What I never understood — was a new housing structure a solution in search of a problem or was there really a need for dramatic reform? The system was not perfect when I was at Williams, to be sure, but I also did not see a need for a dramatic overhaul.
There was a widespread feeling among administrators/faculty at Williams that excessive student self-segregation was a problem. This concern pre-dated Morty’s arrival. The self-segregation was on several dimensions, but the most problematic were African-American and male helmet-sport athletes. Morty made fixing this “problem” one of his highest priorities. Here are my notes from his 2008 Reunion talk.
Morty discussed campus social life a bit, especially the housing system. He confessed that, when grading his own performance at last week’s trustee meeting, he gave himself the lowest grade in this category. He felt that the College was still trying to figure out the best ways to do things. He reiterated again his dislike of the student self-segregation that he had known as a junior professor at UPenn in the late 1970s. When he came (back) to Williams a president, he did not like it that all the football players lived together and that the same was true of African American students. (He used those two examples first and, perhaps recognizing that he was being a bit too honest, tacked on examples like Jewish students. [As far as I know, there is no evidence of meaningful self-segregation of Jewish students at Williams in 2000.]) He noted that a goal of the new housing system was to break up this self-segregation and that this goal had been achived.
And the rest was all details. Morty (and most of the faculty/administration at Williams) did not want a school with significant self-segregation. This was the “need for dramatic reform.” At the same, other motivations were in play, many of them misplaced and misinformed. But the driving force was student self-segregation. And, once you decide that you don’t want to let, say, all the African Americans or football players live together, you are (almost) forced into something that looks like Neighborhoods. But, good news! The Kane Housing plan (pdf) prevents self-segregation while improving several aspects of undergraduate housing. Highly recommended!