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Alumni Trustee Elections Are a Farce

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Further comments:

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

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

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

Thanks for your time and your past service to Williams.

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

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

Who did you vote for and why?

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

Vote receipt

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

Alumni Trustee Ballot 2020 (UG ALUMNI)

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

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

close window

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


Board of Trustees Meeting

E-mail from President Mandel:

Last week was the January meeting of the Board of Trustees. The board covered topics that it reviews on an annual basis, like the comprehensive fee and a risk management update, as well as current issues of special interest.

Two items of note:

Provost Dukes Love hosted a session on financial fundamentals, describing our processes for ensuring sound financial management.

Read: Dukes’ 10 year audition to be the next Williams president continues to go well!

Associate Vice President for Finance Matt Sheehy, Chief Information Officer Barron Koralesky and General Counsel Jamie Art ’93 led an annual update on the college’s risk management efforts, including recent work on IT risk and data security.

Back in the day, the Trustees would spend most (all?) of their time talking to faculty. Now they spend lots (most?) of their time talking to non-faculty, including second-tier administrators like Sheehy, Koralesky and Art. Who really runs Williams? Not the faculty. Slice by slice by slice, the death of faculty governance at Williams continues.

Entire e-mail is below the break.
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AF ROTC: Uniforms on Campus … ( a reissue from 11/11/09)


RE: PTC’s post below and ROTC on campus …


It is still a day remembering service as I write this post. Perhaps some may not know that uniforms, if you so desired, were a part of campus life in the ’50’s,

honor air

During the war, V -12 programs were on campus and a few years later, the presence of returning vets was common.

A full complement of officers and enlisted men were assigned to Williams to serve as the faculty.

The appearance of a veteran on campus would not be new. I hope the appearance would be welcome.



I also found this  follow-up that I posted in 2010. The pictures have disappeared but the text asks the question:

And a post from PTC dated 28 May, 2011


ROTC was an important part of a Williams education for 10% of the Class of 1956. Click MORE (below) to see the AF faculty. I knew Captain Taylor, a fine man and a graduate of the USNA.

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Eisenson ’77 on Falk Departure

At 12:53 pm yesterday, just 19 minutes after Falk’s all campus email:

To the Williams Community,

I write, on behalf of the Williams College Board of Trustees and with mixed emotion, to officially confirm that Adam Falk will leave Williams at the end of 2017 to become president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The College has flourished under Adam’s leadership. We have sustained and, indeed, enhanced our position as a national leader in liberal arts education. We have maintained our commitment to providing access to the broadest possible spectrum of exceptional students, attracting ever increasing talent and diversity to our campus. We have had great success recruiting accomplished and highly sought-after new members to join our outstanding faculty ranks and, as well, Adam has built a deep and effective senior leadership team. Our campus is undergoing an ambitious, carefully-orchestrated renewal, with superb new facilities, including the Sawyer Library and a major new center for the sciences, positioning us for the next fifty years, while reflecting a purposeful commitment to managing our carbon footprint. Our alumni and friends have set the historic Teach It Forward campaign well on the path to achieving our ambitious goals, and the College’s finances are in all ways very sound.

Adam has been an exceptionally fine president for Williams. He has demonstrated a keen ability to appreciate and retain the best of Williams traditions, while encouraging the College to grow through a genuine openness to innovation, always with the education and wellbeing of our students foremost in mind. His departure will be a loss for the College and our community, and I will personally miss his wisdom, his friendship, and his deeply thoughtful and principled leadership. At the same time, he will be leaving at a time when the College is as strong, secure and thriving as it has ever been and the Board of Trustees is completely confident that Williams will attract another exceptional talent to lead us into the next decade.

Adam’s last day at Williams will be December 31, 2017. The Board has approved the formation of a search committee, and I have been appointed as its chair. In that capacity I will be back in touch later this Summer with information about the search process. We will organize various opportunities in the Fall for the community to thank Adam for his service and wish him well. In the meantime, please join me in congratulating Adam on his exciting next adventure and in making the most of his remaining time in the Purple Valley.

Best regards,
Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees


Trustee Web Page III

Our readers wanted more discussion of the new Trustee web page and the documents linked thereto. Day 3.

Again, kudos to the Trustees for transparency! This is a welcome change from the way Williams has been run in the past. Perhaps the most timely document is the notes from the Board Meeting Report from April (pdf).

1) To the extent that the Board has been creating documents like this for the last several years (decades?), it should make them public now. The more that Ephs see how well-run Williams is, the more trust we will have in the people who run it. I realize that the actual meeting notes can include a variety of material — especially the comments made on sensitive comments by names trustees — that should remain secret for years. That is OK! But generic overviews of who presented what can be made public now.

2) There are 15 items in the report. I could spend a day on each of them! Should I? Are there any in particular that people are interested in? Here is an example:

The board approved the remarketing of $50.5M of existing college debt, and the issuance of up to $60M in new debt to fund a number of capital projects.

The College’s debt load is perhaps the single financial I am least qualified to opine on. First, my understanding is that we can’t issue new debt unless it is going to fund new projects. Is Williams really gearing up to spend an additional $60 million? Is that all/mostly the Bronfman replacement? Second, can someone explain what “remarketing” is? This discussion seems relevant but it sure would be nice if someone were to walk through the details. Third, I continue to believe that the College has enough debt right now. Of course, I have been singing that song for 6 years. Levering up the endowment has worked marvelously well over that time period. What could go wrong?


Trustee Web Page II

Our readers wanted more discussion of the new Trustee web page and the documents linked thereto. Day 2.

The most substantive page is News from the Board, a collection of both important documents (like the September 2015 Statement by the Board of Trustees and President Adam F. Falk on the College’s Role in Addressing Climate Change) and puff pieces (like this 2016 welcome to new board members).

1) Again, kudos! It is a great idea to bring together all the writings by/about trustees in a single location.

2) Why not work with ace College Archivist Katie Nash to “backfill” this page with some Williams history? What were the disputes that trustees wrote about 10, 20 and even 50 years ago?

3) I have yet to spend a week (or two!) on the Climate Change statement. Should I?

4) The page is somewhat incomplete (on purpose?) because it does not include Board Chair Mike Eisensen’s ’77 recent piece in the Record. Anything written in the Record (or other Williams publication) by a trustee — even if it is not an “official” statement from the entire Board — ought to be included here.


Trustee Web Page I

Our readers wanted more discussion of the new Trustee web page and the documents linked thereto. Day 1.

1) Kudos to the trustees (and senior administrators at Williams) for this effort! The more transparency at Williams the better. Any quibbles that I express below are minor in the context of my overall praise for this effort.

2) Kudos on making the meeting dates public. Prior to this, the College made it positively difficult to figure out when the trustees would be in town. There was no reason for such secrecy. (There are generally four meetings a year, almost always in October, January, April and June. One of the meetings sometimes occurs off-campus, but I don’t think (comments welcome!) that this is common.)

3) Kudos for listing trustee emeriti. Historians of Williams thank you for this information! I especially liked learning about the exact dates of service for Board Chairs:

Preston S. Parish ’41 (April 1966 – June 1988; Chair of Board 1982-1988)
Peter S. Willmott ’59 (October 1983 – June 1998; Chair of Board 1988-1998)
Raymond F. Henze III ’74 (July 1987 – June 2002; Chair of Board 1998-2002)
Robert I. Lipp ’60 (July 1999 – June 2008; Chair of Board 2002-2008)
Gregory M. Avis ’80 (July 2002 – June 2014; Chair of Board 2008-2014)

There is a great senior thesis to be written about these men, and the decisions they made which helped to shape the Williams of today. For example, I have heard interesting rumors of the role that Ray Henze played in bringing Hank Payne to Williams . . .

4) I hope that the Executive Committee of the Society of Alumni — the main mechanism by which most alumni can try to influence Williams policy — follows the Trustees’ lead and increases their own transparency. When are their meetings, for example?


Renaming Horn Hall

Activist students want to rename Horn Hall:

Students are convening an emergency TOWN HALL MEETING at 8:30 PM on Thursday [March 2] to rename Horn Hall.

We will provide a brief 10 minute rundown of Joey Horn’s recent conviction of abuse of workers and the administration’s disturbing response. Then, the space will be opened up for suggestions about what to rename Horn Hall. Perhaps we should choose an amazing alum or professor who has committed their life to fighting for justice and a better world. At the end of the meeting, we will vote on a new name. Though this meeting is organized by students, we invite any staff, faculty, and members of the community to participate.

This a direct action in response to the fact that the College has decided to go through with naming the new dorm after Trustee Horn despite her recent conviction. This makes Horn Hall one of several Williams buildings named after problematic figures. Since the administration won’t engage with us or rename the building, we are taking matters into our own hands and finding a new name for the building for the present moment. This is not about choosing the perfect or permanent name for the building. We seek to fuel further interrogation of other problematic (including racist and slave-owning) figures memorialized on Williams campus and, most critically, address the oppressive systems which are the legacy of some of these figures, both within the institution and outside of it.

The town hall meeting will last one hour. Following the meeting, we will all march to the newly named building for a ribbon cutting ceremony and a pizza celebration. Join us for as long or short as you can, and spread the word! If you have questions, comments, or want to help plan this effort, email

1) “other problematic (including racist and slave-owning) figures memorialized on Williams campus”? Details, please. Williams, unlike Yale, seems remarkably bereft of problematic historical associations.

2) Who is paying for the “pizza celebration?” Nothing wrong with pizza, or celebrations, for that matter. But any good Record reporter should figure this out. If I were a trustee, I would have no issues with Williams students protesting my decisions, but I would ask Adam Falk if the college should really be subsidizing such activities.

3) It is interesting how connected these various causes are, even though there seems no obvious reason why someone involved with Divestment should care about Horn Hall or why someone involved with either should be working with CTA, whose main (praise-worthy!) issue is greater trustee transparency. Is there a common factor of sticking-it-to-the-Man which motivates all these campaigns?

4) If we are going to rename Horn Hall, then the best choice is Krissoff Hall.


Student Letter on Horn

From our friends at the Coalition for Transparency and Accountability comes this letter (pdf) to Adam Falk and the trustees about Trustee Joey Horn ’87.

We are deeply disturbed by the recent conviction of Trustee Joey Shaista Horn and her husband by the Oslo District Court for violating the Immigration Act (of Norway). The couple had illegally hired two au pairs and subjected them to illegal and unjust working conditions from 2011 to 2014 , as reported by several Norwegian media outlets.

How about a shout out to EphBlog!? The CTA did not find that article on its own. [If anything, EphBlog owes CTA a shout out since it was CTA member Linda Worden ’19 who first found the article. Thanks to commentators for pointing this out.]

We have questions and demand answers:

● When was Williams College made aware of the investigation, the trial, and the conviction?
● Why did Williams College fail to notify the community about this pending investigation?
● If the College was aware of this investigation, why did the College feel it was appropriate to open Horn Hall with its current name?
● Will Trustee Joey Shaista Horn continue to serve on the Board of Trustees?

We demand that the College develop a clear plan for ensuring transparency and accountability from Trustees in the future.

The CTA deserves credit for highlighting the timing of the initial indictment in 2014. This scandal has been percolating for a long time. (And EphBlog is embarrassed to not have covered it until now.) However, CTA has also demonstrated a childish inability to accomplish anything of use and/or to work with its natural allies. (That is, it refuses to follow my excellent advice.) However, I am still happy to answer their questions:

1) Joey probably let the College know about this issue back when she was indicted. At least, I hope she did.

2) The College is not in the business of keeping “the community” updated on every imbroglio that its trustees (or its faculty or its major donors or its students) get involved in. That would be stupid! Would the CTA want Williams to send out a news release every time a student is arrested by the local cops, a news release with the students name? I hope not!

3) Donors get to name things. How naive are the students behind the CTA? Moreover, at the time of the naming, the Horns had not yet been found guilty. And they still might win on appeal. And, even in the worse case that they spend a few months in jail, I (and Williams?) do not see that conviction as such an egregious sin that a building renaming would be required.

4) Horn will continue to serve on the trustees. She is a good person who did one bad thing. I initially thought that Horn would stay on the Trustees. I was wrong. Did the CTAs letter play a role in her resignation? The Record should try and find out.

By the way, the politics of this situation are interesting. The CTA is, obviously, packed with social justice warriors. So, why were they trying to get rid of one of the few women of color on the Trustees? Why were they attacking Horn for, more or less, employing an illegal immigrant in Norway?

Is the CTA the Williams beachhead for Trump? Prosecute and shame the employers of illegal immigrants!

The good (?) news is that the Horn case is bringing together Ephs who normally disagree. Consider former Williams professor John Drew’s take:

From my perspective, the more pertinent issue is whether or not the U.S. and Williams College are ready for the globalist values of Joey Horn 87′. As a matter of integrity, Williams College should return their gift and allow someone else, someone with better and more humane values, have the honor of their name on that building. Simple as that. If Williams fails to take action, the students on campus should begin protesting this outrage.

If the CTA — social justice warriors (almost) all — and John Drew — perhaps the most outspoken member of the vast right wing conspiracy, Eph division — all agree that Horn Hall should be renamed then . . . well, I guess that I am not sure what follows from that . . . But is sure is nice to see CTA/Drew agree on something!

UPDATE: Today’s Record article is stunningly good. Kudos to reporters Nicholas Goldrosen and William Newton. Read the whole thing.


Horn ’87 Resigns from Board of Trustees

From the Office of the President:

Resignation of Trustee Joey Shaista Horn ’87

Feb. 17, 2017: Joey Shaista Horn ’87 resigned from the Board of Trustees, effective Feb. 16, citing the need to focus on personal matters. Michael Eisenson ’77, Chairman of the Board, thanked Joey for her extensive and committed service to the college and said, “We are sad to lose Joey from the board and grateful for the many ways that she contributed to the work of the board and to the health of the college.”

1) Thanks to class of ’15 and WA for the tip.

2) Does EphBlog share some of the blame here? That is, would Horn have resigned if we had not published the story? I don’t know. The timing certainly suggests that this is true, since the resignation came the day after we published. Moreover, the underlying news — the guilty verdict — came out more than two weeks ago. Did Horn fail to inform the College? Or did she inform Williams, but Falk and the trustees hoped that the story would never come to light? Surely, someone knows the inside story . . .

3) How was the message distributed, if at all, to the Williams community? In particular, did an all-campus message come out? If not, how did WA and class of ’15 come across it?

4) Is the College doing its best to keep this news from spreading? For example, consider this search:


Normally, a search of the opening phrase of a Williams news release pulls up that release as its first hit. Is the College using some robots.txt-fu to keep this news hidden from the world? Should it?


Williams Trustee Sentenced to Jail

When was the last time a Williams trustee was sentenced to jail? Two weeks ago!

The Oslo City Court has sentenced a wealthy Norwegian investor and his wife to five months in prison each, in a case that has highlighted abuse of Norway’s au pair program. It’s supposed to serve as a cultural exchange for young people from abroad but the couple, aided by two neighbours, was found guilty of fraudulently and illegally using two young women from the Philippines as au pairs at the same time, and putting them to work as their low-paid household help.

The couple are Ragnor Horn ’85 and Joey Shaista Horn ’87. Does the name “Horn” sound familiar? It should! Horn Hall, the College’s newest residential building is named after Ragnor and Joey, in thanks for their $10 million donation. Joey has been a Williams trustee since 2009. The Horns have been generous donors for more than a decade. Consider this snippet from 2008:


Back to the article:

The au pairs’ testimony was almost entirely at odds with the Horns’, according to media reports. The Horns claimed they considered the women members of their family and had tried to help them. They admitted to having surveillance cameras in their home but claimed they were not focused on the women while they worked. Mrs Horn, who was represented in court by one of Norway’s most famous defense attorneys, John Christian Elden, also confirmed the required use of face masks, but claimed that “was common in Asia” and was only required in the kitchen by one of the women who “coughed so much.”

Evidence prosecutors referred to in court, however, included a chatting exchange Mrs Horn had with a friend that revealed her referring to her household help in derogatory terms and accusing her of coughing on the food or while in the bathroom. Mrs Horn told her friend the au pair would have to use both a face mask and disposable gloves while in the home or with Horn’s children.

The conversation used as evidence in court also recorded Mrs Horn telling her friend that she had threatened to send the au pair back to her “straw mats in Manila.” Mrs Horn defended herself by saying it had been a “private conversation” with an old friend and that she actually “loved straw mats” and had one in her own home that she used for yoga.

1) Who among us does not love straw mats?

2) WA, who tipped us off about this case, wants me to spend a week going through the details. Should I? My last series on the lifestyles of the rich and the Eph involved Mayo Shattuck ’76 and his cheerleader wife.

3) When was the last time a Williams trustee was sentenced to jail? I can’t come up with a single example. Help us Eph historians!

4) The Horns have three children, including two at Williams. Spare a thought for what they must be going through.


Carbon Tax

Best debates are the ones that feature Ephs on both sides. The latest proposal for a carbon tax cum dividend is an example. In favor, we have Trustee Mark Tercek ’79:

The plan has four pillars: tax the carbon in fossil fuels at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide for the emissions they will produce; rebate all of the revenue to American households in quarterly dividend payments; repeal federal regulations that will no longer be needed because carbon prices produce greater and more efficient investments in emissions reductions; and assure that the program does not damage U.S. trade by adjusting its impact on exports and imports that are energy intensive.

Against, Oren Cass ’05:

This week, a self-described “who’s-who of conservative elder statesmen” launched a new organization, the Climate Leadership Council (CLC), to make their “Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends.” Lest one be confused, the proposal is yet another carbon tax. Lest one be optimistic, it manages only to weaken an already flawed policy.

None of these objections or challenges is new. Yet, in the marketplace of ideas, the carbon tax behaves increasingly like a government-run utility. It doesn’t care about competition. It ignores complaint with impunity. Its business model depends on the strength of its political connections, not the quality of its product. Elder statesmen often sit on the boards of such entities. Rarely do they achieve positive change.

My take: The politics of this proposal don’t work, not least because of environmentalist who hate it, as you can see from all the progressive’s attacking Tercek from the left. A better plan needs to be more extreme, in order to bring along the right. I recommend a constitutional amendment that would repeal the federal income tax while simultaneously granting Congress the right to tax carbon. Conservatives would go for this because they hate the income tax. The Government’s need to spend would force a carbon tax higher than any other possible plan.

Let’s arrange for a debate at Williams between Tercek and Cass, ideally each paired with a student. Bring back the Williams College Debate Union!


Board of (dis)Trustees

Great Williams Alternative article by Mariah Widman ’15 about the embarrassment that is the Alumni Trustee election process.

All three candidates are clearly very passionate about Williams and accomplished in their fields, but, from the ballot, I did not think that I knew enough about each candidate to make an informed decision. Which issues would candidates be most passionate in addressing or promoting in their roles as board members? How would (or wouldn’t) they communicate with the Williams community? The answers were unclear.

I decided to interview the candidates for the Williams Alternative. If they answered my questions other alumni could make an informed decision, and students could participate in the process. I emailed all three of the candidates asking them if I could speak to them for the Alternative about their positions on issues currently important to the college. I also reached out to the head of the Alumni Society, Lelia Jere ‘91, to see if she would be willing to give me more information about how the candidates had been selected. Perhaps the nomination process would give me more insight on why each of the candidates had made it onto my ballot.

I ended up speaking with both Leila and Brooks Foehl, ’88, the Director of Alumni Relations, who, together, suggested that a holistic character assessment is an appropriate basis for selecting a Trustee.

Leila informed me that “the nominees are not running on a platform, as with political candidates, and therefore do not have a “position” on issues. They are being presented to alumni as individuals with the requisite professional and life skills to serve on the Board of Trustees.” In response to my query about how to make my decision, Brooks reiterated this and further elaborated, “As to what qualities alumni weigh in making a choice, there are any number. We know that professional background, volunteer engagement, alumni demographics, personal relationship, etc., are just some of the factors that go into people’s consideration.” This is not only the college’s de facto arrangement, it is also the Society of Alumni’s official policy, written in its Constitution (which is well-worth a read if you have the time).

In his email, Brooks informed me that he had advised the candidates against speaking to me, and invoked a categorical imperative-style justification. If they agreed to speak to me they might have to speak to any number of alumni asking all sorts of questions. Not being obligated to, they chose to remain silent, and I received no responses.

As if there are dozens of alumni who would bombard trustee candidates with questions! Hah! Brooks is a smart guy. He can do better than this.

Accepting a position on the Board is a huge responsibility, and I understand that not all of us can or should aspire to the job. But if the rest of the community is excluded from the room where it happens, then we need even more confidence that those we elect are representing our voices. Otherwise what’s the point of having a vote in the first place?

The point is to provide the veneer of caring what alumni think. News Flash: The College wants you to shut up and write checks. The last thing that Brooks or Leslie or Adam Falk or the Trustees want is for alumni to discuss important policy questions and then to vote for candidates based on their positions on those policies.

As an alumnus I wanted to differentiate the three candidates from each other so that I could make an informed decision about whom I was electing.

Me too! We have discussed precisely this issue in the past: here (from a decade (!) ago), here and here.

Should we seek to permanently change the Trustee election process, it only takes fifty alumni to petition an amendment to the constitution, and a simple majority vote of at least fifty members of the society of alumni at a society meeting.

Hmmm. When was the last time that there was a rebel movement like this during Reunion Weekend? Has the Saturday morning alumni meeting even been disrupted? Who knows this history?

Perhaps Mariah Widman ’15 would be interested in joining EphBlog and using it as a platform from which to agitate and organize for change? She would be welcome!


Student Trustee?

Should Williams have a student on the board of trustees? We first covered this topic almost ten years ago. Let us repeat and review.

From the Record:

Spencer representative Jonathan Misk ’07 plans to submit a proposal to both the Council and the administration recommending student representation on the Board of Trustees. “Our only goal is to improve communication where it is most needed,” he said. “Such student interaction with Board members would both allow the students to be more informed of issues the Board is discussing and allow the Board to be more in touch with real-time student sentiment on those issues.”

The College will never go for this plan in the short term. The Trustees are busy, important people with much to do during their limited meeting time. When they are talking business, they want to do so openly but in confidence. They don’t want to deal with a student (a new one each year!), explaining to her the background on topics that they have covered for years, worrying if she might not treat the proceedings as private.

Moreover, the Trustees already meet with plenty of students and are, reasonably, well-versed on student opinion, both via the Record and from direct contact. Former President Schapiro forwarded substantive, well-written comments that students sent him directly to all the trustees. One trustee commented to me ruefully that his inbox overflowed from all the student commentary on neighborhood housing that he received from Morty. (If Adam Falk is smart, he does the same.)

But, although this won’t happen quickly, what steps might current students do to lay the groundwork for it to happen someday? Good question! Other schools, after all, do have student representation on the board, so all things are possible.

1) Fight to increase the transparency of Trustee meetings. When are they? When is the next one? What is on the agenda? When do the Trustees arrive? Who will they be meeting with? And so on. There is no (good) reason why Williams might be much more open and transparent in how it is governed. Yet no one (besides me!) fights for this. Why isn’t the agenda and other distributed materials made public, perhaps after the meeting? The College could certainly redact any sensitive information (having to do with super-secret plans or confidential personnel issues) before distributing the information.

2) Fight to de-mystify the trustees. Although the College does provide nice little biographies, other details are sketchy. For starters, what are their terms of office? How are they selected? I provide some (correct?) information here, but there is no reason for secrecy. (I still don’t understand how, for example, Malcolm W. Smith ’87 could lose the election for alumni trustee and still end up on the board. Anyone who the board is considering for an appointed position should not be nominated for alumni trustee.)

3) Participate in the election process. There is a trustee election going on right now. A student should interview the three candidates, find out their views on important topics and transmit those views (along with his commentary) to the College community. EphBlog (with our thousands of readers) would be happy to host. Why not a podcast? No doubt a student would do a better job of this than I have in the past.

4) Instead of aiming for a student seat on the board, try for the much more achievable goal of a student seat on the Executive Committee (EC) of the Society of Alumni (SoA). I don’t think that we need a student trustee but I do think that a student (even three students) belong on the EC.

Note that you do not need to graduate to be an alumnus. Anyone who has attended Williams, even for just a year, is a member. So, there is no reason in principle why students shouldn’t belong. Also, five trustees are ex-officio members of the EC, so student participation would give current students some of the trustee interaction that they seek. The fact that EC terms are for three years also works out well. Imagine that each class at Williams elects one of its members to join the EC at the end of first year. That student would serve for 3 years, just like any other member. There would always be 3 students on the EC, enough to have a real voice but not too many to gum up the works. And, if this experiment worked out, there would be much less opposition for a student place on the board in 5 or 10 years.

This is the sort of good-governance, small-improvement campaign that EphBlog could get behind. Any student is welcome to join us as an author to help rally the alumni community and keep us posted on her progress.


Open Greylock Dining Hall

All-student e-mail:

This conversation is in anticipation of the open meeting with the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Student Experiences, a historic event for Williams College. It will take place on Saturday (1/23) at 1:00 pm in Griffin 3. This event will be open to all and focused on the sharing of personal student experiences so that members of the Board of Trustees are able to better understand what Ephs need and want from our institution today.

What to ask from the Trustees? (Obviously, don’t ask for something trivial. The Trustees are not interested in your complaints about the quality of the hot chocolate served at Stress Busters.) Reasonable options:

1) Reopen Greylock Dining Hall. The dining hall was closed, reasonably enough, during the Financial Crisis. Williams is now rich enough to reopen it. The other dining halls are excessively crowded. Opening Greylock would both reduce that overcrowding and increase the popularity of student housing on that side of campus. Doing so is expensive, but it is the sort of decision that Trustees like to make.

2) Every room a single. There is no better way to improve the quality of life of two students forced into a double than to give them singles. Williams already has an excellent housing stock, but making it better would both improve the quality of student lives and make Williams more desirable to admitted students. Moreover, very few students are stuck in doubles against their will anyway, so this goal would not be hard to achieve. (For starters, the rule would not apply to first years, most/many of whom don’t object to being in a double.)

3) Proclaim that Williams students have the same First Amendment protections as their peers at Berkley or Michigan or MCLA. Williams currently reserves the right to punish students who would not be punished for the same actions at a public school like Berkley. (As a private institution, Williams has the ability to kick a student out for, say, dressing inappropriately during Halloween.) But the Trustees should make clear that Williams would never do so by, for example, agreeing with the University of Chicago statement on free expression.

What suggestions do our readers have? What major requests should current students ask of the Trustees?

Full message below the break.
Read more


Trustee Election

The annual election of Alumni and Tyng Trustees is in full swing. Here pdf is the ballot, for the non-alums among our readers. The election is, obviously, a farce, mainly because the College refuses to allow candidates to address substantive issues in their write-ups, much less to campaign in any meaningful fashion. Over the next five years (the term of an Alumni Trustee) the College will face a variety of challenges, difficult decisions — about international admissions, alumni giving, academic departments, and so on — that the Trustees will be asked to weigh in on. Why can’t we know what the candidates think before we are asked to choose among them?

The reason, obviously, is because the College does not care what you think and would prefer not to solicit opinions from, much less rile up, the alumni. You should all write your checks and shut up. And that goes double for the alumni trustees! The last thing that the Administration — and the controlling trustees with terms of 10+ years — want is to have an Alumni Trustee join the board, convinced that she has a mission to change X about the College.

So, go ahead and cast your ballot, selecting someone because she was “the general manager of a residential and commercial property company” rather than the candidate who “serves on the executive committee of the music and entertainment industry chapter of the City of Hope National Medical Center” or the candidate who is the “chairman of the board of directors of The Carter Burden Center for the Aging” because, obviously, the first candidate is the most qualified!

The elections for 6th grade president in my daughter’s elementary school were more substantive than the election for Alumni Trustee at Williams College. At least those candidate actually told the voters what they thought about the proposal to change the schedule for recess!


Alumni Elections are a Farce

The elections for Alumni Trustee and Tyng Administrator are a farce. Consider the ballot. (Click for a larger version.)

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

Second, the College forbids candidates from discussing anything substantive in their statements. Are you interested in changes in financial aid policy at Williams? Do you want to know what these candidates think? Tough! They aren’t going to tell you because the College won’t let them.

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


My name is David Kane, Williams class of 1988, and I would like to make an informed vote among the three of you in casting my ballot for alumni trustee. Would you mind answering a single question?

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

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

Further comments:

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

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

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

Thanks for your time and your past service to Williams.

Dave Kane

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

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

Who did you vote for and why?


Record Article On Trustees

This Record article about the Trustees is one part interesting, one part cloying and all around naive.

First, it is naive in its failure to confront any of the difficult issues connected to the trustees. Reporter Yue-Yi ought to know that, if you are writing a story about group X, then the first thing you do is contact critics of group X and, thereby, learn about the controversies surrounding group X. (You also ought to quote those critics in the story, but the more important part is the education you receive from those critics and the better questions that you will ask as a result.) Consider some controversial aspects about the trustees that the article fails to touch upon.

  1. Transparency: Professor Frank Morgan argues for a “more open decision process, in which we can practice what we preach about the free exchange of ideas leading to better understanding, more ideas and better solutions.” Given that, why doesn’t the Board allow Morgan (and others) to review the written material that they use during their meetings? The Board’s discussions are private, but there is no reason why the rest of us can’t see the Powerpoint slides and budget reports that the Board uses.
  2. Wealth: Doesn’t Yue-Yi know that the number one criteria for Board membership is wealth, and a charitable inclination toward Williams? “[T]he Board has seen changes in its demographics, which are designed to represent composition of the Williams alumni body.” Hah! The mean/median wealth of the Board is at the 99th percentile of the alumni population. Not every trustee is rich but, as a group, they are immensely wealthy. There is nothing wrong with that and, indeed, it is a standard feature of non-profit boards everywhere. But to not even mention money in several paragraphs of discussion on board membership is incompetent.
  3. Outsiders: The trustee selection process, especially that for Alumni Trustees, is dominated by insiders, a practice which is quite different from some other schools, like Dartmouth. There are hundreds of alumni who would like to see, say, Wick Sloane ’76 on the board. Why aren’t we allowed to place him on the alumni ballot?
  4. Student membership: Other schools, like Vassar, have a student on the board. Why doesn’t Williams? Background here.

Obviously, it is not Yue-Yi’s job to take a position on these controversies. But the article would have been much more interesting if she had questioned the various trustees about these topics.

Second, the article is a bit cloying. Student X thinks that trustees are amazing people! Trustee Y thinks that the students are amazing people! Great. Let’s just sit around a circle and tell each other how wonderful we all are. Now, of course, this is Williams and, objectively speaking, we have some very accomplished trustees and students. Yet a little less praise and a little more critical reflection make for a more professional news article.

Third, the article is genuinely interesting in the details that it provides about Board activities and procedures. Kudos to Yue-Yi for good descriptions and thorough reporting on that. I have quoted the most useful sections below the break.

Read more


Skin in the Game

In the coming days/weeks, expect the following:

1) Other colleges will follow Williams’ lead and add back loans for financial aid. Look for Amherst, Bowdoin, Dartmouth and Haverford in the first wave.

2) No meaningful criticism of this move from the constellation of “aid experts.” Why? First, the people making these decisions and the people commenting on them travel in the same circles. Why criticize your friends when you can praise them instead? Indeed, in many cases, they are the same people (Morty, Cappy Hill, Mike McPherson)!

3) Unjustified claims that instituting loans might have positive effects by causing students to take their Williams education more seriously. Poppycock! Recall Wick Sloane’s ’76 story from three years ago:

True story, from when Princeton eliminated loans. I called a Williams trustee I’d known for 25 years. Why did Princeton beat Williams to this? Williams can afford it.

“Oh, we talked about this,” said Trustee. “We think it’s wrong to give something away that’s worth $50,000 a year (cost, not price, of Williams back then) without any obligation, without ’skin in the game.’”

I sought clarification. I’m paraphrasing, but the answer was that it’s wrong to give anyone a Williams education for nothing. Students need to feel the investment, hence ’skin in the game.’ Trustee agree that whether Williams could eliminate loans was not a financial problem, given the endowment. The issue the board debated was whether “giving” a Williams education was the right move from a moral, not a financial, perspective. Several others at this trustee discussion, verified the use of the term ’skin in the game’ and the substance of the decision not to follow Princeton.

“Wait a minute, Trustee,” I said. “Your entire education, Williams and all, was a gift outright from your parents, as was mine. No one required us to have ’skin in the game.’ You mean that wealthy students don’t need skin in the game but poor students do?”

Thus was a friendship incinerated. Trustee had no answer.

Because there is no good answer. If you believe that X is a good idea for non-rich students, you ought to believe that it is a good idea for rich students. If taking out loans is good for Sue, coming from a family of school teachers, then it is good from Sarah, coming from a family of investment bankers. Do the rich Trustees of Williams make their children take out loans? Hah!

It will be especially annoying if “aid experts” suggest that this will have any good effects. There is, obviously, no scholarly evidence that increasing a student’s loan burden will cause him to take his education more seriously. If anything, the main effects would be problematic.

n the early 2000s, a highly selective university introduced a “no-loans” policy under which the loan component of financial aid awards was replaced with grants. We use this natural experiment to identify the causal effect of student debt on employment outcomes. In the standard life-cycle model, young people make optimal educational investment decisions if they are able to finance these investments by borrowing against future earnings; the presence of debt has only income effects on future decisions. We find that debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid “public interest” jobs. We also find some evidence that debt affects students’ academic decisions during college.

Making students take on debt causes them to make choices that are different, and generally less desirable, then the choices that would have otherwise made. By reinstituting loans, the Williams Administration has demonstrated its priorities.

Perhaps Adam Falk will revisit this decision once he takes office in April . . .


“Constructive Loyalty” or hors d’oeuvres with the Presidents

Last night (Wednesday), I joined approximately 150-200 of my fellow alumni, parents, and friends of the NorCal Alumni Chapter to listen to Chair of the Trustees Greg Avis ’80, interim President Bill Wagner, and incoming President Adam Falk.  I came away from the evening more impressed by each of them than I had been previously.  Before I go any further, I should thank Chapter Prez Shannon Walsh ’03 for pulling together the inaugural edition of this roadshow they’ll be shopping around the country to other chapters.  I know they were in LA tonight, will be in San Diego tomorrow (Friday) and in DC on Feb. 22nd, but I haven’t a clue when they’ll be elsewhere.  This is a good reason to check out the events calendar on the alumni page and/or subscribe to your regional alumni email list.

And now on to the event…(you’ll have to go below the fold for the juicy details) Read more


Wagner Letter?

The Trustees are meeting this week-end. Last year, at this time, I guessed about what they would decided and was (mostly?) correct. This year, I have a much worse sense of things. My speculation:

1) There will be a letter from Bill Wagner on Monday which discusses the Trustee meeting and some of the decisions that have been made. Falk will be mentioned in the letter, but he won’t sign it.

2) Stetson/Sawyer and Weston Field renovations stay postponed. There is just not enough money to do these right now. (I could be wrong about Stetson/Sawyer. I think that Professor Brown has mentioned that, if the College does not act, a lot of the work with regard to permits and whatnot will need to be redone.) I have no problem with these delays. If anything, Stetson/Sawer should be rethought. The College will not need to store tens of thousands of books and journals in the middle of campus a decade from now.

3) Continued crack-down on visiting professors. These are easy to cut and (I think) a poor use of resources. The only exceptions will probably be for languages.

4) Continued increase in class size from 538 to 554, as we already documented. This is a bad idea. (How much happier were you with a single rather than a double?) But the money is too easy to pass up and, when push comes to shove, the people who run Williams don’t really care if 40 extra students go from singles to doubles. However, I bet that this change is not mentioned in the letter. Why alarm the little people?

5) Salary freeze will be mentioned. I don’t have a good sense of whether or not this will be ended or maintained. Predictions? The fairest would be to end the salary freeze for those making less than $75,000 or whatever. But that is just my progressive outlook shining through again . . .

6) I hope that there won’t be any changes with regard to financial aid for international students. Might the College step away from need-blind? Perhaps. Apparently, this has been a hot topic at recent faculty meetings. My guess would be no change, just because the market has bounced back so strongly since last year.

What other topics might be mentioned?


Dulce et Decorum Est

Wick Sloane ’76 wrote the following e-mail to 5 trustees:

Greg and Steve and Clayton and Paul and Bill —

The absence of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans at Williams is disgraceful. I’ve brought this to your attention before, without result. Hammering me, the messenger, is petty. I’m long dead, anyway, but fire away if that makes you feel better. There are now hundreds of thousands of veterans collecting GI Bill benefits. Williams can find a few.

Any and all of you are welcome to visit any class of mine at Bunker Hill Community College. I will give you the entire period to rebut my argument that Williams should have veterans enrolled.

I find no pleasure in this broadcast note. I’ve tried the polite way for more than a year with no luck or even credible replies.


From the column —

The Devil’s Workshop Highly Selective Veterans Day Survey

Institution Current Undergraduate Veteran Enrollment
Yale 0
Princeton 0
Williams 0
Harvard 4
Dartmouth 16
Stanford 30
Bunker Hill
Community College

(c)Inside Higher Ed

More from Wick’s column:

Cane. Short haircut. Young. Here in a community college, that means “Veteran. Wounded.” I always introduce myself to see what help they need at school. Or perhaps what help I need, because I am so ashamed of what I, the people, have put these veterans through with little result or purpose.

One cane I’ll call Tony I’ve lost altogether. He wasn’t thirty years old. An improvised explosive devise, an IED, in Iraq had caused his wounds, he told me. Brain trauma, which showed in his speech and thinking. The limp was because the IED had broken his neck. In the fog of war, no one had discovered the fracture until he was in a hospital in Germany. Just the effort of walking left him sweating in the lobby. He had his veterans benefits paperwork. A colleague and I made sure he had what he needed and knew the right lines to register. I looked two days later. Tony wasn’t registered. I telephoned. He’d been mugged on the subway. I talked with his father. I offered to drive over and pick Tony up. We couldn’t get Tony back to school. He only wanted to go to community college for job training. Another cane is still in school.

For the sake of these canes, and the coffins, too, how about an assignment for us all this week? Let’s distribute at every meeting and every class we attend this week copies of Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est.”

The poem begins:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

My best writing on veteran issues are here, here and here.

Happy Veteran’s Day to Ephs far and wide.


National Scandal

Fred Nathan ’83 is the Executive Director at Think New Mexico, “a results-oriented think tank serving the citizens of New Mexico.” He writes:

We strive to be completely transparent and accountable to the public and to our donors, and we always publish all of our financial information in our annual reports, which are available on our website. This includes the percentage of our revenue that is spent on fund-raising and administration. Maybe that is why in our eight year history, no one has ever asked for that information. My salary is $77,175, which makes me the highest paid employee at Think New Mexico. Excessive nonprofit CEO compensation is a national scandal and could be stopped relatively quickly by the national foundations that subsidize it.

An Eph after my own heart! If Think New Mexico can publish it IRS Form 990 on its website, then why can’t Williams. If Think New Mexico can avoid excessive pay, then why can’t Williams? It’s too bad that Ephs like Fred Nathan and me are powerless to establish these sorts of policies at Williams.

Oh, wait! I am powerless, but Fred Nathan is a Williams trustee! One call from him would cause interim President Bill Wagner to place the Williams Form 990s on the College’s webpage. (Other trustees might not be in favor of this, but they are unlikely to stand against one trustee’s determined insistence that Williams become more transparent.)

Moreover, now is the perfect time to get run-away presidential compensation at Williams under control. Nathan is not powerful enough to do this himself, but he ought to start making some noise about it, at least if he really believes that “nonprofit CEO compensation is a national scandal.”

The Presidential Search Committee should just inform that 15 or so finalists that the expected compensation will be around $250,000. Any who don’t want the job unless it pays big bucks are probably precisely the ones that we don’t want to hire anyway. Might a couple of candidates pull out? Sure. But you would still have ten or more amazing folks to choose from, people who think of the Williams presidency as a dream job and not as a way to get rich.

If it is good enough for Think New Mexico, it is good enough for Williams.

All my leftist friends are always complaining about the rise in income inequality in America. Fine. Now is their chance to do something about it. Will they speak up?


Trustee Update

Recall my predictions about Trustee changes. I got some right and some wrong. Joey Shaista Horn ’87 has replaced Malcolm Smith ’87 and Robert Scott’s ’68 term has been extended, as predicted, but Barbara Austell ’75 and Stephen Harty ’73 also had their terms extended, which I find surprising. Comments:

1) I had thought that Greg Avis ’80 wanted more turnover on the Board. If so, then he needs to limit folks like Austell and Harty to just five years. If he isn’t going to limit them, then who is he going to limit? Again, I don’t have a strong opinion on this topic and if Avis thinks longer terms make sense, then I trust his judgment. But Williams is in a real financial bind. Wouldn’t getting some more (new) rich alums on the board increase donations?

2) I think that Austell might be the daughter-in-law of former trustee R. Rhett Austell, Jr ’48. True? Are there any other multi-trustee Eph families?

3) Here (pdf) is a listing of the Trustee Committee assignments in 2008-2009. One of my good governance suggestions is that this information ought to be listed on the main trustee page, or at least linked to from there. Very few alums/students/faculty will want to contact the trustees directly about issue X, but, for those that do, the right approach is to e-mail the trustees on the appropriate committee.

4) One committee that is not currently listed but which was present last year (see page 393 of this giant pdf of 2008-2009 course catalog) is for compensation.

Compensation Committee (Subcommittee): Robert I. Lipp, Chair; Paul Neely. Non–Trustee Member: Raymond F. Henze III, Trustee Emeritus.

Interesting. Longtime readers will remember our extensive discussions about Morty’s salary. Classic post here. (One of my all-time favorites.) Basic debate began more than five years ago and has featured some fun back-and-forth: here, here and here. Good times!

Short version: In 1998, total salary and compensation for Hank Payne was $274,000 (pdf). Just 10 years later, Morty’s total compensation was $516,000 (pdf). (I am leaving out the $43,000 in tuition reimbursement that Morty received.) The growth has been mostly linear over that time and has greatly exceeded the increase in faculty salaries.

Why does Williams pay its president so much? Partly because everyone else does. Partly because the money does not come out of any individual’s pocket. And partly because the people who decide the president’s salary are so absurdly wealthy that $500,000 does not seem like a lot of money. Recall Jack Welch’s advice to greedy CEOs about how to structure their compensation committees.

This columnist once heard Mr Welch tell a chief executives’ boot-camp that the key was to have the compensation committee chaired by someone older and richer than you, who would not be threatened by the idea of your getting rich too. Under no circumstances, he said (the very thought clearly evoking feelings of disgust), should the committee be chaired by “anyone from the public sector or a professor”.

Exactly right. Exploring the history of this compensation committee at Williams would make for a fun Record article. Did it even exist a decade or two ago? I doubt it. Back then, the President’s salary was not set by a 3 Eph cabal of extremely rich alumni. Whose idea was it to change the structure?

And, of course, you have to love the back-scratching here. Lipp thinks that Morty is a great guy and so pays him lots and lots of money. Morty thinks that Lipp is a great guy and so invites him to give the Baccalaureate Address.

My comments are the same as they were five years ago:

If the growth rate of 9% per year continues, then Morty (or his successor) will break the $1 million mark in 2013. As always, my question to defenders of the current system is not: Is Morty paid too much? My question is: At what point should I — as a concerned alum from whom the College is always asking for more money — become concerned that the President of Williams is being paid too much? Is it $600,000, $800,000, $1 million, $4 million or what? How much is too much? Tell me now so that I can know when to start worrying.

I have little doubt that if I had asked this question in 1988, people — perhaps even Morty himself as my professor in ECON 401 — would have quoted numbers not much greater than $500,000.

I do not think that the trustees need a special, elite committee to handle compensation. Better to have that discussion with the whole board, or at least the executive committee. Involve some professors!

5) How did Yvonne Hao ’95 end up on the board? I am sure that she is a wonderful person, but there must be some sort of back story here. She was appointed before her 10th reunion! I can’t recall a younger trustee. Can anyone? Remember that Jack Sawyer ’39 (large pdf) was not named to the Board until 1952, 13 years after graduating from Williams. At the time, he was the youngest trustee in Williams history.

6) Never to early to speculate about next year! The following trustees have terms that will finish in June 2010: César J. Alvarez ’84, E. David Coolidge III ’65, Delos M. Cosgrove III ’62, Yvonne Hao ’95, Michael B. Keating ’62 and William E. Oberndorf ’75.

Predictions: Keating, having served a full 15 years, will retire. Many thanks to him for excellent service to Williams (and for kindly returning my e-mails). Alvarez is finishing up his Alumni Trustee term and so will probably be gone. Cosgrove is a tricky case because he started (I think) as an Alumni Trustee but then had his term extended. I expect that he will be out. (Has any other Alumni Trustee had his term lengthened in that way?)

Coolidge and Oberndorf will probably have their terms extended. Both are very rich and Coolidge, as a former chair of the Investment Committee, will almost certainly serve a full 15 years. I expect that Hao will be out.

If the above is correct, there would be three new spots open (besides the Alumni Trustee position) from the departures of Keating, Cosgrove and Hao. Who will fill those spots? I don’t know. But the College definitely needs to raise a lot of money in the next decade or so and the best way to raise money is by putting rich Ephs on the Board. Look for some appointments from alums currently serving on the Investment Committee (pdf). My money would be on: Halvorsen ’86, Boutwell ’74 or Graham ’82.

UPDATE: Some editing and additions made.


Trustee Changes?

Anyone have news on changes in the board of Trustees? I see 4 Trustees with terms that expired this June: Austell ’75, Harty ’73, Scott ’68 and Smith ’87. My guesses (and much of the below is pure speculation):

1) Smith ’87 will be leaving the Board. I think that his three year term was as a replacement for Mike Reed ’75, who was a Trustee when he joined Williams, but who left that position once he became an employee of the College. (I think that Smith got the job because either a) He is a good guy who lives in the area and has been heavily involved in various Williams activities or b) Because he came in second in the voting behind Reed in the Alumni Trustee election in 2004. (Is there some easy place to look up the history of Trustee elections?)

2) Joey Horn ’87 will be replacing Smith. She won the Alumni Trustee election. (Full disclosure: I voted for Horn.) Her victory was announced at reunion but I can’t find an official news release from the College.

3) Scott ’68 will stay on the Board. His term will be extended out to 2014. Scott has been a generous donor to Williams for many years. and has generated some classic EphBlog posts — who can forget Scott being called “limp-wristed” by Senator Orrin Hatch? Although Scott’s wealth may have been significantly impacted by the financial crisis, he was still placed in the picture (pdf) with all the key donors during the recent dedication of Schapiro Hall.

Donors and friends gathered on April 17 to celebrate the naming of the new south academic building in honor of President Morty Schapiro. Pictured are (left to right): Ray Henze ’74, Bob ’60 and Martha Lipp, Jack ’61 and Susy Wadsworth, Greg Avis ’80 and Anne Ricketson Avis ’81, Morty and Mimi Schapiro, Karen and Bob Scott ’68, Paul Neely ’68, Franci Rice, Richard Hollander P’10, and Joe Rice ’54.

I think that every Trustee in this photo served on the Board for longer than five years. Indeed, Henze, Lipp, Avis and Rice all served as chairs of the executive committee. If Scott is still giving enough money that he gets in this photo and/or invited to this event, then he probably has more time on the Board.

4) Austell and Harty will not be re-appointed. Again, I could be totally wrong about this, but neither seem to be major players on the Williams scene nor to provide the sort of specialized knowledge (unlike, say, Keating and Spencer) that the Board values. I have also heard rumors that Greg Avis ’80 (chair of the executive committee) wants to get more people involved in the board, and the only way to do that is to have more people serve just five year terms. (That seems like a good idea to me, and Avis is certainly in a better position than I to make these sorts of judgments.)

Does anyone have better information than my guesses?

Also, does anyone have better information about the exact structure of the Board, say in terms of governance, committee assignments and so on. I tried to provide an overview here, but that seems quite dated.

Request: The College should update the Trustee web page with a) Trustee designations, at least which ones are the Alumni Trustees and b) Committee assignments. If I have a concern about, say, admissions policies, I should be able to figure out which trustees serve on the relevant committee.



Trustee Clayton Spencer ’77 gets a brief mention in this article about the financial troubles at Harvard.


More money to Williams? No thanks.

I’ve taken myself off most Williams mailing because the College financial situation and its causes are too discouraging. The Achilles Heel of 501 (c)3 nonprofit corporations is the lack of public accountability. A fundraising e-mail from Williams slipped through my defenses the other day. No mention of any lessons learned. I stipulate here that I have no reason to believe other than that those governing Williams are honest people committed to good work for the right reasons. Something is missing, though, in the discussions.

My reply to Williams:

Hi. I am a very nice person. I love my Williams education and use it
every day. You have hit a sore spot, I’m afraid. I thought I had removed
myself from mailings and all, but here you are. I know you are doing hard,
honest work in what you believe to be a good cause. It’s because I think
more people need educations as good as ours, that I reply. You may have a

Regarding a donation to Williams —

No thanks.

1.) Over the past decade and more, Williams has built and built and built.
The Baxter/Paresky debacle was the last straw for me. That was before I
saw the Humanities Center, whatever that is. The Williams enrollment is no
bigger and may be even a little smaller than in 1976 (or 1980). I work in
higher education. Some even consider me knowledegable about higher
education. Now I hear there is discussion on campus about what to do with
all the flat-screen monitors in Paresky, which seem to be just sitting
there. If Baxter had run its course, so be it. Go green. Tear it down
and plant a garden. Every square foot of new space increases operating

2.) For years all these generous people have been giving money to
Williams. How many nights did Morty spend away from his family, out on the
road fundraising? And raising a lot of money. Williams had in its
endowment enough money, assuming enrollments no greater than 2,000, to live
happily ever after, even eliminating tuition. (I have an MBA. My
assumptions are sound here, though others have honest assumptions and may
disagree.) What do the current trustees do? They put most of the
endowment in high-risk, high testosterone investments. I’ve heard the
allocation was as high as 80%.

What happened? Hundreds of millions of dollars vanish, not because of the
economy but because Williams trustees took way too much risk. The evidence
that it was too much? The panic spending cuts. Charlie Ellis of Greenwich
Associates, hardly a radical, says in Endowment 101 that people and
institutions should keep about five years worth of known expenses in cash
and bonds. Precisely to avoid what’s happening at Williams.

3.) Greg Avis and Mike Eisenson, head of the investment committee, owe the
Williams community an explanation and perhaps even more. Has anyone on the
board stepped down over this fiscal fiasco?

The values of Williams will endure. I’m afraid a donation today is bad
money after good.

Wick Sloane ’76


Letter Predictions

The Trustees met this week-end. Will they and/or Morty be providing us with an update? My predictions below.
Read more


Monday Predictions

The Trustees are meeting this week-end. Let’s make some predictions!

1) There will be a letter to the Williams community early next week from Morty about the financial crisis.

Those who thought that Morty’s initial letter was overly alarmist will be in for a shock. Williams is in real trouble and the tone of the letter will highlight this fact and, I hope, explain it more thoroughly.

2) That letter will highlight some specific belt-tightening measures, including a salary freeze (perhaps for just those making above $X), perhaps for two years.

Thanks to HWC for pointing to similar moves at Bowdoin. We are a richer school than Bowdoin, but not that much richer. Rule number one in belt-tightening is to take aggressive action fast. If you go with a three year salary freeze, you can always review the decision in two years if things are looking better. Doing one year salary freezes for three years in a row is much more painful.

3) The letter will re-affirm Williams commitment to need-blind admissions, including international, and to a no-layoffs policy.

4) The letter will make explicit the decision to increase the number of students. My guess is 15 a year for a total addition of 60.

Those are the only four predictions that I would bet a lot of money on. Other possibilities (all of which would be good ideas) include:

5) A more detailed presentation of the budget situation. The College does not have a history of transparency on these issues and I don’t expect that to start now. How can any of us offer informed advice/opinion on where the College should cut if we don’t know where the money goes?

6) News on major changes. WNY has been closed, at least for the next year. (See the not-online yet Record article.) The letter will probably mention that. It might also mention (I can dream, can’t I?) the closing of the Boston Investment Office. (If WNY isn’t worth $300,000 per year, then why do we spend twice (?) as much on an Investment Office?) I can’t think of any other big ticket items that are, plausibly, already on the chopping block.

7) The formation of a committee (including students) to come up with a plan (perhaps only to be implemented if the market does not bounce back) for major cuts. It is not hard to look at the Williams budget and find millions of dollars to save. If it incredibly difficult to find tens of millions. Why not start thinking hard about that problem now?

8) A more serious discussion of the avail rate. Recall that this is the percentage of the endowment that the College spends each year. There are two major problems with the College’s current thinking on this, problems that will lead to major difficulties in the years to come unless the market bounces back.

First, we must subtract the College’s outstanding debt from the endowment. You spend money out of your net financial assets. Morty gives lip service to this idea, but still, the official number just uses the endowment. A fair market value for the endowment today is, at best $1.25 billion. Given that we have around $260 million in debt, we should be calculating the avail rate as a percentage of roughly $1 billion in actual financial wealth.

Second, the 25 year bull market in everything has made many people stupid. Consider Bowdoin’s assumptions:

Over the past five years Bowdoin’s endowment has achieved top decile performance with annualized 5, 10, and 20 year returns of 14.8%, 10.1% and 11.9% respectively. We are coming off a strong base. For the year ending June 30, 2009, we are assuming that we will have an investment return of -20%. We are conservative in predicting future investment returns on the endowment; in subsequent years we have assumed returns of 0% for fiscal year 2010 and fiscal year 2011, and 7% for fiscal year 2012 and thereafter. We believe these assumptions are prudent given the economic advice we have received from members of our investment committee and investment professionals we have consulted.

Assuming 7% nominal growth (call it 2% inflation and 5% real) forever is ludicrous, no matter how many idiot “investment professionals” tell you otherwise. How many times do I need to go through this? If the Bowdoin endowment could grow at a 5% real rate of return forever (while world GDP growth is around 3%) then Bowdoin would eventually own the entire world. Maybe I need to turn in my “investment professional” secret decoder ring, but when my assumptions lead, mathematically, to a ludicrous result, I re-examine them.

Williams needs to do the same. Assuming 5% (some Williams material even mentions 6%!) real rate of return over the long term is a fantasy. It can not be done. Sure, if you have a 20 year bull market (and lever up with debt and via items like private equity), you can do fine for a while. But reality enters in at some point.

So, Williams should use a more plausible estimate for long term growth. I would recommend 3%. Since the avail rate is supposed to be based on a reasonable estimate of the real growth in the endowment, it would be “prudent” for the trustees to devote 3% of the $1 billion in net financial wealth toward operating spending in 2009-2010 and going forward. That’s $30 million. In 2007-2008, Williams spent $79 million.

We have some serious problems.

What do you predict for Monday?


Right-Hand Woman

Fascinating article about Williams Trustee Clayton Spencer ’77.

The end of early action. The Task Force on the Arts. The dramatic increases in financial aid.

While all three changes grabbed headlines this year, the woman who organized them is virtually unknown outside the Harvard administration.

Though she shies from the limelight, behind the scenes A. Clayton Spencer is one of the most influential officials at Harvard.

Her nondescript title, vice president for policy, belies a wide array of accomplishments, from helping orchestrate the 1999 merger of Radcliffe and Harvard to pushing through the launch and expansion of the Harvard Financial Aid Initiative.

But she prefers anonymity, declining repeated interview requests, which a Harvard spokesman attributed to a desire not to garner publicity during University President Drew G. Faust’s first year, and only consenting to an interview when asked for this profile.

Modest about her influence, Spencer frequently lists the names of other Harvard officials when describing her own duties, the word “colleagues” peppering her language.

Read the whole thing. Spencer seems like a good choice for the Presidential Search Committee. No other trustee knows as much about the issues facing elite higher education.

UPDATE: Thanks to Guy for the class correction.


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