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Reopening, 4

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.

Three cheers for Maud Mandel!

EphBlog sometimes gives the impression that we don’t like the decisions that Maud makes. And, it is true! We don’t like (some of!) her decisions. Yet there have been two critical issues in Maud’s three years as president: Ensuring free speech and bringing back all students. She got both of them correct! Hooray for Maud! Indeed, there have been no more important sentence written by a Williams president in the last decade (or more) than this one:

I’m writing to inform you that Williams plans to convene an in-person semester for fall 2020.

This was the correct call. Yet it was also a call that could have gone differently, that Maud could have messed up. (This was not the case with her decision to send students home in March. That was important, of course, but, since every elite college did the same thing, it was (essentially) impossible for Maud to mess it up. No college president deserves major credit for making the same decision as all her peers.)

Consider Bowdoin:

We will have some students back in the fall, but not all students. The group on campus will be:
our new first-year and transfer students;
students who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible;
a very small number of senior honors students who cannot pursue their pre-approved projects online and require access to physical spaces on campus, and can do so under health and safety protocols; and
our student residential life staff.

All other sophomores, juniors, and seniors will remain off campus for the fall semester and will take their courses online. With priority given to seniors, if the fall semester goes as we hope, we expect to have our seniors, juniors, and sophomores return to campus for the spring semester, with the added possibility that our winter and spring athletes may be able to engage with their sports in some way. We expect that our first-year and transfer students will study remotely in the spring.

And Amherst:

However, after lengthy and careful deliberations, we conclude that we can adhere to the best public health guidance and offer an excellent educational experience to students who are on and off campus if we bring approximately 1,200-1,250 students to campus in the fall. This represents just over 60 percent of our total enrollment and between 70 and 75 percent of those who indicated interest in returning to campus for their studies. We hope to bring back even more students in the spring, ideally all who wish to be here. Should that prove unwise, those students who could not be here in the fall will have priority in the spring. With this structure, we can provide the opportunity for every student who wishes to be on campus to spend at least one semester here and, if things go well, both semesters for a large number of those students.

For the fall, we will give priority to all first-year students, all transfer students, all sophomores, any seniors who are scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester, and seniors who are returning to campus after spending the fall and/or spring term of the 2019-20 academic year studying abroad. In addition, two categories of students may petition to study on campus: senior thesis writers whose work requires access to campus facilities or materials that would otherwise be unavailable; and students whose home circumstances impede their academic progress.

Amherst and Bowdoin have similar wealth (and similar physical plant?) to Williams. Maud could have done what they did. But she didn’t’. Yeah Maud! Comments:

1) How different are the number of singles between Amherst/Bowdoin and Williams? It seems like this might have played a major role in their decision-making. Does Williams plan/promise a single to every student on campus this fall?

2) What effects will this have on enrollment at Amherst/Bowdoin? I would be sorely tempted to take a gap year if I were a student there, especially if I were an athlete, especially if a bunch of my friends were taking gap years. Indeed, what advice would you give to seniors at these schools? The job market will certainly look a lot better in the fall of 2021 than it will this fall . . .

3) Do you agree with Maud/EphBlog that this was the correct decision?

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Reopening, 3

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.

Note this framing in the national news stories about Maud’s message:

Bloomberg: “Williams College Cuts Price 15%, Cancels Sports Due to Virus”

Forbes: “Williams College Cuts Tuition 15% And Cancels Sports For Fall Semester”

Newsweek: “Williams College Tuition Cuts Could Prompt Some Schools to Reduce Costs”

Nice job, Jim Reische! That is some positive press! I especially like Newsweek‘s spin that we are a national leader in cost cutting. Yeah, Williams!

Here is Maud’s letter on tuition:

Williams is reducing our comprehensive fee by 15 percent for all families on a one-time basis for academic year 2020–21, relative to the amount we’d previously announced for the coming year. Families on financial aid will have their expected family contribution reduced by 15 percent. This reduction recognizes the fact that the pandemic and associated challenges are requiring us to cancel Winter Study as well as fall athletics competition and many student activities, among other opportunities that we usually encourage families to expect as part of their student’s education.
We’ll also waive the work-study contribution for the entire 2020-21 academic year for all students receiving financial aid. And the annual Student Activities Fee will be eliminated for the year, for all students.

Because tuition is paid in exchange for teaching, academic credit, and non-academic services that the college will provide, regardless of whether we’re in-person or remote, please understand that tuition (excepting room and board) will be the same for all students, whether they participate in-person or remotely.

Details here. Comments:

1) This price-cutting (probably) would not have happened if the stock market had not recovered so strongly. Williams, and every other elite college, was in real trouble three months ago, with markets down so much. But the dramatic rally has left the S&P 500 up more than 10% over the trailing 12 months. Williams (and its endowment) has a fiscal year which ends on June 30, so things look quite good. Indeed, if you had told the trustees a year ago that the market would be up this much — after one of the strongest 10-year bull markets in history — they would have been very pleased. Big picture: We are rich enough to afford this gesture.

2) Our prices, whatever they are, should not impact our calculation of “expected family contribution.” The two have nothing to do with each other! If Williams thought, last month, that your family was rich enough to pay $50,000 toward your child’s education, then there is no necessary reason for us to change that judgment. (Of course, if your situation has changed — you were fired because of the global recession, say — then, obviously, we should adjust our expectations. But we do that every year, for any family which undergoes a financial hit.) How can an across-the-board cut be justified by anything else other than Maud’s desire for popularity?

3) I don’t like the idea of price cuts. Williams is a luxury good. We should never cut our list price — although we should, and do, engage in a great deal of price discrimination. I especially don’t like tying such decisions to the minutia of whether or not fall sports are cancelled. Williams is not a cafeteria, a place where what you pay depends on what you choose to participate in (broadly speaking). You pay the same, regardless of whether or not you play varsity soccer. Therefore, we should charge the same, whether or not varsity soccer happens this year.

4) The exact 15% price cut on everything is too cute.

5) Here is what Williams reported in December:

Today, we have:

6) How much is this discount costing Williams? Tough to say! $12,000 times 2000 students is $24 million. That seems like a lot! But it is also an overestimate since some families have an expected contribution of zero. So, price cuts for them have no effect on revenue. Also, note that a 15% decrease on family contribution does not cost us $12,000, unless the family is paying almost the full price already. So, the total cost might be $15 million? Better calculations are welcome in the comments.

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Reopening, 2

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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Reopening, 1

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 biggest mistake is cancelling fall athletic competitions today.

The NESCAC Conference and the NCAA have issued statements about expectations for a safe return to play. Those statements leave a great deal to the discretion of individual schools, but strongly recommend a phased approach to return to play and competition. This means that any athletic engagement will begin and proceed slowly and with an abundance of caution. Knowing how important athletics is in the lives of many students, we hope to provide opportunities for team engagement. Teams will be able to practice outside in small groups if they adhere to social distancing guidelines, and may progress to more game-like practice activities if conditions improve. However it has been decided that Williams fall sports teams will not travel and compete during the fall semester. Our decision has been guided by the utmost attention to safety protocols to ensure the health and safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and community.

1) Get Maud an editor! This section, and the rest of the message, is absurdly verbose. And we know about verbosity at EphBlog! Is this the venial sin of an academic historian? Was the e-mail actually composed by committee? Did Maud think a longer message was more effective? Commentary welcome! Leadership 101 would have argued for a tight, personal message from Maud, supplemented by links and a committee report.

2) There was no reason to make this decision now. Wait till the end of August. Who knows how things will change? By announcing this now, you increase the odds of scores (hundreds?) of the 300-400 fall athletes will take a gap semester/year. Imagine what sort of chaos that might cause to financial planning.

3) There is no reason to cancel all competitions. The golf teams, for example, are 100% safe, assuming that they practice social distancing. Tennis is almost as safe. There is very little evidence that CV-19 is transmitted outside. Why cancel sports that you don’t need to cancel?

4) Even if you decide, come August, that travel in vans is too dangerous, nothing would prevent Williams from hosting teams who choose to travel to play us.

5) In a week or two, Massachusetts will enter Phase 3 and soccer will be allowed again. Won’t it be weird for Mount Greylock Regional High School to be playing a full season of soccer games, including travel, while Williams has no games? Again, I am not saying that we can know, for sure, today, how much soccer will be played in Massachusetts come September. But that is all the more reason to wait-and-see.

6) Bureaucratic fantasy: “Teams will be able to practice outside in small groups if they adhere to social distancing guidelines.” Just how does Williams intend to enforce this? Of course, they can order to have coaches do whatever. But when the basketball team decides to play a pick-up game, is Williams going to through them off campus? What happens when they go play in a Williamstown park? Just how much control does Williams expect to be able to exert over the students?

7) More nonsense: “health and safety of our athletes.” CV-19 poses almost no risk to athletic 20 year-olds. Williams would save a lot more students lives — at least in expectation — if it were to ban cars and bikes. Spouting this stuff just makes me (and you?) doubt everything they say.

As always, the people who run the College — from Maud on down — are smart and experienced. They want what is best for Williams. And most of the decisions they make are good. But some, like this one, are stupid. And that is why we have EphBlog . . .

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Remote Learning Does Not Belong at Williams

What is the biggest mistake which Williams is making right now? The insistence that every course support “remote learning.” From this excellent Record article:

Faculty members have been asked to inform the College by yesterday, June 20, whether they would teach in person or remotely if the campus were to reopen in the fall. The academic subcommittee of the working group tasked with determining what an on-campus fall would look like sent an all-faculty email on June 10 to address curricular planning in the case that campus reopens in the fall. The College has not yet decided whether or not to open campus in the fall, with the decision deadline still set for July 1.

If faculty choose to teach in person, the subcommittee has advised them to design “hybrid” courses to accommodate those students who must continue learning remotely even if campus is open. In addition to anticipating that some students may opt to remain off campus for personal reasons or travel restrictions, the email raised the possibility that “the entire campus may need to switch to remote learning at some point as we did this spring,” or that some students or faculty who begin the semester in-person may need to switch to remote learning during the term. Depending on the development of the public health situation, “we may still need these hybrid models next spring or even the following year,” the subcommittee wrote.

As we have discussed several times, this is a bad idea. First, any student who can’t be on campus should take a semester off. Williams is a residential college. If you can’t be in Williamstown, you can’t get a Williams education. Second, faculty are hired to teach Williams students in classrooms on the Williams campus, not via Zoom. Of course, temporary emergency situations can allow for flexibility on a handful of occasions each year. But anything more than that is nonsense.

This nonsense might not be so bad if it were optional, if students were allowed to come to a classroom and faculty were allowed to teach them. Almost all students/faculty want to be on the log together! But it sure looks like the College is doing its best to make this impossible.

Some faculty members have raised the concern that requiring hybrid courses might discourage faculty from choosing to teach in person. “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.”

Though Crowe acknowledged that some students would need to continue remote learning regardless, he said the presence of other faculty who were already planning to teach remotely would provide “a decent number of courses for remote students to take.” Crowe added, “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. If the College insists on demanding that all courses allow for (simultaneous) remote participation, then faculty have no choice but to Zoom everything. Is that really what Maud wants? Perhaps!

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Williams Will Fully Reopen

I have no inside information, but how else would you interpret this tweet?

Only question is whether the official announcement comes on Monday or on July 1st (Wednesday). Wagers?

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Townhall, 5

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

$3 million dollars per year for tuition benefit is bananas! End it now. Or, at least end for any child less than 10, or, at a minimum, end it for new employees.

1) Does anyone know all the details of this program? How have the costs risen over time? When did it start? My guess/sense is that this program started very small (back in the 50s?) perhaps just as as reciprocal tuition discount among NESCAC schools for the benefit of faculty children. Whatever the start, it has expanded year-after-year.

2) This program is absurdly unfair to employees without children.

3) As always, the best way to predict the behavior of the Administration is to assume that Williams is run by a cabal of corrupt insiders, bent on siphoning as much money away from the endowment for the their personal benefit. More likely than Maud ending a program like this one is for her to expand it, for Williams to start subsidizing the private high school tuition or graduate school tuition for employee children. (I assume (correctly?) that such options are not part of the current program. Am I naive?)

4) Whenever we propose cutting spending on program X, the cry goes up, “No! You can’t cut that! We need it to recruit faculty (and staff).” This has, always, been garbage. Pay people the market wage for their skills and they will come work for you. But it is especially garbage during a global recession, with a US unemployment rate above 15%. The academic job market is a wasteland. Williams could replace its entire faculty tomorrow, with only an increase in teaching/research quality. That does not mean that I think we should do that! I don’t! I love (most!) of our Williams faculty. My only point is that the ending of the tuition benefit program will have zero effect on our ability to recruit and retain high quality faculty.

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Townhall, 4

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

1) Getting rid of Winter Study (temporarily, one hopes!) makes sense. Requiring just three courses does not, which is why no (?) other elite school has made the same decision. Previous discussion here.

2) Shouldn’t there be some data available by now? My understanding is that Williams students pre-register for courses in the spring. So, by now, we know just how many students have signed up for how many courses. If this is true, then the Record ought to ask the College for the data. There is an important story here! (Of course, just because a student registered for 3 (or 4) courses does not mean that she will take 3 (or 4) courses. But the data would still be informative as to where we are now.) Hey, student readers! Help us out! Did you pre-register? Was the process different this year?

3) My prediction is the a (vast?) majority of Williams students will register for four courses. What do you think?

UDPATE: See the first comment below for insight from Current Student. Thanks! You should join EphBlog as an author!

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Townhall, 3

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

This is a great example of Williams faculty privilege: “I can’t possibly do my job if daycare is not available!” Well, then, Williams should go find someone who can. It is not the responsibility of Williams to solve your personal problems. Williams should, like any decent employer, try to help employees out in temporary emergency situations. But it is June! You don’t need to teach till September. Make some back up arrangements now.

I love the “hard to imagine” framing. As usual, the best way to predict the behavior of Williams is to assume that it is controlled by a corrupt cabal of insiders who seek to take advantage whenever they can. The reason why the committee can’t “imagine” X is because they choose not to imagine X. They want to make life as easy for faculty — but not necessarily for food service workers in Paresky — as possible.

Serious trustees would call Maud and say: If we are paying Professor X to teach at our residential college, and we decide that teaching in person is safe, then we expect Professor X to teach in person. But, of course, Maud and the Administration do everything within their power to make sure that alumni willing to ask such hard questions are never selected to be trustees.

And I love the stupidity at the end from Puddester! You have to decide on July 1. You won’t know, by then, whether or not schools and/or day cares will be open. (I would venture that they are highly likely to be open, but it all depends on where the epidemic is in the fall.) So, unless you are really planning to go full-remote — and you aren’t! — then this is just nonsense-talk.

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Middlebury Returning All Students

Well done!

Middlebury will reopen its campus to students, faculty and staff in the fall with certain precautions, according to a copy of the college announcement shared with The Campus. The College plans to welcome students back, with classes beginning on September 8 for a 12-week semester, which will continue without interruption until Thanksgiving Break, before a transition to remote learning. The cost of attendance remains unchanged.

I hope/trust that Maud is smart enough to follow suit.

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Townhall, 2

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

The Straussian reading of this comment, from Dukes Love, is that Lenhardt suggested the exact opposite: The best time for Dukes/Maud to accomplish some of their key goals is in the midst of a crisis. Never let a good crisis go to waste!

Another reading is that Dukes fully intends to use the crisis in this way, but that he wants to lull his faculty opponents to sleep . . .

Question: What goals to Dukes/Maud have which might normally face faculty opposition? I am honestly curious! Maud seems to have put the free speech issue to bed. What else does she want to do which some/many faculty are against?

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Does the New Visa Executive Order Affect Williams?

From the New York Times:

President Trump on Monday temporarily suspended new work visas and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States, part of a broad effort to limit the entry of immigrants into the country.

In a sweeping order, which will be in place at least until the end of the year, Mr. Trump blocked visas for a wide variety of jobs, including those for computer programmers and other skilled workers who enter the country under the H-1B visa, as well as those for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, students on work-study summer programs and au pairs who arrive under other auspices.

1) Williams does not employ at lot of non-US citizens. But it employs some, right? I am especially thinking of some of the people who teach languages for a year or two.

2) Does this have any affect on foreign student enrollment, either directly or indirectly? Honest question! I don’t know enough about the sort of visas which allow foreign students to come to Williams. Does anyone? I don’t see any mention of this issue in the news, so perhaps there is no change, at least directly? An indirect effect would be that, if foreigners have more trouble working in the US — either during the summer or in the years directly after graduation — then US college is less appealing. But Williams is so popular that I can’t see that mattering.

3) Were foreign students allowed to hold campus jobs in the past? Does this new Executive Order change things?

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Townhall, 1

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

This, being EphBlog, let’s start with the snark.

1) Funniest line, repeated twice!

“Fred, you’re muted.”

Does it give you warm feelings of confidence in Williams’ finances that, 10 weeks into working remotely, Fred Puddester does not know how to use Zoom?

2) Do the social media folks at Williams not like senior staff? This photo from the Zoom session is not . . . uh . . . overly complementary.

3) How long will Jim Kolesar keep feeding at the Williams trough? There is not better example of administrative bloat than Jim Reische being hired to replace Kolesar, and then, three years later, Kolesar is still collecting a salary. This is the sort of stuff that drives faculty nuts.

4) We should add thought bubbles! Above Collette Chilton: “If sitting through this nonsense will get me another $1.2 million from Williams this year, then sit through it I will!” Above Steve Klass: “Only 35 days until July 1.”

5) Darel Paul has made the point that Williams is becoming a matriarchy. Once Klass retires, the ratio of women to men among senior staff will be 6:3, with a 3:1 ratio in the key academic appointments of president/college-dean/faculty-dean/provost. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Now, on to the substance. From Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom:

Good stuff. Every elite college is wrestling with these issues.

1) I hope that Sandstrom shares what she discovers through this process. Transparency is good and, if Williams has found some useful techniques, the rest of us would be interested to read about them.

2) The single best change to make in most (large) classes is greater use of Zoom breakout rooms. As soon as the set of students does not fit in a single screen (which happens around 20, depending on monitor size), engagement drops dramatically. But, if you place students in small groups and give them work to do, you can begin to recapture some of the magic of an in-person class.

3) Williams has enough faculty that it ought to just have small in-person classes, regardless of CV-19. No more lectures.

What advice do readers have for Sandstrom?

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Dunce Hats

Professor Darel Paul’s twitter account has gone to a dark place:

In a world in which Steve Hsu is forced out at Michigan State, how can Darel Paul be safe at Williams?

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Hardy ’10 to the Knicks?

From the New York Post:

Another link to San Antonio is expected to interview for the Knicks coaching job – young Spurs assistant Will Hardy.

An NBA source confirmed the Spurs granted the Knicks permission to speak to Hardy, 31, who is currently a Gregg Popovich assistant coach and some believe could be his heir apparent.

Hardy, who is a Williams College graduate, is in his 10th season with the Spurs – the last four as an assistant coach. Prior, he was a video coordinator and a scout.

Good luck to Hardy!

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The FR/SR Temptation

For months, my claim has been that Williams students will be back on campus in September. I still believe that. But how might I be (partially) wrong?

Williams might follow a few (?) elite schools — like Stanford and Bates and (maybe) Harvard — and invite back only half the student body for September.

Comments:

1) This would be a big mistake, almost as bad an own-goal as the botched virtual graduation. Be strong Maud!

2) The biggest driver at some schools seems to be the issue of doubles. These schools seem to think that they must provide each student their own bedroom. Perhaps! But note that other less wealthy schools — like Berkley — are putting students in doubles. Williams, fortuitously, has fewer doubles than (almost?) any competitor, so this is much less of an issue for us.

3) “Every room a single” has been a long-standing EphBlog recommendation for a Williams slogan. Now is the time to implement it! Although the exact mechanics are difficult, we will be fairly close this year, especially with more than the normal amount of first years taking a gap year and upperclassmen taking time off — although, to be fair, the lack of study abroad will cut the other way. The (complete?) inability of foreign students to come to campus will also free up space. Longer term, I would like to see Williams go back to more like 500 students instead of the 540+ that we have seen in the last decade.

Do you think Williams might bring back only half the students? Do you think we should?

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Fight Anti-Black Racism

Maud’s letter on recent protests is about as “conservative” as such a letter could be. (Contrary opinions on this claim are welcome! But, as someone who expected much more action, I was very pleased to see Maud offer so little.) Key section:

Philanthropy: Williams will invest at least $500,000 over the next five years to specifically support racial justice organizations and efforts nationally and in our region. This, too, is consonant with the college’s long tradition of philanthropic support for our region and the world, as summarized in the recent report of the Williams in the World Strategic Planning working group.

1) This was the only dollar figure mentioned. It was lower than I expected. Recall my recommendations:

1) Don’t embarrass yourselves. If you feel you need to give money to appease the mob, give it to a reputable organization, not to the fools and grifters at something like 8 Can’t Wait or Campaign Zero. Recall when Williams, in a similar fit of moral piety, gave money to scam outfits in the name of carbon offsets. Don’t make that mistake again.

2) If you have to give money, give it to organizations with a direct Eph connection. Such organizations are (obviously!) more likely to be trustworthy and effective. Such gifts are less likely to rise the ire of non-BLM supporting alums.

3) Avoid excessively partisan organizations as much as possible. Consider the Innocence Project, an organization which helps to free wrongly convicted prisoners, many of them Black. Even a right-winger like me is supportive of those efforts.

4) Don’t write checks, support students. I, and many other alums, hate it when the College takes our donations and then turns around and donates that money to some other non-profit. If we wanted out money to go to, say, MASS MoCA, we would donate to it directly. Don’t take our money — which is meant to support Williams students and faculty — and send it to your favorite charity.

Nothing in Maud’s letter directly contradicts any of my advice, at least as of now. We will see what happens with the details.

2) Most of the rest is the usual collection of virtue-signalling and preaching to the choir. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Indeed, in the same way that Mark Hopkins, if he wanted to keep his job, had no choice but declare his fervent belief in the divinity of Christ, the President of Williams, in this year of our lord 2020, has no choice but to profess agreement with BLM.

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Suggestions for September

Students will be on campus in September. The College seeks our help. What are your suggestions? Here are mine:

Schedule

1) Start classes three weeks early. End classes before Thanksgiving, with all exams to be given online. The vast majority of students are forced to go home by November 21. Transmission is more likely in cold weather, with people packed inside.

2) Winter Study has already been cancelled. Start the second semester two weeks later, on Monday February 22. (Drop Claiming Williams Day.) Cancel Spring Break. The less time that students spend in Williamstown during the winter, the better.

3) Lengthen the actual Academic Day. Have lots of classes which start at 8:00 AM, especially sections of the most popular classes. We need to put students and professors in the same rooms. To do that, we need social distancing. To do that, we need to have large classrooms in use all day long.

Food

1) Open Greylock Dining Hall. The most dangerous location for CV-19 transmission are the dining halls. We need to minimize crowding. Reopening Greylock Dining Hall is the best first step. In fact, this should have happened a decade ago, given the over-crowding in other dining halls.

2) Extend all dining hall hours. The more students who eat at 4:00 and at 8:00, the less crowded the dining halls will be at 6:00 PM.

3) Work with Williamstown to close off the top (and bottom?) of Spring Street, allowing restaurants to set up tables in the street, at least through October. The more meals that are eaten outside, the less CV-19 transmission.

4) Give students vouchers to eat meals on Spring Street, but for outside service only.

5) Provide grab-and-go options at all meals.

6) Provide cookouts every lunch and dinner, weather permitting.

7) Set up the reunion tents to encourage outside eating, even in bad weather.

Classes

1) Cancel sabbaticals and most other teaching leaves. Require professors in administrative positions to teach. All hands on deck. We want to turn as many 20 person classes into 10 person classes as we can. Smaller groupings means less transmission. No more lectures!

2) Make it easy to hold classes outside. Although there is still much uncertainty with CV-19, one of the main findings is that outdoors transmission is very, very rare. So, let’s keep people outside as much as we can! That won’t be possible all the time. But, with enough tables, chairs and awnings spread around the campus, we could have lots of outside meetings. The vast majority of tutorials should, weather permitting, meet outside.

Make the Hard Decisions

Does Maud have the stomach to make the hard decisions? I hope so. Here are two:

1) Require students to be on campus. If, for whatever reasons — health, visa, family obligations — a student can’t be in Williamstown, then that students needs to withdraw for the semester. abl argues that this is not possible:

This [offering classes to students not on campus], too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.

a) This is, obviously, not required by ADA. If it were, then Williams would have to do it all the time. The ADA applies even if there is no global pandemic.

b) “Basic compassion” is nonsense talk since this situation has happened, to at least a handful of students, each semester since forever. Tragedy strikes someone each year, most commonly in the form of a health emergency or parental death. If it happens before the semester starts, then Williams is compassionate, but it still requires the student to take a semester off, to go back home.

c) The only way to meet this requirement is to offer essentially every class over Zoom. There is no other way to offer a class for students who are, for whatever reason, stuck in Houston or Shanghai. Such a scenario, while necessary this past spring, will not be necessary in September. We need Mark Hopkins and the Log.

2) Require faculty to teach in person. We discussed this a bit last week.

a) From a moral point of view, it would be disgusting for Williams to require a 55 year-old cafeteria worker or janitor to come to campus and be near students to keep her job while, simultaneously, allowing a 55 year-old faculty member to Zoom it in.

b) Isn’t this legally suspect as well? Williams has two options. Either campus is safe enough, all workers are expected to report for duty or lose their jobs. Or, campus is dangerous and employees do not have to come to campus. It can’t say that campus is too dangerous for Denise Buell but not too dangerous for the check-in person at Driscoll.

c) Mark Hopkins and the Log, not Mark Hopkins and the Zoom, is a central component of the Williams identity and the Williams experience.

d) Of course, in extremis, accommodations are possible.

Yet Williams students and faculty should be on campus. They will all be socially distanced. They will all be wearing masks. They should all be outside as much as possible. But they will be together, teaching and learning. If Maud Mandel does not have the heart to see how necessary that is, and the intestinal fortitude to make it happen, then she is not the Williams president we need right now.

UPDATE: abl clarifies his views below.

David: How much time is being wasted by the continuing delusion that students might not be on campus in the fall? They will be. Why pretend otherwise?

abl: There is a real (5%? 15%?) chance that students will not be on campus in the fall. It would be irresponsible for Williams not to plan for that possibility. It’s worth noting that every decently resourced school (and, I would imagine, the overwhelming majority of all schools full stop) is similarly coming up with contingency plans for this possibility.

David: This seems very weird to me. Are other colleges doing this? Mine isn’t.

abl: Yes, many other colleges (most?) have given or are preparing to give faculty the option of teaching remotely in the event that the school is in person. I would be very surprised if yours (Harvard) isn’t as well, at least for tenured/tenure-track faculty members. It’s hard for me to imagine that many schools will require their tenured faculty to literally put themselves in harms way to teach in person in the midst of a pandemic.

David: It seems like madness to insist on a system in which students can take (some? any?) classes remotely.

abl: This, too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.

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Virtual Graduation

From iBerkshires:

It might have not have been the celebration expected by the Class of 2020, but the Williams College honored graduating students with a flurry of tribute videos on Sunday, as part of the school’s virtual graduation.

True! But, wait a second, didn’t Williams claim that they weren’t going to have a virtual ceremony, that the seniors were 90% against it? They did. In the end, reason prevailed, sort of. Williams had a virtual graduation, albeit one which was less competently handled than those from any of our peers.

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Truther

Bethany McLean ’92 is probably the leading Eph reporter of her generation. And she is also (sort of?) a CV-19 truther!

Not that there is anything wrong with being a truther! Some of my best friends are . . .

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Academic Planning Details

Thanks to a source for sending along two e-mails with details on academic planning. Both are below the break. Some highlights and comments:

For all classes with enrollments over 30, units will need to make decisions about whether to break such courses into smaller sections, to teach the courses remotely, some combination of the two, or whether to cancel the course entirely.

No more lectures! EphBlog has been singing this same tune for more than a decade. Nothing besides faculty laziness and a lack of institutional vision prevents Williams from making every class a discussion, if not a tutorial. We have more than 300 faculty members! If each teaches two classes this fall, with 15 students in each class, you more than cover the 8,000 student/classes required. Perhaps it takes a global pandemic for Williams to embrace its identity.

Should I spend more time going through the details of how this could be done? Back to the e-mails.

Tutorials and office hours would not be allowed in faculty offices – these would have to be handled remotely (or possibly could be scheduled into smaller classrooms that won’t be getting other use)

That seems a shame. Is it really necessary? How big a risk is a tutorial held in a faculty office, with everyone is masks and the door open? I don’t know. My sense is that there is very little evidence for transmission, even indoors, in such situations. This is especially true in this case since Williams will be (rightly!) insisting on regular testing of everyone on campus.

Faculty should recognize that they’ll most likely need to support both remote as well as in-person learners.

Again, this is madness. A requirement to support remote learners makes everything 100 times harder. Indeed, doesn’t this essentially force every class to be on Zoom? Of course, as an emergency measure, any class with a student who, in the middle of the semester, is forced into quarantine, would do something for that student, presumably hiring a classmate to take notes. But to force every (!) class — in tiny 10 person seminars? — to prepare for remote teaching from day 1 is nuts.

We will also likely need to change the class hour schedule (to accommodate longer passing periods), and we’ll need units to make more equitable use of the entire class hour schedule.

Good! Bring the hammer! As sympathetic as I am to student preferences, we need to use the full classroom space. Schedule all the most popular courses for 8:00 AM, especially courses that are often over-subscribed. The best way to allocate those limited spots is by seeing who is willing to wake up early for them.

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Pecker Checker

Should we spend a week going through the fascinating You Know You Went to Williams When . . . Facebook group? Lots of interesting material, and another sign that the College is incompetent for not providing its own forum for such conversations.

But maybe Williams just wants to avoid stuff like this:

1) I have occasionally mentioned this story in the past. Glad (?) to see that I was not the only one!

A long-term member of the central administration is being accused of sexual improprieties, which included behaviors in the locker room (some of which you should be able to infer from what is posted here).

he would sometimes be leaving the showers then see us coming in and he’d turn back around and reshower.

I remember so many complaints from my friends on the swim team. They used to say he might be there for both their morning and afternoon workouts. Anybody verify that? This was late 80s

I can verify, as can the other squash bros! I wonder which team he was more impressed with . . .

2) How can this person still be a respected member of the Williams community? Why isn’t he banned from campus? I guess #metoo does not apply when the victims are Williams men . . . or if the perpetrator is homosexual (one assumes) . . . or perhaps the statue of limitations has run out . . . or . . .

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Prefer to Teach in Person or Remotely

Latest e-mail to the faculty.

Even though the decision concerning whether the college will offer all-remote or some in-person instruction will not be made until July 1, all departments and programs (and thus all of you) are working hard to determine what kind of curriculum will be offered in either of these paths.

How much time is being wasted by the continuing delusion that students might not be on campus in the fall? They will be. Why pretend otherwise?

We are asking you to let the Office of the Dean of the Faculty know by June 20, 2020 whether you would prefer to teach in person or remotely should the institutional decision be to allow students back to campus in the fall semester. This deadline will allow chairs to submit both an all-remote and a return-to-campus version of the course offerings to the Registrars’ office by late June. Very shortly after Maud’s announcement on July 1, the Registrar will make available to students an abbreviated form of the catalog that, if the decision is a return-to-campus one, will indicate the modality of the course offering (remote, hybrid, in-person).

You do not need to submit any documentation concerning your decision, as it is entirely up to you and need not be related to your age, health condition, etc. If you wish to have a conversation about this decision, Kashia Pieprzak, Sara Dubow, John Gerry, or either of us would be happy to speak with you.

This seems very weird to me. Are other colleges doing this? Mine isn’t. Nor have I heard of any others that are. Since when does anyone, without providing any reason/justification, allowed to perform their job however they see fit?

I am certain that, at almost every elite college, the Administration is sensitive to faculty concerns. Any faculty member who came to them with a good reason for why they needed to teach remotely — or take a leave of absence or move to a different office or anything else — would be listened to sympathetically. But to phrase the issue in this way opens the door to abuse.

Perhaps more important is this:

Nonetheless, even if the college opens for in-person instruction, some students will still need to take classes remotely and some faculty will still need or want to teach remotely.

It seems like madness to insist on a system in which students can take (some? any?) classes remotely. Williams is a residential college and it requires a students physical presence. If, for some reason, a student can’t be on campus — either because of travel restrictions or because of health issues — then the student should take a leave of absence.

It is madness to require that every class be set up to enable virtual attendance. Or am I misreading this?

In a recent survey of faculty, those of you who responded indicated that about 75% of you would be willing to teach students in person. Many of you also noted that such willingness is contingent on factors such as the availability of childcare and PPE.

As always, imagining that the College is run by a cabal of corrupt insiders is not a bad method for predicting its actions. Your childcare is not Williams’ responsibility.

Anything else in the e-mail worth discussing?

Thanks to our anonymous source! Full e-mail below:

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Woke Williams

Is Williams about to go woke? From twitter:

Answer: It might lose the support from the 20% (50%?) of the alumni who are either non-woke or prefer that their alma mater stay out of politics or are so awake that nothing Williams does will ever be woke enough. More detail:

Everyone who has the benefit of a Williams education is critical to this moment and can help us chart our collective future. Mindful to not overburden those already carrying weight, we invite alumni to submit your own stories about race and racism, how you are fighting for racial justice, supporting protests, pursuing justice reform, talking to your kids or simply surviving today. We especially hope to hear your thoughts on how we can galvanize the power of the Williams alumni community to effect change. We will share your stories, should you choose, in an effort to build understanding, create connections within our Williams family and, most importantly, amplify your voice.

1) This is not as bad, as partisan, as woke as it might be. Thank God for small favors. Am I the only one who thinks that Williams should stay out of politics? I am no more interested in Maud’s opinions about Black Lives Matters than I am in her opinions about Uyghur repression in China or the capital gains tax. Leave political issues out of the relationship between Williams and its alumni.

2) Would stories about Ephs who are trying to “effect change” in a conservative way be accepted and published? Or are only left-wing answers allowed? I don’t know! The College, under the wise guidance of Jim Reische has treated conservative voices fairly in the past, and at some cost to his own standing. But June 2020 is a different era than March 2018. Would Reische’s non-partisan approach prevail today?

3) Is there more to come? From the Record:

At a time when predominantly white institutions across the nation are responding to widespread protests denouncing police brutality and anti-Black racism, members of the Williams community — particularly students and alums — are placing increased pressure on the College administration to hold itself accountable for what they see as its delayed and limited support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

White Americans are a minority in the Williams student body. Is referring to Williams as “predominantly white” true? Is it helpful? Or is it one more step down the road to perdition? How long before white Americans start acting like just another aggrieved participant in the national conversation?

Upon meeting with various community members and receiving written statements critiquing the College’s response, President of the College Maud S. Mandel and Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia S.E. Haynes ’99 will make an announcement on Monday about new commitments from the College aimed at supporting those fighting racial inequity.

There is a lot of interesting material in the article. Kudos to reporters Jeongyoon Han and Nigel Jaffe. The Record is so much better than it was a year or two ago. My advice to Williams:

1) Don’t embarrass yourselves. If you feel you need to give money to appease the mob, give it to a reputable organization, not to the fools and grifters at something like 8 Can’t Wait or Campaign Zero. Recall when Williams, in a similar fit of moral piety, gave money to scam outfits in the name of carbon offsets. Don’t make that mistake again.

2) If you have to give money, give it to organizations with a direct Eph connection. Such organizations are (obviously!) more likely to be trustworthy and effective. Such gifts are less likely to rise the ire of non-BLM supporting alums.

3) Avoid excessively partisan organizations as much as possible. Consider the Innocence Project, an organization which helps to free wrongly convicted prisoners, many of them Black. Even a right-winger like me is supportive of those efforts.

4) Don’t write checks, support students. I, and many other alums, hate it when the College takes our donations and then turns around and donates that money to some other non-profit. If we wanted out money to go to, say, MASS MoCA, we would donate to it directly. Don’t take our money — which is meant to support Williams students and faculty — and send it to your favorite charity.

Instead, provide students with funding to work for other non-profits. For example, I would be happy to see my alumni giving go to funding summer stipends for Williams students to work for, say, Professor Jen Doleac ’03 at the Justice Tech Lab. They do good work! The students would learn a lot. Of course, in a perfect world, I would prefer to provide summer funding which is more portable, which could be used by a student to do research at a (high quality!) organization of her choice. But, to the extent that Maud feels forced, on Monday, to give the mob a show, money spent on student research stipends to work with quality organizations on social issues is the least objectionable.

Any reader interest in parsing more details from the Record article? Anyone heard more rumors about what the College is planning?

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#DEFUNDPOLICE

Violent insurrection Peaceful protests make for strange bedfellows. Professor Kai Green tweets:

I certainly don’t want to defund all of law enforcement, but Williams College should stop giving money to the police.

Williams College has announced a $400,000 gift to the town to help build the new police station on Simonds Road.

Can we all just agree to stop nonsense like that?

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Falò Delle Vanità

Phrase coined by an Eph in 2020 most likely to gain wide currency? I will go with “Bonfire of the Authorities,” from Professor Darel Paul.

Background:

A bonfire of the vanities (Italian: falò delle vanità) is a burning of objects condemned by authorities as occasions of sin. The phrase usually refers to the bonfire of 7 February 1497, when supporters of Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola collected and burned thousands of objects such as cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy on the Shrove Tuesday festival.[1][2]

Francesco Guicciardini’s The History of Florence gives a first-hand account of the bonfire of the vanities that took place in Florence in 1497.[3] The focus of this destruction was on objects that might tempt one to sin, including vanity items such as mirrors, cosmetics, fine dresses, playing cards, and even musical instruments.

The phrase “bonfire of the authorities” is, on its face, perfect. This really is an age in which trust in authority figures is being destroyed. To the extent that non-leftists used to place some faith in NPR or public health professionals, that faith is being squandered.

But, is there a deeper connection, to the original meaning? Are NPR, public health, leading magazines themselves “vanity items?” I hope we never find out.

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Congrats to the Class of 2020

Is this a virtual commencement, or something else?

Sad and pathetic. Instead of just having an imperfect online ceremony, like every other elite school, Williams puts together an embarrassing collection of videos. Is this the worst one?

CV-19 was always going to make Commencement a bittersweet event. There is nothing to be done about that. But, a competent institution would have done something better than Maud-As-Nearsighted-News-Reader, trapped in her mansion. She isn’t even in her academic regalia! I have seen a lot of these videos, and I can’t find a single one in which the college president is not in cap and gown. Can you?

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8 Can Wait

Which Eph is throwing the most shade towards BLM and associated causes? Good question! Let’s start with Jen Doleac ’03:

See Jen’s thread for more. Would any reader defend this sort of nonsense?

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DEFUND WILLIAMS

I need to write a longer post along the theme of the attempt to destroy Williams from within by crushing the little platoons which make our community so wonderful. Recall the slurs against the JA system a few years ago, the cancelling of Story Time and, most recently, the destruction of College Council. Is that view too extreme? Am I being unfair to my opponents? Consider Kristina Hwang ’18:

WE ARE LOOKING FOR TRUSTEES’ CONTACT INFO (please message Kristina Hwang on fb or @psyfieri on instagram)
● GOALS
○ to force Williams College to pay their dues! open that (stolen) purse!
○ redistribute funds (that were exploited out of black students, professors, built on indigenous land, black struggle) into the BLM movements happening rn
● HOW
○ flood President Maud Mandel and Williams’ communication email inboxes
○ use the templates below (copy/paste or use them as guidance when crafting your own)
■ Make sure to demand TANGIBLE (read: monetary) ACTION
■ Call Maud out on “how she is DIRECTLY IMPLICATED in harming black students” (-isabel pena)
○ call williams out publicly on social media (facebook, instagram)
○ please reach out to your friends and classmates (need as many people as possible) (nonblack folks need to STEP UP)
○ email more than once, use the boomerang feature on google to automatically send emails every day (https://www.boomeranggmail.com/)
● TARGETS
○ msm8@williams.edu (Maud’s personal email)
○ communications@williams.edu
○ @williamspresident (insta)
○ @ephalum (insta)
○ @williamscollege (insta)
○ WE ARE LOOKING FOR TRUSTEES’ CONTACT INFO (please message Kristina Hwang on fb or @psyfieri on instagram)

Nice! These people hate Williams — just as they hated the JA system, Story Time, College Council and everything else Purple. And don’t even get them started on athletes and Republicans!

Critics might claim that my source for this information, former political science professor John Drew, is not always reliable. Perhaps! But Drew is right about this one. Here is the original Google Doc — permanent copy here — linked from Hwang’s Instagram account, and the (clever!) url: tinyurl.com/payupwilliams.

Is this just an example of “passion,” of alumni who want to have a discussion, of Ephs who see their opponents as fellow human beings, worthy of respect? No. Read the above again:

flood President Maud Mandel and Williams’ communication email inboxes

Call Maud out on “how she is DIRECTLY IMPLICATED in harming black students”

use the boomerang feature on google to automatically send emails every day

These people hate Williams. They hate Maud. They seek the institution’s destruction, piece by piece. If the Trustees announced that Williams were closing and donating all remaining funds to their cause-of-the-day, they would cheer.

How should Maud handle this challenge?

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Remotely Celebrate == Virtual Commencement?

Williams will be remotely celebrating graduation on Sunday but, under no circumstances, should you refer to that event as a “virtual commencement.”

OK!

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