If I were on the Williams faculty, here are some of the questions/complaints I would have about the motion to make Claiming Williams a permanent part of the calendar. I would want to discuss these issues with the organizers before the faculty meeting (ideally) or ask them at the meeting itself.

1) What is student opinion on the proposal? As best I can tell, no one knows. And that is silly! With the wonder of electronic voting, it is easy to hold a campus referendum. Why not hold one? The survey completed by the Claiming Williams organizers is mostly useless for this task. First, it asks a generic question: “In the future, do you think Claiming Williams Day, in some form, should occur again?” Someone might agree with that (for example, arguing that CW should occur every 4 years) and disagree with the faculty motion. Second, it does not provide the cross-tabs to determine student support. We know that 69% voted Yes to that question and that 63% of the respondents were students, but we don’t know how many students voted Yes. Third, and most importantly, the sample is completely self-selected and, therefore, unrepresentative. Around 1,000 students did not participate in Claiming Williams in any way. They were, I bet, much less likely to fill out a CW survey than the students who did participate. But their opinions matter just as much!

2) How would we know if Claiming Williams were no longer necessary? This is, obviously, a large question, but I would like to hear the organizers address it. How are we measuring what CW is trying to accomplish and, according to those measurements, when would they be willing to declare victory? My quess: Never! My sense is that people like Professor Katie Kent think that “inequality” is so endemic to Williams and/or America and/or the World, that, like death and taxes, it will always be with us.

3) Are all sorts of attempts to “provoke individual, institutional or culture change” welcome at Claiming Williams or only those attempts consistent with the left/liberal politics of the organizers? For example, would Bishop Harry Jackson ‘75 be welcome to speak at next year’s Claiming Williams? (Jackson is a foe of gay marriage and probably believes that Williams should not offer benefits to same-sex partners.) Are attempts to “provoke” those sorts of institutional changes allowed? (I suspect that the answer is No. Claiming Williams people don’t want Williams to become more conservative or, perhaps, even more welcoming to conservatives. CW people want Williams (including students) to become more liberal.)

4) How many students attended events other than The Philosopher Kings? (We all agree that The Philosopher Kings is a great movie that ought to be shone at Williams and that students ought to (and will want to) see. But there is no reason that this film could not be shown during the semester.) Canceling classes for a day only makes sense if most/many students participate in multiple events. Back of the envelope, it appears that over 1,000 students did not attend any events and that several hundreds more may have only seen the movie.

5) Why not wait another year or two before making a permanent change in the calendar? The key concern of the No votes is that Claiming Williams was a transitory response to a unique event. Perhaps interest is already waning. But that is an empirical question. If we run Claiming Williams in 2011 and as many students participate as in the past, then the case for a permanent change is strengthened. If the downward trend (?) continues, then the case weakens.

What questions would you have?

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