Currently browsing the archives for November 2015

Binyavanga Wainaina Needs Help

Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07 writes:

Beloved Kenyan writer and former Williams visiting professor Binyavanga Wainaina has suffered a stroke, and needs to travel to India for treatment. People around the world are mobilizing to raise funds for his care here and here.

(Previously wrote about him on EphBlog.)

Help if you can.


Williams Reads Breakout Sessions

After the ’62 Center event during First Days, the class of 2019 broke into discussion groups. Kudos to the Eph faculty and staff who volunteered (?) to devote Labor Day to this event! The more intellectual engagement brought to First Days, the better. Recall this Record op-ed from last spring:

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.

Read the whole thing.


Only POC

Daily Messages reports:

La Loba Loca Workshops
La Loba Loca will be leading 2 workshops: the first one (for everyone), Abuelita/Ancestral Knowledge as a Tool for Liberation, will be today from 4:30-6pm in Dodd Living Room and the second (only POC), Know Yo’s Self: circle on Abuelita knowledge, cycles, herbs and wholeness, will be today from 7-9pm in Hardy House.

Yik Yak is afire with discussion. (For those unaware of current lingo, “POC” means “people of color,” which generally means everyone except non-Hispanic Caucasians.) Questions:

1) Where did the money come from for this event? (I assume that La Loba Loca requires funding.) Professor Sam Crane is always warning us about this unwanted influence of shadowy alumni groups and their divisive speakers. Is this another example? (I am joking! Sam is only concerned about conservative speakers. If a leftist group of alumni wants to bring a speaker who prefers segregated events, Sam has no complaints.)

2) Will the Record report on the controversy? It ought to! There is an interesting story to be told, both about the funding and about relevant College policies?

3) What are the relevant College rules? I assume that this is against Williams general policy of non-discrimination, but is there a specific section of the Student (or Faculty) Handbook that applies in this case. Yik Yakers point out other examples of exclusivity, like female-only outings organized by the Women’s Collective.

4) What should the policy be? As always, EphBlog prefers a world in which all the rights — like freedom of association — you have on Spring Street don’t disappear once you step foot on the Williams campus. If VISTA wants to organize a POC-only event, then they should be able to.


November 2011 Racist Graffiti in Prospect Was a Hoax

The Prospect House racist graffiti (“All Niggers Must Die”) of November 2011 was almost certainly a hoax, creating by a member of the class of 2012 who was (ironically?) a leader of the Williams Minority Coalition. Previous discussion here. It is hard to take the Record seriously as a newspaper if it won’t report this story.

Besides numerous prior doubts about the veracity of this “hate crime,” from people both on and off campus, we now have this radio story from David Michael ’13.
Give it a listen.


1) Wow! What an amazing story! How did Michael get so many people to talk about the story on the record, including a Williams College security officer? Bravo!

2) Are you too lazy to listen? At some point, we should create a transcript. Summary: There was a very short window during which the graffiti could have been written. A minority member of the class of 2012, very active in campus politics, was seen on the 4th floor of Prospect at the time. She had no reason to be up there. She was seen by an acquaintance. Afterwards, as security (and the police?) were investigating, she sent a text to the acquaintance which seemed designed to get him to say that she was visiting him, and hence had a reason to be on the 4th floor at that time. The security officer, citing swipe card evidence, implied that the event was a hoax. Security Chief Dave Boyer refused to be interviewed.

3) I am not sure that this summary does the tape justice, but listen for yourself.

4) Michael ’13 declines to name the minority student who he (obviously) thinks is responsible for the hoax. Yik Yak, however, is not so punctilious, nor are our comment threads. I e-mailed the student for an interview. She never responded.

5) This, and other events, are why smart campus observers, whenever confronted by some racist outrage, assign (at least?) a 50% probability of the event being a hoax. I am embarrassed for the many Ephs who have yet to learn this lesson. Consider:

Professor Cohen should read EphBlog! If she did, she would (we hope!) be less likely to fail for obvious hoaxes like that one.


Amherst Uprising V

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 5.

Here is an account of last week’s events from an Amherst parent about the experience of his son at the library sit in.

His main observation of the original sit-in was that people seemed to have enormously negative experiences as persons of color on campus and he found that surprising. He reported that people talked about their life at Amherst as, say, a black female, being a living hell, one that my son found hard to jibe with the general intolerance in the classroom for even an ambiguously racist comment.

Indeed. This is a common reaction among white/Asian students.

One thing my son reported was that there were a lot of threats made against white students who somehow were not present in the library at the sit-in, as if non-presence at an unannounced event was somehow in and of itself racist. The general tone of the discussion was very authoritarian — everyone should be forced to be here, everyone should be forced to take diversity courses, etc.

Correct. We saw the same thing at Williams during Stand With Us in 2008.

A sleepy New England town was not so sleepy late last Wednesday night, as hundreds of students, faculty and staff poured from a packed Baxter Hall into the Williamstown streets, loudly promoting Stand With Us’ message of respect. That the movement — and this rally in particular — has galvanized much of the campus is undeniable. Yet for all the good energy that poured forth on Wednesday, a little bad energy seeped through as well, and threatened to add a tinge of dissatisfaction to an otherwise successful evening.

This dissatisfaction is due in large part to how a few members of the march handled students studying in Schow that night. In several instances those in the library that didn’t join in were yelled at and made to feel uncomfortable. Some who did not immediately stand with the rest of the group were intimidated into doing so.

Funny how these protests move so quickly from complaints about oppression to confrontations with other students.

In any event, we should not be surprised that Amherst, being Amherst, the movement has completely fizzled.up3

The protesters are so lame that they declare victory when their demands are “acknowledged.” Pathetic. And after I offered them some genius advice! Pearls before Jeffs . . .

Below the break is a copy of their most recent letter, an embarrassing climb down from their initial demands. Key section:

As an important note, the movement, both at its inception and now, by no means intends to stifle free speech. Such allegations are misinformed and misguided.

What gibberish! Their web page still demands:

President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.

If you don’t think that honor code requirements to avoid “racial insensitivity” stifle free speech, then you might just be dumb enough to go to Amherst! Here is a concrete example:

At Amherst, the average math + reading SAT scores of male Asian-American students is more than 150 points higher than those of male African-American students.

This isn’t racial sensitive but it is, for good or for ill, the truth. Would Amherst Uprising protest against an Amherst professor who mentioned this fact in class? I bet they would!

Recent letter from Amherst Uprising below the break.
Read more


Amherst Uprising IV

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 4.

Continuing our analysis of President Biddy Martin’s statement:

And the administration will ensure that no students, faculty, or staff members are subject to retaliation for taking advantage of their right to protest.

Did an Amherst lawyer vet this? What an absurd (and dangerous) promise to make! “Right to protest” is a very different thing than the right to free speech. I am writing this prior to the events, if any, on Wednesday, but hasn’t Martin given the students carte blanche — Is that word a micro-agression?! — to do anything they want, short of violence? Imagine students protest by shutting down the presidents office (or the presidents house!) by refusing to leave. Martin has just guaranteed that they won’t be punished? What if they occupy the two or three largest lecture halls on campus, thereby preventing classes from meeting there? Again, they can’t be punished!

Amherst has committed itself to equal opportunity for the most talented students from all socio-economic circumstances.

Uhh. No. Amherst actively discriminates in admissions against non-poor students. (Discussion here, here and here.)

The College also has a foundational and inviolable duty to promote free inquiry and expression, and our commitment to them must be unshakeable if we are to remain a college worthy of the name. The commitments to freedom of inquiry and expression and to inclusivity are not mutually exclusive, in principle, but they can and do come into conflict with one another. Honoring both is the challenge we have to meet together, as a community.

“Inclusivity,” thy name is “Speech Code.” Either Amherst students have the same free speech rights as UMass students or they don’t. Which is it? Getting clarity on that point (at least for Williams College) is perhaps the most important issue in this debate. What do our readers think?

Those who have immediately accused students in Frost of threatening freedom of speech or of making speech “the victim” are making hasty judgments.

If I were an Amherst trustee, I would be reaching for George Orwell right about now, and wondering if I can trust Martin to be truthful. The protesters have demanded punishment for other Amherst students whose only “crime” was to put up posters about free speech. If this isn’t “threatening freedom of speech,” then words have no meaning.

It takes time, attention, and serious discussion to sort out and make clear how we protect free speech while also establishing norms within our communities that encourage respect and make us responsible for what we do with our freedom. That is the discussion we need to have.

Does Amherst have a history of left wing presidents? President Martin, like President Marx before her, is certainly more stridently leftist in her pronouncements (and career?) than any Williams president.

You heard it here first: Why not rename Amherst? The student protesters don’t like the Lord Jeff mascot because Lord Jeffrey Amherst fought the King’s enemies in ways of which they disapprove. They want a new mascot. Fine. But the college would still be called Amherst! (I am hazy on whether this Amherst (the town?) is also connected to Lord Jeffrey.) So, why not solicit a gift for a billion dollars or so from some really rich megalomaniac and rename Amherst after him? Everybody wins!

And I even have a candidate: Weill College, after Citigroup’s Sandy Weill. This is perfect because a) Biddy Martin has raised money from Weill before, b) Weill has (at least?) a billion dollars and c) the Weills have tried before to get a college named after them.


Amherst Uprising III

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 3.

Here is President Biddy Martin’s statement. First, why write 100 words when you can write 1,400? Second, are we allowed to make fun of President Martin’s first name? If “Biddy” isn’t the most WASPy name among elite liberal arts college presidents, then my name is David Dudley Field! Highlights:

The organizers of the protests also presented me with a list of demands on Thursday evening. While expressing support for their goals, I explained that the formulation of those demands assumed more authority and control than a president has or should have.

Hmmm. This might be a good strategy in that, if the President really can’t do thing X, then how can the protesters demand that she does? But, like the teller reporting to the bank robber that there is no money in the till, it is risky. First, college presidents are, on some dimensions, fairly powerful. There is a lot that Biddy can, in fact, do. Second, if she really does “support” the goals (and the demands?), then she is just passing the buck to whomever (the trustees? the faculty?) actually run the College. If I were an Amherst trustee, I would want Biddy to take responsibility for saying “No” to these brats. I would not want them bothering me.

Our students’ activism is part of a national movement of students who are devoted to bringing about much-needed change. They are exercising a fundamental American right to freedom of speech and protest.

Do students have free speech rights at Amherst? FIRE says No, giving Amherst a Yellow Light rating. (Sadly, Williams gets a Red Light.) I ask this question in all seriousness. Compare Amherst to UMass. Students at the latter have free speech, due to a long line of court decisions outlining that no part of the government, including state colleges, may violate the First Amendment. But those cases do not apply to private colleges like Amherst? So, is there something that a UMass student could say without fear of university retaliation but which would, if said by an Amherst student, result in punishment?


End Lectures As Usual

Deadline for our friends at @UprisingAmherst is midnight tomorrow. What should they do when their demands are not meant? Simple:

Slogan: “End Lectures As Normal.” This is supposed to be a play on “End business as usual.” Does it work? Suggestions welcome!

Goal: Stop all large lecture classes from meeting together in their usual lecture halls. I don’t know enough about Amherst to target specific classes/rooms, but there must be some, probably fewer than a dozen, with more than, say 40 students.

Method: Have at least one student (or, ideally, two or more) go to the lecture hall a few minutes before the start of class. Stand at the front of the room at the podium. Start reading aloud material relevant to the Amherst Uprising movement. Content does not actually matter but more relevant is better. You are like a filibustering Senator, so even just reading a compilation of all the supportive letters/emails you have received is fine. The important thing is that you are, non-violently, taking over that lecture hall and freely speaking about what matters to you and what should, indeed, matter to everyone at Amherst. And you are not going to stop talking, even if the professor asks you to, even if she just wants to start class, even if the students start to complain. You are standing witness. You will not be silenced.

Result: The professor will have no choice but to cancel and reschedule class. And that is OK! Your goal is not to prevent the students from hearing a lecture in Statistics 111. You goal is to prevent “lectures as usual.” Since this large lecture hall is not available — and since Amherst Uprising will be speaking witness in all large lecture halls until further notice — the professor will have no choice but to say to the class:

“We need to reschedule this large lecture into 4 smaller sections that will meet in a smaller classroom at these four times. Please attend one of them.”

In fact, you are available to help the professor with this process by providing her with a list of smaller classrooms, their seating capacity and their current availability. In fact, you have already prepared a possible schedule for her!

Result: No student is hurt. (A few may be slightly inconvenienced by having their classes meet at different times/locations.) If anything, students are better off. A discussion section of 20 is a much better way to learn statistics than a lecture of 80. Yet the professors are very annoyed. They don’t want to quadruple their teaching time. They like large lectures.

Unfortunately, as much as you probably like these professors, you have to annoy them. You have to (non-violently and using your free speech rights) make their lives difficult enough that they will force the Administration to change. It is very hard for you to get President Martin to do what you want. It is much easier for a group of inconvenienced Amherst professors to do so. Force them to only teach students in classes of 30 or smaller, and they will do whatever is necessary to make your protest go away.

Even better, it is hard/impossible for the professors to complain to you. After all, many of them have sent you letters of support! They are on your side. And you are not preventing them from doing their jobs. They can still teach their classes, as long as they do so in smaller settings.

Pushback: Might the Administration come down hard against you? We should be so lucky! You are non-violent. You are doing nothing but speaking. You are even providing convenient lists of alternate times/locations where classes can occur. How can they attack you? And, even if they do, what are their options? Send in security? You then refuse to move; link arms; go limp. You use all the best non-violent tricks to stand your ground. Are they going to call the Amherst police? Arrest you? If they did that, hundreds of students would rally to your side. Your movement would be unstoppable.

President Martin is smart, so she would see the futility of using security and/or the police to force you out.

Summary: Your biggest leverage point is the faculty. You are not powerful enough to force substantive change. Students never are. But the faculty is. You need to force — non-violently and cleverly — the faculty to force the Administration to agree with your demands. Preventing them from lecturing, while allowing them to teach the same material in small groups, is your best strategy.

Good luck! Your friends at EphBlog wish you nothing but success.


Amherst Uprising II

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 2.

Consider some of the demands from Amherst Uprising.

President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ”All Lives Matter” posters, and the ”Free Speech” posters that stated that ”in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.” Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.

I swear, this is not a joke! These clueless students really believe that free speech has no place on the Amherst campus.

President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.

Zero-tolerance works out so well in other aspects of social policy that we ought to apply it to campus discussion and debate. What could go wrong?!

Recall our discussions about the failed (and misguided) efforts to police student speech in the Williams honor code.

Perhaps I have too much faith in Amherst President Biddy Martin, but I doubt that she will comply with these demands. The students have set a deadline of tomorrow. What is their best strategy?

First, they should heighten the contradictions. They need some racist graffiti, some death threats on Yik Yak and/or some nooses left around campus. Alas, it is unlikely that these will just materialize. Skinheads are, sadly, a marginalized and underrepresented group at campus. So, Amherst Uprising may just have to create these epiphenomenon of the underlying racism that is everywhere. So, be it!

Second, they should avoid getting caught in doing so! Nothing undermines campus activism more than unsuccessful false flag operations.

Third, they should carefully plan their direct action. Suggestions from our readers? Tough to know the best plan without having a sense of their numbers. Maybe a sit in at the President’s Office? A blockade of major lecture halls? Most aggressive would be an attempt to organize a campus wide boycott of final exams. If no students take any finals, Amherst can’t fail all of them.

Either way, good luck! The more that Amherst Uprising makes Amherst appear to be a seething cauldron of clueless leftism, the better for Williams.

Entire list of demands, saved for posterity below the break.
Read more


Amherst Uprising I

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 1.

The Boston Globe provides a useful overview.

A group of 11 students at Amherst College, a private liberal arts school in western Mass., issued a list of 11 demands to administrators that includes making them apologize for signs that mourned the death of free speech.

The group, who call themselves the Amherst Uprising, said the college’s president Biddy Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that says the school doesn’t tolerate the actions of students who posted the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.”

Via former professor KC Johnson, this is the sign.up1

Apologies for the poor quality. Does anyone know of a better reproduction? The Globe continues:

“Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats;” the post said. “Alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

Could this all be a joke, or a false flag operation from someone like James O’Keefe? Or could these students actually believe that putting up a poster merits disciplinary action?

“If these goals are not initiated within the next 24 to 48 hours, and completed by November 18th, we will organize and respond in a radical manner, through civil disobedience,” the group wrote. “If there is a continued failure to meet our demands, it will result in an escalation of our response.”

Pass the popcorn! I hope these students bring Amherst to its knees!

By the way, the Amherst Uprising twitter account linked above seems so absurdly over-the-top that it must be a parody. Right?up2

UPDATE: It is a (genius!) parody. Well done Lord Jeffs! Here is the official account.


Caring for Community

An all-campus e-mail from President Falk:

To the Williams Community,

The solidarity our students and other community members showed yesterday for their peers on other campuses was an inspiring demonstration of support. It was also an important reminder of all the work still to be done—here and everywhere—to create a society that’s free of discrimination, in which all members are valued and have equal opportunities to thrive.

As we continue that critical work at Williams, done in ways public and private, large and small, students working with each other and together with faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, we acknowledge that we’re a long way from the goal, but our pursuit of it guides our determined steps every single day.

The events at Missouri, Yale, and other places are experienced here in a variety of ways. If you need support—now or at any time—please remember that you can find it in many places on campus, including the dean’s office, chaplains’ office, health center, Davis Center, and Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Finally, a request: We’re heading into a celebratory Homecoming weekend, welcoming lots of alumni and visitors to campus. Looking ahead, I ask you to please keep in mind the important work we’re all doing to make this the community to which we aspire, and, in so doing, to take care of each other and of Williams.


Adam Falk


1) I believe that Falk is referencing the black out rally in Paresky from Thursday.

2) Should we be surprised that there is less campus turmoil at Williams than elsewhere? No. Williams has always been among the most “conservative” of the elite liberal arts colleges. Not “conservative” in the sense of voting Republican, of course, just much less likely to devolve into far left (in the context of US political views nationwide) controversy and rebellion. I prefer “classy” to “conservative,” in describing the difference between Williams and, say, Swarthmore, but maybe “reserved” or “restrained” or “traditional” would be more neutral.

3) Most of the letter is harmless. Was Falk wise to send it? I don’t know. Was there a demand on campus that he address recent events? If so, I am not sure if this letter would do much to appease the protesters. Might it anger them? With luck, Falk got good advice from someone.

4) The “request” in the last paragraph is weird. He makes no request except a vague plea to “keep in mind” happy thoughts. Is that all he really wants? Or is this code for: “Don’t protest at the gatherings of rich alumni during the Capital Campaign.”

5) Grammar mavens are invited to parse that last sentence. Is “take care of each other” one of Falk’s requests or not?


Yard by Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Aaron Kelton remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled the last few years, that the seniors have lost this game every year that they have been at Williams and that Amherst comes into the game undefeated, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in decades, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]


Black Out

There was an event at 4:00 PM in Paresky today.mizzou

Picture via Dean Reyes’ instagram feed. Comments:

1) Judging from comments on Yik Yak, I think that this event was designed to demonstrate solidarity with students at the University of Missouri. (Black and gold are its official colors.) Was this also in support of protesters at Yale? I don’t think so.

2) Were there any speeches at the event? If so, tell us about them! If there are any transcripts, many alumni/parents would be interested in reading them.

3) I think phrases like “black out” and “black on campus” were also associated with the entire day.

4) Did Adam Falk attend? Was he wearing all black today? He should have been, even (especially!) if he thinks these students are overwrought and/or misguided. Better to be obviously on their side than to be a focus of their anger.

Longtime Williams watchers will recall the Stand With Us protests of 7 years ago. Short version: Racial graffiti in Williams E followed by much campus upheaval. Organizers decide to have a protest march and rally. Some discussion about demands and/or ending at the Presidents House. But Morty Schapiro, sly devil that he was and is, joined the protest march. Genius! How could the protesters get angry with him and/or make demands when he was obviously on their side? Future Williams presidents should learn from Morty’s insights into student psychology.

UPDATE: According to In the ‘Cac, the event was designed to support African American students at the University of Missouri.


A Glimpse of Homecoming ’72

Homecoming 2015 is this weekend, marking the first visit by Amherst to the new Farley-Lamb Field. In the Williams of today, I hope there’s no need for advertisements like the top right one, published in the Williams RecordAdvocate during Homecoming Week in 1972:

1972 was still early in the coed transition at Williams, with the first female graduates walking the stage in 1971. Women would have been concentrated in the underclasses, making up about one-quarter of the freshmen and sophomore classes, and a lower proportion of the student body as a whole.

Do we have any readers who remember this ad (or maybe even someone on the “Ad Hoc Committee to promote social interaction”, and the social sense that triggered it? Perhaps dating patterns for Williams men were changing too sluggishly to accommodate the influx of women?

Eph men who got to know the first-year women of the class of 1972 met some remarkable (and lovely) Eph women. Among them, Susan Schwab ’76 and Carla Craig ’76, pictured below in the 1976 Gulielmensian.



E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which an ex-Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the aggression of Iraq. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishTaylor is the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this. Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.


Investment Report

The 2015 Annual Report from the Investment Office (pdf) is available. Comments:

1) Should I spend a week dissecting this? Let me know in the comments.

2) If you are the Record reporter assigned to cover this, please be professional by contacting at least one critic of the Investment Office. The last few Record overviews on this topic have been less hard-hitting than the typical high school newspaper.

3) Background readings: one, two and three.

4) I am probably the Investment Office’s least popular Eph, going back to this (brilliant?) blog post 8 years ago.

5) Collette Chilton (not satisfied with her current $1.3+ million pay check) is looking for a raise! How else to explain this new (I think) line from the report:

In dollar terms, our added value for fiscal year 2015 was over $100 million.

Really? I have my doubts. And it would be pathetic for the Record to fail to determine exactly where this claim comes from.


Yale to Williams and Back

I’m an associate professor of mathematics at Williams now, but my academic career began as an undergrad at Yale in the 90’s. This post is parallel to Yale and Missouri, and a sequel to Uncomfortable Posting. For me, one of the purposes of college is to freely and civilly discuss and learn from each other. I am thus worried by recent actions at many schools, including my alma mater, where passions get so heated that this goal appears unattainable. I wanted to share some links as food for thought.

I urge people to read these and related articles, especially the third link which is the article sent to the residents of Silliman, and reflect on the direction our nation’s campuses are moving. If we stay silent, it is other voices that will be heard and viewed as speaking for all.


Yale and Missouri

The two big stories in higher education right now involve Missouri and Yale. But, since this is EphBlog, we need a Williams connection before opining. So, start with this tweet from crypto-conservative Professor Nate Kornell:


The linked article provides a good overview of the controversy at Yale. Judging by his tweets and retweets, I would say that Kornell is a critic of student complaints. Which raises the question: Did he support (publicly or privately) the Taco Six?

I have my doubts. It is easy to criticize students at another school for overreacting to a memo about Halloween costumes. It is much harder (?) to support students at your own school who are being attacked by your own administration for their choices in Halloween costume.

There is an even better Eph connection to the Yale administration that I will leave as a reader puzzle . . .

I can’t find a better Eph connection to events at Missouri than this.

With the U. of Missouri football team firing the president and chairman of the board, it looks like Mizzou will get an administration worthy of its football team, which is 1-5 in conference play and has wracked up quite a record in recent years for sexual assault and domestic violence charges.

A recurrent theme here at iSteve is how conservative millionaires give a lot more to college football than to advancing their ideas. For example, Mizzou is notoriously bad at fundraising compared to powerhouses like the U. of Alabama . . .

On the other other hand, Manhattan-born Paul Singer uses his giving on Presidential candidates (it was front-page news when he endorsed Marco Rubio), fundraiser for the Manhattan Institute, push for gay marriage, Israel, and more immigration (for America, not Israel). You can buy a lot of think tank staffers for the cost of first rate offensive coordinator.

Indeed. Can anyone provide a better link to events at Missouri than an offhand reference to Investment Committee member Paul Singer P ’96 ’00?


Cook ’08 Brings Comp-Sci Opportunities to Underprivileged SF Students

Stevon Cook '08 Twitter avatar (@stevoncook)

Stevon Cook ’08 Twitter avatar (@stevoncook)

MissionBit is a San Francisco nonprofit that teaches computer programming and other computer science skills to public school students in San Francisco, in an effort to bridge the gap between schools and the booming technology industry centered in Silicon Valley. And it has a new CEO, Stevon Cook ’08, whose orientation is towards extending opportunities to the disadvantaged. As TechCrunch recently reported:

Cook has since re-organized MissionBit to bring more students of color into its classes. Today, 23 percent of its students are African American, 25 percent are Latino and 40 percent speak a language other than English at home. For nine out of 10 of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever written code before.

Cook may be familiar to Ephs from his bid for school board a year ago: Born and raised in public housing in San Francisco’s Bay View region, Cook struggled to find his way in a world set against him. He was educated in failing public schools, saw drugs and alcohol break apart families of friends and loved ones, and watched as many of his childhood peers lost hope for a better future.

“I didn’t necessarily plan on running for school board,” [Cook explained,] “but I knew that I wanted to do more to help schools. I decided that this was going to be my life’s work.”

By mid-July, Cook’s campaign had raised nearly $50,000, much of which came from classmates who had gotten the banking and consulting jobs that had once eluded him. “I talk to consultants who contribute to my campaign and they say, ‘I want you to use this money because I don’t feel like I’m really helping people.’” Those people secured jobs long before graduating, never worried about making rent payments or paying off credit cards, and are on a path towards financial success. Despite that, most are envious of Cook. He doesn’t have a 4.0 GPA or prestigious lines on his résumé. He’s dealt with failure and rejection. But, at the end of the day, he’s happy in his work and making a difference in his community.

In his new gig at MissionBit, Cook is arguably having a greater influence than he could have hoped to achieve through public office:

Cook is also re-organizing MissionBit to be more self-sustaining by having the schools and the district chip in funding for the classes. San Francisco Unified recently passed a resolution to expand computer science education to all grades from pre-school through 12th. But it will take several years given budgetary constraints; California is in the lower half of the rankings for statewide education spending per student. He has a three-year goal of teaching 10,000 students through workshops and courses in campuses and across the entire Bay Area region.

Next up, Cook is also building a six-month programming course for the city’s public housing residents in partnership with Hack Reactor.

“If you can give people the skills to stay in the city and take advantage of all it has to offer, they can escape that generational trap,” Cook said. “When young people get experiences like this, their whole perception of self and their sense of agency is changed. We need to build schools that achieve these things and that help people and their communities advance so they can work for whatever company they want to.”

“If we can give people better educational and work opportunities and give them possibilities to move up within companies, all of this is worth getting someone out of the projects,” Cook said of his upcoming public housing computer science program. “When you see all of the negative social and emotional risk factors associated with living in those units, you’ll see poorer educational outcomes and higher risks for health issues.”

Getting those educational opportunities means overcoming huge discrepancies in access that exist even in the wealthiest of cities like San Francisco. Last year, only 800 kids out of 17,000 high school students were enrolled in computer science classes.

Cook is looking for more funding to support his $400,000 annual budget and to grow the program. He also needs volunteer instructors. Interested? Find him through the Alumni Directory, or contact him at


Bronfman Science Center as a “Dubious” Proposition

50 Years Ago in the Williams Record, an editorial:

“The Smallness of Bigness”

With the Karl E. Weston Language Center, the Roper Public Opinion Center, the Van Rensselaer Public Affairs Center [and] the soon-to-be-constructed Bronfman Science Center . . . Williams College is running the risk of fragmenting the academic life of its students — much as the fraternities were criticized for fragmenting the student body and for mitigating against intergroup communication.

This is not to say that any of these centers is detracting from the general educational process. But there is, nevertheless, the possibility that Williams may soon offer programs as specialized as those offered in larger universities. The Bronfman Science Center, especially, seems dubious by the very fact that so few undergraduates will reap the benefits of its multi-million dollar facilities.

Williams must never sacrifice humanistic scope in favor of specialized obscurity. Already it has begun to succumb to the pressures of “bigness” and the need for fragmentation so apparent in contemporary educational trends… We certainly do not need a Berkshire Berkeley.

How has this critique held up today? Bronfman is coming down in 2018, to be replaced by an upgraded facility that will complement the equally-specialized Morley Science Laboratories, and, as foreseen, we have an array of ever more specialized buildings. Arguably, it is the humanities that have strayed into “specialized obscurity.” But the liberal-arts ideal seems has survived at Williams — the physical separation of academic spaces across majors and programs not imposing a boundary of academic experience.


On Student Fundraising

My question for Angela Schaeffer, the College’s most excellent Chief Communications Officer:

The Record reports that the students behind Uncomfortable Learning solicit funding from alumni to pay for the talks that they arrange on campus. Is this against College policy? (If you can’t comment on the actions of specific students, could you at least address a hypothetical question along the same lines?)

Her answer (reprinted with her permission):

I don’t know what fundraising activity UL students engage in. I can say that students in general are not meant to solicit funding from alumni without permission from the college. We might not always know, of course, when students are soliciting such support, but hypothetically if we learned of it we’d arrange for students to be in contact with the relevant Williams offices to see whether that solicitation could happen or needed to stop.

Probably relevant is this section from the Williams Student Handbook:

Students who wish to raise money for any campus activity by soliciting alumni, foundations, or other sources of funds must receive advance approval. Students interested in fundraising should contact the Assistant Director for Student Involvement in the Office of Student Life at least two weeks in advance. Most fundraising requires approval from the Dean’s Office, the Provost, and the Vice President for College Relations.


1) Uncomfortable Learning may be OK (which explain Dean Bolton’s supportive attitude) because they don’t “raise money” directly. That is, they don’t ask alumni to send them checks. Instead, they ask alumni to sponsor speakers and pay those speakers (and their expenses) directly. Does the College object to this strategy? I will try to find out.

2) The history behind this section of the Handbook would be interesting to explore. I do not think it existed 10 years ago. If Sarah Bolton were smart, she would just delete it. It serves no useful purpose, other than to suggest that the College is unfairly stymieing the efforts of non-liberal students. Students raised money for all sorts of things for 200 years without any ill effects.

3) Is this section of the Handbook being applied today (against students outside of Uncomfortable Learning by people like Professor Sam Crane)? I have my doubts. Students raise money all the time for all sorts of causes. Recent examples include: hoops for hunger, relief for Nepal, and the crew team selling carnations. Does John Malcolm ’86, Vice President for College Relations, approve them all? I doubt it. And, if he has, then he ought to have a long list that he can show to a Record reporter. But, if Williams has not been enforcing this regulation for years, it had better not start by enforcing it against Uncomfortable Learning. Nothing would be quickly demonstrate a bias against non-liberal students.

4) Former Williams Professor KC Johnson is speaking tonight, brought to campus by the Uncomfortable Learning. If it were not for those students (and the generous alumni who support them), that speech would not happen.

Professor Sam Crane wants to prevent those students and alumni from bringing speakers like KC Johnson (registered Democrat and Obama voter) to campus. What would Bob Gaudino say to that?


Influential Billionaire

From the New York Times:

One of the wealthiest and most influential Republican donors in the country is throwing his support to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Mr. Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.

The decision by the donor, Paul Singer, a billionaire New York investor, is a signal victory for Mr. Rubio in his battle with his rival Jeb Bush for the affections of major Republican patrons and the party’s business wing.

Paul Singer P ’96 is, alas, not an Eph, but he is an Eph parent! Strangely, a search of the Williams webpage produces no hits for Paul Singer, despite the fact (because of the fact?) that he has been a generous donor and volunteer for Williams, including service on the Investment Committee. There is probably an interesting story for the Record in that lacunae . . .

Mr. Singer, who gave more money to Republican candidates and causes last year than any donor in the country, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is courted by Republicans both for the depth of his own pockets and for his wide network of other conservative givers. He is known for his caution and careful vetting of candidates and, while passionately pro-Israel and a supporter of same-sex marriage, he is generally viewed as a donor who does not believe in litmus tests.

Is there another Republican candidate with an Eph in such a critical role? Not that I can think of. Does this mean that EphBlog is honor-bound to support Rubio for the Republican nomination? I hope not! Not too late for Mike Needham ’04 to sign up as Donald Trump’s chief policy adviser . . .


Conservative Privilege

Loved this Onion article about “conservative privilege” at places like Williams, even funnier than the one about colleges which encourage “a lively exchange of one idea.” Highlights:

This whole affair has been driven by a group, one that involves Williams students but is not a formal Williams student organization, that has privileged access to tens of thousands of dollars from conservative alumni, allowing them to transgress established college fund-raising rules that all other students and faculty must follow. The rest of us cannot, by rule, raise money from alumni or foundations without going through College channels. Yet one group gets money, unavailable to the rest of the community, and that money lends them power to transgress other rules regarding political activity on campus.

Those wily conservatives are so transgressive that they “transgress” twice in the same paragraph!

Hilarious! Or . . . Wait a second . . . This isn’t an article from the Onion. This is Political Science Professor Sam Crane arguing, in all seriousness, that there is “conservative privilege” at Williams. I will need a week to thoroughly critique this nonsense. In the meantime, recall how Williams Professor Kris Kirby described what it was like to be a non-Democratic/liberal junior faculty member:

I did keep my views entirely to myself, but not because I was advised to do so. I had seen (on separate occasions) a senior faculty member make positive comments about a leftist job candidate and disparaging comments about a Republican student in department meetings, and these comments yielded assent from other faculty members. As a non-tenured libertarian these and other subtle signals scared me. I thought it prudent to keep quiet.

Conservative/libertarian junior faculty members (and students) have so much “privilege” at Williams that they keep their views to themselves. Sounds healthy! And, obviously, a big reason is faculty members like Sam Crane! If you were untenured, would you feel comfortable talking about your conservative/libertarian politics with faculty like Crane? Kris Kirby wouldn’t, and he is much smarter than you! Now imagine how conservative students feel . . .

There is something going on at Williams, but “conservative privilege” is not the best phrase to describe it.


Charitable Profile of Bill Oberndorf ’75

oberndorfA recent profile in “Inside Philanthropy” takes a look at Oberndorf Philanthropy, the charitable vehicle of hedge fund investor William Oberndorf ’75. Remembered by his Williams College classmates as a track star, Oberndorf is best known to Ephs these days as a former trustee of the College as well as for the retirement party he hosted (along with Tom Krens ’69) last year for legendary Art History professor Eva Grudin.

With his wife, Oberndorf has created the Bill and Susan Oberndorf Foundation, which Inside Philanthropy reports has about $80 million in assets and gave away approximately $8 million in the most recently reported tax year:

The couple has a big interest in education reform and the Oberndorfs are deep into school choice. In the early 1990s, Oberndorf helped found American Education Reform Foundation. The outfit has worked to “bring about systemic and sustainable reform by promoting broad-based parental choice that aids low-income families.” Oberndorf also serves as chairman emeritus and board member of the Alliance for School Choice, an organization he co-founded. At a 2011 panel in Washington D.C., according to Education Week, Oberndorf was credited as having financed school choice with “tens of millions” of dollars. Oberndorf also said that charter schools and voucher programs inject “competition into the equation.”

Recent education philanthropy by the couple has involved quite a number of outfits including Foundation for Excellence in Education (a $100,000 grant in 2013), Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, “an American education reform organization headquartered in Indianapolis,” and SF School Choice Alliance. Support has also gone to charters such as KIPP Bay Area Schools, which received a $10,000 grant in 2013 and Gateway Public Schools. The couple tends to make a lot of grants in the Bay Area, but their education philanthropy is especially national.

Apart from K-12 education, funds have also gone to colleges and universities. Recent funds have gone to schools such as Marquette University, Williams College, and various outfits associated with the University of San Francisco including the UCSF Foundation, which received around $3.3 million in 2013, and around $4.3 million in 2012. Oberndorf is chairman of the University of California San Francisco Foundation. A steady stream of money has also gone to Stanford, from where both Oberndorf and Susan both graduated. In 2010, more than $2 million went to Stanford.

A recent Marquette giving report lists the Oberndorf Foundation at the relatively modest giving level of $10,000 to $25,000. Not sure what the Oberndorf’s connection to the school is, but it may relate to Milwaukee’s status as the home of one of the largest school voucher programs in the United States.

Another interest of the couple is health and the forces are at least in part personal. One of Oberndorf’s late business partners William J. Patterson passed away from a brain tumor a few years ago. The couple has recently supported outfits such as Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Gladstone Institutes, “an independent and nonprofit biomedical research organization whose focus is to better understand, prevent, treat and cure cardiovascular, viral and neurological conditions,” UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, Stanford School of Medicine, and Cancer Prevention Institute of California.

Liberals will find some philanthropy to like as well:

Recent grantmaking has also involved the environment, with funds going to Environmental Defense Fund (more than $250,000 in 2013), California Trout, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Lange Foundation, “a nonprofit organization in Southern California dedicated to saving impounded companion animals.”

The couple’s arts and culture grantmaking has a Bay Area focus and millions have streamed to California Academy of Sciences. Again Oberndorf’s late business partner William J. Patterson may play a role and Patterson once chaired California Academy of Sciences. In 2013, Oberndorfs gave California Academy of Sciences around $1.3 million. In 2012, the outfit received $1.75 million. Other recent support includes grants to San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Oberndorf’s interest in school choice and education reform is longstanding. He was a leading supporter of California’s (failed) Proposition 32, an effort to reform the political influence of teacher’s unions, and Oberndorf features in the 1999 book, The Politics of School Choice. In 2003, he explained his views to the Philanthropy Roundtable:

It seems a great injustice to me that only certain members of society–determined primarily by their economic status–are able to choose schools of quality for their children, while others–primarily the urban poor–are forced to send their children to schools that all too frequently destine them to lives of failure. And so in 1993 I helped establish the American Education Reform Foundation, which I chair. Its purpose is to promote, through legislative action, the granting of publicly funded scholarships that will allow primarily low-income parents to opt out of the public school system if it is not working for their children.

America is now behind virtually every developed country in science, math, and other core competencies. During the last two decades, all sorts of well-intentioned people like you and me have spent literally hundreds of millions of our philanthropic dollars to address this problem. And despite all our good intentions, we have not been able to improve educational outcomes in any meaningful, measurable way.

A survey of recent high school graduation rates across the country found only 51 percent of high school students graduated in Newark, 47 percent in Chicago, 43 percent in Milwaukee and Oakland, and 28 percent in Cleveland. While some are quick to claim the culprits are large class sizes and a lack of financial resources, in reality we are spending, on a per pupil basis, amounts in these cities ranging from $7,600 in Oakland to an astounding $14,900 in Newark.

By the time I became involved in the education reform movement, a growing group of individuals, including myself, had become convinced that unless a truly competitive alternative was established to traditional public schools, the educational establishment was simply incapable of systemic and sustainable reform from within. I focus upon the words systemic and sustainable because, unless we spend our philanthropic dollars in a way that is systemic—i.e., having broad impact—and in a way that is sustainable—i.e., not requiring our continuing financial and political support—we are not going to move the needle of education reform in any significant way.


Censor Student Speech

Professor Sam Crane’s comments (and here) about Uncomfortable Learning merit further criticism. See last week for background.

I was, in fact, trying to restrain my anger at the immediate presumption that Williams faculty routinely censor student speech. Such a serious assertion should be accompanied by concrete evidence, not snide guesses about our favorite caffeine drinks.

What more concrete evidence can we offer besides Professor Crane’s own comments? Critics claim that Williams faculty/administrators don’t want students to invite speakers like Venker to campus. (I hope that Sam won’t rely on weasel words like “routinely” and “student.”) Isn’t that exactly what Sam wants, to deprive Uncomfortable Learning of funding so that they can’t afford to bring speakers to campus? If this isn’t what he wants, then just what is his complaint?

But that is not today’s deliciousness. Sam has been spewing invective about the students (and alumni) behind Uncomfortable Learning, suggesting that they have broken all sorts of college policies. Fortunately, random political science professors are not responsible for enforcing the rules. That honor goes to Dean of the College Sarah Bolton. So, all Sam needs to do is to inform Bolton about his concerns. She will surely jump in to bring the right wing rabble to heal!

Not so fast! Dean Bolton was asked about the Venker Cancellation during a conference call with class agents last week. You can listen to the entire call here. Go to the 16:40 mark to here the question and Bolton’s reply.

Too lazy to listen? Allow me to summarize: Dean Sarah Bolton likes Uncomfortable Learning! She had (almost) nothing negative to say about them. She seemed to share none of Sam’s concerns about their lack of registration, their shadowy sources of funding or their contact with alumni. In fact, she was sad that Venker did not come! “There is no need to rescind that invitation.” She wants Williams to “be there for them,” i.e., for the student leaders of Uncomfortable Learning. She wishes that they had reached out to her before cancelling. She is interested in “How we can bring conversations that might be difficult or uncomfortable to campus, and have that go well.”

So, sleep well Professor Crane! Dean Bolton is firmly on Team Uncomfortable Learning. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to rules and regulations. If Dean Bolton has no objections, then why would you?

UPDATE: Post changed to provide link to Williams’ page with the call audio.