Currently browsing the archives for May 2016

Never Trump, Eph Division

I missed this letter from March:

We the undersigned, members of the Republican national security community, represent a broad spectrum of opinion on America’s role in the world and what is necessary to keep us safe and prosperous. We have disagreed with one another on many issues, including the Iraq war and intervention in Syria. But we are united in our opposition to a Donald Trump presidency. Recognizing as we do, the conditions in American politics that have contributed to his popularity, we nonetheless are obligated to state our core objections clearly:

Usual anti-trump agitprop

Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. Furthermore, his expansive view of how presidential power should be wielded against his detractors poses a distinct threat to civil liberty in the United States. Therefore, as committed and loyal Republicans, we are unable to support a Party ticket with Mr. Trump at its head. We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.

The only Eph I recognize on this list is Dan Drezner ’90. Questions:

1) Are there other Ephs on the list?

2) Dan Drezner is a Republican? From five years ago:

I’m not a Democrat, and I don’t think I’ve become more liberal over time. That said, three things have affected my political loyalties over the past few years. First, I’ve become more uncertain about various dimensions of GOP ideology over time.

Second, the GOP has undeniably shifted further to the right over the past few years, and while I’m sympathetic to some of these shifts, most of it looks like a mutated version of “cargo cult science” directed at either Ludwig Von Mises or the U.S. Constitution (which, of course, is sacred and inviolate, unless conservatives want to amend it).

So for those reasons, I really am a Republican in Name Only at this point. And I say this for the GOP’s benefit. The next time someone writes, “even the Republican Dan Drezner has said….” GOP partisans should feel perfectly entitled to link to this post and call me a RINO. Because it’s true.

If self-styled “members of the Republican national security community” felt inclined to include a (lovable!) RINO like Dan, then I doubt that actual Republicans need to be overly concerned with their views on Trump.

And, the more that the Republican establishment attacks Trump, the more likely he is to win moderate Democrats to his cause. So, actual Trump supporters can only cheer the establishment on. You go, Dan!


Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

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

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

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

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

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

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

Darkness, madness and death.

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

With luck, other military Ephs like Dick Pregent ’76, Bill Couch ’79, Peter May ’79, Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

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

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

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

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


The Mural Stays


Adam Falk has decided to keep the log mural.

Last semester, I convened a committee to consider historical representations on campus, chaired by Professor of History Karen Merrill. I asked the group to bring recommendations about what principles should guide us as we think about portrayals of our history and, more specifically, what, if anything, should be done about particular pieces that may be of concern.

As you all know, the first task undertaken by the committee has been to consider the mural in the Black Room of the Log that I had temporarily covered back in the fall. I’m pleased to write now with the news that I am accepting the recommendations of the committee, which were shared with me at the end of last week and are available in full on the committee’s website. Those recommendations call for the mural to remain in place at the Log, accompanied by a caption describing the historical event depicted in the mural. The committee also recommended adding contextual information in the Black Room about the campus conversation that has taken place this year about the mural and related issues and questions. Working with its members and others on campus with relevant expertise, the committee will be responsible for producing the caption and contextual content, and we expect that content to be in place in the Log by the end of the summer.

Kudos to Falk, Merrill and the rest of the committee. The decision — and the process which led to it — is an example of Williams at its best.

There are lots of details to work through. Should we spend a week on it?

Entire e-mail below the break.
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Can We Talk?

The official Colby College magazine covered the topic of free speech on campus.

A flood of incidents at institutions ranging from huge land-grant universities to small liberal arts colleges is growing into a conflict between “politically correct” culture and freedom of speech. The swift reaction has been passionate. Some warn of suppression of speech, while others welcome the shift toward a more sensitive culture as a needed adjustment in an increasingly intolerant world. Still others complain that such increased “tolerance” is itself a form of intolerance.

A recent national survey revealed that while most college students believe their campus environment should expose them to diverse viewpoints, a large majority also believes that schools should be allowed to restrict intentionally offensive language. And 54 percent of students recently surveyed by the Knight Foundation and Gallup said the climate on campus prevents some people from saying what they believe, because others might find it offensive.

But can colleges monitor and restrict slurs and hate speech while also protecting free speech and the give and take of ideas in what is, after all, an academic and intellectual space? In Colby’s tight-knit community, the conversation is just getting started. “We need to be very clear about our values when it comes to issues around freedom of speech and around respect and civility,” said President David A. Greene. “These things can coexist.”

Read the whole thing. Do you think that the Williams Magazine will cover the debate on this topic at Williams? I have my doubts. The Colby author writes:

As the conflict spread, Williams College canceled two right-wing speakers who were invited to campus as part of the college’s “Uncomfortable Learning” series.

1) It is interesting to see how (sympathetic!) observers portray the events of the last year at Williams. EphBlog readers know, of course, that “Williams College” did not really cancel two speakers. The students cancelled Venker and Falk banned Derbyshire. And yet, to Colby alumni, it will appear (correctly?) that there is less free speech at Williams than there is at any other NESCAC school.

2) At Colby there is a student Republican group. At Williams, there is not. Why? Should we be worried?

3) Always nice to see Robert Gaudino’s catchphrase, “Uncomfortable Learning,” get mentioned elsewhere.

4) Entire tenor of the article is remarkably restrictionist. They don’t quote — because they can’t find — a single faculty member or administrator who believes that speech at Colby should be at least as free as speech at the University of Maine.

So, I guess the answer to “Can we talk?” will be, in a few more years, “Only if you don’t say anything that upsets from from the right.” Or am I too pessimistic?


Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2020:

At the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started mid-way through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As our new Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

Fortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Falk, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams in August than incoming first years. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Falk as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because they is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words (by heart) themselves during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1916, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.


David Kane ’88


No More Lectures

In April 2005, then-President Schapiro spoke to the Boston Alumni Society. He was funny and engaging, honest and even inspiring. He is everything a college president should be. Williams is unlikely to have a better leader in my lifetime.

schapiroBut on one topic, he was jarringly wrong, inconsistent with the progress that Williams has made in the last 20 years and out of step with the future of elite education. Schapiro claimed that, while discussion sections and tutorials in fields like philosophy and English are wonderful, it would be “stupid” to have discussion-sized sections for introductory classes in economics and the like.

Nothing could be further from the spirit of Mark Hopkins. There are no lectures on the log.

First, lectures are inefficient for students. Anything that a professor says in a lecture, as opposed to a discussion, could just as easily be typed beforehand and read by students at their own convenience. Reading is much quicker than listening and, more importantly, allows different students to focus on the parts that they don’t understand and to skim the parts that they do.

Administrators sometimes believe that large classes save money (one professor teaches 100 students!) but the savings come in the form of less learning per student.

Second, the arguments in favor of lectures in economics at Williams are identical to the arguments for lectures in all subjects at Harvard. According to Schapiro (and many Williams faculty members), there is a minimal amount of knowledge that a student must have in order to be able to even discuss a topic like microeconomics. That may be true, but it is no less true for the poetry of Emily Dickinson or the philosophy of David Hume. At Harvard, they are at least consistent on this topic, lecturing to students on microeconomics and poetry and philosophy. If you believe that students, having done the assigned reading, learn best by discussing poetry and philosophy on the first day of class, then why wouldn’t the same be true of economics and chemistry?

Third, the smaller the class, the more learning occurs. Consider new visiting assistant professor Diana Davis’s ’07 description of her high school experience:

davis“I went to a high school where every single class — English, biology, history, math, economics, Greek — was a discussion class with 13 students or fewer. I have not taken a single class at Williams where I have learned as much, learned as deeply, or remembered as much a year later as I did in my classes in high school.”

Now, most of us did not have the good fortune of going to a high school like Diana’s. Yet no one makes the opposite claim; no one argues that students learn more in lecture than they do in discussion.

Fourth, there would be no better way for Williams to demonstrate to potential applicants that it is a different place, with different values, than by drawing a line at 15 students or so per class. If Williams had no lectures, then there would be less doubt about its educational superiority. The tutorial program already provides Williams with a leadership position in undergraduate education. Abolishing lectures would do even more.

Fifth, claims about the excessive expense involved in having small sections are overblown. A professor currently responsible for the education of 45 students in ECON 110 should organize the class in whatever way is best for her students, not most convenient for her. Better to have three sections of 15 students each, than one large lecture. This will take up more of the professor’s time, but, since so much of the work — planning the class, creating the exams, grading the papers — is a fixed cost (regardless of the number of class meetings), the marginal cost to the professor of having three sections instead of one is small. The very best professors, like Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 in history, already split up their large classes. Everyone else should do the same.

Unsure that smaller classes are better? Randomly assign students in ECON 110 to either the traditional lecture or a small section. See which students learn more and enjoy learning more. See which version the professors prefer teaching and why. Measure how many students take more classes in the department and how well they do in those classes.

Six years ago, in his induction lecture, Adam Falk claimed that:

adam_f_023 [W]e have not just the opportunity but, because of the advantages afforded us, the responsibility to be a national leader – maybe the national leader – in innovative and effective teaching. We have all the elements in place: talented faculty; bright, committed students; and, most important, an academic culture that places teaching at its heart. Our faculty walk in the footsteps of Hopkins, Gaudino, and so many others. Innovation does not mean chasing every fad and every new technology, despite all the possibilities that technology affords; often it means embracing the familiar in new and creative ways.

Agreed! A churl might comment that, six years later, there is very little evidence of any teaching innovations, or even modest experiments, at Williams. But we are not churlish today! Instead, we urge Adam Falk to answer one simple question: Do lectures serve Williams students better or worse than small classes? This is, ultimately, an empirical question. A great Williams president would try to answer it.

A version of this article first appeared in the Record in 2006. We have returned to this discussion many times in the years that followed, e.g., here and here. Start here and here for a great back-and-forth. I miss the old EphBlog!

Catholic Quota?

Fay Vincent ’60 writes:

In my college and law school classes, there were very few people of color. Indeed there was no black student in my class at Williams College, and only about 10 blacks in my class at Yale Law School. Women were admitted to Williams some 10 years after I graduated. The law schools had long admitted women, but few attended until the large-scale social revolution in the 1970s. Today people of color and women students constitute a major segment of most educational institutions. To me, single sex education always seemed artificial, and I am certain my social adjustment and education would have benefited from the more diverse current environment. Oddly, as a Catholic I was the diversity because the elite schools in my time had quotas for my religion.

1) Did Williams really have a Catholic quote 50 years ago? I have never read about it. Any pointers?

2) Was the quota a minimum or a maximum? The quotas — or, more euphemistically, admission “goals” — for black/Hispanic applicants today are minimums. Williams does not want to have too few. The quotas that elite schools — certainly Harvard but maybe not Williams — have for Asian-American applicants are maximums, just like the Jewish quotas of 100 years ago.

3) There is a great senior thesis to be written about this question, or about Williams admissions over time more broadly. Who will write it?


End of Year Falk E-mail

Adam Falk’s end of the year e-mail includes lots of news. Should we spend a week going through it? Tell us what you want readers! One highlight:

As I look back on the extraordinary success of the campaign in this first year of its public phase, I must share some bittersweet news, which is that our campaign’s chief architect has accepted an exciting new professional opportunity. Vice President for College Relations John Malcolm ’86 will take on the role of chief development officer at the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH).

Losing your chief fund-raiser in the middle of your big capital campaign is either extremely bad luck or a sign of less-than-climb-high competence. Malcolm was an exceptional rainmaker. He had spent the last 5 (?) years building relationships with all the richest Ephs. This is example #103 of why the College ought to do a better job of screening/hiring/retaining employees who want to make a career commitment to Williams.

With luck, Malcolm’s departure won’t matter. I hope that he lassoed most of his targeted big givers during the quiet portion of the campaign and that his departure won’t cause them to renege.

Entire e-mail below the break:
Read more


Saying Hello (New Author)

Greetings! As a frequent scribbler in the comments, it’s a joy to climb the dais and finally contribute to Ephblog as an author. To introduce myself as well as one can anonymously: I’m an incoming member of the class of 2020, an alumnus of Windows on Williams and someone who’s been rabid about the college (and this blog!) long before I was even admitted.

I’ve already arranged the broad strokes of a few posts on WOW, but, as even Ephblog is woefully without much information on the program — a search for “Windows on Williams” on this site yields, as its first result, a literal window — I’d like to make sure that I’m not missing anything that could be of interest. Anyone with specific questions or general curiosities is welcome to pose them in comments.

Best to all those reading. More to come soon.



If You Like Your EphBlog . . .

What lines spoken by President Obama will make it into the history books? I am not sure. But I was pleased to read that Jon Lovett ’04 was involved in one of his more (in)famous promises:

If you are one of the millions of people who lost their health insurance under ObamaCare, the President’s lie “If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” probably still stings. But to CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose and the Obama speechwriters he invited on his PBS show, it’s now a hilarious laugh line.

On Monday’s edition of PBS’s Charlie Rose show the host invited on former Obama speechwriters David Litt, Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett to wax fondly about Obama’s “great” communication skills when it came to delivering both serious speeches and funny lines. When Lovett, now a writer in Hollywood, told Rose he was most proud of the “serious speeches” on the economy and health care, Favreau jokingly jabbed that Lovett was responsible for the now infamous lie about keeping your health insurance plan.

Was Lovett responsible for that line? Which line that Lovett wrote is most famous?


Library Streaking & Life Safety Issues

An all-student e-mail from Steve Klass and Sarah Bolton begins:

Students streaking through the library during Reading Period has been a tradition for many years. We’d like to call your attention to a couple of significant risks involved with it and ask you to reconsider this activity.

Entire e-mail is below the break. Comments:

1) When did the streaking tradition start? Presumably it was after co-education began in the early 70’s . . .

2) I was surprised at how big a deal it has become:

The streaking in Sawyer Library during last December’s Reading Period put a huge number of people at great risk of bodily injury. Thanks to social media, the building was well beyond fire code capacity by the time the streaking began. The marble steps and connecting walkways on the upper floors were absolutely jammed and impenetrable, blocking all egress. Students leaning over the railings on those connectors were crushed up against the waist-level restraining walls, putting them in danger of breaking through or falling over the railings.

Was it really that bad? Can anyone send us a picture (not of the streakers, obviously, but of the crowding)?

3) Will this plea cause students to change the tradition? Predictions welcome!

So, we ask you to please take the well-being of others to heart and come up with another way to achieve the same fun objectives in a safe and responsible manner.

The obvious replacement would be an outside event, perhaps a circular route around the new green space at the center of campus, or perhaps around the Science Quad. Suggestions from readers?

Entire e-mail below.
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Outside Stereo Speaker …

… can address one issue in two directions!


Historical Tuition Letters

EphBlog’s favorite NPR reporter, Fred Thys ’80, writes:

I’m trying to gather annual letters from Williams to parents and students explaining why tuition is going up and by how much. I’d like to gather letters from 1977 on.

The letters are not available at the Williams Archives, because they are part of the Presidential files, and thus, sealed for 100 years.

Any ideas?

1) A quick search through EphBlog’s archives doesn’t provide much. Here are the e-mails for 2006, 2009, 2015 and 2016. I am embarrassed that we don’t have more to offer to Fred, but perhaps these will be helpful.

2) Please help Fred! Just copy and paste the annual tuition announcement that you received into the comments for this thread.

3) “[S]ealed for 100 years?!” How pathetic is that? The Colleges paranoid secrecy manifests itself in many ways, and this is perhaps the most ludicrous.

a) No one objects to sensitive documents — tenure reviews, private correspondence with individuals, trustee meeting notes, et cetera — being kept private for decades. But 100 years! Give me a break! Aren’t US government documents largely declassified after just 50 years?

b) But the documents that Fred is looking for are not secret! They were each sent to around 1,500 students and about three thousand parents. The College ought to maintain an archive of every e-mail that was sent to general mailing lists like all-campus or all-students. That record should be public, maintained by Katie Nash, Williams most excellent new archivist.


Play Trivia Tonight

Play trivia tonight!

Trivia is a glorious and time-honored Williams tradition dating back to 1966. Once in January and once in May, all Williams students—and anyone else who wants to, for that matter—are invited to stay up way too late for a night of music, goofy acting, and things-you-know-but-can’t-quite-remember. It’s the final exam for everything you never learned at Williams College.

We are Taha Noa Noa, the team who won last January’s contest. That is the prize for winning trivia: more trivia. If you win this contest, you have the privilege and requirement of running the next one.

The denizens and hanger-ons at EphBlog disagree about many things. But we all agree that you should try out Trivia at least once during your four years at Williams. Instructions here.

Best team name this year? I vote for We Know Words. We Have All The Best Words. Does any team have an EphBlog connection?


New Rules for Outside Speakers III

Here (doc) and here are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learning, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 3.

The College retains the right of refusal for any outside speaker/performer and/or their campus sponsor for any reason.

The College is a private organization and so it is within its rights to refuse any visitor. You might think that this new policy makes things harder for Uncomfortable Learning. You would be exactly wrong. Uncomfortable Learning is now in a stronger position than ever because now the College must decide, ahead of time, which speakers it is going to ban.

Imagine that UL leaders want to make life tough for Adam Falk. All they need to do is ask him (or the “Assistant Director for Student Organizations & Involvement in the Office of Student Life”) if they may invite person X to Williams. That is what the policy requires of them. They don’t have to — in fact, they are not allowed to! — invite person X before getting this permission. But this procedure (permission first, invitation second) means that they can endlessly torture Adam Falk by asking for permission for speakers that span the continuum from John Derbyshire on leftward.

The College is then trapped. Either they allow Uncomfortable Learning to develop a long list of all the speakers that Williams has banned (imagine the Washington Post article that would come out of the leaking of this list!) or they have to draw the line at Derbyshire and allow just about everyone else in. With luck, they will be smart enough to choose Door #2.

Does Uncomfortable Learning have the necessary student leadership to take advantage of this opportunity? Time will tell. What are your predictions?

And, perhaps more importantly, who should Uncomfortable Learning invite? Here and here might be good places to start . . .


New Rules for Outside Speakers II

Here (doc) and here are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learning, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 2.

There are lots of nitpicky new rules:

Student members of an OSL RSO must meet with the Assistant Director for Student Organizations & Involvement in the Office of Student Life at least one month in advance of the speaker/performer’s requested appearance to disclose and discuss contracts, funding sources, location, logistics, publicity, and other details.

Contracts for any outside performer/speaker being paid for coming to campus may be signed ONLY by an agent of the institution.

And so on. Comments/questions:

1) I doubt that all these rules could possibly be enforced. How can students give a month’s notice for an event scheduled for, say. September 30 when they didn’t even start to plan the event until school started on September 4?

2) There is nothing wrong with rules as long as the College enforces them in a content-neutral fashion. Do you think that Williams will enforce these rules against Uncomfortable Learning while giving progressive groups a pass? I hope not. The Record should certainly investigate.

3) The biggest problem with rules and bureaucracy is that they sometimes destroy the spaces in between. For example, do/should these rules prevent the Springstreeters from inviting a visiting a capella to perform? (Does this still happen? It was common back in the day.)

This section seems created specially for (or designed to stop?) Uncomfortable Learning:

The provision of funding from alumni, foundations, or other non-college sources for a performer/speaker and/or their program must be disclosed to the college. All agreements and arrangements related to such funding must be fully disclosed to the college at least two weeks in advance of an event. Contact the Office of Student Life for more information on seeking such approval.

But I don’t think it matters. UL will just inform the College (as they did in co-sponsoring last week’s speaker?) and the College will say Yes, as long as the speaker is not Derbyshire. The College already knows who the alumni funders of UL are. In fact, college officials have known from the start. And these alumni don’t care if the College knows. They just prefer to remain in the background, if only to avoid being hassled by social justice warrior wannabes like Sam Crane.

Nothing here need slow down Uncomfortable Learning, assuming, that is, that there are still students who believe in its mission of widening the range of opinions expressed at Williams. Are there?


New Rules for Outside Speakers I

Here (doc) are the new rules for outside speakers/performers. (Can anyone confirm that these are the actual rules? Are they posted someone on the Williams website? These were sent by a source.) It seems obvious that these rules were created in response to the controversies surrounding Uncomfortable Learnings, especially John Derbyshire. Let’s spend 3 days discussing them. Today is Day 1.

To host an outside speaker or performer’s appearance and reserve a space for your event on campus, you must be one of the following:

A student representing an officially registered, College Council-recognized student organization (OSL RSO) Click here for more information on the registration process.

A student representing an organization that is part of the Minority Coalition (MinCo) or is advised by the Davis Center (DC RSO). Click here for information regarding DC RSO’s.

A faculty member.

1) This is a reasonable rule! I don’t particularly like it that faculty members have more rights than students, but such a distinction is not crazy.

2) I have never really understood why the students in charge of UL have never registered. They derive no meaningful advantage from not doing so. They just hand their opponents a handy cudgel to beat them with. They now have to register, which is almost costless and probably a good idea.

3) I hate it that there is one rule for most students (get registered with College Council) and another rule — separate but equal! — for students associated with Min Co. Why do this? Why separate Ephs according to the color of their skin or their political rules?

4) If UL is smart and/or trouble-making, that ought to go to the Davis Center and register as a part of the “Williams Activist Coalition.” Imagine the (hilarious!) stink they could make if Ferentz Lafargue tried to prevent them from joining the coalition! I bet that the paperwork here is much less onerous than the College Council paperwork.


Another Colonel to Williams

Chris_Gibson_2All good Ephs know that Ephraim Williams was a colonel at the time of his death on the Bloody Morning Scout. Trivia question: Who was the last colonel to teach at Williams? I don’t know. Perhaps after the Civil War? Regardless, the next colonel to teach at Williams will be Representative Chris Gibson, R-NY. Questions:

1) Gibson is a retired colonel, US Army. When he starts teaching in spring 2017, will he be the only veteran on the Williams faculty? I think so, but could be wrong . . .

2) Gibson is a registered Republican! How many other registered Republicans are there on the faculty? I assume that Jane Swift, former MA Governor, is still a registered Republican. But, among the tenured/tenure-track faculty, I don’t know of a single one, even among the less-than-five libertarian/conservative leaners. Any pointers?

3) It is unsurprising that Gibson is coming to Williams under the auspices of Leadership Studies, easily the most “right wing” — or at least non-progressive/non-leftist — department on campus. (This is also where Swift makes a home.) Kudos to all the professors involved.

4) What is the backstory? Who introduced Gibson to Williams? Who arranged funding for the position? Given that Gibson was, just a few months ago, a semi-serious candidate for governor, I am surprised by how quickly Williams made things happen. It is certainly convenient that Gibson lives just one hour from Williamstown.

5) Might Gibson’s visiting lecturer position turn into something more substantial and/or permanent? Perhaps. The first semester/year will give Williams a chance to judge him and him a chance to judge Williams. But he is certainly an interesting candidate because he has a Ph.D. from Cornell, experience teaching highly intelligent students at West Point and some (how well-regarded?) published academic research.

6) Perhaps he will inherit Bernard Moore’s old office? We can only hope!


Every Eph a Teacher

What is the cheapest way to expand the number of classes that Williams offers? Encourage the many non-faculty members to offer courses in their areas of expertise, first during Winter Study and then, perhaps later, during the regular semester.

As a concrete example, consider longtime friend of EphBlog justin adkins, Assistant Director, Gender, Sexuality and Activism at the Davis Center. justin, using a syllabus along these lines, could give a wonderful course on racial justice next January. It might not be the most popular class during Winter Study, but I have no doubt that a dozen or so students would sign up and have a great experience.

But justin is just one among many Eph administrators who could teach Winter Study classes in their areas of expertise. How about Meg Bossong ’05 on sexual assault or Chris Winters ’95 on data analysis and higher education? None of these folks should be forced to teach a class, of course. But I bet that the vast majority, and a dozen or more others, would jump at the chance if Adam Falk suggested it. Recommended slogan:

Every Eph a Teacher

The benefits of such a program are almost too numerous to mention. There might be some pushback from the more guild-protecting members of the faculty, but nothing that could not be overcome, at least for Winter Study classes. Would any readers be against this idea?


Record Approval Survey

From the Record:

Dear Student,

The Williams Record is conducting its biannual approval ratings poll of local and campus institutions and leaders. Please fill out the following poll by Monday May 2nd at 11:59 p.m. The more responses we get, the more accurate the poll results will be.

Please use the following link to participate in the poll.

Thank you,

The Williams Record

1) Copy of the survey here. What advice do you have for the Record reporters behind this effort?

2) The Record ought to make the data behind this, and its other surveys, public. Transparency is good journalistic practice in general, and releasing the data would encourage Ephs of all ages to dive in and look for interesting results.

3) Here is the Record article reporting on the results. Any surprises? The entry system earns more approval than the neighborhoods, but not by nearly as much as I would have expected.


Parent Survey

The College is surveying parents.

Dear Parent of X,

Here at the college we’re always trying to do our job better. An important aid to that is the feedback we get in a variety of ways from students and, once every few years, from this survey of you, our students’ families.

We find it very helpful to learn how satisfied you are with various aspects of the college, how useful you find the information we send you, what concerns you have about your child’s experience, and how you’re paying for your child’s education.

To broaden our understanding of these matters, we’ve joined with 34 other colleges and universities to develop and field a survey to families of current undergraduates.

We’d be very grateful if you took a few minutes to complete it by visiting this link:

Some of the questions touch on sensitive areas, and I can assure you that your individual responses will be kept strictly confidential. The data as a whole will be used for institutional improvement, and the results will only be reported as statistics for large groups of families.

The more families who participate, the more valuable the results will be and the stronger a sense we’ll have of what we’re doing well and where we can improve.

Sincerely yours,

Adam F. Falk
President and Professor
Williams College

1) Interesting. What are the factors that predict parental satisfaction with Williams? I predict that rich parents (with children not on financial aid) are much more likely to be satisfied than non-rich parents. What do you predict?

2) Might the College make this data available, at least to the Record? Doubtful! But the Record ought to ask.

3) There is a great senior thesis to be written using this data. Who will write it?


+2.4 Grades in Williamstown

The New York Times has an interesting graphic on money/race/schooling. Here is Williamstown:


Click on the image for more detail. From the Times:

We’ve long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.

We’ve long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts.

1) An article like this that doesn’t even mention genetics is too embarrassing to spend much time on. Summary: School achievement is at least 50% genetic. So, unless you control for this effect, it will hard to tease out the independent effects of income/spending.

2) But there is a lot of great data here! Economics/statistics majors looking for a good senior thesis topic should dive in.

3) Williamstown is an interesting outlier. I bet that lots of college towns are above the fitted line, meaning that the students do much better than a simple measure of SES would suggest.

4) There is endless complaining from the faculty/administration about the quality of Williamstown schools, followed by demands that Williams spends its own money to help. This is natural, in that parents complain about the local schools everywhere. But it is also absurd because, in comparison with other towns to which Williams employees might conceivable move, the Williamstown schools are much better. Williams College should spend zero dollars on the local school system.


Maluf ’18 on UL

Part 1 of Emilia Maluf’s ’18 Record series on Uncomfortable Learning was the worst piece of student journalism this year. How was Part 2?

1) Much better than Part 1! Maluf deserves credit for getting in contact with several of the alumni involved.

2) But there are still many problems. Consider her opening sentence:

To the student body, the operations of Uncomfortable Learning (UL) are shrouded in secrecy.

First, this is a group that has invited a dozen (?) speakers to campus over the last three years. At every single one of these events, a UL student has stood up, told the audience a bit about UL and invited other students to join. There is no “shroud” or “secrecy.” The Record itself has covered many of these events.

Second, let’s try this opening sentence with other student organizations.

To the student body, the operations of the Lecture Committee are shrouded in secrecy.

Now, in a stupid sense, this is true. Only a handful of students (not directly involved) know anything about the Lecture Committee or College Councils Finance Committee or the JA Selection Committee or . . . And that is OK! Life is busy and there is no reason why a random student needs to concern herself with the inner-workings of the dozens of student (and faculty!) committees/groups/clubs on campus. But Maluf is guilty of the worst sort of yellow journalism when she pretends (without quoting anyone!) that UL is especially secretive.

All but one, current head of group Zach Wood ’18, requested to remain anonymous.

Because she is not a very good journalist! First, the absurd first part of the series does nothing to engender confidence among students/alumni involved in UL. Second, she failed to take the opportunity (which at least one person provided her with) to come up with a quote that he would be comfortable saying on the record. Serious journalist do this by allowing the source to offer some material on background and to come up with a quote, often on a less controversial aspect of the topic, that the source is happy to see in print.

There is much more that is problematic here, but my sense is that readers are bored with the topic. Sound off in the comments if you want more Fisking!


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Not Impressed

Williams professor writing on background argues that I was too snarky/skeptical in this post about the efficacy of early childhood education.

If you asked me to name an economist who has worked on the returns to early childhood education, the first name that comes to mind is Jim Heckman, a professor at the University of Chicago who happens to have won a Nobel Prize. He is certainly one of the most evidence driven economists of his generation. After years of work, Heckman’s view is fairly nuanced, but I would characterize it as generally supporting funding for early childhood education (especially high quality programs targeted at the disadvantaged).

Here is one quick summary from his website:

Just the title — “Invest in Early Childhood Development: Reduce Deficits, Strengthen the Economy” — pretty much tells you his position.

If you want a more complete summary of his thinking on the issue, I have attached an NBER working paper from last fall that is now a book chapter. The paper has a couple of pages on Heckman and his co-authors’ view of the Lipsey work that you cite. I think the top of page 58 has their bottom line. A simple summary would be “Nobel prize winning economist not impressed with program evaluation from professors of education at Peabody.” Read the whole paper if you want to really learn about the topic. It isn’t the last word on the topic, but it certainly suggests that your one-sided characterization of the evidence is off the mark. (Of course, Heckman and his friends at Chicago might all be fellow travelers but I doubt that you want to try that argument.)

Indeed! Comments:

1) As always, our readers make for the best EphBlog material. Share your thoughts in the comments!

2) In any research field in which there are both randomized trials and observational studies, you should put 99%+ weight on the former.

3) Heckman is a deserved Nobel laureate in that, prior to 2000, his work was hugely influential. But note that none (?) of that work had anything to do with the efficacy of programs like Head Start. Moreover, the last 16 years have been very unkind to Heckman’s Nobel contributions. Does anybody bother to teach/learn Heckman’s selection bias stuff in graduate school anymore? I think (contrary opinions welcome!) that this has all been left behind in two ways: the emphasis on randomized trials and the shift to evaluating observational studies using matching methods.