Currently browsing the archives for January 2009
A student wrote me a few weeks ago:
I just read your most recent post at Ephblog, its related comments, and I just don’t know how you do it. Allow me to explain.
Though I have been a long-time reader of Ephblog (since I matriculated in 06), I have brought myself to post exactly three times. In part, it’s because I don’t have time to debate an issue for days on end; largely, however, it’s because it’s impossible to have a conversation with a large portion of the people who DO post, especially about anything resembling a serious topic. Your most recent entry and the subsequent comments are a perfect example of that.
Unlike you, I guess I just don’t have the patience to deal with the constant self-victimization and political correctness that permeates those threads–or Williams, for that matter. I guess what I’m trying to say, and failing miserably, is that I commend you for being so patient and persistent! I can only hope that patience is something that comes with age…
Sorry about the rant! I guess I just get frustrated seeing adults making the same arguments in the real world that teenagers make in class.
I look forward to your next post and the aftermath that will undoubtedly ensue.
Thanks. See you in March! No posts or comments till then.
Jeff Thaler ’74 writes:
Being the creator of the Winter Study Project that Ronit, in his January 9 posting, said was one of the “Courses That I Wish Had Been Offered When I Was At Williams, Pt.1″, I want to thank him for that recognition and good judgment, as well as others who made interesting postings back and forth that day. David Kane sent the link to me, and I had hoped to respond to the comments sooner–but have been very busy with work on the project this month, as well as related initiatives involving the refugee and immigrant communities here in Maine. So even though the blogging trail went cold more than 2 weeks ago, I do feel it important to correct some mistaken assumptions and myths voiced in some of the blog entries.
First, the notion that this WSP is expensive or would save the college much money if cut is wrong. I cannot imagine a more cost-efficient way of having Williams students exposed to and experiencing cultures very different from their own than this project. Rather than going overseas on a WSP travel project, or a summer internship, many of which in part rely on College-related funds, my Project is only a 4 hour drive from Williams. The costs are primarily paying the host family a per diem for the student’s room and board, something I did during the 1972 Williams-at-Home program as well.
Second, in a couple postings, people suggested that Somali refugees were wrongly being resettled in Lewiston, Maine by the government, that they were hurting the Lewiston economy and there were no programs in place to deal with their influx. That is a myth as well. The bulk of the Somalis in Lewiston, who became the focus of national publicity a few years ago, are secondary refugees–NOT ones placed by the government in a particular city. Rather, these refugees–who generally had come from rural areas of Somalia– had been placed in places like Atlanta, where they were not happy by what they perceived to be high costs, crime, and urban density…and they chose to move to Lewiston, which is not as isolated as some commenters think. It is home to Bates College, is part of a two-city area of about 60,000 people about 40 miles from Portland. Last week, Newsweek did a story quoting a number of Lewiston officials who are very glad the Somalis came, to help revive the city and schools. Having worked in Lewiston for 11 years, the description of its past and present situations is accurate.
Last, I have deliberately designed my WSP so that it is not just a service learning activity, or a cultural experience, or a visit to a different part of the world. I have tried to make the project a blend of experiential and academic learning, with required readings before the students come; journaling while here, which I review and comment upon the journals at the end; reflective essays before arrival and at the end of the project, which I again review and comment upon; and during the stay, I am frequently interacting with the students to push them to ask more questions of themselves and the people with whom they are living, working, and encountering day by day. Being an “old” alum who is facing his 35th Reunion in June, I can safely say that the part of my liberal arts education that has had the biggest impact upon my post-Williams years professionally, personally, and every other way, was my participation in Prof. Robert Gaudino’s Williams-at-Home program. Before I ever heard the phrase, it helped me become a “lifelong learner” who was interested in other people’s lives and activities, able to listen more fully to their views, and then willing to act upon what I believed needed to be done in my community, wherever it may be.
Kudos to Thaler for creating such a wonderful course for current Williams students.
Another Eph joining the Obama administration: federal prosecutor John P. Carlin ’95 named Deputy Chief of Staff and Counselor to FBI Director Mueller. Congrats!
Thanks to HWC for giving me permission to publish answers that he provided via e-mail to some questions I had about the finances of Williams, Amherst and Swarthmore. Details below.
Special thanks to Sophmom, Diana and Dick Swart for pre-posting enough material that I can take a vacation knowing that our EphBlog audience (that means you, Dad!) will not be disappointed when they visit us each day. Notes:
1) There is already material posted through mid-February and a credible promise to go to the 20th and even, perhaps, the end of the month. As long as there is daily material, I don’t plan on posting till March. Again, no one is forcing me to do this. I can stop posting about Williams anytime I want. Really. I can. Anyway, I appreciate the efforts of my fellow Eph Bloggers. After 5 years, a month-long vacation is just what I need. And I think that EphBlog itself will be a better, more vibrant community in my absence.
2) I plan to neither post nor comment. If you have a question, e-mail me directly. I have vague plans to not even check the url, but no promises on that.
3) Readers who send tips to me should either e-mail eph _at_ ephblog.com or put a comment in Sophmom’s excellent Speak Up thread.
Every once in a while groups need to come together and have open and honest discussions about what is bothering them.
I shake my head when…
I am guilty of…
A posting on November 25, 2008 has had this response well worth your attention and consideration.
January 30th, 2009
I am Debbie Silverman, Williams College Graduate class of 1992 and daughter of Henry Silverman class of 1961.
Before you start trashing my father or anyone else on the EphBlog, you should realize that everyone is entitled to their own personal life. A life that is none of the business of the graduates or students of mine and my father’s alma mater. My father is a good man and has made many contributions to Williams and several other worthy organizations over the years. I will not allow you to smear his good name and hurt his loved ones with your nasty comments.
Shame on you! Has Williams and the tenets that the college upholds taught you nothing?
Debbie Silverman ’92
I have answered as the person with the responsibility to have avoided, what I see as a father and as a Williams man, a great hurt to fellow Williams graduates and their families.
January 30th, 2009
Dear Ms. Silverman,
‘Shame on you’ is exactly the right admonishment for the thoughtlessness and cruelty dealt to your father and your family by this mindless posting at the most human level,
The attempt to justify this posting in terms of news worthiness and in the spirit of “all things Eph” is completely irresponsible.
Please know postings are done by individuals using their own discretion. In this case while I took violent exception to this post, I did not remove it. I am sorry for not having done this and for the hurt it has caused you and your family. I can at this late date only offer you my sincere apology.
Your admonishment serves as a warning to all posters to ephblog that responsibility to the Williams community includes more than rants at perceived wrongs. There is the issue of the personal involvement and feelings of others in this community to be considered.
I was wrong in not removing this post when it was in progress and I sincerely apologize.
Dick Swart 1956
Professor Frank Morgan took this video of the Snow Sculpting competition, which Willipedia says was brought back this year by College Council:
Our President, Dick Swart, is not impressed, because here’s how he remembers the snow sculptures they built back when he attended college, during the last Ice Age.
Journalist Steve Coll, in the process of arguing Warren Buffet should give $2 billion to permanently endow the Washington Post newsroom, focuses his disdain on folks who donate to Williams.
It has been very painful to watch papers like the Post offer buyouts to dozens of talented journalists at the height of their powers while shutting overseas bureaus and even entire sections of the paper. Not to pick on any one institution, but, from a constitutional perspective, how did we end up in a society where Williams College has (or had, before September) an endowment well in excess of one billion dollars, while the Washington Post, a fountainhead of Watergate and so much other skeptical and investigative reporting critical to the republic’s health, is in jeopardyà [sic] … I’m sure that Williams-generated nostalgia in the emotional lives of wealthy people is hard to overestimate, but still …
Well, that was uncalled for. Coll graduated from Occidental, no slouch itself in the endowment-per-student department, in 1980. Speculation as to the role of newsprint-related nostalgia in Coll’s emotional life is welcome in the comments.
A week from now, Claiming Williams will be a failure because most students will not go to any events. And those that bother to waste time on a buffoon like Tim Wise will be precisely those who already agree with him. The faculty will judge the event a failure, and decline to schedule it for more than another year or two. Five years from now, only the Eph-trivia experts among us will remember Claiming Williams.
None of this is to meant to disparagement the hard work of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee. No doubt they spent many hours planning events, selecting speakers, and brainstorming ideas. Their posters (featuring testimony from specific Ephs) are excellent. They have a blog of sorts. Their public service announcement contest is clever and original. But, all the good intentions in the world will not rescue an event which does not either a) Focus on community building, like Mountain Day or b) Represent the full spectrum of Eph opinion on “privilege.”
But let me by constructive for a change! Instead of (accurately) predicting failure, why don’t I tell the Claiming Williams Steering Committee how they might make their event more successful? I love a challenge!
1) Invite a Williams singing/dancing group to perform at the start of each speaker. Everyone loves Williams students when they sing and dance, especially all their friends and entry mates. Scheduling the Spring Streeters for two songs at the start of Tim Wise’s presentation at 2:15 would double attendance. If you want Ephs to come to your event, then you need to present (at least some) things they want to see. With luck, some who came for the Spring Streeters would stay and learn something. You really think that many students are going to show up for a 9:30 AM speech without, say, an NBC performance to entice them? Think again.
Dorothy Allison and Peter Roby (both scheduled for 9:30) look like very interesting and accomplished people. But Williams students will be treating the previous night like a Friday. Party, party! How many students are up by 9:30 on a Saturday morning?
2) Change the format to involve a fair cross section of the Williams community, especially current students. Consider the 1:00 lecture by Peggy McIntosh. This could be interesting and McIntosh’s essay “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” is worth a read. But, still! Williams students are busy and even though this event might be worth their time, you may have trouble convincing them of that.
So, instead of just having McIntosh give her usual speech, have her give a 15 minute version (the concept of “white privilege” is not overly complex) and then have her interact with a panel of Williams students. (I realize that you have scheduled a discussion forum for afterward, but that is not the way to organize things.) And the good news is that there is a ready-made panel of students discussing similar issues at WSO right now! (Read the whole thread. Be impressed with the intelligence of Williams students, but also be surprised at the diversity of viewpoints they express with regard to “respect” on campus.)
A panel of students would help to generate attendance. Everyone likes to support their friends. Select a few JAs and you can count on many/most of their freshmen coming out. Also, a panel with Williams students who honestly disagree about “respect” will be much more interesting and educational.
3) Cut the number of forums. We love us some Bill Darrow here at EphBlog, but do you really think that more than a handful of students will troop all the way out to Griffin 3 at 2:15 to discuss ““Can You Hear Me Now?” Feeling Invisible at Williams”? No. That’s not going to happen. Better to schedule fewer events and concentrate your energies. (That said, if a student told me that she had only 60 minutes to spend on Claiming Williams, my advice would be to attend Darrow’s forum. Any discussion led by him will be high quality.)
I don’t expect Claiming Williams to follow any of this advice. Do readers have better suggestions?
Thanks to Jeff for this latest and greatest from TPM:
“President Obama Announces Key Additions to the Office of the White House Counsel.”
Two Ephs, Jonathan Kravis ‘99, and Shomik Dutta ’05, are among the appointees.
“Jon K. is a great guy who will be a tremendous asset to the White House. I don’t know the other dude but I imagine the same sentiment applies.”
What are you using for bait?
1) There needs to be a new post on EphBlog every day, appearing before 7:00 AM. We have a 1,000+ daily readers and an obligation to give them something about “All Things Eph” each day, as we have been doing for over 5 years. Fortunately, WordPress makes this easy to do since you can edit the time of the post to be in the future, causing it to appear automatically. Most of my morning posts are actually written ahead of time.
2) There is an infinite supply of material. Check out WSO, the Record, our Eph Blogroll and Planet, as well as the various feeds on our main page (all thanks to Ronit). A search on Google News for “Williams College” always produces interesting results. Our archives are an endless source of material worth revisiting. Consider what we were blogging about three years ago this month. Posts do not need to feature the latest news. They just need to be interesting.
3) The last time EphBlog tried to give me a vacation, we failed. Why? I think we have a coordination problem. Lots of people (especially me!) think that this would be a good idea, think that we need less me and more everyone else. But it is tough to plan this all out ahead of time and/or to commit. I have a solution:
If you think that this is a good idea, make one post right now for Feb 1 at 6:00 AM. Then, announce that you have done so in the comments to this post. If you still have some energy, do another post for Feb 2 and then Feb 3. With luck, others will be inspired by your efforts and make posts for later days. Pretty soon, we’ll have a week done and then, perhaps, the entire month. A month without a post from Dave! Wouldn’t that make for an better EphBlog?
4) So, I invite all authors to participate. (And anyone who would like to become an author is welcome to join.) Note that this won’t prevent you from making other, more timely posts throughout the month. Just because we already have one post ready to go at 6:00 AM on Feb 8th does not prevent you from adding another post that day, with breaking news or otherwise.
My prediction: This won’t work. Lots of people say that they want less me and more others but, when they have the chance to contribute to that effort with pre-scheduled posts, their enthusiasm flags.
Prove me wrong!
“What a terrific interview.” Sophmom says in her thanks to Parent ’12 for citing the Record article.
“Did you notice the part about his waiting for invitations to “snacks” with students? And he is very straightforward about the disappointment with the neighborhood system, and his concerns about international students, CDE, all the things we have been ‘wondering’ about here on EB.
“Makes me very sorry to see Morty go. I think this should be posted on the front page.”
My diversity’s not big enough.
I wonder how much Nip and Tuck would charge for the procedure?
This morning, a young man dressed in a blue suit with leggings and a billed cap pulled up on a Schwinn Roadmaster bicycle, knocked on my door and presented me with this cable from Rechtal Turgidley, Jr. In keeping with the Retro sense of the experience, I tipped him 25¢.
Here is Rechtal’s report.
This Winter Study V comes to a close just prior to Super Bowl LXIII.
And just as the hard-fought season has brought the Steelers and the Cardinals together in Tampa Bay next week, so to, the rigour and review of the accrediting process has pitted a tough and seasoned review committee against the administration, faculty, and students of our famed alma mater.
However, and strictly as a toss-in, while the outcome of LXIII is very much a question, was V’s accrediting outcome ever in doubt? Had the history department been replaced by the faculty of the Modernella College of Beauty? Had the office of the President been redecorated with $1,645 waste baskets? Had the SOHO (South of Hopkins) neighborhood torched Goodrich? Were students begging on the streets for Blackberry batteries?
I just ask to try to put the focus on the process and values of the review which might be inherent to it.
As I understand the process:
1. Standards for Accreditation are submitted to the college for understanding of them.
2. The College carries out a rigorous self-examination of these standards.
3. The College presents the results of this study to the Committee
4. The Committee comes to campus and reviews the self-study
5. The Committee goes away and writes its’ report and evaluation of the self-study
6. This report is submitted to the College
7. The College replies
8. The Committee replies and states certain areas of possible concern which will be further reviewed at a later date as a continuing part of the required Accrediting.
That’s a hell of a season!
Small wonder the result, which while never in doubt, is, as PTC so aptly says, self-absorbed.
I call readers attention to PTC’s analysis which, as he tells us, ignores the questions of the perception of Williams by those outside “the purple bubble” and the College’s lack of perception of those not inside “the purple bubble”. Telling points and I admire PTC’s view and perspective! Perhaps “Good Local Citizenship” needs to be added to the standards.
My assignment is to comment on points 7 and 8 above, the handshake and singing of The Mountains, if you will.
The preceding points 1-6 were the game. And if there is a value to the report, to me it is not in the recommendations themselves, but in the process per se.
The obligatory development of vision and mission statements, of objective setting by units, of strategy and tactical development against budgets, and contingency planning are well-known and have been experienced by many readers (we even went through this process at the Quark Island Ferry Company), Yet the very act of doing the work is the value in terms of understanding and commitment and a sense of being on the team. Yes, yes. The clichemeister comments on corporate culture. But it’s the differece between having a play book and not having a play book.
Better ways of doing things come out of these processes. And, for the community of educators, and in particular those on this committee, it is in the examining of values and methods at one institution that can take good ideas and spread them to others.
Very good discussions have already been a part of V on specific content over the course of the last week. My out-take is Diversity = Dollars. And Dollars = the weathering of the financial storm of the century (easy to say since the Great Depression was in the last century). The various comments made on ephblog may contain some ideas to add to the self-study previously developed, particularly in the light of 2007 (bulk of the report data) and the situation in 2009.
I have been speaking of process and committees. This very situation often leads to, as has been pointed out by many, a sterility of language and a pulling of punches in outside committee reports. Indeed, some have often complained about consultants that they listen to what you have to say and then say it back to you.
And, of course, fellow students in Dr Dave’s Winter Study V will have already seen when the anodyne is expressed in very long sentences containing many polysyllable words, readability goes right down the tubes.
If you are interested http://www.ecy.wa.gov/quality/plaintalk/resources/classics.pdf
I find Fogg and Flesch good indicators of the accessibility of a piece of writing.
Yes, yes, I’m coming to my specific assignment.
The Committee has presented its’ detailed report to Williams. And now Williams acknowledges receipt.
7. President Shapiro’s reply. Short and direct. Active verbs, shorter sentences. A sense for the reader that he damn well gets what is said, thanks the committee for its time, notes with reservations its carefully parsed and watered recommendations and will now get on with the business of running Williams.
Hurrah for President Shapiro. Even though written in the first person plural, the first person singular comes across. I don’t believe he is using the Royal We. I think he is recognizing the contributions of so many while accepting the final responsibility. This is a good CEO!
8. The statement of Accreditation. What this was about, after all. Yes, we can go on! When I researched findings, some schools are put on probation and others loose their rating. The committee chooses to point out the same areas of concern reported before, in very temperate language, and with the caveat that these topics would be included at the next recurring review for progress in 2012.
I don’t doubt the need for accrediting institutions. I don’t want to have my gall bladder removed by a graduate of the the Ray Croc University of Hamburger Knowledge, good as it is in training Mickey D personnel.
And I absolutely don’t question the value of an inclusive process and the actions it can produce.
I do believe that the caveats of the committee were in the nature of the earlier reported view of consultants. They played back what was told to them.
And I do believe that the experience benefitted the committee participants, not because Williams is so smart nyahhh, nyahhh. nyahhh, but because the exchange of ideas between institutions and people is so important.
What does this mean for ephblog. Keep on and expand as a medium for the exchange of ideas between members of the Williams community. For the furthering of a school spirit and camaraderie. A part of the reason the outcome of this game was never in question is the wonderful sense of school spirit that produces such active support. This means, as noted in a comment from a reader, the accosting of someone wearing a Williams sweatshirt with a name, a class, and a hand shake!
1. PTC has presented a view of “the Purple Bubble”. Do you agree or disagree or find another view. Is the view of enough value to be included in administrative decisions and evaluations such as the process just completed?
2. Is the review about accrediting or is there another agenda?
3. The wording of some standards allows for individual institutional particular goals and missions. . Thus the definition of ‘diversity’ might be at the discretion of the institution. What role should the accrediting process play in achieving societal goals?
4. Given that the accrediting of Williams was never a question, what values do you see coming out of the review? Were any new specific ideas/insights added by the committee? Should the process be ‘streamlined’ in any way?
5. Was the Williams response sufficient to or lacking in proportion to the committee’s report? What changes, if any, would you have made to President Shapiro’s reply?
(I shall send this missive by cable to Swart for posting. I hope a suitable delivery service is available in Hood River)
Rechtal Turgidley, Jr
Quark Island, Maine
As the moment of the inauguration approaches today, my mind keeps traveling back to an argument I had when I was a second year in college.
In a political science course, I got into a disagreement with a guest lecturer from the local peace and justice center, who was leading a discussion on the future of race relations. I remember her asking me, as a way of demonstrating the abject lack of progress in race relations, whether I thought there would be a black president in my lifetime. The tone of her question radiated the sense that, unless I answered “no,” I was a naive fool who understood little about America.
And, of course, I said “yes” — not because I was trying to be contrarian, but because I genuinely believed it to be true. I remember her shaking her head sadly from side to side and smiling ruefully. I bet Mark Penn shook his head the same way early last year.
I hope, when Obama is sworn in, that she’s smiling for a different reason.
Indeed. But which political science course? Who was the guest lecturer? EphBlog readers loves the details behind Williams reminiscences.
I recall similar incidents. Conservatives (in the Williams context) like Dan and me have a great faith in the wonder that is America. I believe that there is no fairer more decent society on Earth, especially when it comes to judging people by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. An African-American president is not surprising. It was inevitable.
Good luck to President Obama and all the Ephs working for him. There is much to do.
Flipping through the latest Alumni Review I found a gem from Prof. John Limon:
Explaining why liberal comedians’ jokes out-numbered those of conservatives in the run-up to Election Day, John Limon, the John J. Gibson Professor English, says in teh Oct. 20 Boston Globe: “A joke has to feel like it’s overcoming some kind of norm, some kind of inhibition. … I think Republicans are always better at norms and inhibitions than Democrats.”
First of all, let’s assume it’s the editors of the Alumni Review who made the common error of conflating conservativism and Republicanism. The two are far from the same as any conservative disgusted with No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, bailouts, or huge increases to the budgets of every alphabet soup department/agency known to man would be happy to tell you.
But what about Limon’s claim that Republicans are better at norms and inhibitions than Democrats? That’s some good comedy.
Democrats and Republicans both have their norms and inhibitions. It’s just not acceptable at Williams, or with the audience of The Daily Show, to mock political correctness run amok, question Sisyphusian diversity goals, or believe that the challenges our nation faces are so grave that merely electing Obama is not enough to solve them.
The double standards in discourse at a place like Williams are pretty stunning, as I wrote 4 years ago in the Washington Times. David Horowitz paying to place an ad in the Record “subtly censored” members of the Williams Community, but when Hamilton College gave Ward Churchill a university platform to speak from it was part of a commitment to the “free exchange of ideas.” There’s a whole host of norms and inhibitions that exist among Democrats, Liberals, or Ephs. Prof. Limon just finds them less humorous that he does Joe the Plumber.
As for why more jokes are made about Republicans than Democrats? Seems to me that a party who has held either the Presidency or Congress for 26 of the last 28 years is a pretty easy — and in many ways justified — target. And, as the writers of 24 can tell you, the Left is pretty good at subtly censoring voices it finds offensive. And, if subtle censorship doesn’t work, there’s always the Fairness Doctrine to fall back on.
Galen Thorp ’04 is now deployed with the Navy.
His address is:
FPO AP 96601-6232
Thank you for supporting our Ephs who are deployed in harms way.
Williams College Adopt An Eph Program
To the Williams Community,
Coming out of this weekend’s Board of Trustees’ meeting, I would like to
bring you up to date on how Williams is adapting to the downturn in the
Over the three months since I last wrote on the subject, the College has
deepened its analysis of the situation, mapped a way forward, and begun to
reduce spending. These efforts led to fruitful Board discussions, which
underscored several themes:
Despite the changed economy, Williams will remain Williams –
a vibrant college where students will receive the finest
possible liberal arts education.
We remain committed to retaining our full financial aid program
and to avoiding layoffs.
To accomplish this we need to find very significant savings
elsewhere in our operations.
We are in this relatively strong position because of the talent and
dedication of our faculty, staff, and students and the commitment of our
alumni and parents.
On this last point, I’m pleased to report great news regarding The Williams
Campaign. Despite beginning during the dot-com bust and ending in the
deepest recession in decades, the Campaign closed at a total of
$500,165,000. This heartening outcome results from the hard work and
generosity of many in the Williams family. On behalf of everyone who will
benefit from this effort, now and in the future, I thank all who have taken
part. Both capital and annual gifts have enabled us to make permanent
additions to our curriculum, financial aid, and campus infrastructure.
Without this extraordinary result and the ongoing capital and annual support
of those devoted to the College, our current challenge would be even
Another piece of reassuring news is that despite our concern about the
effects of this economic turmoil on current Williams families, we’ve been
relieved to see that the number of families who have asked for mid-year
financial aid reviews has been no greater than usual. We still understand,
and appreciate, the degree to which many families of all income levels are
having to sacrifice to make available for their children a Williams
The economy’s greatest effect on the College itself has been the degree to
which falling financial markets have reduced the value of our endowment.
While we’re fortunate that the endowment continues to outperform benchmarks
and to contain enough liquid assets for us to meet our obligations, it’s
still the case that the endowment’s overall value is significantly less than
the $1.8 billion recorded last June 30. Its liquid assets, which can be
valued day-to-day are down so far this fiscal year by a little over 20%.
Making a reasonable estimate of its illiquid assets, which can’t be valued
every day, leads us to conclude that the overall endowment value is down
this fiscal year by a figure approaching 30%. Meanwhile the financial
markets remain volatile.
In October we announced the College’s first responses. We postponed for a
year the construction of the new Sawyer Library and renovation of Weston
Field, reduced by $2 million the amount we’d planned to spend this year on
building renewal and maintenance, and decided to postpone the filling of all
but the most essential openings for faculty and staff. After careful study
by the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, we chose to postpone
searches for 6 of 14 tenure-track faculty appointments and to drop searches
for half of 22 visiting faculty positions. A separate ad hoc group has
recommended the postponement of around 20 of what were 30 staff openings,
while several remain under review. We also asked all budget managers to find
ways to spend at least 2% less than expected this year on non-personnel
Next year’s operating budget is planned to go down by $10 million to around
$207 million. Accomplishing this while protecting financial aid, avoiding
layoffs, and not overspending from the endowment will require the following
We¹ve cut spending on building renewal and maintenance next
year by over $6 million a little more than half. The fact
that our physical plant is in such great shape makes this step
more practical than it otherwise would be.
We reluctantly join many colleges and universities in deciding
to have no faculty and staff salary increases for the year.
While relieved somewhat to note that general inflation is
currently near zero, we know how important competitive salaries
are to the health of our educational offerings and commit to
increasing salaries again as soon as feasible.
We¹ve asked all budget managers to submit plans for the coming
year that include cuts in non-personnel spending of 12% and 15%.
We¹ll decide closer to the beginning of the fiscal year which
level is necessary depending on external circumstances. We¹ve
also asked all budget managers to explain how they would cut an
additional 6% the following year.
We¹ve been greatly aided in the process by cost-saving suggestions from
faculty, staff, and students. Our thanks go to all who used the Website
developed for this purpose to submit nearly 400 ideas. They ranged from
small to large and covered almost every aspect of college operations. The ad
hoc Committee on Cost-Saving has reviewed them and passed them to relevant
managers. Two of the larger ideas have already been put into action. One was
to experiment with closing the campus as much as possible over the recent
winter break, which had the added benefit of reducing our greenhouse gas
emissions. Another suggestion with a large financial impact was to suspend
after this spring semester the Williams in New York Program. The faculty had
already voted last fall to end the program in its present form, pending a
process through which it’ll be re-imagined. That planning will continue and
I’m confident that the program will eventually reappear in new form. These
ideas, combined with several others, represent savings of more than
An important annual calculation for the College is how much to spend from
the endowment, keeping in mind the needs of both current and future
students. To strike this balance we¹ve generally aimed to spend in the long
run on operations an annual average of around 5%, though in some years in
which the endowment grew healthily we spent at lower rates to avoid spending
for spending’s sake and instead save for the future. That practice has
served us well. But in the same way that the College spent from the
endowment at higher rates during previous deep recessions, the Board has
agreed to do so now. We plan next year to spend up to 6.9% of the beginning
of the year value of the endowment a level that’s sustainable for a few
years but not longer.
Like all financial plans, ours is based on assumptions about the external
environment. The steps that I’ve described here are based on our
conservative model that the endowment will drop 30% this year, stay level
for the next two, and in the following year go up by 8%, a figure closer to
its historical average. If the endowment fares better than this, we can
carefully increase spending more than currently planned and/or spend less
from endowment. If it does worse, we’ll have to adapt even further.
Economic downturns are stressful. This one, with its speed and depth, has
certainly put pressure on the families of our students, of our faculty and
staff, and of our alumni. But it’s in times of challenge that communities
find their greatest strength. I’ve been not only encouraged but also moved
by the deep goodwill that Williams people, on campus and afar, have brought
to our collective effort to meet the current challenge. We know that making
the most of this situation requires the best, shared efforts of us all.
Through this process we will reaffirm for our time those initiatives most
central to our mission and those, less essential, that can be pared away.
The ultimate result can only be an even stronger Williams — one that I
thank you all for helping to build.
My department, Horticulture, is losing five lines for grad students. I’ve yet to hear of a layoff here, but my sense from how people are talking is that some must be coming. There was a request for retirement plans; from what I hear no Hort professor has indicated any. There is a tension between the mandate from the top to make cuts, and the knowledge within the department that if we comply, the shrink may be permanent. It’s a classic case of conflicts of interest. Not only does no one want himself or a colleague to lose a job, no one wants to help the dean shrink our department.
Max Gutman ’07 writes:
While I haven’t really been reading EphBlog since my graduation in June, I found a question that I figure the master of “All Things Eph” would be eager to answer. Looking on the Wikipedia page for Zack Snyder, director of the films “300” and the upcoming “Watchmen,” I found this photo in which he appears to be wearing a “Williams Football” cap. Ditto in this video journal about the making of Watchmen that can be found on the Apple movie trailers site. From a quick search online, it doesn’t look like Snyder is an Eph himself, but considering I don’t usually hear many people demanding more Williams paraphernalia at their local Lids, I’m guessing there must be some Williams connection. So what can you find for me?
Stopped reading EphBlog?! Say it ain’t so, Max.
Thanks to ‘nuts’ for bringing the student article, “Global Warming’s Wide Impact”, to our attention. It’s a collaborative effort by Williams College student, Meredith Annex, and Amherst student, David Emmerman. Considering all the recent discussion on the value of interaction with neighboring campuses, I thought it especially poignant.
And tying right in with the subjects of sustainability and cost cutting, is JG’s link about the efforts of the college to accomplish both of these goals; “The Great Shutdown of ’09”. Just goes to show, saving energy, equals energy $avings.
Thanks to Jeff for the links regarding two new Ephs, Class of 2013. I wanted to make sure we had these articles in the archives because I bet we will be hearing more about these young men.
Chris Sheahan, from Wolcott High School, was class president, captain of the football, weightlifting and track teams, and a member of the National Honors Society. He also did a year at The Gunnery, where he made High Honor Roll and was honored as a first Team All-Colonial League Selection. He will be playing football at Williams.
Darren Hartwell, a three-sport athlete ranked ninth in his class at North Reading, will be playing baseball and football for the Ephs. And as Jeff noted, it sounds as if he chose Williams over Harvard.
The Trustees are meeting this week-end. Let’s make some predictions!
1) There will be a letter to the Williams community early next week from Morty about the financial crisis.
Those who thought that Morty’s initial letter was overly alarmist will be in for a shock. Williams is in real trouble and the tone of the letter will highlight this fact and, I hope, explain it more thoroughly.
2) That letter will highlight some specific belt-tightening measures, including a salary freeze (perhaps for just those making above $X), perhaps for two years.
Thanks to HWC for pointing to similar moves at Bowdoin. We are a richer school than Bowdoin, but not that much richer. Rule number one in belt-tightening is to take aggressive action fast. If you go with a three year salary freeze, you can always review the decision in two years if things are looking better. Doing one year salary freezes for three years in a row is much more painful.
3) The letter will re-affirm Williams commitment to need-blind admissions, including international, and to a no-layoffs policy.
4) The letter will make explicit the decision to increase the number of students. My guess is 15 a year for a total addition of 60.
Those are the only four predictions that I would bet a lot of money on. Other possibilities (all of which would be good ideas) include:
5) A more detailed presentation of the budget situation. The College does not have a history of transparency on these issues and I don’t expect that to start now. How can any of us offer informed advice/opinion on where the College should cut if we don’t know where the money goes?
6) News on major changes. WNY has been closed, at least for the next year. (See the not-online yet Record article.) The letter will probably mention that. It might also mention (I can dream, can’t I?) the closing of the Boston Investment Office. (If WNY isn’t worth $300,000 per year, then why do we spend twice (?) as much on an Investment Office?) I can’t think of any other big ticket items that are, plausibly, already on the chopping block.
7) The formation of a committee (including students) to come up with a plan (perhaps only to be implemented if the market does not bounce back) for major cuts. It is not hard to look at the Williams budget and find millions of dollars to save. If it incredibly difficult to find tens of millions. Why not start thinking hard about that problem now?
8) A more serious discussion of the avail rate. Recall that this is the percentage of the endowment that the College spends each year. There are two major problems with the College’s current thinking on this, problems that will lead to major difficulties in the years to come unless the market bounces back.
First, we must subtract the College’s outstanding debt from the endowment. You spend money out of your net financial assets. Morty gives lip service to this idea, but still, the official number just uses the endowment. A fair market value for the endowment today is, at best $1.25 billion. Given that we have around $260 million in debt, we should be calculating the avail rate as a percentage of roughly $1 billion in actual financial wealth.
Second, the 25 year bull market in everything has made many people stupid. Consider Bowdoin’s assumptions:
Over the past five years Bowdoin’s endowment has achieved top decile performance with annualized 5, 10, and 20 year returns of 14.8%, 10.1% and 11.9% respectively. We are coming off a strong base. For the year ending June 30, 2009, we are assuming that we will have an investment return of -20%. We are conservative in predicting future investment returns on the endowment; in subsequent years we have assumed returns of 0% for fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011, and 7% for fiscal year 2012 and thereafter. We believe these assumptions are prudent given the economic advice we have received from members of our investment committee and investment professionals we have consulted.
Assuming 7% nominal growth (call it 2% inflation and 5% real) forever is ludicrous, no matter how many idiot “investment professionals” tell you otherwise. How many times do I need to go through this? If the Bowdoin endowment could grow at a 5% real rate of return forever (while world GDP growth is around 3%) then Bowdoin would eventually own the entire world. Maybe I need to turn in my “investment professional” secret decoder ring, but when my assumptions lead, mathematically, to a ludicrous result, I re-examine them.
Williams needs to do the same. Assuming 5% (some Williams material even mentions 6%!) real rate of return over the long term is a fantasy. It can not be done. Sure, if you have a 20 year bull market (and lever up with debt and via items like private equity), you can do fine for a while. But reality enters in at some point.
So, Williams should use a more plausible estimate for long term growth. I would recommend 3%. Since the avail rate is supposed to be based on a reasonable estimate of the real growth in the endowment, it would be “prudent” for the trustees to devote 3% of the $1 billion in net financial wealth toward operating spending in 2009-2010 and going forward. That’s $30 million. In 2007-2008, Williams spent $79 million.
We have some serious problems.
What do you predict for Monday?
I now, I know – what’s that go to do with Williams?
Every well brought-up alum knows about Elia Kazan and John Frankenheimer. But how many know that Charles Brackett ’15 won three Oscars for screenwriting (Lost Weekend/1945, Sunset Boulevard/1950, and the Clifton Webb 1953 Titanic), or that he won a lifetime achievement award from the Academy in 1959, or that he was president of the Academy from 1949 to 1955?
I thought so!
So here is a sporting contest for cineasts, auteur-admirers, and those who aren’t going to wait for the Netflix release. How many winners can you pick from the Big Six?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire
David Fincher, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon
Stephen Daldry, The Reader
Gus Van Sant, Milk
Richard Jenkins, The Visitor
Frank Langella, Frost/Nixon
Sean Penn, Milk
Brad Pitt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Mickey Rourke, The Wrestler
Anne Hathaway, Rachel Getting Married
Angelina Jolie, Changeling
Melissa Leo, Frozen River
Meryl Streep, Doubt
Kate Winslet, The Reader
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Josh Brolin, Milk
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Robert Downey Jr., Tropic Thunder
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Doubt
Michael Shannon, Revolutionary Road
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Amy Adams, Doubt
Penélope Cruz, Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Viola Davis, Doubt
Taraji P. Henson, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Marisa Tomei, The Wrestler
Enter in ‘comments’ below. Prizes will be awarded. Yes, maybe those cheesy Hood River pens with the guy on the windsurfer going back and forth! But maybe not … I think the surfer guy is now available on a key chain! Tempted? Want that souvenir and your name up in lights right here on the EphBlog marquee?
Enter now! Vote early, Vote often! Duplicate prizes awarded in case of ties (those pens aren’t big movers)!
A query by Dick Swart on “Speak Up” inspired a few thoughts on Mexico by Ken Thomas ’93, and others. In the interests of archiving the discussion, I am re-posting it here. I will begin with Dick’s comment and let the rest of the discussion continue ‘under the fold’.
Dick Swart says:
Ken Thomas –
“Drug-related violence claimed 5,700 lives across Mexico last year, more than double the number of victims in 2007. ”
BBC News today
This is more than Iraq and Iran for the US Military!
Dick (an old guy who hung in TiaJuana and Ensenada, and now Todos Santos and La Ventana)
Is Senator Mark Udall ’72 just another politician?
The Senate today voted to give Wall Street another $350 billion today. The vote tells us a lot about the new Senate (you can see the full tally here – and remember, on this vote, a “yes” vote was a vote against releasing the $350 billion bailout tranche).
For instance, both Tom and Mark Udall (D-CO), who voted against the bailout in the House when running for the Senate, switched their votes to support the bailout. You may recall that Mark Udall said he was against the bailout not because he didn’t trust George Bush, but specifically because he was against voting for a bill that had no oversight measures. And yet now he’s voting for the same bailout that includes no new oversight measures. This suggests that the Udalls (like lots of political aristocracy) have absolutely no principles – that, in fact, they are the worst stereotype of politicians: The kind of people who go populist when facing election, and then goes corporatist when he’s comfortably insulated in Washington.
And this is surprising because . . .
My section, the Report to the Faculty, Administration, Trustees, & the Students of Williams by an Evaluation Team representing the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Prepared after study of the institution’s self-evaluation report and a visit to the campus October 28-31, 2007 for decennial reaffirmation of accreditation…. I think you get the idea!
I am going to give you the “in compliance with NEASC’s Standards of Accreditation” as seen through the eyes of a townie who reads Ephblog, townie synopsis version.
We need to list all the Ephs appointed by President Obama. Let’s start with Amy Jeffress ’87.
Amy Jeffress, who has been National Security Section chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2007, has accepted an offer to join Holder’s staff as his national security adviser if he’s confirmed, according to two sources involved in the transition.
If confirmed, Holder and his staff will have to make a decision whether to order a criminal investigation of Bush administration officials who condoned the use of waterboarding on suspected terrorists. Holder declined to do so at the hearing, when asked by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
“No one is above the law,” Holder said, “and we will follow the evidence, the facts, the law, and let that take us where we should.” But the nominee said he didn’t want to “criminalize policy differences” that might exist between the incoming and outgoing administrations.
Since when does the Attorney General need his own National Security Adviser? Maybe EphBlog needs a National Security Adviser. Anyway, seems that many important topics will cross Jeffress’ desk in the next few years.
Interesting thoughts on the high and low of her career (as of 2006).
Amy Jeffress, 41
Deputy chief of the organized crime and narcotics trafficking section, U.S. Attorney’s Office
High: At the sentencing of a homicidal drug gang, “a mother whose son was killed by mistake — a 17-year-old going off to college who was killed in the middle of a drug beef — was the first to speak. She turned to the defendants and said: ‘I want you all to know I forgive you. I don’t want to keep hating you. I’ve given this to God.’ Her words were incredibly powerful, and I remember them often.”
Low:”I interviewed another mother of a homicide victim, who was shot when he was only 20. She said he had been getting in and out of trouble since the age of 13, and she had given up on him back then. Here I am trying to do justice by her son, and she had stopped caring. It left a pit in my stomach.”
With luck, there are more highs to come.
Note that Jeffress was president of College Council, back in the day when Ephs were Ephs and we did not go for namby-pamby co-presidents. There is hope for you yet, JeffZ!
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