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Fall 2020 Course Advice

Fall classes start on Thursday. My advice:

This may be obvious, but courses in person are much better than courses on Zoom.

Your major does not matter! One of the biggest confusions among Williams students is the belief that future employers care about your major, that, for example, studying economics helps you get a job in business. It doesn’t! Major in what you love.

But future employers are often interested in two things. First, can you get the computer to do what you want it to do? Second, can you help them analyze data to make them more successful? Major in Dance (if you love dance) but take 4 or so classes in computer science and statistics. With that as background, you will be competitive with any of your Williams classmates when it comes time to apply for internships/jobs.

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

Take STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major is amazing.

Skip STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 202 instead. And don’t worry about the stupid math prerequisites that the department tries to put in your way. You don’t really need multivariate calculus for 201 or matrix algebra for the more advanced classes. Those math tricks come up in a couple of questions on a couple of problem sets. Your friends (and some Khan Academy videos) will get you through it. If challenged, just tell people you took those classes in high school.

Take CSCI 134. Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most of your other talents, at least to the marginal change in those talents another non-CS class will cause. You might consider skipping 134 and going directly to 136, but 134 seems to be a much better course than it was in the past, although I am sad to see that, apparently, it has dropped its focus on data. True?

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students officially enroll as statistics or computer science majors sophomore year to ensure that they get into the classes they want. You can always drop a major later. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 13 (?) years ago about course selections for a career in finance.

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?

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A major flaw in a critique of leadership

At this moment I enter the tragicomedy briefly. I left Williams two months before all of this took off. Before I knew I’d be departing, I chaired a committee responsible for managing Hollander Hall, the very building afflicted by this outrage. After I left, Prof. Keith McPartland took charge in my place. This landed him in a hard spot, because it turns out that that pile of nonsense violates state fire safety regulations, and is probably also contrary to accessibility standards. Staff, however, were presumably too terrified to touch any of it, lest they get fired. So McPartland did what I hope to god I would’ve had the courage to do, had it been me. Because he enjoyed some measure of protection as a tenured professor, he consulted with campus security and then boxed up the offending portions of the memorial himself. As he did this, students confronted him, but he carried on. That night, faculty offices were papered with posters denouncing McPartland as a racist for his trouble.

Maud Mandel, the weak and indecisive president that Williams so richly deserves, then did exactly what you might expect. She took to her email and promptly denounced her committee chair for doing his job.

 

Does anyone else see the major flaw in this critique of Mandel’s performance on this issue? It jumps off the page. Knibbs’ should be challenged on this particular point, as well as the logic (critical of Mandel) that follows.

McPartland had an obligation to tell President Mandel what he was doing so she was not blindsided by his action. The climate was such that this decision he had to make was going to get to the president’s desk. Going rogue on it was a mistake.

That’s not to say McPartland deserved what happened afterwards, but middle managers should understand structure and issues enough to know when to inform higher managers of something controversial.

 

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Academic Planning Details

Thanks to a source for sending along two e-mails with details on academic planning. Both are below the break. Some highlights and comments:

For all classes with enrollments over 30, units will need to make decisions about whether to break such courses into smaller sections, to teach the courses remotely, some combination of the two, or whether to cancel the course entirely.

No more lectures! EphBlog has been singing this same tune for more than a decade. Nothing besides faculty laziness and a lack of institutional vision prevents Williams from making every class a discussion, if not a tutorial. We have more than 300 faculty members! If each teaches two classes this fall, with 15 students in each class, you more than cover the 8,000 student/classes required. Perhaps it takes a global pandemic for Williams to embrace its identity.

Should I spend more time going through the details of how this could be done? Back to the e-mails.

Tutorials and office hours would not be allowed in faculty offices – these would have to be handled remotely (or possibly could be scheduled into smaller classrooms that won’t be getting other use)

That seems a shame. Is it really necessary? How big a risk is a tutorial held in a faculty office, with everyone is masks and the door open? I don’t know. My sense is that there is very little evidence for transmission, even indoors, in such situations. This is especially true in this case since Williams will be (rightly!) insisting on regular testing of everyone on campus.

Faculty should recognize that they’ll most likely need to support both remote as well as in-person learners.

Again, this is madness. A requirement to support remote learners makes everything 100 times harder. Indeed, doesn’t this essentially force every class to be on Zoom? Of course, as an emergency measure, any class with a student who, in the middle of the semester, is forced into quarantine, would do something for that student, presumably hiring a classmate to take notes. But to force every (!) class — in tiny 10 person seminars? — to prepare for remote teaching from day 1 is nuts.

We will also likely need to change the class hour schedule (to accommodate longer passing periods), and we’ll need units to make more equitable use of the entire class hour schedule.

Good! Bring the hammer! As sympathetic as I am to student preferences, we need to use the full classroom space. Schedule all the most popular courses for 8:00 AM, especially courses that are often over-subscribed. The best way to allocate those limited spots is by seeing who is willing to wake up early for them.

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Economics Thesis Presentations

Economics senior thesis presentations are today and Tuesday. See here for the schedule and here for the posters. Good stuff!

1) I will be at today’s 9:00 AM presentation. The public is welcome, although you need to e-mail a request for the Zoom link.

2) I hope/trust that families and friends have been invited. Indeed, were I a member of the Department, that would be a requirement. CV-19 has mostly ill effects, but having an event like this on Zoom makes it much easier for others to participate.

3) Kudos to the Department for its commitment to transparency! I like both the requirement that students prepare posters and that those posters are public. But why do three students (just seem to?) not have posters?

4) Which presentation would you recommend to our readers?

5) Thanks to former faculty member Mike McPherson for being an excellent thesis adviser, just a few short decades ago . . .

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Make Class/Professor Evaluations Available

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 11.25.38 AM

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Background Information (comments welcome):

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

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

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

2) Williams students fill out student course survey (SCS) forms, which include both numeric questions and allow for written comments. None of this information is made available to students.

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

  • Williams is often highly insular. We don’t make improvement X because we have never done X, not because any committee weighed the costs/benefits of X.
  • Williams cares less about the student experience than you might think.
  • Williams does not think that students lack for information about courses/professors. A system like Harvard’s is necessary for a large university. It adds little/nothing to Williams.
  • Williams faculty are happy to judge students. They dislike being judged by students, much less having those judgments made public.

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

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

Factrak screenshots below the break:

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PIER April 8th. Really?

From Twitter:

I am not a virologist, but should Williams really be hosting conferences in the midst of a global pandemic? Or should I believe President Trump when he says everything is OK?

Who wants to bet that PIER will be cancelled? I bet it will!

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Official Results of the Three Pillars Referendum, Self-Noms open!

Perhaps the last post under the College Council tag.

To the Williams Community,

The Three Pillars Referendum Passes with 80.5% of votes in support, and 40% voter participation. Congratulations on welcoming a new era of student governance to Williams! The turnout for this election was the highest the College has seen in years, and the overwhelming support for the Referendum is a clear mandate for the Three Pillars Plan!

Forms response chart. Question title: Abolish College Council and institute the Three Pillars Plan. Number of responses: 868 responses.

The Task Force would like to thank every member of the Williams community who read the Three Pillars Plan, came to the Baxter Town Hall and voted on the Referendum. You all are the people that made this happen: you endlessly demanded structural change from an organization that hadn’t seen it in over forty years; you elected a diverse and representative group to advocate for your needs; and lastly, you voted for a radical new vision that puts equity at the forefront of governance! Thank you again, we should all be proud of what we have accomplished together.

 

As of 7:30 PM, February 14th, 2020, the Three Pillars Plan is ratified!

 

A brief timeline of what comes next:

 

Tonight: Self-nominations are now open for funding facilitators and members of the Williams Student Union. The solicitation period ends on 02/23 at 5 pm. Become a part of the Three Pillars!

 

02/24: The election period for FAST and The Williams Student Union opens. The voting period will end on 02/28.

 

02/27: Pub Night “Meet the Candidates” events. Come learn more about the students running for FAST and the Williams Student Union.

 

03/01: College Council stands Abolished. This referendum shall serve as a constitutional amendment that renders the Constitution, bylaws, and any other structural documents of the College Council null and void. Until March 1st, College Council shall be stripped of all powers and responsibilities except the oversight of FinCom.

03/01: FAST and the Williams Student Union shall begin the work of supporting the student body, and shall have all powers and responsibilities enumerated in their respective Constitutions and bylaws. Elections for TABLE will occur in late spring. Once TABLE elections have been held, the Task Force will dissolve and have no further obligations to their charge.

 

Congrats everyone!

 

Szőllősi Bálint ’22, Minority Coalition

Leo Lam Haines ’21, Community-Service Organizations

Onder Kilinc ’23, Minority Coalition

Porter Johnson ’21, College Council

Tyler Johnson ’21, Club Sports

Adam Jones ’21, At-Large

Shadae McClean ’21, Junior Advisors

Rebecca Park ’22, Faith-Based Organizations

Essence Perry ’22, Strategic Planning

True Pham ’23, College Council

William Ren ’21, At-Large

Natalie Silver ’22, Student Athletic Advisory Committee

Adly Templeton ’20, College Council

Hipólito Vázquez ’22, Minority Coalition

Nicolle Mac Williams ‘21.5, Performance Organizations

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Spring 2020 Course Advice

Spring classes start on Wednesday. My advice:

Your major does not matter! One of the biggest confusions among Williams students is the belief that future employers care about your major, that, for example, studying economics helps you get a job in business. It doesn’t! Major in what you love.

But future employers are often interested in two things. First, can you get the computer to do what you want it to do? Second, can you help them analyze data to make them more successful? Major in Dance (if you love dance) but take 4 or so classes in computer science and statistics. With that as background, you will be competitive with any of your Williams classmates when it comes time to apply for internships/jobs.

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

Take STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major is amazing.

Skip STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 202 instead. And don’t worry about the stupid math prerequisites that the department tries to put in your way. You don’t really need multivariate calculus for 201 or matrix algebra for the more advanced classes. Those math tricks come up in a couple of questions on a couple of problem sets. Your friends (and some Khan Academy videos) will get you through it. If challenged, just tell people you took those classes in high school.

Take CSCI 134. Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most of your other talents, at least to the marginal change in those talents another non-CS class will cause. You might consider skipping 134 and going directly to 136, but 134 seems to be a much better course than it was in the past, although I am sad to see that, apparently, it has dropped its focus on data. True?

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students officially enroll as statistics or computer science majors sophomore year to ensure that they get into the classes they want. You can always drop a major later. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 13 (?) years ago about course selections for a career in finance.

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?

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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!

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Underrep Identities

From the announcement:

We are excited to announce our plans for the Promoting Inclusion in Economic Research (PIER) 2020 conference! This conference will bring together undergraduate students at Williams College to share their research and engage in networking and mentoring activities.

This conference will be held at Williams College on Sunday, April 18, 2020.

The conference aims to promote economic research by and professional development of undergraduate students whose identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics.

1) Kudos to the organizers — Williams Professors Sara LaLumia, Sarah Jacobson and Tara Watson — for putting this together! The more that Williams students/faculty engage with the wider intellectual world, the better. One weird thing about academia is that so much of the work is, strictly speaking, optional. These professors won’t be paid anything extra for all the additional work they are putting in to make this happen. Many (most?) of their colleagues in the department don’t contribute as much as these three to the quality of undergraduate education at Williams.

2) Is it fair to say that Sarah Jacobson is the most woke economist at Williams? Nothing wrong with being woke, of course! Some of my best friends . . .

3) Thoughts on the evolution of this conference from being something focused on women in economics to its current incarnation as concerned with “underrep identities?” Why do this? Is it a good thing? Honestly curious! There are only so many spots, so much funding to go around. Every male who now attends, regardless of the extent to which his identity is underrepresented, is one less female.

4) Who, precisely, counts as someone whose “identities or life experiences are under-represented in the field of economics?” Honestly curious! Evangelical Christians are, relative to their share of the population, dramatically underrepresented in economics. However, I bet that Sarah Jacobson won’t look too positively on such claims. What about military veterans? Maybe. Trump voter? Hah!

5) Note that two of the invited speakers are of recent African descent, presumably either immigrants themselves are the children of immigrants from places like Ghana and Nigeria. Nothing wrong with immigrants, of course! But am I the only one reminded of the ADOS movement:

A spirited debate is playing out in black communities across America over the degree to which identity ought to be defined by African heritage — or whether ancestral links to slavery are what should count most of all.

Tensions between black Americans who descended from slavery and black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean are not new, but a group of online agitators is trying to turn those disagreements into a political movement.

They want colleges, employers and the federal government to prioritize black Americans whose ancestors toiled in bondage, and they argue that affirmative action policies originally designed to help the descendants of slavery in America have largely been used to benefit other groups, including immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean.

Sarah Jacobson couldn’t find any African-Americans whose ancestors were enslaved to speak at the conference?

6) What will this conference look like in 10 years? Again, honestly curious! Perhaps we could have predicted a few years ago that the ineluctable logic of the Diversity Regime would put pressure on an event which only preferenced women. (Alas, I did not predict this.) But then where will this logic lead us in the future?

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Professor Evaluations Now Shorter and Online

From the Record, by Joey Fox, “Student Course Survey undergoes changes.”

Following a years-long process that went through four separate faculty committees and multiple all-faculty votes, changes to the Student Course Survey (SCS) which were first approved in 2017 will be implemented at the end of this semester.

Interesting opening line! Sounds like Joey spent a lot of time interviewing people who think this was an overly protracted process, for all that ultimately ended up changing.

What’s changing: Professor evaluations used to be two sheets, the “White Sheet” and the “Blue Sheet.” The White Sheet was a scantron-esque form that was 23 questions long, and also had you fill out information like your year, whether the course was a major requirement/pure elective/etc, and the grade you expected you’d get in the class. The Blue Sheet was for comments directly to our professor, to be received after they’d submitted grades, and you could put your name on it if you wanted to. In the last or second-to-last class session, the professor would end class 25-ish minutes early, ask for a volunteer to bring the envelopes down to the drop-off boxes in Paresky, and would leave the room for students to fill out the sheets. Depending on the class, students would either fill them out in silence, or talk with each other about what they were writing.

According to Provost Dukes Love, the vote on the second motion revealed significant disagreements among faculty over the changes.

“It was a relatively close vote,” Love said. “I wouldn’t say that this is one of the most controversial issues on campus. But really smart faculty have different views about the most effective ways of evaluating teaching performance, effective teaching.” Love clarified that some faculty wanted only one of the two main changes – reducing questions and moving online – while others wanted no changes whatsoever.

Wade agreed, adding that still others wanted even more drastic changes. “Some faculty feel that we should get rid of student evaluations altogether — that they’re biased, and that they’re measuring student satisfaction more than teaching quality,” she said. “Others feel that while flawed, student course evaluations are the one opportunity for all students to weigh in on their experiences in the classroom, and that involving fewer people in the evaluation process might lead to even more bias.”

I don’t have much of a perspective on the best way to evaluate professors, though I do think that students should have at least some way of voicing their opinions on classes–getting rid of student evaluations altogether would be absurd.

In my experience, students tended to take the evaluation forms pretty seriously. Evaluations happened at the end of the semester, when people tended to be fairly stressed with final projects being due and final exams about to start. Some had feedback that they’d been saving all semester to put on the blue sheets, and spent the entirety of the period filling out that blue sheet; others didn’t fill it out at all. Most professors would claim that they didn’t care that much about the White Sheets, and just wanted our feedback on the Blue Sheet, sometimes asking specific questions of us to put in the Blue Sheets like what we thought of the curriculum, what we thought of their method for teaching something, etc. If we knew that a professor was new and in consideration for tenure, and if they were reasonably well-liked, I think many students would overlook flaws that could otherwise be spaces for feedback, and give high marks on the White Sheets.

Experience and thoughts on end-of-course evaluations?

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Should Tutorials be required for Williams students

In a recent post, DDF wrote:

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

DDF asks, and we (collectively) can try to answer!

Williams has, very helpfully and very transparently, provided a list of tutorials for the Fall 2019 semester.  According to the list, 61 different tutorials were going to be offered this fall.  If each were full, that would allow for 610 tutorial spots (I think each tutorial has room for 10 students (5 pairs of two kids each)).  If each student were limited to 1 tutorial per semester, that would mean less than one student in three could take a tutorial this fall.  So there is no way for every current Eph to take DDF’s advice.  Moreover, of those 61 listed tutorials, 5 are shown as having been cancelled, presumably either for lack of interest or some issue for the faculty member running the course.  That leaves 56 tutorials for the fall.  Of the 56 tutorials being offered this semester, 10 currently have openings, though its not clear how many openings there are for each one.  That means that 46 are full.  If we assume that the open tutorials have anywhere from 6-8 students currently registered for them, then approximately 520-540 students are taking one this fall.  That’s about 1 in 4 students, which is a pretty good amount.

Tutorials were introduced at Williams in 1988, which was shortly after the Williams at Oxford program really got going. (My recollection was that the Oxford program began sometime after 1986, when I was at Williams, but according to this web page, the program dates to 1985).  I took a tutorial (Heterocylic Chemistry) in the Spring of 1990, right before I graduated.  I only did it because I thought I should (its the same reason I took a Philosophy class my junior year and an introductory tax class my second year at law school), because it was, at the time, a pretty unique educational opportunity.  But I liked the class, and it was a good opportunity to get to know the professor (Hodge Markgraff) in a way that never would have happened otherwise.  I’m not sure I learned more heterocyclic chemistry than I might have in a more traditional chemistry class, but I thought it was very valuable to go through the tutorial process.

I’m not sure I agree with DDF that taking a tutorial freshman year is necessarily a good idea, but I do agree with him that taking one or more tutorials is a good thing.  According to this page, “more than half of all Williams students take at least one during their time” at Williams, so I guess many students agree with me.  But obviously a pretty large chunk of the student body (presumably close to half) never takes a tutorial.  Should the College make taking a tutorial a requirement for graduation?  On the one hand, it is an excellent and, if not unique, at least an uncommon educational opportunity.  Williams might be justified in nudging (forcing?) those students who won’t take one on their own into trying the experience.  On the other hand, as laid out above, it might be difficult for students to get into a tutorial in a subject in which they have significant (or even any!) interest.  It could create some real scheduling dilemnas for seniors every year.  What do you think?

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Class Absences

Via Facebook:

Hi all — could really use some help/advice here. My daughter (senior) is applying to medical school. She’s been given eight interviews thus far, and, for most of these, has not been able to pick a date/time. As a result, she — like thousands of premed students across the country — will have to miss class. One professor for a required class is refusing to authorise more than two absences. This means my daughter will not be able to attend medical school interviews. She spoke to one of the deans this afternoon and was told she would have to make a choice between medical school interviews (plus unexcused absences) and cancelling medical school interviews (so no medical school). I’m outraged that the school would not accommodate medical school interviews and require my daughter to make this choice. First interview is in two weeks so this is time sensitive — any and all suggestions are welcome, including for lawyers as we are prepared to file a legal complaint.

I bet a call to Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom from a lawyer might help along matters . . .

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Underrepresented Arab Americans

Via the excellent Williams Liberty blog, we have this announcement:

Direct link here.

Invited speakers will receive a $500 honorarium and will be guests of Williams College from the evening of Nov. 1 through breakfast on Nov. 3, with all paper presentations to occur on Nov. 2.

Is Williams on the hook for travel, lodging and meals in addition to the $500 honorarium? Who is paying for all this? I have no problem with the College providing in-kind support for a conference — free use of rooms, perhaps even box lunches — but every dollar spent on such activities is a dollar taken from somewhere else. I doubt that more than a handful of students will attend.

If Laura Ephraim and/or others raised the funding from somewhere else, then good for them!

The Science & Technology Studies Program at Williams College invites papers on any topic concerned with science and technology and their relationship to society for a day-long symposium showcasing the work of early-career scholars (ABD or recent PhD) from historically underrepresented groups. …

Individuals from underrepresented groups in the professoriate are specifically defined here as African Americans, Alaska Natives, Arab Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders.

1) What is the current legal status of these racially exclusionary invitations? Honest question! Could a Chinese-American woman sue Williams?

2) Since when are “Arab Americans” underrepresented in college faculty? Are they more or less underrepresented than Irish Americans? Honest question!

3) I have never before seen a listing like this which included Arab Americans among the preferred categories. Is this common?

4) Taiwan and Japan are, last time I checked, islands in the Pacific Ocean. Do folks with ancestors from those islands not count as Pacific Islanders? I am semi-kidding about this one since, apparently, Pacific Islander is well-defined, although US-usage is different. What about the Philippines or Indonesia?

In keeping with the broad approach to Science & Technology Studies (STS) at Williams, we welcome papers from any disciplinary location — including but not limited to programs in STS or History of Science — so long as they offer new and significant insights into the imbrication of science and technology with society.

imbrication?”

Why use an obscure word when a simpler word — interaction? overlap? — would do fine?

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In Defense of the DPE Requirement

(First off, sorry I didn’t post yesterday! I was traveling. I’m posting today to make up for it.)

Jerry Coyne recently wrote about the “Difference, Power, and Equity” (DPE) course requirement at Williams. Predictably, he used it as an example of excessive “wokeness”. While I still strongly question his motives in continually targeting the College and its students with hyperbolic language, I don’t think there’s much of a point in discussing them. He’s already banned Ephblog on his site and engaged in name-calling, after all. Rather, his blog post on DPE drew the course requirement to my attention and I thought it would be interesting to discuss and debate.

DPE requirements are not unique to Williams. I did some research on schools similar to Williams found that the following institutions all had some variation of the DPE requirement:

– Dartmouth College (Culture and Identity)
– Bowdoin College (Exploring Social Difference)
– Pomona College (Analyzing Difference)
– Colgate University (Communities and Identities)
– Hamilton College (Social, Structural, and Institutional Hierarchies)
– Davidson College (Cultural Diversity)

There are probably more, but I was too tired to find them. I was surprised to find that some of the colleges above had such a requirement given that they can lean more conservative, but then again, a college leaning conservative relative to its peers doesn’t mean much. Williams, for example, is more “conservative” than its peer LACs but is liberal as an institution.

I am personally in favor of the DPE requirement. It’s not an extra course that one has to take in addition to others; it can be fulfilled by any course that examines certain themes. This is the list of fall courses that fulfill the requirement. Since we live in an increasingly diverse nation and an increasingly globalized world, it only makes sense that students learn about non-Western cultures, underrepresented voices in academic fields, etc. It’s important to graduate college with an open mind as well as an awareness of the workings and experiences of other communities. What do you think?

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CARE Now and Grievance Studies

The final demand of the CARE Now Petition is “the establishment of enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native Studies, Trans Studies, Disability Studies, and Fat Studies.” Their reasoning goes as follows:

These fields have historically been underrepresented and are absent from intellectual discourse at Williams and beyond. The current political climate on campus attests to student demand for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies challenging the hegemony of traditional systems of knowledge. The Interdisciplinary Studies program at Williams must provide greater tangible support for courses and faculty research that fall outside the backing of departmental programs. The creation of new enrollment options and teaching fellowships in Native, Trans, Disability, and Fat Studies comprises a crucial step toward legitimizing scholars participating in marginalized fields of inquiry and creating experimental epistemologies, as well as providing perspectives benefitting the subjects of those disciplines.

A year ago, a group of three professors dubbed these identity studies “grievance studies” after they famously got a number of bogus papers published in highly regarded journals in social sciences, gender studies, and sexuality studies. One of these papers posited that dog humping at a Portland dog park was evidence of rape culture. Another rewrote a portion of Mein Kampf in the language of intersectionality. The YouTube video series chronicling this hoax is very entertaining; I encourage all to watch.

These three professors sought to show these fields are politically rather than intellectually charged. Beginning from premises such as “whiteness is evil,” it becomes easy to reach absolutely absurd conclusions, and any number of arguments can be encoded in the elite language of these areas of study. The question then arises, If these fields cannot distinguish real scholarship from bullshit, what is their value?

Interestingly, the crux of CARE Now’s demand for teaching fellowships in these departments is not that they have any established intellectual value or success. At best these are “experimental” fields of inquiry, a phrase which could describe just about any discipline ever conceived. Rather, they claim the reason the college should embrace these fields is simply because there is a “student demand” for them. While this is not altogether a bad argument, it does redefine the purpose of the university: Rather than a place of genuine scholarship, under these demands, Williams College merely exists to cater to the interests of its student body.

I would argue that there must exist some external criterion of scholarship that must be met for a field to be recognized by the college. Perhaps one could be, Can genuine scholarship be distinguished from bogus scholarship in this field? Or rather, are the ends of a given field to pursue a real line of inquiry, or to reinforce a preconceived political philosophy?

Of course, subjects can be valuable for other reasons (namely, vocational)–music and business come to mind as examples. And if the proposed subjects truly are experimental epistemologies sincerely interested in unbiased inquiry, then I welcome them. I merely suggest that the premises of these fields be addressed with greater scrutiny. Ultimately, however, the demand for enrollment options in native studies, trans studies, fat studies, and disability studies is unrealistic at this time for Williams. There are already greater demands for more enrollment options in pre-established fields of study on campus–for example, the expansion of the computer science department or revitalization of the linguistics department. Currently, CARE Now’s demand is not in the best interest of the student body or the college’s legacy, and if administration appeases this group (which is doubtful), it will create a dangerous precedent for how college resources are allocated.

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Make Class/Professor Evaluations Available

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

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

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

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

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Background Information (comments welcome):

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

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

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

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

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

  • Williams is often highly insular. We don’t make improvement X because we have never done X, not because any committee weighed the costs/benefits of X.
  • Williams cares less about the student experience than you might think.
  • Williams does not think that students lack for information about courses/professors. A system like Harvard’s is necessary for a large university. It adds little/nothing to Williams.
  • Williams faculty are happy to judge students. They dislike being judged by students, much less having those judgments made public.

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

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

Factrak screenshots below the break:

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Live Your Thesis

Too few Ephs achieve the career dreams that Williams nurtured. Williamstown Town Manager (and EphBlog favorite) Jason Hoch ’95 is one of the lucky ones. Read his senior thesis, “Crisis on Main Street: understanding downtown decline and renewal through Exit, voice and loyalty.” Note the acknowledgement:

How many of us have followed so closely the dreams we first dreamt in Williamstown?

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Thesis Idea: Sports Teams’ GPAs

Looking for an interesting statistics thesis topic? Check out the NESCAC Winter All-Academic Team (pdf). This shows every Williams winter athlete (and their team) with a GPA above 3.5. Is this enough information to determine whether or not the wrestling team has a higher GPA than the mens basketball team? No. But it is a start. You need to figure out all the team members who were eligible for this list but were not, in fact, named. Then you need to make a bunch of assumptions about the overall distribution of grades. But there is enough info here to make a stab at the topic. And you could cross check with list of Latin honors at graduation.

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Students Making Posters

Consider this tweet:

Hmmm.

1) Whose idea was this? My guess would be one of the more PC of the faculty in Economics. Sarah Jacobson? Tara Watson? Not that there is anything wrong with that! The more that faculty involve themselves with students, the better.

2) What would happen if a different race were substituted for “Black?” Hispanic would be fine, I suspect. But Asian? White? The mind reels.

3) Were students paid for this? I would not have any real objection if they were. The Department has a bunch of students who work for it, they need to spend their time on something. But the presentation of the tweet sure suggests that students were so excited about this topic that they are working based on pure enthusiasm . . .

4) If they weren’t paid, how were they recruited? Not to stereotype or anything, but my guess would be that most Williams economics majors are not overly interested in Black economists . . .

5) Might the Department have recruited students — perhaps mostly African-American students — to do this for free? Sure! There are some charismatic professors in the department. But, then, are they really acting in the best interests of those students? They would be much better off doing something more academic with their time, at least if they plan on graduate school. These cut-and-paste Wikipedia jobs could have been done by Mount Greylock students . . .

6) If these are “prominent scholars,” then everyone with a Ph.D. in economics is a “prominent scholar.” Not that there is anything wrong with that!

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Waiting for the news …

… xkcd   a daily commentary of social and scientific mores.

I’m airbourne for most of the day, but upon landing I will turn my gaze to the top of the Parker House.

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Spring 2019 Preregistration, October 29 – November 5

Spring 2019 preregistration will be open in PeopleSoft/Student Records Monday, October 29, 9:00am, through Monday, November 5.

*You must meet with your first-year academic advisor. Please schedule a meeting if your advisor has not already contacted you. Your advisor must remove a first-year advising hold before you can add classes.

*Check PeopleSoft for other holds, under the Tasks tile on the Home menu.

*Review your Academic Progress Report (attached) against distribution requirements https://catalog.williams.edu/degree-requirements/.

*Review the early concentration rules for first-year and sophomore students, https://registrar.williams.edu/forms-petitions/#early-concentration.

*Review the preregistration instructions and information at the Registrar’s website https://registrar.williams.edu/course-registration/registration/.

*Preregister for four courses. This is your best chance of getting in to the courses you want. Review the Registration Timeline for what happens between now and drop/add https://registrar.williams.edu/student-registration-timeline/.

*If you have questions about preregistration or problems with PeopleSoft, please check our website information, or stop in to the Registrar’s Office or e-mail to selfreg@williams.edu.

Mary L. Morrison
Associate Registrar

MYTH: Preregistration is first-come first-served.
FACT: It doesn’t matter whether you register at 9:01 am on 10/29 or 7:59am on 11/6, you will have equal consideration for the course. All courses are open at this point. You should read the enrollment preference in the online catalog description; that will give you an idea of your chances if the course overenrolls. Check the Registration Timeline for information on when enrollments are reviewed and how you’ll know if you don’t get in to your first choice of courses.

MYTH: It doesn’t matter what you preregister for – you can always change courses later.
FACT: Preregistration is your best chance of getting in to a course you want. Many courses will be closed once preregistration is over.

 

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George H. Nash Presents at the Williams Faculty Club

Dr. Nash presents his remarks
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On the evening of September 13th, members from across the Williams community gathered in the Faculty Club to attend a private dinner lecture with renowned presidential historian George H. Nash. This event, organized by the Society for Conservative Thought and generously sponsored by the Department of Political Science, was attended by thirty students, five professors, administrators, and a representative from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Recently inducted Williams President Maud S. Mandel attended the reception.
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Dr. Nash is a leading intellectual of the twentieth century American conservative movement. His 1976 book, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, was described by historian Forrest McDonald as “a masterful study that can be read for edification by people on the entire range of the political spectrum.” At the dinner, Dr. Nash articulated an overview of twentieth century American conservatism and explained the context and potential implications of populism as manifested in the Trump presidency. Video of his lecture is provided below:
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The Society for Conservative Thought earnestly thanks the Department of Political Science and the various College officials that were vital to the success of this event.
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A million dollars a year in textbooks

Just received this request for a donation to Williams:

Dear Diana,

Did you know that Williams provides a book grant to cover all required texts and course materials for students receiving financial aid?

Prior to 2010, financial aid students would queue up before dawn with the hopes of borrowing textbooks from the 1914 Library. For decades, the 1914 provided financial aid students access to textbooks without having to purchase them outright. […] All of that changed in the spring of 2010: no more standing in line, no more choosing courses or majors based on the availability of textbooks. Since 2010, the Alumni Fund has made it possible for the college to help purchase approximately $7.5 million in textbooks for financial aid students. […]

Perhaps you’d like your Alumni Fund gift to buy the books for students taking “MATH 150: Multivariable Calculus” this semester. (You can read more about the course here.)

Thank you so much for all you do for Williams!

Lisa Russell-Mina ‘79
Co-Chair, Alumni Fund

Thoughts:

  • It’s 2018, and 50% of Williams students (so, about 1000 per year) receive financial aid. By my calculations, that means Williams is spending about $1000 per student per year on textbooks. Wow! That seems like a lot.
  • I appreciate their suggestion to check out Math 150, since I was the one teaching it three semesters ago. In fact, I wrote my own materials and printed them out for the students for free. I wish more people would do the same.
  • Knowing that my hundred dollars might go towards half of a $200 textbook actually makes me less likely to send a hundred dollars to Williams. Financial aid, wholeheartedly yes! Textbooks, hard no.

Some problems I wrote about Mount Greylock, the Mountain Day T-shirt, Cricket Creek farm, and the Williams Outing Club are below the break. The whole textbook is here.

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Eph in the New York Times

Read the article:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/02/education/learning/wrong-fit-for-college.html

DDF: I am adding the picture from the article and quoting the Williams-specific text:

Last fall, when John DiGravio arrived as a freshman at Williams College — a private, liberal arts institution in the Berkshires — the conservative from Central Texas expected to be in the political minority.

He did not expect to be ridiculed.

But in the winter, when he returned from an anti-abortion rally with the school’s Catholic student group in Washington, the college’s usually harmonious Instagram account, which featured a photo of the trip, received numerous enraged comments. Some posters booed the group. One called it “embarrassing.” Another suggested the students should “start a better club.”

At first Mr. DiGravio was taken aback. Then he took his outsider status as a calling. A few months earlier he had started a small, conservative club. He decided to make it bigger. He invited a speaker to give an evening talk on “What It Means to Be a Conservative.” Dozens of students showed up.

“I think I really hit a chord,” he said.

These days, elite students like Mr. DiGravio, who can financially and/or academically choose from an array of colleges, are often obsessed with “finding the right fit.” Surveys like ones conducted by EAB, an education consulting firm in Washington, routinely indicate that for this group, “fitting in” is one of the top factors when deciding where to go to school.

But some students, like Mr. DiGravio, 19, are discovering the pros and cons of being an outsider.

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Design “Thinking”

Opinions on design thinking at Williams?

DesignThinking@Williams offers techniques for solving social, cultural, and economic problems using creative thinking and human centered design. These tools can assist faculty in their teaching objectives; empower students in their social and entrepreneurial endeavors; assist the College as it continually improves the Williams experience; and prepare students to use the strength of their liberal arts education in purposeful ways in the work environment. A Design Thinker in Residence provides support in helping others learn these techniques.

Reality or another clever EphBlog parody? You decide. More background, “Design Thinking Is a Boondoggle,” from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Design thinking, in other words, is just a fancy way of talking about consulting. What Miller, Kelly, and Hennessy are asking us to imagine is that design consulting is a model for retooling all of education. They believe that we should use design thinking to reform education by treating students as clients. And they assert that design thinking should be a central part of what students learn, a lens through which graduates come to approach social reality. In other words, we should view all of society as if we are in the design-consulting business.

Fawningly, Miller observes that the d.school’s courses are “popular” and often “oversubscribed.” “These enrollment figures suggest that whatever it is the d.school is doing, it’s working.” One social innovator Miller might look into is a guy named Jim Jones, who also had many enthusiastic followers.

That metaphor is a bit much. Yet design thinking is clearly 90% (?) or more tripe. With luck, Williams will use/discover the 10% that is of value. Conveniently enough, there is a seminar on design thinking on campus tomorrow:

1 – 3PM
Introduction to Design Thinking
Join alumni Marc Brudzinski ’93 and Dara Musher-Eizenman ’93 for an interactive introduction to Human-Centered Design. In this fun and creative 2-hour workshop, you’ll learn the basics of a proven method for collaborative problem-solving that was pioneered at design firm IDEO and Stanford University and is now taught at Williams. Piggy-backing on the Class of ’93 integrative well-being initiative, we will come up with creative solutions to the ever-changing problem of how to live a healthier lifestyle. It will be fun, it will be engaging, it will be useful, and it will be surprising! We will accommodate people on a first-come, first-served basis. Questions? Write to mtb242​@cornell​.edu or mushere​@bgnet​.bgsu.edu
SAWYER LIBRARY, ROOM 328

If you attend, tell us about it.

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What’s the Point of Getting a Liberal Arts Education?

The following passage is excerpted from Russell Kirk’s Redeeming the Time and was recently published in this format in the Intercollegiate Review (original article).

Our term “liberal education” is far older than the use of the word “liberal” as a term of politics. What we now call “liberal studies” go back to classical times; while political liberalism commences only in the first decade of the nineteenth century. By “liberal education” we mean an ordering and integrating of knowledge for the benefit of the free person—as contrasted with technical or professional schooling, now somewhat vaingloriously called “career education.”

The idea of a liberal education is suggested by two passages I am about to quote to you. The first of these is extracted from Sir William Hamilton’s Metaphysics:

“Now the perfection of man as an end and the perfection of man as a mean or instrument are not only not the same, they are in reality generally opposed. And as these two perfections are different, so the training requisite for their acquisition is not identical, and has accordingly been distinguished by different names. The one is styled liberal, the other professional education—the branches of knowledge cultivated for these purposese being called respectively liberal and professional, or liberal and lucrative, sciences.”

Hamilton, you will observe, informs us that one must not expect to make money out of proficiency in the liberal arts. The higher aim of “man as an end,” he tells us, is the object of liberal learning. This is a salutary admonition in our time, when more and more parents fondly thrust their offspring, male and female, into schools of business administration. What did Sir William Hamilton mean by “man as an end”? Why, to put the matter another way, he meant that the function of liberal learning is to order the human soul.

Now for my second quotation, which I take from James Russell Lowell. The study of the classics, Lowell writes, “is fitly called a liberal education, because it emancipates the mind from every narrow provincialism, whether of egoism or tradition, and is the apprenticeship that everyone must serve before becoming a free brother of the guild which passes the torch of life from age to age.”

To put this truth after another fashion, Lowell tells us that a liberal education is intended to free us from captivity to time and place: to enable us to take long views, to understand what it is to be fully human—and to be able to pass on to generations yet unborn our common patrimony of culture. T. S. Eliot, in his lectures on “The Aims of Education” and elsewhere, made the same argument not many years ago. Neither Lowell nor Eliot labored under the illusion that the liberal discipline of the intellect would open the way to affluence.

So you will perceive that when I speak of the “conservative purpose” of liberal education, I do not mean that such a schooling is intended to be a prop somehow to business, industry, and established material interests. Neither, on the other hand, is a liberal education supposed to be a means for pulling down the economy and the state itself. No, liberal education goes about its work of conservation in a different fashion.

I mean that liberal education is conservative in this way: it defends order against disorder. In its practical effects, liberal education works for order in the soul, and order in the republic. Liberal learning enables those who benefit from its discipline to achieve some degree of harmony within themselves. As John Henry Newman put it, in Discourse V of his Idea of a University, by a liberal intellectual discipline, “a habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; of what…I have ventured to call the philosophical habit of mind.”

The primary purpose of a liberal education, then, is the cultivation of the person’s own intellect and imagination, for the person’s own sake. It ought not to be forgotten, in this mass-age when the state aspires to be all in all, that genuine education is something higher than an instrument of public policy. True education is meant to develop the individual human being, the person, rather than to serve the state. In all our talk about “serving national goals” and “citizenship education”—phrases that originated with John Dewey and his disciples—we tend to ignore the fact that schooling was not originated by the modern nation-state. Formal schooling actually commenced as an endeavor to acquaint the rising generation with religious knowledge: with awareness of the transcendent and with moral truths. Its purpose was not to indoctrinate a young person in civics, but rather to teach what it is to be a true human being, living within a moral order. The person has primacy in liberal education.

Yet a system of liberal education has a social purpose, or at least a social result, as well. It helps to provide a society with a body of people who become leaders in many walks of life, on a large scale or a small. It was the expectation of the founders of the early American colleges that there would be graduated from those little institutions young men, soundly schooled in old intellectual disciplines, who would nurture in the New World the intellectual and moral patrimony received from the Old World. And for generation upon generation, the American liberal-arts colleges (peculiar to North America) and later the liberal-arts schools and programs of American universities, did graduate young men and women who leavened the lump of the rough expanding nation, having acquired some degree of a philosophical habit of mind.

You will have gathered already that I do not believe it to be the primary function of formal schooling to “prepare boys and girls for jobs.” If all schools, colleges, and universities were abolished tomorrow, still most young people would find lucrative employment, and means would exist, or would be developed, for training them for their particular types of work. Rather, I believe it to be the conservative mission of liberal learning to develop right reason among young people.

Not a few members of the staffs of liberal-arts colleges, it is true, resent being told that theirs is a conservative mission of any sort. When once I was invited to give a series of lectures on conservative thought at a long-established college, a certain professor objected indignantly, “Why, we can’t have that sort of thing here: this is a liberal arts college!” He thought, doubtless sincerely, that the word “liberal” implied allegiance to some dim political orthodoxy, related somehow to the New Deal and its succeeding programs. Such was the extent of his liberal education. Nevertheless, whatever the private political prejudices of professors, the function of liberal education is to conserve a body of received knowledge and to impart an apprehension of order to the rising generation.

END

The Williams College Society for Conservative Thought is a non-partisan student organization dedicated to providing an academic space where students can freely engage with conservative scholarship in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. Students of all varieties of political and social beliefs are invited to study, discuss, and challenge these ideas that are neglected in the College curriculum. We pledge to uphold the besieged principles of academic freedom and diversity of thought at Williams College. Website: https://www.wcsct.org/

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Changes in Majors, 4

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 4.

1) We should get rid of some majors. Removal is just as important as addition to the health of an organization. History of Ideas might have been a useful major 30 years ago. Yet Williams was correct to remove it in 2011. Indeed, any major that doesn’t regularly win over at least 10 students over, say, a decade should be removed. Start with astronomy, most of whose require courses are in physics anyway. I am also not sure that astrophysics is different enough from physics to justify its current major status. Maybe time to give up on German? And Classics?

2) Are Asian Studies and American Studies worthwhile majors? I doubt it. They are grab-bag collections of courses in actual academic fields like History and Political Science. Some students like them, to be sure, but student preferences in what majors are offered is not that important. (Student preferences in what classes they take are sacrosanct. It is up to the faculty to decide what is an academic field and what is not.)

3) Williams would be better off with fewer majors. There is a certain critical mass that you need, at a small school, in terms of size for departments/majors. Of course, you don’t want them to be too large, like economics, but they shouldn’t be too small either. Did splitting Art History into three parts — Art History, Art Studio and Art History and Practice — really improve things? I have my doubts. The department could just as easily give majors different options for fulfilling their requirements.

4) Is it too soon to judge the split up of Environmental Studies into Environmental Science and Environmental Policy a failure? Oh, wait a second! The College fixed this in 2016 (pdf). You can now major (or concentrate) in Environmental Studies. This seems a much better organizational structure. I do, however, object to the major requiring 11 courses. Majors should be tighter, with no more than 9 courses. (If you can’t design a major in 9 courses, then you don’t have a well-enough defined academic field to offer a major in the first place.)

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Changes in Majors, 3

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 3.

There has been a decrease in the percentage of “humanities” majors at Williams over the last 30 years. The percentage of Div I majors has decreased from 30% to 21% of all majors. The more humanties-esque majors in Div II have seen a similar decline. For example, the average number of history majors from 1986 to 1988 was 94. From 2015 to 2017 it was 54. As a percentage of all majors, the fall has been even more dramatic. Comments (with some repetition from a previous discussion):

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

2) Majors (especially since they do not include information about concentrations) are a rough measure of enrollments and faculty workload. I haven’t found any data, but it would hardly be surprising of the total percentage of humanities (broadly understood) course enrollments at Williams has gone from 30% to 20%, or even lower. If so, big deal! Students should take classes in what they want.

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

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Changes in Majors, 2

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 2.

From 1986 to 2017, the number of students with at least one major in Division III (math and sciences) increased from 93 to 255. The biggest change in majors (and, presumably, course enrollments) over the last 30 years is the move toward Division III. That movement shows every sign of continuing into the future. Comments:

1) There is nothing (reasonable) that Williams could or should do about the changing nature of student preferences. If a student wants to major in Statistics instead of English, then Williams should let her. If scores of students want to make that switch — and that change in preferences seems likely to be permanent — then Williams should adjust its staffing accordingly.

2) Note that dramatic increase in math majors that started in the 1990s. Emeritus Professor Frank Morgan arrived about then and quickly rebuilt the math department/major into, perhaps, the most impressive LAC program in the country. You don’t go from 5 majors in 1986 to 70 in 2017 without doing something right. I think Morgan had more of an impact on Williams than almost any other professor of the last 30 years. If not him, then who?

3) Computer Science has increased in the last few years, but the real pressures have come from increased enrollments in the intro courses.

4) The biggest recentish news in Division III is the creation of the Statistics Major, the very first such major at a liberal arts college. EphBlog has long praised and championed this move. All hail Dick De Veaux! The number of majors in the last four years has gone from 0 to 2 to 12 to 28. Statistics is now a top-10 major at Williams! The good news is that statistics is a wonderful field, interesting in-and-of-itself and also probably the most career-enhancing major at Williams. The bad news is that Williams is not really staffed with enough statistics professors. The major has partially tackled this by increasing the math requirements, thereby hoping to decrease the number of majors. First, I dislike when such considerations affect requirements. Second, I am not sure if it will work that well. How many years until there are 50 statistics majors at Williams? I put the over-under at 3.

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