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Johnson on Selena Roberts

Steroid use in a Miami high school by the best amateur player in the country?  Tipping pitches to raise his batting average?  “Bitch tits”?  Why, the Daily News must have an early copy of the new book “A-Rod,” by Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts, and its litany of accusations against New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez.

Now, a lot of these accusations seem to be little more than hearsay.  And, in search of balance, a Gotham baseball blog went looking for comment from K.C. Johnson, who became familiar with Roberts’ work when she wrote about the Duke lacrosse scandal for the Times.  Johnson had this to say about Roberts:

It seems to me that maintaining credibility is vital for any journalist. Roberts, of course, may very well be correct in her reporting about A-Rod. (Let’s face it: A-Rod himself has no credibility, given that he outright lied to the nation in the Katie Couric interview.)

But based on what we saw from Roberts in the lacrosse case, nothing that she says or writes should be accepted unless it can be independently verified. After all, Roberts: (a) demonstrated a disregard for the truth (her March and April 2006 columns included factually inaccurate items that she has, to this day, refused to retract or correct); (b) made wild leaps of logic (linking the players’ supposed guilt to a critique of campus culture–only to claim, in March 2007, that she had never made such a linkage); and (c) absurdly asserted in March 2008 that criticism of her reporting came about because “some segments of the Duke lacrosse crowd did not enjoy the scrutiny of their world.” (links omitted)

Will A-Rod eventually be vindicated?  Will these new charges stick, or will they be shown to be the fruits of jealousy and opportunism?  Will Sports Illustrated survive the year?  Stay tuned.


Chrysler: The Grand Tour …


“If it’s Thursday, this must be Italy”.


This just in from Brother Spotless –

Corinne Ball, ’75 and Phi Bete, to handle Chrysler Chapter 11

Story here

Ball bio here

Thank you, Brother Spotless, for keeping EphBlog more current than that 1948 Chrysler Town and Country!


Events Tomorrow

As mentioned previously, I am on campus tomorrow. If you don’t want to listen to me lecture on regression (and who would?!), you can join me at a roundtable about the future of Ephs On-Line. This is meant to be wide open discussion, not just about EphBlog. It looks like we will have, at least, Professor Joe Cruz, Chris Warren from OIT (lead developer behind the Williams Blogs), and several students (at least Aaron Schwartz) from WSO. Good conversation is guaranteed.

And, on a personal note, I am hoping to relive my youth by playing some pick-up or intramural soccer in the afternoon. Does anyone know where those games are? Does anyone on an IM team want to invite me to join them? I promise to stay out of the way!


Götterdämmerung: The Deal Goes South (Part IV)


Parent ’12 has written three previous essays on the experience of attending Wagner’s Ring Cycle after winning the ticket lottery. This is the concluding essay and ends with a comparison to our present times. Thank you, Parent ’12, for these excellent contributions.

Twilight of the Gods, at last! When I won this drawing, I thought the opportunity to see the Ring would be an adventure, watching a saga unfold. It’s 4 long operas of varying length: Das Rheingold (3 hours), Die Walkure (5+ hours), Siegfried (5 1/2 hours), & Gotterdammerung (6 hours!). Granted, the last 3 each have 2 intermissions, which are also long, typically 30 minutes, so it’s not sitting forever… but, still this would be a commitment for all my senses.

I’ll admit that I did check the time a few times while watching Siegfried up until the last act. I think Wagner “got it” by the time he composed Gotterdammerung. Those six hours passed quickly because he was able to combine music and drama to create, at least in the MET version, a spectacle. (For one scene there was a male chorus of at least 100 men walking on the stage & carrying spears.) Each enhanced the other, propelling the audience forward, as they wondered what would bring about the Twilight of the Gods.


To make this final entry more Eph-relevant, I’d like to imagine that other Ephs, besides Dick Swart & a couple other alumni commenters, would give opera a go. Opera is not that far removed from seeing a movie. And, is a precursor to musicals, remember West Side Story & Sondheim’s other work.

If you are aware of the importance of music in movies, then you’re on your way to opera. If you like foreign films, that’s even better, because there are sub-titles to follow along. At some houses super-titles run above the stage so that one can follow the lyrics & dialog. At the MET there are optional subtitles on the seat backs. As you look at the stage, you can glance down to the top of the seat in front & read the subtitle.

From watching the Ring, I realized how critical the production, the actual experience of watching & listening, is to not only appreciate, but also enjoy Wagner. I also began to understand how an audience not steeped in classical music could enjoy it. At least in this production, & many of the MET productions, there’s a lot of “eye-candy” or pyrotechnics, both literal & conceptual. For example, I’ve seen revolving stages, where scene changes involve singers walking to the next arc as the carousel turns; stages that move horizontally for a scene change; & animals, which, if I remember correctly, might have included a procession with an elephant. There definitely have been horses & dogs on stage. These productions are complicated. And, particularly here, the singing is gorgeous & the orchestra in top form. With that in mind, I’ll try to describe some sets from the Ring so you can see how fantastic, with the emphasis on fantasy, it is.

In Das Rheingold, the opening scene is under the Rhein, the MET’s was atmospherically magical. The stage is Read more


Stetson-Sawyer Update

Professor Michael Brown kindly provided this update on the Stetson-Sawyer project.

I’d been hoping to update the Stetson-Sawyer website but decided that it made sense to wait until the 100 percent drawings are delivered by the architects and the library gets re-priced. If the new estimates come in significantly under earlier ones, that would be good news that might accelerate the project–but it’s a longshot, even given the recession-driven rollback in the cost of labor and materials. The college has definitely modeled the impact of borrowing money to move the project forward, but for obvious reasons there has got to be continued improvement in the markets before the additional principal/debt service costs can be justified.

Code changes aren’t likely to hurt us unless the delay continues for several more years. I’m more worried about the risks of leaving Stetson empty for much more than two years. Empty buildings are notoriously difficult to police for leaks, etc. So I worry about damage to historic finishes over time.

Some wildly inaccurate things were said on Ephblog about the library project in posts a while back. No, Stetson cannot be reoccupied for any purpose without millions of dollars in code compliance costs and renovations, to say nothing of dealing with the impact of asbestos removal, now completed, in the 1950s-era stacks addition. It therefore makes no sense to do anything to the building until we’re ready to build the library. The notion that going electronic saves libraries vast sums of money is a canard, or at least a gross oversimplification. There are some economies associated with going electronic with serials (journals), but the picture with reference works and monographs is more complicated, especially since publishers sometimes charge more for electronic copies than paper ones. People forget that storing mission-critical electronic records requires constant data migration, backups, and software upgrades, all of which are expensive. Then there is the question of Chapin’s rare books and the Archive’s countless documents, which will have to be stored somewhere for the foreseeable future. So the construction of the offsite shelving facility was a smart move for holding down costs; cost per square foot is, I believe, less than 40 percent of the cost of on-campus library space, although you also have to consider staffing and transport costs, etc. The library has also gone deeply into sharing books with regional institutions via its ILL program.

Sawyer is the most heavily used building at the college in terms of daily visitors. If in the future Williams needs less space for books, that will allow the college to open more space for student seating, collaborative study spaces, IT resources, and the like. The library design was intentionally made generic enough to allow for repurposing much of the building’s space in the future. In my view, the risk that the new library, as designed, is too small is still somewhat greater than the risk that it’s too big, although this is admittedly a minority opinion among those involved in the project.


1) Thanks to Professor Brown for this comprehensive update. In general, the College underestimates how much of a demand their is for more detailed information from the community of Ephs. Kudos to Professor Brown for taking the time to keep us informed. If only other Williams faculty/officials were so accommodating . . .

2) I can’t speak for all the proponents of “going electronic,” but I was not suggesting that Williams itself build and maintain an electronic repository of books and journal articles. That would be stupid! And I certainly believe Professor Brown when he claims that it would be very expensive. Instead I (and, I think, all the other Ephs pushing this “canard”) are merely recommending that Williams make use of the efforts of other institutions. There are still fees involved, but I think (corrections welcome) that these charges are orders of magnitude lower than the costs of the College doing things itself.

Consider JSTOR, the premier on-line repository of academic journals. For a school like Williams, it costs around $3,000 per year. It’s an amazing resource. There is not a reason in the world for Williams to store a hard copy issue of any journal in JSTOR. Throw it all away. (Or, if you want to be safe, stick those old issues in some warehouse off-campus.) But the whole idea that Williams needs all these physical copies in the center of campus, when only a trivial number of students would even consider looking for a hard copy when the virtual version is available, is absurd.

Consider a book like The Game of Life. Just three years ago, there was no easy way to link to the story of the 1996 ought-to-have-been-Champions Williams women’s lacrosse team. Now, there is. Does Williams need to maintain a physical copy of books that appear for free on-line? No.

Now, of course, there are a lot of messy details to work out. The Chapin rare books and College Archives will need to be maintained by Williams. But 90% (at least) of the books and journals that sit in Sawyer right now do not need to be in the middle of campus. Get rid of them.

4) From the start, I think that I have been the most public critic of the entire Stetson-Sawyer project. You can be sure that, if the College knew 4 years ago what it knows now about its actual wealth, the plans would be very different. But that is spilt milk. Given the work that has already been done, what should the College do now?

Hard to say. The current Sawyer in between Schapiro Hall and YOUR-NAME-HERE Hall is a mess. Walking between those building is like being in a big city. It sure would be nice to get rid of Sawyer. And, I think, the costs of demolishing Sawyer are not that large. (True?) If so, I would like Sawyer to go and then see the amount spent on reconstructing Stetson cut in half, mainly by not expanding its current size. Is that realistic? I have no idea. It could be that, given building codes and what not, the College has no choice but to finish the project, more or less as designed.

Yet if I were a trustee on the campus construction committee, I would want to push on that point. Just how much would it cost to tear down Sawyer and do nothing to Stetson but the minimum necessary to get it up to code? Even in its current configuration, it is easy to imagine plenty of shared and solo study space, the primary purpose of a college library in this day and age anyway. Even better, all the office space would provide room for staff/materials from buildings like Jenness, Rice and Hardy, thereby allowing those structures to be used for student (co-op) housing, an excellent idea which was mentioned by Lizzy Brickley ’10 and Mike Tcheyan ’10 in their successful campaign for the College Council co-Presidency.

5) Is the College really considering taking on more debt? That would be bad. Leverage kills and Williams, with $260 million in debt, is already leveraged enough. I could imagine issuing some new debt while retiring old borrowing, but increasing the total indebtedness in the middle of the worst recession in several generations is a bad idea. Finish Stetson-Sawyer by all means. Just pay cash.

6) Handy collection of links and background on the project here.

Thanks again to Professor Brown for taking the time and trouble to keep us posted.


Books for Pine Ridge Students

As Noah Smith Drelich ’07 works to improve the literacy of the children living on this impoverished reservation (scroll through these posts for previous updates), he knows it is more than simply raising this year’s reading test scores (which currently average five years below grade-level).

Noah has begun inspiring his students to love to learn and love to read. The looks on their faces as they open the boxes is priceless. As he finds himself needing more shelving for his library, Noah is inspired by his students and those who are sending the books. As the students take on new reading challenges, it is important to provide the students with a variety of interesting and challenging books to keep up the momentum. Who knows which of these students will be inspired to come to Williams because of your generosity?

Challenge 2,000

As Wick notes, “200 is a great start. Let’s go for 2,000.”

Some guidelines/suggestions in selecting books for Noah’s Library [thanks to an anonymous Williams parent for helping to compile this guide]:

  • Books for middle and high school girls and boys
  • Reading levels: from second grade (easy chapter books), lots clustered around middle school level, through books typically read in high school English classes
  • Books can be New or Gently Used
  • Hardcover books will last longer than paperbacks, but paperbacks are welcome.
  • Used books should be in Excellent Condition. (Please, no torn or yellow pages; cover intact, no writing, spine in excellent condition.) Please no magazines and no text books.

If you are unsure what to send, you may want to check out the books listed on these sites for some ideas:

American Library Association – Best Books for Young Adults
A Children’s list (pdf)
Booklist Editors’ Choice List for Youth

Books should be sent to:

Noah Smith-Drelich
PO Box 293
Wanblee, SD 57577

Or, if you need a physical address:
Noah Smith-Drelich
Wanblee, SD 57577-0293

Here are Amazon wishlists compiled with the help of a wise parent. We will update and revise as needed. The nice thing about the wishlist is that it will allow you to make sure that the books you are purchasing have not already been purchased by someone else.


Fiction Wish List for Pine Ridge


Non-Fiction Wish List for Pine Ridge

There are also some widgets to the left sidebar – they will stay there for the duration of this book drive and hopefully remind you to think of Noah and the kids on the Pine Ridge reservation every time you check EphBlog. Books purchased through the links above or through the sidebar will be automatically shipped to Noah (you can obviously use any other bookseller if you like, and if you think of other books that would be appropriate, go ahead and send those too!).

UPDATE – we just got, from Noah, these comments from students in his class:

“Thank you for the books you gave us. It means a lot to us.” –Carl

“Thank you for the books you have sent us. We appriciate it. We were really excited to read different books. Thank you very much for these neat books.” –Danielle

“I would like to say thank you for donating books to our class. Now we have many books to choose from and it will help us be more of readers. We really appreciate it.” –Torey

“Wopila Tanka [Lakota for thank you very much–Noah] for the books!” –Ty

“I just want to say thank you for the books. When I first came to Crazy Horse School, I didn’t like reading that much, but since I came to Mr. Drelich’s room, he pushed me so even though I said no, but after he pushed me to read. Now I can’t stop reading. I read almost 10 books since the school year started. Now when I grow up I want to start my own library. So thank you.” –Tiffany

[post edited by Ronit 04/29]


Swine Flu Precautions

Most important, from a student perspective: Eco Cafe is closing in order to move staff for full “staff serving” at dining halls, instead of self-serve (salad bars, etc). For letter, click Read more


Trayless Dining

Williams is working on numerous sustainability projects, many led by the new Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. The College’s efforts to make Dining Services more envrionmentally-friendly were recognized in a front page article in today’s New York Times. As the article mentions, Driscoll is now trayless; Greylock, Dodd, and Mission Park dining halls will go trayless at the start of the fall semester. The fifth major dining hall on campus, Whitmans’ in the Paresky Center, will not be going trayless in September. It is not set up in the traditional all-you-can-eat buffet style–people pick up their food at once and could not balance all the dishes without trays.


Calmly Reassuring

New York Times article on Richard Besser ’81, acting head of the Center for Disease Control.


Dr. Richard E. Besser, one of the nation’s top public health officials, has won raves for his televised swine flu updates. His parents said he had been calmly reassuring since childhood, but Dr. Besser said weekly stints in the 1990s as a television health reporter in San Diego helped. “It made me comfortable being around cameras,” Dr. Besser said in an interview.

Lesson for current students interested in high profile jobs in the public sector? Get comfortable around cameras! Willinet, the local public-access television network, is a great place to start.

After 13 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Besser, 49, was plucked from relative obscurity in January to become the agency’s acting director. He has become the government’s chief health spokesman during the swine flu outbreak because the Obama administration’s top health positions largely remain unfilled, although Kathleen Sebelius was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday as health and human services secretary.

He has been reassuring. He has explained complicated issues simply. He has even acknowledged not knowing many answers.

Read the whole thing. Comments:

1) Besser certainly deserves a Bicentennial Medal.

2) Note that there is a little bit of source-greasing going on here. (Not that there is anything wrong with that! Recall the nice things that I was saying about soon-to-be-interim president Bill Wagner 5 (!) years ago.) Did you catch this anecdote?

Trained at Johns Hopkins as a pediatrician, Dr. Richard Besser joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service in 1991 and was sent to Boston to investigate the E. coli infections that had left six children seriously ill.

After months of painstaking work that involved collecting deer droppings from apple orchards, he pinpointed apple cider as the source.

Officials were unhappy with the cost of his lengthy investigation, but Dr. Besser gained more than an answer to a medical mystery in Boston.

First, this story could only have come from Besser himself. How else would reporter Gardiner Harris know what CDC officials were “unhappy” about almost 20 years ago? Second, the story makes Besser out to be the hero, bravely ignoring bureaucratic concerns about “cost” to get to the bottom of a critical medical mystery. No amount of money is too much to spend on the investigation of (not the treatment for!) an outbreak that results in no fatalities. A less sympathetic reporter would have spun this as CDC officials pissed that Besser was taking so long on an investigation so that he could spend time with his new girlfriend.

3) I have been somewhat surprised at the number of Oh No! comments and links in our previous thread. It is over 99% likely that everyone (great example here) is overreacting, mainly because many of the key players have every incentive to overreact. Follow the money, as always.


The Last Hundred Days: Be very proud …


My fellow EphBloggers,

In these last 100 days, we as EphBloggers have made 453 posts to this site, and have responded with comments over 6000 times!

This feat and its’ effects can be measured on a national scale, certainly in the improvement in the quality of life for countless readers and the better understanding of issues as varied as the economy and the economy!

But most important, and I want you to take pride in this, my fellow EphBloggers, by publishing as we do in the spare ether of the bloggosphere, we have saved the wanton destruction of the trees so necessary to the process of photosynthesis and its’ contribution to our very existence here on Earth!

Please take pride in these accomplishments of the past 100 days and Dave bless this great URL!

(I think there is something else about the first 100 days going on, but what the heck … we’re right in there!)


Budget Update

Provost Bill Lenhart provides some background on the budget.

The $205M budget mentioned [in Morty’s letter for FY 2010] is our “total current expenditures” number which, in addition to employee compensation, financial aid, and managers’ budgets, also includes certain expenditures on our physical plant (so-called capital renewal), interest on debt, and some miscellaneous expenses such as community support.

The $205 would be comparable to a figure of $200M (budgeted) or $197.5M (actual) for FY2008. A slightly longer answer is: Our cash-flow-based internal financial planning model provides a different (but useful) view of our finances than does our audited (accrual accounting based) financial statement, although as part of our year-end “closing of the books”/external auditing process the two are reconciled annually. Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.

The differences between the two are many, including how financial aid, gift revenue, interest on debt, gift pledges, the value of the physical plant, reserves to cover “liabilities” such as owed vacation time, sick leave, workers’ comp, et cetera are accounted for.

Record reporter Yue-Yi Hwa ’11 adds these details.

According to Jim Kolesar, assistant to the president for public affairs, an approximate breakdown of last year’s operating budget is: 50% compensation, 25% managers’ budgets, 20% financial aid, and 5% capital renewal. Those numbers — particularly financial aid and capital renewal — differ slightly, but not drastically, for the $205 million operating budget of 2009-10.

Thanks to both for permission to print their comments.

Summary: There are two ways to view the Williams budget for FY 2010 (which starts on July 1):

First, one could claim that Williams has accomplished meaningful belt-tightening. We are planning to spend much less next year than we did this year without changing financial aid or engaging in lay-offs. Since other costs, like health care, continue to rise, we have been forced to make significant cuts elsewhere. Therefore, Williams is acting with appropriate frugality in response to the economic crisis.

Second, one could claim that Williams, while having made some cuts, has done nowhere near enough given the magnitude of the crisis that it faces. In FY 2008, Williams was a very rich school, with a starting endowment of over $1.9 billion. If we are (at least!) 1/3 poorer now, how can we afford to spend even more in FY 2010 then we did in FY 2008? The short answer is that we can’t. And, by avoiding hard choices now, we make the inevitable cuts to come even more painful than they otherwise would be, all so Morty can ride off to Northwestern as the nice guy.

Further details and commentary below.
Read more


Carpe Diem !

dave-bday-091 Facebooktwitter

Flu News

besserA Williams staffer notes that Richard Besser ’81, acting director of the Center for Disease Control, is in the news, and not necessarily in a good way. Regular readers are probably looking forward to a thousand word screed on why Swine Flu is the faulty of Anchor Housing or the lack of Ideological Diversity or Lectures. Alas, no time today! Background on Besser here and here. Not sure why President Obama named Besser acting head rather than giving him the job permanently. Is there something about his politics that makes him unacceptable to Democrats? Is the CDC job usually awarded to a dilettante, sort of like Ambassador to France?


Friday Meet Up

I will be around campus this week-end and would like to organize a meet up with any and all Ephs interested in the future of Williams on-line. EphBlog is a part of that future (we hope!), but I am also interested in the broader topic. Idea is to pick a time (say 3 or 4 in the afternoon?), a place (meeting room in Paresky?) and get together. EphBlog regulars are welcome of course (and who would want to miss a chance to chat with Frank Uible in the flesh?) but I hope to convince others to come as well. Comments/suggestions are welcome. Other topics:

1) I am giving a lecture for STAT 346 on Regression in Finance from 12:00 to 1:00 in Bronfman 106. All are welcome, and I am told that pizza will be provided. Although the main audience is the students in the class, my talk will be accessible to anyone who knows what “regression” is.

2) I would especially like to meet some of the faculty and staff who comment here anonymously. As Professor Joe Cruz ’91 can confirm, I am a charming companion for coffee. Just e-mail me (dave at kanecap dot com) and we can set something up — off-the-record of course! No particular agenda, but face-to-face meet ups are always fun.

3) There is an alumni event on Saturday evening. If you are an alum who reads EphBlog, let’s get together there and chat. Not sure on the easiest way to arrange that, but Dick has published enough picture of my face that I hope you will just come up and introduce yourself.

UPDATE: 4) Although I am not hiring Williams interns this year (Damn you, Financial Crisis!), my friends at Geode Capital are (with similar preferences to my own). It’s a cool place with several Ephs currently working there, several hired by me. I will post something at OCC and be available for chats at some point. Contact me if interested.


Readers Decide

Longtime reader Todd Gamblin ’02 writes:

Dear EphBlog:

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what people want to read, what kinds of posts should be on EphBlog, and what kind shouldn’t. I think the best way to figure this out would be to let the readers (all of them, not just the loudest ones) decide.

Now, I’m a big fan of reddit, and reddit lets you vote posts up or down. The popular things percolate up to the top while the not so popular things fall to the bottom. I don’t think we need quite that system for EphBlog, but it would be nice to get a similar sense of what people think of posts here.

I suggest that we install Vote It Up so we can get a little favorability gauge next to each post. It could look like, say, the one on the right here:
Or that’s my favorite, at least, mainly because it has both up and down.

I mentioned reddit, but I think we should keep the blog format where things on the front page always appear in reverse chronological order. i.e., you can’t vote something off the front page, as much as I know a lot of us would like to.

However, it might also be nice to have a “most popular” sidebar link, where you could go to see just the popular EphBlog posts. I guess we could also have a “least popular” link, too. I think I know what would go there, though.

Opinions? I think this would add something to the front page and might lower the noise factor in the comments by relegating some of the more strident ones to simple down votes. It might also let us know what kinds of things people should post more of. I have a feeling EphBlog’s readers will not hesitate to vote.


1) I think that this is a great idea! Indeed, I have argued for (and tried to implement) similar technology for years. Harder to do than it looks!

2) I am not on the Board, but I am confident that EphBlog would welcome Todd (or anyone else) to join us as an Administrator, i.e., with as many of the required permissions as necessary to implement these (and other) ideas. Eric, Ronit and Ken do great stuff, but there are only so many hours in the day . . .

3) I wonder about just how many readers would bother to vote and/or how informative those votes will be. Ephs are busy. Also, my experience has been that different people like different aspects of EphBlog. Even if you don’t like posts of type X (and I have my preferences like everyone else), you may be surprised to discover that other people do like these posts. But, the nice thing is that this is an empirical question.

Todd: Care to join us?


Reporting from Williams Tonight: Greta Van Susteren

On The Record is broadcasting from Williams in 1 hour. (10 PM Eastern, Webshow @ 9:45) While Ms.Van Susteren’s earlier dialogue with us was off-the-record, I can say that she was a kind and candid guest in class tonight. For the e-mail announcement, click Read more


Grad School as the Detroit of Education

At least according to the rec of Prof. Mark Taylor, formerly professor of “humanities” at Williams and now the head of the Columbia religion department.

His Op-Ed in the New York Times today is a classic for him.  It was posted in Speak Up a little while ago, but I also got it via email from a fellow former religion major and was coming here to post it.

There are few academics out there able to so seamlessly link the current budget crisis in higher education, the ethics of higher ed generally, accessible writing, and some quotes from Kant:

Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

Read more


Thoughts on Wagner

A few points of needless opinion below the fold. Click Read more


From the Next President

To The Williams Community:

I am deeply honored to have been asked by the Board of Trustees to be
Interim President from July 1 until Morty Schapiro¹s successor assumes his
or her responsibilities. I feel privileged to be able to serve the College
in this capacity and look forward to continuing to collaborate with the
other members of Senior Staff, our regular standing committees, and the
Board of Trustees to manage College affairs and in particular to meet our
current financial challenges effectively and in ways that preserve our core

Over the course of the summer I will continue to carry out my
responsibilities as Dean of the Faculty. As Greg Avis pointed out in his
letter, should it become necessary for me to continue as Interim President
beyond September 1, Andrea Danyluk of the Computer Science Department and Division III representative on the Committee on Appointments and Promotions has generously agreed to serve as Acting Dean of the Faculty until I resume my responsibilities as Dean.  In this event, Andrea would resign her position on the CAP and an election for a new Division III representative would take place at the September faculty meeting.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Morty on behalf of all of us for the
splendid leadership he continues to provide the College in these last months
of his presidency.  I look forward in the coming months to working with all
members of the College community on our ongoing goal of making Williams the finest college it can be.

With best regards,

Bill Wagner
Dean of the Faculty


Interim President Wagner

To the Williams Community,

At its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees received a report on the
presidential search, which is proceeding in an orderly and productive
manner. The community input process and the publishing of the presidential
position prospectus have been completed. The Presidential Search Committee is now focused on the parallel tasks of continuing to add names to the candidate list while researching and narrowing the field. As part of this process, delegations of committee members have been meeting with select candidates and will continue to do so.

The committee has been operating on the possibility of having the new
president in place by the time Morty Schapiro leaves at the end of June. The
chance of that has become remote enough to enact an alternative plan. In
anticipation of this possibility, the Board had charged its Executive
Committee with developing such a plan. The Executive Committee, after
deliberations and consultation with Morty, presented its recommendation to
the trustees.

I am very happy therefore to announce that the Board voted unanimously to
designate as Interim President Bill Wagner, Dean of the Faculty. He will
begin on July 1 and serve for as long as needed. Since the College Laws
indicate that, between presidencies, the Dean of Faculty would assume the
responsibilities of the President, this appointment is a natural

Williams is fortunate to be able to turn to someone as knowledgeable,
experienced, and respected as Bill. In addition to his service as Dean of
the Faculty, Bill has, in his 29 years at Williams, also served as Director
of the Williams-Exeter Programme and has chaired the Department of History,
the Committee on Educational Policy, Committee on Undergraduate Life,
Committee on Priorities and Resources, and Faculty Compensation Committee.
Please see the note from Bill that is attached below.

He will be supported by the College’s strong faculty governance structure
and exceptional administrative team. If the duties of Interim President turn
out to extend beyond September 1, Morty and Bill, in consultation with the
Faculty Steering Committee, have asked Andrea Danyluk, Professor of Computer Science, to serve as Acting Dean of the Faculty from that date until Bill could resume those responsibilities. She would bring to the task her own extensive experience in College governance, including as Chair of the Computer Science Department, Cognitive Science Program, Committee on Educational Policy, and Faculty Steering Committee and as member of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions.

The Board is confident that this arrangement will provide the College with
continuity and excellence in leadership until the next president takes
office. I hope you will join me in thanking Bill and Andrea for their
willingness to serve Williams in these capacities.

Greg Avis ’80
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees


Williams Has Too Many ‘Nice Boys’: Background

For those of you who have been reading the posts entitled, “Williams Has Too Many Nice Boys,” the genesis for the idea of my Senior Honors Thesis (The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939) started when I applied to Williams. In the course of wrapping things up after my Admissions interview with Phil Smith, my father casually asked, “So, is Williams still a playboy school?”

You would have thought a bomb had gone off. Phil got really animated and cited statistic after statistic (average combined SAT scores of 1300, 60% of students from public high schools, on and on), arguing that Williams was academically elite and no longer the school of the gentleman’s C. I remember thinking, “Wow, now that was an interesting over-reaction.” At the time, I knew nothing about the history of Williams, and when I asked my father later about his question, he explained that when he went to Brown in the late 1930’s, Williams had a reputation as a rich boy’s school, much like Amherst, where his brother had gone, and he was just trying to understand how much it had changed.

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Budget Details

From page 2 of the FY 2007 Form 990 (pdf), we have the most detailed publicly available breakdown of spending at Williams.


Click for a larger image or, more conveniently, just go directly to the pdf. Detailed comments below.
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Williams Has Too Many ‘Nice Boys’: Part 3

What follows is an excerpt from The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939, my Senior Honors Thesis in History. Part 2 is here.

Because the reported speech was so vague, people read their own meanings into Dennett’s speech. Consequently, his alumni address brought forth many different characterizations of Williams students and many different reactions to the speech: some of the people who wrote Dennett were sure he was referring to student snobs, and they applauded him for wanting to change the college’s character; others felt that he was against private school graduates, and they angrily wanted to preserve the character of the clientele. But all of the correspondents, whether in a derogatory or an admiring manner, spoke of the preponderance of “gentlemen” at Williams — wealthy, well-mannered, upper class students.

In an editorial, the Boston Herald deftly described the type of student that everyone noticed at Williams, and expressed surprise at wanting to have fewer of them:

Not only are graduates of ‘our best preparatory schools’ an adornment to any campus, with their well-washed faces and their studiously careless attire, but they are also usually well-mannered, urbane, and responsive to intellectual and aesthetic stimulation.

They provide a tone to college which no amount of Gothic architecture or zealously cultivated ivy can apply. Nor is the pleasant fact to be overlooked that their papas and mamas occasionally surprise the faculty — often just before examination time — with a check for a swimming pool, a baseball cage, or a new set of Dickens.

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Best of the Record – 22 April 2009

Trustees approve budget of $205M

Last Thursday, the Board of Trustees convened to approve an operating budget of $205 million for the 2009-10 academic year. This represents a 5.09 percent decrease from the $216 million budgeted for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Of this spending, $78.5 million will come from the endowment, which is forecasted to stand at $1.3 billion on July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year. Last year, the trustees approved 2008-09 spending of $94 million from a $1.8 billion endowment. With the cataclysmic economy, actual endowment spending for the current year was trimmed to $91.5 million. The remainder of the College’s revenue comes from tuition fees and gifts.

These reductions stem from a combination of 15 percent average cuts in manager’s budgets, salary freezes, faculty and staff cutbacks through attrition, delays in major construction projects and a leaner building renewal budget.

1 in 2000

Ahh, I love plants. Ever since I was a little kid. I would eat dandelions in the back yard.

How did that work out?

My mom called poison control because she didn’t know they were edible. But now, I’m in Professor Joan Edwards’ botany class and if it’s not the best class I’ve taken, it’s definitely one of the top two. I go out into the field and bring back samples. I’m actually growing a few.

How many have you eaten so far?

Two. Wintergreen and blackbirch. You can nibble on the twigs and they have wintergreen oil in them.

Sidelined yet still spirited

On behalf of the Williams Rugby Football Club (WRFC), I would like to express our sincere apologies for the incident of April 9. That Thursday, after a rugby party, one player ignited the back of another player’s over shirt, causing a second-degree burn to the base of the hand of the person wearing the shirt. Although neither the club’s senior leadership nor I actually saw the incident, we cannot absolve ourselves of responsibility. The shirt, as part of a years-old rugby practice, had been burned – albeit infrequently – in the past. And though the club’s leaders never officially condoned the practice, by staying silent we have unthinkingly placed past precedent above the safety of our teammates. We now face the consequences of a canceled season and a tainted reputation. But we will do so with the integrity and resolve we always seek to embody.

Inviting in happiness

I came to realize after a process of consultation and self-exploration that it wasn’t that I didn’t have friends – it was that I didn’t spend any quality time with my friends. I had to realize that I was, in some ways, socially incompetent. I had been so focused on school and skiing that I was not in the habit of making or accepting invitations. I was used to relying instead upon my then-boyfriend and sports team to, without effort, fill in the spaces, resulting in a predictable, yet ultimately fleeting and unfulfilling social life. To survive these past few weeks, I needed to do something to put things right.


President Schapiro? You don’t know me, but …

My name is Michael Anthony and I have a check from an anonymous donor for one million … what? You’re not President Schapiro? Well, if I’m in Hopkins Hall, can you point out his office?

(Anonymous Donor NYT)

(Old TV: The Millionaire)


Williams Has Too Many ‘Nice Boys’: Part 2

What follows is an excerpt from The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939, my Senior Honors Thesis in History. Part 1 is here.

Headmasters of the lesser known preparatory schools also quickly wrote to President Dennett. Wilson Parkhill, a Williams alumnus and headmaster of the oldest private boys’ school in America — Collegiate School — sent a letter inquiring what Williams wanted in regard to future students. He pointed out that out of a graduating class of twenty-three students, for or five had wanted to go to Williams. After the speech,

two of them are going to Dartmouth, one to Amherst, one to Harvard, and the other is undecided as to just what he will do. They are the best boys in the school — not the ‘nicest’, particularly, but high type. When such a thing as this happens, it makes me think a little.

To these headmasters President Dennett wrote long replies, rebutting their criticisms and explaining what he had meant to say. According to Dennett, the naming of private schools other than Hotchkiss was “sheer fabrication by some unknown reporter.” Furthermore, the newspaper account had been inaccurate in other places. He had said that Williams was not about to step down its work for the high school student, and had also observed that preparatory school students were generally well-mannered and were pleasant to have around since they gave few disciplinary problems.

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Naked Shorts

Those evil naked short sellers! We hateses them.

Naked short selling is the practice of selling stocks short without borrowing them. That leads to failures to deliver shares, although there is no agreement on just how bad a problem that is.

Wall Street firms tend to see it as a minor ill, and point out that naked short sellers will still have to pay up if the stock price rises. They also say that not all failures to deliver are caused by short selling, although no one seems to have any data on just how many failures come from other causes.
The S.E.C. adopted a rule — called Regulation SHO, for short — in 2004. It led to the release of lists each day of stocks with a large number of failures to deliver shares. Earlier this year, the commission proposed amendments that would toughen the rules, making it harder to execute naked short sales or to keep the positions open. Wall Street has protested that the changes could go too far, while some companies call them inadequate.

“We believe that some of the volatility in our stock may result from manipulative short-selling practices,” Barry McCarthy, the chief financial officer of Netflix, a DVD-rental firm, told the S.E.C.

An analysis he submitted indicated that the highest volume of naked shorting in his stock tended to be at the highest prices, which would seem to be an indication that the short sellers knew what they were doing. The company dropped off the failures list in late September, a few weeks before the stock shot up on good earnings.

McCarthy ’75 is one of the more prominent Ephs in corporate America. Anyone who thinks that naked shorting is an important issue in the US equity markets is an idiot. It isn’t clear from this brief article exactly what McCarthy thinks. After all, his job is to be a great CFO, not to regulate the financial markets.

But, even if you believe his analysis, it sure looks like the short sellers were doing exactly what they were supposed to do. When the stock price was unsustainably high, they sold it short, thereby preventing the price from getting even more out of whack. When the price was too low, they bought (thereby covering their shorts) and keeping the stock price nearer to where it ought to be then would have happened had they not acted.

Side note: I drafted this post 2+ years ago. (I have several hundred (!) unfinished posts in the queue.) Since then, the article was updated with this correction:

The High & Low Finance column in Business Day yesterday misstated the pattern of trading in Netflix, a DVD rental company. Data submitted by the company to the Securities and Exchange Commission indicated that the highest volume of short selling appeared to be at relatively low prices, not relatively high prices.

Maybe. But common sense suggests that this is just bunk, at least on average. If the shorts sold at low prices, then they would lose money and go out of business. They can only earn a living if, they sell high and then buy low. That someone at NetFlix spent time gathering this data and then submitting it to the SEC is not a good sign for the health of the company.


Friday Night

Your humble corespondent is coming down with a cold, and thus taking it slow tonight, in a common room 10 others who are watching a game and talking. Across Williamstown, there are 52 very nervous souls – JAs are being paired with their co’s after a crazy two weeks of dating, which included two JA’s hanging out in an artificial cave in Baxter Hall, between two overturned couches with pillows on top to cover all of the cracks.

Events tonight that I feel too poor to attend include: a fundraising party at the Orchards for children in Tanzania and a tent party in Frosh Quad (with an Eiffel Tower to go along with the weekend’s theme). Earlier, there was Coffeehouse, where I had the honor of singing a song by a neighbor from home, as well as playing an original piano competition. There’s a huge opportunity cost to being sick – there are always things to do, people to see, and events to attend (often with food). This afternoon, I got free cheese and crackers from a Dodd event, extra dumplings from an eating contest, and a smoothie in Dodd Circle.

Additionally, it’s Spring Family Days, I have to register for classes, and I must decide on a major, though a switch between my top two is fairly simple. Life’s never boring in Billsville unless you don’t know what’s going on.

That’s precisely why College Council has started sending out an e-mail every weekend, listing events. I hope we can continue to develop a way of keeping track of everything going on – massive amounts of posters are informative but wasteful.

Currently Playing: “Let’s Groove Tonight,” by Earth, Wind, and Fire.


Williams Has Too Many ‘Nice Boys’: Part 1

A common topic on Ephblog is student diversity–how to foster it, its interrelationship with financial aid, the impact of international students, and so on. In the 1930’s, such discussions were a lot less nuanced. During the Great Depression, the big diversity question was, “Should we admit more public high school students?”

What follows is an excerpt from my Senior Honors Thesis in History: The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939. This is the first chapter, where I talk about the fallout from President Tyler Dennett musing out loud that Williams had too many prep school students. The firestorm that resulted shows how far Williams has come in 75 years.

Read it and enjoy. It’s quite a story.

On March 11, 1937, an article on the front page of the New York Herald Tribune carried the headline: “Dennett Regrets Williams Has So Many ‘Nice Boys.’” The Herald Tribune went on to explain:

Tyler Dennett, president of Williams College, declared today his fears that Williams was growing less and less representative of the American people because its students run ‘almost uniformly to the “nice boy” type.’

‘My idea of a college community is that it should be a cross-section of American life,’ Mr. Dennett told the Williams Alumni Association of Boston, explaining that Williams’s ‘nice boys’ came almost exclusively from ‘good’ schoools like Hotchkiss, Kent and Deerfield.

‘We need more high-school graduates, but it is difficult to get them,’ he asserted. ‘We step down our courses in the freshman class, but our standard is, nevertheless, hard for the high-school graduate because of his poorer preparation…[sic] I wish we knew better how to do this sort of thing.’

So, according to the newspaper story, President Dennett had not only subtly insulted the college he headed, but also insulted secondary schools, both private and public. In his mind, Williams College accepted and taught only “nice boys” — in the vernacular, snobby, rich preppies who sat around and contented themselves with a gentleman’s C — while private schools turned out these decadent students and public high schools gave their students poor academic preparation for college.

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Parent ’12 and The Ring Cycle (Part III) …

Going to the Met is not just the opera, there’s intermission.  So, for Part III, a pause to look around while at the Saturday matinee.

It was a gorgeous day– sunny, west coast weather.  We spent both intermissions outside, which led me to realize, as I was looking at Lincoln Center’s plaza & the Met, that I hadn’t described the opera house other than to say it’s enormous.  The building’s footprint is more than 400 feet deep and about 150 feet wide.  This includes the lobby, seating area, stage & backstage.  The front of the stage is near the middle of the building.  And, to give this an Eph connection, the Met Opera House sits where West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) takes place.  As part of urban renewal in the sixties, this part of the West Side was demolished in order to create Lincoln Center.

As we leave the plaza & enter the Met, we walk between two Chagall murals, nearly the height of the lobby, that face the plaza.  We descend into the lobby under a Swarovski chandelier that was recently refurbished in honor of the Met’s 125th anniversary season.  Continuing through the lobby to get to our seats, we pass a large bar where you can have a flute of champagne, other beverages, sandwiches, & dessert.  Entering the back of the orchestra section, where the standing room area is, the first thing one sees is the enormous curtain, a square of gold damask that is about 6 stories high.  (The proscenium is 54′ x 54′.  Read more


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