“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 2.

Fred Rudolph: Garfield had high academic standards and was a creative educator. He wanted students to devote their lives to public service and good citizenship. But he also had no trouble with the role of Williams as an instrument of the upper class. Dennett was upset about that. He had no problem with upper-class kids. He just wanted a better mix. And with the Latin admission requirement you could not get a mix. Still, it’s interesting that although Dennett wanted to do something about nice boys, he refused federal scholarship money—money intended for poor kids. In addition, he told his admission officer not to accept blacks and Jews. Why? Because they were not treated fairly here. There was no synagogue for the Jewish students, and black students were treated as second-class citizens. Ironically, it was sensitivity to the life of being Jewish or black in a fraternity-oriented college that led him to take a position that defeated his effort to increase student variety. Stopping the admission of Jewish and black applicants was a dramatic step. Since the late nineteenth century the small but steady stream of black and Jewish students who came to Williams supplied a disproportionate number of academic stars and distinguished alumni.

What Dennett was essentially saying was that there were too many nice white boys, and he wanted some white boys that weren’t so nice. Charlie Keller said that the “nice boys” speech was a great boon to the admission operation, because there were people who wanted to come to Williams because it was doing something about the “nice boys” problem but also people who wanted to come to Williams because it had lots of nice boys.

There are at least three great senior theses waiting to be written about these topics:

1) A history of Williams admissions. Karabel’s The Chosen is a magisterial description of admissions to Harvard, Yale and Princeton over the last 100 years. Write the same for Williams, and scores of people will read your thesis. (I used The Chosen in these posts: here and here. Highly recommended for new readers.)

2) A history of Jews at Williams. Not written when this was first posted in 2010, now completed: Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft. See here for the start of EphBlog’s 13 part review, and we are only 1/3rd of the way done!

3) A history of African-Americans at Williams. Start with Black Williams.

75 years ago, Williams restricted the number of Black and Jewish students. Today, we restrict the number of international students. Isn’t it obvious that, a few decades from now, history will judge President Mandel — assuming she does not change the policy — in the same way that we (harshly) judge President Dennett?

The solution is simple: Williams should no more distinguish between applicants on the basis of their passports then it does on the basis of their religion. If applicant X (with Mexican citizenship) is stronger then applicant Y (with US citizenship), we ought to admit applicant X.

The best way for Mandel to get from here to there is to steal a page from Morty’s playbook when he significantly decreased the importance of athletics on admissions: Form a committee! Put together a group of 6 faculty — and choose them wisely! — to gather data and evidence about international admissions, to compare Williams with its peers, to seek the opinions of current students and alumni. Because on most important issues (!), the Williams faculty agrees with me, I have no doubt that such a committee would recommend that Williams significantly decrease the penalty placed on international applicants, just as the Williams of President Phinney Baxter ’14 significant decreased the penalty placed on Jewish applicants.

In the short term, Williams should have the same percentage of international students as, say, Brown: 11%. In the longer term, we should accept a class with the most academically talented and ambitious students from around the world. (Students must speak English fluently. Williams should pay enough attention to ability-to-pay to keep the college financially healthy.) The more international students that Williams accepts now, the more successful we will be 50 years in the future.

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