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Windows on Williams IV

As someone who attended Windows on Williams and loved every moment of it, I’m still more than a little skeptical of its efficacy. A lot of the people I met at the program, point blank, told me they weren’t that interested in the school; for others, it was a better-than-average safety now that they pretty much knew they’d get admitted.

Ephblog has covered this question before, but, as a new author with a bit of personal experience, I’d like to take a crack at the topic myself. I shamelessly quote from the same Williams Magazine feature that lead our WOW post back in April:

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.

I agree with the first bit, I can nod along to the second, the third leaves me in want of proof. Sadly, there’s almost nothing public about WOW beyond what little the college deigns to publish, so, I leave you with my thoughts and more than a little anecdote:

1) The yield rate for WOW students might not be higher than our general yield. Again, we proceed w/o especially good data, but, the numbers I were quoted went thus: 70% of two hundred WOW students apply to the college, 85% of that number are admitted, and roughly 40% of those students matriculate at the college. That’s not a “dramatic” increase in the chances that a student will enroll; 40% is maintenance on our general yield rate.

Now, perhaps, a 40% yield is good considering that WOW students are alleged to be more talented, diverse, or otherwise just more valuable to admissions than your garden variety Eph. Perhaps that sort of student is more likely go elsewhere, and thus we have to work extra, extra hard to make sure they matriculate.

But none of that seems clear from the quoted block of text! The reasonable inference to make is that a “dramatic” increase in yield rate would mean one that at least exceeds our general yield. You can wax poetic about how a relative increase in the yield rate technically satisfies the quoted statement, but, that answer leaves me a little discomfited; it seems a deceptive way to represent the data. Of course, this wouldn’t be a point of contention if the college were to release its actual figures on WOW and not speak in generalities. I eagerly await the day.

2) Is WOW even competitive with similar programs? All of our immediate peers — Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona — run their own fly-in programs. Further, because the total pool of students who attend fly-ins is pretty small, we can assume that out of the 200 students that attend WOW, at least a few will go to a program at one of our peer schools.

We could easily enough, and due credit here to regular commentator simplicio, send a survey out to students who attended WOW and ask them to check off what fly-in programs they’ve attended, as well as what school they plan to matriculate at in the fall.

If, out of students that attend both WOW and Amherst’s fly-in, we only get 20%-30% of them to matriculate here, then we know that WOW isn’t keeping pace. Of course, we’d be working with a fairly small sample size (likely no more than about ten students) but rough indicators would beat flying blind.

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Windows on Williams III

Half of this year’s entering class is comprised of students who applied Early Decision. How many of those students, might you ask, went to WOW too? 13:

Thirteen students admitted through Early Decision participated in Windows on Williams, a Williams-sponsored program that provides talented, high-achieving high schools seniors from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to visit campus during the fall of their senior year.

We bring nearly two hundred students to campus for WOW and of those students that apply, we admit 85-90% of them. So how do we only have 13 students, about a 20th of the students we fly out here, applying ED? My best guesses:

1) They have no good incentive to apply ED.  That 85-90% number, while not promulgated, isn’t secret either; everyone who goes to WOW, by the end of it, has heard that number and knows that they stand a very very good chance at getting admitted to the college. Nothing stops these students from treating Williams as a safety. Those that hold the purple-and-gold dear would blanch at the thought, but, like it or not, there’s more than a few students on campus today who might have preferred an acceptance letter from Yale or Stanford to one from Williams.

2) They don’t think that they can afford to apply ED. If this is the case, then that’s something we ought to change. Perhaps WOW students, if interested in applying early, could have a “tentative” aid offer prepared by someone in the financial aid office?

Considering that we’re admitting 90% of them already, and we’ve already brought them to campus at some expense, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to close that last inch of distance and get them to apply ED. I’m sure many poorer WOW students, although not all, would jump at the chance to apply ED if they could be reasonably confident that Williams would give them enough aid.

3) They just don’t like the school that much. Decently common! You would presume that students who go out of their way to apply to WOW would be above-average in their love for the school, but, you wouldn’t be all that correct. I met more than a few people at WOW that didn’t plan to apply to the college at all; some liked other schools more, some were just in it for the free trip.

Perhaps, there’s some way we could get a slightly more enthused student body to WOW? The prompt for WOW, as it stands, is very general; perhaps we would be better off with something that’s more specific to Williams? Or, maybe, it’s just a matter of doing a better job at knocking some school spirit into our guests while they’re here.

My suggestion: teach visiting students to sing The Mountains. It’s never too early, or late, to learn.

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Windows on Williams II

Welcome! We’re spending the week covering Windows on Williams. Today, I’ll be bringing you through the parts of WOW that stuck out to me as memorable:

Welcome Dinner and Introductions

Quite interesting! At the other fly-ins I went to, for the first night, you were handed a meal ticket and pretty much left to shift for yourself at one of the cafeterias. Williams, however, has a whole separate banquet type thing, with catered food and huge tanks of iced apple cider, where student interns in the admissions office mull around and answer any questions that visiting students might have.

I like this quite a bit. It gives the student hosts a break, it gives our visiting students more time in front of admissions office staff, and, it makes for a good venue to conduct introductions from.

Jamboree: Student Performance Showcase

Wretched. Awful. Needs to die, both at Williams and as a convention of the fly-in generally. For one, they almost always schedule the student performances on the first night — when everyone is jet-lagged, and cranky, and really not in the mood to watch a step routine. (And, might I add that attendance is usually mandatory.)

Any charms of the format wear thin by one’s second fly-in, usually. Mostly because there’s no variety between colleges. I visited three schools, hundreds of miles apart, in different athletic conferences and with radically different alleged styles of education; all of them subjected me to three acapela groups, two dance troupes, and some really maudlin, weirdly metered poetry.

Jamboree: Bad, Bad Trivia

What gave me the most hope for student showcase at Williams — the promise of trivia — ended up being the most disappointing. Here are the three of the questions they asked at my WOW: “What war did Col. Ephraim Williams fight in?” ; “Who is the director of admissions at Williams?” and “Williams is the second oldest college in the state of Massachusetts, what school is the oldest?”

Seriously? We, purport to, and in fact have, a very rich trivial tradition at Williams. And this is the best we can do?  I don’t want to put too fine a point on this (because WOW as a whole is great and my specific critiques should be read as footnotes to mountains of praise) but how fun is it to ask students to recall the name of an admissions director they’ve just met? And why the last question? Why are we bothering, even indirectly like this, to compare Williams to Harvard? It seems a slimy way to rub some of the Harvard prestige off on Williams. Why not ask a question about Pres. Garfield, or Leehom Wang? It might teach the youth something.

 Mountain Day

My WOW, the October session, ended up falling on Mountain Day. I couldn’t imagine a better time to be on campus; the idyllic, sexed-up Williams that we ought to be showing prefrosh comes out on Mountain Day. Can we bring future WOW classes to campus during Mountain Day without spoiling the surprise? It’s my hope we can.

Sample Classes

Very good! Surprisingly good, actually. I was worried that, at fifty students apiece, the sample classes would be overcrowded, but, evidently there exist members of the Williams faculty that can teach fifty student seminars. Prof. Leyla Rouhi, in particular, had a sort of rockstar quality; there was a line of people waiting to speak to her after she finished teaching.

Divisions Dinner

I won’t say much about it, because unqualified praise doesn’t need the space. Interestingly, two Ephblog favorites, Prof. Joe Cruz ’91 and Prof. Steven Miller, were both in attendance at the October WOW. Prof. Miller even gave the whole room a neat little demonstration of Benford’s Law.

That concludes our post today! Tomorrow, we return to the usual Ephblog listicle format as well as to reasonable standards of length.

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Windows on Williams I

We’re spending a few days covering Windows on Williams, the college’s biggest little program that no one seems to know a thing about. If you, dear reader, are one of those people, best to consult our two other articles on it first before proceeding below. Today is day one, and we begin with the college’s own scanty description of the program:

WOW [Windows on Williams] gives high school seniors the opportunity to spend three all-expenses-paid days at Williams. WOW is a selective program open to high school students in the U.S. and Puerto Rico; preference is given to high-achieving students who couldn’t otherwise afford to visit Williams.

WOW participants stay in dorms with current students, attend classes, meet with professors, and learn about our admission process and our extraordinary financial aid program.

Where to start? General context first:

1) Williams is not unique, or particularly virtuous, in offering to fly students to campus. All of our peer schools — Amherst, Swarthmore, Pomona (even Bowdoin) — have similar programs. Why? Easy: because it’s one of the few ways elite liberal arts schools can counter punch when they, inevitably, scrap with larger universities for students. We can’t out-spend, out-market, or out-brand a financially massive institution like, say, Harvard. What we can do is target a few excellent students, bring them to campus, and make the case that a choice between Williams and Harvard is an easy decision.

1.1) Further, we can expect most of our fly-in students will know that. Personally, I went to three fly-ins. Talking to people, I got the sense that was pretty average. About half of the people I talked to attended less than that (usually two, rarely just one) and the other half attended more. (One girl I met planned to go to twelve fly-ins; she had applied to more.)

2) Williams is, however, not not virtuous. Williams, as it should, makes its application public and welcomes all sorts of folk to apply. Some schools either put their application on a part of their website that isn’t public facing, or, even better, require that you be “invited” to apply. The amount of sleaze required, to limit access to a program designed to provide access to the poor and disadvantaged, is staggering, yet, unsurprisingly, not uncommon among the admissions staff of fancy-pants schools.

3) But, Williams does run a good fly-in! There’s a few things that spell a good, or at least prestigious, fly-in: funded travel for all admits, relatively small size, selectivity and two-night length. Windows on Williams hits pretty much all of those benchmarks: everyone gets their travel paid for, each session of WOW is around 100 students, only 16% of WOW applicants get in, and, most importantly, the program is a luxuriant three days — two whole overnights.

Tufts, on the other hand, crams 250 students into one fly-in, that accepts roughly 50% of applicants, and only lasts two days (one overnight). That sort of program, at least to students who’ve attended better ones, are treated as minimally desirable (e.g, if you had a better fly-in to go to, you’d bump the Tufts one off your schedule.) Or, if you didn’t have anything to do that weekend, you might attend as a sort of blow-off trip because it was easy to get in and the application was short.

It’s important that our fly-in students have a good time here, but, because recruiting students is a zero-sum game, it is arguably more important that they have a better time here than they have anywhere else. Is that something the administration keeps in mind? I would expect so, but I’m really just guessing. Perhaps admissions officers are less savage than I imagine them to be.

Guesses, educated or otherwise, on that topic are more than welcome in the comments.

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Williams thoughts from the 60th …

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… working on some thoughts of the campus*. Son and daughter came with me.. More fleece vests with numerals and a cow for all. I can only hope that all classes have the same spirit and conviviality that the Class of 1956 has. I did manage a short 7 minute stand-up at the Saturday night dinner to the amusement of  a few but the amazement of all.

Some readers may recall Will Slack ’11, a constant commenter here in the day. He made his way into the dotage of the Rogerson lunch in which Tink Campbell ’56 was awarded Joseph’s coat, to find me. A very nice man. I introduced him to son Garret as they seem to share that special level of computer nerddom (in the best sense of the word).

And I interested our only classmate member of ASCAP in trying his hand at a new Williams song. I was disappointed in the winner of the recent contest. I just got his lyrics and they are quite a different  and positive perspective of the Purple Valley and Mount Graylock. I am looking forward to hearing the music.

As an aside, I did observe that the spirit of the reunion was quite positive and fun-filled. Not like the acerbic observations and divisions which seem to proliferate on Ephblog. Here’s hoping that the Center for Disease Control can keep this virus isolated to this url.

Beat Amherst!

 

‱ i come late to the party …
http://www.fountainpennetwork.com/forum/topic/308502-taking-an-art-class-at-age-81-34/?p=3628150
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Honor and Discipline Reports

It is becoming clearer each day that we can not trust the College to maintain public copies of official documents that it has, in the past, made public. Sad! So, before they disappear forever, here are various historical reports from the Honor and Discipline Committee: Honor and Discilpline Report Fall 2003, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2004, Honor and DIscipline Report Fall 2004, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2005, Honor and Discipline Report 2005-2006, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2007,
Honor and Discipline Report 2007-08 and Honor and Disc Report 2008-09.

A typical example:

A Senior was accused of submitting a paper that included sections of another students’ work as part of a group project. The student admitted to the charge and described particular pressures associated with the assignment that clouded their judgment. The Committee found the student guilty and imposed failure in the course and Disciplinary Probation until graduation.

All hail the Honor and Discipline Committee! They take their job seriously and meet out serious punishment. Although grade inflation has been out of control at Williams for decades, my sense (contrary opinions welcome!) is that the punishment for, say, plagiarism is just as serious now as it was in the 1950s.

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David and Dudley and Field, Oh My …

220px-David_Field_-_Brady-Handy

Brick bats being thrown at this distinguished member of the Class of 1825.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Dudley_Field_II

http://chapin.williams.edu/collect/field.html

I saw him at Reunion and he looked well, considering.

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Asian American Studies at Williams

We talked a little bit about cultural studies at Williams earlier in the week. Today, keeping with that theme, we turn our attentions to this record article:

The administration’s response to students’ demands for more Asian American studies courses and professors specializing in Asian American studies has proven lackluster. At the panel, it was stated that the administration has suggested that student demand for Asian American studies is insufficient. The administration thinks that it would be more fruitful to dedicate the College’s resources to an area in which courses have traditionally been more popular and overenrolled, such as economics.

Shameful! We ought not to be just offering what’s already popular. My thoughts:

1) While I equivocate on the value of cultural studies generally, I don’t find any reasons not to hire an Asian-Americanist to the faculty convincing.  All reasons to have Africana or Latino studies stand as fine reasons to offer more courses in Asian American studies.

2) Although I struggle to find good principles here. What is our metric for what subfields of ethnic/cultural studies deserve our attention? Is our standard rough proportionality of offered courses to population? Native Americans comprise about a percentage point of the U.S population, and a total of four students at Williams.  Should we be offering a major/concentration in Native American studies? I ask that honestly, and w/o facetiousness.

Moreover, the College’s American studies major is incomplete without Asian American studies courses. An examination of Asian American issues is essential to understanding America as a whole. Also, the College is not in a position to say that there is insufficient demand for Asian American studies courses if students do not even have the option of taking an Asian American course every semester.

3) Essential? Okay, does that hold for the study of every ethnic group of size in the US? Or is there something about Asian-Americans that’s supposed to be supranormally edifying? I’m on board w/ expanding Asian American studies, but, I don’t know that I’m not also for expanding the race critical studies of other ethnicities, too!

For example, we don’t have any dedicated, tenured professors in Arabic. Maybe we should have one. And what about people of/from the Indian Subcontinent? Asian-American studies could, technically, include them too but it seems “Asian” is usually construed to mean “East Asian” at Williams.

Someone, either in the administration or among the growing swell of student activists, needs to sit down and have a long think about what our approach to cultural studies is generally — what courses to offer, what faculty to hire, what departments to found. Every student lobby to hire more professors of X discipline is going to fail if we can’t find a way to frame this holistically and lay down operative standards of what to teach.

Alas, I am not the person to figure any of these things out. But, perhaps you are? If so, Ephblog is always looking for new authors!

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Senator Murphy ’96 Filibusters

From The New York Times:

A Democratic senator frustrated with congressional inaction on gun violence led a nearly 15-hour Senate filibuster before yielding the floor early Thursday, making a pledge that he and his colleagues would press hard for more gun control three days after 49 people were killed at a Florida nightclub.

Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy ended a series of speeches with his Democratic colleagues at 2:11 a.m EDT after promising at the outset that he would remain on the Senate floor “until we get some signal, some sign that we can come together.” At the end, he said he had won commitments from Republican leaders that they would hold votes on amendments to expand background checks and ban gun sales to suspected terrorists. It is unlikely that those amendments will pass.

1) A longtime reader has requested that EphBlog provide a place for Ephs from all parts of the political spectrum to argue about the issues of the day. So be it! Got an opinion on gun control, feel free to hold forth. See here for useful background reading.

2) What odds would you give on Murphy ’96 running for President someday? Baring election loss or personal scandal, I would say 75%. Almost every young male senator wants to be president, and Murphy will have the experience and fund-raising connections to make a real run in a few years.

3) What are the odds of Murphy becoming president some day? I don’t know. 5%? When he runs, he will have EphBlog’s full support!

4) What advice would you give to Murphy about how best to achieve his goal of stricter gun control?

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Biology Requirement for WGS?

This fascinating history of free speech on campus includes an interesting side note:

In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

1) At Williams, the current name of women’s studies is “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.”

Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) is an interdisciplinary program designed to encourage students to focus critically on gender and sexuality. Many of our courses investigate how assumptions about gender and/or sexuality operate in society, shaping feminine, masculine, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer identities, and how they influence social and political structures. Integral to the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is the idea of intersectionality- that (amongst other axes of identification) race, ethnicity, class, ability, nationality, and religion are important factors in the any critical understanding of gender and sexuality.

WGSS has existed in some form at Williams for over 30 years. Women’s Studies was formalized into a program in 1983, and name changes over the years have reflected increasing attention in the interdisciplinary field to issues of gender and sexuality studies. We have offered a major since 2002, and have graduated over 300 majors and concentrators since the program was established.

How many name changes have there been? I recall a conversation with a Williams administrator who made fun of WGSS for this schizophrenia.

2) Is there a direct correlation between the rigor of an academic field (or Williams major) and the number of required courses?

The major consists of at least 9 courses. The following are required:

Introduction to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS 101)
Junior/Senior Seminar in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

3) I see nothing in the course descriptions (pdf) that teaches anything related to “basic biology.” Has there ever been such a course in WGSS? I doubt it. Do you think there should be? I do!

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Commencement Speakers

Sigh asks if “anyone ha[s] thoughts about the commencement speakers?” Excellent question! Here is a listing.

1) I dislike it when the College uses someone like Bryan Stevenson as the speaker. (Whether or not he merits an honorary degree is a separate question.) Williams College commencement speeches should be special, written for the occasion and delivered by someone, ideally an alum, with a personal connections to the College. Bryan Stevenson gave, more or less, the exact same speech at Williams as he gave at Wesleyan two weeks ago, at Holy Cross last year, at Lesley last year, and so on. Isn’t that sort of pathetic? Shouldn’t the speech heard at a Williams commencement be original to the occasion?

2) Note that this is not Bryan Stevenson’s fault! He has no (realistic) choice but to give the same speech over and over again as he collects his two or three honorary degrees each year.

3) Longtime readers will recall similar complaints about David Halberstam 12 years ago. What Mike Needham ’04 said then still applies:

The problem as far as I see is that Williams should have known this and known that when push comes to shove David Halberstam would not [care] about Williams College. If you bring David Halberstam you should expect to hear a speech that he gave two weeks ago, or if not two weeks ago than last year or five years ago.

If Williams thinks of itself as a special institution, then we should find speakers who are so flattered to be receiving a degree that they write a personalized speech. As far as I know, Halberstam doesn’t have any legitimate connection to Williams. How about bringing back an alum who has gone on to do great things to give the speech
 he would do a great job (see Jon Stewart’s speech at William and Mary). How about a parent. How about somebody who doesn’t get honored by everybody and their mother and thus would be truly honored by the degree.

As good an idea now as it was in 2004.

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Aidan’s Way

Still looking for a Father’s Day gift? EphBlog recommends Aidan’s Way by Professor Sam Crane. Excerpts here. More from an Amazon review:

Every now and then a book comes along that wakes us out of our drab routine lives and makes us reevaluate essential questions: what is important? Am I doing something worthwhile with my life? What is life’s meaning? Trite as it may sound, “Aidan’s Way” does just that, but in a way that is subtle and avoids self-indulgent breast-beating. At its core, “Aidan’s Way” is a resounding affirmation of life. Sam and Maureen Crane are the parents of Aidan, who is profoundly retarded mentally–he cannot walk, talk or see. At every turn, they face the possibility that he may die. Pneumonia assaults his lungs and grand mal seizures force him to rely on a feeding tube for sustenance. Adversaries come in human guise as well, with the Cranes heroically combating outrageous abuses by their HMO, doctors stereotyping Aidan as “one of THOSE kids,” and a heartbreaking moment of frustration when an indecisive nurse fails to administer a drug in time to stop Aidan’s seizures from permanently damaging his already fragile brain. There are heroes, too — a doctor with cerebral palsy who doggedly probes the causes of Aidan’s condition while others write him off, a younger sister who brings hope and joy to the family, and countless therapists, journalists, and teachers. Aidan touches hundreds of people.

Indeed. Sadly, Aidan is no longer with us, except in spirit.

Thanks to Sam for reminding us all what fatherhood really means.

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Woodward Report V: The Cruz Committee

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 5.

What’s the most important lesson that Adam Falk could learn from the Woodward Report? Smart presidents use committees! With luck, Falk has already learned that lesson in the debate over the log mural. He should follow the same strategy in dealing with free speech. Create a “Committee on Freedom of Expression at Williams.” Appoint a cross-section of faculty/students/alumni, but with a sotto voce emphasis on free speech. Charge the Committee with reviewing the history of free speech debates at Williams, meeting with members of the College community, and recommending policy going forward.

Best person to put in charge? Philosophy Professor Joe Cruz ’91.

Whether the Cruz Committee comes out in favor or against the banning of John Derbyshire does not matter. What matters, in the midst of a major capital campaign, is putting the controversy behind us.

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Woodward Report IV

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 4.

Perhaps the most interesting portions of the report covers the history of free speech controversies at Yale (up through 1975). Example:

Two years later, however, in the affair of Professor William Shockley, the Stanford University physicist, the University community failed to live up to the principle. For the first time in memory a speaker tried to speak at a scheduled appearance at Yale and was prevented from doing so by organized disruption. This time the opposition to the invitation and the determination to disrupt the speech came largely from within the University and was open, determined, and menacing from the start. It was also clear from the start that the opposition focused on Shockley, regardless of whom he debated, on his views of genetic inferiority and his proposal of voluntary sterilization as a solution.

I suspect that Derbyshire would agree with many of Shockley’s positions.

Does anyone know the history of free speech controversies at Williams during this era? Alas, we still can’t easily search the Record archives.

Are there any EphBlog readers who disagree with these key conclusions from the Report?

For if a university is a place for knowledge, it is also a special kind of small society. Yet it is not primarily a fellowship, a club, a circle of friends, a replica of the civil society outside it. Without sacrificing its central purpose, it cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility, or mutual respect. To be sure, these are important values; other institutions may properly assign them the highest, and not merely a subordinate priority; and a good university will seek and may in some significant measure attain these ends. But it will never let these values, important as they are, override its central purpose. We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox. Free speech is a barrier to the tyranny of authoritarian or even majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines or thoughts.

If the priority assigned to free expression by the nature of a university is to be maintained in practice, clearly the responsibility for maintaining that priority rests with its members. By voluntarily taking up membership in a university and thereby asserting a claim to its rights and privileges, members also acknowledge the existence of certain obligations upon themselves and their fellows. Above all, every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. No member has a right to prevent such expression. Every official of the university, moreover, has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that it is not obstructed.

And this key recommendation:

The banning or obstruction of lawful speech can never be justified on such grounds as that the speech or the speaker is deemed irresponsible, offensive, un­scholarly, or untrue.

Adam Falk seems to disagree, at least when it comes to views that he dislikes.

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Parade more fun than Parsing …

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Class of 1956 has great 60th reunion! Col. Williams Mural in full glory at The Log. Historically more questionable mural of Col Williams being tackled by Red-Coated Villain Lord Jeffrey Amherst and black-vestured John Wesley more problematic!

Campus in full glory. “Buster” Grossman ’56 leads singing of The Mountains at the Rogerson Lunch the way it should be sung … with gusto!!

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Woodward Report III

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 3.

Simplicio may be right that the Woodward Report is a useful touchstone since both supporters and opponents of Uncomfortable Learning take it seriously. Professor Sam Crane comments (while quoting from the Woodward Report):

Yes, the Woodward Report is instructive. Note:

Third, the University could be more effective in discharging its obligation to use all reasonable effort to protect free expression on campus. We submit that this obligation can be discharged most effectively in the following ways:

1) The University and its schools should retain an open and flexible system of registering campus groups, arranging for the reservation of rooms, and permitting groups freely to invite speakers.

This suggests that when “group” is discussed in the report, it is referring to a group that has been officially registered or recognized by some standard procedure.

“Uncomfortable Learning” violates this provision of the Report. It has never been formally registered by the College. It does not follow the standard procedures that other student groups follow. It is not a student group of Williams College.

Here, too:

6) Much can be done to forestall disruption if sufficient notice is given of the impending event. The administration and others can meet with protesting groups, make clear the University’s obligations to free expression, and indicate forms of dissent that do not interfere with the right to listen. The inviting group can work closely with the administration to devise the time, place, and arrangements for admitting the audience (if there are any limits on who may attend) that will best promote order.

“Sufficient notice” was not provided in this case and, I believe, in most cases. Indeed, having spoken with campus staff responsible for scheduling events they have for some time noted the problem created by furtive manner in which “UL” operates. Its events have obviously caused “disruption,” indeed, they are designed to do so. But the events have not been responsibly organized.

“UL” should come into the organizational fold of the College, operate under the common procedures of the community, and be transparent about their membership, their goals, and their financing.

Agreed! As long as Sam agrees with me that, if they follow all the relevant rules, Uncomfortable Learning should have the same rights to invite speakers to campus as anyone else at Williams, I am happy to agree with him that they should follow the rules.

Of course, I think that Sam may misunderstand the rules and that he may, in the past, been unfair in applying them to UL but not to other student groups. But that is in the past! The new rules are fairly clear. Has EphBlog iterated to agreement once again? Or would Sam still support Adam Falk in banning speakers even if all the rules are followed?

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Woodward Report II

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 2.

What is the closest Eph connection? Former faculty member William Sloane Coffin.

So if the elimination of oppression is a rational goal for society (and I think it is), and therefore also a rational goal towards which the exercise of free speech ought to be teleologically directed, then the extent to which free speech helps us reach this “truth” gives us a rational criterion for delimiting the extent to which free speech is to be tolerated. If democratic, undominated discussion within the community so determines, we may prohibit the malicious advocacy of racist or imperialist ideas. As Rev. William Sloane Coffin pointed out: “Unless social justice is established in a country, civil liberties, which always concern intellectuals more than does social justice, look like luxuries. The point is that the three ideals of the French revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity, cannot be separated. We have to deal with equality first.”

This is from the “Dissenting Statement” portion of the report. But isn’t it just perfectly in tune — despite being written 40+ years ago — with the views of the Williams social justice warriors who opposed allowing Venker or Derbyshire to speak at Williams?

Consider the Record editorial (!) from last fall:

Though Venker’s speech is legally protected, the College, as a private institution, has its own set of rules about what discourse is acceptable. In general, the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman. Much of what Venker has said online, in her books and in interviews falls into this category. While free speech is important and there are problems with deeming speech unacceptable, students must not be unduly exposed to harmful stereotypes in order to live and learn here without suffering emotional injury. It is possible that some speech is too harmful to invite to campus. The College should be a safe space for students, a place where people respect others’ identities. Venker’s appearance would have been an invasion of that space.

The big change from the Yale of 1975 to the Williams of 2015 is that the author (Kenneth J. Barnes) of the Dissenting Statement to the Woodward Report has won, at least at Williams. (Temporarily, we (all?) hope.)

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Woodward Report I

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 1.

Background from Yale today:

When you come to Yale College you join a community of scholars from around the nation and the world. Yale, like every community, has certain values and principles by which it operates. Among the College’s most cherished principles is its commitment to freedom of expression.

Freedom of expression is especially important in an academic community, where the search for truth holds a primary value. In 1975, a committee chaired by the late C. Vann Woodward, one of Yale’s most distinguished professors, issued the Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale, informally called the Woodward Report. This document emphasizes that the history of intellectual growth and discovery demonstrates the need to be able to “think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable.” The report acknowledges that such freedom may sometimes make life uncomfortable in a small society such as a college. But it also asserts that “because no other institution combines the discovery and dissemination of basic knowledge with teaching, few need assign such high priority to it.”

Yale’s commitment to freedom of expression means that when you agree to matriculate, you join a community where “the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox” must be tolerated. When you encounter people who think differently than you do, you will be expected to honor their free expression, even when what they have to say seems wrong or offensive to you.

John Derbyshire spoke at Yale in 2016. John Derbyshire was banned from Williams by Adam Falk. Would you recommend to Yale president Peter Salovey that he follow Falk’s lead and start banning Derbyshire (and speakers who agree with Derbyshire?) from speaking at Yale? The Woodward Report captures my views perfectly:

The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.

The mean who led Williams in decades past — men like Jack Sawyer, John Chandler and Frank Oakley — would agree. Why doesn’t Adam Falk?

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Williams Has the Fifth Highest Rate of Rape in the Country

Latest news:

Harvard University tops the list of rapes reported on Massachusetts college campuses, according the recently released federal data. The Cambridge-based campus had 33 reported rapes in 2014, the latest year data is available through the U.S. Department of Education statistics.

The second and third highest number of reported campus rapes were reported at Boston College with 22 and Williams College with 19. If looking at rapes per capita, Williams tops the list with 8.9 per 1,000 students. That per capita number also puts Williams as fifth highest number of rapes reported at college campuses across the country.

1) Note that 19 rapes does not match up with the two most recent annual reports from Williams, discussed here and here. Probably cause is calendar year versus academic year reporting standards.

2) Data is related to the Clery Act. Go here to examine other schools. For Williams, the key sections include:

clery1

clery2

Does this mean that there were 4 rapes at Williams that occurred outside student housing? What the hell! If Williams students are being raped (by strangers!?) as they walk outside, then sexual assault is truly out of control. I assume that there is some other explanation . . .

3) The Record ought to write a story about this data and what it means.

4) Best part is this note appended to the end of the story:

Editor’s Note: A Williams College spokesperson provided a clarification late Wednesday noting that the number of rapes were those reported in 2014, not necessarily those that occurred. The school hired its first director of sexual assault prevention and response in 2014, so an increase in reports was expected.

Hmmm. Lots of different ways to parse this clarification. Is Williams claiming that 19 is an over-estimate because there are lots of false reports? Or is it that there were just as many rapes before 2014 but that students declined to report them because Dean of the College Sarah Bolton was a well-known misogynist?

Long time readers will recall that Williams has a history of making technically-correct but still-very-weird clarifications like this.

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Board of (dis)Trustees

Great Williams Alternative article by Mariah Widman ’15 about the embarrassment that is the Alumni Trustee election process.

All three candidates are clearly very passionate about Williams and accomplished in their fields, but, from the ballot, I did not think that I knew enough about each candidate to make an informed decision. Which issues would candidates be most passionate in addressing or promoting in their roles as board members? How would (or wouldn’t) they communicate with the Williams community? The answers were unclear.

I decided to interview the candidates for the Williams Alternative. If they answered my questions other alumni could make an informed decision, and students could participate in the process. I emailed all three of the candidates asking them if I could speak to them for the Alternative about their positions on issues currently important to the college. I also reached out to the head of the Alumni Society, Lelia Jere ‘91, to see if she would be willing to give me more information about how the candidates had been selected. Perhaps the nomination process would give me more insight on why each of the candidates had made it onto my ballot.

I ended up speaking with both Leila and Brooks Foehl, ’88, the Director of Alumni Relations, who, together, suggested that a holistic character assessment is an appropriate basis for selecting a Trustee.

Leila informed me that “the nominees are not running on a platform, as with political candidates, and therefore do not have a “position” on issues. They are being presented to alumni as individuals with the requisite professional and life skills to serve on the Board of Trustees.” In response to my query about how to make my decision, Brooks reiterated this and further elaborated, “As to what qualities alumni weigh in making a choice, there are any number. We know that professional background, volunteer engagement, alumni demographics, personal relationship, etc., are just some of the factors that go into people’s consideration.” This is not only the college’s de facto arrangement, it is also the Society of Alumni’s official policy, written in its Constitution (which is well-worth a read if you have the time).

In his email, Brooks informed me that he had advised the candidates against speaking to me, and invoked a categorical imperative-style justification. If they agreed to speak to me they might have to speak to any number of alumni asking all sorts of questions. Not being obligated to, they chose to remain silent, and I received no responses.

As if there are dozens of alumni who would bombard trustee candidates with questions! Hah! Brooks is a smart guy. He can do better than this.

Accepting a position on the Board is a huge responsibility, and I understand that not all of us can or should aspire to the job. But if the rest of the community is excluded from the room where it happens, then we need even more confidence that those we elect are representing our voices. Otherwise what’s the point of having a vote in the first place?

The point is to provide the veneer of caring what alumni think. News Flash: The College wants you to shut up and write checks. The last thing that Brooks or Leslie or Adam Falk or the Trustees want is for alumni to discuss important policy questions and then to vote for candidates based on their positions on those policies.

As an alumnus I wanted to differentiate the three candidates from each other so that I could make an informed decision about whom I was electing.

Me too! We have discussed precisely this issue in the past: here (from a decade (!) ago), here and here.

Should we seek to permanently change the Trustee election process, it only takes fifty alumni to petition an amendment to the constitution, and a simple majority vote of at least fifty members of the society of alumni at a society meeting.

Hmmm. When was the last time that there was a rebel movement like this during Reunion Weekend? Has the Saturday morning alumni meeting even been disrupted? Who knows this history?

Perhaps Mariah Widman ’15 would be interested in joining EphBlog and using it as a platform from which to agitate and organize for change? She would be welcome!

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A Minor Problem II

We’re spending two days on minors at the college. If you haven’t, read this article, which we’ll be covering, before proceeding to the excerpted text below:

Having established how minors better illustrate an applicant’s areas of specialization to employers, and why specialization is even important in one’s education to begin with, we can now examine how minors could help support a diverse education in particular. Currently, about 38 percent of students at the College double major. Double majors take up a significant fraction of one’s education, and ought to be pursued by a more limited group of students to whom a pair of majors confers some unique value in light of their interests. At a school where breadth and diversity, especially in coursework, are core tenets of the education, it’s surprising that such a wide swath of the student body pours their academic careers primarily into two areas of study. But, this phenomenon is not a reflection of a student body that is set on double majoring. At Dartmouth, a slightly larger institution which is less devoted to the liberal arts than here, only about 15 percent of the students double major. This is because 30 percent of students at Dartmouth graduate with a minor.

While I duly commend our student authors for coming at Dartmouth sideways like that (“less devoted” to the liberal arts? Ouch!),  I think they’re burying the lede somewhat. Why does anyone care about minors to begin with? I doubt it’s a money thing. We went over this briefly yesterday, but, all save for the most optimistic would agree that minors are usually of middling value in the job market.

The only serious reason remaining for pursuing a minor (other than vanity) is for the structure that a minor degree builds into your education. And that’s what we should really be worried about: are students flocking towards supernumerary minors and majors because so much of their non-major coursework lacks coherence, and structure?

That explanation satisfies me, at least more thoroughly than any other. For all their great talent and alleged intelligence, Williams students are still very young and mostly untutored. It’s not strange that they’d want guidance. And, I think we realize that! We require faculty advising for first-years, major advising for upperclassmen, and staff bespoke academic advisers for near everything else — law school, medical school, foreign service, study abroad.

Why can’t we do something similar for non-major coursework? Granted, there are problems with advising, and giving every student an academic adviser for all four years would be impractical, but, given how often and loudly we hype the value of liberality in education, we ought to at least be doing something to make sure students are proceeding through their out-of-major classes in a way that’s thoughtful.

Comments welcome — particularly from ephs in academia (of which there are a few.)

 

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A Minor Problem I

Among what seems to be the last crop of Record articles for the year is this Op-Ed on minors at the college. Sadly, perhaps because it was published right before finals, the piece hasn’t elicited any comments. Which is a shame! The two student authors who penned this article obviously put some time into writing it and we ought to take some time to listen, although not uncritically, to what they have to say. An excerpt:

While the value of having minors for the job search process has the easy potential to be exaggerated, minors offer some appreciable value when graduates seek work. This value comes in the form of official certification. Students have the ability, even without minors, to take around five courses in a subject. But, for employers, it is difficult to discern such a specialty without formal certification. While employers with thorough hiring procedures will likely notice such areas of commitment by combing through an applicant’s transcript, a minor can ensure that an applicant’s disciplines of specialty don’t go overlooked. Minors do not change one’s ability to specialize in a subject. Rather, by providing official certification, they make it easier for these academic specialties to be recognized.

Quite a bit here, but, let’s be brave and soldier on. Comments:

1) I start to take issue at the second line: minors offer “appreciable value” when graduates seek work? I’m doubtful. Major degrees barely signal expertise anymore; why would a minor? My guess is that a minor — even one relevant to a given position — helps you get a job about as much as being an amateur flautist helps you get into Williams. Which is to say, not very.

2) Even if we’re willing to grant that minor degrees have “appreciable,” albeit small, value to employers, is that a good reason to offer them? There’s quite a few things the college could do to pump up the value of the Williams degree: start mentioning our US News ranking in advertisements, recruit harder, maybe inflate grades a bit more to help those not graduating cum laude get into fancy professional schools.

And, strangely, I’m alright with most of those things! We ought to do the best we can to communicate the value of a Williams education to everyone — prospective students, employers, the hoi polloi, everyone — but we shouldn’t cheapen ourselves to do it.

Now grade inflation is well ahead of the “cheapening ourselves” line. Is offering minors? I’d have to say  so. We’re talking about a total of five courses for a minor — one introductory, one “gateway” and three or so conducted at a level that we might term “intermediate.” Is that really enough expertise to award a degree for? If so, where do we draw the line? Should we also start giving students commendatory stickers for every course they manage to pass?

In any serious field, and I like to think that all areas of studies at Williams are serious, five courses is enough to get your feet wet. Which is alright! You can only do so much in four-years; perhaps recognizing how much is left to learn would do the student body more good than vigorously credentialing what little they’ve actually learned.

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World of Work

What are your impressions of Professor Marlene Sandstrom’s thoughts on her new role as Dean of the College?

As Dean of the College, Sandstrom will work with President Falk on big-picture challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is that the world of work is changing. Career means something different now than it meant 25 or even 10 years ago,” Sandstrom said.

Gibberish. There is no evidence that the career paths — or whatever ill-defined meaning of “career” Sandstrom has in mind — of Williams graduates will be any different for the class of 2016 than they were for the classes of 2006 or 1991. People have been observing, for decades, that most Ephs will have a variety of “careers” and that, we hope, a liberal arts education would help to prepare them to walk that path. Here is an example from Commencement 8 years ago.

Francis Oakley hit on similar themes in his induction address more than 30 years ago. The world was changing very fast, even back in 1985, and Oakley argued that a Williams liberal arts education was the best possible preparation for that world. I am glad that Dean Sandstrom agrees with Oakley, but embarrassed (for her) that she thinks any of this is new.

“Dean Bolton initiated some really positive changes to our first-year advising system, and it is much stronger now,” she said. “There may be ways to make it even more effective. The advising relationship has the potential to be a very powerful one for students, especially if it gets off to a good start from the outset.”

Hmmm. First, precisely what changes did Bolton initiate? I have my doubts that anything substantive has been done, but informed commentary is welcome. Second, is there any evidence at all that first-year advising is “much stronger now?” Not that I have seen. (And, yes, it is pathetic that the Record never asks a skeptical question in these interviews.) Third, none of this is necessarily Bolton’s fault. First-year advising has been broken for at least 30 years, not because the Williams administration is incompetent but because it is a hard problem. Connect a first year with a faculty member and the latter will not know the answer to 90% of the questions that the former has. I have, of course, a partial solution to this problem, which the margins of this blog post are too narrow to contain . . .

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Cultural Appropriation at Commencement?

Lots of discussion about cultural appropriation at Williams over the last few years.

cultural

Is this another example? Why or why not? The Taco Six would very much appreciate an answer . . .

Thanks to former faculty member Wendy Raymond for the photo.

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Neither Rain, Nor . . .

Congratulations to the Class of 2016 !

Williams College Commencement will be held OUTDOORS.

Assemble alphabetically in the frosh quad at 9:00 a.m.
Procession steps off promptly at 9:30 a.m. for the 10:00 a.m. ceremony.
Be prepared for rain.

For your families and friends, Bronfman Auditorium, Bronfman 106,
Biology 112, and Wege Auditorium (Chemistry 123) will be
livestreaming the ceremony.

Following the ceremony, the President’s reception
will be held in Towne Field House, with the
Lansing Chapman Rink available for seating.
Be prepared for thunderstorms.

Cheers – Jay Thoman, College Marshal

http://commencement.williams.edu/

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#williams2016

How can Ephs far from Williams follow Commencement activities? Start with the Twitter hashtag #williams2016. Example items:

raymond

Congrats to all the members of the class of 2016! Links in the comments to other methods for following along are welcome.

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Trump You! No ‘finesse’ necessary …

new-trump-university-lawsuit

 

… for those looking for more/less Trumpery comment. Fill in your own details/spin. Comments are unnecessary either way.

Poor Dave! Be-do/Be-don’t. I add this note of sympathy since my name is still on the masthead. Hoping to see you and other ’57/’58 grads at Reunion.

I wonder if Trump U will have reunions at court sessions?

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Wise Latina

Jon Lovett ’04 is no fan of Donald Trump:

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Thinking that a judge’s Hispanic heritage might affect their decisions is horribly racist! Just ask Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion.”

Stupid Trump! Doesn’t he know that Hispanic heritage only makes a judge better. By definition, it can’t make a judge worse.

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Credentialism

Sad to see EphBlog favorite Jennifer Doleac ’03 participate in this sort of mindless credentialism.

actual

Doleac retweeted this post so, presumably, her pretensions with regard to the term “economist” applies to “historians” as well. Perhaps we should introduce her to some of her fellow Ephs!

How about historian Michael Beschloss ’77, who not only lacks a Ph.D. in history. He wasn’t even a history major at Williams! If Doleac isn’t going to complain when Williams College itself calls Beschloss a “historian”, then she has no business complaining when other people call non-econ Ph.D.’s “economists.”

How about Dan Drezner ’90, called an “economist” by NPR? Does Doelac not think that we should listen to Drezner about economics because his Ph.D. is in political science?

True Ephs judge people by the quality of their work. You are what you do. You are not (just) the fancy letters after your name on your CV.

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Reunion, President Garfield’s 160th, and an interesting list …

Yes, I am packing my requisites including purple boxers from Brooks Brothers (XL)  for the events of next week.

This brings to mind James A. Garfield, Class of 1856 and the 20th President of the United States.Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 12.38.31 PM

The number nine refers to an estimate of IQ.

In 2006, University of California at Davis psychology professor Dean Simonton completed a comprehensive study examining the “intellectual brilliance” of 42 US presidents. The top 15 who appear on this list were compiled by Libb Thims — an American engineer who compiles high IQ scores as a hobby — using the results of Simonton’s study.

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-15-smartest-us-presidents-of-all-time-2015-3?op=1

This would have been President Garfield’s 160th reunion. I will see that he is remembered.

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