Currently browsing the archives for January 2018

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!)

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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?

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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 jjd6@williams.edu.

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

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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. 

https://www.dezeen.com/2018/01/12/neville-brody-designs-coca-colas-first-ever-typeface-tccc-unity-graphics/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Dezeen%20Digest&utm_content=Daily%20Dezeen%20Digest+CID_a883105a6e82fc754c325037b7b3cd41&utm_source=Dezeen%20Mail&utm_term=Neville%20Brody%20designs%20Coca-Colas%20first%20ever%20own-brand%20typeface

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

https://p22.com/

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.

https://ces.williams.edu/log/michael-blanding-talks-water-wars-and-coca-cola/

*  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.

http://ephblog.com/2004/07/03/blanding-95-to-wed/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Blandings_Builds_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.

 

 

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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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Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes

Interesting (but old) article (pdf) from Professor David Zimmerman.

I use data from Williams College to implement a quasi-experimental empirical strategy aimed at measuring peer effects in academic outcomes. In particular, I use data on individual students’ grades, their SAT scores, and the SAT scores of their roommates. I argue that first-year roommates are assigned randomly with respect to academic ability. This allows me to measure differences in grades of high-, medium-, or low-SAT students living with high-, medium-, or low-SAT roommates. With random assignment these estimates would provide compelling estimates of the effect of roommates’ academic characteristics on an individual’s grades. I also consider the effect of peers at somewhat more aggregated levels. In particular, I consider the effects associated with different academic environments in clusters of rooms that define distinct social units. The results suggest that peer effects are almost always linked more strongly with verbal SAT scores than with math SAT scores. Students in the middle of the SAT distribution may have somewhat worse grades if they share a room with a student who is in the bottom 15% of the verbal SAT distribution. The effects are not large, but are statistically significant in many models.

Should we spend a few days going through this?

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James Van Der Zee photograph, ‘Nude, Harlem’ starts salon discussion January 11th …

8083cfe4cf33441e64e1c0083e066078--painted-fireplaces-white-photographyJames Van Der Zee (American, 1886–1983), Nude, Harlem, negative 1923, printed 1974. Gelatin sepia-toned print, 9 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. Museum purchase, Otis Family Acquisition Trust, M.2017.9.6

… in the Reading Room of the WCMA at 5:30 pm. The focus is ‘In Context’.

Two further salons will be held at WCMA on this photograph, ‘In Process’ on January 25th, and ‘In Theory’ on February 8th.

James Van Der Zee is one of the artists closely associated with the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-1930s.

The Otis Family Acquisition Fund has made this acquisition possible as a part of the purchase of  James Van Der Zee: A portfolio of 18 Photographs presented with new prints in 1974 as a part of the renewed interest in the photographer as a part of the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Arts Movement.

https://wcma.williams.edu/news-item/gift-from-the-otis-family/

 

See the 18 photographs!

 

Read more

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Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday, January 15

Williams staff, faculty and students,

I wanted to take this moment to point out that, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Williams will treat next Monday, January 15, as a day of no classes. Administrative offices will also be closed.

variety of activities are planned throughout the week. Please join me in taking the time to celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, and to dedicate ourselves to continuing his quest for equality and justice.

Just a few weeks after MLK Day will come the tenth anniversary of Claiming Williams. Both events offer important opportunities for us to reflect on the connections between a Williams education and our responsibilities to the world in which we live.

Thank you to the faculty for setting aside next Monday from the academic calendar, to the many people involved in planning this year’s events, and to all of you for your important contributions to our campus community and the wider world around us.

Tiku Majumder

Interim President
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Official College Reports

We have not done a good job of archiving various College reports over the years. (And, of course, it is beyond pathetic that Williams itself mostly fails to do so.) So, as a reminder, let’s review some of them here.

1962: The Angevine Report (pdf). This is the single most important Williams document of the last 100 years. It led to the elimination of fraternities at Williams. Isn’t it embarrassing that the College doesn’t to host a copy of the report on its own servers?

2002: The MacDonald Report (pdf). This led to a dramatic decrease in the admissions preferences given to athletes. The College actively refuses to make this report publicly available.

2005: The Dudley Report (pdf) which led to the creation of Neighborhood Housing, the single biggest failure at Williams in the last few decades. Note also the CUL reports from 2002 and 2003 which paved the way to this disaster.

2005: Williams Alcohol Task Force Report. Sadly, I don’t have a pdf of this report. Does anyone? The issue of alcohol is a perennial one at places like Williams. Whatever committee tackles it next should start by reading this report. I think that this report was a follow up to the 2004 Report on Alcohol Policy (pdf).

2005: Diversity Initiatives. I think (but can’t find it right now) that the College does maintain a (pdf) of this report. The Record should do a story about what has happened in the last decade.

2008: Waters Committee Report (doc) which led to the elimination of the Williams in New York program. Professor Robert Jackal, creator of WNY, wrote this response (doc) and this memorandum (doc). See the October 2008 faculty meeting notes (pdf) for more discussion. Future historians might argue that this report was more important than the MacDonald report since it highlighted a turn inwards by Williams.

2008: A Report from Williams is a summary/celebration of the Claim High capital campaign.

2009-2010: The Neighborhood Review Committee began the process of dismantling the Neighborhood system. There were two interim reports (part I and part II) and two final reports (part I and part II).

There are other reports that should be added. Suggestions? I think that I will turn this into an annual post, with updates as needed. Would any readers like to spend a week going through the details of one of these reports?

If we won’t remember Williams history, who will?

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Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy

Lovely essay from a Pomona professor about the depressing changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. Extract:

At my little college, notwithstanding the national noise to the contrary, I find myself surrounded by incredibly hardworking, conscientious, bright, creative, curious students—anything but the slacker or snowflake or sheep-like images of college millennials you see portrayed by professional cynics and anti-education propagandists. I’m also surrounded by many fellow professors who are intensely dedicated, principled, broad-minded classroom teachers who see their job not primarily as a job but as a vocation (even as that term clinks antique elsewhere). My on-the-ground, in-the-hallway reality thus contravenes the prevailing narrative depicting professors as a bunch of pampered partisan prigs. Go ahead, troll me, if you must. But I know what I know. Something tremendously right, something inextinguishable, something akin to a spark of sacred sentience or thereabouts, abides in many out-of-the-way college classrooms today, and methinks we need to dwell and build on those quietly catalytic encounters.

An autonomous managerial class has emerged whose immediate and ulterior interests are occupational as opposed to educational (a distinction that ought not to be collapsed), and whose mission is to serve administrative purposes as opposed to teaching purposes (another distinction that ought not to be elided). Perhaps worst of all, the management model of organization, in trying to bring small colleges into the fold of purportedly national “best practices” and procedures, is destroying the distinctiveness, the localism, the teacherliness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges, one by one, all across America. Those colleges rich enough to compete for students and brand recognition with the likes of Stanford and Princeton may survive the last shakeout, but I’m afraid it will be at the expense of, as it were, their institutional souls.

There are many connections to EphBlog themes over the last 15 years. The story that Seery tells about Pomona is similar to what we have documented at Williams. Worth reviewing in detail?

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A new year, and a new phase

Greetings from the President’s Office, and happy new year!

I wanted to let you know, as I finish my first week in my new role as interim president, how much I’m looking forward to working with you all. Adam Falk set Williams on a strong path back into fiscal health; supported our curriculum through investments in our faculty, programs, and academic buildings; and strengthened our community through his commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Even considering the financial health and strong foundation he established, there’s much we’ll need to accomplish together. With that in mind I’m particularly eager to begin discussions with faculty and staff colleagues to inform the agenda for my tenure. While this undertaking will certainly involve close attention to the academic program and our support for students, the ways in which we choose to approach it must be informed by conversations with you who are engaged with this work every day.

Students have an essential role in defining this community. So I’m also eager to step beyond my more familiar role as teacher and advisor, to partner with College Council, MinCo, the JAs, and others to create a Williams that’s both welcoming and enriching, in ways that will foster the best possible education.

Even after more than two decades on the Williams faculty and many years as director of the Science Center, the presidency is showing me a side of the college that I’d previously had little opportunity to observe firsthand. Indeed, the view from my new office is quite different in many ways! I feel fortunate to step into my new job with the support of an outstanding leadership team, and the benefit of close relationships with so many of you. I look forward to strengthening those bonds and forming new ones in the months to come.

Sincerely,

Tiku Majumder
Interim President and Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy

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Reply to Reische

Perfect response to Jim Reische’s New York Times article:

To the Editor:

Since we just served as editor in chief and senior editors of The Williams Record, Williams College’s independent student newspaper, Jim Reische’s article struck a chord with us. His reference to “a campus newspaper editorial that grapples with balancing free speech and appropriate behavior” was likely informed by a controversial Record editorial published in October 2015. We were on the board that composed that editorial, which advocated limitations to hateful but legally protected speech at Williams. We were widely and justifiably criticized for it, including in national media.

That mistake transformed how we tackle polarizing issues. The following semester, we published an editorial criticizing Williams’s president, Adam Falk, for canceling a controversial student-invited speaker. We saw tangible improvements in the board’s navigation of those difficult conversations: We respectfully challenged our peers’ opinions; we critically considered our own. Our editorial decisions, as the paper’s leaders for 2017, were not governed by fear of criticism, but rather an appreciation of it.

What we learned stuck with us as editors, and as young adults. We echo Mr. Reische’s hope that other students have the same opportunity to make mistakes — and be better for it.

MARIT BJÖRNLUND
EMMY MALUF
FRANCESCA PARIS
WILLIAMSTOWN, MASS.

Great stuff! Comments:

1) I have had my problems with Emmy Maluf in the past, but the tone of this letter (and her leadership of the Record) both deserve high marks.

2) Although they are too polite to mention it directly, these students are directly contradicting Reische’s thesis. Reische argues that it is a bad thing that outsiders pay attention to what students write, especially when that writing includes “dumb mistakes.” The students argue that the exact opposite is true, using the same example that Reische cites. They learned from their dumb mistake because outsiders criticized it.

Needless to say, EphBlog agrees. When we criticize students, we are helping them, or at least trying to. We pay them the (ultimate) compliment of taking their ideas seriously. Jim Reische, on the other hand, wants us to treat college students like children. Who is right? The leaders of the Record, at least, agree with EphBlog!

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SAT Question

The latest Common Data Set (pdf) shows that the 25th-75th percentile spread on the SAT (math + reading) is 1400–1570 for the class of 2021. This is a big increase from the class of 2020, which was (pdf) 1330–1540.

Note that there are two ways to report the 25th/75th percentile spread on math + verbal. First, in some years/schools, you are given this number. For example, for the class of 2020, Williams just tells us that this is 1340–1523. Second, you can calculate it yourself by adding the 25th (75th) percentile of math to the 25th (75th) percentile of reading. For the class of 2020, this gives us 1330–1540. These two methods should be fairly similar. The difference, obviously, will depend on the correlations between scores across students. I use the second method for both years since Williams does not (why?) give us the “true” range for the class of 2021.

A commentator writes:

Something is not right with the SAT numbers. Scores don’t change as dramatically as these. Williams, like a few other schools, seems to be using the SAT concordance tables to conflate old SAT and new SAT scores to arrive at artificially high numbers.

An easy way to see why I am skeptical of thee number is to look at class of 2021 data for Stanford and Princeton and compare to Williams. Here are the links.

https://admission.princeton.edu/how-apply/admission-statistics

http://admission.stanford.edu/apply/selection/profile.html

Princeton’s middle 50 is 1380-1540
Stanford is 1390-1540

If you compare Williams’ middle 50 to Stanford and Princeton’s you can see something is amiss. Otherwise Williams is suddenly more selective than Stanford and Princeton.

And it is not that the new SAT is producing higher SAT scores. Most of the more competitive schools which have current data appear to have new SAT scores which are lower than the old SAT. The best comparison I’ve been able to make is to compare the 2015-16 (pre new SAT) scores. That is pretty close to where the new SAT scores come in.

I find this argument fairly compelling. But, at the same time, Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade (and her staff) are smart and careful. Did they make a mistake or did Stanford/Princeton?

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I can’t let this one go by …

Il DunceActually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” he added. He said he was a “VERY successful businessman” and television star who won the presidency on his first try. “I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!”

         NYT Jan 6, 2018

A very timely article on the fascist state development appears in this article at Williams.edu:

https://sites.williams.edu/cthorne/articles/fulfilling-the-fascist-lie/

 

 

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CollegeData

Any opinions about the quality of information at CollegeData? Here is Williams:

cd

Any service that does not even bother to gather race/ethnic data should not be taken seriously.

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 30 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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New Common Data Set

hmm writes:

Williams just posted their CDS which could be worth looking through: https://provost.williams.edu/files/williams_cds_1718.pdf

Massive surges in test scores this year than from any other year. Changing admissions strategy?

Another interesting points: Williams hit a 6:1 student to faculty ratio, which will likely be the lowest of any LAC. Good move. Most peers are 8:1.

Of Williams’s peer schools, only Pomona has posted their 2018 CDS as well:

https://pomona.app.box.com/s/p5wp4fuwww32ii3nn8kdijkcddcmgsuh

The test score gap between the two is gigantic this year; in the past, Pomona has had equal or higher test scores than Williams. Pomona is more racially diverse and has a higher percent of students ranking in the top 10%, as well as a higher yield, so it seems they deliberately made test scores a weaker factor.

Would be interested in seeing what people think. Kudos to Pomona for attracting a super diverse student body (even Stanford doesn’t have the same %), but is that worth significant declines in testing? It’ll be interesting seeing the long-term implications of this for graduation rates.

hmm should join us as an author. As should others! Make EphBlog Great Again!

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Class of 2021 First Gen Students

first gen

This is a photo of the first generation students in the class of 2021, taken this fall by departing Dean Rosanna Ferro.

What is the racial breakdown of first generation students? The biggest problem that the college faces in admissions is getting “enough” qualified African-American and Hispanic students. (The term “NAM” is sometimes used for brevity. It is an abbreviation for Non-Asian Minority.) Broadly speaking there are two ways to handle that problem. First, take the very best NAM students you can find, using Academic Rating, the same scheme used for white/Asian students. Second, worry less about Academic Rating and more about checking more than one box at a time. This approach would put an emphasis on NAMs that were also first generation or alumni or athletes since admitting them also allows the College to fulfill its other goals.

I don’t have a good sense of which approach, if either, the College prefers. But this picture does not appear to be as white or Asian as the rest of Williams . . .

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A New Year, A New Era for Williams College

Alumni and Friends of Williams College,

I am pleased to announce that the student representatives of College Council have formally approved the incipient Society for Conservative Thought as a registered student organization. This milestone has been made possible through the tireless and earnest contributions of faculty members and many students, to all of whom I am deeply grateful.

Since my arrival at Williams as a freshman this fall, I have become increasingly alarmed by the extent of the liberal intellectual uniformity of the curriculum and campus community. Fellow students upholding all varieties of political and social beliefs have confided to me their concerns that the explicit liberal bias is inhibitive to the attainment of a well-rounded liberal arts education, and that alternative views are frequently neglected, misrepresented, and ridiculed without basis. This close-mindedness breeds a shallow and hegemonic intellectual environment in which students do not feel able to freely express non-conforming ideas. As asserted by the campus administration during the First Days presentations, it is a mission of the College to promote diversity “in all its forms.” Diversity, however, should not be restricted to classifications of racial, sexual, and socioeconomic identities—at an educational institution, it must include diversity of thought. Though the administration has openly acknowledged the problem of liberal homogeneity in the official 2005 Diversity Initiatives Self-Study, in which students described “a lack of tolerance of diversity of thought” regarding conservative philosophies (pg. 10), the College has taken no meaningful measure to improve the situation and there are no existing student organizations dedicated to the study of conservative beliefs.

The Society for Conservative Thought is the product of the current student movement to broaden the intellectual diversity of the College and establish an academic refuge where students can engage with the rich intellectual tradition of conservatism in the vein of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. As a non-partisan and non-activist organization, we invite students of all varieties of political and social beliefs to expand their academic horizons and study, discuss, and even challenge ideas that are underrepresented in the Williams curriculum. Unlike other student organizations which have attempted to prompt dialogue through spectacle and incendiary controversies, the Society will foster a genuine understanding and appreciation of conservative principles through group readings and discussions, debates, and invited speakers. The Society is sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a prestigious and well-endowed organization founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1953 for the promotion of conservative ideas on college campuses. Through ISI, the Society has access to educational resources, a bureau of distinguished speakers, and special off-campus events, all free of charge.

I understand that there is a strong contingent of alumni who are rightfully disaffected with the intellectual climate of the College. To alumni: may this message inspire you with the knowledge that there are many among the student body who share your concerns and are striving to right the situation. The Society will be a liaison between the student and alumni communities, and we look forward to hearing your advice as we forge lasting bonds of friendship in our joint effort to establish true diversity of thought at the College. Please contact me to learn more and become involved in our mission—Williams needs you.

At this moment the intellectual affairs of the College face a fateful crossroads of critical importance. By the end of this academic year, the two most prominent campus advocates for free thought will have retired and graduated, and a new president will be taking office. For over two centuries, Williams has formed the minds, hearts, and souls of generations of students who have effected incredible and outsized impacts on our nation and the world. Will the College endanger this legacy by continuing to stifle the holistic intellectual growth of its students? Perhaps, but I promise that the Society will do everything within its power to provide Williams students with a refuge for free thought and the unprejudiced study of the true, good, and beautiful.

Society activities will commence during the Winter Study period. We will read selections from William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale, Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism, and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, as well as host a number of speakers drawn from distinguished faculty members and alumni. Those with questions or interest in our efforts may contact me at jjd6@williams.edu.

Sincerely,

John J. DiGravio ‘21

President, Williams College Society for Conservative Thought

“Veritas Vos Liberabit”

 

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