The 8th installment of our seminar series on “Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf).

Fred Rudolph: At any rate, Dennett’s three years have always seemed to me to have shaped everything that’s happened since. The presidents who have succeeded him have had the job of fixing the problem that Dennett identified. In other words, the period we’re talking about brought about all of the things that helped to define Williams as a rich man’s college. But Williams College is no longer a rich man’s college. The story of how Williams deriched itself isn’t hard to tell, but that’s not our subject today.

Has Williams really “deriched” itself? I have my doubts. See here and here for this extensive background. Summary: There is not a lot of hard evidence that Williams has meaningfully deriched itself over time periods ranging from 10 to 25, 50, even 100 years.

Vaguely related comments:

1) Williams accepts 1/2 its students from private schools of various sorts, the same as it did 50 years ago. (I don’t actually have data for that, but this is true for Amherst so I suspect it is true for Williams.) Now, Andover students have always come from families with various levels of wealth. Perhaps (!) there are more “poor” students at Andover than there were 50 years ago. But, by almost all reasonable standards of “richness” — wealth, income, family stability, cultural capital, educational opportunities — Andover students are about as well off today as they were in 1960, at least relative to the US population as a whole. So, if 50% of Williams students came from such places before, and 50% do now, then just how much derichifying has gone on? Not much.

2) Even if there is more diversity in terms of family income (which, again, I dispute), that diversity is a lot more hidden than it used to be. Does it really matter if you are poor if no one knows? My sense, contrary opinions welcome, is that current students have less knowledge about their classmates wealth than they have about their classmates intelligence, much less their looks. (Side note: And wouldn’t most Williams students gladly give up some family wealth if it meant more intelligence and/or better looks?)

A hundred years ago, students bid on their rooms!. Rich students got the best rooms. Poor students got the worst. Now wealth has (almost) no influence on housing at Williams. Fifty years ago “scholarship students” served food and bussed tables in the fraternity houses. The difference in the daily lives between poor and rich students is much less today than it has been in the passed.

3) The most interesting senior thesis on this topic would examine whether or not family income has any connection to student rooming groups. I bet that it does not. That is, a student on financial aid is no more likely to live in a given rooming group than a student not on financial aid. [This is, of course, totally different from the influence of race and athletics. Students from a given racial group (or sports team) are much more likely to room with students of the same race (or on the same team).]

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