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Jews at Williams, 5

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 5.

Wurgaft continues in the Introduction:

[F]or some of the informants interviewed for this study, the eventual inclusion of Jews within the Williams family constituted a kind of moral victory over a wicked old order. However, a careful examination of the events and debates that shaped Williams College in the twentieth century reveals not a series of heroic episodes but, instead, a slow progress toward institutional change in which the “actors” were more often impersonal forces such as the gradual diversification of America and of the American academy in general, rather than heroic college students, administrators, or faculty.

Exactly right, and a stark difference from the cheerleading described in the Record over Frank Oakley’s role. Given the (superb) academic qualifications of Jewish applicants, the rising wealth of Jewish families, and American society’s ever increasing distaste of anything resembling anti-Semitism, there is no scenario in which Williams does not become completely welcoming to Jewish students over the last 50 years. An easy way to see that this change was inevitable is to note that it occurred at every other school too!

Notably, it was not the case that in the first decades of the twentieth century Williams denied admission to all but the sons of wealthy WASPs. Like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton before 1920, Williams admitted students almost solely on the basis of academic accomplishment. However, the specific accomplishments required for admission were ones Jewish students, and students from poorer backgrounds, could rarely boast, and not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity. Until the entrance of the Class of 1938, Williams required four years of Latin and two of Greek . . .

It would be one thing if Williams designed its entrance requirements to exclude Jewish (and poor) applicants, but no accounts suggests that we did. Instead, the men who ran Williams honestly thought such requirements were a good idea, in the same way that the people who run Williams today think that requiring standardized tests is a good idea, even if blacks/Hispanic do much worse on such tests than whites/Asians.

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Mozel Tof!

Mary Dettloff kindly forwarded this e-mail, especially relevant given this month’s focus:

Hi Mary :

Mazel tov!

Williams has earned top marks in a historic new ranking of Jewish life in U.S. colleges and universities. See where your institution ranked and how you compare here.

The first of its kind, the guide comes from the Forward, North America’s leading Jewish news organization since 1897. Forward College Guide draws from over 10,000 points of data to paint a real picture of Jewish life at 171 colleges and universities across the country. The Forward created a formula to rank the schools that took into account nearly 50 variables measuring things that matter to Jewish students and parents — not just academic quality and financial information, but also particularly Jewish concerns like kosher food accessibility, Jewish Greek life, anti-Semitism, Israel opportunities, Jewish extracurricular clubs, attendance at Hillel and Chabad events, and more.

I am sure that Williams does great on the “Jewish Greek life” criteria!

For the record, Williams ranks 39th.

Note the claim that 200 students at Williams are Jewish. Is this true? What is the source?

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No Anti-Semitism at Williams?

A reader asks:

Is your argument that there was no anti-semetism at Williams?

No! As we continue our 40 (!?) day review of Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, my argument will be:

There was (and is!) antisemitism at Williams, just as there was (and is!) everywhere in this fallen world. But:

1) There was much less antisemitism at Williams than people now believe to have been the case. Many current Ephs suffer from the delusion (take pleasure in the fantasy?) that historical Williams was a bad place, filled with racism, antisemitism, misogyny, classism and a variety of other ills. That’s wrong, or at least a dramatic overstatement.

2) There was less antisemitism at Williams historically than there was at other elite colleges. The clearest example of this fact is that Harvard/Yale/Princeton had explicit quotas for Jewish enrollment while Williams did not. Wurgaft does not provide many (any?) comparisons to places like Amherst but my sense is that Williams also does well on dimensions like early Jewish representation on the board of trustees and on the faculty.

3) Much of what is described as “antisemitism” historically (and today) is not really antisemitism. See here for an example. If I am angry with someone and I call him an “ugly bastard,” I am not necessarily revealing that, in my heart-of-hearts, I am prejudiced against either the unattractive or the born-without-married-parents. I am simply choosing words which I hope will wound them. Similarly, a 1950s Eph calling someone an “ugly Mick” or “ugly Jew,” is not necessarily anti-Irish or anti-Jewish. (Of course, he might be! And he is certainly guilty of the (worse?) sin of rudeness. The right response to which is: Where did he prep?)

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The Houses of Williamstown: Phi Sigma Kappa …

(This is the 10th in a series of 16 posts) … Originall published 5 November, 2009. Click COMMENT for entire post
Phi Sig Top copy
This article continues below the fold Read more

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Jews at Williams, 4

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 4.

Wurgaft writes in the Introduction:

And yet, during a period when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton maintained either de jure or de facto quotas against Jewish students, Williams had three Jews, members of its class of 1914, on its Board of Trustees. While some Jewish students experienced scarring episodes of anti-Semitism during their time at Williams, for others their identity attracted little or no attention whatsoever.

There is a credible case to be made that Williams was the least anti-Semitic elite college in the US during the 20th century. If not us, then who? Which other college had as many Jews on the Board during this period?

Not only did Jewish students seek to matriculate at those schools more frequently than at liberal arts colleges, the universities that combined great size and prestige—and perhaps Harvard especially—simply loomed larger on the national scene. While Williams, like other liberal arts colleges, has, through its distinguished alumni and faculty, influenced American cultural and political life out of proportion with its size, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were ever-present in the popular imagination and more likely to attract students whose families were not already affiliated with them in some fashion.

Exactly right. This is connected to the current debate over the Asian-American quota in the Ivy League. Most informed observers believe that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The question, for EphBlog, has been: Does Williams do the same? We hope not! With luck, the same forces that allowed Williams to not discriminate against Jews 100 years ago — mainly a (relative) lack of interest from Jewish applicants — free Williams from discriminating against Asian-Americans today. Informed commentary welcome!

While the myth of “Old Abe” Rudnick may have surfaced only once or twice, the myth that Williams maintained a quota limiting Jewish enrollment has surfaced again and again. Many of the interviewees whose testimonies inform this project are confident that such a quota was in place as late as the early 1960s. No firm evidence of such a quota has been uncovered as of this writing, though that falls short of final refutation—however, there is ample evidence suggesting that precious few Jewish students applied to Williams until the 1950s and 1960s.

This is the most important conclusion of the book: There is no evidence that Williams discriminated against Jewish applicants. Hooray for us!

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Jews at Williams, 3

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 3.

Sigmund Balka ’56 writes in the forward:

I did, however, have two personal experiences of anti-Semitism that remain with me today. The first was simply a drunken classmate who, as I was waiting for a ride back from the Smith College campus, drove by and shouted out the window, “Jewish Turkey” and continued on his way. “Turkey” was the campus name given to those who were non-affiliates. I always thought the term “non-affiliate” was telling since it was stated as the negative of affiliation. I would have preferred to be called “independent.”

If this was one of the two most anti-Semitic acts that Balka witnessed (in the 1950s!), then Williams was among the least anti-Semitic places on Earth.

I am also always a little skeptical about the actual amount of anti-Semitism that underlies comments like this. Assume that the classmate did not like Balka. What if he had shouted “Fat Turkey” or “Ugly Turkey” or “Stupid Turkey?” Would that be better? Why? Indeed, if Balka were overweight or not handsome or not smart, he might have found these insults much more distressing than one which mentioned his faith.

Needless to say, drunken Williams students have been insulting each other for 200 years. That isn’t nice, but it is also fairly endemic to this fallen world of ours. In several of the more recent cases we have investigated at Williams, it was likely that the insultor did not truly harbor prejudice in his heart. Instead, he picked the most wounding words he could come up with.

The chef saw me and started shouting all over the dining room, “You goddamn Jew, why don’t you go back where you came from.” A professor who had assumed the task of being present for meals with the students immediately shouted at the chef that he was fired. This brought a round of applause from my fellow students who disliked the chef’s attempts at cooking. The next day I received a message from the administration asking me to please come in for a meeting. When I arrived I was welcomed by a senior administrator, who sat me down and began to apologize for what had happened. He informed me that no anti-Semitism would be tolerated and, intending to offer me comfort, assured me that one of the college food servers had a brother-in-law who was Jewish and that the college purchased its meat products from a distributor who was Jewish. This line of apologies inspired me to ask, “But sir, why do you think I am Jewish?” I saw the administrator’s bulbous face get redder and redder. I actually became fearful for a moment; it seemed possible he would suffer a stroke over his transgression, having named as a Jew someone who was not Jewish. After a pause, I assured him that I was indeed as he had thought. He was much relieved, normal color returning to his face.


Again, if open anti-Semitism resulted in getting fired, then just how anti-Semitic could Williams have been?

Also, what is the backstory? Who was this chef? What did he do after the College fired him? A central task for every historian is to develop empathy for everyone, not just for the “good guys” in a specific time period.

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A Vacation Special Quiz …

trump-golfing-fat-ass

 WHAT’S MY HANDICAP?

 Readers,

Please supply answers to these current events issues …

   • N Korean threats

   • Afghanistan  

   • Climate change and new US Government report

   • Debt limit and default

   • Bobby Sticks and possible Russian money connections

   • Budget and The Wall

 This list is not complete. Please feel free to add as you see fit!

Further fodder

http://www.thedailybeast.com/trump-north-korea-threats-will-be-met-with-fire-and-fury

A Williams thought … could this course become a part of an eponymous chain?

http://ephsports.williams.edu/sports/wgolf/Taconic_Golf_Club

 

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Welcome to the War of the Words …

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Kim Jong-Un wants to punish us “a thousand-fold”.

 Trump ups that:  “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen”.

 Separated at birth?

 

Some fore-shadowing …

https://communications.williams.edu/news-releases/pulitzer-prize-wining-author-of-the-making-of-the-atomic-bomb-to-speak-at-williams-college/

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Men and Women are Different

nar

The topic is this memo written by a Google engineer, who was then fired. More from Elissa Shevinsky ’01:

An internal post went viral at Google, and is now dominating the news cycle in tech / feminism. The resulting conversation has covered a lot of already familiar ground. Women and minorities continue to come forward with stories of discrimination, and white nationalists continue to complain that diversity efforts lower the bar.

If everyone who believes that men and women are biologically different — in ways that might effect job preferences — is a “white nationalists,” then . . .

Read Slate Star Codex for a thorough rebuttal.

But, as always, we need more Williams connections. How about a Record article which includes interviews with various Williams professors? I bet Nate Kornell would provide some nice crime-think on this topic!

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Jews at Williams, 2

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 2.

The book is divided into a series of chapter written by Wurgaft, interspersed with reminisces from various alumni. This organization works extremely well. The forward (Confessions of a Jewish Elitist), by Sigmund Balka ’56, sets the stage wonderfully. He writes:

I think of myself as having become part of a “double elite” during my time at Williams; elite because of my family’s place in Jewish circles in the Philadelphia area, where I grew up, and because of my later professional accomplishments that Williams made possible.

I was drawn to Williams because of its academic excellence and small size—and by the tranquil environment of Williamstown. I knew that the college had few Jewish students, and was reputed to be an upper-class institution open only to students from high-society families who had attended leading preparatory schools.

The fraternities were such a dominant presence on campus that, when Jewish students were rejected for membership, they could view it as a rejection by Williams itself. Though many of them came from established families, perhaps the Jewish equivalents of the Social Registrants of Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, this meant nothing to the fraternity brothers. Being part of a Jewish elite was meaningless at Williams.

Indeed, only years after graduating would I learn how many Jewish classmates I had really had.

All the while I was conscious of the toll anti-Semitism had taken on many of my fellow Jewish students, … and aware that it did not have the same emotional impact on me.

These passages hint at a recurrent theme throughout the work, a theme mirrored in the larger society: the difference between German Jews, many of whose families were already elite by the early 1900s, and newly arriving Eastern European Jews, many of them poor and less acculturated to the mores of upper crust US society. Balka, like the vast majority of Jewish students at Williams before the 1950s, was a German Jew, someone whose family’s wealth made the transition to Williams much easier.

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Jews at Williams, 1

jawJews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 1.

From The Record in October 2013:

Last Saturday, the College community gathered together for the release of Jews at Williams, a book that details the struggle and growth of the Jewish community at the College from the institution’s founding to the construction of the Jewish Religious Center (JRC).

“This is a big deal for this college,” President Falk said at the book release. The book, commissioned by the College, shines a light on both the positive and negative aspects of Jewish life.

How much does it cost the College to “commission” a book like this? We amateur Eph historians certainly think it is worth it! Any suggestions for other books? I would love ones about the history of admissions and about the history of the endowment.

Wurgaft believes the book deals with two main concerns: “First, the structural factors that contributed to a distinctive pattern of Jewish experience at Williams, and second, the kind of response to that experience that the JRC instantiates,” he said. Jews at Williams examines the minority identity in higher education. “This is a story about college, class and American life, about who has access to which social networks and why and what happens when an immigrant group begins to move into pre-established networks,” Wurgaft said.

This seems a strange summary to me. Although the history of the JRC is covered, that history is a fairly small part of the entire story. Of course, if you are speaking at an event hosted by the JRC, you might shade things a bit!

To Wurgaft, one of the most important eras in Jewish history at the College was the 1980s. “[This] period matters a lot because it helps us understand what can happen when an institution attempts to engage with the prejudices and unsavory practices of its past,” Wurgaft said. During this time, President Francis Oakley moved the College beyond its anti-Semitic past to a welcoming future. While the fraternity system was disbanded prior to Oakley’s appointment as president, the College’s stigma as an unfriendly environment for Jews plagued admissions and Jewish enrollment.

Huh? The book offers zero evidence for this claim. Just how “unfriendly” towards Jews was the Williams in the decade before the start of Oakley’s presidency in 1985? Not very! Also, just how low was Jewish admissions and enrollment? The book offers no details. I think that we have a bunch of fake history in which everyone pretends that Williams was horrible and then, mirable dictu, Frank Oakley saved the day.

The truth is probably more boring. After 1965, Williams was as accepting of Jews as any elite college (or at least any elite college located in a rural setting with few Jewish residents) and this acceptance only get better over time, as it did elsewhere. But these improvements were smooth, without Oakley providing a major change from the Sawyer/Chandler eras. By 1995, with the appointment of Hank Payne as Williams’ first Jewish president, the process was complete.

“The College was not attracting the talented Jews in the numbers we should,” Oakley said during the panel, at the book’s release. To resolve this issue, the College constructed the (JRC). “The perception [of Williams] beyond the campus was trumping the realities,” Oakley said, but the JRC fixed that issue. His deepest wish was that the “opening of the JRC would speak to the depth of the College’s aspiration to be a community of hope.”

Again, the book offers little evidence about this claim. Certainly, there were specific Jewish high school students who did not apply to Williams (or did not enroll once accepted) because the College did not, for example, have (any?) Kosher meal options in the 1970s. And it is a good thing that the College now provides those options. But tossing around terms like “unfriendly” is an unfair slur against the men, like John Chandler and Jack Sawyer ’39, who ran Williams in the pre-Oakley era.

For Wurgaft, one of the most important purposes of the book is demonstrating “the persistent importance of social networks in modern times.” Social networking at the College was, until 1962, driven by the fraternity system. Jewish students were for the most part excluded from this system. There was discussion among Williams Jews in the 1950s focused on potentially creating a Jewish fraternity, but the idea was not pursued for fear that it might further divide the already isolated Jewish community.

OK. But how can the Record fail to report the most important finding in the book: Williams, unlike Harvard/Yale/Princeton, did not have a Jewish quota. This is the conclusion that most readers who be most surprised about, and impressed by. Instead of being “unfriendly,” the Williams of the pre-Oakley era was one of the most philosemitic elite collegse in the country. That is the central message of the book. Was it even mentioned at this event?

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A Dissatisfied Trump in Afghanistan …

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The Great Game continues, the players are real:

https://catalog.williams.edu/1516/catalog.php?&strm=1161&subj=HIST&cn=37

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 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/with-us-general-under-fire-afghans-fear-being-abandoned-by-trump/2017/08/04/afe1375a-7899-11e7-8c17-533c52b2f014_story.html?utm_term=.2e3650af272a&wpisrc=nl_evening&wpmm=1

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Beschloss ’77 on Immigration

Via Steve Sailer, this discussion about Trump immigration policy featuring Michael Beschloss ’77:

Brian Williams: “Michael, when has Truth been doubted before, the way it has been doubted under this Administration by enormous segments of society?”

Prof. Michael Bechloss: “I think never in the history of the Presidency, I think it’s pretty fair to say that. And even what we saw with Mr. Miller was an example of that. His saying that the poem doesn’t count because it was put on later, you know, it’s sort of like the Bill of Rights was ratified four years after the Constitution, so Bill of Rights isn’t very important either.”

As Sailer notes:

I guess I must have dozed through the history class when we discussed how Emma Lazarus’s poem was ratified by two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and then by three-fourths of the states.

Me too!

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EphBlog (and other members of the press): Beware of Presidents’ Wrath …

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DDF could be the subject of a subpoena for his leaks on President Falk.

“We respect the important role that the press plays, and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’s role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.” *

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/04/doj-reviewing-policies-on-media-subpoenas-sessions-says-241329

While my warning is addressed to my parochial interest of the world of Williams, I suppose I should give a shout-out to the NYT, WaPo, Politico,WSJ, MSNBC, CNN, the LA Times and others continuing to be a free press.

* There is no comma after the armed forces, Followers of some recent cases may be aware of the importance of inclusion/exclusion based on the use of the Oxford Comma.

 

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The Houses of Williamstown: Phi Gamma Delta …

(this is 9th of 16 posts)Phi Gam Top copy
This article continues below the fold … originally published 2 November, 2009. Click COMMENT for full post.

 

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Cents and Sensibility

From Williams president Morty Schapiro has a new book (with co-author Gary Saul Morson): Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn from the Humanities. Here (pdf) is the first chapter. I love the opening paragraph of the Acknowledgements:

winston

Gordon Winston (RIP) was Morty’s Williams colleague for many years.

Should we spend a week going through the first chapter?

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Left ………………………………………………………… Right

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is preparing to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants, according to a document obtained by The New York Times.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/01/us/politics/trump-affirmative-action-universities.html

Any thoughts on the swing of a new political sway and possible effects on Williams?

Still, there is great reluctance, even discomfort, on the part of admissions offices to acknowledge race as a consideration in their evaluation process. Neither Brown nor Harvard explicitly does so, instead using words like “perspective” and “identity” to describe admissions considerations. Williams College, my own alma mater, doesn’t either, although on its website this fall, the percentage of students of color and those who are the first generation in their families to attend college is enlarged to about twice the size of the other demographic statistics.

Rose Corteau  ’14 writing in …

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/10/trading-identity-for-acceptance/505619/

 

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Dangers of Lead

Interesting article from Jennifer Doleac ’03 about the dangers of lead.

A recent investigation by Reuters found that lead exposure affects kids in communities across the country — not just in high-profile cities like
Flint, Michigan. This is worrisome, because elevated blood lead levels in kids have been linked to an array of developmental delays and behavioral problems. More ominously, this could also increase crime. Kevin Drum and others
have argued that lead exposure caused the high crime rates during the 1980s and early 1990s. There has been suggestive evidence of such a link for decades, though it hasn’t gained much traction in research or policy circles. But the case that lead exposure causes crime recently became much stronger.

Read the whole (scary) thing.

Although Jen is (rightly) concerned with national policy, we at EphBlog care about local issues first. Are children in Williamstown and/or the Berkshires exposed to too much lead? How does that exposure vary across the region? What might be done about it? Another great topic for a senior thesis.

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Can a military leader with 40 years of experience bring a chaotic White House under control?

john-kelly

Respect for our system of government and respect for our constitution is at a low point. Let us hope that this proven general with a lifetime of service to both will succeed in restoring the sense of confidence in our country’s leadership we deserve.

Williams reference … look no further than this blog …

http://ephblog.com/2014/11/10/happy-birthday-eph-marines/

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Last Hedge Fund Pit Bull

Fun article about Paul Singer P ’96 an a former member of the Williams Investment Committee.

singer

There is a great senior thesis to be written about Singer’s career. Who will write it?

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Also appreciate this:

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As all EphBloggers know, Hans Humes is Williams class of 1987. Note how Hans simultaneously helps out a fellow Eph and brags about his own central role in global financial negotiations. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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