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Got the Gov

J-L Cauvin ’01 makes us laugh!


Easter Plans

Most viral Eph video of the year is probably this Trump impression from J-L Cauvin ’01.

Hilarious! Regardless of your politics . . .


CV-19 Questions, 8

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 8: How will Williams handle gap-year requests from admitted students?

If it looks like the disruption might go on into the fall (and I would put the odds of that at 50/50 right now), there will be a lot of first years who would want to take a gap year. And who could blame them! But Williams won’t want that. Its costs, at least in terms of faculty and staff, are fixed. It has 540 seats to fill in September 2020, and it wants to fill them, even virtually.

Solution? Williams should/will probably require students to make the gap year decision much earlier, perhaps by May 31. And it should/will put some teeth on it, will insist that anyone deciding later to take a gap year will, except in exigent circumstances, have their acceptance withdrawn. With good information by May 31, it could use its wait-list more extensively than it has in the past. And you can be sure that this year’s wait-list will be the longest we have had in a generation.


CV-19 Questions, 7

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 7: Will time-off policies change?

Williams might still be an online-only school in September.

If you were a rising senior, wouldn’t you take a gap year if you could not return to campus, especially if you were an athlete? And wouldn’t you be all the more likely to do so if all your friends were doing so? The snowball effects would be strong.

Solution? This is a harde problem! Williams does not have the threat of acceptance withdrawal to hang over the heads of current students, especially rising seniors. Maybe try to bribe them? Williams only costs X in 2020-2021, even if students are allowed to come back in January. How low would X have to be to ensure that most (80%? 95%?) students came back?

Of course, the demand for Williams spots is strong. We could take scores of transfer students. Or am I overestimating the number of students who would be interested in transferring to Williams if classes were still virtual in September? There might be very few interested in transferring for just a year. But would a (rich!) student (and her family!) be interested if she could transfer into Williams permanently? I bet that there are hundreds of students who were rejected from the classes of ’21 and ’22 who would consider that offer quite closely . . .

What do you predict will happen? What should Maud be doing now to prepare?


CV-19 Questions, 6

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 6: Will grading policies change?

This question was over-taken by events. President Mandel writes:

[W]e have made the decision to switch to universal pass/fail for all courses taken by undergraduates this semester. You will not be surprised to learn that many people have expressed strong views on the subject, sometimes referring to what other schools are doing. Those examples vary, because each college or university is responding in ways appropriate to their own situation. Some are continuing with existing grading policies. Some are moving to optional pass/fail, with a subset pushing back their deadline for declaring a class as pass/fail. Still others, including MIT, Columbia, Wellesley and Bowdoin, have established universal pass/fail grading policies for all students.

Maud’s letter goes into a lot of detail. Would readers like a close reading? Could spend a week on this one! It has more nonsense than I expected. Key line:

Some people expressed concerns to me that a move to pass/fail would disincentivize students.

“Some people!” Did “Some people” also forecast that the sun would rise in the east? I want to meet these “Some people.” They are very smart! I would also like to meet the person who disagrees with this forecast . . .

There is zero doubt that students work much less without grading. Call the amount that students would work X — even with a global pandemic, but with the structure/incentives of grades — measured however you like. With universal Pass/Fail, do you forecast 90% of X, 50% of X, or even lower?

What do our student readers plan to do?

If I were on the Williams faculty, I would have voted against this. Maximum understanding/leniency toward students who have problems — just as most of us do even in the absence of a global pandemic. A virtual college course without grades is little more than an extremely expensive TED-talk.

Is this the first sign of Woke Maud?

Entire e-mail below the break.

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Close the Borders, 2

Professor Darel Paul notes:

Recall our discussion from last week. (And note some of the over-taken-by-events nonsense in that comment thread.)

The point that Paul is making, and that is very little discussed, is that there is no (plausible, short-term) solution which does not rely on vast restrictions on movement and behavior. Don’t the readers of EphBlog see that?

Imagine that we magically made every person in the US free of CV-19 tomorrow. Problem solved? Crisis averted?

No! The crisis would just be (briefly) delayed. Tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, someone would come into the US, unknowingly infected with CV-19, and the spread would just start again. We haven’t (even today!) closed the borders. We haven’t (even today!) set up 14-day quarantines for new arrivals into the US. I don’t even see any discussion of those (necessary!) policies outside of EphBlog.

We have no (public?) plausible plan for the sort of extensive contact tracing and electronic monitoring which countries like Hong Kong and Singapore are using. (To be fair, this is now a topic of discussion in certain parts of the internet.)

Paul’s point is that, without these policies, it is inevitable that CV-19 will work its way through the US population, at least until we reach herd immunity or develop a vaccine. Anyone who isn’t discussing that mathematical fact is not serious.

UPDATE: Even the New York Times is still writing nonsense:

If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated.

The crisis would be over.

No. In a world of global travel and open US borders, the spread would just start again. If the Times (and the “experts” it talks to?) is still this clueless, on March 23, what hope is there?


CV-19 Questions, 5

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 5: How is the endowment doing?

Answer: Not well.

1) Williams is about 30% less wealthy than it was a month ago. Wow! Even as rich as we are, that sort of drop will put a crimp in some of our strategic plans. The new art museum is the first things we should cut.

2) The endowment was at $2.9 billion last June 30. Through the end of February, it was up about 9%. But the college was also spending money, and raising money, throughout that time period. Put our total wealth at over $3 billion and the recent drop cost Williams a yard, as we finance bros say.

3) Will the next report from the Investment Office look that bad? No. First, the S&P is only down around 17% since last June. Second, a lot of the College’s investments — especially in private equity, venture capital and real estate — is not “marked-to-market.” The College’s managers are able to “smooth” returns, and you can be certain they will do so this year.

4) How much of a hit will this cause to the Williams budget for next year? I am unsure. Recall:

Spending from the endowment to support operations, referred to as asset use at Williams, is expected to be 5.0% of the twelve quarter trailing average of the end of year investment pool over the long run.

There is a big hit now, but endowment growth has been significant over the last few years. So, it could be that the trailing twelve quarter average wealth as of June 2020 is not that different from the same figure calculated for June 2019. So, perhaps the allowed “draw” from the endowment won’t be much lower. Of course, 6 months ago, the College planned/hoped that it would be higher, so some (minor?) belt-tightening might be required.


Kudos to Cohen

We have had our differences with Professor Phoebe Cohen in the past, but this is good stuff!

Kudos! Any other faculty involved in the fight? Tell us some stories.


I worry a lot about Berkshire Medical Center. What is the latest news?


CV-19 Questions, 4

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 4: What about graduation?

Graduation will not happen. (Anyone think otherwise?) What are Maud’s options?

1) Plan on a September graduation. Might work wonderfully! Worst of the virus will be passed, one hopes. Hundreds of people would come back. Combine it with Convocation. Could make for an epic week-end!

2) Plan on a double-graduation in June 2021 for members of the class of 2020 and 2021. Benefit is that things are (highly?) likely to be settled by then. There is plenty of room on campus to house 500 returning members of the class of 2020. Easiest logistically and most satisfying emotionally.

3) On-line graduation this spring. I am suspicious. But, then again, who knows? Could be very moving, especially if it were combined with faculty actually walking through the their places in the lawn and a handful of nearby students participating. A lot would depend on the state of meeting-size restrictions in MA by the middle of May.

I recommend plan 2) because I am worried that this crisis, and the resulting travel restrictions, will continue into summer.

What advice would you give Maud? What do you think she will do?


CV-19 Questions, 3

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 3: What about staff?

There are dozens (100? 200?) staff that Williams no longer needs, at least until September, mainly dining hall workers and custodial staff. What should be done?

Given how rich we (still?) are, and how close we are to the end of the school year, I recommend just paying them “as-if” the students were still around. Assuming that some social distance can be maintained, now is a good time to work on cleaning and renovation projects which are normally pushed to one side during the school year.

But, come June, things get trickier. (Does anyone have details on how staffing normally fluctuates during the summer? I assume that some staff stay on, but surely not all of them.) Williams can’t pay salaries forever. That is why we have unemployment insurance. If Williams is not hosting summer camps and the like, then it should furlough staff it does not need, with the hope that they can be brought back in September.

But, in between the faculty (working as normal) and the support staff (with nothing to do), we have the endlessly bloated administrative staff of Williams. What should happen to them? Will the Title IX office just be investigating itself? Will the grievance mongers in diversity/inclusion/equity turn their greedy eyes on the faculty? (Probably!) For now, there is no need for changes.

But, if I were Maud, and there were 50 or 100 positions/people I wanted an excuse to get rid of all at once, now (or, better, May) would be a good time to strike . . .


CV-19 Questions, 2

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 2: Will Williams modify international admissions this week?

EphBlog has been a big fan over international admissions for more than 15 years. We loved it when Maud increased the percentage of internationals to 11% for the class of 2023. But does the existence of a global pandemic change that?

And, with admissions decisions due in a week or two, now is the time to ponder that question. Come September, students from some countries might be prevented from coming to the US. Or, if they do come, they might find it difficult to travel home. Would Williams be doing them any favors by admitting them with so much uncertainty?

Why not just skip a year with regard to international admissions? Just admit US citizens and permanent residents from the regular decision pool? (We would still have a bunch of international students already admitted early.)

Again, this is not what I want! I want Williams to become 25% or more international. But maybe not this year . . .


CV-19 Questions, 1

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 1: Will Williams re-open in September 2020?

I don’t know. And isn’t that scary? There are many unknowns, of course, but Mission Park is, basically, an ugly, immobile cruise ship. Will cruises be running by September? Again, I don’t know. But it is easy to imagine a world in which they won’t be.

Maud, being a smart college president, will very soon have some of her best people pondering this question. After all, she can’t make this decision on September 1. She will need to make the call . . . when, exactly? And much of the decision may be out of her hands. If Massachusetts is still forbidding large gatherings in August, how can she possibly open Williams in September?

What advice do you have for her?


Show Them The Money

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

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

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

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

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

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


Close The Borders

Professor Darel Paul wakes me from my dogmatic slumber by tweeting:

Assume that President Trumps has three goals: protect the the health/lives of US citizens, minimize the damage to the US economy and win re-election. (Fortunately, achieving the first two will be great help to the third.) Note also, that there is nothing that businesses hate more than uncertainty. As long as the crisis rages, they will want to cut back. They would prefer a scenario in which things are very painful for two months and then finished. Nothing is worse than a somewhat painful period for an unknown length of time.

It is the interaction between business behavior and uncertainty which highlights the importance of Paul’s question. Even in a world in which COVID-19 turns out not that bad over the next few weeks, as long as it is bad enough, business can’t get back to normal. Even if we knew Orlando were mostly OK today, it is hard for people/businesses in Orlando to return to work as long as a bunch of travelers from Seattle could show up tomorrow. Given those facts, Trump’s optimal strategy is fairly obvious: Close the borders in April. Crush COVID within the US by June. Reopen the US for business on July 4th with a big party. Keep the borders closed till the election.

March: There is not much to be done in March beyond what Trump and every governor/mayor is doing. We need tests. We need masks. We need ventilators. We need to prepare for the unstoppable wave of very sick people. The die is cast. Trump should not be overly political, but he should keep a list of every bonehead decision made, by both Democrat and Republican officials. How could Governor Doug Ducey allow the Arizona Renaissance Festival to go on? Why did NYC Mayor Bill DeBalsio wait until day X to close the bars? Don’t make a big deal of those things now. Stay above the fray. Offer to help. Invoke federalism. Insist that you should not be making decisions for every school district in America.

April: Disaster strikes. This is now inevitable, no matter what Trump (or anyone else) does. Math plays no favorites. When things appear at their worst, have a televised address. (With no other speeches before this. Indeed, avoid the cameras for the two weeks prior.)

My fellow Americas. The wolf is at the door. Our mothers and fathers are dying in the hallways of our great hospitals. Our doctors and nurses are fighting the tide of death each day and night. Their bravery is that of our greatest battlefield heroes. Never, in our 200 years as a Nation, has the future looked so bleak.

This will be our finest hour.

I am taking personal command of the fight against COVID-19. The buck stops with me. I will, with your help, either conquer this threat or resign the Presidency.

Today I am ordering the closing of all US borders. We can no longer allow even a single infected person into our country. The borders will stay closed until we can be certain that only healthy people are allowed in.

And so on. Many more things will be done, of course. Wuhan and South Korea show how COVID-19 can be contained. We should follow their playbook. Test everyone all the time. Isolate the ill. Confine people to their homes. Federalize the National Guard. Recall our troops from Japan, South Korea and Germany. And so on.

Yet the border closing is the key political maneuver. It is consistent with Trump’s message. Only he would even consider it. Joe Biden is on record against it and will probably object when it happens. Make the election of 2020 all about whether a US president has the right to close the border — and about whether doing so was justified in the case of a global pandemic — and Trump wins.

May: Things get better on the health front, not least because the initial set of social distancing directives in March had a significant effect and because hospitals are ramping up their capacity and skills. Indeed, the reason for giving the speech in April is that, again because of math, you can be mostly certain that things will look better in May. But the economy is still frozen. How to fix that in a world where people can’t go out? UBI will probably be popular. Perhaps incentives to companies to maintain their current payrolls. But those are just delaying actions while the virus is brought under control.

June: Another televised address, either one to three months after the first one.

My fellow Americans. We are winning the war against COVID-19. The bravery of our doctors and nurses, the ingenuity of our scientists, the dedication of our public servants, the individual contributions of every citizen in every neighborhood have swung the battle in our favor. We are at the beginning of the end.

Today, I am declaring July 4th to be the re-opening of America for business. You will be able to leave your house, go out for a meal, take the family on a vacation. Life can start to return to normal.

Does this timing make sense? I don’t know. Yet regardless of the timeline, the key trick is for Trump to provide a focal point, a specific date, given a few months in advance, at which things can return to normal. The hardest part of coming out a recession is the coordination it requires. I won’t go out to eat if none of the restaurants are open. You won’t open your restaurant if no one is going out to eat. If the whole country knows that on, say, September 1, we are back in business, then all the restaurants and bars and hotels and amusement parts will open and all of us will go to them. It will be a giant national party.

Whether the “re-opening” — and we need a better phrase — happens in July or in September does not really matter. The key is that Trump gets to declare victory, in a clear fashion, to claim credit for a battle won, to cite some of the (un)popular decisions he made in leading the country. The economy will do nothing but zoom forward, from that day until the election. Trump wins in a walk.

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Faculty Advice

From The New York Times:

To the Editor:

When Cambridge University in England closed in 1665 because of the bubonic plague, a young man named Isaac Newton went home to the countryside. And there he sat under the famous apple tree and realized that the same gravity worked on the apple and the Moon.

Let us hope that the current situation leads one of today’s scholars to make a breakthrough that will help future generations.

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, Mass.
The writer is a professor of astronomy at Williams College.

Let us hope!


Close Williams

timber_wolfEphBlog’s advice: Close Williams today.

1) There is no better time to close Williams than a week before Spring Break. Pull a Harvard! Tell students they have to pack up and leave. (Allow some flexibility for low-income/international students.) Treat it like the end of the semester. Empty the dorms. Cancel all sports. Go online.

2) The people who run places like Harvard and Yale (and even Amherst!) are smart and serious. If they are closing — and closing Harvard is much harder logistically than closing Williams — then we need a really good reason not to close.

3) What about graduation? Graduation has already been cancelled! You just don’t know it yet. The Governor of Massachusetts will, within weeks (if not days!), ban any gathering over 1,000 people. And then he will ban gatherings over 100. And then he will institute a quarantine with the National Guard patrolling the streets. That is how bad this is going to get. Whatever else the next few months will bring, Williams will not be seating 500 graduating seniors together on June 7.

4) Might this be an overreaction? Maybe! (EphBlog does occasionally overreact to global events.) South Korea seems to have bought things under control. The warmer weather may help. But overreaction in an attempt to fight a global pandemic is no vice. If things look much better in two months, you can invite the seniors back to spend three weeks on campus prior to graduation. What a party that would be!

Good luck to all!

UPDATE: EphBlog gets results!

Williams College will end in-person classes on Friday, March 13, and dismiss students for spring break on Saturday, March 14, a week earlier than planned. We will be moving to remote learning beginning on Monday, April 6.

This seems a touch panicky to me. There are, presumably, a number of in-person exams which were scheduled for next week. How easy for is it for students to move already-bought plane tickets up a week? Then again, closing is the right call and reasonable people can disagree on the timing. Maybe the goal is to move out 80% of the campus by this Saturday, including the 50% (?) who drive, and then have a week to deal with the laggards.


Amherst Closing Thursday

Amherst is closing on Thursday. Who knows when it will re-open . . .

Dear students, faculty, staff, and families,

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and affect many parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has announced that we are past the point of being able to contain this disease. While there continue to be no reported cases of the virus on our campus, we need to focus on mitigating its possible effects.

We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it. The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great. The best time to act in ways that slow the spread of the virus is now. Let me make our decisions clear and then provide additional information:

Amherst will move to remote learning after spring break, beginning Monday, March 23, so students can complete work off campus.

Classes are cancelled on Thursday and Friday of this week, March 12-13, so faculty and staff have time to work on alternate modes of delivering courses, and students have every opportunity to secure transportation.

All students are expected to have left campus by Monday, March 16. Only those students who have successfully petitioned and have remained in residence over spring break will be allowed to stay on campus to do their remote learning.

Campus will remain open and all faculty and staff should continue their regular work schedules.

0) Amherst is closing! Our work at EphBlog is done!

1) Wuhan Flu is the greatest crisis (90% certainty) of my lifetime. So, I will try to make fewer jokes. This is all going to be much less funny in April when sick old people are being turned away from Berkshire Medical Center and left to die at home.

2) If I were Maud, I would be sorely tempted to do the same. One argument against is that Williams is a much more isolated location and so, perhaps, less likely to be hit as quickly as Amherst/Northampton/Holyoke. But that is far from certain. And, moreover, Spring Break is the most obvious time to do this.

3) Although the message above is not overly clear, I believe that this is as extreme as it sounds. Amherst is sending students home, not just early or for a few weeks. It is sending them home for the rest of the semester. There will be no classes at Amherst until September, at the earliest.

4) Does this mean that Amherst will be forfeiting the rest of its athletic contests? Presumably so. It would be beyond weird if sports teams could petition to stay on campus while non-athletes were sent home. No Directors Cup for Amherst this year!

5) Will students receive refunds on, at least, room-and-board charges?

6) How tough will Amherst be with the “petition” process? It might allow hundreds of students to stay. It might allow only a score. I assume it will be very tough.

7) If things are bad enough, in Biddy Martin’s view, that Amherst should close now, what are the odds that things will be better enough to open in the fall? Many of the experts I read think that things might be worse next October than they are now.

What do you predict Williams will do? What do you think Williams should do?


Bossong’s Monster

The latest “sexual assault” madness at Williams:

Here is the complaint (pdf). I was going to write about this when it first happened three weeks ago, but I held off in the hope that the Record was a serious paper and would soon cover the issue. And it did!

The Feb. 18 Doe v. Williams case alleges that the College’s findings that Doe “engaged in kissing and touching with another student without her affirmative consent” were based on the female student’s (pseudonymously referred to as Sally Smith) false allegations to the College, and that his subsequent suspension was wrongful and unjust.

According to the lawsuit, after Doe engaged in what the plaintiff describes as “consensual sexual contact on two occasions with a fellow foreign student,” the female student accused him of being “‘culturally insensitive’ to her conservative religious values by kissing her but then not pursuing a relationship with her” and only reported his behavior to the College months later.

Doe’s complaint features text messages Smith sent Doe after their first encounter including statements such as “the other night was amazing” and that she had been “feeling so different and liberated after it,” which, the lawsuit claims, the panel did not note in its decision.

Read the whole thing. Reporter Annie Lu is a rising star at the Record. But she should broaden the set of people she talks to. She does not quote (or interview?) a single Williams critic. Other comments:

1) This is a getting a lot of (unwanted!) national attention. See Barstool Sports and The College Fix. This story is crazy enough that it might break into the mainstream. Have fun Maud!

2) Should I spend a week on it? I find these stories depressing.

3) We have not covered this story yet.

This lawsuit is similar in nature to a complaint filed by another male former student on Jan. 28, 2018, which is now under investigation by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR). The 2018 complaint also claims the College violated Title IX in discriminating against a male respondent in a sexual misconduct case. However, the OCR investigation is independent of the courts and operates separately from civil suits.

Could someone provide the details for this one in the comments?

4) Naive readers may wonder how Williams can possibly still employ Allyson Kurker as an investigator. She has ruined the lives of innocent students. Read The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities by former Williams professor KC Johnson for all the gory details. Kurker is a monster.

5) Kurker was hired by Meg Bossong, Director of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Williams. Kurker is paid by Meg Bossong and does whatever it takes for Meg Bossong to hire her again. Kurker may be a monster, but she is Meg Bossong’s monster. Williams gets what it pays for.

Why does Meg Bossong want to ruin the lives of male Hispanic Ephs? (Recall the John Doe of Safety Dance is also Hispanic.) I don’t know, but ruin them she does.

Entire Record article below the break. Do we need a scandal name? Perhaps “Amazing Night” or “Culturally Insensitive.”

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Three Pillars Failing

Excellent Record article about the recent Three Pillars election.

On Sunday, March 1, the Three Pillars Task Force released the results of its most recent election, which determined the members of the Williams Student Union and the Facilitators for Allocating Student Taxes (FAST). The election took place between Feb. 24 and Feb. 29, with a 26.2 percent turnout, and followed a student referendum abolishing College Council (CC) held earlier this month.

The Williams Student Union, in charge of representing the student body to the administration and serving as an advocacy body, includes three class representatives from each year. However, due to a lack of self-nominations, the junior class has only two representatives, while the senior class has one.

Three Pillars has already failed, as we predicted it would. If you can’t get enough candidates to run in the first election, when interest and excitement is at its highest, then you are an incompetent designer of new institutions.

Reporter Lucy Walker does a great job here. Is it just me, or is the average quality of Record articles much higher in the last few months? Kudos to her and/or to her editors.

Remembering chaos in CC and ineffective governing and advocacy, many students are hoping that the new structure and their role in it will help create positive change.

Future historians will want to know why CC was abolished now. Seems like controversies about Black Previews and WIFI were key. Or was there other “chaos” that we failed to cover?

Jonah Tobin ’23 emphasized the unique opportunity the Student Union presents. “Without formal power, this will be an experiment to listen to and act on the needs and interests of the student body,” Tobin said. “I hope to create tangible change for the student body and be an open sounding board to their ideas.”

“Without formal power,” the WSU will be a total failure. Is that not obvious? No wonder so few students bothered to run, or to vote.

The senior representative for the Williams Student Union is Sara Shamenek ’20, who was elected from a field of 22 write-in candidates due to a lack of applications from the senior class.


None of the newly-elected members of FAST responded to a request for comment.

That is a good start on transparency! Say what you will about the old CC, but its members would talk to the Record.

The turnout for the election was 26.2 percent, with 571 total students voting. The student turnout rate was 13.5 percent lower than the turnout rate for the all-campus referendum to abolish CC, which had 868 total votes and a voter turnout of approximately 40 percent.

Participation in the TABLE elections later this spring will be even worse.


PIER April 8th. Really?

From Twitter:

I am not a virologist, but should Williams really be hosting conferences in the midst of a global pandemic? Or should I believe President Trump when he says everything is OK?

Who wants to bet that PIER will be cancelled? I bet it will!


The Parable of the Privilege Pill

tl;dr Enroll as many AR 1 applicants as you can, regardless of whatever “privileges” they may have had as children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Miller ’06 on Coronavirus

Evan Miller ’06 is one of the smartest Ephs of his generation. If you are interested in Coronavirus, there is no better source of information. Perhaps, in his next segment, Evan could address two issues:

1) If he were the president of Williams, what would he do?

2) What does he forecast that the president of Williams, and other elite colleges, will do?

I do not have strong opinions on either question. What say our readers?


The Structures of the New Government

GoRP, the most knowledgeable new commentator at EphBlog, writes about my “adamant disapproval of the structures of the new government.” My central problem with Three Pillars is precisely that they failed to create a “new government.” All they really accomplished was to destroy the old.

Don’t believe me? Believe Nicholas Goldrosen ’20, former managing editor of the Record.

The chief weakness of the plan is its creation of a separate advocacy body, the Williams Student Union, and removing the funding and appointment powers to separate bodies. Student government at the College has power to advocate for students through three main channels: money, appointments and direct advocacy. This plan undercuts the prospects of using all three by siloing them into separate organizations. In this ideal relationship, a central body can use these powers in tandem to achieve its goals. Say, for example, that student government is rightly concerned with increasing support for students of underrepresented identities on campus. It could use its funding power to increase support to Minority Coalition groups (as CC has done). It could use its appointment power to select a student chair for the committee on educational affairs who’ll advocate for course offerings that support diversity, equity and inclusion. Finally, its executive officers could serve as points of contact to advocate for these concerns to senior staff.

However, if separate bodies are supposed to advocate for student concerns, fund and appoint, no such coordinated effort could ever occur. The members of the Union would have no power to fund, no power to appoint and indeed “no executive or bureaucratic power,” per the proposed constitution. There would be no individual student leaders who could liaise with and advocate to the administration as the CC executive board could. Furthermore, I’m not sure, given the more controversial of CC’s meetings this past year, how less leadership could be seen as the correct solution.

Exactly right. To the extent that EphBlog has an ideology, its central tenet is that giving more power and responsibility to students is a good thing. CC may not have been the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, but it was something. It had weight. The Administration felt it was a force to deal with. The Three (and, soon, Two) Pillars will be much weaker, much less important.

Goldrosen concludes:

Yet the answer to our student government not using its powers wisely and properly should not be to divest ourselves of those powers by splitting them into a decentralized structure that will ultimately fail to advocate for students.

Read the whole thing. It is the best Record op-ed in the last few years.

Entire Goldrosen article below the break.
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Weight off of My Shoulders

This Record article provides an excellent overview of Three Pillars. Kudos to reporters Jeongyoon Han and Taryn Mclaughlin! Highlights:

Cabrera-Lomelí said he was “joyful” after hearing the news. “There is a weight off of my shoulders, off of [Sherman’s] shoulders, off of the Task Force…. The power is back in the hands of students, not in a room with [select] students.”

CC President Cabrera-Lomelí comes off as fairly buffoonish in this article. Is that fair? I am comfortable with CC presidents who take their responsibilities seriously enough that they really are a weight on their shoulders. I am comfortable with CC presidents who take a less serious attitude, recognizing that this is just student government at some tiny college, and nothing really matters. I find absurd a CC president (like Cabrera-Lomelí?), who acts like the job is serious and then destroys the very institution he has taken responsibility for.

Ryan Pruss ’20 concurred, particularly about the need for increased financial transparency.

No one loves transparency more than EphBlog! But wasn’t CC already fairly transparent, with live video of the meetings on Facebook and reasonably thorough meeting notes? And, to the extent it wasn’t transparent enough, then Cabrera-Lomelí and Sherman could have easily fixed this. Nothing (?) prevented them from, for example, putting every funding decision, indeed every funding request, on-line.

The Three Pillars will replace CC, which has received public scrutiny over the past year for its lack of student participation in elections; its bylaws, which were criticized as outdated and convoluted; its hesitance to fund Black Previews, or affinity programming for black students admitted to the class of 2023; and its decision not to grant registered student organization status to the Williams Initiative for Israel.

This seems like a great one paragraph summary of how we came to be here. Is it? (Commentary welcome!)

1) A big part of this debacle is certainly the pernicious influence of woke politics. If CC had just handed Black Previews money immediately, would Three Pillars exist?

2) Note how juvenile some of these complaints are. Student participating in CC elections has been low for decades. It is low at other schools. It will be low in the future. And that is OK! Students have better things to do. But a lack of participation is a lousy reason to abolish CC.

3) I agree that the CC bylaws were convoluted and outdated. (I do not know the history here, but, again, I think this was a product of misguided student reform efforts a decade (or more) ago. Who knows this history? Roberts Rules of Order are overkill for CC.) But, again, this was easy to fix. The bylaws can be changed by CC itself. Why didn’t Cabrera-Lomelí and Sherman just fix them? Why destroy a 50+ year old organization?

4) Did the WIFI issue play a role? I (naively?) see WIFI as a case where CC did the right thing from a woke point of view. That is, if you disliked CC’s hesitation about funding Black Previews, you would have applauded their decision to not recognize WIFI. Or did opponents of CC’s decisions — even though they disagree with and/or hate each other — just decide to gang up on CC as their common enemy? I am confused.

Entire article is below the break (because the Record can not be trusted to maintain its own archives).
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Which Eph is most associated with Covid-19? Best I can do is Rich Besser ’81, former acting director of the CDC. Recent tweet:

Other suggestions?

Off topic: I still love this Besser smackdown from a decade ago. Media critic EphBlog is the best EphBlog!

Long-time readers will not be surprised to know that the EphBlog bunker is well-prepped for pandemic mayhem. Have you replenished your supplies recently?


Three Pillars Nonsense, 5

Let’s spend a week going through this Three Pillars nonsense, the most absurd student reform movement in a generation. Disbanding College Council is a perfect example of Chesteron’s Fence — a change should be made only by those who understand the reasons for College Council in the first place. Day 5.

Even a glance at the Three Pillar Plan FAQs demonstrates the idiocy of this plan. (Recall that FAST is the Facilitators for Allocating Student Taxes and “are responsible for ensuring that registered student organizations and non-affiliated students can access funding for events that serve the interests of the Williams community.”) Examples:

Q: Can individual students receive funding from FAST?
A: YES, absolutely. Any individual student, even if they aren’t affiliated with an RSO, can receive funding, and the funding facilitators will help them write their budgets.

A random sophomore in Carter House can go to FAST and ask for, well, anything? How about a new big screen TV, the better to host gaming activities for him and his buddies? What could possibly go wrong? If you think that these scenarios aren’t possible, even likely, then you are a naif.

Q: Is it easier to get funding approved?
A: One of the most common complaints about the FinCom funding process was that the rules were hard to understand and many budgets were denied simply because the requestor didn’t understand the rules or how to write a budget. Under the new system, funding facilitators are available to help students write budgets which should eliminate this problem. In addition, no budget may be denied without requesting an amendment first, and it takes 4 out of 5 votes to deny funding.

An EphBlog parody, right? They can’t possibly be proposing this as a process for spending $500,000 each year . . . Indeed, they are!

1) I hate the implicit slur against generations of hard-working members of FinCom. Back in the day, there was no group of students on campus who worked harder (and without pay!) and who took their responsibilities more seriously. My understanding is that that dedication continued for the last 30 years. Has anyone heard differently? Has anyone heard that FinCom was not willing to help students prepare funding requests? Check out their page. Great stuff! Could you do better? I couldn’t. Odds that FAST will do better? Approximately zero.

2) In every money-disbursing organization on Earth, requests are “denied simply because the requestor didn’t understand the rules.” This is an unavoidable result of the human condition. FAST will, inevitably, do the same.

3) If only 2 FAST members are in favor, the budget goes through? And only one member is needed if only 4 members are at a given meeting? That is madness! What is going to prevent all the money from being used up in September? There are millions of dollars of (worthwhile!) projects that Williams students would like to spend money on. FinCom, sensibly, tries to spread the spending out over the course of the academic year. How will FAST do this if the default answer to every request is Yes?

4) What is to prevent the most obvious sort of back-scratching? Consider two members of FAST who happen to be friends, or at least willing to work together. One, a rugger, encourages the team to propose full uniforms for the rugby teams, including cleats. That is not unreasonable! Why shouldn’t a club team receive as much support from Williams as a varsity team. Another FAST member encourages the BSU, of which he is a member, to request funding for a three day trip to NYC, including hotels, food and tickets to Hamilton. That is not unreasonable! More funding for BSU might do a great job of helping the College’s recruitment efforts.

Now, given FAST’s structure, as long as these two members agree to not vote against each other’s favorite proposals, nothing can stop them.

Is there any member of the EphBlog community who thinks this is a sensible way of allocating student funds?

An even larger problem is that FAST does not have the history and institutional support of College Council to fall back on. FinCom worked because it was embedded in this history and structure. Its decisions also had to be ratified by CC, thereby providing a natural check on stupidity/dishonesty. What person/process will prevent FAST from running off the rails?

UPDATE: GoRP highlights, in a comment below, that several of the claims above are incorrect/implausible. See his analysis for details. And thanks for the corrections!


Three Pillars Nonsense, 4

Let’s spend a week going through this Three Pillars nonsense, the most absurd student reform movement in a generation. Disbanding College Council is a perfect example Chesteron’s Fence — a change should be made only by those who understand the reasons for the College Council in the first place. Day 4.

Is any aspect of this debate influenced by the Great Awokening?

1) I don’t know. Informed commentary welcoming!

2) Seems like current CC co-presidents Ellie Sherman and Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí are, personally, fairly woke. At least I remember some commentary to that effect during the election. Not that there is anything wrong with being Woke. Au contraire, mon frère! But, traditionally, the core function of College Council — managing its own affairs/elections and distributing money to student groups< --- has been independent of partisan politics. How much money to give The Elizabethans is not a question which maps easily on to contemporary US politics.

3) Did last year’s big blow ups — Wifi, African-American visting days funding — play a causal role? Or was this change always in the works?

4) Does anyone else find it sleazy that Sherman and Cabrera-Lomelí would run for office on a fairly standard Do-a-better-job-at-CC-platform and then, once elected, blow up the institution? I do! If they had ran and won with this promise, then fine. But they didn’t. (Corrections welcome.)

5) Any forecasts for how the new institutions will work? I predict disaster — or, at best, I predict that, in a year or two, we will end up with CC all over again, with all the same strengths and weaknesses — but have not gone through the details yet.


Three Pillars Nonsense, 3

Let’s spend a week going through this Three Pillars nonsense, the most absurd student reform movement in a generation. Disbanding College Council is a perfect example Chesteron’s Fence — a change to be made only by those who understand the reasons for College Council in the first place. Day 3.

Competent social engineers know that:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

Is there any evidence that Three Pillars has done this? Not that I can see. (Contrary evidence welcome!) Maybe (maybe!) there were discussions about the recent performance of College Council. But I doubt that those discussions involved any testimony about CC before the arrival of these students on campus. I see no evidence that they wrote down anything that they found. Did these naifs know the first thing about the history of CC, the changes that were been made over the last 15 years, the reasons for those changes? Can they tell us about the amendments in 2016, the new constitution of 2012, the debates about CC in the decade before that? No. They are ignorant of that history.

They found a fence and they have no idea why the fence is there.

However, an ignorance of history might be (partly!) redeemed by a knowledge of the present. How much do the Three Pillars crowd know about how student government is handled at peer schools? Has Pomona gone through similar debates? Has Swarthmore made dramatic changes? How different is the current CC from student government at other NESCAC schools? Again, they had the time and the resources to display competence. They could have investigated these issues, wrote a report and educated the Williams community. They did none of that.

Laziness, incompetence and subterfuge are my three favorite explanations for these failures. What are yours?


Three Pillars Nonsense, 2

Let’s spend a week going through this Three Pillars nonsense, the most absurd student reform movement in a generation. Disbanding College Council is a perfect example of Chesteron’s Fence — a change should be made only by those who understand the reasons for College Council in the first place. Day 2.

The Williams Administration should ignore the results of this Referendum and continue with business as usual with the current College Council, even if some of its business don’t want to.

1) As our discussion yesterday demonstrates, Three Pillars failed to follow the rules. First, to have hold a Referendum, you must provide “two weeks of publicity.” They did not do this, so the results of the Referendum are invalid. Second, even if they did follow the rules, you can’t change/modify/abolish CC via a Referendum. Doing those things requires a Constitutional Amendment, the demands of which are (rightly!) much more onerous.

2) There are still students on College Council (I assume!) who are ready and willing to continue carrying on with their responsibilities, especially the distribution of funds. Their work should continue as normal. If the Three Pillars folks want to walk out, then let them. CC goes on regardless.

3) Students throw tantrums. Giving in to tantrums sets a bad precedent. A student vote can no more abolish an organization like College Council than it can abolish an organization like the Williams Economics Department or the Williams Ultimate Frisbee Club. Organizations have an existence independent of the opinions of the mob.


Three Pillars Nonsense, 1

Let’s spend a week going through this Three Pillars nonsense, the most absurd student reform movement in a generation. Disbanding College Council is a perfect example of Chesteron’s Fence — a change should be made only by those who understand the reasons for College Council in the first place. Day 1.

Key Question: Are the Three Pillars folks even obeying the rules? (This point was first made by Current Student.) Recall the College Council Constitution:

Seems clear that there official rules have not been followed. (Admittedly, the situation is a bit complex since Three Pillars seems to not have been competent enough to figure out what they needed to do in order to accomplish their goals, or at least to accomplish them within the guidelines of the current rules.)

UPDATE: From a comment below:

Let’s be clear. This was not reform. This was a coup by radical leftist students who tricked the campus into signing away their government. Several of the students on the Task Force are known to be on the radical left, part of the “care now” complainers from last year, and part of the boycott English group.

1) Details, please! Which Task Force members specifically were part of Care Now. Which (others?) were English Boycotters.

2) What is their motivation? I understand what Care Now and the English Boycotters want to accomplish. (I disagree but at least I know what their goals are and how they hope to achieve those goals.) What do the Three Pillar folks have to gain by abolishing CC?


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