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twitterhood podcast with Dylan Tweney ’91

During the stellar 2008 edition of the annual Lord Jeff beatdown, err, Williams/Amherst game, Dick Swart asked me why I don’t post to Ephblog more often. It goes back to my natural hesitation to promote a show I do on Ephblog if the only connection to Williams is, you know, me. Well, not this time, as I do not only my first interview with an Eph that is not reunion related, but with a guy who literally lived across the hall from me on the third floor of Williams C in 1986-7, and that is Dylan Tweney of

Now, about this new show, twitterhood. I’ve been playing around with Twitter for only a couple of months, though, thanks to posts from Dylan and Stephen O’Grady ’97, I’ve known about it for a lot longer. I came up with the idea for the show in the men’s locker room of my gym, stunned that nobody had ever thought to talk to the people who use Twitter. Chronologically, Dylan was the first twitterhood interview I conducted, though he is the third to be posted, the previous two being with Cyan Banister and Guy Kawasaki. Future shows will be with Peter Shankman of Help A Reporter Out/Geek Factory and Jesse Thorn of The Sound of Young America. It’s a weekly show, so if you use Twitter and have a good story, drop me a line.

And for those wondering, I haven’t dropped the Biography show, it just got moved to a Jan 2009 start, and yes, I am very happy that The Invisible Hand has been on the front page of iTunes podcasts since last Tuesday. BTW, if you know of a media buyer who’d be willing to hear a test run of a pitch in return for a decent bottle of Oregon red, let me know ;)


Do the Dishes

Dan Drezner ’90 is bullish on Treasury Secretary designate Tim Geithner.

If Tim Geithner weren’t so nice, he would probably be insufferable right now. For a few weeks, Geithner was my boss when I worked at Treasury. Even after he left, I never heard a single Treasury employee say a bad thing about him. This befits his reputation as someone who was exceptionally smart (like Larry Summers) and someone who was surprisingly affable (not like Larry Summers at all).

This is a good thing too, because one could forgive Geithner right now if his head swelled just a little bit. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up five hundred points on Friday as word of his appointment leaked. The Dow jumped close to another four hundred points yesterday after Obama officially introduced him. One has to wonder if, sometime this week, when Geithner’s wife asks him to do the dishes, he will be tempted to respond, “Have you caused the Dow to jump by more than ten percent? I didn’t think so!”

Have any Ephs been nominated by Obama? Are any likely to be?


Inquiring Minds-Part II

In the first thread based on the Williams website post, “What Questions are Williams Faculty Asking Themselves?”, Rory made a comment which was a response to a query submitted by Peter Just.  Just, a Professor of Anthropology, asks:

How and why do we believe what we believe? How much of our belief and perception is based on assumptions we hold sub-consciously, without even being aware we hold them? How are we, individually and collectively, to reconcile and balance reason and faith, reason and emotion?

Rory frames his response with the model of the Seder parable of The Four Sons:


Peter Just’s question is at the core of any good social science and social scientist. Where is the hidden assumption in my work and my understanding of society?

To model after the four questions (classic parable from passover. look it up):

The wise child creates statistical models that control for various factors and does not overstate causality and idolizes the experimental design for statistical research. S/he loves the ethnographic site that is revisted and the ethnographer who grapples with this very question for offering insight into the author’s assumptions and hopefully, for a reader, the reader’s assumptions as well. The wise takes what s/he can and tries desperately to play devil’s advocate (knowing full well that a dichotomy is often oversimplified). It isn’t bad, but it’s very positivist at its core–even if I can’t get to the truth myself, there is one to uncover.

The simple child is a relativism–if i do not assume a good and a bad, perhaps then i’m without assumptions. That of course, assumes an equality that is not so: it is better to live a healthier life. People enjoy options. Relativism is simply the acceptance of all assumptions to avoid biasing towards only one. Doesn’t work.

The wicked child proposes that marxism or a similarly conflict-driven view of society is the best resolution to avoid assumptions about a society. This, of course, assumes conflict and that people are/should strive for power over others. It leads, more often than not, to dogmatic arguments.

The one who does not know how to ask is always the most endearing child in the original story. Knowing full well that s/he wants to be involved and wants to know the answer, this child is also the one that knows that to fully grapple with this question leads one to inertia. It’s impossible, once one asks “what assumptions do I have?” to ever be fully comfortable claiming knowledge of society. And for those searching for some sort of answer to Peter’s question, I would say I’m not even sure how to begin. But I do know that others might have some clues, and then I can critique those, and some third person can critique me and eventually–ideally cross-culturally so we don’t all miss one key assumption–we might start identifying key assumptions. It is why Bourdieu’s model is so insightful in the US, even though US sociologists have also been challenging French theorists about making the theory more rigorous, testable, and less absolute. It’s why the rediscovery of Du Bois’ insight has inspired and improved sociology in the past ten to twenty years (I should say: rediscovery by white sociologists, as black sociologists have built a long literature with Du Bois’ work as grounding instead of Durkheim or Weber or Simmel or Marx). When branches of work speak to each other, there’s an opportunity to uncover more of the assumptions behind both. That’s where we should focus our academic research on, that’s why we need to constantly strive for diversity…to expose and challenge assumptions otherwise left untouched.

I won’t dare touch on reason vs. faith. I leave that to others. I’d only point out that he is very smart (duh) to ask not only how we balance our reason and emotion and faith not only as individuals, but as collectives. The two are very different questions and both very important.

(Also, I’ve never been able to answer one of Peter Just’s questions without prompting him to ask another question or comment that so challenges my argument that it often left me stuttering. lol)

Comments are welcome.

And it seems to me, that Rory has issued a more than obvious invitation to Professor Just to expand on this very thoughtful response.


Endowment Research

Here is a useful overview on college endowments. Does anyone know what NACUBO has to say about Williams? Note that the average returns for an endowment of Williams’ size (greater than $1 billion) were 15.2% in 2006 and 21.0% in 2007. Williams’s results were 12.8% and 24%. Nothing wrong with being average among that exalted company.


No Man’s Land

Erin Burnett ’98 was on “Meet The Press” last week (go to the six minute mark).

For those to busy to view, here is the the passage.

MS. BURNETT: We need more clarity, though, on where these two and a half million jobs are going to come from because, as I say, I think that’s a lot less than a lot of people on Wall Street were expecting to hear out of Obama, maybe a larger number. But if you’re going to talk about restructuring here, you’re going to lose jobs no matter what. And finding some sort of an immediate transition seems to be very important. And if you’re talking about infrastructure, there’s only about $18 billion of projects ready to go that you could really put people to work on. So there is this sort of no man’s land that we’re going to go into where you could have a lot of people looking for work in addition to where we are right now and not really having anywhere to go right, right yet.

Indeed. Steve Sailer makes a similar point.

More Burnett quotes below.
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Goodell ’77 to Maverick

Bill Goodell ’77 has joined Maverick Capital (pdf).

Perhaps the only good news of the past quarter was the addition of two senior members to the Maverick team. Bill Goodell joined the firm on September 1st (great timing!) as our Chief Operating Officer and has been asked to coordinate our non-investment functions and to serve as a resource to those teams. Before joining Maverick, Bill spent ten years as the General Counsel of Tiger Management and served as the President of the Robertson Foundation. Bill also spent two years as the Chief Administrative Officer of Moore Capital. Before entering the hedge fund world, he was a Partner of King & Spalding.

Bill serves on the Board of Trustees of Washington & Lee University, Episcopal High School and the Tiger Foundation. He received a B.A. in Political Economics (Cum Laude) from Williams College and a J.D. (Magna Cum Laude) from Washington & Lee University’s School of Law. This is a new role for
Maverick, but as the complexity of our environment increases to have someone with Bill’s experience and judgment has already proven to be of tremendous value.

The whole letter is an interesting view into the world of hedge funds. Bet that Goodell is thankful that he signed his contract before September 1. What do you have to be thankful for today?


Not quite what Sophmom had in mind ( ‘Inquiring Minds’ below) …
















But three books some readers wish Dave had read in his 20’s:

Emily Post’s Etiquette, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking!


Inquiring Minds

I drop in on the Williams website fairly regularly, especially when inspired to seek out the bio of a professor my son has mentioned or to better acquaint myself with a course he may be taking.

About a week ago, I noticed this interesting post, “What Questions are Williams Faculty Asking Themselves?“. It was inspired by the Edge Foundation, a group of thinkers who hold regular meetings, some of  which involve discussion of questions that the participants are asking of themselves. With this in mind, “On Campus” took a random sampling of Williams professors, and asked them to share queries of a similar nature.

In reading through the range of submissions, it occurred to me that many would make wonderful topics for an EB discussion. In fact, one or two of them, we have already touched on. And to be perfectly honest, there are several which would be much more adequately framed by someone other than myself. With that in mind, if any of you are particularly inspired to launch a discussion based on one of these topics, please feel free to lay claim.

 For now, I’d like to start with the question posed by Christopher Bolton.

Professor Bolton asks:

If I had read different novels in my twenties, would I be a markedly different person today?

I think of this whenever I assign reading to my students.

Most of us, at one time or another have thought about, and can list, our favorite books. But the magic of Bolton’s question, is how it takes the consideration of a favorite book to a deeper level, that of understanding its impact on who we are, and how we view and understand, the world.

I’d also like to expand on the question by encouraging you to consider any book that has had this kind of influence, whether it be fiction or nonfiction, whether you read it long ago, or more recently, and regardless of your current age.

I realize there may be many shared choices, after all, there are a plethora of great books that are widely read.  But as well, I look forward to hearing about those which may not be so broadly recognized, that may then have a chance to expand the breadth of their readership merely because you chose to mention them here.

[Some strange charencodings & formatting removed –93kwt as Ed.]


Plugging Holes

Update on hiring.

Williams Stresses Tenure Track Hires

The economic downturn is forcing a conversation about priorities on even some of the most well-heeled of college campuses, as evidenced by the recent deliberations of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions at Williams College. The six-person committee, which is made up of high-level administrators and some elected faculty, recently reviewed faculty searches that had been authorized last spring before the economy took a dive.

Bill Wagner, dean of faculty at Williams and a member of the committee, says the group outlined a series of criteria required for moving ahead with searches. A premium was placed on filling vacancies that, if unfilled, would prevent students from progressing through majors. Beyond that concern, the committee focused on meeting a few long-term hiring goals, rather than simply plugging a lot of holes with temporary solutions.

“It would make more sense to give preference, therefore, to those [tenure track] positions, as opposed to trying to replace tenure track positions with visiting positions in the short term,” Wagner says. “We think that’s a shortsighted policy.”

The committee ultimately approved six of 14 previously authorized searches for tenure track faculty, and approved about one-third of the more than 20 proposed visiting professorship searches.

Tough to believe that Morty is taking the financial situation seriously when Williams is still hiring 7 (?) visiting professors. That is around $700,000 that should be saved from the 2009-2010 budget. Any class that might be taught by one of these visitors (and that is needed for major requirements or whatnot) should be taught by some other member of that department.


The dean of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences has called for an immediate freeze on staff hiring and strongly encouraged department heads to consider canceling faculty searches.

In an e-mail to department heads Monday, Michael Smith, dean of the largest Harvard faculty, outlined immediate steps in response to the worsening economic climate.

“Given our heavy reliance on endowment income, these losses will have a major and long-lasting impact – one that will require significant reductions in our annual expenses,” Smith wrote.

Williams is poorer than Harvard. The longer Morty waits to make significant budget cuts, the more painful the adjustment process will be. It is hard to think of an easier step then not hiring any visiting professors for 2009-2010. If Morty won’t cut that, what will he cut?


NCAA National Soccer Semis & Final, Greensboro 12/5 and 12/6

The first details are out on the Women’s NCAA Division III Soccer National Semifinals & Finals

December 5-6, 2008
Macpherson Stadium at Bryan Park
Greensboro, North Carolina
Host: Greensboro College
Hosted by Greensboro College and the City of Greensboro


Friday, December 5
5:00 PM – Williams (19-0-1) vs. Wheaton (IL) (21-3-2)
7:30 PM – William Smith (16-1-5) vs. Messiah (22-0-2)

Saturday, December 6
5:00 PM — Friday’s winners meet for NCAA title

The games will be videocast for free on a CBS College Sports connection provided by the NCAA. The D3 men’s games will precede the women’s, and the current schedule is confusing because it only lists the men’s games. This may change over the interim, but look to the Williams Sports site for updates and clarifications. Cross your fingers that the video feed will work: I have a 50% success rate with this broadcaster this season. 

The Williams Sports page reminds us that the Williams women last appeared in this tournament in 1999, when Williams hosted and the team finished third.


Gathering around and …











Rechtal Turgidley, Jr takes time away from his first day covers of the The 1956 3¢ Wildlife Conservation – Wild Turkey Stamp to join me in wishing Happy Thanksgiving to one and all turkeys everywhere!



On a Lighter Note …

Williams receives a less-than-flattering shout out in the disturbingly accurate blog, Stuff White People Like:

If you are good at concealing laughter and contempt, you should ask a white person about “Real Hip Hop.”  They will quickly tell you about how they don’t listen to “Commercial Hip Hop” (aka music that black people actually enjoy), and that they much prefer “Classic Hip Hop.”

“I don’t listen to that commercial stuff. I’m more into the Real Hip Hop, you know?  KRS One, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, De La Soul, Wu Tang, you know, The Old School.”

Calling this style of music ‘old school’ is considered an especially apt name since the majority of people who listen to it did so while attending old schools such as Dartmouth, Bard, and Williams College.

I immediately thought back to my frosh year, when I had the good fortune of watching a Williams crowd try to get down to Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.  I was working the lights and plugged in to the bands’ communication system.  It was enormously entertaining to hear their, ummm, frustration with the crowd’s fluency, or lack thereof, with their music.  If memory serves, it was Tribe who eventually castigated the crowd and may even have walked off the stage.  (Even more entertaining was one of the band members’ repeated attempts to direct the spotlights on certain well endowed female members of the audience).


Unique Attributes of the JA/Entry System

This thread raises the question about what attributes of the junior adviser/entry system are unique to Williams, at least among elite colleges/universities. Short answer: I don’t know! Long answer: Here are my guess as to items that are unique.

1) JAs are not paid by Williams.

2) JAs receive no non-pay compensation (i.e., room and board).

3) JAs are selected by other students, the Junior Adviser Selection Committee.

4) JAs are co-ed paired.

5) The 12:1 (?) student:JA ratio is very low.

6) There are many more applicants (100-150) for the JA position then there are spots available (52).

7) Since JAs are not employees of the College, they have many fewer obligations vis-a-vis reporting requirements then they otherwise would have.

8) JAs have an especially strong identity as JAs. They are much more cohesive as a group then students holding similar positions at other schools.

Am I sure that these are unique to Williams? No. For all I know, the system at Bates or Stanford is exactly the same. Do our readers know which, if any, of these items are unique to Williams? Are there unique aspects that I am forgetting? Perhaps we could begin by listing schools that have any of these aspects.


Neighborhood Woes

I am shocked, shocked that Neighborhood identity continues to be a figment of the Administration’s imagination.

When the neighborhood housing system was first implemented, the question was not whether current students would like it – they didn’t – but whether future generations would benefit socially and come to appreciate it. It is now in its third year, and the administration must be wondering how the current generation of students is dealing with it and whether we have begun to warm up to the system. After all, it’s been over two years. Has our opinion of the system changed?

To put it bluntly, it hasn’t. It was often said during the initial controversy that the furor over the new housing system would disappear in four years when the people who remembered the old system graduated. Now that we’re in our third year of neighborhood housing, this seems to be wrong.

Well, there are two separate issues. First, would students forget the details of the controversy, the history of how we got to today? Answer, as Andrew Triska’s ’10 later comments make clear, is Yes. Students do forget. Second, would students grow to love or at least not-hate the Neighborhood system? Triska is correct that the answer to that is No.

Even students who didn’t live under the old system – myself included – think the new system is a mistake. Even the freshmen have opinions on the issue, and those opinions are generally negative. You can’t implement a system that’s opposed by a majority of students and expect new generations of students to welcome it. Students who didn’t have housing choice can still imagine what it would be like, and it’s an enticing idea.

Indeed. During his talk at Foxborough last March, Morty (wistfully?) quoted a statistic about student opposition to the elimination of fraternities 45 years ago and student opposition to the ending of free agency. He implied that future generations would look as kindly on his overruling of student opinion today as we look upon Jack Sawyer’s ’39 leadership in the early 1960s.


Morty, as an economist, may not give history the weight it deserves. Recall the Terrible 22, and the Administration’s (Morty’s?) misleading description of that history to impressionable Ephs like Jonathan Landsman ’05. The fight against fraternities was led by the students. (Does Morty know that history?) Sawyer’s genius was not so much in overruling student (and alumni!) opinion as in harnessing it. He didn’t eliminate fraternities, he allowed the Williams community to make the decision for itself. Morty’s single biggest mistake in trying to improve student life was his failure to create the equivalent of the Angevine Committee.

More quotes and ranting below.
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There goes the neighborhood …












See Post below.


’62 Center a success sez the WSJ …

Adam Cole ’03 calls readers’ attention (particularly those who were comparing the building to the hirsute preferences of Donald Trump) to this article in the WSJ yesterday:


“Surprisingly listed as a success in the Wall Street Journal.

“Timelessness does not necessarily mean glancing backward. At Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., Boston-based William Rawn Associates was commissioned to design a new center for theater and dance. While the architects of putative icons concentrate on exterior effects, Rawn was more circumspect. “We usually tell our clients that they can chose three or four special things to spend extra money on,” he says. Following consultations with the college, these “special things” turned out to be the main performance space, a dramatic glass-enclosed dance studio, and a striking wood-lined lobby facing the town’s main street. These highlights take their place in a nuanced composition of glass, brick, limestone and wood that feels vaguely Scandinavian. While iconic buildings stand apart, the Williams theater and dance center is visually connected to its surroundings, contributing to a broader sense of place.”

Adam Cole ’03


Women’s Soccer (updated: WINS, 2-0!!) NCAA Elite 8 vs. Ithaca at 1 PM EST, Cole Field

The Williams women’s soccer team takes on the Ithaca Bombers today at 1 PM EST on Cole Field for the NCAA Elite 8/sectional final. Audio for the game will be available for free on Teamline, with the team’s regular online announcer Will Slack broadcasting.

The soccer parents will be picking up the NCAA admission fees for all Williams students who come down to Cole Field. Yesterday had quite a loud and loyal fan section, thanks in part to a similar parental funding incentive.

It will be another cold day, but may be a little bit warmer than it was yesterday. Expect rough, slippery going for the players as the temperature is not expected to reach above 29; as Will points out, cleats don’t work well on frozen ground. There may be flurries.

Go Ephs!

LAST UPDATE: Williams wins, 2-0. Looks like William Smith beat Amherst 1-0 in OT (but Amherst was the better team on stats — as we learned last year, anything can happen in these games).

UPDATE: At the start of the broadcast, Will just said it was 10 degrees warmer than yesterday (and I don’t hear the wind howling the way it did yesterday  Will says it’s very windy, and I hear it now), but still extremely cold. He expects the footing to be much improved. They’ve moved over to the men’s field today (because they chewed up the women’s field in yesterday’s semis). There is a good-sized Ithaca parent section present, in addition to very vocal Eph students, parents, and other fans.

Here’s what the end of the second half looked like yesterday:
















photo by Kris Dufour, copyright Williams College



Brief news story on Congressional Black Causus event. The Eagle provides more extensive coverage. Fun photo gallery here. I talked to an attendee who estimated student attendance at 400-500, with many being turned away once Chapin and Brooks Rogers were full. He estimated the total cost at $50,000. (I would have guessed a lower cost and more students.) Others?

Fascinating story of the turmoil at Coke from four years ago. Lots of Herb Allen ’62 stories.

Two stories on the turmoil in private equity investments. Could the private equity and venture capital investments in the Williams endowment, marked to market, be down 50% from June 30? Yes, they could.


Calling all nerds, Calling all nerds …

What a great job done by Dave and Daniel and Ronit and Larry and Ken in presenting this stunning new look for ephblog! If I’ve missed anyone, add your name below with a caustic comment about this poster.

But as long as Ken brings up the question of pixels, divisibility, and proportions, this picture contains three sacred and one perhaps profane view of numerically defined relationships and forms. 














see also sacred geometry

Would any of the hard-working team or other interested readers care to comment on their application to the creation of blog pages?


X-Country: Both Men and Women 3rd in Cross-Country (Updated)

The Williams men came in third at the cross-country national finals today, behind teams from SUNY Cortland and North Central College. Edgar Kosgey and Jeff Perlis earned All-American honors, finishing 10th and 26th respectively.

Middlebury won the national championship on the women’s side, followed by Calvin College and then the Ephs in third. Lauren Philbrook placed 19th, earning her All-American honors after a terrific season.


Williams Soccer Wins Sweet 16, Advances to Play Ithaca (Updated)

In such heavy snowfall that broadcaster Will Slack was having trouble seeing some of the last plays, the Eph women’s soccer team has won the Sweet 16. 

Everything is up in the air. The weather is so bad that the other sectional semi may not be playable today.

But congratulations to the Ephs and the Lions for great play under worsening conditions. Hats off to Will for bringing it to the fans at home, and to the soccer fans (including a dedicated group of parents) for a great show of support at Cole Field.

LATEST UPDATE: The Ephs will face the Ithaca Bombers, winners of this afternoon’s frigid skating match on an icy Cole Field, tomorrow in the NCAA sectional final/Elite 8 round.

The Amherst women, too, will play  tomorrow. Having defeated Otterbein 1-0 today, they face William Smith in the Elite 8. Time will tell…. 

UPDATE: The broadcast has just come back on, with the other semi (Ithaca Bombers  vs. Lynchburg Hornets) going forward in snowy, 20-degree Williamstown. If they can finish it, the winner of this one is scheduled to meet Williams tomorrow (time uncertain — I’ve heard two things, which may have to do with the weather) on Cole Field for the sectional finals. Will is reporting that the field is well-dusted but the snowfall has abated; conditions remain extremely slippery, as well as cold.








photos by Kris Dufour, copyright Williams College



More Reserved

Meet the new boss, Eph like the old Boss.

Hal Steinbrenner [’91], the younger and more reserved of the Steinbrenner sons, was given control of the Yankees on Thursday in a unanimous vote by Major League Baseball owners. George Steinbrenner [’52], the Yankees’ principal owner, asked Commissioner Bud Selig to pursue the change last month.

Hal Steinbrenner, responsible for the business and financial side of the Yankees, was handed control of the team Thursday.

While Hank Steinbrenner, George’s older son, has been much more talkative about the Yankees in his frequent interviews, Hal has been more involved in the daily operations of the team. It is Hal, not Hank, who deals with team executives and spends considerable time in the Yankees’ offices in New York.

“I realize it’s a great responsibility,” Hal Steinbrenner said. “My dad is, needless to say, a tough act to follow. But I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and give it my all every day.”

Good luck to Hal.


We are having technical difficulties …

Tell Kane that Ronit’s stuck in the drive shaft!


NCAA X-Country Sat. @11 and 12 EST

Tomorrow (Saturday) watch the Williams men (12 PM EST) and women (1 PM EST) [times corrected to account for time zones] compete in the NCAA cross-country championships here on CBS College Sports/

Go Ephs!









Photos by Kris Dufour,

copyright Williams College



Technical Changes

We are making major technical changes and will update this post when we (think we are) “done.” Your patience and comments are much appreciated.

Update: The major changes are complete. More technical details after the break.

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Williams Women’s Soccer vs. TCNJ 11 AM Sat., Cole Field

Williams Women’s Soccer vs. The College of New Jersey in the NCAA Sectionals at 11 AM Sat. on Cole Field. Audio available at no charge on Teamline (I think Will Slack ’11 will be announcing the tournament). More information on the tournament here.

Go Ephs!


Public (?) Faculty Meetings

There was debate last week about whether or not the monthly Williams faculty meetings are public. The truth seems to be that, for decades, they were but that, very recently, things have changed. Pathetic. If you believe in the virtues of academia, then you believe in openness and transparency. Although many meetings at Williams will, of course, need to remain private, any gathering of the full faculty should be public. Aren’t all my progressive friends supposed to believe in open meetings? Details below.
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Video of NCAA elite 8 match here. Adequate video quality, but not as good as JumboCast. Informed commentary. Williams is down 23-16 in game 1 against a team that seems very strong . . .

UPDATE: Alas, Williams was crushed. Ohio Northern was much better than Wellesley.

On the good side, there was a nice shot of a Williams fan (Melissa Pun’s mom?) with a cute hand-made sign after the second set.


Video of Congressional Black Caucus at Williams


Source link (a tip o’ the hat to commenter Parent ’12 for the link)


Best Practices for the Endowment

I had an interesting discussion with a Williams administrator yesterday with regard to
my concerns about the endowment. No one expects Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton and the Investment Committee to work miracles. But they should be able to adhere to a set of best practices as exemplified by peer institutions. To be specific, consider The Boston Foundation (tBf), led by former Williams trustee Paul Grogan ’72, and Wellesley College. Both organizations do a fine job with resources similar to those of Williams. Which best practices should Williams emulate?

1) Quarterly reporting. Consider this webpage and pdf from tBf. Given that Chilton and her staff compile quarterly reports for the Investment Committee, there is no excuse for not sharing that information with the rest of us.

2) Manager transparency. Consider the explicit listing of Boston Foundation managers.

Note that there is not complete transparency here. In particular, we do not know which private equity and venture firms tBf invests in, much less which specific funds sponsored by those firms. That’s a complex issue which we can save for another day. But there is no excuse for Williams not to tell us which firms it uses to manage the standard equity and fixed income portions of the portfolio.

3) Clear asset allocation, benchmarks and category performance.
The Boston Foundation provides its asset allocation here. As discussed previously, Williams makes public its asset allocation policy, but we have little idea which benchmarks it uses to measure manager performance nor how well those managers have done, at least in aggregate. Consider the 2003 Report (pdf) from Wellesley.

There are two components to endowment returns. First, what categories were the funds allocated to? An endowment that is 75% in equities will perform very differently than one which allocates only 25% to equities. Second, which managers are selected within a given category? Two endowments can both allocate 50% to equities (as Williams does) but their performances can differ dramatically depending on which managers each selects. There is a case to be made that the performance data for a specific manager should be kept secret. But there is no excuse for not doing as Wellesley does above and reporting the aggregate performance of the managers within each specific category of the overall asset allocation.

Again, it would be one thing if reporting this information to the Williams community were a major burden to Chilton and her staff. Transparency is valuable, but not at any cost. However, every single piece of information (manager identity, asset allocation, benchmarks and relative performance, all on a quarterly basis) is already collected and reported to Morty, the Trustees and the Investment Committee.

Best practices require that Williams share that information with the rest of us.


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