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Here comes the taxman! (Williamstown loses)

The Senate has passed a federal tax increase on private universities and colleges such as Williams.

I have always argued that local governance should get more revenue from Williams either through a PILOT and/or a tax on real estate holdings. Dormitories and common eating/ food sales spaces compete with the local economy (rentals and restaurants). They should be subject to local property taxation.

Williams and Williamstown are inseparable, and as such, Williams relies heavily on things such as local schools, waste management, police, and fire. Williams relies on the adaptability of the local planning board to make space for growth, and the relative lopsidedness of zoning permits. Who can build and where is a college function in the cultural district.

As we like to say, “Rock, paper, college.” Not that there is anything wrong with that!

That said, the federal taxation of a place like Williams when compared to the benefit of federal tax reform on the townie (working class) populations in a place like Williamstown is inequitable. When one compares the relative economic cost (the opportunity cost) of what this federal income tax will take from Williams/ Williamstown when compared to the local benefit with regards to the local burden on working people- this is a bad deal for Williamstown Townies! Local real estate taxation has skyrocketed in the last eight years. This is not going to help Williamstown’s affordability crisis…

Looks like we are in this one together.

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Horn Hall

horn
Former EphBlog president seeks news about the College’s newest dorm: Horn Hall. The Record reports:

Horn Hall opened this fall, making it the first new residential building the College has completed since Mission Park in the 1970s.

The building, which houses 60 sophomores, juniors and seniors in its 40 singles and 10 doubles, boasts a number of amenities. …

The construction of the hall was made possible by a donation from Ragnar Horn ’85 and Joey Horn ’87. Both live in Norway and Joey Horn is a member of the Board of Trustees. The Horns’ $10 million gift contributed to a total of $15 million spent on construction.

Our informed readers provide two other links.

The need for new residential space took root in a college planning process that goes back several years.

“We looked at all the spaces and many were in need of major renovations,” Puddester said. “To start that project, we need extra beds. Now we only have enough space for current students.”

Garfield House, named for college President Harry A. Garfield, is scheduled to be the first building renewed in the multiyear renovation project. The former fraternity house dates to the 1880s and is built in the Tudor style.When renovations are under way, the 41 students living there will be placed in the new Stetson dormitory.

Key document in that planning process is the 2013 Residential Sector Plan. Should we spend a week going through it? Key point, with regard to Horn Hall, is that Williams does not expect to expand the student body. Instead, it will be renovating much of the current housing stock, taking a building or two “off-line” each year, housing the displaced students (conceptually) in Horn Hall. (From the student point of view, of course, there is not an actual displacement. Horn Hall is just another house that students can pick into.)

Quick feedback to Record reporter James Rasmussen: Try to be more than an Administration mouthpiece, taking dictation from our friends in Hopkins Hall. The construction was not “made possible by a donation”! This implies that, without the Horns’ generosity, the building would not exist. Absurd! The College has a $2 billion endowment. The College was going to put up this building no matter what. But, once they have a new building under construction, a wonderful “naming opportunity” arises. Whichever donor coughs up $10 million gets to slap any name (within reason) on the structure. Nothing wrong with that! Indeed, this is how big-ticket philanthropy works everywhere. But, please, try to do a better job informing your readers.

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Neighborhood Reports

The College can not be trusted to maintain public copies of the reports it has made public in the past. So, the responsibility falls to EphBlog. You are welcome, future historians! Below are the most important reports regarding the failed implementation of Neighborhood Housing. There were two interim reports (part I and II) and two final reports (part I and II). The reports were written by the Neighborhood Review Committee in 2009-2010. We provided extensive discussion back in the day. Perhaps the part that is most relevant is the discussion of sophomore housing.

The best part of the Final Report (pdf) from the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) is its praise of sophomore housing.

It is striking to note that just over 70% of the first-year respondents believe that the College should offer sophomores the option of living in designated sophomore housing. … The committee concluded that the sophomore housing option is worthy of further study.

Read the whole thing. As best I can tell, the Committee was pro-sophomore housing but with a non-trivial minority against. Yet the central flaw of the Report in this regard was its complete failure to describe and analyze the history of sophomore housing at Williams, at least since 1990. (Useful references here and here.) Short version: Sophomores decided, on their own, that they wanted to live together in Mission. A large majority of sophomores preferred living in housing that was 90% sophomores. They achieved this goal in the early 1990s by trading their picks. Free agency arrived in 1994 and made the process more simple/fair/transparent.

Recommendation: Allow the sophomores to live together in the Berkshire Quad. The Kane Housing Plan (pdf) provides all the necessary details.

As true today as it was five years ago. The College only took a decade to realize that we were right about neighborhood housing. We knew it would be a failure and it was. How long until they come to see the benefits of sophomore housing and other changes?

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Throw Back Thursday: Private Phones Arrive at Williams

In the pre cell-phone days, Williams College students reached their fellow Ephs by dialing their dorm rooms — often from outdoor phone boxes like the one pictured above.

That began fifty years ago this week, when the class of ’69 arrived on campus and benefited from the newest technological improvement to freshmen entries: dorm room phones. Prior to 1965, each entry had a shared phone, but over the summer of 1965, the College spent several thousand dollars to install private phones in every freshmen dorm room, and began charging students $5.28/month for phone service.

As College Business Manager Shane Riorden explained to the Record, the College heoped to “get students used to ‘accepting the responsibility of a private phone’ by introducing the students to them as freshmen.”

All of a sudden, calling up that Vassar student you met at a recent mixer became a much more private affair!

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Rainbows and Sunshine

Recall ebaek’s comment on housing policy from 2010.

If we can’t even live in the same building with people who have different lifestyles and habits than us, how are we expected to create and maintain a community that’s both diverse and unified?

Even with all the hoops that the current housing system has put for the students to jump through, the little subgroups around the campus have all managed to find some kind of central housing for the members by sophomore year. As much as we would all love the school to be this place full of rainbows and sunshine where everyone knows and gets along with everyone, that would not be diversity. We should be clashing if we really all have diverse values and views– this should be the way we learn to treat people with respect and know when to compromise.

So what if the college has put some restrictions on the students to make sure that at least there is some kind of effort to gain this kind of learning around here? It’s frankly quite possible for the college to further these restrictions by, say, forcing each class to live together and assigning rooms randomly, as we had been placed here during freshmen year. I find that it is a privilege to be given the chance to pick my roommates and have a say in where I’ll be living for the next year.

And if my neighbors next years get too loud partying while I’m trying to study? I’ll just ask them to turn the volume down.

Easier said then done.

By the way, what is the current state-of-play with regard to housing for next year? Never too late to implement the Kane Plan!

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Fragmentation

From the Record a decade ago:

Though there is no official theme housing on the Williams campus, fragmentation and separation of various types of groups within the residential system have caused the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) to rethink the College’s housing system. Many houses are now tremendously unbalanced in terms of gender, race or athletic affiliation of the members, such as the largely male Tyler Annex, the largely female Spencer house and the mostly minority Dodd Annex.

”We think the campus has been balkanized into enclaves where houses have taken on ’themes’ much like in the fraternity era,” said Charles Dew, professor of history and chair of the CUL. “We tend to group ourselves by gender, by ethnicity, by athletic team. . .What we’re hearing from a lot of students is that the sense of community is not what it could be.”

Thanks to Charles Dew and other Williams faculty and administrators, Williams has gone through a decade of major changes in housing policy. The result? Almost complete failure, although, to be fair, Morty did accomplish his major goal of not allowing all the African-American students to live together, as they (mostly) did during the era of Free Agency.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution (pdf). How long before Williams implements the Kane Plan?

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Freshmen Housing Questionnaire

Here (pdf) is the 2009 freshmen housing questionnaire from Swarthmore. Here (doc) is the form from Williams. (Thanks to Doug Schiazza, Director of Campus Life, for providing it.)

Compare and contrast.

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Housing alternatives open at other schools in light of suicide …

As forwarded to me by a reader:

The tragic occurrence at Rutgers prods some colleges to open roommate selection opportunities.

Gender-neutral housing has been approved by the college following recommendations and discussions last March, 2010. as reported in The Record

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and College Council (CC) both advocated gender-neutral housing last fall, following its proposal by the Queer Student Union (QSU). “I think there is a good chance that the NRC would have gone this direction anyway,” said Colin Adams, chair of the CUL and member of the NRC. “But the fact that CUL and CC supported and pushed for gender-neutral housing certainly helped to bring it to the forefront for consideration.”

And as reported int The Record

In a campus-wide e-mail last week, Campus Life also announced that a gender-neutral housing policy has been approved by the College. According to the e-mail, upperclassmen can choose to live in a double with another student regardless the students’ genders, as long as both students agree to the housing arrangement. Gender caps will apply as usual to all dorms. The e-mail clarified that the gender-neutral housing policy is optional and unless students of opposite genders decide to live together, housing placements into doubles will otherwise be based on same-gender placements…

“I’m pleased that the College can go forward with gender neutral housing,” Dean Merrill said. “It’s been an issue that students have been talking about for at least as many years that I’ve been dean. There’s been a lot of student effort, both here, and around the country, and I’m glad that we can be part of a growing number of schools that offer it.”

What changes do you see on campus that might relate to previous comments in the I am Fine posts below on the Williams experience? Additive to? Subtractive from?

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An Obvious Proposal: Make Weston Residential

I read with delight that the OCC is moving from Weston and integrating with the Alumni Office.  This makes sense in and of itself (and probably warrants a post of its own), but the bigger benefit, in my view, is reopening Weston to its natural and proper use: upper class housing.   In the article discussing the future of Weston, there was no mention of turning it into housing.  Failure to do so* would be, simply, an enormous mistake for the following reasons:

  • It just makes sense, from a campus planning perspective, to have an uninterrupted row of residential row houses.  These houses represent the heart of senior (and on weekends, campus social) life.  For decades, Weston has been the outlier, remaining dark on weekends while its neighbors are teeming with life.  Why keep it as such?
  • Williams has gradually and slowly increased its enrollment in recent years, with entering classes moving from around 529 to around 550.  Over four years, that is an extra 84 people on campus (or, say, 70, accounting for study abroad and attrition).  Yet, not only has Williams not built additional housing, it has actually eliminated a few coops, and about 12 years ago it turned Bascom, which used to be the single best dorm on campus, into the Admissions Office.  What does that mean?  Fewer seniors getting prime rooms, more sophomores in doubles, and less common space in campus dorms.  Turning Weston into housing would alleviate all of those issues.

More thoughts below the break Read more

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Reports on West as a Quiet Housing?

Perhaps the most important change that was made in Williams housing last year was the designation of West as “quiet housing.”

Following the release of the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) recent report, Campus Life announced Thursday that quiet housing will be implemented beginning next fall, with West College, which has 54 beds, designated for that purpose. Students in quiet housing will be required to abide by quiet hours from at least 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day. Applications for quiet housing are due today, and the room draw will take place next Wednesday.

Other students noted that West had, prior to the neighborhoods system, been dominated by seniors working on theses. “Designating West as quiet housing is returning it to its pre-neighborhood status,” Will Slack ’11 said. “There are some people on this campus who have a hard time functioning with a lot of noise. I think setting aside one house with quiet hours starting at 9 or 10 p.m. makes sense.”

Read the whole article for details.

Questions: How popular was West in the room draw last spring? How have things worked out in West this year? If you live there, tell us about it. If you have friends there, tell us about their experiences.

Prediction: West was popular in the room draw and its current residents are happy. The party/no-party fault line is the single biggest cause of student housing conflict. By removing it, the lives of the students in West have been improved.

And that proves the desirability of encouraging student sorting, as outlined in my housing plan (pdf).

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What’s Really Wrong with Housing: Statistics and More

To put it simply, I believe a closer analysis of the Neighborhood Review Committee reports will give a lot of insight into the recent actions the College has taken.

First, let’s examine the claim that “The 2009 survey data on Neighborhood housing make clear that students are dissatisfied.” That is from the Interim Report of the Neighborhood Review Committee, October 2009 [1]. This report described what the NRC found in May 2009 when they surveyed the student population. First of all, only 30% of the on-campus student body took the survey. That is not a lot. The report also says that more info was taken from past surveys, etc.

The Final Report of the Neighborhood Review Committee Part Two, April 27, 2010, notes that “[student surveys] added nuance to the most vocal complaints [about the neighborhood system]: some student dissatisfaction could be attributed to factors other than the neighborhood system and a substantial proportion of students believed the overall goals of the system were worthy” (1) [3].

The report continues, “Indeed, during the public forums of the fall, the NRC did not hear as much public criticism about the Neighborhood system as some of us imagined we would hear.

The comparative lack of criticism this academic year does not necessarily mean that the dissatisfaction had gone away or that many students were suddenly pleased with the Neighborhood system as a whole or with their individual Neighborhood. But it does suggest that what had been identified as dissatisfaction with the Neighborhoods was a complicated phenomenon” (1) [3].

Let’s take a closer look at the data to get a better understanding of these nuances. The class of 2009 was the last class to be under both the free-agency system and the neighborhood system, even though they were only in free-agency for their freshmen year. (Keep in mind that this is only the 5th year the neighborhood system has been around. It was instituted 2006-2007 [2].) They got the worst of both worlds–the un-unified freshmen experience and the lack of choice from the neighborhood system. At the time, they were randomly assigned neighborhoods, and penalized for trying to switch.
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Housing Seminar: Implementation

This is the fifth (and final) installment of our one week seminar about my plan (pdf) to fix Williams housing.

See the full pdf for all the details on implementation, none of which matter that much. The central insights of the plan — a Student Housing Committee, the Davis Conjecture (class-year segregation) and the Uible Lament (large, self-organized, diverse pick groups) — are independent of the messy specifics. Below are my preliminary thoughts on how CUL might organize things in year 1. Comments welcome!

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What’s Really Wrong with the Housing System: It’s the Economy, Stupid

Hi. I’d like to use the opportunity of my first real post to introduce myself. I am Brad Polsky ’12. An Art History and Practice major, I like playing jazz and eating Italian food, amongst other things.

I am writing tonight about the housing system. If you’re reading this post, you probably already know about David Kane’s Housing Plan. If not, take a look at the posts entitled “Housing Seminars.” Dave’s plan is very detailed (18 pages long) and a good read.

However, as a student currently at Williams who is interested in the outcome of the housing debate, I cannot recommend Dave’s plan. My two main points are:

1) Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke
and
2) What may work in theory may not work well in practice.

I will then talk about what should be done to fix the current housing issues.

Everything’s Just Fine

In Dave’s executive summary, he gives a list of assumptions we have about housing. One that he neglects to include is that he assumes the housing system now is bad/inefficient/[insert other negative adjective here]. David says there is evidence for this: “students recognize this.” Which is funny, because he says a sentence later that he doesn’t know this but he’s sure that if students were polled they would surely agree with his view.

I’m not so sure about this. I live in Currier Neighborhood. I have friends in all other neighborhoods. Almost all people seem happy with their neighborhoods and houses, or, at the very least, are not miserable (I strongly agree with Dave on one goal of housing to minimize misery). One of my biggest issues with the system had been that it really locked you into your neighborhood, and you were penalized for trying to get out.

This has changed. There are no longer penalties for switching out. I know many people who have switched, to be closer to their friends, to get (in their eyes) better housing, or for other reasons. As I said, most people seem happy with the system and their individual situations, and if they are not they can easily switch.

And despite some of the neighborhoods not really being neighborhoods (i.e., Wood), the system has its own way of working. In Currier, the housing is rather homogeneous; there are no spectacular rooms or under par rooms. Dodd is acknowledged to have the worst sophomore housing, but housing junior and senior year in that neighborhood makes up for it. Spencer has Morgan (it used to have West; I’ll get to that later), and Wood has the beautiful row houses. As a Williams student in the neighborhood system gets older each year, she has a better pick of rooms in more locations. There is a logic to this system.
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Housing Seminar: Assumptions

This is the first installment of our one week seminar about my plan (pdf) to fix Williams housing. Each day I will post (below the fold) some excerpts from that 18 page (!?!) plan and seek comments and discussion. Feedback is most welcome! I have been pushing an idea along these lines from more than 5 years, but only recently figured out the importance of large group size to solving the problem.

The central dilemma is that Williams does not have the architecture of a place like Yale (equal quality houses, each with its own dining facility) and so there is no way to force students to live in the same house multiple years in a row. Also, given the large numbers of juniors who go abroad and seniors who live off-campus and in co-ops, there is no way to generate any sort of neighborhood identity. So, we need a different approach.

I have sent a copy of this plan to all the members of the Committee on Undergraduate Life. Will anything come of it? I don’t know. Here is the executive summary:

There is a strong consensus within the Williams community about the main assumptions underlying housing policy: the importance of the freshmen entry/JA system, the success of co-op housing for seniors, the lack of funds for major new construction, and the desirability of both house community and diversity. Given those assumptions, the best housing policy would involve three major structures. First, a Student Housing Committee — modeled on the Junior Advisor Selection Committee — should run most aspects of the housing process. The more that students have responsibility for managing their own lives, the more they will learn from the process and the better the outcomes will be. Second, students should, as much as possible, live in houses with other members of their Williams class: sophomores in the Berkshire Quad, juniors in Greylock; seniors in row houses and co-ops. Third, non-senior rooming groups should be as large as possible and of fixed size, but subject to diversity constraints. For example, sophomore rooming groups would be any number less than 5 or exactly equal to 15, with restrictions on both gender balance and organization membership. Allowing students to group themselves has two main advantages: it creates genuine house community and it provides major incentives for large groups to “pick up” less popular students. The more that students sort themselves into houses and the more incentives they have for being both diverse and inclusive, the better the housing experience for everyone.

Below are the key assumptions. (Comments welcome.)

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CUL Members and Agenda

This seems to be a listing of the new membership of the Committee on Undergraduate Life.

Marlene Sandstrom, Chair
Joe Cruz
Sara Dubow
Chris Goh
Dan Greenberg

Douglas Schiazza, Director of Campus Life, ex officio
Aaron Gordon, Assistant Director for Residential Programs, ex officio
Marcela Villada Peacock, Program Coordinator, Multicultural Center

1) Does anyone know who the student members are? One of my fall projects will be to push my housing plan (pdf) and the CUL seems like the place to start.

2) It is sad to see that there is so little overlap (other than staff members Schiazza and Gordon) between CUL this year and the Neighborhood Review Committee last year. (I hope that some NRC students are on the CUL now.) My understanding (corrections welcome) is that a (the?) major focus of CUL this year is housing. The NRC did a lot of great work. It would be a shame to lose the input/experience of faculty like Adams, Siniawer and Revill.

3) Given what we have learned about President Falk, what do you predict he will do with the failed Neighborhood system?

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Beyond The Log: Rich Man’s College

The 7th installment of our seminar series on “Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf).

John Chandler: You’ve told us a lot about how Williams became a rich man’s college, the various steps on the way. But a somewhat different question is why it got to be that way. What about Williams attracted rich students, and their parents who paid the bills and presumably encouraged them to apply?

Fred Rudolph: There are lots of reasons why Williams became a rich man’s college. I’m always fascinated with trying to figure out why Williams became The College for rich men. Not that rich men didn’t go everywhere else, but Williams was the one that got tagged, and clearly if you’re the last college in the country with a four-year Latin requirement, you’re limiting your pool to rich men who go to private schools. But how did they start coming in great numbers? There’s plenty of evidence in student letters, fraternity lore, and administrators’ experience that many rich kids came to Williams to belong to a fraternity, not to come to Williams. Certainly instructive on this score was the experience of the College’s great benefactor, Frederick Ferris Thompson, who transferred from Columbia in 1853 for the express purpose of founding a chapter of Delta Psi (he had wanted to take Delta Psi to Dartmouth but was denied admission because of his age).

Williams’ location, the scenery, the mountains, the resort element of its environment—all these factors were part of the appeal for rich families and their sons. Williamstown had resort hotels beginning in the 1840s, and you can imagine people coming to those hotels: the Mansion House, then Greylock, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if junior came to Williams?” Then there was the kind of nature worship that developed as the country became more urbanized, and that appealed to wealthy people.

But was Williams more or less of a “rich man’s college” than, say, Amherst and Swarthmore during this period? See also Eric’s discussion of the Social Register crowd.

Reasonable Ephs can differ about just how many rich kids Williams should want to have today. But I hope that we can all agree that, if a specific rich applicant has a choice between Williams and Amherst (or Princeton/Harvard/Yale), we all want that rich applicant to choose Williams, just as we want poor applicants or athletic applicants or any other kind of applicant to pick us over our competitors.

So, what would be today’s analog to fraternities? My suggestion: Every room a single. Williams should institute a policy in which every student is guaranteed a single. This would be highly appealing to rich (and poor!) applicants. It would make Williams dramatically different than our main competitors. It is an advantage that is easy to explain and understand. Williams already has significantly better housing than Harvard, although we do a horrible job of explaining that advantage to applicants, or Harvard does a good job of misleading applicants about their likelihood of getting a real single.

Giving very Eph a single is, of course, hard and expensive. The easiest way would be to, over 5 years, reduce the size of the class from 550 to around 480 or so. (This would also have all sorts of desirable side effects.) We should also continue to convert smaller buildings to co-ops. Trickiest issue would be dealing 100+ first year doubles. So, best plan would be to start with: Every student guaranteed a single after freshman year.

What would you do to attract rich students?

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Create Sophomore Housing

The best part of the Final Report (pdf) from the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) is its praise of sophomore housing.

It is striking to note that just over 70% of the first-year respondents believe that the College should offer sophomores the option of living in designated sophomore housing. … The committee concluded that the sophomore housing option is worthy of further study.

Read the whole thing. As best I can tell, the Committee was pro-sophomore housing but with a non-trivial minority against. Yet the central flaw of the Report in this regard was its complete failure to describe and analyze the history of sophomore housing at Williams, at least since 1990. (Useful references here, here and here.) Short version: Sophomores decided, on their own, that they wanted to live together in Mission. A large majority of sophomores preferred living in housing that was 90% sophomores. They achieved this goal in the early 1990s by trading their picks. Free agency arrived in 1994 and made the process more simple/fair/transparent.

Recommendation: Allow the sophomores to live together in the Berkshire Quad. The Kane Housing Plan (pdf) provides all the necessary details.

A fine rant (slightly edited) from past discussions below.
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My First Room Draw

Since seeing the juniors mull over the Co-op draw earlier in the year, my friends and I have been preparing ourselves for the dreaded room draw. I was especially obsessed with techniques to get the best rooms since my room this year ended up being quite spacious for a freshman dorm. The upperclassmen had their advices- Pick in with smaller groups, be ready to split up or double, etc.. But it seemed, as my group of 6 entered the room draw, there was no guarantee, no predictable pattern to the room draw process.

To be fair, I belong to Dodd neighborhood and had prepared myself for a less-than-ideal housing in Tyler Annex. A couple of friends here and there tried switching out of the neighborhood. Some of them succeeded and many did not. Our group decided that instead of placing our bets on a chance that didn’t seem too likely, we would find more practical ways to get better housing. We had mixed genders in the group to avoid being hurt by the gender cap.

After an anxious wait, we received a pretty darn good pick number- a cause for celebration. Like the other freshmen, we shopped around for desirable rooms and discussed our priorities. For my group, staying together and having a common space was important, although we were willing to double and split up if the worst happened.

I arrived really early for room draw and fell into despair as the upperclassmen took the rooms and buildings that we had wanted to pick into. Against our predictions, almost no upperclassmen athletes had picked into Tyler Annex. I started stressing out, frantic not to end up that far from the campus next year. Running desperate, we decided that staying in the same building was the best choice, even if we would have to double. Thankfully, we had an early enough pick that we could pick into singles that were not in the Annex. Not only that, but our friends who were in later pick groups also got into the same building.

In retrospect, our room draw was not as stressful as I had made it out to be. We were going to be able to live together in the same buildings and we all ended with singles in the end. Unlike this year, I had some say in where I would be living and who I would be living with next year. Even without the choice, I had a very nice room and neighbors this year. Many freshmen stressed over their poor pick numbers and did not end up with their first choices, but many people were content with the results of the room draw.

A week after the draw, I went to visit the room that I would be living in next September. The current resident was not in, but the student next door showed her similar room to me. It was much bigger than I thought. I looked around at the common room and the kitchen. Content with my choice, I was proud of braving through my first college room draw process without breaking down in tears, despite all of the time I spent poring over floor plans.

I have one question though- is it too early to be looking forward to next year’s room draw?

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On the Origins of Neighborhood Housing

I love answering questions from Derek Catsam ’93.

What I never understood — was a new housing structure a solution in search of a problem or was there really a need for dramatic reform? The system was not perfect when I was at Williams, to be sure, but I also did not see a need for a dramatic overhaul.

There was a widespread feeling among administrators/faculty at Williams that excessive student self-segregation was a problem. This concern pre-dated Morty’s arrival. The self-segregation was on several dimensions, but the most problematic were African-American and male helmet-sport athletes. Morty made fixing this “problem” one of his highest priorities. Here are my notes from his 2008 Reunion talk.

Morty discussed campus social life a bit, especially the housing system. He confessed that, when grading his own performance at last week’s trustee meeting, he gave himself the lowest grade in this category. He felt that the College was still trying to figure out the best ways to do things. He reiterated again his dislike of the student self-segregation that he had known as a junior professor at UPenn in the late 1970s. When he came (back) to Williams a president, he did not like it that all the football players lived together and that the same was true of African American students. (He used those two examples first and, perhaps recognizing that he was being a bit too honest, tacked on examples like Jewish students. [As far as I know, there is no evidence of meaningful self-segregation of Jewish students at Williams in 2000.]) He noted that a goal of the new housing system was to break up this self-segregation and that this goal had been achived.

And the rest was all details. Morty (and most of the faculty/administration at Williams) did not want a school with significant self-segregation. This was the “need for dramatic reform.” At the same, other motivations were in play, many of them misplaced and misinformed. But the driving force was student self-segregation. And, once you decide that you don’t want to let, say, all the African Americans or football players live together, you are (almost) forced into something that looks like Neighborhoods. But, good news! The Kane Housing plan (pdf) prevents self-segregation while improving several aspects of undergraduate housing. Highly recommended!

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Race for Tyler

Some stories told in our comments deserve their own posts.

Perhaps an account of what I think was the first sign that free agency is not perfect might be helpful here. Keep in mind I only know one side of the story.

I am referring to the “race for Tyler” in the 1996 room draw. (Perhaps Ken might have heard of or even remember this.)

Free agency was formally established for the 1994 room draw. It might seem shocking now that for the first two all-campus room draws, no one thought of the idea of organizing a group to get together, take over a house, and change its character completely. Somehow, the characters of houses were assumed to be immutable, protected by squatters and natural preferences based on location and facilities. To be sure, smaller houses were taken over by groups of friends, but these were groups relatively consistent with the recent history of the house.

For ‘94-’95 and ‘95-’96, Tyler and Tyler Annex were largely “outposts of odd-ness”. For the ‘96 room draw, there were reports that some helmet-sport athletes were organizing to “take over” Tyler.(1) This prompted counter-organization to “save Tyler”, including seniors who liked the community promoted by the common space, and juniors and sophmores who were willing to trade the long walk for the nice rooms. The suspicion was that the helmet-sport athletes wanted the large common areas to hold keg parties and would “trash the place”. In any case, none of the odd folks would’ve wanted to live in a house with frequent keg parties.

The goal on both sides was explicit: to gain a majority of the house, which has in total around 25 or 30 beds, so that they could win house elections and set house policy. Some slightly underhanded tactics were used, including at least one pick by a student planning on withdrawing for the coming year, and picks for people studying abroad who had been vague about their preferences. There was also campaigning to encourage people at least sympathetic to oddness to pick rooms in Tyler, especially around the middle of the (rising) junior picks which was considered to be the crucial tipping point. With the exact count uncertain, since no one knew exactly who was on the other side, lobbying continued outside room draw.(2)

The race fizzed out when, with the count still uncertain, a group of junior athletes with high picks decided not to chance it and picked somewhere else.(3) The small number of athletes who had already picked into Tyler were essentially able to trade their rooms for a pick and ended up essentially with mid-junior picks.(4) I believe it was an implicit understanding that this courtesy of being allowed to trade for a pick would have been extended the losing side.(5)

I don’t remember if the administration ever really knew what happened beyond a few strange looking room swaps.

Thanks to Alexander Woo ’97 for sharing. Read the whole comment for further details. I believe that, a few years later, helmet sport athletes did, in fact, succeed in taking over Tyler/Tyler Annex. True?

Tell us your stories about room draw.

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Resident Advisors, Housing Coordinators and Baxter Fellows

Some interesting comments in Speak Up about different housing positions and roles. Continue the conversation here. As best I can tell, the Baxter Fellows position at Williams is becoming indistinguishable from the Resident Adviser position at other schools. True or false?

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Room Draw Lessons

Will Slack ’11 reports lessons from working on the staff for room draw.

1. It only takes about an hour to gain the ability to predict if your current group will need a timer/encouragement.
2. Common room control is more about ego than use, and relates to # of people * class * distance from room in a remarkable formula.
3. Everyone always wants to see the floorplan one more time.
4. Gender Caps are hard to track.
5. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

5) is a lesson that applies beyond the purple valley. Can someone explain 2) is more detail?

Could our student readers comment about their room draw experience? Recall the 2005 CUL Report on Anchor Housing:

Third and finally, the all-campus room draw is highly stressful (even painful) for many students . . .

This was probably true but was (sneakily) used by the CUL as a reason for getting rid of Free Agency. I bet that there has been just as much stress in the room draws since then. More annoyingly, much of this stress could be eliminated if room draw were just stretched out over several weeks. That would allow each group plenty of time to decide where it wanted to go.

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NRC Suggestion

The Neighborhood Review Committee should be coming out with its recommendations soon. Predictions? See here and here for useful Record coverage and here for related posts.

Leadership is an over-used term at Williams. But the NRC (and especially its student members) have a real chance to demonstrate some leadership when it comes to housing at Williams. They should propose a version of their Proposal III (sophomores living together with upperclassmen having a campus-wide room draw) and then campaign for it, organizing a campus referendum on the idea. In this context, leadership means, not just doing what often-ill informed students want you to do, but what will actually lead to a better housing system at Williams. Sophomores together and juniors/seniors with free agency is the first step in a better direction.

Then, next year, CUL can implement my plan (pdf).

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Co-op Room Draw Conflict

Interesting details from WSO:

I got into the co-op draw and had pick number 7. This meant our group had to split, me along with two other girls decided to go into either chadbourne or lambart. Two of us are Muslims and don’t drink or really participate in parties because of our religious/cultural beliefs. These are the two very nice emails I got from the people in chadbourne and in lambart:

I put the two “nice” e-mails below the break. Summary: We have the classic conflict between students who want to party and students who do not. I predicted this would happen because it has happened in the past. Fortunately, I have the solution, both permanent (new version! pdf) and what should have been done this year but wasn’t. The student continues:

It amazed me how similar the two emails were. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate them both, I recognize they both come out of good intentions and are only going towards a better understanding. And I really do understand why people go for co-ops, they don’t want to be limited by people different from them. Heck, thats why I wanted to go into a co-op: so I don’t have to deal with alcohol stinking up my room which I didn’t even touch and so I don’t always end up being the person who isn’t following the norm. But, frankly, going into senior year I have never felt more unaccepted (rejected?) here at the college. Up until now, I didn’t care about claiming williams, I thought that if I didn’t fit in and didn’t feel like ‘i am williams’, it was cuz of my personal problems and insecurities. But, this, was more than a bit off-putting. Am I being picky and taking offense for no reason?

No. These conflicts are not your fault or their fault. Yet Williams could do a much better job of creating a housing system which minimized those conflicts. When will the CUL listen to me?

UPDATE: By request, I have deleted one of the e-mails. You can still read it at WSO.
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Co-op Housing Draw

The co-op housing draw is tonight. Will Slack ’11 writes:

We’re pretty blessed by the [Williams housing] situation, and in visiting Milham, Doughty, Chadbourne, Woodbridge, Lambert, and Susie over the past two days, I saw just how great the Cream-of-the-Crop is. Milham: beautiful, especially the mantelpieces. Susie: luxuriously large. Woodbridge: a true home. Lambert: a small house with big rooms. Doughty: just plain old gorgeous, with a piano in the huge common room. Chadbourne: cozy, with a great location.

Indeed. Will also (because of the good words that EphBlog put in for him with Campus Life) has a great housing pick. Can anyone tell us how many rising seniors applied for the co-op draw? More comments below.
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Housing Update: NRC Forum

Here are notes from an anonymous source about last week’s housing forum. (My comments interspersed.)

The forum was very productive. Dean Merrill and Colin Adams (mathematics professor, head of committee on undergraduate life, head of neighborhood review committee) ran in and pretty much went through each proposal describing it and its pros and cons. Two of the proposals seemed to be talked about the most:

The NRC has done a great job. Kudos to all involved.

1. Keeping the freshmen housing the same, finding an area on campus to have all of the sophomores together, then having a lottery for the remaining juniors and seniors (with seniors getting first pick).

Great idea! The NRC/CUL do not have time, this year, to go all the way with the Kane Plan (pdf). (A new version with the Uible Lament!) But they do have the time/authority to institute these changes, thus both improving housing for next year and setting the stage for the better system to follow.

Most people seemed to be in favor of this plan but students repeatedly voiced some concerns about it more than the NRC expected them too (or at least I think).

Listen to those concerns but then press ahead.
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The original Williams housing system

taussig’s post referring to the oldest building on campus led me to this page about West College, which gives you some idea about how the first scholars of the college studied, slept and ate: Read more

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Giving up agency to the Neighborhood Review Committee

Will Slack ’11 starts an important discussion on WSO:

I know that talking about school policies is largely boring, and that we all have things we’d rather be doing than debate Proposal 3A versus Option 2B, but this shit really matters. Back in ’05 when the system was first proposed, there were debates, open letters, and opposition organizations formed against the change. Many of those groups made points about weaknesses in the system that history has borne out, as seen in the first Neighborhood Review Committee report. Most people now seem rather complacent, which is understandable: our housing situation is still fantastic compared to most other schools, where people often don’t get singles until senior year.

However, these potential changes are major:

  • Entries could be moved OUT OF Mission and Frosh Quad to all the upperclassmen dorms. (Proposal IV)
  • Sophomores could be forced to live together in a designated area of campus. (Proposal III)
  • Free-Agency (being able to live wherever on campus) might return. (Proposal II)
  • Housing could be reallocated among neighborhoods. (Proposal I, Mod D)
  • We could get theme housing or substance free housing.

However, I’m told that because we had such poor attendance, the committee is about done soliciting for public opinion, and that’s just sad. Because you didn’t show up, or submit comment, you’ve essentially given up your agency to the Neighborhood Review Committee. If their recommendation is accepted by the Dean, then game’s over, and any of the above could happen.

Come on, Williams. Read the 4 proposals (sent all-campus by Lizzy Brickley at Mon, 11 Jan 2010 5:48 PM), and say something about it, either here or sent to the committee. Give the students who will come after us a little bit of your time, so that they have the best system possible. We go to a school where each individual’s opinion can affect policy, so take that power and don’t let the wrong proposal go forwards.

If you’re a freshman, this is especially important, since you’ll live with this system longer than anyone else on campus.

And for those who think that your lives are too busy, I quote Aroop Mukharji ’09:

Don’t have time? Shut your mouth. It’s winter study.

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Reports from Housing Forum?

There was a forum on housing last night at Williams. Were you there? Tell us what happened! There have been few more contentious issues at Williams over the last decade than housing and it would be interesting to know the latest developments. And, as always, kudos to CC Co-Presidents Lizzy Brickley and Mike Tcheyan for organizing these events. They have done a great job over the last year in organizing the campus conversation about this and other topics. Future CC Co-Presidents should do as they have done.

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Large, Diverse Rooming Groups of Fixed Size

Have I mentioned my latest genius idea for fixing Williams housing? Here (pdf) is the current (much improved) version of my plan. (False) Modesty prevents me from assigning this as part of our January seminar. The major addition is to encourage large pick groups (15 or more) of fixed size (must be exactly 15) with gender balance and no more than 5 Ephs who are members of any one student team/organization.

Details below:
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