Currently browsing the archives for October 2008
“College life is about three things: homework, fun, and sleep…but you can only choose two.” A. Stern
This time of year, and especially Will’s posting on the first snowfall, and Tom Bernard’s wonderful account of the ‘Snowball Brigade of ’88’, has me wondering about the day to day life on campus. In particular, I’m curious about dorm life and the relative need for a cozy and inviting living space once the Berkshire winter begins.
The first room my son was given, was on the ground floor of one of the Quad buildings. We didn’t arrive with much, nonetheless, there was a fair amount to carry from auto to building. We were surrounded by other families doing the same. There was an energy, an excitement, and a tension borne of the conflicting desires of students anxious to be rid of parents, and parents anxious to prolong the process of saying goodbye.
The scene was hectic. And though we were parked right next to the building, we were facing the doorless backside, which meant that actually getting our load of stuff inside, would mean carting a lot of bags and boxes a fair distance around to the front of the building, while navigating the efforts of all the other freshmen and their parents. My son surveyed the situation, turned to us, and said, “Wait here.” He disappeared. A few minutes later, we heard his whistle, looked over, and saw him leaning out of his first floor window, grinning, arms outstretched to receive the first box. An older gentleman, rather natty and distinguished (and whom I imagined to be a professor), was strolling by just as all of this was taking place. He glanced over, and with an amused expression, dryly uttered something to the effect of, “Now that boy’s using his head.”
The dorm room was incredibly small, but quite cozy. And when I saw it next, on Family Days weekend, it had acquired the patina, which only the habits and priorities of a couple of active freshmen, could manage to bestow.
His room this year is bigger, and brighter. And though I haven’t seen it yet, I have reason to believe that a fair amount of effort was put into making it an appealing space. I remember well, the imagination and resourcefulness needed to personalize a dorm room on a limited budget. That in mind, any suggestions and ideas for current students would be wonderful. Also, trips down Memory Lane regarding one’s own dorm (or fraternity house) experience, are highly encouraged.
As well, here is a fun link, “The Art of the Dorm Room” from the Williams website.
Watch the Women’s Soccer Team (12-0-1) against Middlebury today at 2:00 on D3Cast. Men’s Soccer at 2:30 and Field Hockey at 6:00 today as well.
I will be commentating.
(At the request of several readers, I take the liberty of moving this letter back to the top to be sure that our surfing readers may catch the wave at sometime while they’re at the break)
Observations on the nature of ephblog
I’ve been blogging on ephblog for a year now. Sophmom and I showed up at the same time. We have both become active participants but in different ways. My way is the fast jab or some sophomoric parody.
Sophmom’s way has been to participate in discussions and to become involved with the very essence of the thread arguments, eloquently stating positions and defending them when rebuttals arise.
Sophmom’s contributions have also offered both support for others and a striving for some sense of positive closure on topics.
Because of these contributions and her involvement and as a representative of two groups thin on the ground and not well represented on ephblog – parents and women- she has been asked to join the board and has accepted.
The question of what is ephblog and what are reasonable expectations is being addressed by the board through soliciting your inputs. Responses to date include more participation by various groups like those represented by Sophmom.
But the same question has arisen in a much uglier form in the recent postings and thread re Phillips Exeter.
Without getting into the particulars of the discussions, I make these personal observations on the nature of ephblog :
1. ephblog is a place for discussions on topics deemed to be appropriate because the writer chooses to bring them up. However, the nature and quality of discussion in too many cases disintegrates into schoolboy taunts and an insistence on proving one’s point ad nauseum because the writer is always ‘right’,
2. ephblog is not in general a place to come for help with particular problems.
3. ephblog is a platform for exposition on topics that in many instances assume responsibility for functions of the college trustees, administration, faculty, and student government.
4. ephblog is not a place to come for personal gratification or recognition beyond the satisfaction of saying what you have to say and seeing it in virtual reality.
5. ephblog represents whom it represents by self-selection. The tone and content play a role in determining this selection.
6. ephblog’s value in the wider Williams community is also a function of this same tone and content.
As I am sure you recognize, I am just a jabber not a debater,.
But if any find resonance in the above, what positive might be done to add to ephblog’s presence and mission?
And my thanks to Sophmom for participating so actively and thoughtfully in an atmosphere she must find very difficult. I hope she will continue with us to help ephblog improve.
My thanks also to the other few parents and women whom I am sure find the air oppressive.
Please help us open some windows.
Hood River, Oregon
Our Morty is President Skorton. Yesterday he sent the letter below. Awfully familiar, though note the electronic “suggestion box” for ideas they have set up for how to solve the financial problem.
The last major bear market in the US bottomed on October 8th, 2002. How did things look to Williams on that date? See here.
Endowment has shrunk, outlook still optimistic
Archived Edition: October 08, 2002
The College’s endowment has decreased by approximately $300 million since June 30, 2000. As of June 20, 2002, the College’s endowment stood at $1,033,983,766, while total investments, including the endowment and other miscellaneous financial resources, were valued at approximately $1,189,003,764.
Christopher Wolf, manager of investments and treasury operations for the College, acknowledges the recent decline in the value of the endowment, but also “prefers to focus on the long-term.” Within the last 10 years, the College received a compound annual average return of approximately 15 percent.
An annual return of 15% is the very definition of “unsustainable.”
Each year, the College “plan[s] on using [between] four and five percent of [its] endowment…on average we assume [that] we will earn nine percent on our endowment and receive new gifts to the endowment of one percent of its value,” Catharine Hill, provost of the College, said. “These past two years, we experienced negative returns … leading to declines in our endowment. But given the very high returns during the late 1990s, our endowment is still very strong and our average return over the last decade [has] exceeded our [expectations].”
Indeed. But spend enough time in a bull market and your expectations have a way of changing. Is it plausible to assume that new gifts (including capital campaigns?) will equal 1% of the endowment annually? I don’t know.
The Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees is charged with managing the disparate assets that belong to the College that are generally referred to as the endowment. While planning to increase fundraising efforts to support campus renovations, the Committee expects the endowment to earn nine percent interest each year despite the current state of the nation’s financial markets.
The College now only forecasts 8%. Are we more realistic? Depends of what inflationary expectations are built into that nominal forecast. If the old inflation expectations were 4%, the forecast real returns are unchanged at 5%.
“Due to our financial strength and extensive alumni network, the College has been able to invest in world-class money managers over the years, including private equity partnerships and hedge funds,” said Wolf.
Exactly right. In the old days, connected trustees ran the endowment and made sure that Williams got into some great deals. Now Collette Chilton runs the endowment. Do the trustees and other alums in finance spend as much time on the endowment as they used to? No. Do they work as hard to get Williams into the best deals? Maybe, maybe not. The less power/responsibility you give someone, the less dedicated to the project they become.
At what point will Williams consider closing the Investment Office in Boston and moving that responsibility back to Williamstown? You don’t need to fire anyone. Employees ready to move would be welcome to do so. But, if we are serious about cutting costs, then high-priced Boston real estate is a good place to start. The Investment Office would function just as well (and perhaps better) in Williamstown as it does in Boston.
The College has already allocated much of the funds needed for the large scale renovation projects scheduled for the coming decade. Wolf emphasized that it is important to “keep in mind that while [the College’s] investments increased roughly 15 percent a year for the last ten years, spending only increased six percent a year…during that period we were ‘saving for a rainy day.’”
Has the College done enough saving for a rainy days in the 6 years since? Not that I can see. The College was smart (or, at least, accurate) to be “optimistic” at the very bottom of a vicious bear market. Is Williams optimistic today? Should it be?
Want even more comments on Will Slack’s ’11 excellent summary of Morty’s talk on the College’s financial situation? Of course you do!
Alex Gregory Published in The New Yorker September 12, 2005
I understand that there is a business/finance student group called Purple Cowpitalism. Details, please.
Re: current discussion on “quotes” raging waging down the page (see #2,3 for clawification).
The Federal Open Market Committee, which began its meeting at 2 p.m. today, will announce its interest-rate decision at 2:15 p.m, or just about 25 minutes from now, New York time. According to Bloomberg News, 43 out of 69 economists surveyed forecast a half- point reduction from the current 1.5 percent rate, 18 economists expect a quarter-point cut, and seven predict no change. However, futures trading suggests a nearly 40% chance that Fed policy makers will cut the target by three-quarters of a percentage point, to 0.75 percent. By contrast, only one of the 69 economists in the Bloomberg survey foresees that outcome. Here are all the implied probabilities from the futures market, according to the Cleveland Fed:
This is an odd discrepancy between economists’ forecast and market forecasts. Historically, Fed Funds futures have been a very good predictor of rate cuts, but that seems to no longer be the case, according to (Williams professor) Ken Kuttner:
Bernanke, 54, extolled the value of the futures when he was a Fed governor in 2004 in research showing the stock market’s reaction to FOMC decisions. The paper cited futures data in measuring how much policy changes between 1989 and 2002 surprised investors.
Federal funds futures are a “convenient, market-based way to identify unexpected funds rate changes,” said Bernanke’s paper, co-written by former Fed economist Kenneth Kuttner.
“If we wanted to do the same thing today, we would not be able to use it,” Kuttner, a professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, said in an interview yesterday.
Using futures to predict reaction to moves in the central bank’s target rate is “pretty much out the window at this point,” he said, leaving only outside Fed watchers, trading on betting sites and a few other possible sources.
A few years ago, one could have comfortably taken a look at Fed Funds futures and predicted Bernanke’s action, but that relationship may not hold any longer. In just a little while, we’ll see who’s right – the market, or the experts.
The sound isn’t very good, but watching the Spring Streeters perform on Mountain Day does remind us all of what a wonderful event it is. And, yes, I am sure that they were singing that same song 20+ years ago. (Original MTV video here.)
Why? Is great dollar such mess that honor student from Khazakistan is not accepting? Is Mr Morty notes preventing?
I am athlete of first standing. 2nd place cross-river swim with donkey! Award 3-4-9-3-2 for Inward1 1/2 Somersault in fetal position. Practice every day at Tinshein 30 x 6 meter swimming pool with filtration system removing nearly 80% solid human waste! Can you swimmers now say so?
And honor student! Medal for Advanced English Literature paper examining adventures the famous Dick and Jane and doggie Spot. Mathematics 3rd place Understanding calender April through June. Philosophy honorable mention – Why Kazakistan is best except for Gypsies.
Why I not accepting? Is endowment go south to Turkmanistan?
Looking for answer!!!!
(The above showed up in my email the other day. I post it as a poignant human instance of the result of the percentages being so earnestly discussed at length in these postings)
A friend at Phillips Exeter sent me the student newspaper from a week or two ago, with articles profiling the two finalists for principal: Page 1, Page 2. Many thanks to him! I have scanned it in for your viewing pleasure, including a front-page color picture of Nancy Roseman. The part that quotes from this EphBlog post is on page 2.
The paper had lots of articles discussing the selection process and the two candidates, but I did not scan those. I read them, though, and they were thoughtful and interesting.
Today’s weather was rainy and cool, but a cold front or something similar hit this evening – we have quite a bit of snow on the ground, and probably ice as well from the earlier rain.
I’m from Georgia, and for you New Englanders who are used to this sort of thing, let me assure you that EVERY SINGLE freshman from the South, at least, is looking out their window in wonder. Snow, to us, is a precious commodity, because it inevitably melts within a few days, or even the same day is falls. It is a thing of celebration, of sleds and snowmen and all of the things that we see in Romantic Comedy Christmas movies.
So we run around and frolich in the lovely white stuff, and enjoy the lovely crunch of powder beneath our boots going to class. We are grateful to the cold. But then, the snow doesn’t go away. In fact, it seems to desire a longer stay than we have ever conceived of. Our joy becomes ashen as the landscape becomes white, grey and boring, we grow tired of shaking off our boots, and we walk, heads bowed, wondering what happened to the grass we lay on in August, as we struggle through the puddle right in front of the Science Center.
As I look at the frosh from my region as well as their Facebook statuses of surprise, I know the joy in their hearts will give in to despair as the months of white roll by. This is the experience of the Southern Eph in the Berkshires for their first winter.
Post weather stories in the comments.
I know you want me to look my best while representing this elite blog. And so I dipped into the petty cash Dave keeps in the Folgers Coffee can by the back screen door and took out $150,000 and went to the store.
I hope you will agree with me that I am looking pretty darn good! I am also experimenting with my glasses and hairstyle. When you deal with Joe Six-Pack, you’d better fit right in!
More comments on Will Slack’s ’11 excellent summary of Morty’s talk on the College’s financial situation. Part 1 here. Part II below. (By the way, is anyone reading these? Are they valuable/interesting?)
Will Slack ’11 took an amazing set of notes on Morty’s recent presentation of the College’s financial situation. Read them. Below are the first part of my comments/questions. Record reporters should use this as guidance in writing this week’s story on the event.
A great comment from last year by Henry Bass ’57.
Phinney Baxter the president in the 40’s and 50’s hired Red Fred Schuman to come to Williams. Schuman had been forced out of Chicago by the very conservative CHICAGO TRIBUNE. When asked by his Trustees why he had hired this notorious Commie, Phinney laughed and said, “I think its good to have a few teachers that will shock the boys”. He also hired Don Antonio to head the Spanish dept. He was a young fellow, who was the Spanish Republic’s Ambassador to the US. He was stranded in Washington when Franco overthrew the Republic, who lots of folks considered Red. On the other side, the Poli Sci dept had Fred Greene, who even in the 50’s was such a hawk that he was already saying we had to fight in Vietnam. I talked to Fred last June and he has not mellowed one bit. He would be called a neocon and minced no words about the liberal interpretation of the Vietnam War.
I suspect that the current administration does not have a commitment to going out and finding faculty who will be sufficiently diverse that they will shock the students.
Indeed. Is there a single member of the faculty who would “shock” the students today? Certainly, not from the right. Is that a problem? I think so.
Note that the resulting discussion made clear that “neocon” was not a fair description of Fred Greene.
Morty’s favorite Republican spoke tonight in Brooks-Rogers.
It was a well written speech detailing the nature of the sexism that’s often thrown around as a talking point. Swift spoke on her own personal experience, as well as the different nature of media coverage, both in terms of being a woman and in terms of being a mother. One of the best anecdotes involved a major speech she gave on education, which was covered with stories about if she had worn the same suit two days in a row.
She also spoke on Sarah Palin, and the unfortunate decisions woman face in politics, such as hiring a wardrobe consultant, and buying Gubernatorial suits for use while pregnant. She proved her point fairly conclusively, that women face special challenges, especially in some older voters. It was a very good talk, though I may be biased from taking her Winter Study last year.
She does not plan on challenging Deval Patrick. In addition, she will be teaching a Winter Study course on the Presidential Transition and a Spring Semester course on leadership.
A collections of links relating to the financial crisis:
A Williams administrator notes this story about problems with the CommonFund at Smith. Does Williams invest in the CommonFund?
The 2008 budget is now available. Total spending for last year was $177 million, compared to $164 million in 2007 and $154 million in 2006. These sorts of increases do not scream out “budgetary discipline.” The more wasteful the spending increases of the last 10 years, the more painful the cuts to come. Note that, as best I can tell, these increases in spending are not driven by increases in the number of faculty. That increase was completed before 2006, after decisions made early in Morty’s term.
The Record article on Morty’s e-mail includes: “The operating budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year is $216 million, about half of which comes from the endowment.” Huh? Either Williams’s spending is out of control or the Record is very confused. How could the operating budget go from $177 million to $216 million in one year? That is a growth rate of 22% in the year after the endowment was flat. Unbelievably irresponsible, if true. More likely (I hope!) is that this “operating” figure includes capital spending on building projects. Could a reader from the Record clarify for us? Also, is the College really going to spend $108 million from the endowment this year? That would be 6% of the June 30 value of $1.8 billion. But the endowment is now worth (at best) $1.4 billion. If you spend almost 8% of the endowment each year, then it doesn’t take too many years to get in real trouble.
If that $216 million operating budget figure is accurate, then Williams needs to do some serious budget cutting. Batten down the hatches.
Eagle article. Entire article is below. Did you know that Williams employs 1,068 people? As I have been arguing for years, that is absurd. By the way, the Form 990’s list twice as many employees (latest pdf). What is up with that? Is this a full-time versus part-time distinction? If I didn’t know any better, I would be guessing that the Eagle is getting spun. Note also that Williams has “323 faculty members.” Really? That number clearly includes coaches (which is reasonable), but just how many coaches does Williams need?
… while the parts in contrast may have been aptly analogous, perhaps the direction has changed from ascending (at least for one prominent lipstick analog).
Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, 1969-74
Morse College Courtyard, Yale University, New Haven CT
When a smart professional like Ronit thinks that my analysis of the College’s use of leverage is wrong then either, a) I am wrong or, b) I haven’t explained things very well. Since a) is inconceivable, I will give another shot at explaining things below. Summary: Leverage is bad. The College should not have borrowed $267 million dollars. It should have spent down the endowment instead. At the time these decisions were made, reasonable people (like the ones who run Williams) thought it was a good idea. And things might have worked out. But, knowing what we know now, there is no doubt that the College would have been tens of millions of dollars better off if it had not borrowed so much. Should we have realized that 2 years ago? I did.
A student writes:
I’m a long-time reader of Ephblog, but have never had anything useful to email until now: per the daily messages, Jane Swift will be speaking at Williams today (Monday) at 8 pm. I’m in Beijing this semester so I will not be able to attend, but I’ll be looking forward to the Record’s article on Swift. Or perhaps a transcript or video of her appearance.
Kudos to the College faculty (James McAllister?) who do such a good job of inviting/cajoling Swift to participate in the Williams community.
I am starting a new category of posts on cost cutting ideas. Feel free to contribute your own. Morty needs all the help he can get since the College’s budget is obviously out of control, at least relative to our newly constrained resources.
First cut? Freshmen Leadership Weekend. To be honest, I have no idea what this is, yet I can be sure that it is not worth the money. You don’t learn leadership at some ersatz weekend boondoggle where you sit around and talk about leadership. You learn leadership by joining some group and trying to get things done.
Popular math professors Colin Adams and Tom Garrity at Williams College will debate the next president of the “United States of Mathematics” on Saturday, Oct. 25, at 10 a.m. in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on the Williams College campus.
This years Family Days Faculty lecture will feature an assuredly hilarious contention between the figure-eight knot, which represents new mathematics, and the changes we believe in, and the Euclidean algorithm, which represents the stability originating from the traditional roots of mathematics. Which candidate will come out on top and claim empirical glory in this bare-knuckled debate? Only the votes will tell.
Did anyone attend? Why don’t other departments at Williams put on these sorts of events?
Those interested in comparing Morty’s letter with those from other college/universities can see below for the ones from Duke and UPenn. If you have received a similar letter from a different institution of higher education, please add it in the comments. I would especially like to read the letters (if any) from direct competitors like Amherst, Swarthmore, Middlebury, et al.
Anyone found video of this?
Barack Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his running mate prompted a small wave of warnings about Biden’s propensity for gaffes. But no one imagined even in a worse-case scenario such a spectacular bomb as telling donors Sunday to “gird your loins” because a young president Obama will be tested by an international crisis just like young President John Kennedy was.
Scary? You betcha! But somehow, not front-page news.
Again the media showed their incredible bias by giving scattered coverage of Biden’s statements.
There were a few exceptions. On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-host Mika Brzezinski [’89] flipped incredulously through the papers, expressing shock at the lack of coverage of Biden’s remarks. Guest Dan Rather admitted that if Palin had said it, the media would be going nuts.
Mika Brzezinski ’89 as a secret player in the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Eph Division? I like it!