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Sandstrom Update, 1

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

Entire message is below the break. Please mention in the comments any particular section you would like us to focus on.

Sandstrom begins:

Dear Students,

Since late June when we announced our campus plans for the fall, the national context with regard to Covid-19 has worsened considerably. While we are still hoping to open the campus as planned, shifting national conditions as well as updated regulations by the governor of Massachusetts have required us to tighten our rules. This communication may seem unusually strict for Williams. However, all of the measures outlined here are designed to protect the safety of our community, and we look forward to a time when they are no longer necessary.

Hmm. My take is that the things have gotten much better in the “national context” since June, not worse. We knew a great deal in June. In particular, it was already obvious that CV-19 was endemic throughout the US and that our political system lacked the will/capacity to stop it. (And this is not just a dig against Trump. Democrat-controlled California has been no better than the Federal Government.) The virus was going to virus. It was, in June, unstoppable.

What we have learned since then, however, is that CV-19 may not be nearly as deadly as we feared in June. In particular, we now know that the risk to college-aged students is very low, probably less dangerous than, say, taking a cross-country car trip. That is good news! We also know that herd immunity may be much lower than we thought in June. Indeed, states like Texas and Florida seem to be coming out of the other side of the pandemic. It would not surprise me to see full college football stadiums in those states come November.

Are you more or less optimistic than you were in June?

Read more


What If?

After a week of discussion, and thanks to many excellent comments, we have now established that: Williams is paying poor students to stay home. Comments:

1) More Record coverage, please! Interview students studying remotely. Ask them why they made this choice. Tell us their stories.

2) I am still confused about the exact mechanics of full financial aid students at Williams, even before the pandemic. Explanations welcome! I had never known that Williams gives these students cash. This was certainly not true 30 years ago. When did it begin? The reason this is confusing (just to me?) is because of the summer earnings and term-time employment requirements. Williams always knew that students faced more expenses than just tuition/room/board. But didn’t money for that used to come directly from the student, who was supposed to earn it, either during the summer or during school? That is, the College did not say, “Give me the money you made working the desk in Sawyer and, and then Williams will turn around a send you cash.” Instead, you got that money directly and were expected to pay for your expenses from that.

3) abl and WA raise an important point:

As I see the data, equal numbers of students on finaid and off have chosen to return to campus. The difference is how many students are continuing their education remote rather than pausing it, right?

If so, this distinction also seems crucial. This suggests that the incentive to stay on campus for students on finaid is about the same as it is for students not on finaid (which would be optimal, right?). This also suggests that the primary impact of this policy is to encourage students on finaid not to take a gap year. If I’m understanding this correctly, this means that this policy is doing the exact opposite of what you suggest: it provides a bulwark against (and an effective one!) the pandemic’s influence in “[t]urning Williams into a college for rich men’s sons and daughters once again.”

Roughly the same percentage of finaid and non-finaid students are returning to campus. More finaid students are studying remotely than taking a gap year. The result of the $4,000 payment seems to be encouraging finaid students that are not coming to campus to continue studying remotely, rather than take a gap year.

Maybe! Record reporting would shed light on this issue. Note that my assumption is that, in the absence of the extra cash, only half of the extra remote studying poor students would come back to campus. The other half would either, by definition, still study remotely or take a gap year. Might that estimate be high? Maybe! But, my central conclusion — Williams is paying poor students to stay home — is true unless the marginal impact is zero.

My prior, also, is that rich students are much more likely than poor students, all else equal, to take a gap year during a global pandemic. Isn’t that your prior? If not, why not? Therefore, I think that the fact that 74% of non-poor students are studying on campus is an underestimate of the percentage of poor students who would be doing so in the absence of the extra cash. But, again, I could easily be wrong.


Fifty Fewer Poor Students on Campus?

Thanks to useful information from our knowledgeable commentators, we can now give a (very rough!) estimate to the number of poor students who are not on campus because the college is paying them extra to stay home: 50 plus/minus 25.

1) This story began with me hearing a 4th hand account of a poor student who choose to stay home, not for health reasons or family obligations, but because Williams was giving her so much money that she felt she had no choice but to do so, despite her preference to be on campus. In other words, Williams, by its policies, caused her to stay home. Needless to say, such policies do not effect rich students.

2) There are probably around 100 students who, if they come to campus, get around $1,350 but who, if they stay home, get $4,000. That is a big difference to a poor family.

3) We know that about 120 extra students on financial aid are studying remotely, relative to non-aided students. Of course, some of those aided students are not on full rides and so unaffected by this calculation. And it might be that financial aid status — and full ride status — correlates with other characteristics (race, first gen, athletics) which are the “real” reasons why someone chooses to study remotely.

My estimate: About 50 more students on full financial aid would be on campus, as opposed to studying remotely, if Williams had a different policy. But that is a very rough estimate.

Maud Mandel: Turning Williams into a college for rich men’s sons and daughters once again!

Is that fair? Probably not! Maud, and everyone who runs Williams, wants more poor students, not fewer. They handed extra money to poor students, not to drive them away, but because they want to help them. But, to some extent, motives are irrelevant. If Policy X makes poor students more likely to stay home, then Policy X is a bad idea.

Could the Record please do a story about some of the roughly 150 students who are studying remotely?


How Many Students Receive Cash If They Stay Home?

It seems clear that some Williams students are receiving checks from Williams if, and only if, they stay home and do not come to campus. Question: How many such students are there and how much are they receiving? Three recent comments:

Important to note that the $4,000 for remote students is not a stipend. It is an increase in the personal allowance. The college, when the calculating the cost of attendance, includes a person allowance that represents costs all other costs beyond tuition, room, board etc. The college is increasing the personal allowance by $2,650 per semester for students enrolled remotely. This doesn’t mean students are getting a check in that amount. It just means that when the college is calculating the amount of grant aid to be given to bridge the gap between a family’s expected contribution and the cost of attendance, the cost of attendance is a little higher than it would be if you just subtracted out room and board.

If I understand your explanation correctly, one could think about the personal allowance as adjusting the expected family contribution if someone decides to stay home. For example, if a family has an EFC of $20,000 when tuition is $60,000 and R&B is $12,000, would they still need to contribute $20,000 if the student stays home (in the absence of the change in the personal allowance)? Their total price would drop from $72,000 to $60,000, but aid is calculated as the residual between price and EFC. With the adjustment to the allowance, does this mean that there would be some change to the $20,000 check that the parents send to Williams for just tuition?

Oh, and w/r/t to DDF’s claim about students on low amounts of financial aid not getting the 4k. That would be different from the typical structuring of Williams programs like the book grant, and my guess would be that students getting a small amount of money in aid would still get all 4k. The practical effect, of course, for those who only get a small amount in aid would be a $4,000 reduction in family contribution, while the grants for those on large amounts of aid will just be cash.

Can someone confirm the facts? My guess would be that only a small percentage of the students on financial aid at Williams would qualify for cash payments if they stay home. In other words, if you get $10,000 or $20,000 or even $50,000 aid, all of that comes in terms of tuition first. That is, you are expected to pay for other expenses, including travel to-and-from Williams. It is not the case, for example, that Williams writes you a check to cover those cash expenses and then expects you to write a check back to it for tuition or even for room-and-board. Correct?

If that is true, then the only students who would be eligible for checks in the cash-for-staying home program would be those on (almost?) full financial aid. The College understands that those students have, sometimes, literally, no money. So, in addition to no charges for tuition/r-and-b, it also gives those students cash to cover items like travel to Williamstown.

How many students are on full financial aid? I couldn’t find any source more reliable than this one: “Williams College’s typical financial aid plan for incoming first year students is $52,490. Around 51.0% of new students get some form of financial aid, most of which is in the form of scholarships and grants.” Back of the envelope, that might suggest that 10% to 20% are on full-aid packages. So, would around 200 to 400 students qualify for the checks if they stayed home? And is the dollar amount $4,000 for the vast majority of them?

Again, the point of this post is just to establish the facts. We can argue about whether or not this is a good policy later.


Williams Pays Poor Students to Stay Home

Williams is paying poor students to stay home. There was some well-meaning denial of this fundamental fact two weeks ago, but facts don’t care about your feelings.

1) From the FAQ: “[Y]ou [student on financial aid attending from home] will receive a $4,000 personal allowance per semester to cover expenses you’ll incur while studying remotely.” Nor is that the only source of funding:

If you are a financial aid recipient, you will receive information from the Office of Financial Aid shortly about funding to support costs incurred because of Covid-19. Setting up a work space is one example of how such funding might be used.

Needless to say, non-financial aid students working remotely are ineligible for this funding, as are financial aid students who choose to come to campus.

2) Although the FAQ does not make this clear, I am fairly certain — confirmation welcome! — that this extra funding does not apply to all financial aid students. For example, if you only receive $2,000 in aid, the College is not going to give you a $4,000 stipend. (Right?) Indeed, the stipend probably only kicks in for the students with significant financial aid packages, those for whom tuition is already free and who receive (mostly) free room-and-board as well.

3) Do the people who run Williams hate poor students? Do they seek to cleanse them from campus, to reserve the leafy quads for the rich and well-heeled? Of course not! Yet incentives don’t care about your motives. The College is paying poor students to stay away. What do you think will happen?

4) From an excellent Record article:

Enrollment disparities are also apparent between students receiving financial aid and un-aided students. While 16.1 percent of un-aided students indicated that they are taking a gap year or leave, according to the College, 6.2 percent of students receiving aid indicated that they would be taking a gap year or leave for this academic year.

The yellow portion are students still enrolled but studying remotely.

I am not sure that Record reporters Jeongyoon Han and Lucy Walker realized just how damning this data is. (But kudos to the College for its transparency and to the Record for continued excellent reporting.) The key is the 12% difference between the 9.7% of non-financial aid students who are studying remotely and the 21.7% of financial aid students. Note:

a) There are about the same number of financial aid and non-financial aid students at Williams, so we can just line up these numbers more or less.

b) The 9.7% of non-FA students choosing to study remotely are an interesting group. My guess would be that the largest group of these is international students. Thoughts?

c) Some subtle issues were brought up in our previous discussion. Thanks as always to all our commentators! I will dive into those details tomorrow.

My main point: Williams is giving poor students who stay home more money than those same students would receive if they came to campus. That is a mouthful, which I prefer to shorten to: “Williams Pays Poor Students to Stay Home”. And, as best we can tell, this policy — whatever the motivations behind it — is having the effect which any economist would predict: More poor students are staying away from campus than would have done so in the absence of this policy.

Williams is a college for rich men’s sons (and daughters) once again! Thanks Maud!


Sheehy ’75 Interview, 5

Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

The Dartmouth: Could you discuss further why, if alumni come in with donations to provide significant funding to these teams, it would not be possible to keep them?

Sheehy: First of all, I don’t think the alums have an understanding of what it would actually take. For example, in ’02-’03, when we eliminated swimming, the alumni stepped up to save the program, but they didn’t endow the program. So some of the articles have been wrong. They’ll say, “Well, the alumni stepped up to endow the team back in ’03.” Well, they didn’t. What they gave was $2 million of current use money. That means the budget every year came out of that, and that was a spend-down account. It wasn’t spinning off any income because $2 million spins off about $80,000 a year. That doesn’t pay for anything. That number has to be five times bigger to be an endowment.

Good stuff! Sheehy should be praised for his transparency. Too many members of the Dartmouth (and Williams) community don’t really understand how the money works.

A lot of people wrote in and said, “With a $5 billion endowment, how could you possibly do this?” An incredibly high percentage of our endowment are restricted funds. It’s not like our $5 billion spins off $250 million that the College can spend any way it wants. That’s not how endowments work. People give money to endow things with an expressed purpose. For example, a lot of our coaching positions are endowed. That’s what that money is used for. It can’t go to pay travel. It can’t go to pay for equipment. It has to go for the expressed purpose of the endowment. When you endow financial aid, you can’t take that money and spend it on our athletics. The endowment argument is a little bit specious because I just don’t think people understand how endowments work.

This is garbage (with a pinch of truth), and I suspect that Sheehy knows it. “Restricted funds” are every administrator’s favorite excuse for doing what he wants.

First, Buddy Teevens is the The Robert L. Blackman Head Football Coach. This is an endowed position, making use of “restricted funds.” But what would happen if Dartmouth dropped football? Would that money vanish? Would Dartmouth, without a football program, be forced to hire a coach forever? Of course not! Dartmouth, and every elite college, has moved money around from its “intended” purpose ever since the first donor left town.

Second, money is fungible. How often do we have to point this out? Every annual flow of restricted funds is always less, by design, then its intended use. If Dartmouth spends $50 million on financial aid, it does not matter if “restricted funds” for that purpose total $20 or $30 million or any number less than $50 million. The total has to come from somewhere. The discretion comes in all the money which tops off the various buckets. Dartmouth can move that money around at will, as Sheehy well knows.


Sheehy ’75 Interview, 4

Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

The Dartmouth: President Hanlon offered a series of athletic alternatives for varsity athletes whose sports were cut. Do you expect that students will pursue the opportunities he suggested?

Sheehy: My heart says I’d love to see them get a Dartmouth degree, but frankly, I know what I would have done as a student-athlete. I would have looked for another opportunity, but not all of them will. To me — and this is just me, personally — having those other opportunities rings a little bit hollow.

Sheehy tells it like it is!

Question: Why are the only two choices available to Dartmouth so extreme? Sheehy acts like there are only two possibilities: full scale Division I participation (with all the admissions preferences which that requires) or club sports which receive no coaching support. Why not simply downgrade some teams from Division I to Division III, along with a decrease in travel/coaching/equipment costs? Dartmouth could (easily?) field a Division III golf program even if it provided no admissions slots and relied on local volunteers to coach.


Sheehy ’75 Interview, 3

Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

Will other elite schools be cutting sports? Sheehy thinks so!

HS: The only one that I talked to personally was the Brown AD, but I will tell you that I know the discussions are going on at other campuses for sure. And I think when Brown and Dartmouth act, you can’t stop those conversations on other campuses. They’re going to happen.

It’s kind of a domino effect.

HS: Yeah, it is, unfortunately. That’s the way it works. I think, when the Ivy League acts on something, that can embolden a whole different group of schools to think about what they’re going to do. As tough as the world is for Dartmouth’s budgets, we’re not nearly as in bad shape as most of the world. A lot of schools’ athletic departments rely much more than we do on revenue generation.

Again, I love Sheehy’s IDGAF attitude, telling us about his private conversation with the Brown DA, hinting that this is where the Ivy League is heading. Note, however, how Brown spun its cuts:

Through the new initiative, the University will maintain its current operational budget for varsity athletics, with operating funds made available by the reduction in varsity teams being allocated strategically within the Department of Athletics. Brown will continue to recruit the same number of varsity athletes so that rosters can be right-sized, and the smaller number of varsity teams will support stronger recruiting in the admissions process, allowing for deeper talent on each team.

Is Brown telling us the truth? I have my doubts! The reason that sports team X is not good at Brown is not because they don’t recruit enough athletes. The cause is an inability/unwillingness to recruit better athletes. Brown doesn’t need more 1500-SAT but not so good football players. It has enough of those! It needs some guys who can play, but who only scored 1200. Extra slots don’t do anything meaningful.

Anyway, the real question is what this portends for Williams and for the Ivy League.

1) I don’t know, at least with regard to Williams. DA Lisa Melendy has never responded to my emails before. You think she is going to start now? My guess would be that nothing changes at Williams. Then again, I never would have predicted team-cuts at Stanford.

2) Sheehy may be talking out of school, but he is an insider. I doubt that he would spout of about “the Ivy League act[ing] on something” unless there were discussions at the highest level about more Ivy League changes. The most obvious would be for the league to just give up on Division I by dramatically raising admissions standards for athletes and joining NESCAC and similar, less-competitive leagues. Is there really a chance that might happen?


Sheehy ’75 Interview, 2

Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

The key information — which we only know because of Sheehy’s IDGAF attitude — is that this decision was driven “Dartmouth’s goal of decreasing student-athlete admissions by 10 percent.” Relevant quotes:

Because of what President Hanlon desired to have us give back to the admissions process, even without the budget problem, we might very well be sitting here today having done the same thing.

Some people will look at this and go, “Jeez, it’s just one kid a year per team. Or two kids a year.” That’s not the way to look at it. The way to look at it is this is a four-year impact. So at the end of the year, we have between four and eight and 12 less qualified, talented student-athletes on our rosters to compete against teams in our league that have not given that up.

Remember this: With two supported student-athletes a year over four years, that’s eight. That’s more athletes than play in a match. So, they didn’t actually need walk-ons. Let’s say that the teams we eliminated get no slots, no athletic support. Then, what you’ve done is what I just talked about — you’re a NESCAC team. There’s no sense that that would be a Division I student-athlete experience, and there’d be no chance of any relative competitive success. I’m just not willing to create that.

Look, I get it. We’re taking away what I consider to be a potential transformational experience in terms of friendship, competition and growth. But we weren’t willing to create second class citizens in our department that weren’t able to compete on an Ivy League level. That’s what would have happened to half our programs.

But, number two, no matter how much money the alums give, it doesn’t solve our admissions problem. No matter what they give, that 10 percent reduction in admissions slots is still there. And so we would still have to do the same thing if we wanted to maintain a competitive, Division I, Ivy League student-athlete experience. There’s the crux of the decision.

1) The exact numbers are a little hazy to me. Dartmouth undergraduate enrollment is 4,417. There were 110 students on the discontinued teams. Sheehy claimed that this change decreased athlete admissions slots by 10%. So, call it 1,110 total athletes, or about 25% of the student body, meaning about 275 athlete slots in each class. This means that there will be 27 or so extra slots next year.

2) Yesterday, 89’er wrote “Athletics preferences detract from other priorities only to the extent those tips under-perform in other important ways.” No. That’s wrong. Admissions slots are the ultimate zero-sum game. By not admitting those 27 athletes, Dartmouth can fill those slots with non-athletes who fulfill other priorities: Blacks, Legacies, First Generation, Donors, Whatever. Even if every athlete did as well academically (and otherwise) as non-athletes, that fact would not answer the demands from other constituencies.

3) Falk Land wrote:

Then is it about increasing the overall quality of the classes they bring in? If so, then the teams should be cut based on their average GPA, with the academically weakest sports being cut first. I am almost certain this is not what happened, as this was not a mentioned reason and I find it hard to believe that these sports have the lowest average GPAs.

Correct. This change has nothing to do with the average academic quality of athletes, or lack thereof. Dartmouth wanted more students in category X. The only (easy) way to do that is to accept fewer students in category Y.

Sheehy‘s and Dartmouth’s attempts to make it about anything other than that, and outright slandering D3 and NESCAC sports in particular in the process, is laughable.

Agreed. What the hell is wrong with being “a NESCAC team?” Why couldn’t Dartmouth have a golf team which received no admissions slots, which was filled with students who got into Dartmouth purely on the basis of academic excellence? What would be so bad about that? They would play schools in New England at their level. They would try as hard and enjoy their Dartmouth athletic experience every bit as much as the current players do.


Harry Sheehy Interview, 1

Former Williams Director of Athletics Harry Sheehy ’75 gave a too-honest interview to The Dartmouth last month. We are (mostly!) fans of Sheehy and were sad when he left Williams for Dartmouth a decade ago. (Relevant discussions here, here, here, here and here.) Sheehy is now very much in the tell-it-like-it-is stage of his career, so this interview is filled with gems. Let’s discuss for a week.

The biggest surprise in elite college athletics has been the decision by several schools to cut sports teams.

Last week, both the Ivy League and the Dartmouth administration made crucial announcements regarding the short- and long-term future of Dartmouth athletics. On Wednesday, the league announced the cancellation of all fall sports amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The next day, the College announced that five varsity sports — men’s and women’s golf, men’s lightweight rowing and men’s and women’s swimming and diving — would be eliminated.

Similar cuts were made at Brown and Stanford. Neither school admitted, however, the real reason for the cuts. Sheehy pulls aside the veil.

The Dartmouth spoke with athletics director Harry Sheehy for an extended one-on-one interview on Monday. During the interview, Sheehy said that College President Phil Hanlon first notified him that he was considering reducing the number of student-athletes last fall due to admissions priorities.

See below for the details. Even without CV-19, Dartmouth would have made these cuts. They, or at least President Hanlon, has decided that Dartmouth wants fewer admissions slots for athletes.

1) I never would have predicted this. Did anyone? For almost two decades, I have argued that Williams should reduce the preferences given to athletes, but I have never wanted to cut sports.

2) Will Williams do the same? I don’t think so . . . But I never would have thought that Dartmouth or Stanford would either. They are just (?) as sporty as Williams . . .

3) Williams should do the same thing that Morty did almost 20 years ago: Reduce (again) the preferences given to athletes, but still give coaches their slots. That is, the women’s golf coach Tomas Adalsteinsson, for example, still gets his two slots a year. He can pick whoever he wants, as long as they are Academic Rating 1s. You can improve the quality of the class without cutting sports. Just raise the standards. Coaches will always find the best players that they can. They will whine and complain, just as they did after the changes following the MacDonald Report in 2002.

Entire article below the break.=
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Pause Button

How many Eph athletes are taking a semester off? More than one!

In the wake of Williams College canceling the 2020 football season, former Duxbury High star Bobby Maimaron will withdraw from school and return for his senior season in 2021.

“It’s definitely a hard thing to hear, that the season’s getting canceled,” Maimaron said last week, taking a break from his work-from-home finance/business internship. “But you kind of saw the writing on the wall for a while, I think. That gave my teammates and I time to prepare and think about what we’re going to do.”

One good cancellation deserves another, so Maimaron’s plan is to withdraw from Williams for the fall semester and retain his eligibility for 2021, when he’ll return for his delayed senior season. Whether he goes back to campus in the spring or scraps the entire school year is still up in the air, but Maimaron said most of Williams’ football-playing senior class is taking the same detour.

According to Eph Notes:

As of July 10, 1,677 Williams students are planning to return to campus in September, when classes are expected to resume in “a reimagined way and with extraordinary public health measures in place for everyone’s protection,” as President Maud S. Mandel described in a June 29 letter to the community. According to the Dean of the College’s office, another 350 students have chosen to enroll remotely, 62 incoming first-year students are taking a gap year and 159 returning students are taking a personal leave for the fall.

How many of those 159 are football players? How many are fall athletes?

Side note: I have heard some weird chatter about financial aid policies impacting these choices in undesirable ways. Example: A student on a full financial aid package who comes to campus gets a free ride, same as always. If that same student, however,”chooses” to study remotely, then tuition is free (of course) but the student also gets a check (of how much?) to “pay” for her room and board at home. Is that really the policy? If so, that is nuts! Right?

For example, a student from a poor family could, by staying home, “earn” money for her family since her check from Williams is worth more than the money it costs to feed her. That is, Williams is causing poor students to not come to campus! True? How many of the 350 students enrolling remotely are on financial aid?


Webb ’61, RIP

From the Washington Post:

Charles Webb, whose novel ‘The Graduate’ inspired a Hollywood classic, dies at 81

With its Simon & Garfunkel soundtrack, mordant dialogue and bursts of sexual tension, “The Graduate” was a generational touchstone, launching the movie career of Dustin Hoffman, earning director Mike Nichols an Oscar and turning a character’s one-word piece of career advice — “plastics” — into a punchline.

Based on a novel by Charles Webb, the 1967 film foreshadowed Hollywood’s turn toward a more youthful audience and made more than $100 million at the box office, drawing rave reviews for its story of a disaffected college graduate (Hoffman) who is seduced by a married woman (Anne Bancroft) and falls in love with her daughter (Katharine Ross).

But for all its success, Mr. Webb largely distanced himself from “The Graduate,” which featured a Buck Henry and Calder Willingham screenplay that lifted much of the dialogue from his book. “It’s something that I cannot shake,” he once said of the novel. “It has defined my whole life. I just want to run away.”

EphBlog knows the feeling!

The whole obituary is amazing. See below the break for more.

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From The New York Times:

That’s when I discovered I had aphantasia, the inability to conjure mental images. … Aphantasia was first described by Sir Francis Galton in 1880 but remained largely neglected until Dr. Adam Zeman, a cognitive neurologist at the University of Exeter in England, began his work in the early 2000s and coined the name from the Greek word “phantasia,” which means “imagination.”

Many don’t discover that their experience is any different from that of others until their late teens or early 20s. It might be while reminiscing about the past and realizing they’re having a different experience with memory than their friends or family. It’s not that they don’t notice that they don’t visualize. They just don’t know that other people do.

Ashley Xu, a rising junior at Williams College, had this experience. A friend had come across an article about the condition and mentioned it to her in passing. “Did you know that there are some people who can’t picture things with their mind’s eye?” her friend asked.

Ms. Xu was confused. What did it mean to picture things in one’s mind? To try to explain, her friend asked her to visualize an apple.

“I couldn’t see it, but I didn’t know that was abnormal,” she explained. “In my mind, it was black, but I knew that there was a little leaf, there was a brown stem, it was a red apple, but I just couldn’t see it.”

Aphants use an array of strategies to compensate for their lack of mental imagery, but since aphantasia varies from person to person, what works for some may not work for others.

Some draw on other mental senses, such as what might be called the mind’s ear. For example, I often read my notes aloud to myself and rely on auditory recall on tests. But that won’t work for everyone: Approximately half the people who have contacted Dr. Zeman about their aphantasia also describe an inability to conjure sounds, feelings or smells in their minds.

Others take a kinesthetic approach. When studying for her pre-med classes, Ms. Xu acts out scientific concepts with a friend, gesturing with her hands to make a lesson on ligand-receptor interactions stick.

If there is a metaphor here for our current politics, I will let readers suggest it in the comments . . .


BIPIC — Text and Subtext

Last month was the first time BIPOC was used in the Williams Record:

Widely-shared graphics produced by the YDSA have visually compared the $400,000 donation to the WPD to the $500,000 philanthropic commitment. “A minimum of $500,000 over five years will not cut it, especially when $400,000 was given to the Williamstown Police Department lump sum, despite their history of profiling and antagonizing BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] students and faculty,” Maduegbuna wrote.

Leave aside the substance of the debate. The first usage on the Williams website seems to be from last October. What is the text and the subtext of BIPOC? According to Wikipedia:

The acronym BIPOC, referring to “black, indigenous, and people of color”, first appeared in the 2010s. By June 2020, it had become more prevalent on the internet, as racial justice awareness grew in the US in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The term aims to emphasize the historic oppression of black and indigenous people. The BIPOC Project promotes the term in order “to highlight the unique relationship to whiteness that Indigenous and Black (African Americans) people have, which shapes the experiences of and relationship to white supremacy for all people of color within a U.S. context.”

Are Icelanders BIPOC? A questions like this demonstrates the idiocy of the text of BIPOC. Obviously, Icelanders are indigenous to Iceland. In fact, Norwegians are indigenous to Norway and the Irish to Ireland. But that is clearly not what the people who use BIPOC mean by the term, even if they are not smart enough or aware enough to admit it.

That incoherence brings us to the subtext of BIPOC: Blacks are (just now?) much more important in the American non-white coalition. Back in the day, and even just 6 months ago, the standard phrase was “people of color.” It explicitly included anyone who was not white and, implicitly, placed them on an equal footing. No one was more PoC than any other PoC. That is now intolerable. A certain subset of the left is tired of places like Williams claiming — truthfully! — that majority of its American students are People of Color. Asian-Americans are many things, but they are too successful and assimilated for an inclusive term like PoC to serves its rhetorical purpose. The subtext of BIPOC is that Asian-Americans are no longer (fully) People of Color.

Note how the linguistic fluidity of BIPOC makes this transition easier. The initial meaning of BIPOC includes the traditional term: people of color. It is simply placing more emphasis on Black and Indigenous than was formerly the case. (And, since Indigenous is such a small part of the conversation, this really means more emphasis on Black, consistent with the ordering: It is BIPOC, not IBPOC.) But soon, as the nonsense of Germans-in-Germany-as-Indigenous becomes clear, the meaning will change to Black and Indigenous people and who are also People of Color. That is, anyone anywhere who is Black is BIPOC. Anyone who is Indigenous and also a Person of Color is BIPOC. Anyone else, i.e., Asian-Americans, is not. You read it at EphBlog first!

Of course, that will still leave us with one last mystery: Are Japanese citizens living in Japan BIPOC? Fortunately, analytic consistency is not a major concern on the left these days, so I doubt this will be a problem . . .


Less Certainty

Professor Steven Sheppard writes:

Please note this report.

Perhaps those who are not epidemiologists or health care professionals should speak with less certainty.

This is more or less the exact opposite of the lesson of a good liberal arts education. What are they teaching at Williams? Back in the day, economics professors like Morty Schapiro, Cappy Hill, Mike McPherson and Steve Lewis taught us, and showed us, that it was possible for someone with a Williams education to have an informed opinion about topics of the day. Of course, we should read the experts, but not blindly. We should be open-minded, but not naive, skeptical but not dogmatic. Life is never certain, but the magic of Williams was that it made us better citizens, better able to form and express opinions on topics like: Should our local public schools be open this fall. Is that not what Professor Sheppard teaches his students today? Keep in mind:

1) For any non-trivial topic, the experts will disagree. Does Sheppard really believe that experts are unified about whether or not public schools should be open? If so, they why are they open right now in (many) countries around the world?

2) Decisions must be made. Williamstown Elementary School will either be open or closed come September. There are costs and benefits for either option. There is uncertainty. But none of those complexities will allow us to avoid the choice. What will Sheppard recommend? What will he say to his fellow Williamstown residents, like Professor Steven Miller, who disagree?

3) How delicious! Sheppard is busy telling us that we should write with “less certainty” when he himself misinterpreted the link he provides as evidence! Ha!

EphBlog would love to hear more from local residents on this topic! Please tell us the state of the debate.


Williamstown Public Schools

From iBerkshires:

The Baker administration is pushing school districts to form plans that allow all students to return to the classroom, according to comments from the interim superintendent of the Mount Gryelock Regional School District.

Speaking on Tuesday to the School Committee’s Education Subcommittee, Robert Putnam said that while districts are required to create plans for the fall that would allow remote learning or a hybrid of remote and in-person instruction, the message from Boston is that the goal is to get students back in school buildings.

“The commissioner of education, Commissioner [Jeffrey] Riley, basically, he’s prioritized getting kids back into the classroom,” Putnam told the subcommittee. “I must submit three plans on the 31st of July with the priority on getting all kids in the classroom. And [Riley] has — his expectation is that we are right now in the midst of a feasibility study in terms of how many kids we can actually fit in the schools.”

Putnam said full, in-person instruction is the focus for himself, the building principals and the district’s director of buildings and grounds, Tim Sears.

I think that Professor Steven Miller is playing a key role in this discussion. What do you think should happen?

I think that Williamstown public schools should open for all students. First, CV-19 is almost harmless to children. Second, there is almost no evidence that children are vectors. That is, there are almost no documented cases of children infecting their parents, despite being in much closer proximity to them than students are to their teachers. Third, in-person schooling is important, especially for students from poorer families and with less educated parents. Whatever risk there may be to teachers — and the primary risk is almost certainly sharing indoor space with other teachers — is not enough to justify closing schools. Any teacher who feels that the risk is too great should resign and pursue a different career.

What do you think will happen come September? I don’t follow Williamstown politics closely enough to have a strong opinion.


Stop the Sophistry

What??? writes:

oxEph – Stop the sophistry, it’s transparent. I’m sure you’re smart enough to know that the “state of public safety” in any particular area is determined almost entirely by the behavior of the citizenry. I live in NYC. Last year black people committed 182 murders here. White people committed 8. “Systems of policing” don’t begin to explain such an appalling disparity. Armed robberies? About 15,000 committed by black people, fewer than 1,000 committed by whites. NYC is 1/3 white and 1/4 black.

You are correct that the current state of affairs is both heartbreaking and unacceptable, but I’m not convinced that actually addressing the problem is your first priority. The first step in managing a problem is acknowledging it – with honesty. You refuse to do that. In this case, given the stakes, that’s quite appalling.

OxEph notes:

You’re correct that disparate outcomes don’t necessarily indicate the existence of structural/systemic racism. There may be other explanations. The question really is: how persuasive are the alternative explanations (not very) and how much non-empirical evidence is there for structural racism (lots). It might be a logical fallacy to rest one’s argument for structural racism solely on the existence of differential outcomes, but it’s no stronger of a position to dismiss those differential outcomes outright. In academic field after academic field, experts have evaluated these sorts of questions in great detail and concluded that structural racism provides the best explanation for a wide range of differential outcomes. You might think that you’re smarter than public health experts and legal experts and sociology experts (and on and on). I, for one, don’t.

I may have this thread out of order and OxEph may not be arguing with What??? My point is that these two positions are worth exploring in depth. So, let’s explore them!


Less and Less Sympathy

Anon writes:

I keep coming up with nothing compelling to suggest that there is institutional/systemic racism at places like Williams. Usually it’s the opposite — minority students are extended more resources and benefit of the doubt than white/Asian students (e.g., affirmative action).

Like I pointed out earlier, a lot of the things people provide as evidence of systemic racism — keyword systemic — are not examples of systemic racism. They make basic cause-and-effect errors. I just googled “systemic racism” and the first hit was an entire Bloomberg article making these false cause arguments over and over: .

But in academia, most people accept it to be painfully obvious that all white people, by default, reinforce systems of racist oppression. I don’t know how far removed you are from diversity training sessions these days, but that’s pretty much exactly the vocabulary they use. And they’ll say inflammatory stuff like this with zero support.

This is counterproductive and potentially radicalizing for people like me who are on the margins. I have less and less sympathy for their demands and increasingly think they have a delusional and destructive worldview.

I get the painful legacy of racism in America, but does it mean we have to throw empiricism, logic, and reasoned debate out the window as we look towards our future?

Yes, it does.

Could someone provide some concrete examples of “systematic racism” against Blacks at Williams College? I want something specific which is being done by a Williams person and which Maud could, presumably, fix.

It is, after all, quite possible — although disputed — that there is “systematic racism” against Asian-Americans in admissions. But I am looking for a policy/behavior which affects Black students/employees.


Town is Cracking Up

Townie writes:

I’m coming at this from a different angle, but it’s pretty infuriating how much this Williams craziness is infecting the town as well. You’d think in the midst of this pandemic lockdown and complete uncertainty on the town budget, school openings etc, the town government would have its hands full. But focus seems to be exclusively on improving race relations and atoning for racism in the town. One of your admissions directors regularly writes what I consider to be crazy things on FB boards, about being terrified in town as a person of color.

Who exactly? (At first, I assumed that this would be easy to determine. How many Black admissions folks could Williams possibly employ? Turns out that the answer is 5! (Depending, perhaps, on your definition of Black . . . ) How do you think applications from students who are the presidents of their high school Republican Club fair at Williams today?

She said her son was refused service at a local store because he’s Black, and that she finds the sight of police triggering.

Did she really write that? Provide a link or screenshot, please! I certainly don’t believe that any Williamstown establishment would deny service because of race.

She’s also regularly attacking Ephraim Williams and the fact that the college and town are named after him.

Details, please! I have always thought that Williams College is lucky in that, unlike Yale and Amherst, its namesake had minimal involvement — or at least minimal documented involvement — in things like slavery and genocide.

Putting aside the wisdom of having someone who hates this town as an admissions director for the college, I also don’t see this as our problem. Let’s say I find the sight of women triggering. Does that mean all women need to stay indoors? No, it means I need to get help. But she is likewise terrified by all the racism in town and so we all need to…it’s not clear what. We are festooned with signs and protests, we’re establishing racial equality commissions, the planning board just announced they want to prioritize racial equality and investigate segregation in housing in our overwhelmingly white town. This is madness that’s entirely to virtue signal to one another and has nothing to do with the actual problems faced by people of color across the country.

At the board of selectman meeting on racism last week, a Williams student spoke and said he was at some club meeting in the basement of Thompson Chapel, when all of the sudden two white town policemen barged into the meeting and looked at him ( presumably the only Black person at the meeting) menacingly and put their hands on their guns and then left. Now if this actually happened as told, or if the admissions officer’s son really was denied service at a local store due to his skin color, that’s outrageous and illegal. I would fully support the town investigating both these incidents and throwing the book at anyone found to be guilty. But instead no details are forthcoming, no investigations launched, just more committees on studying endemic racism in town and blaming us for everything. This seems misguided, useless and frankly insulting.

I really hope the college gets its act together because the town is cracking up.

The trend has been in one direction for 50 years. Why should it stop now?


How to Hire Conservative/Republican/Libertarian Faculty

0xEph, a (new?) valued member of the EphBlog community asks:

I think that Williams would be a better educational institution if professors modeled thoughtful approaches to issues rooted in a wider range of intellectual and ideological traditions. How do you do this, though?

Almost any method that works with regard to racial diversity can be used to increase political diversity.

No one would ever ask you directly if you are a “Republican” just as no one now ever asks you directly if you are an “Hispanic.” They look for markers, for the emphasis you place on your ethnic heritage, for the claims you make — in your resume, your personal statement, your cover letter and your recommendation letters — about it. The same would apply for political diversity. Candidates interested in highlighting their politics would do so. Candidates who choose not to do so may safely be presumed to not be planning on being engaged in the campus conversation about politics. And that is OK! But Williams would have no more problem identifying and hiring (openly) politically diverse Ph.D.’s than it does identifying and hiring Hispanics.

Do you list political club membership on your resume? Do you volunteer to help Republican/Libertarian/Conservative non-profits? Have you spoken to such organizations? Are you a member of Heterodox Academy or the National Association of Scholars or the Federalist Society? Have you written op-eds or blog posts about your political views? Are you active, at your current university, in the conversation about political diversity? And so on.

During your campus interview, no one would ever ask something as stupid as “Are you Hispanic?” or “Are you a conservative?” That would probably be illegal and, even worse, would be rude. Instead, you will be asked open-ended questions about how you see yourself, outside of the classroom, participating in the Williams community, about how your background prepares you for that role, about what viewpoints you think might be missing. You then get to tell Williams anything you like.

Every single method which Williams has used for decades to increase racial diversity could be used to increase political diversity.

First, provide a count. You can’t fix what you don’t measure. Williams counts the number of Black faculty, and makes that number public. We could do the same for various measures of ideological diversity.

Second, create a parallel to the Bolin Fellowships — perhaps the EphBlog Fellowships — which would provide funding for conservative Ph.D. students to come to Williams, teach a class or two, and work on their research.

Third, create and nurture academic structures which would naturally hire more ideologically diverse faculty, in the same way that certain departments at Williams are much more likely to hire racially diverse faculty. Looked at a certain way, Leadership Studies, and its associated Stanley Kaplan secret funding sources, does this already.

Fourth, bribe departments. Former Faculty Dean Buell has been, for years, telling departments that, even if they aren’t authorized to hire someone this year, she would be willing to entertain “opportunity” hires of Black/Hispanic candidates. Why not do the same for candidates who increase the ideological diversity at Williams?

You can argue that political diversity is not important and that Williams should no more care about the politics of individual faculty members than it cares about their astrological sign. That is a defensible position. But the suggestion that Williams could not, if it chose to, easily increase political diversity among the faculty is just nonsense.


Against Race Theology, 5

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs concludes:

Now that Williams College is everywhere, it is worth asking what we can learn from this mess. Perhaps the most obvious is the principle of the high-low alliance, between woke junior faculty and student activists on the one hand; and the highest reaches of the administration on the other. Williams protests like this were coordinated, quietly but surely, by elements within the Williams faculty and particularly the administration. Twenty-foot posters denouncing white people are not the kinds of things that tend to emerge without institutional support. The diversity brigadiers at the bottom almost always end up demanding more administrators, and more power for the administration, at the top. The high and the low array themselves, naturally, against their common enemy in the middle, that is to say those elements with which the administrators are in competition for resources and authority, and who enjoy a regard and security that the lower side of the alliance covets. This common enemy is nothing other than the traditional stuff of higher education itself: the departments and rank-and-file tenured faculty. The American race protests, too, are supported in ways direct and indirect by powerful state and corporate elements, for their own purposes of defeating common, perceived enemies in the middle.

Above all, though, it is the total hollowness of the activists‘ ideology and their complaints that is most salient here. The message of the Williams activists in Spring 2019 had nothing in it that was true, or well-argued, or convincing, or even worth entertaining for a moment. At no point in this embarrassing parody of protest did the facts of what had happened matter at all. It didn’t matter that McPartland did the right thing, it didn’t matter that the memorialized professors, far from dead, were enjoying a semester of unearned leave, it didn’t matter that they hardly bothered to articulate a coherent, specific complaint at all. This didn’t matter to the activists, but it didn’t matter to the administration either. To the end people like Mandel pretended that their cause was justified.

What mattered in these protests was only the flat, atemporal tenets of Race Theology. Events on the ground were forced, however they might fit, into the prefabricated moulds of imagined heresies and an entirely mystical racism. This Race Theology is the very same collection of circular doctrines that all of the protesters are now repeating and spray-painting in cities across the world. These diverge more and more from reality, the more they are elaborated and repeated. This is not the ideology of the oppressed, but the official religion of a comfortable establishment, so confident in its power that it need not justify itself. In fact it is eager to find new ways of provoking and offending. The more ground Race Theology is ceded, the more it will demand. There’s no arguing against it, there’s no convincing or appeasing the race theologians. There is only an opting out of their religion. If enough people do that, they’ll lose their power and their political protection. So, in my small way, I opt out of their enterprise. That’s all.

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

If every professor who feels like Knibbs opts out, then what will remain? Where will Williams be in 10 or 50 years? Where will America be? The rest of Yeats’ poem is not cheerful.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I had trouble deciding how to end this post. My natural optimism argues that this is a phase, no worse than the 60s/70s, which will pass with time. Williams will always be Williams. The old man in me knows that more than one faculty member at Williams would look at a job application from Eric Knibbs (or me or anyone non-liberal) with a “gaze blank and pitiless as the sun.”

What do readers think?


Against Race Theology, 4

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Now it is a remarkable thing, that wherever diversity, inclusion and equity are promoted as the highest ideals, you achieve nothing but ever new heights of conformity, social division and unfairness. The truth is that establishing in-groups (“inclusivity”) has a corollary, namely the definition of out-groups, and so you’re just as likely to foster feelings of community by defining and excluding outsiders, as you are to unleash the forces of the cultural revolution upon supposed ideological opponents (“racists”) by demanding a duplicitous inclusion.

Exactly right. I am curious, however, what pragmatic advice Knibbs might offer to Maud? Take as given Maud’s goals: For Williams to remain the top liberal arts college and for Maud’s life to be pleasant. What would Knibbs have her do?

My advice is the same as always: Admit 25 boisterous conservative students in each class. Hire a dozen or so outspoken conservative/libertarian/republican faculty. Show the campus left that there is another side which they need to take seriously. And then stand above the fray! That is a pleasant place to be! When the Left comes with their demands, just ask them to convince the Right first. Set up campus discussion and debates. Let them fight each other.

Because I am a bad person, I love when Knibbs gets catty.

The protesters, meanwhile, kept protesting. At the end of February they organized something called the March for the Damned, which professed „radical love“ for the two professors who were refusing to do their jobs. A semester is a long time to be on strike, so there were always new opportunities to memorialize the absent profs. The issue became a vector for personal animosities, as an unpleasant professor of American Studies named Dorothy Wang staged a spat with the equally unpleasant chair of the English department in front of some students. An investigation was launched; the student-witnesses were summoned to the offices of high administrators to give evidence. Fashionable and self-important people demanded that the English department chair, herself a committed proponent of all the most fashionable leftisms, resign.

1) Perhaps I have been too easy on Katie Kent ’88? If Knibbs has stories about just how “unpleasant” she is, then we want to hear them at EphBlog.

2) There is a great story to be told about Dorothy Wang’s hiring at Williams. “Sure,” those poor old bastards in the faculty thought, “she seems a little off and lefty, but her research is solid and she’ll make a good teacher. And the Dean says we need some minority women. What’s the worst that could happen?”


Against Race Theology, 3

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs summarizes the craziness of last year well. He is not a fan of Maud Mandel:

Student activists developed a protest cult to their absent professors [Green and Love]. They established an impromptu “memorial” in the hallway where both had their offices. This consisted primarily of copies of the Record with its libelous headline, as well as strings and other bits of garbage.

At this moment I enter the tragicomedy briefly. I left Williams two months before all of this took off. Before I knew I’d be departing, I chaired a committee responsible for managing Hollander Hall, the very building afflicted by this outrage. After I left, Prof. Keith McPartland took charge in my place. This landed him in a hard spot, because it turns out that that pile of nonsense violates state fire safety regulations, and is probably also contrary to accessibility standards. Staff, however, were presumably too terrified to touch any of it, lest they get fired. So McPartland did what I hope to god I would’ve had the courage to do, had it been me. Because he enjoyed some measure of protection as a tenured professor, he consulted with campus security and then boxed up the offending portions of the memorial himself. As he did this, students confronted him, but he carried on. That night, faculty offices were papered with posters denouncing McPartland as a racist for his troubles.

Maud Mandel, the weak and indecisive president that Williams so richly deserves, then did exactly what you might expect. She took to her email and promptly denounced her committee chair for doing his job.

We were critical of Maud’s actions last year, but not nearly as critical as Knibbs is here. Were we too generous? Is he unfair?

There is a lot to say about this disgraceful, pandering note. That she doesn’t name the committee chair who did what was necessary matters not at all. Everyone, including me, a whole continent away, knew who it was. The tepid hand-wringing, the saccharine morality, the vagueness as to fact and circumstance: All are characteristic of the administrative rhetoric cultivated at expensive schools like Williams. These are letters that communicate nothing clearly save for the emotional state of their authors. The professors not teaching, but retaining their jobs and collecting a salary, are here said to be undergoing “a difficult time.” And Mandel could hardly pass up the chance to suggest that it was the free speech of Profs. Green and Love and their student supporters that was threatened. Thus she cast herself as guardian of the free expression of those selfsame activists whose histrionics were one battle in a wider campaign to deny free speech to everyone else. A leftist protester is gently prevented from violating fire regulations: For Mandel that’s a free-speech issue. Some faculty signed a thing and have a meeting about the Chicago principles: Speech harms, people at the meeting are told; and the administration rings its hands about how deeply complex it all is. The result is that everyone, including free speech activists, defends all manner of disruptive campus leftist performativity, while only a few people bother to defend anyone else’s right to speak. The only unopposed voices on campus? People like Prof. Green, who feared at one point that their program chair was plotting their assassination.

Green is, clearly, mentally ill. How long will they be teaching at Williams?

Relenting does not quiet the mob. It emboldens its worst actors.

Indeed. But doesn’t Maud deserve some credit for standing up to folks like Green/Love/others by restoring free speech to Williams? Knibbs seems to judge Maud against some (unobtainable?) standard of what a Williams president ought to be. I judge her against the standard of other liberal art college presidents. Which is the fair comparison?


Against Race Theology, 2

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams is years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Knibbs begins:

TLDR: What, a few years ago, seemed like the regrettable yet limited excesses of the campus left, has suddenly become a political force in the wider world. The Race Theology promoted by schools like Williams College is everywhere now. It’s important that reasonable people who are not part of this dubious religious revival voice their dissent. That is what this page is. It represents my own thoughts, and my own thoughts alone.

What do our readers think? Is “Race Theology” a useful name? I prefer The Great Awokening myself.

Politics is not what this website is about, and mainstream political debates have never interested me. In the last few weeks, however, it has become impossible to escape the indignities of political discourse. That’s particularly the case since I set up a twitter account to drive some traffic to my academic blog. My time on twitter has proved disappointing, and in some ways it has radicalized me. Judging from many tweets published there, a great part of those people who claim to be scholars in fact devote astounding energy to careening from one fashion-forward moral grievance to the next, all with a completely grating tonal confidence.

Outside of the bourgeois professorsphere, I have been amused to find people marveling at an article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine. It’s about an episode of progressive hyperventilation, in which a lot of race botherers and diversity brigadiers crybullied some data analyst out of his job, for the crime of summarizing a political science paper that they found inconvenient.

The emails that Chait quotes are absolutely, to the word, the tone of discussion in American academia, as I experienced it in my time as an assistant and then associate professor of history at Williams College. The people in those emails are engaging in a power process that is well-established among the American intelligentsia. If you don’t like somebody in these circles, this is one way to shut them up and shut them down. It is the way of things at faculty meetings; at talks and lectures; at student protests especially; and anywhere that administrators are likely to gather.

Surely all EphBlog readers agree that David Shor’s firing was absurd. (Right?) But it is one thing to note craziness somewhere. It is another to claim that this craziness is endemic at Williams. We have faculty readers. Is this a far description of Williams today?


Against Race Theology, 1

Former Williams History Professor Eric Knibbs wrote “Against Race Theology, or: Williams College is Everywhere Now,” the most scathing attack on the culture that is Williams in years. (Hat-tip to John Drew.) Let’s spend a week going through the highlights of the article, centered around last year’s controversies about White Male Vigilantes, self-CARE Now and Green/Love Black Joy. Professor Knibbs will be responding to (some) comments here.

Let’s start with some of Drew’s comments:

Eric describes what it was like to be a recently tenured history professor at Williams College during the 2018-2019 school year. This was a year which white liberal professors found themselves under attack for not being sufficiently woke. He does a compelling job of describing what it was like working for an institution while it was under siege by radical CARE Now students. These students were opponents of modest efforts to bring the Chicago Principles to Williams College and the ardent acolytes of two of the most ridiculous black professors to ever teach at the campus.

What is most alarming to Eric Knibbs today is that the madness he saw taking place at Williams College now seems to be straightforward vision of what violent Antifa terrorists, enraged peaceful protesters, and statue molesters want to impose on the entire country.

I think it is important to read his article in full. Mainly, it demonstrates that it is not so funny to be face-to-face with leftist, extremist students who are quick to assert racism as the motive for anything they dislike. These students have little to lose and nevertheless appear to have more influence with the administration than a well-meaning professor like Eric Knibbs. I should add that the article also displays Knibbs’ entertaining writing, ability to explain things simply, and his conscientious research. His article is a telling reminder of what an elite Williams College professor would be like in a culture that promoted merit rather than identity politics.

Exactly right. I was very sad when Knibbs announced that he was leaving Williams.

There is a great Record article to be written about Knibbs and his critics.

Note: Comments which pick a personal fight with JCD will be deleted instantly. Better topic: Do you agree or disagree with his summary of Knibb’s article?


Reading the Declaration

One of my favorite Williams summer traditions:

This year the Chapin Library at Williams College and the Williamstown Theatre Festival have prepared a video program of the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence and related documents.

We begin with a brief document of local interest. On May 10th, 1776, the Massachusetts legislature, called the General Court, asked the various towns of the state each to consider whether its people would support a declaration of independence by the Continental Congress, then meeting in Philadelphia. Williamstown replied on June 24th, sending its consensus under the name of Town Moderator Nathan Wheeler. In our program, the town’s response is read by local historian Dusty Griffin.

This will be followed by a reading of the Declaration of Independence, from the text passed on July 4th, 1776, when it was not yet a “unanimous declaration” – the delegates from New York State having abstained from the voting. The Declaration will be read this year by Williams College faculty, staff, and families, organized by Gretchen Long, Professor of History.

Next, Chris Waters, the Hans W. Gatzke, Class of 1938 Professor of Modern European History at Williams, will read a rare document sometimes called the British reply to the Declaration. This was a text issued by Admiral Lord Howe and General Howe, the King’s Commissioners for Restoring Peace in North America, on September 11th, 1776, speaking directly to the people when a late appeal to the Congress – basically, a demand for surrender – failed to stop the fighting. It was too little, too late, more than a year after Lexington and Concord. The “constitution” referred to at the end is the government and laws of Great Britain, embodied in King George and Parliament.

​Finally, please welcome Michael Obasohan, who has been part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s Community Works initiative since 2016 as an actor and choreographer. Michael will read excerpts from a speech by Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” Douglass was born into slavery, escaped to the North, and became a noted abolitionist, speaker, writer, and diplomat. In 1852, when he delivered this speech in Rochester, New York, African-Americans like himself did not have the freedom and independence praised in the Declaration, and of course that freedom is still in question today.

Kudos to all involved. Sadly, I could not figure out how to embed the video here. Is there a reason it is not up on Youtube or Vimeo?

It is a sign of my wrong-think that this passage from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind. The [white] mayor of New York City is talking with Sheldon Lennart, his press flunky.

As the comments argued last year, the fact that I would be reminded of this is another example of my wrong-think. Yet, if President Trump’s speech last night demonstrates anything, it is that there is a major divide in this country about both our past and our future. Ten (20? not sure) years ago, the 4th of July reading only included the Declaration itself (and other similar documents). Now, we spend 50%+ of the time its takes to read the Declaration on a Frederick Douglas speech.

What will this event look like 10 or 50 years from now? We will still read the words written by Thomas Jefferson, a slave-owner? Should we? I am interested in both the predictions of our readers and in their preferences.


Reopening, 4

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

Three cheers for Maud Mandel!

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

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

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

Consider Bowdoin:

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

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

And Amherst:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reopening, 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is Maud’s letter on tuition:

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

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

Details here. Comments:

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

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

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

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

5) Here is what Williams reported in December:

Today, we have:

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


Reopening, 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Reopening, 1

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

The biggest mistake is cancelling fall athletic competitions today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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