“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 6.

Fred Rudolph: My impression is that the College has always had somebody who would get up and, referring to scholarship students, say, “This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was. Carter at one point said, “Williams College is not a resort for rich men’s sons.” But it was Carter who went out and persuaded Gov. Edwin Morgan of New York to give the money to build Morgan Hall (1882). Morgan Hall was the poshest college dormitory in the country. It was the first building at Williams with running water. And how did a student get a room in Morgan? He bid for it; the rooms went to the students with the most money. Soon after Morgan was built, Lasell Gymnasium went up across the street. There you have it. Two statements about what Williams was about. And soon thereafter the fraternities started scrapping their little hovels and began to erect significant buildings.

Interim President Bill Wagner was the most recent Williams administrator to “say, ‘This is not a rich man’s college.’ And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was.”

Recall my commentary on Wagner’s 2010 decision to change financial aid policy at Williams.

Assume that I am evil, that I seek to minimize the number of poor students at Williams and that I have mind-control over Bill Wagner and the Trustees. What would I do?

Keep in mind: 1) Unfortunately, I need to be sneaky! I just can’t fire Admissions Director Dick Nesbitt or order the Admissions to start favoring rich kids. 2) Any family that doesn’t make at least $200,000 per year and have substantial assets is, as far as I am concerned, “poor.” 3) I don’t mind poor students as long as they have a burning desire to be rich, to head to Wall Street or Silicon valley after graduation and make a fortune. 4) I have already laid the groundwork by endlessly complaining about financial constraints (and conveniently ignoring that Swarthmore and Amherst are holding steady to their stated policies).

Given these constraints, we can maximize the number of rich students at Williams in five easy steps:

First, I would end the no-loans policy. I can’t prevent Dick Nesbitt from admitting all those poor kids, but I can do my best to make poor kids go elsewhere. The best way to do that is to end the no-loans policy. What poor kid would ever choose Williams over Amherst/Swarthmore/Princeton/Davidson/Haverford and so on if doing so required an extra $10,000+ in loans? Few would, and none should! See our prior discussion. Only rich students will choose Williams over no-loans schools.

Second, I would end need-blind admissions for international students. I don’t mind non-US citizens as long as they are rich (or want to be rich). I just don’t want too many poor (or plan on staying poor) international students. Williams is for the rich of all countries. Although I can’t force Dick Nesbitt to actively discriminate against poor students, I can limit his budget enough that he has no choice but to do so.

Key in both ending no loan and need-blind is that it makes Williams much less desirable to both students coming from non-rich families and to students thinking of lower paying careers in teaching, social work and so on. And that is the point! I want those students to go to Swarthmore and Amherst instead. Rich students and future investment bankers won’t be deterred by loans or need-awareness admissions. If anything, they will be looking for elite schools that “provide a better fit” for them and students like them. These two policy changes both decrease applications from poor students and make it more likely that admitted poor students will go elsewhere.

Read the rest of that most excellent rant. If Williams wanted to maximize the number of rich students, it would have made exactly the set of financial aid changes that it did, in fact, make.

And, as Fred Rudolph points out, this is not the first time a Williams administrator has said ““This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed[ed] to do what he could to make sure that it was.

UPDATE: Has much changed in the last eight years? Not really. In anything, we have even more evidence that Williams is a rich man’s college! Recall:

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 9.57.33 AM

About 20% of each Williams class has come from super-rich families for, approximately, forever. I don’t see much evidence that Williams is much more economically diverse today than it was 100 years ago. Do you?

Do I actually believe that Bill Wagner (or Morty Schapior or Adam Falk or Maud Mandel or . . .) thinks this way? No! They truly want greater social economic diversity at Williams. Rudolph’s point about Carter — and the other Williams presidents of that era — was not that they were nasty plutocrats who hated the poor. The opposite was true! Rudolph’s point was that their actions were, by and large, indistinguishable from those of an evil genius who wanted to maintain Williams’s status as a “a rich man’s college.”

What are the odds the trends in the above graph will change during President Mandel’s tenure? Very, very low.

(And, to be clear, that is a good thing! I want Williams to be a rich man’s (and woman’s!) college. See our ten part discussion for background. I just get tired of watching people like Morty and Adam preen about how committed they are to socio-economic diversity when, in fact, they changed so little.)

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