Below are some notes from the Road Scholars meeting in Foxboro. These are all from the public sessions, either Morty’s introductory remarks or the panel of professors at the end. Any readers that were there should chime in.

All of these are from memory. I think that they are accurate, but I might have misheard or misremembered. I did not take notes.

1) Morty mentioned that international admissions were up to “almost 10%.” EphBlog gets results! Are there really 50+ internationals in the class of 2011? Perhaps this is the plan for the class of 2012? I still think that it would be good for the Williams community to have a more open discussion of this topic. Why not a high-level committee that would look at the experiences of international students at Williams, report on what is happening at other schools, provide an overview of the strength of the admissions pool and so on? I do not know if Williams should be 10% or 20% or 30% international in a decade. Yet this is a conversation that we need to have.

2) Trustee Jonathan Kraft ’86 gave a highly complimentary introduction for Morty. He mentioned that the capital campaign has reached $452 million. The campaign, while having surpassed its original goal, is still looking for a $50 million donor. The new North and South Academic buildings still need a name. Kraft Hall anyone?

3) There was some discussion at the professor panel about grade inflation. EphBlog sets the agenda! The basic story seems to be that the average grade rose from 3.0 to 3.3 from 1990 to 2000. The College made a big push to stop that a few years ago. The main tool is moral suasion. Also, each professor gets a report at the end of the year indicating how her grades compare to others from her department, other similar-level classes and the College as a whole. There are guidelines like: the average grade in 100-level courses should be 3.1; 200-level 3.2 and so on. These reforms seemed to stop the inflation for a few years. There was some discussion that things may have worsened (average grades going up) in the last couple of years, but no one knew the data off-hand.

4) I asked a question about the Report on Varsity Athletics and whether or not professors have seen a change over the last decade in admissions standards. In retrospect, I should have asked a better question since this whole topic requires more background — both for the audience and for professors on the panel — but I was eager to provide more detail for our discussion from Friday. None of the professors said that they had a problem with the current policy. (Of course, as the Report makes clear, problems are highly concentrated in a few departments.) Professor Will Dudley ’89 told the story of his hugely popular class of philosophy and sports which has attracted 100 athletes both times that he has taught it. He said that the quality of students in the class was much higher this last time (last fall?) then it was a few years ago. (Needless to say, there could be all sorts of reasons for that, but it is one interesting data point.) Professor Tom Garrity seems to have been a part of a committee that has looked at this recently. He said that athletes are doing as well at Williams as students with similar academic credentials. (Of course, this was largely true even in the days of much more significant admissions advantages, as the Report admits but tries to obfuscate.) Garrity also discussed the issue of clumping, of athletes taking classes together. He noted that, of course, we want friends to take classes together and members of the same athletic team are likely to be friends. But it seems like many of the concerns raised in the Report, especially about the negative impact of high profile tips on the quality of other students’ education, have gone away.

5) There was a question about the recent demands from Congress for information on the College’s endowment and spending priorities, in particular with respect to financial aid. Morty mentioned that the College had turned in its answers, after many, many drafts. It appeared yesterday. Morty thought that Williams did not have much to worry about because we already spend more than 5% of the endowment each year.

6) Morty discussed financial aid. One of the many reasons that Morty is so wonderful is that he is such a straight-shooter in these contexts. He mentioned that aid was going up so much that it was faintly ridiculous to talk about it in terms of “need.” When you are giving price cuts to families making $200,000 per year, how can that be anything but a “merit” award? He thought that Williams needed to keep pace with its peers but he saw no reason to be a leader in this unfortunate competition. He mentioned that Williams spending on aid has grown substantially in just the last few years. (Competition is a wonderful thing!) I think that the numbers he said were an increase from $20 million to $37 million. But I may have that wrong and I did not get the time period.  He hinted that the Trustees would be making an announcement in the next few weeks about Williams capping the contribution from home equity as a percentage of family income. I predicted this a few months ago, but I can’t find the link.

We still need a three part Record series on just how financial aid works at Williams: How gets how much money? How do those deals compare to the ones offered at other schools? What sorts of students does Williams gain and lose as a result?

Anyway, overall the event was well-run and highlighted all the best things about Williams. If you have a chance to attend one in the future, you should.

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