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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).


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


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.


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.


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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Housing Updates

1) The Neighborhood Review Committee has published a Second Interim Report (pdf).

2) Will Slack published an e-mail (full contents below the break) about “Four Proposals for Residential Systems,” created by NRC and CUL (I think) and which will be discussed at a forum on Tuesday night.

3) The best idea is my housing plan, new version coming soon. Among the four options below, the best is the sophomores in Berkshire Quad option (Proposal III). Indeed, the language used mirrors many of the arguments that I have made in the past.

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Williams Housing Assumptions

I am reworking my plan for Williams Housing (pdf) and just had a genius ephiphany: the secret to creating more cohesive houses is to dramatically increase group pick sizes, not just for seniors (as discussed previously: here and here) but for everyone. Yet that is not today’s topic. For now, I would like feedback on the assumptions underlying housing at Williams.

To be clear, I am not interested in whether or not you think these assumptions are good ideas or bad ones. Instead, I want to know if you think these assumptions accurately and completely summarize the basic beliefs of the people (trustees, administrators, senior faculty) who run Williams. I think they do. But do all of the assumptions belong? Have left something out? Feedback is welcome!

The only new assumption is:

The ideal Williams House, whether a small building like Milham or a large dorm like Carter, will feature a diverse group of students who know and like each other. The prototype is the (successful) freshmen entry, featuring students from all sorts of backgrounds who enjoy discussion and activities. Any house in which the students, without any interference from the Administration, spontaneously decides to create house t-shirts, compete in broomball, field a Trivia team or create snow sculpture is a good house. Those activities, although fairly unimportant in and of themselves, indicate a cohesion and fellowship which will unavoidably generate numerous opportunities for learning and growth outside of the classroom.

I don’t particularly like the wording of this assumption. Perhaps there is a better way to phrase it? A quote from the 2005 CUL Report?

All assumptions below.
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Reviving The Sophomore Quad?

Shocking news from WSO:

Hey, so twice yesterday, from completely different people, I heard a rumor that they’re thinking about housing the entire sophomore class in Currier Quad next year. I’m just wondering if anyone knows anything about this, and/or wants to show support for this OBVIOUSLY BRILLIANT idea.

A certain math professor on the NRC told his two sections that the committee is considering anchoring housing for sophs in Currier and surrounding houses (?? @ what houses are around Currier?).

1) The only math professor on the Neighborhood Review Committee is Colin Adams.

2) Excellent idea! Needless to say, I take full credit. I first proposed organizing Williams housing by class in 2005 and created a fairly formal plan a few years later. Latest version: pdf. I have distributed this plan to various involved students and faculty in 2009. Anyone know if it played a role in these plans?

3) I would be shocked (and pleased!) if the College really acted so quickly as to do this for fall 2010. There is no good reason not to. Neighborhood Housing has failed, totally and completely. The sooner that we try something new, the better off Williams students will be. I bet that incoming President Falk would be happy to allow this change. What is the worst thing that could happen?

4) The main difficulty is where to put the rest of the sophomore class since the Berkshire Quad only has around 325 beds. Here are my thoughts (see the full plan for context):

We want the sophomore class to live together, just as they sought to live together in Mission during the era of Free Agency. We are happy to let them have large pick groups and for those pick groups to congregate to some extent, especially if that congregation is along the party/quiet dimension. The Berkshire Quad, with 332 beds, is the natural (and historical) home for the sophomore class. We might try grouping the rest of the class together as well, perhaps in Morgan (111), West (54), Spencer (25) and Brooks (28) or perhaps in Dodd and its associated houses (136). The key is that sophomores live with other sophomores. The nice thing about having most of the class in 5 largish buildings is that it still leads to extensive student mixing. Students have already met scores of their classmates in Mission and the Freshmen Quad. Now they will meet scores more. In an ideal world, you would want every sophomore to know the name of every student in her house. They might not be best buddies, but if they had shared a meal at least once during the year, that would go some distance toward providing exposure to a wide cross-section of the Williams community.

My recommendation would be the Berkshire Quad (324), Morgan (111) and West (54). The total in this plan (489) is probably a too low because there are typically around 525 sophomores in residence. Given that this is sophomore housing, the College might turn some of the singles into doubles, especially given the recent rise in enrollment. Thirty to forty sophomores will probably end up in the revived Odd Quad in Tyler/Tyler Annex. But the key is that we have at least 7 houses, each with a critical mass of students. It is almost impossible for any individual house to be dominated by one group or another.

How much freedom should sophomores have in their room draw? More than they had as first years, but less than juniors and seniors have. There is nothing wrong with the Administration insisting on the 7 houses having fair mix of all sorts of students even if the student groups themselves are self-selected. Gender capping would be reasonable. Yet allowing partiers to live next to partiers makes everyone happier. WSO plans — the computer system which showed the specific rooms everyone ahead of you in the housing lottery had selected — probably decreased the amount of intra-rooming group conflict because it allowed students to sort themselves efficiently. Currier ballroom would naturally become a central location for sophomore class social events. Driscol would become the sophomore dining hall.

If the College maintains the Neighborhood system for juniors/seniors, then we would need to give some thought to how the current residents of the Currier Neighborhood might be distributed among the three remaining neighborhoods and whether to adjust the housing/neighborhoods allocation because of the loss of Morgan and West (or wherever the extra sophomores or placed).


UPDATE: If one of our student readers could start referring to this idea as the “Kane Plan” or the “EphBlog Plan” on WSO, that would be much appreciated. As best as I can tell (contrary claims welcome!), we were the first to publicly suggest the idea of sophomores living together by design. We need some props from our peeps!


Cultural Thing

Few things are more fun than trolling the Record archives for housing related discussions from a decade ago.

From 1999:

In fact, in January, Dean Peter Murphy created an ad hoc committee to create possible solutions to the housing crunch. If study abroad and off-campus numbers did not register high enough, the administration knew they would be faced with a housing shortage. The committee included Dean Charlie Toomajian, McEvoy, and former College Council Co-Presidents Kate Ervin ’99 and Will Slocum ’99.

Because making random doubles seemed like it would isolate sophomores, Ervin said, they narrowed the options down to the Mission common rooms or doubles in Brooks. After much debate, both students and faculty agreed that Mission was the better option. “Generally, people want to be in singles, and generally people want to be in Mission. A big factor in enjoying your Williams experience is being in Mission,” said Ervin.

“It’s a cultural thing at Williams: this desire to live in Mission Park,” agreed McEvoy.

As I have commented many times, the sophomores class, as a whole, wanted to live together, even before the extensive renovations. They created Mission as a central housing location, first, via the mechanism of trading and then, naturally, via Free Agency. Give them a chance, and they will be just as happy (pdf) in the Berkshire Quad.


Open Book

From the Record in January 2000:

Another “discussion starter” meeting held yesterday at the Log saw students, administrators, faculty and staff expressing strong opinions and raising difficult questions about housing issues at Williams.

Specific questions included whether the housing draw leads to stratification within the student body and whether house presidents and the co-op housing system adequately meet housing needs.

Director of Housing Tom McEvoy suggested that students’ names should not be displayed on the rooms they pick during the housing draw. McEvoy and others attested that the current process often allows a sports team or one gender or one type of student to dominate a house.

“One of the ironies of Williams housing is that the college takes great pains to create diversity in first year entries, but in the room draw that becomes less important, and I’m not sure why,” McEvoy said. “When students are taking facebooks to the housing draw, that is getting away from the spirit of what Williams is trying to do.”

Jackson Professor of Religion William Darrow described the housing process as “an open book, where everyone has the script,” the script being the displayed names at the housing draw that inform students of where different types of students choose to live.

This is among the first official mentions that I can find of a Williams official expressing concern about student self-segregation of housing. Even though, by all accounts, the same sort of thing was going on from 1995 through 2000, I can’t find anyone expressing concern. Indeed, here is a quote from McEvoy from May 1998 saying just the opposite.

McEvoy said there are no plans to change the housing process in the future, stating that a survey done by the Dean’s Office a few years ago showed satisfaction with the current system.

If there were no plans to change the system in May 1998, then how come major changes started in January 2000, just a year and a half later? Most probably answer is Morty Schapiro. Note that the same issue of the Record announced Morty’s appointment.

One could argue that this is evidence that Morty could not have had anything to do with the process, that if he was only selected in January 2000, he can’t have influenced McEvoy and Darrow that same month. Morty would not actually assume the presidency until July 1, 2000. But I can’t find any evidence that then-interim President Carl Vogt was at all concerned with the issue, so I don’t think that the impetus came from him. Moreover, Morty was certainly interviewing with the trustees, learning about the campus in the fall of 1999. So, he could easily have come up to speed on this issue and, perhaps in conjunction with conversations with the trustees, suggested that officials like McEvoy and Darrow start looking at the problem right away.

Anyway, this is just the sort of Williams history trivia that EphBlog thrives on. Perhaps it had nothing to do with Morty. Perhaps self-segregation got much worse, or more noticeable, between 1998 and 2000. Whose idea was it to discuss housing self-segregation at this meeting?

UPDATE: A draft version of this post appeared earlier by mistake.

UPDATE II: Exchanged e-mails with Darrow and McEvoy. Although it was all a decade ago, it sure seems that this had nothing to do with Morty. Instead, it represented a sort of bubbling up process based on concerns from lots of people.


Housing Data: Implications for More Co-ops

Thanks to Professor Eiko Maruko Siniawer for giving me permission to post Appendix D (pdf) from the NRC Interim Report.

Thanks to Director of Campus Life Doug Schiazza for passing along this file of exact housing details. (This data will soon appear at the Campus Life webpage as well.)

Comments below:
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Little Africa

Brian Shepherd on the neighborhood system.

While I myself am passionate about changing the residential life system (housing and events) into something better, I am under the impression that the campus as a whole is fairly indifferent on the subject. There are changes in the workings that will effect the lives of Williams students for years to come, but 30% of students took the time to fill out the simple survey online and less than 10% cared to appear at the forum last night. There are a handful of students who want to see more and more diverse events on campus. There are a handful of students who want to prevent anomalies like “Little Africa” and “The Odd Quad” from reappearing on campus. But most people, it seems, don’t think those issues matter enough to exert any sort of effort into them instead of studying, playing sports, or even just chilling with friends. You don’t see an increase in the number of people asking Cosponsorship for money for events. You don’t see people actively living with people outside of their in-group. Should we really be trying to please this small group of people who can hardly agree amongst themselves?

To those who want to see the neighborhood system abolished outright, I’m halfway with you, but what is going to take its place? Quit screaming for change if you don’t have an alternative.

1) Here (pdf) is the best alternative. New draft coming soon! Does anyone want to work with me on it?

2) The phrase “Odd Quad” has been used at Williams for more than 25 years. I have never heard of “Little Africa.” Has anyone else? What is the reference? During free agency, there was often an African-American house — meaning a row house that was almost complete African American — although we have never heard the details. What house was it? Was it the same house every year? A student also described to me all the (black) Jamaican students living together in Prospect. Is that the “Little Africa” reference?


Best way to create room-draw drama

From Dave Moore on WSO:
Possible fun extension: remove the randomness from room draw, and instead have groups pick in order of decreasing average GPA of the group members. Think of all the hilarious drama that would cause in the group-forming process.

…..said the new Phi Beta Kappa member. ;D


WSO Plans

It is impossible to understand the present state of Williams housing without studying the past. Consider this Record article by Drew Newman ’04 from April 2002.

In past years, students could log onto the Williams Students Online (WSO) website to see the names of students who had picked into rooms in real time throughout the room draw process. However, WSO was asked by the administration not to post the room draw results online this year. Instead, the names of students who have picked into rooms will only be posted inside the Mission Park Lounges where the room draw takes place.

According to last Wednesday’s CC minutes, the WSO representatives said the administration “made it quite clear that somebody will be punished if they try to get around [the prohibition of online room draw posting] in any way.”

1) For more background reading, here is some history from David Ramos ’00 (here) and Josh Ain ’03 (here). Highly recommended.

2) The College, even before Morty’s arrival in 2000, but especially thereafter, did not want students to self-segregate, especially the African-American students and male helmet-sport athletes. (Morty mentioned both those examples explicitly.)

3) Administrators hoped that if they just banned WSO plans, students would not be able to self-segregate so easily. It is not clear if they thought (stupidly) that this would work or hoped (reasonably) to give it a try. Needless to say, it failed. Even worse, it may have worsened the housing situation because it became harder for students to self-segregate along the quiet/party dimension. I think/hope that everyone involved in the debate agrees that, all else equal, it is good to have rooming groups with similar lifestyles (Thursday keggers, 3:00 AM loud music, whatever) living near each other.

The debate concerning blind room draw has escalated to the highest level; the College’s Board of Trustees recently supported a blind room draw during their discussions on residential life at the College.

“Overall, there is tremendous support among the Trustees for the changes we are making,” said Nancy Roseman, dean of the College. However, Roseman added that some members of the Board of Trustees believe the College should take a more active role in the allocation of rooms in the housing system.

“Many trustees come from a time when the College assigned everyone to their dorms and rooms and, in their memory, that worked really well,” said Roseman. “It created a random distribution of students across campus and there was no segregation by class year, or any of the other ways students now segregate themselves.”

How to read this? There are several possibilities:

1) Roseman could have been exaggerating the depth of trustee feeling on this issue, the better to come off as “reasonable” in her discussions with students.

2) Roseman’s description of trustee opinion could be accurate, but the Administration may have been providing the trustees with incomplete/biased information. (The Administration did this, at least to the Williams community as a whole, on numerous occasions in later years.)

3) Roseman could be providing an accurate version of the trustees feelings and those feelings could be based on accurate data. If so, silly trustees! There was still plenty of racial segregation, at least by rooming group, during any period in Williams history. Now, in the past, that self-segregation did not rise to the level of the house, but that was not because the students did not prefer self-segregation. Also, if the trustees thought that a “blind room draw” would actually impede self-segregation, they were wrong, as should have been obvious at the time.


Report on NRC Forum

Were any readers at the forum tonight on the Neighborhood Review Committee? Tell us about it. Will Slack ’11 reports (second-hand):

Seems to have gone well, with a diversity of viewpoints expressed and Baxter Hall full of onlookers.

More details, please. Did the “diversity” of viewpoints include folks who thought that Neighborhoods were a success?


A Simple Plan For Co-op Expansion

Although it is tough to judge these things from a distance, I am impressed with College Council Co-Presidents Mike Tcheyan ’10 and Lizzy Brickley ’10. One of their campaign issues was the expansion of the co-op program. Good for them! [Update: Here is my letter to CUL from 4 years ago making the same suggestion.]

Summary of this post: Tcheyan and Brickley should use the NRC process as an occasion to move selected houses (probably Spencer, Brooks, Agard and Wood) out of the Neighborhoods and into the Co-ops. A Student Housing Committee (similar to the JA Selection Committee) should supervise the co-op lottery to encourage large groups of seniors to pick into entire houses.

There is not enough time to fix all of Williams Housing this year. (And here (pdf) is how to do that.) But those two changes would both make a significant improvement for students next year and pave the way for a better system.

See below for details.
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Failures of the 2002 and 2005 CUL

Jonathan Landsman ’05 provided, in 2005, this brilliant summary and critique of the 2002 CUL.

One of the more sideline shames of the campus life tinkering this time around is the concurrent acknowledgment that the restrictions put in force in 2002 have not achieved anything of meaningful merit. What I refer to is:

* Gender capping of houses at 60%
* Reduction of pick sizes from 7 to 4
* Creation of blind room draw, where names are no longer allowed to be posted on WSO or on the physical posters in the pick room

Back in 2002, the CUL published a report that gave their recommendations in great detail, and was scant in two other departments: 1) presenting the evidence they believed supported their recommendations, and 2) presenting a set of goals whose attainment would measure the success or failure of their recommendations.

Without these “features,” which would have been standard in any serious study of any kind in any academic field, an review of the CUL’s data by anyone outside of the CUL was impossible, and judgment of whether their recommendations would serve their goals equally impossible, as there could be no common understanding of what those goals were. Some thought it was to achieve racial house diversity, some gender, some diversity by extracurricular affiliation (especially sports teams), some all of the above. The CUL, at the time, was clearer about what it was trying to avoid than what it was trying to promote: “We don’t like themed housing.” “It is ridiculous that this house is overwhelmingly male” “Some houses have taken on a cross-year character, this is bad.”

They also made an appeal to authority, which you are likely to hear again: “We have studied this extensively for 3 years . . .” hence, and we won’t say it in so many words, but we really do know better than you.

If the CUL wishes to claim to have conducted a study of campus life at Williams, I hope they intend to publish a study this time. It should include:

* As extensively as they can, a presentation of all their data and reasoning from it, whether that data be anecdotal or numerical, from Williams or from other schools.
* An unambiguous statement of what aspects of life are intended to be improved on this campus.
* A statement of when the CUL will be ready and willing to hold their new system to these standards. If they have been found to have failed, they must be met with the same recommendation for abandonment that the CUL gives to our current system of housing.

CUL’s Report and Recommendations of 2002

Reading that 2002 CUL Report is an interesting trip down failure lane. Its main recommendations (changing room draw and starting an Office of Campus Life) have not achieved any of its purported goals. Of course, the 2005 CUL claimed that they were not going to make those mistakes.

Noah Smith-Drelich ’07, the leading public face of CUL in his era, replied to Landsman:

To begin with, your suggestions and criticisms are fantastic. This CUL will definitely be careful not to make the same mistakes the 2002 CUL made in their proposal. You’re correct in noting the importance of defining clear criteria for success and failure which can be used in judging and forming any residential system in the years to come.

Despite demands and suggestions from many observers, the 2005 CUL never provided “clear criteria for success and failure which c[ould] be used in judging and forming any residential system in the years to come.” Think that this is just 2009 quarterbacking on my part? Recall what Anchors Away wrote in 2005:

The third major omission of the CUL Report is that it provides no discussion of how we are to evaluate the success or failure of anchor housing in the years to come. Even those who are strongly in favor of anchor housing — who do not feel it is necessary to closely consider the experiences of other schools or the special status of the Odd Quad — should be in favor of listing the standards by which we should judge anchor housing five or ten years from now. Unfortunately, a failure to specify such standards is quite consistent with CUL’s behavior 3 years ago.

See the rest of the letter for details. In fact, it is more-or-less a copy of this post! We concluded:

Assume that anchor housing is implemented. Five years pass. Should Williams declare victory or should we return to free agency? The CUL needs to tell us now what the standards for judgment should be then. Without this guidance, it will be impossible to know whether or not anchor housing has been successful, whether or not the trade-offs involved have been worth it.

The Trustees were not impressed with our arguments in 2005. Neither were Morty nor Dean Roseman nor Professor Dudley. All were sent copies of our letter.

Here we are, almost 5 years later, and there is no easy way for the Williams community to judge, even using the standards of the 2005 CUL, whether or not Neighborhoods have been a success.

Was this incompetence? Note that no one on CUL faces any meaningful sanctions for failure. Was it a cynical attempt to force through Neighborhood Housing and not provide future critics with any grounds for complaint? I don’t know.

Perhaps the Trustees might talk about the lessons that Williams has learned from this ten year journey at their meeting today . . .


Neighborhood Review Commitee Interim Report

The Neighborhood Review Committee has issued its Interim Report (pdf). Record coverage here. Don’t want to read a thousand words from me on this topic? No worries! Summary:

I told you so! The Neighborhood System has failed, in just the way that I (and others) predicted it would. Students don’t care about their neighborhoods, and never will. They are angry that they can’t live with their friends. The obvious solution is my Vision for Williams Housing. Put sophomores in the Berkshire Quad, juniors in Greylock and allow large groups of seniors to pick into entire row houses. Allow free agency within those constraints. Bring back WSO plans to allow sorting along the loud/quiet dimension.

Details below.
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More Co-Ops

College Council C-President Michael Tcheyan ’10 asks:

What are your thoughts on a new Co-op? College Council is exploring the option of a new Co-op and we want your input!

Needless to say, the co-ops are one of the best aspects of Williams housing. Every student in the thread votes “Yes.” Comments:

1) My Vision for Williams Housing (pdf) would significantly improve housing at Williams. This evidence of co-op popularity supports my Assumption #2.

2) Back in the day, co-ops were less popular for, I think, two reasons. First, there was much more emphasis on the “co-op” part of the exercise. For example, co-op students were not allowed (at all?) to be on the meal plan. That is no longer true. (Are there any restrictions on co-op students?) Second, the failure of Neighborhood Housing has led to a dramatic (almost doubling?) increase in co-op applicants precisely because the single most important aspect of senior housing is having the chance to live with your best friends. Williams is almost over and you want to spend those last 9 months with the Ephs you hope/plan to be close to for the rest of your life. As Dave Moore notes:

One of the reasons co-ops are so valuable (and popular) is that they upset the neighborhood system by their very nature, by removing restrictions and allowing people to actually live with their friends.

Before the Neighborhood Housing, seniors could live with anyone they wanted to.

3) I am glad to see College Council focusing on this topic. Good for them!


Ideal Neighborhoods

I recently took my brother off to college. That process was strange for me – I’m used to being the one coming and going from far-away states, but now I had to help him move into an experience that I won’t be a large part of. I certianly understand a little more about how my parents felt leaving me in the Purple Valley. But I digress.

The Residential College system in place at his university is actually in place at a wide range of higher-ed institutions. Students are randomly assigned to a house/college, then completely indoctrinated during their first week such that almost no one applies for a transfer. Each house/college also has it’s own eating area and performance space, though students are free to eat anywhere on campus.

I was struck by how much the colleges were their own units, each with a different reputation and different crazy rituals, and there’s a lot to like in this sort of program. However, the University also has physical infrastructure much better suited than Williams’s to this sort of cohesion.

As the Neighborhood Review Committee continues its work this year, let’s remember that people approach this question and debate from a wide range of perspectives and backgrounds. Reading about the benefits of such a system is markedly different than seeing them in action.

What are some programs or ideas you’ve seen in place at other schools that Williams should shamelessly steal?

I was also amused when their President, during his remarks, asked all of the assembled parents to shake each others’ hands in congratulations for raising such wonderful children.


A Vision for Williams Housing

Are you the sort of person who has read 111 posts on Neighborhood Housing and still wants more? Have you been waiting for over 4 years for an update to my Vision for Williams Housing?

This pdf is for you.

Summary: Given some standard assumptions about Williams housing (entry system is sacred, 1/2 of juniors and 1/3 of seniors do something special (JA, abroad, co-ops, off-campus), no major constructions projects), Neighborhood identity is a fantasy. Given that, the best housing system would focus on the academic class, grouping sophomores (Berkshire Quad), juniors (Greylock) and seniors (row houses) together. A modified free agency is, therefore, the best possible housing system.


Spencer Neighborhood Website

The website for Spencer Neighborhood is charming.


With luck, Spencer Neighborhood will disappear in a few years, along with the rest of the wretched Neighborhood System. So, for future historians, I have saved a copy of the website above.

Minor note: The entries that feed into Spencer next year will be:

Spencer Entries 2009-2010
All of Armstrong
All of Pratt
Mills-Dennett 1

In past years, the entries have been a scattered from all over freshmen housing, instead of grouped in this sensible fashion. Didn’t someone smart suggest this two years ago? But not, alas, so smart that he can find the link to prove it . . .


On CC and the rest of Sunday

CC tabled at dining halls last Thursday to get information about the programs and departments they valued most. There were about 12-14 items on the sheet, which students could rank. The e-mail announcing the tabling also had a link to an electronic poll.

Also, CC has just appointed the four student members of the Neighborhood Review Committee, which will begin meeting this week. Take it to mean what you will, but most positions on committees aren’t incredibly selective, and CC had to turn down some great applicants. I hope that all students can contribute to this review, even if they, like me, did not apply.

Last, anyone who read my writ from Sunday morning can add an incredibly deep and soulful conversation that helped me discover new aspects of myself, catching up with a friend from last semester, watching several old episodes of a TV show on Hulu, attending the largest gathering of the Feast that I can remember, making cards to send to faculty members about Take Back The Night, helping out at the climbing wall, showing a piece to other musicians so that we could collaborate on performing it in two weeks, writing a song about Spring Break, and figuring out the details of a new project that I feel pretty good about. So that’s 66 hours at Williams for you.

For the letter from CC, click Read more


Neighborhood Review Committee

A Neighborhood Review Committee will be formed to consider the Neighborhood System (originally termed the Motherhood and Apple Pie House System by former CUL chair Professor Will Dudley ’89). Below is an e-mail seeking student self-nominations along with background information. Also, see this Record article and editorial.

Do I have another 100+ posts worth of commentary on this issue? Probably! Contain your excitement. For now, let me give some advice to the students who want to serve on the Committee.

First, don’t talk about EphBlog. No one will be impressed with your encyclopedic knowledge of our discussions over the last 4 years.

Second, read the 2002 and 2005 CUL Reports on housing. (Feel free to check out my commentary on the 2005 report. If you like my humor, you’ll love it!)

Third, in your self-nomination, accomplish two things: a) Prove that you have read these reports by quoting from them, and b) Claim that you have an open mind on the topic, even if (especially if!) you agree with me that Neighborhood Housing has been a failure and that we need to move toward a system which respects and harnesses student preferences.

Doing those two things will set you apart from most other applicants. Once you are on the Committee, I will explain what needs to be done. Good luck!

Read more


Pockets of Success

Jonathan Landsman ’05 (the Will Slack ’11 of his generation) writes:

I’ve read about Dodd’s success this year and I think it’s great. Astounding, actually, and you can’t take anything away from the leaders this year. May I guess, though, that many of them were socially bound before this year? In other words, that for whatever reason a group of friends is largely running the house? There is nothing wrong with that! But if so, the success is ephemeral . . . we do have to see if the culture there sustains, or if it turns over depending on who is “elected” and how much those people feel like it’s worth investing in the neighborhood versus basically giving up. When you are socially programming with and for friends, it is different—we saw the same pockets of success in the old House Coordinator system, especially in the Odd Quad and other houses where a house was full of residents who knew each other and the HC personally before the year began. It didn’t mean that house was “building community” that would last past that one year.

Exactly correct.

1) Is Jonathan correct about Dodd? Another explanation is that Dodd just got very lucky with its first leaders and that this led to a culture of success in programming.

2) Assuming Jonathan is correct, we want to ensure that people with a desire to throw parties have the means to do so. Best way to do that is to fill the each row house with a self-selected group of seniors who are friends with each other. Make sure to place the biggest parties in the houses that make party throwing easiest. Initial thoughts here. And, yes, a new draft of my Vision for Williams Housing in the works. Harness your eagerness.


Declining Percent

The evaluation of Neighborhood Housing scheduled for next year will provide an excuse for numerous trips down memory lane. Who remembers Joe Schoer’s ’06 great notes on one of Professor Will Dudley’s presentations? I missed this part four years ago.

Will this affect admissions to the College?

No. {Dudley then draws a comparison with Yale}. We’re “not trying to imitate” other schools. Here’s some data that we need to improve: a greater percent of students say they decline admission because of Williams social life. A declining percent of graduating seniors say Williams has an excellent social life.

Needless to say, Professor Dudley refused to make the data underlying that remark available to the wider community. (Related topic rant here.) It is impossible for us to fairly evaluate the success (read: failure) of neighborhoods without access to the data.

I have no doubt that Dudley, an honest guy and fellow philosopher major 20 years ago, was telling the truth. Seniors in 2005 were less happy than seniors in 2000 because the College had screwed up housing with a serious of “improvements”: decreasing group size, ending WSO plans, enforcing gender caps, Office of Campus Life and so on. An honest look at the data would probably show that student satisfaction with social life reached a recent peak around 1999. That’s why administrators like Dudley won’t let the rest of us see the data.


A Neighborhood Success Story

A look at the “Sponsored By” tag on many event posters reveals Dodd Neighborhood, which has stood out this year as a major social force on campus. What does Dodd’s success mean? WSO provides this quote:

It seems that while, in theory, the idea of having neighborhoods (and therefore more “hands in the pot”) would allow a broader variety of events, in practice, we’ve only seen one strong neighborhood emerge each year. This seems to lend itself to the “our neighborhood doesn’t do anything” kind of mentality (even when this may be true, there are often underlying causes, as alluded to in an earlier post, causing the problem), which really isn’t a positive thing for the campus as a whole…no matter which way you spin it.

Is Dodd representative of the neighborhood system’s potential and future, or an aberration? I’m uncertain enough to withhold my own opinion, but the question is vital. Follow the jump for a list of their activities provided by the NGB, but be warned: it’s long.
Read more


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