From the New York Times:

At a time when the digital revolution has thrown the mission of libraries into question, the New York Public Library is planning to name Anthony W. Marx, the current president of Amherst College, a native New Yorker and a passionate advocate of public education, as its new president.

Hat tip to reader David H.T. Kane ’58.

1) Most likely explanation for this change is that Marx was ready for a change after 8 years at Amherst. He is from New York, has a commitment to public education and a wife on the faculty at Columbia. All in all, an unsurprising move.

2) This change saddens me because I want Williams to significantly outpace Amherst, and Marx’s emphasis on socio-economic diversity was helpful to that goal. Enjoy these rants from 4 (!) years ago. A snippet:

Letting in smart low-income kids does nothing to Amherst’s reputation (except to improve it). Letting in not-so-smart low-income kids has the potential to be devastating to that reputation.

Bringing in more low-income kids would require added compromise. To meet Marx’s 25% goal, Amherst would have to take more threes [on a 1-7 scale], says Parker, meaning those who may have straight As but SATs as low as 1360. Even though Amherst already does so for minorities, legacies, and athletes, faculty members are worried. “This could be a radical departure that fundamentally changes the character of our institution,” warns physics professor David Hall, who heads the Faculty Committee on Admissions & Financial Aid.

Hall is right to be worried. If you think that, on average students with 1360 SATs do as well as though with 1560s, then you don’t know what you are talking about. People like Marx like to tell stories about specific students who come to Amherst with low scores and then thrive, winning academic awards, writing excellent theses, being named to Phi Beta Kappa. And such stories are certainly true. But they do not represent the average result. In fact, the typical academic performance of 3s is certainly worse than that for 1s, even during senior year (by which time any disadvantage in terms of preparation should have been alleviated).

The only way to meaningfully increase the percentage of students from the bottom quarter of the income distribution is to admit a bunch of applicants that you currently reject, applicants that are not as academically talented/focused as your other students.

I hope that Marx’s successor continues his policies and goes even further. Fill Amherst with low income students with 1360 SATs while Williams takes all the high income students with 1500 SATs which Amherst used to accept but now rejects. Guess what happens after a few decades . . .

3) Total speculation alert! Could there be a nasty understory here? Perhaps Marx’s mismanagement has left Amherst in such a precarious position that he is simply getting out while the getting is good. Recall hwc’s evisceration of Amherst’s financial standing nine months ago. There is a non-trivial change that Amherst is in huge financial trouble.

Also, recall the scandals besetting Jide Zeitlin, head trustee at Amherst. (Love the comments at the end of that post from EphBlog’s readers in India!)

By the way, is anyone shocked Zeitlin is still chair of the Board at Amherst? I am. The guy sure seems like trouble, and trouble is the last thing that Amherst needs.

The odds that Marx’s departure is an indication of real problems at Amherst, problems so serious that they might significantly weaken the college relative to its peers, are low. But they are not zero . . .

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