Jonathan Landsman ’05 provided, in 2005, this brilliant summary and critique of the 2002 CUL.

One of the more sideline shames of the campus life tinkering this time around is the concurrent acknowledgment that the restrictions put in force in 2002 have not achieved anything of meaningful merit. What I refer to is:

* Gender capping of houses at 60%
* Reduction of pick sizes from 7 to 4
* Creation of blind room draw, where names are no longer allowed to be posted on WSO or on the physical posters in the pick room

Back in 2002, the CUL published a report that gave their recommendations in great detail, and was scant in two other departments: 1) presenting the evidence they believed supported their recommendations, and 2) presenting a set of goals whose attainment would measure the success or failure of their recommendations.

Without these “features,” which would have been standard in any serious study of any kind in any academic field, an review of the CUL’s data by anyone outside of the CUL was impossible, and judgment of whether their recommendations would serve their goals equally impossible, as there could be no common understanding of what those goals were. Some thought it was to achieve racial house diversity, some gender, some diversity by extracurricular affiliation (especially sports teams), some all of the above. The CUL, at the time, was clearer about what it was trying to avoid than what it was trying to promote: “We don’t like themed housing.” “It is ridiculous that this house is overwhelmingly male” “Some houses have taken on a cross-year character, this is bad.”

They also made an appeal to authority, which you are likely to hear again: “We have studied this extensively for 3 years . . .” hence, and we won’t say it in so many words, but we really do know better than you.

If the CUL wishes to claim to have conducted a study of campus life at Williams, I hope they intend to publish a study this time. It should include:

* As extensively as they can, a presentation of all their data and reasoning from it, whether that data be anecdotal or numerical, from Williams or from other schools.
* An unambiguous statement of what aspects of life are intended to be improved on this campus.
* A statement of when the CUL will be ready and willing to hold their new system to these standards. If they have been found to have failed, they must be met with the same recommendation for abandonment that the CUL gives to our current system of housing.

CUL’s Report and Recommendations of 2002

Reading that 2002 CUL Report is an interesting trip down failure lane. Its main recommendations (changing room draw and starting an Office of Campus Life) have not achieved any of its purported goals. Of course, the 2005 CUL claimed that they were not going to make those mistakes.

Noah Smith-Drelich ’07, the leading public face of CUL in his era, replied to Landsman:

To begin with, your suggestions and criticisms are fantastic. This CUL will definitely be careful not to make the same mistakes the 2002 CUL made in their proposal. You’re correct in noting the importance of defining clear criteria for success and failure which can be used in judging and forming any residential system in the years to come.

Despite demands and suggestions from many observers, the 2005 CUL never provided “clear criteria for success and failure which c[ould] be used in judging and forming any residential system in the years to come.” Think that this is just 2009 quarterbacking on my part? Recall what Anchors Away wrote in 2005:

The third major omission of the CUL Report is that it provides no discussion of how we are to evaluate the success or failure of anchor housing in the years to come. Even those who are strongly in favor of anchor housing — who do not feel it is necessary to closely consider the experiences of other schools or the special status of the Odd Quad — should be in favor of listing the standards by which we should judge anchor housing five or ten years from now. Unfortunately, a failure to specify such standards is quite consistent with CUL’s behavior 3 years ago.

See the rest of the letter for details. In fact, it is more-or-less a copy of this post! We concluded:

Assume that anchor housing is implemented. Five years pass. Should Williams declare victory or should we return to free agency? The CUL needs to tell us now what the standards for judgment should be then. Without this guidance, it will be impossible to know whether or not anchor housing has been successful, whether or not the trade-offs involved have been worth it.

The Trustees were not impressed with our arguments in 2005. Neither were Morty nor Dean Roseman nor Professor Dudley. All were sent copies of our letter.

Here we are, almost 5 years later, and there is no easy way for the Williams community to judge, even using the standards of the 2005 CUL, whether or not Neighborhoods have been a success.

Was this incompetence? Note that no one on CUL faces any meaningful sanctions for failure. Was it a cynical attempt to force through Neighborhood Housing and not provide future critics with any grounds for complaint? I don’t know.

Perhaps the Trustees might talk about the lessons that Williams has learned from this ten year journey at their meeting today . . .

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