Currently browsing posts authored by David Dudley Field '25

Follow David Dudley Field '25 via RSS

Next Page →

Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Myles will not be in Williamstown to celebrate reunion with the Old Guard in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. His last glimpse of Williams was on graduation day 78 years ago. Who among the sons and daughters of Ephraim even remembers his name?

I saw the mountains of Williams
As I was passing by,
The purple mountains of Williams
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Williams men
Who went abroad to die.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a Junior Advisor and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.


Fox lived in Wood House. Are you the student who just moved out of the room that Fox vacated all those years ago? Are you an Eph who trod the same walkways around campus as Fox? We all walk in his footsteps.

The years go fast in Williams,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.

Fox wrote letters to his class secretary, letters just like those that you or I might write.

The last issue of the Review has put me up to date on my civilized affairs. I am enclosing the only other information I have received in the form of a letter from Mr. Dodd. Among my last batch of mail was notice of the class insurance premium, and if you think it will prove an incentive to any of my classmates you may add under the next batch of Class Notes my hearty endorsement of the insurance fund, the fact that even with a military salary I am still square with the Mutual Company, and my hope that classmates of ’40 will keep the ball rolling so that in the future, purple and gold jerseys will be rolling a pigskin across whitewash lines.

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

Fox was as familiar as your freshman roommate and as distant as the photos of Williams athletes from years gone by that line the walls of Chandler Gym. He was every Eph.

They left the peaceful valley,
The soccer-field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Williams,
To seek a bloody sod—
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.

Fox was killed in August 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

How to describe a night battle against attacking Japanese among the islands of the South Pacific in August 1942?

Darkness, madness and death.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who have died in the service of their country. For many years, no Eph had made the ultimate sacrifice. That string of good fortune ended with the death in combat of First Lieutenant Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC on December 9, 2006 in Iraq. From Ephraim Williams through Myles Fox to Nate Krissoff, the roll call of Williams dead echoes through the pages of our history.

With luck, other military Ephs like Dick Pregent ’76, Bill Couch ’79, Peter May ’79, Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive this war. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of Marine combat in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare. Don’t miss the HBO miniseries The Pacific, from which the battle scene above is taken. Fox died two weeks before the Marines on Guadalcanal faced the Japanese at the Battle of the Tenaru.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. He is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the letters from Felipe Perez ’99 and Joel Iams ’01.

God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Williamstown.

Note: As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry, a tribute to those who have gone before. Apologies to Winifred M. Letts for bowdlerizing her poem, “The Spires of Oxford.”


Confederation of Deplorables

An anonymous faculty member writes:

My father was a laborer all his life. Our entire home life was shaped by his weekly shift postings: one week, 0700-1600, the next 1600-1200, and the third 1200-0700. My parents grew up and married during the Depression and became solid FDR adherents. So our household was a solid Democratic bastion. And when I came of age, I followed my parents’ lead, registered Democrat, and voted Democrat. And I remain a registered Democrat, perhaps out of familial or working-class-origin loyalty. But, please note, I haven’t voted Democratic in more than 30 years because of the Democrats’ profound leftist lunge and its betrayal of its former constituents, like my parents and me.

I mention this because current party affiliation is not necessarily a reliable indication of one’s political sentiments. I remain a registered Democrat, simply because of my family history. I can’t affiliate myself with RINOs and/or country-club Republicans. I’m a proud Deplorable. Ironically, we owe the detestable HRC for our name. Do you know that there is a small, quiet, but stalwart confederation of Deplorables among Williams faculty members, who not only deplore the rapid (does any other word apply?) Democratic/media attack on President Trump, but who also deplore the radical leftist policies instituted by presidents/deans/administrators of Williams College?

Are there really? I like to consider myself a friendly acquaintance — mostly via e-mail but also in person — of many (most?) of the non-liberal/progressive members of the faculty. I have only met one who thought highly enough of Trump to vote for him.

More importantly, why is this “confederation of Deplorables” so quiet? Many (all?) of them have tenure. Why not speak up? Recall:

With Richard Herrnstein, the late Harvard professor, he [Charles Murray] was about to publish The Bell Curve. There were early warnings that the co-authors would come in for a rough time of it. Murray was in the Herrnstein home, having a nightcap. And he said to the professor, “Exactly why are we doing this anyway?” Herrnstein recalled the day he got tenure, and how happy he was, thinking what it meant: For the rest of his life, he was free to do the work he loved at a place he loved. “I said to myself, there has to be a catch. And I figured out what it was: You have to tell the truth.”



Administrative Bloat

Williams is hiring an assistant general counsel.

We seek a collaborative, strategic, and intellectually agile attorney to serve as Assistant General Counsel (AGC), reporting to the General Counsel. The AGC will provide legal support involving myriad legal issues to a wide array of college offices and constituencies and will help manage and operate the college’s residential mortgage benefit program. Over time the AGC will develop the ability to represent college before local boards, commissions, and agencies in a variety of permitting, regulatory, and policy matters.

1) Every administrator hired is another faculty member not hired. We need to understand not just the seen — a nice new administrator who is doing her best to make Williams better — but also what is not seen — the junior professor not hired because her salary has gone to the administrator instead.

2) If we must hire a new administrator, we should do everything possible to make it the spouse of a current faculty member. You don’t need a law degree to do (almost) any aspect of the job outlined above. None if it is rocket science. A smart spouse could learn what he needed to learn over time. Some of the best administrators at Williams — Associate Provost Chris Winters ’95, Director of Institutional Research Courtney Wade — got their first job at the College with no relevant experience. By hiring them, Williams has made it much less likely that their spouses — Professors Amy Gehring ’94 and Brent Heeringa — will ever consider leaving.

3) Why not allow current faculty to take on this work? We have lamented, for years, the continuing decrease in faculty governance at Williams. There are a dozen or more faculty members who would like to be considered for senior administrator positions when they next open up. How are those professors to demonstrate their talent and industriousness? How are they to discover, before they get tapped as Provost, that they really want to get into administration?

The best plan is to give them part time work doing administrative type stuff, like representing the “college before local boards, commissions, and agencies.” They will learn whether or not they like administration. President Mandel will discover if they are any good at it. And it would not cost Williams a penny. Professors would still be responsible for their full teaching loads.

Ancient readers will recall that Williams used to have two “assistant provosts,” both drawn from the faculty. Now we have zero. The old way was better.


Provost Presentation at Alumni Leadership Weekend

Provost Dukes Love kindly shared the slides (pdf) from the presentation he gave on Saturday May 5 to the muckety-mucks at the Alumni Leadership event. Thanks! Dukes is EphBlog’s favorite member of the Williams Administration because he is so committed to transparency, as every real academic should be. (Provost Will Dudley ’89, on the other hand, refused to share his presentations from similar events.)

Lots of interesting material, like this chart:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 4.16.19 PM

Worth spending a few days going through in detail?


How to Hire Conservative/Republican/Libertarian Faculty

Harry makes some (obtuse) comments about faculty hiring:

it’s against most state laws I’m aware of for asking about one’s political registration. Also, I’ve never heard this asked in any faculty interviews. Folks are generally hired without asking or discussing political views.

It is also against state law to ask about race. And race is never “asked” about in faculty interviews. D’uh!

Again, you can be against caring about political diversity on the merits. That is a reasonable position. But all these claims that — even if we want to do it we can’t — are just nonsense. 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 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.

Again, 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.


Billionaire Blue Blood Financier

When was the last time an Eph made Page Six, the New York Post‘s gossip page? Thursday!

Save Venice, but trash our $52 million Central Park co-op!

A billionaire blue blood financier let guests vandalize his fancy Upper East Side pad with graffiti while playing beer pong following a swanky society gala.

The glamorous Save Venice masquerade ball has become a hotter ticket than the Met Gala among New York’s elite.

Masked guests this year included Sienna Miller and too many princesses to count, including Maria-Olympia of Greece , Marie-Chantal of Greece and Saudi royal Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz.

But while an official Save Venice after-party was held at high-end eatery the Pool, we hear the place to be was a fun-filled bash at Wall Street investor Chase Coleman III’ s apartment at an East 66th Street co-op near Central Park, where guests were invited to vandalize the French plastered walls with cans of spray paint as they partied into the early hours.

Coleman — who’s a descendant of Peter Stuyvestant — and his wife, Stephanie, purchased the pad in 2016 for $52 million.

It is vacant, waiting to be redone by hot architect Peter Marino.

The couple will reportedly combine the 15-room abode with the two units they own a floor above.

Demolition starts this week, so they offered the walls as canvasses for the arty crowd.

“A select group migrated to this vacant apartment,” a source told Page Six. “All the lights were off, and people were spray-painting the apartment and playing beer pong all night.”

See children! The skills you learn at Williams — like petty vandalism and beer pong — will be very useful as you enter the corridors of power. Study them hard!


Faculty Political Diversity, 3

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 3.

Nicholas Goldrosen ’20 reported in January for the Record that:

Over the course of 2017, faculty and staff employed by the College contributed a total of $20,325.22 to candidates and committees in federal elections, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosures. All of these contributions went to Democratic or Democrat-leaning candidates or committees. The vast majority of contributions were modest, and individuals often made multiple contributions over the course of the year.

In 2017, 76 individuals who listed their employers as “Williams College” or some subsidiary – and did not list their occupations as “student” – made a total of 1240 contributions in federal elections. Of the 76 people who made contributions, 43 were members of the faculty and 33 were employed as staff members.


1) Goldrosen fails to quote a single person in this story. Why? Reporting 101 is: Go out and talk to people and tell your readers what they say. There are faculty who are experts in US politics. Ask them questions! There are students involved in political campaigns and fund-raising. Interview them!

2) I asked Goldrosen to share the data with us. He never responded to my e-mail. Advice to our readers: Always respond to (non-spam) e-mails. The more people you network with, the better your career will be.

3) The FEC data is public. Should I spend sometime going through it?


Faculty Political Diversity, 2

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 2.

Recall our previous discussions about which Williams professors might be considered to be on the non-left-wing side of the faculty as a whole. Of those candidates, here are the ones that appear in Langbert’s data:

  name       sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
1 Miller     M     Associate REDACTED   Mathematics    0.800 R             44.0
2 Paul       M     Professor REDACTED   Political      1.90  NP            50.0
3 McAllister M     Professor REDACTED   Political      2.20  NP            54.0
4 Kirby      M     Professor REDACTED   Psychology     1.90  NP            55.0
5 Marcus     M     Professor REDACTED   Political      0.400 D             75.0
6 Jackall    M     Professor NA         Sociology     NA     NR            NA  
7 Lewis      M     Professor NA         Art           NA     R             NA  
8 Strauch    M     Associate NA         Physics       NA     NR            NA  

UPDATE: See below.

Mathematics Professor Steve Miller is the only registered Republican on the Williams faculty. He is the “1” in the 132:1 ratio that Langbert reports.

Having only one Republican professor at Williams is about as bad as an alternate reality in which Williams had only one African-American professor. I am comfortable with people claiming that neither situation is a concern because Williams faculty teach in an unbiased fashion: you can’t tell from their lectures or their grading what their politics or race are. I am also comfortable with people claiming that both situations are a matter of great concern that the College should work to fix. I am uncomfortable with the current Williams view: We desperately need to increase racial diversity and we don’t need to worry about political diversity.

dcat asks what we should do. That is easy!

Williams could have the exact same set of policies about faculty political diversity as it has about faculty racial diversity. For example, Williams could keep track of (and report) on political diversity in the same way that it does racial diversity. It could insist that departments go out of their way to advertise positions in ways likely to come to the attention of politically diverse candidates. It could require (or strongly urge) departments — as it now does — to have at least one fly-out candidate who helps with political diversity. It could create positions for which the hiring pool is much more likely to be politically diverse. And so on.

This won’t make Williams 50/50 anytime soon, but it would quickly lead to a Williams with 10+ republican/libertarian/conservative faculty members, thereby (one hopes!) creating a very different political environment on campus.

UPDATE: I redacted birthdays by request. Although birthdays are public information (else how did Langbert find them), we like to stay on good terms with our faculty readers! Separately, Michael Lewis reports to EphBlog that he is a registered Republican in Williamstown. So, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the Williams faculty is 66:1. EphBlog gets results!

UPDATE II: Professor Miller writes:

I’ve held many political affiliations over the years, often due to what party’s primary I want to vote in. I was a registered Democrat in MA for awhile until the Affordable Care Act was passed. I view myself as a Conservative Libertarian.

Thanks for the clarification!


Faculty Political Diversity, 1

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 1.

Langbert writes:

In this article I offer new evidence about something readers of Academic Questions already know: The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Key table:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 12.48.49 PM

Am I truly a right-wing nutjob for wanting Williams to have more than a single Republican faculty member? I hope not!

The data is very interesting, not least because it includes date of birth and distance (or residence) from Williams. Here are the youngest and oldest faculty:

   name      sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
 1 Friedman  F     Professor 1987-12-25 Language       0.900 D             30.0
 2 Heggeseth F     Assistant 1986-05-23 Mathematics    2.00  D             31.0
 3 Smalarz   F     Professor 1986-08-08 Psychology     0.400 D             31.0
 4 Simko     F     Assistant 1984-09-21 Sociology      0.900 D             33.0
 5 Leight    F     Assistant 1984-11-15 Economics      0.200 NP            33.0
 6 Phelan    M     Assistant 1984-12-10 Economics      0.400 NP            33.0
 7 Blackwood F     Assistant 1984-06-08 Mathematics    0.600 D             33.0
 8 Johnson   M     Professor 1937-05-22 Art           11.4   D             80.0
 9 Graver    F     Professor 1936-08-17 English        1.30  D             81.0
10 Beaver    M     Professor 1936-07-16 History        0.400 NP            81.0
11 Dew       M     Professor 1937-05-01 History        1.00  D             81.0

Immediately, we see some problems with the data. Friedman and Smalarz were not professors at such a young age. In fact, (Nicole) Friedman does not really belong in the data set at all because she was not tenure-track. I have reported these issues to Langbert. Overall, however, the data looks very good to me. Do other people see any problems?

Here are the professors that live furthest away:

  name     sex   rank      dob        field     distance registration   age
1 Pye      M     Professor 1953-09-06 English       47.0 D             64.0
2 Merrill  F     Professor 1963-12-02 History       58.3 D             54.0
3 Ephraim  F     Assistant 1978-12-03 Political     69.8 D             39.0
4 Campbell F     Assistant 1981-03-06 Music        132   NP            37.0
5 Limon    M     Professor 1951-08-29 English      159   D             66.0

Do John Limon and Corrina Cambell really live more than 100 miles away? I have my doubts. Also note that some other professors (e.g., Singham) who I think live in different states are shown as living near by. So, I am not sure I would trust the distance data that much.

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 5.10.09 PM

None of us are concerned with students being “brainwashed” — although never forget the saga of Jennifer Kling ’98. The issue is political diversity. If racial diversity is important for the faculty, then why isn’t political diversity?


Charismatic Nerd Looks for Fun Times

From Professor Phoebe Cohen:

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 3.01.19 PM

Who will #meToo come for next?

If Cohen were seriously concerned about such behavior, shouldn’t she focus more on her Williams colleagues some (many?) of whom were seeking sex with their students in the not-so-distant past? Cohen, now tenured, is well-placed to call out such “super-sketchy behavior.” If she declines to do so, how seriously should we take her condemnation of Feynman?

UPDATE: BH’s comments remind me that not everyone follows this topic as closely as we do. From October:

At least three current students have reported to EphBlog that professors in a for-now-unnamed department warn current students they advise to either a) not take a course and/or b) distance themselves from one particular professor due to a number of sexual harassment complaints, including “coming onto” students during office hours and attempting to engage in other inappropriate behavior. Despite the complaints, which have come at least since the 2013-2014 academic year, this professor is still currently in the employment of the College and is teaching a class this semester. Notably, this professor only conducts class on a limited number of days a week when they are allowed on campus, a measure enacted since the 2014-2015 academic year in response to the complaints. At least for the last year, this professor has not held office hours for their classes.

Note that this post was not written by me.


James Hitchcock ’15 in New York Times

James Hitchcock ’15, former president of Uncomfortable Learning, was mentioned in Ross Douthat’s column in the New York Times.

So the same trends that have made California so uniformly liberal have also encouraged Trumpism elsewhere — and not only elsewhere, since as Jason Willick and James Hitchcock pointed out in 2016 in The American Interest, Trumpism-the-ideology is very much a made-in-California affair. Not many members of the right-wing intelligentsia backed Trump, but the writers and thinkers who did — from mainstream conservatives to the alt-right fringe — were heavily Californian: the Claremont Institute’s West Coast Straussians, Michael “Flight 93 Election” Anton, Mickey Kaus, Victor Davis Hanson, Ron Unz, Steve Sailer, Scott Adams, Curtis “Mencius Moldbug” Yarvin … and of course the one and only Peter Thiel.

In perhaps not unrelated news, Hitchcock is now working as a research assistant for Douthat and David Brooks.

Career advice for Hitchcock? Right a book about the Alt-Right, with a focus on immigration. As an Eph of the right, he is well-positioned to gain access to the movement. And, as part of the establishment, he could get a major publisher to take his project seriously.


Needham ’04 Becomes Rubio’s Chief of Staff

From the New York Times:

As chief executive of the influential conservative think tank Heritage Action for America, Michael Needham waged years of unforgiving political warfare against the Republican Party establishment, deepening the divide between party leaders and grass-roots activists that helped elevate Donald J. Trump to the presidency.

Now Mr. Needham is leaving his job there to become chief of staff for one of the Republican establishment’s favorite sons, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.

Both are also quite young. Mr. Needham is 36 and Mr. Rubio is 46. And both believe that the Republican Party has not done enough to rethink its animating ideas and appeal to voters at a time when Mr. Trump remains woefully unpopular with younger Americans.

“Any fair-minded observer of the last several years would say conservatives have work to do in order to assure our principles remain relevant,” Mr. Needham said in an interview. “There was truth in candidate Trump’s declaration that this is the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party. Our challenge as conservatives is to build a movement that inspires a majority coalition of Americans.”

But beyond their shared views on the party’s need to have a better 20-year plan, the two have taken very distinct approaches to leadership. Mr. Needham has been a leading practitioner of the uncompromising, scorched-earth style of political combat that was a trademark of Tea Party-inspired politicians and activists. He frequently clashed with the Republican leadership in Congress and challenged it to drive a harder bargain on issues like defunding the Affordable Care Act, which led to a two-week government shutdown in 2013 that most Republicans came to see as ill advised.

Mr. Needham and Mr. Rubio have often had very different things to say about Mr. Trump. Given his anti-establishment sensibilities, Mr. Needham has largely lauded the president’s agenda of low taxes and a hard-line posture toward China. He has praised Mr. Trump for helping the Republican Party forge a stronger bond with Americans who feel socially and economically disconnected and who are eager to shine a light on the corruption and cronyism they believe is rampant in Washington.

Needham has also been an eloquent defender of the Trump position — or at least the Trump campaign rhetoric — on immigration. If only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Rubio can lead the Republican Party to the promised land of serious immigration restrictions . . .


Make Class/Professor Evaluations Available

Why doesn’t Williams have something like the Harvard Q Guide?

The Q evaluations provide important student feedback about courses and faculty. Many questions are multiple choice, though there’s room for comments as well. The more specific a student can be about an observation or opinion, the more helpful their response. Q data help students select courses and supplement Harvard’s Courses of Instruction, shopping period visits to classes and academic advising.

Faculty take these evaluations seriously – more than half logged on to view their students’ feedback last spring within a day of the results being posted. The Q strengthens teaching and learning, ultimately improving the courses offered at Harvard.

All true. The Q Guide works wonderfully, both providing students with more information as they select their courses and encouraging (some) teachers to take their undergraduate pedagogy more seriously. Consider STAT 104, the (rough) Harvard equivalent of STAT 201 at Williams. The Q Guide provides three main sources of information: students ratings of the class, student ratings of the professor and student comments:

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 11.25.38 AM

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 11.26.30 AM

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 11.24.22 AM

1) Williams has Factrak, a service which includes some student evaluations.

See below the break for more images. Factrak is widely used and popular. Representative quote:

Factrack is super popular here — sigh is dead wrong. Any student serious about their classes spends some time on that site during registration periods. I’ve also found the advice on the website to be instructive. Of course, it takes some time to sort out who is giving levelheaded feedback and who is just bitter about getting a bad grade, but once you do there is frequently a bounty of information regarding a particular Prof’s teaching style.

2) Williams students fill out student course survey (SCS) forms, along with the associated blue sheets for comments. None of this information is made available to students.

3) Nothing prevents Williams, like Harvard, from distributing this information, either just internally (as Harvard does) or to the world art large. Reasonable modifications are possible. For example, Harvard allows faculty to decline to make the student comments public. (Such an option allows faculty to hide anything truly hurtful/unfair.) First year professors might be exempt. And so on. Why doesn’t Williams do this?

a) Williams is often highly insular. We don’t make improvement X because we have never done X, not because any committee weighed the costs/benefits of X.

b) Williams cares less about the student experience than you might think.

c) Williams does not think that students lack for information about courses/professors. A system like Harvard’s is necessary for a large university. It adds little/nothing to Williams.

d) Williams faculty are happy to judge students. They dislike being judged by students, much less having those judgments made public.

Assume you were a student interested in making this information available to the Williams community. Where would you start?

On a lighter note, EphBlog favorite Professor Nate Kornell notes:Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 2.35.50 PM

Read more


Latest News on Marcus ’88 Nomination

Here are the latest news articles on the (stalled?) nomination of Ken Marcus ’88 to be the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education.

Kenneth Marcus, nominated for the head of the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, evaded questions about racially disparate school discipline in January. The Office for Civil Rights receives complaints about racially disparate student discipline. National data shows that that students of color are often disciplined far more often and more severely than their white peers.

Marcus said, “Senator, I believe disparities of that size are grounds for concern, but my experience says that one needs to approach each complaint and compliance review with an open mind and a sense of fairness to find what out what the answers are. I have seen what appeared to be inexcusable disparities that were the result of paperwork errors. They just got the numbers wrong.”

Marcus founded the Brandeis Center in 2011. In 2012, it filed an amicus brief opposing race conscious admissions in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case.

Should we be following this story more closely? If confirmed, Marcus would be the most senior Eph in the Trump Administration.


Financial Aid and Socioeconomic Diversity

Financial aid at Williams, as at all elite schools, is three parts true generosity, two parts virtue-signaling, one part sharp-dealing, and a soupçon of farcical ignorance to flavor the stew. Previous posts include the 2016 five part series on a Provost Will Dudley ’89 presentation, a four part analysis of an excellent 2014 Record article, this 10 (!) part analysis of New York Times coverage of the broader issue of socioeconomic diversity, this 2009 discussion of financial aid data submitted to the US Senate, our five part analysis of Lindsay Taylor’s ’05 thesis on low income admissions, this 5 part series about Pell Grants, this 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project and lots more slap-dash mockery about financial aid policy/politics.

TL;DR: You should no more trust the advice/information from Williams when it comes to financial aid than you should accept, without checking, the attestations of your local used-car dealer. Neither Williams officials, nor your car dealer, are bad people and all are under various legal obligations concerning fraud, but caveat emptor is the only reasonable attitude.

1) Start with advice for parents: If you think your kid will get accepted by an elite school, then a) Save zero money in her name, b) Do as much of your savings as possible in retirement accounts, c) Pay off your mortgage and, only after you have done all the above, d) Save money for college. Even if you are poor (or, at least, not rich) , Williams will take every dime that is in your child’s name. Plan accordingly.

2) “Financial need” is not a natural constant like the speed of light. Williams may think that you need $25,000 in aid. Middlebury might put the number at $10,000. Harvard might offer $40,000. All will claim to have met your “demonstrated need.” None are lying, per se. That they disagree about your “financial need” demonstrates that there is no such thing as an objective measure, used by all schools (despite what the colluders at the 568 Group would like you to believe).

3) Williams, like almost all elite schools, is not meaningfully more socio-economically diverse today than it was 10, 20 or even 50 years ago. More students get financial aid, but those same students — with the same family incomes — would not have required financial aid two decades ago because tuition was so much lower than. Consider how dominated we are by the wealthy:

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 6.07.08 PM

About 20% of the students at Williams have come from families in the top 1% of the income distribution for, approximately, forever. And that is OK! Lots of rich families have smart kids and the scions of wealth need to attend college somewhere. I just wish that Williams would stop preening about how much socio-economic diversity has changed when, in fact, it hasn’t.

But maybe things are different at the bottom?

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 6.10.57 PM

Maybe, if you squint, you can see change here. The percentage of students from families in the bottom 60% — many (most?) of them not “poor” by any reasonable definition — has increased from, say, 12% for the class of 2005 (the x-axis is birth years) to 20% for the class of 2013. But:

1) There was no change for the 5+ years before 2013. We were at 20% for the class of 2009.

2) There has been no change in the decade since. Recall Adam Falk’s report in 2016 that “almost 20%” of Williams students were “low income.” Naive readers will claim that Adam Falk can’t possibly define “low income” as students who come from the bottom 60% of the income distribution, but that is exactly what Williams does. Summary: 20% of the class of 2009 and 20% of the class of 2020 come from families in the bottom 60% of the income distribution. There has been no change for more than a decade, at least.

3) Some of this change was accomplished by down-weighting other aspects of socio-economic diversity. Morty loved bragging about how the class of 2012 was 21% was first-gen, meaning neither parent went to a four year college. But Williams cares less about that now and more about raw income, so first-gen has dropped to more like 16%. Given that more Williams students have parents who went to college — including fancy colleges like Harvard and Yale — now than it did a decade ago, is it really fair to say that Williams is more “socio-economically” diverse?


Update from the Committee on Priorities and Resources

From a faculty source:

The Committee on Priorities and Resources (CPR) would like to thank all of you who came to the open forum earlier this month and shared your thoughts about the college’s priorities, values, and commitments.

Some of your comments underscored the importance of issues that the committee has been considering carefully. These include how the college should meet its sustainability goals of reducing emissions to 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and achieving carbon neutrality by the end of 2020. Considerable attention has also been given not just to on-going construction projects, but also to how the college should decide what, when, and how to build. A report on the college’s building process can be found here. Possible changes to our admission and financial aid policies have also been discussed. Other thoughts, particularly those about staff salary and compensation, pointed to issues that should and will be put on the committee’s agenda.

To provide more regular opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to communicate ideas and concerns to the committee, CPR is creating a webpage and will be holding more open forums next year. In the meantime, we encourage you to contact the committee using this form.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Pei-Wen Chen, Biology
Todd Hoffman, Budget Director
Steve Klass, VP for Campus Life
Dukes Love, Provost
Megan Morey, VP for College Relations
Fred Puddester, VP for Finance and Administration
Michael Rubel ’19
Matt Sheehy, Associate VP for Finance
Jim Shepard, English
Allegra Simon ’18
Eiko Maruko Siniawer, History, Chair of CPR
Tara Watson, Economics and Public Health
Chris Winters, Associate Provost
Weitao Zhu ’18

Chair Eiko Siniawer wasn’t able to share details about the “[p]ossible changes to our admission and financial aid policies” but she did note that CPR would be publishing a report in May. Thanks Eiko!


April Ruiz

The Yale Daily News reported in January:

April Ruiz ’05 — dean of Grace Hopper College, dean of first-year scholars at Yale and lecturer in the cognitive science and psychology departments — will leave Yale over spring break, she announced in an email to the Hopper community on Thursday morning. Ruiz said she has accepted a position at another institution but cannot disclose any details until it formally announces her appointment after spring break.

“One can never control when these sorts of opportunities present themselves, and the decision to accept [the offer] is not one I made lightly,” Ruiz told the News. “Just as I’ve always encouraged my students to pursue paths that will push them forward, I know they will support me as I do so.”

Ruiz, who served as Hopper dean for four years, helped the college community navigate a tumultuous renaming process, during which students, staff, faculty and alumni debated whether or not Hopper College — formerly known as Calhoun College — should retain its connection to American statesman and outspoken slavery advocate John C. Calhoun, class of 1804.

From a comment on the article:

Good riddance. Calhoun ’16 here, and she was a deeply mediocre dean. Never answered her emails, failed utterly to neutrally arbitrate the naming discussion, and generally seemed far more interested in playing with her dog than doing her job.

Hopefully Master Adams and Dr. Chun will have the guts to not shoe in (let’s be honest here) another diversity hire. And before the chorus of irate pink-haired banshees pipes up, this is not coming from some bigot who wants to see white guys everywhere. I loved Dean Woodard with all my heart, and was deeply sad to see such a fundamentally good, hardworking person be replaced with an uncaring, tone-deaf political hack. God speed Dean Ruiz, and may we never cross paths again.

Is that fair? Probably not. (You ought to see some of the (unfair!) things people write about EphBlog!) Ruiz seems savvy to me, at least judging by this story in the Record:

“I think Dean Ruiz is a good fit for the College because she’s incredibly passionate about the First Gen work,” Brian Benitez ’18, a member of the search committee that hired Ruiz, said. “She understands that First Gen work at Williams is unique. It’s largely student-led, and Dean Ruiz had expressed that she is excited to work alongside students rather than as their superior. Given her experience, approachability and motivation, I have no doubt that she will be an asset to the Williams community.”

Every good Williams Dean needs to be able to snow the students into thinking that she really believes that Williams is “unique” and that College Deans are not “their superior.” Ruiz did that really well with the search committee! Or she actually believes that! Which is just as good . . .


BSO as Economic Farce

EphBlog loves Economics Professor Steve Sheppard something fierce, but corporatist nonsense like this requires rebuttal.

More than $260 million statewide, including $103 million in Berkshire County.

That’s the overall economic impact of the Boston Symphony’s summer season at Tanglewood and its three-season schedule in Boston, including the Boston Pops.

The big numbers come from an independent study by Williams College professor of economics Stephen Sheppard that depicts the BSO as “a key economic force” in western and eastern Massachusetts.

This is not just nonsense, it is Nonsense on Stata.

1) Sheppard’s study is in no meaningful way “independent.” Doesn’t Eagle reporter Clarence Fanto have a clue? The BSO gives money to Sheppard/Williams and, in return, gets a report. The BSO is the customer and it gets what it pays for. Moreover, Sheppard has been producing reports like this for the BSO for more than a decade. Do you really think if his last report (pdf) had come up with the wrong answer that BSO would have hired him again? Ha!

2) This is not to say that Sheppard is a “hired gun” who will say whatever his paymasters demand. No! Sheppard is an excellent (and honest!) economist, one who really believes that the BSO magically generates phenomenal wealth. And that is why BSO hires him and not some other, more skeptical, economist.

3) I am happy to spend several days going through the details of why this analysis is nonsense, if readers are interested. Short version: This is a “promotional study,” just like the ones used to justify public subsidies for sports stadiums. See this report from Brookings about why stadiums are a boondoggle.

4) Never forget to look, not just at what is seen, but at what is unseen. The policy issue is: Should the state of Massachusetts (or the town of Lennox or a rich philanthropist) give $10 million more to BSO or, instead, give $10 million to some other non-profit, like the basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield? We need to compare the jobs (or whatever) generated by spending on the BSO with the jobs (or whatever) generated by devoting the same quantity of resources to something else. The Eagle, either out of economic ignorance or local cheer-leading, fails to even ask the appropriate question.


Random Tidbits on the Presidential Search

I failed to gather nearly enough Presidential Search gossip and speculation prior to Maud Mandel’s selection last month. Apologies!

1) Andreas Halvorsen ’86 will be the next chair of the board of trustees, succeeding Mike Eisenson ’77. This is not public yet, of course, but there is no way that Williams would not include Eisenson’s successor on the search committee — given that it would choose the next president, who would then work closely with the next chair — and Halvorsen is, by far, the most likely candidate among those on the committee. Indeed, the Eisenson/Halvorsen pairing on this search committee is just like the Avis/Eisenson pairing on the committee that chose Falk. (Greg Avis ’80 was chair of the board at that time.)

2) Tiku Majumder is a good guy and fine professor, but that is not the reason he was chosen as the interim president. (There are, obviously, dozens of good guys/gals among the senior professors at Williams.) Majumder was chosen by Eisenson because they had gotten to know each other so well on the search committee that selected Falk almost a decade ago. Want to know who has the inside track on being the interim president when Mandel leaves? Look for someone that Halvorsen got to know well while working on this committee.

3) The College used fancy search firm Spencer Stuart, with lead consultant Mary Gorman. Why didn’t Eisenson select Isaacson, Miller, the firm used just a decade earlier to find Falk? I don’t know. Was Eisenson unimpressed with the Isaacson, Miller process which foisted Falk on Williams? Did he have prior experience with Spencer Stuart? Did someone else make the decision?

4) I would most like to know some of the details of the process, which Morty was much more open about the last time. How many candidates? How many interviews? And so on. I am especially interested in who the other finalists were, but that may be tough to discover.

5) How long was Maud Mandel been on the presidential job market and how much had Spencer Stuart been shopping her around? Note that the previous Dean of the College at Brown, Katherine Bergeron, went from that role to president at our NESCAC rival Connecticut College.


Zero African-American Phi Beta Kappa Graduates in 2017

In the Williams College class of 2017, there were 71 Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) graduates. None of them were African-American. (Full list of students available in the course catalog, and reprinted below the break for your convenience.) Comments:

1) There were 38 African-American first years in 2013-2014 (pdf). Some of those students transferred or took time off. Some African-American students from earlier years ended up in this class. We don’t know the total number of African-American graduates in the class of 2017, but it was probably around 35.

2) Since Phi Beta Kappa is the top 12.5% of the class, we would expect about 4 African-American PBK graduates. Of course, there will be random variation. Perhaps this year is low but, in other years, African-Americans are over-represented? Alas, that does not appear to be the case; there were zero African-American PBK graduates in 2009 and 2010 as well.

3) A relevant news hook is the “scandal” over UPenn law professor Amy Wax claiming that African-American law students “rarely” graduate in the top half of their class. The difference between EphBlog and Amy Wax, obviously, is that we have the data. (Williams declined to confirm or deny our analysis.)

4) Should we spend a few days discussing the reasons for this anomaly? If the Record were a real paper, it would investigate this statistic and interview senior faculty and administrators about it.

Williams 2017 Phi Beta Kappa graduates:
Read more


Zach Wood ’18 Speaks at TED

1) Read the transcript if you want the gist. Worth going through in detail? I have some quibbles . . . not the least of which is that he does not mention Williams by name!

2) Note that this is the main TED stage, not one of the many (lower prestige) spin-off events like TEDx. Which other Ephs have spoken at TED? Congrats to Zach! How many undergraduates, from any school, have spoken at TED?

3) The perfect start to Zach’s pundit career would be for him, sometime before graduation in June, to re-invite Derbyshire to campus. I have been told that Williams would, this time, allow the talk to go forward.

4) Hat-tip to Williams (read: Jim Reische) for tweeting this out. It is important that Williams be non-partisan when it comes to student/alumni/faculty activities. We should tweet out links to all Eph TED talks, regardless of whether or not we agree with the speaker.


Choose Williams Over Harvard

In celebration of previews, reasons why you should choose Williams.

There are several hundred high school seniors¹ who have been admitted to both Williams and Harvard (and Yale and Princeton and Stanford and . . .). Fewer than 10% of them will choose Williams over these more famous schools. Some of them are making the right choice. They will be better off at Harvard, for various reasons. But at least half of them are making the wrong choice. They (you?) would be better off at Williams. Why?

1) Your professors would know your name. The average Harvard undergraduate is known by name to only a few faculty members. Many students graduate unknown to any faculty. The typical professor at Harvard is primarily concerned with making important contributions to her field. The typical professor at Williams is primarily concerned with educating the undergraduates in her classes. Consider this post by Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, who teaches EC 10a/10b, the equivalent of Williams ECON 110/120, to over 750 students each year.

Being an ec 10 section leader is one of the best teaching jobs at Harvard. You can revisit the principles of economics, mentor some of the world’s best undergraduates, and hone your speaking skills. In your section, you might even have the next Andrei Shleifer or Ben Bernanke (two well-known ec 10 alums). And believe it or not, we even pay you for this!

If you are a graduate student at Harvard or another Boston-area university and have a strong background in economics, I hope you will consider becoming a section leader in ec 10 next year. Applications are encouraged from PhD students, law students, and master’s students in business and public policy.

Take a year of Economics at Harvard, and not a single professor will know your name. Instead, you will be taught and graded by (poorly paid) graduate students, many with no more than a BA, often not even in economics! But, don’t worry, you will be doing a good deed by providing these students with a chance to “hone” their “speaking skills.”

2) You will get feedback on your work from faculty at Williams, not from inexperienced graduate students. More than 90% of the written comments (as well as the grades) on undergraduate papers at Harvard are produced by people other than tenured (or tenure track) faculty. The same is true in science labs and math classes. EC 10 is a particularly egregious example, but the vast majority of classes taken by undergraduates are similar in structure. Harvard professors are too busy to read and comment on undergraduate prose.

3) You would have the chance to do many things at Williams. At Harvard it is extremely difficult to do more than one thing in a serious fashion. If you play a sport or write for The Crimson or sing in an a capella group at Harvard, you won’t be able to do too much of anything else. At Williams, it is common — even expected — that students will have a variety of non-academic interests that they pursue passionately. At Harvard, the goal is a well-rounded class, with each student being top notch in something. At Williams, the ideal is a class full of well-rounded people.

4) You would have a single room for three years at Williams. The housing situation at Harvard is horrible, at least if you care about privacy. Most sophomores and the majority of juniors do not have a single room for the entire year. Only at Harvard will you learn the joys of a “walk-through single” — a room which is theoretically a single but which another student must walk through to get to her room.

5) You would have the opportunity to be a Junior Advisor at Williams and to serve on the JA Selection Committee and to serve on the Honor Committee. No undergraduate student serves in these roles at Harvard because Harvard does not allow undergraduates to run their own affairs. Harvard does not trust its students. Williams does.

6) The President of Williams, Tiku Majumder, cares about your education specifically, not just about the education of Williams undergraduates in general. The President of Harvard, Drew Faust, has bigger fish to fry. Don’t believe me? Just e-mail both of them. Tell them about your situation and concerns. See who responds and see what they say.

Of course, there are costs to turning down Harvard. Your friends and family won’t be nearly as impressed. Your Aunt Tillie will always think that you actually go to “Williams and Mary.” You’ll be far away from a city for four years. But, all in all, a majority of the students who choose Harvard over Williams would have been better off if they had chosen otherwise.

Choose wisely.

¹The first post in this series was 14 years ago, inspired by a newspaper story about 18 year-old Julia Sendor, who was admitted to both Harvard and Williams. Julia ended up choosing Williams (at least partly “because of the snowy mountains and maple syrup”), becoming a member of the class of 2008, winning a Udall Foundation Scholarship in Environmental Studies. Best part of that post is the congratulations from her proud JA.


Your Alumni Fund Donations at Work

EphBlog Maxim #9: The best way to predict the behavior of Williams is to imagine that the College is run by a cabal of corrupt insiders who seek to use our endowment to better their own lives. Of course, this is not true! Tiku Majumder is a good guy! Steve Klass is competent and charming. But they sure find a lot of strange places to spend money . . .

Williams College has announced a $400,000 gift to the town to help build the new police station on Simonds Road. With college Assistant to the President for Community and Government Affairs James Kolesar in the audience, Town Manager Jason Hoch told the Select Board on Monday that the school’s gift will make it easier to achieve his goal of renovating and expanding the former Turner House on Simonds Road (Route 7) without adding to the town’s property tax rate.

Williamstown is a richer than average town in a richer than average state. Why should alumni fund donations go to pay for its new police station? If the good people of Williamstown want/need a new police station, then they should pay for it themselves. Then again, that might require that Tiku Majumder or Steve Klass or Jim Kolesar face an increase in their property taxes and we wouldn’t want that, would we?

The new police station is, of course, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the College spending money on local amenities. Recall:

  • Williams already spends $500,000 on local charity each year. Is this $400,000 in addition to that?
  • The $1 million we gave to North Adams Regional Hospital. By the way, NARH has since closed, so that $1 million was (completely?) wasted. Was anyone at the College challenged about that? No! No effort to give away alumni money is ever a failure at Williams.
  • The $250,000 we gave to the local high school back in 2003. This was just a part of the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of dollars we have spent to subsidize public education in Williamstown.
  • The $2 million to MASS MoCA in 20007, right before the finacial crisis forced us to cut financial aid to international students.
  • The $200,000 for “rebranding” for the local ambulance service.

And on and on. I don’t know what the future will bring exactly, but you should bet that the College will spend millions of dollars over the next few years on items that, in every other town in the lovely Berkshires, the local residents provide for themselves.


Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 3

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 3 and last day.

Some college counselors said they are pleased to see the early-decision practice investigated because it puts too much pressure on young adults and the penalties for being caught breaking an early-decision agreement are too stiff.

“I don’t think it is developmentally appropriate to ask a 17-year-old to front-load a decision like this, and when colleges are taking a half or more of their class early, it demands that some kids do this,” said Brennan Barnard, director of college counseling at the Derryfield School in Manchester, N.H.

Brennan Barnard is an idiot.

1) Students, especially students who don’t know their first choice school, can easily apply to one of the hundreds of colleges that use early action. You don’t have to apply early decision if you don’t want to.

2) Students love early action/decision! Barnard should ask some of the seniors at Derryfield if they would rather live in a world in which no one finds out their status until April. No way! Students, overwhelmingly, like the early process. (And even the ones who don’t (and/or don’t participate) don’t begrudge their friends the option of applying early.)

3) Yes, the college admissions process is stressful, but the more spread out it is, the more that stress is dissipated over time. Early decision helps with this dispersal, as do athletic admissions (often occurring the summer after junior year at places like Williams and even earlier for the Ivy League) and early writes in February.

4) Williams ought to take advantage of the desire of many students to relieve the stress by doing, sotto voce, even more, and more earlier, admissions. Instead of using the summer science and social science programs for accepted students, we should offer those 50 (?) slots to the most talented (and most desirable) applicants in the country. Find the smartest African-American/Hispanic/Low-Income juniors in high school, bring them to the College for 6 weeks in the summer, show them how magical Williams is, and then tell them — or at least the 90% who don’t mess up somehow — that, if they apply early decision, they will be accepted. This is probably the single (reasonably priced) thing that Williams could do to increase the quality of its poor/URM students.


Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, 2

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 2.

The investigation has perplexed some in elite-college admissions circles, who say that sharing the information serves only to ensure that schools aren’t being misled about an applicant’s intentions, given their commitments elsewhere.

The admissions dean of a New England liberal-arts college that received the Justice Department letter said that the school swaps with about 20 other institutions the application-identification number, name and home state of students admitted early decision.

That dean said it is rare to find someone who violated the binding early-decision agreement by applying to more than one institution early.

Occasionally, the person said, they come across a student who was admitted early-decision at one school and still applied elsewhere during the regular application cycle. In those cases, the second school would withdraw the application because the candidate already committed elsewhere.

The dean said the schools don’t share information about regular-decision candidates, so an offer from one school wouldn’t affect outcomes elsewhere.

1) Any chance the unnamed dean is either Dick Nesbitt ’74 or Liz Creighton ’01? Note that reporter Melissa Korn and Williams Communications Chief Jim Reische served as co-chairs at a conference for media relations professionals. If Jim did arrange this, then kudos to him! The more that Eph administrators appear in the prestige press, the better.

2) Sure would be interesting to know the exact list of schools involved in this swap and the mechanism by which it occurs. Any “elite” school left out of this circle must feel like the kid sitting by himself in the high school cafeteria. Not that EphBlog would know anything about that . . .

3) Was this phrasing — “the second school would withdraw the application” — vetted by a lawyer? It would be one thing if Williams were to reject a student it had already accepted if that student applied elsewhere. That student has broken a promise she made to Williams, so Williams can take action. But for Harvard to reject — whoops, I mean “withdraw the application [of]” — a student just because Williams had accepted her in December seems more problematic, anti-trust-wise . . .

4) What about early action candidates? That is a much trickier issue. Does Harvard let Williams know if it has admitted a student early action? And, if so, does that fact play into the Williams admissions process? Of course, Williams knows that almost every high quality regular decision applicant (other than its own deferrals) applied somewhere else early. And you can be certain that we can (and should!) take account of that fact in making decisions. (That is, if you really love Williams so much, as you now claim, why didn’t you apply early?) But I would be shocked if schools traded early action information explicitly . . . But I have been shocked before!


Williams a Target in Early Admissions Probe, I

This Wall Street Journal article, “Williams, Wesleyan, Middlebury Among Targets of Federal Early-Admissions Probe,” and associated news reports (here, here and here) merit a few days of discussion. Day 1.

The targets of a new federal probe into possible antitrust violations related to early-decision college admissions include Wesleyan University, Middlebury College and Pomona College, as well as at least four other highly selective liberal-arts schools.

The Justice Department sent letters late last week notifying the schools of the investigation and asking them to preserve emails and other messages detailing arrangements they may have with other schools about swapping names of admitted students, and how they might use that information.

1) Did Williams play a role in helping reporter Melissa Korn? (Note that Williams appears in the title and is pictured in the accompanying photo.) I hope we did! The more that folks like Liz Creighton ’01 schmooze with major media, the easier it is to get our message/brand out.

2) Wasn’t this story originally broken at Inside Higher Ed? If so, does Korn have an obligation to mention this even if she got a copy of the letter independently? Inside Higher Ed provides this relevant background:

For years, some elite colleges — members of what was then called the Overlap Group — shared financial information on admitted applicants, seeking to agree upon common aid offers. But in 1991, Ivy League institutions agreed to stop sharing such information. The agreement followed a Justice Department investigation into the practice, which the universities said promoted fairness but that the department said was an antitrust violation.

Generally, college leaders have said the Overlap Group investigation discouraged them from sharing any information about applicants.

We have covered the Overlap scandal before. (There is a great senior thesis waiting to be written about that, either in history or economics.)

Back to the WSJ:

All the schools targeted offer prospective students the option to apply under binding early-decision agreements, which often have significantly higher acceptance rates than do regular-decision pools. If the applicant is offered admission, he or she must commit to attending and withdraw applications to other schools or risk having the admission offer rescinded.

Higher-education experts say it seems the Justice Department investigation is focusing on whether the schools are violating antitrust regulations by sharing the names of admitted students to enforce the rules of the programs.

Two options:

1) This is stupid and goes nowhere. Why can’t Williams tell the world who it has accepted early decision? Is there any law that would prevent it from just posting that list on the web, in the same way it records every graduate in the course catalog? Lawyer comments welcome! And, if it can post that list, why can’t it send an e-mail to Harvard admissions with the same information?

2) This is stupid and goes somewhere. Even if colleges stopped sharing these lists tomorrow, nothing would change. The number of students who try to game the system is trivial. But, since the colleges were so absurdly sleazy in their conduct during Overlap, I would not begrudge the Justice Department forcing them to stop all communications. Recall Adam Smith:

People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Entire article is below the break, for those without WSJ access.

Read more


Dick Nesbitt ’74 Retiring?

How else to explain this job posting for a new Director of Admissions?

Our vote for his successor goes to Sulgi Lim ’06, always a fan of EphBlog!


President Maud Mandel, 10

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 10, our last day of this series.

What do we know (or guess) about Mandel’s politics? From The Daily Herald:

Dean of the College Maud Mandel donated $1,000 to Clinton. When asked why she chose to donate, Mandel said, “I gave that donation as a private citizen,” citing that as dean of the college, she did not feel it would be appropriate to comment on her donation.

Good stuff!

1) Hope she follows the same policy at Williams. A good Williams president has many things to say about Williams and some things to say about higher education. The less time she spends opining on politics, the better. Or do readers miss Adam Falk spouting off about immigration or the alt-right?

2) I don’t care that Mandel is a Clinton supporter. No (?) president of an elite college — or plausible applicant to be one — voted for Trump.

3) What are Mandel’s views on political diversity, or the lack-there-of, at Williams? My hope is that we will be leaving behind the Falk era of speaker-banning. There are some encouraging hints, albeit sotto voce, from the Administration, despite this nonsense from President Majumder in January. Mandel might send a useful signal on this dimension by joining Heterodox Academy, joining current Williams faculty members Michael Lewis, Robert Jackall and Eric Knibbs.

4) Can we connect Mandel’s scholarly work on Jews/Muslims in France to her likely views about running Williams? I don’t know. Studying closely the rise of modern antisemitism in France seems a naturally “conservative” topic — I bet that many (most?) French Jews wish there had been a lot less immigration to France in the last 50 years! — but Mandel seems to have been on the “liberal” side in the associated academic debates. Any historians among our readers?


President Maud Mandel, 9

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 9.

Her latest book is Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict. From a review:

In view of the growing number of Muslim anti-Semitic occurrences in France culminating in anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, this historical analysis of Muslim-Jewish relations in France during the twentieth century is a most timely contribution. In her examination of this dynamic, Maud S. Mandel pays attention to the developing social, economic, cultural, and political status of Muslims and Jews in France, on the background of France’s changing foreign and domestic policies—especially as related to France’s colonial position in North Africa—and the impact of the creation of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian nation. She shows how these internal and external changes impact Muslim-Jewish relations in France. The analysis makes it clear how the different history of both groups in France, and especially the impact of French Colonial and post-Colonial policies, had a lasting effect on both communities and their relations with each other.

I have not read the book and am no historian, but color me suspicious about Mandel’s underlying thesis. From an interview:

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
As in all historical projects, my goal is to complicate simplistic understandings of the problem before us, to challenge notions of inevitability, to force us to question how and why the past took the shape that it did, and to push against monocausal explanations. This approach has pointed me to the diversity of socio-religious relationships between Muslims and Jews in France; conflict is not the only–or even the primary–way of understanding these relationships. This approach has also directed me away from conceptualizing Muslim-Jewish relations in France as arising inevitably from conflict in the Middle East. Rather, I argue that where conflict does exist, its origins and explanation are as much about France and French history as they are about Middle Eastern conflict.

Mandel suggests that French colonialism and other policies plays an important role in causing Muslim antisemitism in France today. That seems suspect to me. (And perhaps this highlights the difference between how historians (N = 1) and statisticians (N > 1) see the world.) If Mandel is right, then another European country, without France’s history of colonialism and Middle East meddling, would see very different relations between Jews and Muslims. That is a testable claim! If Mandel is right, then there should be much less Muslim antisemitism in a country like Sweden, which never had colonies and plays no role in the Middle East. And, yet, this is not true. Muslim antisemitism is as much (more?) of a problem in Sweden than it is in France.


President Maud Mandel, 8

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 8.

One more comment from the 2014 The Brown Daily Herald article:

Mandel is concerned about the decreasing number of undergraduates concentrating in the humanities, a trend she has personally witnessed at Brown, she told The Herald. As dean of the College, Mandel will be poised to make clear to students and parents that the humanities teach valuable skills, she said, adding that tackling the problem also “has to do with admissions and the type of students we want to bring to Brown.”

I can find no evidence that Mandel worked on this topic at Brown, or that any work she did was successful. Any readers with inside information? Comments:

1) I dislike these conversations, not least because people (not Mandel!) are often sloppy in the terms they use, worrying about the decline in the “liberal arts” (when, in fact, everything taught at Williams is part of the liberal arts, by definition, since we are a “liberal arts college”) when what they really care about are lower enrollments in “humanities,” as in this quote. It is certainly true that many professors at Williams worry about increases in Div III enrollments/majors at the expense of Div I.

2) In 50 years, these sorts of worries will seem as absurd and parochial as the worries 50 years ago about declining enrollment in Latin and Greek. That was a big deal, back in the day. But the decline didn’t stop and couldn’t (really) have been stopped. The same is true of the move away from, say, English and toward Stats/CS.

3) Somewhat contrary to 2), there has not been much (any?) decline in humanities majors at Williams:

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 11.08.04 AM

Division I majors have gone down some but not much. Instead, Div III majors have sky-rocketed. Big picture: There are as many History majors as before, but more of those History majors are adding a double major in computer science. Is that bad?

4) Of course, a dramatic increase in majors almost certainly means a dramatic increase in course enrollments. I haven’t found any data, but it would hardly be surprising of the total percentage of humanities course enrollments at Williams has gone from 30% to 20%. If so, big deal! Students should take classes in what they want.

5) Don’t the faculty deserve lots of the blame for the decline in student interest in the humanities? Let’s focus on Mandel’s own field, history, and look at the courses on offer this spring at Williams. Much of this is good stuff. Who could complain about surveys of Modern China, Medieval England or Europe in Twentieth Century? Not me! I also have no problems with courses on more narrow topics. Indeed, classes on Witchcraft, Panics and The Suburbs are all almost certainly excellent, and not just because they are taught by some of the best professors in the department. But notice what is missing: No more courses on war (now that Jim Wood has retired). No courses on diplomatic history (RIP Russ Bostert). No courses in the sort of mainstream US history topics — Revolutionary Period, Civil War — which would interest scores of students.

6) Your likely success when applying to elite schools like Williams is mostly baked in, a function of your high school grades and test scores. But, on the margin, I bet that expressing a strong interest in the humanities might be helpful for male applicants. (Williams so wants to get to gender parity in STEM fields that female applicants should shade their application in that direction, if possible.) If Mandel wants to increase enrollment in the humanities, she may very well tell admissions to admit more students with a demonstrated interest in the humanities.

PS. Thanks to Jim Reische for forwarding this more extensive history of Williams majors (pdf). Worth a detailed review?


Next Page →

Currently browsing posts authored by David Dudley Field '25

Follow David Dudley Field '25 via RSS