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 the last day.

Let’s finish our discussion by going through the four specific recommendations given in the op-ed and providing some links to prior discussions.

First, we need to loosen the admissions goal for international students, which is currently at 8 percent. Besides the problematic morality of a policy that is indistinguishable from the Jewish quotas implemented by elite colleges a century ago, treating an (English-fluent) applicant born in Shanghai differently from one born in St. Louis makes little sense. The best college in the world will have the best students, regardless of the color of their passports.

International admissions (and the quota thereon) has been an EphBlog topic for more than a decade. Classic posts here and here. Although an informed reader provides some interesting comments here, there is no reason that Williams could not go from 8% international to Harvard’s 11%. International admissions should also focus less on country diversity and more on academic qualifications. You can be sure, for example, that a lot of the accepted students from places like Afghanistan and Botswana were less qualified than dozens of rejected applicants from places China and South Korea.

Second, we need to significantly decrease the admissions preferences given to athletes. The College has been decreasing these preferences for 15 years. Despite much grumbling from coaches and predictions of mediocrity from fans, the Director’s Cup trophies continue to roll in. It turns out that Williams coaches are excellent recruiters even when admissions standards are raised. Let’s raise them some more.

Key documents in the history of athletic preferences in admissions include the MacDonald Report and the 2009 Update. Read this useful summary of the debate. Despite decreasing admissions preferences for athletes significantly over the last 20 years, William still wins the Directors Cup almost every year!

Third, we should decrease the preferences given to under-represented minorities (URM) and to students from low income families. Of course, there are scores of such students with top-notch academic credentials. They would still be admitted and, eagerly, enrolled. But, given a choice between a URM or poor student with a 620 SAT average and a non-URM (perhaps an Asian-American?) or non-poor student (perhaps the middle class child of public high school teachers?) with a 770 average, we should prefer the academically more talented applicant.

Who recalls my ten part series on the incoherence of the preferences that Williams, and other elite schools, provide to poor families? Good stuff! (Especially the last post.) At his recent talk in Boston, President Falk reported that about 20% of the class of 2021 were from a family in which neither parent had a four year BA and that 20% were from a family poor enough to qualify for a Pell Grant. (Of course, there is a big overlap between these two groups.) Many of these Ephs are AR 1s (often coming to us via Questbridge), among the smartest students at Williams. We need more like them! But, at the other end of the spectrum are weak students, AR 4s and 5s. We need more AR 1s and, if those students happen to be middle class or have parents who graduated from college, so be it.

Fourth, we need to recruit more seriously. The number of Tyng Scholarships should be increased and their use should be focused on the most desirable applicants, almost all of whom will be African-American. Rather than offering them for incoming first-years, we should use the Summer Science Program and Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program to target high quality poor and URM high school juniors, potential applicants that we currently lose to HYPS. Senior faculty at the College should devote as much effort to attracting excellent students as our coaches do to recruiting excellent student-athletes.

The second biggest annoyance of the entire debate is the refusal of Falk, and the rest of the Williams administration, to take recruitment seriously. Not a single critic mentioned this paragraph. Williams desperately needs more AR 1/2/3 African-American students. We get some, but we lose many more to Harvard et al. Why don’t we do more? First, as I proposed 8 years ago, the College should award almost all Tyng Scholarships to African-Americans, thereby luring 4 to 8 high quality students away from our elite peers. Second, Williams should use SSP/SHSS as a recruitment tool, not a preparation tool. Imagine that we invited 30 (or 50 or 100!) of the smartest poor and/or URM students in the country to Williams during the summer after their junior year in high school, thereby showing them what a magical place Williams can be, giving each of them the experience of a Williams tutorial. Then, in August, we tell the best of them, with a wink-and-a-nod, that they will be accepted to Williams if they apply early decision.

That is just part of what we would do if we were seriously interested in recruiting the best African-American/Hispanic and/or poor students in the country to come to Williams. We don’t do those things because . . .

Print  •  Email