Let’s revisit our September discussion over the (infamous) claim that the mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world and that being the best college requires admitting (and enrolling) more of the best students. Professor Matt Carter wrote a letter to the editor in the Record in response. Today is day 2 of my 3-day reply.

Therefore, the opinion piece by David Kane ’88, “What Does It Mean to be the Best?” (Sept. 20, 2017), does great disservice to our community by suggesting that some students actually don’t deserve to be here and that they gained admission for illegitimate reasons.

Hmmm. Does the word “deserve” appear in the op-ed? No. Does the word “illegitimate” appear? No. Do any synonyms of “deserve” or “illegitimate” appear? No. Professor Matt Carter is just making things up, claiming that the op-ed includes sentiments that, in fact, it does not.

Is Carter a fool or a liar? Neither! He, if he were to go back and re-read the op-ed, he would probably be honestly surprised to discover that it doesn’t say what he claims it said. For most of the Williams faculty and administration, an accurate description of the admissions process, along with a proposal to modify it, is indistinguishable from an attack on the legitimacy of (some) current students. That is a childish attitude because it makes discussion of policy change impossible.

Recall the 2002 MacDonald Report (pdf) and the 2009 Athletics Committee Report. Both argued that Williams should place less emphasis on athletic ability in admissions. Naive critics would often, like Carter, read these proposals as an attack on the legitimacy of (then) current students. But those faculty authors were not questioning whether any of the (then) current student-athletes “deserved” to Williams, just as I do not question any students today. An Eph is an Eph is an Eph. They (and I) just argue that Williams should change its policies.

Even forgetting the absurd argument that SAT scores should be the main determinant of college admissions, or that the ultimate goal of Williams is “to be the best,” Kane’s article has great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students that they snuck through the admissions process.

First, I do not argue that “SAT scores should be the main determinant of college admissions.” Carter creates so many straw men that I fear for fire safety in the Science Quad. Second, SAT (and other standardized test) scores are, along with high school grades, the most important applicant qualities in the Williams admissions process. Don’t like the fact that SAT scores are so important at Williams? Don’t blame me! Blame Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03. They could make the SAT (and other achievement test) optional, like Bates. They could go further and not even consider standardized test scores in admission. Falk/Creighton do none of those things because they recognize that SAT scores help Williams to select the best students.

Second, I argue that the goal of Williams is to be the best college in the world. What does Carter think the goal should be? I am honestly curious. Whatever his statement of the College’s mission, doesn’t he agree that we should admit the “best” students we can. (I assume that he does!) We might have a disagreement over how to define/measure “best,” but, until we start focusing on this sort of substance, we won’t make much progress.

Third, I agree that the article has “great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students,” just as the MacDonald Report had “great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students.” Any time we discuss the performance of students at Williams, we run that risk. Does Carter believe that we shouldn’t? Would he argue that the authors of the MacDonald Report were derelict in their responsibilities to Williams students 15 years ago?

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