Currently browsing the archives for May 2018

Changes in Majors, 3

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 3.

There has been a decrease in the percentage of “humanities” majors at Williams over the last 30 years. The percentage of Div I majors has decreased from 30% to 21% of all majors. The more humanties-esque majors in Div II have seen a similar decline. For example, the average number of history majors from 1986 to 1988 was 94. From 2015 to 2017 it was 54. As a percentage of all majors, the fall has been even more dramatic. Comments (with some repetition from a previous discussion):

1) In 50 years, these sorts of worries will seem as absurd and parochial as the worries 50 years ago about declining enrollment in Latin and Greek. That was a big deal, back in the day. But the decline didn’t stop and couldn’t (really) have been stopped. The same is true of the move away from, say, English and toward Stats/CS

2) Majors (especially since they do not include information about concentrations) are a rough measure of enrollments and faculty workload. I haven’t found any data, but it would hardly be surprising of the total percentage of humanities (broadly understood) course enrollments at Williams has gone from 30% to 20%, or even lower. If so, big deal! Students should take classes in what they want.

3) Don’t the faculty deserve lots of the blame for the decline in student interest in the humanities? Let’s focus on history, and look at the courses on offer this spring at Williams. Much of this is good stuff. Who could complain about surveys of Modern China, Medieval England or Europe in Twentieth Century? Not me! I also have no problems with courses on more narrow topics. Indeed, classes on Witchcraft, Panics and The Suburbs are all almost certainly excellent, and not just because they are taught by some of the best professors in the department. But notice what is missing: No more courses on war (now that Jim Wood has retired). No courses on diplomatic history (RIP Russ Bostert). No courses in the sort of mainstream US history topics — Revolutionary Period, Civil War — which would interest scores of students. The History Department has chosen the form of its own destructor: a refusal to offer traditional classes, especially in military and diplomatic history, that students want to take.

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Changes in Majors, 2

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 2.

From 1986 to 2017, the number of students with at least one major in Division III (math and sciences) increased from 93 to 255. The biggest change in majors (and, presumably, course enrollments) over the last 30 years is the move toward Division III. That movement shows every sign of continuing into the future. Comments:

1) There is nothing (reasonable) that Williams could or should do about the changing nature of student preferences. If a student wants to major in Statistics instead of English, then Williams should let her. If scores of students want to make that switch — and that change in preferences seems likely to be permanent — then Williams should adjust its staffing accordingly.

2) Note that dramatic increase in math majors that started in the 1990s. Emeritus Professor Frank Morgan arrived about then and quickly rebuilt the math department/major into, perhaps, the most impressive LAC program in the country. You don’t go from 5 majors in 1986 to 70 in 2017 without doing something right. I think Morgan had more of an impact on Williams than almost any other professor of the last 30 years. If not him, then who?

3) Computer Science has increased in the last few years, but the real pressures have come from increased enrollments in the intro courses.

4) The biggest recentish news in Division III is the creation of the Statistics Major, the very first such major at a liberal arts college. EphBlog has long praised and championed this move. All hail Dick De Veaux! The number of majors in the last four years has gone from 0 to 2 to 12 to 28. Statistics is now a top-10 major at Williams! The good news is that statistics is a wonderful field, interesting in-and-of-itself and also probably the most career-enhancing major at Williams. The bad news is that Williams is not really staffed with enough statistics professors. The major has partially tackled this by increasing the math requirements, thereby hoping to decrease the number of majors. First, I dislike when such considerations affect requirements. Second, I am not sure if it will work that well. How many years until there are 50 statistics majors at Williams? I put the over-under at 3.

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Changes in Majors, 1

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 1.

From 1986 to 2017, the number of students with more than one major increased from 79 to 228. This is the most impressive single statistic concerning the academic engagement of Williams students. (Previous related discussions here and here.)

1) Back in the day, double majoring was unusual, if not a little weird. Why take an extra set of 300/400 level courses in a second major — courses almost guaranteed to be difficult and time-consuming — when you have the pleasant option of sampling 100-level courses in a variety of interesting topics?

2) Now, double majoring is common, perhaps even expected among the top 25% of the class academically. (I would bet that there is a high correlation between Academic Rating and double majoring.) Good stuff! The more students taking serious 300/400 level classes, the better. Perhaps the ideal of a Williams “liberal arts” education is the student who majors in two fields from different divisions, e.g., Chemistry/English or Statistics/Art or Economics/History.

3) The 228 may actual underestimate the number of students studying two different fields in depth because it does not include students who add a concentration to their first major. For example, a student who majors in Math and gets a concentration in Africana Studies is doing Williams right.

4) We should be careful about claiming that the high number of double majors implies that Williams students are more academically serious than students at other schools. Williams makes double majoring easier than it is elsewhere because a) most majors require only 9 classes and b) our non-major requirements are easier to fulfill.

5) But ignore 4 for now. This is good news! The more double majors at Williams the better, and this almost tripling over the last 30 years is a wonderful indication of intellectual engagement among the students.

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Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Myles will not be in Williamstown to celebrate reunion with the Old Guard in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. His last glimpse of Williams was on graduation day 78 years ago. Who among the sons and daughters of Ephraim even remembers his name?

I saw the mountains of Williams
As I was passing by,
The purple mountains of Williams
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Williams men
Who went abroad to die.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a Junior Advisor and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.

gargoyle

Fox lived in Wood House. Are you the student who just moved out of the room that Fox vacated all those years ago? Are you an Eph who trod the same walkways around campus as Fox? We all walk in his footsteps.

The years go fast in Williams,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.

Fox wrote letters to his class secretary, letters just like those that you or I might write.

The last issue of the Review has put me up to date on my civilized affairs. I am enclosing the only other information I have received in the form of a letter from Mr. Dodd. Among my last batch of mail was notice of the class insurance premium, and if you think it will prove an incentive to any of my classmates you may add under the next batch of Class Notes my hearty endorsement of the insurance fund, the fact that even with a military salary I am still square with the Mutual Company, and my hope that classmates of ’40 will keep the ball rolling so that in the future, purple and gold jerseys will be rolling a pigskin across whitewash lines.

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

Fox was as familiar as your freshman roommate and as distant as the photos of Williams athletes from years gone by that line the walls of Chandler Gym. He was every Eph.

They left the peaceful valley,
The soccer-field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Williams,
To seek a bloody sod—
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.

Fox was killed in August 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

How to describe a night battle against attacking Japanese among the islands of the South Pacific in August 1942?

Darkness, madness and death.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who have died in the service of their country. For many years, no Eph had made the ultimate sacrifice. That string of good fortune ended with the death in combat of First Lieutenant Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC on December 9, 2006 in Iraq. From Ephraim Williams through Myles Fox to Nate Krissoff, the roll call of Williams dead echoes through the pages of our history.

With luck, other military Ephs like Dick Pregent ’76, Bill Couch ’79, Peter May ’79, Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of Marine combat in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare. Don’t miss the HBO miniseries The Pacific, from which the battle scene above is taken. Fox died two weeks before the Marines on Guadalcanal faced the Japanese at the Battle of the Tenaru.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. He is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the letters from Felipe Perez ’99 and Joel Iams ’01.

God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Williamstown.

Note: As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry, a tribute to those who have gone before. Apologies to Winifred M. Letts for bowdlerizing her poem, “The Spires of Oxford.”

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Confederation of Deplorables

An anonymous faculty member writes:

My father was a laborer all his life. Our entire home life was shaped by his weekly shift postings: one week, 0700-1600, the next 1600-1200, and the third 1200-0700. My parents grew up and married during the Depression and became solid FDR adherents. So our household was a solid Democratic bastion. And when I came of age, I followed my parents’ lead, registered Democrat, and voted Democrat. And I remain a registered Democrat, perhaps out of familial or working-class-origin loyalty. But, please note, I haven’t voted Democratic in more than 30 years because of the Democrats’ profound leftist lunge and its betrayal of its former constituents, like my parents and me.

I mention this because current party affiliation is not necessarily a reliable indication of one’s political sentiments. I remain a registered Democrat, simply because of my family history. I can’t affiliate myself with RINOs and/or country-club Republicans. I’m a proud Deplorable. Ironically, we owe the detestable HRC for our name. Do you know that there is a small, quiet, but stalwart confederation of Deplorables among Williams faculty members, who not only deplore the rapid (does any other word apply?) Democratic/media attack on President Trump, but who also deplore the radical leftist policies instituted by presidents/deans/administrators of Williams College?

Are there really? I like to consider myself a friendly acquaintance — mostly via e-mail but also in person — of many (most?) of the non-liberal/progressive members of the faculty. I have only met one who thought highly enough of Trump to vote for him.

More importantly, why is this “confederation of Deplorables” so quiet? Many (all?) of them have tenure. Why not speak up? Recall:

With Richard Herrnstein, the late Harvard professor, he [Charles Murray] was about to publish The Bell Curve. There were early warnings that the co-authors would come in for a rough time of it. Murray was in the Herrnstein home, having a nightcap. And he said to the professor, “Exactly why are we doing this anyway?” Herrnstein recalled the day he got tenure, and how happy he was, thinking what it meant: For the rest of his life, he was free to do the work he loved at a place he loved. “I said to myself, there has to be a catch. And I figured out what it was: You have to tell the truth.”

Indeed.

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Administrative Bloat

Williams is hiring an assistant general counsel.

We seek a collaborative, strategic, and intellectually agile attorney to serve as Assistant General Counsel (AGC), reporting to the General Counsel. The AGC will provide legal support involving myriad legal issues to a wide array of college offices and constituencies and will help manage and operate the college’s residential mortgage benefit program. Over time the AGC will develop the ability to represent college before local boards, commissions, and agencies in a variety of permitting, regulatory, and policy matters.

1) Every administrator hired is another faculty member not hired. We need to understand not just the seen — a nice new administrator who is doing her best to make Williams better — but also what is not seen — the junior professor not hired because her salary has gone to the administrator instead.

2) If we must hire a new administrator, we should do everything possible to make it the spouse of a current faculty member. You don’t need a law degree to do (almost) any aspect of the job outlined above. None if it is rocket science. A smart spouse could learn what he needed to learn over time. Some of the best administrators at Williams — Associate Provost Chris Winters ’95, Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade — got their first job at the College with no relevant experience. By hiring them, Williams has made it much less likely that their spouses — Professors Amy Gehring ’94 and Brent Heeringa — will ever consider leaving.

3) Why not allow current faculty to take on this work? We have lamented, for years, the continuing decrease in faculty governance at Williams. There are a dozen or more faculty members who would like to be considered for senior administrator positions when they next open up. How are those professors to demonstrate their talent and industriousness? How are they to discover, before they get tapped as Provost, that they really want to get into administration?

The best plan is to give them part time work doing administrative type stuff, like representing the “college before local boards, commissions, and agencies.” They will learn whether or not they like administration. President Mandel will discover if they are any good at it. And it would not cost Williams a penny. Professors would still be responsible for their full teaching loads.

Ancient readers will recall that Williams used to have two “assistant provosts,” both drawn from the faculty. Now we have zero. The old way was better.

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Provost Presentation at Alumni Leadership Weekend

Provost Dukes Love kindly shared the slides (pdf) from the presentation he gave on Saturday May 5 to the muckety-mucks at the Alumni Leadership event. Thanks! Dukes is EphBlog’s favorite member of the Williams Administration because he is so committed to transparency, as every real academic should be. (Provost Will Dudley ’89, on the other hand, refused to share his presentations from similar events.)

Lots of interesting material, like this chart:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 4.16.19 PM

Worth spending a few days going through in detail?

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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2022:

oakleyAt the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started midway through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words — it would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

mountainsFortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Mandel, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart. Don’t be a Lord Jeff and settle for only the first and last verses. Learn all four.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams than incoming first years in August. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Mandel as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because there is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words themselves (by heart) during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1918, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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How to Hire Conservative/Republican/Libertarian Faculty

Harry makes some (obtuse) comments about faculty hiring:

it’s against most state laws I’m aware of for asking about one’s political registration. Also, I’ve never heard this asked in any faculty interviews. Folks are generally hired without asking or discussing political views.

It is also against state law to ask about race. And race is never “asked” about in faculty interviews. D’uh!

Again, you can be against caring about political diversity on the merits. That is a reasonable position. But all these claims that — even if we want to do it we can’t — are just nonsense. Almost any method that works with regard to racial diversity can be used to increase political diversity.

No one would ever ask you directly if you are a “Republican” just as no one now ever asks you directly if you are an “Hispanic.” They look for markers, for the emphasis you place on your ethnic heritage, for the claims you make — in your resume, your personal statement, your cover letter and your recommendation letters — about it. The same would apply for political diversity. Candidates interested in highlighting their politics would do so. Candidates who choose not to do so may safely be presumed to not be planning on being engaged in the campus conversation about politics. And that is OK! But Williams would have no more problem identifying and hiring (openly) politically diverse Ph.D.’s than it does identifying Hispanics.

Do you list political club membership on your resume? Do you volunteer to help Republican/Libertarian/Conservative non-profits? Have you spoken to such organizations? Are you a member of Heterodox Academy or the National Association of Scholars or the Federalist Society? Have you written op-eds or blog posts about your political views? Are you active, at your current university, in the conversation about political diversity? And so on.

During your campus interview, no one would ever ask something as stupid as “Are you Hispanic?” or “Are you a conservative?” That would probably be illegal and, even worse, would be rude. Instead, you will be asked open-ended questions about how you see yourself, outside of the classroom, participating in the Williams community, about how your background prepares you for that role, about what viewpoints you think might be missing. You then get to tell Williams anything you like.

Again, you can argue that political diversity is not important and that Williams should no more care about the politics of individual faculty members than it cares about their astrological sign. That is a defensible position. But the suggestion that Williams could not, if it chose to, easily increase political diversity among the faculty is just nonsense.

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Billionaire Blue Blood Financier

When was the last time an Eph made Page Six, the New York Post‘s gossip page? Thursday!

Save Venice, but trash our $52 million Central Park co-op!

A billionaire blue blood financier let guests vandalize his fancy Upper East Side pad with graffiti while playing beer pong following a swanky society gala.

The glamorous Save Venice masquerade ball has become a hotter ticket than the Met Gala among New York’s elite.

Masked guests this year included Sienna Miller and too many princesses to count, including Maria-Olympia of Greece , Marie-Chantal of Greece and Saudi royal Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz.

But while an official Save Venice after-party was held at high-end eatery the Pool, we hear the place to be was a fun-filled bash at Wall Street investor Chase Coleman III’ s apartment at an East 66th Street co-op near Central Park, where guests were invited to vandalize the French plastered walls with cans of spray paint as they partied into the early hours.

Coleman — who’s a descendant of Peter Stuyvestant — and his wife, Stephanie, purchased the pad in 2016 for $52 million.

It is vacant, waiting to be redone by hot architect Peter Marino.

The couple will reportedly combine the 15-room abode with the two units they own a floor above.

Demolition starts this week, so they offered the walls as canvasses for the arty crowd.

“A select group migrated to this vacant apartment,” a source told Page Six. “All the lights were off, and people were spray-painting the apartment and playing beer pong all night.”

See children! The skills you learn at Williams — like petty vandalism and beer pong — will be very useful as you enter the corridors of power. Study them hard!

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Faculty Political Diversity, 3

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 3.

Nicholas Goldrosen ’20 reported in January for the Record that:

Over the course of 2017, faculty and staff employed by the College contributed a total of $20,325.22 to candidates and committees in federal elections, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosures. All of these contributions went to Democratic or Democrat-leaning candidates or committees. The vast majority of contributions were modest, and individuals often made multiple contributions over the course of the year.

In 2017, 76 individuals who listed their employers as “Williams College” or some subsidiary – and did not list their occupations as “student” – made a total of 1240 contributions in federal elections. Of the 76 people who made contributions, 43 were members of the faculty and 33 were employed as staff members.

Comments:

1) Goldrosen fails to quote a single person in this story. Why? Reporting 101 is: Go out and talk to people and tell your readers what they say. There are faculty who are experts in US politics. Ask them questions! There are students involved in political campaigns and fund-raising. Interview them!

2) I asked Goldrosen to share the data with us. He never responded to my e-mail. Advice to our readers: Always respond to (non-spam) e-mails. The more people you network with, the better your career will be.

3) The FEC data is public. Should I spend sometime going through it?

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Name Game- The next three major Williams Construction projects this coming FY- Name today!

Winner to get a “Welcome to College Town” coffee cup with a purple bulldozer on it. Betting starts now, and ends in two weeks. Final results to be tallied on 30 September 2019. The rules are simple- the person who names what will be built (has to break ground by 30 September of next year) wins. Tie breaker is done by correct guess of “top three” (there are going to be over ten) of what will be destroyed/built in order of cost.

31789480_663161087352345_8710284755364478976_o

PTC bet, in order-

(1) New Art Museum.

(2) New Field House.

(3) The new dorm to replace soon to be demolished Garfield House (start of demolition = breaking ground).

Betting closes at 0815 on 30 May 2018.

 

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Faculty Political Diversity, 2

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 2.

Recall our previous discussions about which Williams professors might be considered to be on the non-left-wing side of the faculty as a whole. Of those candidates, here are the ones that appear in Langbert’s data:

  
  name       sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
                                      
1 Miller     M     Associate REDACTED   Mathematics    0.800 R             44.0
2 Paul       M     Professor REDACTED   Political      1.90  NP            50.0
3 McAllister M     Professor REDACTED   Political      2.20  NP            54.0
4 Kirby      M     Professor REDACTED   Psychology     1.90  NP            55.0
5 Marcus     M     Professor REDACTED   Political      0.400 D             75.0
6 Jackall    M     Professor NA         Sociology     NA     NR            NA  
7 Lewis      M     Professor NA         Art           NA     R             NA  
8 Strauch    M     Associate NA         Physics       NA     NR            NA  

UPDATE: See below.

Mathematics Professor Steve Miller is the only registered Republican on the Williams faculty. He is the “1” in the 132:1 ratio that Langbert reports.

Having only one Republican professor at Williams is about as bad as an alternate reality in which Williams had only one African-American professor. I am comfortable with people claiming that neither situation is a concern because Williams faculty teach in an unbiased fashion: you can’t tell from their lectures or their grading what their politics or race are. I am also comfortable with people claiming that both situations are a matter of great concern that the College should work to fix. I am uncomfortable with the current Williams view: We desperately need to increase racial diversity and we don’t need to worry about political diversity.

dcat asks what we should do. That is easy!

Williams could have the exact same set of policies about faculty political diversity as it has about faculty racial diversity. For example, Williams could keep track of (and report) on political diversity in the same way that it does racial diversity. It could insist that departments go out of their way to advertise positions in ways likely to come to the attention of politically diverse candidates. It could require (or strongly urge) departments — as it now does — to have at least one fly-out candidate who helps with political diversity. It could create positions for which the hiring pool is much more likely to be politically diverse. And so on.

This won’t make Williams 50/50 anytime soon, but it would quickly lead to a Williams with 10+ republican/libertarian/conservative faculty members, thereby (one hopes!) creating a very different political environment on campus.

UPDATE: I redacted birthdays by request. Although birthdays are public information (else how did Langbert find them), we like to stay on good terms with our faculty readers! Separately, Michael Lewis reports to EphBlog that he is a registered Republican in Williamstown. So, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the Williams faculty is 66:1. EphBlog gets results!

UPDATE II: Professor Miller writes:

I’ve held many political affiliations over the years, often due to what party’s primary I want to vote in. I was a registered Democrat in MA for awhile until the Affordable Care Act was passed. I view myself as a Conservative Libertarian.

Thanks for the clarification!

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Faculty Political Diversity, 1

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 1.

Langbert writes:

In this article I offer new evidence about something readers of Academic Questions already know: The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Key table:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 12.48.49 PM

Am I truly a right-wing nutjob for wanting Williams to have more than a single Republican faculty member? I hope not!

The data is very interesting, not least because it includes date of birth and distance (or residence) from Williams. Here are the youngest and oldest faculty:

   name      sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
                                      
 1 Friedman  F     Professor 1987-12-25 Language       0.900 D             30.0
 2 Heggeseth F     Assistant 1986-05-23 Mathematics    2.00  D             31.0
 3 Smalarz   F     Professor 1986-08-08 Psychology     0.400 D             31.0
 4 Simko     F     Assistant 1984-09-21 Sociology      0.900 D             33.0
 5 Leight    F     Assistant 1984-11-15 Economics      0.200 NP            33.0
 6 Phelan    M     Assistant 1984-12-10 Economics      0.400 NP            33.0
 7 Blackwood F     Assistant 1984-06-08 Mathematics    0.600 D             33.0
 8 Johnson   M     Professor 1937-05-22 Art           11.4   D             80.0
 9 Graver    F     Professor 1936-08-17 English        1.30  D             81.0
10 Beaver    M     Professor 1936-07-16 History        0.400 NP            81.0
11 Dew       M     Professor 1937-05-01 History        1.00  D             81.0

Immediately, we see some problems with the data. Friedman and Smalarz were not professors at such a young age. In fact, (Nicole) Friedman does not really belong in the data set at all because she was not tenure-track. I have reported these issues to Langbert. Overall, however, the data looks very good to me. Do other people see any problems?

Here are the professors that live furthest away:

  name     sex   rank      dob        field     distance registration   age
                                  
1 Pye      M     Professor 1953-09-06 English       47.0 D             64.0
2 Merrill  F     Professor 1963-12-02 History       58.3 D             54.0
3 Ephraim  F     Assistant 1978-12-03 Political     69.8 D             39.0
4 Campbell F     Assistant 1981-03-06 Music        132   NP            37.0
5 Limon    M     Professor 1951-08-29 English      159   D             66.0

Do John Limon and Corrina Cambell really live more than 100 miles away? I have my doubts. Also note that some other professors (e.g., Singham) who I think live in different states are shown as living near by. So, I am not sure I would trust the distance data that much.

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None of us are concerned with students being “brainwashed” — although never forget the saga of Jennifer Kling ’98. The issue is political diversity. If racial diversity is important for the faculty, then why isn’t political diversity?

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Remember the Tablecloth Colors

A Record op-ed from 12 years ago:

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

No kidding. EphBlog has made this prediction over and over and over again. The more control that Williams students have over life at Williams, the better. The more people (intelligent and well-meaning though they may be) that are hired by the College to “help,” the less active students will be.

The main rational used by CUL (Committee on Undergraduate Life) in establishing OCL 16 years ago — All the other schools have one so it must be a good idea! — was stupid then and it is stupid now.

Writer Ainsley O’Connell tells a depressing tale. Anyone who cares about student life at Williams must read the whole thing.

When I arrived on campus, director of campus life Doug Bazuin and his staff were a distant idea, not a reality. Barb and Gail administered activities on campus, helping students schedule events from their fishbowl office at the heart of Baxter Hall. Linda Brown administered room draw, her maternal warmth and firmness easing the process. Tom McEvoy (who has since departed) and Jean Thorndike provided big-picture support and served as liaisons between students and administrators. When students were moved to champion a new policy or party idea, Tom and Jean were willing to listen, and often to lend moral and financial support. The execution fell to students, but this sense of responsibility fostered greater ownership.

Great stuff. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to capture this sort of testimony, the thanks of current students to the staff members that have done so much.

But those with long memories will note what a mockery this makes of the CUL’s discussion in 2001 of the lack of staff devoted to student life. Indeed, if there is any table which demonstrates the dishonesty/incompetence of CUL during those years it is this description Staffing at Comparable Institutions. Click on the link. Let’s take a tour. (The line for Williams (all zeroes in bold) is at the bottom.)

First, note how the JA system magically disappears. The “50 junior advisors” for Bates are listed under “Student Staff” but, at Williams, they have vanished. Second, the CUL pretends that Dean Dave Johnson ’71 does not exist. The countless hours that he spent (and spends) working with the JAs and First Years don’t matter. Yet you can be sure that one of the “3 Assistant Deans” at Emerson does exactly what Johnson does at Williams, although probably not as well. Third, the CUL erases all the work and commitment of people like Linda Brown and Tom McEvoy, as evoked so nicely by O’Connell.

None of this is surprising, of course. Former President Morty Schapiro decided in 2000 that there were certain things about Williams that he was going to change. By and large, he (temporarily!) changed them. He and (former) Dean of the College Nancy Roseman and (former) CUL Chair Will Dudley implemented Neighborhood Housing, the biggest change at Williams this century. It was a total failure and has now, thankfully, been removed. Schapiro, Roseman and Dudley went on, despite this disastrous own goal, to college Presidencies at Northwestern, Dickinson and Washington and Lee, promotions which doubled (even tripled) their Williams salaries.

O’Connell goes on:

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new initiatives and throw events open to the campus. For many, extracurricular activities had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from campus life, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals. Take Williams Students Online, for example, or 91.9, the student radio station: Their success lies in their student leaders, who have been willing to commit their time to making sweeping changes that have transformed WSO and WCFM, respectively.

It may have been reasonable for O’Connell not to see, in 2003, how this would all work out, but she is naive in the extreme not to see now that this evolution was inevitable. How shall we explain it to her? Imagine a different paragraph.

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new publications and manage current ones. For many, writing for and editing student publications had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing everything down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from the Office of Campus Publications, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals.

In other words, why isn’t it a good idea for Williams to create an Office of Campus Publications [OCP], with a Director of Campus Publications and a staff of Campus Publication Coordinators? After all, as the meltdown of the GUL in 2001 (?) and the Record‘s occasional inability to pick a single editor-in-chief demonstrates, students sometimes need help. They often make mistakes. Who could deny that having someone to “help” and “support” the Record (and GUL and Mad Cow) wouldn’t make those publications better? No one. Perhaps OCP would even have prevented the demise of Rumor and Scattershot.

But would the experience of the students writing those publications be better with a bunch of (intelligent, well-meaning) paid employees of the College hovering over them? No. That should be obvious to O’Connell. Writing for and editing the Record those last 4 years probably taught her as much about life its own self as any aspect of her Williams education. If she had had a Doug Bazuin equivalent supervising her all this time, her experience would not have been as rich, her education not as meaningful.

As always, critics will claim that I am advocating that the College provide no help or support, that we abolish the Dean’s Office. No! Some support is good, just as some social engineering is desirable. But, on the margin, the contribution of the OCL is negative.

Vibrant means “long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail.” This is exactly why student institutions like WCFM, WSO and others (Trivia? Rugby? Current students should tell us more) are so vibrant. O’Connell acts as if you can have a vibrant organization or community without time and trouble, sweat and tears. In fact, you can’t.

O’Connell writes as if vibrancy appears from nowhere, that someone just sprinkles magic pixy dust on WSO and WCFM. No. Vibrancy, community, innovation and almost everything else worth having in this imperfect life require “unreasonably long hours” and “preparing everything down to the last detail.” You don’t think that Ephs like Evan Miller at WSO and Matt Piven at WCFM sweated the details? Think again.

Unfortunately, the Office of Campus Life and the Dean’s office, which oversees it, have not fostered this model. Instead, both offices have moved in the opposite direction, at times going so far as to render student involvement wholly superficial, as with the planning of this year’s Senior Week. The senior officers elected by the Class of 2006 do nothing more than choose tablecloth colors; it is assistant director of campus life Jess Gulley who runs the show. Hovering over student shoulders, the campus life staff of today is like a mother or father who wants to be your friend instead of your parent. The office should cast itself as an administrative support service, not the arbiter of cool.

Harsh! True? Current students should tell us. But note that this is not Gulley’s fault! I have no doubt that she is wonderful and hard-working, dedicated to making student life better. Each day, she wakes up and tries to figure out how to make this the best Senior Week ever. That is, after all, what the College is paying her to do. In that very act, of course, she decreases the scope of student control and involvement.

Back in the day, students handled almost all aspects of Senior Week. I still remember dancing the night away, in my dress whites, at Mount Hope Farm, the most beautiful Eph of all in my arms. No doubt this year’s seniors, 30 years younger than I, will have a fine time as well. Because of Gulley’s successor’s involvement, it may even be true that the events are better planned and organized. Yet everything that she does used to be done by students, hectically and less professionally, but still done by them.

The more that students do to run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

This is a revised version of a post from 2006.

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Charismatic Nerd Looks for Fun Times

From Professor Phoebe Cohen:

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Who will #meToo come for next?

If Cohen were seriously concerned about such behavior, shouldn’t she focus more on her Williams colleagues some (many?) of whom were seeking sex with their students in the not-so-distant past? Cohen, now tenured, is well-placed to call out such “super-sketchy behavior.” If she declines to do so, how seriously should we take her condemnation of Feynman?

UPDATE: BH’s comments remind me that not everyone follows this topic as closely as we do. From October:

At least three current students have reported to EphBlog that professors in a for-now-unnamed department warn current students they advise to either a) not take a course and/or b) distance themselves from one particular professor due to a number of sexual harassment complaints, including “coming onto” students during office hours and attempting to engage in other inappropriate behavior. Despite the complaints, which have come at least since the 2013-2014 academic year, this professor is still currently in the employment of the College and is teaching a class this semester. Notably, this professor only conducts class on a limited number of days a week when they are allowed on campus, a measure enacted since the 2014-2015 academic year in response to the complaints. At least for the last year, this professor has not held office hours for their classes.

Note that this post was not written by me.

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James Hitchcock ’15 in New York Times

James Hitchcock ’15, former president of Uncomfortable Learning, was mentioned in Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times.

So the same trends that have made California so uniformly liberal have also encouraged Trumpism elsewhere — and not only elsewhere, since as Jason Willick and James Hitchcock pointed out in 2016 in The American Interest, Trumpism-the-ideology is very much a made-in-California affair. Not many members of the right-wing intelligentsia backed Trump, but the writers and thinkers who did — from mainstream conservatives to the alt-right fringe — were heavily Californian: the Claremont Institute’s West Coast Straussians, Michael “Flight 93 Election” Anton, Mickey Kaus, Victor Davis Hanson, Ron Unz, Steve Sailer, Scott Adams, Curtis “Mencius Moldbug” Yarvin … and of course the one and only Peter Thiel.

In perhaps not unrelated news, Hitchcock is now working as a research assistant for Douthat and David Brooks.

Career advice for Hitchcock? Right a book about the Alt-Right, with a focus on immigration. As an Eph of the right, he is well-positioned to gain access to the movement. And, as part of the establishment, he could get a major publisher to take his project seriously.

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Needham ’04 Becomes Rubio’s Chief of Staff

From the New York Times:

As chief executive of the influential conservative think tank Heritage Action for America, Michael Needham waged years of unforgiving political warfare against the Republican Party establishment, deepening the divide between party leaders and grass-roots activists that helped elevate Donald J. Trump to the presidency.

Now Mr. Needham is leaving his job there to become chief of staff for one of the Republican establishment’s favorite sons, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Both are also quite young. Mr. Needham is 36 and Mr. Rubio is 46. And both believe that the Republican Party has not done enough to rethink its animating ideas and appeal to voters at a time when Mr. Trump remains woefully unpopular with younger Americans.

“Any fair-minded observer of the last several years would say conservatives have work to do in order to assure our principles remain relevant,” Mr. Needham said in an interview. “There was truth in candidate Trump’s declaration that this is the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party. Our challenge as conservatives is to build a movement that inspires a majority coalition of Americans.”

But beyond their shared views on the party’s need to have a better 20-year plan, the two have taken very distinct approaches to leadership. Mr. Needham has been a leading practitioner of the uncompromising, scorched-earth style of political combat that was a trademark of Tea Party-inspired politicians and activists. He frequently clashed with the Republican leadership in Congress and challenged it to drive a harder bargain on issues like defunding the Affordable Care Act, which led to a two-week government shutdown in 2013 that most Republicans came to see as ill advised.

Mr. Needham and Mr. Rubio have often had very different things to say about Mr. Trump. Given his anti-establishment sensibilities, Mr. Needham has largely lauded the president’s agenda of low taxes and a hard-line posture toward China. He has praised Mr. Trump for helping the Republican Party forge a stronger bond with Americans who feel socially and economically disconnected and who are eager to shine a light on the corruption and cronyism they believe is rampant in Washington.

Needham has also been an eloquent defender of the Trump position — or at least the Trump campaign rhetoric — on immigration. If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Rubio can lead the Republican Party to the promised land of serious immigration restrictions . . .

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Make Class/Professor Evaluations Available

Why doesn’t Williams have something like the Harvard Q Guide?

The Q evaluations provide important student feedback about courses and faculty. Many questions are multiple choice, though there’s room for comments as well. The more specific a student can be about an observation or opinion, the more helpful their response. Q data help students select courses and supplement Harvard’s Courses of Instruction, shopping period visits to classes and academic advising.

Faculty take these evaluations seriously – more than half logged on to view their students’ feedback last spring within a day of the results being posted. The Q strengthens teaching and learning, ultimately improving the courses offered at Harvard.

All true. The Q Guide works wonderfully, both providing students with more information as they select their courses and encouraging (some) teachers to take their undergraduate pedagogy more seriously. Consider STAT 104, the (rough) Harvard equivalent of STAT 201 at Williams. The Q Guide provides three main sources of information: students ratings of the class, student ratings of the professor and student comments:

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1) Williams has Factrak, a service which includes some student evaluations.
FT

See below the break for more images. Factrak is widely used and popular. Representative quote:

Factrack is super popular here — sigh is dead wrong. Any student serious about their classes spends some time on that site during registration periods. I’ve also found the advice on the website to be instructive. Of course, it takes some time to sort out who is giving levelheaded feedback and who is just bitter about getting a bad grade, but once you do there is frequently a bounty of information regarding a particular Prof’s teaching style.

2) Williams students fill out student course survey (SCS) forms, along with the associated blue sheets for comments. None of this information is made available to students.

3) Nothing prevents Williams, like Harvard, from distributing this information, either just internally (as Harvard does) or to the world art large. Reasonable modifications are possible. For example, Harvard allows faculty to decline to make the student comments public. (Such an option allows faculty to hide anything truly hurtful/unfair.) First year professors might be exempt. And so on. Why doesn’t Williams do this?

a) Williams is often highly insular. We don’t make improvement X because we have never done X, not because any committee weighed the costs/benefits of X.

b) Williams cares less about the student experience than you might think.

c) Williams does not think that students lack for information about courses/professors. A system like Harvard’s is necessary for a large university. It adds little/nothing to Williams.

d) Williams faculty are happy to judge students. They dislike being judged by students, much less having those judgments made public.

Assume you were a student interested in making this information available to the Williams community. Where would you start?

On a lighter note, EphBlog favorite Professor Nate Kornell notes:Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 2.35.50 PM

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Latest News on Marcus ’88 Nomination

Here are the latest news articles on the (stalled?) nomination of Ken Marcus ’88 to be the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education.

Kenneth Marcus, nominated for the head of the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, evaded questions about racially disparate school discipline in January. The Office for Civil Rights receives complaints about racially disparate student discipline. National data shows that that students of color are often disciplined far more often and more severely than their white peers.

Marcus said, “Senator, I believe disparities of that size are grounds for concern, but my experience says that one needs to approach each complaint and compliance review with an open mind and a sense of fairness to find what out what the answers are. I have seen what appeared to be inexcusable disparities that were the result of paperwork errors. They just got the numbers wrong.”

Marcus founded the Brandeis Center in 2011. In 2012, it filed an amicus brief opposing race conscious admissions in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case.

Should we be following this story more closely? If confirmed, Marcus would be the most senior Eph in the Trump Administration.

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Financial Aid and Socioeconomic Diversity

Financial aid at Williams, as at all elite schools, is three parts true generosity, two parts virtue-signaling, one part sharp-dealing, and a soupçon of farcical ignorance to flavor the stew. Previous posts include the 2016 five part series on a Provost Will Dudley ’89 presentation, a four part analysis of an excellent 2014 Record article, this 10 (!) part analysis of New York Times coverage of the broader issue of socioeconomic diversity, this 2009 discussion of financial aid data submitted to the US Senate, our five part analysis of Lindsay Taylor’s ’05 thesis on low income admissions, this 5 part series about Pell Grants, this 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project and lots more slapdash mockery about financial aid policy/politics.

TL;DR: You should no more trust the advice/information from Williams when it comes to financial aid than you should accept, without checking, the attestations of your local used-car dealer. Neither Williams officials, nor your car dealer, are bad people and all are under various legal obligations concerning fraud, but caveat emptor is the only reasonable attitude.

1) Start with advice for parents: If you think your kid will get accepted by an elite school, then a) Save zero money in her name, b) Do as much of your savings as possible in retirement accounts, c) Pay off your mortgage and, only after you have done all the above, d) Save money for college. Even if you are poor (or, at least, not rich) , Williams will take every dime that is in your child’s name. Plan accordingly.

2) “Financial need” is not a natural constant like the speed of light. Williams may think that you need $25,000 in aid. Middlebury might put the number at $10,000. Harvard might offer $40,000. All will claim to have met your “demonstrated need.” None are lying, per se. That they disagree about your “financial need” demonstrates that there is no such thing as an objective measure, used by all schools (despite what the colluders at the 568 Group would like you to believe).

3) Williams, like almost all elite schools, is not meaningfully more socio-economically diverse today than it was 10, 20 or even 50 years ago. More students get financial aid, but those same students — with the same family incomes — would not have required financial aid two decades ago because tuition was so much lower than. Consider how dominated we are by the wealthy:

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About 20% of the students at Williams have come from families in the top 1% of the income distribution for, approximately, forever. And that is OK! Lots of rich families have smart kids and the scions of wealth need to attend college somewhere. I just wish that Williams would stop preening about how much socio-economic diversity has changed when, in fact, it hasn’t.

But maybe things are different at the bottom?

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Maybe, if you squint, you can see change here. The percentage of students from families in the bottom 60% — many (most?) of them not “poor” by any reasonable definition — has increased from, say, 12% for the class of 2005 (the x-axis is birth years) to 20% for the class of 2013. But:

1) There was no change for the 5+ years before 2013. We were at 20% for the class of 2009.

2) There has been no change in the decade since. Recall Adam Falk’s report in 2016 that “almost 20%” of Williams students were “low income.” Naive readers will claim that Adam Falk can’t possibly define “low income” as students who come from the bottom 60% of the income distribution, but that is exactly what Williams does. Summary: 20% of the class of 2009 and 20% of the class of 2020 come from families in the bottom 60% of the income distribution. There has been no change for more than a decade, at least.

3) Some of this change was accomplished by down-weighting other aspects of socio-economic diversity. Morty loved bragging about how the class of 2012 was 21% was first-gen, meaning neither parent went to a four year college. But Williams cares less about that now and more about raw income, so first-gen has dropped to more like 16%. Given that more Williams students have parents who went to college — including fancy colleges like Harvard and Yale — now than it did a decade ago, is it really fair to say that Williams is more “socio-economically” diverse?

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Statement of Solidarity with Israel, 2

Last Tuesday, the Transnational Wall Demonstration was put up in Paresky lawn, and an accompanying email was sent out. The wall was meant to show solidarity between those of Palestinian and Mexican identity who struggle with walls and borders in their daily lives, and an accompanying talk was given.

In response to this, a student wrote and circulated a Statement of Solidarity with Israel, and the student gathered signatures and published his document in the Record. It gathered 65+ signatures, which can be viewed in the above link.

Day 2.

Discussion after the break.

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Statement of Solidarity with Israel, 1

Last Tuesday, the Transnational Wall Demonstration was put up in Paresky lawn, and an accompanying email was sent out. The wall was meant to show solidarity between those of Palestinian and Mexican identity who struggle with walls and borders in their daily lives, and an accompanying talk was given.

In response to this, a student wrote and circulated a Statement of Solidarity with Israel, and the student gathered signatures and published his document in the Record. It gathered 65+ signatures, which can be viewed in the above link.

Let’s take a few days to talk about the wall and this response.

Discussion after the break. Read more

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 3 of my 3-day reply.

I don’t know whether my students had SAT scores of 600, 700 or 800. I never had reason to look. I do know that, for myself and many of my colleagues, SHSS has reaffirmed our sense of why teaching matters.

Kane would do well to pause before prescribing further aggressive changes to admissions policies. I welcome him to sit in on any of my courses, and to see for himself whether those changes would damage or improve the college that we both love.

EphBlog loves nothing more than to educate the Williams faculty. If Rosenheim really can’t tell the difference between students who scored 600 or 800 on the verbal SAT, then he is fooling himself. Consider these three graduates from the class of 2017.

Ariel Chu, Highest Honors in English and Magna Cum Laude
Apurva Tandon, Highest Honors in English
Chelsea Rose Thomeer, English, Highest Honors and Magna Cum Laude

You can be (almost) certain that all three scored very highly on the verbal SAT because it is, for most practical purposes, impossible to do as well as Chu/Tandon/Thomeer have done without high verbal fluency, precisely what the SAT measures so well. If you don’t have that ability by 17 — if you score, say, 600 on the verbal SAT — there is little/nothing that Williams can do that will allow you to catch up with your classmates.

There were 62 English majors in the class of 2017. Imagine that the Williams English Department sat down and grouped them into quintiles, looking not just at their simple class ranks, but at their grades in English courses, the quality of their papers, the insight from their comments in class. The top quintile (top 12) would consist (almost?) solely of students with SAT verbals scores of 700+, perhaps even 750+. In the bottom quintile, we would have a similar over-representation of students with verbal scores below 700, even below 600.

Of course, none of these facts mean that Rosenheim or his colleagues should teach or grade any differently. When I grade a paper, I don’t care what a students SAT score was. (All the more so because I grade anonymously.) But, to the extent that Rosenheim doesn’t really understand the connection between SAT score and performance in his classes, I am happy to educate him.

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 2 of my 3-day reply.

For instance: I’ve taught Moby Dick a dozen times as part of a 300-level English course. For the last three years, I’ve also taught the book in the Summer Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) program. Without question, the SHSS classes have been better – in fact, they have been some of the most serious and electric courses that I’ve had the privilege to teach. My pre-frosh brought unusual guts and heart, as well as brains, to their work – at times challenging my assumptions, at others finding unexpected resonances between their personal histories and Melville’s. Their diversity of experience was a fundamental resource for what we learned.

What is wrong with the English Department? I am sure that Rosenheim’s SHSS classes are wonderful. Williams pre-frosh are smart and excited. But then he, and the rest of the English Department, takes those same students — and students chosen using the same procedure — and turn them into, what, exactly? Surly malcontents? Drunken layabouts? One purpose of studying English at Williams is to get better at understanding novels like Moby Dick, better at analysis, better at discussion, better at writing. How can 2 to 3 years of English classes at Williams create students who are worse at discussing great novels than a bunch of 18 year-olds are? Possibilities:

1) Rosenheim is blowing smoke. If an outside observer looked at videos of the two classes, she would rate the quality of class discussion as higher in the 300-level class.

2) Smart students don’t major in English. All the smartest students in SHSS, the ones who make Rosenheim’s class so wonderful, major in topics like math and philosophy. They never take 300-level English classes.

3) English majors are as smart as non-English majors (or at least as smart as SHSS students) but 2-3 years at Williams (or in the English Department?) have soured them on the academic enterprise more broadly, and/or on class discussion specifically. As juniors/seniors, they know more about analyzing novels than the SHSS students, but they decline to speak up in class.

4) The PC environment of Williams (or the English Department?) stifles class discussion. No one is comfortable saying what they really think, at least about controversial topics, and no one wants to offend a fellow Eph.

5) SHSS students are not afraid to speak openly, mainly because they are still innocent of the PC landmines and/or because their very lack of diversity — all are URM and/or low income — means that they don’t need to worry about PC niceties.

I don’t know which of these explanations, if any, is correct. What do readers think?

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 1 of my 3-day reply.

In his op-ed “What Does It Mean to be the Best?” (Sept. 20, 2017), David Kane ’88 is right to wonder about how to make the College the best that it can be. But his account of what we mean by “best,” and the changes he recommends to achieve that – such as reducing the pursuit of under-represented minority and low-income students – are based on a dangerously abstract notion of how learning actually takes place.

Shouldn’t English professors be better at reading comprehension? How can he plausibly claim that I am in favor of “reducing the pursuit of under-represented minority and low-income students?” I wrote:

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

I specifically urge Williams to spend more money and time on recruiting well-qualified under-represented minority and low-income students. I want more “pursuit,” not less. More effort. More money. More time.

How can Rosenheim misread me so blatantly? My suspicion is that anytime you say anything inconsistent with the current Williams godhead — Diversity Über Alles — the Eph bien pensants assume that you are the devil. Since my proposed changes in admission would lead to fewer African-American students, it is inconceivable to Rosenheim that I am in favor of increased efforts to recruit the high quality African-American students we currently lose to Harvard.

Other hypotheses for Rosenheim’s error?

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