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Faculty Meeting Next Week

Given that this material, sent out to 300+ people, is essentially public, the College ought to just publish it on the web page for the Dean of the Faculty.

Dear Colleagues:

We look forward to seeing you at the first faculty meeting of the semester on September 12 at 4:00 p.m. in Griffin 3. At the end of the meeting, there will be a small reception in Griffin to welcome the new faculty.

The agenda and related materials are attached to this email.

Best,

The Faculty Steering Committee & Maud Mandel, President of the College
Sara Dubow (Chair), Division II
Colin Adams, Division III
Michelle Apotsos, Division I
Matt Carter, Division III
Aparna Kapadia, Division II
Amanda Wilcox, Division I

Notice anything interesting in the pdf?

I enjoyed this whine:

1. Apparently (?) some faculty complained that the tuition grant is not as generous as they had assumed because other colleges discount financial aid awards accordingly. Questions:

a) What is the current tuition grant? I have a vague memory that it is half of Williams tuition. Or is it half of whatever the tuition charge is?

b) Is this grant just for faculty or for all staff? If it is for everyone, that it must be pretty expensive. If it is just faculty, then how does the College get away with such a benefit? (My understanding is that any organization needs to be very careful when it makes benefits non-uniform across employees.)

c) How does the College handle this for employees who send their kids to Williams? The right approach is to treat all students/families the same.

2) I like the explicit statement that the College reserves the right to change/end this absurd program. (And note how unfair it is to faculty who either don’t have children and/or don’t send their children to college.) We ought to end it now, at least for new hires.

The best way to predict the behavior of Williams is to imagine that it run by a cabal of clever insiders, intent on milking the institution for everything they can, financially and otherwise. Further evidence:

It is bad enough that the College offers any mortgage assistance at all. What are we running? A bank? Faculty should borrow money just like the rest of us! But notice the increasing levels of sleaze here. It used to be that the College would only subsidize your primary residence. Now, you can have one house wherever you like — and, of course, it is pathetic that the College has faculty who reside elsewhere — and then the College will subsidize a second home for you in Williamstown.

Perhaps the good news is that, when the next financial crisis hits, there will be plenty of fat to cut . . .

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#1 Comment By anonymous On September 6, 2018 @ 9:25 am

This makes my blood boil. Only in academia! Can you imagine such untaxed benefits for children of doctors or lawyers? To think that the children of the college president, provost, and even professors receive these benefits is disgusting. How is this not front page news? Could it be because academia is the third rail for liberal politicians?

I did not realize the college was subsidizing vacation homes for their employees. How can this be possible? The arrogance of this institution continues to amaze me. I just took out my list of “why I don’t donate to the alumni fund” and added another item.

#2 Comment By abl On September 6, 2018 @ 11:27 am

I don’t understand the outrage. If Williams faculties averaged, say, an extra $10,000/year (which is probably more than the aggregate value of these benefits over a career), I couldn’t see anyone here batting an eye — faculty are still, by and large, being relatively underpaid for their level of education and career success. (E.g., nobody gets a PhD in philosophy in the hopes of making it rich as a Williams professor.)

Williams offers benefits like this because most of its competitor schools offer benefits like this. Without knowing the details, it’s impossible to say, but on first glance these strike me as fairly standard benefits for an elite institution — if anything, on the restrained side. I know of one school that offers full tuition reimbursement (up to its [high] tuition levels) anywhere. If Williams didn’t offer benefits like this, it would either have to compensate its faculty more or it would lose out on the best faculty. I know for a fact that Williams is currently not a market leader on faculty compensation and has lost at least one recent offer for, in part, compensation reasons — and so I would be hesitant to suggest that the school should fall further behind. I don’t know enough about the relative cost of benefits vs salary, but I imagine that benefits like this pack more bang for the buck for the school — e.g., they are more desirable to incoming faculty than would be the money spent on them distributed via salary. To that end, this seems like a good thing, a way for Williams to spend less on faculty while getting more.

All in all, running a school like Williams is expensive. Faculty salaries would be one of the last places I would look in terms of cutting fat, though. The amount you’d save by cutting faculty salaries school-wide by 10% is probably equivalent to the amount you’d save by delaying a major (but only semi-necessary) building project by a year or two (DDF — you’re probably well-positioned to figure this out. Is this true?). Given Williams’ wealth, I’m not sure it needs to do either. My point is that there are a number of other ways to save money at Williams that would have a far lesser impact on its core mission than cutting faculty salaries or benefits (which, again, are already on the low side).

#3 Comment By anonymous On September 6, 2018 @ 1:11 pm

Abl:

I get your point. My beef is that this is an UNTAXED benefit.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on why that is not outrageous.

#4 Comment By abl On September 6, 2018 @ 1:53 pm

Yea, that’s a fair point.

I don’t know the tax policy behind this, but my guess is it’s related to the reason for why subsidized health insurance and lots of other similar benefits are untaxed: there is, generally, a strong public policy preference for employer-provided benefits (over benefits provided via the government). I think that this preference, in turn, is part historical artifact and part preference for free markets mixed with paternalism. Republicans like it because the alternative is to push people more towards government-provided services (like the ACA marketplace or single-payer healthcare). Democrats like it because it helps ensure that people get needed services like healthcare. To some extent, the ideological arguments don’t really matter — taxing these benefits now would amount, in effect, to a significant tax hike, and just about nobody likes those.

I’m not the biggest fan of these tax benefits because they tend to be very regressive–e.g., they benefit the wealthy much more than the impoverished. Nevertheless, there is a strong public policy argument for encouraging more employers to offer benefits of this nature: education is incredibly important and, as you know all too well, incredibly expensive. Employer-offered tuition assistance could fulfill a somewhat similar important role to employer-offered health insurance–regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, we can all agree that it’s bad for society for a substantial number of students to graduate with crushing debt. So even though I probably won’t be the person pushing this, there’s a strong argument for more employers offering tuition assistance benefits.

#5 Comment By Arch Stanton ’62 On September 6, 2018 @ 5:13 pm

Related to the topic of spending of resources by the College, I saw a remarkable item in today’s WSJ/THE college rankings. Williams is 23rd overall, right behind Amherst, but that was not the most surprising data point.

One of the factors in the rankings is academic spending per student. It contributes 11% to the overall ranking. Williams spends the most. By a lot. (n.b., I looked only at the top 100 schools in overall rankings). Williams reports that it spends $203,000 per student. The next school is Washington Univ., reporting $169,130. Rounding out the top 10 are:
Yale University -$117,990
Stanford University -$105,540
University of Chicago -$97,490
California Institute of Technology -$90,760
Duke University -$86,870
Columbia University -$84,750
Johns Hopkins University -$82,110
Massachusetts Institute of Technology -$71,530
The numbers drop off rapidly from there.

Here is the description of the methodology used for this factor:

By looking at the amount of money that each institution spends on teaching per student (11%), we can get a clear sense of whether it is well funded, with the money to provide a positive learning environment. This metric takes into account spending on both undergraduate and graduate programmes, which is consistent with the way that the relevant spend data is available in IPEDS. Schools are required by the Department of Education to report key statistics such as this to IPEDS, making it a comprehensive source for education data. The data on academic spending per institution are adjusted for regional price differences, using regional price parities data from the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Could this number possibly be correct, or is Williams calculating differently from everyone else? Williams can’t be spending $158,010 more per student than Amherst. The answer is probably somewhere in the IPEDS data. I looked briefly but did not find one.

Another interesting item in the data is Williams’ score on whether the school was the “right choice,” which is the student response to the question “If you could start over, would you still choose this college?” Williams is tied for 82nd among the overall top 100 schools on that measure. Williams is also ranked below 500 overall for “engagement,” also rather surprising.

If more people paid any attention to the WSJ/THE rankings, a cynic would suspect academic spend data was being inflated to offset poor numbers on other criteria.