Two years ago we were sure that the most important aspect of Maud’s presidency — the topic which historians would focus on 50 years from now — was her efforts to bring free speech (back) to Williams. How wrong we were! Maud’s decisions during the CV-19 pandemic will define her place in the history books. Let’s spend a week or two discussing her latest message.

The second biggest mistake is the decision to allow students to attend Williams remotely.

Our plan includes extraordinary public health measures for everyone’s protection, options for people who are unable to come to campus because of medical or other concerns, and a full curriculum of hybrid and remote courses.

The result of prioritizing health and safety is that the semester will be substantially different in many ways, which may feel restrictive to some. If you feel uncomfortable with the changes to the campus and academic program outlined in this letter, or prefer to wait for something more like a traditional semester—and there are many reasons why a person might want to do so—then you do have the option to take time off or remain off-campus and take your courses remotely.

Thanks to their work, however, students who opt to study remotely will still have full access to our courses, although not necessarily all sections. Indeed, a significant percentage of courses will be entirely remote even for students on campus, so that we can manage class sizes, ensure social distancing and meet the needs of faculty and staff who must remain off-campus for their own safety. It’s possible that a student living on campus could even have all of their courses be remote, depending on their choices.

Williams is a residential college. We have, for 200+ years, required students to be in residence to earn a degree. There is no good reason to change that now.

1) Just how many students would want to study remotely? My guess — contrary opinions welcome — is that the number is small. You don’t pay $75,000 $50,000 for Zoom. You pay to be on campus, with your friends, doing fun things and learning from one end of the proverbial Log. I feel bad for students who, for whatever reason, can’t come to campus. They should be allowed, obviously, to take a semester or two off, just as they would have been required to last year, if they or their family had been struck by some sort of tragedy. But the pandemic, whatever its other effects, is not enough to justify this change.

2) Even worse, however, then allowing students to attend remotely is the demand that faculty adjust (all?!!?) courses to make that possible. We discussed this last week.

“My strong preference all along has been to teach in-person,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe ’03 said. “But the insistence on hybridity for all courses has me resigned to teaching remotely.” He explained, “To have the College compound the extra health risk of in-person teaching with extra workload — and the hybridity requirements are a substantial amount of extra work for anyone who chooses to teach in person — is disappointing.”

“On an institutional level, I know there are lots of moving parts and conflicting interests, but it seems odd, given the dissatisfaction most students experienced with remote instruction, that we’d bring students back to campus and yet disincentivize faculty from teaching them in person.”

Exactly right. (And, once again, kudos to the Record for excellent reporting.)

Question: Is the College requiring that all classes be arranged so that a student who wants to can take them remotely? Or is it simply planning to arrange for enough remote classes to provide some choice to such students? These are very different policies!

It is impossible to turn a Williams seminar class into a remote-accessible class without putting it on Zoom. Commentary on this claim is welcome.

A well-run Williams seminar involves students speaking at least 50% of the time. (I aim for more like 90% in my seminar classes, but I am an extremist in all things.) There is no way to transmit those comments to someone in Hong Kong without putting a mike on every student and, less importantly, having a camera which would move from student-to-student just as you look at your classmates in a seminar. Williams is not set up to make that possible. With a lecture course, where the professor does 95% of the talking this works, because only the professor talks (and repeats any questions asked). In a seminar, it is impossible, unless you are on Zoom.

Surely, I am not the only one who sees this, right? Possible outcomes:

1) Most Williams seminars will just meet in person as usual, with no effort made to include remote students.

2) Williams seminars with no remote students will meet in person. Those with one or more remote students will be forced to meet on Zoom.

3) Williams has enough tech to set up all seminars with remote students so that they can meet in person and with remote participation. (Who remembers Mark Taylor and his Finnish experiments of a generation ago?)

Dark Thought: Maybe the Administration really wants to force faculty — for safety and infection control reasons — to offer essentially all classes via Zoom, but without making that goal explicit. By requiring all classes be remote-accessible, they achieve that goal without making such an unpopular policy an official requirement.

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