?) demands.

More later.


Going Home

Tribute to Hodge Markgraf.

I woke up this morning to the news that one of my professors from college, Professor J. Hodge Markgraf, had died in the night.

Professor Markgraf was one of the most brilliant people I have ever had the occasion to meeting. Both as a scientist and as a human being, he was truly extraordinary.



Big Day for Williams Sustainability

college sustainability report card.jpg
Two major events occured today to elevate sustainability to the forefront of Williams. The first was President Schapiro’s announcement to the college of the Climate Action Plan. The trustees met this weekend to discuss and unanimously passed a plan to reduce college CO2 emissions 10% below 1990 levels (or about 50% below today’s levels) by 2020. That letter can be found here

The second item was the release of the College Sustainability Report Card. The Report Card examines and grades 100 schools across the United States and Canada on criteria including climate change policies, green building, and investment practices. It was produced by the Sustainable Endowments Initiative which is run by Mark Orlowski ’04. I’m not sure if his connection to Williams swayed his organization’s report, but Williams was one of only 4 schools to recieve an A-, the highest grade awarded. More can be found and the full report can be downlaoded here or here


Commentary on Wick Sloane’s “The Undebated Billions

I know that this will have a lively comments thread because Wick is here and participating in EphBlog, so I have my work cut out for me.

The shortest summary of Wick’s paper is that US tax policy allows educational non-profits to save much more of their endowment than other non-profits. Because colleges don’t have to spend as much of their endowments, Wick asserts that this requires the government to issue more Pell Grants to make up the difference, and implies that in the alternative, colleges would make up more of the difference by lowering tuition. Consequently, Wick argues that Colleges are “raiding” the federal treasury by decreasing the base of taxable income when they raise money to increase their endowment. Wick also correctly points out that the debate is not so much over the answer he proposes (with which I disagree in large part, unsurprisingly, but more on that later), but that this question has not yet been asked at all.

Wick, I certainly commend you for pointing out this issue, and I agree that it’s something that warrants a great deal more discussion than it currently has. However, I think that it cannot be limited to colleges, or even education, and that it’s much more difficult to logically draw a bright line around colleges than Wick thinks it is.

A more detailed summary, interspersed with commentary, below the cut.

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Eph Idol

Eph on American Idol? Anthony Molina reports that Sarah Goldberg (class?) appeared tonight.

We need details! YouTube it, please. Also, is this another sad case of Can’t Let Go of College A Capella Disorder?



Fun thread on neighborhood housing at WSO. Some highlights:

“Welcome to Williams College’s new housing system. As you may already know, the housing system is compromised of four neighborhoods, each with about a fourth of the student body affiliated or members.”

This is from the official neighborhood system webpage.

And yes, you read correctly, not comprised, compromised.

Ha! Miss my endless neighborhood housing analysis? Read on!

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Keep His Memory Alive

From a reader:

It been a while since I first emailed you, but I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’d like to express my gratitude for your offering Ephblog as a place to remember Nate Krissoff, and to share stories and pictures. I hope you have heard this from many other people, but I’d like to say thank you as well. At his services, a number of people I spoke with mentioned the site, the things written there, and how much they appreciated it. Somehow the more I see and read the more it helps, and I think a lot of Nate’s friends feel the same way. Any way to keep his memory alive and to honor him helps ease the pain. Thanks for all you have done.

I never had the honor of knowing Nate, but I knew many Marines like him, Marines who would unthinkingly lay down their lives so that my daughters might live safely through the darkness of this long war. By helping keep Nate’s memory alive, I thank both him and all our other warriors for their sacrifices and service.

And so I ask again for more memories of Nate. With each passing day, those memories grow ever dimmer. Share them with us. Did you have a class with Nate, live in the same dorm, swim with him for Williams, spend time with him in the snack bar? If so, tell us about it. However brief and unimportant the interaction might seem to you, Nate’s close friends and family will appreciate, in the decades to come, recalling every time that Nate touched another’s life, both at Williams and elsewhere.


Buy Peru

Think you have too much time on your hands? Not compared to Eric Smith ’99.

I have posted on here a few times now of when the alumni contact for my class asks us for material to post in the alumni magazine. Obviously they want news of births, weddings, and other successes. Instead of talking about the factual mundane banalities of my own day to day world, I like to instead make up or exaggerate stories of failure. I write/act in them as if I am proud of these accomplishments, and then see if they get published amidst everyone else’s discussion of how they just cured Polio in Nepal, helped Guam overcome adversity, or used their i-banking bonus check to buy Peru.

Read the whole thing and stand in awe.


Mt. Greylock Climate Action


Justin Bates, ’07 starts his talk on Global Warming in the Berkshires at Mt. Greylock High School

Thursday marked the second day of the Williams regional outreach program. Five Ephs spoke to six periods of classes and one period of lunch at Mt. Greylock High School, reaching about 250 students and inspiring the creation of an environmental club at the school. The talk was based on the slide show developed over our Winter Study class on student activism with professor Singham. The show is intended to bring up some scary and local possible effects of climate change and then turn the focus to the student climate action movement. The goal is to inspire students to become leader and motivate their schools and communities to reduce energy use, seek alternative energy sources and raise awareness on the issue.

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Mixed abilities and learning: A comment on Kugler & Goethals

There’s a joke that circulates among anthropologists: Social psychologists can tell you everything you need to know about
the human condition, as long as your definition of the human condition is limited
to American college students between the ages of 18 and 21. That’s because the
pool of research subjects used in such studies, more often than not, consists
entirely of student volunteers. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if social psychologists swap their own jokes about those of us who depend on ethnographic fieldwork–studying
human behavior in vivo rather than in vitro–given the diffuseness
of our methods,
which (to put it mildly) have a hard time controlling variables.

[Commitment to qualitative fieldwork, by the way, is the hallmark of Anthropology
& Sociology at Williams
. It is also the guiding philosophy of the amazing
Williams in New York
program founded by Bob Jackall and now co-administered by him and E.J. Johnson.
End of promotional message.]

In "Social Comparison of Abilities at an Elite College," Kugler and
Goethals nimbly dodge the ethnographers’ complaint by keeping their claims
modest and their focus on . . . college students. (As most EphBlog readers will know, Al Goethals taught at Williams for many years and served the college well in key administrative positions.) The particular aspect of educational
experience to which they direct their attention is "focused intellectual
discussion." They acknowledge that Williams students aren’t representative
of college students as a whole, but they use this limitation to good effect
in interpreting their research results. And the results are fascinating.

The authors find, among other things, that small groups of frosh and sophomores performed somewhat better on the assigned tasks when they were
matched with students of similar academic ability (as indexed by the Admissions
Office’s rating system), somewhat worse when the group was more
heterogeneous. Ethnic heterogeneity proved to have little effect on the results,
but gender was a significant factor. Women did better in single-sex groups, men slightly better in mixed-sex groups.
As the authors put it (p. 29), "[T]he data show that men pull down women’s
scores, and women pull up men’s."

One finding that made me chuckle was that male subjects thought more
highly of their performance than the evidence warranted (p. 24). This is consistent
with recent
suggesting that although American male freshmen are less ambitious
and have poorer study habits than their female counterparts, they continue to
have a high opinion of their ability. I frequently see evidence of this
in my own classes when male students dominate discussion but then drop into
the void when their written work is compared to that of two or three female
classmates whose intellectual brilliance might never be divined from their modest
classroom demeanor.

Kugler and Goethals close their article by expressing concern about whether the internal heterogeneity of American colleges and universities is in subtle ways
making it harder for students to achieve peak performance and experience
satisfaction in their studies. This point is well taken, although unless I missed
something, the authors present no evidence that heterogeneity in academic ability
is increasing in American colleges and universities. Such heterogeneity
is arguably increasing with respect to ethnicity, but the study revealed
that ethnic diversity was not in itself a significant factor in the subjects’
performance. Indeed, more than 20 years into coeducation and affirmative action,
they note that the heterogeneity of academic ability among Williams students is quite small, although
their research indicates that it still makes a difference. Whether it is greater
or lesser than in the past remains unclear. My hunch would be that Williams
had more academic heterogeneity in the past (say, pre-1970) simply because the college was less selective.

We are left, then, with the possibility (suggested
also by other studies
) that the biggest emerging "diversity" problem
may be performance differences between men and women. This bolsters the claim
of Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, and other women’s colleges that women thrive
in single-sex institutions, but it is hard to see how colleges such as Williams
should respond. It may be increasingly difficult to maintain a relatively balanced
gender ratio at Williams and other selective colleges because women are, on
average, better students. Could we soon be looking at affirmative action for
men? It’s not out of the question.

A final observation: Although ethnic diversity proved irrelevant to the results of the
Kugler & Goethals study, it is immensely beneficial to the classroom dynamics
of courses in the humanities and social sciences. The addition of greater numbers
of international students, for example, has had a palpable effect in anthropology
classes. Instead of describing social life in different cultural settings on
a second-hand basis, I can now reliably call upon students in the class to
describe such things in their own words, based on their first-hand experiences. Abstract concepts are given a human face, which makes for a livelier teaching and learning situation.


Seeking Modest Men

A few weeks ago, the (male) Ephs at Postgraduate Musings were wondering if they should add some female bloggers. A few months ago, Wendy Shalit ’97 considered adding male bloggers to her Modestly Yours empire. Here at EphBlog, we have been mixed-gender (thanks to Kim and Traci) from the beginning.


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