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Boston Meeting Notes

Below are my notes on Morty’s speech at the Boston Alumni Meeting on Tuesday night. Key points: WNY is dead. Financial crisis is not that bad. Need-blind admissions for internationals is safe (I think).

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WNY Decision

I think that the faculty is deciding the fate of Williams in New York right now. Predictions? (I have no idea.) Perhaps a faculty reader will let us know what happened. Tough for supporters to rally the troops on a day when the stock market is testing the October lows. I hope that WNY gets saved, but only under the condition that it starts to be run more sensibly and cheaply, starting by having only one professor in residence at a time but with the responsibility of running all the course work herself. Prior commentary here.

UPDATE: WNY lives! An anonymous faculty resource reports that the vote was 77 to 44. I think that there may also been a directive to “reimagine” the program, but the details are hazy. Will Slack ’11 was at the meeting, so perhaps he will post a blow-by-blow. Kudos to all the supporters of WNY for a fight well fought.

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WNY Updates

Crunch time for Williams in New York is next week. (Read our archives for background and these two Record articles.) The Record reports:

Debate regarding the continuation of the Williams in New York Program (WNY) will revive in the upcoming months, with extensive discussion scheduled for the Oct. 15 faculty meeting and a final decision planned for the Nov. 12 meeting. Faculty voted to table the motion at its meeting in May, where dialogue quickly revealed the complex issues underlying the decision.

I don’t have much to add beyond my previous commentary. Highlights:

1) A central concern with WNY is that it is not really WNY so much as Robert-Jackall-NY. Professor Jackall deserves all the credit for creating this wonderful program, but it needs to be designed to go on without him. Moreover, it is probably suspect for it to be overly “sociological” in its approach. One way to view the entire debate is as a method for Morty to force the program to get serious about its permanent structure.

2) There are two plausible permanent structures. First, we could make it just like Williams-in-Oxford. Students arrange whatever classes they like with the help of a single Williams faculty member who contracts out with either NYU or even a collection of adjuncts. There is much to be said for such a model. Second, we could institute a “standard” curriculum that would be constant from year-to-year. Course 1 would be the internships and associated discussions/presentations, as now. (Whether or not this is usefully described as “field work” is a different question.) Course 2 would be all about New York, originally designed by Marissa Doran ‘05. I can’t find the syllabus for this class, but it provided a wonderful tour of the history of New York City. Course 3 would be what? Suggestions welcome! Course 4 would be left to the discretion of whatever faculty member was in residence.

The problem with the current structure is that, each year, too much of the course work changes, too much is dependent on the interests of whatever faculty member happens to be there. I think (correctly) that this is a key reason for some of the popularity problems that WNY has faced.

3) Although I would vote to keep WNY, I worry about what is coming. If Morty really loved the program, its continuation would be assured. Yet costs are a real issue, despite the fact that the Waters Report handles the topic clumsily. If Morty does not like the program and is worried about spending (and you can sure of the latter), then how can it be saved? I think that the proponents of WNY need to be much more specific about how they see the program working over the next decade.

I had an e-mail exchange with a student involved in the lobbying effort last year. He graciously allowed me to quote him anonymously. Below are his comments.

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Students for Williams in New York

This year has seen activity from “SWNY,” or Students for Williams in New York, after the recommendation to shut the program down or restructure from last spring.

The new group released a report on September 29th on the program that can be seen here. Be sure to look at the supporting documents as well, especially the appraisals and student work, which I can’t link directly to.

I had held off on this because the report requires a password. However, now that the Record has published it (as well as a Daily Message), I release it to all: robertmoses. If a SWNY member has a problem with publishing this (and I’ve checked with a few), e-mail me at wls1 to take it down, but I think they’ve gone completely public.

Enjoy; it’s worth a look.

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Jackall Response

I will be posting more material associated with the debate over Williams in New York. Below is the letter that Professor Robert Jackall sent to faculty members in response to the Waters Report. Comments:

1) How is this report delivered to faculty members? Is there an e-mail list for all faculty at Williams that something like this (and other material) goes out on? Or physical copies put in faculty mail boxes? I am always curious about the mechanics of exactly how Williams functions.

2) It is a shame that material like this is not made public. Any document that is distributed to 300 faculty members is, essentially, in the public domain anyway. It is not hard (for me) to find an anonymous source to provide a copy as I have done here. But it is a bother. Any document like this should be posted on the web. The College is doing somewhat better on this front (note the collection of letters from the President and the Provost) but more transparency is better.

3) For those to lazy to read Jackall’s response, I will summarize and comment. He offers three arguments for a No vote (which would keep WNY going). First, the Report does a shoddy job of gathering and presenting data. Second, it “misstates” the costs of WNY. Jackall clearly wins on both these points. Indeed, if I were the person (Morty?) in the Administration who wanted to end WNY, I would be upset about what a subpar job the Committee did. Even if you didn’t think that you would learn much from interviewing the students from Fall 2007, you still needed to do so. Jackall argues, third, that the Committee misunderstands the purpose of WNY. I think that there is a lot more to be said about this aspect of the debate, but not today.

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CC Minutes 2008-04-30

Another amazing set of minutes (an hour of minutes?) from hard-working College Council Secretary Emily Deans ’09. Read the whole thing but note these comments on WNY.
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More Thoughts on WNY

Interested in my thoughts on the debate over WNY? Read below.
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WNY Updates and a Suggestion

Here are some updates on the fight to save Williams in New York. (Don’t forget to read the Report.) Below you will find the text of an e-mail being sent around to various alumni (including at least one trustee) and the letter to the faculty that alumni/students are being asked to sign. But first, my advice to Ben Sykes ’08 and the other students leading this fight.

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The Silent Dog

Thought that my 1,400 words on the cost of the WNY program was my last word on the topic? Think again!

The Waters Report is a political document, designed to lead its readers to certain conclusions. It does so by means both fair and unfair. One of its principal complaints is the “significant expense” of WNY, yet its description of those expenses and comparisons to Williams-Exeter Program in Oxford (WEPO) is incomplete at best.

But the dog that does not bark in the Report is Williams Mystic. Here we have a program with similar aims, also serving a small, largely self-selected group of students and faculty. Like WNY (and unlike WEPO) it has an explicit focus on experiential learning and an implicit leaning toward certain academic fields. Why does the Report never mention Williams Mystic? Specifically, why are we not told how the per student “subsidy” compares between Mystic and WNY?

A priori, I would have expected such a comparison to make WNY look bad. Surely the cost of running a program in suburban Connecticut is less than the cost of a program in Manhattan. Note that many (?) non-Williams students attend Williams Mystic and are charged $24,500. This is more than the pro-rated cost of a semester at Williams since it does not include Winter Study. Since the College does not (?) charge a Williams student more for attending Williams Mystic, there is at least some subsidy here. But, if Mystic is much cheaper than WNY, then why wouldn’t the authors of the Report point that out? Why wouldn’t they use the comparison as a way to point out that WNY is too expensive?

It is unlikely that they lacked access to the data since committee member Keith Finan works in the Provost’s Office and probably knows where to find information about almost anything that Williams spends money on. Perhaps this was a simple oversight on their part. But the Committee members are smart, careful people. I wager that the comparison occurred to them and that, for some reason, they decided not to present it to the faculty. If I were a member of the pro-WNY forces, I would want to find out why. I would suspect that the Committee did not present the data because, when you look closely, Mystic is fairly expensive, especially when you account accurately for costs of the expeditions. Care to determine a market price for a trip like this?

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Thoughts on WNY Costs

Among the Williams faculty, the center of discussion over the next week will be the May 7th vote on whether or not to cancel the Williams in New York program. Good luck to both sides. Let the lobbying and coalition building commence! Key, as in all elections, will be turn out. Perhaps a reader will attend and give us a blow-by-blow.

In the meantime, I want to turn the discussion toward some specific parts of the report. I suspect that for many faculty members, the key issues will be cost and popularity. If WNY isn’t that expensive and/or is very popular, then why cancel it? Let’s start with the issue of cost.

Summary: The Waters Committee has failed to provide a disinterested faculty member with enough information to fairly estimate the “cost” of the WNY program. Until that information is provided, one should not vote to cancel the program.

Endless details below
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Report on the Williams in New York Program

Thanks to Professor Chris Waters for sending me a copy of the Report on The Williams in New York Program. I have pasted an html version of the report below. Comments:

1) I have not had time to read the whole report. What do others think? We would especially be interested in hearing from WNY alumni.

2) Kudos to Professor Waters for sharing this document (which has been sent to all faculty members) with the wider Williams community. Too many College officials and faculty decline to conduct themselves in a transparent manner. Professor Waters (like Professor McDonald, chair of the Committee on Varsity Athletics) upholds the best traditions of the Williams faculty by allowing alumni and students to read this report. Why don’t other faculty members (e.g., Professor Wendy Raymond) act this way? I predict that the College itself will never post this report nor officially notify alumni about its contents.

3) We discussed the WNY program here. (And let me again apologize to Professor Jackall for not providing an accurate description of the program.) Some of the concerns raised there, especially costs and popularity, are raised again in this report.

4) The next step in the process is a vote at the faculty meeting on May 7th on the following motion:

Should the Williams in New York Program be discontinued?

If I were a faculty member, I would vote No on resolution. Yet, at the same time, I would demand some fairly serious changes over the next year, mainly to reduce expenses. If those changes did not materialize, I would get rid of the program.

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Details and History for WNY

Many thanks to Professor Robert Jackall for providing these documents and history on the Williams in New York program in response to this post.

1. The WNY program is still officially a PILOT program, limited to eight (8) spaces a semester. But it is offered in both fall and spring and the College is committed to it through the academic year 2008-2009 no matter what happens in May 2008 (see below).

2. The program is under review by an ad hoc committee, chaired by Chris Waters. You might want to write him for more details. That committee will present its recommendations to the Committee on Educational Policy and the administration by early spring. In turn, a resolution will be presented to the faculty for a vote at the May 2008 faculty meeting. Although the exact form of the resolution is unknown right now, the thrust of it will be a vote to move the WNY program from its pilot status to permanent program status. There may also may a recommendation to increase the size of the program although this is unclear. In my own view, the optimum size of the program is between 16-18 students per semester.

3. The pilot program has now been offered in the following semesters: fall 2005; fall 2006; spring 2007; fall 2007. It will be offered in spring 2008; fall 2008; and spring 2009. Excluding the very first (fall 2005) semester when there were only 12 applicants, the pilot program has had about three applicants for every two spaces per semester.

4. It is important to note the origins of the program. It was first proposed in 1995, but died an ignoble bureaucratic death at that time at the hands of then president Hank Payne and Dean of Faculty Mike McPherson. It was re-submitted during the curricular renewal of 2000-2001 and was one of only three ideas that survived the CEP’s year-long review–the other two were a proposal for mandatory language instruction and an expansion of the tutorial program. Only the tutorial expansion and the WNY program survived the required two-thirds vote of the faculty in May 2001.

5. It is also important to note the particular definition of “experiential education” that distinguishes the WNY program from all other definitions of that term. Here’s a copy of a memorandum I wrote to Bill Darrow before the recent Lissack Forum on the topic of experiential education, which was noted in Ephblog.

Comments:

1) See below for the memorandum, speaker roster from past years’ and syllabi for two fall 2007 courses: Social Life of the Metropolis and Arts & the City. All great stuff.

2) Kudos to Professor Jackall for being so open and transparent about the process. Although many faculty and administrators act with similar professionalism, many others do not.

3) Being a big believer in meeting student demand, I would be in favor of expanding the program. But it would be nice to have a better sense of the costs involved. Students appear to get their own room. Given the (implicit) cost of New York real estate, having roommates is not unreasonable. Also, the program currently uses about 1/3 of the available rooms. What sort of lost-income hit does the club take to provide the space? Does the College make up that money? Does the College also provide extra funding for faculty members associated with the program? All of these costs may be reasonable, but it is hard to have an informed opinion without a clear outline of the budget.

4) Comments from readers who have enrolled in WNY (or have friends who have) would be welcome.

5) One worry is the academic seriousness of the program. Although everyone loves a fun-filled vacation in NYC, I would expect these students to spend as much time on academics as their peers in Williamstown (or at Williams-at-Oxford). Do they? Perhaps their internships might replace one class, but two? [UPDATE: See the very bottom on the entry for details on the work expected in these classes. Although the website is fairly opaque on this topic, WNY students each take three classes and do fieldwork as their fourth class. The classes are at least as rigorous in terms of workload as typical classes at Williams. Apologies for implying otherwise.]

6) Huge kudos to whatever faculty members fought against a language requirement for Williams. The fewer requirements that Williams has (besides 32 courses and a major), the better.

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W@NY

The website for Williams in New York is extremely slick. Kudos to all involved. W@NYC (is that acronym still in use?) seems like an amazing program. Can any readers provide more details? For example, how many people apply? Are syllabi available on-line?

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