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Virtual Commencement – California Style

Earlier this month, Ephblog had a lot of discussion about Williams’ decision to not have a virtual commencement. It was classic Ephblog – DDF had a thought-provoking post with a lot of interesting ideas. The posts that followed included some thoughtful comments and good discussions. Some intelligent, insightful counterpoints were made by a variety of commentators (special shout out to timothjohn) that had no impact on DDF’s perspective. Good Times!

I wanted to share my experience with my oldest child’s virtual graduation last week. She attends a large private university on the west coast. Although they have promised an in person celebration at a date to be determined, they had a schoolwide “ceremony” at noon east coast time on the day graduation was supposed to be. It included a message from the president and a brief comment form the dean of each school. It lasted less than an hour. Throughout the day, they streamed brief personal video messages from family members, faculty, and staff. In addition, each school had its own live ceremony at a designated time during the day. For my daughter’s school, the dean spoke and each department head gave a brief message. There were two speakers and each did a good job with their speech. In fact, the main speaker’s speech was very entertaining and he adapted it beautifully to the current situation.

We had the streaming personal messages on in the background for most of the day. We often talked over various school speakers during the “official ceremonies” and there were a couple of technical glitches. However, it did add something to our celebration of my daughter’s graduation. As I mentioned, the main speaker was great and we all enjoyed his speech.

Could Williams have done something similar? I would guess yes. However, the point made by abl (I believe) that once you ask the Williams seniors and they say, “No” it is pretty hard to go ahead with a virtual commencement is spot on and virtually impossible to counter effectively.


An Eph Impacted my Life…

I used some of my recent rash of free time to catch up on my reading of “The Williams Magazine.” I came across the “At a Glance” feature that offered this prompt: An Unexpected way an Eph impacted my life as an alum is…

I would complete it the following way: My first job after Williams was as a kindergarten assistant teacher. The lead teacher was an amazing teacher; to this day she is the best teacher I have ever seen in a classroom. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn what it was like to be a teacher by being alongside such a pro. The added advantage was that I didn’t have to handle any of the classroom management. I spent most of the year being the “fun” teacher, which I excelled at. However, when the the lead teacher took a week off for her wedding, I was in charge . . .  and things did not go well.

About a month later, I was talking to an Eph who had held my job the previous year. She offered the following advice, “Do not be afraid to tell the kids, “No” – they will still like you.” This simple but very true advice was the most important lesson I learned during my first year of teaching. It seems strange to say but this small interaction was a major step in my professional growth.

How would you complete: An Unexpected way an Eph impacted my life as an alum is…


Say It Ain’t So!

Regardless of what the future holds, DDF’s post on Monday was a milestone in the life of Ephblog. While I plan a longer post in the future to share my thoughts, I wanted to offer my answer to question 3: Would you like Ephblog to continue? YES!! Ephblog is many things (engaging, thought provoking, informative, enraging – to name just a few) but regardless of how I feel about it on any given day, I will miss it when (if?) it goes away. Thanks to DDF and the many great contributors over the last 20+ years!


Should She Stay or Should She Go?

Over the years there are voices on Ephblog that I have come to respect as thoughtful and reflective. So, as my family (as so many others do, too) tries to navigate this new Coronavirus world, I thought I would try the Ephblog community for some advice.

My daughter attends a major university in the southern California area. Her school has moved academic classes on line for the next 3 weeks. This will include her spring break. However, there has been no talk about closing campus. Luckily, my daughter lives off campus and could stay in town if she chose. The questions we are debating in our house are: Should she come home for spring break? If she does, should she stay home?

A couple of other factors: she has an internship which is currently having interns work remotely. She is a senior and her job search would go much better if she were in town.


Legacy Admissions and Giving

Back in January, DDF did a series of posts about Johns Hopkins ending preferences for legacies in the admission process. In the comments, fendertweed said, “I definitely know of alums (who are alumni kids too) whose children weren’t accepted at Williams. It definitely left a bad taste there re alumni enthu$ia$m, etc.”

Gen X Alum responded with, “This certainly seems correct to me. This was one of the things I thought about as my kid was deciding on whether to apply to Williams. Not sure how I’ll feel if he’s not accepted this spring. He’s clearly academically qualified and is a pretty interesting kid (I’m biased, I know), but is probably short in the extra-curricular/leadership department. I’m sure Williams won’t miss my money, and I’d like to think I would still give, but I’m not sure how I’ll feel if he doesn’t get in.”

I was surprised by both of these comments. As my children go through the college admission process, it seems clear to me there is a large component of luck. Williams rejects a large number of high quality, well qualified, wonderful kids every year. Whether or not my kid was accepted was not going to change the kind of person they are or how I felt about them. Also, how I feel about Williams was not going to change based on whether or not they accepted my child.

I am curious if most people think along the lines of fendertweed’s contacts and Get X Alum or if they would respond more like me. How would you respond if Williams rejected your child?


The Old School View of Writing a Thesis

I enjoyed recent grad’s post yesterday. It led me to recall an article written back in the the day: “The experience of thesis writing is probably a lot like giving birth.”

I remember enjoying it as an undergrad. I was curious to see how it held up, especially given its basic premise. While it treads some dangerous ground (Civil War, abortion to name just two), I still found it amusing and did not identifying any problematic parts. Of course, as my 18 year old son regularly points out, I am not the most woke person out there. I am curious how others view the article.

Side notes: Thanks to DDF for his helping in tracking down the article. Also, flipping through editions of the Record from when you were at Williams is a great way to lose a few hours!


More Advice on Love

It may be a bit presumptuous to offer unsolicited advice about romance but since DDF did it in his annual post, I thought I would add my two cents. Some of the best advice in this area comes from Matt Damon’s character in “We bought a Zoo.”

You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”

– Matt Damon, We Bought A Zoo

This is the advice Matt’s character gives to his son about approaching a girl that he likes. It reminds me a lot of the emotions I had as a young man in the dating arena. I never really mustered the 20 seconds of courage while at Williams. If I hadn’t found it the year after graduation and ended up with the best woman in the world, that lack of courage at Williams would be one of my biggest regrets.

Here is hoping you find the courage at the right time to change your life for the better!


Deja Vu

I really liked my post last week: Holiday Feelings and Fond Memories. I was hoping that it might inspire some great stories about Williams Professors. Also, I was hoping to get an answer to the question: Do Williams Professors still line up “outside” the West College Gate and applaud the graduates as they walk through?

Unfortunately, the only response I got was about how one fails out of Williams.

Therefore, I am posting last week’s post again and hoping to hear some wonderful stories.

I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?


Holiday Feelings and Fond Memories

I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?


Warm Wishes – USC Style

Here is the holiday message from the new President at USC.

To be honest, I think it is better than Maud’s. Of course, Williams’ marching band can’t really compete with USC’s. But as ABL says, I think both are “nice.”

Which one do you like better?

BTW – I received the one from Maud, so my guess is every alum got it.


One of the best things about Williams…

I loved my time at Williams and feel very fortunate to have been a student there. While I have an almost endless list of things that I am grateful for, near the top of the list are the relationships I had with a few professors over the years. Here is a tweet from Professor Sarah Jacobson that illustrates that those kind of relationships continue to this day:

Sarah Jacobson


Dec 2

“Can I brag and be proud that my independent study student from last spring (at the time a sophomore) got her term paper published in an undergrad econ journal? And that the paper had a lovely pun in the title? I think I can, right?”

Here’s the link to the paper itself, which concludes “We need to research policies that will help provide for this increasing energy demand, but at the same time will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Isn’t it great that Williams has small class sizes where close relationships with professors can be built and magic like this can happen?



Diversity on Athletic Teams

The New York Times has an interesting article on amHerst and their efforts to increase diversity on their athletic teams. The article has a lot of good information about the recruiting process and the efforts that amHerst has made to find student-atheletes of color, especially in sports that are traditionally dominated by white students. I think the article presents a realistic and balanced look at what amHerst is doing. For example, they point out that amHerst has the resources to dedicate to this goal that other schools do not possess.

I think the article is worth the read but if you don’t have the time or the interest, here is the closing quote from the men’s soccer coach, “I want someone who makes us different. Because that’s how everybody gets better.” I believe he is talking about on the field and off and I applaud him and amHerst for this kind of thinking.


Sensitivity vs. Academic Freedom

In honor of Halloween, I thought it might be interesting to look back on some controversies related to the holiday. The obvious Williams example is, “The Taco Six.”

However, the controversy I want to look at in more detail occurred at Yale in 2015. Here is the email from the wife of a College “Master,” that sparked the  controversy. Towards the end of the email she quotes her husband in making one of her main points:

“..if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Also, here is a link to an article on that does a fair job summarizing the controversy and some of the immediate fall out. Here is a quote from the article that I thought was interesting,

“In the balance between sensitivity versus critical thinking and academic freedom, students are increasingly emphasizing the former over the latter.”

A good example of this is when a student at Yale says,

“I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.”

I had some preconceived notions about what happened at Yale but as I read the article, those changed and I became convinced that both sides had good points. For example, the Yale student is NOT talking about an academic setting, they are referring to interactions when they might go to the Master or his wife for support. In that setting, it seems perfectly reasonable to not “want to debate.”

My conclusion is that it is not an either/or choice. We can be sensitive (if someone feels a need to talk about their pain, listen and try to empathize, do NOT debate) and have academic freedom (if you disagree with a position, an action or a costume, engage with the person who holds that position).

What do you think? Can college communities be both sensitive and have academic freedom?



Quick Football Update

The football team’s strong season continues. Many of the trends Whitney noted in his post at the beginning of the month have continued. The defense is strong, giving up less than 10 points a game. The offense has continued to be a power house – over 30 points a game. amHerst also is having a good season with a 4-2 record. Both teams have lost to Middlebury, who is 6-0 and seems to be headed to a conference championship. While a conference championship seems like a long shot for the Ephs, the little three title is right in front of them and more importantly, they can be happy for ever by beating amHerst on 11/9. Good luck to the team and all the athletes representing Williams this Fall!


A Different Kind of Affirmative Action

DDF’s post on Wednesday got me thinking. I am a strong believer in the benefits that a diverse population brings to virtually any situation – from the classroom to the boardroom. I have no hesitation in extending that philosophy to include idealogical diversity in appropriate situations. This includes seeing a wealth of benefits to having a faculty with diverse political beliefs. Of course, using a “political beliefs” litmus test when hiring a professor sounds like a bad idea (and could be illegal). So, I am not sure what the remedy is to achieve a more politically diverse faculty but I know I want to get there.

Do you think it is a goal that Williams should strive for?

What would be the best way to get there?


More on Harvard Admissions Case

Ephblog has had several posts on the Harvard Admissions case (here, here, here). Today I want to look at a specific quote from judge’s decision:

Every student Harvard admits is academically prepared for the educational challenges offered at Harvard…In other words, most Harvard students from every racial group have a roughly similar level of academic potential, although the average SAT scores and high school grades of admitted applicants from each racial group differ significantly.

The key phrase in this quote is “roughly similar level.” In the past, there has been a lot of discussion on Ephblog about Academic Ratings and the role they play in the admission process. The judge in the Harvard case and I agree that as long as the admitted student is “academically prepared,” 50 points here or there on the SAT are not that big a deal. I would wager that DDF would disagree – anyone want to take that bet?


Shallow Provocateurs

In DDF’s “Weekend Links” post, he included an article written by Wesleyan President Michael Roth link in the Wall Street Journal. The article is a relatively short and interesting read about “why universities need affirmative action for the study of conservative, libertarian and religious ideas.” Here is one quote I would like to highlight:

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

This principle is something that I hope people of good faith can agree on. What do you think?

Of course, it is a much trickier question to ask, who gets to decide if some one is a “provocateur” or a “scholar”? My answer is that I trust any faculty member to decide if someone is a scholar. I do not trust students to the same degree and I am OK not giving them carte blanche to invite anyone they want to speak on campus.

Regardless of who gets to decide, I am confident that speakers will be invited that some groups will see as a “provocateur.” When that happens, what is the appropriate response? I think there are several options: protest the speaker, provide counter programming that illustrates the “provocateur’s” lack of scholarly bona fides, engage (and defeat) them in the arena of ideas, expose the nefarious motivation behind the people who invited them. However, I do would be extremely hesitant to ban the speaker or allow violent protests to keep the speaker from presenting their view.


Elite Admissions Based on Academics Alone would be STUPID

DDF’s post from yesterday had some “interesting” data from Harvard. At the end of the post, he says “Maybe this is good policy. Maybe not.” I think it is self evident that an admissions policy based on academics alone would lead to a Harvard (or a Williams) that is a less beneficial academic environment for all involved. As I have stated in previous posts, I trust the professionals in the admissions office to pick the right students. The only academic qualification I care about is, that they can do the work. As a former teacher, I will happily take a class with students who get A’s and B’s (and maybe even a few C’s) and has other qualities that are important over a class with students who get all A’s but lacks those other important qualities. Anyone want to guess what those “other important qualities” might include?


Title IX and Williams

In Whitney’s post earlier this week, he suggested we look at Williams policies around sexual assault and misconduct. I decided to begin to take on that assignment. As Whitney and my college GPA can attest, my first pass at an assignment does not always produce a quality result. That being said, it seems to my laymen’s eye that the procedure’s laid out are a good attempt at trying to handle a horrible situation as best as possible. I can’t begin to imagine what it would be like to be a “complainant” or a “respondent,” however, it seems like the college is laying out a good faith effort to set up a procedure that will be fair to both parties. Of course, how things are set up is only part of the equation – the actions and motivations of those involved in execution are also very important.

What do you think of the college’s procedure?

What do you think of the people responsible for the execution of that procedure?


It is more than $27 boots…

In the comments on Whitney’s excellent post about Family Wealth at Williams, there was some discussion about a theoretical poor student and how their financial situation might impact their experience at Williams. I think DDF underestimates how hard it can be for someone from a different background and/or limited means to adjust to life at college.

Here is an interesting article from the New York Times (link) that gives some real world examples of how someone’s background can have a major impact on their student experience. I find it provides compelling reasons for schools like Williams (and amHerst) to be thoughtful, creative and thorough in providing support to students with these kinds of backgrounds.


Things Mika Says…

Mika Brzezinski is class of 1989 and a co-host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. A little over 30 years ago Mika and I lived in the same dorm at Williams. These days I often start my day by watching her on TV. I thought it might be fun to occasionally quote something that Mika has said and see if that sparks an interesting conversation. Technically, the below quote is not from Mika, it is from her Dad Zbigniew Brzezinski, NSA to President Carter. However, it is on Mika’s twitter page.

“Bipartisanship helps to avoid extremes and imbalances. It causes compromises and accommodations. So let’s cooperate.” ~Zbigniew Brzezinski

This largely reflects my perspective as well. Recent political history presents evidence that this might be a bit naive. However, true that may be, I am hopeful that bipartisanship provides a way forward towards a better America.


College Board Changes Course on use of Diversity Scores

This New York Times article reports on the College Board’s decision to “withdraw its plan” to use a “diversity score.” It is a short but interesting read. I am not in position to comment on whether the score was fair or would be useful but I certainly agree the goal (” …to provide colleges with a consistent way of judging the neighborhoods and schools that students came from”) is worthwhile.

Admissions is a complex process and the more information the committee has the better. Of course, some people (looking at you DDF) may say there is no place for this kind of info in the admissions formula but I would strongly disagree.


Who would you admit?

In DDF’s post on Monday, he said the following: “We should accept the best students, those who did well academically in high school and are likely to do well academically at Williams. We reject 100s of AR 1s each year. We should never accept an AR 2 (or 3? or 4?) just because she is a veteran or older or has gone to a community college.”

In the comments there was some discussion about whether or not veterans and community college students should be admitted. DDF said, “I just want the same rules for everyone. Call me crazy! If you are AR 1 (and maybe 2), you get in. If not, you don’t.”

I have NO PROBLEM with the admissions team having different standards for different applicants. I trust the professionals on the team to make the nuanced judgment that a veteran who is an AR 2 (or a 3 or 4), would add a lot more to the Williams community (in and out of the classroom) than another AR 1 from a prep school or Shanghai. I also trust the professionals to keep an approrpiate balance among those two groups.

How about you? Would you admit the veteran or the community college student?

I realize that the admission process is complicated and cannot really be boiled down to this simple a question but I STRONGLY belief that Williams is a better place when the admissions team looks beyond the numbers. I do not want the 525 students who will get the highest GPA’s, I want the 525 students who can be successful at Williams individually and together make the Williams community a better place for all its members.


SU Box Buddies

I received the email below the break the other day. Basically, it asks alumni to send a note to the current Williams student who uses that alumni’s old SU Box. This is not the first year of the program. I have never participated but I wonder if any EphBlog readers have and what their experience was. I am most interested to hear from an Eph who was on the receiving end of one of these notes.

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How Much Do You Give to Williams?

In last weeks’s post I asked Why give to Williams? This week I wanted to ask the natural follow up question – How much? My answer is, “Not much.” When I was a new graduate, I could not afford to give more than a token amount. And that is exactly what I did for many years. Eventually, my wife finally started to support me in the style in which I deserve, (please forgive this bit of an inside joke – for those who care, I have been a stay-at-home dad for the last 21 years) and I was able to up the amount to $100 annually. My wife now provides my family with a very healthy life style and we try to donate several thousand dollars a year to charities we are involved in or take a special interest in. However, my annual donation to Williams stays at the $100 level (I do up it to $250 during reunion years) because I feel Williams does not need my money. From my perspective, the college’s endowment and big money donors are an adequate source of funds to do anything the school wants to do. It is more rewarding for me to donate to organizations where my gift will have a significant impact on the charities operations over the coming year.

Fendertweed offered a different perspective in a comment on last week’s post “I’ve significantly reduced giving (especially in future plans) because I’ve seen a trend of what I and others think is benign neglect for our chosen area of support at Williams.”

What about you, how much do you give?

Fendertweed – Can you share what specific trends you have seen at the college that has changed your level of giving?


Why give to Williams?

This question was inspired by the email from Maud on July 10th informing the community about how the latest capital campaign went. (full email below the break) She cited the stat that nearly 75% of alumni had contributed over the course of the 7 year campaign. I was impressed by this but was curious as to whether or not I should be. I did a quick Google search and found this article. link It has some interesting information, including the fact that Williams ranked 3rd among all schools in the country in terms of percentage of alumni who donate. (The most important fact in the article may be that we beat Amherst!)

In terms of my answer, at first, I thought it was a simple question but as I pondered my response, I realized that it had several important facets. First, Williams had a significant positive impact on me. Not only did the academic environment challenge me and help me grow as a thinker but the people I met shaped my moral and ethical development. Next, I enjoyed my time at Williams immensely! This was true in the classroom, in the dorm room and on the rugby pitch. Also, I like the idea of making some small contribution to the idea of “paying it forward.” Of course, I could point to other issues and memories but most of them could fit into these three broad categories.

What about you? Why do you give to Williams? Or not?

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All Things Eph…

I am one of the authors who volunteered to participate in DDF’s experiment. I was motivated by the idea of making Eph Blog a better place by subtraction. My goal is to post things that are interesting and informative. Also, I enjoy the comment threads when there is a respectful exchange of differing views. Therefore, I will also try to post things that will spark those kind of threads.

A little background on myself: Multiple members of my family also attended Williams and I have already attended my 25th reunion. I loved my time at Williams even though I did not take full advantage of everything it had to offer.


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