Crunch time for Williams in New York is next week. (Read our archives for background and these two Record articles.) The Record reports:

Debate regarding the continuation of the Williams in New York Program (WNY) will revive in the upcoming months, with extensive discussion scheduled for the Oct. 15 faculty meeting and a final decision planned for the Nov. 12 meeting. Faculty voted to table the motion at its meeting in May, where dialogue quickly revealed the complex issues underlying the decision.

I don’t have much to add beyond my previous commentary. Highlights:

1) A central concern with WNY is that it is not really WNY so much as Robert-Jackall-NY. Professor Jackall deserves all the credit for creating this wonderful program, but it needs to be designed to go on without him. Moreover, it is probably suspect for it to be overly “sociological” in its approach. One way to view the entire debate is as a method for Morty to force the program to get serious about its permanent structure.

2) There are two plausible permanent structures. First, we could make it just like Williams-in-Oxford. Students arrange whatever classes they like with the help of a single Williams faculty member who contracts out with either NYU or even a collection of adjuncts. There is much to be said for such a model. Second, we could institute a “standard” curriculum that would be constant from year-to-year. Course 1 would be the internships and associated discussions/presentations, as now. (Whether or not this is usefully described as “field work” is a different question.) Course 2 would be all about New York, originally designed by Marissa Doran ‘05. I can’t find the syllabus for this class, but it provided a wonderful tour of the history of New York City. Course 3 would be what? Suggestions welcome! Course 4 would be left to the discretion of whatever faculty member was in residence.

The problem with the current structure is that, each year, too much of the course work changes, too much is dependent on the interests of whatever faculty member happens to be there. I think (correctly) that this is a key reason for some of the popularity problems that WNY has faced.

3) Although I would vote to keep WNY, I worry about what is coming. If Morty really loved the program, its continuation would be assured. Yet costs are a real issue, despite the fact that the Waters Report handles the topic clumsily. If Morty does not like the program and is worried about spending (and you can sure of the latter), then how can it be saved? I think that the proponents of WNY need to be much more specific about how they see the program working over the next decade.

I had an e-mail exchange with a student involved in the lobbying effort last year. He graciously allowed me to quote him anonymously. Below are his comments.

These are somewhat disjointed since they are copied from a series of e-mails exchanged last year. Apologies for the delay, but I hope that future historians with thank me! Lots of good insider details. Bullish signs: Getting support from important alumni like Herb Allen ’62 and Peter Willmott ’59. Bearish signs: No public support from Morty.

To preface [last year’s faculty] meeting, Morty introduced Chris Waters. Morty did not speak on the merits of the program nor the report. Waters defended his report in the wake of many attacks on it. EJ Johnson, Bob Jackall, and Liza Johnson then gave impassioned defenses of the program on many grounds, mostly focusing on the fieldwork component and its academic merit. Morty then opened the floor to faculty comments. George Marcus immediately raised many questions and criticisms of the report, focusing primarily on the methodology. He moved to table the motion. Morty wished to keep the discussion going, but Marcus reminded him that rules declared that a motion to table must be voted upon immediately. Debate began on the motion to table with a few professors arguing they were in favor of the motion, and Waters and Laura Heatherington arguing in favor of debating the motion immediately. The motion to table passed by a margin of roughly 67-59.

[More details, please.]

Waters’ first point concerned student feedback. He said that students from the first 3 semesters of the program were consulted via written testimonials and, given the incredible length of these testimonials, further interviews were not necessary. He also attacked Jackall’s allegation that he only interviewed 2 students prior to fall 07, claiming he interviewed all but 2 (6) and that Jackall would have realized this had he spoken with Waters. Unfortunately for Waters, his report spoke of 2 interviews of the sort.

EJ focused primarily on the fieldwork component. He spoke about his experience as a ARTH professor and how that rebuts the report’s point that fieldwork is primarily a sociological discipline. He discussed how the fieldwork could be administered by any professor at Williams and that the experience was incredibly rewarding for himself as well as his students. His speech, by my judgment, was incredibly effective and well-done.

Jackall’s points were mostly extensions of the document he distributed to refute the Waters report. I have attached said document. He also addressed the above Waters point, stating that the language which Waters argued against was in fact written in his own committee’s report. He also spoke extensively as to his students’ experiences with fieldwork and their value in educational development.

Liza Johnson spoke on a number of issues, among which were her support for the program, the future of the program, the successful adjunct professors whom she has recruited, and how her experience as an ARTS professor refutes the reports’ point that fieldwork is exclusively a SOC discipline.

Marcus’s points are as follows:

1) How does this cost analysis compare to Oxford-Williams? More, less, the same? [What is included in Appendix four is not useful since the data are not comparable – capital costs are not included in the Oxford numbers for example.]

2) How does this assessment of student experience compare to Oxford-Williams? What is the pedagogic value of the Oxford program (to use as a benchmark to assess the claim in the report that the pedagogic value of a program should be weighed in the decision to continue the Williams in NY program)? Is it more or less than education at Williams in Williamstown (which now also has a rich tutorial program)? What dimensions of “pedagogic value” did the committee apply to come to its conclusion?

3) The report argues that additional administrative support is required but offers nothing to give a concrete sense of what roles are required to be played and by whom. Hence this point is left rather as an assertion of limited authority. Since other colleges have similar programs why not do a comparison of jobs/functions?

4) What was the performance of these students (those in the program) before and after their semester? Was it improved, left largely similar to before, or become less capable? And, how does that compare to students who stay on campus and to those who participate in other semesters off campus programs? Or to put it more straightforwardly, was participation in the Williams in New York program helpful, or not, in shaping the subsequent educational experience of those students who participated?

5) The report mentions that students who participated were, in the main, laudatory about the program but gives very limited details as to what the specific merit they found in their experience (i.e., were same benefits reported and among what percentages, or where there different benefits, some perhaps in tension with others, reported but not widely shared?). Nor does the report say how precisely the students assessments were obtained (explicit evaluations on provided dimensions of analysis, or just solicited anecdotal reports).

6) The complaint about “lack of curricular coherence” is left rather under-nourished – why is this relevant? Do we ask this of students in other semesters (both those on and off campus)? Since when is there supposed to be an “overarching unity” to a curriculum? Certainly that is not apparent in the campus curriculum (indeed the history of the curriculum on this campus over the years is a steady trend away from “unity” however understood).

7) Why so shy on reporting who is in favor and who is opposed? Is that a state secret?

8) What was the experience with the retention of valued placements over the period of time of the pilot program? Was there a high or low turnover? No details at all thereon.

9) The prospect for continuing in a modified fashion is left rather vague (to put the point mildly). Why not provide a fuller (and thereby) adequate depiction of what a vital program would look like – something more than sixteen students, taking over the Williams Club, and adding some administrative support)?

10) The report notes, properly, that the supply of interested and able faculty to serve and to serve as faculty directors, is a critical consideration. The report goes on to say that it has doubts about whether the faculty required would be sufficient to sustain the program but offers nothing about the methodology of how they reached that conclusion.

As far as the lobbying: a group of students (about 10) split up mealtime hours to gather signatures for petitions outside of Paresky. We also contacted our professors through all methods—face-to-face, email, and phone. I’ll stress that it was not only WNY alumni who contacted professors; I have heard from many students not affiliated with the program who did the same because they felt strongly that the program was important to Williams. I personally spoke to about 15 professors. They were very receptive; in general, they appreciated my efforts to fill them in on parts that may have been lacking the report, and they agreed that the report (and the time in which it was produced) were not sufficient for a fair termination of a program.

And as far as lobbying is concerned, we finished with 820 signatures to our petition, including many high-profile alumni (including Herb Allen ’62 and Peter Willmott ’59). I feel it was very successful and that the show of support influenced the faculty in their decision.

What do readers hear about faculty opinion? Gossip please!

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