Last week’s Record op-ed about making Williams the best college in the world has generated (a surprising amount of?) controversy, e.g., from President Adam Falk and Director of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01, hundreds (!) of faculty/staff, Professor Matt Carter, Professor Shawn Rosenheim, the Record editorial board, Crystal McIntosh ’20, Mi Yu ’20 and Joon Hun Seong ’14. See also here and here. Let’s spend a week discussing it. Today is day 3.

The Record butchered both the title of the op-ed and its opening paragraph. It should have been:

The Best College in the World

The mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world. “Best” means two things: First, we want the most academically talented students. Second, we want those students to thrive at Williams more than they would have at an alternative institution. Ignore the second criteria and focus on student quality. We are not the best college in the world today.

1) Williams does have an official “mission and purposes” statement. Alas, it is too long, too vague and too littered with the parochial political concerns of our era. I think we should replace it with the simple “best college in the world” formulation, but that is a debate for another day.

2) Whatever else it means, being the “best” college means having the “best” students. Of course, plenty will differ, will argue that, for example, it is more important, or as important, for Williams student body to be “diverse” — for various conflicting measures of diversity — than for it to be academically excellent. But the nice thing about academic excellence is that we all (mostly!) agree on what it means. Other metrics of “best” will always be too contested to provide a shared meaning.

3) I would leave the definition of the “best” students to the Williams faculty and the professionals in the admissions department. For example, the College could, each year, provide each faculty member with a list of all the students in the graduating class that she has taught and then ask her which of these students were her “best” students. Leave it to her to decide if “best” means highest grades or most engaged in class discussion or most original writing or whatever criteria she prefers.

When you do this, you will find that the vast, vast majority of students judged as “best” by the Williams faculty are academic rating 1 or 2, as determined by the admissions department. Very, very few of the students with academic rating below 4 are ever considered to be the “best” by Williams faculty. So, we should have more AR 1s and fewer AR 5s..

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