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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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Coronavirus

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?

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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!

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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How to Pick a Husband

About half of the female students currently at Williams will not be married at age 32. Don’t want that to be your fate? You will never be prettier than you are right now and you will never be surrounded by as many single, high-quality men. Follow EphBlog’s advice:

1) Pick 5 Williams men you would like to go out with on a date. You are, obviously, not picking a husband at this stage, but you are selecting likely candidates. Because men are shallow creatures, select men that are about as handsome as you are pretty. If you are average, then select an average man. Even better, select a man at the 25th percentile of attractiveness. If you end up married, he will spend the rest of his life marveling at the beauty of the woman in his bed each morning and vowing to do his best not to screw up his good fortune.

2) Pick a friend to be the matchmaker. Many of your friends would jump at the chance. You need someone social, someone not afraid to approach a (possible) stranger on your behalf.

3) Have your friend approach a candidate and let him know that, if he asked you out on a dinner date, you would say, “Yes.” Assuming you have picked wisely, he will be excited! There are few things a boy likes more than knowing a girl is interested in him. And the reason he hasn’t asked you out before was, most likely, that he was afraid you would say, “No.” There is nothing a boy fears more than rejection. Since he knows ahead of time what your answer will be, you can be (mostly) certain that he will ask you out. If you want to avoid the embarrassment of rejection yourself, just allow your friend the discretion to approach the men in the order she sees fit. Then she won’t even need to tell you if candidates 1 and 2 turned down this opportunity.

4) Go out on the date. Who knows what will happen? The date may be a failure. If so, have your friend go on to another candidate. But the date is probably more likely to go well, especially if you chose your five candidates wisely, picking men that you already liked and respected, men with whom you could imagine having a longterm relationship. One date may lead to another, and then another. Perhaps you will never have a need for the other four candidates.

Does this seem like a horribly retrograde and patriarchal plan? Perhaps it is! The claim I am making is purely a statistical one. Female Eph undergraduates who follow this advice are more likely to be married at 32 than those who do not.

Happy Valentines Day! And point your date toward EphBlog’s annual advice on falling in love . . .

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Domineering State

Great book review from Professor Darel Paul:

About halfway through his new book, ­Christopher Caldwell quotes John Stuart Mill on the relationship between diversity and democracy: “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.” This sentiment haunts The Age of Entitlement. Ostensibly about “America Since the Sixties,” the book is really about rights—in particular, civil rights—and the national consequences of their expansion during the past sixty years in the context of deepening diversity. Race occupies center stage, particularly as the book reaches its concluding chapters. Yet Caldwell also shows how the civil rights movement of the 1960s set the “template” used by every group claiming rights in its wake: women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered persons. The outcome has not been the more perfect union promised by civil rights, but social inequality, political polarization, and a domineering state.

A yearning for less bureaucratic and judicial rule and more self-government animates The Age of Entitlement. I have the same desire. In the balance between liberalism and democracy, Caldwell is correct to say that America today has too much of the former and too little of the latter. Yet the way to get more democracy is not through more rights talk. It is instead through recovering (and inventing anew) an alternative vision of responsibility and sociality. Only with such a vision can we cultivate the fellow-feeling that is necessary for democracy.

With luck, that vision will be Paul’s next book.

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Hate Hoaxes: A History

A “hate hoax” is an act of hate — racist graffiti, a threatening note — which is a hoax in the sense that it was perpetrated by a member (or ally) of the class of people it purports appears to attack. See Pro Publica and Reason for discussion and examples. Let’s review some examples from Williams history:

January 1993: Three (anti-black) racist slurs posted on the door of Rice House. Perpetrator turned out to an African-American student. He was suspended for one semester.

September 2001: Female student reports that she was assaulted in her dorm room. Turns out that she made the whole thing up. I do not think that this truly qualifies as a hate hoax since her intent was probably not to stir up a campus controversy about sexual assault. See discussion below for whether or not the intent of the perp should matter for defining an event as a hate hoax.

November 2011: Racist note — All Niggers Must Die — attached to a door in Prospect House. Perpetrator was (almost certainly) an African-American/Hispanic student activist. She was not punished and, to this day, the College maintains the public fiction that this was an actual hate crime.

November 2012: Racist statement — All beaners must die — written on whiteboard in Mission. Perpetrator was of “Mexican descent.” As best I can tell, the student was not punished.

November 2016: Racist graffiti — AMKKK, “meant to signify AmeriKKKa, a spelling of America that references racism in our society” — written in red paint in Griffin Hall. Three first year female African-American students were caught, all claiming (plausibly!) to have no connection to the KKK. Students were suspended but did return to Williams.

Are there other examples I should include?

As best I can tell, there are about as many hate hoaxes at Williams as there are actual hate crimes. What do readers estimate the proportions to be?

Even the hate crimes that do not seem to be hoaxes — Williams E in 2008, Mills-Dennett 1 in 2009 and Paresky 2014 — often seem to be driven by animus whose original source has nothing directly to do with hate . . . but that is a discussion for another day.

UPDATE: A source has told me that the November 2016 perps were caught because they used paint from a college academic department, traces of which were still on their shows and clothing when Security came knocking on their door.

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Michael Bloomberg, H ’14

Which still viable presidential candidate has the closest connection to Williams? Bloomberg!

UPDATE: For those who forget their Williams history.

Good morning, and thank you, President Falk.

Everyone has been telling me what a great job you’re doing – and I’m not surprised, because you came from another great American academic institution: Johns Hopkins University, my alma mater.

But today, I’m honored to be an “Eph!”

Friends, families, faculty – let me begin by offering a big congratulations to every member of the amazingly talented, brilliant, and distinguished class of 2014!

UPDATE: What is the official nomenclature for referring to honorary Ephs? Bloomberg was awarded an honorary degree in 2014. How about:

Student: Sarah Williams ’14
Parent: George Williams, P ’14
Honorary Degree Recipient: Michael Bloomberg, H ’14

If we use P for parents — and that is what the College officially does — then H for honorary degree recipient makes sense. But I have never seen the College do that, or otherwise indicate that someone is an honorary degree recipient.

Comments welcome.

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Claiming Williams 2020

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Comments:

1) This schedule is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the co-chairs are Bilal Ansari and Gail Newman. Are they to blame?

The main trick to ensuring high attendance at Claiming Williams is to schedule a first event that hundreds of students will want to attend (or be cajoled into attending by their JAs). That event should feature people/items that are popular with students. Everyone loves singing groups! Invite several to perform. Everyone loves honeybuns! Serve them for free. In past years, the organizers have done exactly this, thereby getting lots of students out of bed and engaged. Once they attend the first event, it is easier to get them to go from that to another. There is nothing like that this year, nor was their last year, nor the year before that, nor the year before that. I am noticing a trend!

But this year seems especially weak! Is there a single event before noon that will appeal to a large number of Williams students. Not that I can see. If we are going to go through the trouble of cancelling classes for an entire day, we should schedule events that will engage the whole community throughout the day.

2) What a narrow selection of topics! Claiming Williams has always been (and will always be) filled with leftist sessions. Nothing wrong with that! But, in past years, other sessions, appealing to a different cross-section of the community, have generated large audiences. How about something about athletics at Williams and the athlete/non-athlete divide? What about a session on the drinking culture? A more competent committee would have created such sessions.

Again, nothing wrong with extreme leftists! Some of our closest friends are . . . But there is no excuse for not having (many!) events that come at these issues from other perspectives.

3) In past years, there has been at least an event or two that was non-leftist, something about free speech, or being a Conservative on campus, or being a Catholic or . . . Nothing like that this year.

4) Canada Goose and Book Grants looks interesting, and has a great title. The same session was given last year. This is the event in the morning slot that I would attend.

5) Could the Record please do a minimal amount of reporting and tell us, approximately, how many students attend at least two events? My sense (commentary welcome) is that the College likes to pretend like a large majority of students (1500?) attend more than one event. I bet that the actual number is closer to 500, and maybe as low as 300.

I interviewed 7 students two years ago on a different topic. One was a first year. If we define “participation in Claiming Williams” as having attended at least two events, none of the other 6 participated. This is not a large sample and it was not randomly chosen, but, still! (On the other hand, 6 of the 7 had “participated” in Mountain Day, where participation is defined as going on at least one hike.) Mountain Day still merits cancelling classes. Does Claiming Williams?

I also asked the 6 students what their estimate was for student participation in Claiming Williams. The median estimate was 25%. If only a quarter of the students participate in Claiming Williams, then the College ought to cancel it next year.

6) If any readers attend Claiming Williams, please tell us about your experience in the comments.

Full schedule below
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President Sanders?

If I were Trump, there is no one I would rather run against than Bernie Sanders.

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Spring 2020 Course Advice

Spring classes start on Wednesday. My advice:

Your major does not matter! One of the biggest confusions among Williams students is the belief that future employers care about your major, that, for example, studying economics helps you get a job in business. It doesn’t! Major in what you love.

But future employers are often interested in two things. First, can you get the computer to do what you want it to do? Second, can you help them analyze data to make them more successful? Major in Dance (if you love dance) but take 4 or so classes in computer science and statistics. With that as background, you will be competitive with any of your Williams classmates when it comes time to apply for internships/jobs.

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

Take STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major is amazing.

Skip STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 202 instead. And don’t worry about the stupid math prerequisites that the department tries to put in your way. You don’t really need multivariate calculus for 201 or matrix algebra for the more advanced classes. Those math tricks come up in a couple of questions on a couple of problem sets. Your friends (and some Khan Academy videos) will get you through it. If challenged, just tell people you took those classes in high school.

Take CSCI 134. Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most of your other talents, at least to the marginal change in those talents another non-CS class will cause. You might consider skipping 134 and going directly to 136, but 134 seems to be a much better course than it was in the past, although I am sad to see that, apparently, it has dropped its focus on data. True?

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students officially enroll as statistics or computer science majors sophomore year to ensure that they get into the classes they want. You can always drop a major later. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 13 (?) years ago about course selections for a career in finance.

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?

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Wokeness is Whiteness

Professor Darel Paul has coined the phrase “wokeness is whiteness.” Example:

Another:

Is this stupid or genius or offensive? To be honest, I am not even sure what it means . . .

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The Spruces

Via The Record.

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Official College Reports

We have not done a good job of archiving various College reports over the years. (And, of course, it is beyond pathetic that Williams itself mostly fails to do so.) So, as a reminder, let’s review some of them here.

1962: The Angevine Report (pdf). This is the single most important Williams document of the last 100 years. It led to the elimination of fraternities at Williams. Isn’t it embarrassing that the College doesn’t host a copy of the report on its own servers?

2002: The MacDonald Report (pdf). This led to a dramatic decrease in the admissions preferences given to athletes. The College actively refuses to make this report publicly available. This discussion was updated in the “2009 Report by the Athletics Committee: Varsity Athletes and Academics” (pdf).

2005: The Dudley Report (pdf) which led to the creation of Neighborhood Housing, the single biggest failure at Williams in the last few decades. Note also the CUL reports from 2002 and 2003 which paved the way to this disaster.

2005: Williams Alcohol Task Force Report. Sadly, I don’t have a pdf of this report. Does anyone? The issue of alcohol is a perennial one at places like Williams. Whatever committee tackles it next should start by reading this report. I think that this was a follow up to the 2004 Report on Alcohol Policy (pdf).

2005: Diversity Initiatives. I think (but can’t find it right now) that the College does maintain a (pdf) of this report. The Record should do a story about what has happened in the last decade.

2008: Waters Committee Report (doc) which led to the elimination of the Williams in New York program. Professor Robert Jackall, creator of WNY, wrote this response (doc) and this memorandum (doc). See the October 2008 faculty meeting notes (pdf) for more discussion. Future historians might argue that this report was more important than the MacDonald report since it highlighted a turn inwards by Williams.

2008: A Report from Williams is a summary/celebration of the Aim High capital campaign.

2009-2010: The Neighborhood Review Committee began the process of dismantling the Neighborhood system. There were two interim reports (part I and part II) and two final reports (part I and part II).

2016: The Merrill Committee Report (pdf), also known as the “Report and Recommendations on the Log Mural” from the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History. This committee showed Williams at its very best, handling a potentially difficult situation with thoughtfulness, in an effort featuring significant student leadership (especially from Jake Bingaman ’19 and Matthew Hennessy ’17). Kudos to all involved!

2019: The Sawicki Committee, also know as the “Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion,” produced a report (pdf) about free speech at Williams. The Committee concluded that speakers, even those with hateful views, would be welcome at Williams. Adam Falk erred in banning John Derbyshire.

There are other reports that should be added. Suggestions? I think that I will turn this into an annual post, with updates as needed. Would any readers like to spend a week going through the details of one of these reports?

If we won’t remember Williams history, who will?

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Play Trivia Tonight

Good luck!

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Making the Williams Record a First Class College Newspaper

The new Editor-in-chief of the Williams Record is Samuel Wolf, supported by new Managing Editors Jeongyoon Han and Rebecca Tauber. How might they turn the Record into a first class college newspaper?

First, have a clear goal. Williams, as a smaller college, will never be able to support a daily paper like The Harvard Crimson or the Yale Daily News. But there is no reason why individual articles in the Record couldn’t be just as good as those in other college papers. Right now, they are far, far worse.

Second, institute beats for individual reporters/teams. The Crimson and YDN — like every (?) professional paper — use “beats,” defined areas of focus for a given reporter. The Record should do the same. Admissions would be one beat, Administration another. Others might include the Endowment, Local News, Student Organizations and Faculty. With more reporters, we might add beats for each individual class. The Arts and Sports reporters at the Record already do a reasonable job, not least because, over time, they develop expertise on their topics. The same model should apply elsewhere.

Third, recruit more students. To be fair, the Record does try to recruit. But, if the new leadership wants to turn it into a first class paper, they need to try harder, not least by appealing to students’ self-interest. The pitch is:

So, you want to go into finance? Cool! How are you going to learn about the finance world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the endowment. This will force you to become an expert on the Williams endowment specifically and on college endowments, and institutional investing, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of Wall Street firms.

The same sort of pitch applies in other areas:

So, you want to go into consulting/business? Cool! How are you going to learn about the business world? How are you going to demonstrate your expertise to future employers? Simple! Become a reporter for the Record and write (almost) every week about the Williams budget. This will force you to become an expert on Williams spending specifically and on the management of elite colleges, and other large organizations, in general. Even better: After a few years, you will have a collection of articles to catch the interest of consulting firms.

Nothing impresses a potential employer more than demonstrated expertise on a real world topic, gained outside of class. A similar pitch could be given to students with other interests.

Fourth, annualize the coverage. The yearly rhythms of the College provide a simple structure around which to organize coverage. Each year, there should be an article about endowment returns, each of the 4 trustee meetings, early admissions, regular admissions, First Days, Claiming Williams and so on. This might appear repetitive, but Williams, like all multi-century institutions, has a heartbeat, one which can be used to structure your reporting. An annualized coverage also allows for the development, over time, of real expertise. If you write about endowment returns each year then, eventually, you will start to ask some hard questions.

Fifth, talk to critics. The single most embarrassing thing about today’s Record is that it almost never talks to critics of the College. (Compare that behavior to how the Crimson and the YDN operate.) Many articles are simple rehashings of Williams press releases.

Consider this article about former President Morty Schapiro, this article about outgoing Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass and this article about outgoing Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell. Not a single critic is quoted. (And the last two articles were written by then-editor-in-chief Goldrosen!) I suspect that not a single critic was even spoken with. The student reporters for my local middle school are more serious.

Senior administrators always have critics. It is simply pathetic for a newspaper “reporter” — and I use the term loosely — to only discuss one side of the story. Morty Schapiro is wonderful! Yeah! But to write an entire article without even mentioning (or knowing about?) Neighborhood Housing — the biggest controversy of Morty’s era and the biggest failure in administration policy in 20 years — is embarrassing.

The Record could be a great paper. Will Samuel Wolf make it so?

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Wrestling Video

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Hopkins Ends Legacy Admissions, 3

Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 3.

Johns Hopkins President Daniels:

And of course now we’re at 3.5 percent of the class is legacy, and we’ve fully extinguished any legacy benefit in our admissions program.

The subtle point which no one discusses: Do legacies do “better” than non-legacies of equivalent high school qualifications? If so, then we should give legacies an admissions advantage!

How to measure “better”? I am flexible. Academics is one measure: GPA, taking tutorials, taking more advanced classes outside your major, writing a thesis, impressing professors. Extra-curriculars are another. (I think Williams has done some (secret!) research into factors associated with “thriving” at Williams. A third measure is student satisfaction.

I bet that AR 2 students who are legacies are happier at Williams than AR 2 students who are not legacies. If that is true, shouldn’t we give preference to legacy AR 2s over non-legacy AR 2s?

So far, what are some of the effects of this change, good or bad?

Phillips. What that affords us to do is have the flexibility to greatly change the composition of our incoming class. It’s much more diverse, much more high achieving than it had been previously. We’ve had significant increases in the proportion of first-generation students in our class, female engineers; the racial composition has changed.

David Phillips is Hopkins’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid. Is he naive or does he think we are stupid?

1) How “greatly” can you change the composition of the class with just a 8.5% switch? They still have legacies, just not as many as at the peak. (And note how the graph only goes back to 2009. You can be sure they have older data. Can you guess why they don’t show it? I can!)

2) Legacies are not just legacies, they also overlap with all sorts of other categories of students. If you now reject an African-American legacy who you would have accepted, you can either replace her with a different African-American applicant or you can decrease the percentage of African-Americans.

3) Every elite college in the country is more “diverse” than it was, including places like Williams and Harvard which still give legacy preferences. Is Hopkins more diverse than they are? Not that I can see. (And note that Hopkins makes it harder to find their Common Data Sets than any other elite college. I can’t find them! Can you?)

And so on.

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Hopkins Ends Legacy Admissions, 2

Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 2.

Might Johns Hopkins be lying? Sure! Elite colleges lie all the time about admissions issues. Consider President Daniels:

“But we know that the dream of equal opportunity is more elusive than ever for many in contemporary America,” he said. “To take one sobering statistic, most of the top universities in the country enroll more students from the top 1 percent of the income spectrum than from the bottom 60 percent.”

One of the most pernicious drivers of such inequity is legacy admissions, Daniels said.

There is zero evidence for this claim!

1) When Hopkins rejects a marginally qualified legacy, she doesn’t become a plumber. She goes to Duke. Assuming that Hopkins is not radically different from Williams — and why would it be? — the average legacy student, even back in the evil old days of 2009 — had a higher SAT than the average non-legacy. (Now, there are reasons that this is not a fair comparison, but it is absurd to claim that Hopkins legacies were somehow materially less qualified than the students they are being replaced with.)

2) Note the lack of transparency from Hopkins about who they are replacing the legacies with. If they reject a rich legacy with 1450 SATs and replace her with a rich non-legacy with 1460 SATs, then, it is true that they have removed the legacy advantage and, perhaps, served the cause of “justice.” But they have done nothing about wealth or income inequality. For all we know, Hopkins is just replacing moderately rich legacies with the scions of billionaires! Hard to spin that as a decrease in “inequity.”

3) How will Daniels ever know if we have achieved the “dream of equal opportunity?” Sure seems like his measuring stick is based in equal outcomes. Does the NBA provide “equal opportunity?” Sure seems like it does to me! And yet the racial (and gender!) breakdown of the NBA hardly matches that of the country as a whole.

4) Legacy admissions and top 1% income admissions are very different things. But note how easily Daniels conflates them. Indeed, for all we know Johns Hopkins has increased the percentage of its class which comes from top 1% income families. Perhaps some (many? most?) of the legacies that Hopkins now rejects were from middle income homes. Lots of Hopkins alumni become teachers, after all.

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Hopkins Ends Legacy Admissions, 1

Johns Hopkins had ended admissions preferences for legacies. Let’s spend 3 days going through it. Day 1.

Key chart:

Entire article is below the break. Comments:

1) This looks to be the real deal. How else to explain the dramatic change in the chart above?

2) This movement will spread:

a) The zeitgeist makes privilege, of any type, difficult to defend.

b) More importantly, elite colleges don’t really care all that much about giving advantages to alumni in general. Whether or not Susie Hopkins gives $1,000 per year just does not matter that much. (They care a huge amount about development admissions. You can bet that Mike Bloomberg’s grand-daughter will be treated very differently in the Hopkins admissions process than your grand-daughter.)

c) Do the very woke faculty/administration of elite colleges even like their alumni all that much? I am not so sure . . . No longer giving preferences to the children of people you don’t like or respect is more feature than bug.

d) Will Williams follow? I bet “Yes.” Then again, as the most “conservative” of the elite LACs, we might be among the last to go.

Read more

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Underrep Identities

From the announcement:

We are excited to announce our plans for the Promoting Inclusion in Economic Research (PIER) 2020 conference! This conference will bring together undergraduate students at Williams College to share their research and engage in networking and mentoring activities.

This conference will be held at Williams College on Sunday, April 18, 2020.

The conference aims to promote economic research by and professional development of undergraduate students whose identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics.

1) Kudos to the organizers — Williams Professors Sara LaLumia, Sarah Jacobson and Tara Watson — for putting this together! The more that Williams students/faculty engage with the wider intellectual world, the better. One weird thing about academia is that so much of the work is, strictly speaking, optional. These professors won’t be paid anything extra for all the additional work they are putting in to make this happen. Many (most?) of their colleagues in the department don’t contribute as much as these three to the quality of undergraduate education at Williams.

2) Is it fair to say that Sarah Jacobson is the most woke economist at Williams? Nothing wrong with being woke, of course! Some of my best friends . . .

3) Thoughts on the evolution of this conference from being something focused on women in economics to its current incarnation as concerned with “underrep identities?” Why do this? Is it a good thing? Honestly curious! There are only so many spots, so much funding to go around. Every male who now attends, regardless of the extent to which his identity is underrepresented, is one less female.

4) Who, precisely, counts as someone whose “identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics?” Honestly curious! Evangelical Christians are, relative to their share of the population, dramatically underrepresented in economics. However, I bet that Sarah Jacobson won’t look too positively on such claims. What about military veterans? Maybe. Trump voter? Hah!

5) Note that two of the invited speakers are of recent African descent, presumably either immigrants themselves are the children of immigrants from places like Ghana and Nigeria. Nothing wrong with immigrants, of course! But am I the only one reminded of the ADOS movement:

A spirited debate is playing out in black communities across America over the degree to which identity ought to be defined by African heritage — or whether ancestral links to slavery are what should count most of all.

Tensions between black Americans who descended from slavery and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are not new, but a group of online agitators is trying to turn those disagreements into a political movement.

They want colleges, employers and the federal government to prioritize black Americans whose ancestors toiled in bondage, and they argue that affirmative action policies originally designed to help the descendants of slavery in America have largely been used to benefit other groups, including immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

Sarah Jacobson couldn’t find any African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved to speak at the conference?

6) What will this conference look like in 10 years? Again, honestly curious! Perhaps we could have predicted a few years ago that the ineluctable logic of the Diversity Regime would put pressure on an event which only preferenced women. (Alas, I did not predict this.) But then where will this logic lead us in the future?

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 32 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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The Ghost of EphBlog Future

abl writes:

I’m going to add my voice to all of the calls to please keep JCD out of this. There is room for interesting and important discussion on these points. Invoking (summoning?) JCD into the discussion is not a productive first step towards reaching any greater understanding of these issues. Nor, especially, is demanding that some of our most thoughtful contributors apologize to JCD over points that they have made in the past that are only indirectly implicated by this discussion–and definitely do not require apologies. JCD leaving this blog was one of the best things to happen to it in recent times; please do not drag him back in.

Is there no spirit of Christian forgiveness among the EphBlog community? Must we be defined by our sins forevermore?

My purpose is not to defend everything that JCD has ever done or said. I disagree with much of it. Some of his statement/actions in the past have been, as the kids say today, “problematic.”

But I believe in redemption, in forgiveness, in the possibility of rebirth for every Eph, no matter the sins of their past. Do you?

And I like to think that that faith has been justified, at least in the case of JCD. After joining EphBlog as an author, he authored several posts, each with a direct connection to Williams. Each is a perfect example of what we need more of at EphBlog. I don’t agree with every word, but that is all to the good! And, if you think JCD focuses too much on Williams mentions in the conservative media, then step up and write some posts about Williams mentions from the other side of the media aisle.

JCD, being a good person, has voluntarily taken a break from EphBlog for 6 months. Is EphBlog a better or worse place without him?

David, you need to work on tempering what seems to be an innate desire for controversy.

A majority of the (smart! hard-working!) people in Hopkins Hall would define “controversy” as any negative news story about Williams. Is that your definition? Do you not think that I should write about, say, athletic admissions, Bernard Moore, sexual assault or any of the dozen topics that Williams, as an institution, would rather were never discussed? I hope not!

I suspect, however, that you like — or at least don’t object to — my posts on those topics. That sort of “controversy” is fine for you. Indeed, this is one of, perhaps even the main, reason that you read and contribute to EphBlog. Cool!

Instead, what you mean is that my “innate desire for controversy” is fine if I write about controversies you are interested in but less fine if I write about other sorts of controversies. Or am I being unfair?

You have a good nose for Williams-related issues and, combined with your focus on and commitment to the College, you can make a real contribution to the college community. Ephblog often comes close to being a really wonderful resource for both Williams alums and those interested in the college more generally (like PTC).

“Comes close?” Compared to what? Your Platonic ideal of the perfect college blog? Does any such creature exist in this fallen world?

EphBlog is the best college blog in the world. (If you disagree, suggest one that is better.)

But you continually shoot yourself in the foot by taking things just one step too far or by making points inflammatory that really shouldn’t be.

One Eph’s “inflammatory” is another Eph’s “punchy writing.”

This is a good example of this. You’ve done a nice job finding Professor Maroja’s blog and tying it into a broader discussion that is happening at Williams–one that has national relevance. And you’ve done a good job in recognizing that there are nuances to these issues that those on all sides of this gloss over–including Professor Maroja specifically.

Thanks! Compliments from discerning readers are always appreciated.

But you really stumble with your entirely unnecessary bit re JCD.

Perhaps. Mistakes will be made. Feedback is always welcome.

Ephblog could be a forum for intelligent like-minded individuals with an important shared connection to consider many important issues.

“Could be?” Again, compared to what? There is no more intelligent forum (devoted to a single institution of higher education) in the world. (Contrary pointers welcome.) Even something as excellent as Dartblog in its heyday never allowed comments.

Ephblog is at its worst when it devolves into trolling and troll-baiting.

Again, I have been yelled at (not an exaggeration!) by a trustee (in public!) about my posts on athletic admissions. He viewed any discussion of admissions advantages for athletes as “trolling,” although, back in 2007, I am sure he would have used different terminology.

I’d like to think that we, as a community of Williams alums, are better than that–but I’m not sure we always are. As the de facto (official?) leader of Ephblog, you can and should and do play a big role in setting the tone for these discussions. You do so many things so well in this regard, it’s infuriating when you just can’t resist adding some poke or snark at the end. So often the result is to derail what otherwise might be a thoughtful discussion of an important issue.

Point taken! I will aim to do better in the future. Happy New Year!

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The Culture Problem

Oren Cass ’05, the most important policy intellectual on the right (and the left?), writes in First Things:

So while liberals pursued ever-larger programs to stem the tide and continued to argue that ­redoubling their efforts would work where merely doubling them had not, conservatives arrived at different conclusions. Yes, material poverty is a problem. And certainly, the widespread racial discrimination in mid-twentieth-century America required redress. But what ultimately determines the success or failure of an individual, the strength of his family, the health of his community, comes down to people’s decisions. Dropping out of high school, dropping out of the labor force, having children outside of marriage, committing crimes, and abusing drugs and ­alcohol—those things matter much more than dollars and cents. And data show that these kinds of bad ­decisions have become more prevalent even as material well-being has improved. This leads to the conclusion that something else, something in people’s values and beliefs and thus their decision-making, must be the culprit.

Cass is of the right, and not the alt-right, because he never discusses genetics. “Committing crimes,” and almost everything else, is heavily influenced by your genes. Blood will tell. Does Cass not know about this literature? Does he really think that it all comes down to “values and beliefs?” Or does he know and disagree? Or does he agree and, yet, for reasons of prudence and cowardice, refuse to mention the role of genes in outcomes?

Perhaps mentioning the unmentionable is why we have EphBlog?!

Read the whole thing.

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Merry Christmas

grading

Merry Christmas to all! EphBlog hopes that the world is looking prettier to Ephs far and wide.

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The Ghost of EphBlog Present

Last week, I told the tale of the Ghost of EphBlog Past. Read that stave or continue no further. Today: A visit from the Ghost of EphBlog Present.

Touch my robe and away we go!

For anyone who remembers our humble beginning, the EphBlog of today is an amazing place. There were 187 posts in January 2010 by at least 18 different authors: Norman Birnbaum ’46, Dick Swart ’56, Jeff Thaler ’74, David Kane ’88, Derek Charles Catsam ’93, Ken Thomas ’93, Wendy Shalit ’97, Jeff Zeeman ’97, JG ’03, Rory ’03, Lowell Jacobson ’03, Ben Fleming ’04, Diana Davis ’07, Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07, Andrew Goldston ’09, Torrey Taussig ’10, tinydancer ’11 and PTC.

Also note these contributions from Williams officials: Wayne G. Hammond, librarian at the Chapin Library of Rare Books, an anonymous faculty member, Professor Gabriela Vainsenche, Tyng Administrator Jeff Thaler ’74 and Professor Peter Just. Note that all of these were just in January! If we looked at 2009 as a whole, we would find contributions from a dozen or more current Williams faculty/staff. We have even been retweeted by a trustee!

Several of our authors posted only once or twice during the month, but the diversity of contributions — including spectrum-spanning politics and a 65 year range of graduating classes — make EphBlog the most successful independent (alumni/student/parent) college website in the world. There were 2,388 comments during the month, from dozens of readers. None of the similar student/alumni blogs at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Amherst or Wesleyan come anywhere near this level of participation. Although readership is hard to measure, we had over 1,000 visitors a day in January, with at least 200 from the Williamstown area. Although the vast majority of students/faculty do not read EphBlog, many of those most concerned with the past, present and future of Williams as an institution do. I write for them, and for my father.

Alas, EphBlog is not without its critics. Consider this Williams professor:

But let’s look back over the last few weeks (or the last few years for that matter) and think about what DDF has been saying about Williams and the Williams faculty. We’re racists. We’re intolerant. We’re sleazy (indeed, any of you who know Bill Wagner will understand just how bizarre it is to use that adjective in connection to him). This list goes on and on and on, with depressing and debilitating regularity and continuity.

There is an ineluctable fact to all internet commentary: No matter how many wonderful things you write about a person, no matter how many things you both agree on, no matter how polite and open-minded you are in discussion, if you challenge someone’s deepest beliefs, they will often despise you.

And this is all the more true if you do so from the “inside.” I disagree with many professors and administrators about what is best for Williams. And that should be OK! Discussion and debate are at the heart of a Williams education. But because I do so with credentials of an elite education (Harvard Ph.D.) and Williams College insider (Winter Study adjunct instructor, knowledgeable alumni volunteer), I am a danger. And so is EphBlog.

And this is not just about one Williams professor, nor is it just about debates over financial aid policy. He is not an outlier. His opinion is common, even majority, among our faculty and administrator readership. They do not like EphBlog when it criticizes the College or its faculty. They do not like me. When they read a description of the College’s affirmative action policy or complaints about the lack of ideological diversity among the faculty, they see an unfair attack. I am accused of calling the Williams faculty “racists” or “intolerant,” when my only sin is to have a different view of policy at Williams from him and most of his faculty colleagues.

Yet the conflict between reform and stability, between outsider and insider, is as old as Williams itself. Henry Bass ’57 tells a story about Professor Robert Gaudino:

Knowing how radical Gaudino was, I knew early in the fall of ’55 there was only an amount of time, before there would be a public confrontation between Gaudino and President Baxter. Lively discussions of campus issues then took place in the new Baxter Hall. We did not have long to wait. I don’t remember what the argument was about. I do remember that it was quite heated and that Phinney soon showed signs of losing his temper. And acrimonious debates with the president of Williams did not happen in those days.

Nor today. What is most interesting about the complaint about me is how it conflates two criticisms of Williams: 1) Wagner is sleazy and 2) Wagner did a sleazy thing. We all agree that Bill Wagner is a good man and excellent professor. Indeed, he has been answering my questions (for publication on EphBlog) for many years. But even the very best Ephs among us occasionally do sleazy things. I am not without sin. Are you?

And, if EphBlog is not that place at which Williams students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff might come together to discuss College policy, then where is that place?

Gaudino is one of my two Williams heroes because he was not afraid to get in a public fight with the president of Williams. Nor am I.

What is especially annoying about these complaints is that they try to delegitimize the many voices of criticism at EphBlog by calling it “KaneBlog.” Ronit replies:

I think it’s nice that Will and Sam use the term Kaneblog to refer to this site, when Kane does not own the site, does not own the domain, does not own the server, does not run the site, does not have any kind of final editorial authority, and is not on the board. That is really fucking respectful to all the dozens of other commenters and authors who participate here and who have contributed to the site over the years. I’m glad the opinions of people like Henry Bass and Aidan Finley can be dismissed simply because they’re posted on EphBlog (I’m sorry, “KaneBlog”) and they happen to disagree with the latest sacred (purple?) cows.

Indeed. Yet note that the discussion that we have fostered at EphBlog for almost eight years includes more than just College policy. We also seek to engage in broader discussions, about both student life and alumni lives. Rory notes (correctly) that this makes me and other EphBlog authors unusual:

i still find it weird that an alum from the 80s reads wso posts. … I doubt any of the many professors I interact with at Williams and at my current institution read forums like wso. they certainly don’t copy and paste from them.

The difference between Rory’s friends on the Williams faculty and me — and the many other EphBlog authors, alumni and students both, who quote from WSO — is that we care about the opinions of Williams undergraduates. They, judging from Rory’s testimony, do not or, at least, they only care about those opinions when they are paid to, in the context of either classroom discussion or papers assigned for a Williams course.

And that is OK! My point here is not to criticize or praise the choices made by individual Williams faculty members. I just want to make clear that I seek to intellectually engage with Williams undergraduates. The first step in doing so is to consider their arguments and observations, to read their prose, to comment on their ideas, to present them with my own positions. The electronic log has room for all of us.

Jeff writes:

But I think students are perfectly capable of finding their own ways when it comes to their day-to-day lives in college. Indeed, I find it ironic that you find it so troubling (and I agree) when the administration tries to entangle itself too intimately in arenas best reserved for students to find their own way (and even occasionally screw up, as 19 year olds are prone to doing), yet you seem perfectly willing to insert yourself in much the same fashion.

Indeed. Key here is the meaning of “insert.” Consider the second of my Williams heroes, David Dudley Field, class of 1825, and, in the words of Williams professor Fred Rudolph ’39, a “instrument of interference” in the affairs of the College.

Field is the patron saint of alumni trouble-makers, an Eph who believed that “The only men who make any lasting impression on the world are fighters.” As a student, he was thrown out of Williams over a dispute with the faculty. As an alum, he led the way, both in fund-raising for Williams and in inserting himself into college affairs. (See this overview on the Field family (pdf) by Russ Carpenter ’54.) Field argued passionately that Williams should require military drills of all students during the Civil War, admit women and abolish fraternities. He won some of those battles, lost others and was vindicated by history on the most important questions. He inserted himself in the debate over the future of Williams 150 years ago just as I, and other EphBlog authors, do today.

Although Gaudino and Dudley are no longer with us, I feel certain that they are looking down on EphBlog and smiling. We are an agent of interference, engaged in public confrontation and acrimonious debates about what is best for Williams.

Would a Williams professor in the tradition of Gaudino and Dudley have it any other way?

Originally published in 2010.

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