Currently browsing the archives for February 2015

NESCAC Alcohol Survey

The latest from Dean Bolton:

From: NESCAC Deans
Date: Thu, Feb 26, 2015 at 4:19 PM
Subject: We need your help! An important message from the NESCAC Deans
To: X

Dear X,

Williams, along with the other institutions in NESCAC (Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Colby, Conn College, Hamilton, Middlebury, Tufts, and Wesleyan), is conducting its second-ever survey to understand current students’ alcohol use and the alcohol culture on each of our campuses. Your participation in this project, whether you are a drinker or non-drinker, is critically important. Your response will be completely confidential, so please answer all questions honestly. On Sunday, you will receive an email with a link to the online survey, and we hope that you will take 10-15 minutes of your time to answer the survey when you receive it.

Your contribution is crucial for us to obtain an accurate picture of the role of alcohol in the student experience on our campuses. The results of the common survey will enable us to assess the current state on our individual campuses and then be able to compare those results to true peer schools. Our hope is that the results will help reveal best practices, allow us to develop and implement better services, programs, and policies to meet your needs, and suggest innovative initiatives for our campuses. The survey, which we have developed, is one that we will aim to administer every three years, allowing us to measure changes in the alcohol culture on our campuses.

We want to assure you that your responses to the survey will be kept strictly confidential. All data collected will be shared in aggregate form only.

We hope we can count on your participation in this important project and want to thank you in advance for taking the time to do so. If you feel uncomfortable answering any question, please feel free to skip that item. If the survey does bring up any questions or concerns for you, please contact your Dean’s Office or your Student Health or Counseling Center.

Thank you for your assistance in completing this important research project. Your honest responses to the survey questions will enable us to develop programming, policies and services that further promote and safeguard student health and well-being.


Sarah Bolton
Dean of the College
Williams College

NESCAC should make the aggregate data public. Transparency is a hallmark of serious academics. Will they? I doubt it.

If I were a student, I would ask Dean Bolton. If she/NESCAC refused (or even refused to say), I would campaign against the survey by encouraging students to answer it with extreme responses.

Below the break is the (poorly formatted) list of other NESCAC signatories.

Read more


Bitcoin Influence Peddling

From Matt Levine last October:

Earlier this week, two bitcoin-related companies hired former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt as an adviser to “help them understand the imperative of a robust approach to regulation.” Yesterday Levitt robustly approached a regulator on their behalf, spending an hour with Ben Lawsky, the New York State Superintendent of Financial Services, who has proposed rather strict regulation of bitcoin infrastructure providers. We know this because Lawsky tweeted about it, calling Levitt a “very special and wise man.” Levitt returned the love, calling Lawsky “a good, fair, reasonable regulator.” It’s somehow fitting that bitcoin lobbying takes place in public, on the Internet.

Kudos to Arthur Levitt ’52 for continuing to rake in the influence peddling dollars in his mid-80s. Impressive!


Affirmative Consent

Perhaps EphBlog needs more sex blogging? Or sexual assault blogging? Reader requests are always welcome! In the meantime, here is former faculty member KC Johnson writing last September:

The Times and the Nation have both published articles on California’s “affirmative consent” bill, the litigator’s dream signed into law Sunday by Governor Jerry Brown. One piece was responsible journalism; the other was agitprop. Given that Richard Pérez-Peña co-authored the Times article, it’s not hard to guess which was agitprop.

We reviewed a different article by Perez-Pena last year. Calling his work agitprop gives him too much credit. It takes real intelligence to produce agitprop! Read KC’s article for a thorough Fisking.

Who among our readers thinks that the affirmative consent standard would be a good idea for Williams?


Williams Medal

How different was Williams one hundred years ago? This different:

At the conclusion of World War I, a proposal was made on 15 July 1919 to Williams President Harry A. Garfield and the Williams trustees:

“The war record of both graduates and undergraduates of our college is one of which all Williams men are justly proud and has, wherever it has been made known, brought deserved prestige to the college as standing for the highest traits of American manhood. We think it would be a fitting and gracious thing if the college were to show its gratitude to its soldier and sailor sons and its pride in their achievements by some public corporate act. We suggest that a Peace Celebration be arranged for some time in October, at which there shall be one or more addresses commemorating the achievements of Williams men in the war, and that the Trustees should, at that time, confer honorary degrees on such Williams men, whether graduate or undergraduate, as have won special distinction in the service; or, in lieu of academic degrees, should award a commemorative medal which could be struck for the occasion, and which might be known as the ‘Williams Loyalty Medal.'”

This proposal resulted in the Victory Celebration and the Williams Medal. The celebration was the first commemoration of its kind at an American college, and was covered in news publications outside of the Berkshires such as the Boston Transcript.

Could something like this happen at Williams today? Should it?

With speakers Major General Leonard Wood, a 1902 Williams honorary degree recipient, and Bliss Perry, a graduate of 1891 and professor of English at Harvard University, the Victory Celebration was held 1 October 1919. It was an occasion infused with gravitas. At ten in the morning, students gathered in the Berkshire Quadrangle and marched to Hopkins Hall where faculty members joined the procession. The larger group then proceeded to march to Grace Hall (now Chapin Hall) for the ceremony where those who had served were duly recognized. Men were asked to wear their uniforms to the ceremony, and Doring’s Band of Troy played.

If Adam Falk were to propose a similar occasion when the last US soldier leaves Afghanistan, what would the faculty say?

The medal itself is cast in bronze, and was designed by James E. Fraser of New York. Fraser is also known as the designer of the Victory Medal given by the U.S. Congress to members of the American military, and the buffalo nickel. On the obverse, or front, of the medal is depicted a line of doughboys, or infantrymen in the U.S. Army, going over the top, the inscription “For Humanity, 1918” behind them. On the reverse, the College’s legend, “E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, 1793” [Through the generosity of E. Williams, soldier] and the text “The Williams medal” flank a representation of Colonel Ephraim Williams in continental uniform on horseback. The recipient’s name and his rank at discharge were engraved on the medal’s edge.

The medal was awarded to those alumni and undergraduates who had served in the war, and was deemed a fitting and proper recognition of the “Williams Warriors” of World War I, the “dream sons” of Ephraim Williams, who himself was a soldier.

Williams men and women have been fighting our wars for more than a decade now. How many have been awarded a Bicentennial Medal by the College? Zero.

The “dream sons” (and daughters) of Williams today are very different from their counterparts a century ago. Progress or decline?


Concert for Valor


WBUR on Williams X

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story, at least, painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 10.

But are the best-paid professors necessarily the best teachers?

Answer: No. Not even close.

Not Thys fault (?) but asking this question — and then failing to answer it! — pushed a variety of EphBlog buttons.

First, the College knows the answer! Why didn’t Thys ask Falk et al, and, if they declined to answer, report that fact? Williams collects a variety of information about teacher performance at the end of each semester, the famous Student Course Survey (SCS) forms (pdf):

Student opinion and peer review are both important in the evaluation of teaching. On the student side, the College mandates use of the Student Course Survey (SCS) for every course. It consists of a page of questions to which students give numerical ratings and a page inviting descriptive commentary (“blue sheets”). Some departments substitute their own list of questions for the generic blue sheets, and individual faculty members can choose to substitute for or supplement the blue sheets with their own more specific questions. Each faculty member receives the blue sheets as well as an analysis of his or her own quantitative results after their course grades have been submitted.

The College knows the exact SCS average score for every professor last year. It could easily calculate (and probably does calculate) those measures by level (lecturer, assistant, associate, full) or by pay-grade or by any other factor. What does the data tell us? (The College might not want to tell Thys that data by salary group, but it has no excuse not to release it by faculty rank, which is highly correlated with salary anyway)

Second, the College probably already knows the truth: after the first few years, there is no correlation between teaching quality (at least measured by SCS scores) and teacher experience/salary. The “best-paid professors” are not “necessarily the best teachers.” Highlights (based on conversations over the years — corrections/pointers welcome):

a) SCS scores have consistent course/major/division biases. It is much easier to score higher in, say, Division I than in Division III.

b) There is improvement over the first few years at Williams. It takes a while to get into the swing of a Williams classroom.

c) There is no further improvement (or decline) after year 4. Your student evaluations at 32 are the same as they are at 65.

Third, some might reasonably complain that “best teachers” does not equal “highest SCS scores.” Agreed! Then why doesn’t the College collect better data? Why doesn’t it hand out prizes for the best teachers? The College could collect better data, could try to identify the professors that do a particular good job at, say, supervising a senior thesis or supporting/mentoring students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Why doesn’t the College do these things? The major trend in faculty recruitment/appointment/retention/promotion at Williams over the last 30 years has been to decrease the weight placed on excellent teaching and increase the weight placed on research.

I don’t like this trend, but it does help to explain why, if you want to talk about excellent teaching, the SCS is all the data you are going to have to use.


WBUR on Williams IX

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 9.

Leach questions whether what Williams values is what its students value. To him, so much of what he thinks he’s getting out of Williams are intangibles that have nothing to do with the professors or the classes or the degree. He says that much of what he’s getting out of Williams is meeting new people and being in a place where he’s forging his own identity, figuring out what matters to him and learning how to use his time.

“When most of what I’m learning is really about how to live and how to be myself, is it really worth all that money?” Leach asked.

Leach wonders whether he could be learning the same lessons striking out anywhere away from home.

This is the worst part of the article.

First, why is Thys spending valuable time on a not-overly-insightful undergraduate? His story is, allegedly, about ever-increasing costs at places like Williams. That is a very different topic then whether or not attending Williams makes sense for Leach.

Second, of course “what Williams values is what its students value.” This is why the College devotes endless resources to surrounding Leach with high intelligent peers from a variety of backgrounds. Leach will rarely/never have such a diversity of interactions after Williams. Leach probably met more people with, say, above 1500 SAT scores (M + V) in his first year at Williams than he will in his first decade after graduation, if not in the rest of his life. Of course, there is more to people (and to life) than high intelligence. But if Leach does not value such interactions, both inside and outside the classroom, he may have made a mistake in selecting a place like Williams.

Third, “forging his own identity, figuring out what matters to him and learning how to use his time” is straight out of a Williams admissions brochure or a speech to a first year class meeting. Williams spends as much (more?) money and effort on this as it does on academic instruction. The $80 million Stetson/Sawyer reservation is explicitly designed to provide Leach with a pleasing backdrop for forging/figuring/learning.

Fourth, “is it really worth all that money?” Is not an unreasonable question, but I wonder if Leach (and Thys?) are thinking about the problem in a serious fashion. Williams is a luxury good. Sensible people don’t ask if, say, a Rolex is “worth all that money.” After all, a Timex will tell you the time just as well. Luxury, fundamentally, is not about price. It is about desire.

Leach (and his parents!) wanted a Williams education in the same way that rich people want Lamborghinis and Gucci handbags. Maybe they should have wanted something else. But that is a topic for another day.


WBUR on Williams VIII

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 8.

What Williams wants to deliver is tenure-track professors teaching small classes.

Agreed! But just how much the people who run Williams really “want” this is a matter of some dispute.

First, note the continued existence of large lecture classes like PSYC 101 and Introduction to the Novel. A school that really wanted small classes would stop all large classes. We have more than enough professors to cap all classes at 19 students. Why don’t we do this? Because professors don’t really “want” to.

Consider an all-too-typical class of 38 students in ECON 110 and 120. If the College really wanted to make that class small, it could. It could require that the class be split into two sections, each with 19 students. The cost to the professor would be fairly minimal, just another 3 hours of class sessions each week. There would be no extra class preparation work, no increase in the number of papers or exams to grade. But the College does not really want to do this, and so small introductory classes in the Economics Department are largely the stuff of legend.

Second, note again the ever-growing administrative state, taking excellent faculty away from the classroom. As a concrete example, consider

Karen Swann
Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity, Morris Professor of Rhetoric
Williams College
VP for Strategic Planning & Institutional Diversity Office
English Departme

Professor Swann is, I am sure, an excellent teacher, precisely the sort of faculty member who ought to be leading at least two of the “small classes” that Williams (allegedly) wants this semester. Instead, she is teaching no classes and spending her time doing whatever it is that Associate Deans for Institutional Diversity do all day.

And note that Swann’s position did not exist a decade ago. No professor was pulled away from the classroom. How much can Williams truly “want” small classes taught by tenured professors if it is constantly increasing the number of tenured faculty who are teaching no classes in a given semester?

Third, recall our dispute yesterday with Chad Orzel ’93 about whether or not the panoply of Visitor This and Lecturer That at Williams should be termed adjunct or not. Yet for purposes of seeing the absurdity of the WBUR quote, it does not matter if Chad or I am right. We both agree that the visitor/lecturers/whatevers that teach more than 20% of Williams classes are not tenured. If Williams really wanted “tenure-track professors teaching small classes” it would not have dramatically increased the role/importance of non-tenure-track faculty over the last 25 years.

I might claim that I “want” to be thin. But if you saw me eating honey buns for breakfast, lunch and dinner, you would (rightly!) question my commitment. The same applies to Williams when it claims to want “tenure-track professors teaching small classes.” If Williams really wanted that, it would act very differently than it does.


WBUR on Williams VII

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 7.

Williams hires no adjunct faculty, and like other top liberal arts colleges, it has a low student-faculty ratio. Amherst College has eight students per professor, Wellesley seven. Williams has one faculty member for every seven students.

How many misleading claims can Thuys stuff into one paragraph? First, Williams has dozens of “adjunct faculty.” Let’s list some!



And so on. The exact standing of these professors varies. Most are some flavor of lecturer or visitor. But none have tenure at Williams or on the tenure track. At every other college, they would be referred to as “adjunct faculty.” That Thuys lets Falk get away with such a lie is embarrassing.

Second, more than 20% of the classes at Williams last year were taught by non-tenured or tenure-track faculty. (This factoid is from a conversation with a faculty member.)


WBUR on Williams VI

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 6.

Nathan Leach, a sophomore from Boston, doesn’t think so. He also questions the value of small class sizes. One of his favorite classes last year was “Introduction to the Novel,” a class with no discussion because 100 students take it. Leach says class size matters less than the accessibility of professors.

“And so the fact that I can meet with my professors several times a week if I want to, and I can go to his office talk about these ideas, I think is really worthwhile,” Leach said.

It is embarrassing that Williams (and the English Department) think that a 100 person lecture is worthwhile. It isn’t, for all the reasons we discussed last week.


WBUR on Williams V

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 5.

At Williams, salary is only two-thirds of the compensation. There are health insurance and child care, and all Williams employees with children in college are entitled to $24,000 a year toward each child’s education.

First, this strikes me as somewhat confused. Total compensation is a technical tax term. Health care benefits are included. But is child care? Free coffee in the faculty lounge? I don’t think so. Corrections welcome. (Joe Thorndike ’88, please help!)

Second, a cynic will often times think of the faculty/staff of Williams as a parasite, feeding off the College, sucking as much blood from the host as possible. Recall our discussions about trimming costs 6 years ago:

I have already highlighted two faculty boondoggles (the Sabbatical Grant Program and the Professional Development Fund) that should be ended, but I don’t get the sense that there are big dollar savings here.

I think that the College provides substantial subsidies to faculty housing. I have no idea what the magnitude of these benefits are, but there is no reason for the College to be in the housing business for faculty/staff, any more than for it to grow apples or design clothing. Yet, by being in the housing business, the College can transfer some/lots of resources to the faculty.

The same applies to the Children’s Center. Why should the College be in the business of supplying day care? Why not also start an apple orchard? After all, it would make excellent faculty more likely to come to Williams if they knew that they could get great apples at below-market rates.

Rule #1 about successful non-profits is that the insiders think that they do a great job and should be rewarded more generously. But it can be tough just to raise salaries since it is so easy to compare salaries against outside benchmarks. So, to avoid scrutiny, insiders sometimes steer resources toward themselves and their friends via non-salary mechanisms.

Want to really piss off the faculty? Cut (or, at least, trim) the tuition benefit for employee children. Normal professionals (like you and I, dear reader) save their own money over time to send their children to college. Not Williams faculty! Williams will pay half the cost of tuition for a faculty child to attend anywhere.

[Slightly edited.]

And the above only scratches the surface of the various faculty boondoggles that are not counted in total compensation. My favorites were the extra money that faculty received (and still receive?) for creating tutorials. We needed (still need?) to pay them faculty extra to do their jobs!

Third, the point here is not that Williams faculty and staff aren’t, as a group, wonderful. They are! The point is that WBUR should try to provide better context in a discussion of costs at Williams. The College spends much more money on faculty and staff than 90% of its peers, not because it has to, but because Williams is absurdly wealthy and because faculty/staff run the institution.

If the College announced, tomorrow, that it was cutting out the tuition benefit (either for all employees or just for new employees), there would be essentially zero effect on our ability to recruit and retain great faculty/staff. The fact that the College won’t do so — won’t even discuss doing so! — is an indication that Falk has little interest in controlling costs. WBUR should explain this reality to its listeners.


WBUR on Williams IV

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 4.

Two years ago, the average salary for a full professor at Williams was $137,000 a year, which puts it among the best-paying 3 percent of all colleges. And it’s a 47 percent increase over 12 years.

This is highly misleading because salary is not the same thing as total compensation. If I pay you a $90,000 salary and provide $90,000 in retirement benefits (401k, et cetera) then you, correctly, figure that this job is much better paid than one with a $100,000 salary and no other benefits. Here (pdf) is the latest compensation data for Williams.

Full professors at Williams earn an average total compensation of $183,800.

It is hard to have an honest discussion about the costs of running Williams if WBUR won’t even report accurate compensation numbers.

Kudos, however, to Thys for noting how incredibly well-paid Williams professors are in comparison with their peer group. Williams spends lavishly, so much so that, were every Williams professor to retire tomorrow, we could restaff the College almost instantly with a faculty that was every bit as good as the one we have now.

Of course, the fact that the College has such a strong bargaining position does not mean that it should abuse our current, much beloved, faculty. And tenure makes abuse hard. But we need to understand the actual supply/demand realities of the academic job market in order to fairly evaluate the costs of running Williams.


WBUR on Williams III

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 3.

Falk says the faculty is like a string quartet.

“And asking them to do it faster or asking them do it to three times as many students at a time are things we can ask them to do, but they will directly degrade the quality of what we want to deliver,” he said. “And so the entire framework of productivity when it is applied to higher education is one that has to be thought of very carefully and can’t be thought of in the same way that we apply the notion of productivity to the manufacturing sector.”

First, this is worse than wrong. It is Orwellian. It is precisely Falk’s predecessors who have created a Williams in which professors teach “three times as many students at a time” as they used to.

The math is unavoidable. Williams has about 2,000 students taking 4 classes a semester. That is 8,000 student/class combinations that will happen, regardless of how many faculty members we have and how many classes they each teach. Currently (ignoring the complexities of leave patterns and visitors) we have 250 professors each teaching two classes. Split up those 8,000 student/class combinations, we have about 16 students per class. So far, so good!

Now imagine a world with those same 250 professors each teaching 4 classes. In that world, the average Williams class is 8 students, small enough for every class to be a tutorial. If Williams went to a 4-4 requirement, professors would be teaching only 50% “as many students at a time” as they do today.

Recall the slogan from 9 years ago: No More Lectures!

First, lectures are inefficient for students. Anything that a professor says in a lecture, as opposed to a discussion, could just as easily be typed beforehand and read by students at their own convenience. Reading is much quicker than listening and, more importantly, allows different students to focus on the parts that they don’t understand and to skim the parts that they do.

Administrators sometimes believe that large classes save money (one professor teaches 100 students!) but the savings come in the form of less learning per student.

Second, the arguments in favor of lectures in economics at Williams are identical to the arguments for lectures at Harvard. According to Schapiro (and many Williams faculty members), there is a minimal amount of knowledge that a student must have in order to be able to even discuss a topic like microeconomics. That may be true, but it is no less true for the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the philosophy of David Hume. At Harvard, they are at least consistent on this topic, lecturing to students on microeconomics and poetry and philosophy. If you believe that students, having done the assigned reading, learn best by discussing poetry and philosophy on the first day of class, then why wouldn’t the same be true of economics and chemistry?

Third, the smaller the class, the more learning occurs. Consider Diana Davis’s ’07 description of her high school experience:

“I went to a high school where every single class — English, biology, history, math, economics, Greek — was a discussion class with 13 students or fewer. I have not taken a single class at Williams where I have learned as much, learned as deeply, or remembered as much a year later as I did in my classes in high school.”

Now, most of us did not have the good fortune of going to a high school like Diana’s. Yet no one makes the opposite claim; no one argues that students learn more in lecture than they do in discussion.

Fourth, there would be no better way for Williams to demonstrate to potential applicants that it is a different place, with different values, than by drawing a line at 15 students or so per class. If Williams had no lectures, then there would be less doubt about its educational superiority. The tutorial program already provides Williams with a leadership position in undergraduate education. Abolishing lectures would do even more.

Fifth, claims about the excessive expense involved in having small sections are overblown. A professor currently responsible for the education of 45 students in ECON 110 should organize the class in whatever way is best for her students, not most convenient for her. Better to have three sections of 15 students each, than one large lecture. This will take up more of the professor’s time, but, since so much of the work — planning the class, creating the exams, grading the papers — is a fixed cost (regardless of the number of class meetings), the marginal cost to the professor of having three sections instead of one is small. The very best professors, like Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 in history, already split up their large classes. Everyone else should do the same.

Second, to be fair to Falk, the target of his criticism are those who praise the possibilities of MOOCs: massive open online courses. We all agree that a Williams tutorial — in physics or English or statistics — is better than any MOOC. But Thuys does his listeners no favors when he allows Falk to frame the debate as Williams-verus-MOOC when the relevant debate, at least in the context of elite US institutions, is Williams-with-4-4-teaching-loads versus Williams-with-2-2-teaching-loads. That is debate that we ought to be having.

(Of course, the populist cut-all-costs position would argue for a 125 person faculty teaching 4-4: same (?) quality as today but much less expensive. I disagree with this view, as does every Eph I know, so no need to bother with it here.)


WBUR on Williams II

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR about the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 2.

In the 1960s, economists William Baumol and William Bowen pointed out that it takes the same number of musicians to play a string quartet today as it did in Beethoven’s day. So the productivity has not increased in 200 years. That explains why the cost of going to a live classical musical performance has gone up more than the cost of a drinking glass. You can manufacture the drinking glass more productively now than you could 200 years ago.

To appreciate labor costs, Falk compares the faculty to another group of highly trained workers: a string quartet. He says you could make it more productive by removing one of the instruments.

“I mean, after all, there are two violins, and really, do you need two violins?” Falk asked. “Couldn’t you play it with one violin? You could reduce the cost by 25 percent.”

What utter bollocks! Why won’t Thys challenge Falk, and every other College president who trots out this gibberish?

First, the College has spent the last 50 years reducing the amount of violin playing time that it requires of its faculty. Fifty years ago, the College required faculty to teach “4-4” — meaning four classes each semester. This was the amount of violin playing required. Since then, the ratchet has gone in only one direction: downward. From 4-4 to 4-3 to 3-3 to 3-2. The last step occurred 15 years ago when President Morty Schapiro reduced the teaching load from 3-2 to 2-2. (I am ignoring Winter Study.) (Here is an overview about similar changes at the University of Vermont. Any pointers to relevant history at Williams?)

Now, Falk might argue that the change from 4-4 to 2-2 was a good thing, that it freed up Williams professors to spend more time on their oh-so-important research. Or he might argue that the competitive market for professors made the change necessary, lest every Williams professor move to Princeton. Or he might claim that the quality of teaching has increased since professors now have more time to devote per class.

But, you can’t use the string quartet analogy to justify ever increasing costs if you are, simultaneously, cutting by 50% the amount of time you require your violinists to play.

Moreover, there is little if any evidence in favor of the other possible arguments.

Second, Falk ignores (or is unaware of?) the argument made by informed critics. We don’t think that Falk should fire half his violinists. By all means, keep the academic faculty headcount at 250. Instead, we think that Williams ought to move from 2-2 back to 4-4, or at least to 3-3. But that is a rant for tomorrow.

Third, Falk ignores, and Thys lets him get away with ignoring, the dramatic decreasing in courses taught because of the ever-increasing administrative bloat of Williams. Consider just the office of the Dean of the Faculty. Fifty years ago, Williams did not even have a Dean of the Faculty. The office now includes three Ph.D.’s (Buell, Park, Gerry), excellent teachers all, none of whom are teaching a single (?) Williams student this academic year. (Yes, I am simplifying things here since Gerry is not, in truth, a member of the faculty, but the point about moving resources from teaching to administration is the same.)

Falk should not use the string quartet analogy if he is not actually going to have his well-paid violinists actually, you know, play their instruments


WBUR on Williams I

Fred Thys ’80 reports for WBUR on the cost of Williams College. Fred is a knowledgeable and sympathetic alum but this story painted an incomplete picture. Perhaps later stories will flesh out the scene? In the meantime, let’s spend 10 (!) days dissecting this article! Today is Day 1.

This year, it costs about $60,000 in tuition, fees and room and board to attend one of the nation’s most selective liberal arts colleges. With financial aid, the average student pays about half of that. One example: Williams College, in western Massachusetts.

The cost there is 10 times higher than it was 40 years ago, even though the consumer price index during that period rose only fourfold. As Williams President Adam Falk sees it, the No. 1 reason for the cost of college is the people.

“We spend about two-thirds of the college’s budget on compensation and benefits for our faculty and staff,” Falk said.


1) Always good to see Williams mentioned in the elite media, even (especially!?) in the context of high costs. The more people who know about Williams, the better. Kudos to Thys for using Williams as the focus for this series. I wish more media Ephs did the same.

2) Falk pretends, and Thys lets him (just so far?) get away with pretending, that faculty/staff costs are beyond his control, that there is nothing he could do to lesson them. Untrue! The reason that costs are so high is not because they have to be but because presidents like Falk (and Schapiro and Payne and . . .) want them to be. Consider just one fact:

There are (at least!) six people at Williams making more than $200,000 per year whose jobs did not exist a decade ago. Source: The 2013 Form 990 (pdf).

Collette Chilton, Chief Investment Officer: $1,181,744
Bradford Wakeman, Director of Investment Operations: $558,142
Stephen Klass, VP of Campus Life: $339,395
Fred Puddester, VP of Finance: $366,249
Mike Reed, VP of Strategic Planning: $282,165
Julia T. Crosby and Lou Sousa, Managing Directors, Investment Office: $200,000+

Now, you might fairly quibble with this list. Mike Reed has decamped for Dickinson, but his replacement will certainly be paid more than $200,000. Crosby and Sousa, because they are new arrivals, are not listed in the Form 990, but their predecessors Hok Joeng and Shawn Donovan (pdf) were paid more than $350,000. Helen Ouellette had a position not dissimilar from Puddester’s (and was paid less than 1/2 as much).

But, big picture, there has been a dramatic growth in the number of highly paid administrators at Williams over the last decade, all in jobs that did not exist before they arrived.

Falk pretends that faculty/staff compensation is something that he has no control over, that it is like the weather, an inexorable force that the College could not possibly resist.

And that is absurd. The College was wildly successful back in 2005 without all these positions. It would be just as successful today without them. Administrative bloat is a choice that Adam Falk (and his predecessors) make every day. Why won’t Thys ask him some hard questions?

Entire article below the break, in case it vanishes some day.
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College Council Considers Social Honor Code

From Yik Yak:


Could a reader provide more details on the proposal? In the meantime, comments:

1) An Eph Style Guide, with no penalties for violation, is still an excellent idea.

What would be the key components of such a guide?

First, a clear and ringing affirmation of the central role played by unfettered intellectual inquiry at Williams. Freedom of thought and conscious must be protected and nurtured at all costs. Those who come to Williams from sheltered backgrounds may be unused to confronting radically different points of view, to having their ideas and beliefs challenged. They need to be reminded that intellectual honesty, saying what you believe and defending what you say, is the highest value at Williams, bar none. Freedom of speech does not stop at the top of Spring Street.

Second, such a guide could provide an overview of words and symbols that are simply beyond the pale. By all accounts, the KKK cookout controversy of last spring was an honest mistake. The author of the flyer did not realize that those three letters remain a potent symbol of hatred and injustice. An Eph Style Guide could make that clear. The existence of a guide, required reading for all members of the community, would remove ignorance as a defense.

Note that nothing in such a guide restricts speech in any way. It is a guide, not a code. If you want to advertise your flyer using the initials KKK, you are still free to do so. But your speech will be met with more speech. You will be called insensitive, because you are. You will be challenged, because you deserve to be. Yet honest mistakes will be made less likely.

Of course, an Eph Style Guide of limited length will need to make choices about what to include and what to exclude. KKK would be included, but “cakewalk,” a term with a viciously racist past, would probably not make the cut. Just the process of thinking harder, slowly and carefully, about what is offensive and why, is a valuable exercise for the College. I would expect the committee responsible for the guide to publish a series of drafts, hold (poorly attended) public meetings and actively seek comments from the broader community.

Third, a guide would make clear what is allowed, what difficult and controversial topics will be, indeed must be, discussed at Williams. For example, common culture affects individual decisions. American culture in the mid-19th century affected the decisions made by Abraham Lincoln just as Japanese culture of the 1920s and ’30s influenced Hirohito’s. To mau-mau Barnard over his claim that Hispanic culture influenced the behavior of specific contemporary baseball players, as some members of VISTA did last spring, is to misunderstand the sorts of conversations that must be allowed, even encouraged, at Williams.

Alas, I doubt that this is what CC is considering. (By the way, who are the key students pushing this idea?) Whoever they are, they almost certainly want the College to punish speech/behavior that they find offensive.

2) Before going to far down this path, College Council should try to learn from its own history. Read this for discussions of similar efforts in 2004 and 2008.

Do any readers think that a social honor code is a good idea?


Suggested Claiming Williams Events to Attend

In the spirit of cooperation, EphBlog recommends the following Claiming Williams events.

Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story at 1:45pm to 3:15pm

Ever wonder what people you pass on your way to class are thinking? Ever want to tell them what’s on your mind? Storytime is hosting “Let Me Tell You A (Really Fast) Story,” which is your chance to put stories behind the names and faces of the students, faculty, and staff around you. Each participant will alternate listening and telling stories, for three minutes each, in a kind of platonic speed-dating. What you hear might surprise you!

If you attend only one event, this is the one. I have never met an Eph who did not enjoy it. Special shout out to Rachel Ko ’09, the genius behind Storytime, which was, I think, originally branded as Let Me Tell You a Story. Few students have done more to improve Williams in the last decade than she.

Quest Story Time at 12:15pm to 1:45pm

All are invited to Quest Story Time, a strong tradition at Williams in which students share their stories of what it means to be a Quest Scholar at Williams and of their journeys going forward. QuestBridge is a non-profit program that assists high-achieving, low-income and first-generation students in applying to prestigious colleges and universities in the United States. In this sharing of experiences, Quest Scholars and the audience engage in a powerful experience of reflection. The audience is not only allowed but encouraged to ask questions

I believe that there are now 200 Questbridge scholars on campus, around 10% of the student body. That is an amazing change from 10 years ago. Indeed, the rise of Questbridge is probably the biggest change in Williams admissions since the decrease in emphasis placed on athletics at the beginning of President Schapiro’s term.

Other interesting sessions include Local Borders: Engaging Our Perceptions of North Adams and Williamstown, First Generation Faculty: Experiences, Challenges, Lessons and International Narratives. The more that Claiming Williams can focus on Williams College and the people who study/teach/work/live there, the better.


An Exercise in Mandated Political Correctness

A recent comment:

Claiming Williams has, alas, become a bit of a parody of itself, at least based on these descriptions. If there is going to be an event like this, it could be so much more interesting / intellectually-engaging / provocative / informative. For example, why not have one unifying theme surrounding each year’s Claiming Williams, and bring in provocative speakers, from various disciplines, and holding various perspectives, who will engage in a series of debates (ideally engaging students and faculty as well) on the issue. One year the theme could be, for example, the role of religion in campus and public life — topics like, where is the line between permissible religious expression and violation of others’ rights, or where religion and free speech potentially conflict (issues such as laws prohibiting burkas, publication of defamatory cartoons offensive to a particular religious groups, laws regarding private citizens relying upon religion as justification for discrimination against gays, all hot-button current issues that could spark real campus discourse).

Or another year, the theme could be campus sexual assault — where students are not just told via platitudinous speechifying the importance of respecting women’s choices about sexuality (that apparently hasn’t worked across the country) but instead are challenge to collaboratively engage to come up with model proposals for BETTER campus sexual assault policies, both preventative and adjudicative, at Williams, and for campuses at large. That would be a REALLY interesting use of a day, and would engage the talents of Williams students to potentially make a difference, while building awareness at the same time. Given how busy Williams is, an entire day devoted to anything is a REALLY big deal, and I feel like the administration could by far more creative and proactive in crafting something meaningful.

This event is now basically preaching to the converted, and those disinclined to feel the same way, or in particular, those who might engage in potentially problematic behaviors, are just going to laugh this off as an exercise in mandated political correctness; if anything, it could be counter-productive, only serving to convince conservatives (and I’m far from one of them) that there is a PC thought police dominating the campus. Kind of embarrassing that this has become institutionalized as a full-day even without really embracing the opportunity to spark some deeper, more thought-provoking discourse worthy of Williams. (And I’m someone who agrees with the ultimate goals of tolerance, inclusion, and making Williams a place that embraces students from every walk of life — I just don’t see who an event like this in any meaningful way fulfills that goal, I’d like to see people’s buttons really pushed via more substantive, interactive, engaging, and challenging programming).

Highlights added. I am not certain that Claiming Williams has descended as far down the PC rabbit hole as this alum believes, but I doubt that any faculty member who agrees with this view — and there are some — would be willing to say this in public.


Winter Study, Lego Bricks, Williams and Beyond

I’m a professor in the Math/Stats department, and for the second year in a row I’ve taught Math 12, The Mathematics of Lego Bricks, as a winter study. While we used Lego bricks as a springboard to talk about a lot of interesting math (the lectures and additional comments are available here), the main goal was to successfully build the 3152 piece Superstar Destroyer in under 10 minutes. It was an interesting challenge to divide the work among all the students, and a great way to explore issues in teamwork, efficiency, authority and responsibility, all of which will be useful to students after Williams.

After just missing last year (with a world record best time of 10:21, which was still fast enough to be adding more than 5 bricks per second), we succeeded this year, assembling the Superstar Destroyer in 8:47. One of the items I love most about Williams is how well this place does at building ties between different parts of the community (faculty, staff, students, Williamstown and beyond); our final time for everything was 9:13, as we outsourced building the minifigs to a consortium of elementary school kids (while this increased our time a bit, it was in the spirit of the event and fortunately didn’t cause us to miss our goal!).

Many thanks to all who came to the ’62 Center to cheer us on, and to all the organizations on campus that helped fund the class (including Dining Services, DRFC, EComm, the Alderaan Preservation Society, the Neighborhoods, Williams College, …). Below are some stories on the event.

We’re planning several related events in the future; possibilities include some at WCMA (including possibly a LEGO Chopped, inspired by The Food Network Show), and perhaps a joint Winter Study / Adventures in Learning with the Williamstown Elementary School next year. If you’re interested in either coming to or helping with such events, please email me at

"EAG-L-LEGO" groupphoto


Why Liberal Arts?

Why Liberal Arts? is a Tumblr set up by Williams to discuss the importance of a liberal arts education. It grew out of conversations last year in the Committee on Educational Policy.

At first glance, the material is too sad and embarrassing to spend much time on. Or should I devote two weeks to dissecting it? What do readers want?


Understand Yourself

Congrats to Jon Kraft ’86, President of the Patriots, and Josh Kraft ’89 (his brother) on the Patriot’s victory last night. Professor Sam Crane explains:

What a crazy conclusion to the Super Bowl! A circus catch followed by perhaps the worst play call in the history of the game. Wow.

And it looks like both Sunzi and the Yi Jing got it wrong. But not quite. Let’s look again at what those texts suggested.

My Sunzi analysis pointed to the key match up being the Seattle offense versus the New England defense and that, indeed, is what the game came down to. At the critical moment, however, the Hawks lost sight of their strength. Instead of doing what virtually the entire country was expecting, run “beast mode” into the end zone, they threw a quick pass over the middle into traffic. Apparently, they were trying to use the clock, which seems absurd with only 20 seconds left. If that was the case they were violating a key Sunzi principle: always go for the quick victory. They had three downs, two time outs, and the best rushing offense in the game. In essence, they forgot who they were, they failed to “understand yourself,” and thus they lost.

At EphBlog, we always go for the quick victory.