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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’s courses are “popular” and often “oversubscribed.” “These enrollment figures suggest that whatever it is the 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​

If you attend, tell us about it.


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.


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:


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.)


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.


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.


Changes in Majors, 1

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 1.

From 1986 to 2017, the number of students with more than one major increased from 79 to 228. This is the most impressive single statistic concerning the academic engagement of Williams students. (Previous related discussions here and here.)

1) Back in the day, double majoring was unusual, if not a little weird. Why take an extra set of 300/400 level courses in a second major — courses almost guaranteed to be difficult and time-consuming — when you have the pleasant option of sampling 100-level courses in a variety of interesting topics?

2) Now, double majoring is common, perhaps even expected among the top 25% of the class academically. (I would bet that there is a high correlation between Academic Rating and double majoring.) Good stuff! The more students taking serious 300/400 level classes, the better. Perhaps the ideal of a Williams “liberal arts” education is the student who majors in two fields from different divisions, e.g., Chemistry/English or Statistics/Art or Economics/History.

3) The 228 may actual underestimate the number of students studying two different fields in depth because it does not include students who add a concentration to their first major. For example, a student who majors in Math and gets a concentration in Africana Studies is doing Williams right.

4) We should be careful about claiming that the high number of double majors implies that Williams students are more academically serious than students at other schools. Williams makes double majoring easier than it is elsewhere because a) most majors require only 9 classes and b) our non-major requirements are easier to fulfill.

5) But ignore 4 for now. This is good news! The more double majors at Williams the better, and this almost tripling over the last 30 years is a wonderful indication of intellectual engagement among the students.


How to Hire Conservative/Republican/Libertarian Faculty

Harry makes some (obtuse) comments about faculty hiring:

it’s against most state laws I’m aware of for asking about one’s political registration. Also, I’ve never heard this asked in any faculty interviews. Folks are generally hired without asking or discussing political views.

It is also against state law to ask about race. And race is never “asked” about in faculty interviews. D’uh!

Again, you can be against caring about political diversity on the merits. That is a reasonable position. But all these claims that — even if we want to do it we can’t — are just nonsense. Almost any method that works with regard to racial diversity can be used to increase political diversity.

No one would ever ask you directly if you are a “Republican” just as no one now ever asks you directly if you are an “Hispanic.” They look for markers, for the emphasis you place on your ethnic heritage, for the claims you make — in your resume, your personal statement, your cover letter and your recommendation letters — about it. The same would apply for political diversity. Candidates interested in highlighting their politics would do so. Candidates who choose not to do so may safely be presumed to not be planning on being engaged in the campus conversation about politics. And that is OK! But Williams would have no more problem identifying and hiring (openly) politically diverse Ph.D.’s than it does identifying Hispanics.

Do you list political club membership on your resume? Do you volunteer to help Republican/Libertarian/Conservative non-profits? Have you spoken to such organizations? Are you a member of Heterodox Academy or the National Association of Scholars or the Federalist Society? Have you written op-eds or blog posts about your political views? Are you active, at your current university, in the conversation about political diversity? And so on.

During your campus interview, no one would ever ask something as stupid as “Are you Hispanic?” or “Are you a conservative?” That would probably be illegal and, even worse, would be rude. Instead, you will be asked open-ended questions about how you see yourself, outside of the classroom, participating in the Williams community, about how your background prepares you for that role, about what viewpoints you think might be missing. You then get to tell Williams anything you like.

Again, you can argue that political diversity is not important and that Williams should no more care about the politics of individual faculty members than it cares about their astrological sign. That is a defensible position. But the suggestion that Williams could not, if it chose to, easily increase political diversity among the faculty is just nonsense.


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

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?

a) 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.

b) Williams cares less about the student experience than you might think.

c) 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.

d) 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

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Random Tidbits on the Presidential Search

I failed to gather nearly enough Presidential Search gossip and speculation prior to Maud Mandel’s selection last month. Apologies!

1) Andreas Halvorsen ’86 will be the next chair of the board of trustees, succeeding Mike Eisenson ’77. This is not public yet, of course, but there is no way that Williams would not include Eisenson’s successor on the search committee — given that it would choose the next president, who would then work closely with the next chair — and Halvorsen is, by far, the most likely candidate among those on the committee. Indeed, the Eisenson/Halvorsen pairing on this search committee is just like the Avis/Eisenson pairing on the committee that chose Falk. (Greg Avis ’80 was chair of the board at that time.)

2) Tiku Majumder is a good guy and fine professor, but that is not the reason he was chosen as the interim president. (There are, obviously, dozens of good guys/gals among the senior professors at Williams.) Majumder was chosen by Eisenson because they had gotten to know each other so well on the search committee that selected Falk almost a decade ago. Want to know who has the inside track on being the interim president when Mandel leaves? Look for someone that Halvorsen got to know well while working on this committee.

3) The College used fancy search firm Spencer Stuart, with lead consultant Mary Gorman. Why didn’t Eisenson select Isaacson, Miller, the firm used just a decade earlier to find Falk? I don’t know. Was Eisenson unimpressed with the Isaacson, Miller process which foisted Falk on Williams? Did he have prior experience with Spencer Stuart? Did someone else make the decision?

4) I would most like to know some of the details of the process, which Morty was much more open about the last time. How many candidates? How many interviews? And so on. I am especially interested in who the other finalists were, but that may be tough to discover.

5) How long was Maud Mandel been on the presidential job market and how much had Spencer Stuart been shopping her around? Note that the previous Dean of the College at Brown, Katherine Bergeron, went from that role to president at our NESCAC rival Connecticut College.


Stone lecture on academic freedom and free speech

Geoffrey Stone presented an excellent lecture last night on campus. The topic was on academic freedom and free speech on campus.

I will try to present his main points, but there is no way I can approach his eloquence or the purity of his argument.

  1. Academic freedom is relatively new phenomenon. Until the mid-20th Century, professors and students were routinely fired/expelled for presenting views at odds with the general beliefs of the college.
  2. Freedom of speech in general had been used as grounds for imprisonment using the Sedition Act passed during WW1 during the Wilson administration. This continued until the Supreme Court reversed those decisions about 40 years later (timing may be a little off).
  3. All ideas and speakers should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether the ideas are deemed hurtful or offensive to others. This has been made formal policy at the University of Chicago. Many other universities and colleges have adopted nearly the same policy, including at least one institution that had previously withdrawn a speaker invitation.
  4. All others should feel comfortable challenging ideas they find hurtful or offensive. However, disruption of the engagement or threats of unrest were not appropriate actions.
  5. Universities/colleges that shield the community from ideas are not properly preparing students to deal with these challenges in the real world.
  6. None of us should be so arrogant as to think that all our beliefs, regardless of how certain we are, should be considered truth. In other words, we could be wrong.
  7. Allowing censorship of ideas we find offensive opens the door to others who might censor our ideas.
  8. Censorship of ideas is likely in the long term to hurt minority groups more than the majority.

I hope this is a decent summary. I welcome any additions/corrections from anyone else who attended. I wish more people had come.

With regard to local issues, he did point out that Williams had withdrawn invitations to speakers among a list of other colleges who had recently taken similar action.

I view having this speaker as a great move for the college. Bravo! I hope that Williams will adopt a policy similar to that at U Chicago.


Welcome President Mandel

To the Williams Community,

It is my honor and pleasure to inform you that on Sunday, March 11, the Board of Trustees appointed Maud S. Mandel as the 18th president of Williams College. President-elect Mandel, who will begin her tenure at Williams on July 1, 2018, currently serves as Dean of the College and Professor of History and Judaic studies at Brown University.

You can learn more about President-elect Mandel by watching a video interview we’ve posted on the special announcement website, where you’ll also find her CV and other information about her scholarship and career.

I could not be more excited about welcoming Maud Mandel to the college. She has a distinguished record as a scholar, a teacher and an academic leader, and has demonstrated throughout her career a deep and abiding affection for the students, faculty and staff who together create a great academic enterprise. She embodies the values at our core and will provide outstanding leadership as we continue to pursue our shared aspirations for Williams.

I want to thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee for their extraordinary work leading to this terrific result for Williams. We were privileged to meet many exceptional people in the course of our search, and all of us on the Committee, and on the Board of Trustees, were truly inspired by President-elect Mandel during the selection process.

We look forward to welcoming President-elect Mandel for a visit to campus in early April, and will provide details as soon as the agenda is confirmed. In the meantime, you can begin to get to know her by exploring the materials on the announcement website.

Congratulations to President-elect Mandel, and best wishes to all of us as we begin this next chapter in the extraordinary history of Williams College.

With warm best regards,

Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Presidential Search Committee
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees

Worth a week to review this material?


The Age of Nerf Maoism

An anonymous Williams professor writes:

Obviously the shift to DPE reflects a broader transition, ideologically, from Identity Politics 1.0 (let us celebrate our differences!) to Identity Politics 2.0 (let us root out the oppressors!). Ours is the age of nerf Maoism.

After that email they went around shaking the curricular trees of individual departments, supplying lists of courses that had previously been EDI-certified and asking if we would consider placing them under the DPE umbrella.

In a way the DPE requirement has less teeth than EDI ever did, because you don’t have to approach a special committee of ideological enforcers to get your course the DPE certification (like you did for EDI courses in the past). The decision is made at the unit level. Whatever a department thinks satisfies the requirement is good to go. This makes the dearth of courses even more hilarious.

Apparently the CEA believe that faculty just can’t be bothered to fill out the paperwork. Isn’t it equally possible that people take DPE so seriously that they need time to develop a new set of courses that satisfy the standard? (Didn’t anyone consider this in implementing the new requirement?) One feels that even the CEA is on the verge of admitting the change is essentially cosmetic.

Background reading on this topic: one, two, three, four.


DPE Update

An update on DPE:

To: All Faculty
From: Committee on Educational Affairs, Lara Shore-Sheppard, Chair
Date: February 16, 2018
Subject: Implementation of the Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement

Dear Colleagues,

The Committee on Educational Affairs (CEA) is currently engaged in the annual curricular review. As you may recall, this year we are moving from the Exploring Diversity Initiative course requirement to the Difference, Power, and Equity course requirement which was passed by the faculty last spring and is slated to go into effect in fall of 2018.

Thanks to the anonymous faculty member who sent us this. Would love to have a professor, anonymous or otherwise, take on the Lily Shao role of posting such messages. Future historians will thank you! Since these e-mails go out to around 300 people, they are hardly state secrets. I am also somewhat worried that the College, in its general incompetence and ahistoricism, does not archive these messages so that, a decade from now, Williams historians won’t be able to easily read them.

We need at least 60 courses per semester to make this requirement work, and currently we have about 50 courses submitted for the entire year. We suspect that despite our best efforts at communication with chairs and faculty, there may have been confusion about the process for submitting a course to be designated as DPE, so this memo is intended to clarify the process. We urge any of you who might be interested in having your course designated as DPE to submit your course as described below if you have not already done so. Please do this as soon as possible as the course package goes before the faculty at the March meeting in order to be ready for preregistration in April.

First, and most important, as the DPE requirement is replacing the EDI requirement, any course that your unit decides can be used to satisfy the DPE requirement must be submitted as a substantially revised course in order to receive the designation, even if the course is not changing. We suspect that many current EDI courses that faculty intend to change into DPE courses have not yet been submitted in this way. If your unit wants your course to have a DPE designation, you must submit the substantial revision form indicating this.

Ha! (Note that the bolding was in the original e-mail.) The majority of the faculty care so little about this absurd exercise in virtue-signalling that they can’t even be bothered to submit the appropriate paperwork.

My opinions (one, two, three, four) about DPE are unchanged from a year ago.

Rest of e-mail below the break:
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Diversity, in All Its Forms: Conservative Society President Speaks on Claiming Williams Day

On February 1st, classes were cancelled for the tenth annual Claiming Williams Day celebration of topics related to diversity and inclusion.

Conservative Society President John DiGravio ’21 was invited by student organizers to give a speech at a Claiming Williams morning event. The presentation, titled “Diversity, in All Its Forms: Conservative Thought at Williams” was delivered to 130 students, faculty, and administrators assembled in Griffin Hall. After articulating the foundations of his personal commitment to diversity of perspective, John explained the extent to which the College is failing to ensure the intellectual diversity of the curriculum and campus community. He then described the Society’s efforts to address this issue and called upon members of the Williams community to uphold their commitment to diversity in all its forms.

John has spoken at a number of public engagements related to intellectual diversity and conservative thought at Williams. If you would like to continue the conversation initiated in this speech, or arrange for John to present at another event, please contact him at

For the latest updates on the activities of the Williams College Society for Conservative Thought, please visit and bookmark our new website:

Upperclassmen Can’t Enroll in CS 134/136?

A comment from a CS major:

CS 134 is definitely necessary to do well (and possibly even enroll) in 136, unless students have received a score of 5 on the computer science AP.

The CS AP is not very rigorous, but it’s more about having had the opportunity to work with code a little bit before you jump into 136. A lot of students do poorly in 134 or end up pass-failing it as it is; I definitely wouldn’t recommend anyone without programming experience try to jump straight in to 136 (it’s true that you don’t get much actual theory until 136, but I still think 134 is valuable).

I would also add that, because the CS department is very understaffed (CS profs teach the most student-hours of any dept; almost 4 times more than the lowest department) it’s pretty much impossible to get into 134 or 136 after freshman year. Sadly, space is so limited that only students who seem likely to major can usually get a seat.

1) Thanks for the comment! Do any CS majors disagree with the above?

2) Is it really true that sophomores/juniors/seniors can’t get in to CS 134/136? That would be absurd! I had not heard that things were this bad . . .

3) The Provost Office claims that other departments — Chemistry, at least, but also, I think, Statistics — teach more students per professor than Computer Science.


Racial Capitalism

Fox News has been reading course catalogs again.

Colleges nationwide are teaching students about tacos, hooking up and country music’s “homophobic and racist” message — but those are just a few examples, as classes such as “Queer Religion” and “Racial Capitalism” become the new norm.

The classes are listed and explained in Young America’s Foundation’s annual report of bizarre courses with a “leftist slant” that are offered at top-tier colleges and universities throughout the country.

Williams College has a course on “Radical Theories of Political Struggle: Anti-Black Racism and the Obama Administration” as well as “Racial Capitalism,” which looks at “the ways in which capitalist economies have ‘always and everywhere’ relied upon forms of racist domination and exclusion.”

1) Anytime we are mentioned in a news article along with places like Princeton and Harvard, we win. So, thanks Fox News!

2) The underlying report actually mentions 7 courses, 5 in Africana Studies. It is almost as if the Young America’s Foundation does not consider Africana Studies to be a legitimate field . . .

3) I am more concerned with the rigor and seriousness of these classes than with any (alleged) ideological bias. To examine that question, we need to start with a close reading of the syllabi. Alas, Williams does not make those public. What does it have to hide? Perhaps a reader could share them with us?


EphBlog Gets Results

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 2.38.58 PM

Details here. There are few better jobs in academic than teaching Williams students. Highly recommended!

Congratulations to Tiku Majumder and the rest of the Williams Administration. These are just the sorts of small-bore temporary improvements that an interim administration should focus on. The next President will, and should, lead the effort to determine how many permanent positions there should be in computer science. Previous discussion here. Normally the Administration acts on our suggestions much more quickly than just 3 days . . .


Hire More Computer Science Professors

Is it too much to ask Tiku Majumder to do his job and staff Williams appropriately? There is only one computer science class (below the 300-level) with space available, and that is a 200-level course. How many Williams students — especially poor students from lower quality high schools — are being turned away from CSCI 134 and/or 136? I realize that creating new tenure track positions is a difficult task and requires thinking about the long term future of the faculty. Fine!

But there is no excuse for not hiring enough visitors to ensure that any Williams student who wants to study computer science can do so.


Society for Conservative Thought Hosts Chris Gibson

On Wednesday, January 10th, the Society for Conservative Thought held its inaugural public event featuring Chris Gibson’s presentation,“What it Means to Be a Conservative.” Dr. Gibson previously served as a U.S. Army colonel and U.S. representative, and is currently Stanley Kaplan Distinguished Visiting Professor of American Foreign Policy in the Williams leadership studies program.

Addressing the audience of 45 students, administrators, and community locals, Dr. Gibson asserted the importance of the “conservation of the founding principles” and the recognition of their enduring value in the modern world. With many references to American history and European political philosophy, he described the miracle of the American political experiment and the critical need to maintain “the spirit of Philadelphia” which conceived of it. Students then stayed for over an hour to participate in a Q&A session in which Dr. Gibson outlined concrete legislative actions to improve the American political system, drawing upon his experiences from serving in Congress.

Following the discussion, the Society offered complimentary copies of Dr. Gibson’s most recent book, Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream, courtesy of the Society’s budget.

The invitation of distinguished guests to voice conservative principles on campus is essential to the mission of the Society for Conservative Thought. If you can refer such individuals who would be interested in contributing to a future event, please contact


A New Year, A New Era for Williams College

Alumni and Friends of Williams College,

I am pleased to announce that the student representatives of College Council have formally approved the incipient Society for Conservative Thought as a registered student organization. This milestone has been made possible through the tireless and earnest contributions of faculty members and many students, to all of whom I am deeply grateful.

Since my arrival at Williams as a freshman this fall, I have become increasingly alarmed by the extent of the liberal intellectual uniformity of the curriculum and campus community. Fellow students upholding all varieties of political and social beliefs have confided to me their concerns that the explicit liberal bias is inhibitive to the attainment of a well-rounded liberal arts education, and that alternative views are frequently neglected, misrepresented, and ridiculed without basis. This close-mindedness breeds a shallow and hegemonic intellectual environment in which students do not feel able to freely express non-conforming ideas. As asserted by the campus administration during the First Days presentations, it is a mission of the College to promote diversity “in all its forms.” Diversity, however, should not be restricted to classifications of racial, sexual, and socioeconomic identities—at an educational institution, it must include diversity of thought. Though the administration has openly acknowledged the problem of liberal homogeneity in the official 2005 Diversity Initiatives Self-Study, in which students described “a lack of tolerance of diversity of thought” regarding conservative philosophies (pg. 10), the College has taken no meaningful measure to improve the situation and there are no existing student organizations dedicated to the study of conservative beliefs.

The Society for Conservative Thought is the product of the current student movement to broaden the intellectual diversity of the College and establish an academic refuge where students can engage with the rich intellectual tradition of conservatism in the vein of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. As a non-partisan and non-activist organization, we invite students of all varieties of political and social beliefs to expand their academic horizons and study, discuss, and even challenge ideas that are underrepresented in the Williams curriculum. Unlike other student organizations which have attempted to prompt dialogue through spectacle and incendiary controversies, the Society will foster a genuine understanding and appreciation of conservative principles through group readings and discussions, debates, and invited speakers. The Society is sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a prestigious and well-endowed organization founded by William F. Buckley Jr. in 1953 for the promotion of conservative ideas on college campuses. Through ISI, the Society has access to educational resources, a bureau of distinguished speakers, and special off-campus events, all free of charge.

I understand that there is a strong contingent of alumni who are rightfully disaffected with the intellectual climate of the College. To alumni: may this message inspire you with the knowledge that there are many among the student body who share your concerns and are striving to right the situation. The Society will be a liaison between the student and alumni communities, and we look forward to hearing your advice as we forge lasting bonds of friendship in our joint effort to establish true diversity of thought at the College. Please contact me to learn more and become involved in our mission—Williams needs you.

At this moment the intellectual affairs of the College face a fateful crossroads of critical importance. By the end of this academic year, the two most prominent campus advocates for free thought will have retired and graduated, and a new president will be taking office. For over two centuries, Williams has formed the minds, hearts, and souls of generations of students who have effected incredible and outsized impacts on our nation and the world. Will the College endanger this legacy by continuing to stifle the holistic intellectual growth of its students? Perhaps, but I promise that the Society will do everything within its power to provide Williams students with a refuge for free thought and the unprejudiced study of the true, good, and beautiful.

Society activities will commence during the Winter Study period. We will read selections from William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale, Roger Scruton’s The Meaning of Conservatism, and Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, as well as host a number of speakers drawn from distinguished faculty members and alumni. Those with questions or interest in our efforts may contact me at


John J. DiGravio ‘21

President, Williams College Society for Conservative Thought

“Veritas Vos Liberabit”



Prospectus Observation

Arch Stanton ’62 writes:

Is it wishful thinking, or does the prospectus have several clues that the search committee is looking for someone who will be more supportive of intellectual diversity and free speech on campus?

Should we draw an inference from the fact that the word ‘debate’ appears four times?

Could the phrase ‘where all voices are invited and heard” be a reference to Derbyshire? I would be surprised if the drafters of this document would use the verb ‘invite’ if they did not intend readers to make a connection to that incident.

“Be an inspiring and trusted leader and convener with the ability to drive a sense of inclusiveness and respect – even in the face of controversial issues. Model civil discourse and openness to different points of view, and set high expectations for respectful discussions.”

Does this bullet point indicate a desire that the next Williams president be open even to conservative points of view?

I hope so! Other comments?

By the way, we need more authors on EphBlog! Please join us (anonymously, as I do or otherwise.) Just leave a comment on this thread and I will contact you.


Christmas Thanks

From Twitter:


Merry Christmas one and all!


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 
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.

College Censorship Anniversary



On or about two years ago today, Williams College began to censor historic artifacts founded by previous generations of Ephs. This mural in the log came from the World War Two generation. A war memorial that depicted Chief Hendrick Theyanoguin standing over a map being inspected by Ephraim Williams on the morning of the Bloody Morning Scout, during the battle of Lake George in 1755. Hendrick and Ephraim were both killed in combat during this joint reconnaissance mission.


Truly Excellent

A recent alum now in graduate school at a super fancy university writes:

One thing you’ve said which I now realize is true: the teaching at Williams is truly excellent. I used to think all the talk about small classes and the teaching quality was BS intended to make us feel better about not getting into Harvard, but no. There are a lot of professors at REDACTED that probably spend at maximum 30 minutes a week on a class they teach, reviewing a PowerPoint they made 5 years ago in order to drone through it without interruption during class. They make some of the coolest subjects like “remote sensing systems” absolutely boring. As a grad student, I’m here for research so it’s fine for me, but it would be tough if I was an undergrad. Perhaps this is something the Williams administration should try be more convincing in recruiting because as I said, I thought it was BS, and I probably wasn’t alone.

Indeed. Note how little pressure there is at Williams to do a better job at recruiting students, at demonstrating the truth that the undergraduate academic experience is much better here than at Fancy Research University. Has anyone at Williams ever gotten fired for failing to do this? Has anyone been promoted for doing it well? Does anyone even bother to measure what works and what does not in this area? Pointers welcome!


Top Presidential Contenders

Who are the top (early!) contenders for the next Williams president? Keep in mind that Williams, unusually for a top elite liberal arts college, has never had a female president.1 Most Williams faculty members I talk to think there is a less than 10% chance that a white male will be selected. Top contenders include:

denise-photo-headWilliams professor Denise Buell: She is the current Dean of the Faculty, the traditional stepping stone for internal candidates. Both Frank Oakley and John Chandler were Deans of the Faculty before becoming Williams presidents. An (anonymous!) faculty member told me she is “insanely ambitious.” Having been Dean of the Faculty for many years, she has had numerous opportunities to interact with members of the search committee. If she were not interested in the job, she probably would have been named the interim president, a role often bestowed on Deans of the Faculty, as with Bill Wagner last time. She is about 52, which might be a tad old nowadays, but still well within the range.

Raymond, Wendy_2013_1(0)Former Williams professor Wendy Raymond: She is currently the Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty at Davidson. Her son is out of high school and her husband, David Backus, is a former lecturer in geosciences at Williams. I suspect that she moved to Davidson because she was eager to climb the academic ladder and Davidson provided the best opportunity. At 57 she is, like Buell, a bit older than the target age. She has both fans and detractors among the current faculty. She was a champion of diversity issues while at Williams so, if the committee is interested in this topic, she will certainly get an interview.

spencerFormer Williams trustee Clayton Spencer ’77: She has been the president of Bates since 2012. At age 62, she would be the oldest (new) Williams president in decades. She has done well at Bates and would not be viewed as a bad person if she were to leave after just 6 years. Might Williams try to grab her for a 4 to 5 year term, long enough to allow Provost Dukes Love to gain the experience he needs? Perhaps. Recall that Spencer was on the search committee that selected Falk. Another member of that committee was current search committee heard Mike Eisenson ’77. It is certainly interesting that Spencer and Eisenson are both members of the class of 1977.

cappyFormer Provost Cappy Hill ’76: Longtime readers will recall that I was certain Cappy was going to be selected last time round. Wrong that time but maybe this time? She was almost certainly a finalist when Morty was selected almost 20 years ago so she has been around the block on this several times. A faculty member mentioned to me that they had “heard some positive speculation about Spencer and Cappy Hill; both make some sense.” After a successful decade at Vassar, she now (like many former LAC presidents) runs a non-profit: Ithaka S+R. Do she and her husband like living in NYC? Are they interested in retiring in Williamstown?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWilliams history professor Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97 is my leading dark horse candidate. At 42 (and a Williams graduate) she is the perfect age: experienced enough after more than a decade at Williams to know what she is doing, young enough to have the energy that the trustees are looking for. (I believe that Payne, Schapiro and Falk were all hired while in their 40s.) Although she has not served as either Dean of the Faculty or Provost (the most common stepping stones to college presidencies) she is former head of CUL and current chair of the Committee on Priorities and Resources, perhaps the single spot (outside of the provost’s office) at which a Williams faculty member can learn to think like a president. Being a person of color is also a big advantage in this search since the trustees would love to be able to get the Williams-has-only-had-white-presidents monkey off their backs.

Merrill_2016-219x300Williams history professor Karen Merrill: Any female former Dean of the College is a plausible candidate. At 53, she is not too old. Merrill is, I think, widely regarded as an excellent administrator and consensus builder. I have heard fewer complaints about her tenure as Dean of the College than about her predecessors or successors. Her handling of the controversy over the log mural (pdf) was masterful. (By the way, we really ought to rename the “Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History” to the “Merrill Committee.”) Indeed, of all the controversies at Williams over the last 15 years, I can’t think of one that was better handled. (And since Falk screwed up so many things, I think Merrill deserves most of the credit. Did any of the social justice warrior Ephs even complain about the outcome?) But is she interested in the Williams presidency? Informed gossip welcome!

Portugal2002_3-274x300Chemistry Professor Lee Park is the interim Dean of the Faculty. (Buell is on sabbatical. Isn’t it weird that someone would take a sabbatical year during their 3 year appointment period?) Park is 53 and, obviously, non-white. She has been the associate Dean of the Faculty for a few years, I think. She is currently chair of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions, traditionally one of the most powerful positions on campus. (Another member of that committee is Professor Tom Smith ’88, also a chemist and a member of the presidential search committee. If Tom is a fan of Park, then she may have a real shot at the job.) Also interesting is that search committee member Chris Winters ’95 is married to Williams chemistry professor Amy Gehring ’94. Park has worked (closely?) with Smith and Gehring for more than a decade. I wonder if they are friends or rivals? Park has also been chair of the CEP. Is Park interested in the Williams presidency? Presumably, she wouldn’t have worked so many administrative jobs over the years if she weren’t interested in climbing the ladder . . .

Other current or recent Williams female insiders seem less well positioned. After her utter failure at Dickinson, Nancy Roseman probably won’t even get a courtesy interview. Sarah Bolton has not been at Wooster long enough for a move to be reasonable. Marlene Sandstrom is too new to the Dean of the College job.

Given how strong these candidates are, I can’t imagine that Williams will hire a man. Are there are female Ephs who might be interested? Are there other female candidates who are “on the market?”

Who do readers think will be chosen? Who would readers vote for if they were on the committee?

[1] Among the top 10 liberal arts colleges according to US News, only Williams, Bowdoin and Carleton have never had a female president.


Grade Distribution 2016-2017, 3

A source sent us the official registrar’s report (pdf) on the distribution of grades in 2016-2017. (Relevant background: data for 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, recent Record coverage, and prior EphBlog discussion.) Day 3.

The most embarrassing section of the report:


I suspect that the professors in the German Department (we still have a German department?!) are feeling under some pressure to increase enrollment. One way to respond to that pressure is to give everyone an A!

Which professors in the department are most guilty? Tough to tell.

But not impossible! Here are the German courses offered last year:


There were 44 students in the beginning and intermediate 100-level language courses, taught by a mixture of professors in the department. Giving half the students A’s and the other half A-‘s is one way to encourage students to take more German classes!

Much worse, however, is the 4.12 (!) average grade for the 20 students who took either German 201 or 202. The only way to get such a high average is for 1/3 of the students to get an A+ (while everyone else got an A). Who is guilty of such absurd grading? Professor Mandt has finished up her one year visiting position. Professor Kone, on the other hand, is on the tenure track. He is teaching Germ 202 again this spring. How many A+ grades do you think he will award?

The best way for serious faculty members to fight the trend toward awarding too many A+ grades is, perhaps counter-intuitively, to celebrate such exceptional achievement. (Recall that Williams gives this grade hundreds of times each year.) The Administration could require that any faculty member who wanted to award an A+ would be required to schedule a 30 minute public presentation at which the student would present her excellent work and the professor would explain why he judged the work to be among the very best he has ever seen from an undergraduate.

There would still be — I hope there will be! — 10 or so A+ grades awarded each year. On occasion, Williams students do produce some amazing work. We should celebrate their achievements! But handing out 200 such grades each year devalues such truly exceptional work.

Trivia Question: Which Williams faculty member in the last decade was most (in)famous for handing out A+ grades?

Answer: Bernard Moore, affirmative action poster hire for the Political Science department — thanks Cathy Johnson! — and convicted felon.


Williams presidential search news

To the Williams Community,

I hope you are all enjoying the last days of summer, and looking forward, as I am, to the new academic year.

As you know, President Adam Falk recently announced that he will leave Williams at the end of December to become president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. In my role as chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, I have been asked by the Board to lead our search for Adam’s successor. I am writing today to inform you of our considerable progress in organizing the process, and to share with you our plan for interim college leadership beginning in January of 2018, which was approved by the Board of Trustees yesterday.

First, I am pleased to inform you that Protik (Tiku) Majumder, Barclay Jermain Professor of Natural Philosophy and Director of the Science Center, has graciously agreed to serve as interim president, starting January 1, 2018, and continuing until the new president is in place. Tiku has an outstanding record as a Williams teacher and mentor, scientist, and faculty leader, and just as importantly has earned wide trust and respect across the Williams community. Our objective was to find an interim president with a keen understanding of our institution; a love of Williams, of its students, and of its faculty; enormous patience, tact, and insight; and an ability to respond with intelligence, compassion, and calm to the inevitable challenges that will arise from time to time. Tiku has each of these qualities, and many more. He will do a superb job of keeping Williams on track, and I ask you to join me in thanking him and supporting his leadership.

Second, we have formed a Presidential Search Committee whose charge will be to present to the Board of Trustees one or more exceptional and thoroughly vetted candidates to become our next president, and to ensure that every member of the Williams community has an opportunity to give input with respect to qualities that we should be seeking, as well as to offer nominations. The Search Committee includes representatives from every sector of our community: students, staff, alumni, faculty, and trustees. Several members are also Williams parents. As their backgrounds indicate, each brings deep involvement with the College. Service on the committee will require significant time and effort, and I am personally grateful to the members for their dedication to Williams and their willingness to take on this essential task.

The members of the committee are:

Michael Eisenson ’77, Trustee and Chair of the Search Committee
O. Andreas Halvorsen ’86, Trustee
Clarence Otis, Jr. ’77, Trustee
Kate L. Queeney ’92, Trustee
Liz Robinson ’90, Trustee
Martha Williamson ’77, Trustee

Ngonidzashe Munemo, Associate Dean for Institutional Diversity and Associate Professor of Political Science
Peter Murphy, John Hawley Roberts Professor of English
Lucie Schmidt, Professor of Economics
Tom Smith ’88, Professor of Chemistry
Safa Zaki, Professor of Psychology

Chris Winters ’95, Associate Provost

Jordan G. Hampton ’87, President, Society of Alumni
Yvonne Hao ’95, alumna and Trustee Emerita

Ben Gips ’19, student representative
Sarah Hollinger ’19, student representative

Keli Gail, Secretary of the Board of Trustees and principal staff to the committee

Third, the board has retained the firm Spencer Stuart as consultant, to help manage the search process. Spencer Stuart has been involved in numerous recent and successful academic searches at the highest levels, and is very well positioned to help the committee in its work. Searches like this are complex and sensitive, and we expect to benefit greatly from their expertise, specialized resources, and pool of outstanding candidates.

The Search Committee will begin its work shortly, and we will announce opportunities for community input as these are developed. As a first step, we have created a website where you can find information and materials related to the search. We will add to the site as additional materials are available, as further process steps are scheduled, and as we have news to share. Our future email updates will link back to this site as the place of record for search news.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to again thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee for the work they are about to do, and Tiku Majumder for his service as interim president. I also want to convey to our entire community our enthusiasm and optimism as we set out to find the 18th president of Williams College.


Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees


Grade Distribution 2016-2017, 2

A source sent us the official registrar’s report (pdf) on the distribution of grades in 2016-2017. (Relevant background: data for 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, recent Record coverage, and prior EphBlog discussion.) Day 2.


1) Grade inflation is still a problem. The average grade at Williams in 2008-2009 was 3.39. It was 3.41 in 2013-2014. Last year, it was 3.45. So, in the last 8 years, the average has increased by 0.06. In the last 3 years, by 0.04. If the average grade continues to increase at the rate of about 0.01 per year, then, by 2072-2073, we will reach Nirvana! The average GPA at Williams will be 4.0.

2) Grade inflation may be decreasing in severity, perhaps as a natural result of bumping up against the 4.0 ceiling. The average GPA in 2015-2016 was also 3.45. The faculty seem concerned about the problem. Perhaps things are getting under control?

3) Which faculty are most concerned about the problem of grade inflation? My prior (prejudice?) would be that older (male?) faculty are more concerned. This Record article from 1998 has some interesting background.


Grade Distribution 2016-2017, 1

A source sent us the official registrar’s report (pdf) on the distribution of grades in 2016-2017. (Relevant background: data for 2008-2009 and 2013-2014, recent Record coverage, and prior EphBlog discussion.) Day 1.

1) Someone needs to write a thesis about grade inflation at Williams, an update, 20 years later, to “When A=average : the origins and economic implications of grade inflation at Williams College and other elite institutions,” by Peter Siniawer ’97. (And why isn’t this thesis available on-line?)

2) We need more transparency about grading at Williams. Recall my (unsuccessful) efforts to get the registrar to provide this data. Almost anything that is distributed to hundreds of faculty at Williams ought to be made public. Interested alumni/students/parents should not have to depend on EphBlog’s sources . . .

3) Division 1 should be called out for not holding the line on grades:


The most distressing aspect of the differences across Divisions (and across departments) is the bad signals that it sends to students. If a student gets a B+ in an intro Computer Science class but an A in Theater, she might thing that this means she is “better” at theater than computer science. Isn’t this one way that Williams guides her on choosing a major that matches her abilities? But, of course, the College is lying to her. She is an average student in computer science and in theater. Lax grading by the latter is misleading her.

Of course, if the Theater Department, and Division 1 departments more generally, want more students, then misleading them about their actual talents may be just what the ticket . . .


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