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Jews at Williams, 13

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 13.

In this, at least, he exaggerates, for Williams was not as inhospitable to the most clubbable Jews as Candlestick makes it seem. Herbert H. Lehman (Williams 1899) was the first Jew to join a fraternity, namely Alpha Zeta Alpha, then a local organization but which later became the national Phi Gamma Delta. His sons and nephews would follow him into the organization decades later.

Again, just how antisemitic could Williams have been if Herbert H. Lehman’s wealthy family would choose to send him and if he, after thriving for four years, would choose to be such a generous donor?

It is curious that the Class of 1914 contributed so much to the establishment of multi-generational Jewish legacies at Williams. Almost half of the Jews of the Class of 1914 sent their sons on to Williams; as mentioned earlier, the Stone family became a truly prolific Williams legacy, with 10 members attending the college over the generations down to the graduating class of 2005.

This means that something of a mystery hovers over the 1910–14 period at Williams. The college was the site of one of the earliest anti-Jewish demonstrations, effectively anticipating far more effective attempts to diminish Jewish involvement in higher education in the decades to come—and yet the Jews of the Classes of 1913 and 1914, present for that protest, nevertheless produced legacies. Students who understood they were part of a group targeted for exclusion nevertheless managed to stick it out, remaining at the college and ultimately flourishing through their association with it.

I do not think that words like “curious” and “mystery” mean what Wurgaft thinks they mean. He keeps assuming that Williams was horribly antisemitic and is then surprised by how loyal Jewish alumni are. He needs to re-examine his assumptions. If Williams was, in fact, among the least antisemitic locations in the world from, say, 1900 to 1950, then the loyalty/generosity of Jewish Ephs from this era makes perfect sense.

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Jews at Williams, 12

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 12.

Gabriel wrote a study of the problem of being Jewish at Williams, thinly veiled as a coming-of-age novel: The Seven-Branched Candlestick: The Schooldays of a Young American Jew, a tale told in the first person. Truth be told, Candlestick is slight, didactic, and so moralizing in tone that one can almost miss the central social conflict Gabriel took as his focus: the meeting between more assimilated German Jews and their more recently arrived East European Jewish counterparts at American institutions of higher learning. This conflict evidently had at least as much impact on Gabriel’s years at Williams as the conflict between Jew and non-Jew.

Emphasis added. Let me revisit two of my favorite themes: First, the conflict of German Jews and Russian Jews at Williams would make for a great Williams senior thesis. Wurgaft covers some of that conflict, but he (purposely?) seemed to leave lots out. To note that German Jews were some of the most powerful and persuasive opponents of admitting Russian Jews is not a theme to gladden the heart of today’s social justice Ephs. Second, Steve Sailer covers this topic here and here.

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Jews at Williams, 11

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 11.

Jews at Williams, like their counterparts at other institutions, were subject to anti-Semitic treatment during this period, ranging from verbal abuse to exclusion from fraternities and clubs. However, the label “anti-Semitic treatment” may obscure more than it clarifies.

Indeed. Like many of the comments/observations that are labelled as “racist” at Williams today, some of these comments/observations are just simply the truth. Consider:

praise for the imagined business sense of the Jewish people,

What PC nonsense! Is Wurgaft seriously suggesting that “Jewish people” aren’t more successful in business than non-Jewish people?

Imagine that you were a 1950s Eph, perhaps minding your own business, hanging out at the Deke House, and you happened to mention that Jewish people seem fairly successful in business. Perhaps you even dared to praise Jews and/or Jewish culture for this achievement. Then the Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft of the era comes by and attacks you for antisemitism! That would be fairly annoying!

Especially when, today, you notice that the last 50 years have proved that your (allegedly!) antisemitic observation was spot on. Around 1/3 of the member of the Forbe 400 are Jewish, the vast majority of whom made their fortunes over this time period. Sure seems like “Jewish people” might have better than average “business sense.”

The same PC nonsense, of course, happens at Williams today to any student who happens to notice, much less publicly comment on, much less actually praise, the strong performance of Asian-Americans on the SAT.

This is a war — not so much against antisemitism or against racism — but against noticing true facts about the world.

The exclusion of Jews from upper-class social facilities, for example, was prompted by proprietors’ (not entirely unreasonable) fears that a marked Jewish presence would drive out their traditional WASP clientele.

I am, in theory, sympathetic to this argument. Perhaps one reason that Harvard/Yale/Princeton are more successful than Columbia today is that the former discriminated much more heavily against Jews than the latter? I don’t know but the case could be made. Is Williams smart to discriminate against international students for similar reasons? Recall Jim Kolesar’s ’72 argument more than a decade ago:

But a college that gave itself over to educating mainly international students, which is eventually what would happen given the numbers, would have a significantly different mission, very different standing with U.S. prospective students, and greatly altered relationship with government, donors, etc.

Is Williams smart to have a quota for international students?

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Jews at Williams, 10

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 10.

Williams was simply an unusual choice for Jews at this point, and not because it presented insuperable barriers to Jews but simply because most had not heard of it. It was off the map for American Jews unless their families had already become acquainted with the social groups from which Williams drew most of its students, or unless some stroke of luck—a chance encounter with an alumnus, for example—informed them about Williams and led them to believe admission was possible.

Williams was “protected,” as it were, from Jewish attentions during the gentlemen’s era by the social networks it served. They in turn served it by providing new students and loyal alumni.

My hypothesis is that this is exactly the dynamic which drives the lack of discrimination against Asian-Americans at Williams. There is no doubt that Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford discriminate against Asian-Americans, just as HYP discriminated against Jewish-Americans almost a century ago. One current mystery is whether or not Williams (and schools like Williams) employ the same policy. I don’t think we do, not because we are any more moral/non-discriminatory than HYPS, but because proportionally fewer Asian-Americans (relative to non-Asian-Americans) apply to and/or enroll at Williams.

But reasonable people differ on the claim about Asian-Americans and Williams admissions. Recall this discussion from more than a decade ago. I miss HWC!

Between 1880 and 1920, no other New England liberal arts college was as closely connected to the Social Register families of New York and Boston, a group that, with a few exceptions, emphatically did not include Jews. As Robert Farnum explains, it was the only liberal arts college in the “top five” schools (Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia are the others) to which the majority of “social registrants” flocked, particularly from the 1880s to the 1920s. It was in fact the fourth most popular destination for registrants from Boston and the fifth for New Yorkers. It was thus part of a tiny cluster of schools serving a social network that crystallized out of the East Coast’s Protestant elite families in the 1880s and 1890s; the first edition of the Social Register was published in New York in 1888.

Hmmm. This would make an great topic for a Williams senior thesis in history. Who will write it?

Related questions: How much does Williams status today as the #1 liberal arts college go back to enrollment decisions made 100+ years ago by the Social Register? How much were those decisions driven by geography? (My understanding is that the Berkshires were a common summer time retreat for the Social Register folks. Imagine what New York City and Boston were like in the era before air conditioning.) If so, did that familiarity give Williams an advantage over, say, Amherst and Wesleyan?

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Jews at Williams, 9

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 9.

However, what is remarkable about the early Jews at Williams (it would be too much to speak of “Jewish life” when only one, or two, or at most nine, Jews were present in a single entering class) is how loyal many remained to the college.

Furthermore the first Jewish “legacy families” donned purple during this period. One should not look for conflict between the Jewish identities of these students and their identities as Williams men, for many would not have experienced the unavoidable dissonance between those identities as an incompatibility. If they had, legacies would not have been the result.

Indeed. Perhaps the most interesting observation in the book — one that Wurgaft hints at only obliquely in passages like this — is how little antisemitism there was at Williams. Indeed, was any elite institution in the United States less antisemitic than Williams prior to 1960? Reader suggestions welcome. In many ways, this debate is similar to the one about how “racist” Williams is today. Of course, there are people at Williams today who say/believe racist things. (Let he who is without sin . . . .) But such claims are only intelligible in context. There are few places on Earth less marred by racism that Williams today, just as there were few places less marred by antisemitism than the Williams of 75 years ago.

Two years after Boas’ address, an increase in the number of Jewish students in the Williams freshman class (the Class of 1914), which included a few students of Eastern European background, would occasion one of America’s first student-led demonstrations against Jewish enrollment at a college or university. German Jews, present in small numbers, never received such a welcome. While no firsthand accounts of the demonstration have been found, President Harry Garfield described it, in a letter, in a secondhand fashion by saying that, afterward, he felt it necessary to take the pulpit in chapel to remonstrate with the students for their bad behavior.

Note the leap here. There is no real evidence for the claim that “America’s first student-led demonstrations against Jewish enrollment” happened at Williams. This is an attempt, I think, by Wurgaft to find more antisemitism than actually existed. (Note how he never found “firsthand accounts of the demonstration.”) Instead, there seems to have been a hazing-type tradition of an annual forced parade, featuring all the freshmen, which included heavy doses of upperclassmen mockery/”humor,” much of it involving ethnic/racial/religious themes. In 1910, this parade included antisemitic elements. Not very nice! But that is a far cry from a “demonstrations against Jewish enrollment.”

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Jews at Williams, 8

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 8.

Are readers concerned that, eights days into our “book review,” we are only now hitting Chapter 1? Reader feedback welcome!
At our current rate, we have another 30+ days to go . . .

One seemingly minor but important detail is notable when contrasting Harvard and Williams during this period. Harvard, like so many other elite schools, abandoned its strict Greek and Latin requirement for admissions in 1900, whereas Williams clung to a strenuous set of language requirements into the 1930s, the result being that few students from public high schools could attend. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt, along with 18 of his 22 classmates from Groton, arrived at Harvard in September 1900, 40 percent of their freshman class had attended public schools. Harvard’s demographic river was, in this period, fed by Hotchkiss, Groton, and other prominent preparatory schools (the “St. Grottlesex” schools, as they are often known), and by many public institutions as well. Williams’ river was fed more exclusively by St. Grottlesex, and relatively few Jews—and precious few from more recently arrived Eastern European families—made it from the flood of immigration to the narrower stream of private preparatory education.

1) Wurgaft should have told us more about why Williams required Latin/Greek for 30 years longer than Harvard. Does anyone know? My guess would be that this decision had nothing to do with Jewish enrollment pressures since that came a decade or more later at Harvard.

2) Are there any current Williams admissions policies which analogous to the old Latin/Greek requirements? Not that I can see. Elite schools are very similar nowadays. Williams is a bit different from some of its NESCAC peers in that it requires the SAT/ACT and they do not. But all of its actual peers (Amherst/Pomona/Ivy/Chicago) require those exams so, again, Williams is less of an outlier than it once was.

3) Are there any policies which Williams should implement that would serve a similar function to Greek/Latin requirements? To some extent, the the quota for international students — or, rather, the pseudo-requirement to have a US passport/green card — is similar. Yet, I am more interested in positive changes that Williams could make which would change the mix of students that apply/enroll. Adding a finance major is one obvious example. More emphasis on the Williams College Equestrian Team might bring in more students from families who could become major donors.

Many would know President Harry Garfield (1908–34), who was thought by many other college and university presidents to possess a secret formula for keeping Jewish numbers at Williams low. Some would attend classes along with James Phinney Baxter III (Williams 1914), who would, as president, hire the college’s first Jewish faculty members, and who also championed the fraternity system at Williams, which by the mid-twentieth century was a stronghold of anti-Semitic sentiment. It was also during this period that Jewish students from non-German backgrounds began to arrive at the college, and this catalyzed a startling series of conflicts, not only between Jews and non-Jews but also between different kinds of Jews.

Calling the fraternities a “stronghold of anti-Semitic sentiment” is a misuse of the term “stronghold.” First, many (half? more?) fraternities had Jewish members! Just how anti-Semitic were they? Of course, there were people at Williams — just as there are now! — who expressed anti-Semitic opinions, or at least opinions that many Jews view/viewed as anti-Semitic. But those people were both in fraternities and outside of fraternities. They were both students and faculty, staff and local residents. Second, there is no evidence that the abolition of fraternities decreased antisemitism at Williams, relative to other schools like Amherst that kept fraternities. Of course, antisemitism was decreasing everywhere in the twenty years from 1950 to 1970. It is unsurprising that it decreased at Williams, as Wurgaft documents. But, if the fraternities were really a “stronghold,” then there abolition would have caused antisemitism to decrease more at Williams than at Amherst. It didn’t, so they weren’t.

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Jews at Williams, 7

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 7.

Stephen Birmingham ’55 contributed a chapter entitled “A Knock on the Door.” As with most of the other Eph stories in the book, it is an engaging read. However, it tells the story of conversations from 1949. I, at least, have trouble remembering conversations from last week, much less 60+ years ago. Birmingham notes:

The great irony of the story told in this book is that in the course of the twentieth century Williams itself became more like the Jewish students it had once excluded.

Indeed. The elite evolve, a theme that Wurgaft fails to explore with much nuance. On the surface, this book is a conflict between two categories of Ephs: Jews and those who would exclude them. On a deeper level, it is the story of Williams College as an organism, a institution dedicated to maintaining its position among the elite. When treating Jews unfairly was a necessary part — or at least considered necessary by the men in charge — of what “elite” meant, Williams treated Jews unfairly. When maintaining elite status required treating Jews fairly, Williams started doing that. The driving force was never — is never — some abstract committment to justice. The driving force is the need to maintain status.

Want to predict what Williams will do tomorrow? Don’t ask what Adam Falk thinks. What Adam thinks doesn’t matter much. Ask what actions are necessary — or at least viewed as necessary — to maintain the College’s status. That is what Williams will do.

In the Gilded Age of New York Society, the closed circle of WASP wealth was often referred to as The Four Hundred, which was the supposed capacity of Mrs. William Astor’s ballroom. The wealthy German-Jewish families, who were excluded from this perfumed realm, made a joke of it, and called themselves The One Hundred, and referred to the others as “the butterflies.”

Indeed. We hear a lot about Gentile prejudice against Jews. We hear little — because Wurgaft writes little — about Jewish prejudice against Gentiles. As Steve Sailer points out, there isn’t even a thought category for anti-Gentilism.

We Betas, meanwhile, considered ourselves a rather special breed. Scholastically, we were at the top. In terms of grade averages, we nearly always came out first among all the campus fraternities. We had the most Phi Beta Kappa keys per capita of any house. We looked with disdain at our neighbors down the street, the Dekes, the Animal House, the jocks whose academic scores were in the cellar.

Any Deke house members from the 1950s among our readers? Please chime in!

I explained that we’d rejected the Choate School because the Choate application at the time contained the question, “Is the boy in any part Hebraic?” My parents had found the question socially offensive and semantically ridiculous.

Any more ridiculous than Common App’s insistence today that applicants answer whether or not they are “Asian?” You can’t apply to Williams without answering that question. But, sure, the people who ran Choate back then are moral monsters . . .

[T]he president of Phi Gamma Delta took Bobby aside and said, “Look, we were happy to take you into Phi Gam, and we were happy to take your uncle and your cousins in. But this has just got to stop somewhere. We just can’t keep on taking more and more of your people in. We’d be overrun by you people before we knew it.

1) Does anyone know who the president of Phi Gamma Delta from 1950? It would be nice to hear his side of the story.

2) This is exactly the current Williams policy with regard to international students. Recall this brilliant Record op-ed from 11 years ago. If concerns about too many Jews were offensive/ridiculous 60 years ago, then why are concerns about too many non-US citizens acceptable today?

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Jews at Williams, 6

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 6.

[P]art of a larger shift, only complete after the end of WWII, from a system in which private boarding schools supplied Williams with its students, to one in which students were drawn equally from public high schools.

A central theme at EphBlog: Williams has changed much less over the last 50 years than most people claim. The College is guilty of feeding this belief with its recurrent claims that Williams is much more wonderful today than it has ever been before. The implication, of course, is that the folks who run Williams today are much smarter and/or less prejudiced than folks like Jack Sawyer ’39, much less Harry Garfield ‘1885. That is an ego-stroking story with, however, little basis in reality. The clearest place to see this trend is in admissions, where, to the extent there have been changes, those changes have been driven by outside forces. We started taking more students from public high schools 50 years ago, not because we started hating (private) Deerfield or liking (public) Scarsdale but because we started getting more interest from high quality applicants from public high schools than we used to get.

Williams does not seem to have experienced the dramatic shift in admissions policies seen at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton in the 1920s . . .

Correct. Now, we would like to believe the Williams administration was more enlightened and so never would have considered the Jewish quotas — and the rigamarole of “character” assessments associated with them — that HYP implemented. But it is even more likely that Williams was simply lucky. So few Jews applied that we felt no impetus to discriminate against them.

Ironically the very term “meritocracy” only came into widespread use long after the quota system was imposed at the Ivies. Conversations about access to elite institutions such as Williams in the 1870s, the 1920s, or the 1940s were not couched in terms of establishing a meritocracy. It was in 1958 that Michael Young published his satire The Rise of the Meritocracy, which playfully attacked the premise that meritocracy could thwart an unjust distribution of wealth and power by presenting a world in which the “best” of the oppressed classes are promoted into the ruling classes—thereby decimating the leadership pool of the former groups, which might have helped to create structural changes that erased inequality at its root. Young’s satire gave great currency to “meritocracy” despite its critique of meritocratic dreams, and it was during the turbulent 1960s that the idea of meritocracy was linked to the goal of making American higher education more diverse.

Young’s book is amazing. Highly recommended.

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Jews at Williams, 5

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 5.

Wurgaft continues in the Introduction:

[F]or some of the informants interviewed for this study, the eventual inclusion of Jews within the Williams family constituted a kind of moral victory over a wicked old order. However, a careful examination of the events and debates that shaped Williams College in the twentieth century reveals not a series of heroic episodes but, instead, a slow progress toward institutional change in which the “actors” were more often impersonal forces such as the gradual diversification of America and of the American academy in general, rather than heroic college students, administrators, or faculty.

Exactly right, and a stark difference from the cheerleading described in the Record over Frank Oakley’s role. Given the (superb) academic qualifications of Jewish applicants, the rising wealth of Jewish families, and American society’s ever increasing distaste of anything resembling anti-Semitism, there is no scenario in which Williams does not become completely welcoming to Jewish students over the last 50 years. An easy way to see that this change was inevitable is to note that it occurred at every other school too!

Notably, it was not the case that in the first decades of the twentieth century Williams denied admission to all but the sons of wealthy WASPs. Like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton before 1920, Williams admitted students almost solely on the basis of academic accomplishment. However, the specific accomplishments required for admission were ones Jewish students, and students from poorer backgrounds, could rarely boast, and not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity. Until the entrance of the Class of 1938, Williams required four years of Latin and two of Greek . . .

It would be one thing if Williams designed its entrance requirements to exclude Jewish (and poor) applicants, but no accounts suggests that we did. Instead, the men who ran Williams honestly thought such requirements were a good idea, in the same way that the people who run Williams today think that requiring standardized tests is a good idea, even if blacks/Hispanic do much worse on such tests than whites/Asians.

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No Anti-Semitism at Williams?

A reader asks:

Is your argument that there was no anti-semetism at Williams?

No! As we continue our 40 (!?) day review of Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft, my argument will be:

There was (and is!) antisemitism at Williams, just as there was (and is!) everywhere in this fallen world. But:

1) There was much less antisemitism at Williams than people now believe to have been the case. Many current Ephs suffer from the delusion (take pleasure in the fantasy?) that historical Williams was a bad place, filled with racism, antisemitism, misogyny, classism and a variety of other ills. That’s wrong, or at least a dramatic overstatement.

2) There was less antisemitism at Williams historically than there was at other elite colleges. The clearest example of this fact is that Harvard/Yale/Princeton had explicit quotas for Jewish enrollment while Williams did not. Wurgaft does not provide many (any?) comparisons to places like Amherst but my sense is that Williams also does well on dimensions like early Jewish representation on the board of trustees and on the faculty.

3) Much of what is described as “antisemitism” historically (and today) is not really antisemitism. See here for an example. If I am angry with someone and I call him an “ugly bastard,” I am not necessarily revealing that, in my heart-of-hearts, I am prejudiced against either the unattractive or the born-without-married-parents. I am simply choosing words which I hope will wound them. Similarly, a 1950s Eph calling someone an “ugly Mick” or “ugly Jew,” is not necessarily anti-Irish or anti-Jewish. (Of course, he might be! And he is certainly guilty of the (worse?) sin of rudeness. The right response to which is: Where did he prep?)

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Jews at Williams, 4

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 4.

Wurgaft writes in the Introduction:

And yet, during a period when Harvard, Yale, and Princeton maintained either de jure or de facto quotas against Jewish students, Williams had three Jews, members of its class of 1914, on its Board of Trustees. While some Jewish students experienced scarring episodes of anti-Semitism during their time at Williams, for others their identity attracted little or no attention whatsoever.

There is a credible case to be made that Williams was the least anti-Semitic elite college in the US during the 20th century. If not us, then who? Which other college had as many Jews on the Board during this period?

Not only did Jewish students seek to matriculate at those schools more frequently than at liberal arts colleges, the universities that combined great size and prestige—and perhaps Harvard especially—simply loomed larger on the national scene. While Williams, like other liberal arts colleges, has, through its distinguished alumni and faculty, influenced American cultural and political life out of proportion with its size, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton were ever-present in the popular imagination and more likely to attract students whose families were not already affiliated with them in some fashion.

Exactly right. This is connected to the current debate over the Asian-American quota in the Ivy League. Most informed observers believe that Harvard, Yale, and Princeton discriminate against Asian-American applicants. The question, for EphBlog, has been: Does Williams do the same? We hope not! With luck, the same forces that allowed Williams to not discriminate against Jews 100 years ago — mainly a (relative) lack of interest from Jewish applicants — free Williams from discriminating against Asian-Americans today. Informed commentary welcome!

While the myth of “Old Abe” Rudnick may have surfaced only once or twice, the myth that Williams maintained a quota limiting Jewish enrollment has surfaced again and again. Many of the interviewees whose testimonies inform this project are confident that such a quota was in place as late as the early 1960s. No firm evidence of such a quota has been uncovered as of this writing, though that falls short of final refutation—however, there is ample evidence suggesting that precious few Jewish students applied to Williams until the 1950s and 1960s.

This is the most important conclusion of the book: There is no evidence that Williams discriminated against Jewish applicants. Hooray for us!

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Jews at Williams, 3

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 3.

Sigmund Balka ’56 writes in the forward:

I did, however, have two personal experiences of anti-Semitism that remain with me today. The first was simply a drunken classmate who, as I was waiting for a ride back from the Smith College campus, drove by and shouted out the window, “Jewish Turkey” and continued on his way. “Turkey” was the campus name given to those who were non-affiliates. I always thought the term “non-affiliate” was telling since it was stated as the negative of affiliation. I would have preferred to be called “independent.”

If this was one of the two most anti-Semitic acts that Balka witnessed (in the 1950s!), then Williams was among the least anti-Semitic places on Earth.

I am also always a little skeptical about the actual amount of anti-Semitism that underlies comments like this. Assume that the classmate did not like Balka. What if he had shouted “Fat Turkey” or “Ugly Turkey” or “Stupid Turkey?” Would that be better? Why? Indeed, if Balka were overweight or not handsome or not smart, he might have found these insults much more distressing than one which mentioned his faith.

Needless to say, drunken Williams students have been insulting each other for 200 years. That isn’t nice, but it is also fairly endemic to this fallen world of ours. In several of the more recent cases we have investigated at Williams, it was likely that the insultor did not truly harbor prejudice in his heart. Instead, he picked the most wounding words he could come up with.

The chef saw me and started shouting all over the dining room, “You goddamn Jew, why don’t you go back where you came from.” A professor who had assumed the task of being present for meals with the students immediately shouted at the chef that he was fired. This brought a round of applause from my fellow students who disliked the chef’s attempts at cooking. The next day I received a message from the administration asking me to please come in for a meeting. When I arrived I was welcomed by a senior administrator, who sat me down and began to apologize for what had happened. He informed me that no anti-Semitism would be tolerated and, intending to offer me comfort, assured me that one of the college food servers had a brother-in-law who was Jewish and that the college purchased its meat products from a distributor who was Jewish. This line of apologies inspired me to ask, “But sir, why do you think I am Jewish?” I saw the administrator’s bulbous face get redder and redder. I actually became fearful for a moment; it seemed possible he would suffer a stroke over his transgression, having named as a Jew someone who was not Jewish. After a pause, I assured him that I was indeed as he had thought. He was much relieved, normal color returning to his face.


Again, if open anti-Semitism resulted in getting fired, then just how anti-Semitic could Williams have been?

Also, what is the backstory? Who was this chef? What did he do after the College fired him? A central task for every historian is to develop empathy for everyone, not just for the “good guys” in a specific time period.

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Jews at Williams, 2

Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 2.

The book is divided into a series of chapter written by Wurgaft, interspersed with reminisces from various alumni. This organization works extremely well. The forward (Confessions of a Jewish Elitist), by Sigmund Balka ’56, sets the stage wonderfully. He writes:

I think of myself as having become part of a “double elite” during my time at Williams; elite because of my family’s place in Jewish circles in the Philadelphia area, where I grew up, and because of my later professional accomplishments that Williams made possible.

I was drawn to Williams because of its academic excellence and small size—and by the tranquil environment of Williamstown. I knew that the college had few Jewish students, and was reputed to be an upper-class institution open only to students from high-society families who had attended leading preparatory schools.

The fraternities were such a dominant presence on campus that, when Jewish students were rejected for membership, they could view it as a rejection by Williams itself. Though many of them came from established families, perhaps the Jewish equivalents of the Social Registrants of Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, this meant nothing to the fraternity brothers. Being part of a Jewish elite was meaningless at Williams.

Indeed, only years after graduating would I learn how many Jewish classmates I had really had.

All the while I was conscious of the toll anti-Semitism had taken on many of my fellow Jewish students, … and aware that it did not have the same emotional impact on me.

These passages hint at a recurrent theme throughout the work, a theme mirrored in the larger society: the difference between German Jews, many of whose families were already elite by the early 1900s, and newly arriving Eastern European Jews, many of them poor and less acculturated to the mores of upper crust US society. Balka, like the vast majority of Jewish students at Williams before the 1950s, was a German Jew, someone whose family’s wealth made the transition to Williams much easier.

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Jews at Williams, 1

jawJews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft is both an interesting read and a source for dozens of fascinating anecdotes. Let’s spend a month or so going through it. Today is Day 1.

From The Record in October 2013:

Last Saturday, the College community gathered together for the release of Jews at Williams, a book that details the struggle and growth of the Jewish community at the College from the institution’s founding to the construction of the Jewish Religious Center (JRC).

“This is a big deal for this college,” President Falk said at the book release. The book, commissioned by the College, shines a light on both the positive and negative aspects of Jewish life.

How much does it cost the College to “commission” a book like this? We amateur Eph historians certainly think it is worth it! Any suggestions for other books? I would love ones about the history of admissions and about the history of the endowment.

Wurgaft believes the book deals with two main concerns: “First, the structural factors that contributed to a distinctive pattern of Jewish experience at Williams, and second, the kind of response to that experience that the JRC instantiates,” he said. Jews at Williams examines the minority identity in higher education. “This is a story about college, class and American life, about who has access to which social networks and why and what happens when an immigrant group begins to move into pre-established networks,” Wurgaft said.

This seems a strange summary to me. Although the history of the JRC is covered, that history is a fairly small part of the entire story. Of course, if you are speaking at an event hosted by the JRC, you might shade things a bit!

To Wurgaft, one of the most important eras in Jewish history at the College was the 1980s. “[This] period matters a lot because it helps us understand what can happen when an institution attempts to engage with the prejudices and unsavory practices of its past,” Wurgaft said. During this time, President Francis Oakley moved the College beyond its anti-Semitic past to a welcoming future. While the fraternity system was disbanded prior to Oakley’s appointment as president, the College’s stigma as an unfriendly environment for Jews plagued admissions and Jewish enrollment.

Huh? The book offers zero evidence for this claim. Just how “unfriendly” towards Jews was the Williams in the decade before the start of Oakley’s presidency in 1985? Not very! Also, just how low was Jewish admissions and enrollment? The book offers no details. I think that we have a bunch of fake history in which everyone pretends that Williams was horrible and then, mirable dictu, Frank Oakley saved the day.

The truth is probably more boring. After 1965, Williams was as accepting of Jews as any elite college (or at least any elite college located in a rural setting with few Jewish residents) and this acceptance only get better over time, as it did elsewhere. But these improvements were smooth, without Oakley providing a major change from the Sawyer/Chandler eras. By 1995, with the appointment of Hank Payne as Williams’ first Jewish president, the process was complete.

“The College was not attracting the talented Jews in the numbers we should,” Oakley said during the panel, at the book’s release. To resolve this issue, the College constructed the (JRC). “The perception [of Williams] beyond the campus was trumping the realities,” Oakley said, but the JRC fixed that issue. His deepest wish was that the “opening of the JRC would speak to the depth of the College’s aspiration to be a community of hope.”

Again, the book offers little evidence about this claim. Certainly, there were specific Jewish high school students who did not apply to Williams (or did not enroll once accepted) because the College did not, for example, have (any?) Kosher meal options in the 1970s. And it is a good thing that the College now provides those options. But tossing around terms like “unfriendly” is an unfair slur against the men, like John Chandler and Jack Sawyer ’39, who ran Williams in the pre-Oakley era.

For Wurgaft, one of the most important purposes of the book is demonstrating “the persistent importance of social networks in modern times.” Social networking at the College was, until 1962, driven by the fraternity system. Jewish students were for the most part excluded from this system. There was discussion among Williams Jews in the 1950s focused on potentially creating a Jewish fraternity, but the idea was not pursued for fear that it might further divide the already isolated Jewish community.

OK. But how can the Record fail to report the most important finding in the book: Williams, unlike Harvard/Yale/Princeton, did not have a Jewish quota. This is the conclusion that most readers who be most surprised about, and impressed by. Instead of being “unfriendly,” the Williams of the pre-Oakley era was one of the most philosemitic elite collegse in the country. That is the central message of the book. Was it even mentioned at this event?

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Welcoming the Newborn College Republicans

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I expected more of a celebration than this. A group of this sort could thrive from proactive advertising. A few posters in Paresky Center would have sufficed to put the first meeting of this promising group on the radar. Perhaps it’s just a rookie error.

Or perhaps there is intent in the subdued announcement. Considering right-wing views are to Williams College what mongooses are to snakes, the prudent path might be to first feel out for potential backlash. In any case, the organization garnered a modest group with its first meeting–now focus on growing that base.

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Meet David Dudley Field ’25 at Williams Today

image1The weather in Williamstown has been horrible so far in May, cold and rainy. This is the forecast for the next 9 days. Worst May in a generation? I blame global warming!

I will be at the alumni events at Williams today: 3:00 talk with Adam Falk, 4:00 talk with Dukes Love; cocktail party at Faculty Club; dinner at Lasell. I am easily identified by my good looks, winning personality, purple shirt and salmon pants. If you are an EphBlog reader, say Hi!

Any advice on questions to ask? I will probably go with quizzing President Falk about the Derbyshire cancellation and Provost Love about transparency. Perhaps:

President Falk: No event in the last five years has given Williams more of a black eye in the national press than your cancellation last year of a student-invited talk by John Derbyshire, a leading intellectual of the alternative right. Since then, Donald Trump has won the presidency and several leaders of the alternative right — people like Steve Bannon and Jason Miller — have ascended to leadership positions in his administration. I met yesterday with the student leaders of the new Republican Club on campus. They plan on bringing several speakers to campus — including alumni like Mike Needham ’04 and Oren Cass ’05 — Republicans who are often branded as “racists” by their political opponents. In fact, they might even invite me to speak. I agree with some, but not all, of what John Derbyshire has written. Will you also be banning me from speaking on campus?

Provost Love: Your presentation and slide show has been fascinating and informative. However, as a class agent, I receive occasional complaints about transparency at Williams, specifically a disconnect between rich/important insiders and poor/unimportant outsiders. For example, the insiders in this room — all leaders in the alumni fund — get the benefit of learning more about Williams. The outsiders — the 25,000 alumni not invited to this event — don’t. I realize that the College can’t invite everyone to Williamstown for weekends like this. But there is no reason why you could not put the slide show you just shared with us on the Provost web page. Will you? And, if not, why not?

Suggestions welcome!

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A note from my classmate Peter Britton ’56 …

A man of no conscience.

I awake on Tuesday to find a sociopath has endangered every living organism on our planet.

o05_23681817

 

AP Photo/ Charlie Riedel

Now, go to goggle and search “man of no conscience” and “sociopath.”

For prior proof search “EPA and energy,”  “at-risk populations” and “CO2 and rising seas and “carbonic acid.”  And Trump.

For the most powerful man on earth has made sadism and masochism his very own trademarks.

And only a man of zero conscience and empathy could do that where seven billion humans and trillions of other living things are concerned.

But, perhaps the rising seas will reach only the 20th floor of Trump Tower.

Here are two recent song-videos on this turn of events:

CO2 BLUE

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeMT9QO0azo

GORDIAN KNOT

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HxRrk6LH4g

And a thought from the Appalachian Mountains:

Mother Nature’s brilliant plan
Sequestered all black rocks;
Then mankind’s selfish mind
Unlock’ t Pandora’ s  box

CLIMATE CHANGE is not a joke or a hoax. In 1972 I wrote a story on “weather” for Exxon’s house organ, The Lamp.

During my research I found a company plan to pave the Guajira Peninsula in Colombia with asphalt, blacktop and hydrocarbon discards to create rain for local farmers and, incidentally, enable in – depth study of global warming/climate change.

This story never ran and as far as I could tell, the project fizzled.

But reviving XL and Dakota Pipelines, dismantling Obama’s energy initiatives and Exxon’s $22 billion Gulf Coast investment in 11 new oil refineries brings back Dr. James Hansen’s recent and most dire warning: If Canada’s tar sands flow to Texas, “Game Over” for climate change …

Nota Bene from Dick Swart ’56    My classmate Peter Britton is a committed environmentalist. He expresses his concerns musically in themed albums like …

MI0002799857 … this and others are available online https://www.cdbaby.com/cd/peterbritton

and his book …

9781626757707_p0_v1_s437x700 available online  https://www.amazon.com/Coal-Aint-Culprit-Peter-Britton-ebook/dp/B00D3NU6OG

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Entertaining Reader Requests

I am planning out my next few 5-10 part series. What topics do readers want me to cover? (Previous rants in this series include the discussions of the Equality of Opportunity Project, the news release on early admissions for the class of 2019 and veterans admissions). The topics I am willing to write about include:

1) Latest Form 990.
2) Latest financial statements.
3) Latest Common Data Set.
4) Excellent work done by the Merrill Committee.
5) The 2012 Fifth Year Interim Report (pdf) on accreditation.
6) Adam Falk’s latest letters.
7) The long term health of the Williams endowment, using NACUBO data. (Thanks to Dartblog for the pointer.)
8. Ways to improve NESCAC athletics.
9. The Proposal for Divestment (pdf), the main intellectual statement by those students/faculty/alumni seeking divestment from fossil fuel companies.
10. The College’s response (pdf) to the Proposal for Divestment.
11. The new trustees webpage and the documents linked therefrom.
12. Record articles from the fall semester. Lots of good stuff that we never got around to discussing.
13. The plan (pdf) for the replacement for the Exploring Diversity Initiative to be discussed at this week’s faculty meeting.
14. Latest 100 page report (pdf) from the Curricular Planning Committee.
15. Ethan Zuckerman’s ’93 lunch with an (anonymous!?) Eph Trump supporter.
16. An update on athletic admission, starting with this amazing series from The Bowdoin Orient.

What do you want to read? Other suggestions welcome! I will probably start with 13 since it is so timely . . .

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Ghosts of EphBlog Past

A comment earlier in the month provides me with an excuse to repeat-and-revise this essay from 12 (!) years ago . . .

An anonymous comment in the thread of presidential searches provides occasion for me to give my view on EphBlog’s past, present and future. Come join me in navel study . . . Dickensesque it will not be.

Here are portions of the comment, with my thoughts interspersed.

Alright, permit me to offer another perspective that may clarify Todd’s frustration.

Essentially, DDF has admitted that he’s interested in a particular market anomaly — the relative overcompensation of a specialized type of employee in an extremely complex market. That’s fine, and if this were PresidentialCompensationblog.com, or HigherEducationFinanceblog.com, his perseveration might be suitable or even admirable. But that’s not the case — this is supposed to be a blog about all things Williams, and currently there seems to be a bit of digression.

I have heard this same complaint many times before. Some didn’t like it when EphBlog was too much NigaleianBlog.com or BarnardVistaBlog.com
or MGRHSFunding.Blog or EphBlogBlog.com or DDFsRandomThoughtsBlog.com or whatever. Soon I will be getting complaints about EphBlog being too much CGCLBlog.com.

Now, like any writer, I appreciate feedback. I am curious to know what other people think. I hope that people enjoy EphBlog, both all the postings/comments taken together and my own contributions. But, it should be clear by now that I often become very interested in a small aspect of “all things Eph” and pursue that aspect in mind-numbing detail. Few can compete with me in the category of dead-horse-beating. When I tilt at these windmills, and I plan on tilting for years to come, I try to segregate my posts, clearly stating the topic and leaving much of the commentary below the jump so that only readers truly interested need be bothered. If you don’t want to read any more of my posts about presidential compensation, well, I have a solution: Don’t read them.

Yet the commentator misses the point when he opines about what EphBlog is “supposed to be”. It is not for him alone to define what EphBlog is “supposed to be” — nor is it for me or Eph ’20 or Dick Swart ’56 or Professor Steve Miler or any other author/commentator/reader. EphBlog is a collective effort. It is “supposed to be” whatever we make of it.

Now, of course, we do have an official EphBlog motto — “all things Eph” — which provides a three word summary about how many of us think about EphBlog. The motto should be interpreted as broadly as possible. We are interested in anything and everything related to any Eph. Of course, there is a sense in which this is impossibly broad. Since Ephs are everywhere and involved in everything, it would be hard to come up with a topic that was not Eph-related somehow. But we do try to always have a “hook” — some connection, however tenuous, to something that another Eph has written or done.

The best way to understand what “all things Eph” means in the context of EphBlog is to look at the body of posts over the last year or so. The range of topics that we have covered is representative, I think, of what “all things Eph” means to us as a collective. I predict that 2017 will see a similar collection of posts and comments. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

What is EphBlog “supposed to be”? As the founder of EphBlog, allow me to state authoritatively the answer: EphBlog is supposed to be whatever the community of Eph authors, commentators and readers wants it to be. If you want it to be something else, then join us and contribute. To the extent that you’d like to remain anonymous, we are happy to have anonymous authors, include me. EphBlog is supposed to be whatever you make of it.

Granted, I’m not being completely fair, because DDF has located his interest in the more general question of ‘What were the qualities of the presidential search a few years back, and what can we learn from it?’ Honestly, I don’t find this question especially compelling, and my guess is that many ephblog readers wouldn’t either.

I don’t care. Really.

Now that may seem harsh, and I do value people’s comments and we all have something to add to the conversation and I am a sensitive guy and blah, blah, blah. But . . .

I am not writing for you. I am writing for me. Even more, I am writing for my father, class of ’58. Now the topic of Ephs and their fathers is not one that I want to dwell on today, but I spent about as much time on EphBlog in the summer of 2003 as I do now, even though we had very few readers then. Yet I knew that my dad was one. As long as he reads, I will write. Feel free to join us on the trip.

I would argue that the real problem is that more germaine issues are being ignored. I can name a couple really quickly — the issue of race relations on campus and the paucity of minority faculty; the degree of involvement of Williams students in activist causes and the local community; and, as one studly dude recently posted on the WSO forums, the federal cuts to Pell grants and what Williams’ reaction might be.

As a good economist, DDF might say, if you don’t like what I’m doing, go found EphraimBlog.com and do it your way.

Calling me an economist is like asking me if I was in the Navy: they are fighting words. ;-)

More importantly, this is not what I say. I agree with you that all those topics are interesting. I think that someone should write about them, either at EphBlog or elsewhere. If anyone did write about them, I would be eager to read what she has to say and to comment on it.

But if you think that “more germaine issues are being ignored,” I am afraid that you are missing the point. EphBlog, as a collective effort, doesn’t ignore anything. We don’t have a morning editorial meeting at which agendas are discussed, assignments given and plans made. If you think that that Eph student activism is interesting, then write about it. Whatever you write, I will post. Just don’t tell me what to write about.

That’s fine — but I would argue that as someone who has founded ephblog as a specifically *public* forum, you have a bit of a responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community, and not pursue your own vanity projects. This isn’t Kaneblog, it’s Ephblog. Kaneblog would be fine, but don’t use Ephblog as a facade for it.

I have zero, zip, zilch “responsibility to at least attempt to reflect the interests of the larger Eph community.” Even thinking about the issue in this way is mostly unhelpful.

  1. Does the “larger Eph community” include the thousands and thousands of Ephs who do not read EphBlog and have no interest in doing so? Morty Schapiro, to cite just one example, does not read blogs (and more power to him). Why should EphBlog attempt to reflect Morty’s interests?
  2. To the extent that the “larger Eph community” means the current (and potential future) readers of EphBlog, I would argue that we are doing a pretty good job of interest-representation. How else would you explain our increased readership? Someone’s “interests” are being represented quite well, thank you very much.
  3. Perhaps you really mean to claim that I should “attempt to reflect” your interests. I am afraid that we are just going to have to agree to disagree on that one.

I don’t mean to be too hard on this anonymous commentator. He (or someone at his IP address) has said many interesting and sensible things in the past. We probably agree about much more than the tenor of my rant might suggest.

But the days before Christmas are a time for summing up and looking forward. The above is my view on what EphBlog has been. Everyone else can decide for themselves what EphBlog will be in 2017. My own hope is that it will be less blog and more discussion, less of my writing and more of everyone else’s. Time will tell all.

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“EphBlog” is not spelled “f-o-l-l-o-w-e-r”

;-)

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On veterans

Those who remember know me as PTC. I commented here for years talking about townie life and critiquing the college whenever I could. We had a lot of spirited arguments on this blog. Thanks to David for allowing this open forum.

Ephblog kept me home. I was overseas a lot when I posted.

My real name is Cleave Carter. My dad, Harvey, was class of ’60, my mother in law director of security, Jean Thorndike.

Is she the only college administrator that David Kane likes?

I got out of the Navy in 2012, after operating in over 27 nations and serving in three wars in the US Navy SEAL Teams. I am a retired Master Chief SEAL. When I got home, I went back to undergrad at MCLA (summa cum laude/ 4.0). Then, I got a Master’s in Liberal Studies from Dartmouth College. I won the award for best thesis there.

Yes, I can write. Yes, I am bright. Yes, I have a ton of experience. Yes, I am a townie. Yes, I am a legacy. Yes, I am a veteran.

More school is next.

I live about 20 yards from campus. I grew up here, but no Williams for me. Such is life in the big city.

Williamstown is an odd place to come back to after so many years in war. You can never really come home when you are not welcome…

Williams College should, and now does, matriculate veterans. David is wrong in his sentiments about this matter. Absolutely wrong. The men and women I served with are the most capable people I have ever met in my life.

You have given one a chance now… and he is crushing it. The proof is in the pudding.

Matriculate more.

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What To Spend A Week On?

Here are some topics that I could spend a week writing about. Which ones would readers be interested in, if any?

1) The 2016 annual report from the Investment Office should appear next month. To be honest, I will probably spend a week on this regardless because Whitney Wilson requested it last year.

2) Review in more detail the November 2011 racist graffiti in Prospect, which was almost certainly a hoax.

3) Review the board of trustees. This is a topic that we have covered extensively in the past, but less so recently, especially with regard to the major changes in membership that have occurred over the last few years.

4) Deconstructing the College’s statement on climate change.

5) Thomas Klingenstein ’76 argues (pdf) that the trustees at Williams, and other elite schools, are failing to perform their duties. Is he right?

6) IPEDS is the premier source for data about Williams and other elite colleges. Should we spend a week exploring how to use it and looking at what is there?

7) Deconstructing Adam Falk’s statement about John Derbyshire.

8) Review an updated version of this plan (from 2005!) to improve Williams housing, now that the nightmare of neighborhood housing has ended.

9) Events in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston and elsewhere have led Professor Neil Roberts to think about a potential new class on dismantling white supremacy. You can read some his tweets here. Worth a week of discussion?

10) Other topics?

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Saying Hello (New Author)

Greetings! As a frequent scribbler in the comments, it’s a joy to climb the dais and finally contribute to Ephblog as an author. To introduce myself as well as one can anonymously: I’m an incoming member of the class of 2020, an alumnus of Windows on Williams and someone who’s been rabid about the college (and this blog!) long before I was even admitted.

I’ve already arranged the broad strokes of a few posts on WOW, but, as even Ephblog is woefully without much information on the program — a search for “Windows on Williams” on this site yields, as its first result, a literal window — I’d like to make sure that I’m not missing anything that could be of interest. Anyone with specific questions or general curiosities is welcome to pose them in comments.

Best to all those reading. More to come soon.

 

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Join EphBlog!

EphBlog welcomes new authors. Right now, sadly, many of our best writers (Professor Darel Paul, sigh, simplicio, Mr. Calabash, Professor Sam Crane, S ’18, A Williams Parent, Will Slack ’11, Dick Swart ’56, Whitney Wilson ’90, ephalum, dcat and many others) only appear in the comments. That is a shame! Your voice merits placement on the main page. Our readers (most of whom don’t read our comment threads) want to hear from you, not just from me, Edward W. Morley ’60 and Professor Steve Miller.

You can even join completely anonymously! Just e-mail me (daviddudleyfield at gmail) from a anonymous e-mail account. I don’t need to know your real name. I will send you the necessary login and password.

The public conversation among students, faculty, staff and alumni will only be as good as we make it. If you want a better conversation, then step up and lead it. Williams, alas, refuses to do so, refuses to create an on-line space at which we might talk with each other. So, as with the founding of the Society of Alumni almost 200 years ago, we will do it ourselves.

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Uncomfortable Posting

Greetings. I’m the faculty president of the Williams’ chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest academic honor society. As there has been a lot of discussion about speakers invited to campus by Uncomfortable Learning, I wanted to briefly post why PBK has decided to co-sponsor their next speakers.

PBK is dedicated to the principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought and expression. We do not necessarily support the views and opinions of the speakers, but we strongly support the calls made by President Falk,  William McGuire III ’17 and others on the importance and value of having civil discussions. There is a great opportunity in such debate, and we encourage all interested members of the community to come to these and other events and be heard. Many of the positions held by students and faculty on our campus today would not have found receptive audiences in the earlier days of Williams; ideas should be refuted by facts, not silenced.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Socialist.

                     Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out
                     Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

                     Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out 
                     Because I was not a Jew.

                    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for
                    me. — Martin Niemoller

Steven Miller (sjm1@williams.edu), Associate Professor of Mathematics

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Suzanne Venker disinvited from “Uncomfortable Learning”

Just weeks after EphBlog discussed the activities of the “Uncomfortable Learning” organization at Williams College, the group is in the headlines — and not in a good way. Suzanne Venker has an opinion piece posted online titled: “Williams College dropped me from its ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ speaker series. Why?” In it, she writes:

For the past two months, I’ve been preparing a speech for my upcoming visit to Williams College in Massachusetts. I was invited to speak at the university on behalf of its ‘Uncomfortable Learning’ Speaker Series…

[M]y talk was cancelled several days prior to the event. “Thank you for agreeing to speak,” read the email, “but we’re not going to be able to host this event.”

Though my contact didn’t give a reason, the day before he’d sent me this email: “Dear Ms. Venker, A quick heads up…We’ve been advertising the event, and it’s already stirring a lot of angry reactions among students on campus. We just wanted to make you aware of the current state of students before your presentation…”

When I pressed further as to why the event was being cancelled (though of course I knew why), he conceded that Williams College “has never experienced this kind of resistance” to a campus speaker.

Venker is the author of “The Flipside of Feminism” and “How to Choose a Husband and Make Peace With Marriage,” and is an iconoclast critic of modern feminism. According to her article, she planned to share her critique of feminism, framing it around the idea of uncomfortable subjects, as appropriate for the series:

My goal for you all, my purpose in being here today, is to inspire you to think for yourselves. Do not be swayed by groupthink no matter what your friends, your family or the culture believe. Do not be afraid to ask yourself questions that may make you uncomfortable. And do not be afraid of the answers…

Imagine the possibilities if students at Williams College and elsewhere were exposed to a completely different worldview. Something positive. Something uplifting. Something, dare I say it, empowering?

We can hope that there’s another side to the story of the cancellation of Venker’s scheduled speech, but at a time when the toxic atmosphere for intellectual disagreement on college campuses has drawn widespread attention — with even President Obama weighing in to encourage universities to host more ideological diversity — this disinvitation is not reflecting well on Williams.

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Still an Ongoing Concern

A correspondent, who used to read EphBlog back in the day, mentioned the era when “EphBlog was still an ongoing concern.” Was? EphBlog is thriving today! I will let my co-authors brag about their own work while I highlight my:

Four part series on admissions for veterans: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Four part series on the Record‘s article about financial aid: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Ten part series on admissions preference for students from poor families: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Ten Part Series on the Dean’s letter on Rape, Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.

Whoops! I still have three updates to do for this one. Back to work . . .

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Join EphBlog

EphBlog is looking to bring on more bloggers. Are you a member of the Williams community (student, staff, faculty, parent, local resident, alumni, et cetera)? Do you have something to say about “All Things Eph?” If so, join us.

At our peak several years ago, we have 10+ regular authors, scores of commentators, and a thousand or so readers a day. Alas, our sabbatical cost us much of that community, but we are in the process of building it back. Here are some examples of successful bloggers from the past:

1) Tiny Dancer, who wrote a diary of her year as a JA in 2009 — 2010. Perhaps a JA for the class of 2019 would like to do the same?

2) Wrestling Fan, a parent of an Eph wrestler who covered the team for several years. If you are a parent who wants to cover some aspect of student activity (whether it be a team, a dance company, an a capella group, or anything else), you are welcome at EphBlog.

3) Derek Catsam ’93 used EphBlog as a host for his Red Sox diary. Example post here, and do read the comments! Note that, because EphBlog is good Karma, Derek started this diary in the spring of 2004. And look what happened that fall! Derek then turned those posts into a charming book.

And on, and on. Of course, in a better world, the College itself would provide a forum for these posts, would create a place where Ephs of all ages could write and reflect, discuss and debate. Until that day, however, EphBlog is all we have.

Join us and make it better! (daviddudleyfield at gmail).

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EphBlog on Vacation Until January 5th

Enjoy the Holidays and please visit us during Winter Study!

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Summer fun!

Re posting of places to swim and more! Summer in Williamstown is the best. While it may be dead in here… it is not dead at the star stacked local bars and hang outs.

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