Currently browsing the archives for June 2008
Merit, of course, is important, but it is not what makes Williams distinctive. The entire university system incubates merit, each institution in its own way. Indeed, I will be so un-nationalistic as to say that even Wesleyan and Amherst serve much the same function. But what truly makes this place distinctive is its physical location, up in this mountain valley, far from the madding crowd. Henry Thoreau remarked on this after visiting Williams, saying “It would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain.” It is a comment which the College has reproduced in so many advertisements and brochures that seeing it will leave the practiced Williams eye a little queasy. But this does nothing to diminish its truth. These mountains, these hills that surround us and fence in our little valley with their beautiful, almost amorous shapes, truly set this place apart, from other campuses and from the outside world. This has no doubt been a source of dissatisfaction to those of you who remember, a little wistfully, the bright lights of New York and Boston. But the cities shall pass; the hills will not. They have stood in mute witness to ten thousand years of human history in this valley, and they have watched over us as well — in the throes of first adversity, in the ecstasy of final triumph, watched us glow and sorrow in first love, old love, new love and true love; they have accompanied us, unmoving, through every season under the sun. In the fall they explode into a vibrancy made poignant by its ephemerality; in the winter, sere and white, they are Ethan Frome’s country. In April and May a slow vernal tide works its way up their living sides, while in the summer, they simply exult. And now, they will see us off, out into the world.
What makes Williams distinctive, a different place than all the many excellent liberal arts colleges? Is it really the physical location?
What makes Williams Williams?
This is the most irresponsible thing Williams has ever done. It punishes the landscape as a reminder to us all, that life is about more than money.
The Tubs (picture of lower tub)
A series of three large pools with a long natural made slide seperating the lower two, and a 25 ft jump at the upper venue.
This is private property, so I am not going to give the exact location on the internet. It is in Pownal just off of Rt 346, about fifteen minuets from town. If you want to check it out, make friends with a townie and they will show you the way. It is a very beautiful location.
Warning- the terrain is rough and not really suitable for children.
There was some trash on the site. If you go, please bring an extra garbage bag and help clean up.
Could this story about a Singapore university seeking a partner (and mentioning Williams by name) be part of the reason a large entourage of Williams employees, including President Schapiro and development officers, is reportedly in Asia?
Now that the Odd Quad has been dead for two years, where does the current generation of “Deviants” hang out?
The name “Deviants” was adopted by members of the Williams community who associated themselves with a less mainstream culture, particularly social life. The name was taken from a listserver owned by Jesse Dill ’04 and Chris Holmes ’03, which was first created to organize Driscoll Deviations, and then gradually became a means to announce social events in general. It is still used for this purpose.
The Deviants emerged in 2002 and enjoyed the height of their mischief in 2003. Prior Williams generations of people who enjoyed doing things that were off the beaten path had, until then, associated themselves with WARP and used that listserver as primary means of communication. With the graduation of the class of 2002, in 2003 WARP took on a slightly heavier role playing, bopsword, video gaming identity. Out of a desire to participate in quirky, fun events but not necessarily under the WARP banner were born the Deviants.
In a campus of Neighborhoods, where do the Deviants call home?
In my regular truckload of political news yesterday and today, I noticed a little gem about Williams’ regular contributor and building namesake Edgar Bronfman, Sr. (of Seagram’s fame). Well, technically I think the building is named after the whole Bronfman family, many of whom contributed to the building, but still…Edgar was the initial Williams connection so far as I know.
Former World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman headlines a group of prominent Jewish leaders from New York who are signing on to support the Barack Obama campaign.
The Obama Jewish Leadership Council of Metro New York plans to meet next Tuesday. Other participants include Merryl Tisch, Howard Milstein, Penny Pritzker, Tom and Andi Bernstein and New York Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Steve Israel.
(Another piece from Politico on the same fundraiser) There are some very interesting names on that list, but Bronfman obviously stood out. I am still impressed that he and the family donated for a building – and later many other things – when he didn’t actually graduate from Williams (would have been class of ’50, got his bachelor’s from McGill in ’51). We gave him an honorary degree in 1986 though, and a Bicentennial Medal in 2005. Funny, the honorary degree isn’t indicated in his entry in the online Alumni Directory. The announcement re: the Medal also is cagey about his graduating or not, saying only that he was “a member of the class of 1950″ but the other entries state “after graduation from Williams in 19XX.” Subsequent to the family giving $1.25 million of the $3.9 million needed for the building (bit of history here with fabulous ’60s pictures), several other members of the Bronfman family also went to Williams (Samuel II ’75 and Matthew ’81 – sons of Edgar, and Stephen ’86 – nephew of Edgar, son of Charles who actually spearheaded the family fundraising for the building). There is also a Fiona Wood ’81 that comes up when you search the directory…hard to track all the family members so I assume she fits in there somehow. Google can only give you so much info. Bronfman also gave $5 million in 2003 for scholarships “to help extend need-blind admission to all international applicants” which should make David proud. He also gave money toward the building of the Jewish Religious Center.
I wonder if this means that Obama will get an ugly, overly concrete building for his campaign HQ now? I know there are those out there who sing the praise of strange ’60s and ’70s concrete & brick architecture like that of Bronfman (seen around campus in Greylock, Sawyer library, Prospect), but I have always found the interiors of such buildings cold, the sound quality terrible, and the weird odor from the concrete during warm humid days somewhat disconcerting.
Let me be clear that I fully applaud the ideals of a unified science center, and I appreciate how much space it provides. It allowed advances in science at Williams in a very real way (read the above link with the fun pictures). But starting out as a math major and spending much of my first two years in there and also spending many long nights there in my later years as a tutor with the Math/Science Resource Center, I grew to detest its cramped classrooms, often dim interior, and weird echoes. Perhaps I am alone in thinking this…and at least it doesn’t have the bizarre waffle ceilings like Greylock, but it’s not my favorite bit of Williams. I personally think it’s one of the examples of technically “great architecture” without thinking about people enjoying of the use of the building. I’m sure those who disagree with me will freely comment below. My opinion may also be biased by spending much time of late in the large number of similarly styled government buildings in and around DC. It just seems weird to me that if you accidently brush a wall on the INSIDE of a building, you could skin your knuckles.
I should point out that the Jewish Religious Center is a truly gorgeous building – inside and out – that is functional, filled with light, and beautiful. So I guess Bronfman’s involvement doesn’t actually require an ugly building…this just gave me a fun hook to tie a few different comments about Williams together ;)
Anyhow, viva la generous rich alums! I’m sure this bit of fundraising will lead to all kinds of interesting commentary in the MSM, especially with some of these folks’ former support of Clinton and the fact that Bernstein is a former classmate and supporter of George W. Too bad most bios of Bronfman don’t mention Williams at all…maybe some will now link to this little item?
I hadn’t realized just how big the summer theater has become, and how many venues in Williamstown they are using. The place is jumping!
Lots of athletics tid-bits over the last few weeks.
First, on the alumni front, several former Eph basketball players have been in the news: Mike Crotty ’04 for his job with the NBA champion Celtics, and Casey Gibbons ’06 for the basketball recruiting company he started. Also, check here for a nice feature on former Eph hockey star and current L.A. Kings Director of Amatuer Scouting Mark Yannetti ’94. Finally, here is a nice story on former Eph All-American Track and Field athlete Dan Austin ’06
Second, on the current Eph front, Eph football and lacrosse star Brian Morrissey ’09 was one of the three featured speakers (along with New England Patriot Ben Watson) at the recent Boston Globe all-scholastic dinner, where he spoke to, among others Margie Fulton ’12. In addition, here is an inspiring article about Eph rower Bianca Czaderna ’11
An unusual poetry slam.
Educational wonkery as…poetry? Inside Higher Ed columnist Wick Sloane has accepted an invitation to read from his work 7 p.m., Friday, June 27, 2008, at La Luna Caffe, Cambridge (where else?) as part of the acclaimed City Nights Reading Series. Wick will read from his column, “The Devil’s Workshop,” including selections from Common Sense or The Bachelor’s Degree Is Obsolete?, the pamphlet published by Inside Higher Ed in May. Copies of the pamphlet are downloadable free at IHE or hardcopy at the Harvard Bookstore, where owner Frank Kramer, has confirmed that Common Sense is not only on sale but also selling.
If you go, say Hi to Wick from all his fans at EphBlog.
Information wants to be free, or so all the cool Ephs tell me.
One of my favorite recurring crusades is to encourage/cajole/force Williams into being more transparent. Too much information is too restricted to too few people. A central hallmark of an academic community is openness, a willingness to consider evidence and discuss policy. To that end, I have sought and received permission to publish important documents like the Report on Varsity Athletics (thanks to Professor Mike McDonald) and the Report on Williams in New York (thanks to Professor Chris Waters). It is truly pathetic that the College does not make these reports available on its website. Also of interest (but perhaps reasonable for the College to exclude since they are the statements of individual faculty members rather than official Williams committees) are commentary on athletics from former Coach Dave Barnard and commentary on WNY by Professor Robert Jackall. It seems a shame that, were it not for EphBlog, no one would have easy access to these important documents.
Yet, in all these cases, I received permission from someone in authority to publish this work. What about cases where I do not receive permission? We had this problem during our CGCL seminar two years ago on the Diversity Initiatives. The actual Diversity Initiative report was never made available to the general public. You needed (and still need) a password of some kind. Any high school students considering Williams (or their parents) can’t get in. And, since I did not have permission to make the information public, I did not. The same was true (after an initial tease) in the case of the Alcohol Task Force report from 2005.
But just because I am too fastidious to publish something without permission does not mean that every Eph is, nor does it mean that I won’t ask others to do so. Information wants to be free, after all. A kind-hearted Eph put the Alcohol Report on the web three years ago. Another Eph (could be the same person but the formatting looks different) has done the same with the Diversity Initiatives (portions of) the recent Self-Study. Great stuff!
Williams College should make these all documents public, on its own website. A scholarly community is defined by a openness and transparency. When former Dean of the College Steve Fix spoke at the Boston Alumni Society annual meeting a few years ago, he insisted that “Intellectual honesty is the highest value at Williams.” Exactly correct. When will the administrators who run our College live up to this claim?
Reading through one of the blogs featured in EphPlanet, I came across this comment: “…this story comes just as the president of my college, and a rather large entourage of administrative and development staff, are making a visit to China and Hong Kong and Taiwan.” The author was very clearly referring to President Schapiro and other Williams employees.
Anyone have any details? Know what the purpose of this trip is? Who’s going, and why? Where the funding is coming from?
In response to a question on financial aid, Morty told a story about an alum who is a college professor. Her son had been accepted by Williams and by an Ivy. [Morty did not so say directly, but the school was almost certainly Harvard, Yale or Princeton.] The alum told Morty that the Ivy was charging her family $20,000 per year less than Williams proposed. She just thought he ought to know. [EphBlog readers already know this and also know that Morty does not like bargaining.]
Morty used this anecdote to highlight some of the, in his view, absurdities in current financial aid packages at elite colleges. Morty had no problem with many of the recent changes. He thought that it was fine to allow the families of “poor” students (meaning families from the bottom half of the income distribution) to pay nothing for their child’s education. He seemed comfortable with eliminating student loans. But he felt strongly that HYPS were going to far, that offering financial aid to a family making $180,000 (and who had been making similar amounts for years) was ridiculous and that it was absurd to describe such aid as “need-based.” Morty also worried that, if Williams were to match the generosity of HYPS, it would set off a chain-reaction among other schools. Amherst, Swarthmore, Brown, Dartmouth would have no choice but to match us. Morty felt strongly that this would be a bad outcome, that these rich families ought to pay for the college education of their children. He implied that the current equilibrium, with HYPS being much more generous than other schools, was somewhat stable.
Morty also pointed out that much of the news coverages of these aid policies missed some of the juicy details. [I am embarrassed to admit that I missed these details as well.] For example, the family contribution for income levels from $120,000 to $180,000 is around 10% at Harvard. If your family makes $180,000, Harvard will only charge you $18,000. Morty pointed out that this was true but highly misleading. What happens if your family makes $181,000? Does Harvard charge you the full $48,000? Wouldn’t that make for a pretty horrendous marginal tax rate? Make an extra $1,000 and, not only does Harvard take all of that money, but it takes an additional $29,000 (post-tax!). Imagine the fellow offered a bonus at the end of the year and telling his boss, “No! Don’t give me the extra money!”
Morty explained that, of course, this is not the way things work. [I have never seen anyone point this out before.] Instead, the family who makes $181,000 still gets a huge break from Harvard, as does the family making $182,000, the family making $183,000 and so on. They may have to pay more than 10% of their family income to Harvard, but not much more. Morty said [not sure if he was estimating or claiming this as fact] that financial aid at places like Harvard actually goes to families making up to $280,000 because there is a smooth slope as you move above $180,000. In other words, the only families that pay the sticker price at Harvard are those with family incomes above $300,000 or so.
I’ve been a frequent reader of (and occasional commenter on) Ephblog for a while, so when I encountered a discussion of the disadvantages of an elite education on MetaFilter, I emailed David to say this might be interesting content for this site. And now I seem to have become an author.
Anyway, the MetaFilter thread is actually a discussion of an article about Yale by William Deresiewicz. Deresiewicz claims, among other things, that elite educational institutions — Yale, in particular — have created alumni who are not always able to connect with others across social and class boundaries:
It didn’t dawn on me that there might be a few holes in my education until I was about 35. I’d just bought a house, the pipes needed fixing, and the plumber was standing in my kitchen. There he was, a short, beefy guy with a goatee and a Red Sox cap and a thick Boston accent, and I suddenly learned that I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say to someone like him. So alien was his experience to me, so unguessable his values, so mysterious his very language, that I couldn’t succeed in engaging him in a few minutes of small talk before he got down to work. Fourteen years of higher education and a handful of Ivy League dees, and there I was, stiff and stupid, struck dumb by my own dumbness. “Ivy retardation,” a friend of mine calls this. I could carry on conversations with people from other countries, in other languages, but I couldn’t talk to the man who was standing in my own house. Read more
Bill Ryan ’89 is not having as much fun watching Euro 2008 as I am.
While I was at the gym today, you happened to be on the television in front of me. That’s cool, I am a sports fan. It is certainly better than watching one of the news networks lie.
Until the 18th time one of your participants fell down when another player walked near them. Hey, I know it was Europe and those folks don’t bathe enough, but is that the issue? Are the players being knocked down by body odor? Are there invisible feathers falling from the sky and crushing them? Does someone somewhere have a voodoo doll of each of these players and is causing them to fall down?
Because seriously, I have seen 84 year old ladies in line at the supermarket take more contact and stay upright than your players. I was embarrassed for you.
But, even better, this random blog post by an Eph allows me to go off on an unrelated (?) rant below.
Gaye Symington, Williams ’76, is running for governor in Vermont. She has been Speaker of the House. She’s a fine person. Vermont is lucky.
Gaye R. Symington (born: 20 April 1954 in Boston, Massachusetts) is the Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, the lower house of the Vermont …
As a counterpoint to the NY Magazine think piece on the sexy and wealthy life of Harvard grads I posted on last week, I offer you this NY Times article on a Harvard education professor who is teaching “reflection seminars” at Harvard, Amherst, and Colby to encourage students to look “beyond the consulting and financial jobs that he says are almost the automatic next step for so many graduates of top colleges.” The article quotes Amherst prez Tony Marx saying something pretty:
“We’re in the business of graduating people who will make the world better in some way,” said Anthony Marx, Amherst’s president. “That’s what justifies the expense of the education.
Williams not being mentioned in the article makes me one sad panda, as I’m sure it does to you all. And I do recall there being a great deal of debate here and on WSO on whether Williams does enough in this area or not. (Hopefully David can provide some links?)
I don’t have that many friends from Williams who joined finance, but I also don’t have many who seem to be going into public service, either. (Take this with a grain of salt, I don’t have many friends.)
Should Williams be doing more? Talk amongst yourselves.
Morty mentioned that the North and South Academic buildings already had names. I think that they will be formally dedicated this fall. He gave no hint as to what the names would be. I am still guessing that one will be Kraft Hall. Other guesses? Assume for a second that the donor will not be named, what person from Williams history should be honored? Presumably, a professor would be a good choice, but many of the most famous (Perry, Dodd) are already immortalized. Suggestions? Time to dust off your copy of Mark Hopkins and the Log.
Morty took great pride in claiming that athletic admission were very different now then when he started 8 years ago. This was clearly a great success, in his mind. I agree. He offered few details, but see our previous discussions. If Williams still had the same process in place today that it hard 10 years ago, at least 10% of the class we actually have would be replaced with dumber (perhaps) athletically more gifted students with lower academic rankings. You can claim that Morty has gone too far. You can claim that he hasn’t done enough. But there is no doubt that he has made major changes, that the Williams student body is significantly different than what it would have been if Morty had not become President.
Morty repeatedly sang the praises of the tutorial program. He mentioned that this was Williams’ “signature” program and cited impressive numbers as to tutorial growth over the last 8 years, something like 20 tutorials to 71 and 160 students enrolled to 760. [Does anyone have the exact numbers? I am (mis)remembering as best I can.] He thought that the College was on track (perhaps for the class of 2009?) to have at least 75% of the students graduate having taken at least one tutorial.
Morty discussed a conversation he had with (previous president) Frank Oakley about tutorials. Oakley pointed out that, given Williams strength in tutorials, it made sense to devote more resources to them rather then towards areas of weakness. This made perfect sense to Morty since it is (more or less) the economic principal of comparative advantage. Morty told this story in an amusing fashion, somehow managing to both compliment Oakley and make fun of his fellow economists.
Quick quiz: Can you see how that claim illustrates Mark Taylor’s critique of Morty as a “wise guy” rather than a “wise man?” Screed below. Read more
Check it out. Local, everyone knows where it is. You could jog here. Fast cold water, a nice field to picnic in, and you do not have to worry about tresspassing. It is legal to swim here.
I may make it home this summer. If so, I’ll check up on some of my old swimming holes (the Pines, the Tubbs, the Orchards) and see if they are still open to the public.
What programs does Williams have to help our veterans afford a Williams education? Does the school offer anything to veterans in terms of special financial aid?
It would be really great if Williams offered veterans an education for the cost of the current GI Bill. Bush has promised to veto the Webb GI Bill and it is going to be up to individual institutions to offer affordable education to our homecoming veterans if there is no override. Does Williams have any such program? I do not see any specific programs for our veterans on the Williams webpage. Could such grants be started by giving alums?
Is there special consideration given to Veterans for admission? Anyone have an idea of how many veterans are currently attending?
How do you track where a person is when they post on this blog? I understand that when you get the IP Address of an idnividual blogger, you can run that through a varitey of webpage programs to see where the person was when they posted- but how do you get their address? Can anyone who visits this site, take a post and find out where it originated from.. or only those who control the domain- those able to see the posters IP Address? I have seen a posters location “outed” here on Ephblog in the past.
There are programs that claim to “scatter” a persons IP Address so it makes it very hard or impossible for an someone to see where the person is posting from, and what other webpages they may be visiting if there is a controlling authority in the link- do such programs work, if so, how? Always?
It would be really cool if some of the IT gurus in here gave some insite into the webb, how it works, and how individauls are “tagged” and followed on it by advertisers and others.
Morty discussed campus social life a bit, especially the housing system. He confessed that, when grading his own performance at last week’s trustee meeting, he gave himself the lowest grade in this category. He felt that the College was still trying to figure out the best ways to do things. He reiterated again his dislike of the student self-segregation that he had known as a junior professor at UPenn in the late 1970s. When he came (back) to Williams a president, he did not like it that all the football players lived together and that the same was true of African American students. (He used those two examples first and, perhaps recognizing that he was being a bit too honest, tacked on examples like Jewish students. [As far as I know, there is no evidence of meaningful self-segregation of Jewish students at Williams in 2000.]) He noted that a goal of the new housing system was to break up this self-segregation and that this goal had been achived. Morty also (correctly) sang the praises of having the first years in Mission. He pointed out that first years in the Berkshire Quad had always felt like isolated second class citizens. (Morty goes to each first year entry for snacks.) Putting all the first years in either the Freshman Quad or Mission has solved that problem. [Rob Chase ’88 and I discussed this very solution more than 20 years ago. This is probably the best thing that Morty has done for social life in 8 years.]
But he still felt that there was much more that should be done, that Williams students deserved a first class social system just as they deserved (and received) a first class academic experience. He mentioned obliquely the various troubles with the Office of Campus Life and noted that some restructurings had occurred. My comments below:
Meanwhile, North Adams is keeping up with the neighbors, creating a new art map highlighting various galleries and artist residences around town, and putting the finishing touches on the massive new Sol LeWitt exhibit at MassMoca.
Morty discussed the issue of intellectual vitality. He pitched this, not so much as a way to somehow identify kids with some sort of spark — see my previous discussion — but as a method for avoiding punishing kids who “take chances.” Let’s say you have two students, both with similar academic profiles. But one of the students took an academic chance [say, started studying a new language in 11th grade] and got a bad grade. Right now, the system favors the student who does not take that chance, who just studies the things that he is good at. Morty doesn’t like that. He wants to, at least, not penalize the student who studies something out of her comfort zone. He implied, but did not make clear, that he even wanted to favor such chance taking, all else equal. He mentioned that a very large number (80?) of the students in the class of 2012 had a intellectual vitality (“IV”) tag.
But Morty admitted that he did not know if their attempts to identify intellectual vitality were working. And, being an empirical economist (a phrase he used multiple times), he wanted to study it. Specifically, he mentioned supervising an honors student in doing this research. It was not clear if he had already selected a student. If you are a rising senior who has ever even thought about graduate school in economics (whatever your current major at Williams), you would be an idiot not to consider contacting Morty right now about working with him on this.
New York Magazine‘s Intelligencer has published an item on the Harvard class of 2003, which has just recently celebrated its five-year reunion in Cambridge. And they would like to point out that unlike classes churned out by other schools with pretensions to empire, they are sickenly successful. Sorry, Williams!
Famous alums include NY Observer publisher Jared Kushner and actress/vegan footwear designer Natalie Portman. Twenty alums are worth over $10 million dollars. 2.5% make over $500,000 and 14% make over $150,000 per year. And while 37% make less than $50 grand, they are quick to point out that’s probably because they’re in grad school, the suckers.
And it’s not like they’re depressed workaholics, either: 40% have sex more than 7 times a month, and only 3% have children.
While it might be too late for the Williams ’03s to match the level of success, my fellow ’04s, there is still time for us…
Morty answered a question about legacy admissions with all sorts of juicy details. He mentioned the distinction between direct legacies (one or two parents from Williams) and skip legacies (no parents but at least one grandparent). He noted that the former were more of a focus than the latter. He reported that 12%-15% of a typical Williams class was direct legacy. I think he said that the class of 2012 was 15%, but that went up to 17%-18% once you included Eph grandchildren. Morty mentioned that some people (other LAC presidents?) feel that you want to be wary of having “double digit” legacies, that you want to allow for new blood and not be too inbred. Morty thought this was nuts. He saw no reason to penalize an applicant just because her parents went to Williams. How does that make sense? If anything, he felt that such applicants were particularly desirable. They understood Williams, knew its strengths and weaknesses, and were probably making a very informed decision in coming here.
Morty noted that a decade or so ago [or perhaps when he arrived?], the average legacy was a 3.3 on the 1-9 scale of academic ranks while the average non-legacy was 2.3. Morty did not seem to be a huge fan of this gap, or of giving legacies such a preference. He then noted that the latest statistics show that legacy and non-legacy are now equivalent (both at 2.3). Morty confirmed, consistent with all the analysis I have done, that being a legacy is not a meaningful advantage in getting into Williams. Morty noted that the way that some people measure this — by comparing the general admissions rate (16%) with the legacy admission rate (40%?) — was misleading because legacy applicants are often told ahead of time that they have no chance. So, they don’t apply and/or withdraw their applications, thus artificially increasing the legacy acceptance rate. Non-legacies with no chance are not given this inside scoop. They just apply and get rejected.
Of course, being a legacy is still an advantage. Morty pointed out that the acceptance rate for AR 1’s was only about 30%. [I bet this was for all AR 1’s, not just US citizens, which almost all legacies are.] Legacies with AR 1s are “always” accepted. [I bet that AR 1 legacies are some of the best and happiest members of the Willams community, especially the subset that applies early decision. They could have gone elsewhere but chose Williams because they were more than ready to fall in love with it. In other words, even if you did not want to give legacies an advantage qua legacies, you should still admit the AR 1 legacies over other AR 1s because these sons and daughters of Ephs are much more likely to be happy at Williams and contribute to the happiness of others.]