This week’s seminar focuses on evaluating the academic performance of groups of Williams students.

Consider this quote from a recent report by a Williams faculty committee.

Finally, we recommend that studies of academic performance by under-represented minorities continue to be carried out periodically by the Admissions Committee. We recommend that the interval between such studies be five years. Reports of differences in academic performance tend to contribute to a sense of stigma and to stereotype threat among under-represented minorities, but failure to report on their academic performance is equally undesirable; a 5-year interval is a reasonable compromise.

1) The Advisory Group on Admission and Financial Aid (AGAFA) is one of the more important but least known faculty committees at Williams. (At one point, it seems to have had student members. Is this no longer true? When did that change? Or maybe it never was true?)

2) “under-represented” is code for African-American and/or Hispanic. Asian-Americans and International students (of all colors) do fine at Williams.

3) Alas, AGAFA does not seem to provide a useful summary of the data. But I bet that what former Williams professor KC Johnson points to for Duke would be similar to what we will find at Williams.

Click for a larger version.

4) When last we were exploring the issue of the academic preparation and performance of different student groups at Williams, Derek recommended that I frame the issue as follows:

Does Williams do enough to serve its minority students, its poor and working class students, its female students, and its international students? It is possible to look selectively at a smattering of evidence — memberships in Phi Beta Kappa and GPA’s come to mind — and conclude that the college could be doing a better job. Williams seems clearly committed to diversity in terms of admissions. Is it doing a good enough job to serve these students after they receive their long-awaited thick envelopes in the spring of their senior year of high school?

I will leave my substantive comments on this point of view for later in the seminar. For now, let me just point out that worry about how Williams serves “its female students” and not mentioning our male students is weird since female Ephs have significantly higher GPAs than male Ephs and are much less likely to be given academic warnings, forced to take time off from the College and so on.

5) What sort of data for Williams would people most like to see?

6) Kudos to the faculty authors of this quote. Although we should always be concerned about any “sense of stigma” and “stereotype threat,” there is no more important policy at Williams than admissions. We reject some applicants and accept others. Are we making the right decisions? (Other schools, like Caltech and the University of Chicago, do things quite differently.) The only way to decide is to have an honest and open discussion about how different groups of students perform at Williams. Without such a discussion, it is impossible to have an informed opinion about admissions policy at Williams.

Would any reader disagree? Would any reader argue that the larger Williams community should not discuss this topic?

UPDATE: As the comment thread documents, the quote at the top is a modified version of one from the Athletics Committee. Annoyingly misleading or an effective rhetorical technique? You make the call!

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