Currently browsing the archives for April 2016

Old Common Data Sets

Sadly, it is becoming more and more obvious that we can’t trust Williams to make publicly accessible documents that it has made public in the past. The most obvious example involve the Common Data Sets, which used to go back to 1998 but now only go back to 2011. Isn’t that pathetic? (And, yes, I have e-mailed to complain.) So:

1) Below are permanent copies of what I have now, less they disappear in the future.

2) Note how we have copies for 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, but these PDFs don’t exist on the Williams webpage anymore. Isn’t it sad that, if you want to look at these, you have to come to EphBlog?

A key part of transparency (and taking history seriously) is maintaining permanent copies of public Williams documents.

CDS 2009-2010
CDS 2010-2011
CDS 2011-2012
CDS 2012-2013
CDS 2013-2014
CDS 2014-2015

I think the below links used to work, but they don’t now. I hope to investigate this later.
Read more




Sam is certainly right that the meritocracy is not perfect in the Chinese education system. But he fails to note the delicious irony that the beautiful building across for him, Hollander Hall, is not named from some great scholar or previous president. Instead, it was named after a couple of recent graduates who got in to Williams (according to a source) because their daddy wrote an 8-figure check. And then named the building after his kids!

Perhaps Sam should note the mote in the eye of Williams before being too mocking of our friends in China . . .


Why Trump?


A good question when Oren Cass ’05 asked it last month. An even better one after last night’s sweep. What do EphBlog’s readers think?

My opinions now are the same as in December:

1) Who is the most prominent Eph supporter of Trump? I have trouble naming a single person. Help us out readers! It could be that I (David Dudley Field ‘1824) am the most prominent. I am still hopeful that a member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Eph Division, will sign up for the Trump campaign. How about Mike Needham ’04, Oren Cass ’05 or James Hitchcock ’15?

2) The fact that no one (?) on the Williams faculty thinks that Trump could possibly become President is a sign of intellectual group think.

3) The fact that no one (?) on the faculty will vote for Trump is an indicator of the lack of ideological diversity at Williams.

4) There are probably many Trump supporters among the white working class of Williams employees. The Record ought to interview them.

Trump will be the next President of the United States because a large majority of voters want to end/decrease illegal (and legal) immigration, especially by Muslims and poor people. All good Williams faculty members find such opinions offensive. Adam Falk banned John Derbyshire (at least partially) because he shares Trumps views on these topics. Who will Falk ban next?


Funding for Early Childhood Education

From last year:

Dear Massachusetts Lawmakers,

As you consider the FY16 budget, we, the undersigned economists, would ask you to increase available funding for early childhood education.

High quality early childhood education elevates the quality of the workforce; children who have had this education experience an improvement in their cognitive, social and behavioral skills, which allow them to make greater contributions when they enter the workforce.

The 85 economist signatories included from Williams: Roger Bolton, Ralph Bradburd, Sarah Jacobson, David Love, Peter J. Montiel, Greg Phelan, Michael Samson, John Sheahan, Anand Swamy and David Zimmerman. Alas, there is almost zero evidence for this claim. Consider a recent summary from those right-wing (!) loons at Brookings:

State investments in center-based school readiness programs for preschoolers (pre-K), whether targeted for poor children or universally implemented, have expanded more rapidly than evaluations of their effects. Given the current interest and continuing expansion of state funded pre-K, it is especially important to be clear about the nature of the available evidence for the effectiveness of such programs. Despite widespread claims about proven benefits from pre-K, there is actually strikingly little credible research about the effectiveness of public pre-K programs scaled for statewide implementation.

More background from the Washington Post here. Comments:

1) The underlying organization, Massachusetts Fair Share, seems fairly hard left, or at least Bernie Sanders socialist left. Is that a reasonable characterization?

2) The Economics Department has a (correct?) reputation as being the least politically liberal department at Williams. That is a standard situation at liberal arts colleges since economists are more likely than other PhD’s of being skeptical progressive ideas like single-payer health care and much more aware of concepts like opportunity cost.

3) Anyone else surprised to see old bulls like Bolton and Bradburd on this list? Maybe they really are fans of the Mass government spending more money on pre-K and, therefore, less on other worthy item X. Or maybe their signatures are more a polite nod to faculty colleague who was lobbying them for the cause. If so, which Williams faculty member is most heavily involved in Massachusetts Fair Share? My first (uncharitable?) guess would be Michael Samson.

4) Interesting to see Dukes Love involved with this. Hope he is more evidence-based when it comes to his new job as Provost!


Why isn’t Leehom Wang ’98 Singing at Commencement?

From the College:

Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 227th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 5. The day before, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and science journalist Elizabeth Kolbert will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will Sarah Bolton, current dean of the college at Williams and president-elect of The College of Wooster; author and illustrator Eric Carle; writer and commentator Frank Deford; Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet; Tony Award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Henry Hwang; and singer-songwriter, producer, and actor Leehom Wang ’98.

Leehom Wang ’98 is almost certainly the most famous Eph of this century, and probably of the last one as well. (For our older and/or more US-centric readers, Wang is a hugely popular singer/actor in Asia. More people have seen his picture and/or listened to his words than they have to any other Eph. (Contrary examples welcome!) Now, it must be admitted, that tens of millions of these people were teenage Chinese girls, but numbers still count.

Anyway, why not have Wang perform at Commencement, either the main event on Sunday or on the previous Saturday. The guy knows how to put on a show! Perhaps Wang did not want to perform? Perhaps Wang/Williams were concerned that his fans might crash Commencement? I just hope that the College was not so narrow-minded to turn down his offer to perform. I guarantee that he would do a better job that the typical, boring, regurgitated schpiel.

But all the above is just an excuse to resurrect this Spring Streeter video from 10 (!) years ago. Highly recommended!


Purple …



Love the New Provost

The title is a description, not a commandment. From Adam Falk:

It’s my great pleasure to share with you the news that economics faculty member David Love, whom we all know as Dukes, will serve as the college’s next provost. The board has now approved his appointment, which will begin September 1.


1) How did Love get the nickname “Dukes?”

2) The inside track on Adam Falk’s successor is now complete: incoming Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom, incoming Provost David Love and Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell. After an outsider president (like Falk), the natural inclination will be for the trustees to choose an insider, and those three will (presumably) hold the three most senior faculty leadership positions. Perhaps Buell is the one to bet on because Williams has often (?) promoted Deans of the Faculty to President (Oakley? Chandler? Others?) and because there will be huge pressure to pick a woman.

3) The only appearance that Love has made on EphBlog was when he received tenure 6 years ago. A good sign or a bad sign for his future success as Provost?


More Details on Roseman’s Failure at Dickinson

That Nancy Roseman has been the biggest Eph failure as a college president in a generation is beyond dispute.1 But what are the details behind that failure? Was it her cold fish personality? Her social justice warrior crusades? Both? Neither? Enquiring Ephs want to know! A Williams professor forwarded this article (pdf) from the Chronicle of Education.

Nancy A. Roseman’s announcement this week that she would resign as president of Dickinson College bore the standard features of a politely handled parting of the ways. A news release, citing her contributions, sidestepped the fact that the president’s tenure of just three years was considerably shorter than expected and left unmentioned that the decision followed an outside review of her performance.

Perhaps an enemy (or friend?) of Roseman’s at Dickinson could send us the details behind that performance review.

Ms. Roseman recognizes, however, that observers may have concluded that the decision to step down on June 30 was not entirely her own. But the departing president said she saw what the future held at the Pennsylvania college, and it was a six-to-eight-year capital campaign that would effectively cap off her professional life.

What a pathetic fig leaf! Roseman knew, when she took the job, that Dickinson, like every other college, was planning a multi-year capital campaign. That is the primary job of the president!

Professors at Dickinson may be heaping praise on Ms. Roseman by email, but a number of them have been tight-lipped when contacted by The Chronicle. Anthony Pires, chairman of the college’s Faculty Personnel Committee, said on Monday that he did not feel comfortable characterizing the faculty’s feelings about her leadership and he would not offer up his personal assessment, either. Several other professors either did not respond to interview requests or declined to talk. “It is what it is,” one faculty member said, before politely ending a brief phone

Indeed it is.

1Only competitor that comes to mind is a philosophy (?) professor (buddy of Bill Bennett’s ?) who was selected to lead a liberal arts college (in Maine?) several decades ago but was ushered out after just a few years. Or am I imagining that?

UPDATE: Charles Karelis, President of Colgate from 1999 to 2001 was who I was thinking of. The only news summary (that I can find) of his two (!) year tenure is here. Anyone know the details? Reading between the lines, it looks like he jumped because he didn’t really like being a college president instead of being pushed, as was Roseman.


Coleman ’97 Losses

From the Wall Street Journal via Dealbreaker:

Charles “Chase” Coleman, the hedge-fund manager famed for his early bets on startups including Facebook Inc. and Zynga Inc., has suffered big losses this year as the technology boom wanes, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Coleman’s Tiger Global hedge fund plunged 22% in the first quarter, making it one of the industry’s worst performers this year, the people said. The losses amount to more than a billion dollars on paper for Tiger Global’s hedge fund, and potentially more for its larger private-equity and venture-capital operation…A former Williams College lacrosse player and a descendant of New York founder Peter Stuyvesant, Mr. Coleman got a job working for hedge-fund veteran Julian Robertson, who was the father of one of his childhood friends. He later struck a deal with Mr. Robertson for financial backing to start his own firm in 2001 in exchange for a cut of fees earned going forward.

Not the sort of news that Adam Falk wants to read about during a capital campaign! Fortunately, Coleman is so wealthy that the amount he gives to Williams (and I am sure they are hoping for a check of $50 to $100 million) won’t be affected much by this set back.

Viva the 0.001%!


Self-Described Reporter

Worst Record article of the year? “Community examines Uncomfortable Learning (UL) after controversy” by Emilia Maluf.

First, not a single current member of the Williams community is quoted about the role of UL! Reporting on UL is an excellent idea. I am sure lots of Ephs have opinions. Professors like Sam Crane have been examining UL closely. Professor Steve Miller, as part of PBK, has co-sponsored at least one of UL’s talks. Maluf should have interviewed them and quoted them. Or her editors needed to come up with a better title.

Second, note the absurd bias in descriptions like this:

The extension of an invitation to speak to Suzanne Venker, a self-described author and occasional Fox News contributor whose views many found misogynistic and homophobic, and subsequent cancellation of that event sparked the controversy that led to the group’s rise in ubiquity.

And that is in just the second sentence of the article! Venker co-wrote a book. You can buy it on Amazon. If this fact does not make her an actual author, as opposed to a “self-described” one, what would? Are authors only real authors if what they write agrees with Maluf’s views?

Moreover, who are the “many” that found Venker’s views “misogynistic?” Name them. Quote them. This is Reporting 101. Also, there were certainly Williams students and faculty who, while they may not have agreed with Venker, would disagree with such extreme descriptions. A real reporter would, you know, ask people questions and quote them.

And things don’t get much better:

In February, UL planned a lecture by John Derbyshire, a self-described “novelist, pop-math author, reviewer and opinion journalist,” who many believed to be a white supremacist and racist.

Derbyshire is, in fact, an author. How can I tell? Because his books are owned by the Williams College libraries! Look then up in the course catalog and, under “Author,” you will find “John Derbyshire.” If Derbyshire is a “self-described” author, then is Maluf as “self-described” reporter?

What was with the “many believed” dodge? Who are these mythical many? If you can’t find a single such person to quote, even anonymously, then you have no business with such weasel phrasing.

Moreover, given the Record’s previous mistakes in writing about Derbyshire, Maluf (and her editors) have an obligation to bend over backwards to treat him fairly now. To use the “white supremacist” slur while not even acknowledging that Derbsyhire disputes this characterization and forced the Record to issue a correction is just embarrassing.

How did an organization designed to respect all views transform into a group criticized for providing a platform for offensive speakers at the College?

Huh? I have never spoken to anyone associated with UL who thinks the organization was designed to “respect all views.” Where is Maluf getting this stuff? Did she talk to any of the student founders? Did they respond to her questions? If she didn’t talk to them, she needs to admit that fact and acknowledge that she may not have a very good idea about how/why UL was designed the way it was.

My take is that UL was “designed” to promote uncomfortable learning — in the tradition of Robert Gaudino — by bringing unpopular views/ideas/speakers to campus, to expand the space of allowed dialogue at Williams. And, guess what? Maluf provides, later in the article, evidence which supports my view.

As Fischberg told students who gathered at the first lecture in January of 2014, the group sought to invite “speakers who challenge the Williams orthodoxy and promote intellectual diversity on campus.”

Good stuff! Maluf gets credit for, at least, unearthing a two-year old quote from a student leader of UL. But isn’t it standard journalistic practice to tell readers where she got this quote from?

In the 2013-2014 academic year, the group consistently invited highly-regarded intellectuals to speak at the College.

Huh? This just nonsense. UL brought a lot of great speakers but very few people think of, say, Jonah Goldberg as a “highly-regarded intellectual.” Indeed, I doubt that almost any member of the Williams faculty would describe a single one of UL’s 2013-2014 speakers in this way.

It seems that Maluf has a narrative in her head that UL used to be good and wonderful and then turned nasty and stupid. Alas, I lack the energy to dive any deeper into this nonsense, at least today . . . But, until Maluf starts treating her subjects fairly, it is hard to trust any of her other claims, at least without independent confirmation. If she misleads us about whether or not Venker/Derbyshire are actual authors, what else is she misleading us about?


Chalkening at Williams?

Has The Chalkening come to Williams?

“If you’re listening right now, you’re one of the lucky ones that survived the Chalkening.”

That’s how the fraternity-culture and southern-college-culture brand Old Row opened its weekly podcast on Wednesday. The line, fit for an apocalypse movie, referred to a campaign by Donald Trump’s young supporters on college campuses. Their weapon of choice in their crusade to push their candidate into the White House? Chalk.

After students protested in March following the appearance of pro-Trump messages written in chalk at Emory University—which students who demonstrated said they saw as part of wider, ongoing racial issues on the school’s Atlanta campus—the national organization Students for Trump instructed its members to carry out more chalkings.

1) Has there been a Chalkening at Williams, or any other NESCAC school? Not that I have heard.

2) How many Republican and/or Trump-supporters are there among the students? The Garfield Republican Club seems to have been dead for at least several years. Isn’t it obviously unhealthy for one half of the political spectrum to have no meaningful representation at Williams? Wouldn’t it be wise for Williams to admit at least a handful of (academically qualified!) student Republicans?

3) Is chalking still a form a commentary/protest at Williams? The latest reference I can find to the Queer Student Union’s annual chalking of campus pathways is more than a decade old. Were the last chalk commentaries at Williams about caterpillars 10 years ago this spring?


By the way, the student who took those photos will return as a professor this fall. Old Time is still a-flying.

Informed commentary welcome.


Wood ’18 on Student Activism

Thoughtful article by Zach Wood ’18 titled “The Character of Student Activism.”

Another important weakness is the exaggeration of the scope of racism on college campuses. It is fair to say that exceedingly few institutions of higher education are racism free. Racist figures are memorialized on college campuses and most students are not as attentive to issues of inequality as are student activists. However, there is a difference worth considering between episodes that are characteristic of an institution and isolated instances of racism and cultural insensitivity. For many activists, this distinction is overlooked. Equally troubling is the excusal of bigotry by African-Americans directed at other students of color. I’ve experienced this myself as president of Uncomfortable Learning, when students of color called me misogynistic and anti-black for bringing speakers to campus with controversial views.

Welcome to the party, pal! Campus activists have been calling us names for many, many years. Name-calling works. It silences the Other. It makes students hesitant to speak out, to share their thoughts on controversial topics. Do that for decades and, eventually, it seems perfectly natural for the college president to ban a speaker from campus.

Read the entire article. Do you think Wood is on the right track?


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid V

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 5.

For instance, aided students have the same level of support for studying abroad as they have for studying at Williams. Books are free for aided students. We also pay attention to the discretionary allowance built into financial aid packages, recognizing that there are hidden costs to being a college student: doing laundry, getting a haircut, buying some pizza. We’ve increased that allowance by about 25 percent in the last five years to reflect how those costs have increased.

1) One recurrent complaint from faculty is how high on the hog Williams students live, even “poor” ones on financial aid. How much can you really be struggling if you can still afford to take nice spring break vacations with your friends?

2) The “free books” is almost certainly an absurd boondoggle, as we noted at its creation 7 years ago. Discussion here and here. Recall:

Let’s consider some reasons why the 1,000 students might spend much more than $400 per student now that books are free.

a) Why not buy all the recommended books as well as the required ones? They are free!

b) Why not buy new books rather than used books? They are free!

c) Why wouldn’t professors significantly increase the number/price of both required and recommended books? Right now, I (and other Williams teachers) try to take care in selecting books. We don’t won’t to screw students, especially students on financial aid. (Although we recognize that the College is supposed to provide enough aid to cover textbooks, we recognize that the aid may not be enough and, more important, that any leftover money can be used by students for whatever they want.) Now, books are free to half the students. And the other half of students almost all come from extremely rich families, at least relative to Williams professors. No need to worry about their book expenses!

The Record should do an update on the program. It has almost certainly been a failure, which is why no (?) other elite school does the same.

Back to Dudley:

Thirty years ago, 38 percent of our students came from families that couldn’t afford to pay the sticker price. Today, more than half of the first-year class receives aid.

This is incredibly misleading, for reasons that we have gone over again and again and again.

Summary: Understanding the change (if any) in economic diversity at Williams is easy. Just tell us the family income of the 10th poorest, 50th poorest and 100th poorest student in each class for the last 20 years. Previous discussion here. Williams has this data easily accessible since all those families filled out financial aid forms. (It is much harder to estimate trends in the incomes of the richest families.) The fact that Williams declines to make this data available makes me highly suspicious about how much of an increase, if any, there has been in economic diversity.

Today’s average aided family contributes a little less than $18,000 toward the $100,000 that Williams spends per student; $18,000 is about the same contribution that aided families paid 30 years ago, in inflation-adjusted dollars, when Williams spent about $40,000 per student, also adjusted for inflation. So compared to 1986, today’s aided students are paying the same price for a Williams experience that is superior in innumerable ways.

Interesting but debatable. Williams spends $60,000 more per year in inflation-adjusted dollars than it did 30 years ago. Is it really that much better? I have my doubts . . .


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid IV

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 4.

The loans that we package are for aided families whose income is above $75,000, and the amount of loan that we expect a family to take starts at $1,000 per year up to a maximum of $4,000 a year, based on family income and assets. It’s important to understand that a loan package is a recommendation. Families can and do choose to borrow more or less than we recommend. About half our families borrow what we suggest. About a quarter borrow more than we suggest, and about a quarter borrow less. So that’s some indication that our recommendations are pretty good.

Or its an indication that the recommendations suck and that measuring “need” is a farce.

This is the central fraud of “need-blind” aid: there is no good, objective measure of what each family “needs.” Yes, it is possible to make some gross generalizations: billionaires can pay the full sticker price. But, even though Williams has access to your tax returns and financial statements, it is still unable to accurately estimate how much money you will “need” to borrow.

And note that Dudley is still guessing (or misleading? or just clueless?) in his claim to know exactly how much “families borrow.” From the Wall Street Journal:

An increasing number of private student lenders are rolling out parent loans, which allow borrowers to get funds to pay for their children’s education without putting the students on the hook. … Colleges are helping push them in part because of a quirk in federal calculations. Unlike ordinary federal student loans, the parent loans don’t count on a scorecard in which the U.S. Education Department discloses universities’ median student debt at graduation. … Education Department spokeswoman Dorie Nolt said all private loans, whether given to students or parents, are excluded in the scorecard because the government doesn’t have access to private loan originations. She added that federal parent loans also are excluded because the scorecard focuses on undergraduate students.

Provost Will Dudley has only a rough idea how much “families borrow.” He doesn’t know about loans that parents take out. He doesn’t know about private loans.

Best part:

Colleges including Stanford, Boston College and Carnegie Mellon University are referring parents to the loans through emails or by putting them on lists of preferred loan options.

Does Williams? The Record should find out.

Back to Dudley:

There are schools out there that are “no loan,” meaning they don’t recommend that students borrow. But it doesn’t mean students at those schools aren’t borrowing. In fact, when you look at what students are actually borrowing per capita, even at the 44 best-resourced colleges in the country, they’re borrowing less at Williams than they are at a number of “no-loan” schools. More than half our students don’t borrow anything at all. The ones who do borrow are graduating with an average of about $15,000 in total debt. The national average is close to $30,000 for those who borrow.

Interesting. Comparing the borrowing rates at Williams with other elite schools would make for an great senior thesis. What predicts borrowing behavior? Note that the data landscape surrounding this issue has changed dramatically in the last few years, with the launching of the College Scorecard project. Dudley has amazing data about what students (not “families”) borrow in federal (not private) loans. (And, since most borrowing is done by students and from the Feds, this is good data.)


Speaking of Presidential …

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 11.22.25 AMThe Boston Globe, which I am sure must be read by some of a Williams persuasion, published this fancilful front page on Sunday.

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Matthew 7:16

See the whole page …


Roseman a Failure as Dickinson President

From former Dean of the College Nancy Roseman, current President of Dickinson College:

During these past three years, I have grown to love Dickinson and its unwavering commitment to prepare young people, through our useful approach to a liberal-arts education, to be engaged citizens in service to our communities.

So it is with mixed emotions that I inform you that I will be resigning as president of Dickinson College, effective June 30.

To leave a college presidency less than three years after you started, and with little warning, is a sign of utter failure. Does anyone know the background story? Many Ephs have gone on to college presidencies. Has anyone done worse than Roseman? Not that I can name.

Could the (incompetent) Dickinson search committee that selected Roseman have done a better job? You betcha! They could have read EphBlog. Roseman was obviously unsuited to the roll of college president.

Comment from an anonymous Williams faculty member:

I’m told she still has her house in W-town. God forbid that she returns to the College.

So say we all.


Improving Previews

Previews finish up today. Making them (and other campus visits like WOW) better next year is a worthwhile goal.

Summary: Involving wanna-be JAs in the overnight visit process in general, and Previews specifically, would improve admissions yields, improve the JA selection process and (perhaps) marginally increase the quality of the match between matriculating students and Williams.

Jonathan Landsman ’05 writes.

I chose Williams because my pre-frosh weekend host was eager to welcome me, dopey, and enough like me that I trusted I would find a place for myself here. Also, the weather was good.

We can’t control the weather but we could significantly improve the over-night/Preview process by incorporating wanna-be and might-wanna-be JAs.

Inform freshmen and sophomores (during the fall/winter) that any experience they have hosting overnight visits from applicants will be considered when they apply to be a JA. No JA wanna-be is forced to participate, but many/most would. There is a huge demand for JA spots. Would-be applicants know this and will act accordingly. The Admissions Office would keep track of how many applicants each student hosted (I assume that it already does this), survey hosted students on the quality of their visit, and then report the results to the JA Selection Committee. The JASC would be under no obligation to use the survey results. Such a scheme would:

a) Dramatically improve the overnight process. If you motivate a Williams students to show off the campus in the best possible light, then she is likely to do a marvelous job. I bet that applicants under this scheme would have much more fun during their visits and would, therefore, be more likely to select Williams.

b) Make the typical overnight visit for non-athletes as fun as those for athletes. I believe that most (all?) overnight visits involving athletes that a coach is interested in are handled outside of the standard system. In those cases, the coach (who wants the applicant to have a good time) ensures that the visitor is placed with player on the team (who both wants to make the coach happy and improve the quality of the athletes she plays with), thereby generating fun-filled visits. No one can sell Williams as well as an undergraduate who wants to.

c) Provide would-be JAs with some insight into what they might be getting themselves into. Although the vast majority of JAs perform superbly, some discover (once it is too late) that the sacrificing their own time and GPAs for the benefit of selfish, annoying and socially-awkward 18 year-olds is not for them. Alas, once they are a JA, it is too late, much to the chagrin of the students in their entry. By ensuring that these Ephs have some experience with hosting overnights, the College will decrease the likelihood of such mismatches.

d) Provide the JASC with more information. The JASC would be under no obligation to use that information, but, if I were a member, I would certainly be impressed with an applicant who hosted 5 or 10 high school seniors, devoted a lot of time and energy to their visits, and received lavish praise from those visitors. I would suspect that, all else equal, such students make for better JAs than those who don’t host visits and/or don’t do a good job of it.

e) Any applicant who, after such a visit, doesn’t like Williams probably shouldn’t come. The fit just isn’t right.

Imagine that you are a high school senior choosing between Yale and Williams. At Yale, your visit consists of sleeping on the floor with four other students while your “host” ignores you. At William, your host is someone with the same interests as you (whether that be an academic subject or an extra-curricular activity), someone who spends time with you, someone who wants to ensure that your visit is as enjoyable and informative as possible. Would that, alone, be enough of a reason to choose Williams over Yale? No. But it couldn’t hurt!


Choose Williams Over Harvard

In celebration of previews, reasons why you should choose Williams.

There are several hundreds high school seniors¹ who have been admitted to both Williams and Harvard (and Yale and Princeton and Stanford and . . .). Fewer than 10% of them will choose Williams over these more famous schools. Some of them are making the right choice. They will be better off at Harvard, for various reasons. But at least half of them are making the wrong choice. They (you?) would be better off at Williams. Why?

1) Your professors would know your name. The average Harvard undergraduate is known by name to only a few faculty members. Many students graduate unknown to any faculty. The typical professor at Harvard is primarily concerned with making important contributions to her field. The typical professor at Williams is primarily concerned with educating the undergraduates in her classes. Consider this post by Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, who teaches EC 10, the equivalent of ECON 110/120, to over 750 students each year.

Being an ec 10 section leader is one of the best teaching jobs at Harvard. You can revisit the principles of economics, mentor some of the world’s best undergraduates, and hone your speaking skills. In your section, you might even have the next Andrei Shleifer or Ben Bernanke (two well-known ec 10 alums). And believe it or not, we even pay you for this!

If you are a graduate student at Harvard or another Boston-area university and have a strong background in economics, I hope you will consider becoming a section leader in ec 10 next year. Applications are encouraged from PhD students, law students, and master’s students in business and public policy.

Take a year of Economics at Harvard, and not a single professor will know your name. Instead, you will be taught and graded by (poorly paid) graduate students, many with no more than a BA, often not even in economics! But, don’t worry, you will be doing a good deed by providing these students with a chance to “hone” their “speaking skills.”

2) You will get feedback on your work from faculty at Williams, not from inexperienced graduate students. More than 90% of the written comments (as well as the grades) on undergraduate papers at Harvard are produced by people other than tenured (or tenure track) faculty. The same is true in science labs and math classes. EC 10 is a particularly egregious example, but the vast majority of classes taken by undergraduates are similar in structure. Harvard professors are too busy to read and comment on undergraduate prose.

3) You would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for the paper or sing in an a cappella group at Harvard, it is difficult to do much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class, with each student being top notch in something. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

4) You would have a single room for three years at Williams. The housing situation at Harvard is horrible, at least if you care about privacy. Most sophomores and the majority of juniors do not have a single room for the entire year. Only at Harvard will you learn the joys of a “walk-through single” — a room which is theoretically a single but which another student must walk through to get to her room.

5) You would have the opportunity to be a Junior Advisor at Williams and to serve on the JA Selection Committee and to serve on the Honor Committee. No undergraduate student serves in these roles at Harvard because Harvard does not allow undergraduates to run their own affairs. Harvard does not trust its students. Williams does.

6) The President of Williams, Adam Falk, cares about your education specifically, not just about the education of Williams undergraduates in general. The President of Harvard, Drew Faust, has bigger fish to fry. Don’t believe me? Just e-mail both of them. Tell them about your situation and concerns. See who responds and see what they say.

Of course, there are costs to turning down Harvard. Your friends and family won’t be nearly as impressed. Your Aunt Tillie will always think that you actually go to “Williams and Mary.” You’ll be far away from a city for four years. But, all in all, a majority of the students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off if they had chosen otherwise.

Choose wisely.

¹The first post in this series was 11 years ago, inspired by a newspaper story about 18 year-old Julia Sendor, who was admitted to both Harvard and Williams. Julia ended up choosing Williams (at least partly “because of the snowy mountains and maple syrup”), becoming a member of the class of 2008, winning a Udall Foundation Scholarship in Environmental Studies. Best part of that post is the congratulations from her proud JA.


Latest Sexual Assault Report

From Dean Bolton:

I write, as I do each year, to update you on our work in sexual assault prevention and response, and to report how our disciplinary processes and other accountability processes have been used over the previous year. On the advice of the student members of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Group (SAPA), we present data from the previous year (in this case 2014-2015) each spring.

The more transparency the better. Key paragraphs:

In the 2014-2015 school year, the college received 10 reports of sexual assault, as well as one of dating violence, three of stalking, and one of retaliation. Of these 15 cases, 13 involved people who were still members of the college community, and so were eligible for college accountability processes. The other two involved individuals who are now alumni or were not members of the Williams community.

Of the 13 individuals reporting these incidents, six have chosen to take part in investigation and adjudication through the college as of now (three cases regarding sexual assault, two cases regarding stalking, and one case regarding retaliation.) Investigation and adjudication through the college remain an option as long as the respondent is a member of the college community.

Two of the three cases of sexual assault resulted in findings of responsibility, as did one of the two cases of stalking and the case of retaliation. All students found responsible for these violations were separated from the college. One student was expelled, and the others were suspended for terms ranging from one semester to two years.

My comments will be similar to last year’s, starting here. Regular readers have noted that I only got through 8 of the promised 10 days of analysis. Shall I give it another shot?

Entire e-mail is below the break.
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WOW Details

As usual, the best material at EphBlog is often in the comments. Example from a member of the class of 2020:

I was a WOW attendee last year, and while I was on campus I had the opportunity to listen to a few presentations given by admissions staff that provided us w/ fairly specific statistics about the program.

Because the college itself isn’t all that forthcoming about providing this numbers, I think it might be of (some) use for me to catalog them here. First, total admittance and the sort of people admitted to WOW:

Out of 1200 applicants, Williams admits roughly 200 to WOW. That provides for an admit rate of around 1/6, which is, coincidentally, also the admit rate of the college as a whole.

Those 200 students pick between a WOW session in October and one in September, and they usually do attend. The number I was quoted by admissions staff is that only a few admitted students don’t attend the program at all. (I believe the number was 5-10, but, I can’t recall with any real certainty.)

Of the students that actually attend WOW, which is of course a touch less than the 200 admitted, 70% actually end up applying to the college. So if we’re being generous, we now have 140 WOW attendees who have actually applied to the school. Out of those applicants, 85-90% will be admitted. (I can recall this figure fairly precisely, because, as a WOW attendee desperate to get admitted to the college, it seemed important to remember)

The next piece of information is a touch discontinuous from the first several in form, but, it’s what I was told so it’s what I’ll repeat: out of all WOW attendees, 50 matriculate the succeeding fall.

So, how might we calculate a yield rate out of that number? If we do it out of total attendees 50/200, then we’re left with a yield of 25% — fairly dismal; however, if we grind through the numbers and calculate the actual yield of WOW attendees who apply to the program and then are admitted, we’re left with an imprecise yield rate of 40%

That’s not startlingly different from the college’s overall yield rate. And, while it may be so that attending WOW did increase those students’ chance of attending Williams (perhaps they would have otherwise gone to HYPS) there’s no doubt that at least some in the broader college community would be miffed to learn that the college spends a pretty penny on flying students out only to yield one in four of them.

I have some other anecdotes about the program and fly-ins I could probably share, but, as none of them are really material to what we’re discussing here, I think I’ll end this post before it gets much longer.

Thanks for the details! And, please, tell us more anecdotes. EphBlog readers are always eager to learn more about how Williams operates.


Just a moment of relief …


…. as you continue the five days of Dudley Finance Contemplation while worried that your name may pop up on the Panama list.

Is that Sarah with the rifle from American Sniper ? What a break for us that cows don’t run wild in the Alaska hinterland!


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid III

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 3.

We run a program in the fall called WOW—Windows On Williams. We’ve nearly doubled the size of this program in the last couple of years because it’s so effective. We fly in, at our expense, about 200 low-income and first-generation students to spend a couple days on campus, meet each other, meet other Williams students and attend classes. The program is competitive; we get about 1,200 applicants. The students we select are very strong candidates for admission, and getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances that they apply and will choose to enroll here if we admit them.

We have a similar previews program in the spring for admitted students who haven’t already participated in WOW and can’t afford to come here on their own. We want to make sure they get a chance to experience this place in person before they decide where to go to college. Our admission office travels to high schools where low-income and first-generation students are likely to be found. … That’s what need-seeking is: doing everything we can in a very active way to admit as many talented, low-income students as we can.

Interesting stuff. Comments:

1) There is a great senior thesis to be written about how “effective” (or not) WOW is. Recall Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 excellent thesis about predicting which accepted students will choose Williams. This is an important topic, of interest to Williams and to elite colleges more broadly.

2) Has anyone at Williams — including the dozens of capable folks who report to Dudley — actually studied this? I have my doubts. But tell us about it if you have! Note that obvious selection bias inherit in Will’s claim that “getting them here on campus dramatically increases the chances” such students apply and enroll. The problem is that comparing students who do WOW with students who don’t do WOW is, potentially, useless because, almost by definition, students who do WOW are much more interested in Williams than students who don’t do WOW. They would be much more likely to apply/enroll than other students even if WOW did not exist. In fact, for all Will knows, WOW might actually decrease the percentages of such students who apply/enroll. (My bet, of course, is that Will is right and that WOW works.)

The right way to test WOW would be a standard A/B approach. Randomly select 10% (or whatever) of the students who met the criteria for WOW and then don’t invite them. If those students apply/enroll at the same rates as the WOW students, then WOW doesn’t do anything.

The College, like most modern bureaucracies, ought to do much more randomized testing to find out what works and what does not.

3) Even without a proper randomized controlled trial (RCT), you can still try to estimate the causal effect of WOW using various statistical approaches. A statistics major ought to jump on this opportunity.


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid II

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 2.

Thirty years ago, about 85 percent of students at Williams were white Americans; 15 percent were either students of color or international students. Today, just over 50 percent of the first-year class is white and American, and the number of students of color and international students is close to 50 percent.

1) “white and American” means something very different today than it did 30 years ago. Back then, no one (?) thought that checking Hispanic or Native American mattered much, or was a plausible strategy. Now, Williams is filled with “students of color” like this:

During one meeting of many, he [the college counselor] began, “There is something I want to suggest to you, but am afraid to.” “Why?” “I am afraid you won’t like what I’m going to ask you to do.” Of course, I asked him to tell me what it was. He then suggested that, on the Common Applications, I identify myself as Puerto Rican.

Depending on how you reckon, to say I am Puerto Rican is a half-truth or completely untrue. My mother was born there and raised in NYC since age six or so, and my father couldn’t be called anything but Caucasian. On other surveys, I’d sometimes checked the Puerto Rican and White boxes, sometimes just White.

I was bothered by Mr. Pallo’s suggestion, but I’d learned to trust him, and my parents supported his suggestion. A year ago, in fact, they had asked if I would use my mother’s maiden name, Reyes, hyphenated with my last name, Landsman, in my applications. I had flatly refused that. Needless to say, when I discussed my counselor’s suggestion with them, they supported him.

I asked Mr. Pallo if I could check both boxes. He responded with something along the lines of: “My fear is that that would be passed over, that someone would see ‘White’ and ‘Puerto Rican’ would be ignored.” After little more deliberation, I decided to trust him, and count it a small cost. So in that one question, I was Puerto Rican, though nothing else in my applications referred to that status.

Sure enough, I was admitted to Williams. Early freshman year, I received a letter from the Admissions Office. It stated that I had declared myself a minority on my application, specifically Puerto Rican. It asked if I still wanted to be considered so, and if not, to contact them and say otherwise. I thought about this a while. I did not particularly feel Puerto Rican, never have, and still don’t. Mom only spoke Spanish at home when she was being cute, or angry at us. I am not close with my PR family. But I saw no reason to take what I saw as a small risk of some kind of retribution, and I left Admissions with its original impressions.

So I was one of the however many “Latinos” in my year, though I doubt anyone at Williams outside of Bascom knew it.

People like Will Dudley love to signal the oh-so-high virtue of Williams by bragging about its diversity numbers. How accurate are those numbers? Is Williams really only 50% “white and American?” I will take the over on that!

In the last 15 years, we’ve put an increasingly explicit emphasis on socioeconomic diversification. So in the Class of 2019, slightly more than 20 percent of the students are eligible for the federal government’s PELL scholarship program for lower-income Americans. Fifteen years ago, that number was closer to 10 percent.

Doubtful. 15 years ago was 2001. Morty Schapiro, Will’s buddy, was President. Did he hate poor kids? Did he not care about socio-economic diversity? Utter bollocks! Williams has been bragging about its socio-economic diversity for decades.

The real story here (and why won’t the Record report it?!) involves the changing definition of socio-economic diversity. You get what you measure. PELL grants are a useful measure but they are hardly perfect. They only depend on income. The kid of a retired millionaire is just as eligible as an actual poor person.

And this was one reason why, just a few years ago, Williams measured socio-economic diversity solely by counting students from families in which neither parent had a four year college degree. (More background here and here.) That metric also had problems, but using it consistently allowed Morty and others to brag when it went up. But, now they no longer report that metric so we are barely aware that it is going down. Williams uses a new metric and gets to brag as it goes up. Moral signalling never goes out of style!

My position on these issues is the same as always:

Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.


Dudley ’89 on Financial Aid I

Provost Will Dudley’s discussion (pdf) of financial aid at Williams is equal parts useful and misleading. Let’s spend five days discussing it. Today is Day 1.

Will Dudley ’89 is a good guy and will make a fine president at Washington and Lee. EphBlog is sad that he isn’t (?) in the running to succeed Falk. All that said, there is no excuse for misleading gibberish like this.

How do you determine what a family can afford to pay?

The primary driver is income. We also look at families’ assets. We completely exclude from consideration retirement plans. We assess other funds at a rate of around 5 percent. There’s a myth that saving for college hurts you, because we’re just going to take it all from you. But we’re not. If you have $100,000 saved in the bank, it’s reasonable to ask you to contribute about $5,000 of that savings each year.

Liar. Or, at the very least, highly, highly misleading, with a tricky implicit definition of the “you” in that last sentence. Imagine that you have a 5 year old kid and win $100,000 in the lottery. Dudley implies that the College will only take 5% of that money each year, once little Johnny comes to Williams. False! If you put that $100,000 into an educational savings vehicle, or anything else with Johnny’s name on it, then Williams will take all $100,000 of it, every single dime.

If, however, you are smart enough to read EphBlog (and not listen to misleading statements from Williams officials), you should, at least, keep the $100,000 in your own name. You can always use it for Johnny’s tuition at Williams if you want to.

Even better, of course, is to put the money in a retirement account in your own name. (By the way, I love Will’s preening about the marvelous moral virtue of Williams excluding “retirement” plans. You mean that Williams won’t count Mitt Romney’s $100 million IRA among his assets? That seems fair!)

The details about how the College caps contributions from home equity are always interesting. Can any reader provide an update on the current rules? Related discussion here.

Advice: If you think your kid will get accepted by an elite school, then a) Save zero money in her name, b) Do as much of your savings as possible in retirement accounts, c) Pay off your mortgage and, only after you have done all the above, d) Save money for college.

Williams is no longer need-blind for international students. How does the college fulfill its aims with regard to access and diversity when it comes to this demographic?

We meet 100 percent of demonstrated need for every single student that we admit, domestic or international.

Does anyone else find it distasteful when College officials are so misleading in communications with alumni? I do! (But kudos to the Williams Magazine for at least bringing up the topic.)

Dudley ought to just be truthful. (Corrections welcome if any of my facts are wrong.) Williams sets a financial aid budget of X for international students. It admits students in, roughly, the order of desirability and gives them the aid they need until X is used up. After that, the only international students considered are the rich ones.

And that is a perfectly reasonable policy! As we have discussed many times before, the main issue/injustice/error with regard to international admissions is the quota.

We determine ability to contribute in the same way. Our international students are coming from more countries today than ever. And the acceptance rate for international students is around 5 percent, which is much lower than it is for domestic students. The competition is really incredible, because Williams has a fantastic international reputation.

The 5% figure is interesting. Given the latest news release that 100 international students were accepted into the class of 2020, we can estimate 2,000 applications from abroad. That is a big number, around 25% or 30% of the total applicant pool. Most accounts, as above, suggest that the pool is very strong. I suspect that, if Williams replaced the bottom 200 American students with the top 200 international students it currently rejects, the overall class would be much stronger academically, perhaps even at Harvard/Princeton levels.

Many schools are bringing wealthy international students to their campuses in order to bring in more tuition dollars. We’re not doing that.

Uh, aren’t you? After the fixed financial aid budget for international students is used up, Williams only looks at “wealthy international students.” Don’t insult us like this, Will!

We’re need-seeking internationally as well as domestically. In fact, our international population receives more aid than our domestic population. Roughly half of our domestic students receive financial aid, compared with close to 60 percent of the international population. And the average aided international student receives about $10,000 a year more in financial aid than the average aided domestic student.

Vaguely interesting but mostly separate from the critical issue: Having a quota against international students is, morally and practically, about as defensible as the quota against Jewish students a century ago.


Library Announcement



What Does Divestment Do?

Useful overview from the New Yorker.

However, if the aim of divestment campaigns is to reduce companies’ profitability by directly reducing their share prices, then these campaigns are misguided. An example: suppose that the market price for a share in ExxonMobil is ten dollars, and that, as a result of a divestment campaign, a university decides to divest from ExxonMobil, and it sells the shares for nine dollars each. What happens then?

Well, what happens is that someone who doesn’t have ethical concerns will snap up the bargain. They’ll buy the shares for nine dollars apiece, and then sell them for ten dollars to one of the other thousands of investors who don’t share the university’s moral scruples. The market price stays the same; the company loses no money and notices no difference. As long as there are economic incentives to invest in a certain stock, there will be individuals and groups—most of whom are not under any pressure to act in a socially responsible way—willing to jump on the opportunity. These people will undo the good that socially conscious investors are trying to do.

Exactly right. Who don’t more people in favor of Williams divesting from X or Y or Z — I lose track of the current issues du outrage — understand basic economics?