The 7th installment of our seminar series on “Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf).

John Chandler: You’ve told us a lot about how Williams became a rich man’s college, the various steps on the way. But a somewhat different question is why it got to be that way. What about Williams attracted rich students, and their parents who paid the bills and presumably encouraged them to apply?

Fred Rudolph: There are lots of reasons why Williams became a rich man’s college. I’m always fascinated with trying to figure out why Williams became The College for rich men. Not that rich men didn’t go everywhere else, but Williams was the one that got tagged, and clearly if you’re the last college in the country with a four-year Latin requirement, you’re limiting your pool to rich men who go to private schools. But how did they start coming in great numbers? There’s plenty of evidence in student letters, fraternity lore, and administrators’ experience that many rich kids came to Williams to belong to a fraternity, not to come to Williams. Certainly instructive on this score was the experience of the College’s great benefactor, Frederick Ferris Thompson, who transferred from Columbia in 1853 for the express purpose of founding a chapter of Delta Psi (he had wanted to take Delta Psi to Dartmouth but was denied admission because of his age).

Williams’ location, the scenery, the mountains, the resort element of its environment—all these factors were part of the appeal for rich families and their sons. Williamstown had resort hotels beginning in the 1840s, and you can imagine people coming to those hotels: the Mansion House, then Greylock, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if junior came to Williams?” Then there was the kind of nature worship that developed as the country became more urbanized, and that appealed to wealthy people.

But was Williams more or less of a “rich man’s college” than, say, Amherst and Swarthmore during this period? See also Eric’s discussion of the Social Register crowd.

Reasonable Ephs can differ about just how many rich kids Williams should want to have today. But I hope that we can all agree that, if a specific rich applicant has a choice between Williams and Amherst (or Princeton/Harvard/Yale), we all want that rich applicant to choose Williams, just as we want poor applicants or athletic applicants or any other kind of applicant to pick us over our competitors.

So, what would be today’s analog to fraternities? My suggestion: Every room a single. Williams should institute a policy in which every student is guaranteed a single. This would be highly appealing to rich (and poor!) applicants. It would make Williams dramatically different than our main competitors. It is an advantage that is easy to explain and understand. Williams already has significantly better housing than Harvard, although we do a horrible job of explaining that advantage to applicants, or Harvard does a good job of misleading applicants about their likelihood of getting a real single.

Giving very Eph a single is, of course, hard and expensive. The easiest way would be to, over 5 years, reduce the size of the class from 550 to around 480 or so. (This would also have all sorts of desirable side effects.) We should also continue to convert smaller buildings to co-ops. Trickiest issue would be dealing 100+ first year doubles. So, best plan would be to start with: Every student guaranteed a single after freshman year.

What would you do to attract rich students?

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