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Allen ’62 on Log Mural

From the Record:

To the Editor:

President Falk has committed a serious error by censoring a painting in the Log and convening a tribunal to judge the moral value of art objects on the campus. The committee members will be serving on the College’s edition of the old House Un-American Activities Committee. Around the United States, terrified college presidents are running for their lives to stay ahead of intellectual lynch mobs. The Falk effort is an attempt at preemptive escape from the fire of the new righteous.

Paintings and sculpture will always displease, alienate or offend someone. There is no object of art that can’t be attacked for whatever reason. The right to criticize objects exists for all. Also, the right of groups to have representation through the placement of art on the campus is reasonable.

All of that vastly differs from the act of boarding up a painting and appointing a committee to destroy the past. That practice when done by communists, fascists or the Taliban leads to endless destruction and thought suppression, and, ultimately, backfires.

My suggestion is that President Falk disband his committee on moral appropriateness and focus on broader representation of groups who feel underrepresented. Raise some money for new artworks and be done with running from the mob.

Herbert A. Allen ’62

The College would love to “raise some money” from Herb Allen, one of the most generous alums of the last 50 years. John Malcolm ’87, call your office!

If you were Malcolm, how would you start a conversation with Allen about this topic, given that you lack the power to make the committee go away?

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The Mural Stays

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Adam Falk has decided to keep the log mural.

Last semester, I convened a committee to consider historical representations on campus, chaired by Professor of History Karen Merrill. I asked the group to bring recommendations about what principles should guide us as we think about portrayals of our history and, more specifically, what, if anything, should be done about particular pieces that may be of concern.

As you all know, the first task undertaken by the committee has been to consider the mural in the Black Room of the Log that I had temporarily covered back in the fall. I’m pleased to write now with the news that I am accepting the recommendations of the committee, which were shared with me at the end of last week and are available in full on the committee’s website. Those recommendations call for the mural to remain in place at the Log, accompanied by a caption describing the historical event depicted in the mural. The committee also recommended adding contextual information in the Black Room about the campus conversation that has taken place this year about the mural and related issues and questions. Working with its members and others on campus with relevant expertise, the committee will be responsible for producing the caption and contextual content, and we expect that content to be in place in the Log by the end of the summer.

Kudos to Falk, Merrill and the rest of the committee. The decision — and the process which led to it — is an example of Williams at its best.

There are lots of details to work through. Should we spend a week on it?

Entire e-mail below the break.
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Log Painting

From Adam Falk:

To the Williams Community,

Built over a period of more than two centuries, the Williams campus is a collection of structures old and new. We are fortunate to have been bequeathed such a remarkably diverse set of facilities, and in our commitment to sustainability we renovate and reuse old buildings as often as we reasonably can.

The students are diverse . . . the faculty is diverse . . . even the buildings are diverse! Diversity is every modern college’s godhead. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

But it is also true that as many campus buildings were constructed in eras quite different from our own, at times they were decorated in ways that seem problematic in a modern context. The same is true of some of the monuments that are found on our campus. How do such forms of decoration, conceived in an earlier time, affect our capacity to be a fully inclusive community in this century? And what should be done about historical images that portray Williams as less welcoming than we are or aspire to be?

Why raise this topic now? Why send out this e-mail? Perplexing. I have seen zero discussion on campus about “problematic” monuments. Has anyone else?

The most famous example that I can think of is/was the swastika on the side of Weston.

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Previous discussion here and here. I had heard that this had been sandblasted away last year. True? Who made that decisions and why did they make it?

Back to Falk:

I would like our community to consider these questions—which go beyond any one object—in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. With that purpose in mind, I’m assembling a special committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to bring forward recommendations of a nature both general (what principles should guide us?) and specific (what should we do about a particular piece that’s of concern?).

EphBlog is here to help! What is a list of problematic objects/monuments/images that the committee should consider? Needless to say, a lot of the books in the library will need to go . . .

My thanks go to Karen Merrill, chair of the history department and former dean of the college, who will lead the committee. Additional members will include:

Joe Cruz ’91, professor of philosophy
Katarzyna Pieprzak, professor and chair of Romance languages
David L. Smith, professor of English
Keli Gail, secretary of the college
Ferentz Lafargue, director of the Davis Center
Kevin Murphy, curator of American art, WCMA
Rick Spalding, chaplain to the college
Leila Jere ’91, president of the Society of Alumni

Smart presidents know the answer that they want ahead of time and select the committee accordingly. What answer does Falk want?

The committee will also include three students, whom I will name in consultation with College Council and the Minority Coalition. The committee will begin its work in the new calendar year, at which time it will outline the process for engaging the wider community about these questions.

This was a stupid decision when Falk made it, as later events proved clear. (Discussion coming tomorrow.) Why privilege the Minority Coalition? They don’t have a reputation for sober discussion and reasonable decision-making. Much better is to, ahead of time, pick students for the committee. Needless to say, the three would be racial diverse, with at least one African American member. But Falk hardly needs Min Co to accomplish that. Any member of the committee would be happy to suggest a dozen names, all of whom would be honored to be asked.

Finally, I should note that one item is of particular concern, a mural in the Black Room of the recently renovated Log depicting Mohawk Chief Hendrick, Ephraim Williams, and others before a battle. Because the mural portrays the Mohawks in a way that is potentially problematic, I have instructed that it be temporarily covered while the committee considers the larger questions with which it is charged. I expect that in the course of its work the committee will issue a recommendation regarding this particular mural. Covering it now is not intended to be a prejudgment—of any kind—of the committee’s eventual recommendation, which we anticipate in due course.

Is this the painting that Falk is talking about?

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If so, what is the problem? And, if this painting can’t be hung at The Log, then there must be a score of paintings at The Clark that will have to go . . .

I’m grateful to the committee members for undertaking this important task. We begin this work out of genuine care and concern both for the Williams we inherited and the Williams we continue to create together.

Sincerely,
Adam Falk
President

If I were Falk, I would focus the College’s energy elsewhere.

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Anchor Housing and Intramurals

Any fan of Williams intramurals (IM) should be worried about the effect of anchor housing on this hallowed tradition. In fact, I predict that the institution of anchor housing will lead, almost inevitably, to an intramural scene at Williams that is much less popular and inclusive than the current one, and even worse than what IM sports could be with only some minor improvements. Yet only screed-lovers should read further.

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Intramurals

Just because some of the CUL report is bad does not mean that all of it is.

greater enthusiasm for intramural sports (with teams representing houses rather than, as is typical under the free agent system, representing varsity sports teams that are “out of season”);

Intramural sports are a good thing. Some of my fondest Williams memories are playing intramural soccer. We have discussed intramurals here and here.

The CUL is correct to recognize the importance of intramurals and the problems with having teams form themselves. Assuming that people will sign up anyway (and they always have), it is better to have the organizers form the teams as they see fit, thereby both ensuring balance (better games for everyone) and promoting a nice set of cross cutting cleavages.

If only the CUL would focus on small, realistic improvements to student life — improvements that actually have the support of most students — it could do a lot of good. Alas, it has chosen to spend its time this year otherwise.

Moreover, to even discuss the intramurals in the context of cluster housing is to fail to come to grips with the fact that there will be only five clusters. Five teams do not an IM soccer league make. Maybe anchor housing will prove to be wildly successful in practice, but that success will have no connection to intramural sports.

Note also that the current structure of intramurals has nothing to do with free agency. (The CUL’s favorite rhetorical trick in the report is to imply that anything undesirable about campus life is caused by the current housing system.) Back in the affiliation era, intramural soccer was one of the most effect institutions on campus for developing cross cutting cleavages (you met 15 people who lived all over campus, most of whom you didn’t know before and) precisely because it did not allow groups to form their own teams.

So, why doesn’t Doug Bazuin, as director of campus life, take over intramurals? (It is not clear to me who he would be taking it over from.) Instead of seeing posts like this and this, it would be great to see a notice that invited anyone and everyone to sign up for a given intramural sport (and which also recruited people interested in being captains).

And this should probably occur even if anchor housing is implemented. After all, there will still be a need for intramural soccer (with many teams and many players) even in a world in which the best players out of the Hufflepuff and Gryfindor clusters play each other before hundreds of cheering fans . . .

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Top Presidential Contenders

Who are the top (early!) contenders for the next Williams president? Keep in mind that Williams, unusually for a top elite liberal arts college, has never had a female president.1 Most Williams faculty members I talk to think there is a less than 10% chance that a white male will be selected. Top contenders include:

denise-photo-headWilliams professor Denise Buell: She is the current Dean of the Faculty, the traditional stepping stone for internal candidates. Both Frank Oakley and John Chandler were Deans of the Faculty before becoming Williams presidents. An (anonymous!) faculty member told me she is “insanely ambitious.” Having been Dean of the Faculty for many years, she has had numerous opportunities to interact with members of the search committee. If she were not interested in the job, she probably would have been named the interim president, a role often bestowed on Deans of the Faculty, as with Bill Wagner last time. She is about 52, which might be a tad old nowadays, but still well within the range.

Raymond, Wendy_2013_1(0)Former Williams professor Wendy Raymond: She is currently the Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty at Davidson. Her son is out of high school and her husband, David Backus, is a former lecturer in geosciences at Williams. I suspect that she moved to Davidson because she was eager to climb the academic ladder and Davidson provided the best opportunity. At 57 she is, like Buell, a bit older than the target age. She has both fans and detractors among the current faculty. She was a champion of diversity issues while at Williams so, if the committee is interested in this topic, she will certainly get an interview.

spencerFormer Williams trustee Clayton Spencer ’77: She has been the president of Bates since 2012. At age 62, she would be the oldest (new) Williams president in decades. She has done well at Bates and would not be viewed as a bad person if she were to leave after just 6 years. Might Williams try to grab her for a 4 to 5 year term, long enough to allow Provost Dukes Love to gain the experience he needs? Perhaps. Recall that Spencer was on the search committee that selected Falk. Another member of that committee was current search committee heard Mike Eisenson ’77. It is certainly interesting that Spencer and Eisenson are both members of the class of 1977.

cappyFormer Provost Cappy Hill ’76: Longtime readers will recall that I was certain Cappy was going to be selected last time round. Wrong that time but maybe this time? She was almost certainly a finalist when Morty was selected almost 20 years ago so she has been around the block on this several times. A faculty member mentioned to me that they had “heard some positive speculation about Spencer and Cappy Hill; both make some sense.” After a successful decade at Vassar, she now (like many former LAC presidents) runs a non-profit: Ithaka S+R. Do she and her husband like living in NYC? Are they interested in retiring in Williamstown?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWilliams history professor Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 is my leading dark horse candidate. At 42 (and a Williams graduate) she is the perfect age: experienced enough after more than a decade at Williams to know what she is doing, young enough to have the energy that the trustees are looking for. (I believe that Payne, Schapiro and Falk were all hired while in their 40s.) Although she has not served as either Dean of the Faculty or Provost (the most common stepping stones to college presidencies) she is former head of CUL and current chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources, perhaps the single spot (outside of the provost’s office) at which a Williams faculty member can learn to think like a president. Being a person of color is also a big advantage in this search since the trustees would love to be able to get the Williams-has-only-had-white-presidents monkey off their backs.

Merrill_2016-219x300Williams history professor Karen Merrill: Any female former Dean of the College is a plausible candidate. At 53, she is not too old. Merrill is, I think, widely regarded as an excellent administrator and consensus builder. I have heard fewer complaints about her tenure as Dean of the College than about her predecessors or successors. Her handling of the controversy over the log mural (pdf) was masterful. (By the way, we really ought to rename the “Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History” to the “Merrill Committee.”) Indeed, of all the controversies at Williams over the last 15 years, I can’t think of one that was better handled. (And since Falk screwed up so many things, I think Merrill deserves most of the credit. Did any of the social justice warrior Ephs even complain about the outcome?) But is she interested in the Williams presidency? Informed gossip welcome!

Portugal2002_3-274x300Chemistry Professor Lee Park is the interim Dean of the Faculty. (Buell is on sabbatical. Isn’t it weird that someone would take a sabbatical year during their 3 year appointment period?) Park is 53 and, obviously, non-white. She has been the associate Dean of the Faculty for a few years, I think. She is currently chair of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, traditionally one of the most powerful positions on campus. (Another member of that committee is Professor Tom Smith ’88, also a chemist and a member of the presidential search committee. If Tom is a fan of Park, then she may have a real shot at the job.) Also interesting is that search committee member Chris Winters ’95 is married to Williams chemistry professor Amy Gehring ’94. Park has worked (closely?) with Smith and Gehring for more than a decade. I wonder if they are friends or rivals? Park has also been chair of the CEP. Is Park interested in the Williams presidency? Presumably, she wouldn’t have worked so many administrative jobs over the years if she weren’t interested in climbing the ladder . . .

Other current or recent Williams female insiders seem less well positioned. After her utter failure at Dickinson, Nancy Roseman probably won’t even get a courtesy interview. Sarah Bolton has not been at Wooster long enough for a move to be reasonable. Marlene Sandstrom is too new to the Dean of the College job.

Given how strong these candidates are, I can’t imagine that Williams will hire a man. Are there are female Ephs who might be interested? Are there other female candidates who are “on the market?”

Who do readers think will be chosen? Who would readers vote for if they were on the committee?

[1] Among the top 10 liberal arts colleges according to US News, only Williams, Bowdoin and Carleton have never had a female president.

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New report on Campus Space and Institutional History

To the Williams community,

I’m pleased to announce that the final report from the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH) is available on the president’s office website.

As you may recall, in convening the Committee we wanted to engage the entire community in a consideration of the historical images, monuments and decorations from earlier eras and their implications in a contemporary context. I asked that the Committee offer recommendations on principles that should guide us in such consideration generally, as well as identifying specific images or pieces in particular (starting with the Log mural). With this report the group has ably fulfilled their charge, and their work is now concluded.

The Committee notes that many campuses are confronting similar questions. I think Williams stands out for the thoughtful and inclusive way we approached our effort, especially the intense discussions that the committee’s students led in Goodrich in April 2016. I’m deeply grateful to Committee chair Karen Merrill, Frederick Rudolph ’42 Class of 1965 Professor of American Culture, and all the faculty, staff, students and alumni who served on the group or advised its work. You’ve moved Williams an important step forward.

The report sets out broad principles for considering our institutional history. It also explores three examples in detail. Neither the Committee nor I would suggest focusing solely on the three. But I highlight them here and encourage you to read the report because its thoughtful discussion of the examples illustrates just how complex the issues are, and how requiring of care any decisions about them need to be.

Faculty House: Originally a club reserved almost exclusively for faculty, today the Faculty House has evolved into a space for faculty, students, alumni and staff. But its decor hasn’t evolved meaningfully. This fall we’ll convene an ad hoc working group, drawn from the constituencies that use the Faculty House most, to consider whether and how the decor could be updated to reflect the diverse community that uses it today.

The Herman Rosse painting in the ‘62 Center: The ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance is home to two important academic departments, whose faculty, staff and students spend time in the building every day. We’ll confer with these people, as the building’s primary occupants, about their preferences regarding decoration broadly, including this painting, about some in our community have expressed concern for its portrayals of women and African Americans, and also for its overall quality. We may also consult others who use the building significantly.

Haystack: The Haystack Monument presents a different sort of opportunity. As the Committee observes in their report, the monument commemorates an event in the summer of 1806 that helped launch the American foreign missions movement. The site is visited and appreciated by people from around the world, most of whom have no connection to Williams. We want to respect their interest while recognizing that other groups experience or view the marker very differently. We will not remove the Monument. But as an academic and inclusive community we need to make its variety of meanings visible for consideration and discussion. We’ll develop a process for that work in the fall.

There’s much more to the report, and I urge you to read it for yourself and consider especially the general principles it elucidates. While the report will be housed on the president’s web page for now, we’ll soon create a permanent location on williams.edu for the Committee’s work and other, related information, to foster continued discussion about the college’s history.

This is an important and complicated endeavor. It has at its heart the very question of the community we aspire to be. We’ll never seek to erase Williams’ history, nor to rewrite it. But we must continue to evolve as a community, and that evolution has to include the voices and perspectives of all those whom we’ve invited here as full members. I’m lifted by the extraordinary efforts of the Committee and the thoughtful participation of our entire campus.

As the Committee notes in the conclusion of their report,

We do believe that Williams can negotiate change without effacing the past; that it has done so at other times in its history and grown as an institution; and that it most successfully negotiates change through processes that encourage the diffusion of information, community-wide reflection and discussion, and a clear understanding of how decisions are made at the college.

I encourage you all to help us advance this project, and I look forward to our next steps together in the fall.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk
President

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Claiming Williams Recommendations

Claiming Williams is tomorrow. There were more EphBlog-worthy sessions last year than this year, but here are still several events that look good. In order, I recommend:

Campus Spaces and Institutional History: the Courage to Examine the Past:

The Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History welcomes everyone to join in a dinnertime conversation about the history that’s built into the environment all around Williams. Last spring, we explored the history behind, and the college community’s perspectives on, the Log mural. Since the fall our task has widened as we’ve reflected on how the Williams community can engage the college’s built forms across campus — in buildings, decorations, and monuments. What ideas do you bring to this work? We’d like to hear! Sponsored by the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History.

The CCSIH is one of the great successes of the past year. It handled the Log Mural situation perfectly. It looks to be handling other controversies intelligently. Kudos to Adam Falk for creating and staffing the committee with some of Williams’ best.

Healthy Debate

Many of us share a concern about events occurring outside of our immediate communities that have “real world implications” for our work together. What are some of the hotly contested issues occurring outside of the classroom that might affect what’s going on inside of them? How do we create spaces to express a complex range of ideas and to speak frankly about what we know and what we believe? How might our ideas translate into conversations with classmates and colleagues with whom we engage with limited ways? What are the various forms that healthy debate might take among us institutionally?

Come to this session willing to enter into conversation. We have no expectation that anyone will show up as “an expert” on any particular topic, or even that anyone has to formally “debate.” Rather, we hope to engage with each other about what we think and know, and to foster broad, yet passionate, conversation focused on why differing points of view actually matter and can cultivate camaraderie among us as a community.

Suggested discussion starter: Many (most? almost all?) Trump supporters among the student body keep quiet about their political beliefs, partly because they think that open support for Trump would hurt them at Williams by, for example, preventing them from becoming a JA. Are their fears justified?

Quitting at Williams

At some point during our lives, at Williams or beyond, we have to make
a decision that we are taught to fear: quitting. Even the word “quit” summons feelings and associations that are inherently tied to failure or weakness. What is the source of this negative stigma that surrounds opting out of an activity, a group, a team, a class, a relationship, or a school, and what motivates someone to make that decision in spite of the repercussions? A panel of students will talk about their decisions to quit something because they no longer believed that what they were quitting was right for them; for the speakers, their act of “quitting” did not represent a source of shame but rather a source of empowerment.

An important topic handled in the best way: with student speakers and discussion.

Also, the Clickers session is always fun! But 9:00 AM is a tough ask . . .

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Why we care about wars of the past.

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The current pick for Secretary of Defense Marine General James Mattis made the following observation on the history of warfare and our current position in it;

For all the “4th Generation of War” intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc, I must respectfully say … “Not really”: Alex the Great would not be in the least bit perplexed by the enemy that we face right now in Iraq, and our leaders going into this fight do their troops a disservice by not studying (studying, vice just reading) the men who have gone before us.

Historical monuments are not “problematic in modern context.” These themes have not changed. War has not changed. It’s offensive. Making young men an women consider these issues will never be achieved by denying their current existence by censoring works of art and historical monuments. We are not above this. Remember that when you look at the log mural.

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Diversity and Equity Forum III

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 3.

Matthew Hennessy ’17 then provided an update on the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH). CSIH spent the spring semester of 2016 investigating the history of the Log mural and surveying students about the mural, he said. The committee concluded that the College should keep the mural but add written contextualization.

President Adam Falk praised CSIH for its work and stressed the importance of student engagement with complicated issues. Hennessy said this semester CSIH will continue to look into objects, spaces and names on campus that no longer align with the College’s current institutional beliefs.

1) The CSIH is one of the great wins at Williams in the last year. See our previous coverage here and here. I am still hopeful that readers will want us to spend a week on this topic . . . No takers so far!

2) Can’t we start calling this the “Merrill Committee?” That would be much catchier than CSIH.

3) The CSIH ought to tell us exactly which “objects, spaces and names on campus” they are looking at. Perhaps they are planning another open forum? We have tried (and failed!) to come up with issues that might enrage the student SJW crowd. Perhaps the Haystack Monument?

In the spring of 1806, Samuel J. Mills matriculated at Williams. The son of a Connecticut clergyman, Mills was eager to spread Christianity throughout the world.

One Saturday afternoon in August 1806, Mills and four other students gathered for one of their regularly scheduled prayer meetings. On this particular day, it is said that the skies opened up and the students sought refuge in the shelter of a large haystack. While gathered at the haystack, the students conceived of the idea to found an American missionary movement focused on spreading Christianity worldwide, particularly to the East.

Whoa! I just realized, after writing about Williams for 13 years, that “Mission Park” refers to the religious missions that these white male cisgendered Christians launched 200 years ago. Could be problematic!

Mills House is named after Samuel J. Mills who, after leaving Williams,

engaged in missions in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, in the Southwest United States, and in New Orleans. He influenced the founding of the American Bible Society and the United Foreign Missionary Society before he died in 1818 while returning from a short-term mission trip to Africa with the American Colonization Society.

I suspect that the activities of the American Colonization Society might not meet with the approval of the current Williams faculty . . .

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Woodward Report V: The Cruz Committee

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 5.

What’s the most important lesson that Adam Falk could learn from the Woodward Report? Smart presidents use committees! With luck, Falk has already learned that lesson in the debate over the log mural. He should follow the same strategy in dealing with free speech. Create a “Committee on Freedom of Expression at Williams.” Appoint a cross-section of faculty/students/alumni, but with a sotto voce emphasis on free speech. Charge the Committee with reviewing the history of free speech debates at Williams, meeting with members of the College community, and recommending policy going forward.

Best person to put in charge? Philosophy Professor Joe Cruz ’91.

Whether the Cruz Committee comes out in favor or against the banning of John Derbyshire does not matter. What matters, in the midst of a major capital campaign, is putting the controversy behind us.

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End of Year Falk E-mail

Adam Falk’s end of the year e-mail includes lots of news. Should we spend a week going through it? Tell us what you want readers! One highlight:

As I look back on the extraordinary success of the campaign in this first year of its public phase, I must share some bittersweet news, which is that our campaign’s chief architect has accepted an exciting new professional opportunity. Vice President for College Relations John Malcolm ’86 will take on the role of chief development officer at the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH).

Losing your chief fund-raiser in the middle of your big capital campaign is either extremely bad luck or a sign of less-than-climb-high competence. Malcolm was an exceptional rainmaker. He had spent the last 5 (?) years building relationships with all the richest Ephs. This is example #103 of why the College ought to do a better job of screening/hiring/retaining employees who want to make a career commitment to Williams.

With luck, Malcolm’s departure won’t matter. I hope that he lassoed most of his targeted big givers during the quiet portion of the campaign and that his departure won’t cause them to renege.

Entire e-mail below the break:
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College Censorship Anniversary

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On or about two years ago today, Williams College began to censor historic artifacts founded by previous generations of Ephs. This mural in the log came from the World War Two generation. A war memorial that depicted Chief Hendrick Theyanoguin standing over a map being inspected by Ephraim Williams on the morning of the Bloody Morning Scout, during the battle of Lake George in 1755. Hendrick and Ephraim were both killed in combat during this joint reconnaissance mission.

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100 Days : Walls are going up …

… certainly between people. Walls of separation and isolation from realities as palpable as any built from steel or stone or cement.

Actual walls can be beautifully decorated with murals and enjoyed. These are bearing and supportive walls for structures. Walls built to divide and contain are not beautiful. And decor applied to them is more likely graffiti.

Menschenkette

 

Berlin Wall with Keith Haring 330 ft graffiti 1986. Soon both were gone.

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Lewis Slams Falk Over Derbyshire II

Let’s spend five days reviewing Professor Michael Lewis’s surprisingly sharp attack on President Falk concerning the banning of John Derbyshire from Williams. Today is Day 2.

The excuse is the familiar platitude that “there’s a line somewhere” that divides free speech from hate speech. And speech that crosses this line must be squelched, even at the point of covering the ears of the listeners. But the notion that there is a line between free speech and hate speech is a curious one. Free speech is a principle that you can define in absolute terms. Hate speech is an accusation – frequently a moving one – which doesn’t lend itself to the drawing of neat lines. The only stable definition for hate speech is speech that makes someone hate you.

Isn’t that exactly backward? At Williams, and places like it, hate speech is not “speech that makes someone hate you.” Hate speech is speech that you hate. Perhaps I am confused by what a “stable” definition is? Perhaps I am defining hate speech descriptively — meaning a definition that an outsider could apply to Williams and use to predict what speech the community would define as “hate” — while Lewis is being more prescriptive, trying to come up with a new definition which we might all agree on and then use going forward.

You don’t have to agree with Derbyshire to believe that the College did something wrong in forbidding him from speaking here. Administrators can make blunders, but this isn’t a blunder; rather, it’s part of a larger and ominous pattern. Last October, the same students who invited Derbyshire were pressured into rescinding their invitation to Suzanne Venker. This itch to censor is not even limited to the present. Right now, a committee is tracking down “potentially problematic” historical art on campus. Its mission is encapsulated in a remarkable leading question (a question so artfully constructed as to yield but one answer): “What should be done about historical images that portray the College as less welcoming than we are or aspire to be?” Framed that way, it’s hardly a surprise that the mural in the Log depicting Chief Hendrick – the Mohawk ally of Ephraim Williams – has been found objectionable and whisked behind plywood.

Lewis was much too pessimistic with regard to the mural. Williams (and Falk, to his credit) has decided to keep the mural at The Log. Is Lewis also wrong about the “larger and ominous pattern?” I hope so! Certainly, across higher education, there is a move to greater censorship, especially of “conservative” views. But Williams has always been more mainstream than other elite liberal arts colleges and so, one hopes, less likely to slide down the censorship slope. Remove the Venker rescission (which was truly the decision/fault of the students who invited her) and the mural controversy, and the pattern becomes the single instance involving Derbyshire. Perhaps things are less dire than Lewis makes them out to be?

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Parade more fun than Parsing …

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Class of 1956 has great 60th reunion! Col. Williams Mural in full glory at The Log. Historically more questionable mural of Col Williams being tackled by Red-Coated Villain Lord Jeffrey Amherst and black-vestured John Wesley more problematic!

Campus in full glory. “Buster” Grossman ’56 leads singing of The Mountains at the Rogerson Lunch the way it should be sung … with gusto!!

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Paul on Falk/Derbyshire

As always, the best parts of EphBlog are often in the comments. Consider this one from Professor Darel Paul:

In light of the many recent controversies regarding what is and is not acceptable speech / representation at Williams College (Yes: Jiz Lee, Suzanne Venker, Remi Kanazi; No: John Derbyshire, left-facing (i.e. non-Nazi) swastikas; Preliminary No: old murals of King Hendrick), perhaps what is needed is a kind of Miller Test for the community.

As my deconstructionist faculty friends would say, there is a lot to unpack here. Let’s start!

1) Who can tell if Paul is kidding? I honestly can’t! From Wikipedia:

The Miller test (also called the Three Prong Obscenity Test) is the United States Supreme Court’s test for determining whether speech or expression can be labeled obscene, in which case it is not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and can be prohibited.

On the one hand, Professor Paul could be serious. Williams does seem to have a problem in deciding what to allow and what not to allow. Given that, we need a procedure for deciding these issues going forward. Why not start with something like Miller?

On the other hand, he must be joking, purposely teasing the Williams administration — purposely teasing his boss Adam Falk? — about the stupidity of its current course of action. Would Williams really want to treat ideas — even ideas as unpopular as John Derbyshire’s — in the same way that provincial US local governments handled obscenity?

2) It is true that Williams now claims that Suzanne Venker would have been welcome if UL had not disinvited her. Does everyone really believe that, now that we know that Adam Falk considers “hate speech” a reason for banning someone from campus? I don’t know. Many Ephs thought that Venker was guilty of hate speech. The editors of the Record, for example, seemed to argue that Venker should not be allowed to speak at Williams, and for precisely the same reasons that Falk banned Derbyshire.

3) Remi Kanazi is a new one to me. Example views:

Poet Remi Kanazi, for example, who frequently speaks at SJP-sponsored events, represents Palestinian culture through work that attacks Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” that is “built upon the graves of Palestinians.” In one Facebook post from 2012, Kanazi wrote,“Dear Zionists: You have never ‘defended yourselves.’ You came in, stole land that wasn’t yours & maintained a racist state through massacres and brute force.”

There are certainly Jewish Williams students who are as offended by Kanazi as other Williams students are offended by Derbyshire. And, if they view that speech as “hateful,” then they are probably accurately describing their subjective feelings upon reading/hearing that speech. But, if you ban Derbyshire, why wouldn’t you ban Kanazi?

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MinCo Replies to Falk II

The Minority Coaltion has responded to President Falk’s e-mail about The Merrill Committee that is charged with examining problematic decorations/monuments/images at Williams. Let’s spend three days mocking this madness. Today is Day 2.

In a recent email to the all-student listserv, President Falk indicated our capacity as co-chairs of the Minority Coalition (MinCo), to recommend three students for an ad hoc committee formed to address the “historical representations on campus.” After much reflection, discussion, and feedback from others, we have decided to directly address you, the student body, to inform you that we refuse this task as MinCo co-chairs to recommend a student to the Committee to Consider Historical Representation on Campus. We refuse to be complicit in the bureaucratic erasure it will inevitably perpetuate.

Williams professors should bow their heads in shame that actual Williams students would write such incoherent prose. Or would some of our readers like to defend “indicated our capacity” or “have decided to directly address you, the student body, to inform you” as good examples of the King’s English?

Here is the editing that Professor Steve Fix might suggest.

In a recent email to the all-student listserv, President Falk wants indicated our capacity as co-chairs of the Minority Coalition (MinCo), to recommend three students for an ad hoc committee formed to address the “historical representations on campus.” After much reflection, discussion, and feedback from others, we have decided to directly address you, the student body, to inform you that we refuse this task as MinCo co-chairs to recommend a student to the Committee to Consider Historical Representation on Campus. We refuse to be complicit in the bureaucratic erasure it will inevitably perpetuate.

Why write 93 words when 26 will do? But let’s leave aside the weak writing and move on to the suspect reasoning.

By restricting this conversations this committee will have to a select few faculty, administrators, and 3 student members who will serve on this committee, we risk allowing this critical moment to be usurped by the throes of bureaucracy

Arrghh! The writing is so bad! I can barely see the substance. I think (hope!) that “conversations” should be singular. Couldn’t the author proofread an all-campus e-mail? Is this some sort of pomo nonsense of which I am sadly unaware?

Anyway, bureaucracy is how bureaucracies change. Don’t these students know the history of Williams. Virtually every major change has involved a committee of some sort. Now, of course, not every committee results in change and there are some (very isolated) examples of change outside the committee structure. But, if you really want to change things like murals at The Log, then the Merrill Committee is a perfect place to start. Get some fighters on the committee and you have a chance. Unless you think that some students are so committed to the sacred cause of Non Problematic Murals that they are willing to take over buildings or go on hunger strikes, a committee is your only hope.

[W]e know that Professor Doug Kiel, the only Native American Studies professor who particularly teaches native Native American studies, was not consulted about the formation of this Committee; nor was the American Studies department, which is a body of diverse expertise surrounding the American legacies of (mis)representing colonial histories.

There may be a fair point here. Smart presidents consult far and wide before they create committees, precisely to avoid these sorts of process complaints. Once Falk decided there was going to be a committee, he should have had Keli Gail talk to any faculty member even tangentially connected to the issue. Maybe Falk entrusted the matter to Karen Merrill and she messed up? More likely, I suspect, is that these students are clueless.

At this point, the President’s Office has failed to demonstrate adequate due-diligence to include necessary, relevant, and expert voices on this committee.

This is evidence of cluelessness. Unless the students know, for a fact, that Kiel (or someone like him) would serve on the committee if asked, they have no business wordily complaining about a lack of “necessary, relevant, and expert voices.” Who would they suggest?

kielI suspect that there is some backstory here. Karen Merrill is smart! She knew that part of this discussion would center around Native American issues. She knew that Kiel was one (perhaps the only?) member of the Williams faculty with a relevant background. She is in Kiel’s department! Why wouldn’t she ask him?

Perhaps she was doing him a favor. Kiel is untenured! He should be spending every spare minute writing. Committee service is limited upside and unlimited downside. There could also be other stuff going on. Is Kiel going on leave? Has his appointment been renewed? And so on.

By the way, here is Kiel’s Linked In page and Twitter. Is he Native American? Does he look Native American to you? Is his ancestry — as opposed to his knowledge — relevant to whether or not he should serve on the committee? Excellent questions all!

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MinCo Replies to Falk I

The Minority Coaltion has responded to President Falk’s e-mail about The Merrill Committee that is charged with examining problematic decorations/monuments/images at Williams. Let’s spend three days mocking this madness. Today is Day 1.

1) Entire Min Co e-mail is below the break. Enjoy!

2) The new committee is not officially named the Merrill Committee yet, but the College does have a history of eventually naming committees/reports after the chair.

3) How is it that MinCo is able to send an e-mail to all Williams students? I don’t think that many/any other student organizations have that right, at least outside of very non-partisan notices about vacancies and what not. I think Falk is making a mistake to give MinCo such a loud megaphone. Of course, they can and should say whatever they want to (just like Uncomfortable Learning) but the College is under no affirmative obligation to give them privileged access to the all-student e-mail list.

4) The letter mentions that on “Sunday, December 6, our administration will hold a community forum focused on the topic of institutional diversity and equity.” Did anyone attend? What happened?

5) The letter mentions the “Committee on Historical Representation.” Is this the official terminology? I much prefer the “Merrill Committee.”

More deconstruction on Thursday . . . Full e-mail below.

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Eph-curated “Jewel City” opens at the DeYoung

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Jim Ganz (MA ’88) is familiar to a generation of Ephs as a longtime curator at the Clark, who helped build the Clark’s photography collection and helped Williams College expand the photography offerings in the Art History program. Ganz is now in San Francisco as a curator of the Fine Arts Museums (i.e. the Legion of Honor and the de Young), where his new exhibit, “Jewel City,” has just opened to favorable reviewsand will run through January 10, 2016.

“Jewel City” revisits “one of the most ambitious art exhibitions ever presented in the United States, encompassing more than 11,000 paintings, sculptures, prints, and photographs,” which took place one hundred years ago in San Francisco as part of the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, a 1915 World’s Fair that marked the re-emergence of San Francisco following the devastating 1906 earthquake (much as the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 did following that city’s Great Fire).

In an interview for the exhibit’s opening, Ganz explains:

We’re trying to recapture in a way the feeling of seeing the art of the fair, something of the visitors’ experience. Putting people in front of the same works of art 100 years later is going to be kind of amazing.

Included among the 200+ works Ganz has reassembled for the de Young are artists such as Mary Cassatt, Thomas Eakins, Edvard Munch, and John Singer Sargent (“The Sketchers,” pictured here). Another particularly notable item is 50-foot-long mural — one of six displayed at the exhibition — entitled “Atlantic and Pacific,” which hasn’t been displayed in the ensuing century.

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If you live in San Francisco or will be visiting anytime soon, put “Jewel City” on your cultural to-do list.

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Which Presidential Candidate is the Most Eph? (Republican Edition)

Picking up our review of the presidential field with the Republicans, we’ll go alphabetically. This edition will start with Bush, Jeb,  and go through Gilmore, Jim. 

What? You thought I was going to cover them all in one post? If you’re that pithy, maybe you should join us as an author!

Jeb Bush.

Education. University of Texas.

Comment: As the son and brother of former Presidents, Bush is the ultimate legacy candidate. At least until another Adams, Roosevelt, or Harrison comes along (or Chelsea Clinton runs). He did attend Andover, which has fitted numerous Ephs for their purple over the years (President Baxter, for example). And he was a varsity tennis player – at Andover and at UT. That’s kind of Eph. But running for president, he looks like a slacker who expects to be elected by acclaim, and that’s not the Williams way.

Dr. Ben Carson.

Education. Yale, University of Michigan Medical School.

Comment: In his turn on the GOP debate stage, Carson sounded like he was running for philosopher-king, not president. He would fit right into the Political Economy curriculum at Williams. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon, which is pretty much the career to which the plurality of pre-med Ephs seem to aspire. And he turned down an appointment to West Point in favor of Yale, a little bit like the “Choose Williams over Harvard” mantra that we at EphBlog encourage.

Chris Christie.

Education: University of Delaware, Seton Hall Law School.

Comment: We know he’s the beefiest, but is he the Ephiest? Well, New Jersey is a pretty classic Eph state, and so it’s hardly surprising that Dr. Chris Rodriguez ’99 serves as the Director of Homeland Security in Christie’s gubernatorial administration. Another Eph link: Gail Gordon, a key financier for Christie, is married to Eph legislator Bob Gordon ’72.

Ted Cruz.

Education. Princeton, Harvard Law School.

Comment: Finally, an actual Eph link! Cruz’s chief adviser on national security, Victoria Coates, is an Eph (MA ’92) who studied art history. Cruz has a few other Eph-esque qualities. He attended Princeton, a favorite “other school” to which Ephs apply. Top-ranked debater on APDA in the 1990s, just like a string of Ephs: Chris Willenken ’97, Jonathan Kravis ’99, and one-time EphBlogger Jeff Zeeman. Bonus: although Cruz looks un-athletic, he played intramural basketball at Harvard Law, where he trash-talked constitutional law with Eph Ted Ruger ’90 (now Dean of Penn Law School).

Carly Fiorina.

Education. Stanford, then an MBA from the University of Maryland. And a management degree from MIT.

Comment: Well, Stanford is the Williams of Division I. And putting a double-major in Philosophy and Medieval History to use as a Fortune 20 CEO role is a pretty Eph thing to do. Bonus Eph link: Fiorina likes to speak on the campaign trail about how Hillary Clinton adapted the title of her State Department memoir, Hard Choices, from Fiorina’s 2006 memoir, Tough Choices. Fiorina leaves out, however, that she in turn stole “Tough Choices” from a 1990s Sage Hall entry t-shirt emblazoned with the same slogan.*

Jim Gilmore.

Who? You know, the guy who ruined the presidential chances of one of the most promising Eph politicians of our generation, then Lieutenant Governor (now Rep.) Don Beyer, by upsetting him in the 1997 Virginia gubernatorial race. For that alone, his Eph score is a zero.

Rep. Don Beyer ’72.

Verdict: We’re through about 1/3 of the Republican field, and Ted Cruz and Chris Christie look to be the early leaders.

*I believe the “tough choices” to which the shirt referred were inexpensive keg beers – perhaps Genesee vs. Keystone?

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Satullo ’75 on the “City of Brotherly Love”

 The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia is an interesting project to produce an online/offline pairing of resources chronicling the many facets of one of America’s oldest cities. Through “lively and informed essays, original maps, and new research on topics of current interest,” the project’s goal is to “create a legacy of understanding for generations to come.”

Chris Satullo ’75, the former editorial page editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer and now a key figure at public broadcaster WHYY, is the latest contributor to this project, weighing in with an interesting essay on the city’s name as “a long duel between destiny and irony”:

We can’t know all the thoughts that coursed through William Penn’s mind when he chose Philadelphia as the name for his new city, tucked onto the peninsula between the Delaware River and the Schuylkill.

What we do know is that he chose boldly, aiming for the vault of heaven, daring irony to strike.

Brotherly love does not imply the absence of conflict. Have you ever seen young brothers together? Their bond, strong as cement though it might be, gets expressed often as not through competing, jousting, gibes and dares… [and] [l]ike the nation that chose this city (and not by accident) as the spot to declare, then define, itself, Philadelphia has struggled to define brother. Who is inside the circle, who not?

If you’ve lived in Philadelphia or visited the city and pondered the name “Philadelphia,” read the whole thing.

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Scenes from a Travesty

Before we consign the Final Four game that we watched in Salem this past Friday to the closet of banished memories (while enshrining the season overall as a glorious Final Four run capped with a terrific Chandler win over Amherst), I wanted to share a few pictures on EphBlog. Above is one of the inspiring “It’s Always a Great Day to be an Eph” signs; the back side is purple and simply reads “Go Williams.”

It may always be a great day to be an Eph, but that was certainly hard to remember at the conclusion of the game. Mike Maker and the great sportsmen on the Williams team may be more magnanimous towards the referees, but I’m not: he officiating in Williams-Wooster ought to be an embarrassment to the NCAA and the three officials involved.  It would have been an embarrassment at an intramural game.

I’ve never been approached after a game like that by the other team’s fans and told that they were glad to have won, but that they wished they had won in a fair game. To quote one, “It’s a lot sweeter to win a game when the other team is allowed to play their best game.” Kerry Campbell, John St. Clair, and Rusty Phillips, if you can’t or won’t call games fairly, you should find a different hobby. (For what it’s worth, all three appear to officiate regularly in D1’s Ohio Valley Conference, where Wooster is a familiar name and Williams is… not).

More photos, and more venting, after the jump.

Author’s Note: Readers will find contrasting perspectives on the quality of officiating in the comments, below.

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Morty on Sheehy

From the Big Green Alert Blog:

“You had me at hello.”

That memorable line from Jerry Maguire – ironically a football movie – came to mind during Tuesday’s media gathering introducing Harry Sheehy as Dartmouth’s new director of athletics.

Frank Sinatra never worked a room any better than Sheehy did the smart classroom at Floren Varsity House as the former AD at Williams hit all the right notes after being introduced by Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim.

Say what you will about Sheehy, but he is a charmer. If Sheehy wants you to like him, you will. Read more

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Five Years Out 2: Fitting

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

Whatever good experience I had during Previews Weekend as a prospective student considering Williams, it was only enough to make me choose Williams, not really look forward to it. Read more

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The Baxter Fellows Program is Doomed

UPDATE: A longtime reader has convinced me that mentioning the names of three specific Williams folks in the initial version of this post was a mistake. So, I have replaced their names with “the Williams Administration.” I have left the comment thread unchanged.

The single most important prediction in my five years of blogging about Neighborhood Housing was that attempts to create a meaningful neighborhood identity were doomed to failure (see here and here). Surely we can all agree that I (and others) were 100% right about this while the Williams Administration (and others) were 100% wrong.

Care to know what else the future will bring? The Baxter Fellow Program is doomed to failure. Consider the latest from the Neighborhood Review Committee (pdf).

As outlined in Part One of our final report, the Neighborhood Review Committee recommends a significant reconceptualization of the role of Baxter Fellows, focusing primarily on two areas: conflict resolution and community building within the house. Students value the freedom from oversight that they enjoy in their residences, and they have clearly voiced their resistance to a traditional residential advisor system. Yet most members of the community also recognize the need to establish mutually agreed-upon norms of behavior in residences and, moreover, accept that conflicts are bound to occur in even the best organized residential system. The committee would like to see the Baxter Fellows take on a larger role in leading discussions of communal norms within their houses, opening lines of communication, and hopefully fostering a mutually respectful environment. We believe that Baxter Fellows should be better trained in conflict resolution and better prepared to handle, with respect and fairness, issues arising from disparate lifestyles and differing expectations for dorm life. Ultimately, we believe that the Baxter Fellows should be the first resource for low-level conflict resolution within dorms.

This will never, ever work. And, as I have exhaustively documented, it has not worked over the last 5 years. Read these classic rants from 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Want more? Remember the Tablecloth Colors is an all-time favorite. Read it.

Too lazy to click on those? The argument is simple: Williams students will not defer to the judgment/decisions of their fellow students unless they want to. In certain circumstances (JAs, elected students leaders like sports captain and organization heads), they will. But why should a given Williams student listen to a Baxter Fellow? What has the Fellow done to earn my respect? Nothing. If anything, I half expect he took the job because he wanted some extra cash. All the training in the world won’t change that basic reality. And, what is worse, the Office of Campus Life has little ability to actually ensure that Baxter Fellows do their jobs.

Changing the role of the Baxter Fellows and making them into more robust, legitimate, and important players in residential life will not happen overnight. The committee urges the College to prioritize changes that will help the Fellows begin house-level conversations about expectations and norms and that will prepare them for an expanded role in conflict resolution.

Utter fantasy. The program has failed for five years. You think some magic pixy training dust is going to airlift the Baxter Fellows to Never Never Land? Instead of closing Greylock, the College should have just ended the Baxter Fellows program and closed the Office of Campus Life.

Paying students to create community is stupid. Instead: Allow students to elect their own leaders. Give those leaders money, not as salary but for spending on events. Demand transparency. The details will take care of themselves.

Professor Colin Adams, head of the NRC, is a smart guy. Doesn’t he already know this? Probably. But, whenever judging the output of a committee, you need to check its members. The two folks primarily in charge of the Baxter Fellow program, Aaron Gordon and Doug Schiazza, are on this committee. How likely were they to ever agree to its elimination? Yet, over time, the Williams administration does learn. When the Baxter Fellows program is no more successful next year then it has been this year, look for it (and the Office of Campus Life?) to be cut as well. You read it at EphBlog first.

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Athletic Recruiting

Some of the most useful and interesting reading on EphBlog comes in our comment threads.

Someone in the string asked what would happen to women’s tennis if it was less competitive–ie. highly competitive players? Ours wouldn’t have come to Williams–would have gone D1–Ivy most likely. As would at least one other player in her class–I’m confident predicting that the vast majority of great players would opt for the Ivies–where the tennis and academics are comparable. What Williams offers to the student athlete is really special; especially in women’s athletics. A smaller, D3 athletic environment and intimate liberal arts experience. If you want to ‘change’ the system you’re going to have to think well beyond NESCAC or D3 for that matter.

The roster has had no add/drops beyond DL players and JYA’s that we know of. There are intramural tennis opportunities for people who just want to get out and play–you don’t need to travel or be on a formal team to do that at Williams. To be frank if I were a student at Williams the training and practice schedule (forget the travel schedule) for the team is just too much to justify if it wasn’t necessary to get good matches.

Finally, the way the athletic recruiting works–is that the coaches tell players they have to apply early decision–for players this is the worst since you can only apply one place. When you are playing a sport at that level and told that this one decision is the difference between being able to compete in college or not–well let’s just say it is easily the most stressful decision some of these kids have ever had to make. This apply early policy was the situation with EVERY school–Ivies, big D1’s etc. Many players look to coaches and admissions for ‘likelihood’ of admission prior to the formal submission of the application. If you don’t meet the standards you’ve got a serious problem–we’ve encouraged some amazing players to look at Williams–one will be at Yale next year. She couldn’t get by Williams admissions.

1) Thanks to “Eph Pride” for the inside scoop. Do we have other readers knowledgeable about athletic recruiting at Williams? If so, give us your perspective — the more detailed, the better.

2) I have no way of knowing if Eph Pride is actually the parent of a female Williams tennis player. This is the internet and we allow anonymous comments. But, everything above is consistent with what I have heard in the past. So, I think this is accurate information.

3) Rory has pointed out (correctly) that affirmative action matters both for the students who need that boost to get into Williams and for the students who don’t need that boost (i.e., the ones that we most want) but who wouldn’t choose Williams if there weren’t enough URMs. The same applies in athletics. The anti-tip folks (like me) think that getting rid of tips would not influence the decision-making of academic rating 1 and 2 athletes, i.e., the ones that are accepted to Williams without preferences. But what if it did? What if a lack of tips (and the resulting lack of team success) would cause these students to go elsewhere? I don’t worry too much about this in either case, but it is a legitimate concern.

4) I don’t know what “DL” or “JYA” refer to. Perhaps Eph Pride could clarify? I am curious about how the team is put together initially, on the very first days of fall practice. Coach Swain has, obviously, been in touch with some (all?) new players during the admissions process. But do some walk-ons show up? What happens to them? How many spots are there on the team? I would have thought that there were more than 11 women (out of 1,000) who would like to play tennis for Williams, but perhaps cuts are only really an issue on men’s teams.

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Events Tomorrow

As mentioned previously, I am on campus tomorrow. If you don’t want to listen to me lecture on regression (and who would?!), you can join me at a roundtable about the future of Ephs On-Line. This is meant to be wide open discussion, not just about EphBlog. It looks like we will have, at least, Professor Joe Cruz, Chris Warren from OIT (lead developer behind the Williams Blogs), and several students (at least Aaron Schwartz) from WSO. Good conversation is guaranteed.

And, on a personal note, I am hoping to relive my youth by playing some pick-up or intramural soccer in the afternoon. Does anyone know where those games are? Does anyone on an IM team want to invite me to join them? I promise to stay out of the way!

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Parent ’12 and The Ring Cycle (Part III) …

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Going to the Met is not just the opera, there’s intermission.  So, for Part III, a pause to look around while at the Saturday matinee.

It was a gorgeous day– sunny, west coast weather.  We spent both intermissions outside, which led me to realize, as I was looking at Lincoln Center’s plaza & the Met, that I hadn’t described the opera house other than to say it’s enormous.  The building’s footprint is more than 400 feet deep and about 150 feet wide.  This includes the lobby, seating area, stage & backstage.  The front of the stage is near the middle of the building.  And, to give this an Eph connection, the Met Opera House sits where West Side Story (lyrics by Stephen Sondheim) takes place.  As part of urban renewal in the sixties, this part of the West Side was demolished in order to create Lincoln Center.

As we leave the plaza & enter the Met, we walk between two Chagall murals, nearly the height of the lobby, that face the plaza.  We descend into the lobby under a Swarovski chandelier that was recently refurbished in honor of the Met’s 125th anniversary season.  Continuing through the lobby to get to our seats, we pass a large bar where you can have a flute of champagne, other beverages, sandwiches, & dessert.  Entering the back of the orchestra section, where the standing room area is, the first thing one sees is the enormous curtain, a square of gold damask that is about 6 stories high.  (The proscenium is 54′ x 54′.  Read more

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A Tribute to Kirk Varnedoe ’67-Part II

(For original post, please go here)

Phong Bui, publisher of The Brooklyn Rail, paid tribute to Kirk Varnedoe in this October 2003 piece. He remarks on Varnedoe’s unusual practice of drawing parallels between art and football:

Kirk loved sports, and drew on them for metaphors (an artist would “take it into the end zone”). People in the art world sometimes found this a little odd, as if art were something too serious and recondite to be compared to a popular diversion like professional football. But for Kirk football was something complicated and thrilling. I watched the Super Bowl with him once. To me, it was just a bunch of guys in funny padded suits, running around at random, and trying to throw the ball before someone jumped them. To Kirk, I realized, it was a game of exquisite strategy and skill, full of subtle stratagems, daring feints, missed opportunities, and narrowly averted catastrophe— much like a Jackson Pollock, in other words. In a world of specialists, Kirk saw life— and art— whole.

In today’s segment, the “Metrozoids” find their playing field . As P’12 commented yesterday, it was “just south of the Metropolitan Museum and Cleopatra’s Needle, as well as just east of Belvedere Castle & Delacorte Theatre, home to Shakespeare in the Park.” And as Gopnik writes below, “it was perfect.”

The Last of the Metrozoids
by Adam Gopnik
Part II

A quarter century later, he was coming to the same field from the hospital. He was a handsome man, in a big-screen way, with the deep-set eyes and boyish smile and even the lumpy, interesting complexion of a Harrison Ford or a Robert Redford. The bull-like constitution that had kept him alive for seven years, as the doctors poured drugs into him like Drano into a clogged sink, might have explained why the chemo, which thinned and balded almost everyone else, had somehow made him gain weight and grow hair, so, though he was a little stocky now, and a little gray, his step was solid and his eyes were rimmed with oddly long Egyptian lashes.

The boys came running from school, excited to have been wearing their Metrozoid T-shirts all day, waiting for practice: Eric and Derek and Ken, good athletes, determined and knowing and nodding brief, been-there-before nods as they chucked the ball around; Jacob and Charlie and Garrett talking a little too quickly and uncertainly about how many downs you had and how many yards you had to go; Will and Luke and Matthew very verbal, evangelizing for a game, please, can’t we, like, have a game with another team, right away, we’re ready; and Gabriel just eager for a chance to get the ball and roll joyfully in the mud. I was curious to see what Kirk would do with them. He was, first and foremost, a teacher, and his lectures still resonated in the halls of the institute. But how would he teach these eight-year-olds to play football? Orate at them? Motivate them? Dazzlethem with plays and schemes?

“Okay,” he said very gently, as the boys gathered around him in an attentive, slightly wary circle. “Let’s break it down. First thing is how you stand. Everybody get down in a three-point stance.”

The boys dropped to their haunches confidently.

Kirk frowned. He walked up and down the line, shoving each one lightly on a shoulder or a knee and showing how a three-point stance could be a weak or strong tripod, a launching pad or a stopping place, one that let you push off strongly or one that held you back. At last he got everybody’s stance correct. “Okay, let’s run,”  he said. “Just run the length of the field, from these cones to those cones, and then turn back. Last guy does fifteen push-ups.” Luke stumbled and was the last guy, and Kirk had him do fifteen push-ups. The point was made: no favorites.

Right around then a young park worker came up in one of those officious little green carts the park people ride around in. “I’m sorry,” he said, “you can’t play here. It’s ruled off for games.”

I was ready to get mad – I mean, hey, who was making these rules? We had been playing touch football here for years – when Kirk stepped in.

“We-ell,” Kirk said, and the Southern accent he brought with him from his youth in Savannah was suddenly more intense, an airplane captain’s accent. “Well, uh, we got ten young men here eager to play football. Where can we take them to play?”

To my surprise, the park worker was there for the enlisting. “Let me see – I’ll come back,” he said. We went on with the drills, and ten minutes later, the guy scooted up again in his cart.

“I think I’ve found just the place,” he said. “If you go off there, right over the road, and take the left fork, you’ll find this field that’s hidden there behind the parking lot.” He added almost confidentially, “It’s just opposite the toilets near the Ramble, but it’s flat and large, and I think it’s perfect.”

“Much obliged,” Kirk said, and he gestured to the boys, a big arm-sweeping gesture, and led them off in search of the promised field. They followed him like Israelites. We walked across the road, took the left, went down the hill, and there it was – a little glade that I had never seen before, flat and fringed by tall trees, offering shade to the waiting moms and dads. It had a slightly derelict look – I could imagine that in a livelier era, this field might have been a Francis Bacon mural, men struggling in the grass – but today it was perfect.

“Gentlemen,” Kirk said clearly to the boys as they struggled on, looking around a little dubiously at the tufts of grass and the facing bathrooms. “Welcome to Metrozoid Field. This is the place we have been looking for.” He set out the red cones again around the fringes.

“Okay, let’s scrimmage,” he ordered. He divided the guys in half with a firm, cutting gesture, and they began an intense, slightly nervous touch-football game. Kirk watched them, smiling and silent.

“Shouldn’t we teach them a play?” I suggested.

“No,” he said. “They’re off to a good start. Running and standing is a good start.”

The scrimmage ended, and the winning team began to hurrah and high-five.

“Hey,” he said, stepping forward, and for the first time I heard his classroom voice, his full-out voice, a combination of Southern drawl and acquired New England sharpness.

“No celebrations,” he said, arriving at the middle of the field. “This is a scrimmage. It’s just the first step. We’re all one team. We are the Giant Metrozoids.” He said the ridiculous name as though it were Fighting Irish, or Rambling Wrecks, an old and hallowed name in the American pigskin tradition. The kids stopped, subdued and puzzled. “Hands together,” he said, and stretched his out, and solemnly, the boys laid their hands on his, one after another. “One, two, three, together!” and all the hands sprang up. He had replaced a ritual of celebration with one of solidarity, and the boys sensed that solidarity was somehow at once more solemn and more fun than any passing victory could be.

He had, I realized on the way home, accomplished a lot of things. He had taught them how to stand and how to kneel – not just how to do these these things but that there was a right way to do these things. He had taught them that playing was a form of learning – that a scrimmage was a step somewhere on the way toward a goal. And he had taught them that they were the Giant Metrozoids. It was actually a lot for one hour.

(to be continued tomorrow)

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