From a note originally sent by Prof. Birnbaum to DK, republished here with permission – Ronit


Dear David,

Re the matter of Mr. Moore, I note that the discussion has ebbed somewhat—although of course it is entirely understandable that alumni and parents and friends would be distressed by the news. In my own contacts with persons from higher education, no one has mentioned it—perhaps because everyone is too concerned with difficulties at their home institutions. I ran into the Georgetown Law Dean of Admissions the other day, but he did not inform me that he was subjecting Williams applications to special scrutiny.

In brief, the world goes on……

Of course, there are any number of memories evoked by alumni interest. I recollect a period at a sister institution, when alumni and trustees were convinced that faculty were taking liberties with academic freedom. Amherst’s President at the time, a former faculty member and fine Americanist, Bill Ward, invited some faculty and some alumni and trustees to dinner. The discussion proceeded on familiar lines, until a Trustee said that he thought that the President “ought to run a tight ship.” A faculty member thereupon identified himself as a navy reserve officer, declared that a liberal arts college had to be distinguished from an aircraft carrier, and noted that in any event under the theory and practise of combat command in effect in the Navy, a good deal of decentralization and independent initiative by officers, petty officers and ratings was called for. Bill held no more such dinners that year…..

As for Williams itself, historians could produce any number of episodes of alumni concern. Sometime in early modern history, before internet, a somewhat overwrought young lady attending Williams wrote an article for the monthly Commentary. She objected to unisex dorms, and to feminist ideas in the classroom, since (she explained) she was from an Orthodox Jewish family and offended by these things. No doubt, but she did know about these aspects of Williams life before coming and could have enjoyed the relative tranquillity of the women’s college of Yeshiva (academically excellent, too.) The article attracted the attention of a Washington journalist named John Leo and he wrote a column on ideological oppression at the liberal arts colleges, with Williams in the dock. The fact that Leo did not trouble to visit the campus, or to make any other effort to inform himself of the situation, seemed not to bother any number of alumni who promptly wrote to the Alumni Review—their worst fears having found confirmation…..

In my own time, I was once shown (1946, I think) a letter from an eminent alumnus to President James Phinney Baxter of revered memory. He said that he and others were profoundly worried. Younger graduates were coming to their investment firms apparently convinced that Sir John Maynard Keynes was right about the economic cycle. The US was then about to enter, despite all fears of post-war depression, one of the most sustained and broadest periods of economic growth in our history—not least due to the Keynesianism of the economists advising the government. Given present arguments, one can only say, plus ça change……

Very best regards and thanks for posting my efforts,
and thanks as well to those who took the trouble to comment,
Norman

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