Currently browsing the archives for August 2014

Kimball ’93 in National Geographic’s Adventure Magazine

From Professor Joe Cruz ’91:

Here’s something for ephblog. I spotted the attached scanned add in a recent issue of National Geographic’s Adventure Magazine. Nikki Kimball — the athlete depicted — was class of ’93. Indeed, I was her JA. She was, then, as she apparently is now, a first rate athlete in addition to being smart and a successful scholar.

Thanks Joe and congratulations to Nikki!

This message came in to EphBlog Central 4+ years ago. We have a lot to catch up on!


FT on Drezner

The Financial Times has nice things to say about The System Worked, the latest book by Dan Drezner ’90.

While reading Dan Drezner’s The System Worked, I kept thinking of the well-publicised conversation between Barack Obama and Tim Geithner that took place shortly before Obama’s inauguration as president in January 2009.

As related in Geithner’s book…

Geithner: Your accomplishment is going to be preventing a second Great Depression.

Obama: That’s not enough for me. I’m not going to be defined by what I’ve prevented.

Geithner: If you don’t prevent a depression, you won’t be able to do anything else.

Obama: I know. But it’s not enough.

For global economic governance, as opposed to Presidential legacies, avoiding economic catastrophe when catastrophe was a non-trivial possibility is enough.

That’s the case made by Drezner . . .

Read the whole thing.



Economic ignorance rears its misshapen head on WSO. AB complains about a firm which bought some Zambian debt and expects, you know, the Zambian government to honor that debt. AB, despite writing beautifully about monsoons, does not seem to understand how markets work. If you prevent investors from making money on Zambian debt, then the Zambian government won’t be able to borrow again.

Andrew Goldston claims that

Buying debt to call it in is legal, but dishonorable. In a more civilized age, guys like Sheehan would have been shunned by their neighbors for this kind of crap. But as bringing home money has become its own goal, normative restraints seem to have eased up on using thoroughly evil means to do it.

Does Andrew Goldston actually know anyone who buys debt? He should meet some of the (many) Williams alums involved in this type of work. A great example would be Hans Humes ’87, legendary member of WUFO and big wheel in the Argentinian debt restructuring of a few years ago.

UPDATE: This post was drafted 7 years ago. So, the Argentinian debt restructuring it refers to is not the current one but the last one.


Encouraging Math Education

From the Wall Street Journal several years ago:

Odds are California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger meant to deliver more than one message in a recent veto to the state Legislature, mathematicians say.

In the body of the message accompanying the veto, consisting of a four-line paragraph and a three-line paragraph, Mr. Schwarzenegger lamented that he was sent an “unnecessary” measure while “major issues are overlooked” in the cash-strapped state. But as the San Francisco Bay Guardian noted last week, the first letter of each of the seven lines spells out a profane rebuke that starts with “F” and ends with “you.”

The governor’s spokesman said the vertical vulgarity is a coincidence, which spurred mathematicians and statisticians to assess the probability that the coarse coded message could arise by chance.

Even if the profane message was intentional, Mr. Schwarzenegger deserves some credit for finding a creative way, outside the schools budget, to stimulate discussions of probability and language. “Let’s give the governor a break,” says Williams College mathematician Edward Burger. “If nothing else, he’s encouraging math education.”

Count on Ed Burger (now the president of Southwestern) to find the bright side!

If I were more clever, what would I have titled this post?

Everyone Prefers Hyptheses Because . . .


First Days

The First Years arrive today. Welcome to Williams!

The 274 women and 272 men who make up the Williams College Class of 2018 will arrive on campus on August 25 for First Days, their official orientation to the college.

SATs for the cohort averaged 727 on the verbal test and 713 on math. The class is also diverse. Thirty-eight percent of students in the incoming class are U.S. students of color, and nearly 9 percent are international students. The 546 students in this year’s class come from 41 states and represent 38 foreign countries. Forty-seven percent of the class is receiving financial aid, with an average aid package of $47,285.

1) Here is the schedule.

2) Isn’t 1440 combined SAT scores a step up from the recent past? Classes of 2008 and 2009 were 1413 and 1425.

3) 9% are international. Regular readers will recall that the quota for international students is an EphBlog perennial. 9% is better than the 6% quota of 2005, but we were already at 9% in 2008, so there has been no progress over the last 6 years, despite the fact that Williams is no longer need-blind for international applicants.

4) Only 47% of the class is receiving aid. In 2008, it was 50%, but I seem to recall numbers in the low 50s a few years ago.

So, the class of 2018 is richer and smarter than . . . any Williams class in history?!

Not that there is anything wrong with that!


Bruising Will Go On

Missed this New York Times letter from six years ago.

To the Editor:

“The Bruising Will Go On for the Party, Too” (news analysis, front page, April 23) says that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s substantial victory over Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, thus continuing the battle, is believed by many Democrats to hurt their (our) election chances against John McCain.

But I, as a Democrat, would rather find out now rather than later who would be the weaker candidate for the general election, given the advertisements and speeches I expect from the Republicans.

I would love to see the battle go on until the Democratic National Convention, restoring what conventions used to be, with the general public enthralled with the discussion.

Then, and only then, the superdelegates should do what they were set up to do — decide who the better candidate is to represent the Democratic Party in the general election.

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, Mass., April 23, 2008

In 2008, I was quite pleased that Obama won the primary and election. But I suspect that my reasoning was somewhat different from Pasachoff’s . . .


A Physicist on Falk

Curious what his fellow physicists think about Williams President Adam Falk? An anonymous physicist friend told me five years ago:

Falk is definitely one of the best researchers of his age cohort. His work had a lot of impact, which led to his early career success. However, much of that work was done with more senior and more famous colleagues (e.g., his advisor Howard Georgi). I would guess that to, e.g., get tenure at a place like Harvard or Caltech he might have been required to do something of equal impact and by himself.

But I think all of this is irrelevant to his qualifications to lead Williams. For the type of ability you are asking about Adam is already at the level of diminishing returns when it comes to being a university president. He certainly is well above the intellectual caliber necessary to command the respect of Williams faculty. In fact, I doubt there are more than a dozen faculty on the Williams campus who are as bright as Adam. How he does there will be more a function of his people skills, judgement, strategic thinking, leadership ability, etc.

I’ve known Adam for many years and I would say he is a very good person, and very sincerely dedicated to the ideals of higher education. I think Williams made a great choice.

Some time ago (like 5-10 years ago, I can’t recall exactly), I heard through some common friends that Adam had lost “the fire” for research in theoretical physics, and was headed into administration. (Actually I already knew something was up because Adam’s productivity had dropped off.) Luckily for him he was taken on as a protege by the then-dean of arts and sciences at JHU, becoming assistant or associate dean. When that person left JHU for another position, Adam was (amazingly, given his age) promoted to the dean-ship.

I don’t know how long he’s been looking at the college president market, but it would be natural that after a few years as dean at JHU the recruiters would come around, assuming (which is quite likely) that he had a good reputation in that job.

I really do think Williams did well in getting Adam. So many college administrators are just “suits” — they lack passion, are risk-averse, not creative, etc. Adam is none of those things, at least as I knew him :-) It’s possible that these traits are inevitable outcomes of the pressures and incentives of the system, but for now I think it’s possible for him to do a lot of dynamic things.

What I would really be worried about if I were an Eph is that Williams is just a stepping stone for Adam on his way to an Ivy-level presidency!

That was written in 2010. Has Falk done “a lot of dynamic things” at Williams? Not that I have seen. My faculty contacts report that his main focus in the first few years was an attempt to upgrade the quality of the faculty (meaning the quality of academic research produced by the faculty, especially those coming up for tenure), an attempt that was largely beaten back by academic departments jealous of their own prerogatives.

What have you heard?


Williams Stands Up Archive

Before they disappear down the memory hole, I wanted to archive these three documents from the Williams Speaks Up archives:

View incident reports from three different sources:

* The Record
* Campus Safety and Security (PDF)
* The Multicultural Center Timeline (PDF)

I have been meaning to provide a thorough Fisking for several years, but there is never enough day in the blog. Standard example:

Williams humor magazine, The Mad Cow, distributed an all campus leaflet on the “Goth Studies Initiative,” which poked fun at the Latino Studies Initiative. This disturbed many students who had been ardently working toward the creation of a Latino Studies program (MCC Annual Report 2000-2001).

1) Are the MCC Annual Reports on-line? I bet that they would make for interesting reading.

2) Don’t the writers at Mad Cow know that making fun of minority students/causes is verboten! Time for some re-education . . .

3) Now that Williams is eliminating the position of MCC Coordinator, who will be keeping track of these “incidents?”


To Catch A Thief

A blast from EphBlog’s past:

We never got around to finalizing a graphic for the Catch Mr. Bernard Moore scandal. But Dick Swart ’56 kindly created this one. Like all of Dick’s work, it is excellent! But, after much debate, it seemed like the best theme catch phrase was “Catch Mr. Bernard Moore,” inspired by the Tom Hanks/Leonardo DiCaprio film “Catch Me If You Can.” And don’t forget Jeff Zeeman’s inspiring lyrics!

UPDATE: I think that Moore is now out of prison. The Record should seek him out for an interview.


Reap What You Sow

Almost five years ago, WSO featured a discussion about Claiming Williams and the issue of White Male Althletes Who Drink (WMAWD). Alas, the link I used then does not seem to work. Fortunately, I saved much of the discussion.

Basic idea was that many people felt that Claiming Williams, as an institution, was actively hostile toward WMAWD and that, therefore, many WMAWD did not bother to attend WMAWD events.

I’m not even sure how to express how much I agree with all of the above. In many, many conversations I’ve noticed this trend of looking down on the idea of the white male (not even just white male athletes who drink) simply because of the history, and not necessarily because of specific examples. I think a lot of WM do feel the pressure to be ashamed of who they are though they themselves have done nothing.

But it sure doesn’t help when very few of the allegedly marginalized Straight White Male Athlete Drinkers show up to any of the events in which I participated (which are the only ones I can speak for). Their absence was noted by some of their coaches, who were present and contributed in valuable ways.

I would bet a lot of money that the reason there wasn’t a huge percentage of the white male athletes at the events is because of people like you, who in trying to fight against “abjection” and “exclusion” make the mistake of excluding those people from the process and creating an air of hostility. I think that the Claiming Williams events were wonderful and the people involved were earnest and open, but it’s people who create unnecessary conflict like this who keep the WMAWD away.

I’ll argue that I think CW this year made an effort to be unassuming and unhostile, but I agree that the general perception on campus remains that any time we talk about “diversity” we’re talking about the evils of the WMAWDs. How to change that perception, I don’t know – but I do feel that oftentimes, in an effort to find safety, security, and solidarity on campus, groups can create a feeling of “us vs. them.”

That being said, I think that the marginalization of the WMAWD is that he feels unwelcome and uncomfortable even attending and participating in these sorts of conversations. Is that “as bad” as the challenges associated with facing racism or classism on a daily basis? Perhaps not. But these types of discussions shouldn’t be about trying to decide who’s been the most oppressed – they should be about moving forward as a community

Do you honestly believe white male athletes who drink aren’t marginalized?

In my time at Williams, I have witnessed/heard just as much anti-WMAWD attitude as anti-gay, anti-(*), etc. attitudes. *Substitute race here. Not that my experience is necessarily representative of the whole school, but i think it definitely occurs. … So if they [white males] are made to feel unwelcome and are uncomfortable in the situation, they are cowards for not attending anyway? That just doesn’t make sense.

I’m a white straight male, and I after hours of conversations, I still don’t fully understand why people of various identities feel excluded from this campus. That doesn’t mean that I’m deliberately ignorant, or that issues don’t exist. It just means that there are some things that you can’t understand, or are reallyhard to understand until you experience the same thing, and that THAT IS OK, so long as we keep talking. … I guess I’m just bothered that you seem to think that you can treat people on campus differently because of worldwide trends and patterns. If there’s a problem on campus, then we should address that, but I don’t think you can cite what goes on outside of the Purple Bubble as a reason to treat a certain group of people differently within it.

On the other hand, I whole-heartedly agree that some WMAWD’s are misjudged, but getting to know them solves that (it’s really not that big of a deal). WMAWD’s who don’t fall into the stereotypes make an effort to not be what people think they are. I have WMAWD as friends, and some fall into their stereotype whereas others don’t. True, I do judge some WMAWD’s, but that may also be because they walk in herds and seem to have no awareness about the world surrounding them.

I really hope that this entire passage was intended to be as ridiculous a joke as it reads.

Let’s replace “WMAWD” with some other social/ethnic labels and see how we react.

1) While some black people are misjudged, getting to know them solves it, so prejudices don’t cause any damage. Anyway, it’s incumbent on the African-Americans who don’t want to be stereotyped to make an extra effort to show us that they’re different. Sure, I apply stereotypes to some black people, but that’s only because they congregate in groups and don’t try to reach out to me: their fault. . . .

If anyone had posted either of those absurd statements, they justifiably would have had the living shit Claimed out of them in a hailstorm of indignant criticism. Your identical post deserves no less.

shit man let them get a taste of what others having been getting/and will get.

Awesome. Thanks for assuming, based only on the amount of pigment in my skin, that I must have spent my nineteen years slinging racial epithets or embodying prejudice and therefore deserve to have this vindictive nonsense unleashed on me.

Making presumptions about the content of my character based on my ethnic and socioeconomic identity. . .man, if only we had a word to describe this kind of behavior: oh hey, neat! We do!

Cry me a river. Really? The fact that you automatically believe that none of the white students here ever had to “prove” themselves is exactly what this thread was about.

Your main point of argument seems to be that because history has shown that there were more white males with better jobs than any other subgroup in our society that it’s automatically going to be real easy for them to live life. You really don’t think that they don’t even have to try here because out there they’re not going to face the economy in the shitters, that they’re somehow more special and will not have to worry about being put under a certain image and treated unfairly when going for a job interview or applying for grad school? Or that none of the unemployed people in this country are white males?

Maybe in the hustle of I-had-to-overcome-so-many-disadvantages-because-of-what-I-look-like you missed the blaring sign– everyone hurts the same way. You think you’re so different from the WMAWD because of the color of your skin or where your ancestors might have come from? Cut everyone with a knife and see if we don’t bleed the same red blood.

I don’t believe it’s quite so that they [white males] don’t feel that they have things to contribute to a day devoted to diversity, as in so much that other people don’t expect them to be able to contribute to the talks because they are automatically assumed to have never experienced adversity because of color of their skin, their gender, sexuality, etc..


Why should the onus be on me to prove myself to you? Your assumptions about me are being made just by the groups of people that I walk with has to be one of the more baseless reasons for judging someone that there is out there. Because I am white and I am walking with other white kids I don’t see the world around me? Don’t get that logic. You said its not hard to get to know them, well then give “us” that chance. So maybe in large groups we act differently but that is a moot point. One on one everyone is different than they are in large groups, but that doesn’t just apply to white males, it applies to everyone.

So maybe I will get to know you once you give me a clean slate to operate with. But I won’t get to know you if you assume certain things about me right off the bat even if I try to get to know you. Don’t stereotype minorities, don’t stereotype white males either. It is not a hard compromise because equality doesn’t involve subjugating white people, that is revenge for historical wrongs that, while I admit would probably be fair, is not helpful. Equality isn’t turning the tables, it’s making sure everyone has a seat.

Do people really feel unsafe or discriminated on campus? Maybe I’m just oblivious to such things, but this seems a little ridiculous to me.

I feel like I’ve had different experiences than some of the other people posting. You may never have encountered the “I’ve had it bad, it’s kind of your fault, you bad bad white man” attitude here on campus, but I ASSURE you, I most definitely have. Whether this is as widespread as I have come to see it as, or if it is not as prevalent as I thought is a matter that I will leave others to decide. The most important thing for me is not so much the self-victimization as what is relatively undisputed: the bias against WMAWD that is pervasive on this campus.

As far as the word “privilege” goes, I think it can be misleading. I think Claiming Williams should encourage EVERYONE to reflect on the privilege they have, rather than assuming that certain groups are privileged while other groups are unprivileged. This may not be the fault of CW or anyone who participates in it, but it seems that we perceive privilege as only occurring within certain demographics. Again, I’m not denying any differences in “stark material realities,” but I’m trying to expand my notion of privilege beyond that.

Several posts have bemoaned the lack of WMAWD at CW, and several have offered hostile or disappointed takes on this. I speak only for myself, but I did not stay away due to laziness or hostility to any group of people. This WMAW (occasionally) D is very concerned about this kind of issue, but finds CW objectionable for various reasons and therefore elected to exercise his right to choose not to attend.

The issue for me is not that “no one knows what I’ve faced,” but that my being privileged should not impact your perception of me. The fact that I don’t know what it’s like from your perspective doesn’t make me irrelevant. My opinions can be valid without my being shaped by overwhelming oppression. I do frequently feel less welcome or less valued by some because I have had certain advantages. This is not crushing oppression; I am by no means marginalized, but it is an issue.

None of the people who wrote these words is still on campus. Has Williams changes much in the last 4 years? I doubt it.


Williams for $99 a Month

Fascinating article about the future of higher education.

Most people are so invested in the idea of education-by-institution that it’s hard to imagine another way. There’s also a sense that for-profit schools are a little sleazy (and some of them are). Because Web-based higher education is still relatively new, and the market lacks information that allows students to compare introductory courses at one institution to another, consumers tend to see all online courses in the same bad light. “The public isn’t good at discriminating,” says Larry Gould. “They read ‘online course’ and they think ‘low quality,’ even when it’s not true.”

But neither the regulatory nor the psychological obstacles match the evolving new reality. Consumers will become more sophisticated, not less. The accreditation wall will crumble, as most artificial barriers do. All it takes is for one generation of college students to see online courses as no more or less legitimate than any other—and a whole lot cheaper in the bargain—for the consensus of consumer taste to rapidly change. The odds of this happening quickly are greatly enhanced by the endless spiral of steep annual tuition hikes, which are forcing more students to go deep into debt to pay for college while driving low-income students out altogether. If Burck Smith doesn’t bring extremely cheap college courses to the masses, somebody else will.

Which means the day is coming—sooner than many people think—when a great deal of money is going to abruptly melt out of the higher education system, just as it has in scores of other industries that traffic in information that is now far cheaper and more easily accessible than it has ever been before. Much of that money will end up in the pockets of students in the form of lower prices, a boon and a necessity in a time when higher education is the key to prosperity. Colleges will specialize where they have comparative advantage, rather than trying to be all things to all people. A lot of silly, too-expensive things—vainglorious building projects, money-sucking sports programs, tenured professors who contribute little in the way of teaching or research—will fade from memory, and won’t be missed.

But other parts of those institutions will be threatened too—vital parts that support local communities and legitimate scholarship, that make the world a more enlightened, richer place to live. Just as the world needs the foreign bureaus that newspapers are rapidly shutting down, it needs quirky small university presses, Mughal textile historians, and people who are paid to think deep, economically unproductive thoughts. Rather than hiding within the conglomerate, each unbundled part of the university will have to find new ways to stand alone. There is an unstable, treacherous future ahead for institutions that have been comfortable for a long time. Like it or not, that’s the higher education world to come.

Read the whole thing. What are the implications for Williams?

Williams is selling a luxury product. And everyone in such a business knows that you compete on quality, not price.

Williams should increase tuition by 50%, decrease the student body to 400 per class, guarantee every student a single room and eliminate lectures. Offer the most serious and luxurious college experience and you will occupy a desirable niche in the elite education ecosystem.

UPDATE: The above was written in 2010. (Alas, our delays from submission to publication can be lengthy at EphBlog.) Have the subsequent 4 years made them seem prescient or ridiculous?


Noble in NYT

From the Bob Herbert in the New York Times five years ago:

That period right after college graduation is when young people tend to think they can set the world on fire. Careers are starting, and relationships in the broader world are forming. It’s exciting, and optimism is off the charts.

So the gloomy outlook that this economy is offering so many of America’s brightest young people is not just disconcerting, it’s a cultural shift, a harbinger. “Attention,” as the wife of a fictional salesman once said, “must be paid.”

Correct. If you can’t find a job doing X, listen to the market. The world is providing you with a (free!) reality check. Not enough people value X (or, at least, your attempts at X) to make it worth doing. Look elsewhere.

As jobs become increasingly scarce, more and more college graduates are working for free, at internships, which is great for employers but something of a handicap for a young man or woman who has to pay for food or a place to live.

“The whole idea of apprenticeships is coming back into vogue, as it was 100 years ago,” said John Noble, director of the Office of Career Counseling at Williams College. “Certain industries, such as the media, TV, radio and so on, have always exploited recent graduates, giving them a chance to get into a very competitive field in exchange for making them work for no — or low — pay. But now this is spreading to many other industries.”

Every time that Noble, or any College official is quoted in the New York Times, Williams wins.

These recent graduates have done everything society told them to do. They’ve worked hard, kept their noses clean and gotten a good education (in many cases from the nation’s best schools). They are ready and anxious to work. If we’re having trouble finding employment for even these kids, then we’re doing something profoundly wrong.

Well, the recession didn’t help. But, reading between the lines, the main problem, at least for elite students is a misunderstanding about the market realities for people, without any technical skills, interested in journalism and related fields. The jobs weren’t there in 2009, they are still not here in 2014, and they aren’t coming back.

Listen to the market.


Octet – Save The Last Dance For Me

We need more videos at EphBlog. Who will post them?


Grade Inflation Update for Princeton

Grade inflation is a a scourge at many schools, including Williams. See our previous discussions here. In the last decade, the best hope for those interested in fighting grade inflation has come from Princeton. We discussed there efforts here, almost a decade ago. (EphBlog is old!). Alas, it appears that Princeton may be about to give up the fight.

A number of colleges and universities adopted policies designed to curb grade inflation. But one of the most prominent of those institutions — Princeton University — now appears poised to roll back the most controversial part of its policy: a limit of 35 percent on the A-range grades awarded in each course. A faculty report released Thursday made that recommendation, and it was endorsed by the university’s president.

See their recent report (pdf). I hope that the Princeton faculty stands firm.


Forbes Ranks Williams #1

Forbes has ranked Williams the #1 college in the US.



1) This ranking, while nice, is not nearly as important as the US New ranking. If Adam Falk does not do everything he can to ensure that Williams stays on top there, then he is not doing his job.

2) Always remember that, at bottom, Williams is selling a luxury good. And the people in the market for luxury goods care both about actual quality — to the extent that they can judge it directly themselves — and about its perceived or reputational quality. The more often that Williams is ranked #1, the stronger our applicant pool will be and the more likely admitted students are to choose Williams over Amherst or various Ivies.

3) Always remember that the fundamental reason why Williams is a great school is not the quality of the faculty. You really think that, say, the average Williams faculty in, say, English is meaningfully better than the average English professor at, say, Connecticut College or any other NESCAC school? Hah! You’re deluded. But the average student at Williams is much stronger than the average students at lower tiered NESCAC schools, and that is what makes a Williams classroom, and therefore a Williams education, much better.

4) Rankings will be even more important over the next 20 years than they have been over the last 20 as the liberal arts college business becomes more global. High quality East Asian (read: Chinese) applicants and their families care a lot about rankings.

5) Details on the methodology are here or here. Score components here. Color me skeptical. The problems with these variables, and how they are measured, are almost too numerous to bother with. But the organization behind the data analysis, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) is credible, so I suspect/hope that there are not any glaring errors.

6) The main clue that these ratings are suspect is how variable they are from year to year. (Williams was ranked 8th last year and 2nd the year before that.) Whatever you think about the relative quality of, say, Williams and Harvard, your evaluation should be more or less the same next year as it was last year. Institutions change very slowly. But stasis does not sell magazines! So, these ratings are constructed to change much more often than they ought to.

What do readers think of the methodology?


Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2018:

At the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had been threatening all morning, started mid-way through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games in the gym to hikes up Pine Cobble to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. We are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

Fortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

It will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family).

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again that first day.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because they is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words (by heart) themselves during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1914, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.


Dave Kane ’88