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Matter of Rules: The Petty Tyrants of Williams

Professor Sam Crane writes:

There is a matter of rules. You will notice that there are specific procedures that student groups need to follow, as per: http://student-life.williams.edu/student-involvement/student-organizations/. It is not clear whether “uncomfortable learning” is registered as a student group. If it is not, these other rules may apply: http://conferences.williams.edu/college-facilities/.

Does Professor Crane make it his business to ensure that every student and student group at Williams follows these rules? Of course not! If a group of progressive students fail to correctly fill out their forms or if Students For Bernie do a little vote registration on campus, Sam has no complaints. He only goes after students who he disagrees with politically. (If Sam has, in fact, hassled, say, the Williams College Democrats, as much as he has Uncomfortable Learning, then I will gladly withdraw this accusation.

If “uncomfortable learning” is a student group, then it would be bound by this rule: “Students who wish to raise money for any campus activity by soliciting alumni, foundations, or other sources of funds must receive advance approval.” (http://dean.williams.edu/policies/fund-raising-activities/).

Interestingly enough, the College did try to shut down Uncomfortable Learning three years ago by citing these regulations. Unsurprisingly, that threat was a bluff and cooler/smarter heads in the Administration prevailed.

That does not seem to be the case with “uncomfortable learning.”

Isn’t it cute the way “Professor” Crane puts Uncomfortable Learning — the official name of a student group at Williams — in quotes? Note that he does this three times, clearly meaning to denigrate the claim by these students that their group follows in the best traditions of Williams and of Bob Gaudino. Should we follow “Professor” Crane’s lead in this, using quotation marks to imply that even though “Professor” Crane calls himself a Professor, that he isn’t really one, at least in the way that we prefer to use that term, as someone committed to supporting all the students at Williams, not just those we agree with? No! That would be too cute!

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#1 Comment By Sam Crane On October 26, 2015 @ 7:34 am

Dear David Kane,

Thank you for confirming the “Uncomfortable Learning” systematically violates College fund-raising policies.

That fact reveals just how much your foolish consistency in your previous post is the hobgoblin of your little mind. I called for transparency in the case of “Uncomfortable Learning” because I had been told by one source that it was breaking the rules for student groups. There is no such evidence, that I know of, regarding the capital campaign. A furtive and continuous effort to break rules (your behavior) is quite different than virtually all other fund-raising activities here. To be clear (and please read this slowly and carefully, because it is evident that you have difficulty comprehending distinctions of even moderate complexity): “Uncomfortable Learning” (a student group) and the capital campaign are not the same thing. They are different things. Different. Thus your effort to apply some sort of “consistency” is specious.

If you were honest you would correct the other post. But you are not. You are irresponsible.

Regarding other student groups, I am happy to assume that they follow the rules. Indeed, a basic courtesy that should be afforded to all Ephs is the assumption that they are not systematically violating rules that all their fellow Ephs follow. But that is obviously not the case with you, and we now have your own admission that you do, indeed, violate college policies and you place students in the position of doing the same.

If you have evidence of other student groups breaking fund raising rules, please do bring it forward. Short of that you are simply, as usual, slinging baseless accusations.

#2 Comment By ephalum On October 26, 2015 @ 9:34 am

It seems pretty fair to require that a student group register, you know, as a student group. I’ve never heard of ANY student group that raised funds from the Williams community, and regularly put on events in campus spaces, publicized through college channels, that wasn’t registered as a student group. If, in fact, this particular group is not, I don’t think it’s unfair for anyone at the college to make note of it … it would be a very strange outlier, at the very least, and something that warrants a closer look.

#3 Comment By esoskin On October 26, 2015 @ 10:24 am

Not sure if there is a requirement that student groups register as such, but I do agree with ephalum that it seems unusual not to do so.

That said, the “advance approval” requirement for soliciting external funds does seem designed to create a huge incentive for not registering, otherwise a group with a controversial topic — the very reason for being of “Uncomfortable Learning” — runs a serious risk of being defunded.

This is not a theoretical concern, as illustrated by the recent example at Wesleyan (student newspaper runs a mildly critical opinion column about #BlackLivesMatter, student government votes unanimously to cut its funding).

Sam’s pointer to the “College Facilities”/conference page intrigued me. Note that he qualifies his statement by saying only that these rules “may” apply, which seems correct, as the rules are for “private events” by “outside groups,” so it appears to be discretionary as to whether an unregistered student group hosting a public event would come within. Here are the rules (guidelines?), btw:

Approved activities will typically be short-term and of an educational, cultural, or informational nature, the primary purpose of which is not to raise funds for a non-college organization.

Fees are set based on services required.

Appropriate insurance is required.

Any food or beverage must be provided by Williams Dining Services or, if Dining Services is unavailable, by a Dining Services approved caterer.

Activities may not exclude participants included in the College’s non-discrimination statement. This policy applies to activities not sponsored by a College office or group. Any political activity on campus should be sponsored by a college office or group.

Requests for use of Williams’ facilities by outside groups should be submitted to Conferences in the Office of Student Life at conferences@williams.edu

There appear to be four actual “rules”:

1) Insurance
2) Use Dining Services/approved caterer for food & beverages
3) Don’t discriminate
4) Submit requests by email to the conferences address

Surprisingly, the fee structure appears to be entirely discretionary. Can this be right? From past experience, I seem to recall that, circa 2008, the College had a detailed and public fee schedule for such events.

#4 Comment By David Dudley Field ’24 On October 26, 2015 @ 10:33 am

Sam Crane writes:

Thank you for confirming the “Uncomfortable Learning” systematically violates College fund-raising policies.

I think you are confused. I do not believe that Uncomfortable Learning — still with the quotes, Sam? Come on! You a better person than that! — violates College policies. What I wrote is that some members of the Administration, three years ago, tried to use the threat of alleged violations to shut them down. Those threats were bluffs because, in fact, no policies were being violated, or at least no policies that the College ever enforced or wanted to enforce.

you do, indeed, violate college policies and you place students in the position of doing the same.

Which College policies do you think that I, or anyone else associated with EphBlog, has violated? It is a free country and alumni can do anything they want with their money. A few years ago, I bought pizza for the students at WSO. Is that a violation of college policy?

#5 Comment By Sam Crane On October 26, 2015 @ 11:46 am

For the record: “Uncomfortable Learning” is not a Williams student group. List of those groups following registration and other rules is here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/17rSdrh7YqQrOnolN94Rgu7hFm38WaWYLv_U6no6bDHA/edit?pli=1#gid=0

Real uncomfortable learning can be found here: http://gaudino.williams.edu/about-the-fund/

#6 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On October 26, 2015 @ 1:58 pm

Thanks for sharing that link to the list of student groups! Could you tell us who maintains it? I suspect that the students involved in Uncomfortable Learning would like to add their group to this list, but they may not know the correct procedure for doing so.

#7 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 26, 2015 @ 2:22 pm

Is there any reason that if Uncomfortable Learning were to request permission to solicit (or receive) outside money to fund a speaker they would be turned down? I know that the WRFC and the WWRFC (the men’s and women’s rugby clubs) used to regularly solicit alums for money. Does this now have to be approved in advance? After a very quick scan of the website included in Prof. Crane’s comment (quoted in this post), I could not find the rules on external funding sources.

#8 Comment By Kate Flanagan ’14 On October 26, 2015 @ 4:19 pm

In order to be included on the Office of Student Life’s list of student organizations (which Professor Crane linked to above), students must register their organization with OSL and College Council. This policy was formalized in spring 2012, as I recall, and has been broadly advertised ever since. In OSL, the contact person would be Ben Lamb, Assistant Director for Student Organizations and Involvement; on CC, the contact person would be the current Vice President for Student Organizations. The registration form can be found on OSL’s website and on CC’s website:

OSL: http://student-life.williams.edu/student-involvement/student-organizations/student-organization-new-registration/

CC: http://collegecouncil.williams.edu/?page_id=225

To address Whitney Wilson ’90’s specific question:

OSL has a policy on student organizations’ solicitation of funding from external sources, which is outlined on their website (http://student-life.williams.edu/student-involvement/student-involvement-policies/). Personally, this seems like a relatively new policy, although I can’t be sure; I just don’t remember it from my time at Williams. My recollection is that we were actively discouraged from soliciting money from alumni; of course, some student organizations (especially those with strong alumni connections) did, usually for “unapproved” expenditures.

CC has a policy on this as well, although obviously CC would really only have jurisdiction over registered organizations. That policy can be found in the CC Bylaws, in Article VI, Section 2 (http://collegecouncil.williams.edu/files/2015/03/Bylaws-as-of-2.24.2015.pdf). The CC policy does not specifically address alumni contributions; instead, there is a line in Section 2 that states that the solicitation of monetary contributions must be in line with College policy.

On the Development Office’s website, an FAQ for Alumni Fund volunteers states that donations to the Alumni Fund may not be designated for a specific student organization or academic program (http://giving.williams.edu/alumnifund/alumni-fund-tools/designated-giving-faq/).

Strictly speaking, it would seem that none of these policies entirely fit the case at hand, because Uncomfortable Learning isn’t a registered student organization, and because the Development policy addresses contributions made to the Alumni Fund, not direct donations to student organizations. However, the “spirit” of the policies would seem to indicate that a student organization at Williams shouldn’t solicit alumni contributions without administrative oversight and approval, and that alumni are not encouraged to effectively “endow” a student organization. Regardless of whether or not a student group is officially approved, the OSL policy should theoretically be in effect – which would mean that yes, student organizations can only solicit money from external sources, like alumni, with approval. The policy doesn’t offer much nuance, though – personally, I wonder if there is (or should be, etc.) a different standard for a student organization that is soliciting contributions for a finite fundraising effort (i.e., a team raising money for new equipment that isn’t fully covered by CC) and a student group that receives no budget from Williams/CC and operates solely based on alumni support.

Hope that clarifies things a bit!

#9 Comment By Whitney Wilson ’90 On October 26, 2015 @ 5:30 pm

Thank you Kate for the detailed explanation!

#10 Comment By dcat On October 26, 2015 @ 9:05 pm

At my decidedly non-Williams institution there are clear rules about outside fundraising for one simple rule — sometimes when you are trying to cultivate donors the last thing you want is for them to be asked for a smaller sum of money from an organization acting without the development folks knowing. People who give money sometimes will feel disrespected if they have just given a few thousand dollars and another group fro the institution comes up and asks for more money. Basically, the mindset is that the institution wants to make sure that a student group or faculty member or what have you doesn’t interfere with the cultivation of a relationship with a donor.

Frankly I think that’s pretty petty stuff — if someone is so sensitive or ego-driven that the very act of a student organization asking them for a $50 sponsorship makes them feel disrespected and unwilling to give $10,000 they were looking for a way out anyway. Nonetheless, when you’re dealing with much smaller numbers and little endowment, you also don’t want to lose any potential donors.


#11 Comment By Edward W. Morley ’60 On October 27, 2015 @ 9:17 am

Thank you, dcat, for the explanation of the rationale behind outside fundraising rules. That suggests there may be a distinction between two principles Kate identified:

(1) “that a student organization at Williams shouldn’t solicit alumni contributions without administrative oversight and approval”


(2) “that alumni are not encouraged to effectively “endow” a student organization.”


An oddity to the Williams alumni fund rule: alumni fund donors are encouraged (and technologically enabled) to direct their contributions to specific athletic teams. Allowing this, while disallowing contributions to other student activities, is a surprising example of discrimination in favor of sports.

#12 Comment By dcat On October 27, 2015 @ 10:54 am

EWM ’60 —
And of course I’m giving a perspective from a Masters Comprehensive in Texas, so Williams might not be concerned about this kind of double dipping, though then again, Williams has a far more sophisticated fundraising process as well, so they might be even MORE concerned with coordinating these things. Let’s face it — the couple hundred bucks or so I give a year doesn’t exactly give me inside access to the process!

I agree with you about the unseemly discrimination in favor of sports even though I allot a little bit of my donation each year for my old varsity team. At minimum one would think “student activities” or “student organizations” would be a category. Then again, I don’t even remember if you can donate to a specific major, the absence of which possibility making the ability to donate to a specific sport especially odd.


#13 Comment By Kate Flanagan ’14 On October 27, 2015 @ 11:54 am

dcat: “Student Life” is a category for designated giving, and it’s described as encompassing “all aspects of student life—including student clubs, entertainment, and intramural sports” (http://giving.williams.edu/designated-giving/student-life/). The other designated categories are financial aid, academic excellence, sustainability, the arts, and athletics (http://giving.williams.edu/designated-giving/). Athletics is the only category that appears to offer additional opportunities to designate your gift (based on a cursory survey of the online donation form).

#14 Comment By Edward W. Morley ’60 On October 27, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

As I think about it, I think the availability of individual teams as recipients evolved out of alumni demand. In the absence of this option, alums were finding ways to give to their teams despite an official prohibition (a pattern of loyalty and support seen most places, not just at Williams).

The consequences of allowing donations to teams are perhaps less pernicious than to specific student-life organizations or majors/departments. With the latter, there would be a risk that the channeling of donations would suppress, rather than enhance, the overall diversity (however measured) of Williams’ offerings.

Further, a core set of student groups survive intergenerationally, and would benefit disproportionately from selective support. A different set of groups on the periphery rise and fall in interest, and would be less likely to receive significant support.

#15 Comment By dcat On October 27, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

Kate — thanks. I was working from what EMW was saying and had not remembered that you could donate to student services. Thanks for clarifying.

As for donating to sports teams, I know that it can really help most programs, which operate on a relatively shoestring budget relative to Williams’ overall wealth. But I’d be fine with seeing it all expand, and I suspect that with online giving even more directed donations will become possible.