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International Student Countries of Origin I

Here (doc) is a listing of the countries of origin of the 155 international students in the classes of 2015 — 2018. Let’s spend four days discussing it. This is Day 1.

Here is a screen shot of the beginnings of the list.


1) More transparency please! It is annoying that we have to rely on secret sources to get this information. The Admissions Department, presumably, prepares an annual report on international admissions that is shared with the Trustees and/or the Faculty. Any such report should be share with the broader community as well (with any information that identifies a specific individual removed, of course). A transparent college is a better governed college, one less likely to be hit by scandal and more likely to have the support of the community.

2) This listing my oversell the true “diversity” of international students. You can certain that the students from, say, Afghanistan and Botswana are not from poverty stricken rural villages. (Nor should Williams admit such students, except in exceptional circumstances.) Instead, these are the sons/daughters of the elite, often raised abroad and provided with world-class educations in places like London and New York. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Do we have any international students among our readers? Tell us about your experience at Williams.


“Surprise” Endowment Aids Benjamin ’86

Brent-BenjaminCollege development officers and museum executives alike know the fundraising challenges that face even the most successful institutions, so what awaited Brent Benjamin (MA ’86) at a recent meeting must have been a very pleasant surprise:

Barbara Taylor was at one of her last meetings as president of the art museum Board of Commissioners, the government body that runs the museum, when she stepped up to the podium and announced the [$21 million] donation, with little fanfare.

“In hindsight, I can tell you it was planned by Barbara,” Benjamin said. “But it was a shock and surprise to everyone in the room. It was a pretty exciting moment.

“I was speechless.”

Benjamin is the Director of the St. Louis Art Museum. More properly, because the gift is intended to fund his directorship, he is now, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the museum. Taylor is an important St. Louis area philanthropist. Her husband is the executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-a-Car.

The gift appears to be more than sufficient to cover Benjamin’s current $640,000 in total compensation, and will allow the museum greater flexibility in hiring Benjamin’s successor in the future. For now,

[t]he museum will annually take a percentage, depending on market earnings, to pay for the director’s salary and benefits. This year, the museum plans to harvest 4.5 percent, or about $945,000. The excess will go toward museum operations.

Benjamin said the news came so late in the year that the museum couldn’t budget for the money. But he imagines the dollars once spent on his position can now be “redeployed for other purposes.” He figured the total saving at about $1 million a year, making some things possible, he said, that would not have been possible before.

For instance, the museum would like a larger “virtual presence” online, he said. “And that comes at a price.”

Benjamin has been at the museum since 1999, and has had an impressive tenure, presiding over a large expansion that opened earlier this decade, and securing a number of terrific acquisitions and gifts, including the 2014 bequest of a $50M, 225-piece collection from the estate of the longtime publisher of The Sporting News. Benjamin has made the museum — along with Frank Uible III ’85’s ventures — must-dos for visitors to the Gateway to the West.


Student Attendance at Cobb Speech?

We’re all about the facts at EphBlog, so consider a simple empirical question: How many students attended today’s keynote Claiming Williams speech by Jelani Cobb?

1) Via Ben Lamb’s Instagram feed, we have this photo.


I would agree with Ben’s description of this as a “packed house.”

cobb_chapin_close2) What is the capacity of Chapin? The Record reports that “the first floor can seat 485 people when the stage is up and 636 people when the stage is lowered. The balcony still seats 203 people.” I believe that the stage was up (see left) meaning that max attendance was 688. But both pictures make clear that, even in this packed house, there were lots of empty seats. Perhaps a reader with some fancy photo-analysis software could give us a decent estimate of how many? Hard to tell! I would be surprised if it were fewer than 50 or more than 200. Let’s go with a guess of 550. (Reader opinions welcome!) So, at most, only 1/4 of the students at the College attended the central event of Claiming Williams Day.

3) How many of those 550 attendees were students? That is a key question. Of course, the College (and EphBlog!) are always happy when faculty/staff attend events. The more Ephs that participate in the life of the mind, especially at communal college events, the better. However, consider this:


Leave aside the (important!) question about whether or not this is a good use of College resources. (Hint: It probably isn’t. And I spend a lot of time defending OCC to critical students.) It sure seems like many faculty/staff were invited/encouraged (expected?) to attend Cobb’s speech. Although the picture is tough to parse, I certainly see more than a few bald heads. Could the number of students in attendance be as low as 400? 300? You betcha! And many (most?) of those may have been First Years led to the event by their JAs. If only 200 upperclassmen attended the key note speech at Claiming Williams, is it still fair to judge the event a success?

4) Perhaps the most interesting question is: What, if anything, would make the supporters of Claiming Williams decide to end the tradition? It would be nice if the faculty set a time limit, perhaps 5 years, after which Claiming Williams would need to be re-authorized. If, in 2021, the Williams faculty (and students!) felt that the day served a useful purpose, that it was worth the cost of one less day for Dead Week, then, by all means, continue. But I bet that a fair campus wide vote, even today, put an end to Claiming Williams, which is one reason we won’t be seeing a vote anytime soon.


Jelani Cobb and the New Censors

jelanicobb_252_jrw New Yorker writer and UConn Professor Jelani Cobb is the main event at Claiming Williams right now, speaking on “The Half Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today.” EphBlog is less interested in Cobb’s thoughts on Race/Justice/America (he seems a standard issue leftist) and more interested in his thoughts on what sorts of discussions should be allowed at places like Williams. Is Cobb an example of the “new censors” who would limit the discussion/debate that is at the heart of a Williams education? Consider Cobb’s New Yorker article on the racially-tinged controversies roiling college campuses. Key paragraph:

Last year, at the University of Connecticut, where I teach, white fraternity members harassed and purportedly shouted epithets at members of a black sorority; the incident generated an afterlife of hostility on Internet forums, where black female students were derided and ridiculed. Eight months ago, fraternity members at the University of Oklahoma were filmed singing an ode to lynching.

These are not abstractions. And this is where the arguments about the freedom of speech become most tone deaf. The freedom to offend the powerful is not equivalent to the freedom to bully the relatively disempowered. The enlightenment principles that undergird free speech also prescribed that the natural limits of one’s liberty lie at the precise point at which it begins to impose upon the liberty of another.

What, precisely, is Cobb’s policy prescription? Should the University of Connecticut punish students for engaging in ridicule? Should the University of Oklahoma expel students who sing the wrong sorts of songs? It sure seems — and maybe someone could ask him during the Q&A today — that Cobb wants exactly these sorts of punishments meted out to politically incorrect students. And he wants this done even though both UConn and Oklahoma are state institutions!

I would like to believe that Cobb’s views are extremist, that no faculty member at Williams could possibly be in favor of state-punishment of non-violent speech, that all Ephs of goodwill would agree with the analysis offered by Professor Eugene Volokh in the Washington Post with regard to the Oklahoma case:

[R]acist speech is constitutionally protected, just as is expression of other contemptible ideas; and universities may not discipline students based on their speech. That has been the unanimous view of courts that have considered campus speech codes and other campus speech restrictions — see here for some citations. The same, of course, is true for fraternity speech, racist or otherwise

But maybe I am being naive. Jelani Cobb wants to censor students at UConn and Oklahoma. Presumably, he would like to punish faculty who engage in similar speech. He does not think that the Constitution can or should protect those with whom he disagrees. He wants to censor me today. Maybe tomorrow he will want to censor you?

Any EphBlog readers at the talk should ask him about this and/or tell us about the speech.


Claiming Williams

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Here are our recommendations for which sessions to attend. Comments:

1) Who made this schedule? It is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the chairs are Karen Swann and Annie Valk. Are they to blame?

The main trick to ensuring high attendance at Claiming Williams is to schedule a first event that hundreds of students will want to attend (or be cajoled into attending by their JAs). That event should feature people/items that are popular with students. Everyone loves singing groups! Invite several to perform. Everyone loves honeybuns! Serve them for free. In past years, the organizers have done exactly this, thereby getting lots of students out of bed and engaged. Once they attend the first event, it is easy to get them to go from that to another.

2) What a narrow selection of topics! Claiming Williams has always been (and will always be) filled with leftist sessions. Nothing wrong with that! But, in past years, other sessions, appealing to a different cross-section of the community, have generated large audiences. How about something about athletics at Williams and the athlete/non-athlete divide? What about a session on the drinking culture? A more competent committee would have created such sessions. (To be fair, there are plenty of interesting events. See our recommendations.)

3) Could the Record please do a minimal amount of reporting and tell us, approximately, how many students attend at least two events? My sense (commentary welcome) is that the College likes to pretend like a large majority of students (1500?) attend more than one event. I bet that the actual number is closer to 500.

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Claiming Williams Recommendations

Here is the schedule for Claiming Williams on Thursday. EphBlog recommends:

1) Controversy @ Williams at 3:30 in Goodrich looks, by far, to be the most interesting discussion because, I have been told, it will actually include Ephs from a wide variety of ideological viewpoints. Real diversity! It just might work . . . If you go to only one Claiming Williams event, make it this one.

2) Uncomfortable Conversation at Williams: Is it Possible? at 8:00 PM.

The notion of “uncomfortable learning” has been part of the discussion of Williams pedagogy for close to 50Uncomfortable Learning years. But Williams has changed dramatically in the last few decades, and as events this fall have revealed, the concept of uncomfortable learning can have vastly different meanings to different people

Indeed! Is the biggest change is that students feel less comfortable voicing outlier opinions? Or has there always been such a reticence but the definition of “outlier” has changed?

3) Internationalism at Williams at 9:00 AM. Williams is a much more global college than it was 30 years ago. With any luck, it will be fully global in another few decades. The best way to start down that path is to discuss and remove the quota on international students.

What panels would our readers recommend?


Claiming Williams Announcement

Latest all-student e-mail

February 4 is Claiming Williams Day, when the community pauses to discuss issues that connect and challenge us. This year the topic of the day is “Examining the Williams Way.” Our panels and discussions—all proposed by Williams students, staff, and faculty—focus on Williams’s institutional history and the challenges that still face us as an educational and social community.

The Committee faces a difficulty in running Claiming Williams: How much sense does it make to have a new theme each year? I am flexible on that question. But, if you are going to have a theme like the “Williams Way” and you are going to claim to focus on topics like “Williams’s institutional history,” then you better come through. And this Committee has not. Look at the schedule. Only a handful of sessions cover anything about this topic and, even for them, it is an add on.

[Y]ou can get a good start to the day in a workshop on white privilege taught by Debby Irving, mother of Emily Irving ’16

Sign me up! To be fair, it is always nice to see Eph parents come to Williams and give presentations. But your typical white Williams student has been confronted by (ludicrous, to her) claims about her privilege for years. You really think many of them are going to get out of bed before 9 for another 90 minutes of the same? Good luck!

At 10:50 in Chapin Hall, Jelani Cobb (historian and New Yorker staff writer) will give a talk called “The Half Life of Freedom: Race and Justice in America Today.” Cobb has been an important voice in national conversations about campus climate, especially those that focus on speech issues.

It is probably a mistake to have the major event of the day feature a speaker that 90% (99%?) of Williams students have never heard of or read. If Cobb has really been “an important voice in national conversations about campus climate,” then I am the tooth fairy. Readers interested in Cobb’s views should start with this New Yorker article. (The Committee ought to have included a link to this or some other writings by Cobb in their invitation.)

Another awkwardness is the 10:50 start time. Was this purposeful? Was it driven by difficulties in arranging Cobb’s arrival from U Conn? To the extent that Cobb is the big draw (it will be interesting to see how much of Chapin he can fill), you either want him first thing (to get the kids out of bed and attending morning events) or after lunch.

At Williams we don’t have many opportunities for the whole campus—students, staff and faculty—to have a shared experience of a challenging thinker and speaker.

Is Cobb really a “challenging” speaker? Not in the context of Williams. Exactly what opinion does Cobb hold that any member of the Claiming Williams Steering Committee would disagree with? None that I can see.

Claiming Williams could be a time of honest discussion and debate. Or it could be a day filled with leftist agitprop. How do you think Thursday will go?

Entire e-mail is below the break.
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Grade Inflation

Grade inflation is a problem at Williams, one we have discussed many times in the past. Start here for a good introduction. The most annoying aspect of the debate is the refusal by Williams to make the data public, or at least available to students and alumni.

Here are the grade distributions at Middlebury.


The average grade at Middlebury has increased from 3.32 to 3.53 in 11 years. How much higher will it go in the future?

Why can’t Williams be as transparent as Middlebury when it comes to this important topic?


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