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What’s Your Number?

It has been 11 years since Williams last capital campaign. Time for another! It would be natural to announce the next one tonight, amid the Convocation festivities and dedication of the new Sawyer Library. Is that on the agenda? (I have the vaguest memory that the last campaign was also announced on Convocation week-end, in the fall of 2003, but can’t find a link.) Surely at least one of our readers are in the know. Background on the last campaign here. Questions include:

1) What will the campaign be called? Last one was “The Williams Campaign,” which had the virtue of being descriptive and easy to remember. Nothing wrong with using that name again, but Director of College Relations John Malcolm ’86 was inventive guy back in the day. Maybe he has come up with something better.

2) Got any good jokes for Adam Falk to use tonight at the big donor event? How about: “I hope you all got a tour of the new Sawyer Library this afternoon. Isn’t it beautiful? We spent $75 million of borrowed money to build it. Now, please, take out your checkbooks . . .”

3) What will the campaign target be? Last time, the official goal was $400 million, but the final result was $500 million. (Corrections welcome to these or any other data points.) You want a goal that is aggressive, so that people like new Chair of the Board of Trustees Mike Eisenson ’77 write huge (and not just big) checks — and get their friends to do the same. But you also want a goal that you can reach. I hope that the College is aggressive and goes for $1 billion, but more forecast would be for something more like $800 million.

Maybe some of our Williamstown residents can provide us with the inside scoop . . .

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#1 Comment By frank uible On September 20, 2014 @ 8:40 am

Amidst the academy’s endless pleas for the material its mission to search for truth, justice and beauty seems to get lost.

#2 Comment By Past Eph On September 20, 2014 @ 10:45 am

The hardest part of asking for 500 million, or 800 million, or more — what exactly do they NEED it for? They already have over a 2 billion dollar, and growing, endowment. They aren’t growing the student body or the campus. There are no major new programs on the horizon that I can think of. They already have the lowest faculty-student ratio of any liberal arts college. They have essentially brand-new, state of the art library, classroom, faculty office, science, theater, dining, football/lacrosse, and student life facilities.

Other than some of the athletic facilities, in particular certain parts of Chandler and all of Towne Field House, and a few of the dorms, in particular Garfield (ambitious plans for that which could double its capacity if they choose the most expensive plans), the new dorm being built behind the Science Quad, and Bascom (which I understand is being converted back into a dorm), there is really nothing major the school needs in terms of its physical plant for the next 30 or so years. Sure, they could amp up financial aid even more, I could see 100-200 million raised to secure financial aid endowment, maybe returning to need-blind for internationals or to a no-loan policy, but in all events Williams is already among the half dozen or so most generous schools in the country when it comes to aid.

When you plan a capital campaign, you first have to identify MAJOR specific needs to campaign FOR. It’s kind of hard to see where Williams could even spend one billion dollars, short of massively cutting sticker price, which is not going to happen for a variety of reasons, or perhaps adding these to Paresky:

http://www.therooster.com/blog/kanye-and-kim-spend-1-million-gold-toilets-optimal-relaxation

#3 Comment By hc On September 20, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

Past eph-

Easy answer. They need it so they can build hotels and buy more property outside of the realm of their charter as a “free school for locals”.

Owning over 3/4 of Spring Street is not enough. Owning the Williams Inn is not enough. Owning the American Legion and planning to build a hotel on the cite is not enough. Owning a mountain is not enough. When the entire town in the new “cultural district” is owned (school already owns well over 4/5 of it, other than the Clark), Williams can still build higher and maybe even venture across the tracks, to displace everyone in the path. This is not rural new England- this is the Hamptons. A place for the wealthy elite to own second houses and send their kids to school.

They are certainly not going to use the money to do something bold: like start an adult education program, matriculate veterans or admit transfers from MCLA. David will be glad to concur that Williams is not Amherst, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, or Vassar in those regards. Williams is pure. Pure, limitedly defined, elitism.

When money becomes the deity and basis for power regardless of morality, you can never have enough.

#4 Comment By hc On September 20, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

Frank- Amen.

Past eph-

Easy answer. They need it so they can build hotels and buy more property outside of the realm of their charter as a “free school for locals”.

Owning over 3/4 of Spring Street is not enough. Owning the Williams Inn is not enough. Owning the American Legion and planning to build a hotel on the cite is not enough. Owning a mountain is not enough. When the entire town in the new “cultural district” is owned (school already owns well over 4/5 of it, other than the Clark), Williams can still build higher and maybe even venture across the tracks, to displace everyone in the path. This is not rural new England- this is the Hamptons. A place for the wealthy elite to own second houses and send their kids to school.

They are certainly not going to use the money to do something bold: like start an adult education program, matriculate veterans or admit transfers from MCLA. David will be glad to concur that Williams is not Amherst, Dartmouth, Wesleyan, or Vassar in those regards. Williams is pure. Pure, limitedly defined, elitism.

When money becomes the deity and basis for power regardless of morality, you can never have enough.

#5 Comment By Past Eph On September 20, 2014 @ 5:25 pm

HC, bitter much?? I guess you would rather those places go out of business or remain vacant for years, or not even exist at all. Have you see downtowns in other small New England towns? It would seem not. And it’s laughable to suggest that Williams has a worse record than Dartmouth on economic diversity and outreach issues. Also last I checked Amherst was an owner of quite a bit of property in Amherst. You live in a fantasy world.

#6 Comment By Past Eph On September 21, 2014 @ 6:58 am

And no, Williams is not going to start an adult education program — that is so far removed from Williams’ mission to be a bit silly, and also, there just isn’t the local population to support that. (I note, however, that local residents can audit classes at Williams for free, or at least they could when I was a student). But Williams stacks up very well with its peers when it comes to economic diversity (doesn’t mean there is not room to improve, there certainly is).

http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-liberal-arts-colleges/economic-diversity-among-top-ranked-schools

For all the hype Vassar and Amherst have received in this regard, Williams is nearly equal to them in terms of percentage of Pell Grant recipients enrolled (and I’ve read elsewhere that Williams actually exceeds Amherst in terms of percentage of first-generation college students, another measure of socioeconomic diversity). I applaud Amherst for its community college transfer program, and I’d be happy if Williams did something similar — but we are still talking about a pretty small handful of students each year. Amherst seems to enroll nearly as many D1 athlete transfers as it does community college transfers, which is also interesting. In some ways, Amherst is much better at generating publicity for its moderately successful economic diversity efforts than it is at achieving truly earth-shattering results in that regard.

#7 Comment By hc On September 21, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

Past Eph- My rant was more of a critique on Dave’s vision of economy as deity for Williams, a view which many ephs hold, although few discuss because economists (bankers, hedge fund managers) generally avoid such discourse and focus on controlling everything through money. Dave is unique in that he comes right out and says it. I actually enjoy that aspect of his pontifications.

There is a significant difference between promoting a local healthy self sustaining economy and promoting gentrification. I’ll stand by my assertion that the transition of Williamstown by the school into a vacation and second home brand for affluent people has been a net negative in terms of the imbalance it has created.

Williamstown without Williams College is a silly argument. The town was created as a land grant for a free school. It would be convenient (for you) if the discussion would turn to “imagine the school without the town.” It would not be anything, and you would not be a graduate, either.

As a tax free institution, and a damn wealthy one, I believe Williams has a certain obligation to guide, rather than dominate, the rural setting. We disagree. That is fine. I am from here- you are not. You have a different prospective than I do. I understand your desire to defend your alma matter. Please understand my position, to defend what remains of my hometown.

I noticed you left out the issue of veterans matriculation. An omission is not a defense. What are you views on Williams’ record in that regard?

#8 Comment By hc On September 21, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

Past Eph- My rant was more of a critique on Dave’s vision of economy as deity for Williams, a view which many ephs hold, although few discuss because economists (bankers, hedge fund managers) generally avoid such discourse and focus on controlling everything through money. Dave is unique in that he comes right out and says it. I actually enjoy that aspect of his pontifications.

There is a significant difference between promoting a local healthy self sustaining economy and promoting gentrification. I’ll stand by my assertion that the transition of Williamstown by the school into a vacation and second home brand for affluent people has been a net negative in terms of the imbalance it has created.

Williamstown without Williams College is a silly argument. The town was created as a land grant for a free school. It would be convenient (for you) if the discussion would turn to “imagine the school without the town.” It would not be anything, and you would not be a graduate, either.

As a tax free institution, and a damn wealthy one, I believe Williams has a certain obligation to guide, rather than dominate, the rural setting. We disagree. That is fine. I am from here- you are not. You have a different prospective than I do. I understand your desire to defend your alma mater. Please understand my position, to defend what remains of my hometown.

I noticed you left out the issue of veterans matriculation. An omission is not a defense. What are you views on Williams’ record in that regard?

#9 Comment By hc On September 21, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

and in terms of your comparative argument about “other rural towns”, Williamstown is the fastest shrinking town in the State of MA. Lee and Lenox are far better off. So your hypothesis that Williams somehow creates a healthier atmosphere when compared to “what might exist”, does not hold any water at all- unless you want a second home here.

Additionally, you avoided a discussion about revenue. In terms of taxation- per capita all of the schools I mentioned hold far fewer for profit rentals than Williams does- and still pay a lot more in taxation. Both Dartmouth and Amherst pay a PILOT.

But again, it is just a matter of perspective.

#10 Comment By Past Eph On September 21, 2014 @ 5:26 pm

I’m not exactly sure what you want Williamstown to be. You pick Lenox and Lee as examples — but both of those are likewise generally havens for the wealthy, as is Great Barrington. And those are a few of the only towns thriving in Western Mass — would you rather Williamstown resemble North Adams, or Pittsfield, where Williams does not own any real estate? Or do you blame Williams as well for Pittsfield’s generally depressed condition and high vacancies, as well?

If you pick out of a hat any of 50 towns west of Springfield, most have struggling downtowns that have far less to offer to ANY resident than downtown Williamstown. And to say downtown Williamstown is “gentrified” is simply inaccurate. The last time I was there, I saw a very healthy mix of retail, including a few bars, four ethnic restaurants (Thai, Indian, greek, one other I believe), a Subway, a pizza place, a movie theater, a small grocer, a deli, a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor, a computer repair store, a liquor store, a toy store, and a burrito shop, among a few others. Retail is struggling far more in virtually any small town than in Williamstown — why do you think that is??? Please, if you will, name ONE SINGLE TOWN in the Commonwealth, or heck, the United States, of under 10,000 people with a retail mix that you’d prefer. It’s easy to cast stones, but in an age when people shop online and most retail establishments are hurting, in a town as small as Williamstown, without the college’s intervention, downtown would be at least half vacant. I’m sure you have memories of Williamstown from decades ago that you prefer, but decades ago there was no Amazon or iTunes or Walmart decimating small town retail districts. Until you articulate a REALISTIC vision for a Williamstown that would be better off without Williams’ direct involvement, well, then I think you should not cast stones. You draw no connection between the school owning real estate and any negative repercussion of that — what do you think would be the alternative if the school didn’t step in and buy local real estate? I’m curious to hear.

As for veterans, sure, I’d like to see Williams have some more veterans. But the school has only 550 frosh. I want to see Williams have a lot of great scientists. I want it to have a lot of international students. I want to it have a lot of Questbridge kids, and urban minorities, and great football players, and tremendous musicians. And I want it to maintain its spot as the best liberal arts school in the country. I’m not saying those things are mutually exclusive with veteran admissions, but I also think it’s REALLY REALLY hard to find veterans with the academic credentials to be competitive for Williams who also, despite being in many cased 3-6 years older than other incoming students, have any desire at all to choose to live in a remote, rural community that has very, very few people in their age group living there. There is a pretty damn small pool of veterans out there, I’m quite confident, with 1400 plus SAT’s and great high school grades, and of those, Williams is going ot have a really tough time competing with places that are more inherently desirable, from a demographic perspective, for someone in their 20s to attend.

Overall, I think Williams has done a very good job diversifying the campus. IN the earl 90’s the school was 20 percent domestic minority students. That has now more than doubled. And as noted Williams has done as good a job as any liberal arts school of recruiting and retaining students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Sure, it could always do better in terms of diversification. But it’s unfair and simply wrong to paint the school as a playground for the rich, relative to Amherst or Dartmouth or any other of its peers (certainly not Princeton or Swarthmore — Williams is MUCH better than either in this regard), when it has taken massive strides to diversity and be anything but that. Can the school do even better? Absolutely. And for those reasons I totally disagree with David’s almost single-minded focus on SAT scores and grades as admissions criteria. But I think your level of vitriol is a bit unfounded and if you had less personal animus towards the institution, you would see it in a fairer light.

#11 Comment By Past Eph On September 21, 2014 @ 5:49 pm

One last point on veterans, remember that admissions is a zero sum game, and at a place as small as Williams, it’s easy to say “let’s have more of [y]” but if you do so, you also need to say, “let’s have less of [x].” So, do you want less first generation students at Williams? Less black or latino students? Fewer internationals? Fewer valedictorians? Fewer kids who were president of their student body and captain of their football team while maintaining an A average? If you hear about the types of kids who Williams is REJECTING, you’ll see some pretty amazing people in that group, even relative to two decades ago. Williams simply can’t prioritize everyone and everything, and I think that Williams would have to expend an absolutely enormous amount of resources and energy, resources and energy which could be spent, for example, trying to attract poor urban minority applicants with likely greater ease, to recruit, admit, and matriculate even a dozen academically qualified veteran students in a given year. Maybe that is an effort worth making, but that will result in less of some other very desirable type of applicant arriving on campus. But yeah, sure, in the abstract, I’d love for there to be more veterans at Williams.

Meanwhile, I’ll hold my breath awaiting what sort of retail mix would be thriving in Williamstown (as opposed to the desparate straights for retail in the vast majority of rural American small towns) if Williams would only just totally disengage itself from downtown.

#12 Comment By hc On September 23, 2014 @ 1:00 pm

Past Eph-

You are selling North Adams way short. North Adams restaurants are arguably better than Williamstown’s. At least as good. In terms of education, MCLA is completely assessable to the local population. The average cost per student is 2k a year. The taxes are a lot lower. I mean like half. The high school is just as good. The option of McCann exists for young adults who want to go into trades.

In terms of veteran’s record Williams has not matriculated a single veteran since 9/11. Amherst has matriculated over 20, Dartmouth about 50 (to name another high tier “rural school”), and MCLA about 100. The notion that there veterans here using the GI Bill to go to school that do not have the ability and scores to get in and to do well at Williams is complete nonsense.