Currently browsing the archives for May 2015

On display at the MFA

Work from "Rikuzentakata," Naoya Hatakeyama, on display at the MFA

Work from “Rikuzentakata,” Naoya Hatakeyama, on display at the MFA

On exhibition at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts is “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11.” The show, depicting the enduring effects of Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami (previous Ephblog coverage, including of the visiting professor who weathered the quake on a bullet train, here), is curated by Anne Havinga (MA ’83), the museum’s senior curator of photography.


Morty on Campus Unrest – a follow-up (Part VI?)

A story today in the Chronicle of Higher Education dovetails with David’s excellent, five-part dissection of Morty Schapiro’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on campus speech and protests (starting here).

Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern professor of media, wrote a February article for the Chronicle entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she discussed Northwestern’s newly-instituted prohibition on student-faculty dating in the context of a lawsuit between an undergraduate and a philosophy professor over a failed date:

An undergraduate sued my own university, alleging that a philosophy professor had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” and that the university punished him insufficiently for it. The details that emerged in news reports and legal papers were murky and contested, and the suit was eventually thrown out of court…

The aftermath has been a score of back-and-forth lawsuits. After trying to get a financial settlement from the professor, the student filed a Title IX suit against the university: She wants her tuition reimbursed, compensation for emotional distress, and other damages. Because the professor wasn’t terminated, when she runs into him it triggers her PTSD, she says. (The university claims that it appropriately sanctioned the professor, denying him a raise and a named chair.) She’s also suing the professor for gender violence. He sued the university for gender discrimination (he says he wasn’t allowed to present evidence disproving the student’s allegations)—this suit was thrown out; so was the student’s lawsuit against the university. The professor sued for defamation various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student whom, according to his complaint, he had previously dated; a judge dismissed those suits this month…
What a mess. And what a slippery slope…

In her new article, she writes about how that original article led to: 1) a march on Morty’s office by mattress-carrying students:

When I first heard that students at my university had staged a protest over an essay I’d written in The Chronicle Review about sexual politics on campus — and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows — I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual-assault allegations, and I’d been writing about the new consensual-relations codes governing professor-student dating. Also, I’d been writing as a feminist. And I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed symbolically incoherent.

2) Title IX complaints against Kipnis by two students;

Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and “subsequent public statements” (which turned out to be a tweet) … I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.

3) an investigation by an outside law firm of undisclosed charges against her;

I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators. Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them…

A week later I heard from the investigators. For reasons I wasn’t privy to, the university had hired an outside law firm, based in another Midwestern city an hour-and-a-half flight away, to conduct the investigation; a team of two lawyers had been appointed, and they wanted to schedule “an initial interview” the following week…

I replied that I wanted to know the charges before agreeing to a meeting. They told me, cordially, that they wanted to set up a meeting during which they would inform me of the charges and pose questions.

4) a Huffington Post article criticizing both Kipnis and Morty’s op-ed:

I’d been asked to keep the charges confidential, but this became moot when, shortly before my campus meeting with the investigators, a graduate student published an article on a well-trafficked site excoriating me and the essay, and announcing that two students had filed Title IX retaliation complaints against me. She didn’t identify her source for this information or specify her own relationship to the situation, though she seemed well versed on all the inside details; in fact, she knew more about the process than I did.

It wasn’t me alone on the chopping block. She also excoriated our university’s president for his op-ed essay on academic freedom, which, she charged, was really a veiled commentary on the pending Title IX charges against me and thus subverted the process by issuing a covert advance verdict in my favor. (He’d obliquely mentioned the controversy over the essay, among other campus free-speech issues.) She didn’t seem particularly concerned that she herself was subverting the process by charging that the process had been subverted, and by revealing the complaints in the first place.

Here’s her conclusion:

What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place… Self-censorship naturally prevails [and] even those with tenure fear getting caught up in some horrendous disciplinary process with ad hoc rules and outcomes; pretty much everyone now self-censors accordingly.

You can mock academic culture all you want, and I’ve done a fair amount of it myself, but I also believe that unconstrained intellectual debate — once the ideal of university life, now on life support — is essential to a functioning democratic society. And that should concern us all. I also find it beyond depressing to witness young women on campuses — including aspiring intellectuals! — trying to induce university powers to shield them from the umbrages of life and calling it feminism.

As of this writing, I have yet to hear the verdict on my case, though it’s well past the 60-day time frame. In the meantime, new Title IX complaints have been filed against the faculty-support person who accompanied me to the session with the investigators. As a member of the Faculty Senate, whose bylaws include the protection of academic freedom — and believing the process he’d witnessed was a clear violation of academic freedom — he’d spoken in general terms about the situation at a senate meeting. Shortly thereafter, as the attorneys investigating my case informed me by phone, retaliation complaints were filed against him for speaking publicly about the matter (even though the complaints against me had already been revealed in the graduate student’s article), and he could no longer act as my support person. Another team of lawyers from the same firm has been appointed to conduct a new investigation.

A week or so earlier, the investigators had phoned to let me know that a “mediated resolution” was possible in my case if I wished to pursue that option. I asked what that meant — an image of me and the complainants in a conference room hugging came to mind. I didn’t like the visual. The students were willing to drop their complaints in exchange for a public apology from me, the investigators said. I tried to stifle a laugh. I asked if that was all. No, they also wanted me to agree not to write about the case.

I understand that by writing these sentences, I’m risking more retaliation complaints, though I’m unclear what penalties may be in store (I suspect it’s buried somewhere in those links). But I refuse to believe that students get to dictate what professors can or can’t write about, or what we’re allowed to discuss at our Faculty Senate meetings. I don’t believe discussing Title IX cases should be verboten in the first place — the secrecy of the process invites McCarthyist abuses and overreach.

Implicit in Kipnis’s criticism of Northwestern’s policies, its handling of the complaint against her, and subsequent developments is a critique similar to that presented in the EphBlog series. To be sure, Kipnis credits Morty for writing his op-ed, but it’s clear that she does not believe his actions demonstrate a commitment to free speech, nor that the culture fostered at Northwestern (or elsewhere in academia) is a good one.


The End of Red Molly

Official band press photo; credit: Whitney Kidder

Official band press photo; credit: Whitney Kidder

Four years after adding Molly Venter ’02 to its lineup, Red Molly is headed for a breakup, er, “indefinite hiatus.”

Venter replaced one of the band’s original members, and the folk/Americana band has enjoyed great success during her tenure. Last year’s “The Red Album” received high marks from critics , and rose to be the top album played by folk radio DJs in 2014.

Red Molly recently appeared on NPR’s Mountain Stage series of live concerts in the folk & American genres; a 30-minute recording of their performance is available for online streaming here.

I hope we’ll see more of Venter, who was a terrific singer/songwriter even before she joined Red Molly, but catch the group live while you can. Upcoming tour dates include Denver (next week), the DC area (appearances at two outdoor festivals on June 14 and the Hamilton downtown on July 2), and a close approach to Williamstown later in June with two shows in Saratoga Springs.


So Sad

An unreflective student writes:


You tell us what you hope you won’t be doing. That isn’t very interesting! Tell us what do you hope you will be doing?

Perhaps least appealing blinder common among Williams students is an inability to see your future. Do you really expect your life to be that different from the Williams students that have gone before you? Do you think that you are some special snowflake?

If you are like the thousands of Williams alumni, then your future life will center around family and career. You will marry and have children. You will have jobs you sometimes like and sometimes hate. You will have bills and mortgages.

And, in between those things, if you are smart, you will have a hobby or two. Maybe you will knit, or play golf, or go camping. To each his own!

Or maybe you will become the world expert on Williams College and share that knowledge with the world. There are worse ways to spend the time between annual reports and dance recitals . . .


Change First Days to First Month

For decades, the College has sought, somewhat unsuccessfully, to mold student character and to improve the campus community. The College would prefer that students drink less (and especially less to excess); that students be more intellectual, spending more time outside of class on great books and less time on Netflix; that students be kinder to each other, especially to those most outside the mainstream of College life; and that students be more involved in the community, more likely to volunteer at the local elementary school or retirement home. How can the College make its students more sober, intellectual, kind and charitable (than they already are)? Simple: Expand the First Days program into First Month, and focus that month on character development and community commitment.

Shaping character and nurturing community are difficult problems, so we should look for inspiration to those with a track record of success. The most relevant examples are military and religious organizations like the Marine Corps and the Mormon Church. What lessons do they have for us?

First: Start early. The reason that service in the Marine Corps begins with a 13-week boot camp is that the best time to change the perceptions of 18-year-olds is at the start of their enlistments. In boot camp, Marine recruits are cut off from the world they knew before, presented with a new set of community standards for what is best and challenged to live up to those standards. The College will have much more success in changing the values and choices of first-years in August than it ever will in altering those of juniors and seniors.

Second: Separate. Many new Ephs drank too much in high school. We want them to (want to) drink less at the College. We need to distance them from their old habits, their old friends and routines. A First Month program, starting in early August, provides just such an opportunity. The reason that Mormons, and most other religious groups, favor retreats is that a departure from the secular allows the sacred to flourish. During First Month, athletes won’t practice with their sports teams, they will play pick-up games with their classmates. The first and most important commitment that new Ephs make is to their class. They are purple first.

Third: Introduce. Every student in each of the first-year dorms will have at least one meal with each resident of his dorm. All students will learn the names of at least half of their classmates by playing all the wonderfully awkward name-learning games common to religious retreats. The more that students are introduced to their classmates, slowly and repeatedly, over many hours, days and weeks, the less likely that any individual is to end up isolated from the College and detached from the Ephs around him. For most Ephs, the College community is as tight-knit as it could be. They always have someone to sit with when they go to the dining hall on their own. But for hundreds of students, often students from non-traditional backgrounds or with non-mainstream interests, the College fails. Rescuing those students, enmeshing them completely in a network of friends and friendly acquaintances, would change their experience at the College from bearable to wonderful.

Fourth: Inspire. The best way to convince teenagers that Behavior X is cool is to surround them with slightly older Ephs whom they admire and who, by word and deed, illustrate that X is cool. The fewer sports captains and Junior Advisors (JAs) who are heavy drinkers, the fewer first-years who will follow in their footsteps. During First Month, every activity is designed to model the behavior that we want to see more of among students at the College. On Day Two, everyone reads one of Plato’s dialogues and discusses it at lunch and dinner at a small table with a faculty member. On Day Six, everyone spends a day on community service – anything from cleaning up trash along the banks of the Green River to talking with residents at Sweetwood. On Day 10, everyone hikes up Pine Cobble. All of these events are led by the very best people – students, faculty, staff and local residents – at the College.

Fifth: Integrate. First-years come from many different backgrounds. The best way to make these new Ephs comfortable with each other is to have them spend as much time with each other as possible, especially in situations that make their differences less important than their commonalities. It is impossible to stereotype members of Group Z once you have shared a tent with one on a WOOLF trip. It is difficult to be snotty to your classmates when you sounded just as ridiculous as they did while all learning “The Mountains” together.

Doesn’t much of this happen during First Days already? Of course! But not nearly enough. My suggestion: Expand the current First Days to two weeks this August. If, for some reason, the change fails, then we can always revert back to the traditional format. But if the College is really serious about making its students more sober, intellectual, kind and charitable, then it ought to devote the month of August during their first years to that project.

[Original version here.]



0000081986-01-1Paul M. Holt, Class of 2002, in Minneapolis. While at Williams, Holt appeared in a well-received production of the play Sophistry, a 1990s era play frequently brought to mind by the recent cultural focus and debate over college sexual assault. In a setting that evoked real life at Williams, Holt played an alcoholic professor alongside, among others, Hans Davies ’99 and Alicia Currier ’00.

As a math major at Williams, Holt was one of many Ephs (including past EphBlogger Diana Davis) who, under the leadership of Professor Frank Morgan, conducted research into the properties of double bubbles: geometrical structures (like soap bubbles) that enclose two separate volumes with minimum surface area. Holt’s work led to several published papers, including Double Bubbles in S3 and H3 and The Double Bubble Problem on the Flat Two Torus.

Holt’s funeral will be held tomorrow in Minneapolis. Donations in Holt’s memory are encouraged to Minneapolis’s Midtown Greenway Coalition. Holt was a leader of the Greenway’s nightly bicycle patrol.


Morty on Campus Unrest V

Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 5.

The context of an incident matters, and it is near impossible for outsiders to glean the facts during the public battles that ensue after a high-profile event. College community members deserve to be in a safe and supportive environment, and it is our job to nurture that environment.

I made fun of this quote last week because it was so self-serving: No one not living on campus can ever “glean the facts” about a controversy, so all you rich alumni should just Shut Up and Write Big Checks.

But the truly annoying part of this op-ed is Morty’s failure to grasp the easy and obvious solution: Elite universities should not punish speech that is protected by the First Amendment. If something is legal for US citizens to say (or do) on Spring Street, then it should be legal for Williams students to say (or do) on campus. Why is this a good idea?

First, it makes 99% of the “controversies” that Morty is talking about go away. When silly student says X and other students complain, a college president/dean/professor can just reply “The First Amendment protects all speech, especially the speech you despise.”

Second, it educates the students doing the complaining. Many of them do not seem to really understand “uncomfortable learning,” a concept highlighted by Adam Falk is his induction speech. Speech that upsets you is speech that teaches you as well. At the very least, you learn that there are other (smart! educated!) Ephs with very different viewpoints. And that is a valuable education, good preparation for the rest of your life.

Third, it decreases the amount of complaining. So many students complain about speech they dislike because their complaints work. Morty mentions:

And don’t forget the racist YouTube video that went viral, leading to the expulsion of two students at the University of Oklahoma on March 10.

Morty fails (because he does not know?!) that this expulsion was almost certainly unconstitutional, that Oklahoma will, at the very least, be forced to readmit these students and, in all likelihood, pay them a substantial amount of money.

Summary: If colleges were to make their codes of student conduct identical to a First Amendment test, this entire issue — and the endless time it wastes — would go away.

Why won’t they do that? Why doesn’t Morty even discuss such an obvious and sensible idea?


A Decision is Coming?

Not sure if this link will work, but below is the key message.


1) The best policy would be:

The Williams Investment Office is charged with managing the endowment in order generate the most returns with the least risk, consistent with legal requirements and ethical norms. No account is taken of contemporary policy debates concerning climate change, Palestine, child labor, racial justice, or any other issue.

2) Did Eisenson really say that the “trustees want to do something big?” That would be a strange thing to say unless he and the trustees had already decided on what they wanted to do. It is also strange that the ACSR’s report would be so balanced — not endorsing divestment nearly as strongly as it could have — if major action was in the works.

3) Predictions? I don’t know. Judging by the tone of the ACSR report, and the fact that places like Harvard have strongly resisted calls for divestment, I was expecting no policy change. But Eisenson is a smart and powerful Eph. I would expect him to not even take that meeting, much less mention “something big” if the plan was to maintain the status quo.


Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Myles will not be in Williamstown to celebrate reunion with the Old Guard in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. His last glimpse of Williams was on graduation day 75 years ago. Who among the sons and daughters of Ephraim even remembers his name?

I saw the mountains of Williams
As I was passing by,
The purple mountains of Williams
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Williams men
Who went abroad to die.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a Junior Advisor and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.


Fox lived in Wood House. Are you the student who just moved out of the room that Fox vacated all those years ago? Are you an Eph who trod the same walkways around campus as Fox? We all walk in his footsteps.

The years go fast in Williams,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.

Fox wrote letters to his class secretary, letters just like those that you or I might write.

The last issue of the Review has put me up to date on my civilized affairs. I am enclosing the only other information I have received in the form of a letter from Mr. Dodd. Among my last batch of mail was notice of the class insurance premium, and if you think it will prove an incentive to any of my classmates you may add under the next batch of Class Notes my hearty endorsement of the insurance fund, the fact that even with a military salary I am still square with the Mutual Company, and my hope that classmates of ’40 will keep the ball rolling so that in the future, purple and gold jerseys will be rolling a pigskin across whitewash lines.

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

Fox was as familiar as your freshman roommate and as distant as the photos of Williams athletes from years gone by that line the walls of Chandler Gym. He was every Eph.

They left the peaceful valley,
The soccer-field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Williams,
To seek a bloody sod—
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.

Fox was killed in August 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

How to describe a night battle against attacking Japanese among the islands of the South Pacific in August 1942?

Darkness, madness and death.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who have died in the service of their country. For many years, no Eph had made the ultimate sacrifice. That string of good fortune ended with the death in combat of First Lieutenant Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC on December 9, 2006 in Iraq. From Ephraim Williams through Myles Fox to Nate Krissoff, the roll call of Williams dead echoes through the pages of our history.

With luck, other military Ephs like Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of Marine combat in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare. Don’t miss the HBO miniseries The Pacific, from which the battle scene above is taken. Fox died two weeks before the Marines on Guadalcanal faced the Japanese at the Battle of the Tenaru.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. He is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the letters from Felipe Perez ’99 and Joel Iams ’01.

God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Williamstown.

Note: As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry, a tribute to those who have gone before. Apologies to Winifred M. Letts for bowdlerizing her poem, “The Spires of Oxford.”


James Deutsch ’70 on Cinderella

James DeutschJames Deutsch ’70 is a curator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (residents of the DC area and summertime visitors will recognize the Center for Folklife as responsible for the massive outdoor festival on the Mall each summer which highlights cultural traditions from 2-3 countries or American regions every year).  In connection with Disney’s release of yet another version of Cinderella, he examined the continuing hold that the story has over us, in a piece at It’s a nice piece, and fairy tales in general (and Cinderella in particular, aside from its metaphorical meaning in the context of athletic tournaments) have been badly neglected here at EphBlog, so here are some highlights:

Dozens of [] filmmakers have borrowed elements of the tale, starting as early as 1899 with a French version directed by the pioneering filmmaker Georges Méliès. And perhaps the best known is the 1990 Pretty Woman, a retelling of both Cinderella and George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, starring Julia Roberts as Vivian, who is magically transformed from rags to riches.

The appeal of Cinderella extends not only to filmmakers, but also to folklorists and early collectors of folktales, such as the Brothers Grimm—Jacob and Wilhelm—who included the story of Aschenputtel (Ash Girl) in their well-known German collection, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), first published in 1812. Charles Perrault included a similar tale even earlier—under the title of Cendrillon (Cinderella)—in his French collection of tales, Histoires ou Contes du Temps Passé, avec des Moralités: Contes de Ma Mere L’Oye (Stories or Tales from Time Past, with Morals; Tales of Mother Goose), first published in 1697. Going back even further, folklorists have traced the story to 9th-century China, in which Yeh-Shen overcomes an evil stepmother, thanks to a golden slipper that transforms her rags to beautiful clothes and enables her to marry a wealthy king.

Deutsch rightly links the enduring popularity of Cinderella to its association with basic premises underlying American society:

she is able to rise out of ashes and cinders to achieve a position of wealth and stature. This is the same basic story that fuels what some call “the American dream”—a belief that you too will rise to the top because you have the requisite pluck and need just a little luck—such as a pumpkin coach or a prince who finds you at long last with your glass slipper in his benevolent hand. This belief is reinforced by actual rags-to-riches cases, from Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and . . . yes, even Walt Disney himself…

Similarly, the story of Cinderella tells us that virtue is rewarded and evil is punished… Not only is virtue rewarded, so too is action. Cinderella is not a passive wimp who simply wishes upon a star. She makes things happen through her fortitude, perseverance, and wise decisions—albeit with some help from a magical fairy godmother. In similar fashion, Americans regard themselves as can-do people who take the bull by the horns, not letting the grass grow under their boots on the ground. By the way, all of those proverbial expressions are wonderful illustrations of folklore at work in the contemporary world.

Aside from presentations of “Into the Woods” by Stephen Sondheim ’50, is Williams doing its part to help American Cinderella stories? Notwithstanding the conventional wisdom, that top colleges and universities need to do more to recruit and admit low-income applicants (i.e. candidates with “the requisite pluck” but needing just “a little luck”), EphBlog has made the case that high-ability, low-income applicants are not underrepresented at Williams, that legacy candidates are not given excessively favorable treatment, and that, if Williams were to try to toss more “luck” in the wind, more honesty regarding graduation prospects would be required.


Morty on Campus Unrest IV

Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 4.

A decade or so ago, I returned from Shabbat services at my synagogue to learn that a student had hung posters mocking the Holocaust Remembrance Day posters distributed in the dorms. The message had been turned into a celebration of Hitler’s birthday; the picture of concentration camp victims had for some reason been replaced by a marijuana leaf. It is hard to imagine a more disgusting display.

Longtime readers will know that Morty is referring to Mary Jane Hitler, a controversy we covered in detail. Is Morty’s summary a fair one?


First, note that he elides the manner of distribution of the posters. The originally posters (example above) were “distributed in the dorms” — as if they had been left in a common room — while the Hitler posters were “hung.” In fact, both posters were distributed in an identical manner: hung on the doors of student rooms. Below is one of the parody posters.


Second, “the picture of concentration camp victims had for some reason been replaced by a marijuana leaf” is wrong. The marijuana leaf replaced the Star of David symbol on the original posters. This is, perhaps, a small point and I am certain that Morty is not trying to be misleading. (Why would he?) But it does remind us all testimony is inherently unreliable, especially years after the fact.

Third, “celebration of Hitler’s birthday” is a misleading description of the intention behind the posters. Recall the Administration’s own description:

The student who admitted that she had produced and hung the second posters said that her doing so was intended as a use of her right to provoke discussion about the appropriateness of the first ones.

Indeed. These posters were clearly parodies of the original Holocaust Remembrance posters. They were, intentionally, nonsensical.

Fourth, note the Morty’s provincialism in the claim that “It is hard to imagine a more disgusting display.” Hard for whom? I can easily imagine many more worse displays! In fact, doesn’t Morty have some Northwestern colleagues who are, say, African American rather than Jewish? I suspect that they would find praise of the KKK or the Confederacy much more disgusting than these Hitler/marijuana posters.

Fifth, I am unimpressed with Morty’s empathy. Why turn this student into the other? She made a mistake. Wasn’t it Morty’s (and Williams’s) job to, you know, teach her? To help turn her into a better person? But why even try when it is so much easier (and profitable!) to turn her into the enemy.

And, eight years later, she is a wife and mother, moving on with her life as so many before her have done, as so many graduates in 2016 will soon do.

I am leaving names out of this discussion, but surely our faithful readers will appreciate that the student is marrying someone connected to this saga but, not, fortunately, the original creepy boyfriend.

Back to Morty:

But here is the question we asked: Did the student hang those posters randomly, or instead single out the rooms of members of groups targeted by the Nazis such as Jews, blacks and gays?

“blacks?” Come on Morty! Although the Nazis were, obviously, no friends to blacks, any accurate accounting would put blacks far down on the list of Nazi victims. If you believe Wikipedia, any fair three word summary of Nazi victims would definitely not include blacks and might not include gays. But Poles and Ukrainians — much less Catholics, Communists and deaf people — are not major constituencies of a modern, major university president, so Morty does not list them.

If it had been the latter, it might have constituted verbal assault. But it was the former, and in our view that was protected free speech. This wasn’t an easy decision, or perhaps the most expedient, but it was the right one.

Tell us all how brave you are Morty! How, exactly, would it have possibly been “expedient” to punish this student, a student who was clearly exercising free speech in exactly the same manner as the students who put up the original posters? Any attempt to punish the student would — if she fought it — lead to disaster. And this student was a fighter.

Of course, this passage is just a throw-away story — meant to demonstrate the good sense (put him on your corporate board!) and bravery (nothing expedient!) of our fearless author. But I just couldn’t resist taking a guided tour through one of my favorite Williams controversies.

They don’t call me Nazi Hunter for nothing!


Go North, Young Eph, Go North

Eric Dayton, with his brother, Andrew (r), as pictured in the Wall Street Journal

Eric Dayton, with his brother, Andrew (r), as pictured in the Wall Street Journal

Eric Dayton ’03 is one of the star young retail entrepreneurs of the Twin Cities.  His restaurant, The Bachelor Farmer, is one of those trendy locavore establishments with a farm on its roof, and has helped catapult the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to #5 on Zagat’s list of Next Hot Food Cities. His men’s clothing boutique, Askov Finlayson, has been named one of the best men’s clothing stores in America. And the renowned 1881 warehouse hosting these and his other businesses (including a speakeasy, sausage cart, and coffeehouse/café) features his own design inputs, including chairs and a rug from the apartment he shares with his brother.

But Dayton is also a leader in Minnesota’s attempt to rebrand itself as “The North” and thereby distinguish the state from the tendency of coastal-Americans to lump it in with the Midwest:

We’re Midwest if you’re looking at it from New York City or from anywhere on [the East] Coast,” Dayton told me. “But then again, that’s someone else’s definition. I think it’s time for us to claim our own.”

Dayton and his brother, Andrew, whose father is the state’s governor, are Minneapolis businessmen whose clothing store and restaurant have a decidedly local flavor. Eric Dayton, after touring Scandinavia (many Minnesotans are of Norwegian descent), became enthralled by the region’s strong identity. It proudly embraced its chilly weather, its food, its culture, its… Northiness.

So why, he questioned, didn’t Minnesota?

“The New York Times had done an article highlighting different Thanksgiving side dishes,” Dayton told me. “For Minnesota, they named grape salad as our signature side dish. And no one in Minnesota had ever heard of grape salad… it was kind of a harmless example, but if we don’t tell the rest of the country who we are, we end up with grape salad.”

I know. Arrogant Minnesota,” Dayton joked. “That’s what everyone thinks of when they think of Minnesota. Right? No, again, this isn’t about being better. It’s not a relative thing. It’s just I think there are a lot of great things happening in Minnesota. It’s not being recognized. I think it’s important for the reasons we’ve discussed that there is recognition of what we have to offer. And so it’s just putting forth our story. It’s not trying to make it look better than it is. It’s not comparing ourselves to anyone else.”

“The Midwest tends to be what’s left over after all the other regions are identified,” says Eric Dayton. “It’s so big and poorly defined, there can’t be unifying characteristics to identify with.”

Carving Minnesota out from the Midwest makes plenty of sense — the term is used to cover such a sprawling region that it’s almost nondescriptive. But is it reasonable for Minnesota to appropriate the term “the North”?

Askov Finlayson's "North" hat, as photographed by Joe Huber, and published in Macalester College's student newspaper, "The Mac Weekly"

Askov Finlayson’s “North” hat, as photographed by Joe Huber, and published in Macalester College’s student newspaper, “The Mac Weekly”

As an Eph, even if Williamstown’s chilly climate seemed moderate to a Minnesotan, Dayton should surely be cognizant of the desire of Massachusetts’ northern neighbors to be recognized as North-y themselves. Indeed, much confusion has been caused by the desire of both Minnesota and Maine to appropriate to their own geographies the term “North Woods.” Not to mention, where does this leave Canada? Alaska? Santa Claus?


Morty on Campus Unrest III

Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 3.

As all the good Deconstructionistas at Williams have taught us, we should pay at least as much attention to the words left out of a text as to the words in them. What is missing from Morty’s op-ed? A clear thesis statement, as we discussed last time.

And that question leads to a second lesson from the Foucaultlians. Don’t read the text for what it says. Ask, instead, “Why was it written?”

Morty, not a man immune to the siren calls of Mammon, is smart enough to be planning his post-college-presidency life. He has been sucking on the generous teat of MMC for more than a decade. Corporate board service is one of the world’s easiest jobs. Consider Morty’s compensation:


$240,000 per year for a handful of board meetings! Nice work if you can get it.

But how do you get more of it? Simple: Write anodyne pieces in the Wall Street Journal which demonstrate that you are a sensible guy, someone who makes CEOs and other corporate honchos comfortable, someone who appreciates power and the people who wield it.

Now, don’t be too cynical, dear reader! I am sure that Morty was just sitting around one Tuesday in February, bored, without too much to do. Obviously, he doesn’t have more students to teach, faculty to meet or rich people to charm. It was either write a thesis-less op-ed for the Wall Street Journal or rewatch his DVD of USC’s Football Greatest Hits . . .

Morty may not have intended this — who among us likes to admit to our baser motives? — but anyone advising him on the best way to maximize his future income would advise him to write Wall Street Journal op-eds that rich guys will agree with.

Best part is MMC’s description of why Morty makes such an outstanding member of its board of directors.

We believe Mr. Schapiro’s qualifications to sit on our Board of Directors and chair our Directors and Governance Committee include his experience in managing large and complex educational institutions, which provides the Board with a diverse approach to management, as well as his 32 years of experience as a professor of economics.

Yeah, right! Morty joined the board of MMC before he became president of Northwestern or of Williams. He was just a random dean at USC, with no background in insurance or any of MMC’s other businesses. (Recall our discussion of the Morty/Marsh controversy a decade ago.) He was asked to join the board because (I am almost certain) someone already on the board had a USC connection.

Morty has kept that job because the people in power like having him around. Writing non-controversial op-eds helps as well.


Glenn Lowry ’76 Has a Yogi Berra Problem

Among Berra’s truest aphorisms was this: “It’s so crowded, nobody goes there any more.”

In a recent profile of Lowry, an “anonymous” fellow museum director observed:

People remember the ‘good old Modern’ when it was smaller and more intimate… People wanted MoMA to be the greatest museum in the world, and for everyone to want to go there. Now everyone wants to go, but people say it’s too crowded.

The anonymous director is referencing the barrage of recent criticism of Lowry: complaints by leading art commentators such as Richard Woodward (of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal) and Jerry Saltz (of New York Magazine) about the museum’s current Bjork show, it’s renovation/expansion plans, and it’s overall direction. These critics complain that MoMA has replaced the contemplation of serious art with a celebration of popular culture.

Lowry is engaged in some of the finest work in the liberal arts tradition – building bridges between the intellectual and the commonplace – and it’s refreshing to see him pushing back against the frivolous and elitist complaints:

We were never founded to be a club… [MoMA founding director Alfred] Barr talked about the museum being both popular and populist. Of course, 80 years ago it was a much smaller public… Modern art suddenly became hot. We are both a beneficiary of the newfound interest and a victim of people’s discomfort with that interest.

Before the trendy thing in art circles was to criticize Lowry as a populist, the conventional wisdom celebrated him for his success at MoMA. Lowry shares the credit with a supportive board and a talented staff, but after twenty years, there can be no doubt who has driven MoMA’s ascendancy over that time:

When I first arrived, we started thinking about the fact that we could build a seasonal programme that relied on the aggregate of exhibitions [rather than lone “blockbuster” shows]. If you get that right, you have a really robust audience, because you’re speaking to a lot of different people.

And Lowry cites his initiatives at MoMA beyond the gallery:

The [Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives in a Global Age Initiative] programme is pure scholarship and research that brings curators, artists, educators, critics, collectors and scholars from around the world to work with our staff… I come from a sufficiently academic background that I was interested in the idea of deep thinking with no expected outcomes. The end result is that our curators have a richer intellectual life, and that makes the institution more interesting.

Eight of the ten most visited shows in New York last year were at MoMA, and under Lowry’s leadership, its accomplishments have included staging numerous memorable shows, not just the numerical and fundraising successes often cited. So there won’t be much sympathy for the “Fire Glenn Lowry” movement here.


Morty on Campus Unrest II

Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 2.

The explosion of social media has taken this disruption to a level unforeseen in the digital dark ages of 14 years ago. Dealing with campus community members on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Vine and Yik Yak has become a high-stakes challenge, and who knows what will emerge next? At issue, as it often is on America’s campuses, is the limit to free expression.

What does Morty believe about “the limit to free expression?” Reading this article, it is almost impossible to say. He mostly asks questions:

So where to draw that elusive line?

What’s a president to do?

If all you have are questions, then why are you taking up space in the Wall Street Journal? Let’s leave that suspicious question till next time and do our best to find a thesis statement. How about this?

The context of an incident matters, and it is near impossible for outsiders to glean the facts during the public battles that ensue after a high-profile event.

And that’s it! Morty could take one of several plausible clear stands on this issue. But he doesn’t. His only (extremely self-serving!) claim is that anyone not actually on campus X can not have an informed opinion on any “high-profile event” on that campus. Are you a concerned Northwestern alumnus with views on a campus controversy? Shut up, Morty explains. You can’t “glean the facts” the way that he can, so you should just be quiet and write Northwestern a check.

Note the nihilism in Morty’s position. Have you been to Iraq? No? Then you, obviously, can’t possibly “glean the facts” necessary to have an informed opinion about war. Have you run a private equity firm? No? Then you, obviously, can’t have a clue “during the public battles that ensue after a high-profile event” like a leveraged buyout.

I am sure that this opinion is popular among all Morty’s presidential buddies. Alas, he provides zero evidence in this article demonstrating that it is, you know, true . . .


Hockey Rink Vandalism

The hockey rink was vandalized this week-end.


1) The most (in)famous graffiti vandalism of the last few decades was one some Tufts students spray painted J-U-M-B-O-S on the columns of Chapin Hall. If memory serves, they were caught — and forced to pay for the clean up — when the authorities figured out where they had bought the paint (with a credit card!) on their trip to Williams. Does anyone remember the details? Lesson for our current artists: Lose the paint now!

2) The graffiti has led to some discussion on Yik Yak. Example:


3) What happened at Schow?

4) Some Yakkers are suggesting that this was directed at the hockey team. I doubt it. Very few of the people who care enough about Freddie Gray to vandalize in his time would ever bother with hockey, or with Williams athletics in general. They needed a big wall in an out-of-the-way (no cameras?) location.

5) Some Yakkers are complaining that the College ought to send out an all-campus e-mail. I disagree. If you want less vandalism, pay less attention to what the vandals write.

6) By the way, is the word “vandalism” racist? The Vandals were my peeps!

7) I doubt this controversy will last long enough to deserve an official nickname/category but, if it did, what would readers suggest?

8) Could someone more versed in leftist lingo explain the intended meaning?

9) I doubt this was either a Williams activist or, even less likely, someone trying to make Williams activists look bad. More likely is a local teenager. Is Buxton still a school for rich but troubled teenagers kicked out of places like Milton? Look there first.


First Lady’s Message to the Art Mafia

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama was a featured speaker at the recent opening of the new, Renzo Piano-designed building at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Whitney Dedication Ceremony, as pictured on the Whitney's website

Whitney Dedication Ceremony, as pictured on the Whitney’s website

In her remarks, she suggested that art museums like the Whitney have done too little in the past to reach out to the poor and disadvantaged:

You see, there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and they think to themselves, well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.  In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum.  And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.  So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.

Mrs. Obama also praised the inaugural exhibition at the new Whitney building, America is Hard to See, for inviting broad participation:

[W]ith this inaugural exhibition, the Whitney is telling [all young people] that their story is part of the American story, and that they deserve to be seen.  And you’re sending that message not just with the art you display, but with the educational programming you run here.  You’re reaching out to kids from all backgrounds, exposing them to the arts, showing them that they have something to contribute.
One of those young people said this about the Whitney — and this is a quote we pulled — said, “Having gone through the program, I’ve felt like the museum is home to me.  Even if I’ve never been to a particular museum before, I just know how to be in [that] space.”

Another young person going through one of the programs said, “I could rise above the negativity I saw around me every day within my community.”  Because of the work that you do here, that’s the impact you’re having on kids every day.

I think that every cultural institution in this country should be doing this kind of outreach and engagement with our young people every single day.

Although the Whitney’s top curators are not (to my knowledge) Ephs, Mrs. Obama’s praise does highlight the work of its Chair of Education, Kathryn Potts ’89 and Coordinator of Public Programs, Emily Arensman (M.A. 2010).  Congratulations to Kathryn and Emily — and other Ephs at the Whitney, including Brianna Lowndes ’05 (Director of Membership and Annual Fund — and photographer, see here).

(Mrs. Obama’s remarks have stirred some debate.  Here, a New York NPR reporter considers “Museums as White Spaces.” Political writer Jon Gabriel and philosophy professor Rachel Lu question that conclusion here and here).





Morty on Campus Unrest I

Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 1.

In 2001 I co-wrote an op-ed, “When Protests Proceed at Internet Speed,” arguing that the Internet would make it much more difficult to maintain civility on college campuses. Economists have a dismal prediction record, but that one was spot on. Seemingly every day brings a new crisis, a new set of issues that threatens to disrupt the lives of students, professors—and college presidents.

This paragraph illustrates the truth of Mark Taylor’s (in)famous quip about Morty — “Williams needs a wise man, not a wise guy.” Has “civility on college campuses” really decreased over the last few decades? Of course not!

First, consider the public spaces at places like Williams and Northwestern, the dining halls and dorms rooms. Does Morty (or anyone) provide any evidence that these locations are less civil today than they were 25 years ago? No. And that is because they are, if anything, more civil, more polite, more solicitous of the feelings of others, especially less powerful others. You are much less likely to hear casual slurs — e.g., “Don’t be such a fag.” — in public today than you were then. (Of course, the Williams of the 1980s was a very civil place, but Morty’s argument depends on it being more civil today.)

Second, consider the classrooms. Were Williams professors like, say, Robert Waite or Laszlo Versenyi, much more civil than current professors? No. They were certainly different. (Who can imagine a current Williams professor requiring his male students to take off their baseball caps for class, as Waite always did?) But, if anything, they were much more ready to make students uncomfortable in class than any current professor would be. Now, “making students uncomfortable” in class is not the same thing as being “uncivil,” but it is a sign of Morty’s parochialism that his complaints is unmoored from actual lived experience, both outside and inside the classroom.

Third, are students (and others) any more uncivil in their private thoughts and conversations than they were 25 years ago? Again, the answer is No. Students back then had lots of horrible things to say about Williams presidents like Chandler and Oakley, especially about topics like divestment from South Africa or affirmative action.

Given these facts, why would Morty — a smart and keen observer — believe that civility has decreased? Because he and his fellow presidents are no longer the only ones with the megaphone.

The major change between now and then is that, today, students/faculty/staff/alumni with complaints about Williams are better able to make those complaints heard by the broader College community, and the world. Morty’s real complaint is not about a general drop in civility but about the increased power of non-presidents to make their voices heard.

When students in 1985 were agitating for divestment from South Africa, their options were limited. Contact all the alumni? Impossible. Update their supporters who didn’t live in Williamstown? Very difficult.

Students today arguing for divestment from fossil fuel companies have much more power. They can easily reach alumni all over the world. They can coordinate with peers at other schools.

In 1980s, students could make life X difficult for John Chandler. Today, students can make life 10 times X difficult for Morty Schapiro. Students, and others, are not any less civil now than they were then. They are simply more powerful. And Morty doesn’t like it.

Entire op-ed is below the break for those without a WSJ subscription.
Read more


Mark Your Calendars

Looking for an excuse to visit the Purple Valley this summer?  Green Mountain Live! in Pownal (the former Green Mountain Racetrack) will be hosting the Full Tilt Boogie music festival on August 22.fieldtest1

ZZ Top, the Marshall Tucker Band, and Gary Clark, Jr., are among the artists scheduled to perform.  Tickets ($87.50 general admission) go on sale May 20.

Stay in Williamstown, bike up to Pownal, hear some music, what could be better?



Divestment Letter

Below the break is the recent divestment letter to Adam Falk and the trustees. Original is here, but we save our own copy for the benefit of future historians. It is week.

Should I spend two weeks critiquing it and the more detailed Williams Divestment Proposal?

Read more


DeflateGate Report: Amherst Unscathed?

One of the great things about Division III athletics is that sportsmanship is usually valued as greatly as winning.  No one would draw the same conclusion about professional sports, however, and the release of conclusions about DeflateGate unfortunately confirms this.  Worse, two of the team leaders at the center of the misconduct are products of the Little Three.

The long-awaited Wells Report, investigating allegations that the New England Patriots cheated by deliberately deflating footballs used by their offense, has been released, and it doesn’t make team president Jonathan Kraft ’86 (a current Williams trustee) or Bill Belichick (Wesleyan ’75) look like effective leaders.

Kraft has been trying to step out of the shadow if his father, team owner Robert Kraft, as described in a somewhat-unflattering, mid-DeflateGate article in the Boston Globe:

He may lack some of his father’s charisma and taste for celebrity. His temper may run hotter, as those he has verbally accosted over perceived slights have discovered. And he has yet to embrace the virtues of forgiveness: He remains highly contemptuous of the politicians and pundits he believes have wronged him in the past 20 years.

But on the day of Jonathan Kraft’s succession, the dynasty will pass to a sharp-edged chief executive whose focus rarely wavers from his father’s passions: family, philanthropy, and making it big in business, whether it’s recycling cardboard or chasing Super Bowl titles.

Kraft declined to speak publicly for this story… [a]ssociates indicated he is wary of being portrayed as a prince-in-waiting.

Two Sundays ago, millions of television viewers could have misjudged Kraft as that silver-spooned prince when CBS zoomed in on the owner’s box during the AFC Championship game.

The camera caught Secretary of State John F. Kerry leaning forward from his second-row seat to share a few words with Robert Kraft. The younger Kraft was sitting next to his father, wolfing popcorn and displaying no interest in the conversation.

Kraft is the team president; it’s unlikely he was involved in decisions about whether to break the rules by altering game equipment.  But the Patriots repeatedly and publicly insisted that they would cooperate fully with the NFL’s investigation, as part of a media campaign that featured Robert Kraft demanding an apology from the league.  The Wells Report makes clear that the Patriots didn’t deliver:

[T]he Patriots . . . refused to make Jim McNally [the equipment handler at the center of the alteration of the footballs] available for a follow-up interview requested by our investigative team on . . . important topics, despite our offer to meet at any time and location that would be convenient for McNally.  Counsel for the Patriots apparently refused even to inform McNally of our request.  We believe the failure by the Patriots and its counsel to produce McNally for the requested follow-up interview violated the club’s obligations to cooperate with the investigation under the Policy on Integrity of the Game & Enforcement of League Rules and was inconsistent with public statements made by the Patriots pledging full cooperation . . .

Similarly, although Tom Brady appeared for a requested interview . . . he declined to make available any documents or . . . text messages and emails[] that we requested. . . . Our inability to review contemporaneous communications and other documents in Brady’s possession . . . limited the discovery of relevant evidence.

The Wells Report lays the blame for the Patriots conduct at the feet of Tom Brady and the team’s equipment personnel.  Its scope was limited to investigating the AFC Championship Game, in which the Patriots thoroughly dismantled the Indianapolis Colts, and would likely have done so without assistance from deflated balls.  Thus, it didn’t consider whether the Patriots also deflated balls the previous week, when they rallied from behind and narrowly escaped the Baltimore Ravens.

Understandably, Ravens fans are furious, and there are reasons to believe that the Patriots’ actions reflect a broader culture of cheating — for example, the opposing team alerted the NFL and its officials to the possibility of tampering with the footballs before the game, suggesting they (or other teams) had noticed a pattern of conduct in the past by New England.  And of course, the Patriots were disciplined a few years ago for breaking the rules by videotaping opposing teams’ signals.

As members of the Eph community, we like to root for the success of other Ephs, whether in politics, sports, science, or the arts. But we expect Ephs to meet our standards when they do. Kraft’s leadership so far has failed to meet those standards.


Eph Rich List

I will take “News that makes the Development Office happy,” for $200, Alex.


These are the top 10 earners on Wall Street. (This is a highly misleading list, as explained here and here.) But it mentions two Ephs, so EphBlog still likes it!

Are there other Ephs on the full list of 25 besides Andreas Halvorsen ’86 and Chase Coleman ’97?


Tweets About “Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance”

For reference, here are the two Eph tweets referenced in David Dudley Field’s post on the New York Times article, immediately prior to this posting.


Why a Harvard Professor is Clueless about “Public Service”

Jennifer Doleac ’03 and Arthur Levitt ’52 both tweeted about this New York Times article: “Why a Harvard Professor Has Mixed Feelings When Students Take Jobs in Finance”

This is a bittersweet time on campus. Seniors are beginning to find jobs, and while their enthusiasm is infectious, some of their choices give me pause.

Many of the best students are not going to research cancer, teach and inspire the next generation, or embark on careers in public service. Instead, large numbers are becoming traders, brokers and bankers. At Harvard in 2014, nearly one in five students who took a job went to finance. For economics majors, the number was closer to one in two. I can’t help wondering: Is this the best use of talent?

I suspect that this prejudice is common among the Williams faculty as well. Exploring it would make for an interesting Record article.

In the meantime, this view is absurd because it is impossible to make meaningful moral judgments about job choice between categories as broad as “public service” and “finance.”

First, I am not claiming that moral judgments are impossible. Consider two jobs that many people might reasonable judge as morally suspect:

  • Congressional staff who arrange for lobbyists to write big checks so that her boss will support their favorite tax loopholes.
  • Running the NSA computers which record all our phone conversations.

But notice what those jobs have in common? They are “public service,” positions in which your boss is the US Government. Does the author, Sendhil Mullainathan, “pause” when his students take jobs like these? Or are all public service jobs, by definition, morally praiseworthy?

Second, consider two (well paid) jobs in “finance.”

  • Protect online bank accounts from hackers and thieves.
  • Design better (cheaper) index funds.

Does Mullainathan experience “bittersweet” emotions when his students take jobs like these? I hope not!

Third, think about all the jobs that are the same in “public service” and in “finance.” Example:

Doing asset allocation at Calpers. Why is working for Calpers at job X more praiseworthy than working at Fidelity or Wellington or Vanguard and doing job X? Hint: It’s not, unless you think that California retirees are, as a class, more morally praiseworthy than people who invest with Vanguard.

Now, obviously, there are jobs in public service that are morally praise-worthy and jobs in finance that are morally suspect, but Mullainathan is only confusing his readers — and misleading himself? — when he claims that such broad categories provide meaningful evidence for moral judgment.

And don’t even get me started about the largely parasitic existence led by the public relations staff — oops, I mean the tenured faculty! — of the $30+ billion Harvard Hedge Fund, LLC . . .


Admissions Eph Blogging

Apropos last week’s Decision Day post, John Spear ’92, the college guidance director at the Northwood School in Lake Placid, is among the Ephs offering advice and input in the college admissions process.  On Twitter, Spear shares interesting, admissions-related stories:

Spear also has a blog, College Guidance at Northwood, updated occasionally, on topics such as gap years and college fairs.


Sexual Assault Discussion

Consider this criticism of my suggestions regarding how to decrease sexual assault at Williams. Let’s go through it point-by-point.

Should Williams also tell its female students to wear longer skirts and more conservative tops to help men control their unavoidable urges?

Please confront the argument I actually made, rather than the one you think (wish?) I had made. For example, I wrote the following (in bold):

[T]he College could tell female Ephs the truth about alcohol use and sexual assault. Women who stay sober (and/or drink in moderation) are vastly less likely to be sexually assaulted than those who don’t.

Do you agree or disagree? Once we settle these important issues, we can move on to a Williams dress code.

Yeah, totally, let’s blame the victim here.

Accusations of victim blaming are the laziest response of the censorious left. Imagine that I tell you to look both ways when using the crosswalk for route 2. Good advice? You bet! Of course, in a perfect world, you shouldn’t have to look both ways. You are in a crosswalk! You have the right of way. And, a fool might accuse me of victim blaming since, implicitly, I am suggesting that anyone who did not look both ways and was hit by a car was, at least partly, at fault. But “Look both ways” is still excellent advice. And so is “Don’t drink too much.”

You are completely uninformed about sexual assault (your “(all?)” parenthetical makes it seem like you doubt the very existence of male-male and female-female sexual assault).

This is an empirical question! I bet that all 14 cases of sexual assault at Williams last year were male-on-female. Want to take the other side of that wager?

By the way, I have never read of a female-on-female sexual assault report on a college campus. Have you?

Here’s an idea to increase yield that’s a little different than your previous post: the college should publicly disavow David.

The College is smarter than that! Always ignore dissident voices.

In the past two days of previews, I’ve been asked by no fewer than 7 prefrosh a variant of “did that crazy ephblog guy really go to Williams? Is he typical of Williams students? Because if so, I’m not going here.”

Only 7? EphBlog is slipping!

EphBlog is hardly “typical” of Williams students, but there are scores (hundreds?) of Williams students who share our concern over changes in sexual assault policy. You should meet some of them!

One can only guess how many matriculants ephblog has cost Williams over the years.

Anyone who would choose, say, Oberlin or Swarthmore over Williams because of a concern that the Williams community allows/nurtures non-leftwing views — even, gasp, a concern with due process! — is a student I would rather not have.


Decision Day

Many people describe today, May 1, as National College Decision Day.  At most selective colleges, including Williams, today is the deadline to accept or decline an offer of admission and place a deposit for the first year of college.

A few years ago, Michael McPherson, the former Williams Dean of Faculty, economics professor, and, later, President of Macalester College, wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal defending the current debt-financing model for colleges and encouraging students and parents to continue to assume mountains of debt in pursuit of higher future earnings: Get Smart About College: Parents and students like to think they’re rational when it comes to picking a college and paying for it. They aren’t.

With co-author Sandy Baum, past Skidmore College department chair in Economics, McPherson writes:

For starters, a college education is really a joint production between both the college and the student, so “fit” matters greatly. The best college for one student might be a nonstarter for another. Second, both the benefits and the costs, at least for the two-thirds of students who borrow, are extended over a long period of time, requiring a kind of investment perspective.

Moreover, investing in college is not something families deal with frequently, so learning from experience is hard. Reliable information is hard to come by, and decisions aren’t reversed easily or without cost; transfer is possible, but it’s often expensive and risky.

This framing of the problem is reasonable.  But are McPherson and Baum correct in their conclusions?

[P]eople tend to overvalue current consumption relative to future opportunities. Small wonder: It’s always difficult to pay now, or soon, for benefits we won’t enjoy until years in the future… This myopic approach can lead people to opt for schools that offer better prices, regardless of whether the schools are the best fit—and that can be a huge mistake.

When people read news articles about students who borrowed $100,000 for undergraduate education and have been unemployed since graduating, they tend to believe that this will happen to them (and that it will last forever). Likewise, people put lots of stock in the recurring (and misleading) warnings that college is a bubble or that it isn’t worth the money in the long run.

These stories make for captivating headlines, but all the evidence is that college pays off better than ever.

To be sure, McPherson and Baum emphasize that college decisions must be made based on individual situations, and note that cognitive biases can lead to decisions that overestimate earnings potential and underestimate debt loads as well.  But underpinning their analysis is both the last statement: “that college pays off better than ever,” and the suggestion that the “best fit” is more important than the “best price.”  That may be true if your “best fit” is Williams College, or a handful of other top-brand institutions, but it’s increasingly dubious as you work your way down the ladder.  This is particularly true because “fit” often has little to do with the educational dimensions – formal or informal – and more to do with whether it was raining on the day you visited the campus, and what drink you ordered at the coffee bar in the fitness center.

The debate over educational choices, costs, and benefits has continued in the four years since McPherson and Baum wrote this article, and unfortunately, EphBlog’s hiatus has kept us out of that discussion.  But on this Decision Day and the next one, I encourage skepticism when eloquent writers and speakers — even those with deep Eph connections — from traditional academic backgrounds urge “Ignore the Cost, Go With the Fit.”