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The Old Campus Garden, the Forest Garden, 1996 to 2006

If you got the last issue of the Alumni Review (September) you saw on its cover four students who are carrying on in a tradition similar to one I was heavily involved in at Williams: that is organic gardening on campus. They are the Williams Susatainable Growers; I and others were the Forest Garden. What a treat it was for me to see that their project make the front page.

I visited Williamstown a couple of weeks ago and made a point of stopping by the new garden to check it out. In this second post in a series of two I’ll share some photos of the “Forest Garden” of my time with comment from my point of view as a current professional gardener and a leader of Williams’ campus garden in my day. When I returned last June for my five-year reunion I spent an hour at the Center for Environmental Studies picnic lunch and checked in with Sarah Gardner, the only administrator left there from my time who still knows me as the guy who led the Forest Garden along with Vivian ’05. Together, Vivi and I did the most work in our years for the garden of primarily herbs and vegetables on the hill and valley behind the newfangled wing of Stetson and in front of Kellogg House, where CES was.

Here are a few photos of the old Forest Garden.

April 1996, the first Forest Gardeners break ground (date recorded in the garden's journal)

The area we called the "sunny hill," because it was the only part of the garden to get any sun.

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The New Campus Garden

If you got the last issue of the Alumni Review (September) you saw on its cover four students who are carrying on in a tradition similar to one I was heavily involved in at Williams: that is organic gardening on campus. They are the Williams Sustainable Growers; I and others were the Forest Garden. What a treat it was for me to see that their project make the front page.

I visited Williamstown a couple of weeks ago and made a point of stopping by the garden to check it out. In this first post in a series of two I’ll share some photos of today’s garden with light comment from my point of view as an alum who led Williams’ campus garden in my day, and is today a professional gardener.

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Seth Brown ’01 is poetry slam champ at Word x Word

The Pittsfield Word x Word Festival is a carnival of words in written, sung, and spoken form, both planned and improvised. Williams’ own prodigy of extempore, Seth Brown ’01, was the event’s Poetry Slam champion, so crowned on August 28 and reported in Berkshire Living. Wish I’d been there.

The week-long Word X Word Festival came to a rousing conclusion on Saturday night with the crowning of Seth Brown as the poetry-slam champion at Shawn’s Barber Shop, followed by a music-and-spoken word show featuring 2004 National Poetry Slam Champion Rives at the Colonial Theatre to bring the curtain down on the festivities.

[. . .]

It came as little surprise that Seth Brown won the Poetry Slam competition – anyone who has seen him recite, improvise, and freestyle before around town knows that he is a charming, funny and fleet linguist. He has the expressive face of a comic and poems – such as one about being a lover of books – that are tailor-made for a slam audience, and he has mastered the art of leaving space in some of his work for in-the-moment improvisation, including incorporating lines and references from other poets that have performed only minutes earlier. Brown is one to watch; he’s the Berkshires’ most likely to succeed in this exciting art form.

I haven’t seen Seth poetry slam since he improvised a rhyming slam of Pat Buchanan when he publicly debated at Williams in 2002. I have seen him shine in a comedy night in a Pittsfield bar, the last time I had the pleasure of being his guest. We share a board game hobby that I look forward to indulging again in an upcoming overnight.


Five Years Out 1: “Choosing” Williams

Promoting another post to the “Reunion Top.” –93kwt

This weekend is my five year reunion. For a long time, I’ve wanted to write here a post highlighting a few of the most shining moments I remember from my days there. In one post, I could have done this: restricting myself to “moments” that can be described to people not of my inner circle and and which are purely positive would have generated a short enough list.

But as I sketched it out, I found there was more I wanted to write about. I wish I could have kept it simple, but I’m probably incapable of this. I want to give you an idea of what was important to me, and how I connected to the campus community. And I want it to include some of the good and the bad, as well as the hard and the incidental. I want to tell a story, but remind myself that I did not live four years as a story, or see a “point” or even a unified flow in my life as I was going through it: though I suspected that I would look back someday and see it that way.

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

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Five Years Out 3: Contradance

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

It was the tip of my freshman year, and for me and probably much of my ‘05 classmates, there was no normalcy to even attempt to return to after the gloom of September Eleventh. The towers fell before the academic year was a week old. I think a lot of undergraduates besides me felt a certain guilt that the new threat and suffering in the world was going to be only one of many novel problems to contend with. Read more


Five Years Out 2: Fitting

Five years out, this series of posts is much of how I see what I lost and gained at Williams. This is ephblog, so the segments are far from uncut or uncensored, but they are long enough to be true. They capture what is important to me looking back, and the past I want to give homage to as I think about reuniting with my class this weekend.

Whatever good experience I had during Previews Weekend as a prospective student considering Williams, it was only enough to make me choose Williams, not really look forward to it. Read more


Portrait of a Moderate: Lincoln ’09 on Claiming Williams

One of the rarer dispositions among 18 to 21 year-olds and beyond is moderateness on compelling topics. Not apathy, but a considered moderateness.

I enjoyed finding an example of this kind of thought in the WSO discussion on Claiming Williams. Matthew Lincoln ’09 writes:

Reading through it, I was surprised to find that almost none of the dozens of posters there expressed the conflicted view that I found myself taking – I felt for Shayla’s frustration at the same time that I felt no small indignation at some of the gross generalizations being made about the “rich white crowd”.

[. . .]

Dan, I was hearing shades of that either/or tone during the final forum on CW in Paresky when Kim Dacres sort of shot down your very reasonable observation that some of your friends felt, rightly or wrongly, alienated by the language surrounding the whole day. I’m really glad you brought up that point, just as I sympathized when Kim said she almost didn’t want to be at a place where some students didn’t even bother to come to the table. Does it sound weird to somehow think both of those things at the same time? I regret that the panel didn’t seem willing to dig into it much.


Cornell’s Monday Financials

While waiting to see if David’s Monday Predictions come true, you may enjoy Cornell’s update of the same sort, fresh from President Skorton last night.

My department, Horticulture, is losing five lines for grad students. I’ve yet to hear of a layoff here, but my sense from how people are talking is that some must be coming. There was a request for retirement plans; from what I hear no Hort professor has indicated any. There is a tension between the mandate from the top to make cuts, and the knowledge within the department that if we comply, the shrink may be permanent. It’s a classic case of conflicts of interest. Not only does no one want himself or a colleague to lose a job, no one wants to help the dean shrink our department.


Drunk Daffodils

Have you ever forced a flower? In the world of horticulture, this is not a caddish come-on in Brooks basement but the practice of artificially warming a plant so that its flowers open before their natural season. Cornell recently published a plain-language recipe for a method of forcing by feeding the plant with alcohol! See “Pickling your paperwhites” at our Horticulture homepage for your academic justification for saucing up your windowboxes.  One for you, one for me . . .
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The News In Rap, by Seth Brown ’01

Who can open a live news feed and freestyle rap for 10 minutes or more on whatever comes up? Comedic genius Seth Brown ’01 of, that’s who. To listen to or subscribe to his immaculate flow of current events, check out Seriously, it’s amazingly good, and since it comes out near the end of each week you can make it part of your Friday “drive at five.”
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Growth of college tuition quadruples Consumer Price Index

Growth rate of tuition vs. other expenses, over 15 years

Growth rate of tuition vs. other expenses, over 15 years

Today’s Washington Post has a report on growth in college tuition with a nice graphic, something we all at least vaguely know. Highlights include:

Researchers said the percentage of an average family’s income needed to pay for a public four-year college has risen from 20 to 28 percent, after financial aid. For community colleges, the burden has risen from nearly 20 percent to nearly 25 percent.

Borrowing for college has also doubles. And while the U.S. is second only to Canada in per capita advanced degrees in the working age population, we are tenth in the world for degrees among those aged 25-34.

I don’t know if the stats only include public schools but all the commentary seems to. Obviously Williams pricing works differently.


Walk Me Home

It is autumn, the time of year when I am most in love with the world, happiest to live in the northeast, and most prone to daydreaming.  I walk and imagine that, once upon a time, this was the season when communities gathered in the town square to celebrate the harvest over spiced drinks, firelight and dancing, fueled by the special vigor that only an impending potentially deadly winter can generate.

Last year was the most beautiful autumn of my remembered life:  it began for me with a visit to Ann Arbor when its leaves began to change, a return to be outdoors for class three days a week in Ithaca, and then home to catch New York’s peak during Thanksgiving (I took a very long walk in the golden parks).  I anticipated the season again eagerly this year, when I live on Cornell’s campus.  Fall came earlier this year and it seems unlikely that New York will be as beautiful when I come home, but I am hoping against reason that I am wrong (can anyone there please let me know?  Are the maples yellow now or bare?)  I have been looking forward to Thanksgiving since September. Some of my most sacred rituals of the year are getting a haircut and walking my neighborhood the morning before, the dinner with my extended family at grandpa’s, and a football game in the park with high school buddies I see that day only the day after.

This season I have enjoyed a daily walk across the prime parts of Cornell’s famous campus.  Today, I invite you along.

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Cornell’s Letter on Financial Situation

Our Morty is President Skorton. Yesterday he sent the letter below.  Awfully familiar, though note the electronic “suggestion box” for ideas they have set up for how to solve the financial problem.

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Literally, Once In A Lifetime: The Ghost Orchid

The one blooming ghost orchid we found in Floridas Fakahatchee Strand.

Am I the first Williams graduate ever to see this ultra-rare bloom in person?  The ghost orchid, while perhaps not as rare as the most obscure of plants (some species are down to numbers in the dozens), it sits at that ultra-sexy nexus of rare and alluring.  It is considered by many to be the most sought-after orchid in the country, world famous for its elusiveness and ethereal beauty.

About a month ago, near the end of my work at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Coral Gables, FL, I took advantage of my closeness to some of the (very friendly) botany graduate students there to combine forces with one of them.  Brett, a tropical botany Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University, had been seeking the orchid as a hobby for five years.  He knew where to look; I had a good camera and closeup photography knowledge.  We set out one Saturday morning for the Fakahatchee Strand, the only place in the country where the orchid grows (the only other habitat in the world is in Cuba).  I have heard that the world’s estimated population is 2,000, but the locations of only a couple hundred are known.  Their locations are not made public, to discourage poaching, and only 5-10% bloom every year.  Since an unblooming ghost orchid occupies a surface area about the size and color of a single sycamore leaf in a dense jungle, the odds of finding one are infinitesimal.

For the full story and sights from this small but famous swamp natural preserve, read on.

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Why We Don’t Serve

There is a line I hear from anti-war people who believe they can neatly separate their condemnation of the war from criticism of the volunteers in our army: “I support the troops; I don’t support the war.” Hearing this said has always bothered me deeply because the dual sentiment seems truly impossible to have unless one believes that either 1) The soldiers fighting today are somehow compelled or otherwise there against their better judgment, or 2) The soldiers fighting today fight willingly and chose to willingly, but only because they were somehow “duped” by their superiors.

One cannot believe that members of our armed forces fight in part because they were compelled or tricked, without taking something away from their choice to serve.

More to the point that is crucial for us to wrestle with now, before the troops come home: if either of the above is a belief about reasons for serving and those who serve that lurks quietly in your heart, I beg that you confront it before the end of this war. Was it Jeff that mentioned the term cognitive dissonance? Can anyone imagine the cognitive dissonance that will occur if 130,000+ soldiers return home to a population that offers, “Thank you for your service. Personally, though, I wish no one had had to do what you did, and I believe you and others like you were the victims of trickery”? I am glad that Americans at large recognize the need to not repeat the end of Vietnam, but in my mind we are a lot closer to that danger than we realize when we “support” the troops but have as much understanding for the decision to serve as is given in

If you want your kids to do good NOW, have them join the Peace Corp or something. I don’t understand why any rational parent with kids who have great alternative options (as almost any Williams grad does) would encourage their kid to join the military so long as this administration is in place. Hence, unsurprising that hardly anyone does.

Jeff’s language above is likely careless, in that it states “I don’t understand . . . hence, unsurprising that hardly anyone does.” I don’t think he meant to say that, but it is a slip that is telling about the “me, therefore everyone” way we all think, a way that will be dangerous to our society in the very near future. We think that, because you and I see nothing to die for in a given context, no other rational being possibly could.

If you, for some reason, have an interest in how I think, read below the break. It is extremely long.
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Continuing Discussion on Textbook Use

What began as a follow-up comment to our recent discussion about textbooks at Williams got rather long. As I confessed in that thread, this is a topic near and dear to my heart: I was a student on hefty financial aid, and while my parents would have paid for books or I could have afforded them myself, the cost of books had I bought all new and all “required”
editions would have exceeded the sum of my spending on all other things over the same period of time. This includes travel, entertainment, restaurant meals, whatever. Once your room and board are paid, it is possible to live frugally at Williams, and I did.

That’s not some kind of crazy boast(?), it is just an effort to put this discussion into perspective. Knowledge is nearly priceless. A good, unduplicated reference in a subject you care about is worth its weight in gold, and it would be crass of me or others to argue that I and other students scrimp on books in order to, say, go snowboarding over Winter Study. But should we, as Uible suggested, regard buying the newest editions a “petty matter” to be “treated by the students as merely a surcharges on tuition”? I answer, emphatically, no.

Below the break are my thoughts on this matter, derived from an experience with the topic that is arguably as broad as a student could have, beginning literally before my first day of classes, when I went to the 1914 Library seeking my first textbook: Saul Kassin’s 3rd edition of Psychology.

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Erin Burnett Breaking News

She is coming on The Celebrity Apprentice on CNBC at this very moment.

I’m not in on the whole Erin craze or this show, but I happen to have heard her name flipping through and I sense some of you might really like to know this.


“Population Shift Sends Universities Scrambling”

An article by this headline in today’s Washington Post discusses an impending decline in high school graduates next year “in many parts of the nation” and a significant shift in the racial composition of classes applying to colleges. We’re not talking about a nationwide shift yet, if ever, but as is the case in all heterogeneous dynamic systems, interesting effects will hit specific cross sections of universities first. My favorite quote in the article:

Schools in more remote areas, with fewer resources and no particular academic focus, could struggle, said Steven Roy Goodman, an educational consultant and admissions strategist. That is why the 700-student Northland College in Wisconsin uses its location on Lake Superior to promote it as “the environmental liberal arts college.”

“To use the obvious ecological metaphor, we must specialize in our niche, because we can’t compete with dramatically better-resourced generalists,” Provost Rich Fairbanks said.

I generally find comparisons to ecosystems pretty sexy.  My experience tells me there are amazing parallels between organization identity and organism niche that make the lessons of one apply quite neatly to the other more often than would be apparent.  I still remember the graphs of biotic population dynamics I encountered in my advanced ecology class at Williams that showed that stable coexistence of organisms was only possible when their specializations were sufficiently disparate.  It’s a story of competition-management that plays out all over, from the small colleges of Wisconsin, to the SLACs of the Northeast, to botanical gardens sharing a climate zone and region.


Learning from History: The Social Honor Code Proposal of 2004

Readers may recall that I have made the point a few times that, when it comes to social issues, controversies, and student self-governance at Williams, there is a certain circularity that seems to escape the notice of most on campus. The last time I wrote on this it was to cover 2007’s resurrection of the idea to “lock down” campus dorms to non-residents after a certain hour, in the name of descreasing vandalism. This same idea had been almost foisted on students four years ago, nearly to the day. Thankfully, Security showed forbearance in 2003, and student voters showed good sense in 2007.

The present project of a large group of students to consider adopting a Social Honor Code is another case of nothing new, and as intrepid and proud of their work as today’s students rightly feel, I hope proponents and opponents alike are aware that their peer predecessors had the same concerns and solution. Once again, nearly precisely 4 years ago, a draft of a Social Honor Code was on the floor at College Council. Sabrina Wirth ’05 was its author and main proponent, and she brought it to the floor during the 14 January 2004 Meeting of College Council. The text of her draft and the debate over it are recorded in the linked minutes from that meeting, and included below the break for (highly) interested readers.

Back then, the project was allowed to be forgotten. A number of people including myself volunteered to work with Sabrina on the project, but it was never followed up on, due to a combination of timing, disinterest or suspicion by some in Council, including myself. Then and now, I did not believe in implementing such a code, largely because I knew it would be actually enforced by the dean, and not what I considered a true representative body of the community. The ability to “enforce community standards” is the most broad and vague source of disciplinary power for the Dean, and I had no desire to see it strengthened.

I don’t at all wish to impose my views or arguments on the students of today, though I do hope this:

  1. Students will read Sabrina’s work and the discussions of their predecessor peers.
  2. Students will not make the interpretation of community standards the discretion of a dean, who is already the executor and need not be made judge or jury as well.
  3. If they draft a code, students make it one amendable by students alone. The Academic Honor Code is amendable only by faculty and, in this way, is not a good model for a code of the community. Only a tiny percentage of the faculty are any meaningful part of the social community.
  4. The code be publicly deliberated and voted on, and written records kept of all deliberations. All of this will be crucial to properly implementing and revising such a code in the future.

Awful as scrawling “nigger” is, arguably worse incidents took place shortly before and after Sabrina’s code proposal, and it was not taken up by enough believers to continue her effort. I’d have to bet on the side of the idea of this code being eventually dropped—doing it right would take so much time and thought, and doing it wrong would be awful—but if a code is implemented, one thing is certain: administrators now and ever after will describe it as a mandate, as “the restrictions students convened to place upon themselves.”

They had better be smart ones. When you hand over the freedom to determine community standards informally—through public shame and subtler private mechanisms—no one ever hands it back to you.
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What I’d Really Like to See: Improving the give2williams Website

So I just got poked by my good friend, cribbage nemesis, and class agent/secretary Zach who reminded me I hadn’t given to Williams this year yet. To get my attention, he actually joked that I earmark my donation for everything David Kane decries, and furthermore said he’d specified his go towards restoring the Odd Quad to its pre-Neighborhoods glory. Unconventional as it may seem, he got my donation . . . but when I popped over to I got to thinking . . .

As I sat there for an inordinate amount of time wondering which digit to put in the ones column, I came up with an idea that I’d really like to see implemented on the giving site: live-updated, humorous, cleverly chosen giving levels based on my intended gift. If you’re into fundraising, web development, or just (self-proclaimed) cool ideas, read on!

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Bridge At Williams, 2001-2005 and after

When a friend forwarded me a link to the recent article in the New York Times spotlighting Williams Bridge, I was all revved up to make sure the story made it to ephblog. Who better to break the news than one of the club’s former devotees? Then I saw that it had already been linked—in an itty bitty mention at the end of Jeff Z’s Athletics Round Up. Well, Jeff, that just won’t do. This story is getting prime billing, and will be used as another excuse for me to deposit a few more Williams memories into this site, this time from the point of view of someone who learned and taught bridge at Williams and saw its level of play reach what I believe was a peak since its last heyday over a decade ago, maybe longer.

Mind you when I say “peak” I am using the term in the New England skiing context, or as a mathematician might say a “local maximum.” We’re still talking about bridge, and that means we weren’t ever packing Goodrich hall. But by my junior year, we did have enough interest to run both a beginner’s class during Winter Study and a handful of semesterly tournaments, not to mention get covered in a paper that, if not the Times, was still national news. We also always had weekly social bridge nights, which is really when most of the learning for everyone happened, and when all of the learning happened every year before we and Frank Morgan started teaching formal classes. For me, the “peak” of bridge was when social bridge night had a record attendance one night of 28 players: enough to pack two common rooms in Currier, with 7 simultaneous games, enough to be a fire hazard.

Winter Study Bridge Club 2004

This is a picture from that night in January 2004. In the upper left is a table of people who had just learned that night, mingled with Dave, shuffling, who was in Morgan’s class at the time. Top center you can see two players from the third game in the hall, the fire hazard. The foreground game was historic: Elaine is holding up and pointing to the strongest hand I have ever seen from a true deal. She herself had 20 high card points and a void, translating to an ability to take at least 8 tricks out of 13 all by herself (the average hand in bridge takes about 3 tricks. A hand of Elaine’s value is dealt 8 out of every 1000 deals). Her partner had over ten high card points, which meant they were able to take all 13 tricks, called a “grand slam.”

What follows is a “brief” overview (think Ken Thomas brief) of bridge at Williams and after, as I know it.
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(A Tiny Bit Of) The Williams Deanship

What began as a comment posted to the entry on Karen Merill’s impending deanship ballooned into a longer topic that I thought I ought to start a new entry for, to spare readers of comments there and because I have no interest in discussing the content of Merill’s history of Conservatism class.

What follows are a long, yet abbreviated form of my musings on the deanship at Williams, and a few records I’ve collected from the deanships of some that preceed Merill. I became interested in the role as I worked on CC and, from meetings with my dean and closely following (and trying to predict) her actions and opinions, learned a bit about the burden that a Williams dean carries.

I have always wondered how the deanship is viewed among the faculty.
On the one hand, it is certainly an honor to be vested with such responsibility and power to do good for a community you care for. On the other hand, the position at Williams is a fascinating one in that the officeholder will always come always from the faculty, therefore applicants must be people who love to teach and research and who choose to do much less of those two things for the three or six years they are dean. In exchange, they receive the chance to serve, protect, and improve the academic community. Even at the surface of thinking about the position we find the interesting questions of who applies, if and how they are encouraged to apply (“farmed?”), and how they are selected — things I will never know, I suppose.

By a series of chances I came to know the personalities and styles of the last three deans quite well while I was at Williams: these were Professors Nancy Roseman, Peter Murphy, and Joan Edwards. I was able to experience the deanship of only Roseman, and I knew her primarily through meetings with her while I was an officer of College Council. Murphy I took a class with and worked with on research for a summer. Edwards taught the botany course that probably changed my life; I first met her at the end of my freshman year on a wildflower walk she led and am in fairly close touch with her still.

The styles of each of these people are so different that I wonder how they all became deans in their turn, and I wonder more what tenor they gave to the post. I feel I have a pretty good sense of Roseman’s style from being present for 2/3 of her office, but for the others I’ve had to let my imagination run wild with the little bits of history it has encountered.

  • Peter Murphy wrote a few opinions pieces. I found them only a while ago, though I heard of them during my studentship. I loved that he used his skills as a writer to try to win students’ minds; I wish Dean Roseman had written publicly with this goal more often.

    Murphy was apparently tenured during his deanship, basically at the end. I would guess that this is probably less meaningful than it seemed to me at first, but it felt initially odd to me to choose a professor who had (I presume?) not been at Williams long, and whose presence would be under review during his office.

  • Joan Edwards told me a story once of a time during her deanship when Lower Mission Parking Lot was being installed, and she was part of deliberations over how to secure the site. Mass planting Rosa multiflora, a thorny and prolific shrub, around the site was suggested, but she would have none of it: the plant is an invasive species. So I have always smiled to think of this very in-character curtailing of bad horticultural practice, but I have also wondered how on earth a woman as apparently sweet and infinitely patient as Edwards could have found a disciplinary side in her to do the part of the job that I think just about every Williams dean finds unpleasant.

I have good and bad memories of Dean Roseman; I knew her policies and her public style long before I met her face to face starting late sophomore year. Every week from then until my term ended a year later, I would meet with her and the other three officers of Council for lunch.

I wish every student could have this experience. There is nothing like the inextricable mix of adversarialness and partnership that one must navigate when meeting with someone who holds all the power in the relationship but whom you nevertheless wish to influence.

I could write more about Roseman than belongs in these pages, both for length and content, but I will relate a few stories that I remember from my interaction with her in this context.

  • The great majority of the time, Roseman wanted more to know about what Council was about to work on than she wanted to divulge and discuss what was about to land in our laps from her office. Not surprising, I suppose, but the contrast made it easy to spot the very noticeable times when she did want an issue to pass through Council. These were the 25-foot rule in the smoking ban, funding MassPIRG, and the recent decision not to privatize the Motor Coach, to name a few. In these cases, Dean Roseman made public that she would allow the decision of Council to guide hers, and each time Council decided in the way that I either knew or suspected she would have desired to go.

    Those weekly meetings with the officers, you can bet, always went a long way towards telling her what would happen in Council, as did her reading its minutes — something I know she did weekly in my term, at least. You have to admire that kind of ability to use the CC body in this way; I’d have admired her yet more had she done it more.

  • In my limited direct experience with her, D.R.’s most impressive moment came during the main CC meeting on St. Anthony’s Hall, which she attended, and which was covered a little already on Ephblog. She showed there that she had the power to impress and convince when given the ability to speak publicly, and from very plainly deeply held convictions. To me, this is again the best way for a dean to sway students, if she prefers speaking to writing. If I were in such a position and be able to choose whether to make my battles public or private, I would make full use of the options, and relish taking the ones I felt most strongly about public. Towards the latter part of her tenure that I witnessed, I felt that Roseman took her chance more often, as expressed in the fora she held on the 2003-4 CUL’s recommendations on alcohol policy, on the slur incident in late spring 2005, and others. I hope she continued in this vain after I left.

Real Constructive Criticism at Williams

. . . Education is partly a game which we agree to play, in which grades serve as tokens. . . . Most teachers (maybe all?) function as both “coaches” and “referees” in the game. As “coaches”, we think about grades, at least in part, as motivational tools. I think this is fine — so long as we also remain fair referees. If the referee is not perceived as fair, the game is undermined. . . .

We’ve recently been having a couple of discussions on Ephblog on good pedagogy, specifically how to criticize student work. Unfortunately, these have been less discussions than a not-unusual pitched battle between David Kane and the world, where David’s hastily-expressed prickly good intentions take on the more-hastily-expressed senses of discretion and decency of his readers.

We owe this topic a better effort if we want to not just read about, but talk about, what works and doesn’t work at Williams, and why. And though I believe Kane’s honest attempt at good criticism could have sparked a good discussion, I believe the sample of real criticism I can provide can be an even better touchstone.

Below the break is two long quotes, an exchange between myself and a professor over some work I’d produced. It is a real sample of real teaching through criticism at Williams, and his permission has been obtained to post his words here. I consider it the best I’ve received. It is both excellent criticism in itself as well as, most fortunately for us, a small treatise on pedagogical criticism.

I have personally benefited greatly from the thinking it conveyed to me. I hope it will inspire students to seek equally good exchanges, inspire professors whom I know think daily and deeply about how best to criticize, and spark among us a constructive discussion.

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