Currently browsing the archives for November 2017

« Newer Posts

Yard By Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Saturday, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Mark Raymond remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose on Saturday. If victory comes, it will be sweet indeed since we have lost to Amherst for 6 straight years. A win would also (probably) prevent Amherst from winning NESCAC and give the Ephs a share of the Little Three title. Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]


“Legacy does not matter!” The Court recently held in a 6-3 split.



Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 3

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 3 of my 3-day reply.

In truth, we know that our colleagues in the admission and financial aid offices collectively work hard to admit exceptional students who each bring unique and lasting contributions to our community.

True. And I am eager to educate Carter about the gritty realities of how that work is done. In particular, the SAT plays a major role in who gets admitted to Williams. If Carter doesn’t think that it should, he should complain to Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03.

We want students who will excel beyond Williams and have an impact on the world after they graduate, not students whose sole purpose for attending Williams is increasing indices on the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The naivete here is impressive. Just how does Carter propose to look into the souls of applicants? How will he determine their motivations? How can he tell which applicants have a “sole purpose” connected to US News rankings? Good luck.

All students should know that they deserve to be here, that they are exceptional in ways that standardized test scores can’t measure and that they make Williams an outstanding college because of their presence, not despite it.

Should we also tell students to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? 8,500 students applied to Williams last year. You really think that a dozen admissions staff, as wonderful as they may be, had the time to look much beyond Academic Rating? Ha! Do the math! Each officer is looking at around 1,000 applicants! (Academic rating is calculated separately by two people.) There is no time to do much beyond that.

Ultimately, Professor Carter is a scientist so I hope he is ready to consider (and privately confirm with Liz Creighton ’01) some facts. Williams is, right now, considering a few dozen African-American applicants as part of early decision for the class of 2022. Virtually every single one of those applicants with an AR of 4 or above will be admitted, not because there is something “exceptional” in their application which “standardized test scores can’t measure” but because Academic Rating drives Williams admissions, especially within specific categories of applicants. Similarly, not a single applicant with AR 8 or 9, African-American or otherwise, will be admitted.

Williams, today, does not have an admissions system which, to any meaningful extent, looks at items “that standardized test scores can’t measure.” That is a fantasy. Instead, Williams decides, before it sees a single application, that it wants to “admit a class that reflects national populations,” which means somewhere around 100-125 African-American and Hispanic students. It then uses Academic Rating (which is about 50% driven by standardized test scores like the SAT) to determine which African-American and Hispanic students to admit.

I have few problems with Williams people who defend the current system. My issue is with faculty members like Matt Carter who don’t understand how Williams works and then spread their ignorance in the Record.

I can actually understand why some students feel like they snuck through a selective admissions process because I occasionally experience these same feelings myself. These thoughts are common, especially at high-achieving institutions like Williams. The key is to recognize the universality of these feelings, to realize they are unproductive and to ultimately ignore them. We should do the same with Kane’s unthoughtful article.

My position on Williams admissions is the same as it was a decade ago:

Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.

The fewer admissions preferences we give — whether to athletes, URMs or students from poor families — the less common/destructive will be the feeling that a student “snuck” into Williams or does not “deserve” to be here. To the extent those feeling are common, they aren’t my fault. They are the fault of Professor Matt Carter and everyone else at Williams who insists on putting so much emphasis on non-academic factors in admissions.


Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 2

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 ’01. 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?


What is “a gun situation”?



Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 1

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 1 of my 3-day reply.

In my brief four years as a faculty member at Williams, I have been struck by the number of students whom, during one-on-one conversations with me, have confided their beliefs that somehow they “snuck into” Williams. “I only got into Williams because I’m an athlete,” some have said. “I only got into Williams because I’m an underrepresented minority.” “I only got into Williams because I’m from an underrepresented part of the country.”

Some of those students are correct. If you are an athletic tip, then you would have not gotten into Williams if you had not been on the coach’s list. Some of these students are misinformed. Although a desire for geographic diversity does exist, it plays a de minimus role in Williams admissions.

Indeed, “I only got in because _____” is more common than individual students think, and I even know of some faculty who feel the same way about their own job offers.

Luck and talent and the often mysterious preferences of opaque institutions play a role in all our lives.

Of course, from my vantage point, each of these students has not only deserved to be at Williams, but has contributed much to my courses, my lab and just about every corner of campus.

Note the subtle shift from getting in “because” of factor X to discussion of who “deserved to be at Williams.” This is sloppy and unhelpful. That athletic ability, as measured by inclusion on a coach’s list of tips, affects admissions in general, and the status of certain applicants specifically, is an statement of empirical fact. You may like it. You may not like it. But your preferences are irrelevant to the truth. Notions of who “deserved” admission are completely different. They are moral judgments. There is no necessary connection between the reality of how admissions works at Williams and the moral argument about how it should work.

For me, and I suspect for Professor Carter, every student at Williams “deserves” to be at Williams (except in extreme cases of, say, the forgery of a high school transcript). Applicants don’t make the rules. They don’t decide the policies of Williams. They submit themselves to our judgment. If they are accepted, then, almost by definition, they “deserve” to be at Williams.

Nevertheless, these feelings persist and can lead to pessimistic views that “my best work will never be as good as the students who actually deserve to be here.” I am so sad when I hear these feelings, especially because they remove a sense of optimism about assignments, exams and meaningful projects in and out of the classroom.

Whose fault is that? Not mine! The vast majority of Williams students with, say, academic ratings of 4 went to high schools with lots of applicants to Williams. They know applicants with much better grades and test scores who were rejected from Williams. For me, they “deserve” to be at Williams as much as any Eph. But, it is hardly crazy for them to wonder at the process, to worry that they will be outmatched academically in Professor Carter’s class, to suspect that their “best work will never be as good as the students” with much higher test scores and high school grades.

The average African-American student in Professor Carter’s classes has an math+verbal SAT score of around 1270. The averaged tipped athlete is at 1350. The average for the class as a whole is 1450. And, for those applicants without a hook involve race/wealth/athletics, it is probably above 1500. If that range causes problems, don’t blame me! Blame Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’01.

Moreover, whether or not these views are “pessimistic” is another question of empirical fact, one that I urge Professor Carter not to investigate until he receives tenure in another three years. Do AR 4 and below students do as well in Professor Carter’s class as AR 1 students? I bet that they do far, far worse.


Pell Grant, 5

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 5.

The lowest Pell share on the list belonged to Washington and Lee University — 6 percent. Will Dudley, who this year became president of the private Virginia liberal arts school, said the share rose to 11 percent this fall and he wants to lift it further. Dudley said he raised the issue of socioeconomic diversity at Washington and Lee when he was interviewing for the job. Previously, he was provost at Williams College, which had a far higher Pell share in 2015 — 22 percent. “If they didn’t want to make progress, they wouldn’t have hired me,” Dudley said.

Washington and Lee President Will Dudley said the university’s share grew to 11 percent this fall and he wants it to rise further.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t want to be a school that is near the bottom of the pack.”

EphBlog loves Will Dudley ’89, but this sort of prattle makes me less unhappy that he won’t be the next president of Williams.

First, admissions are, largely, a zero-sum game. Every high quality low-income student that Dudley brings to Washington and Lee is one less high quality low-income student who goes to school X. Does that really make the world a better place? I have my doubts.

Second, Washington and Lee is #10 on US News. Not bad, of course, but nowhere near the first tier, mainly because the quality of the student body is so much worse than at places like Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore.


A better president would devote his energy toward improving the overall quality of the student body (which is not an easy thing to do!) rather than parading his virtue to the readers of the Washington Post.

Third, if I were a Washington and Lee trustee, I would challenge Dudley about his focus on Pell Grants as a meaningful measure of socio-economic diversity. It is not a bad measure, but, as we have discussed all week, it is not a particularly good measure because a) it changes over time via Congressional whim and b) it is too dependent on one specific point in the income distribution. If all Dudley has done in the last year is to replace a bunch of applicants from families who make $70,000 with other applicants whose families make $50,000 — and who would have been rejected in the past because their credentials were worse — because the latter are Pell-eligible), then he has accomplished very little, and certainly has no business bragging about it to the Post.


Veterans in the Academy: POSSE Veterans of the Global War. Ephblog favorite Alum and Vassar President Cappy Hill has action, not words.


Reed College Students … Agree? Disagree?

Reed Humanities students reject Steve Martin’s 1978 SNL ‘King Tut’. The background has been well-discussed here on Ephblog as it pertains to Williams.

I was 44 in 1978. Some readers may not have been quite toilet-trained. I found it funny both then and now. Of course, I was an Art History major (class of ’56) and used to white privilege being presented in ‘broadest aspect’

 I am interested in current readers opinions. Look through the story below to get the gist.

Agree?  Disagree?

NB  SNL’s first broadcast October 11, 1975 from Studio 8H at 30 Rock.


Pell Grant, 4

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 4.

The quest for diversity has a long history at this school founded in Colonial America. Hurdles for Jewish and black students were torn down in the 1950s and ’60s. Princeton started admitting women as undergraduates in 1969, going coed 23 years after its bicentennial.

More puffery! How much is Princeton paying Rob Anderson to tell these happy stories? A better reporter would at least mention some of the ugliness from Princeton’s past. Our favorite story involves Radcliffe Heermance, Williams class of 1906 and Director of Admissions at Princeton from 1922 to 1950. Consider:


Apologies if this is tough to read, but to describe what blacks students faced at Princeton during Heermance’s tenure as “hurdles” is insulting to the memory of American patriots like Bruce Wright.

Janet Rapelye, dean of admission, said officers also were trained to hunt for talent in “much less polished” application files — those with essays that are not quite perfect, test scores obtained without help from private tutoring, or hastily written teacher recommendations.

By 2013, the Pell-eligible share had doubled to nearly 15 percent. For the next year’s class, Rapelye took another step: She asked Princeton’s financial aid office to advise which promising applicants were likely to qualify for Pell. She noted that data in their files before making final decisions.

“It doesn’t mean that we automatically admit these students,” Rapelye said. But Pell eligibility became another factor among many in the “holistic” review of an application at one of the world’s most selective schools. Princeton’s admission rate is 6 percent.

Janet Rapelye is Williams College class of 1981. After 15 years heading admissions at Princeton, she is certainly one of the most powerful Ephs of her era. There is a great senior thesis to be written comparing her time to Heermance’s. Who will write it?

Consider how Princeton has (not!) changed during Rapelye’s tenure.


There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students from the bottom 60% of the income distribution during Janet Rapelye’s 15 year tenure as director of admissions at Princeton. This is the reality that the Washington Post describes, with a straight face, as “Princeton draws surge of students from modest means.”

Of course, one counter-argument is that this data is 5 or so years old. Princeton just got the socio-economic diversity religion recently. Perhaps! And there is some evidence that Princeton has fewer students from the top 20% and more from the second 20%. But, big picture, Princeton is probably every bit as much a rich kid’s school today as it was in Heermance’s era.

Also, note the article passage that I have bolded above. Five years ago, Princeton (and Vassar and Williams and . . .) did not much care what your family income was if it was in the middle of the US distribution, say between the 40th percentile ($42,000) and the 80th percentile ($107,000). They might have given an extra break to very poor applicants, but, for a broad range, family income did not matter much. Now, it does matter, at one very specific point in that range. If you are Pell-eligible, then you have a big advantage over a student whose family makes $1,000 more because Janet Rapelye is focused on pumping up the percentage of Pell students at Princeton, so much so that she is determining whether or not you are so eligible even before she makes a decision on your application.

Smart applicants will do everything in their power to appear Pell-eligible to Princeton. Do readers have advice on the best way to accomplish this goal? I suspect that the key is to under-estimate family assets.


AF ROTC: Uniforms on Campus … ( a reissue from 11/11/09)


RE: PTC’s post below and ROTC on campus …


It is still a day remembering service as I write this post. Perhaps some may not know that uniforms, if you so desired, were a part of campus life in the ’50’s,

honor air

During the war, V -12 programs were on campus and a few years later, the presence of returning vets was common.

A full complement of officers and enlisted men were assigned to Williams to serve as the faculty.

The appearance of a veteran on campus would not be new. I hope the appearance would be welcome.



I also found this  follow-up that I posted in 2010. The pictures have disappeared but the text asks the question:

And a post from PTC dated 28 May, 2011


ROTC was an important part of a Williams education for 10% of the Class of 1956. Click MORE (below) to see the AF faculty. I knew Captain Taylor, a fine man and a graduate of the USNA.

Read more


No Pell Grant Needed!


The military academies are forgotten in the Ephdom discussions of great schools and value. It costs nothing but service, FREE!! In fact, your rich Uncle Sam pays you to go to college. Graduates include Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter, numerous cabinet heads, ambassadors, scores of members of congress… etc. etc.


Pell Grant, 3

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 3.

Here is the happy story of Vassar.

In 2007, 12 percent of freshmen entering Vassar had enough need to qualify for federal Pell Grants. Within two years, the share had climbed to 20 percent and federal data showed it has stayed above that threshold ever since. In 2015, the Pell share for Vassar was 23 percent.

Catharine Hill, president of Vassar from 2006 to 2016, said the school’s record shows it is possible to broaden the demographic base of a selective college — drawing more students from low- and moderate-income families — without compromising standards. “In most cases, if you wanted to do more, you could do more,” Hill said. “All we had to do was go looking for kids. Our academic credentials actually went up.”

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill something fierce. She aimed to increase the percentage of Pell-eligible students at Vassar and succeeded in doing so. But did she meaningfully increase socio-economic diversity at Vassar? Consider the data:


1) There has been no meaningful change in the percentage of students who come from families in the top 1%. It was 10% 15 years ago. It around 10% now. I, obviously, have no problem with that, but the Washington Post ought to at least mention this narrative-challenging fact. Is Rob Anderson a reporter or Cappy Hill’s PR flack?

2) At the other end of the distribution, only 5.4% of Vassar students are currently from families in the bottom quintile of the income distribution. Alas, the Times does not show us the time series of that statistic, but I bet that it has been fairly steady over time. Vassar has offered plenty of students full scholarships for decades.

3) In Cappy’s defense, there has been some movement lower in between the 20th and the 90th percentile of the income distribution. In essence, she replaced a bunch of students with incomes around the 65th percentile (around $70,000) with students from families making more like $50,000. The former group are not eligible for Pell, the latter are. Is this some giant victory for the forces of social justice? I doubt it.

Private colleges face their own constraints. They rely more heavily on tuition revenue, making it essential to enroll a large number of students who pay in full. They also set aside seats for children of alumni, known as “legacies.” Like public colleges, they also hold spots for athletes and chase students with high SAT or ACT scores, despite evidence that performance on admission tests is linked to family income.

How many stupidities can Rob Anderson put into one paragraph? First, the average academic credentials of legacies at Williams are better than those of non-legacies. The same is almost certainly true at Vassar and at Princeton. Second, “performance on admission tests is linked to family income” because rich parents are, on average, smarter than poor parents, and all parents pass on their genes to their children.


« Newer Posts