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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!

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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.

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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:

germ

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:

germ2

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.

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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.

Sincerely,

Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees

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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.

grades1

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.

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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:

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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Eisenson ’77 on Falk Departure

At 12:53 pm yesterday, just 19 minutes after Falk’s all campus email:

To the Williams Community,

I write, on behalf of the Williams College Board of Trustees and with mixed emotion, to officially confirm that Adam Falk will leave Williams at the end of 2017 to become president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The College has flourished under Adam’s leadership. We have sustained and, indeed, enhanced our position as a national leader in liberal arts education. We have maintained our commitment to providing access to the broadest possible spectrum of exceptional students, attracting ever increasing talent and diversity to our campus. We have had great success recruiting accomplished and highly sought-after new members to join our outstanding faculty ranks and, as well, Adam has built a deep and effective senior leadership team. Our campus is undergoing an ambitious, carefully-orchestrated renewal, with superb new facilities, including the Sawyer Library and a major new center for the sciences, positioning us for the next fifty years, while reflecting a purposeful commitment to managing our carbon footprint. Our alumni and friends have set the historic Teach It Forward campaign well on the path to achieving our ambitious goals, and the College’s finances are in all ways very sound.

Adam has been an exceptionally fine president for Williams. He has demonstrated a keen ability to appreciate and retain the best of Williams traditions, while encouraging the College to grow through a genuine openness to innovation, always with the education and wellbeing of our students foremost in mind. His departure will be a loss for the College and our community, and I will personally miss his wisdom, his friendship, and his deeply thoughtful and principled leadership. At the same time, he will be leaving at a time when the College is as strong, secure and thriving as it has ever been and the Board of Trustees is completely confident that Williams will attract another exceptional talent to lead us into the next decade.

Adam’s last day at Williams will be December 31, 2017. The Board has approved the formation of a search committee, and I have been appointed as its chair. In that capacity I will be back in touch later this Summer with information about the search process. We will organize various opportunities in the Fall for the community to thank Adam for his service and wish him well. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Adam on his exciting next adventure and in making the most of his remaining time in the Purple Valley.

Best regards,
Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees

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The Simpsons on SJWs

Apologies for the temporary absence – the semester does get busy this time of year! Before we return to our regular programming, check out this chunk of a Simpsons episode. It’s hilarious!

Granted, this Simpsons bit is about Yale, but it echoes eerily familiar sentiments here in the Purple Valley…

Funny (relevant) quote:

But we also need to hire more deans to decide which Halloween costumes are appropriate. Eight deans should do it.

Remember the Taco Six? My sides are aching! Then again, in Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom’s words, I wouldn’t want to “impinge on the fun of others“…

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Recent Int’l Graduates Concern with Dean’s Office, 2/3

Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international Williams graduates are having with Dean’s Office, specifically on the reclassification of the Economics major as STEM and its implications.  We’re spending three posts talking about it. The first post discusses troubling decision making by the assistant dean for international student services, Ninah Pretto. This is the second post. Consider the original Facebook post that started this (full FB discussion with comments can be found in the first post):

Screenshot (24) redacted

The original poster, confirmed by the Dean’s Office, stated that the Economics major has been reclassified as STEM by the Williams administration. Consider the list of majors/academic fields considered STEM that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement) maintains. A cursory search will show that general Economics is not considered a STEM subject, only “Quantitative Economics/Econometrics” and “Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics.” Since Williams has newly designated its Economics major as STEM, we can reasonably conclude that the Economics major must have significantly changed to be more quantitative in nature from previous years to warrant this.

Consider the course catalogs from SY 2015-16 and the current school year’s. For the sake of completeness, here is SY 2014-2015, SY 2013-s014, and SY 2012-2013. Checking is left as an exercise to the reader, but a brief summary of what you’ll find: no substantial changes in the Williams Economics major!

Let’s repeat that: there have been no material changes in the Economics major year on year since at least 2012. In other words, it is no more quantitative now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, and five years ago. Last I checked (March 29 2017), Williams has a major in Economics, not in Econometrics/Quantitative Economics/Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics. Princeton, which reclassified its Economics major to STEM, has a math-track Economics major. Williams does not.

Questions/concerns:

  1. Is Williams violating the law by designating its Economics major as a STEM major when it clearly is not? It would seem that this decision is at best, deceptive, and at worst, illegal, especially since this decision has far reaching consequences in terms of visas and immigration for international students.
  2. Recall that Dean Ninah Pretto explicit stated that ultimate determination of this policy rests with Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom. Taking Dean Pretto on her word, we must ask: why did Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom reclassify Economics as a STEM major when it clearly is not? What went into this decision?
  3. In the official list of STEM majors, there are 10 (compared to Econ’s two!) fields of psychology – ranging from social psychology to neuroscience – that count as STEM. Does Williams classify psychology, whose concentrations and subject matter adhere to the official list, as a STEM major? Current psychology majors tell us that no, Williams does not consider psychology as a STEM subject! This begs the question: why not? Clearly, according to the federal bureau that regulates F-1 visas, psychology is a STEM field. 
  4. Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom is a psychology professor! In fact, she is the Hales Professor of Psychology of Williams. So why did Dean Sandstrom classify Economics as STEM and Psychology as not STEM? It seems far fetched to suggest that her expertise in psychology is lacking, so this begs the more troubling question: have either Dean Sandstrom or Dean Pretto read the official list of STEM majors, or do they just haphazardly make these types of decisions? Their actions thus far suggest the latter.
  5. On a related matter, members of the Psychology Student Advisory Board report that there have been efforts to change the division classification of psychology to Div 3, but, notably, they report that psychology professors have said that “there is no way this would happen for psychology if it did not happen for economics first.” The college course catalog still classifies Economics as Div 2, but curiously, changed its designation as STEM, although it is no more quantitative than it was a year (and more!) ago when it wasn’t STEM. However, psychology, which clearly falls under fields considered STEM by the ICE, does not enjoy STEM status. Why? 

I offer an intelligent guess that is not without precedent1: Economics is the most popular major in the college and among international students. If I were a prospective international student who wants to major in economics in the United States, as most who come here do, I would certainly want to go to a school (thus pay tuition) that would allow me to maximize my post-college employment opportunities in the United States. At least two reports on the distribution of GPAs and academic major difficulty suggest Math and Physics are much harder than Economics. So, instead of breaking my back in Real Analysis, I can just take Intermediate Macroeconomics and reap the benefits of a STEM major for my career – wonderful! Too bad for Psychology – even if it is a real STEM field, it just isn’t popular enough at Williams! 

Whatever the motivations of this policy change is, one thing is clear: whoever is making these decisions certainly leaves much to be desired by way of consistency and transparency!

 

1Recall from the first discussion that the Dean’s Office and Dean Ninah Pretto initially stonewalled and/or rejected requests from international student graduates, who no longer pay Williams tuition.

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How Many Williams Students Go to Law School?

Is there public information about how many Williams students go to law school? The LASC publishes this report (pdf) on the top feeder schools. Amherst has sent an average of 63 students each year over the last 5 years, which seems a surprisingly high number. But the report only lists schools that sent at least 54 students last year, a number which many elite liberal arts colleges, like Williams, do not meet. I ask LASC to release the numbers for Williams, but they refused because they have a (reasonable!) policy against such a release. Questions:

How many Williams students have gone to law school over the last decade? EphBlog hopes that the number is much lower than the 63 student average for Amherst.

Why does Amherst send such a high percentage of its graduating class to law school? Do they admit more would-be lawyers? Do more would-be lawyers choose Amherst over other schools? Does something about Amherst encourage students to become lawyers?

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Do Not Create a Foreign Language Requirement

Did the Ad Hoc Committee on International Educational Initiatives (led by Professors Darrow and Rouhi) ever complete the final version of this report 2009 (pdf)? Not that I can find. Perhaps that is all to the good, since one of their recommendations would have been a very bad idea:

The College should work towards instituting a language requirement by 2020.

The COFHE survey from 2006 showed that 51% of Williams students surveyed did not think studying a foreign language was a worthwhile goal during their college career. We recommend every effort to change that perception, not least because more international job opportunities are open to those who can demonstrate proficiency.

1) Although this is just a draft, it is absurd to suggest a new requirement while providing zero discussion of the details. Just what sort of requirement are we talking about? Would one year of Japanese 101-102 be enough? Or do you need two years? Three? Without at least an overview of the issues involved (and how those issues are handled at other schools), there is no reason to take the authors seriously. They should either do some real work or drop this section.

2) A foreign language requirement was almost implemented at the start of Morty’s term. (Who knows this history well?) Morty was glad that it failed because of the opportunity costs involved. We all agree that it would be wonderful if student X learned Japanese. But, assuming student X does not want to, which 4 courses do you think he should drop in order to fit in JAPN 101-102 and 201-202 into his schedule? Morty’s point, obviously, is that Williams students only get to take 32 courses and the vast majority of them are wonderful. We should think long and hard about forcing them to sacrifice the courses they want to take for the courses that we want them to take. (See here for the contrary view.)

3) Morty also mentioned that the language faculty were against the requirement because they knew that there are few things worse than having students in your class who do not want to be there. Have the authors surveyed the Williams language faculty about this proposal?

4) I believe (contrary information welcome) that at every elite school with a language requirement, you are allowed to pass out, either by scoring at a certain level on the AP or the Achievement Test for the language or by passing an exam given by the school. Williams would, almost certainly, offer the same option. And virtually every rich student at Williams would be able to take advantage! Almost every prep school and high quality public high school offers four years of foreign language instruction while guiding/insisting that students bound for elite colleges/universities take advantage of the opportunity. Almost all such Ephs would be able to pass out easily. So, this is not a requirement that binds Williams students equally. It only binds those who did not go to Milton or Newton North. Not that there is anything wrong with screwing over the poor kids!

5) But even those Williams students who did not go to fancy high schools will often have studied several years of foreign language. Many of them would be able to pass out of the requirement as well. How many students would that leave? 200? 50? I really don’t know, but it is a much smaller number than 500.

6) Call it 100 students who could not pass out of the requirement. But some number (25?) of them would take a foreign language anyway. After all, many Williams students want to learn a new language. And bully for them. So, now we are down to 75 students who did not have the opportunity to take a foreign language in high school (or turned down that opportunity) and who don’t want to take a foreign language at Williams. And all of these students will have a very good reason for the decisions they make. Maybe they are very poor at languages. Maybe they are indifferent to learning a language but there are just too many other wonderful Williams courses that they want to take. Do you really think you are doing these (mostly low-income) students a favor by forcing them to take a foreign language? Write a paragraph to them explaining why.

7) The 51% of Williams students who “did not think studying a foreign language was a worthwhile goal during their college career” are almost certainly correct for them. These students do not argue that other students should be prevented from learning Japanese. They just don;t want to learn Japanese themselves. Can you blame them? Learning Japanese is hard! Especially if you have trouble with languages in general, especially if you are taking other serious courses. Do you really think that you know better than them?

8) This sort of sloppy thinking does not belong in a Williams report:

We recommend every effort to change that perception, not least because more international job opportunities are open to those who can demonstrate proficiency.

Of course, if two otherwise equal candidates are applying for a job at the IMF or McKinsey and one of them speaks English and Japanese fluently while the other is English-only then, obviously the former has an advantage in getting the job. But that is not the question relevant to whether or not Williams should have a language requirement. In this case, do any of the 75 students who can not pass out of the requirement and would not otherwise study a language improve their chances of getting a job? Almost certainly not!

First, the vast majority of Williams student never compete for jobs in which speaking another language is a meaningful advantage. Second, even for those jobs where it is, the key distinction is between fluency and non-fluency. McKinsey won’t care if you took a year or two of Chinese at Williams. If you can’t talk to the client fairly fluently in language X then, for most practical purposes, your knowledge of language X is irrelevant to the job. If you just take two years of X at Williams (and then stop), your knowledge of X will be mostly useless as far as the IMF is concerned. And the IMF knows this. Third, the sort of student (recall the characteristics of the 75 students actually effected by the requirement) who did not study a foreign language in high school and does not want to study it at Williams is highly unlikely to want to study the language for more than the absolute minimum he is required to at Williams. Moreover, this sort of student, untalented and resentful, is unlikely to try very hard in the class or do very well. And won’t he be fun to teach!

Summary: A foreign language requirement at Williams would only impinge on mostly poor students from below average high schools with no talent or interest in languages. Forcing them to study a foreign language will not materially improve their job prospects or life outcomes.

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Majors Over Time

Here (pdf) is a summary of major enrollment at Williams over the last decade. Here is a portion of the data:

majors1

Lots of interesting stuff! Worth spending a few days discussing?

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Difference, Power, and Equity IV

The plan (pdf) to replace the Exploring Diversity Initiative (pdf) with a Difference, Power, and Equity requirement will be discussed at this week’s faculty meeting. Day 4, and the end, of our discussion.

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1) Again, it is sleazy for the CEA to list colleges with a similar requirement and not mention colleges, like Amherst and Yale, without one.

2) The College has been pushing these, allegedly, “innovative approaches” for 30 years. Has anything been accomplished? Consider some of the courses that meet the current EDI requirement:

CHIN 101 (F) Basic Chinese (D)
CHIN 102 (F) Basic Chinese (D)
CHIN 201 (F) Intermediate Chinese (D)
CHIN 202 (F) Intermediate Chinese (D)

JAPN 101 (F) Elementary Japanese (D)
JAPN 102 (F) Elementary Japanese (D)
JAPN 201 (F) Intermediate Japanese (D)
JAPN 202 (F) Intermediate Japanese (D)

CLAS 340 (F) Roman Cities in the Near East (D)

CSCI 205 (F) Cinematography in the Digital Age (D)

These look like great classes! But it is absurd to pretend that they, in any meaningful way, involve exploring diversity, or at least exploring diversity more than any competently taught language or history normally class does. Looking closely at the EDI listing (pdf) makes it obvious that one big element here is under-enrolled departments listing every possible class in order to increase student interest. A second element is departments listing at least one class in order to get the diversity apparatchiks off their backs.

Indeed, the cynical way to view EDI/DPE is as the College’s method for moving students from over-subscribed classes that they want to take — especially in economics, psychology, statistics and computer science — into under-subscribed courses in unpopular departments.

The central issue is the hypocrisy of Williams in pretending that it requires students to take courses which “represent our dedication to study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact with, and challenge, each other” while, at the same time, allowing that requirement to be fulfilled by introductory Japanese, but not introductory Arabic.

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This is a fantasy on several levels. First, almost every single non-science class at Williams does this, at least given the constraints of its subject matter. Show me a history or political science or sociology or anthropology or . . . course which does not “study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact with, and challenge, each other.”

Second, it is hard to read “core of their pedagogical mission” as anything other than a plea for indoctrination or as plaintive virtue signalling. Assume (as EphBlog does!) that the Williams faculty is highly competent, that they structure their classes intelligently, providing a balanced coverage of the relevant issues. In that case, the amount of time that, say, HIST 284: Introduction to Asian American History spends on the “shaping of social differences” is appropriate even if it is not the “core” of the class. If you believe that Williams faculty are competent, than you should assume that they spend the appropriate amount of time on issues relating to difference, power and equity, given the subject of their course. Why wouldn’t they?

Moreover, we assert unapologetically that the elimination of a curricular commitment to difference and power would send a terrible signal to our community and beyond.

Is there a better example of virtue signalling at Williams in the last year? Recall that this requirement does nothing meaningful to change the content of specific courses. The syllabus of HIST 284 is going to be the same as it would have been if the professor taught at Amherst. Removing the requirement does not change a single class at Williams. It just allows students to take the courses that they want to take, which is the same freedom as Yale and Amherst allow their students.

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Difference, Power, and Equity III

The plan (pdf) to replace the Exploring Diversity Initiative (pdf) with a Difference, Power, and Equity requirement will be discussed at this week’s faculty meeting. Day 3 of our discussion.

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“Profound changes?” Really? Shallow people often think that This Time Is Different, that no one before has ever had the thoughts that they have now, that the historical moment in which, by sheer happenstance, they inhabit is unique in some way. Historians know better.

And this is all the more true at Williams College. Do these authors really believe that students 30 years ago where unaware of the importance of “power,” that they were unconcerned with issues of “equity?” Professor Kurt Tauber was teaching Marxism at Williams 50 years ago!

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What would the excellent professors in the Williams Philosophy department make of this sort of prose? I bet that Joe Cruz or Alan White would offer suggestions like these:

The Writing Intensive requirement is dedicated to the critical and practical development of communication over diverse fields towards developing varied, multi-disciplinary methods of transmitting and exchanging knowledge makes students better writers. … Finally, the Difference, Power, and Equity requirement will give students the opportunity to develop their own critical perspectives about evolving social questions from past to present, thoroughly grounded in information about and theories of difference teaches students critical thinking about social standing. (? — Some examples would be useful.)

Leaving these quibbles aside, we are left marveling at the magical thinking embedded in this Williams Curricular Triad. (Useless capitalization is the best sign of nonsense at Williams. Recall the Williams House System.)

First, are they necessary? One would hope that every Williams in any of the humanities — History, English, Philosophy, et cetera — would involve extensive writing. (Any such class that doesn’t should be cancelled.) Very few students would graduate from Williams without taking a writing intensive course even if no such class were required, especially given the existence of the Divisional requirements.

Second, do they do any good? The main impact of these requirements is probably the effect the combination of the three minimum courses in Division III and/or the Quantitative Requirement has on students who don’t want to take any math/science classes. Do such students benefit from being forced to do so? I doubt it. Do any readers have personal anecdotes to offer?

Fortunately, there is a simple way to answer these questions: Randomly select 200 members of the class of 2021 and free them from all requirements (except for 32 classes and a major). Then, in just four years, we can estimate the causal effects of these requirements. In line with the null hypothesis of education, I predict that forcing students to take courses that they don’t want to take has no effect on any outcome we care about. Ultimately, though that is an empirical claim. Why won’t Williams — which Adam Falk often claims is and/or should be a leader in college education — perform this simple experiment?

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Difference, Power, and Equity II

The plan (pdf) to replace the Exploring Diversity Initiative (pdf) with a Difference, Power, and Equity requirement will be discussed at this week’s faculty meeting. Day 2 of our discussion.

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1) The most annoying aspect of this description is its ahistoricism. Do these folks really believe that only now — or for the 30 years that Williams has had a “diversity” requirement — we live in “a globalizing world that tends toward the redrawing of lines of identity and power”? Those trends have been going on for hundreds of years! Ephraim Williams died thinking of himself as an Englishman, only for his namesake free school to be born in these United States.

2) The second most annoying aspect is the authors’ ignorance about what has changed at Williams and what has not. It is false to claim that “we also constitute a campus community that has by many measures become significantly more diverse in the past few decades.” As we have shown, time and again, on EphBlog, the Williams of today is, on almost all the measures that really matter, indistinguishable from the Williams of the 1980s and perhaps even the 1950s or 1920s. The claim that socio-economic diversity has increased is a lie. There has been no change in the sorts of high schools — elite, often private — which Williams students attended. They may, perhaps, have been some changes in the racial composition but even that change has merely mirrored changes in the US as a whole. Williams is every bit as elite now as it has been for 100 years. And thank goodness for that!

But, instead of criticism, let’s talk tactics. What could a faculty skeptic of this requirement do at today’s faculty meeting? (Informed commentary welcome!)

First, change the new DPE requirement so that it automatically expires after 5 years, just like the ill-fated Gaudino Option of a decade ago. It would be impossible for non-progressive faculty members, given the current environment, to just remove EDI. But, perhaps, we could plant a time bomb that would blow up this nonsense sometime in the 2020s . . .

Second, ask for evidence that the current EDI requirement has actually achieved any of its goals. The CEA is thorough in that it does list some of the requirements at peer schools. But the CEA is also extremely sleazy to not even mention not that many peer schools, like Amherst and Yale, have no similar social justice requirements. Do students at those schools lack the ability to “analyze critically the shaping of social differences?” I doubt it!

EphBlog votes Yes! Despite all my criticisms and even if nothing in this proposal changes, EphBlog is still a Yes vote because the more that we can get race out of the discussion, the better off Williams (and America!) will be. Of course, DPE still explicitly mentions “race” — How could it not? — but as just one of many issues. Race is less central to DPE than it was to EDI, and it was less central to EDI than it was to the original diversity requirement of Peoples and Cultures. This is change we can believe in!

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Difference, Power, and Equity I

The plan (pdf) to replace the Exploring Diversity Initiative (pdf) with a Difference, Power, and Equity (DPE) requirement will be discussed at this week’s faculty meeting. Day 1 of our discussion.

Requirements are bad. Beyond demanding that students major in something and take 32 classes, Williams should place no further limits on student course selection. As former President Morty Schapiro was fond of pointing out, your time at Williams is limited. You only have 32 “golden tickets.” Every time the College makes you take a class that you would otherwise not have taken, it (potentially, at least) burns one of those tickets. Even the number 32 is often an overestimate since it does not include the 9 (or more) courses in your major or the 4 (or 8) courses you miss while studying abroad. In terms of pure discretion, the number of golden tickets might be as low as 15. Unless the Administration has a compelling reason to believe that a student is making a mistake when she picks course X over course Y, they should let her decide. She knows best.

The proposal:

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Can any insider give us the background? This seems to be a revised proposal. How does it differ from the first? Is it likely to pass? What is the constellation of forces for and against?

If you are the Record and you use this document, you should credit EphBlog. The College (stupidly) refuses to make the material distributed before faculty meetings public. More transparency please! Putting faculty meeting materials (and the notes which follow) here makes sense because, first, this is high quality work! Second, any document that you e-mail to 300+ people is more-or-less public anyway.

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Course Advice

Spring classes start on tomorrow. What courses should you take? See our previous discussions.

1) Any tutorial. 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. Recommended:

PHIL 340 Spring 2017 Locke and Leibniz with Justin Shaddock. This course is, obviously, designed for students who have taken a philosophy course. But don’t let that stop you! Also, if you haven’t studied philosophy in a Williams tutorial, then you really haven’t studied philosophy.

PSCI 354 Spring 2017 Nationalism in East Asia (D) with Sam Crane, ENVI 228 – T1 (S) TUT Water as a Scarce Resource (W) with Ralph Bradburd and LEAD 355 – T1 (S) TUT American Realism (W) with James McAllister. Given the all-star teaching reputations of Sam, Ralph and James, these tutorials are almost certainly over-subscribed. But it never hurts to try. Just tell them that EphBlog sent you!

ARTH 300 Spring 2017 Rembrandt Tutorial: Case Studies of Individual Works and Controversial Issues (W) with Zirka Filipczak. 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 like this, you are doing it wrong.

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!

2) 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. If the professors tell you that the classes are filled, just tell them that you plan on majoring in statistics so you need to get started now.

3) CSCI 135: Diving into the Deluge of Data (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with 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 things, including, for example, the ability to write well. Taking CSCI 136 is also highly recommended. Again, if a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future computer science major. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

4) PHIL 207 – 01 (S) SEM Philosophy of Mind (W) with Joe Cruz, former EphBlogger and all around great guy. And don’t worry about the silly prerequisites. Just tell Joe that EphBlog sent you!

Here are some thoughts from 10 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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Professor At Williams

A recurrent debate in academia is: How much should standardize test scores count in admissions? This debate occurs at Williams, but the College, like almost all its elite peers, decided long ago that the answer would be: A lot! Graduate school admissions, on the other hand, are more varied. Some schools/programs prefer not to weight GRE scores that heavily, sometimes justifying this stance by noting that such scores don’t predict success in graduate school that well. Of course, most of the time this lack of success is due to a restriction of range. Math GRE scores don’t predict success in the Harvard Physics PhD program because all the students in the program have 800s.

In this context, Taylor Rabon, a biology post-doc at Indiana, tweeted:

professoratwilliams

1) Exactly right! Standardized test scores probably help the student from U Mass in her competition with the student from Williams.

2) Always nice to see Williams used to mean privileged. This is part of our brand!

3) I have heard that Williams professors do an excellent job, on average, in their recommendation letters. True? The Physics Department, for example, has an amazing track record in terms of getting its students into top graduate programs.

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Grade Distribution for 2013–2014

An anonymous professor provided this Williams grade distribution (pdf) for 2013-2014. Comments:

1) Williams should be more transparent, especially with information like this that is available to hundreds of Ephs. (I believe that all members of the faculty are e-mailed a copy.)

2) Summary:

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Key question: Has grade inflation at Williams (almost) stopped? Recall this discussion from 8 years ago which quotes a Record article from 2000:

The most frequently given grade in 1999 was an A- and the mean grade hovered just above a B+ at 3.34.

If the average grade since 2000 has only increased from 3.34 to 3.41 then grade inflation, while still a problem, has at least slowed down significantly. The overall average in 2008–2009 was 3.39. Again, the thing I find most embarrassing (and what we need current data about) is the hundreds of A+ grades handed out.

3) The results by Division are consistent with the standard stereotypes.

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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 Theatre, she might thing that this means she is “better” at theatre 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 theatre. Lax grading by the latter is misleading her.

There is much more here. Worth a week to discuss?

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Course Advice

Fall classes start on Thursday. What courses should you take? See our previous discussions.

1) Any tutorial. 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. Recommended:

MATH 102: Foundations in Quantitative Skills with Mihai Stoiciu. This course is, obviously, designed for students with a limited math background, but, if you are in that category, you would be a fool to pass up the chance to learn from one of the best professors at Williams.

PSCI 219: Women in National Politics with Joy James. 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.

SOC 248: Altering States: Postsoviet Paradoxes of Identity and Difference with Olga Shevchenko. It does not matter if you care about Russia. As always, choose the professor, not the class. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial like this, you are doing it wrong.

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!

2) 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.

3) CSCI 135: Diving into the Deluge of Data (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with 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 things, including, for example, the ability to write well. Taking CSCI 136 is also highly recommended.

4) PHIL 394: Topics Mind & Cognition with Joe Cruz, former EphBlogger and all around great guy. And don’t worry about the silly prerequisites. Just tell Joe that EphBlog sent you!

Here are some thoughts from 9 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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Bailey Thesis Students

One of the many ways you can know that Duane Bailey is everything a Williams professor should be is because he brags about his thesis students. Why don’t more Williams professors do the same? Because they care more about promoting their own work than they care about promoting the work of their students.

But what is worse is that Williams does not care (as much) as it should . . .

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Grade Inflation

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Imagine that Professor Kornell wants to do something about this. What advice do you have for him?

Start with transparency. What is the distribution of grades at Williams today? How has it changed over time? How does it vary by department? There is no good reason to keep this a secret, other than shame. Here is the data from 2008–2009. Here is recent data for Middlebury.

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Student Theses

Kudos to the Williams library for putting so many senior theses on-line! There is a lot of great stuff here. Start with “Do H-1B Visas Affect Natives’ Wages?” by Michael Navarrete ’16. Highly relevant in the age of Trump.

I am embarrassed to note that some theses are not available. One example is “An analysis of the water quality and its effect on the Williams College Class of ʹ66 Environmental Center” by Stephen Mayfield ’16. Any Williams thesis which is not publicly available causes knowledgeable observers to think that its quality is low and/or that the advisers (Professors Dethier and Thoman) are foolish. Perhaps this is connected to the backward nature of chemistry as an academic field and the debate we had a decade ago but which I can not find a link to?

Should we spend a week browsing through the archive? Recall our previous discussions about excellent senior theses like Doleac ’03, Taylor ’05 and Nurnberg ’09.

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Mellon Mays / Allison Davis Research Fellows

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Background info:

The Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship (MMUF) and the Allison Davis Research Fellowship (ADRF) work to increase racial and socio-economic diversity in higher education by preparing students from underrepresented groups for academic careers.

Both the MMUF and the ADRF fellowships provide opportunities for faculty-mentored research, preparation for graduate school, and individualized support from the Office of Special Academic Programs.

The more summer research opportunities that the College provides for its students, the better. Summer in Williamstown is magical! Here is a picture of (last summer’s?) fellows:

fellows

Is this program one of those no-Asians-nor-whites need apply?

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Biology Requirement for WGS?

This fascinating history of free speech on campus includes an interesting side note:

In designing any women’s studies program, for example, surely a basic requirement for students should be at least one course in basic biology, so that the role of hormones in human development could be investigated — and rejected, if necessary. But no, both women’s studies and later gender studies evolved without reference to science and have thus ensured that their ideology remains partisan and one-dimensional, stressing the social construction of gender. Any other view is regarded as heresy and virtually never presented to students even as an alternative hypothesis.

1) At Williams, the current name of women’s studies is “Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.”

Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) is an interdisciplinary program designed to encourage students to focus critically on gender and sexuality. Many of our courses investigate how assumptions about gender and/or sexuality operate in society, shaping feminine, masculine, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer identities, and how they influence social and political structures. Integral to the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies is the idea of intersectionality- that (amongst other axes of identification) race, ethnicity, class, ability, nationality, and religion are important factors in the any critical understanding of gender and sexuality.

WGSS has existed in some form at Williams for over 30 years. Women’s Studies was formalized into a program in 1983, and name changes over the years have reflected increasing attention in the interdisciplinary field to issues of gender and sexuality studies. We have offered a major since 2002, and have graduated over 300 majors and concentrators since the program was established.

How many name changes have there been? I recall a conversation with a Williams administrator who made fun of WGSS for this schizophrenia.

2) Is there a direct correlation between the rigor of an academic field (or Williams major) and the number of required courses?

The major consists of at least 9 courses. The following are required:

Introduction to Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS 101)
Junior/Senior Seminar in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

3) I see nothing in the course descriptions (pdf) that teaches anything related to “basic biology.” Has there ever been such a course in WGSS? I doubt it. Do you think there should be? I do!

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A Minor Problem II

We’re spending two days on minors at the college. If you haven’t, read this article, which we’ll be covering, before proceeding to the excerpted text below:

Having established how minors better illustrate an applicant’s areas of specialization to employers, and why specialization is even important in one’s education to begin with, we can now examine how minors could help support a diverse education in particular. Currently, about 38 percent of students at the College double major. Double majors take up a significant fraction of one’s education, and ought to be pursued by a more limited group of students to whom a pair of majors confers some unique value in light of their interests. At a school where breadth and diversity, especially in coursework, are core tenets of the education, it’s surprising that such a wide swath of the student body pours their academic careers primarily into two areas of study. But, this phenomenon is not a reflection of a student body that is set on double majoring. At Dartmouth, a slightly larger institution which is less devoted to the liberal arts than here, only about 15 percent of the students double major. This is because 30 percent of students at Dartmouth graduate with a minor.

While I duly commend our student authors for coming at Dartmouth sideways like that (“less devoted” to the liberal arts? Ouch!),  I think they’re burying the lede somewhat. Why does anyone care about minors to begin with? I doubt it’s a money thing. We went over this briefly yesterday, but, all save for the most optimistic would agree that minors are usually of middling value in the job market.

The only serious reason remaining for pursuing a minor (other than vanity) is for the structure that a minor degree builds into your education. And that’s what we should really be worried about: are students flocking towards supernumerary minors and majors because so much of their non-major coursework lacks coherence, and structure?

That explanation satisfies me, at least more thoroughly than any other. For all their great talent and alleged intelligence, Williams students are still very young and mostly untutored. It’s not strange that they’d want guidance. And, I think we realize that! We require faculty advising for first-years, major advising for upperclassmen, and staff bespoke academic advisers for near everything else — law school, medical school, foreign service, study abroad.

Why can’t we do something similar for non-major coursework? Granted, there are problems with advising, and giving every student an academic adviser for all four years would be impractical, but, given how often and loudly we hype the value of liberality in education, we ought to at least be doing something to make sure students are proceeding through their out-of-major classes in a way that’s thoughtful.

Comments welcome — particularly from ephs in academia (of which there are a few.)

 

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A Minor Problem I

Among what seems to be the last crop of Record articles for the year is this Op-Ed on minors at the college. Sadly, perhaps because it was published right before finals, the piece hasn’t elicited any comments. Which is a shame! The two student authors who penned this article obviously put some time into writing it and we ought to take some time to listen, although not uncritically, to what they have to say. An excerpt:

While the value of having minors for the job search process has the easy potential to be exaggerated, minors offer some appreciable value when graduates seek work. This value comes in the form of official certification. Students have the ability, even without minors, to take around five courses in a subject. But, for employers, it is difficult to discern such a specialty without formal certification. While employers with thorough hiring procedures will likely notice such areas of commitment by combing through an applicant’s transcript, a minor can ensure that an applicant’s disciplines of specialty don’t go overlooked. Minors do not change one’s ability to specialize in a subject. Rather, by providing official certification, they make it easier for these academic specialties to be recognized.

Quite a bit here, but, let’s be brave and soldier on. Comments:

1) I start to take issue at the second line: minors offer “appreciable value” when graduates seek work? I’m doubtful. Major degrees barely signal expertise anymore; why would a minor? My guess is that a minor — even one relevant to a given position — helps you get a job about as much as being an amateur flautist helps you get into Williams. Which is to say, not very.

2) Even if we’re willing to grant that minor degrees have “appreciable,” albeit small, value to employers, is that a good reason to offer them? There’s quite a few things the college could do to pump up the value of the Williams degree: start mentioning our US News ranking in advertisements, recruit harder, maybe inflate grades a bit more to help those not graduating cum laude get into fancy professional schools.

And, strangely, I’m alright with most of those things! We ought to do the best we can to communicate the value of a Williams education to everyone — prospective students, employers, the hoi polloi, everyone — but we shouldn’t cheapen ourselves to do it.

Now grade inflation is well ahead of the “cheapening ourselves” line. Is offering minors? I’d have to say  so. We’re talking about a total of five courses for a minor — one introductory, one “gateway” and three or so conducted at a level that we might term “intermediate.” Is that really enough expertise to award a degree for? If so, where do we draw the line? Should we also start giving students commendatory stickers for every course they manage to pass?

In any serious field, and I like to think that all areas of studies at Williams are serious, five courses is enough to get your feet wet. Which is alright! You can only do so much in four-years; perhaps recognizing how much is left to learn would do the student body more good than vigorously credentialing what little they’ve actually learned.

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Every Eph a Teacher

What is the cheapest way to expand the number of classes that Williams offers? Encourage the many non-faculty members to offer courses in their areas of expertise, first during Winter Study and then, perhaps later, during the regular semester.

As a concrete example, consider longtime friend of EphBlog justin adkins, Assistant Director, Gender, Sexuality and Activism at the Davis Center. justin, using a syllabus along these lines, could give a wonderful course on racial justice next January. It might not be the most popular class during Winter Study, but I have no doubt that a dozen or so students would sign up and have a great experience.

But justin is just one among many Eph administrators who could teach Winter Study classes in their areas of expertise. How about Meg Bossong ’05 on sexual assault or Chris Winters ’95 on data analysis and higher education? None of these folks should be forced to teach a class, of course. But I bet that the vast majority, and a dozen or more others, would jump at the chance if Adam Falk suggested it. Recommended slogan:

Every Eph a Teacher

The benefits of such a program are almost too numerous to mention. There might be some pushback from the more guild-protecting members of the faculty, but nothing that could not be overcome, at least for Winter Study classes. Would any readers be against this idea?

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Grade Inflation

Grade inflation is a problem at Williams, one we have discussed many times in the past. Start here for a good introduction. The most annoying aspect of the debate is the refusal by Williams to make the data public, or at least available to students and alumni.

Here are the grade distributions at Middlebury.

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The average grade at Middlebury has increased from 3.32 to 3.53 in 11 years. How much higher will it go in the future?

Why can’t Williams be as transparent as Middlebury when it comes to this important topic?

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More Viewpoint Diversity

Got a New Year’s wish for Williams? Tell us in the comments! Mine is for more viewpoint diversity.

But something alarming has happened to the academy since the 1990s: it has been transformed from an institution that leans to the left, which is not a big problem, into an institution that is entirely on the left, which is a very big problem.

Nowadays there are NO conservatives or libertarians in most academic departments in the humanities and social sciences. The academy has been so focused on attaining diversity by race and gender (which are valuable) that it has created a hostile climate for people who think differently. The American Academy has become a politically orthodox and quasi-religious institution. When everyone shares the same politics and prejudices, the disconfirmation process breaks down. Political orthodoxy is particularly dangerous for the social sciences, which grapple with so many controversial topics (such as race, racism, gender, poverty, immigration, politics, and climate science). America needs innovative and trustworthy research on all these topics, but can a social science that lacks viewpoint diversity produce reliable findings?

Read the whole thing. I believe that there are no public “conservatives or libertarians” in any department at Williams outside of Division III. Counterexamples welcome!

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