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Deans Instruct Prof to Move Deadlines After Election, 1

For what reasons would the College administrators cancel classes or grant extensions for academic requirements? I personally have never had an exam moved, and I’ve only had class cancelled once, and that was only because my professor was so sick that she could not rise out of bed (first time she’s cancelled class in 10 years. Reasonable!). Otherwise, I have no memory of the college administrators cancelling a class or moving requirements at Williams. You would think this is rare and never happens, but fortunately for future historians, a member of the class of 2019 provides us with an example:

Dear Concerned Eph ’17,

Thank you so much for doing what you’re doing. It’s finally time that the administration answers for its malfeasance. I have one: when Donald Trump was elected, many students were really upset by the result that many professors and deans allowed students to skip class because of how they felt, or (shockingly) because they stayed up watching the election. What is egregious, in my opinion, is the specific actions of the Dean’s Office. I was in MATH 341: Probability that semester, being taught by Professor Steven Miller. That week, we happened to be in the middle of a takehome period (Prof. Miller assigned a 30 hour take home to be completed anytime that week), and following the election, many of these upset students asked for an extension (even though we had a week for a test that took just ONE day!!!). Professor Miller did not initially grant these, because what basis did they have, right? Trump won, and while you may not agree (I personally wish the election had gone another way), but it’s no excuse not to do work or move on. These students, however, appealed to the Dean’s Office, and as a result, they actually told Professor Miller to move the deadline/grant extensions for his midterm. How do I know this? Professor Miller said “any extension will come from the deans” and the students who complained got their extensions. One classmate told me that it was all sorted out once her complaints reached Dean Sandstrom.

Is this something we can do now when someone we don’t like gets elected? This is ANOTHER example of the Dean’s Office showing explicit, preferential treatment in the form of BREAKING ACADEMIC POLICY (when does Williams ever cancel or move exams?!) to coddle students it agrees with. The Dean’s Office does way more than just banning speakers. I strongly believe this undermines the point of a Williams education.

Please continue revealing these irresponsible actions by that office.

Best,

Pissed Off Eph ’19

Emphasis mine. Thank you, Pissed Off Eph, for your tip and for allowing me to publish this in full. This email speaks for itself and hits all the right points. I will need more than one post to unpack this fully. This is the first.

I have independently confirmed with classmates I know who took MATH 341 last semester, and, this actually happened. As a member of the Williams community I am embarrassed that the Dean’s Office acted like this. And I thought that the email Dean of Faculty Denise Buell encouraging professors to do this was already bad. I did not expect that the Dean’s Office would go so far to actually tell a professor how to do his job.

Questions:

  1. With Dean of Faculty Denise Buell’s emails and the Dean’s Office’s actions, it seems reasonable to say this likely happened in more than just one class with more than just one professor. In which other classes did the deans explicitly instruct professors to cancel class/move requirement deadlines following last year’s election? Please let me know at concerned.ephs@gmail.com so we can catalog this.
  2. Who in the Dean’s Office issued this order (or orders, if this happened more than once)? Was it Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom, as Pissed Off Eph implies, or was it Dean of Faculty Denise Buell, who sent the email that encouraged this behavior in the first place? Is this the kind of behavior we can expect from the leaders of the Williams administration?
  3. Did this happen in any other peer university?To the best of my research/knowledge, nothing of this sort (administrators telling professors how to do their jobs) happened in any other NESCAC or Ivy League college. In fact, in Columbia, the deans there explicitly told students they would not be instructing professors to move deadlines/grant extensions/whatever after students appealed to them. If the administrators at Columbia and elsewhere decided not to do this, then why did the Dean’s Office here decide on the complete opposite?

What do our readers think of the deans’ actions?

This reporting is made possible by tips from the Williams community, and future generations of Ephs are that much better for these. If you have any stories like these that deserve to see the light of day, shoot me an email at concerned.ephs@gmail.com!

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Comments Disabled To "Deans Instruct Prof to Move Deadlines After Election, 1"

#1 Comment By DDF On April 3, 2017 @ 7:57 am

For what reasons would the College administrators (note: not faculty) cancel classes or grant extensions for academic requirements?

This happens every semester, maybe dozens or even scores of times. Individual students go to the Dean with an excuse, of various degrees of plausibility, are granted extensions and/or other accomodations. (Of course, it also happens that students go directly to their professors.)

many students were really upset by the result that many professors and deans allowed students to skip class because of how they felt, or (shockingly) because they stayed up watching the election.

Professors can do whatever they want. Are you and/or your correspondent complaining about that fact? Do you think that the Administration should have the power to prevent professors from cancelling classes or whatever? I don’t!

Also, it is not obvious what “deans allowed students to skip class” means. Students skip classes every day! They don’t need formal permission from the Deans or anybody else to do so.

In which other classes did the deans explicitly instruct professors to cancel class/move requirement deadlines following last year’s election?

I bet that this was less common than you think. But, to the extent that it was common, this is no different, conceptually, from all the other many extensions that the Deans Office grants each semester. And the vast majority of faculty want to the Deans Office to have this power since it gets them out of the business of adjudicating student requests.

Who in the Dean’s Office issued this order (or orders, if this happened more than once)?

Not Buell. This is handled by Sandstrom and all the assistant Deans who report to her.

Did this happen in any other peer university?To the best of my research/knowledge, nothing of this sort (administrators telling professors how to do their jobs) happened in any other NESCAC or Ivy League college.

Ha! I bet that this happens at every elite college.

#2 Comment By Sigh On April 3, 2017 @ 9:16 am

I…Gulp…Agree…Yikes…With…David?

#3 Comment By anonymous On April 3, 2017 @ 10:17 am

Some students probably go to Williams because they want to be coddled—and they will be, if they ask enough. This is all part of “Eph privilege”.

#4 Comment By DDF On April 3, 2017 @ 10:36 am

Sigh: We agree on much more than you might think! ;-)

#5 Comment By John C. Drew, Ph.D. On April 3, 2017 @ 10:36 am

I think DDF is losing sight of the main issue here. The Dean’s Office is interfering with the professor’s class for purely political reasons.

The failure of the electorate to pick someone as corrupt and ill-suited to high office as Hillary Clinton is not excuse to cancel a standing exam. I have complained about Steve Miller elsewhere. (I see him as weak and unprincipled.)

If I was teaching at Williams College in 2016, I would have carried on as if there were no election at all. You cannot be a world-class teacher and at the same time render yourself unpredictable.

#6 Comment By anonymous On April 3, 2017 @ 12:22 pm

JCD: it’s actually worse than just interference with a professor. The Deans are engaging in soft bigotry by encouraging faculty to treat some students as if they are less capable than other students to deal with their work, their jobs, their lives, etc. This type of policy does those students an extreme disservice.

#7 Comment By frank uible On April 3, 2017 @ 3:35 pm

At a different time and place Michigan Law School did not cancel classes, or defer academic deadlines, for JFK’s passing, but the Ohio State-Michigan football game (a religious event in Ann Arbor and Columbus) was moved back a week.

#8 Comment By Dick Swart On April 3, 2017 @ 3:52 pm

Frank,

Didn’t we get three cuts per semester of our own choosing before we were on no-cuts?

#9 Comment By frank uible On April 3, 2017 @ 5:40 pm

Something like that but subject to Dean’s List members having unlimited cuts.

#10 Comment By concerned eph ’17 On April 4, 2017 @ 10:51 am

Professors can do whatever they want. Are you and/or your correspondent complaining about that fact?

I don’t know about my correspondent (I have just sent an email asking), but my gripe is similar to yours. Specifically:

Do you think that the Administration should have the power to prevent professors from cancelling classes or whatever? I don’t!

Agreed! I personally think it’s insulting to the professor to instruct them to do what he otherwise have said he will not as it relates to how the professor conducts his class (unless that professor is incompetent, which fellow classmates report that Miller, by any stretch of the definition, is not). For me (and other students!) this is the issue here, and seems to fall nicely into a list of implications of depleting faculty governance here at Williams.

I bet that this was less common than you think. But, to the extent that it was common, this is no different, conceptually, from all the other many extensions that the Deans Office grants each semester. And the vast majority of faculty want to the Deans Office to have this power since it gets them out of the business of adjudicating student requests.

I think this particular case is different, since it is clearly in response to the result of an election. If the professor says he will not be granting extensions, the Dean’s Office should respect that. If a student was so upset, such that it is visible psychologically that the student is unable to conduct him/herself, then that student should have gone to the therapists in the health center, who would determine that, and the extension or whatever would be made through that (proper!) channel. For this I am speculating, but I certainly do not think the Dean’s Office would have intervened if Clinton won and an anti-Clinton student asked for the same extensions.

Indeed, students skip classes all the time, and even stated in the College’s bulletin, we do so freely and understanding the academic risks that accompany missing class. It is entirely in our prerogative, just as it is entirely in a professor’s prerogative to conduct a class as he sees fit. However, granting leniency to students because of a political election by instructing a professor to do what he otherwise said he would not, the Dean’s Office sends a message to students that their obligations, when they do not agree or feel upset with the results of a democratic election, are optional. Excellent training for the real world! /sarcasm

That there were other professors who cancelled class/moved deadlines should not determine whether or not another professor should do so as well. That should be left entirely to the professor.