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?)

Williams lacks the dials that certain other colleges can use. Of the 35 private colleges that are need blind, Morty expects half of them to drop this status, and for the rest to amp up the % of admissions made partially on the basis of income.

It is hugely fun to have a president who is also an expert on the finances of higher education because he is always offering these sorts of insights. Does that mean less or more collusion from our friends in the 568 group? (Background for new readers here.) Tough to know! The more difficult the financial environment, the greater the incentive for any single institution to defect. On the other hand, the fewer the members of the oligopoly, the easier to coordinate behavior. Sounds like a good question for for an ECON 110 exam.

We’re not going to do that; Morty is committed to the idea of a good education regardless of income, though it may be different for Internationals, which largely pay either everything, or nothing.

Say it ain’t so! What set of moral values warrants being need-blind for 18 year-olds born in Texas but need-aware for those born in Mexico? Was Morty really suggesting that the Williams would end need-blind admissions for Internationals? Clarification welcome. This would be a major policy change, if true. Time to start up Ephs Against International Quotas/Discrimination?

A better approach (and perhaps what Morty meant) would be to start looking harder for non-poor international applicants (and pushing harder to ensure that their families pay up). I bet that there are scores of applicants with (some) money and Williams-caliber grades/score/abilities at these Korean prep schools. Why not make a big push for them?

That call has not been made, and should not be anticipated, but Morty didn’t rule it out the same way he did for domestic students.

This reminds me of a debate during Harry Garfield’s presidency during which Garfield proposed making certain scholarships available for Christians only. Why make such funding available for Jewish students? Garfield preferred less discrimination himself but, during the initial years of the Great Depression, the College’s finances were shaky. He certainly didn’t want to “rule it out.” Background here.

The other dial we don’t have is in “head count.” Williams spends about 50% of its budget on compensation, and is the economic power of the northern Berkshires, with 770 staff. These staffers’ spouses are getting laid off and fired; furthermore, this isn’t a city with many nearby jobs. Morty is NOT going to lay anyone off. Ergo, “the two major dials are frozen.”

Morty was a great teacher in ECON 401 21 years ago. He is still a great teacher today. “Dials” are a useful metaphor for thinking about the College’s situation, and Morty has accurately highlighted the key issues. I have no doubt that people who attended his talk walked away better informed.

Was Morty that emphatic about not laying people off? If so, isn’t that a bit precious? No matter how bad Williams’s financial situation becomes, Morty is just going to spend down the endowment because he doesn’t want to be the bad guy? That’s how a rich college can quickly become a poor college. Issues to keep in mind:

First, what is the natural turnover in the College’s staff? With over 1,000 employees, it is obvious that scores of people quit/retire/die every year. With a hard hiring freeze, you might be able to get down to, say, 900, in just a few years. The problem, obviously, is that you can’t count on people in specific categories quitting. What happens when too many food service workers leave but not enough maintenance folks? Easy. You transfer people from maintenance to food service. If they don’t want to go, you fire them. (Skill mismatches may not make that transfer possible in all directions.) I am happy, for now, to allow Morty the luxury of not firing anyone. (It is hard to be the bad guy.) But I still want to see a significant decrease in the workforce.

Second, the 770 staff number is consistent with the figures reported in the Eagle: 1,068 total employees and 323 faculty. The Form 990’s list 2,000 employees but, following Larry George, I bet that the extra thousand are students on work-study. Around 250 of the faculty are academic, the remainder are coaches.

We need the Record to provide some historical context to these numbers. How many academic faculty did the College have ten years ago? (I think that the number was closer to 200. One of Morty’s major initiatives was to expand the faculty. I do not think that the number of tenured/tenure-track faculty should be reduced, but all visiting appointments should end.) But what about the number of staff and coaches ten years ago? Williams was a wonderful and fully staffed organization in 1998. If we only employed 600 staff and 50 coaches in that golden age, we can safely (via attrition, for now) move back to those numbers.

Third, as discussed recently, even if you don’t want to fire anyone, you still have the dial called “salary.” Call me crazy, but I don’t think that professors making $150,000 need a raise. Then again, I am a lefty Obama voter, so disregard the class warfare. How much money would a salary freeze save?

Attrition wise, significant reductions in staff and faculty will take 8-15 years to accomplish, but Morty plans this, to some degree. He wants to slow or stop searches for visitors, and would rather solely hire tenure-track professors.

Hooray! One of the best silver linings for an old curmudgeon like me is that the College is being forced to do many of the things that I have been proposing for years. The College should have zero visiting professors. Professors will need to adjust their schedules so that someone is always available to teach required courses.

Morty wants Williams to remain a force for income mobility, especially as everyone else becomes more need aware.

Why should Williams be a “force” for Morty’s (or anyone else’s) favorite social causes? Williams should let in the best students it can find. Period. Some of those students will be poor. Some will be rich. The poor students will, probably, end up much richer than their parents, partly because of their Williams experience. Williams will, thereby, increase cross-generational income mobility, but only a result of its central mission of being the best college in the world, not because it is aiming to do so.

Imagine that, instead of Morty, we had James Wright, the wonderful Dartmouth president. Instead of focusing Dartmouth on being “a force for income mobility,” Wright’s favorite cause if having Dartmouth be a force for veteran mobility. Dartmouth makes a special effort to recruit/admit veterans, especially wounded ones. Now, aid for veterans is a cause near and dear to my Marine heart, but Wright has no more business using Dartmouth to fulfill his (and my!) favorite social goals than Morty has doing the same at Williams.

Williams should not discriminate in favor or against rich students, legacy students or international students.

[Yes, I made up the the story about Harry Garfield above. There is a great senior thesis to be written about Jewish admissions at Williams. Will later generations look indulgently on our discrimination against internationals? I have my doubts.]

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