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Form 990 V

The College’s Fiscal Year 2015 Form 990 is now available (pdf). Day 5 of a 5 day discussion.

Imagine that it is 2050 and Williams has suffered a dramatic reversal of fortune. We are no longer among the top 10, or even 20, liberal arts colleges. What is the most likely cause of this fall from grace? Financial mismanagement. What is the most common cause of financial disaster? Too much debt. Consider Williams today:

form990f

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We have borrowed about half a billion dollars. The markets are at all time highs. The endowment earned -1% last year. What could possibly go wrong?

Details:

1) Are we really $500 million in debt? I am not sure. These Form 990s are confusing! Some debt may have been paid off already. And, most importantly, the endowment is, by now, probably over $2.5 billion. So Williams is still $2 billion or so in the black.

2) Why is there so much debt? Thirty five years of an equity/bond bull market and federal incentives for borrowing will make even the most risk-averse institution aggressive. In 1998, Williams had $72 million in debt. Increasing that by a factor of 7 can’t possibly lead to trouble, can it? Now, to be fair, as a percentage of the endowment, the increase has only been from 7% to 20%, so only a factor of three increase. And, if Williams had been more levered over the last 17 years, we would be much richer today. And borrowing lots of money to buy houses in Florida was a great strategy from 1998 through 2007. Until it wasn’t. Also, note how federal tax incentives (and loose regulations) encouraged such borrowing, both for speculators in Florida a decade ago and Williams today.

3) Is this too much debt? Tough to say! If we could be certain that the endowment, over the next 10 years, was going to go up by 7% (as it did over the last decade or two), then we ought to borrow billions more, since we only pay a few percent on the debt. (By the way, how much do we pay? Fixed income is confusing.) Most professionals, however, expect returns to be much lower going forward. If the endowment is flat over the next decade, then this debt will prove to have been a major mistake.

Recall these wise words: Leverage is a dangerous thing, for both hedge funds and small liberal arts colleges. It would have been a bad thing for Williams to reduce debt in the depths of the financial crisis a decade ago. Reducing debt now would be prudent.

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Enrolled Student Survey

Thanks to ace Institutional Research Analyst James Cart ’05 for sharing a copy (pdf) of the 2017 enrolled student survey (ESS) with EphBlog. Much appreciated! James points out that this survey is administered by COFHE, with more information available here. Comments:

1) Yeah, transparency! The more transparent that Williams is, the better. Kudos to Cart, his boss Courtney Wade, her boss Dukes Love, and his boss Adam Falk.

2) Sadly, EphBlog has provided very poor coverage of COFHE surveys/data over the years. Partly, this is because the data is not publicly available. But, surely there is a whistleblower who would share it with us . . .

3) What data from the ESS would you most like to see?

4) Is it worth a few days to go through the survey in detail?

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Stonewall the Wall: March 10 is Boycott Day for Architects.

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As the Department of Homeland Security prepares to officially launch the RFP for Trump’s proposed border wall on March 6, the Architecture Lobby is calling on all architects and engineers across the U.S. to participate in a national day of action to boycott the project on Friday, March 10 — the same day that the first round of submissions in the RFP are due.

 http://archinect.com/news/article/149994713/the-architecture-lobby-calls-on-architects-engineers-to-protest-border-wall-on-march-10-day-of-acti

The Trump Mexican Border Wall may be the 11th wonder of the world of walls. If it gets built. Several large construction companies capable of building such a wall have not answered the RFP (Bechtel, Boeing, CH2M).

https://www.citylab.com/design/2017/03/heres-what-global-building-companies-say-about-designing-trumps-wall/518475/

 Architects of famous walls  seem to be unknown … many were military engineers. Here are the ten walls awaiting the arrival of McTrumps Golden Arches:

http://www.wonderslist.com/10-most-famous-walls-in-the-world/

… and a haiku:

A thirty foot wall

stretching 1900 miles .

Keep those in, those out.,

 

 

 

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Whittle ’17 Missing

From David Boyer on March 8:

To the Williams campus community,

Earlier today the college learned that a current student, Nathaniel Whittle ’17, was missing from campus. Staff and family are trying to determine his whereabouts. Nathaniel owns a 2013 Gray Toyota Tacoma truck with Texas license number CBJ0333, and local authorities are extending the search beyond campus.

We are concerned about Nathaniel and ask your help to make sure he is safe. If you have information that may aid the search, or if you have been in contact with Nathaniel since last Friday, March 3, please call the Williamstown Police at 413-458-5733 or Campus Safety and Security at 413-597-4444 immediately. We will share further information with campus if appropriate.

Nathaniel’s directory picture is below.

whittle

Hopes and prayers for Whittle, his family and friends.

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Form 990 IV

The College’s Fiscal Year 2015 Form 990 is now available (pdf). Day 4 of a 5 day discussion.

Perhaps the best news is that the College did not, I think, waste a lot of money on local spending, at least in 2015.

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1) I have no objection to the College donating small sums, especially for items like the local ambulance since these “donations” are really “payments” for services rendered. (The ambulance transports many students each year.)

2) I object to large donations. Alumni give to Williams to support Williams. If they wanted to give to other non-profits like the local hospital or MASS MoCA, they would. Again, the best way to understand the actual behavior of Williams is to imagine that it is controlled by a cabal of selfish insiders, intent on devoting the College’s own resources towards their personal use. Classic example of such selfish behavior include giving $1 million to North Adams Regional Hospital, $250,000 to Mount Greylock Regional High School, and $2 million to MASS MoCA.

3) Although some of the individual donations are reasonable, the total of around $250,000 is way too much. That money should be spent on items that directly impact the quality of the undergraduate experience at Williams. For starters, hire some visiting lecturers so that students aren’t kicked out of popular classes like CSCI 135.

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’69 & ’93 Hall

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How did last Thursday’s march on Horn Hall go? The above image was sent by a reader.
Below is an image from Divest Williams.

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1) Which faculty/staff were involved in this march? It would be fun to set up a debate with them make fun of them!

2) From the Facebook page:

On Thursday night, we gathered at a town hall discussion to assert student power and rededicate Horn Hall to two student activist movements of the past: 1969 Afro-American Society occupation of Hopkins Hall and the 1993 hunger strike for Latino/a studies.

Not bad reasoning. Few love Williams history more than EphBlog. And we certainly need someone to write a history thesis about the 1993 hunger strike. That all said, ’69 & ’93 Hall as a name for a building just does not work for me. Why not something simpler like Bolin Hall?

3) Should we be surprised at how heavily female (70%? 80%?) the march was?

hall3

I am surprised, but perhaps that just reveals my old-fashioned misogyny? Are other social movements at Williams so gender-skewed?

4) The pictures show that the Haystack Monument might be a source of controversy, as we discussed back in October. When will the Merrill Committee report on this topic?

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First Lyceum of Spring Semester: 3/15/17!

Dear fellow Ephs,

Spring is in the air but the weather is still as brutal as always. Why not take a professor or staff member to a nice dinner and get to know them a bit better before Spring Break?

The Nutting Family cordially invites you to ask a professor or staff member (administration, chaplains, health services, Davis Center, campus life, CSS, facilities, dining services, etc.) to a partially subsidized, three-course meal at the Faculty Club for this special dinner. This Lyceum Dinner will be held at the Faculty House at 6:45 pm on Wednesday, March. 15th, 2017

Due to popular demand and to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules, this dinner will be flexible in terms of how many people can be in each party. 1, 2, 3… up to 7 students may invite any ONE member of the faculty or staff to dinner. (We are trying this out still so things may revert in the future.)

Another important clarification: if selected to attend Lyceum, it WILL take away your meal swipe for dinner on 3/15/2017. If you are a senior and not on a meal plan, don’t worry you can still attend! Just clarify on the form that you don’t have a meal plan and the Nutting Fund will also cover your meal!

Spaces are given on a first-come, first-served basis, with preferences given to:

1) those with parties of 4 (3 students and 1 faculty/staff)

2) those who have not yet attended a Lyceum dinner

The entrée options for this dinner are:

-Honey Glazed Grilled Salmon with cranberry relish

-Mustard Crumb Chicken

-Vegetable Strudel

As always, forward a confirmation email from your guest; your registration will not be considered until we receive the guest’s confirmation email.

The online registration form will close as soon as all spaces have been filled. If you have any questions, please email WilliamsLyceum@gmail.com.

Cordially,

Lyceum Coordinator

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Blind to the Evils

The New York Times reports:

Hundreds of students at Middlebury College in Vermont shouted down a controversial speaker on Thursday night, disrupting a program and confronting the speaker in an encounter that turned violent and left a faculty member injured.

Read the whole thing. Those who don’t trust the Times can find coverage in The Boston Globe:

When Murray was unable to speak because of the protesters’ interruptions Thursday night, administrators took him to a video studio in the same building and broadcast the event online.

But some protesters began pulling fire alarms, temporarily shutting off power to the live stream. When Murray finished his speech, he left the building with Allison Stanger, professor of international politics and economics, and other college officials, but was met by a group of protesters who wore bandanas to cover their faces.

College spokesman Bill Burger said he believed they were “outside agitators” who had been barred from the event, rather than Middlebury students. Flanked by security officers, Murray, Stanger and Burger moved toward Burger’s car.

By that point, more than 20 demonstrators had gathered. One threw a stop sign with a heavy concrete base in front of the car Murray was in, and several others rocked, pounded, and jumped on the vehicle. One protester pulled Stanger’s hair and injured her neck. She was taken to a hospital, where she was treated and released.

1) What explains the disparate treatment of Murray at Williams (respectful listening) and Middlebury (violent attack) that we discussed last week? As much as I would like to credit Williams for being a higher quality institution than Middlebury, my guess is that the key explanatory factor is Trump’s election. Last year, the Alt-Right was a punchline among the elite. Today the Alt-Right runs (?) the federal government. That is going to make some people very angry. Those people can’t (?) attack Trump/Bannon/Miller. Charles Murray (and John Derbyshire) are softer targets.

2) Uncomfortable Learning should invite Murray back to Williams to give the exact same talk he was scheduled to give at Middlebury. Murray’s talk last year was about the coming revolution in social science, rather than his book Coming Apart, which was to be topic last week. Murray reflects:

A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it be conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.

That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.

Sounds like he would say “Yes” to another Williams speech. Let’s invite him!

3) Uncomfortable Learning should invite Middlebury Professor Allison Strahger to Williams to talk about what it was like to be assaulted by the crowd.

I want you to know what it feels like to look out at a sea of students yelling obscenities at other members of my beloved community. There were students and faculty who wanted to hear the exchange, but were unable to do so, either because of the screaming and chanting and chair-pounding in the room, or because their seats were occupied by those who refused to listen, and they were stranded outside the doors. I saw some of my faculty colleagues who had publicly acknowledged that they had not read anything Dr. Murray had written join the effort to shut down the lecture. All of this was deeply unsettling to me. What alarmed me most, however, was what I saw in student eyes from up on that stage. Those who wanted the event to take place made eye contact with me. Those intent on disrupting it steadfastly refused to do so. It was clear to me that they had effectively dehumanized me. They couldn’t look me in the eye, because if they had, they would have seen another human being. There is a lot to be angry about in America today, but nothing good ever comes from demonizing our brothers and sisters.

4) What will Middlebury do now? President Laurie Patton has a lot of options, ranging from nothing to suspending the scores of students who prevented Murray from speaking, in violation of the Middlebury code of conduct.

5) What should Middlebury do? Needless to say, the whole situation is a nightmare, generating more bad press for Middlebury than any event in the last decade. Indeed, when was the last time that a NESCAC school had such a lousy week in the national press? (The coverage of Falk’s cancellation of Derbyshire was not nearly so negative nor so widespread.)

One option is to use this riot as an opportunity to rebrand Middlebury as the most intellectually open elite liberal arts college, the U Chicago of the NESCAC. A lot of parents (and applicants?) might find that desirable. Invite a different speaker from the right every week until the protestors get tired of protesting. Suspend any student who tries to prevent a speaker from being heard. Fire any faculty member who sought to silence views she disagrees with.

The odds of Patton (or any NESCAC president) following that course of action is low. But it sure would be interesting!

6) Professor Stanger writes:

To people who wish to spin this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, you are mistaken. Please instead consider this as a metaphor for what is wrong with our country, and on that, Charles Murray and I would agree. This was the saddest day of my life. We have got to do better by those who feel and are marginalized. Our 230-year constitutional democracy depends on it, especially when our current President is blind to the evils he has unleashed.

Blaming the victim much? None of those protestors voted for Trump! Blaming him for the mob that attacked her would be like blaming W.E.B. Du Bois for the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

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Form 990 III

The College’s Fiscal Year 2015 Form 990 is now available (pdf). Day 3 of a 5 day discussion.

We talked a bit about compensation on Day 1. Here are the details for 2015:

form990d

comp2

Again, the meaning of total compensation in the Form 990 has, I think, changed over the years. The requirements for who should be included has certainly evolved, with more and more employees getting caught up in the reporting net. One needs to be careful about mixing up permanent compensation with one-time payments tied to early retirement. (For example, both Eva Grudin and Michael Brown received large one-time payments associated with their retirements.) All that said:

1) Spending on administrators is out of control. Williams has, over the last 20 years, gone from being a faculty-run college to an administrator-run college. Although Adam Falk continues to talk a good game about “faculty governance,” who do you think has more power at Williams: Steve Klass making $367,000 and talking with the President almost every day or some random (full!) professor making $180,000 and never having shared a meal with Falk?

2) There are 7 people (Reed, Sousa, Puddester, Chilton, Crosby, Klass and Wakeman) whose jobs did not exist at Williams just ten years ago. How did Williams manage to be the #1 liberal arts college without someone doing these jobs? The answer, of course, is that other people (mostly members of the faculty!) did this work a decade ago and they were paid much less for it. The total annual compensation for this group is almost $4 million. Again, the best way to understand the actual behavior of Williams as an institution is to imagine a conspiracy of insiders seeking to maximize their own power and compensation.

3) The need to give one-off payments to encourage retirement is absurd, the fault of out-dated tenure arrangements and the (new) illegality of forced retirement. The best solution is for Williams, going forward, to award tenure as a 30-year (rather than life time) deal. From age 35 to 65, you have the same tenure as Williams professors have always had. But, at age 65, you become an at-will employee, just like the rest of us poor schlubs. Anyone who argues that such a change would materially impact Williams ability to hire high quality junior professors is clueless about the actual state of the academic job market.

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Trump: Get Smart …

lower the cone of silence

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What are Values of the Two-Year College or university.

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Steel Yourself for This …

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Keystone pipeline exempt from “Buy American”.

http://www.fox10tv.com/story/34661703/despite-trump-promises-keystone-pipeline-wont-have-to-use-american-steel

Didn’t THE SPEECH have an applause line set-up for the assurance of “Buy American”?

 

 

At least his tie was better …

UPDATE from DDF: Dan Drezner ’90 tells a story about buying American:

Economists are just now beginning to appreciate the power of narrative in explaining how people believe the economy actually works. These narratives are not always the truth, and certainly not always the whole truth. But a compelling narrative can profoundly influence how people think the economy functions. Robert Shiller, the new president of the American Economics Association, pointed this out in his recent presidential address: “President-elect Donald J. Trump is a master of narratives.”

So sit right back and let me tell you a story about one of the hidden costs of Donald Trump’s economic motto: Buy American and Hire American.

Read the whole thing. My main takeaway is that there is a lot of fat to be cut from the US budget!

 

About the above addition to my post by Dave:

Constant Readers of Ephblog know that my posts are rarely done for intellectual discussion and/or an in-depth look at a stance or belief. They are done simply as head turners, as head-turners about the particular issue.

This is the case on “Steel Yourself”. I am pointing out the chicanery of the speech itself with its set-up applause lines.

I must add that while I have no problem with Dave’s reference to Drezner’s article, I have trouble from an editing point-of-view with adding an extension to a post obviously done for brevity. His addition is what “comments” are for.

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Charles Murray Prevented From Speaking at Middlebury

Charles Murray, perhaps the most important social scientist of the last 50 years, was prevented from speaking at Middlebury last night.

Jeering and chanting Middlebury College students disrupted a planned talk Thursday afternoon by controversial author and lecturer Charles Murray.

Murray is the author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, which sought to link social inequality to genetics.

As he took the stage in Wilson Hall, students booed, rose and turned their backs to the stage before reading a statement in unison. Students broke into chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, Charles Murray has got to go,” and “Racist, sexist anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!”

Murray, wearing a suit and tie, stood at the lectern and waited to be heard. The shouts continued:

“Your message, is hatred; we cannot tolerate it!”

“Charles Murray, go away; Middlebury says no way!”

After about 25 minutes, and when it became clear the chants would not abate, faculty came onstage and announced plans to move the lecture to a different location. The administrators said Murray’s speech would be live-streamed so he could speak without interruption. Questions for Murray to answer could be submitted using a Twitter hashtag, they said.

Every time we members of the vast right-wing conspiracy, Eph Division, complain about leftist agitprop at the College, we should remind ourselves that Williams is probably the most conservative elite liberal arts college in the country. Of course, “conservative” in that sentence means “not extremely left wing” but the fact remains that Murray spoke at Williams last year and was given a respectful hearing. The photos tell the story:

Charles Murray at Williams:
031616_UncomfortableLearning_GraceFlaherty_GF_C

Charles Murray at Middlebury:
Charles-Murray-Protest--600x375

Perhaps this means that we were wrong to criticize the Administration for arranging counter-programming to Murray’s visit last year, that the leadership of Williams is much smarter than the leadership of Middlebury (Falk is smarter than Patton?) and knew just how to defuse the situation. Or maybe is just means that Williams students, even (especially?!) the social justice warriors, are more open-minded than Middlebury students. However you slice it, Williams has less campus disruption and/or attempts to silence the “right” than any other elite liberal arts college. Hooray for us!

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Amherst Mascot Process

AMH-Mascot-timelinePoster-8.5x11-01

I would love to mock (or, even better, hack!) the process by which Amherst is choosing its new mascot. Unfortunately (!?), it seems sensible and competent. See the link (or the above chart) for details, but the whole thing is very well done. I especially liked the 145 pages of mascot suggestions and rationals. Example:

wolf

Why can’t Williams be equally transparent (and competent!) in its decision-making?

Our main hope for a disaster is that the committee, choosing from the 30 semi-finalists, selects at least one easily mockable mascot for inclusion among the five finalists, and then the students vote for that one as a joke. That is a thin reed!

Which one would you vote for if you were a Lord Jeff? (Wolves!) Which one would you prefer they choose so that we can mock them more easily? (Amethyst? Radiance?)

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Overheard at Paresky: MORE Court Documents?!

(Hi everyone! I’m concerned eph, a member of the class of ’17 and your newest EphBlog author! Introduction post to follow – meanwhile, here’s the beginning of a new EphBlog series entitled “Overheard at Paresky”, where we’ll be discussing concerns of current students! Any news, tips, or leads you want to share, drop a comment or shoot me an email at concernedeph17 at gmail dot com!)

As two students enjoy their honey-nut buns on the bench outside Lee’s on a warm, sunny day:

Dude, I read the newest court documents on that sexual assault lawsuit. Did you see that part where there’s an actual ******* whistleblower that said they actually train committee members by telling them that the college’s rep is #1, like how disgusting is that, and that they just do whatever they want…

Indeed – an accurate account! Find the quote in the court documents here. While the skeptical among us may not be inclined to believe the words of one whistleblower, consider this quote from Dean Dave Johnson in John Doe’s original filing:

63. On March 8, 2016, Dean Johnson admitted to John and John’s sister, Lady Doe, that the disciplinary process is “unfair to students” and that the procedures are deliberately written in a way that allows Williams to maneuver itself in its favor. Johnson also stated that Pelaez should not have been aware of the outcome of the hearing or the likelihood of an appeal.

Corroboration! … or is Dean Johnson the whistleblower? Now we know that there’s an unfair adjudication process for students that at least one well respected, senior Dean knows about it.

And yet, still, here we are? *Sigh* More posts on this to come.

To the next point and to be fair, the administration does have a crucial responsibility to uphold the college’s reputation. Williams’ reputation is an asset – it’s how we all get jobs and into grad school! In fact, I am sure many of us came here because of the school’s reputation as an excellent institution of higher education. Even against the backdrop of a dodgy administration, Williams is a wonderful college filled with great and caring professors and staff and awesome students and kind alums, all of whom are very intelligent. Interestingly, though, because this issue is now, well, a lawsuit (hence public), Hopkins Hall did not even meet its supposedly greatest one priority! Instead, prospective students (and their parents!) will now be able to see and smell all our ghastly, dirty laundry. Gross!

Would readers be interested in more student perspectives on the current sexual assault lawsuit? The Record, unfortunately, doesn’t have much, but I am more than happy to pick up the slack!

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Form 990 II

The College’s Fiscal Year 2015 Form 990 is now available (pdf). Day 2 of a 5 day discussion.

Imagine that Williams was run by people whose sole goal was to maximize their own economic well-being. (This is not true! People like Adam Falk, Dukes Love and Denise Buell care a great deal about the welfare of undergraduates and the success of Williams as an institution.) But humor me for a second. Imagine that it were the case, that Williams, like many (most?) older non-profits were to be captured by its employees, its resources diverted to serve their ends rather than those of the institution itself. What would we see? Stuff like this:

form990g

Why does the College have to provide housing help to members of the 1%? Steve Klass, a smart and talent fellow, makes over $300,000 per year. Plenty of banks would be happy to lend him money for his (very nice!) house. Of course, if you think of the College has being run by a conspiracy of insiders eager to line their own pockets, this makes perfect sense.

form990h

The above demonstrates the mechanism by which College spending spirals out of control. (The exact same process is at work in the ever-increasing CEO pay in US corporations.) First, Falk’s compensation is set by incredibly wealthy individuals. The current members of the Evaluation and Compensation Committee are not listed. (More transparency, please!) But, I think that they are usually/always a subset of the Executive Committee and that group is always (?) only permanent trustees (not elected alumni) and, therefore, dominated by members of the 0.001%. Many billionaires wonder how Falk can survive on $768,000!

Second, compensation is under Falk’s complete control. Why shouldn’t he pay his buddy Fred Puddester the big bucks? Williams is rich and no one (?) congratulates Falk for keeping expenses down. So, why not increase Puddester’s pay from $365,000 to $442,000 over just the last two years? No skin off your nose!

Third, all the usual madness of surveys and consultants has the same effect here as it has in the out-of-control setting of CEO pay. Every NESCAC school thinks that it ought to pay its president, its CFO, its VP of Campus Life at or above the median of all NESCAC schools. Certainly Falk/Puddester/Klass are at least slightly above the median! So, half the NESCAC schools raise salaries this year, and then the other half raise them next year. In the absence of meaningful competition, it is not clear where this process ends . . .

Still, the Trustees are concerned that Adam Falk can’t really get by on almost $800,000, so they also provide:

form990e2

Now, this is slightly unfair since the President has always gotten a house. (By the way, has Falk moved back in yet?) And arranging a golf membership is fairly common, and probably pre-dates Falk’s hiring.

I will save a my rant about the absurdity of paying-people-extra-to-quit for another day . .

Still, there is no excuse for feather-bedding like the below:

form990e

If you think of Williams as being run by a conspiracy of (highly intelligent) self-dealers, then all this makes sense. In fact, the most reasonable prediction is that more administrators will soon have access to these sweetheart deals . .

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