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Howl, Parts I & II

Allen Ginsberg 1956

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
     starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking 
     for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
     connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking 
     in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating 
     across the tops of cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw
     Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs 
     illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes
     hallucinating Arkansas and Blake-light tragedy among the 
     scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing 
     obscene odes on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their 
     money in wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through
     the wall.
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Bending Straws

 

In the 1980s, during my initial stint as an impressionable student in the academy, I spent my Sundays toiling as a manager down at the club. The edifice was on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The club was housed in a single story elongated rectangular brown painted cinderblock building. The locality had a sleek and swanky fashion, which was in vogue during the height of the Nixonian modern urban renewal architectural period.

We habitually hung a sign that advertised for a porter at the entrance of the club, as good help in those days was hard to find. The economy in Boston during the ‘Massachusetts miracle’ had made the help terribly fickle, due to an over-abundance of well-paying jobs. We paid the minimum of course, with the offer of a free jigger of spirits if the good lad who held the door happened to get his nose broken while attempting to break up an altercation. Hiring help that had learned how to look the other way was of great importance to the elite clientele.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one block down the avenue from the establishment, and the gents from the fraternities frequented the place. They were certainly not the men of Harvard, but still worth a listen. For some quirky reason math and science was of more importance than finance to those young men? I must confess that in actuality, we cared very little for where a young gentleman went to college. It was the family accent that truly enlightened us. “But yes of course, of course you go to Harvard,” we would say, “but where did you prep, where did you prep, my good man? Choate, Exeter, Groton?”

The lounge in the club was of the highest order. We had five tiers of the finest victuals. From the tap we served the latest fashionable beer. The floors were a greying black, as the wood was well worn and sticky from years of grand tradition. Neon Budweiser signs, and posters advertising various other upscale varieties, adorned the walls. We had several dart boards so that the lads could relax and play whilst enjoying a Pabst after a hard day at the academy.

It was on early Sunday afternoons, whilst I was cutting my teeth with this first internship in management, that three men from Zeta Psi would come to play a bit of “Pitch”. Pitch was a fantastic game, although I have heard from those still laboring at the club that it has since fallen out of favor.

The ladies from the Boston Women’s Rugby league would also show up for some pints after their Sunday scrums. They were always so lovely. Stout and severe, broad and menacing, as all proper women should be. Sauntering into the club in their attirement of proper shorts, knee high socks, and cleats; striped rugby shirts of red and white, draping their sweat laden bodies with a sophisticated mud covered embroidery. Oh, the traditional songs which they would sing! In unison they would chorus the moral fiber of femininity. Old whimsical choruses, such as “Barnacle Bill the Sailor” and “Bestiality’s Best” were my favorites. I still fondly remember the ensembles.

It is a pity that the singing of such songs of tradition has fallen out of favor. One never hears such songs the way we used to in public anymore. Sadly, what once identified the beauty of societal order in the hallowed halls of our elite institutions now runs against the grain. Perhaps it is this blasted cell phone culture that has turned everyone into a philistine moralist of some kind? Moments can be captured out of context by the simplest of passersby, and posted for commoners’ consumption on the YouTube. It is a shame that such happenings can no longer be kept within the higher circles of moral clarity.

It was during such moral conventions that the men of the Institute of Technologies’ Zeta Psi would sit at my bar and play Pitch. They would listen to the sweet choruses of the rugby ladies, as they drank the odd mixes of spirits associated with the game. The three Pitch players were Andrew, Duncan, and Remy. All three were from the finest lineage, but for whatever reason, had found a love of science over money? The particular mixology of the game clearly excited their participation in the sport of it. This ritual of Pitch was indeed a fashionable Sunday science project, as much as it was a game, or a sport.

 

       But it was a game of the highest order, and one needed to know the exact regulations!

 

First, it was only to be played on the holiest of days. On Sunday afternoons, that was when the three young men would stop by our posh establishment for a fine game of Pitch. They would come to me as they would a doctor, suffering greatly from the burden of too much blood in their alcohol systems. With the Saturday evening fraternity foray not far behind them, they were itching for a game of remedy!

Second, and of high importance, was the bending of straws. Sitting at the lounge countertop they would make a circle out of the drinking straws. It is easily done. You fold the end of one straw over itself, insert that into the hole of another straw, and then repeat that process until you join both ends to connect the straws together. Then you would enjoin the straws together to form a circle. In doing this, you can customize the diameter. As their mixologist and referee I would measure the circular straw throwing devices. The regulation size was six connected red cocktail straws.

Third, and of utmost importance to the common busboy, was the positioning of wastebaskets. You needed two, placed in between the three players. Player – wastebasket – player – wastebasket – player: in that exact order. The wastebaskets had to be of the common plastic variety, certainly not wood, and god forbid, never wicker. The liners were to be left out, as the ability for the busboy to rinse the receptacles cleanly with a hose outside near the street water drain was paramount.

Fourth, the playing field was the bar. Players were seated at the bar, with a normal positioning: facing the liquor shelves that were about eight feet behind the bar countertop. The seating arrangement was important, as the loser from last week’s game always pitched first. He would be placed seated at the far right of the bartender (me), or the left hand side of the other two players, from the perspective of a customer.

The rules of the gameplay were fairly simple. Once the game was set up, with the three players seated, trashcans properly placed and the straws bent into regulation size circles; myself as mixologist and referee, would call the time. Each player had two minutes to pitch. The pitch of the circle of straws took place from a seated position. Standing for an advantage was forbidden. The straw circle was pitched at the liquor bottles on the shelves behind the bar. A player would throw the red straw circle at the bottles of victuals that were shelved in tiers against the wall behind the bar. Underhand was the technique, as if softly throwing a horseshoe. Again, this was about an eight-foot shot.

It was a well-stocked club, with five tiers of finest varieties, elongated on each shelf. Irish, scotch, Canadian, bourbon, blends, schnapps of all flavors, creams such as Baily’s, liquors such as Kahlua, spiced rums; etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. All of it was in play. The mixologist (me), would blend the liquor that the thrown bar straw circle enveloped.

The circumference of the straw circle had the ability to encapsulate up to four bottles on the shelf, but normally only two or three. For example; a pitch could encircle Peachtree schnapps, Drambuie scotch, and Tanqueray gin. I would gather these three bottles, and pour the mix into a single shot glass. One player would pitch, and the player next in the order, the “receiver”, would drink the mix. After each pitch the drinking player had one minute to drink the mix. Two minutes to throw, one minute to drink.

This continued until someone lost the test of endurance. At some juncture a red faced player would be exhausted, and unable to contain himself- you lost when your fluids flew, even if you could still stomach a drink afterwards. The loser paid in bodily fluid as well as coin, as per regulation because the loser purchased the bar tab for the event. The duration and outcome of the game had a great deal to do with skill and conditioning, the normal characteristics of any athletic endeavor.

On most occasions, the rugby women would be singing, and stopping to watch and cheer the action. This added greatly to the ambiance the game. There was one stout but shorter African American female rugby player who had an intense Mohawk. She always took great interest in the game. She watched with glee and fascination while jutting about the Pitch competitors- but paying respect to never interrupt the field of paly. This always got the other mud-clad ladies to add tidbits and jeers as the men struggled to keep their composure.

The sport often became very intense towards the end, and one Sunday was no exception. This time, when Remy, who had lost last week, starting to become ill from exhaustion, found his seating and stayed in the game for the love of the contest! It was a noble sight indeed. The players were covering mouths with hands, and dry heaving whilst caught in the clutches of the exhilarating competition. All the while the ladies were singing gleefully and hoisting spirits. But the agony of defeat came suddenly, as it often did, when Duncan lost control of his oral function, hurling wild amounts of noxiously blended booze into one of the well placed plastic cans.

The thrill of victory for the Remy and Andrew, hands held high, was first rate. They even gave each other the plebian recognition of the high five, as they found their sea legs with the exhilaration of the victory. It was a testament to their endurance that they were not so badly staggered by the liquid-curdling war of attrition. The sportsmanship on display that Sunday would have made any college sports commentator proud. Players gave hard encouraging slaps on the back to each other as the intensity of the play heightened! The crescendo of the competition came when Duncan finally succumbed and placed his face in one of the cans, whilst his competitors heartily encouraged him with rubs of the hair and slaps on the back. Howard Cosell would have been proud.

 

Having come from such a place: from within the hallowed halls of such academic diversity and inclusion, is it any wonder that I now spend my days in elite college towns, polishing my social graces with the younger lads? Of course, the ladies and gentlemen these days are in search of the same things we craved when we were but mere babe socialites at the club playing Pitch.

 

Upon picking up The Record several months ago I was shocked to see that all of the finer parts of etiquette are now to be legally missing. How will our youngsters grow without the facility to have a good stab at diversity, just as we did? After all, the contemporary truth is the same as it was back in our time as young ladies and gentlemen down at the club, is it not? Hard liquor is essential to enhance the finer points of decorum. We are asking the lads to give up a very important part of their propriety. It is the blending of spirits at elite clubs and in fraternity basements that fosters the greatest moments of clarity! As explained, it was while bending straws down at the club when I learned about the hegemony of a diverse synergy within the fusion of the paradigm.

Whilst first reading the news of the ban on hard liquor at Williams I burst out of my chair and exclaimed, “Good God Adam no, let it not be so!”

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Let’s Have Completely Blind Admissions

Williams College is currently a need-blind in its admission process for national students (not so for international students). That by itself is a good thing, but isn’t that still leaving space for the admissions office to discriminate against potential students through other factors–say, if they’re white or black, a legacy student, or from a nice family in North Adams?

I propose that Williams expand its blind admission policy to all factors that don’t immediately relate to an applicant’s academics and (certain) extracurriculars. The school wouldn’t know if the 1580 SAT score and 4.0 GPA comes from a white, upper class student from Los Angeles or a working class black student from Chicago. Whether you share a last name with a big donor of the campus goes unnoticed by the admissions office. You won an interscholastic competition? Great, that gets considered. But they won’t know or care if you’re president of the Asian students club of your high school.

Regarding international students, the policy will affect them in the same manner. All that will be known are their academics and their status as an international applicant.

This new policy has the potential to boost the already respectable academic achievement of the campus. High school GPA correlates with college GPA, and the SAT predicts for future academic success. It follows that a selecting for students who perform and score the best in high school will likely select for the students who will get the most out of college.

I leave this idea for you to entertain.

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“Williams Students are so Annoying!”

I chanced upon this complaint just the other day. Curious (and partially offended, as affection for one’s alma mater affects even me), I asked for some elaboration. The friend of mine, who attends another respected liberal arts college and didn’t know I attend Williams, responded:

“They’re arrogant. Whenever their team shows up to multi-school events, they think they can coast by on brand-name and being kinda smart. They’re so exclusive, too!”

or something like that.

I told them I was one of those students. The blush on their face was something to behold! I needn’t fear, they said, I’m not like the average student they had met.

Fair enough. But it got me thinking–do I really disagree with them? They’re not stupid, and the stereotype of the Williams jock had to emerge from somewhere. Personally, I do smell a scent of smugness in the purple bubble. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I get along well with the Williams marathoner, the mathematician, the musician, or any commingling of the personalities present. It’s more just a certain narrow-mindedness.  We appreciate how Williams College shapes the world, but we simultaneously neglect how much the world shapes Williams College.

I don’t think this mindset is as pronounced in other liberal arts campuses. That thought is subject to change, however.

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Williams College – Worth the Hassle?

Suppose you’re a middle-class student. Williams College accepts you, as do other prestigious institutes–and modest, but inexpensive ones. Your primary interest is establishing a base to build a stable, profitable career. Given these conditions, is going to Williams College or any other distinguished college the evidently preferable route?

I think not. An article by the prudent Marty Nemko I came across before my attendance of Williams presents a solid argument for attending the humble community college.

I ultimately chose Williams because of my financial circumstances and intetest in academia. Those students looking for a career, however, may desire to choose another path.

But what do you think?

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Bring on the Brits!

For the first time this Winter Study (to my knowledge, let me know if I am wrong), 6 Exeter students will come to Williams to “study”. They will be here for two weeks of Winter Study. This means that they will likely spend a lot of time involved in “extracurriculars”, since they will not even be here for the duration of a winter study course, most of which allow for plenty of “extracurricular” time on their own.

 

Sounds like an exciting way to spend your January, as an Exeter student. Think they will take applications from WEPO students?

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Local demands for intellectual diversity

Saw the following today, thought others might be interested in seeing what’s going on at other schools in our neck of the world: UMass students — fed up with professors preaching anti-Americanism — demand ‘intellectual diversity’ .

The petition itself is available here. What I find fascinating is that the title of the article uses the word ‘demand’, which appears no where in their petition. They use words such as ‘petition’, ‘urge’ and ‘suggest'; it is written in a very different tone than other recent petitions (such as this one from Oberlin).

 

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Yale to Williams and Back

I’m an associate professor of mathematics at Williams now, but my academic career began as an undergrad at Yale in the 90’s. This post is parallel to Yale and Missouri, and a sequel to Uncomfortable Posting. For me, one of the purposes of college is to freely and civilly discuss and learn from each other. I am thus worried by recent actions at many schools, including my alma mater, where passions get so heated that this goal appears unattainable. I wanted to share some links as food for thought.

I urge people to read these and related articles, especially the third link which is the article sent to the residents of Silliman, and reflect on the direction our nation’s campuses are moving. If we stay silent, it is other voices that will be heard and viewed as speaking for all.

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Uncomfortable Posting

Greetings. I’m the faculty president of the Williams’ chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. As there has been a lot of discussion about speakers invited to campus by Uncomfortable Learning, I wanted to briefly post why PBK has decided to co-sponsor their next speakers.

PBK is dedicated to the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. We do not necessarily support the views and opinions of the speakers, but we strongly support the calls made by President Falk,  William McGuire III ’17 and others on the importance and value of having civil discussions. There is a great opportunity in such debate, and we encourage all interested members of the community to come to these and other events and be heard. Many of the positions held by students and faculty on our campus today would not have found receptive audiences in the earlier days of Williams; ideas should be refuted by facts, not silenced.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Socialist.

                     Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

                     Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out 
                     Because I was not a Jew.

                    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for
                    me. — Martin Niemoller

Steven Miller (sjm1@williams.edu), Associate Professor of Mathematics

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Morty on Campus Unrest – a follow-up (Part VI?)

A story today in the Chronicle of Higher Education dovetails with David’s excellent, five-part dissection of Morty Schapiro’s Wall Street Journal op-ed on campus speech and protests (starting here).

Laura Kipnis, a Northwestern professor of media, wrote a February article for the Chronicle entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which she discussed Northwestern’s newly-instituted prohibition on student-faculty dating in the context of a lawsuit between an undergraduate and a philosophy professor over a failed date:

An undergraduate sued my own university, alleging that a philosophy professor had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” and that the university punished him insufficiently for it. The details that emerged in news reports and legal papers were murky and contested, and the suit was eventually thrown out of court…

The aftermath has been a score of back-and-forth lawsuits. After trying to get a financial settlement from the professor, the student filed a Title IX suit against the university: She wants her tuition reimbursed, compensation for emotional distress, and other damages. Because the professor wasn’t terminated, when she runs into him it triggers her PTSD, she says. (The university claims that it appropriately sanctioned the professor, denying him a raise and a named chair.) She’s also suing the professor for gender violence. He sued the university for gender discrimination (he says he wasn’t allowed to present evidence disproving the student’s allegations)—this suit was thrown out; so was the student’s lawsuit against the university. The professor sued for defamation various colleagues, administrators, and a former grad student whom, according to his complaint, he had previously dated; a judge dismissed those suits this month…
What a mess. And what a slippery slope…

In her new article, she writes about how that original article led to: 1) a march on Morty’s office by mattress-carrying students:

When I first heard that students at my university had staged a protest over an essay I’d written in The Chronicle Review about sexual politics on campus — and that they were carrying mattresses and pillows — I was a bit nonplussed. For one thing, mattresses had become a symbol of student-on-student sexual-assault allegations, and I’d been writing about the new consensual-relations codes governing professor-student dating. Also, I’d been writing as a feminist. And I hadn’t sexually assaulted anyone. The whole thing seemed symbolically incoherent.

2) Title IX complaints against Kipnis by two students;

Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and “subsequent public statements” (which turned out to be a tweet) … I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.

3) an investigation by an outside law firm of undisclosed charges against her;

I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators. Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them…

A week later I heard from the investigators. For reasons I wasn’t privy to, the university had hired an outside law firm, based in another Midwestern city an hour-and-a-half flight away, to conduct the investigation; a team of two lawyers had been appointed, and they wanted to schedule “an initial interview” the following week…

I replied that I wanted to know the charges before agreeing to a meeting. They told me, cordially, that they wanted to set up a meeting during which they would inform me of the charges and pose questions.

4) a Huffington Post article criticizing both Kipnis and Morty’s op-ed:

I’d been asked to keep the charges confidential, but this became moot when, shortly before my campus meeting with the investigators, a graduate student published an article on a well-trafficked site excoriating me and the essay, and announcing that two students had filed Title IX retaliation complaints against me. She didn’t identify her source for this information or specify her own relationship to the situation, though she seemed well versed on all the inside details; in fact, she knew more about the process than I did.

It wasn’t me alone on the chopping block. She also excoriated our university’s president for his op-ed essay on academic freedom, which, she charged, was really a veiled commentary on the pending Title IX charges against me and thus subverted the process by issuing a covert advance verdict in my favor. (He’d obliquely mentioned the controversy over the essay, among other campus free-speech issues.) She didn’t seem particularly concerned that she herself was subverting the process by charging that the process had been subverted, and by revealing the complaints in the first place.

Here’s her conclusion:

What’s being lost, along with job security, is the liberty to publish ideas that might go against the grain or to take on risky subjects in the first place… Self-censorship naturally prevails [and] even those with tenure fear getting caught up in some horrendous disciplinary process with ad hoc rules and outcomes; pretty much everyone now self-censors accordingly.

You can mock academic culture all you want, and I’ve done a fair amount of it myself, but I also believe that unconstrained intellectual debate — once the ideal of university life, now on life support — is essential to a functioning democratic society. And that should concern us all. I also find it beyond depressing to witness young women on campuses — including aspiring intellectuals! — trying to induce university powers to shield them from the umbrages of life and calling it feminism.

As of this writing, I have yet to hear the verdict on my case, though it’s well past the 60-day time frame. In the meantime, new Title IX complaints have been filed against the faculty-support person who accompanied me to the session with the investigators. As a member of the Faculty Senate, whose bylaws include the protection of academic freedom — and believing the process he’d witnessed was a clear violation of academic freedom — he’d spoken in general terms about the situation at a senate meeting. Shortly thereafter, as the attorneys investigating my case informed me by phone, retaliation complaints were filed against him for speaking publicly about the matter (even though the complaints against me had already been revealed in the graduate student’s article), and he could no longer act as my support person. Another team of lawyers from the same firm has been appointed to conduct a new investigation.

A week or so earlier, the investigators had phoned to let me know that a “mediated resolution” was possible in my case if I wished to pursue that option. I asked what that meant — an image of me and the complainants in a conference room hugging came to mind. I didn’t like the visual. The students were willing to drop their complaints in exchange for a public apology from me, the investigators said. I tried to stifle a laugh. I asked if that was all. No, they also wanted me to agree not to write about the case.

I understand that by writing these sentences, I’m risking more retaliation complaints, though I’m unclear what penalties may be in store (I suspect it’s buried somewhere in those links). But I refuse to believe that students get to dictate what professors can or can’t write about, or what we’re allowed to discuss at our Faculty Senate meetings. I don’t believe discussing Title IX cases should be verboten in the first place — the secrecy of the process invites McCarthyist abuses and overreach.

Implicit in Kipnis’s criticism of Northwestern’s policies, its handling of the complaint against her, and subsequent developments is a critique similar to that presented in the EphBlog series. To be sure, Kipnis credits Morty for writing his op-ed, but it’s clear that she does not believe his actions demonstrate a commitment to free speech, nor that the culture fostered at Northwestern (or elsewhere in academia) is a good one.

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150th Anniversary of PBK at Williams

PBKEph3

Join us Wednesday, March 18th for a day of activities celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Williams Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society (and one of the last, if not the last, Greek society still standing on campus). Main events are a lunch at the Faculty House at noon and talks by the national PBK president and secretary, our visiting scholar William Arms of Cornell, the president of the NY PBK Association, and others from 4-8pm in Griffin 4 (refreshments and dinner provided). All are welcome; if possible please email Steven Miller (sjm1@williams.edu) so we can get an accurate headcount. A complete schedule of the talks is online here: http://web.williams.edu/Mathematics/sjmiller/public_html/pbk/ (videos of the talks will be posted later on YouTube and linked to this page). For Williams alumns in general, and PBK alumns in particular, we’d love to hear your stories below about how your education has continued since your days in the Purple Valley.

PBKEph2

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ROTC returns to Harvard and Yale

The country will benefit by having ROTC again recruiting at the nation’s top universities. ROTC graduates constitute 56 percent of Army officers, 41 percent of Air Force officers, 20 percent of Navy officers and 11 percent of Marine Corps officers, according to the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense.

The legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” gave a not-so-gentle push with the inclusion of a provision requiring a report to Congress on the enforcement of the law that prohibits federal funds to colleges that block ROTC units.

Whatever the motivations – fairness or fear of losing federal funding, or both – the decision to welcome back ROTC is the right one. http://www.theday.com/article/20110527/OP01/305279912

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What Grad School Will Do To Your Mind

Via JeffZ, a description of the mind-numbing ignorance inculcated by grad school in the United States:

If ever there were a monument to tragedy, it is … The Department of Politics at Princeton[. P]erhaps the finest in the nation, which makes it even more representative of the scandal that American political science has become. Teaching here is dominated by the fetishizing of certain methods, a cold shoulder to theory and the abandonment of reality. The result is a combination of model-made abstraction and number-numbing specificity that has made political science irrelevant to politicians, policy makers and, lest we forget, the general public.

How do political science departments manage to pull off this scam? How do they seduce thoughtful graduate students into a world pathetically at odds with the reality they claim to represent?

This is how: Take a very bright, young graduate student. If someone that fresh has spent the first two years of the Ph.D. program in politics taking six classes in quantitative and formal methods as well as compulsory seminar classes on the “canon,” she has little time for substantive classes that give her a theoretical background on the questions she will ultimately answer in her dissertation. The results are devastating. Not only does the post-generals dissertation-ready student have little sense of the “reality” she wishes to study, she is woefully short of a theoretical framework.

What she will have is a strong understanding of this animal called “methods.” But it’s only some parts of this animal that she will know well. If we were actually exposed to the entire range of methods that understanding politics involves, we would learn archival research, ethnography and interview techniques in addition to the undeniably useful methods of game theory and statistics. What we learn instead are six classes of this quantitative stuff, and one class, if at all, on an all-encompassing beast named “qualitative methods.”

Added to the department’s preference for certain quantitative and formal methods is the unsaid belief that empirical political science must be divorced from normative concerns. In this view, the study of politics is a purely descriptive exercise. Questions of “good” and “bad” are parceled into “political theory,” a subfield hermetically sealed from the rest of the discipline.

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Is Math a Drama Queen?: Then and Now: 55 years on …

In light of the D Kane post above and the blaming of Prof Burger for the Kane-perceived failure of Williams as an educational institution, this post is resurrected for the positive changes to math teaching in the past years it presents.

Math postcards by John S Dykes

“In the late 1980’s … the College graduated about a dozen math majors each year. But new department chair Frank Morgan and some of his colleagues contemplated a more inclusive view of the discipline they variously describe as “beautiful,” “pleasurable” and “creative.” “Everybody deserves a chance to do this,” Morgan says. “It’s like music—people should have a chance to enjoy math.”

So says The Alumni Review in the January ’11 issue.

Would Donald Richmond, head of the department have said that? And what of Volney Hunter Wells, Professor Emeritus?

I am sure that in the nerdish contingent of EphBlog, there are many who have sent home the postcards so wonderfully rendered by John Dykes. But what of the whimperings of one roommate freshman year taking Calc 1-2? And he played goalie on the hockey and lacrosse team, so he was used to having his head beat in.

Speak up, ye Eulogists of Euler! Is it really music?

Read more

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Mark Hopkins and the pew: Into the woods …

This article by John Fea reports an interesting side of this remarkable Williams president just studied in our Winter Break.

For us older boys, required chapel was a part of our life and the no-cuts system (if you were on no-cuts). Attendance was taken, any place of religious worship was accepted. Not too long before the easy-going of the ’50’s, daily attendance was the mode.

I recognize that Hopkins’ influence on the life of the college has diminished in daily detail in the decades since his presidency. Still, I wonder if readers can see any remnants of the particular belief in the ethos of Williams today?

At the Sixth General Conference of the Evangelical Alliance, which brought evangelical Christians from all over the world to New York City in on October 2,1873, … Reverend Mark Hopkins, the former president of Williams College, urged the federal government to pass laws protecting the observance of the Christian Sabbath (Sunday). Hopkins argued that the Fourth Commandment (“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy”) should be embedded in American law in much the same way that commandments prohibiting murder, stealing, and “bearing false witness” were staples of the legal system.

If that was not enough to convince naysayers, Hopkins emphasized Jesus’ words in Mark 2:27—”The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”—to argue that the human body was created by God in such a way that it required a day of rest. “Men and animals,” Hopkins wrote, “will have a better health and live longer; will do more work, and do it better, if they rest one day in seven, than if they work continuously.” Since rest was a human right endowed by God, how could a nation with Christian roots not endorse the Sabbath?

This seemed particularly apt for this Sunday morning. While no sermon will be given on the blog, attendance will be taken! dcat … this means you!

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An Eph Amidst the Dukies

Forgive the self indulgence, but I’m spending ten days or so at Duke University on a grant from the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. I’m conducting research on a couple of book projects and on Thursday afternoon from 3:00 to 4:00 in the Rare Book Room of Duke University’s Perkins Library I will be giving a talk, “Tired Feet, Rested Souls and Empty Pockets: Bus Boycotts and the Politics of Race in the U.S. and South Africa,” which will be sponsored by the Franklin Center and Duke Libraries. If you are going to be anywhere near the Triangle Area I hope you will swing by. I’ve also posted a couple of diary entries about my trip at dcat.

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In other ivory towers…

One wonders if Schapiro is starting to miss Williams…

Schapiro “disappointed” by sex toy demonstration

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said he was “troubled and disappointed” upon hearing that Weinberg professor John Michael Bailey allowed a non-student presenter to be voluntarily masturbated with a sex toy during an optional after-class demonstration.

The full statement follows below:

I have recently learned of the after-class activity associated with Prof. Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class, and I am troubled and disappointed by what occurred.

Although the incident took place in an after-class session that students were not required to attend and students were advised in advance, several times, of the explicit nature of the activity, I feel it represented extremely poor judgment on the part of our faculty member. I simply do not believe this was appropriate, necessary or in keeping with Northwestern University’s academic mission.

Northwestern faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial. That is the nature of a university. However, in this instance, I have directed that we investigate fully the specifics of this incident, and also clarify what constitutes appropriate pedagogy, both in this instance and in the future.

Many members of the Northwestern community are disturbed by what took place on our campus. So am I.

More to come.

More from the Daily Northwestern:

Update 2: University spokesman Al Cubbage has released the following statement regarding the incident:

“Northwestern University faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial and at the leading edge of their respective disciplines. The university supports the efforts of its faculty to further the advancement of knowledge.”

Update: Prof. John Michael Bailey has released a statement regarding the demonstration. Read it here.

Northwestern students and administrators are defending an explicit after-class demonstration involving a woman being publicly penetrated by a sex toy on stage in the popular Human Sexuality course last week.

The optional presentation last Monday, attended by about 120 students, featured a naked non-student woman being repeatedly sexually stimulated to the point of orgasm by the sex toy, referred to as a “fucksaw.” The device is essentially a motorized phallus.

The 600-person course, taught by psychology Prof. John Michael Bailey, is one of the largest at NU. The after-class events, which range from a question-and-answer session with swingers to a panel of convicted sex offenders, are a popular feature of the class. But they’re optional and none of the material is included on exams.

Last Wednesday, Bailey devoted six minutes of his lecture to addressing mounting controversy regarding the incident and articulating his educational intent. He told the class he feared the demonstration would impact the after-class events, which are sponsored by the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and he explained the educational purpose of the events.

“I think that these after-class events are quite valuable. Why? One reason is that I think it helps us understand sexual diversity,” he said, according to an audio file obtained by The Daily.

“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but watching naked people on stage doing pleasurable things will never hurt you,” he said to loud applause at the end of his speech.

Thanks to Brandi for sending the link.

 

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Two related; too related? Two posts together …

A reader pointed out to me that the juxtaposition of the post “I am fine” and the post “Revisiting the Value of Elite Colleges” 1960s to 1980s …”
causes an interesting tension.

What are the stresses put on the psyches of students who strive for admission to the elites when they get on campus, how do they handle them, what is the price paid as a student and after graduation, and is it worth it?

The ‘comments’ sections of both posts have produced some very interesting insights.

If you haven’t been following them, read through and see for your self. If you want to add your own observations from your own experience, please join in.

The FaceBook extension of the Williams College site asked the same questions of readers. The responses with names edited out are below under ‘more’.

Ed Note: It would appear that Facebook can have a life of its own in addition to its site. Any volunteers?

I believe that a collection of personal anecdotal experiences may be of value to those charged with campus life at Williams.

Read more

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Williams College: A New Trajectory of Competitiveness (Preamble)

This is a proposal whose aim is to share some of thoughts we have with regard to Williams based on our experience thus far. We wish that our humble suggestions could serve as a start to make Williams an even greater school and provoke productive discussion here on Ephblog. This is the entire proposal, however, we intend to post separate parts of it to facilitate specific discussions.

The preamble is as follows:

Williams College is one of the finest institutions of higher education in the world. Its strong tradition of educating the whole individual, both broadly and deeply, is worthy of admiration. With its strong network of alumni, famed tutorial system, and long tradition of upholding the liberal arts, without question, every Williams student receives the necessary tools to succeed.  Such advantages would suggest that Williams would be the preferred destination for valedictorians across the globe. Then why, in many parts of this country and the world, have many students never even heard of the name, Williams? The answer can be found around us. When one walks around the campus of Williams College, one is struck by this overwhelming feeling: passivity.  It is high time that we, as members of the Williams community, take responsibility for our place within this increasingly globalized world, in which one’s educational background and its recognition is essential to be competitive. And so humbly, we make the following suggestions:

If you wish to read the entire proposal at once, it can be found at http://www.ephblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Williams-Proposal.pdf

René Rodriguez, Spencer Flohr, and Yang Lu are all first-year students and proud residents of Willy F. René is an aspiring Political Economy and English major from New York City. Spencer, a native of Pennsylvania, plans to major in Classics and Neuroscience. Yang hails from China and intends to major in Mathematics and Economics.

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Music as a tool in science education

A Williams sweatshirt makes an appearance about 1:55 into this 2-minute rap video.

Perhaps that’s a lame excuse for posting this here. Yes, I’m trying to boost the YouTube hit count of the video, of which I am the star. There is a slightly less egocentric angle to this as well, though, which is that I and others are interested in educational uses of science songs and are compiling relevant info — including a database of 3600+ songs — at www.SingAboutScience.org. Perhaps other instructor/teacher/professor types will find it useful.

As a further attempt at a Williams tie-in, I could add that I wrote one of my very first science songs, “Sphingo,” as a means of avoiding work on my senior thesis (on sphingolipid metabolism).

OK, enough of this. Thanks for humoring me.

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Self-Designed Majors Increase Elsewhere

Writing in the Wall Street Journal two weeks ago, Sue Shellenbarger explored the growing popularity of customized majors at many colleges and universities:

More than 900 four-year colleges and universities allow students to develop their own programs of study with an adviser’s help, up 5.1% from five years ago, based on data from the College Board, a New York-based nonprofit organization of colleges and universities. University officials say at least 70 go a step further, providing programs with faculty advisers, and sometimes specialized courses, to help students develop educational plans tailored to their interests, while still meeting school standards.

[T]he number of organized programs is growing, says Margaret Lamb, director of the University of Connecticut’s individualized major program, which enrolls 150 of the university’s 21,500 undergraduates. Indiana University, with an enrollment of about 30,000 undergraduates at its Bloomington campus, has seen its individualized-majors program grow about 15% in the past decade. Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., recently broadened student access to cross-disciplinary majors, and the University of Alabama and others are adding faculty or other resources. Philadelphia’s Drexel University is launching one next fall.

Shellenbarger then rounds up some examples, seemingly designed to show how an individualized major can help undergraduates find the job of their dreams:

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US Sports History Class

When I mentioned a few months ago that I would be teaching a sports history class this fall a number of readers requested the reading list (and made some good suggestions as well). Here it is, along with the course description. You’ll note that this is a US Sports history and social issues class. I’ll hopefully be following up with a global sports class in the spring.

S.W. Pope, Patriotic Games: Sporting Traditions in the American Imagination, 1876-1926

Andrew M. Kaye, The Pussycat of Prize-Fighting: Tiger Flowers and the Politics of Black Celebrity

Susan Ware, Title IX: A Brief History with Documents

Darcy Frey, The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams

Patrick B. Miller, The Sporting World of the Modern South

Franklin Foer, How Soccer Explains the World: An {Unlikely} Theory of Globalization*

* This book is optional for purchase. We will be reading parts of it for class and I will provide those excerpts, but you might find it useful – and interesting! – to own the book and read the whole thing at your leisure.

Course Description and Objectives: In the summer of 2010 South Africa, against what once would have been seen as long odds, successfully hosted the world’s biggest sporting event, the World Cup. Against similarly long odds from the vantage point of two decades ago, the United States soccer team not only experienced some success in the World Cup, but the American public rallied behind the American team. Back in the United States meanwhile, LeBron James announced his decision to join the Miami Heat and his friends (and fellow superstars) Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, stirring up considerable controversy both for the way in which he made his decision and the decision itself. Tiger Woods struggled in the US and British Opens as he continued to deal with the fallout from his tumultuous winter. And throughout all of this the games went on. Baseball has experienced what some seem to see as the rejuvenation of pitching in the wake of the performance enhancing drugs scandals of the past few years. Fans are gearing up for the regular season of the NFL even as they fear a lockout on the horizon.

All of these issues and events reveal the ways in which sports and social issues merge and intertwine in our current sports climate. But these trends are not new. The Olympic movement has always been politicized even as politicians and athletes have proclaimed that sport and politics should not mix. Problems with race and gender have revealed themselves in sport, which sometimes has led and sometimes followed on these issues. In this class we will look at the intersections of sports, politics, and social issues in American history with particular emphasis on the twentieth century.

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The Myths of Standardized Tests

Over at US News & World Report, in an article connected to the annual college rankings issue (We’re #1! We’re #1! USA!!! USA!!!) my good friend and classmate Ned Johnson (’93) has an article exploring “The 6 Myths of Standardized tests”.

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Kurt Tauber–My Favorite Marxist

Since one alumnus requested recollections of reunion, I will do my best to supply some over the course of the next few days (as my free time on my drive west permits).

I had many wonderful moments, chances to reconnect with old friends and make (at least) one new friend, but the one that sticks most in my mind right now is my last meeting in Williamstown this past weekend, that with the man who taught the best course I ever had — and not just at Williams.  On my way out of town, I stopped at the home on Southworth Street of the outspoken octogenarian emeritus professor of Political Science, Kurt Tauber.

Ever the gracious host that Marxist gourmand, who first introduced me to such conservative thinkers as Eric Voegelin and Leo Strauss, may walk a little slower than he once did, but he is as sharp as ever.  He engaged me on the subject of my dissertation as he had once challenged me to defend my conservative ideas.  Few people have as great a capacity to hold strong opinions and respect those holding contrary views as does Mr. Tauber.

More than anything, Tauber valued civil discourse, regularly attending lectures, often asking probing questions, always engaging anyone willing to offer a well-thought-out opinion.  He very much embodied the ideal of Williams academics.  (Do hope President Falk takes an afternoon this summer to sit down with this former chair of the Political Science Department.)

I was not the only conservative student who loved Kurt Tauber.  He had fans across the political spectrum.  And he was most interested not just in our ideas, but in our experiences at Williams, asking probing questions about student life and acting to improve the intellectual atmosphere at the college.

What a great man!

Let me conclude with a story that those who know me have heard on (at least) ten thousand occasions.  It is, to borrow an expression from James A. Garfield, my particular Log moment.   Read more

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College Seats for 75,000

Wick Sloane ’76 has an idea:

Eureka. I need thousands of seats at four-year colleges for community college students. And the seats are right under my nose – all the undergraduate spots at the Ivies and all the seats, period, at the four-year Self Described Most Highly Selective Elites (”elites” hereafter). How? Easy, and everybody wins.

Next month, at graduation and all graduations thereafter, the top high schools – Riverdale, Brearley, Exeter, Andover, Scarsdale High School in the East, and Lafayette High School and Thacher School in California — award bachelor’s degrees. These are the students finishing high school with wheelbarrows full of Advanced Placement college credits and equivalent courses.

Keep reading here. Share with any teachers, administrators, and parents you know here.

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History Through Film

Some time ago I mentioned a couple of classes that I am teaching that drew interest from some readers here at Ephblog. One of these classes is “American History Since 1945 Through Film,” which I am offering in our truncated Maymester term. Generally speaking I know Maymester (and summer classes generally) can be of limited utility, especially for history classes where reading and writing is so central. But when I have taught Maymester classes rather than adapt one of my regular courses, I have designed classes specific to the format — four hours of class four days a week for three weeks.

A history through film class fits especially well into this format. My plan is going to be to lecture for a half hour to an hour at the beginning of each class to provide the historical context. Then we will watch the film. Then after a quick break we will discuss the film within its historical context, trying to draw out both the historical questions being raised as well considering the film on its own terms as a movie. Here is a snapshot of what the class will look like: Read more

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Former Midd president John McCardell on lowering the drinking age

From Reason TV:

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The downside of digitization

An interesting piece of news from the Williams College Library:

The Bibliography of the History of Art (BHA) will no longer be available after March 31 2010. For budgetary reasons, the Getty announced last spring that it could no longer support the database.  Efforts from the Getty to find another institution to take this project on have failed as a result, the Getty announced that all access to BHA will cease as of March 31.

BHA was a core resource for Western art research and it will greatly be missed but the Williams College Libraries and the Clark Art Institute library subscribe to many electronic resources valuable for art-historical research.   Williams College Libraries art databaseClark Art Institute art databases.

To learn more about these resources, contact a reference librarian at  Williams or at the Clark Art Institute library.

It’s useful to keep this in mind when you hear blather about how books and journals, and the physical library itself, will be made obsolete by ebooks and online databases. In short: any digital media that the College gains access to through a subscription can go away at any moment, because the provider can go out of business. Is it wise to outsource the future of libraries to a bunch of shaky nonprofits and external businesses like Google or Amazon?

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How to go to College for $99 Per Month

Medic5392 recently asked about online courses offered by Williams.  As it happens, Daniel De Vise recently discussed, in this article and follow-up blog post, Williams alum Burck Smith’s company StraighterLine, “a serious education company and a force that could disrupt half a millennium of higher-education tradition.  The site offers students as many general-education courses as they care to take for a flat monthly fee, plus $39 per course.”  I enjoyed this blurb from the blog:

Smith was first to admit that a college course completed in one’s pajamas does not replicate the full experience of living and learning on, say, the Williams campus. He doesn’t see himself competing with Williams or Northwestern or any of the hundreds of selective residential schools that are selling a collegiate experience.  [Morty] Schapiro, I recall, noted that Smith is a product of that system. (He also happens to look, as author Kevin Carey points out, very much like a Williams College graduate named Burck Smith.)

(I wonder if I look very much like a Williams Graduate with my name — if so, I’d probably be a lot better looking had I been named “Burck Smith.”)  Read more in this interview with Smith.

Incoming President Falk shared a similar sentiment at his recent appearance at the D.C. alumni association function, during which he noted that MIT has made lectures available online, but that those lectures alone do not remotely approximate an MIT education, nor have they lowered demand for admission to MIT.  As Falk emphasized, it is the residential life experience, the constant interaction with peers, the direct interaction with faculty, that makes Williams, Williams.  Falk’s general philosophy of governance reminded me, perhaps unsurprisingly, of basketball coach Mike Maker.  Maker, an absolute virtuoso at coach speak,* is always talking about how his offensive system is designed to create space on the floor to allow talented players to make plays.  Falk, likewise, stressed that the primary job of the administration is to assemble an extremely talented faculty and student body, and create opportunities for them to learn from one another.  (By the way, for anyone interested, I really liked Falk and I believe that he will be a good fit at Williams, as like many Williams students and alumni, he appeared to be grounded, very smart — obviously, hard-working, has a sense of humor about himself, likes sports, and is a bit dorky).

OK, I’ve somehow managed to segue away from my own post …

*coach speak, by the way, is the art of talking a lot without ever revealing anything that could (a) provide notice of any coaching strategy to an opponent or (b) be used as bulletin board material by any actual or potential opponent.

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Applying a Williams Education

May I invite you all to please scroll down on the link below and vote for my student, Dennis Medina. He’s written his way to the finals of a Take America to College, a Gates Foundation effort to bring the voices and struggles of non-traditional students to legislators and policymakers in Washington. He’s a Boston police officer on the gangs squad and a student in my midnight College Writing II class this semester Bunker Hill Community College. Click and listen to his story. Heck, listen to them all.

Vote early and often for Dennis. Tell your friends. Post any and everywhere. Voting ends Tuesday, March 2. Thanks.

http://www.takeamericatocollege.com/vote-for-a-finalist/

I shall continue my crusade to persuade the Williams trustees to open the doors for a few such students. BHCC has two students thriving at Amherst, one at Dartmouth, one at Columbia, three at Smith. The deadline for transfer applications is coming up, and BHCC has fine students applying now to all these and more. Never give up, and this is a tough one.

Dennis’s story (added by Ronit):

See more stories here.

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