Currently browsing the archives for March 2019

Can’t Help Themselves

Evan Miller ’06 writes:

Every computer programmer ought to read Frankenstein. It is the story of Creation, with a capital C, and contains perhaps the best description of monomaniacal flow-state in the English language.

Frankenstein, as any decent pub-trivia player knows, is the name of the scientist, not the monster. Young Victor Frankenstein creates a horrible monster; the monster wants to know why he was born, and why so horribly. Reasonable questions, both. Can there ever be an answer?

Makers, of course, can’t help but to make things; ask a 10X engineer why they do what they do, and you won’t get a convincing reply. They get an idea and have to see it through, every night, until 4 or 5 in the morning. They just can’t help themselves.

Just like we bloggers!

Read the whole thing.

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Housing Rules 2019

Future historians may be interested in the housing rules for 2019. Here they are.

There are some good changes this year, but where is the visionary who will implement this genius plan?

There is a strong consensus within the Williams community about the main assumptions underlying housing policy: the importance of the freshmen entry/JA system, the success of co-op housing for seniors, the lack of funds for major new construction, and the desirability of both house community and diversity. Given those assumptions, the best housing policy would involve three major structures. First, a Student Housing Committee — modeled on the Junior Advisor Selection Committee — should run most aspects of the housing process. The more that students have responsibility for managing their own lives, the more they will learn from the process and the better the outcomes will be. Second, students should, as much as possible, live in houses with other members of their Williams class: sophomores in the Berkshire Quad; juniors in Greylock; seniors in row houses and co-ops. Third, non-senior rooming groups should be as large as possible and of fixed size, but subject to diversity constraints. For example, sophomore rooming groups would be any number less than 5 or exactly equal to 15, with restrictions on both gender balance and organization membership. Allowing students to group themselves has two main advantages: it creates genuine house community and it provides major incentives for large groups to “pick up” less popular students. The more that students sort themselves into houses and the more incentives they have for being both diverse and inclusive, the better the housing experience for everyone. The best first step would be to change the co-op process so that groups have to be large enough to fill a house.

Perhaps we should spend time going through the details?

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Live Your Thesis

Too few Ephs achieve the career dreams that Williams nurtured. Williamstown Town Manager (and EphBlog favorite) Jason Hoch ’95 is one of the lucky ones. Read his senior thesis, “Crisis on Main Street: understanding downtown decline and renewal through Exit, voice and loyalty.” Note the acknowledgement:

How many of us have followed so closely the dreams we first dreamt in Williamstown?

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CARE Now Documents

The CARE Now folks have, to their credit, been collecting and publicizing documents related to their grievances. Here are some of them:

1) Record Op-Ed on “Violent Structures”. Worth reviewing in detail?

2) A pamphlet (pdf) entitled “The Time Has Come for White Women to Move Beyond Lip Service: Toward an Anti-Racist Professional Ethics for White Women’s Studies Directors.” This does not seem to have a direct Williams connection, but is a great example of Steve Sailer’s point about the tensions inherent in any “coalition of the fringes.” I can think of more than a few white women on the Williams faculty — strong liberals all! — who will grow very tired, very quickly of their POC colleagues telling them to shut up and listen.

3) Pamphlet (pdf) associated with the march a few weeks ago.

4) The 2009 Faculty Stuff Initiative report (pdf) on “retention and recruitment of faculty and staff of color.” Worth reviewing in detail?

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K. C. Johnson on How to Fight BDS

I saw an excellent article in the Tablet today from one of my favorite former Williams professors, K.C. Johnson, on the successes enjoyed by those fighting against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. In particular, he applauds the presidents of Pitzer, Cornell and the University of Michigan for standing up to the BDS movement.

Nevertheless, Johnson thinks it is foolish to depend on college presidents to stamp out the BSD movement. Instead, he recommends more aggressive actions by faculty and students. Among faculty, he notes:

On the faculty side, after several minor academic organizations had adopted resolutions committing support to BDS, the American Historical Association seemed poised to follow suit. But the Alliance for Academic Freedom, an organization championed by high-profile professors such as Maryland’s Jeffrey Herf and David Greenberg of Rutgers, engaged the BDS advocates on a variety of grounds, and helped to persuade more moderate AHA members to decisively reject the BDS resolution. The 2016 vote blunted the momentum of BDS activists in targeting academic organizations.

Likewise, Johnson also sees great hope in encouraging students to show courage in combating the BDS movement on their own, potentially with the help of legal talent.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, San Francisco State University settled a lawsuit filed by two Jewish students who alleged religious discrimination in one of the nation’s most virulently anti-Israel campus environments. The university agreed to spend $200,000 on “educational efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel and Zionist viewpoints).” The school also released a statement reiterating “its commitment to equity and inclusion for all—including those who are Jewish,” and affirming “the values of free expression and diversity of viewpoints that are so critical on a university campus.

It is, of course, a great shame that K.C. Johnson saw his excellent research demeaned while he was a junior faculty member at Williams. According to a report he gave to an Ephblog correspondent, he bailed out rather than endure what looked like a fruitless, upcoming tenure battle. It warms my heart to see such a courageous fellow sticking it out in the academic world, promoting the freedom of speech standards which once made our elite institutions truly elite.

 

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Disintegrating, 4

A Senior Williams Professor and I will be debating the following resolution: Resolved: Williams is disintegrating. Each Monday, one of us will make an argument. One week later, the other will respond. We will debate until we grow bored with the exercise. Readers are welcome to chime in at any time. This week, I respond to Senior Professor’s second argument. (His words in blockquotes.)

President Mandel’s embrace of “diversity and inclusiveness” as her agenda for her presidency is, quite simply, sophomoric.

I am very sympathetic to the general point that Williams ought to spend much more time worrying about excellence and much less time working on diversity. But nonsense is nonsense, whatever the ideological predilections of its proponents. And this is nonsense.

What evidence is there that Mandel has made “diversity and inclusiveness” the “agenda” for her presidency? Here is her induction speech. Although she mentions items about diversity and inclusion, they do not occupy a central place in her speech, nor in any of her talks since assuming the presidency. Yes, she cares about these things, but there is no evidence that she cares about them more than, say, great teaching or superb extra-curriculars or any other item which might, plausibly, be part of the “agenda” of a Williams president. If anything, the evidence points the other way, suggesting that Maud’s main agenda, at least in 2019, is to fix the Falk/Derbyshire disaster.

And her ‘agenda’ is a tired repetition of the mantra of our past several presidents, beginning with Frank Oakley, our last intelligent dean of faculty, who in 1978 proposed a fantastic Great Books program, but who then abandoned that idea as he saw that he might become President, which indeed happened.

You think the focus on diversity began with Oakley? Hah! Diversity was just as much a focus under Chandler, even going back to Sawyer and the increase in black enrollment in the 60s.

By the way, Oakley’s new book, From the Cast-Iron Shore: In Lifelong Pursuit of Liberal Learning, is available. Worth discussing?

Beginning with the College’s bicentennial, we’ve heard constant paeans to the supposed goals of diversity and inclusiveness.

I sometimes worry that Senior Professor is revealing too much about when he came to Williams! Although diversity has been with us for 30 years, these efforts go back, at least, to the Hopkins Hall takeover of 1969. Has Williams been disintegrating for 50 years? What is taking so long?

And what the College has wrought are dreadful programs in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, African-American Studies, and Anti-American Studies, along with an assortment of other supposed ‘majors,’ all of which pander to the interests of various identity groups.

I agree that these programs are pernicious nonsense. Recall the wisdom of AF:

I think the value of identity studies should be actively questioned: I find it troubling that many students come to Williams only to major in themselves, as it were. In many of these departments there’s a emphasis on ideology and a paucity of facts — it is not unreasonable to say the only identity tradition that is critically studied is the Western one.

Exactly right. But the nonsense of identity studies is not our debate topic today.

Senior Professor finishes with:

I have little hope for the College’s future. I think that only when and if the College re-commits itself to intellectual excellence, first and foremost, shall it survive.

I will take the other side of that bet! The position of elite US colleges like Williams has never been stronger. They have a product to sell — and you can bet that “diversity” is part of what they are selling — and the demand for that product has never been better.

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Authenticity

From The Washington Post:

[T]hat hasn’t stopped senators and newly minted presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — youngish politicos trying to appeal to even younger voters — from recently wading into the murky waters of cultural commentary, with similarly mixed results.

“Folks running for president in the digital age are controlled by memes and discourse that takes place online — it’s faster,” explains VaNatta Ford, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Williams College in Massachusetts. “They’re really trying to engage with millennials and Gen Z, and in order to do that they have to be hip to what’s happening.”

That’s how Harris and Booker (among other politicians) ended up becoming part of the Jussie Smollett saga. Smollett alleged that on Jan. 29 he was beaten in Chicago by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Both senators described the attack in the very same way on social media: “a modern-day lynching.” Apparently a noose was involved. But there’s just one problem: Smollett’s case has been unraveling, according to Chicago police, who say the hoax was somehow tied to the actor’s salary on the Fox drama “Empire.”

Was this a misstep for the presidential aspirants? Ford says no, in part because this was more serious — and more political — territory than your average viral story. “To get out in front of it when it happened, that’s one thing politicians should be doing, calling out racism,” says Ford. “When it comes to standing up for the black LGBT community, being fast is never a bad thing. You can never go wrong with that.”

Never?

“They’re doing what politicians always do. The difference is they’re both black, and they’re both a little bit younger,” says Ford, who researches African American rhetorical traditions and hip-hop.

While it might appear that Booker and Harris are doing something new by appearing on “urban” radio and rapidly engaging with the news of the day on Twitter — much like social media and millennial superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — they are in fact following the same old playbook that has politicians eating ribs, sipping beer and heading to the county fair.

So there’s nothing wrong with the general idea of what Booker and Harris did — but the trick is to do it like a normal person and not someone’s imaginary hip best friend. Ford has some advice that every politician should heed. “One of the things they have to do a better job at is authenticity,” she says. Put another way: It’s best to leave the lingo to the millennials.

Nothing more authentic than EphBlog.

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Thesis Idea: Sports Teams’ GPAs

Looking for an interesting statistics thesis topic? Check out the NESCAC Winter All-Academic Team (pdf). This shows every Williams winter athlete (and their team) with a GPA above 3.5. Is this enough information to determine whether or not the wrestling team has a higher GPA than the mens basketball team? No. But it is a start. You need to figure out all the team members who were eligible for this list but were not, in fact, named. Then you need to make a bunch of assumptions about the overall distribution of grades. But there is enough info here to make a stab at the topic. And you could cross check with list of Latin honors at graduation.

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Factrak Comments for Professors Love and Green

Below the break are all the current Factrak comments for Professors Love and Green. They seem quite good, especially for Love. But perhaps I don’t have a sense of the average student comment . . .

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Legacy Admissions Play No Meaningful Role at Elite Colleges

legacy

tl;dr: Legacy status does not provide a meaningful advantage in admissions to elite colleges like Williams. People like Sam Altman and Arjun Narayan ’10 are wrong, either because of genuine ignorance or because of a (unconscious?) refusal to confront the major beneficiaries of admissions preferences: athletes and (non-Asian) racial minorities. (If Sam has complained about extra considerations that Stanford gives football players and African-Americans, I must have missed it.)

Hasn’t Arjun Narayan ’10 ever read EphBlog? We have been documenting these facts for over a decade. From 2008:

Morty [then Williams President Morton Schapiro] noted that a decade or so ago [or perhaps when he arrived?], the average legacy was a 3.3 on the 1-9 scale of academic ranks while the average non-legacy was 2.3. Morty did not seem to be a huge fan of this gap, or of giving legacies such a preference. He then noted that the latest statistics show that legacy and non-legacy are now equivalent (both at 2.3). Morty confirmed, consistent with all the analysis I have done, that being a legacy is not a meaningful advantage in getting into Williams.

Director of Communications Mary Dettloff kindly provided this update for 2017:

I had a conversation with Dick Nesbitt about this, and he says it has long been our policy not to release academic standing information for specific subgroups of students. That said, he also shared that for at least the last 20 years, the legacy students have had equal, if not marginally stronger, SAT scores and Academic Rating when compared to the rest of their classmates.

Case closed.[1]

More importantly, should we be surprised that students whose parents went to elite colleges are much more likely to win admissions to elite colleges themselves? No! Nature and nurture are passed down through the generations now, just as they always have been.

Consider professional baseball. From the New York Times:

baseball

A random US man has a 1-in-15,000 chance of playing in the MLB. The son of an MLB player has a 1-in-75 chance. In other words, your odds of playing in the MLB are 200 times higher of your father played. Given that fact, should we be surprised if your odds of coming to Williams are 200 times higher if your parent is an Eph?

The mechanisms in both cases are the same. Genetics play a major role. The specific genes — probably thousands of them — that help you to hit a curve ball are passed from father to son. The genes that aid in doing well in school and on standardized tests are passed on just as easily. Nurture matters. Baseball players probably provide their sons with a better than average environment in which to learn baseball. Ephs who become parents do the same. You should no more be surprised at the high numbers of legacies at elite colleges than at the high numbers of baseball children in the Majors.[2]

However, it is interesting to consider how legacy admissions have evolved in the last 30 years. In the 1980’s, it was tough for Williams to find 75 high quality legacies in drawing from Williams classes of the 1950s. First, the college was much smaller than, with fewer than half the current student population. Second, Williams was much less academically rigorous. (That is, there were plenty of not-very-smart students.)

In the 80’s, there were 500 academically accomplished students per class. Judging/guessing from what we see at reunions, the total number of children of a typical class is at least 500 and probably closer to 1,000. But only 75 or so find spots at Williams! Do the other 425 go to Stanford? Nope. And the same harsh mathematics apply to the children of other elite schools. Since smart people have smart children, the pool of legacies that the College has to choose from is very impressive. Williams does not need to lower standards at all to find 75 good ones.[3]

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[1] To be fair to Altman/Narayan, there are some subtle counter-arguments. First, if it is the case that legacies, as a group, differ from non-legacies on other dimensions besides academic rating, then it might not be fair to compare the two groups directly. Instead, we should compare legacies with non-legacies who “look” like legacies. For example, if legacies are more likely to be white and non-poor, then comparing them with non-legacies is makes no sense. Instead, we should compare them with similarly white/non-poor non-legacies.

EphBlog reader KSM writes:

What they don’t tell you is that whites and Asians lacking the legacy hook need to be a lot better than “equal, if not marginally stronger” than the school average. Without a legacy, a student applying to a selective LAC should aim for the 75th percentile, which I take to be approximately the bottom end of AR 1. In terms of the old SAT, this would be 770 on the Math (vs 708 Williams average) and 780 on Critical Reading (vs 720 averages). These 75th percentile scores are each about a half-standard deviation higher than the average scores. So, a half-standard deviation in academic ability is what legacy status buys you at Williams.

Hmm. This is not obviously implausible. I should spend more time on this topic and reader pointers are welcome.

But, first, just how “white” are legacies. Williams was just as Black 30 years ago as it is today and Black Ephs have children too. I would assume (contrary evidence welcome) that the white/black ratio in legacy admissions is similar to the white/black ratio in the general student body. Why wouldn’t it be? (The same argument does not apply, obviously, to Hispanic/Asian admissions.) Second, plenty of legacies are also athletes, at least some of whom are recruited. Indeed, so many Williams sports are really rich-northeastern-elite pastimes that it would hardly be surprising if legacies were over-represented in sports like crew and squash.

So, I agree with KSM that comparing legacies to the overall pool is not perfectly fair but nor it is fair to compare them only to non-athlete white/Asian applicants.

The second subtle counter-argument: it could be the case that legacies come in two flavors: over-qualified and under-qualified. The over-qualified ones are exceptional candidates who turn down Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford for Williams. The under-qualified ones receive substantial preferences in admissions. Combining the two groups creates an overall legacy group which is similar to non-legacies but which “masks” the substantial advantages given to under-qualified legacies.

[2] Of course, legacy students are much more likely to attend their parents’ alma mater than legacy baseball players are to play for the same team as their fathers. Exercise for the reader: Explore the industrial organization of elite colleges and major league baseball to explain this difference. Perhaps a better view is to consider all the legacy students as a whole, in the same way that the New York Times considers all the legacy baseball players. But this post is already long enough . . .

[3] sigh, an EphBlog regular, pointed out this study (pdf) on “The impact of legacy status on undergraduate admissions at elite colleges and universities.” The author (an Eph!) argues that legacy status matters a great (or at least did matter in the fall of 2007). I have now read (and taught!) this reasonable article, although I remain unconvinced, for reasons which will need to await for next year’s version of this post.

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(M)odest (P)roposal

Although former editor of the Williams Magazine (nee The Alumni Review) Tom Bleezarde will always be first in EphBlog’s heart, current editor Amy Lovett has done a fine job. Consider this series:

Summer 2018:

The Danger of Normalization

As a proud Williams alum who was shaped by the institution’s stated values (including a commitment to diversity, equity and sustainability), I was shocked to see the Williams platform used to elevate the Heritage Foundation in the spring 2018 issue (“Election Results”). I certainly commend the effort to spotlight a variety of political actors. The danger is ending the conversation there and normalizing the Heritage Foundation’s role in the political landscape without offering a transparent and balanced account of its values, goals and impact. Heritage is considered a “massive marketing machine” for right-wing ideology and is pushing conservative policy even further from the common good. It increasingly influences policy to the detriment of human rights, healthcare access and the environment. Is Williams proud to be affiliated with something so at odds with the intellectual ethos of our community?
—Gabriel Joffe ’11, Boston, Mass.

Fall 2018:

More on Normalization

A letter to the editor highlighting the dangers of “normalizing” the Heritage Foundation specifically—and the views of Republican Ephs like Michael Needham ’04 in general—is excellent (“Letters,” summer 2018). But the writer does not go nearly far enough. Consider this modest proposal: Williams Magazine should never mention any right-of-center views or organizations. Even better: Williams itself should no longer hire Republican/conservative/libertarian faculty, nor should we admit high school seniors like Needham, who show signs of opinions inconsistent with our “stated values.”
—David Kane ’88, Newton, Mass.

Spring 2019:

Even More on Normalization

I read David Kane’s ’88 commentary (“Letters,” fall 2018) four times, at first thinking it must be parody. But he seems deadly serious. What has Williams become? What kind of illiberal college has Williams become to spawn such comments by an ’88 graduate?
—Richard Eggers ’60, Longmont, Colo.

Is a parody which generates three re-readings a success or a failure? It is not for me to say. This problem might have been averted — or maybe not!? — if “modest proposal” were capitalized, as it was in the original submission. But perhaps it is a sign of Lovett’s skill that she removed the capitalization, all the better to force readers like Eggers to think more clearly . . .

Or maybe a “Modest Proposal” is better!

Question: What letter should Kane’s father, and Eggers’ contemporary, David H.T. Kane ’58 write in response? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

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Mens Basketball Review

From EphBlog favorite David Fehr:

So what happened…

…to our 30-win, NESCAC champion, NCAA Final Four team this year? Some people think that Bobby Casey, good as he is, is a shooting guard playing out of position at point. Ephs were a finesse team depending on shooting which, unfortunately, wasn’t always there. I keep remembering Dave Wilson’s decade-old observation “We’re too nice.” The pre-season hype was easy to understand. In 2017-18 we won the NESCAC championship without Kyle Scadlock who was our best all-around player when he went down for the season with a torn ACL. With Kyle back this year, joining a talented group of offensive players, add Feinberg, who I thought would bring needed grit to the starting lineup (which I think he did) and the sky seemed to be the limit. We opened 15-0 and were ranked second in the nation, fans were euphoric (though there were warning signs even then) but from that point through our loss in the NESCAC SF, Williams was just not all that good. Something was missing.

Amherst vs. Williams

The last 21 times these teams have met Williams has won 4. The last 38 times Williams has won 10. Complete embarrassing domination. I think the reasons include a different philosophy between the two schools regarding athletic admissions (different philosophy between Williams and the rest of NESCAC, in fact) but there are other factors here that are unlikely to change. In Amherst I, over there, we played magnificent interior defense, blocked what for Ephs was an unprecedented 10 shots, but Amherst went 11-23 from deep (many uncontested) and we missed a buzzer-beater which would have won it. We led by 11 with 11 to play. Amherst II, in Chandler during the “lost weekend” that ended the regular season, we were outrebounded by 11 and missed a ton of layups and other short “paint” shots (points in the paint: Amherst 42, Williams 32). We lost by 5. Amherst III, played at Hamilton in the NESCAC SF, Amherst again won by 5 “The three games could’ve gone either way!” Yeah, but they didn’t. Here Amherst won it at the foul line, going 22-23 (96%) to our 16-24 (67%). Mammoths won this with no contribution from their best big, Sellew, who played only 6 minutes and was scoreless. As a Williams fan with no official connection to the College, this one-sidedness upsets me; were I an alum (especially an alum who liked sports and was also a big donor) I’d probably try to do something about it.

Depth

The mantra this year was that Williams was a deep team. We weren’t. In fact, when Marc Taylor, our best bench player, went down for the season with a torn ACL, we became downright shallow. A team isn’t “deep” by playing 8 or 10 guys; it’s deep only if the guys off the bench contribute with points, rebounds, defense. That happened on occasion (it really happened against Whitman where our bench played 66 minutes and scored 26 with 17 rebounds but that was the exception) but more typical was Trinity II (52 minutes, 1 point, 6 rebounds); Amherst II (43 minutes, 2 points, 6 rebounds) while Mammoths bench scored 30; and the stinker with Middlebury (bench 58 minutes, 3 points). “But the subs play great defense.” No they don’t; watch them next time. Depth may be overrated; the games are short with many stoppages and these are 19 to 22 year olds. Two years ago Babson won a national championship with a six-man rotation, three of whom never came out of the game. Two of Christopher Newport’s best players went 36 and 39 minutes against Hamilton and 24 hours later played 38 and 37 against us.

Wrap-up

I’d like to keep going but this is too long already. Strength of schedule interests me – Williams had just one signature win this year, vs. Whitman in the Sweet 16. Of our other opponents, only Amherst, Middlebury and Hamilton were ranked in the d3hoops.com Top 25 (really the top 44 when you include “other teams receiving votes”) and we couldn’t beat any of them. I’d love to talk about how screwed up the NESCAC has both basketball programs, and how they could be fixed. I’d like to explore our great success in individual sports and lesser success in team sports (Jim Worrall can’t understand the difference between team and individual sports, but the rest of you can). Ditto women’s sports compared to men’s.

Looks like a total rebuild next year. It will be interesting to see how it goes.

A total rebuild is what EphBlog is heading for as well . . .

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Latest Art

Hung Tuesday on a pillar on the east side of Schapiro Hall facing south.

Who is pictured? Assata Shakur? Angela Davis? The slogan seems to be original.

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I Now Delete Comments

This comment has pushed me over the edge.

The investigation gives us clues on how constipated Johnny Drew has been. My suggestions?

1) Dulcolax
2) Miralax

After 16+ years with no (meaningful) comment moderation — other than preventing doxing — I will now be using a different approach, deleting whatever comments I don’t like for whatever reasons I determine, all in an effort of better facilitate conversations among Ephs of goodwill.

Don’t like it? Go elsewhere.

Authors of individual posts have always retained the right to delete comments from their own threads. That will continue. But I will become much more aggressive in deleting garbage any place I find it.

Feel free to point out such garbage if you like, but I will not be refereeing pointless disputes or getting into endless battles about exactly what should or should not be deleted. Indeed, I am highly likely to delete silly arguments along those lines.

Thanks (?) to “Nation” for awakening me from my dogmatic slumber.

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College Admission Bribery Scandal

From the Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Charge Dozens in College Admissions Cheating Scheme

From the New York Times: College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged

1) This is the biggest college admissions scandal of the last 20 years. Crazy stuff!

2) Alas (???), there is not (yet?) a Williams connection, unless someone can identify an Eph in this list of the (so far!) indicted.

3) I could spend a week or two parsing these articles and connecting them to various EphBlog themes. Worth it?

Full articles below the break:
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Show Them The Money

My co-bloggers here at EphBlog, along with other Ephs of goodwill, often take issue with my complaints about the College’s gifts to charity. As many times as I ask, I have trouble finding anyone who will specify where $250,000 should be cut from the College budget to fund worthwhile programs at Mt. Greylock High School.

But perhaps I should turn the question around. Assume that the College has decided to spend an additional $250,000 this year (or even every year) on attracting and retaining the best college teachers in the country. How would I spend this money, if not on gifts to the local schools and hospital along with realestate development?

Call me crazy, but I would . . . Give the money to the very best teachers at Williams!

Show them the money. Would that really be so hard? Establish “Ephraim Williams Awards for Teaching Excellence.” Five would be given out every year, each consisting of a cash prize of $50,000. Winners would be selected by a committee dominated by students. The only restriction might be that the same person can’t win two years in a row. Nothing would prevent truly exceptional teachers from being recognized several times each decade.

Of course, there is a lot that could be done with these awards. Perhaps one of the awards should be reserved for excellence in advising senior theses and/or individual projects — thus ensuring that not just the best lecturers win. Perhaps 2 of the five awards could be determined by former students — ideally committees centered around events like the 10th and 25th year reunions. This would nicely bias things toward professors who make a career at Williams, thereby giving folks like Gary Jacobsohn and Tim Cook a(nother) reason to stay.

If you want great teachers to come to and stay at Williams, then giving them special prizes is almost certainly the most cost effective way of doing so.

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Disintegrating, 3

A Senior Williams Professor and I will be debating the following resolution: Resolved: Williams is disintegrating. Each Monday, one of us will make an argument. One week later, the other will respond. We will debate until we grow bored with the exercise. Readers are welcome to chime in at any time. Senior Professors makes his second argument this week:

President Mandel’s embrace of “diversity and inclusiveness” as her agenda for her presidency is, quite simply, sophomoric. And her ‘agenda’ is a tired repetition of the mantra of our past several presidents, beginning with Frank Oakley, our last intelligent dean of faculty, who in 1978 proposed a fantastic Great Books program, but who then abandoned that idea as he saw that he might become President, which indeed happened. Beginning with the College’s bicentennial, we’ve heard constant paeans to the supposed goals of diversity and inclusiveness. And what the College has wrought are dreadful programs in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, African-American Studies, and Anti-American Studies, along with an assortment of other supposed ‘majors,’ all of which pander to the interests of various identity groups. I have little hope for the College’s future. I think that only when and if the College re-commits itself to intellectual excellence, first and foremost, shall it survive.

What do readers think? I will respond in two weeks.

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Mens Basketball Update

UPDATE: Williams loses.

UPDATE: Williams down by 5 with 14 minutes left.

Dave Fehr provides this analysis on mens basketball after their NCAA tournament 3rd round win last night.

The Ephs seem to have shaken their slump. After opening 15-0, they were mediocre thru the end of the regular season, including horrible losses to Bowdoin and Middlebury. After a lost weekend to end the regular season (home losses to Amherst and Hamilton), we got much better; played well in the NESCAC QF win over Trinity, lost to Amherst (of course) at Hamilton in the NESCAC SF, then hosted the first two NCAA games and destroyed two tiny teams by 26 and 34 points.

On to the Sweet 16 at Hamilton vs 1-loss, nationally second ranked Whitman. I was pretty confident going into this one (rare for me) because (1) Whitman plays a weak schedule, (2) I was unimpressed with them at the Final Four two years ago when they blew a 25-point lead and lost to Babson, but especially (3) because they were REALLY tiny: Williams starters had a 4-1/2 inch height advantage at every position. We knew Whitman pressed and stole the ball and ran like hell but I can’t remember a Williams team (or any team, for that matter) turning the ball over 29 times and still winning! Although our size did result in a slight rebounding advantage, where it really helped was in shooting: Whitman was just too small to contest our shots. The Ephs shot an astounding 67.4% from the field (75% in second half), 63.6% from the arc (71% 1st half) and went 19-24 from the line where we’ve struggled in recent weeks. Shoot like that and you can overcome 29 turnovers – though I don’t recommend it as an ongoing strategy. We built a 14 point lead with 11 minutes to play, almost lost it to their press, but hung on to win 84-81. Of note: Our bench, pretty quiet lately, played 66 minutes, scored 26 points and got 18 rebounds. VERY impressive.

How to beat Christopher Newport tonight? They are not tiny like our first three NCAA opponents, but we will still have a size advantage. Their starters go 5-10, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4, 6-7; ours 6-3, 6-5, 6-7, 6-8, 6-8. Their first three off the bench: 6-0, 6-3, 6-4; ours 6-5, 6-8 and 6-10. However, the Captains are an excellent rebounding team despite the fact they’re not huge. They outrebounded Hamilton by a whopping 19 and one kid, #31 Ellis, had 17 boards. Ephs are not a great rebounding team so we’ll have to fight to hold our own. CNU is not deep; 7-man rotation and last night their starters played 39, 39, 36, 35 and 28. So fatigue in the second game of a back-to-back? We’ll see. They have three stars: #3 Carter (16.5 & 7.1), Ellis (10.4 & 6.5) and #20 Aigner (15.6 & 4.2).

Can we beat them ? Yes. While it’s unrealistic to expect Ephs to shoot 67 and 64 percent again tonight, it’s also unrealistic to expect us to turn it over 29 times! We should not fall in love with the three: last night we took only 11 so did the majority of our scoring inside (42 points in the paint). That could continue tonight with our size advantage. It will help that the game’s on a neutral court, albeit a court we played on last night and also two weeks ago.

Our cold spell is over; four of our last five games we’ve been very hot. The Final Four would not surprise me (that’s not a prediction; I won’t predict wins, I said we COULD beat them). On a personal note: Williams has been to eight Final Fours and I’ve been to seven of them . The one I missed? 2003 when we won it all! Williams should do all it can to keep me away from Ft. Wayne next weekend.

With a win tonight, the Ephs would be headed to the Final Four next weekend in Indiana.

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Apply for the Coordinating Committee’s Working Groups!

An all-campus e-mail for students:

Greetings everyone,

As the student representatives on the Coordinating Committee, we invite you to participate in planning the future of Williams College! As you probably know, Maud commissioned a Strategic Planning Coordinating Committee, a body of individuals charged with creating a 10-year plan for the future of Williams. Students are an integral part of what makes Williams what it is, and engaging in a working group will provide you with an opportunity to create a lasting impact on the future of the college.

What you need to know:

What is strategic planning? What are the working groups?
Click here to find out on our website! Feel free to leave comments about the process.
How many people are on the working groups?
There will be 4-6 people in the groups, each comprised of students, faculty, and staff.
What work will I be doing?
The Coordinating Committee is in the process of drafting the main charges, or lists of questions that provides guidance, for each of the working groups. You will research and consult with different departments and individuals along with helping to articulate possible programs/plans for the future of the college.
Is it worth it?
YES! Since each working group is composed of a small amount of people, students who sit on a working group will have significant input on its area of focus. Your voice will be heard! Create the change you want to see on campus.
How much work is involved?
While it may be hard to give you a concrete answer to this question, expect to commit about 2 hours per week, which will be spent brainstorming in meetings, hosting feedback forums, and conducting research.
What can this committee do for me?
Not only does this look great on your resume, but engaging in this process will also give you the opportunity to identify issues you see on campus and effectively find ways to solve them. Your voice and ideas will be cemented into the future of the college.
When do you start?
While you will be officially selected this spring–and will likely meet your working group a few times–the majority of your work will be done next fall and spring (tapering off in late March).
*** How do I apply? ***
The application is on this google form, and the rubric that will be used to make the selections is attached to this email. Grant and I will review your application, and selections will be made during this spring. If you have any questions, please REACH OUT to Essence Perry (ekp1) or Grant Swonk (gns1) by email or facebook message. Applications are due March 13 by 5pm.

Best of luck with the rest of the semester,

Essence Perry ’22 and Grant Swonk ’21

EphBlog recommends that its student readers apply!

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Students Making Posters

Consider this tweet:

Hmmm.

1) Whose idea was this? My guess would be one of the more PC of the faculty in Economics. Sarah Jacobson? Tara Watson? Not that there is anything wrong with that! The more that faculty involve themselves with students, the better.

2) What would happen if a different race were substituted for “Black?” Hispanic would be fine, I suspect. But Asian? White? The mind reels.

3) Were students paid for this? I would not have any real objection if they were. The Department has a bunch of students who work for it, they need to spend their time on something. But the presentation of the tweet sure suggests that students were so excited about this topic that they are working based on pure enthusiasm . . .

4) If they weren’t paid, how were they recruited? Not to stereotype or anything, but my guess would be that most Williams economics majors are not overly interested in Black economists . . .

5) Might the Department have recruited students — perhaps mostly African-American students — to do this for free? Sure! There are some charismatic professors in the department. But, then, are they really acting in the best interests of those students? They would be much better off doing something more academic with their time, at least if they plan on graduate school. These cut-and-paste Wikipedia jobs could have been done by Mount Greylock students . . .

6) If these are “prominent scholars,” then everyone with a Ph.D. in economics is a “prominent scholar.” Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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The Parable of the Privilege Pill

This comment from abl leads to the Parable of the Privilege Pill.

Imagine a family with twin sons, just entering 9th grade. The boys are average, both in their natural abilities and in their academic inclinations. Son 1 goes through high school with average grades and average test scores. According to Williams Admissions, he has an Academic Rating of 9. If he applies, he is rejected, as are all AR 9s. Note that Williams is not punishing him for bad performance in high school. The purpose of admissions is neither to punish nor reward. Williams rejects Son 1 because AR 9 high school students, on average, do very poorly at elite colleges.

Imagine that Son 2, on the other hand, takes a magic Privilege Pill on the first day of 9th grade, a pill which dramatically increases his academic performance for four years. He will receive excellent grades in high school and do very well on the SAT. Williams Admissions will rate him an AR 1 and, probably, admit him if he applies.

Williams would not (and should not) admit Son 2 if it knew about the Privilege Pill. By assumption, the pill only lasts for four years. After that, Son 2 becomes identical to Son 1, an AR 9, highly unlikely to perform well in an elite classroom. Admission to Williams is not a reward for strong performance in high school; it is a forecast of academic success in college.

The same reasoning applies to the Anti-Privilege Pill. Imagine a different family with twin daughters blessed with academic talent. Daughter 1 does very well in high school, is rated AR 1 by Williams and (probably) admitted. Daughter 2, unfortunately, takes an Anti-Privilege Pill at the start of high school and does much worse in terms of grades/scores than she would have done if she had not taken the pill.

Williams would (and should) admit Daughter 2 if it knew about the Anti-Privilege Pill. Recall that the pill, by definition, only lasts 4 years. Daughter 2 is, in truth, an AR 1 student whose underlying abilities have been masked in high school. We expect her to do as well at Williams as Daughter 1. Rejection from Williams is not a punishment for poor performance in high school; it is a forecast of academic struggles in college.

Things are different, however, in the case of a Privilege Pill (or Anti-Privilege Pill) which is permanent in its effects rather than temporary.

Consider a car accident in 9th grade which, tragically, leaves Daughter 2 with permanent neurological damage. Through no fault of her own, she will do only average in high school and will be scored as an AR 9 by Williams admissions. She will be rejected because, on average, high school students with AR 9, regardless of how they came to have an AR 9, do poorly at elite colleges. Even though she would have been an AR 1 (like her twin sister) were it not for the car accident, that sad fact does not influence Williams admissions.

The same reasoning applies to a Privilege Pill whose effect is permanent. If the Pill turns an average 9th grader into an AR 1, then Williams should admit her because she will, we expect, do as well as all the other AR 1s. The source of student ability — genetics, parenting, schooling, luck, wealth, special tutoring, magic pills — does not matter. Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom.

With this framework, we can evaluate abl’s question:

If there are two students alike in every material respect (1450 SATs / 3.8 GPAs at the same school with comparable resumes), and you know that one student achieved her SAT scores after working with a private tutor with a long history of success stories while the other student did not have that opportunity — who would you accept?

The student without the tutor, obviously! In this scenario, the tutored-student has taken a Privilege Pill which, by assumption, is only temporary. She isn’t truly an AR 2. She would have scored 1300 without the tutor. She is really an AR 4 (or whatever). She is likely to do as well as other AR 4s at Williams. So, we should reject her (unless she is an AR 4 that we really want).

I honestly don’t see how any rational, clear-minded person can say that they aren’t going to accept the student who achieved her score on her own. That’s not because we are prejudiced against the student who got help: it’s that we don’t (or, at the very least, we shouldn’t) believe that her 1450 represents the same level of accomplishment and potential as the 1450 of the student who took the test cold.

Exactly how do you propose that Williams admissions determines “the student who achieved her score on her own?” While I am happy to answer your hypothetical question, the sad truth is that Williams has no (reasonable) way of determining which students achieved on their own and which did not. High quality SAT tutoring is available for free at Khan Academy, for example. How could you possibly know if a given applicant “took the test cold?” Answer: You can’t.

There strikes me as being a reasonable debate to be had about how and whether admissions officers should take these sorts of advantages into account in the admissions process. There is no reasonable debate to be had about whether or not privilege plays a role in student achievement as measured by SAT scores and by GPAs.

Perhaps. But the key question becomes: Are the advantages of privilege temporary or permanent? Does the Privilege Pill last through 4 years at Williams? If it does, then we can ignore it. Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom.

Fortunately, this is an empirical question! Define “privilege” however you like, while using data available to Williams Admissions. I would suggest: A privileged applicant is one who attends a high quality high school (top decile?), will not need financial aid at Williams, and comes from a family in which both parents attended an elite college. (Feel free to suggest a different definition.) We can then divide all AR 1 Williams students into two groups: privileged and non-privileged. If you are correct that privileged students benefit from things like high quality SAT tutoring which makes them look temporarily better than they actually are, we would expect the privileged AR 1 students to perform worse at Williams than the non-privileged AR 1s. The same would apply to privileged versus non-privileged AR 2s, AR 3s and so on. Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade could answer this question in an hour.

But don’t expect that analysis to be made public anytime soon. Courtney, and the people who do institutional research at Williams and places like it, are smart. They have already looked at this question. And the reason that they don’t publish the results is because of the not-very-welcome findings. Privileged AR 1s do at least as well at Williams as non-privileged AR 1s, and so on down the AR scale. The effects of the Privilege Pill are permanent. If anything, the results probably come out the other way because the AR scheme underestimates the benefit of going to a fancy high school like Andover or Stuyvesant. But let’s ignore that subtlety for now.

The last defense of the opponents of privilege is to focus on junior/senior year. Yes, the poor/URM AR 3s and 4s that Williams currently accepts don’t do as well as the AR 1s and 2s in their overall GPA. But that is precisely because of their lack of privilege, or so the argument goes. After a couple of years, Williams has helped them to catch up, has made up for their childhood difficulties and obstacles.

Alas, that hopeful story isn’t true either. AR 3s/4s do worse than AR 1s/2s even after two years of wonderful Williams.

Summary: Admissions to Williams is not a value judgment on the source, or justness, of student achievement in high school; it is a forecast of success in a Williams classroom. It does not matter why you are an AR 1: intelligent parents who value education, luck in your assignment to a charismatic 8th grade teacher, wealth used to pay for special tutoring, genetics, whatever. All that matters is that your status as an AR 1 provides an unbiased forecast of how you will do at Williams. The Parable of the Privilege Pill highlights why the source of academic ability is irrelevant.

If Williams wants better students — students who write better essays, solve more difficult math problems, complete more complex science experiments — it should admit better applicants.

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Vigilante George Zimmerman

A new display went up in Paresky yesterday.

Close ups:

1) I assume that this display has official permission from Williams, otherwise it would have already been taken down, as the big sign was last week. True? If so, how long will it be allowed to stay up for? A week? A month? Forever?

2) I don’t recall seeing other such prominent displays on Paresky. Does anyone? Will other groups be allowed to display in the same manner? I am sure that, say, Williams Catholic would love to put up pro-life posters of similar size.

3) How much are these efforts connected, if at all, to our two named controversies: Green/Love Black Joy and White Male Vigilantes? It could be that there is no connection that these posters, or ones like it, would have gone up even if Green/Love had never resigned and/or McPartland had never moved their memorial. But my sense is otherwise, that these posters are a direct response. Comments welcome!

4) What a pathetic summary of the Trayvon Martin case! If Martin was really “racially profiled and fatally shot by vigilante George Zimmerman,” then why didn’t Barak Obama’s Justice Department, run at the time by Eric Holder, charge Zimmerman? Were Obama and Holder proponents of white supremacy? I have my doubts!

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Disintegrating, 2

A Senior Williams Professor and I will be debating the following resolution: Resolved: Williams is disintegrating. Each Monday, one of us will make an argument. One week later, the other will respond. We will debate until we grow bored with the exercise. Readers are welcome to chime in at any time. Senior Professor went first. His words from last week are in quote blocks.

The College has abandoned its traditional standards for tenure for faculty.

Evidence? I have spoken with lots of Williams faculty and heard many complaints. I have never heard one claim that tenure standards are lower today than they were, at Williams, in the past. If anything, the consensus view is that tenure standards, especially for publications, are much higher now then they were in the 80s, much less the 50s.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, one in four of faculty members who stood for tenure received it. Note that a normal core of junior faculty hired consisted of 20 assistant professors. Half of these would wash out at the 3-year renewal mark, leaving 10 in the cohort who would apply for tenure in their sixth year. Only four of those who stood for tenure would receive it. This was the historical norm at Williams College.

I have heard similar numbers. Indeed, a (different!) senior professor suggested that this change was one of the two biggest in the last 30 years — the other being increased diversity among the students.

2. What is the current rate of tenure at Williams College? There is no longer a 3-year washout of faculty hired. Essentially anyone hired eventually stands for tenure six years after hire.

3. As best as one can tell, 98 percent of those faculty who stand for tenure receive it. In the few instances where faculty are denied, several are given tenure after appeals.

98% is a dramatic overestimate. The real number is much closer to 75%. See the detailed evidence provided by BN. Also note this comment:

Most top universities have tenure rates in the 70-90% range these days. Williams does not look to be at all unusual in that sense.

Correct. If a higher tenure rate is causing Williams to disintegrate, why don’t we see the same thing at Amherst and Harvard?

But none of that matters! It is possible to have lax standards and only tenure 10% (if the initial pool you hire from is week). It is possible — and is the case at Williams today — to have rigorous standards and tenure 75% if your initial pool is very strong.

But we are only going to make progress with specific examples. Consider Political Science in 2017-2018:

There are two associate professors: Justin Crowe and Ngonidzashe Munemo. Laura Ephraim just received tenure last year and is now an associate professor. Compare this listing to the halcyon days of higher standards in 1987-1988, thirty years ago:

Annoyingly, there were no associate professors that year. But Raymond Baker and Richard Krouse were associate professors just a few years earlier, while Tim Cook and Mike MacDonald would be tenured in the next few years. Let’s look at selected publications from Crowe, Ephraim, and Munemo:

Crowe:

Building the Judiciary: Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development (Princeton University Press, 2012).

“Westward Expansion, Preappointment Politics, and the Making of the Southern Slaveholding Supreme Court,” Studies in American Political Development 24:1 (April 2010): 90-120.

“Where Have You Gone, Sherman Minton? The Decline of the Short-Term Supreme Court Justice,” with Christopher F. Karpowitz, Perspectives on Politics 5:3 (September 2007): 425-445.

“The Forging of Judicial Autonomy: Political Entrepreneurship and the Reforms of William Howard Taft,” Journal of Politics 69:1 (February 2007): 73-87.
Political Science

Ephraim:

Archer, Crina & Ephraim, Laura & Maxwell, Lida. Second Nature: Rethinking the Natural through Politics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.

Who Speaks for Nature?: On the Politics of Science, by Laura Ephraim, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Munemo

Munemo, Ngonidzashe. Domestic Politics and Drought Relief in Africa : Explaining Choices. First Forum Press, 2012.

How Will Climate Change Transform Governance and Regional Security in Southern Africa?” in Daniel Moran ed. Climate Change and National Security: A Country Level Analysis. (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011)

“Social Protection in Post-Crisis Zimbabwe: Challenges and Priorities for Reform,” in Dr. Admos Chimhowu ed. Moving Forward in Zimbabwe – Reducing Poverty and Promoting Growth. (Manchester, U.K.: Brooks World Poverty Institute, The University of Manchester 2009)

Munemo N. (2008) Political Incumbency and Drought Relief in Africa. In: Barrientos A., Hulme D. (eds) Social Protection for the Poor and Poorest. Palgrave Studies in Development. Palgrave Macmillan, London

We can quibble about these CVs. And note that I have not listed everything. But are they any less impressive than the CVs of the junior political science professors like Baker, Krouse, MacDonald and Cook at Williams 30 years ago? No!

I am happy to dive into the details for any department that Senior Professor prefers. A careful examination will show that the publication records of those tenured at Williams today are every bit as good as those tenured in the 1980s, much less then 1950s. To the extent that anything is “disintegrating” at Williams, we don’t see it in faculty research quality.

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Great Young People and Old People

From CNN:

President Donald Trump vowed Saturday to sign an executive order requiring colleges and universities to “support free speech” in order to be eligible for federal research dollars.
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak,” Trump said in part of his two-hour long speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The President did not offer any more details on the order.

1) This seems to be one of the few topics on which Trump agrees with former President Obama. And with EphBlog!

2) Will there be an executive order? I have my doubts. Recall that Trump promised an executive order about birthright citizenship. Nothing happened. Will this promise turn out differently?

3) Biggest secret fan of this proposal? Maud Mandel! Think about it. An executive order would provide Mandel with the perfect cover to do what she wants to do anyway. No muss, no fuss. Any faculty/student complaints can be met with: “The Feds made us do it!”

4) If Trump wants to succeed on this topic, he should involve Ken Marcus ’88, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education.

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That Nigga Look Just Like Me

Hung on Paresky yesterday:

Our source notes: “Money for this came from somewhere. Who is funding this stuff?” Good question! The Record should find out.

Another view:

Could someone explain the messaging? I know that the line is from “Nikes” by rapper Frank Ocean. Lyrics:

These bitches want Nikes
They looking for a check
Tell ’em it ain’t likely
Said she need a ring like Carmelo
It must be on that white like Othello
All you want is Nikes
But the real ones just like you, just like me
I don’t play, I don’t make time
But if you need dick I got you
And I yam from the line
Pour up for A$AP, R.I.P. Pimp C
RIP Trayvon, that nigga look just like me

But why that line from these lyrics at Williams in 2019? Is what happened to Professors Green and Love akin to what happened to Trayvon Martin? Does that mean that Maud Mandel is George Zimmerman?

I am honestly curious about the meaning. Any ideas?

Or is this a sign that Professor Neil Roberts is more involved in the protests than I would have expected. Background from 2012:

Neil Roberts, assistant professor of Africana studies and faculty affiliate in political science at Williams College, has guest edited a symposium in the journal Theory & Event, published in September by The Johns Hopkins University Press.

The symposium features eight essays on what Roberts calls the Trayvon Martin event. “An event,” Roberts explains, “differs from a tragedy. A tragedy entails a plot, set of actions, and conclusion, often foreclosed and backward-looking. An event is an occurrence mutually reinforced by past actions and future outlooks, conversations, and prognostications on what we must do to decipher its meaning in its wake. The shooting of 17-year-old Martin is no different.”

One of the essays was:

“Stuff White White People Know (or: What We Talk About When We Talk About Trayvon)” by Mark Reinhardt, Williams College Class of 1956 Professor of American Civilization.

“My core assumption in the paper,” says Reinhardt, “is that white supremacy continues to be a fundamental political fact in the U.S., albeit one whose form has mutated in such a way that most white people deny, and probably do not believe, that it continues.”

Is Maud Mandel one of these white people? Just asking! Or perhaps IQ-realist Nate Kornell is
involved? (Probably not.) Professor Green also has views on Trayvon Martin. And here is a cartoon from Chan Lowe ’75.

ABC reporter Matt Gutman ’00 won an award for coverage of the Martin shooting. Claudine Rankin ’86 wrote Citizen: An American Lyric, a book with some connections to the case which are difficult to summarize.

Are there other Eph connections?

Anyway, later yesterday, College employees “temporarily removed” banner and post these signs:

What advice do you have for the protestors and/or for President Mandel?

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