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Yard by Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Tomorrow, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Aaron Kelton remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose tomorrow. Given the fact that the team has struggled the last few years, that the seniors have lost this game every year that they have been at Williams and that Amherst comes into the game undefeated, a victory tomorrow would be one of the sweetest in decades, all the more so because no (?) neutral observer gives Williams any chance at all.

Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]


EphBlog Voted for Coakley ’75



Winter Study Course Recommendations

Today is the last day for students to select a course for Winter Study. Here they are. I like this one. Which course would you recommend?


Crazy U – Part II

Crazy U – One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, cont’d.

In our last post, we considered Andy Ferguson’s interaction with the college admissions process.  In this section, we take up why-in-the-hell college costs so much, or what my guy calls the “Unanswered Question.”  Actually, it has been answered – and by an Eph!

The Fergster considers three possible causes for why college costs have been soaring well above inflation for decades:

1) The Government

Ferguson refers to, but doesn’t name, two “brave economists from the University of Oregon,” who “found that ‘each increase in Pell aid is matched nearly one for one by tuition increases.’” I was curious about what makes an economist “brave” in Ferguson’s mind, so I did some internetting. The brave U of O Ducks would appear to be Larry D.Singell, Jr. and Joe A. Stone, who co-wrote a paper entitled For Whom the Pell Tolls: The Response of University Tuition to Federal Grants-in-Aid.” According to his CV, Prof. Singell puts similarly lame puns in the titles of ALL of his papers, which may be why Ferguson considers him brave. (Memo to Dick and Brandi: If either of you ever make it down to Eugene, look this guy up, he needs your guys’s help.)

But get this – the theory that schools simply sop up federal student aid in the form of higher tuition (i.e., the ANSWER to the so-called Unanswered Question) is known as the “Bennett Hypothesis.” That would be William Bennett ’65, who gave the Baccalaureate address at my graduation. So it was an Eph who, in 1987, discovered the cause of skyrocketing tuition and told the world about it in the New York Times, which is prolly why the Fergunator never heard of it.

2) A Vast Ivory Tower Conspiracy

For me, this was the best part of the book, by far.  We meet Prof. Richard Vedder, distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, to whom Ferguson put the “Unanswered Question,” whereupon Vedder gave a positively show-stopping performance.

“YOU WANT MY SHORT ANSWER?’”he said. “This is my simple, one-sentence answer to why colleges keep raising their tuition: because they can!” He let out a short laugh, a high and wild sound. “I mean, who’s going to stop them? Parents? The government? There’s nothing stopping them – literally nothing.”

Vedder is Charlton Heston telling us that SOYLENT GREEN IS MADE FROM PEOPLE
Pure potty-book GOLD.

And because he’s my pal, Fergie knows I want more Vedder. Need more Vedder. And he delivers:

“They call it ‘shared governance.’ What that means is everyone thinks they run the place. . . .and there is the poor president. His job actually is to run it. To do this he has to buy off all these various interest groups and make them reasonably happy. You buy off the alums by having a good football team. A good football team costs money. You buy off the faculty by giving them good salaries. You let them teach whatever they want, keep their course loads low. You buy off the students by not making them work too hard. . . .You buy off the legislators and trustees in various ways: tickets to big football games, admit their kids if they apply, get a good ranking from U.S. News. All this costs huge amounts of money. No wonder the universities are expensive!”

So there you have it – Williams costs so much because David and hwc are shaking down Adam Falk for a good football team. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before.

3) Himself (and people like him)

Our family was an instant case. My wife and I couldn’t afford to send our son to Georgetown, by any rational measure. But that wasn’t going to stop me if he got in. I was going to borrow against savings or the value of my house, or, if we got lucky, I’d hold out my hat to catch a grant or a subsidized loan tossed down by the gods of financial aid. There are thousands of parents like us. . .

As for me (I caught myself unconsciously nodding in agreement as I read these lines) I think Andy nails it.  Sending your kid to college has always been a part of the American Dream – and while the rising sticker price may or may not have turned it into a dumb idea financially, there is simply no way that those of us who have already lived it are going to tell our kids that they can’t.


Crazy U – Part I

Crazy U – One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College - Simon & Schuster. (228 pages.  Two Williams references – one overt, one hidden)

Allow me to introduce my pal, Andy Ferguson. He’s a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, and a former speech writer for George H. W. Bush. We haven’t actually met, but I know him inside and out because he reveals so much of himself in his book, and I like him a lot. He looks a little (intentionally, is my guess) like a kinder, gentler Mark Twain. He’s a man of letters, but he’s no fancy pants – just a feller telling some (scathingly funny) stories over a beer or five. And I can tell he gets me – he certainly knows where I do my reading. The fundamental unit of organization of this nice little book is the amusing anecdote, and he considerately puts a blank line between each one so that the reader can easily see how far it is till the next good stopping point. And unlike the big “insiders” catalogues, which annoy Andy because they deliver information perfectly suited for bathroom reading, but in hopelessly unwieldy, phone book-like bindings, this book is comfortable to hold in one hand, and stays open reliably on your lap. Bathroom tested, bathroom approved.

To get a good picture of my pal Andy, imagine Tevye – as a Little League Dad (Awright slugger, keep your head still. Eye on the ball. Hands back Compact swing. Wait for your pitch. . . ) trying to coach his son into manhood. Like when the son is heading out the door for an admissions interview:

“Be yourself. Relax. Be sure to have some questions for her. Don’t ask about basketball. Ask about academics. Show passion. . .”

And in a chapter called “Obsolescence Descending,” Ferguson, who writes essays for a living, recounts how he was reduced to consulting Google for help in editing his son’s admissions essay.

Read more


Eph swifties

Back in the day, we used to be able to rack up quite a few miles on family car trips trying to come up with Tom Swifties.

Here are a couple with Eph references, with an open invitation to do better:

1) As a solution to academic-athletic tension: “Sirloin Tips,” Tom proposed modestly.

2) “Wanna try my f@#*-saw?” asked the sexhibitionist?   “Oh, come off it!” reciprocated Morty.


An Eph food haiku

This is dedicated to ronit, a true comfort-food guru who brought the must-read TinyWords to the sidebar, and to rory and those charming Ephs who run IdiotsBooks, who should know what I’m talking about:

Real philly cheesesteaks
Require Amoroso rolls
Soft, never soggy


“Always tough to know if”: Redux and a side bar to the post above this …

Ed Note. It has been some time since 7 February, 2004. Yet this post, “Always tough to know if”, from that date shows up with a current comment yesterday and another comment follows adding further detail to this inspiring story. Lucy Terry Prince: what an interesting sidebar extension to the discussion above, perhaps suggesting that the ability to perform is not the issue.

Always tough to know if stuff on the web is reliable or not, but this article caught my eye.

I would like to introduce you to the first Black in America to compose a poem. No, not Phyllis Wheatley, but rather her name is Lucy Terry Prince. She could not read or write, but in 1746, she composed the poem, “Bars Fight.” This poem was verbally passed down until it was published in 1855. Although Lucy Terry Prince was not a literary genius her contribution to Black history is unquestioned.

Lucy Terry Prince was an eloquent speaker. She argued to get her son Festus, into Williams College. This, “illiterate” former slave debated in front of the hyper-educated board of trustees to the college. Although unsuccessful, she later was successful in arguing a property dispute before the U.S. Circuit Court in 1796.

I had never heard this story before. If true, it would make for a great senior thesis. It would be especially interesting to know where the descendants of Festus Prince are today.


This post is NOT gay

All campus email sent out this afternoon with subject: This e-mail is NOT gay


On behalf of College Council, we are writing to you about an issue that is relevant to the entire Williams community. Multiple students have recently approached Council members surrounding the issue of homophobic language on campus. Active forms of homophobia are relatively easy to recognize, but we are talking about something much more subtle, while no less harmful.

Phrases such as “that’s so gay,” ”fag,” “no homo,” or “dyke” even when they are not directed at a gay* person or used with malicious intent, equate homosexuality with something that is negative. The implication is there, whether it is intended or not. When these terms are used, it creates a climate of homophobia on this campus.
Read more


CGCL VII: James Phinney Baxter ’14

‘Aliu’ is Andrew Liu ’11

President Baxter graduated as valedictorian of the Class of 1914, went on to pursue a PhD in history at Harvard, and then after teaching for several years returned to serve as President of the College from 1937 to 1961. He begins his speech by talking about World War I, and how “none [in the Class of 1914] realized that [they] were on the eve of a world war, whose consequences would shape our lives.”
He continues: “we who were leaving this Berkshire valley perceived that we were about to enter a world of more rapid change. We were still ignorant, however, of the lengths to which that acceleration would go.”

The Purple Bubble has been around for at least 100 years, it seems. So, “what can we do in our colleges and universities now to help the next generation do better?”
Read more


Comparison of Williams & Amherst Endowments

With the 2010 financial statements just off the presses I thought it might be interesting to try to construct a side-by-side comparison of the Williams and Amherst endowments.

Here’s my attempt: Comparison of Amherst & Williams Endowments: 6/30/2010

I’ve tried to group the various assets in each endowment to allow for some rough comparisons. At the bottom of the page I’ve computed some ratios that I find interesting.


1) Amherst is more aggressively invested and has less flexibility over its aset allocation.

The key thing here is how much each school has in “Level III” assets, and how much additional cash each can be required to invest in these assets. The values that colleges report for their Level III assets, literally, are educated guesses, and nothing more, and the state of financial reporting on them, while improving, is still poor.

2) Despite its heavier investment in illiquid, Level III assets, Amherst says it expects a long-term return of about 6.8%. Williams puts its expected long-term return at 8%.

3) Last year in the management discussion, Amherst showed that its target and actual asset allocations were kind of far apart. This year there is no discussion of its target and actual asset allocations. Williams did disclose its target allocations in the notes to its financial statements, and its actual allocation seems to be reasonably in line with the target.

4) Amherst’s unfunded cash calls are 53% of its combined Level I & II assets, compared to 30% for Williams. This would only be a concern when cash calls exceed distributions from Level III assets. When that happens (as it did last year for Amherst) one has to go to the Level I & II assets.

I don’t consider myself an expert at analyzing a college’s financial performance. This is simply a lay person’s attempt to read and understand via a seat-of-the-pants camparative method. I believe that the important decisions, regarding things like admissions & financial aid policy, staffing levels, salary freezes, construction plans, etc., are influenced more by the trustees’ expectations about the near-term prospects for the endowment than by any other single factor.

It seems at this point that Williams Trustees seem to feel that the worst is behind us endowment-wise, and that Amherst feels that it has a lot of heavy lifting to do. I’m very interested to know whether other Ephs and Jeffs have a different take.


News on the Sawyer Library Project

To the Williams Community,

That loud cracking sound you may have heard over the weekend marked a longed-for thaw of the freeze on major campus construction.

Encouraged by the great educational opportunities afforded by the proposed new Sawyer Library, by the readiness of the construction plans, and by generous pledges in recent months that bring total philanthropic support for the new library to more than half of its $80 million cost, the Board of Trustees has approved my recommendation that work on the new Sawyer begin at the start of the construction season this spring.

Part of the larger Stetson-Sawyer Project, which included Hollander and Schapiro Halls, the library was put on hold when the global financial crisis hit two years ago. We will now be able to provide for the arts, humanities, and social sciences the kinds of wonderfully effective teaching and learning spaces that Schow Library affords the sciences and math. Drawings and floor plans for the project can be viewed at .

The schedule anticipates opening the new Sawyer Library, to be attached to a renovated Stetson Hall, in 2014. This will be followed by the razing of the current library building and the construction in its place of a new green space that will connect Stetson/Sawyer with the Paresky Center and the Frosh Quad.

Our thanks go to the many people, led for years by Professor of Anthropology Michael Brown and College Librarian Dave Pilachowski, whose meticulous work produced such an exciting project, and to the faculty, staff, and students who have patiently endured a postponement that had been of indefinite length until this moment. And, of course, the deep gratitude of us all goes to our donors, a number of whom wish to remain anonymous at this time, for their great generosity and for their commitment to this project and this college.

The other project postponed by the recession has been the renovation of Weston Field, which is now being thoroughly reexamined to ensure that it meets the College’s needs. We’ll report more on the details of that process as they become clear.

I can’t tell you how deeply delighted I am to have on track a project as important to Williams as construction of the new Sawyer Library.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk


The Changing World and America’s reaction

Living in the Purple Bubble makes it very easy to forget about what is going in the real world. I used to diligently read newspapers and magazines but at Williams, I’m pleased if I know what day it is.  The college does its part by having newspapers available to all of the students but with our workload and other obligations, many students just stop following the news and lose touch with what is going on in the world.

While I have an aggregation of news as my homepage which provides me with updates throughout the day of political and economic occurrences, having a Yahoo email account which displays Yahoo News when I log in allows me to keep tabs on how most of America views the world. The Yahoo homepage receives almost 38 billion page views a year in the US so what I read is what millions of Americans read. For that reason, I view Yahoo News as one of the most influential news sources in shaping America’s view of the world, especially as Yahoo’s news stories almost always interpret the news for the reader. Yahoo News does not do this with subtlety as earlier this week, “10 Signs The U.S. Is Losing Its Influence In The Western Hemisphere” came up on my screen when I logged into Yahoo Mail.

That article provided a list of comparisons between the US and other countries in the Western Hemisphere showing that America is no longer dominating every industry as Chile has increased copper production while Brazil is mining more iron than the US. The basic thrust of the article, countries only succeed at the expense of other countries, reminded me of the economic philosophy of Lester Thurow ’60 who wrote extensively about the fall of the US due to the rise of the USSR and when he was proven wrong, he switched to writing about how America will slip as Japan and Europe rise in stature.

It is very easy to write about how America is falling as one can find statistics to show that America is no longer dominated the world as it once did, but that does not mean America is in trouble. Reading about how the rest of the world is catching up to the US in terms of production should excite Americans as we can’t fall into the trap that Thurow is offering us. Countries benefit from trade and from the growth of other countries’ economies.  Being first in the production of beef, as America has since the turn of the 20th century does not translate to a better life for Americans, but having more beef to consume as Brazil has increased it production does. Economic development is not a zero sum game, we can all benefit from each other. Forgetting that is very dangerous as viewing other countries purely as competitors will lead to an end of cooperation and that is not a world that I would want to live in.

We should not join the hand wringers and we should stand against cries of America’s downfall. The world is rising to our level, we are not falling and that is a development we should celebrate. There will be more opportunities for economic growth in our future than even before as so many people have access to the necessary education and technology. That change will be accompanied by an increase of competition as we are no longer competing with other Americans and citizens of just a few other countries but the entire world.


Alignment of Senior Administration

From Adam Falk:

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to expand campus-wide a discussion I’ve begun about a topic of importance to the College: the alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.

A hallmark of Williams is the strength of its system of faculty governance. Without a doubt, this is one of its attributes that drew me here; it’s a key reason for the excellence that the College has attained. In particular, Williams has been very well served by the practice of rotating faculty into the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College, which embeds faculty at the center of our prioritizing and planning.

Many dedicated faculty, past and present, have done great work in these roles. They’ve done so, I’ve come to realize, despite significant drawbacks to how their positions are configured. It’s critical that the faculty in these positions be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills. These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

With the right realignment of responsibilities, I believe, we could re-focus these positions to recapture their original purpose — to think, plan, and see carried out our core academic mission.

Read more


CC State of the Union: Dining and Summer (9/14/2010)

Williams Students,

To those who are returning from summers here, there, and everywhere welcome
back to our crazy school. To the new saucy first years, welcome home.

In an effort to increase transparency, a tradition was started last Spring to write
to you monthly with what your council has done, is doing, and is planning to do.

This Summer council worked on three main projects:

1. We formed a committee of students, faculty, staff, and administrators charged
with implementing the necessary changes to Williams Dining in response to the
closure of Greylock and Dodd last Spring. They met every week this summer and
did some incredible work.

2. As part of our Williams History Initiative, Council worked with the College
Archives to write, design, purchase, and install 18 bronze beautiful plaques in
18 entrances to dormitories across campus. Next time you walk into your dorm,
look around for the plaque, and take a second to actually read the thing. Come

3. Council worked with Facilities, Dining Services, and the Student Body at-large
to completely redo the bottom floor of Paresky (the Lounge and 82′ Grille). The
new arcade games, the new tables, chairs, couches, and TV area in the Lounge
and the improvements to the Grille including the banners on the walls, the much
wider beer selection, new food items, and new tabletops and chairs are all
products of collaborative Council work.

4. A bunch of small things too like the new Picnic tables outside Paresky…and,
finally, after three years of trying, those two glass doors that have ALWAYS been
locked going from Whitmans’ to the outside world are finally unlocked starting
today! Victory!

Now, many of you have noticed that the Dining experience has changed at
Williams from last year. Changes have been made across the board. Everyone is
going through a period of adjustment right now. This includes us as students
in addition to the dining services staff. Yes, lines are long right now, but it is
important to give this new system a chance and some time to exist outside the
initial period of adjustment.
Read more


Team Pinsky completes Pan-Mass Challenge

The Pan-Mass Challenge was the weekend of August 7-8, and 10 Team Pinsky riders participated in the event in memory of Aaron Pinsky ’06. On day 1, all 10 riders completed the 111 miles from Sturbridge to Bourne, where a pack of Team Pinsky supporters waited with a banner cheering the team on.

On day 2, 6 riders proudly wore Team Pinsky jerseys – masterfully created by Galen Glaze ’06 – and rode 81 miles across Cape Cod, from Bourne to Provincetown. It was a special weekend, with perfect weather and an incredible atmosphere.

Thank you to everyone who donated to the Pan-Mass Challenge through Team Pinsky. To date, Team Pinsky has raised $69,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, almost double our minimum fundraising requirements. We remain in awe that we will be able to donate so much to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Aaron Pinsky’s memory. Thank you to everyone for your support and contributions.

Thank you,

Team Pinsky

Ellie Schmidt ’06, Adam Ain ’06, Geoff O’Donoghue ’06, Alex Smith ’06, Mary Singer ’06, Gillian McBride ’06, Adrienne Boardman, Andrew Boardman, Eoin Byrne, Will Schmidt, and Mary Ridge

[Posted by Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07]


Guess who’s #1?


Team Pinsky Update

Thank you to everyone who has donated to the Pan-Mass Challenge through Team Pinsky. We’ve been incredibly touched by everyone’s support over the past couple months, and we’ve already raised $50,000 for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the memory of Aaron Pinsky ’06.

As we approach the ride this weekend, we’re also nearing our goal of $55,000. If you have not yet donated and would like to, you can donate to Team Pinsky at Click on the “Donate to my Ride” link to contribute.

Thank you,

Team Pinsky


Team Pinsky
Ellie Schmidt ’06, Adam Ain ’06, Geoff O’Donoghue ’06, Alex Smith ’06, Mary Singer ’06, Gillian McBride ’06, Adrienne Boardman, Andrew Boardman, Eoin Byrne, and Will Schmidt


The Passing of Clara Park

From Adam Falk this afternoon:

To the Williams Community,

I am sorry to inform you that Clara Claiborne Park, senior lecturer in English emerita, died on July 3. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Clara taught Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, and expository writing in ways that inspired generations of Williams students. “From the encampments of major writers, she would lead us on forays through the woods of theology, philosophy, history, and the arts,” wrote Sean Keilen ’92. “It is no surprise to me that her classes were filled not only with English majors but also with students from every other humane discipline.”

Clara’s pioneering work on women characters and female authors was hailed by her academic peers, and she reached a broader audience in articles for national periodicals from the Ladies Home Journal to The Nation. Clara received honorary doctoral degrees from Williams and from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and was awarded the prize for feature writing at the 1999 National Magazine Awards. As a speaker and writer on autism, Clara earned an international reputation. Her 2001 book Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter’s Life with Autism describes the interior of her daughter Jessy’s world, based on Jessy’s own notes and drawings.

We send deepest condolences to her family, including Clara’s husband David, the Webster Atwell Class of 1921 Professor of Physics Emeritus; her daughter Jessy, a longtime employee in the Williams mailroom; her son Paul, lecturer in English; and her daughter-in-law Deborah Brothers, who chairs the Theatre Department.

A graveside service will be held at the Williams College Cemetery on the morning of Thursday, July 8, at 10:00 a.m. A memorial service for the entire community will be held later this year.


Adam Falk


ACE Homecoming Concert Poll

In an effort to bring an artist to campus that reflects the desires of the student body, we are contacting you to get a feel for what (and who) you want to see this Homecoming! There are twenty artists on the poll. While we cannot guarantee that any one of them will perform, the data we collect will be used to either attempt to secure one of these artists or one in the vein of music the students of Williams want to hear.

IMPORTANT: Voting in the “1” column signifies that you ARE interested in the artist coming to Williams. Likewise, voting in the “2” column signifies that you ARE NOT interested in the artist coming to Williams.

With that being said, CLICK HERE TO VOTE! (choices after the break)

Read more


Science, Technology, and Human Values

Great article on the front page of the Williams College website about this class, which is taught by Prof. Beaver of the History of Science department.

Link to article


You have noted that students come in to your class with preconceived notions about science and technology. What do you mean by that?

There is a great deal of mythology around science and technology. The biggest one is that science and technology are always the wellspring of progress. Most students come in to the class believing that innovation invariably moves society forward, that virtually all new discoveries and technologies have practical applications, and that these applications will improve our lives in some measurable way.


Riding for Aaron Pinsky ’06

This August, 7 Williams alums will be riding across Massachusetts in the Pan-Mass Challenge in honor of fellow alum Aaron Pinsky ’06, who passed away from brain cancer on February 13, 2010. Aaron was diagnosed with the condition in January, 2008, and in the following 2 years he inspired his friends, family, and doctors as he faced his condition with incredible poise, courage, and self-awareness.

Last fall, when his prognosis became clear, a collection of his college and high school friends decided to form “Team Pinsky” and complete this 2 day, 192 mile bike ride across Massachusetts in his honor. We chose the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC) because 100% of all rider-raised dollars goes to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, where Pinsky received his treatment. Since its 1980 inception, the PMC has contributed $270 million to Dana-Farber through the Jimmy Fund. This year, Team Pinsky will be raising at least $36,000 of the PMC’s $31 million target in his name.

Please help us achieve our goal. To donate, go to and click on the “Donate to my Ride” link.

Please also pass this on to friends and family members who Pinsky touched during his lifetime or who may be touched by this story and would want to support this cause.

Thank you,

Team Pinsky


Team Pinsky
Ellie Schmidt ’06, Adam Ain ’06, Geoff O’Donoghue ’06, Alex Smith ’06, Mary Singer ’06, Gillian McBride ’06, Adrienne Boardman, Andrew Boardman, Eoin Byrne, and Will Schmidt

Posted by Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07





Hockey Winning Percentage is not Correlated with Alumni Donations

Let’s continue our discussion of “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers (HMS). Today, my focus is on the claim that hockey winning percentage at Middlebury leads to larger alumni gifts. See their Table 6. I have already demonstrated that using hockey championships as the independent variable is stupid because every year, bar one, after 1995 is a championship year. But, as Rory points out, HMS also show significant results when trying to predict donation amounts (but not donation rates). Yet this result is just as flawed. Here (pdf) is raw data on hockey’s record. (I am assuming that the year 1996, say, means alumni giving through June 30, 1996 and the hockey team’s record for the 1995-1996 season.)


The entire positive relation is (almost certainly) driven by the 1994 outlier year, visible in the lower left. (The line is simple least squares.) If your result changes when just one year out of 15 is deleted, then your result is junk.

1) This aggregate approach is not the same as the individual/gift/year model that HMS actually use, but it captures the central flaw in their result. Instead of aggregating all the data in 1994 into a single mean (as I do in this chart), they have 20,000 or so observation for 1994. Yet the effect is exactly the same. That year (like all years in the early 90s) featured lower than average giving. It also featured an anomalously horrible hockey team. Take away that year, and the result probably goes away, even with their huge panel.

2) Another way to see the problem is to drop 1994 from the analysis and recreate the same chart.

There is no relation between hockey winning percentage and average donation size once we drop the outlier 1994 results from the picture. If anything, there is a small (and statistically insignificant) negative correlation.

Summary: The central problem with this paper is not that correlation does not prove causation. That is an issue for all non-experimental work! Instead, the central problem is that HMS have no good evidence of correlation. Variable 1 (championship seasons) fails because they all occur in the second half of the data. There is no (meaningful) variation beyond that. Any variable that is TRUE for post-1995 and FALSE before that will show the same result, even gibberish items. Variable 2 (winning percentage) avoids this problem because it varies over the entire time period but, outside of 1994, there is no correlation. Higher winning percentages are not associated with higher donation amounts. The 1994 outlier drives everything. And, if you result changes when a single year out of 15 is dropped, then your result is useless.


Comfort Food

Awright Stat Brats, time for a study break.

This wonderful post from dblatt mentioned that his memories from freshman year were some of the most vivid. That was true for me, and one of my fondest memories was coming home after freshman year to my favorite comfort food – fresh mushrooms, sauteed in butter and garlic, served on toast along with an ice-cold beer.

We’re picking FroshKid up this weekend. I don’t know what he wants yet, but I can’t wait to cook it up.

P.S., It was around this time last year that I first discovered EphBlog. Greetings to any P’14s that may be out there.


Hockey Success (Probably) Does Not Lead to Increased Donations

Let’s continue our discussion of “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers. Today, my focus is on the claim that hockey success at Middlebury leads to increased alumni donation rate.

Hockey success, when measured by a national or league championship title, is associated with a 7% higher likelihood of giving.

This is either very sloppy or very wrong or both. First, let us start, as suggested by Vicarious ’83, with a simple chart of the data.

The problem is obvious: There has been a significant secular increase in participation rates over these 15 years. Alumni were much more likely to donate in 2004 (47%) then they were in 1990 (34%). Although the rise has not been perfectly monotonic, it has been steady and significant.

Unfortunately, the authors fail to take that increase into account in their statistical analysis. That means that anything — average SAT scores, number of faculty, NCAA hockey wins, Republicans in Congress, e-mail messages sent, gas prices — which is higher post 1995 will be correlated with increased alumni participation even if there is no causal connection.

Second, consider the phrase “national or league championship title.” Here (pdf) is the hockey team’s record. They won a championship title every year from 1995 through 2004, except for 2003. Any comparison of alumni campaign results which distinguishes between hockey championship years and non-championship years is almost identical to a comparison of pre-1995 and post-1995 giving.

In order to do statistics, you need variation. You must have some years when X is true and some when it is false. If X is always true (or if X is perfectly correlated with some other factor that you know is important), then you can’t (easily) tell what effect X has.

Third, even if you view the lack of a championship in 2003 as somehow causally connected to the fall off in donation rate for that year (which I find absurd), you still have to deal with the team’s success. They made the NCAA Semifinals! Is there really a Middlebury alumnus who would have given that year if the team had won two more games but, because they were only one of the 4 best teams in the country, declined to send in a donation? Implausible!

Fourth, note the timing problems. The 2003 semifinal loss occurred on March 21, 2003. Middlebury, like Williams, runs on a fiscal year that ends on June 30. So, by the end of March, the vast majority of fund-raising had already been completed. (I called the Middlebury Alumni Fund and they provided a very rough estimate of more than 75% of the donations received by the end of February.) So, unless alumni had a time machine that told them, when they were donating in December, what the hockey team was going to do 4 months later, the effect is even smaller. Essentially, you have to argue that a large part of the small proportion of alumni that donate after March won’t donate if the hockey team only makes the semi-finals but would have donated if they had won it all. Does anyone believe that?


Football Success Decreases Alumni Donations

Consider the abstract from “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College” pdf by Jessica Holmes, James Meditz and Paul Sommers. (Holmes and Sommers are Middlebury professors. Meditiz was their student.)

Using data on annual giving (between 1990 and 2004) for more than 22,000 active alumni from a highly selective liberal arts college, the authors employ a probit framework to analyze the likelihood of giving and a tobit framework to analyze the determinants of alumni generosity. Both the micro-level analysis and the statistical methodology allow the authors to test for differential impacts (by gender, age, or undergraduate involvement) of sports participation or a winning season on the propensity to give as well as on the generosity of alumni contributions. The results indicate that athletes are more likely to give and that they are more generous than their nonathlete counterparts, especially younger alumni who participated in one of the college’s historically most successful high-profile sports. A winning season in this particular sports program also leads to greater alumni giving and more generous gifts.

Keep in mind that we all agree that athletes tend to give more than non-athletes. This study confirms that, but it is nothing new. Now, there is an interesting discussion to be had about why that might be so, yet that discussion is not particularly relevant to Williams policy going forward. The central dispute is:

Does providing athletes with significant admissions advantages generate greater donations?

There are two main mechanisms by which such an effect might occur — assuming that more admissions advantages lead to better athletes lead to more wins/championships.

First (and this is covered by the Meer and Rosen (2008)), athletes on a given team might give more when either their team does better now or their team did better while they were at school. Meer and Rosen (2008) show clearly (in my view) that there is no such effect, or that the effect is too small to matter.

Second (covered in Holmes et al. (2008) here), all alumni, including both athletes and non-athletes might give more when specific teams (here football and hockey) do well today. Holmes et al. do not look at success in any other sports besides football and hockey, so, obviously, we need to be careful about generalizing to sports that have essentially no fans other than the parents of current athletes. Moreover, Holmes et al. find mixed results:

Football success decreases alumni donations!

Interestingly, whether one uses league title or winning percentage, football success translates into lower propensities to give; in years in which the football team wins a title, alumni are 7% less likely to give, and a 10-point increase in the winning percentage is associated with a 1% reduction in probability of giving.

Note how they leave this fact out of the abstract. That result alone should cause all the tips boosters at EphBlog to take a step back and re-evaluate. If the single sport that is the highest profile (most athletes, most fans) has a negative correlation between success and donations than we ought to rethink everything. And that is all the more true since football requires, by far, the largest number of significant admissions preferences.

It is true, on the other hand, that hockey success is correlated with alumni giving. Yet we will leave the details of that result to another day.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, this post is somewhat teasing. The are so many flaws with the analysis (see here) that it is highly, highly doubtful that football success decreases alumni donations. After all, have you ever met a Williams alum who a) Followed the football team closely enough to know their win/loss record and b) Gave less money, less often when the record was good? No. It is absurd.

Athletics success, whether current or past, whether in high profile sports like football/hockey or low profile sports, has no connection to alumni generosity.


Women Give More Than Men?

Middlebury Professor Paul Sommers kindly provided a pdf of his article: “Athletics and Alumni Giving Evidence From a Highly Selective Liberal Arts College,” co-authored with Jessica Holmes and James Meditz. We have discussed this article already here and here. For the rest of the week, I will be highlighting different aspects of the article and adding my own thoughts. Please join the conversation.

Let’s start with an interesting paragraph.

The other determinants behave largely as predicted across all specifications. For example, males are about 30% less likely to give and to give about 20% fewer dollars than their female counterparts; this is consistent with the findings in several other studies (e.g., Belfield & Beney, 2000; Bruggink & Siddiqui, 1995; Eckel & Grossman, 1998). Older alumni are both more likely to give and to give more generously, reflective of their greater income potential. Married alumni are about 48% more likely to contribute to their alma mater and tend to give about 44% more than their single counterparts. Alumni with close alumni relatives are about 30% more likely to donate and contribute about 30% more than alumni without relatives with ties to the institution. As expected, those who live in communities with higher median incomes are both more likely donors and more generous givers.

1) Fascinating stuff. If you are a Williams junior, you should write a senior thesis or give a math/stat colloquium on this topic.

2) Do women really give more than men? I doubt it. Note the key data source: “We obtained data on annual giving (between 1990 and 2004) for 22,641 active alumni (for whom a mailing address is known or about 95% of the alumni pool) from the Middlebury College Development Office.” If Middlebury is like Williams than, broadly speaking, alumni donations fall into two categories: regular annual giving — this is the Alumni Fun that appeals to your generosity each year — and special/leadership/campaign giving. This latter category contains almost all the big gifts (and the panther’s share of total dollars). See Williams breakdown here. I think that the data from this paper does not include major gifts. My sense is that major gifts skew heavily male. (Informed commentary welcome. Can you name any major gifts from Williams women?) If that is the case, then this data does not really allow us to decide who gives more on average.


Williams Symphonic Winds and Opus Zero Band: Aftershocks

There is a SymphWinds performance this Saturday, May 8th, @ 8PM entitled “Aftershocks.” What’s really cool about this performance is that almost all the music is composed by students, faculty, and alumni, especially featuring two pieces by David Kechley, the chair of the music department.

Written for the Opus Zero Band’s recent performance tour to Pennsylvania, Rush is a taut, lean, exhilarating work for only 13 players, showcasing the ensemble’s individual and collective virtuosity in a brief, but exhilarating romp. BANG!, on the other hand, is a massive, muscular, piece for large wind ensemble; written for, and premiered in 2005, by the Symphonic Winds, BANG! unleashes the power and intensity (as well as subtle beauties) of the modern wind band.

I’m playing the synth part in BANG!, so I can say that the song is pretty cool sounding. My part is lame though–I count 90% of the time and play single chords the rest of the time.


Sociology Seminar Request! Help A Senior Out?

Hello Williams Alums!

I am currently writing a final paper for my Senior Sociology Seminar on the Williams College Hook Up Culture and in order to gain a historical perspective would love to hear alums’ side of the story. I have created an online survey for this purpose and though the content matter is somewhat controversial and sexually explicit, please know that any and all responses are completely confidential and that not even I will know who filled out the survey. I am using an online database, called “Survey Monkey” that ensures all responses are anonymous. In addition, please feel free to skip any questions you do not feel comfortable answering or simply close the survey window at any time. However, this survey is only for women, so I just need female participants please.

Here is the link to the survey:

If any of you are willing to divulge more information on what the Williams dating and/ or hook up culture was like while you were at Williams, please email me at 10jsc at

Thank you so much for any and all help!

Jess Cross ’10


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