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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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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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Required Reading

Interesting essay on the changes in a liberal arts education.

Take two political science majors at almost any elite college or university: It is quite possible for them to graduate without ever having read the same book or studied the same materials. One student may meet his general distribution requirements by taking classes in geophysics and physiological psychology, the sociology of the urban poor and introduction to economics, and the American novel and Japanese history while concentrating on international relations inside political science and writing a thesis on the dilemmas of transnational governance. Another political science major may fulfill the university distribution requirements by studying biology and astronomy, the sociology of the American West and abnormal psychology, the feminist novel and history of American film while concentrating in comparative politics and writing a thesis on the challenge of integrating autonomous peoples in Canada and Australia. Both students will have learned much of interest but little in common. Yet the little in common they learn may be of lasting significance. For both will absorb the implicit teaching of the university curriculum, which is that there is nothing in particular that an educated person need know.

Is this true at Williams? No. Is it more true than it was 25 years ago? Yes.

Are you worried about that trend?

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

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

Math postcards by John S Dykes

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

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

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

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

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

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College Condemns Classroom Sex Show … WSJ

From the Wall Street Journal

“CHICAGO—Northwestern University reversed course on Thursday and condemned a live demonstration of sex in a classroom, after defending the act earlier in the week.

“Many members of the Northwestern community are disturbed by what took place on our campus,” Northwestern President Morton Schapiro said in a statement. “So am I.” He said the university was launching an investigation”.

Thanks to jfw for his email heads up. PST prevents more timely posting.

Original EphBlog post by Ronit and following discussion here. Prediction of one discussant proves correct.

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In other ivory towers…

One wonders if Schapiro is starting to miss Williams…

Schapiro “disappointed” by sex toy demonstration

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

The full statement follows below:

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

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

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

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

More to come.

More from the Daily Northwestern:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Brandi for sending the link.

 

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Self-Designed Majors Increase Elsewhere

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

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

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

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

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Entrepreneurship

A troubling thought has been rattling around my mind since the June Alumni Review arrived. Thanks to the comment thread in one of this week’s Beyond the Log seminar session, I’ve been inspired to post. (Note: there have been more relevant posts since I started this one — particularly yesterday’s Institute of Finance post, but this post is already too long, so it’s going up as is.) In a discussion of “decreas[ing] the penalty placed on international applicants” with the ultimate goal being to “accept a class with the most academically talented and ambitious students from around the world,” Ken pointed out:

the issue which echoes across the educational system . . . creativity and entrepreneurship. The issue, which parallels the problems of Germany and elsewhere, is that you need a new economic system, and people who will lead it, and the people who go to Sciences Po, while incredibly intelligent and ‘clever,’ are not, necessarily, risk-takers.

They’re happy with $140K/yr (plus possibly investments) in a country where, down in Fontainbleau, the children taking the metro will never know lives where they have more than $30K/yr in resources. . .

But that’s what Williams can offer. . . Because the French need what Williams offers. And we could benefit a lot, from giving our students access to that world…

“Creativity and entrepreneurship,” indeed. The alumni review article (link to the June magazine — as David has pointed out, the online magazine unhelpfully doesn’t allow links to individual articles) took a tour through Eph entrepreneurs who have brought their businesses to the Berkshires. That’s living the dream — Williams College at one end of the street and your company at the other. But largely absent from the article — except for a brief mention of the influence of the late Prof. Dick Sabot on Bo Peabody ’94 — was any indication of how the subjects’ Williams education contributed to their business undertakings, other than drawing them to the Berkshire setting.

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Science, Technology, and Human Values

Great article on the front page of the Williams College website about this class, which is taught by Prof. Beaver of the History of Science department.

Link to article

Excerpt:

You have noted that students come in to your class with preconceived notions about science and technology. What do you mean by that?

There is a great deal of mythology around science and technology. The biggest one is that science and technology are always the wellspring of progress. Most students come in to the class believing that innovation invariably moves society forward, that virtually all new discoveries and technologies have practical applications, and that these applications will improve our lives in some measurable way.

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MobileEd

Most teachers I know see mobile phones in the hands of kids as a distraction from class. A local, Williamstown-based startup named MobileEd thinks they can change that. Their thesis is that mobile phones, as computationally powerful tools that most kids already have, can be integrated into the learning process and the curriculum in useful ways, without much additional expense.

Their proposal, to provide resources and curriculum development tools for teachers interested in integrating mobile phones into the learning process, is currently a finalist in the Macarthur/Hastac Digital Media and Learning Competition. Their proposal video features a pilot project held at Williamstown Elementary, where kids used mobile phones to collect data, gather photographic documentation, and record interviews and podcasts.

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Professor Pacelli’s “Zucchero Dolce”

Allow me to draw your attention to math professor Allison Pacelli’s baking blog, and her new business baking cakes and other pastries. She taught a winter study class on “The Art and Science of Baking,” and her students’ final projects are pictured below:

Warning: do not click on any of the following links if you are hungry.

Here are all the delicious things that her winter study class baked, with many photos of students in action. Oh, to be the roommate of a student in the class and “have to” help eat the products! The students apparently had to give a Power Point presentation of a step-by-step explanation of how to make their final project; for instance, how to make a French Buche de Noel.

Pacelli recently turned this into a business, Zucchero Dolce. Current Eph parents, take note: You can order care packages (such as cookies or birthday cakes) from Professor Pacelli, and have them freshly baked and delivered to your student! A Zucchero Dolce care package would be WAY better than the care packages that ACE sold to parents back in the day. I once ate cake baked by Professor Pacelli, and I can vouch for its deliciousness; highly recommended.

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Philosophy Dept. changes major requirements

Philosophy department sets new structure for introductory course

After a year of deliberation, the Department of Philosophy has decided to significantly re-structure its major for the first time in more than two decades. The new major will continue to require nine courses, but now there will be four required classes instead of the previous three.

The required courses Philosophy 101, “Introduction to Moral and Political Philosophy,” and 102, “Introduction to Metaphysics and Epistemology,” have been substituted with a year-long course, Philosophy 201-202, “History of Ancient and Modern Philosophy.” This course structure is similar to that used in art history, where 101 and 102 are taken as a two semester-long segments of one class.

The Philosophy department’s five electives will also have to meet distributional requirements for the major as follows: one contemporary metaphysics and epistemology, one contemporary value theory, one history and one tutorial. The requirement for a senior seminar will remain unchanged. The re-structured major will be implemented with the Class of 2014. Current philosophy students will have the choice of following the old track or the new one.[…]

Philosophy major Patricia Klein ’11 appreciates the new course structure. “It’s hard to tell a priori which orders of courses provide a natural progression, where ideas explored at one time will likely inform discussions later down the road, and which don’t,” she said. Patricia lauded the idea of year-long philosophical history courses that could provide “common knowledge” that allow all majors to interact with one another on the basis of a shared pool of information. “The importance of a strong epistemic background preceding active philosophy is easily underestimated,” Henry Hall ’11 said. He added that the new distributional requirements will ensure “preventing the aforementioned possibility of narrow scopes.”

Alison Hansen-Decelles ’10 sees value in the 100-level writing intensive requirement: “It takes time to figure out what kinds of arguments you can make in philosophy,” she said, “so the 100-level course focused on writing and discussing is a great idea.” She also compared the tutorial requirement to the Socratic method, the gold standard in philosophy instruction.

Sounds like an excellent move to this philosophy major; I agree entirely with the student comments. Read the whole article, including comment from Prof. Dudley, here.

(thanks to Parent ’12 for the link)

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CGCL: The Canon

This discussion comes to us from regular EphBlog commentator Parent ’12


From the introduction for CGCL VI:

“Williams is about to start its first new presidency in a decade.  What does the past tell us about the future?”

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Can a Canon be a Crystal Ball?

What are your associations to the word, canon   … ecclesiastical laws?  … a body of knowledge?  …. music?

When I hear the word, canon, given my past, I first think of a round, like “Row, row, row your boat,” then I think of other contrapuntal music, like a Bach fugue… at some point, “dead, dead, dead white men” will come to mind.

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In December, here on EphBlog, (EB) a discussion started in response to a change in the Art Studio major.  The discussion had been prompted by an essay, “Challenging the Canon,” in the Record (Dec. 9, 2009).   Shelley Williamson, a senior, majoring in French and art studio, wrote

The much-lauded ARTH 101-102 course is no longer the only art history course required to finish the art studio major; instead, any two art history courses will be accepted. Although this modification may seem miniscule to many, it is in fact an incredibly progressive step for the department, one I believe will strengthen the quality of Williams’ art students ten-fold.

You may be asking yourself why anyone would find this problematic enough to deem it a controversy; the truth is that I simply couldn’t tell you. I am a senior art studio major and I absolutely loved my semesters with E.J. Johnson and Eva Grudin, both of whom are amazing professors. In spite of this, I think that the changed requirements will provide art studio students with a great new opportunity for dialogue. ARTH 101-102 is a survey of the Western canon, also known as the Holy Grail of art history. However, in order to think critically about the canon, there must be an understanding of non-canonical art as well. For example, an understanding of Cubism is incomplete without recognizing the influence of African masks on Picasso.

Without a counterpoint, the canon cannot exist. In identifying the Western tradition as the standard, there is also the acknowledgement that another convention should also be present for comparison. As art studio majors, shouldn’t we be able to choose to study the history of the work that most inspires our practice?

Various reactions to the change were expressed in the EphBlog discussion.   They seemed to reflect how a canon, be it a set of tenets, images, or texts, might influence one’s present and future perspective–  how one sees the world and possibly how one wants the world to be.

In response to the change in the art studio major, those who held firmly to the importance of taking Art History 101-102 seemed to believe that one had to have a common body of knowledge, which had to be Western Art, and that one’s understanding of all art was seen through this particular lens.  A less dogmatic position, as far as whether studio majors should be required to take ArtH 101-102, was that Western artists will naturally be aware of Western Art because of their cultural origins.

Another issue raised in the EB discussion  was the relationship between creativity and a canon:  Can innovation or progress occur without exposure to a canon?

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Is the art history canon only Western Art?  Or, must it be Western Art because of the culture of the college, as opposed to the student’s culture?  (Remember, all Williams students do not share the same Western culture.)

And, to provide counterpoint to extend the discussion and return to this year’s CGCL theme of looking to the future-

How far has the canon in art and other fields expanded beyond  “dead white men” to include others?

Knowing what you know now, what changes would you make to the requirements for your major?

If a canon is a crystal ball, is it searching for dead souls, or gazing into the future?

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Challenging the canon?

ARTH 101-102 is no longer the only art history course required to finish the art studio major; instead, any two art history courses will be accepted.

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