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What If?

After a week of discussion, and thanks to many excellent comments, we have now established that: Williams is paying poor students to stay home. Comments:

1) More Record coverage, please! Interview students studying remotely. Ask them why they made this choice. Tell us their stories.

2) I am still confused about the exact mechanics of full financial aid students at Williams, even before the pandemic. Explanations welcome! I had never known that Williams gives these students cash. This was certainly not true 30 years ago. When did it begin? The reason this is confusing (just to me?) is because of the summer earnings and term-time employment requirements. Williams always knew that students faced more expenses than just tuition/room/board. But didn’t money for that used to come directly from the student, who was supposed to earn it, either during the summer or during school? That is, the College did not say, “Give me the money you made working the desk in Sawyer and, and then Williams will turn around a send you cash.” Instead, you got that money directly and were expected to pay for your expenses from that.

3) abl and WA raise an important point:

As I see the data, equal numbers of students on finaid and off have chosen to return to campus. The difference is how many students are continuing their education remote rather than pausing it, right?

If so, this distinction also seems crucial. This suggests that the incentive to stay on campus for students on finaid is about the same as it is for students not on finaid (which would be optimal, right?). This also suggests that the primary impact of this policy is to encourage students on finaid not to take a gap year. If I’m understanding this correctly, this means that this policy is doing the exact opposite of what you suggest: it provides a bulwark against (and an effective one!) the pandemic’s influence in “[t]urning Williams into a college for rich men’s sons and daughters once again.”

Roughly the same percentage of finaid and non-finaid students are returning to campus. More finaid students are studying remotely than taking a gap year. The result of the $4,000 payment seems to be encouraging finaid students that are not coming to campus to continue studying remotely, rather than take a gap year.

Maybe! Record reporting would shed light on this issue. Note that my assumption is that, in the absence of the extra cash, only half of the extra remote studying poor students would come back to campus. The other half would either, by definition, still study remotely or take a gap year. Might that estimate be high? Maybe! But, my central conclusion — Williams is paying poor students to stay home — is true unless the marginal impact is zero.

My prior, also, is that rich students are much more likely than poor students, all else equal, to take a gap year during a global pandemic. Isn’t that your prior? If not, why not? Therefore, I think that the fact that 74% of non-poor students are studying on campus is an underestimate of the percentage of poor students who would be doing so in the absence of the extra cash. But, again, I could easily be wrong.


Fifty Fewer Poor Students on Campus?

Thanks to useful information from our knowledgeable commentators, we can now give a (very rough!) estimate to the number of poor students who are not on campus because the college is paying them extra to stay home: 50 plus/minus 25.

1) This story began with me hearing a 4th hand account of a poor student who choose to stay home, not for health reasons or family obligations, but because Williams was giving her so much money that she felt she had no choice but to do so, despite her preference to be on campus. In other words, Williams, by its policies, caused her to stay home. Needless to say, such policies do not effect rich students.

2) There are probably around 100 students who, if they come to campus, get around $1,350 but who, if they stay home, get $4,000. That is a big difference to a poor family.

3) We know that about 120 extra students on financial aid are studying remotely, relative to non-aided students. Of course, some of those aided students are not on full rides and so unaffected by this calculation. And it might be that financial aid status — and full ride status — correlates with other characteristics (race, first gen, athletics) which are the “real” reasons why someone chooses to study remotely.

My estimate: About 50 more students on full financial aid would be on campus, as opposed to studying remotely, if Williams had a different policy. But that is a very rough estimate.

Maud Mandel: Turning Williams into a college for rich men’s sons and daughters once again!

Is that fair? Probably not! Maud, and everyone who runs Williams, wants more poor students, not fewer. They handed extra money to poor students, not to drive them away, but because they want to help them. But, to some extent, motives are irrelevant. If Policy X makes poor students more likely to stay home, then Policy X is a bad idea.

Could the Record please do a story about some of the roughly 150 students who are studying remotely?


Williams Pays Poor Students to Stay Home

Williams is paying poor students to stay home. There was some well-meaning denial of this fundamental fact two weeks ago, but facts don’t care about your feelings.

1) From the FAQ: “[Y]ou [student on financial aid attending from home] will receive a $4,000 personal allowance per semester to cover expenses you’ll incur while studying remotely.” Nor is that the only source of funding:

If you are a financial aid recipient, you will receive information from the Office of Financial Aid shortly about funding to support costs incurred because of Covid-19. Setting up a work space is one example of how such funding might be used.

Needless to say, non-financial aid students working remotely are ineligible for this funding, as are financial aid students who choose to come to campus.

2) Although the FAQ does not make this clear, I am fairly certain — confirmation welcome! — that this extra funding does not apply to all financial aid students. For example, if you only receive $2,000 in aid, the College is not going to give you a $4,000 stipend. (Right?) Indeed, the stipend probably only kicks in for the students with significant financial aid packages, those for whom tuition is already free and who receive (mostly) free room-and-board as well.

3) Do the people who run Williams hate poor students? Do they seek to cleanse them from campus, to reserve the leafy quads for the rich and well-heeled? Of course not! Yet incentives don’t care about your motives. The College is paying poor students to stay away. What do you think will happen?

4) From an excellent Record article:

Enrollment disparities are also apparent between students receiving financial aid and un-aided students. While 16.1 percent of un-aided students indicated that they are taking a gap year or leave, according to the College, 6.2 percent of students receiving aid indicated that they would be taking a gap year or leave for this academic year.

The yellow portion are students still enrolled but studying remotely.

I am not sure that Record reporters Jeongyoon Han and Lucy Walker realized just how damning this data is. (But kudos to the College for its transparency and to the Record for continued excellent reporting.) The key is the 12% difference between the 9.7% of non-financial aid students who are studying remotely and the 21.7% of financial aid students. Note:

a) There are about the same number of financial aid and non-financial aid students at Williams, so we can just line up these numbers more or less.

b) The 9.7% of non-FA students choosing to study remotely are an interesting group. My guess would be that the largest group of these is international students. Thoughts?

c) Some subtle issues were brought up in our previous discussion. Thanks as always to all our commentators! I will dive into those details tomorrow.

My main point: Williams is giving poor students who stay home more money than those same students would receive if they came to campus. That is a mouthful, which I prefer to shorten to: “Williams Pays Poor Students to Stay Home”. And, as best we can tell, this policy — whatever the motivations behind it — is having the effect which any economist would predict: More poor students are staying away from campus than would have done so in the absence of this policy.

Williams is a college for rich men’s sons (and daughters) once again! Thanks Maud!


Reopening, 4

Two years ago we were sure that the most important aspect of Maud’s presidency — the topic which historians would focus on 50 years from now — was her efforts to bring free speech (back) to Williams. How wrong we were! Maud’s decisions during the CV-19 pandemic will define her place in the history books. Let’s spend a week or two discussing her latest message.

Three cheers for Maud Mandel!

EphBlog sometimes gives the impression that we don’t like the decisions that Maud makes. And, it is true! We don’t like (some of!) her decisions. Yet there have been two critical issues in Maud’s three years as president: Ensuring free speech and bringing back all students. She got both of them correct! Hooray for Maud! Indeed, there have been no more important sentence written by a Williams president in the last decade (or more) than this one:

I’m writing to inform you that Williams plans to convene an in-person semester for fall 2020.

This was the correct call. Yet it was also a call that could have gone differently, that Maud could have messed up. (This was not the case with her decision to send students home in March. That was important, of course, but, since every elite college did the same thing, it was (essentially) impossible for Maud to mess it up. No college president deserves major credit for making the same decision as all her peers.)

Consider Bowdoin:

We will have some students back in the fall, but not all students. The group on campus will be:
our new first-year and transfer students;
students who have home situations that make online learning nearly impossible;
a very small number of senior honors students who cannot pursue their pre-approved projects online and require access to physical spaces on campus, and can do so under health and safety protocols; and
our student residential life staff.

All other sophomores, juniors, and seniors will remain off campus for the fall semester and will take their courses online. With priority given to seniors, if the fall semester goes as we hope, we expect to have our seniors, juniors, and sophomores return to campus for the spring semester, with the added possibility that our winter and spring athletes may be able to engage with their sports in some way. We expect that our first-year and transfer students will study remotely in the spring.

And Amherst:

However, after lengthy and careful deliberations, we conclude that we can adhere to the best public health guidance and offer an excellent educational experience to students who are on and off campus if we bring approximately 1,200-1,250 students to campus in the fall. This represents just over 60 percent of our total enrollment and between 70 and 75 percent of those who indicated interest in returning to campus for their studies. We hope to bring back even more students in the spring, ideally all who wish to be here. Should that prove unwise, those students who could not be here in the fall will have priority in the spring. With this structure, we can provide the opportunity for every student who wishes to be on campus to spend at least one semester here and, if things go well, both semesters for a large number of those students.

For the fall, we will give priority to all first-year students, all transfer students, all sophomores, any seniors who are scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester, and seniors who are returning to campus after spending the fall and/or spring term of the 2019-20 academic year studying abroad. In addition, two categories of students may petition to study on campus: senior thesis writers whose work requires access to campus facilities or materials that would otherwise be unavailable; and students whose home circumstances impede their academic progress.

Amherst and Bowdoin have similar wealth (and similar physical plant?) to Williams. Maud could have done what they did. But she didn’t’. Yeah Maud! Comments:

1) How different are the number of singles between Amherst/Bowdoin and Williams? It seems like this might have played a major role in their decision-making. Does Williams plan/promise a single to every student on campus this fall?

2) What effects will this have on enrollment at Amherst/Bowdoin? I would be sorely tempted to take a gap year if I were a student there, especially if I were an athlete, especially if a bunch of my friends were taking gap years. Indeed, what advice would you give to seniors at these schools? The job market will certainly look a lot better in the fall of 2021 than it will this fall . . .

3) Do you agree with Maud/EphBlog that this was the correct decision?


Reopening, 3

Two years ago we were sure that the most important aspect of Maud’s presidency — the topic which historians would focus on 50 years from now — was her efforts to bring free speech (back) to Williams. How wrong we were! Maud’s decisions during the CV-19 pandemic will define her place in the history books. Let’s spend a week or two discussing her latest message.

Note this framing in the national news stories about Maud’s message:

Bloomberg: “Williams College Cuts Price 15%, Cancels Sports Due to Virus”

Forbes: “Williams College Cuts Tuition 15% And Cancels Sports For Fall Semester”

Newsweek: “Williams College Tuition Cuts Could Prompt Some Schools to Reduce Costs”

Nice job, Jim Reische! That is some positive press! I especially like Newsweek‘s spin that we are a national leader in cost cutting. Yeah, Williams!

Here is Maud’s letter on tuition:

Williams is reducing our comprehensive fee by 15 percent for all families on a one-time basis for academic year 2020–21, relative to the amount we’d previously announced for the coming year. Families on financial aid will have their expected family contribution reduced by 15 percent. This reduction recognizes the fact that the pandemic and associated challenges are requiring us to cancel Winter Study as well as fall athletics competition and many student activities, among other opportunities that we usually encourage families to expect as part of their student’s education.
We’ll also waive the work-study contribution for the entire 2020-21 academic year for all students receiving financial aid. And the annual Student Activities Fee will be eliminated for the year, for all students.

Because tuition is paid in exchange for teaching, academic credit, and non-academic services that the college will provide, regardless of whether we’re in-person or remote, please understand that tuition (excepting room and board) will be the same for all students, whether they participate in-person or remotely.

Details here. Comments:

1) This price-cutting (probably) would not have happened if the stock market had not recovered so strongly. Williams, and every other elite college, was in real trouble three months ago, with markets down so much. But the dramatic rally has left the S&P 500 up more than 10% over the trailing 12 months. Williams (and its endowment) has a fiscal year which ends on June 30, so things look quite good. Indeed, if you had told the trustees a year ago that the market would be up this much — after one of the strongest 10-year bull markets in history — they would have been very pleased. Big picture: We are rich enough to afford this gesture.

2) Our prices, whatever they are, should not impact our calculation of “expected family contribution.” The two have nothing to do with each other! If Williams thought, last month, that your family was rich enough to pay $50,000 toward your child’s education, then there is no necessary reason for us to change that judgment. (Of course, if your situation has changed — you were fired because of the global recession, say — then, obviously, we should adjust our expectations. But we do that every year, for any family which undergoes a financial hit.) How can an across-the-board cut be justified by anything else other than Maud’s desire for popularity?

3) I don’t like the idea of price cuts. Williams is a luxury good. We should never cut our list price — although we should, and do, engage in a great deal of price discrimination. I especially don’t like tying such decisions to the minutia of whether or not fall sports are cancelled. Williams is not a cafeteria, a place where what you pay depends on what you choose to participate in (broadly speaking). You pay the same, regardless of whether or not you play varsity soccer. Therefore, we should charge the same, whether or not varsity soccer happens this year.

4) The exact 15% price cut on everything is too cute.

5) Here is what Williams reported in December:

Today, we have:

6) How much is this discount costing Williams? Tough to say! $12,000 times 2000 students is $24 million. That seems like a lot! But it is also an overestimate since some families have an expected contribution of zero. So, price cuts for them have no effect on revenue. Also, note that a 15% decrease on family contribution does not cost us $12,000, unless the family is paying almost the full price already. So, the total cost might be $15 million? Better calculations are welcome in the comments.


Reopening, 1

Two years ago we were sure that the most important aspect of Maud’s presidency — the topic which historians would focus on 50 years from now — was her efforts to bring free speech (back) to Williams. How wrong we were! Maud’s decisions during the CV-19 pandemic will define her place in the history books. Let’s spend a week or two discussing her latest message.

The biggest mistake is cancelling fall athletic competitions today.

The NESCAC Conference and the NCAA have issued statements about expectations for a safe return to play. Those statements leave a great deal to the discretion of individual schools, but strongly recommend a phased approach to return to play and competition. This means that any athletic engagement will begin and proceed slowly and with an abundance of caution. Knowing how important athletics is in the lives of many students, we hope to provide opportunities for team engagement. Teams will be able to practice outside in small groups if they adhere to social distancing guidelines, and may progress to more game-like practice activities if conditions improve. However it has been decided that Williams fall sports teams will not travel and compete during the fall semester. Our decision has been guided by the utmost attention to safety protocols to ensure the health and safety of our athletes, coaches, staff and community.

1) Get Maud an editor! This section, and the rest of the message, is absurdly verbose. And we know about verbosity at EphBlog! Is this the venial sin of an academic historian? Was the e-mail actually composed by committee? Did Maud think a longer message was more effective? Commentary welcome! Leadership 101 would have argued for a tight, personal message from Maud, supplemented by links and a committee report.

2) There was no reason to make this decision now. Wait till the end of August. Who knows how things will change? By announcing this now, you increase the odds of scores (hundreds?) of the 300-400 fall athletes will take a gap semester/year. Imagine what sort of chaos that might cause to financial planning.

3) There is no reason to cancel all competitions. The golf teams, for example, are 100% safe, assuming that they practice social distancing. Tennis is almost as safe. There is very little evidence that CV-19 is transmitted outside. Why cancel sports that you don’t need to cancel?

4) Even if you decide, come August, that travel in vans is too dangerous, nothing would prevent Williams from hosting teams who choose to travel to play us.

5) In a week or two, Massachusetts will enter Phase 3 and soccer will be allowed again. Won’t it be weird for Mount Greylock Regional High School to be playing a full season of soccer games, including travel, while Williams has no games? Again, I am not saying that we can know, for sure, today, how much soccer will be played in Massachusetts come September. But that is all the more reason to wait-and-see.

6) Bureaucratic fantasy: “Teams will be able to practice outside in small groups if they adhere to social distancing guidelines.” Just how does Williams intend to enforce this? Of course, they can order to have coaches do whatever. But when the basketball team decides to play a pick-up game, is Williams going to through them off campus? What happens when they go play in a Williamstown park? Just how much control does Williams expect to be able to exert over the students?

7) More nonsense: “health and safety of our athletes.” CV-19 poses almost no risk to athletic 20 year-olds. Williams would save a lot more students lives — at least in expectation — if it were to ban cars and bikes. Spouting this stuff just makes me (and you?) doubt everything they say.

As always, the people who run the College — from Maud on down — are smart and experienced. They want what is best for Williams. And most of the decisions they make are good. But some, like this one, are stupid. And that is why we have EphBlog . . .


Remote Learning Does Not Belong at Williams

What is the biggest mistake which Williams is making right now? The insistence that every course support “remote learning.” From this excellent Record article:

Faculty members have been asked to inform the College by yesterday, June 20, whether they would teach in person or remotely if the campus were to reopen in the fall. The academic subcommittee of the working group tasked with determining what an on-campus fall would look like sent an all-faculty email on June 10 to address curricular planning in the case that campus reopens in the fall. The College has not yet decided whether or not to open campus in the fall, with the decision deadline still set for July 1.

If faculty choose to teach in person, the subcommittee has advised them to design “hybrid” courses to accommodate those students who must continue learning remotely even if campus is open. In addition to anticipating that some students may opt to remain off campus for personal reasons or travel restrictions, the email raised the possibility that “the entire campus may need to switch to remote learning at some point as we did this spring,” or that some students or faculty who begin the semester in-person may need to switch to remote learning during the term. Depending on the development of the public health situation, “we may still need these hybrid models next spring or even the following year,” the subcommittee wrote.

As we have discussed several times, this is a bad idea. First, any student who can’t be on campus should take a semester off. Williams is a residential college. If you can’t be in Williamstown, you can’t get a Williams education. Second, faculty are hired to teach Williams students in classrooms on the Williams campus, not via Zoom. Of course, temporary emergency situations can allow for flexibility on a handful of occasions each year. But anything more than that is nonsense.

This nonsense might not be so bad if it were optional, if students were allowed to come to a classroom and faculty were allowed to teach them. Almost all students/faculty want to be on the log together! But it sure looks like the College is doing its best to make this impossible.

Some faculty members have raised the concern that requiring hybrid courses might discourage faculty from choosing to teach in person. “My strong preference all along has been to teach in-person,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe ’03 said. “But the insistence on hybridity for all courses has me resigned to teaching remotely.” He explained, “To have the College compound the extra health risk of in-person teaching with extra workload — and the hybridity requirements are a substantial amount of extra work for anyone who chooses to teach in person — is disappointing.”

Though Crowe acknowledged that some students would need to continue remote learning regardless, he said the presence of other faculty who were already planning to teach remotely would provide “a decent number of courses for remote students to take.” Crowe added, “On an institutional level, I know there are lots of moving parts and conflicting interests, but it seems odd, given the dissatisfaction most students experienced with remote instruction, that we’d bring students back to campus and yet disincentivize faculty from teaching them in person.”

Exactly right. If the College insists on demanding that all courses allow for (simultaneous) remote participation, then faculty have no choice but to Zoom everything. Is that really what Maud wants? Perhaps!


Williams Will Fully Reopen

I have no inside information, but how else would you interpret this tweet?

Only question is whether the official announcement comes on Monday or on July 1st (Wednesday). Wagers?


Townhall, 5

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

$3 million dollars per year for tuition benefit is bananas! End it now. Or, at least end for any child less than 10, or, at a minimum, end it for new employees.

1) Does anyone know all the details of this program? How have the costs risen over time? When did it start? My guess/sense is that this program started very small (back in the 50s?) perhaps just as as reciprocal tuition discount among NESCAC schools for the benefit of faculty children. Whatever the start, it has expanded year-after-year.

2) This program is absurdly unfair to employees without children.

3) As always, the best way to predict the behavior of the Administration is to assume that Williams is run by a cabal of corrupt insiders, bent on siphoning as much money away from the endowment for the their personal benefit. More likely than Maud ending a program like this one is for her to expand it, for Williams to start subsidizing the private high school tuition or graduate school tuition for employee children. (I assume (correctly?) that such options are not part of the current program. Am I naive?)

4) Whenever we propose cutting spending on program X, the cry goes up, “No! You can’t cut that! We need it to recruit faculty (and staff).” This has, always, been garbage. Pay people the market wage for their skills and they will come work for you. But it is especially garbage during a global recession, with a US unemployment rate above 15%. The academic job market is a wasteland. Williams could replace its entire faculty tomorrow, with only an increase in teaching/research quality. That does not mean that I think we should do that! I don’t! I love (most!) of our Williams faculty. My only point is that the ending of the tuition benefit program will have zero effect on our ability to recruit and retain high quality faculty.


Townhall, 4

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

1) Getting rid of Winter Study (temporarily, one hopes!) makes sense. Requiring just three courses does not, which is why no (?) other elite school has made the same decision. Previous discussion here.

2) Shouldn’t there be some data available by now? My understanding is that Williams students pre-register for courses in the spring. So, by now, we know just how many students have signed up for how many courses. If this is true, then the Record ought to ask the College for the data. There is an important story here! (Of course, just because a student registered for 3 (or 4) courses does not mean that she will take 3 (or 4) courses. But the data would still be informative as to where we are now.) Hey, student readers! Help us out! Did you pre-register? Was the process different this year?

3) My prediction is the a (vast?) majority of Williams students will register for four courses. What do you think?

UDPATE: See the first comment below for insight from Current Student. Thanks! You should join EphBlog as an author!


Townhall, 3

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

This is a great example of Williams faculty privilege: “I can’t possibly do my job if daycare is not available!” Well, then, Williams should go find someone who can. It is not the responsibility of Williams to solve your personal problems. Williams should, like any decent employer, try to help employees out in temporary emergency situations. But it is June! You don’t need to teach till September. Make some back up arrangements now.

I love the “hard to imagine” framing. As usual, the best way to predict the behavior of Williams is to assume that it is controlled by a corrupt cabal of insiders who seek to take advantage whenever they can. The reason why the committee can’t “imagine” X is because they choose not to imagine X. They want to make life as easy for faculty — but not necessarily for food service workers in Paresky — as possible.

Serious trustees would call Maud and say: If we are paying Professor X to teach at our residential college, and we decide that teaching in person is safe, then we expect Professor X to teach in person. But, of course, Maud and the Administration do everything within their power to make sure that alumni willing to ask such hard questions are never selected to be trustees.

And I love the stupidity at the end from Puddester! You have to decide on July 1. You won’t know, by then, whether or not schools and/or day cares will be open. (I would venture that they are highly likely to be open, but it all depends on where the epidemic is in the fall.) So, unless you are really planning to go full-remote — and you aren’t! — then this is just nonsense-talk.


Townhall, 2

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

The Straussian reading of this comment, from Dukes Love, is that Lenhardt suggested the exact opposite: The best time for Dukes/Maud to accomplish some of their key goals is in the midst of a crisis. Never let a good crisis go to waste!

Another reading is that Dukes fully intends to use the crisis in this way, but that he wants to lull his faculty opponents to sleep . . .

Question: What goals to Dukes/Maud have which might normally face faculty opposition? I am honestly curious! Maud seems to have put the free speech issue to bed. What else does she want to do which some/many faculty are against?


Does the New Visa Executive Order Affect Williams?

From the New York Times:

President Trump on Monday temporarily suspended new work visas and barred hundreds of thousands of foreigners from seeking employment in the United States, part of a broad effort to limit the entry of immigrants into the country.

In a sweeping order, which will be in place at least until the end of the year, Mr. Trump blocked visas for a wide variety of jobs, including those for computer programmers and other skilled workers who enter the country under the H-1B visa, as well as those for seasonal workers in the hospitality industry, students on work-study summer programs and au pairs who arrive under other auspices.

1) Williams does not employ at lot of non-US citizens. But it employs some, right? I am especially thinking of some of the people who teach languages for a year or two.

2) Does this have any affect on foreign student enrollment, either directly or indirectly? Honest question! I don’t know enough about the sort of visas which allow foreign students to come to Williams. Does anyone? I don’t see any mention of this issue in the news, so perhaps there is no change, at least directly? An indirect effect would be that, if foreigners have more trouble working in the US — either during the summer or in the years directly after graduation — then US college is less appealing. But Williams is so popular that I can’t see that mattering.

3) Were foreign students allowed to hold campus jobs in the past? Does this new Executive Order change things?


Townhall, 1

Williams held a faculty/staff townhall on May 26. Kudos to the college for its transparency in making a replay (and transcript) of the event available, including (on purpose?) to the public. The Record, which has been excellent throughout 2020, did not provide coverage. Let’s discuss for a week.

This, being EphBlog, let’s start with the snark.

1) Funniest line, repeated twice!

“Fred, you’re muted.”

Does it give you warm feelings of confidence in Williams’ finances that, 10 weeks into working remotely, Fred Puddester does not know how to use Zoom?

2) Do the social media folks at Williams not like senior staff? This photo from the Zoom session is not . . . uh . . . overly complementary.

3) How long will Jim Kolesar keep feeding at the Williams trough? There is not better example of administrative bloat than Jim Reische being hired to replace Kolesar, and then, three years later, Kolesar is still collecting a salary. This is the sort of stuff that drives faculty nuts.

4) We should add thought bubbles! Above Collette Chilton: “If sitting through this nonsense will get me another $1.2 million from Williams this year, then sit through it I will!” Above Steve Klass: “Only 35 days until July 1.”

5) Darel Paul has made the point that Williams is becoming a matriarchy. Once Klass retires, the ratio of women to men among senior staff will be 6:3, with a 3:1 ratio in the key academic appointments of president/college-dean/faculty-dean/provost. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Now, on to the substance. From Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom:

Good stuff. Every elite college is wrestling with these issues.

1) I hope that Sandstrom shares what she discovers through this process. Transparency is good and, if Williams has found some useful techniques, the rest of us would be interested to read about them.

2) The single best change to make in most (large) classes is greater use of Zoom breakout rooms. As soon as the set of students does not fit in a single screen (which happens around 20, depending on monitor size), engagement drops dramatically. But, if you place students in small groups and give them work to do, you can begin to recapture some of the magic of an in-person class.

3) Williams has enough faculty that it ought to just have small in-person classes, regardless of CV-19. No more lectures.

What advice do readers have for Sandstrom?


The FR/SR Temptation

For months, my claim has been that Williams students will be back on campus in September. I still believe that. But how might I be (partially) wrong?

Williams might follow a few (?) elite schools — like Stanford and Bates and (maybe) Harvard — and invite back only half the student body for September.


1) This would be a big mistake, almost as bad an own-goal as the botched virtual graduation. Be strong Maud!

2) The biggest driver at some schools seems to be the issue of doubles. These schools seem to think that they must provide each student their own bedroom. Perhaps! But note that other less wealthy schools — like Berkley — are putting students in doubles. Williams, fortuitously, has fewer doubles than (almost?) any competitor, so this is much less of an issue for us.

3) “Every room a single” has been a long-standing EphBlog recommendation for a Williams slogan. Now is the time to implement it! Although the exact mechanics are difficult, we will be fairly close this year, especially with more than the normal amount of first years taking a gap year and upperclassmen taking time off — although, to be fair, the lack of study abroad will cut the other way. The (complete?) inability of foreign students to come to campus will also free up space. Longer term, I would like to see Williams go back to more like 500 students instead of the 540+ that we have seen in the last decade.

Do you think Williams might bring back only half the students? Do you think we should?


Suggestions for September

Students will be on campus in September. The College seeks our help. What are your suggestions? Here are mine:


1) Start classes three weeks early. End classes before Thanksgiving, with all exams to be given online. The vast majority of students are forced to go home by November 21. Transmission is more likely in cold weather, with people packed inside.

2) Winter Study has already been cancelled. Start the second semester two weeks later, on Monday February 22. (Drop Claiming Williams Day.) Cancel Spring Break. The less time that students spend in Williamstown during the winter, the better.

3) Lengthen the actual Academic Day. Have lots of classes which start at 8:00 AM, especially sections of the most popular classes. We need to put students and professors in the same rooms. To do that, we need social distancing. To do that, we need to have large classrooms in use all day long.


1) Open Greylock Dining Hall. The most dangerous location for CV-19 transmission are the dining halls. We need to minimize crowding. Reopening Greylock Dining Hall is the best first step. In fact, this should have happened a decade ago, given the over-crowding in other dining halls.

2) Extend all dining hall hours. The more students who eat at 4:00 and at 8:00, the less crowded the dining halls will be at 6:00 PM.

3) Work with Williamstown to close off the top (and bottom?) of Spring Street, allowing restaurants to set up tables in the street, at least through October. The more meals that are eaten outside, the less CV-19 transmission.

4) Give students vouchers to eat meals on Spring Street, but for outside service only.

5) Provide grab-and-go options at all meals.

6) Provide cookouts every lunch and dinner, weather permitting.

7) Set up the reunion tents to encourage outside eating, even in bad weather.


1) Cancel sabbaticals and most other teaching leaves. Require professors in administrative positions to teach. All hands on deck. We want to turn as many 20 person classes into 10 person classes as we can. Smaller groupings means less transmission. No more lectures!

2) Make it easy to hold classes outside. Although there is still much uncertainty with CV-19, one of the main findings is that outdoors transmission is very, very rare. So, let’s keep people outside as much as we can! That won’t be possible all the time. But, with enough tables, chairs and awnings spread around the campus, we could have lots of outside meetings. The vast majority of tutorials should, weather permitting, meet outside.

Make the Hard Decisions

Does Maud have the stomach to make the hard decisions? I hope so. Here are two:

1) Require students to be on campus. If, for whatever reasons — health, visa, family obligations — a student can’t be in Williamstown, then that students needs to withdraw for the semester. abl argues that this is not possible:

This [offering classes to students not on campus], too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.

a) This is, obviously, not required by ADA. If it were, then Williams would have to do it all the time. The ADA applies even if there is no global pandemic.

b) “Basic compassion” is nonsense talk since this situation has happened, to at least a handful of students, each semester since forever. Tragedy strikes someone each year, most commonly in the form of a health emergency or parental death. If it happens before the semester starts, then Williams is compassionate, but it still requires the student to take a semester off, to go back home.

c) The only way to meet this requirement is to offer essentially every class over Zoom. There is no other way to offer a class for students who are, for whatever reason, stuck in Houston or Shanghai. Such a scenario, while necessary this past spring, will not be necessary in September. We need Mark Hopkins and the Log.

2) Require faculty to teach in person. We discussed this a bit last week.

a) From a moral point of view, it would be disgusting for Williams to require a 55 year-old cafeteria worker or janitor to come to campus and be near students to keep her job while, simultaneously, allowing a 55 year-old faculty member to Zoom it in.

b) Isn’t this legally suspect as well? Williams has two options. Either campus is safe enough, all workers are expected to report for duty or lose their jobs. Or, campus is dangerous and employees do not have to come to campus. It can’t say that campus is too dangerous for Denise Buell but not too dangerous for the check-in person at Driscoll.

c) Mark Hopkins and the Log, not Mark Hopkins and the Zoom, is a central component of the Williams identity and the Williams experience.

d) Of course, in extremis, accommodations are possible.

Yet Williams students and faculty should be on campus. They will all be socially distanced. They will all be wearing masks. They should all be outside as much as possible. But they will be together, teaching and learning. If Maud Mandel does not have the heart to see how necessary that is, and the intestinal fortitude to make it happen, then she is not the Williams president we need right now.

UPDATE: abl clarifies his views below.

David: How much time is being wasted by the continuing delusion that students might not be on campus in the fall? They will be. Why pretend otherwise?

abl: There is a real (5%? 15%?) chance that students will not be on campus in the fall. It would be irresponsible for Williams not to plan for that possibility. It’s worth noting that every decently resourced school (and, I would imagine, the overwhelming majority of all schools full stop) is similarly coming up with contingency plans for this possibility.

David: This seems very weird to me. Are other colleges doing this? Mine isn’t.

abl: Yes, many other colleges (most?) have given or are preparing to give faculty the option of teaching remotely in the event that the school is in person. I would be very surprised if yours (Harvard) isn’t as well, at least for tenured/tenure-track faculty members. It’s hard for me to imagine that many schools will require their tenured faculty to literally put themselves in harms way to teach in person in the midst of a pandemic.

David: It seems like madness to insist on a system in which students can take (some? any?) classes remotely.

abl: This, too, is ‘industry’ standard. I’m curious if this might actually be required by the ADA or some other statute (streamed remote classes probably represent reasonable accommodations). Regardless, pretty much everyone is thinking along these lines, whether out of a sense of legal obligation or just basic compassion for immunocompromised or otherwise vulnerable students.


Woke Williams

Is Williams about to go woke? From twitter:

Answer: It might lose the support from the 20% (50%?) of the alumni who are either non-woke or prefer that their alma mater stay out of politics or are so awake that nothing Williams does will ever be woke enough. More detail:

Everyone who has the benefit of a Williams education is critical to this moment and can help us chart our collective future. Mindful to not overburden those already carrying weight, we invite alumni to submit your own stories about race and racism, how you are fighting for racial justice, supporting protests, pursuing justice reform, talking to your kids or simply surviving today. We especially hope to hear your thoughts on how we can galvanize the power of the Williams alumni community to effect change. We will share your stories, should you choose, in an effort to build understanding, create connections within our Williams family and, most importantly, amplify your voice.

1) This is not as bad, as partisan, as woke as it might be. Thank God for small favors. Am I the only one who thinks that Williams should stay out of politics? I am no more interested in Maud’s opinions about Black Lives Matters than I am in her opinions about Uyghur repression in China or the capital gains tax. Leave political issues out of the relationship between Williams and its alumni.

2) Would stories about Ephs who are trying to “effect change” in a conservative way be accepted and published? Or are only left-wing answers allowed? I don’t know! The College, under the wise guidance of Jim Reische has treated conservative voices fairly in the past, and at some cost to his own standing. But June 2020 is a different era than March 2018. Would Reische’s non-partisan approach prevail today?

3) Is there more to come? From the Record:

At a time when predominantly white institutions across the nation are responding to widespread protests denouncing police brutality and anti-Black racism, members of the Williams community — particularly students and alums — are placing increased pressure on the College administration to hold itself accountable for what they see as its delayed and limited support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.

White Americans are a minority in the Williams student body. Is referring to Williams as “predominantly white” true? Is it helpful? Or is it one more step down the road to perdition? How long before white Americans start acting like just another aggrieved participant in the national conversation?

Upon meeting with various community members and receiving written statements critiquing the College’s response, President of the College Maud S. Mandel and Vice President for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Leticia S.E. Haynes ’99 will make an announcement on Monday about new commitments from the College aimed at supporting those fighting racial inequity.

There is a lot of interesting material in the article. Kudos to reporters Jeongyoon Han and Nigel Jaffe. The Record is so much better than it was a year or two ago. My advice to Williams:

1) Don’t embarrass yourselves. If you feel you need to give money to appease the mob, give it to a reputable organization, not to the fools and grifters at something like 8 Can’t Wait or Campaign Zero. Recall when Williams, in a similar fit of moral piety, gave money to scam outfits in the name of carbon offsets. Don’t make that mistake again.

2) If you have to give money, give it to organizations with a direct Eph connection. Such organizations are (obviously!) more likely to be trustworthy and effective. Such gifts are less likely to rise the ire of non-BLM supporting alums.

3) Avoid excessively partisan organizations as much as possible. Consider the Innocence Project, an organization which helps to free wrongly convicted prisoners, many of them Black. Even a right-winger like me is supportive of those efforts.

4) Don’t write checks, support students. I, and many other alums, hate it when the College takes our donations and then turns around and donates that money to some other non-profit. If we wanted out money to go to, say, MASS MoCA, we would donate to it directly. Don’t take our money — which is meant to support Williams students and faculty — and send it to your favorite charity.

Instead, provide students with funding to work for other non-profits. For example, I would be happy to see my alumni giving go to funding summer stipends for Williams students to work for, say, Professor Jen Doleac ’03 at the Justice Tech Lab. They do good work! The students would learn a lot. Of course, in a perfect world, I would prefer to provide summer funding which is more portable, which could be used by a student to do research at a (high quality!) organization of her choice. But, to the extent that Maud feels forced, on Monday, to give the mob a show, money spent on student research stipends to work with quality organizations on social issues is the least objectionable.

Any reader interest in parsing more details from the Record article? Anyone heard more rumors about what the College is planning?


Let the Kids Play

Hoxsey Street in Mid March, 2020. 



Showdown at Three Course Gulch

Is today’s faculty meeting the biggest showdown between a Williams president and the faculty since Hank Payne’s presidency-ending decision to accept Herb Allen’s ’62 gift for what would eventually become The ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance 25 years ago? Or is it a foregone conclusion heading for a near unanimous vote after 15 minutes of Zoom Kabuki? I don’t know!

Here (pdf) are the details:

Dear Faculty,

As you already know, the academic calendar for 2020-2021 will consist of two regular semesters only, without winter study, whether or not Williams returns to in-person instruction with social distancing and other health precautions, or it continues to work remotely only. Students will be required to take the minimum of three regular courses in order to maintain a full-time load. These temporary, emergency changes will only be in effect for the next academic year, and therefore do not require a full faculty vote. The related changes in graduation requirements for students who enroll in 2020-2021 do require a faculty vote, because they will potentially be in place for the next four years.

This seems really weird! Well-run institutions plan things out and enact major changes in one fell swoop. It is crazy to (publicly!) make major Announcement A if the success of A depends on Decision B, which has not been made yet. Why would you announce the three course plan unless the faculty had already approved it, or at least announce it at the same time as the faculty vote? Is announcing it weeks ahead an attempt to bully the faculty into accepting the plan, since they would hate to rebuke a popular president during a difficulty time? Maybe!


The next academic year, 2020-2021, comes with numerous, heterogeneous and unprecedented challenges, and with great uncertainty.

Whoah! To put “Justification” in Bold (and Centered) screams desperation. A more normal academic framing would be “Reasoning” or “Background” or, perhaps best, “Summary.” Criminals provide justifications.

We cannot, at this point, predict whether either, both or neither of our semesters will be taught in a fully remote mode.

If I were a faculty member, I would be insulted by this sort of nonsense. It is 99% certain that Williams students will be on-campus in September.

We do know that even if we are able to resume in-person instruction, such instruction will of necessity have to be combined with remote teaching and learning, and all in-person classes will have to observe social distancing requirements and other mandatory health-related protocols. Even if we return to in-person instruction, a number of our students and faculty will not be able to participate in it.

Huh? Says who? With 2,000 students, there is a tragedy or two each year — a suicide attempt, a cancer diagnosis, a father’s death, something which prevents a student or a professor from carrying out their duties. The College handles those cases with compassion. There will be such cases next year, and the year after, and forever more. Yet the fact that, maybe, there will be more of those cases next year is not reason enough to make wholesale changes in how the College operates.

Also, just what about CV-19 will prevent a professor from doing her job? I could imagine a professor who, because of health concerns, has to teach remotely. But that has nothing to do with the College’s requirements about the number of courses a student needs to take.

In addition, a number of courses, especially large lecture courses, will have to be at least partially remote due to social distancing requirements. Should a serious outbreak of the virus hit the campus, we will have to abandon in-person instruction and revert to remote work, as we had to this semester.

Again, this does not make much sense to me. We all agree that remote learning is worse. But I have seen no evidence that it is more time-intensive for students than in-class learning. If anything, I think that the average student at an elite college spent less time on her courses in the spring of 2020 than she did in the spring of 2019. (Contrary opinions welcome!) And, to the extent that remote-classes take more time in some cases, the professors of those classes need simply adjust the workload, as I am sure that they would be ready to do.

But the above is just throat-clearing! The real question: Does a three course requirement help or hurt Williams students? These are the issues which I hope some faculty bring up today. (All quotes below are from this excellent Record article.)

3) Will students who take three courses learn less than students who take four courses? Yes! Isn’t that true by definition? And so what sort of favor is Williams doing for those students who accept this poisoned chalice? We have a responsibility to educate students as best we can, and to have high standards for certifying the fulfillment of that obligation. The switch from 4 to 3 courses will make this cohort of Williams students less educated than those who went before and than those who come after. The burden of proof for making such a change is immense.

2) How many courses will Williams students take?

In a Wednesday Record survey of approximately 550 non-seniors, which received 294 responses, 86 percent of respondents reported that, if the fall semester were on campus, they would prefer to take four classes rather than three.

Williams students like to learn. They like their classes. There are some slackers and malcontents, of course, but a majority — if not quite 86% — will probably take four courses. This makes a change in requirements mostly irrelevant to planning issues involve classroom social distancing and the like.

3) How will the outside world perceive students who take three courses?

“One concern I have is what graduate schools/other institutions may think regarding a student’s choice to take three classes when they may take three or four,” said Peter Hollander ’21. “As someone who is applying to graduate school next year, I definitely feel pressured to take four classes, even if I’m allowed to take three, out of fear that schools would see my application as less competitive.”

Peter Hollander ’21 is smart! Graduate schools and employers will look askance at any student who takes three courses. Is that fair? No! But life is unfair. The problem is that the X students who take three courses will be a mixture of two types: slackers and those who have a legitimate reason — be it health or otherwise — for only taking three courses. Williams would like to pretend that every student who takes only three courses will have a legitimate reason for doing so, but we are doing nothing to ensure that. (And note that Williams could do that. It could require students to seek permission to take just three courses, to provide a justification for why special treatment is necessary.)

So Yale (and Google and Goldman Sachs and Teach for America and . . .) will look at a student who takes three courses and say: “You might be the sort of student who needed to take three courses. Or you might be a slacker who I don’t want. Why risk it when I can just accept/hire someone who took four courses?”

Anyone who doesn’t think that elite institutions won’t do exactly that has never served as a gatekeeper. I have and they will.

4) Will the impact of this policy change be disparate, more likely to (negatively!) impact students from poorer families, who went to less well-endowed high schools, who are more likely to be Black/Hispanic? Of course! How could it not?

As usual, I — who am often accused of racism and classism — am left to defend the interests of the poor and the POC. Will rich white kids be hurt by this? No. They went to Andover! They have well-connected parents who will tell them what’s-what. They will take four courses, regardless of what the faculty does today.

Decreasing the course load from four to three courses will hurt Williams students in aggregate, but it will hurt the least privileged among them the most.

5) Why hasn’t the Administration provided more details about the options available?

In addition, a number of courses, especially large lecture courses, will have to be at least partially remote due to social distancing requirements.

Williams has a lot of classrooms. And a lot of faculty. And there are a lot of hours in the day. Why not offer classes at 8:00 AM or 7:00 PM? Why not have some of the (many!) faculty in administrative roles teach a full load, or at least half a load? It is really not that hard to provide a full set of 8,000 classroom seats (2,000 students times 4 classes each) while maintaining social distancing. No More Lectures!

At the very least, were I a faculty member, I would want a lot more details on why this change is necessary. And I would be pissed about not being better consulted earlier in the process. I decide what qualifies a student to be a graduate of Williams, not Maud Mandel.

Questions: What do you think the faculty will do? What do you think they should do?

My answers: I don’t know what they will do. (My sources are silent!) I think they should vote “No” and force Mandel back to the drawing board.


Remember the Tablecloth Colors

A Record op-ed from 14 years ago:

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

No kidding. EphBlog has made this prediction over and over and over again. The more control that Williams students have over life at Williams, the better. The more people (intelligent and well-meaning though they may be) that are hired by the College to “help,” the less active students will be.

The main rational used by CUL (Committee on Undergraduate Life) in establishing OCL 18 years ago — All the other schools have one so it must be a good idea! — was stupid then and it is stupid now.

Writer Ainsley O’Connell ’06 tells a depressing tale. Anyone who cares about student life at Williams should read the whole thing.

When I arrived on campus, director of campus life Doug Bazuin and his staff were a distant idea, not a reality. Barb and Gail administered activities on campus, helping students schedule events from their fishbowl office at the heart of Baxter Hall. Linda Brown administered room draw, her maternal warmth and firmness easing the process. Tom McEvoy (who has since departed) and Jean Thorndike provided big-picture support and served as liaisons between students and administrators. When students were moved to champion a new policy or party idea, Tom and Jean were willing to listen, and often to lend moral and financial support. The execution fell to students, but this sense of responsibility fostered greater ownership.

Great stuff. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to capture this sort of testimony, the thanks of current students to the staff members that have done so much.

But those with long memories will note what a mockery this makes of the CUL’s discussion in 2001 of the lack of staff devoted to student life. Indeed, if there is any table which demonstrates the dishonesty/incompetence of CUL during those years it is this description Staffing at Comparable Institutions. Click on the link. Let’s take a tour. (The line for Williams (all zeroes in bold) is at the bottom.)

First, note how the JA system magically disappears. The “50 junior advisors” for Bates are listed under “Student Staff” but, at Williams, they have vanished. Second, the CUL pretends that Dean Dave Johnson ’71 does not exist. The countless hours that he spent working with the JAs and First Years don’t matter. Yet you can be sure that one of the “3 Assistant Deans” at Emerson does exactly what Johnson does at Williams, although probably not as well. Third, the CUL erases all the work and commitment of people like Linda Brown and Tom McEvoy, as evoked so nicely by O’Connell.

None of this is surprising, of course. Former President Morty Schapiro decided in 2000 that there were certain things about Williams that he was going to change. By and large, he (temporarily!) changed them. He and (former) Dean of the College Nancy Roseman and (former) CUL Chair Will Dudley implemented Neighborhood Housing, the biggest change at Williams this century. It was a total failure and has now, thankfully, been removed. Schapiro, Roseman and Dudley went on, despite this disastrous own goal, to college Presidencies at Northwestern, Dickinson and Washington and Lee, promotions which doubled (even tripled) their Williams salaries.

O’Connell goes on:

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new initiatives and throw events open to the campus. For many, extracurricular activities had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from campus life, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals. Take Williams Students Online, for example, or 91.9, the student radio station: Their success lies in their student leaders, who have been willing to commit their time to making sweeping changes that have transformed WSO and WCFM, respectively.

It may have been reasonable for O’Connell not to see, in 2003, how this would all work out, but she is naive in the extreme not to see now that this evolution was inevitable. How shall we explain it to her? Imagine a different paragraph.

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new publications and manage current ones. For many, writing for and editing student publications had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing everything down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from the Office of Campus Publications, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals.

In other words, why isn’t it a good idea for Williams to create an Office of Campus Publications [OCP], with a Director of Campus Publications and a staff of Campus Publication Coordinators? After all, as the meltdown of the GUL in 2001 (?) and the Record‘s regular destruction of its online archives demonstrates, students sometimes need help. They often make mistakes. Who could deny that having someone to “help” and “support” the Record (and GUL and Mad Cow) wouldn’t make those publications better? No one. Perhaps OCP would even have prevented the demise of Rumor and Scattershot.

But would the experience of the students writing those publications be better with a bunch of (intelligent, well-meaning) paid employees of the College hovering over them? No. That should be obvious to O’Connell. Writing for and editing the Record those last 4 years probably taught her as much about life its own self as any aspect of her Williams education. If she had had a Doug Bazuin equivalent supervising her all this time, her experience would not have been as rich, her education not as meaningful.

As always, critics will claim that I am advocating that the College provide no help or support, that we abolish the Dean’s Office. No! Some support is good, just as some social engineering is desirable. But, on the margin, the contribution of the OCL is negative.

Vibrant means “long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail.” This is exactly why student institutions like WCFM, WSO and others — Trivia? Rugby? Current students should tell us more — are so vibrant. O’Connell acts as if you can have a vibrant organization or community without time and trouble, sweat and tears. In fact, you can’t.

O’Connell writes as if vibrancy appears from nowhere, that someone just sprinkles magic pixie dust on WSO and WCFM. No. Vibrancy, community, innovation and almost everything else worth having in this imperfect life require “unreasonably long hours” and “preparing everything down to the last detail.” You don’t think that Ephs like Evan Miller at WSO and Matt Piven at WCFM sweated the details? Think again.

Unfortunately, the Office of Campus Life and the Dean’s office, which oversees it, have not fostered this model. Instead, both offices have moved in the opposite direction, at times going so far as to render student involvement wholly superficial, as with the planning of this year’s Senior Week. The senior officers elected by the Class of 2006 do nothing more than choose tablecloth colors; it is assistant director of campus life Jess Gulley who runs the show. Hovering over student shoulders, the campus life staff of today is like a mother or father who wants to be your friend instead of your parent. The office should cast itself as an administrative support service, not the arbiter of cool.

Harsh! True? Current students should tell us. But note that this is not Gulley’s fault! I have no doubt that she is wonderful and hard-working, dedicated to making student life better. Each day, she wakes up and tries to figure out how to make this the best Senior Week ever. That is, after all, what the College is paying her to do. In that very act, of course, she decreases the scope of student control and involvement.

Back in the day, students handled almost all aspects of Senior Week. I still remember dancing the night away, in my dress whites, at Mount Hope Farm, the most beautiful Eph of all in my arms. I am sad that, due to CV-19, this year’s seniors, 30 years younger than I, will not have that experience. Because of Gulley’s successor’s involvement, it may even be true that the events would have been better planned and organized. Yet everything that she does used to be done by students, hectically and less professionally, but still done by them.

The more that students run Williams, the better that Williams will be.


Alumni Trustee Elections Are a Farce

The elections for Alumni Trustee are a farce. Consider the ballot.

First, there is no way for an outsider — say Wick Sloane ’76 — to get on the ballot. If the Alumni Office does not like you, then you will never be nominated. (Details on the process here.) Much better would be a system, like Dartmouth’s old process, that allowed for non-mainstream voices to (try to) gather enough signatures to get on the ballot. The alumni of Williams — not the insiders at the Society of Alumni — should decide who serves as Alumni Trustee.

Second, the College forbids candidates from discussing anything substantive in their statements. Are you interested in changes in financial aid policy at Williams? Do you want to know what these candidates think? Tough! They aren’t going to tell you because the College won’t let them. Read their pap-filled statements. It isn’t that these thoughtful alumni don’t have substantive views on the future of Williams. It is that the College itself tells them not to discuss those views in these statements. This is viewed as “campaigning” and we are too classy to allow that!

Third, Williams successfully discourages candidates from answering questions. A decade ago, I e-mailed each of the three trustee candidates this question:


My name is David Dudley Field, Williams class of 1825, and I would like to make an informed vote among the three of you in casting my ballot for alumni trustee. Would you mind answering a single question?

What are your thoughts on President Bill Wagner’s recent changes in financial aid policy?

I realize that the three of you are very busy people, but it is very hard for me to choose among you unless I have at least an inkling of how you feel about this critical issues.

Further comments:

1) I have cc’d Wick Sloane ’76 on this e-mail because he convinced me to contact you. I am sure that he would also like to know how you feel about financial aid.

2) I have cc’d Secretary of Alumni Brooks Foehl as well. I understand that the College does not want you to “campaign” for this election. But I hope/assume that Brooks would agree that just answering my question, at least in private, is not campaigning.

3) I have cc’d Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07, one of the leading lights behind EphBlog. With your permission (and only with your permission), I am sure that Ronit would like to post your answers at EphBlog so that other alumni could cast more informed ballots. But, if you did not want to do that, I still hope that you could answer the question to me directly.

Thanks for your time and your past service to Williams.

Two of the three candidates were polite enough to respond. Both refused to answer the question. Pathetic! Or, rather, just what the Alumni Office would want them to do.

The Alumni Office does not want Williams alumni to make an informed choice in trustee elections. Your local high school has sophomore class elections with more substance.

Who did you vote for and why?

Sidenote: Do any techies have opinions about voting security? I got this “receipt” after I voted:

Vote receipt

You voted as sign-in name: SHxHqhBu
Vote submitted from IP address: XX.XXX.XXX.XXX

Alumni Trustee Ballot 2020 (UG ALUMNI)

Alumni Trustee Slate (ID# 156271)
Vote receipt code 8FcTcuvXfn
This vote was recorded: Monday 09 March 2020 17:40 EDT

ID# is the permanent identification number of the selected choices in the database.

close window

(I X’d out my IP address.) Good stuff? Hackable? I am not technically competent enough to comment.


preventative health measures

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,


As we prepare the campus for potential spread of the COVID-19 virus, we recognize that not all members of our community are likely to be impacted in the same way.  According to the CDC, the immediate risk of being exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 remains low for most people in the US. In addition, information so far suggests that for the majority of people who contract the virus, COVID-19 illness is mild.  At the same time, older people and people of all ages with severe underlying health conditions seem to be at higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness. For instance, COVID-19 may be more dangerous to people who have had chemotherapy; suffer from heart problems, diabetes or respiratory issues; or are immune-compromised.


If you fall into any of these categories and are concerned about continuing to work in your standard setting (whether that be attending class, working in an office, or another setting), we encourage you to reach out to us so that we can determine what sort of alternative arrangements might be possible in order to increase your safety. Faculty should reach out to Kashia Pieprzak (; staff should reach to either Danielle Gonzalez ( or Megan Childers (; and students should reach out to Cyndi Haley ( so that we can provide a streamlined, confidential process for your request.


All best wishes,

Denise Buell, Dean of Faculty

Fred Puddester Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer

Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College


Final FAST Updates

In other news…

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Close Williams

timber_wolfEphBlog’s advice: Close Williams today.

1) There is no better time to close Williams than a week before Spring Break. Pull a Harvard! Tell students they have to pack up and leave. (Allow some flexibility for low-income/international students.) Treat it like the end of the semester. Empty the dorms. Cancel all sports. Go online.

2) The people who run places like Harvard and Yale (and even Amherst!) are smart and serious. If they are closing — and closing Harvard is much harder logistically than closing Williams — then we need a really good reason not to close.

3) What about graduation? Graduation has already been cancelled! You just don’t know it yet. The Governor of Massachusetts will, within weeks (if not days!), ban any gathering over 1,000 people. And then he will ban gatherings over 100. And then he will institute a quarantine with the National Guard patrolling the streets. That is how bad this is going to get. Whatever else the next few months will bring, Williams will not be seating 500 graduating seniors together on June 7.

4) Might this be an overreaction? Maybe! (EphBlog does occasionally overreact to global events.) South Korea seems to have bought things under control. The warmer weather may help. But overreaction in an attempt to fight a global pandemic is no vice. If things look much better in two months, you can invite the seniors back to spend three weeks on campus prior to graduation. What a party that would be!

Good luck to all!

UPDATE: EphBlog gets results!

Williams College will end in-person classes on Friday, March 13, and dismiss students for spring break on Saturday, March 14, a week earlier than planned. We will be moving to remote learning beginning on Monday, April 6.

This seems a touch panicky to me. There are, presumably, a number of in-person exams which were scheduled for next week. How easy for is it for students to move already-bought plane tickets up a week? Then again, closing is the right call and reasonable people can disagree on the timing. Maybe the goal is to move out 80% of the campus by this Saturday, including the 50% (?) who drive, and then have a week to deal with the laggards.


Additional steps for COVID-19 prevention and mitigation

Williams students, faculty and staff,

The COVID-19 virus is continuing to spread nationally, including a confirmed case in Clarksburg, MA, 7 miles east of Williams, and another in Bennington, VT. I am writing today to announce further steps to protect campus and prepare for the possibility that a case occurs here despite our best efforts. You can always find this information on the college’s COVID-19 website, too.

Since activities involving heightened personal interaction, including gatherings and travel, can be a source of exposure, we are making the following changes as of today:

First, college-sponsored international travel will not be allowed through April 30, 2020, with a possible extension beyond that time if it becomes necessary to ensure campus health. College funds may not be used for any trips occurring during this time. This is partly to limit the risk to our community, and partly because all of us as members of society have an ethical obligation to avoid activities that increase the risk of contagion. It is not a decision we make lightly, and we will continue to review the situation with the goal of lifting the prohibition as soon as evidence indicates it is safe to do so.

Second, we are canceling all campus events between now and April 30, 2020 that have an expected attendance of 100 or more. The college has meeting spaces that can accommodate crowds of fewer than 100 while allowing the recommended six-foot minimum distance between guests to limit contagion. For this reason, we believe 100 people is a meaningful cutoff point for now. Again, we are continually reviewing the situation and will inform you if it becomes necessary to extend or amend the policy. As part of our decision, we are also canceling Previews, our campus program for admitted students and families, which was scheduled to begin on April 20. There will also be no admission tours, info sessions or admitted student overnights during this time, all decisions comparable to those made by a number of other schools around the country.

The COVID-19 team has begun contacting many organizers of affected events. If you fall into this category, faculty with questions should please contact the Office of Commencement and Academic Events, while students should reach out to the Office of Student Life. Staff, your point of contact will vary, so please work with the appropriate liaison for your particular program.

This global outbreak challenges all of us, not just logistically or economically, but psychologically. While in the great majority of cases the symptoms of COVID-19 will resemble the flu, the uncertainty demands resilience. It is important that we take time to care for ourselves and each other, and especially to think about the most vulnerable. Any Williams employee with a complicating condition or circumstance should contact the Office of Human Resources to request accommodations. The HR team will offer a streamlined, confidential process. Students, if you have health concerns please call Student Health Services right away—they will not accept walk-ins for now, to limit the risk of contagion, but are there to help you. The college will work with every student to help you complete your academic program safely.

This outbreak is challenging schools to think creatively about how to guarantee academic rigor under adverse circumstances, and I thank our faculty and staff for problem-solving to keep us on mission. Indeed, I’m grateful to everyone, from custodians and dining staff to Health Services, Study Away, Admission and Financial Aid, CSS and deans, student leaders, event hosts, and others who are all adjusting your work—sometimes day to day—to keep people safe and the college operating smoothly.

Our team has reviewed the situation with local, state and national public health experts, and they consistently ask us to emphasize to campus that the number one thing we can all do to protect ourselves is to practice good hygiene: wash hands frequently and for a minimum of 20 seconds at a time, cover coughs and sneezes with the crook of an elbow, avoid touching our faces, and avoid contact or proximity with anyone who is already ill.

Again, I appreciate your cooperation with the prohibition on travel and the ban on large campus events. We will review the outlook on both decisions frequently, and will let you know whether we need to extend them or whether they can be curtailed. These decisions have real consequences for our mission, jobs and lives, and I appreciate your temporary sacrifices for our collective health and safety.



Art Shuttle – Berkshire Cultural Resource Center

MCLA’s Berkshire Cultural Resource Center (BCRC) is pleased to offer a free shuttle bus, the ART SHUTTLE, to all MCLA and Williams College students. The ART SHUTTLE will launch on Thursday, March 3rd, from 3-6PM.  The ART SHUTTLE will provide students transportation to tour and visit four art institutions in both North Adams and Williamstown. The tour will make a loop that take students to The Clark Art Institute, The Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), MASS MoCA, Gallery 51. The ART SHUTTLE is intended to give students a means to explore and enjoy the world-class art in spaces just beyond the borders of their campus. These four partnering institutions are working together to better serve and engage students.

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Coronavirus Email Updates & New Website

Update on coronavirus measures – Week of March 4th

Dear Williams students, faculty and staff,

Following is this week’s email on COVID-19. Because the situation is changing constantly, we’re going to launch a college website where you can find updates and additional information at any time. Look for an announcement once the site goes live later this week.

The first thing we want you to know is that the college’s academic mission and your health and safety are our top priorities. If decisions need to be made or actions taken, we’re going to do so with those concerns foremost in mind. A leadership team is conferring daily to review emerging developments and promptly make any necessary decisions.

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Election Results for FAST and the Williams Student Union

The results came in this evening, a little later than expected. I have included a link to the election results. JS is technically correct–turnout was lower than the Fall–but not by much (it was still, very, very low). It also appears that there is significant Task Force representation in the new organizations.

DDF UPDATE: For the benefit of future historians, here is a csv of the votes and here is an html summary.

Hello everyone,

The RESULTS are IN! We again would like to thank the many student leaders that ran for either WSU or FAST. Regardless of the results the student body thanks you for both putting yourself out there and embracing a bold vision of student government. We would also like to thank the student body for voting in yet another important election and providing overwhelming support for a student government founded by principles of equity, transparency, and accessibility.

As of March 1st, 2020, College Council is officially defunct. FAST and WSU will assume their roles.

A brief timeline of what comes next:

Tonight: The election closes and representatives for WSU and FAST are announced.

03/01: College Council stands Abolished. The referendum served as a constitutional amendment that rendered the Constitution, bylaws, and any other structural documents of the College Council null and void. FAST and the Williams Student Union shall begin the work of supporting the student body, and shall have all powers and responsibilities enumerated in their respective Constitutions and bylaws. They will host a joint meeting this Sunday where this transition of power will occur.

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FAST and Williams Student Union self nominations, voting open!

They have not yet sent out the results of the election, which closed yesterday.

The era of our new student government has finally arrived. We again would like to thank the student body for their overwhelming endorsement and support of the plan. We would also like to thank the many student leaders who have submitted self-nominations. Regardless of the results of this election, together we are all welcoming a new era of diverse, equitable, and accessible governance.

Here are the self-nomination packets for the Williams Student Union and FAST. Please take a look through and support the candidate that you feel will best serve our campus. Your VOTE and voice are integral to helping the Three Pillars succeed where College Council has failed.

Elections will open today and will end on Saturday, January 29th at 5 pm! You will receive a personalized voting link immediately following this email.

Good luck to our candidates and thank you everyone for voting!

Submitted to the Student Body by the Task Force on Student Governance


More Emails

Three Pillars Emails will be in a separate post.

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