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Social Media Policy – Proper or Overreach?

Should students have the right to police each others’ social media posts?


Welcome to a new semester at Williams

To the Williams community,

Welcome to the new semester! I share with all of you the excitement and sense of possibility that accompanies these moments every year. There’s a certain comfort in the familiar rhythm of the academic calendar, at a time when so much around us seems to defy predictability.

I’m also happy to point out that, for the first time, this start of semester message is going out to our 28,000-plus alumni and to families, as well as to campus. The Williams community reaches far beyond Williamstown, and we want to recognize that by including you all.

I’m honored to be doing so in my new role. As interim president I look forward to contributing in new and positive ways to Williams’ evolution. That growth requires us to focus on teaching and learning while staying connected to life outside the Purple Valley. In fact, it’s becoming ever more important that we engage with each other to build community out of diversity.

We’ll set aside tomorrowFebruary 1, for that purpose. On the 10th annual Claiming Williams Day, I invite staff, students, and faculty to attend and participate in some of the many scheduled campus events. And I hope our alumni and families will also be with us in spirit, wherever you are. The Williams community thrives when we invest in such efforts together.

Here are other examples from across the college of what’s possible when we work as partners:

  • The Presidential Search Committee is progressing in their efforts to help Williams recruit our 18th president. The Committee includes trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, and current students—a true community-wide endeavor.
  • We’re celebrating the granting of tenure to a new cohort of four extraordinary faculty membersacross all three divisions.
  • The Dean’s office has hired two impressive new associate deans, April Ruiz and Chris Sewell ’05, as part of our commitment to supporting every student’s success and thriving.
  • Finally, this spring we’ll move into the new laboratory research building in the Science Center, thanks to outstanding collaboration among faculty, students, staff, and generous alumni.
These accomplishments and others like them exemplify the community-wide spirit guiding our work at Williams. Such a spirit has to be nurtured. With that in mind, I look forward to many community conversations, on campus and off, in the coming months, and to hearing your perspectives on how we can make Williams an even better place for all of us.


Tiku Majumder
Interim President


Net Prices, Affordability, and Equity

Old, but interesting, 2001 article (pdf) from EphBlog favorites Cappy Hill ’76 and Gordon Winston.

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1) Should we spend more time on academic articles like this? I am slave to reader preferences.

2) Remember when I made fun of the New York Times for claiming — or, rather, stupidly buying the spin of current Williams administrators — that, in 2015, Williams had “recently been making an effort to become more” economically diverse? That was garbage because, for decades, the people who run Williams have been concerned about economic diversity, probably going all the way back to Tyler Dennett. This article is a great example of that. Cappy and Gordon were concerned about economic diversity and wanted to ensure that Williams was not pricing out poor students. (And since Cappy was Provost around this time (and Gordon was a former Provost?), they were well positioned to both understand the topic and do something about it.)

3) Isn’t it quaint how concerned they were about a tuition of $34k?!


It is 9pm ET ! If you have the desire to watch something else …

The above suggestion for those who may be feeling some need for elevation …

James MacGregor Burns and PoliSci 1-2 in Griffin Hall were my first course, first day at Williams in 1952.

Excerpts from SOTU:


EphBlog Gets Results

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Details here. There are few better jobs in academic than teaching Williams students. Highly recommended!

Congratulations to Tiku Majumder and the rest of the Williams Administration. These are just the sorts of small-bore temporary improvements that an interim administration should focus on. The next President will, and should, lead the effort to determine how many permanent positions there should be in computer science. Previous discussion here. Normally the Administration acts on our suggestions much more quickly than just 3 days . . .


Spring 2018 Course Advice

Fall classes start tomorrow. Our advice:

Your major does not matter! One of the biggest confusions among Williams students is the belief that future employers care about your major, that, for example, studying economics helps you get a job in business. It doesn’t! So, major in what you love.

But future employers are often interested in two things. First, can you get the computer to do what you want it to do? Second, can you help them analyze data to make them more successful? Major in Dance (if you love dance) but take 4 or so classes in computer science and statistics. With that as background, you will be competitive with any of your Williams classmates when it comes time to apply for internships/jobs.

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not. What about Racial-Sexual Violence with Joy James or Aesthetic Outrage with Stephen Tifft or Long Term Fiscal Challenges with Peter Heller?

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial like these, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for these classes, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

Take STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major is amazing.

Also, consider skipping STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 364 instead. And don’t worry about the stupid math prerequisites that the department tries to put in your way. You don’t really need multivariate calculus for 201 or matrix algebra for 364. Those math tricks come up in a couple of questions on a couple of problem sets. Your friends (and some Khan Academy videos) will get you through it. If challenged, just tell people you took those classes in high school.

Take CSCI 136: Data Structures and Advanced Programming (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you should start with CSCI 134). Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most things, including, for example, the ability to write well.

The Computer Science Department seems to have re-arranged things a bit in terms of strongly recommending that students take 134 first. In the past 134 was a not very serious course which was a waste for students in the top half of ability, including anyone with any prior exposure to programming. Is that still the case? If so, skip it and go directly to 136.

Informed commentary welcome on the 134 versus 136 choice.

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students officially enroll as statistics or computer science majors sophomore year to ensure that they get into the classes they want. You can always drop a major later. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 11 (?) years ago about course selections for a career in finance.

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?


The Greatest Show on Earth!


Can you believe that back in 2011 The Adams Memorial Theater would be the stage for a circus?

Elephants are no longer a part of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.


Majumder Favors Speech Restrictions

Professor Tiku Majumder in laser lab.
From WAMC:

Campuses have increasingly become ground zero for the battle over speech. And while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion from government infringement, it faces limitations at private schools like Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The interview is a short 6 minutes. Alas, I can’t find a transcript. Is there an easy way to make one from an audio recording? Comments:

1. Tiku, a personal friend of Adam Falk from their graduate student days and a member of the search committee which selected him, has Falk’s back. He doubles down on the banning of John Derbyshire from campus.

2. Why do this? The Derbyshire fiasco was one of the worst black eyes for the College in the last few years. Why even grant an interview to discuss the topic? If you aren’t going to change the policy, there is no reason to bring it up.

3) Why not change the policy? Perhaps it was impossible for Falk to admit his mistake. But Falk is gone. Can’t we let the mistake go with his departure? Majumder could do a big favor for the next Williams president by putting this controversy aside. He doesn’t have to issue a news release. He could just let Zach Wood know that Uncomfortable Learning is free to invite any speaker they want.

4) Majumder should practice more for these interviews. His opening answer — when he knew the topic ahead of time — was a mishmash of non-sequiturs. (The interviewer, JD Allen, does not challenge Majumder in anyway.) For example, pointing out, as Falk has done, that Williams is different than the main street of Williamstown, is effective rhetoric. Majumder should say that “The First Amendment protects the right of every kooky racist who rants to rant on the main street of Williamstown. That doesn’t mean that we (or you!) need to invite them all into our house.” (Of course, I disagree with that argument, but this line of reasoning is more persuasive than specific attacks on Derbyshire.)

5) Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.” That sure seems like a sensible standard! What could possibly go wrong?

6) Compare Williams with the University of Chicago, which is allowing Steve Bannon to speak.

The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.

For most practical purposes, Bannon and Derbyshire have the same views on public policy.

The traditional knock on Williams, in comparison with great universities like Chicago or Yale (where Derbyshire spoke two years ago) , is that we are little more than a glorified prep school, a finishing academy where the not-really-intellectucal children of the elite go to learn some manners, to learn what they may say/think to advance in the world. Chicago/Yale/Harvard are for the true elite, for students who do not need adults to control their lives.

I have always hated that criticism, all the more so in cases where it is true . . .


A Sunday Break: Winter Study on Typewriters …

… a Williams Record feature:

Paresky Extravaganza Clacks out Personal Poems for Students


Hire More Computer Science Professors

Is it too much to ask Tiku Majumder to do his job and staff Williams appropriately? There is only one computer science class (below the 300-level) with space available, and that is a 200-level course. How many Williams students — especially poor students from lower quality high schools — are being turned away from CSCI 134 and/or 136? I realize that creating new tenure track positions is a difficult task and requires thinking about the long term future of the faculty. Fine!

But there is no excuse for not hiring enough visitors to ensure that any Williams student who wants to study computer science can do so.


Diversity Sit-In at Wooster

Latest news on Sarah Bolton’s Wooster presidency:

Students held a sit-in at the College of Wooster Wednesday, leaving at 10 p.m. after a series of discussions with administrators. Racist postings to a private Facebook page prompted the sit-in, but many other issues were also at play. A list of demands included new funding for diversity efforts, required training in cultural competency for all students and faculty members, changes in the way certain violations of campus rules would be punished, and the creation of a student-led board that would report on enforcement of campus rules.

President Sarah Bolton issued a statement that said in part, “We have had extremely productive conversations with the students about the concerns they raised, and we have committed to address them. We began developing the plans to do so today, and will share them with the community over the coming days, as they become more fully developed. Those plans will include more comprehensive educational efforts in the areas of cultural competency and sexual misconduct; more effective and easily accessible reporting and response mechanisms for all types of bias-related harm; and new resources for student groups engaged in work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


1) Some Eph faculty go on to successful post-Williams presidencies, e.g., Steve Lewis at Carleton, Mike McPherson at MacAllister and Cappy Hill at Vassar. Some faculty fail, e.g., Nancy Roseman at Denison and Charles Karelis at Colgate. Any forecasts for Sarah Bolton?

2) Bolton was a social justice warrior at Williams. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Some of my best friends are social justice warriors. Her biggest sin, in my view, was her absurd handling of the Taco Six case.

3) My advice for Bolton: Be careful! Yale and Williams and other elite schools can get away with lots of PC nonsense because they are, at the end of the day, still Yale and Williams. Wooster is not. Handle situations like this poorly and you could create an Evergreen/Missouri scenario.

The demands of the protesters include:

There are multiple Faculty and Staff members such as Nathan Fein, Robin Shreck, Diane Uber etc. that continue to perpetuate anti-blackness, stereotyping of minority groups and simply hate speech.

We expect the college administration to hold faculty and staff to the same standards as students when it comes to racists, sexist, bigoted, misinformed, and stereotypical comments. These individuals are also members of our campus community and must be held accountable – thus, students should be able to press judicial charges against faculty and staff who violate our community standards.

Good luck with that!

If Bolton does not stand up to the social justice warriors on her own campus, things might turn out very poorly . . .

Thanks to an anonymous source, a source that is, alas, to modest to join EphBlog as an author!

Other links:


abl on Admissions, 5

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 5.

I understand that you’d like the Williams’ admitted class profile to more closely resemble schools like Harvard. But unless Williams dramatically increases its applicant pool and/or its yield, doing so will come at a cost: Williams can’t admit a class that is both as interesting and talented as Harvard’s and has SATs/GPAs as high. Increasing the focus on AR ratings, as you propose, will make the Williams class worse in some material respects even as it makes it better numerically. There is going to be some balancing and trade-offs that have to be made, regardless. I’m just trying to get a sense of what specific trade-offs you’re looking to target, and why you think Williams is not making those trade-offs in an optimal manner.

It is unclear what you mean by “interesting and talented.” AR 1 students are, almost by definition, more academically “talented” than AR 4 students. I want more of the former. Neither Williams or Harvard have a way of figuring out who is “interesting.” And they don’t really try! This is how elite admissions works today. Let me know if you have any questions.

The “specific trade-offs” I propose are simple. Williams students, as a group, must be as academically talented (and interesting!) as HYPS students. In order to do that, we need to reject 100 or so of the AR 4s and below that we currently enroll and replace them with AR 1s that we currently reject. That Williams will be less black/Hispanic (and more Asian-American/Interntional), less poor and less athletic than the Williams of today. But we would still be as black/Hispanic as Middlebury, as poor as Bates and as athletic as Hamilton.

UPDATE: Here is another way to conceptualize the scenario. I want the trustees and/or new president to say to Admissions: Make the class of 2023 as academically talented as the class of 2023 at HYPS (and much more academically talented than the class of 2023 at Amherst/Swarthmore/Pomona). I recognize that this is not what Admissions “wants” to do. Their preferences are to make a class similar to the ones that they currently produce. I am making these claims:

1) This is an achievable goal. If we measure “academically talented” as AR — and if you have a better measure than AR, you should tell Dick Nesbitt about it — then Williams has enough “slack” in the system (enough AR < 4 whom we accept and AR = 1/2 who we reject) to make that happen. 2) There is no need for anyone (me, you, the trustees, the new president) to micro-manage admissions in achieving this goal. They have the tools and the knowledge to do so. 3) There are costs to achieving this goal. If you want more academic talent than you need to give up something on other dimensions. 4) That one way, not the only way, of achieving the goal would create a Williams which was quite similar to other high quality schools on dimensions that we all care about: same URM percentage as Middlebury, same percentage of Pell-grantees as Bates, same athletic success as Hamilton. I am not claiming that you need to agree with me that this trade-off is desirable, but if you view such outcomes as totally unacceptable, that a Williams that looked like Middlebury/Bates/Hamilton would be some hellhole of alt-right lunacy, then I think your views are extreme.


abl on Admissions, 4

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 4.

Is your issue, then, with the types of diversity that Williams is adding?

The preferences that Williams uses in admissions are indistinguishable from those used at other elite schools. The main battle I fight is with people who deny that the preferences exist and/or those who underestimate their magnitude. In theory, I have no problems with race/wealth/athletics being an advantage in admissions. In particular, when picking among AR 1/2 applicants, Williams should be largely free to use any preferences it wants.

E.g., do you believe that the marginal value to the college community of admitting students who “identify as African-American” is zero, or close to zero?

No, I think it is positive. I just value it less than the people who run Williams today. But I also believe that much of the opposition to my views is driven by ignorance about the actual size of the preferences.

Or is your issue with the way that Williams is valuing specific categories of diversity? E.g., you accept that the marginal value of “identifying as African American” is significant–but you believe it to be less significant than Williams currently acknowledges.

It is hard to talk about “marginal value” without considering “marginal cost.” Every AR 5 student you admit is another AR 1 student whom you reject. Moreover, I use Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford as a fixed marker, a standard of student quality that we have to meet. Until we meet that standard, I am unwilling to spend anything on race/wealth/income. Fortunately, Williams is successful enough that, even once we meet that standard, we will still have a reasonable amount of diversity.

And, for those who dislike HYPS comparisons, I am happy to use Amherst/Swarthmore/Pomona. Of course, Williams is, at least, as good academically as those schools. But I want it to be a full notch better, I want 90% of the students admitted to both Williams and Amherst to choose Williams. If William is — and is seen as — having a student body significantly better than Amherst, then we might get there. The reason that Williams dominates, say, Bates in such relative yield contests is not because our English professors are better than Bates’ English professors!

In that case, for example, you would argue that the marginal value added to the overall Williams experience by matriculating an additional White student with a 1500 SAT is greater than the marginal value added by matriculating an African American student with a 1400 SAT–e.g., that the value added by having a student who has scored 100 points higher on her SAT is greater than the value added by having a student who is African American? Or is it that you believe that Williams is currently undervaluing the benefit of admitting students with marginally higher SATs/GPAs (and is therefore, across the board, relatively overvaluing all categories of diversity)?

Again, I don’t think that marginal value and marginal cost are the most useful framework.

By the way, your “African American student with a 1400 SAT” example is absurd. Williams accepts virtually every applicant like this today, and would continue to do so under my plan. We would start rejecting 1250 SAT African-American applicants (and soccer stars), especially the ones from middle class (or richer families) who attended excellent high schools. Would you object to that?

Also, I am happy to keep the number of white students at Williams constant, if that makes you feel better about our “diversity.” In other words, you could make all the changes I want and not increase white enrollment at all. Williams rejects 100+ Asian-American (and international) applicants who are AR 1.

Side question: Could abl, sigh, KSM and other folks with expertise in college admissions please correct any factual mistakes I have made in describing how admissions works at Williams?


Be Sure to Play Fantasy Admissions!

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Join DDF, abl, hmm, and so many others in building your dream team to make Williams


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It’s fun! It’s a battle of statistics, interpretations, and predicting the results!

Compare Williams with its peers and figure out how to beat those Ivied bastards and the other green quad-oriented SLAs!

And while you are at it, have the thrill of arguing points endlessly with fellow verbose Fantasyers.

Results of your dream team may be compared with the actual results for Williams and those other guys!





Message from Board Chair Eisenson: Honoring Adam Falk with two campus namings

To the Williams Community,

I am pleased to report that, at last week’s meeting, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to honor Adam Falk, our 17th president, by naming the Science Quad in his honor. The decision continues a Williams tradition of naming important public spaces in honor of our past presidents.

In addition, a group of current and former Trustees and other generous donors have endowed the directorship of the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) in Adam’s name. The Adam Falk Directorship is a tribute to his founding support for the Center, which engaged more than 800 Williams students in projects across our community and region this year alone.

The naming of the Adam Falk Science Quad will be formalized during the opening of the new Science Center. The naming of CLiA’s Falk Directorship goes into effect immediately, with current director Paula Consolini thus becoming the Center’s first Falk Director.

The Science Center project and CLiA are both examples of the transformative work this community accomplished under Adam’s leadership. We are delighted to be able to recognize Adam’s substantial contributions as our president in these important and lasting ways, as we wish him well in his new post.


Michael R. Eisenson ’77
Chair of the Board of Trustees


abl on Admissions, 3

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 3.

Correct me if I’m mis-stating anything, but you presumably accept that–at least to a point–the marginal value of some/certain diversity is greater than the marginal cost of losing a couple of points off of your average SAT/GPAs. That’s why Williams shouldn’t simply matriculate the top 550 AR students.

Yes, “to a point.” So, for example, I do not want Williams to move toward a system in which we “simply matriculate the top 550 AR students.” At the very least, we need to maintain gender balance, otherwise many of the students we accept won’t attend.

I just want us to place less emphasis on race/athletics/wealth than we currently do, mainly by raising minimums across the board. Broadly speaking, we shouldn’t accept anyone below AR 4, and the few AR 4s we accept would be centered on the most important diversity, which, for me, is race.

Again, my proposal is not extreme. We would be as racially diverse as Middlebury, which is hardly a hive of Nazi villainy. We would be as socio-economically diverse as Bates, whose president, Clayton Spencer ’77, is hardly an apologist for the plutocracy. Our sports teams would try as hard as now, and have the same level of coaching support and resources. But they would only win about 1/2 their NESCAC games, about the same as Hamilton. Would a Williams that looked like this be all that different from Williams today in any way that truly mattered?


abl on Admissions, 2

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 2.

Presumably, the benefit of this sort of non-academic weighting is that the Williams experience, both in and out of the classroom, is better when your classmates come from different backgrounds and experiences than yourself, have exceptional non-academic talents and skills, etc.

True. Again, I am not denying the benefits of diversity. Having a student from a very poor family might make the quality of class discussion in, say, POEC 301 better than it otherwise would have been. It is all a matter of trade-offs.

Consider two classes for POEC 301 (or replace with your favorite class). In one, we have perfect diversity, the maximum range of life experiences, however you define it. But the students have 1,000 math+verbal SAT scores. In the second class, we have the amount of diversity that we would have at a Williams which only admitted AR 1 applicants. (Note that this second class has diversity > 0. There are plenty of poor and non-white AR 1 applicants.) For me, the second class is much “better” than the first, meaning that current Williams students would learn more and enjoy it.

Of course, the actual trade-off we face is more subtle than that. There is no scenario in which Williams is filled with students scoring 1,000 on the SAT. I just want to move from where Williams is today toward a Williams with:

The same academic quality as Yale/Princeton/Harvard, at the cost of having:

  • The same racial diversity at Middlebury.
  • The same socio-ec diversity as Bates.
  • The same athletic success as Hamilton.

Looking at the numbers, I think this is achievable. Does anyone disagree? (I am especially interested in hearing from some of our informed commentators: abl, KSM, hmm and others.) Leave aside, for now, whether such a change is desirable. Could we, in fact, achieve it?


abl on Admissions, 1

abl made these interesting comments on admissions two months ago. Let’s spend a week going through them. Day 1.

Leaving aside, for a second, the question of whether AR scores alone are the optimal available metric for evaluating the best students applying to Williams, why do you think Williams puts too much weight on non-academic factors?

My syllogism is simple. The mission of Williams is (should be) to be the best college in the world. Being the best college requires having the best students. Williams students are, as a group, better than those at places like Wesleyan and Macalester, but worse than those at Yale and Princeton. The easiest way to improve the quality of our students is to put, at least temporarily, less weight on non-academic factors. It is not that I am against “non-academic factors” per se. I have nothing against, say, soccer ability or Hispanic heritage. It is just that, until we improve the academic quality of the student body, we can’t “afford” to devote as much to non-academic factors as we currently do.

By the way, there is no serious debate over the claim that “AR scores alone are the optimal available metric for evaluating the best students applying to Williams.” This is a statement of reality, not a normative judgment. AR does a better job of predicting academic performance at Williams than any other measure. You and I can disagree over how much weight to place on non-academic factors. That is a normative debate. But, when, for example, selecting among African-American applicants, we should use AR, which is why Williams does so.


Williamstown, Marcel Breuer, Preston Robinson, and the Atomic Bomb

Here is a combination of arcana that can’t be beat.

Dwell magazine  put up this post of 10 Marcel Breuer buildings with the lede “The Bauhaus designer’s modern vision helped post-war American building see the future.”

In 1947 Preston Robinson commissioned Breuer to design a residence in Williamstown.

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Photo  Robert Demora

And who was Preston Robinson you may well ask. He was a senior engineer at Sprague Electric decades before it became Mass MOCA. The house, no longer owned by the Robinson family, is located on 43 acres at 236 Bulkley Street.

Robinson played a key role in the development of the atomic bomb.

 Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 11.42.03 AMNYT obit  May 23, 1973

Who knew!



A Prediction on Political Discussions in Williams

As Williams enrolls Gen Zers, there’s going to be a resurgance of right-wing, populist views.

Not a dramatic paradigm shift, but a gradual gnawing away at the entrenched left-wing environment.


This graph shows how Gen Z ‘voted’ in the 2016 election relative to voting adults. Trump’s platform focused mainly on nativism, and his incredible usage of online media complements Gen Z’s more tech-savvy nature.

The presence of the virgin Conservative Society is just the adumbration of this trend. The political atmophere in first year in this campus wouldn’t have even humored this organization.

Ultimately, I see what’s going to happen here as a microcosm of the Overton Window shifting across the nation. We won’t be seeing any varient of paleoconservatism on the rise here, because Trump’s ideology is one of mild reform, and that’s what makes him appealing to his supporters, but it’ll still be quite a sight to hear some now verboten topic echo throughout the halls and classrooms, as was the case not so long ago.


“I love you, but sooner or later, you’re going to have to face the fact you’re a goddamn moron.”

… The Dude, The Big Labowski

A Williamstown Clock:

DSC00485Posted as a public service

Not hard to figure out who is responsible. Trump on Fox News :


Reische on Dumb Mistakes, 5

Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 5.

Note the casual slurring of non-elite Americans.

[T]he arresting officers also marked me as a white University of Michigan student. Had I been someone else, I might have learned a different lesson.

Because cops are racist! Get it? But, in reality, non-white Williams students are probably treated better than their white peers. Shall we review the story of Jess Torres ’12 one more time?

A certain acknowledgement of the shibboleths of the day are expected, both in the Times and by anyone in charge of “Communications” at an important part of the Cathedral. Reische probably believes, and is certainly expected to pretend to believe, that white students at places like Williams are treated better than black students, that he has more “privilege” than his black Williams colleagues. (Even the ones with tenure? Even the ones that are paid more?)

But the real problem comes next:

A commitment to learning isn’t synonymous with freedom from accountability. And it can’t extend into areas like sexual violence or racial hatred.

All dumb mistakes are equal, but some are more equal than others.

This is where we see the iron fist within the velvet glove. Reische is concerned about “college kids,” about “[o]ur children” committing “innocent mistakes.” But not when it comes to “racial hatred!” Nothing wrong with regular hatred of course. Thirty years ago, Reische hated corporate America (or capitalism? or just McDonald’s?) and that was OK. That sort of hatred, just like the hatred for Trump which drove the Griffin Hall vandals, is understandable, event “innocent.” You can hate things that Reische hates, and he will be the soul of understanding, eager to help you play some cool jazz with Miles Davis afterwards.

But if you hate in a unapproved manner — perhaps objecting to immigration, or affirmative action, or political correctness in general — then Reische and his ilk will have no sympathy for you.

What about the perpetrators of “sexual violence?” Perhaps Jim Reische, and the Williams administration, is omniscient, never making a mistake, never charging, much less punishing, any innocent student. Sadly, here in the real world, the new preponderance of the evidence standard means that a large percentage of the men punished by Williams for “sexual violence” are, in fact, innocent. How much mercy in his heart does Reische have for them?


Reische on Dumb Mistakes, 4

Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 4.

If a Williams student spray-painted “Corporate Deathburgers” on a local building today (not that they ever would), it wouldn’t be hard to imagine someone posting the security footage online.

Why the hypothetical? Williams has, in fact, had several graffiti incidents over the last few years, the latest being Griffin Hall. Was any security video ever published? No! Why can’t Reische discuss things that actually happened, at Williams or elsewhere?

The reality is that things have not really changed in 30+ years, at least when it comes to how powerful institutions (campus security, local cops) protect the powerful (children of the elite). What happened to Reische is, more or less, what happens to current students who commit vandalism for political ends.

And the video would live on: another student weighed down by the detritus of his or her online life.

Note the lack of specific examples. Around 8,000 students have graduated from Williams since EphBlog started. I can not think of a single student whose life is meaningfully “weighed down” by her “online life.” If Reische can’t come up with a single example of the problem, then what is his point?

The point, obviously, is to titillate the readers of the New York Times, many of whom worry about the on-line activities of their children.


31* College Tuition Education Initiative: Williams in Information Action!

The NYT’s David Leonhardt writes on misconceptions about the flu and college tuition initiative to help clear up misconceptions about college costs:

Screen Shot 2018-01-17 at 6.21.48 AM

MyinTuition, a revolutionary online tool, ensures that students and their families have quick and easy access to the information they need to make decisions about college affordability.  MyinTuition shows the projected cost of college once financial aid is factored in, helping students understand and plan for what college will actually cost.

Give it a trial run. The information for input may yield some clue to the questions of admission policies so hotly debated in these columns. In English and Spanish.


* The original group of 16 colleges has now expanded to 31, The calculator and impetus for the development of this initiative come from Wellesley College.


Reische on Dumb Mistakes, 3

Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 3.

But when it comes to college kids, my worry is that we’ve become unwilling to tolerate innocent mistakes — either that or we have drastically shrunk our vision of innocence.

Is the world really all that different in 2018 than it was in 1985? Perhaps not. The Griffin Hall vandals suffered, more or less, the same fate as Reische did for his act of vandalism 30+ years ago. In fact, they may have been treated even better. I doubt that they were even arrested, much less that they spent the night in jail. Their identities were never revealed. It is telling that Reische fails to mention this incident to his Times readers. Might confuse the narrative.

Does Reische really want local police to have more or less discretion? The more that we have official written policies about how to handle vandalism (and arrests therefrom), the more that the logic of the carceral state will take over. Less discretion will (always?) yield less room for error, less understanding from the agents of the state for “dumb mistakes.”

But Reische also does not trust the state, arguing that he was treated differently because of his race/status than another vandal would have been. This suggests that he does not want to give, say, the Williamstown police more discretion about who they arrest and who they don’t. Did this tension even occur to Reische?

Is it just me, or does this talk of “innocent” and “innocence” reek of hippy-dippy 60s liberalism? Reische, in 1985, was not innocent. He was a vandal. He knew what he was doing, just as the Griffin Hall vandals did. That doesn’t mean that their lives should be ruined, but using this terminology robs adults of their agency.


Reische on Dumb Mistakes, 2

Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 2.

These days I work as the senior communications officer at another college, where I spend a healthy fraction of my time dealing with students who’ve made mistakes of their own. I recognize myself in them: intellectually adventurous, skeptical, newly aware of life’s injustices. They’re also different from me in many ways: less Grateful Dead and Dead Kennedys, much more technology.

That’s the important bit. Because for all of the supposed liberating power of their digital devices, they might as well be wearing ankle monitors. Technological connectedness has made it much harder for them to make mistakes and learn from them.

This is an empirical claim. Does it have any connection to reality? Consider 7 specific incidents of graffiti at Williams: Griffin Hall (2016), hockey rink (2015), Paresky (2014), Mission (2012) Prospect (2011), Dennett (2009) and Willy E (2008). Most people would agree that these are the most important such instances at Williams over the last decade. Note:

1) Only two perps were caught: Griffin and Dennett. It is not obvious that students who commit vandalism today are more likely to be caught than they were in Reische’s era. Mistakes (without meaningful consequences) are still possible!

2) It is not clear that the students who were caught were punished at all (Dennett) or were punished in a way that Reische would disagree with (Griffin). Certainly, no one was arrested or charged. Again, Reische is making an empirical claim: dumb mistakes (like acts of vandalism) have worse outcomes for students now than they did 30 years ago. But, if anything, Reische seems to have been more punished than students today! (Getting arrested is no fun!)


Reische on Dumb Mistakes, 1

Jim Reische, Director of Communications at Williams and friend-of-EphBlog, wrote a lovely New York Times essay titled “The Importance of Dumb Mistakes in College.” Let’s unpack it for a week. Day 1.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not so much afterward, when I got driven downtown in handcuffs for spray-painting “Corporate Deathburgers” across a McDonald’s.

I earned myself a long night in jail for my lack of judgment. But my family and friends — and perhaps most important, my college, the University of Michigan — never learned about the episode (until now). Because in 1985, a college student could get a little self-righteous, make a bad decision, face consequences and then go home, having learned a “valuable lesson.”

A nice story. At this point, anyone informed about Williams would hope/expect that Reische would connect this story about youthful vandalism to any of the similar stunts at Williams over the last decade, perhaps starting with the Griffin Hall graffiti of November 2016. Yet, he doesn’t mention that hate hoax, nor any of the similar events over the last few years. Why?

Reische, allegedly, is concerned that the vandalism (the “dumb mistake”) for which he was not meaningfully punished 30 years ago would generate a different result today, and yet he declines to discuss any similar recent incident, despite (because?) of his insider knowledge about them. Explanations for this lacuna?

Key question: Are college students children or are they adults? We all agree that people less than 18 should face less severe sanctions than those 18+, and we act on those beliefs via the juvenile justice system. If you, say, vandalize Griffin Hall at 17, the state (Williamstown police, Berkshire County prosecutors) will treat you very differently than it will if you do the exact same thing at 18. Does Reische want to change that? He doesn’t tell us.

Note his ending:

Our children deserve the opportunity to play the music for themselves.

Reische (and the rest of the Williams Administration? and the Williams faculty?) think of the students at Williams as “children.” Is that a bug or a feature of elite education in 2018?


Society for Conservative Thought Hosts Chris Gibson

On Wednesday, January 10th, the Society for Conservative Thought held its inaugural public event featuring Chris Gibson’s presentation,“What it Means to Be a Conservative.” Dr. Gibson previously served as a U.S. Army colonel and U.S. representative, and is currently Stanley Kaplan Distinguished Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy in the Williams leadership studies program.

Addressing the audience of 45 students, administrators, and community locals, Dr. Gibson asserted the importance of the “conservation of the founding principles” and the recognition of their enduring value in the modern world. With many references to American history and European political philosophy, he described the miracle of the American political experiment and the critical need to maintain “the spirit of Philadelphia” which conceived of it. Students then stayed for over an hour to participate in a Q&A session in which Dr. Gibson outlined concrete legislative actions to improve the American political system, drawing upon his experiences from serving in Congress.

Following the discussion, the Society offered complimentary copies of Dr. Gibson’s most recent book, Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream, courtesy of the Society’s budget.

The invitation of distinguished guests to voice conservative principles on campus is essential to the mission of the Society for Conservative Thought. If you can refer such individuals who would be interested in contributing to a future event, please contact


Coca-Cola – Typography and Water Wars: a Saturday Break …


I thought the color Coca-Cola (Red RGB #E41E2B) might catch attention among the gray columns.

Of interest to me, my work included branding, was the introduction of a bespoke typeface for that giant venerable international brand Coca-Cola— its very first in their 132 years.

Typefaces, and there are thousands, are designed for aesthetics and communication. For a look at this interesting field, the P22 site:

Now, for those inspecting for the Williams link, here ya go …

Michael Blanding ’95 *, author of The Coke Machine: The Dirty Truth Behind the World’s Favorite Soft Drink, in a Log Lunch on campus, discussed three case studies in which Coca-Cola factories were accused of taking water away from local community sources and infecting their leftover reserves with illegal levels of pesticides and metals.

*  This is not Mr Blanding’s first appearance in Ephblog. See the link below to the 2004 story of his engagement. Catch up with the last 14 years of the Blandings’ with your password for the Alumni Directory. So far he has not built his Dream House.

And from my own local experience within Hood River County, Oregon: the defeat of a plan to sell water rights to Nestle for yet another of their bottled water plants capitalizing on the names of local water sources. In our case it was the springs from Mt Hood and the river town of Cascade Locks. Nestle, whose own home is on Lake Geneva, CH, keeps fighting . And they recently purchased San Pelegrino and Evian. Water, I don’t need to say but will, is the oil of the XXIst century.




On Neighborhood Housing

Doug writes:

Can you explain why the neighborhood system is the “single biggest failure” at Williams in recent memory? I’m a student here now and the neighborhood system is totally fine with everyone — I’ve never actually heard anyone bash it before. People generally seem to like neighborhood events and not having RAs But there’s also no institutional memory at this point about what it replaced. Curious if you could point me in the right direction to learn about this.

Start with a definition.

Neighborhood Housing: students are randomly assigned to one neighborhood and can’t transfer.

The central aspect of Neighborhood Housing — what made it different than the system today or the system pre-2005 — was that students were assigned to one of four “Neighborhoods” and were not allowed to change. This was similar, indeed it was explicitly designed to be similar, to housing systems at places like Yale and Harvard.

It is true that lots of other things were also changing around this time. Some changes — gender caps — pre-dated the implementation of Neighborhoods and are still with us. Some changes, like moving First Years to Mission, actually had nothing to do with Neighborhood Housing per se. Some of these changes were good. Some bad. But, in this post, I am just discussing Neighborhood Housing at its core: the random assignment of students to housing groups.

Consider some background reading from 2005. Summary:

1) From 1995 to 2006, the Williams housing system was “free agency.” There was a campus wide lottery more-or-less identical to the one in use today. The system was popular and worked well.

2) “Neighborhood Housing” — also known as “Anchor Housing” — was the replacement. It was 100% driven by the Williams administration, mainly then-President Morty Schapiro, but with significant help from faculty on the Committee on Undergraduate Life, folks like Charles Drew ’58 and Will Dudley ’89.

3) The fundamental goal was to prevent student self-segregation in housing selection, especially racial segregation (all the black students in Weston) and athlete segregation (all the male helmet-sport athletes in Tyler/Tyler Annex). At that time, the Berkshire Quad was universally known as the “Odd Quad” and served as central location for those students outside the Williams party/alcohol/athletics “mainstream.” My sense is that administrators were not anti-Odd Quad, but they were certainly more than willing to sacrifice the special character of the Odd Quad for their larger goals.

4) Neighborhood Housing worked, at least according to Morty’s goals. Student self-segregation decreased. It was tough for the whole football team to live together if 1/4 of the team was assigned to each Neighborhood.

5) Neighborhood Housing was certainly the biggest non-academic change at Williams in the last 20 years, and perhaps back to co-education. (Does anyone disagree?) And, given how constant academic life has been at Williams (and/or how gradual any changes have been), Neighborhood Housing may have been the biggest change at Williams in a generation. Other candidates?

6) Neighborhood Housing failed, which is why students are no longer randomly (and permanently) assigned to a neighborhood. It failed for all the reasons we predicted and just as we documented for a decade. It is to Williams (and Adam Falk’s? And Steve Klass’s) credit that we ended Neighborhood Housing a few years ago and went back to the traditional campus wide lottery.

7) There are residues of neighborhoods that are still with us, like the word “neighborhood” itself and some of the changes that went along with their creation and then destruction. By far the most important of these is the move of First Years to Mission Park.

8) One occasionally reads strange revanchist views like this from abl. I have trouble understanding them. If words have meaning then “Neighborhood Housing” means “students are randomly assigned to one neighborhood at random and can’t transfer.” Both opponents and supporters agreed that this was the heart of the debate. No one cared about “campus social life/planning.” The Administration could have changed any aspect of that and no student would have complained.

abl claims:

Moreover, the neighborhood system in its conception and its execution represents the sort of Democratic social engineering that DDF and his libertarian/conservative leanings detests.

Untrue! I am in favor of competent social engineering, as here. The CUL was incompetent, as we documented/predicted at the time. Neighborhood Housing was doomed from the start, mainly because certain Williams traditions (JAs and entries, and co-ops) and the reality of our diverse housing stock.


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