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Spring 2019 Preregistration, October 29 – November 5

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

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

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

*Review your Academic Progress Report (attached) against distribution requirements

*Review the early concentration rules for first-year and sophomore students,

*Review the preregistration instructions and information at the Registrar’s website

*Preregister for four courses. This is your best chance of getting in to the courses you want. Review the Registration Timeline for what happens between now and drop/add

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

Mary L. Morrison
Associate Registrar

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

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



Changes in Majors, 4

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

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

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

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

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


Changes in Majors, 3

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

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

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

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

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


Changes in Majors, 2

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

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

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

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

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

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


Changes in Majors, 1

Jim Reische provided this detailed information (pdf) about changes in majors over the last 30 years. Previous discussions here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for four days. Day 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recruiting in China for the Heart of the Midwest …

(Illustration: The New York Times)
Recent EphBlog discussions have involved admissions of International students and the issue of pricing. The New York Time runs this interesting feature on Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa and their very active recruiting program. Williams is also mentioned as a participant in a joint effort in country.

Location, location, location:
Maybe not.


Enrollment Limits in Psychology

From WSO:

The Psyc department seems to be making a habit of dropping over 50% of applicants for their classes (around 50-60 students for a typical 200 level course). I hope Williams is doing something about this…it’s a really serious problem. Last semester, I know of at least 3 courses which dropped at least 50 students, and I’m assuming there were other overenrolled courses which I didn’t happen to know friends in. All told, that single department is probably dropping at least 200 students every semester. That’s ~10% of the student population! I guess I’m wondering why the class size caps are so stringent. Is there really that little space? Could we schedule Bronfman, Wege, and the TPL/TBL lecture halls more effectively so that we could offer more courses to a larger group? Last semester, I had a chem course with only 7 people in Wege, with no class before it, while the Psyc department was dropping tons of students due to ‘size caps’ which I can only assume are due to space constraints in the small Bronfman rooms. After all, wouldn’t a larger course be more valuable than a course that no one gets to take?

1) Williams should be more transparent. The Registrar should publish information about the number of students who seek to enroll in each class and the number that were dropped. We don’t need to know the names of the specific students, obviously, although information about class and major might be useful.

2) Are the 200-level Psychology courses known/thought to be guts? If not, then why is there so much interest in them? There are dozens of fascinating 200-level courses in smaller departments like Religion, Sociology/Anthropology, Philosophy, Art History, and so on. Why don’t more students choose them first?

3) I think that some/most of the dropping has nothing to do with class room availability per se. There are plenty of big lecture halls on campus! And nothing prevents the department from offering multiple sections. Keep two other factors in mind. First, the College (driven by both good pedagogy and concern over US News rankings) wants to minimize the number of large lectures, especially those with 50 or more students. Second, professors (for mostly good reasons) prefer smaller classes to larger ones. They are somewhat sad to drop dozens of students but also think that doing so allows them to provide a better education to those who remain.

4) Given that Psychology has a (deserved?) reputation as a too-easy major, the Department ought to use this popularity as an occasion to get more pedagogically serious, just as Economics did a few years ago. Requiring some more serious statistics (like, say, STAT 200) would do the trick nicely.

5) Williams course offerings should be driven by long term student interests. If lots of students want to take, say, PSYC 222: Minds, Brains, and Intelligent Behavior: An Introduction to Cognitive Science, then more sections should be offered, more professors in this area hired. Conversely, courses with lower enrollments should be dropped.


Female-to-male ratio now 55:45

Most interesting snippet in this month’s EphNotes?

Williams admitted 1,200 students out of 6,633 applicants–an 18 percent acceptance rate. Of accepted students, 659 are women and 543 are men, bringing the female to male admit ratio to 55:45.

I think I have heard that Williams, like most other schools, has a policy to accept female and male students in the same proportion as those who applied. So from this we deduce that 55% of applicants were female. However, this could (will?) create a significant gender imbalance at Williams.

I seem to recall arriving on campus in fall 2003 and learning that our class (’07) was the first class to have a 50-50 gender balance; all previous classes had more males than females. I found this interesting because I had also been a member of the first 50-50 class at Phillips Exeter, four years earlier. I am somewhat surprised that it only took seven years to go from 50-50 to 55-45.

This is a reflection of a larger trend, of more females pursuing higher education than males. Here is (fluffier but more recent) background from the NYT and (less fluffy, less recent) more background from the NYT on the trend of more females than males in college.



Psychology Course Enrollments

Consider current enrollments (highlighted by hwc) in some psychology classes.

PSYC 101   Introductory Psychology                                  155
PSYC 201   Experimentation and Statistics                            19
PSYC 221   Cognitive Psychology                                      55
PSYC 242   Social Psychology                                         55
PSYC 252   Psychological Disorders                                   55
PSYC 272   The Psychology of Education                               51

Now, as always, this data is difficult to work with. I think that there may be many more students enrolled in PSYC 201 than 19, but that there are multiple sections. In any event, there is no excuse for a Williams major to consist of so many large lecture courses. Why not just go to Penn State? If you do not have a dozen or more substantive interactions with each of your professors over the course of a semester, you aren’t really getting a Williams education.

Why are these classes so large? How rigorously are they taught?


Full Courses

Is there an easy way for a student to grab information from PeopleSoft about all the courses that are currently full and all that are currently empty? If not, could our readers pick their favorite departments (I would like to see MATH/STAT, HIST, PSCI, PSYC and ENGL next) and post the results in the comments? Thanks! Below the break are the results for ECON and PHIL.

Why are we doing this? First, the more data we have about Williams, the better we are able to evaluate what is going well and what is not. The College does not make this data available to alumni, so, without student help, we can’t tell if Williams is doing a good job of matching the supply of courses/professors with student demand. Second, we would like to create a time series of data. Perhaps the issue isn’t a big one on campus this year, but it might matter in 2 or 3 year. If so, those future students are going to appreciate having this information. Third, this data highlight, I think, continuing mistakes by the college in how it allocates resources and structures courses. Previous discussion here. But we can’t have a fully informed conversation about that without more/better data.

ECON and PHIL data below.
Read more


Closed Classes

Here is a discussion on College Confidential about how to get in to closed classes, i.e., classes which are already full. Question: How many classes are currently full and which ones are they? It would be great to see that information and discuss it. I hope that there aren’t too many full classes, that the faculty does a good job of adjusting their offerings to student demand. Do they?

Comments are open.


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