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BREAKING: ECUADOR in State of Emergency

Coup attempt alleged; US MSM now seem to be providing coverage.

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Lisker ’88 Lecture Tonight at 7:30

Highly recommended

Sex, Money and Power: Understanding Student Social Culture

Lecture by Dr. Donna Lisker ’88, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at Duke University. Ever wonder what constitutes “normal” social life on college campus? Who fits in and who feels left out? Come hear a Williams alum talk about her research into student life at Duke University, and her thoughts on how this applies to Williams.

It would be interesting to read some of this research. Can anyone provide some links?

If you attend the lecture, please sure to say Hi to Donna from her friends at EphBlog. And, if she tells any stories about her roommate’s boyfriend from back in the day, well, let’s just say that there are two sides to every Gladden House romance . . . ;-)

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Legacy Admissions

In Speak Up, JeffZ linked to an interesting op-ed piece in today’s NY Times, which I thought was worth its own post. One of the key sections of the article says:

Among selective research universities, public and private, almost three-quarters employ legacy preferences, as do the vast majority of selective liberal arts colleges. Some admissions departments insist they are used only as tie-breakers among deserving applicants. But studies have shown that being the child of an alumnus adds the equivalent of 160 SAT points to one’s application (using the traditional 400-to-1600-point scale, and not factoring in the new writing section of the test) and increases one’s chances of admission by almost 20 percentage points.

At many selective schools, legacies make up 10 percent to 25 percent of the student population. By contrast, at the California Institute of Technology, which has no legacy preferences, only 1.5 percent of students are the children of alumni.

My impression, based on previous posts/discussions here in EphBlog, is that simply being the child of an alum is of little help in gaining admission to Williams. But I don’t know if my impression is correct, or if there is any way of quantifying the admissions advantage conferred by being a legacy applicant, but its a topic in which I have some interest, as college is at least on the distant horizon (my oldest son is almost 9). This has been a topic has been previously discussed on EphBlog; previous discussions can be found here.

Apparently between 12-15% of each Williams class is made up of students who have either a parent or grandparent who went to Williams. Is that a good thing? And should legacies get any admissions advantage?

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Falk at the Faculty Meeting

Spectral Talent (who seems to be a faculty member and who ought to join us as an (anonymous) author) writes:

It does appear that he [Adam Falk] has not appointed an independent committee. However, from his lengthy discussions about his plans at two faculty meetings, one of which was devoted entirely to this topic, it is clear that he has spent a great deal of time hammering out these ideas with present and past senior staff (with the present senior staff appearing to be strongly in favor of the plan). It is also clear that he and others have looked closely at what other institutions are doing and that that has informed his own ideas here. Finally, he is not “just announcing the decisions that he has already made.” Rather, he is spending hours of time getting input from the full faculty on those plans before presenting them to the trustees. Will he change his plans based on these discussions? Who knows? But at least he is having them.

1) Alas, my descriptions of Falk’s actions are coming across more critically than I intended. I simply wanted to note that, unlike Morty with athletic admissions and student housing, there has been no independent committee or formal survey of peer institutions. And that might be a very good thing! Perhaps it is about time that a Williams president exercised more executive energy. I just wanted to point out how surprising I, and others, found it. I have no doubt that Falk and others have thought long and hard about this topic and that they have excellent reasons.

2) Now that we have solved the Form 990 issue, the next step in my endless transparency crusade is to make faculty meetings more transparent. How to do so? Simple:

  • Post on the Dean of the Faculty’s webpage any material (handouts, Powerpoint slides, et cetera) that are distributed/shown at (or before) the meeting.
  • Post the notes from faculty meetings. (These are currently (corrections welcome) distributed to department/program chairs and are also available to any faculty member for review.)

Related thread here. Within the context of this greater transparency, it would be fine to withhold some sensitive material (perhaps about compensation, perhaps in reference to a specific student). My proposal is for 95%, not that 100%, of the handouts/slides/notes. If this were done now, then it would be easier for the larger Williams community (especially students, staff and alumni) who are not (and can not be) at the faculty meeting to appreciate the work that Falk (and others) have put into this proposal. Thanks to spectraltalent for bringing this to our attention.

On the larger point of the need for more transparency, who can argue with Professor Frank Morgan?

Our mission and purpose (which can be found online at www.williams.edu/home/mission) not only justify our best decisions but also mandate a more open decision process, in which we can practice what we preach about the free exchange of ideas leading to better understanding, more ideas and better solutions. Such open exchange of ideas, one of our core values, however inconvenient, deserves and requires our commitment, especially because it is sometimes inconvenient.

Exactly correct.

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Marsh ’95, RIP

Very sad news:

NICHOLAS ANDREW MARSH (Age 37) On Sunday, September 26, 2010 of Washington, DC. Beloved husband of Navis A. Bermudez; loving son of Linda (Dr. William DeVries) and James (Kim) Marsh. Also survived by aunts, uncles, cousins and many wonderful and loving friends. Along with his faithful canine companion, Bourbon. Nicholas was born in Elizabethtown, KY and was 1991 graduate of St. Xavier High School in Louisville, KY where he received the recognition for Freshman”s Scholar. In 1995, Nick graduated from Williams College Magna Cum Laude with double BAs in Philosophy and History. At graduation, Williams College awarded Nick with prestigious Gaius Charles Bolin, 1889 Essay prize in Afro-American Studies. Nick lettered in lacrosse. He also completed a one year course in Philosophy in Oxford and was Oxford Blue lettered in lacrosse. In 1998, Nick graduated from Duke University Schoool of Law in addition to JD in Law. He was awarded a Master”s degree in Literature. Upon completion of law school, he clerked on the 9th Circuit under Judge Andrew Kleinfeld in Fairbanks, AK. He worked for the law firms of Sullivan and Cromwell and Hale and Dorr in New York City. In 2003, he accepted a position as a prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, DC. Nick loved all sports with baseball and college basketball his favorites. He was an avid reader, cook and loved music and just resumed playing his soprano saxophone. Funeral service will be held on Thursday, September 30, 1 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 1328 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC. Interment Hebron Cemetery, Shepherdsville, KY. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Nicholas A. Marsh Class of 1995 – Williams College, 75 Park Street, Williamstown, MA 01267.

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Joe Shippee ’07 Plays Ravel – Jeux D’eau

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Faculty Governance Seminar: Chad Orzel’s ’93 Detachment

This is the eighth installment in our (now) two week seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

So far, I have been somewhat skeptical of Falk’s plan because it clearly results in less faculty influence/control/governance at Williams, continuing the trend of the last 100 years. Being a fan of the faculty, I want more faculty influence/control/governance, not less. But perhaps I should revisit that assumption, and Chad Orzel ’93 is here to help me.

Orzel displays a typical insider’s snobbery in this comment about my idea for a Wiki for academic questions.

I’ve been watching this series with the sort of amused detachment appropriate to anything where people spout off about the operations of businesses they don’t understand, but I have to say, this Wikipedia idea is by far the silliest suggestion to date.

If this comment is directed at me, then its main effect is to demonstrate Orzel’s cluelessness rather than his “detachment.” He thinks that he knows more about the “operations” of Williams than I do. Hah! Has he read the financial statements, talked with current (and former) Williams presidents, deans of the faculty and the college, provosts, committee chairs and senior faculty? Has he taught at Williams, closely studied the Record over the last decade, read the senior theses which focus on Williams, learned about the history of the College and of Williamstown? Has he talked (as I have) with hundreds of Williams students and alumni over the last 7 years? I doubt it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Orzel is a bad guy. I am sure that he is a good guy! And he certainly knows much more about Union (where he teaches) then I do. But, like many academics, he suffers from the delusion that only he and his fellow members of the faculty priesthood are qualified to opine on the “operations” of Williams.

To the extent his comments are not directed at me, they are even worse. Consider the views of other Williams alums about my “Wikipedia idea”:

kthomas: “David’s suggestion seems to me not to eliminate advising, but to strengthen it by setting a framework for it, and providing good answers to common questions”

rory: “. . . this wiki page sounds nice and would help with many questions . . .”

bfleming: “I think it sounds like a fantastic idea.”

hwc: “I think David’s wiki idea (or a similar approach using an advising FAQ) is not only a good idea, but so commonsense that it’s hard to imagine anyone being against it.”

Are these four Ephs guilty of “spout[ing] off about the operations of businesses they don’t understand?” In Orzel’s mind, Yes. (And note how his comment makes it fairly clear that he did not bother to read the discussion thread.) Orzel’s position is a perfect example of technocratic elitism: If you are not an insider on topic X, then you “don’t understand” enough about topic X to do anything other than “spout off.” Parallel examples of technocratic elitism would be Marines who think that no one without military experience is qualified to offer an opinion about military policy or bankers who argue that no one outside the industry has anything useful to say about financial regulation.

Why, in the context of a seminar on faculty governance, do I bother to so thoroughly fisk Orzel’s comment when it, obviously, has no merit? Because Orzel’s attitude and world view illustrate why schools like Williams (and Union) may be better off with less “faculty governance.” Instead of having people like Orzel run Williams, perhaps we are better off with people like Stephen Klass doing so. That is not something that I want to believe, but Adam Falk is a smart guy, smart enough to know that Orzel (whatever his strengths as a physicist and teacher) might be completely incapable of considering and learning from the opinions of other people, especially outsiders like kthomas, rory, bfleming and hwc.

Perhaps the less influence that Orzel has at Union (and the less influence faculty like Orzel have at Williams), the more successful these institutions will be in the future. I don’t want to believe that but, if Adam Falk does, then maybe I am wrong.

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Form 990 Now Posted

Big kudos to President Adam Falk for fulfilling his promise of greater transparency at Williams by posting the College’s Form 990!

1) Thanks to whichever college officials (names?) were involved in this decision. The more transparent Williams is, the more likely we are to be the #1 liberal arts college in the world 50 years from now. (Special thanks, also, to Jim Kolesar for alerting us to the new policy.)

2) Thanks to fellow EphBlogger John Wilson ’64, who has been leading the charge on this topic for several years. This seems to be a clear case in which EphBlog has changed something about Williams. As far as I know (counter examples welcome), Williams is the only elite school which posts it From 990. If it were not for EphBlog’s agitation, I doubt this would have happened. Yeah, EphBlog!

3) Instead of just providing the most recent year, Williams ought to provide all easily accessible years. I originally stored this in Willipedia, but, now, the most accurate listing is at EphBlog, thanks to John’s efforts. Williams ought to add these past filings to the Controller webpage in the same way that it provides historical financial statements.

4) Interested in a two week seminar on the latest Form 990? Me too! But I sure wish that someone else would take the lead on that . . .

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Things To Do In Billsville When You’re Dead (Now With Links!)

[NB: this is a repost from last year, but I think warranted considering the collective thought that went into it.  Moreover, I’m curious if a new crop of Ephs / readers have any additional suggestions.  Apologies for any links that are no longer functional.]

Unless things have changed dramatically since my time at Williams, one of the favorite pastimes of students is to lament (a) the dearth of off-campus social options in Williamstown (b) the lack of area date venues and (c) the repetitiveness of campus social life.  If you are tired of the typical row house party scene and/or desperately need a break from late nights studying in the library, all it takes is a little creativity to find a surprisingly rich panoply of cool things to do.   As highlighted in this previous post by Larry George, the college has already offered a list of 59 alternatives.  [This excellent list appears to have vanished.  Has it just been moved to some other location on the Williams site?]

But this list  just scratches the surface.  So, new and returning students, Ephblog’s gift to you: our collective list of additional recommendations for your four years at Williams, derived from the comments to the previous post, among other sources.  Not all of these will interest all of you, but everyone should find at least a handful of appealing ideas out of the 123 (and counting) suggested to date by the college and by Ephblog readers.  Full list below the break.

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It will be easier to root for Wilkes-Barre than for Pittsburgh…

Alex Smigelski ’10 appears to be doing all the right things as he tries to start a professional hockey career for himself:

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Faculty Governance Seminar: Many Candidates for Dean/Provost Position

This is the seventh installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

This is the single most misleading sentence:

Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, Provost] can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

Now, it is true that there is at least one faculty member who finds these positions “less attractive” then they might otherwise be, but the overall implication of this sentence — that the College has trouble attracting faculty to these jobs — is completely false. Consider a similar comment from Guy Creese ’75:

My father put up with being a Dean for five years and went back to teaching. Professors can be real prima donnas, and often invoke “academic freedom” as a way to get what they want. It’s a pretty thankless job, and saying the faculty should do more governance may sound nice, but there’s no guarantee people will be willing to do the work. If you create a Frankenstein of a job, you may get no takers.

Again, there is nothing literally false about Guy’s comment. (And Guy is extremely knowledgeable about elite education in general and Williams in particular.) But, like Falk’s letter, it implies that Williams has a recruitment problem, that the President has trouble finding anyone to take on the “thankless job” of being Dean of the Faculty.

That implication is false. There are dozens of Williams faculty who would love to be offered these positions, far more than will ever have the chance to serve Williams in this way. Don’t believe me. Ask Williams faculty members that you know. I did and everyone I talked to agreed that there were 5+ (and probably many more) faculty members who would be eager to take one of these positions if it were offered to her. Professor Joe Cruz writes:

I think that there are many faculty who would be very pleased to take on leadership roles at the college, including, of course, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, or Provost. Venturing numbers would be pure speculation on my part, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t dozens of us who believe enough in the importance of faculty governance to seriously and enthusiastically see ourselves in those roles. To me, the most serious downside would be not spending time with students in the classroom, in tutorials, and supervising theses. Now, I don’t know how you can twist my words around here and I hope you won’t. I take myself to be saying something obvious (to me) and clear: Though I have not personally talked about this matter with more than a handful of friends, I strongly suspect there is no shortage of willing faculty members who would readily serve in these positions if asked by the President and Steering Committee. I am not saying that President Falk’s proposal for reorganization is a bad idea (my opinion is quite the contrary) nor am I saying that, were things to stay as they are now, that faculty would remain the best suited candidates to address the growing complexities of those positions.

If past experience is any guide, some commentator will now claim that I made up this quote, that I don’t really know what is going on at Williams and so on. Most of the time, I ignore this sort of stupidity because, ultimately, arguing with stupid people is a waste of time. But, for those who don’t believe my summary of faculty opinion and don’t believe my quote from Professor Cruz, here is Professor Frank Morgan’s comment.

I think that plenty of Williams faculty would like to be provost or dean of faculty. The talent for and interest in leadership at Williams exceeds the need. This has been fortunate for helping to keep our priorities academic rather than administrative.

Correct. And finding out the truth on these matters (and truth notably absent from the Record‘s pathetic coverage) is why you read EphBlog.

UPDATE: Apologies for messing up the quote attributions in this post. My mistake! I have fixed the post accordingly.

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Answer filed in Moore v. EphBlog

An Answer has been filed on behalf of EphBlog and David Kane ’88 in the Moore v. EphBlog lawsuit. A copy of the Answer may be viewed here: 2010.09.21 Answer

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Read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog

Benjamin Fischberg ’14 in the Record:

Before coming to Williams I had read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog, but I did not really understand what the concept was so I was unsure why people supported or criticized it. I now understand the opposition to Claiming Williams as it is nothing but an exercise in political correctness, appealing to students who feel disenfranchised by general society. Making everyone hear about the troubles of those students and how they are different from other students does nothing to improve campus unity.

Williams students are smart, but like many smart students we can easily fall into the trap of self-doubt. Claiming Williams made me question myself and made me nervous to talk about certain issues in case I came across as racist. After the Claiming Williams talk, I was discussing politics over dinner, and I had to convince non-Jewish students that engaging me in a debate over Israeli policy would not make me consider them racist. Claiming Williams has made many overly sensitive to racism, looking for it everywhere and choosing to keep their ideas to themselves lest they be thought of as racist. If Williams wished to advance the student body’s dialogue on racial and global issues, the talk the freshman class was mandated to attend failed, and we took a step backwards.

1) Accepted students read EphBlog. Woo-hoo! Is it the case that some students at Williams have read more material on EphBlog than material written by any single Williams professor?

2) Thanks to Admissions for continuing to accept non-liberal students. The more diversity of political beliefs at Williams, the better the education that we will provide.

3) I bolded the key sentences. The same thing happened to me 25 years ago. Williams actively discourages students from voicing unusual (read: non-liberal) political views, both directly and indirectly. Of course, if you are the sort of Eph who thinks that Claiming Williams is a good idea, then you may be in favor of this discouragement, you probably want fewer students voicing opinions that you consider to be offensive. Mission accomplished.

4) Since we are stuck with Claiming Williams for the foreseeable future, what should students like Fischberg do? Easy! Invite me (or someone like me) to participate in Claiming Williams. I bet that the organizers, although unsympathetic to my point of view, would hesitate to prevent me from speaking if there were a student or group of students who sought to invite me.

5) Which posts about Claiming Williams did Fischberg read? I don’t know. But here, here and here are some of my favorites.

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Seminar Updates and CGCL Plans

Our seminar on faculty governance is going so well, with so many interesting comments, that I am extending it for another week. There is a wealth of interesting material associated with President Falk’s induction. We could either tackle this in October or save it for our annual Winter Study seminar. Thoughts? If we don’t use the induction as the main topic for CGCL, we will probably go with former Professor Mark Taylor’s recent book “Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities.” Or would a different book be better?

What I most need, besides suggestions from readers, is a volunteer or two to help me run CGCL. This will be our 7th year! There isn’t much work, mostly sweet-talking discussants. Those curious about the style of conversation we encourage should look at our seminars from 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

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Hardy ’10 to Spurs

A nice story about Will Hardy ’10 joining the San Antonio Spurs as a basketball operations intern.

Hardy’s main duties will revolve around managing the Spurs’ scouting database of top college players, current NBA players the Spurs are looking at for trade possibilities, and international players. “I’m ready to do anything they ask me to do,” notes Hardy. “They need someone to run to the airport, I’m on it. I just want to get in there and learn the business.”

Do you want to get a job in professional sports? Take classes at Williams that prepare you for a job like this. Take Computer Science 134 and 136. Take as many Statistics classes as you can. (See here for more details on course selection.) Write a thesis that looks at sports data in a serious way. Those are the skills — along with a passion for sports — that front offices most need and that you, as a extremely intelligent Eph, are most likely to have a competitive advantage in, especially compared to the other ex-college athletes seeking those jobs.

It was a long process to secure the position of Basketball Operations Intern against 69 other candidates, but Will Hardy is glad he did and glad he had the support of current Eph head coach Mike Maker and former Eph head coach Curt Tong. Tong coached the Ephs from 1974 through 1983, taking a year’s sabbatical in the 1981-82 season.

Hardy found out about the job opportunity with the Spurs through Tong, whom he’s become quite close to over the last 18 months. “Coach Tong knew that I’d spent the previous summer working with the Utah Jazz in marketing/sales and he asked if I might want to try the other side of basketball in an NBA team office,” states Hardy, who greatly values having Tong as a mentor and friend.

Read the whole thing. Tong seems like a good guy. Did any EphBlog readers know him back in the day?

UPDATE: An anonymous source provides an update on other former Eph basketball players:

Charlie Cates — working in Chicago as a physical trainer
Joe Geoghegan — working at United Talent Agency in Los Angeles as an agent/intern after graduating as an ESPN Academic All American
Will Hardy — the Spurs
Mike Moorstein — Post Graduate Fellowship at the Economic Policy Research Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, after being NESCAC all academic, graduating Williams with honors and deferring admission to graduate school
Blake Schultz — playing basketball in Europe in the German Bundesliga, putting Teach for America and medical school on hold, after winning the Jostens Trophy and being a Division III All American

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Live Bloging and Twittering the Induction Ceremony

UPDATE:  President Falk’s speech is available here (text,  alas),  and a recap of the whole induction is available here. (Hat tip:  P’12).

Here is a live video feed (starting at 4:30) of today’s induction ceremony and awarding of Bicentennial Medals. Alas, I am coaching soccer, so can’t live blog the event. Perhaps our readers can help out? Add your observations in the comments. Or perhaps we can work out something in which we aggregate and display tweets about the event, as we did with Homecoming last year. Please use #ephblog as the Twitter hash tag.

If you are an EphBlog administrator (especially Ronit or Ken), feel free to reorganize this post in whatever way makes sense.

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Faculty Governance Seminar: VP of Student Life

This is the sixth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider the discussion of the proposed new vice president of student life.

Let’s start with the Dean of the College position, which is currently sprawling in its scope. It seems to me that it would be logical and sensible to focus it somewhat more on academic matters. We could do that by moving responsibility for Health Services, Safety and Security, Chaplains, and Campus Life (residential life and student activities) to a position that I’ll call for now Vice President for Student Life.

We have, in Vice President for Operations Steve Klass, someone who could take on this position, having done so previously at the University of Chicago. He’d retain the parts of his portfolio most relevant to students, namely Dining Services and Facilities. Naturally, he and Sarah Bolton, and those who report to them, would need to work in close collaboration. But she’d then be able to focus on many essential academic issues, such as strengthening our advising program and developing and integrating the programs that provide students with academic support. At the same time, his newly configured operation could focus on the quality of student life outside the classroom.

1) I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Steve Klass. The more things that he is in charge of, the better.

2) Again, it is interesting how Falk is, more or less, just announcing the decisions that he has already made. No independent committee. No survey of other institutions.

3) “strengthening our advising program?” How many times do I need to explain how I solved this problem years ago? Just create a Wikipedia webpage with the 500 of so most common academic advising questions. Allow anyone (students, faculty, alumni) to edit it but put a student-faculty committee in charge. Organize the questions in a sensible way, with lots of cross-linkage and easy searching. Example questions:

  • What is a good major for someone interested in medical school?
  • If I did poorly in AP Statistics in high school, should I take STAT 101 or STAT 201?
  • Should I go to the Williams-Oxford program?

And so on. None of these questions have correct answers. Reasonable Ephs will differ. But students just need to read a variety of answers from different perspectives. That is what the best academic advising amounts to. Fortunately, 99% of the questions asked each year were asked in previous years, and new questions can always be added to the advising Wikipedia.

Do this, and almost all the problems associated with academic advising at Williams will disappear.

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Moore Sentenced

Former Professor Bernard Moore was sentenced yesterday:

A 52-year-old assistant professor at Williams College and former aide to U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) was sentenced Thursday to 50 months in prison and ordered to pay $760,000 in restitution for a lifelong series of student loan, bank and Social Security frauds, U.S. Attorney for the District Ronald C. Machen, Jr. announced.

Read the full story for more details.

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Faculty Governance Seminar: End of the Boston Investment Office?

This is the fifth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Most interesting omission from President Falk’s letter? Any use of the word “endowment.” If I were Collette Chilton or a member of her staff, I would be concerned. Consider the duties of Suzanne Welsh, Swarthmore’s Vice President for Finance and Treasurer.

The Finance and Investment Offices oversee the financial responsibilities of the College which include the budget, financial planning, endowment and debt management, and stewardship of financial resources.

How about Pomona?

Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson oversees the College’s budget and endowment, as well as Office of Facilities and Campus Services, which covers construction planning, maintenance, sustainability, summer conferences, dining, grounds and housekeeping; Human Resources; the Business Office; and Real Property.

I can’t find an elite college (pointers welcome) which has a (highly paid) vice president of finance/treasurer who is not also in charge of the endowment. Can you? Anyone qualified to do all the things that Falk wants the new Vice President of Finance to do would be more than competent to handle the endowment. This would, more or less, simply take Williams back to the structure we had prior to 2006. (Related rants about the Boston Investment Office are here, here and here. Highly recommended for new readers!)

Summary: The Boston Investment Office is a $2-$3 million per year waste of money. We don’t need it. Instead of pretending (unsuccessfully!) to be Yale, Williams should follow the practice of similar elite colleges like Pomona and Swarthmore. Have the Trustees pick the major investments. Hire a VP of Finance who, among her other duties, would keep an eye on the endowment.

Is President Falk heading in this direction? Unfounded rumors and gossip welcome in the comments!

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Feedback on Seminar Blogging

I have two blogging modes. First is the standard mode of linking to random items as I find them and providing commentary. This provides variety but not (often) depth. Second is seminar mode in which I take a specific topic and explore it for a week or more. Recent examples include my seminars on faculty governance and Beyond the Log. Which mode would readers like to see more/less of and why?

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Ephs in Forbes 400

How many Ephs (or Eph relatives) are in the Forbes 400? I see:

#136 Edgar Bronfman ’51
#182 Robert Rich ’63
#365 Stephen Case ’80
#385 Herbert Allen ’62

Other Eph-connected folks include Robert Kraft, with two Williams sons (Jon ’86, a trustee and Josh ’89, a Bicentennial Medal winner). Any others?

Background from Forbes on the Ephs below. Previous discussions here and here. New VP of Alumni Development John Malcom ’86 will be targeting rich Ephs like these for the core of the College’s next capital campaign. Have any advice for him?
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An Historian in History, continued

Part II of a remembrance of Tony Judt by Norman Birnbaum ’46. Part I is here.

To that discussion, Professor Judt contributed quite apart from his books and role in the projects and programs of his university, by joining colleagues in editing volumes on some of the central themes of contemporary historiography: language and identity politics, post-war retribution in Europe amongst these. He has also been a prominent, one could almost say omnipresent contributor to those symposium collections which  frequently mark the advance (and just as frequently and just as instructively, the puzzlement) of contemporary thought before problems like the Mideast crisis and Zionism, the past, present and future of the left, the new dimensions of European consciousness and European reality.  Professor Judt worked in these settings with scholars in the humanities, social scientists from the more systematic disciplines (or those like the study of politics and sociology which thought of themselves in this way, sometimes  with entirely too much self-aggrandisement.) His own method might be termed weighted narrative, weighted with a great deal of knowledge, and shaped in the last analysis by the open acknowledgement that historical judgements are just that, judgements which require the moral engagement of the scholar.

In  the book that followed Past Imperfect, his study of three French figures,  the political commentator and scholar Raymond Aron, the Socialist leader and major political figure, Leon Blum, and the essayist and novelist Albert Camus, these three disparate spirits are connected by their own assumption of  responsibility for judgements which often contravened the reigning assumptions of their contemporaries, not least of their allies and friends., That is why, presumably, Professor Judt entitled the book, The Burden of Responsibility. Interestingly, the sub-title did not list the protagonists alphabetically, but put Blum first, followed with the novelist and gave Aron (a fellow scholar) the third place. Blum’s break with the constrictions and dogmas of the pre-war Socialist party, his steadfastness in the face of the implacable hatred of the French right, his courage at the Vichy show trial of  leaders of the Third Republic, made him in Judt’s view unique amongst French politicians. Camus impressed his chronicler for his insistence on the sense of place, rootedness, as an end of politics and not as an unreflective and often exclusionary assumption. Aron (Professor Judt had he written the book later might have included Francois Furet) earned his place not only for the range and specificity of his historical knowledge, but for his sense of historical limits, his capacity to imagine the dilemmas of politicians acting in real time and not the imaginary universe of the Parisian scholastics of the left. Read more

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Faculty Governance Seminar: VP of Finance

This is the fourth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.” Consider his discussion about the proposed vice president of finance.

The responsibilities of the Provost have also grown considerably in the past decade, and I believe we should consider some refocusing here as well.

As a matter of simple history, this is false. The year 2000 was not that long ago and, if anything, the responsibilities of the Provost have decreased, not increased. You think that Williams pays Stephen Klass hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sit around? No. Klass does many of the things that, a decade ago, the Provost would have done. Even looking at those roles, like budget-setting, that have continued in the Provost’s office, there is no reason to believe that these have gotten meaningfully more complex. Running the College’s finances was a hard job in 2000 (ask Cappy Hill!) and it is a hard job today.

It’s critical that this position remain one in which Bill Lenhart’s successors are responsible for the College’s overall budget priorities and the marshalling of academic resources for new and existing programs. It’s also important that faculty continue to exert leadership in such areas as Admissions, Financial Aid, the Museum, the Libraries, and Information Technology. But the financially challenging world that we’ve entered and are likely to remain in for the foreseeable future requires sophisticated leadership in complex areas such as treasury, finance, audit, reporting, debt management, and budget operations.

We already have highly trained and experienced staff working on these topics. You think Associate Provost Keith Finan is an idiot? You think that Budget Director Tom Dwyer is a moron? Untrue! These are skilled professionals. They, obviously, need to keep up with changes in auditing requirements and whatnot, but, first, they already do so and, second, the College hires (and should hire) outside professionals to handle some of these matters.

As always, if the College were rolling in money, then spending $250,000 to hire another senior administrator might be reasonable. But Williams currently offers significantly less generous financial aid than Amherst. Until that problem is fixed, there should be a hiring freeze.

To provide this, we should consider creating a position perhaps called Vice President for Finance, which could take these technical duties, along with allied functions currently under Steve Klass, such as Human Resources, Real Estate, and Legal Affairs.

An experienced observer pointed out to me that Falk is being quite aggressive in suggesting these changes. Typically, a college president would first appoint a committee (perhaps staffed by those who agree with him) and charge it with studying the (hard!) question of college organization. The committee would then survey peer institutions, talk to stakeholders and issue a report. Falk skipped all those steps. If I were a faculty member, I would wonder what other steps he might skip in the future . . .

Doing so would open the Provost’s position to faculty in all departments, and bring to bear the kind of experienced financial expertise that I believe the College needs in these increasingly challenging times.

This is perhaps the most dishonest part of Falk’s letter. Provosts don’t spend their time doing dynamic programming. No math beyond algebra is required. No computer knowledge beyond Excel is used. And, even with the algebra and Excel, you have Finan and Dwyer to do the heavy lifting. Any Williams professor interested in the Provost position today could handle the demands of the job. That Provosts (just at Williams?) tend to come from numbery fields (like economics and computer science) is merely a reflection of both the sorts of people who are interested in such a role and/or the applicant profile that Williams presidents seem to have preferred historically.

The Provost then could be freed to focus on moving forward our top academic priorities. Close collaboration between the Provost and the Vice President for Finance would be essential, especially in developing the annual budget. In this key process, the Provost’s responsibility would be to develop the College’s budgetary priorities, and the Vice President for Finance’s to see that those priorities are reflected in the actual budget that is presented to the Board.

“Be freed to focus” is code for “have his power significantly reduced.”

If it were the case that no faculty member at Williams wanted to be Provost given the demands of the job, then it would make sense to decrease those demands by hiring more senior administrators. But I have never heard that. Has anyone? My understanding is that many (5? 10?) faculty members at Williams would like to be Provost because a) It is an interesting job, b) They sometimes day-dream about being a college president and the Provost position provides a useful stepping stone, c) They want Williams to go in a specific direction and the Provost has some power to do that, and d) The money is good.

Does anyone know if Lenhardt was the only candidate for Provost five years ago?

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Induction Speech Suggestions

President Falk’s induction speech on Saturday will probably be the only thing he ever writes that will be read 50 years from now. (Many thanks to College Archivist Sylvia Kennick Brown for gathering the induction speeches of past Williams presidents.) Do you have any suggestions/requests for Falk? Write them in the comments and we will pass them along.

My main suggestion: Specify public metrics by which we can judge the success of your presidency.

Most induction speeches are boring and trite. (Links to good ones are welcome.) Part of that is the nature of the beast. Presidents should not give offense and are mostly charged with a) raising money and b) not messing up. Williams after 10 years of a Falk presidency is going to look a lot like Williams today. Most of Falk’s speech will, therefore, simply re-iterate areas of common agreement. Williams is one of the best liberal arts colleges is the world today. We all want it to be better tomorrow.

But there is still room for Falk to give a better induction speech than those given by the presidents of Amherst, Swarthmore or Pomona. He should to provide specific measures by which we can determine his success or failure.

If he just says, “We will continue to improve the quality of our teaching,” then there is no way, five years from now, for us to measure that. If he just says, “We will continue to attract the very best students,” then there is no (easy) way for us to decide if he has failed. And so on. Instead, he could, right now, propose some specific measures and then promise to make the data available for all to see. Consider these concrete suggestions:

1) Student quality. 90% or more of the students admitted to both Williams and to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford turn us down. Many of them are making the right choice for good reasons. But many are not. At least 1/2 of them would be better off at Williams. Improving our cross-yield percentages, both with HYPS and with other competitors like Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth, is the single best way to increase the quality of the student body.

2) Student experience. As a part of COFHE, Williams already collects a great deal of high quality data about the student experience, inside and outside the classroom. COFHE rules prevent Williams from releasing the data for other schools, but we are allowed to release Williams data. Falk should promise to do so. He should also specify now what outcomes he thinks are most important and what he plans to do to improve them. He might also propose to gather more and better data. (More on that tomorrow.)

3) Alumni engagement. Williams graduates are engaged with Williams, but they are not nearly as engaged as they ought to be. If improving this engagement is an important goal for Falk (and I think it should be), then he ought to propose specific metrics (annual giving rates, reunion attendance, correspondence with class secretaries, interactions with OCC and admissions, et cetera) and commit to making the past and future values of these metrics publicly available.

Any of these measures might be “gamed” in various ways. But the more transparent Williams is, the less likely that is to occur.

Falk is a young man with big dreams. Although he does not know where he wants to be in 10 years, he would certainly like to position himself so that, if he is successful as Williams president, elite universities like Hopkins and Harvard will consider him a plausible, even desirable, candidate for their own presidencies. The best way to do that is to propose specific, measurable goals for Williams and then spend the next decade achieving them.

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An Historian in History: In Memory of Tony Judt

Originally delivered as the prize oration for Prof. Judt’s Remarque Prize award in 2007 from the city of Osnabrueck.

Tony Judt was born in London in 1948, on the edge of the legendary East End. It was the place described by Dickens in his portrayals of the misery of the nineteenth century proletariat. Later it was the London equivalent of New York’s lower east side or Berlin’s Scheunenviertel or the Parisian area around the Rue de Rosieres: the eastern European ghetto transplanted to the west as the Ashkenazim sought lives free of economic misery, social persecution and civic disenfranchisement. Dr. Judt’s father came indeed from the Ukraine and arrived in the UK after a passage through Belgium.

When Dr. Judt was growing up, Britain was marked by three things. One was its post-imperial exhaustion, its obvious loss of power and wealth. There was even a discernible tone not of sorrow but of resentment—at the Americans, at the continental Europeans who were recovering so visibly from economic distress, at a world which regarded the British lion as somewhat mangy and toothless,. and in no case a frightening or impressive creature. Per contra, another development was for a great majority positive: the extension and institutionalization of the prewar elements of a welfare state, achieved by Labour in its two post-war governments., That was Britain’s considerable contribution to the development of the European social model. It included a considerable broadening of the basis of access to higher education, and so made possible a British version of the carriere ouvert aux talents. Dr. Judt himself attended a good local grammar school, in German terms an ordinary Gymnasium, and then won a place at the very pinnacle of the British university system, not only as an undergraduate at Cambridge but at King’s College, jewel in the Cantabridgian academic crown. The third aspect of the national setting of Dr. Judt’s youth was Britain’s early choice of the American alliance over a European vocation—until in the sixties it occurred to successive governments that, with whatever regrets, they had to take geography into account and that the British isles were in fact situated not where Iceland can still be found but some few kilometers from France. Still, it is accurate to say that des[pite this insight, Britain stumbled hesitantly into its membership of what was then the Common Market rather than marching resolutely into it. Resolution was reserved for the President of France, who did not want an American satellite state in his Europe and so for a time blocked British entry.

That sketches the general canvas, but on this Dr. Judt applied some more personal touches. He was, early, a Zionist and visited Israel in the late sixties and after the 1967 war to work on a Kibbutz. This was the period in which the social democratic aspects of the Israel political persona were more salient than they are today, when Israel could still be depicted as an experiment in democracy, when the many conflicts within Israel were rather less visible than they are now (between secular pluralism and dogmatic orthodoxy, between democracy and ethnicity, between pervasive militarization and the development of a civil society) Dr. Judt’s later pessimism about Israel’s future (shared by no small number of Israelis and many reflective Diaspora Jews) is not, then, a matter of remoteness from the Jewish state but is connected to first hand experience of it. Read more

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Faculty Governance Seminar: Org Chart

This is the third installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider the current Williams org chart.

1) Note that the positions of three of the senior administrators (Collette Chilton, Mike Reed ’75 and Stephen Klass) did not exist 10 years ago. Of course, Williams still had an endowment, a Multicultural Center and dining halls in 2000, but those important functions were directly supervised by faculty members. As I noted on Monday, “faculty governance” at Williams has decreased significantly over the last 50 years as fewer and fewer activities/resources are directed/controlled by faculty members. You may think this is a good thing or a bad thing, but there is no doubt about the direction of the trend or about Adam Falk’s plan to continue it.

2) Falk writes:

It’s critical that the faculty in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College] be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills.

First, to “burrow” is to lead. A good Provost does not pen motivational speeches or concoct 20 year plans of world domination. She dives into the financial and operational details of the college. That is what Cappy Hill used to do before ascending to the Vassar presidency. That is what Bill Lenhardt does today.

Second, what “technical knowledge and skills” does the Dean of the Faculty require? None. Same with the Dean of the College. Nor is being Provost rocket science. None of these jobs require mystical “knowledge” that the average faculty member does not have, or could not easily acquire. (They require leadership, consensus building, insight and so on, but such was the case 50 years ago as well.) Even the technical details (Excel spreadsheets?) of the long range planning that is done in the Provost’s office is handled by folks like Associate Provost Keith Finan.

Third, even to the extent that technical knowledge is required, learning on the job (and talking about the topic with interested/enthusiastic alumni) is a reasonable strategy. Instead of hiring a VP of Finance, appoint four faculty members as assistant provosts. This would be a service position, similar in its workload to chairing a department or major committee. This would be a perfect way for a junior professor to try out administration, see if she likes it, to determine if she wants to do more of it. Future provosts would often be selected from the ranks of former assistant provosts.

These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

Just how much “strategic thinking and leadership” did, say, Dean of the College Karen Merrill (or Nancy Roseman or Peter Murphy or Steve Fix or insert-your-favorite-dean-here) accomplish during her term. Very, very little! And that is not Merrill’s (or Roseman’s or Murphy’s or Fix’s) fault! The only role at Williams that calls for meaningful “strategic thinking” is the Presidency and, even there, just how much strategy is involved is a matter of dispute. Managing at Williams is a matter of committees and meetings, consensus-building and information-gathering. At Williams, like at almost all other elite colleges, senior faculty positions like Dean of the Faculty require zero “strategic thinking.”

So, why does Falk pretend that they do? Because he wants to weaken faculty governance. He wants to decrease the knowledge and power of the faculty by replacing faculty decisions-makers with senior bureaucrats, people without tenure, people beholden to him, people he can fire/replace if they do not go along with his strategic thinking and leadership. The fundamental effect of Falk’s proposal is to weaken the faculty and strengthen the presidency.

Whether or not you think that is a good thing depends on your opinion of the Williams faculty. What do you think?

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Television, anyone?

Does Williams have any groups which produce television shows for a local public access station? Is there such a station on the local cable system? Is there a television studio or television studio-like space on campus? I ask because I would think that anyone interested in journalism as a career would find it useful to be able to work on television production while in school, in much the same way that benefits accrue from working on the Record or working at WCFM (does the station still exist?)

Here in Arlington, there is a local non-profit which produces a roundtable discussion on different topics which is broadcast periodically on the local cable system. I’m sure Williams students could do just as good a job, if not better, on any number of topics:

News for Our Future (NfOF), Epidode 2 from Our Task on Vimeo.

If you fast forward to about 21:25 on the video, you can see a possible member of the Williams class of 2024 talking about recycling. Nick is a much better talker than I was at that age…

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Faculty Governance Seminar: Queer Life Coordinator

This is the second installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider this (never published?) letter to the New York Times from Falk (link added).

Questioning the Need for a Queer Life Coordinator?

By Adam Falk

Timed to coincide with the publishing of their book criticizing higher education, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, recently had an essay run in The New York Times Education Supplement.

Perhaps inadvertently, the essay, titled “Administrative Glut,” does Williams the favor of publicizing our commitment to the position of Queer Life Coordinator – one of several positions and offices at Williams that the authors imply the College could do without.

But, of course, to do without them would be to abandon what Williams is: a vibrant community working to enable all of its members to live, learn, and thrive. That we won’t do.

As wrongheaded as I find their analysis, I hope the authors continue to help us spread this word.

Assume for a second that the College’s current Queer Life Coordinator, Justin Adkins (an occasional EphBlog correspondent) is the best in the country. (And I have heard nothing but good things about, and have enjoyed my own dealings with, him.) Still, every conversation he has with students, every decision he makes, every thing he does is something that could be (should be?) done by a member of the Williams faculty. If Justin leaves Williams, shouldn’t we replace him with an (excellent) professor like Katie Kent ’88, Carmen Whalen or Chris Waters?

With a professor in this role, a professor still teaching her classes and doing her research — just as Fred Copeland ’35 did 50 years ago while simultaneously serving as Director of Admissions — “faculty governance” is increased. It would be a faculty member advising students, a faculty member learning directly about their concerns, a faculty member involved in making Williams better. Instead of Justin Adkins as the lead non-student involved in the occupation of Hardy House last year, wouldn’t the College be better off with a faculty member in that role?

Consider an extreme scenario: a Williams without senior administrators. Every thing that needs to be done is done by the faculty. Since there are 300 faculty members, this does not require a lot of work on average. Instead of a single faculty members as Dean of the College, there would a Dean and 4 assistant deans, each in charge of a different aspect of student life, each serving for three years, each simultaneously engaged in teaching and research, each interacting with students both inside and outside the classroom.

Would those faculty members be busy? Sure! But busy is good. We want faculty members to be busy. We want them to be (more) deeply engaged in the life of the College. We want faculty members to take their “community service” responsibilities just as seriously as they take their academic research. In this scenario, every faculty member at Williams (who is not on sabbatical) would devote 10 hours per week to administrative duties.

Instead of a single Provost, we would have a Provost and 5 assistant provosts. Instead of a single Dean of the Faculty, we would have a Dean and five assistant deans. Instead of an Admissions Department without a single faculty member, five or more faculty would make the key decisions about who comes to Williams.

How much more poorly would Williams be run if all the senior administrator hires of the last decade had never been made? Was the Williams of the 1980s (with less than 1/3 of the current bureaucracy) really less well governed than the Williams of today?

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One for Ephblog —

OK. The point here is not about my teaching or not. How do we know what the completion rate ought to be for my students? So that we, the people, know what the proper investment is?

Teaching at Williams is just as challenging. Highly selected students on a common path does give a baseline. It’s the aspirations and potential of the class that count in terms of setting real goals as a teacher.

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Greeley ’85 on Hypomaniacs

Eph Michael Greeley ’85, general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, is quoted in an interesting NYTimes article on “hypomaniac” entrepeneurs: 

“We have a grid personality scorecard, across 10 or 12 dimensions, attributes that are critical to success,” says Michael A. Greeley, a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners in Boston.

The goal is to spot the really erratic characters, whom Mr. Greeley calls “rail to rail”:

“One day they get up and their favorite color is pink. The next day, it’s green. I’ve worked with hypomanics, and where I think it can be quite insidious — people like this turn on colleagues quickly. An employee could be an incredible contributor, and then, after one mistake, they are out of the lifeboat.”

You can read Greeley’s blog here.  It would be smart to involve Greeley at any college conference / lecture series / curricular innovation focused on entrepeneurship, as recently discussed here at Ephblog.

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