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Dr. Craig Smith ’70 in the Wall Street Journal

This is the most complimentary article about an Eph in a major publication in years.

The Pandemic’s Most Powerful Writer Is a Surgeon
Dr. Craig Smith started writing a daily update to his colleagues. They’re no longer his only readers. His emails have become essential dispatches from the front lines.

Dr. Craig Smith sits down at his computer each day in a hospital under siege and starts typing.

His note to the Columbia University department of surgery on the evening of March 20 began with the latest, grimmest statistics from the coronavirus pandemic: the positive tests, the disappearing beds, masks and ventilators, the curve too stubborn to bend. It was an email that would’ve been crushing if he’d stopped there. He didn’t.

“So what can we do?” Smith continued. “Load the sled, check the traces, feed Balto, and mush on. Our cargo must reach Nome. Remember that our families, friends, and neighbors are scared, idle, out of work, and feel impotent. Anyone working in health care still enjoys the rapture of action. It’s a privilege! We mush on.”

That last paragraph about a dog sled racing to beat another epidemic nearly a century ago is the reason his colleagues are no longer his only readers. The daily notes of this 71-year-old surgeon, which are now published on Columbia’s website and shared widely on social media, have become essential dispatches for many people in search of leadership, courage and maybe even a pep talk. Dr. Smith’s emails are Winston Churchill’s radio speeches of this war.

Read the whole thing. More on Balto.

Balto (1919 – March 14, 1933) was a Siberian Husky and sled dog who led his team on the final leg of the 1925 serum run to Nome, in which diphtheria antitoxin was transported from Anchorage, Alaska, to Nenana, Alaska, by train and then to Nome by dog sled to combat an outbreak of the disease.

Do we get to credit Smith’s Williams education for such a perfect metaphor? Back to the article.

Smith is an elegant, almost poetic writer. The chairman of the department balances sobering data with a deft literary touch, quoting sources as disparate as John Wooden and Emily Dickinson. When he delivered the presidential address for the American Association for Thoracic Surgery in 2012, he opened and closed his lecture with meditations on a Yeats poem.

In response to an interview request, he replied: “I’d rather let the written messages to my colleagues speak for themselves.”

The grandson of two physicians, Smith was a self-described lackluster student, so convinced that he was the “last student to be accepted” in his Williams College class that he didn’t buy a school T-shirt until he survived the first semester, according to a 2015 article in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

EphBog readers first met Smith 16 years ago when he operated on former President Clinton.

You don’t have to be a literary critic to appreciate his style. But it doesn’t hurt if you happen to be one.

Harvard professor Stephen Greenblatt says Smith’s notes have a “certain dark fascination” that reminds him of “A Journal of the Plague Year” by Daniel Defoe, and Columbia scholar Andrew Delbanco says his writing is so evocative that he feels as if he knows him through reading him.

“Candid, clear, concrete, his sentences cut straight to the heart of the matter: the staggering scale of the emergency and the equally staggering courage of those who are rising to meet it,” Delbanco wrote in an email. “Straight talk has been as scarce as masks and ventilators lately, but Dr. Smith talks straight.”

Smith writes like a bartender. For every shot, there’s a chaser. He ended his note on Sunday, when hundreds in New York had died of this new disease, by reflecting on the explorers who traversed Africa in the 1800s and lost half of their team over the course of the journey.

“They managed to bring 108 souls home,” Smith wrote. “It would have been 105, except that 3 children were born on the journey and survived to the end.”

Once again he’d found hope in despair.

“Life,” Dr. Smith wrote, “finds a way.”

Let us pray it does.

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Adam Schlesinger ’89 passes away from COVID-19

Adam Schlesinger ’89 passed away from COVID-19 on April 1st in Poughkeepsie, NY.   Schlesinger enjoyed great commercial success with Fountains of Wayne, but also played in numerous other bands, and won 3 Emmy awards and a Grammy award for songs used in television.  As written in an article reporting his death:

Schlesinger’s career extended well beyond his work in bands. He had a hand in many of the songs that populated the critically beloved TV series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and he won three Emmys — one for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and two, both with David Javerbaum, for co-writing songs performed in Tony Awards telecasts. With Javerbaum, Schlesinger was nominated for two Tonys (both for 2008’s Cry-Baby) and won a Grammy for A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!.

A versatile songwriter with a gift for straddling genres and musical eras, Schlesinger wrote frequently for film, with credits ranging from three songs in the romantic comedy Music and Lyrics to the Oscar-nominated title track to Tom Hanks’ 1996 film That Thing You Do!.

I was at Williams at the same time as Schlesinger, but I never knew him, or his Fountains of Wayne partner Chris Collingwood.  I wonder if they ever played publicly (separately or together) while they were in the Purple Valley?  Do any readers know?

Schlesinger must have been one of the better known Eph musicians/artists in recent decades, and he will be missed.  Condolences to his family and friends.

 

UPDATE: My friends Ellen Waggett and Tim Sullivan, both (infinitely) more musically and artistically gifted than me, have both posted on Facebook about their friendships with Schlesinger while we were all students during the late 1980’s.  This news will obviously will hit some pretty hard on a personal level.

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Got the Gov

J-L Cauvin ’01 makes us laugh!

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Easter Plans

Most viral Eph video of the year is probably this Trump impression from J-L Cauvin ’01.

Hilarious! Regardless of your politics . . .

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Ask a Pandemic Expert: How are we doing?

Dr. Rich Besser ’81 is probably the leading Williams-affiliated voice on pandemics, having served as the acting director of the CDC during the emergence of the novel H1N1 influenza virus (often labeled “swine flu”). Dr. Besser was widely lauded for his response to H1N1 (which, fortunately, turned out to be far less serious than what was originally thought–it has a reproduction rate between 1.4-1.6 (SARS-CoV-2 looks to be around 2.2) and only a 0.02% fatality rate (SARS-CoV-2 looks like it kills between 1-5% of those infected)).

So what does he have to say about our current predicament?  In a March 5 Washington Post editorial, Dr. Besser writes:

The failures of public policy and imagination have been stalking us for years, creating haves and have-nots: parents who don’t have paid sick leave from work (only 10 states and the District of Columbia mandate it); a lack of affordable childcare or sick child care; at least 28 million Americans living without insurance and nearly one-third of the population still underinsured; health protections that are not distributed evenly from region to region; and fear among undocumented immigrants regarding access to care.

Our nation’s predicament today is both tragic, because so many people will likely suffer, and maddening, because it didn’t have to be this way. In the short term, the United States must play the hand that we’ve dealt ourselves. Indeed, there are no short-term solutions to our long-term neglects. The underlying work our nation must do to ensure all people in the United States have a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being — sick leave, universal health care, quality child care and early education, as well as fair immigration policies — must be done in moments of calm.

In the meantime, we could also consider a fund to compensate hourly workers without paid leave for their loss of income when sick; provide legal aid for those who are fired for not coming to work when ill; fund outreach to non-English speakers; ask insurers to waive co-pays for testing and treatment; supplement funding for community health centers that care for a large proportion of those without insurance; and ensure free meals are available for children when schools are closed.

This time around, things seem likely to get far worse in the U.S. before they get better.  How do you feel about our public health response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus?  Have we missed our tracking window with all of the testing mishaps of the past month?  Or have our current problems been baked in for years, not just in the 2018 disbanding of the Pandemic Response Team (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/) but in the policy decisions that we’ve made, or failed to make, over decades.  Or are you pretty happy with how things are going?

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Miller ’06 on Coronavirus

Evan Miller ’06 is one of the smartest Ephs of his generation. If you are interested in Coronavirus, there is no better source of information. Perhaps, in his next segment, Evan could address two issues:

1) If he were the president of Williams, what would he do?

2) What does he forecast that the president of Williams, and other elite colleges, will do?

I do not have strong opinions on either question. What say our readers?

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Coronavirus

Which Eph is most associated with Covid-19? Best I can do is Rich Besser ’81, former acting director of the CDC. Recent tweet:

Other suggestions?

Off topic: I still love this Besser smackdown from a decade ago. Media critic EphBlog is the best EphBlog!

Long-time readers will not be surprised to know that the EphBlog bunker is well-prepped for pandemic mayhem. Have you replenished your supplies recently?

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Ephs at the forefront of a new American conservatism

Saw this article come across my email about Ephs Mike Needham and Oren Cass launching a new group called American Compass that aims to “reorient the right.”  As explained in the article:

Running as a populist, [Donald] Trump challenged Republican orthodoxy on free trade and tapped into the disaffection of blue-collar workers in the heartland who have been left behind by the growing, but uneven, economy. For the most part, however, he said conservative elites in the think tank world have not followed suit.  “The goal, long term, is to think about what the post-Trump right-of-center is going to be,” said Cass. “One of the reasons we think this is such an important project is that, even four-plus years after Trump emerged on the scene, there really has been very little new and interesting ferment in the right of center. It’s pretty much the same set of institutions and publications and so forth. … By and large, the establishment is what it was. And it seems to be keeping its head down and sort of hoping that everything can just go back post-Trump to the way that it was pre-Trump. To the extent that the future should sound different, and certainly I think it should, now is the time to start building the institutions and efforts that are going to make that a reality.”

Cass and Needham are not particularly recent grads (’05 and ’04, I believe), but its pretty amazing to me that leading conservative intellectuals have come out of Williams in (relatively) recent years.  Are the next Cass and Needham analogs currently in the Purple Valley?  Perhaps the angst about lack of ideological diversity is somewhat overblown.  I doubt they would have time, but it would be great if one of them would come to Williams and give a talk about their new organization.

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Michael Bloomberg, H ’14

Which still viable presidential candidate has the closest connection to Williams? Bloomberg!

UPDATE: For those who forget their Williams history.

Good morning, and thank you, President Falk.

Everyone has been telling me what a great job you’re doing – and I’m not surprised, because you came from another great American academic institution: Johns Hopkins University, my alma mater.

But today, I’m honored to be an “Eph!”

Friends, families, faculty – let me begin by offering a big congratulations to every member of the amazingly talented, brilliant, and distinguished class of 2014!

UPDATE: What is the official nomenclature for referring to honorary Ephs? Bloomberg was awarded an honorary degree in 2014. How about:

Student: Sarah Williams ’14
Parent: George Williams, P ’14
Honorary Degree Recipient: Michael Bloomberg, H ’14

If we use P for parents — and that is what the College officially does — then H for honorary degree recipient makes sense. But I have never seen the College do that, or otherwise indicate that someone is an honorary degree recipient.

Comments welcome.

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The Culture Problem

Oren Cass ’05, the most important policy intellectual on the right (and the left?), writes in First Things:

So while liberals pursued ever-larger programs to stem the tide and continued to argue that ­redoubling their efforts would work where merely doubling them had not, conservatives arrived at different conclusions. Yes, material poverty is a problem. And certainly, the widespread racial discrimination in mid-twentieth-century America required redress. But what ultimately determines the success or failure of an individual, the strength of his family, the health of his community, comes down to people’s decisions. Dropping out of high school, dropping out of the labor force, having children outside of marriage, committing crimes, and abusing drugs and ­alcohol—those things matter much more than dollars and cents. And data show that these kinds of bad ­decisions have become more prevalent even as material well-being has improved. This leads to the conclusion that something else, something in people’s values and beliefs and thus their decision-making, must be the culprit.

Cass is of the right, and not the alt-right, because he never discusses genetics. “Committing crimes,” and almost everything else, is heavily influenced by your genes. Blood will tell. Does Cass not know about this literature? Does he really think that it all comes down to “values and beliefs?” Or does he know and disagree? Or does he agree and, yet, for reasons of prudence and cowardice, refuse to mention the role of genes in outcomes?

Perhaps mentioning the unmentionable is why we have EphBlog?!

Read the whole thing.

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Defining Jews

From the New York Times:

President Trump plans to sign an executive order on Wednesday targeting what he sees as anti-Semitism on college campuses by threatening to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination, three administration officials said on Tuesday.

The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students. In recent years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — or B.D.S. — movement against Israel has roiled some campuses, leaving some Jewish students feeling unwelcome or attacked.

The move was part of a broader campaign by Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and her civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, to go after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.

Will this matter at Williams? I don’t think so, but informed commentary is always welcome.

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A Deafening Silence

Since war came to the West on September 11, 2001, only a handful of Ephs have read these words. Are you among them?

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My Home Is in the Valley Amid the Hills

Each morning I watch the sunlight drifting down through the pines, scattering the clouds from the mountain sides, driving the mists from the glens.

Each night I see the purple lights as they creep up the slopes of the Dome and the shadows as they fall on wood and stream.

My home is among young men — young men who dream dreams and see visions; young men who will carry my banner out into the world and make the world better because they have lived with me in my valley amid the hills.

Among my sons who have left me, some have caught the poet’s fire, and their words have touched men’s hearts and have bought cheer to a weary world.

And some, in answer to the call of country, have gone out to battle for the common rights of men against the enemy. Some of them will not return to me, for they have given all they had, and now they rest at the foot of a simple cross or lie deep below the waves. But even as they passed, the music of the chimes was in their ears and before their eyes were visions of the quiet walks beneath the elms

Whether apart in solitude or pressing along the crowded highways, all these who have breathed my spirit and touched my hand have played their parts for the better, for

I am ALMA MATER:
I am WILLIAMS.

This 1926 eulogy, written by Professor of Rhetoric Carroll Lewis Maxey, comes from page 136 of Williams College in the World War, a beautifully arranged remembrance of those Ephs who served in freedom’s cause during the Great War. To Williams students today, World War I is as far away as the War of 1812 was to the generation that Professor Maxey sought to inspire. What will the great-grandchildren of today’s Ephs think of us? What will they remember and what will they forget?

1st Lt Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC died thirteen years ago today. For the first year after his death, we maintained a link at the upper right to our collection of related posts, as sad and inspiring as anything you will ever read at EphBlog. Yet that link came down. Time leaves behind the bravest of our Williams warriors and Nate’s sacrifice now passes from News to History, joining the roll call of honored heroes back to Colonel Ephraim Williams, who died in battle during the Bloody Morning Scout on September 8, 1755.

More than 250 years have marched by from Ephraim’s death to Nate’s. But the traditions of military brotherhood and sacrifice are the same as they ever were, the same as they will ever be as long as Ephs stand willing to do violence against our enemies so that my daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters might sleep safely in their beds at night. Consider this moving ceremony in Iraq for Nate in the week after his death.

Before there was Taps, there was the final symbolic roll-call, unanswered. “Krissoff,” intoned Sergeant Major Kenneth Pickering.

“Lt. Krissoff.”

“1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff.”

By culture and custom, the Marine Corps is given to ritual and none so important as the farewell to comrades who have fallen in battle. And so the memorial service here for 1st Lt. Nathan Krissoff, intelligence officer for the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, was both stylized and achingly intimate.

The author, Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times, captures perfectly the ethos of the Marine Corps. During Officer Candidate School, our Platoon Sergeant, Gunnery Sergeant Anderson, sang a haunting song of blood and sacrifice. The chorus went:

Let me tell you how I feel.
Why Marines must fight and die?

I can only remember snatches now, three decades later. It was a short song, repeated slowly, with emotion. For years, I have looked for the words to that plaintive melody, the eternal warrior’s lament of pain and suffering. Gunny Anderson only sang it with our platoon a handful of times, only when he felt that we were worthy of inclusion in the brotherhood of arms.

The last of those times was near the end of our training. At Officer Candidate School, the fun-filled day begins with PT (physical training) at around 0500. Our entire company (200 men) is standing at attention in the humid Virginia morning. Back in July, there had been plenty of light to start exercising that early, but, by August, the later sunrise left us all waiting in darkness.

Gunny Anderson had the “duty” that morning, so he was the only member of the staff present. The others, well aware of the timing of sunrise, would be along shortly. Gunny Andersen, recognizing that graduation day was near and that he had us all to himself, led the entire company in that song, including the other platoons who had never heard it before.

And he did it in a whisper. We all stood there — having survived almost 10 weeks of brutal training, shouting our lungs out day after day — and whispered the song with him, 200 voices joined with the spirits of the Marines who had gone before us. Nate is with those spirits now. When the next Eph Marine is marching on that same parade deck during OCS, Nate will be watching him as well.

I remember the name of my platoon sergeant from 30 years ago. My father still remembers the name of his platoon sergeant from 55 years before. Let none of us forget the sacrifices of Marines like Nate and Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Krissoff, 25, a champion swimmer and kayaker in college, was killed Dec. 9 by a roadside bomb that also injured other Marines. Hundreds of grim-faced Marines who knew Krissoff came to the Chapel of Hope, the converted Iraqi Army auditorium, for the service.

“We have a bond here, we have a family here,” said Staff Sgt. Allan Clemons, his voice breaking as he delivered a eulogy. “Nathan was part of that family.”

There were embraces, but not in the sobbing style one might see at a civilian funeral. The Marines put arms around another and slapped each others’ backs — the sound was like repeated rifle reports in the cavernous hall. Navy Cmdr. Mark Smith, a Presbyterian chaplain, said later he has seen Marines do this at other memorials. “They need to touch each other,” he said. “I’ve heard them talk about ‘hugging it out.’ But they want to do it in a manly way.”

By all accounts, Krissoff was a charismatic leader who had impressed his superiors and earned the trust of his subordinates.

War always takes the best of my Marines.

Civilians may not recognize the meaning of the first person possessive in that last sentence, may attribute its usage to my megalomania. Indeed, to avoid that confusion, my initial instinct was to write “our Marines.”

Yet that is not the way that real Marines think about our Corps. Despite defending an independent, freedom-loving country, the Marines are fundamentally socialist in outlook. Everything belongs to every individual. This is not just my rifle or my uniform, but my tank and my obstacle course. And what is mine is yours. See the bootcamp scenes from Full Metal Jacket for an introduction to an outlook as far away from Williams College as Falluja is from Williamstown.

At OCS, the worst sin is not to be slow or stupid or weak, although all these sins are real enough. The worst sin is to be selfish, to be an “individual,” to care more about what happens to you then what happens to your squad, your platoon, your battalion or your Corps. What happens to you, as an individual, is irrelevant.

When the instructors at OCS are angry with you (and they get angry with everyone), they will scream: “What are you? A freakin’ individual? Is that what you are? A freakin’ individual?”

To get the full effect of this instruction, you need to imagine it being shouted from 5 inches away by the loudest voice you have ever heard.

When they shouted it at me, I was sorely tempted to respond:

Yes! Indeed! I am an individual! Four hundred of years of Enlightenment philosophy have demonstrated that this is true. My degree in philosophy from Williams College has taught me that I, as an individual, have value, that my needs and wants are not subservient to those of the larger society, that I have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

For once, I kept my mouth shut.

In quieter moments at OCS, I recalled Rousseau’s parable of the Spartan mother from Emile.

A Spartan mother had five sons in the army and awaited news of the battle. A Helot arrived; trembling she asked his news.

“Your five sons have been killed.”
“Vile slave, was that what I asked you?”
“We have won the victory.”

She ran to the temple to give thanks to the gods. That was a citizen.

For Rousseau, there are two ways for a man to be free. First, he can live alone, cut off from humankind but self-sufficient. He needs no one. Second, a man can be a citizen and so, like the Spartan mother, unconcerned with his own, and his family’s, well-being. All that matters is the polis.

A Marine is many things, but not a freakin’ individual.

The article continues:

He grew up in Truckee, Nev., graduated from Williams College, majoring in international relations, and hoped someday to work for the Central Intelligence Agency.

Lt. Col. William Seely, the battalion commander, talked of the silence left by death of Krissoff and other Marines. “When we depart these lands, when we deploy home, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the long silence of our friends,” he said. “Nathan…your silence will be deafening.”

If there was mourning, there was also anger that, as the chaplain said, Krissoff “was taken from us by evil men.”

This is true and false. Marines do not sympathize with the insurgents whom they battle but they do empathize with them. “Clifton Chapel” by Sir Henry Newbolt describes this duality in the oath that every warrior takes.

To set the cause above renown,
To love the game beyond the prize,
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes;
To count the life of battle good,
And dear the land that gave you birth,
And dearer yet the brotherhood
That binds the brave of all the earth.

Most of those responsible for Krissoff’s death are now themselves dead, killed in battle by Krissoff’s fellow Marines. Do their families remember them with tears, as we remember Nate? Or are their memories fading along with ours? Recall how the Williams honored Nate twelve years ago.

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The Ephmen of Williams Swimming and Diving dedicated their 2007 championship season to Nate when they proudly wore their conference shirts emblazoned with the simple words on the back: “Semper Athlete.” (“Semper,” obviously for the Marines, and “Athlete,” one of his favorite terms for any of his teammates.) Nate would be proud of “his boys”: each of the 24 Williams conference team members had a hand in dominating the NESCAC competition.

Yet how quickly these honors pass. How often do college officials mention Krissoff’s service? A swim team member I talked to last year knew about Nate’s sacrifice and reported that there is a photo of him at the pool and an annual swim in his memory. Kudos to Coach Kuster for helping Nate’s memory to live on.

Back to Tony Perry’s article:

Among the readings and quotations was the classic from World War I, “In Flanders Fields.” The poem challenges the living to continue the fight and not break faith with the dead: “Take up our quarrel with the foe/To you from failing hands we throw/The torch: be yours to hold it high….”

I did not know, when I first wrote of Nate’s death, that his fellow Marines would also be using “In Flanders Fields” as a way of memorializing his sacrifice. Who will take up the torch thrown by Nate? Are there any Williams students heading to OCS this coming summer? Are there no warriors left among the Ephs?

Williams College in the World War opens with a call for remembrance.

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The text, by Solomon Bulkley Griffin, class of 1872, begins:

The wave of full-hearted devotion that rose in the World War has receded from its crest, as must have been in times more normal. But never will there be forgetfulness of it. Memory of the glory that wave bore aloft is the priceless possession of all the colleges.

The service of Williams men enshrined in this volume is of abiding import. By it the past was made glorious, as the future will be shadowed while it is illumined. Natural it was to go forward when God quickened the souls of men to serve the need of the world, and so they held themselves fortunate.

Indeed. Yet are Griffin’s assurances that we have nothing to fear from “forgetfulness” correct? I worry, and not just because of the contempt with which faculty members like Mark Taylor treat the US military. Consider the College’s official description of the most prestigious prize at Williams, the only award presented on graduation day.

WILLIAM BRADFORD TURNER CITIZENSHIP PRIZE. From a fund established in memory of William Bradford Turner, 1914, who was killed in action in France in September, 1918, a cash prize is awarded to the member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty and of the graduating class, has best fulfilled her or his obligations to the College, to fellow students, and to self. The committee of award, appointed by the President of the College, is composed jointly of faculty members and members of the graduating class.

Was Williams Bradford Turner ’14 just a soldier who was “killed in action in France?” Does this description do justice to Turner or is it an example of the “forgetfulness” that Griffin thought unlikely? Consider:

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He led a small group of men to the attack, under terrific artillery and machinegun fire, after they had become separated from the rest of the company in the darkness. Single-handed he rushed an enemy machinegun which had suddenly opened fire on his group and killed the crew with his pistol. He then pressed forward to another machinegun post 25 yards away and had killed 1 gunner himself by the time the remainder of his detachment arrived and put the gun out of action. With the utmost bravery he continued to lead his men over 3 lines of hostile trenches, cleaning up each one as they advanced, regardless of the fact that he had been wounded 3 times, and killed several of the enemy in hand-to-hand encounters. After his pistol ammunition was exhausted, this gallant officer seized the rifle of a dead soldier, bayoneted several members of a machinegun crew, and shot the other. Upon reaching the fourth-line trench, which was his objective, 1st Lt. Turner captured it with the 9 men remaining in his group and resisted a hostile counterattack until he was finally surrounded and killed.

The most important prize awarded by Williams College is named in honor of a winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, and virtually no one at Williams knows it. If Williams today does not remember that 1st Lt William Bradford Turner ’14 won the Congressional Medal of Honor, then who will remember 1st Lt Nathanial Krissoff ’03 one hundred years from now?

Both died for us, for ALMA MATER, for Williams and the West.

Krissoff’s brothers bade him farewell in Anbar just eleven years ago.

When the roll-call and Taps were finished, the Marines came single-file to the altar to kneel in front of an inverted rifle with a helmet placed on the buttstock. Each was alone in his grief.

As are we all.

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Downside of Diversity

Former Dean of Yale Law School (and EphBlog favorite) Anthony Kronman ’68 is fundamentally right about the decline of discourse at elite colleges but fundamentally wrong about the underlying cause. Kronman writes:

“Diversity” is the most powerful word in higher education today. No other has so much authority. Older words, like “excellence” and “originality,” remain in circulation, but even they have been redefined in terms of diversity.

But diversity, as it is understood today, means something different. It means diversity of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. Diversity in this sense is not an academic value. Its origin and aspiration are political. The demand for ever-greater diversity in higher education is a political campaign masquerading as an educational ideal.

Exactly right, as is most everything Kronman has to say on the topic. Read the whole article, and his book, The Assault on American Excellence. But Kronman is wrong in his description of the fundamental cause. He writes:

The demand for greater academic diversity began its strange career as a pro-democratic idea. Blacks and other minorities have long been underrepresented in higher education. A half-century ago, a number of schools sought to address the problem by giving minority applicants a special boost through what came to be called “affirmative action.” This was a straightforward and responsible strategy.

Kronman is no conservative. He, and the other elites who have been running US higher education for 50+ years, see no problem with having different standards for different racial groups. Who cares if the SAT scores for African-Americans at Williams are 250 points lower than those for Asian-Americans? What could possibly go wrong? Instead, Kronman blames the courts:

But in 1978, in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, the Supreme Court told American colleges and universities that they couldn’t pursue this strategy directly, by using explicit racial categories. It allowed them to achieve the same goal indirectly, however, by arguing that diversity is essential to teaching and learning and requires some attention to race and ethnicity. Schools were able to continue to honor their commitment to social justice but only by converting it into an educational ideal. The commitment was honorable, but the conversion has been ruinous.

Consider this 1969 prediction from Macklin Fleming, Justice of the California Court of Appeal, writing to Louis Pollak, the then-dean of Yale Law School (pdf):

No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands — the employment of faculty on the basis of race, a marking system based on race, the establishment of a black curriculum and a black law journal, an increase in black financial aid, and a rule against expulsion of black students who fail to satisfy minimum academic standards.

It was obvious, in 1969, that different standards would lead to disaster. And here we are today. Even if the reasoning behind Bakke were different, even if the courts had never mentioned “diversity” as a rational, all the pathologies forecast by Fleming would have played out just as they have. Once you decide that objective standards are not necessary for admissions, it will be impossible to keep them anywhere else. Sacrifice “excellence” there and, over time, you will lose excellence everywhere. For Kronman to blame Bakke for this sad state of affairs is mere deflection. It is he, and elite education leaders like him, who are at fault.

How bad would Williams/Yale have to become before Kronman reconsiders the wisdom of affirmative action in admissions?

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Endowment Performance

Chief Investment Officer Collette Chilton is probably not EphBlog’s biggest fan.

From 2007:

And why is the investment office in Boston in the first place?

Note the charmingly naive coverage of this topic from the Record.

Chilton will commute between her offices in Williamstown and Boston. “Investment does not occur here at Williamstown,” Chilton said, “and so we need to have an office at a financial capital, which in this case is Boston.” She will be on campus Mondays and Tuesdays on a regular basis. “So far it’s been easy,” she said, “but then again, it’s not snowing yet.”

This is highly misleading. When you control an endowment of $1.5 billion, you are the client, you are the one with the power, you are the one that other people travel to meet. Investment managers, whether from the worlds of private equity, hedge funds, venture capital or any other field, will gladly come to Williamstown (or anywhere else) for a chance to manage a portion of that money. The reason that Chilton does not move to Williamstown is, almost certainly, because she and her family prefer to live in Weston. Nothing wrong with Weston, of course, but if Chilton does not care enough about Williams to move to Williamstown, what possible loyalty will she feel toward the College? Why wouldn’t she just take another job when a better offer comes along?

President Schapiro also played a part in this deception.

Eager to get started, Collette will disengage as quickly as possible from her current responsibilities and take up this new position sometime in October. As is typical with such positions, she’ll be based in a financial capital, in her case Boston, and have an office in Hopkins Hall, where she’ll spend significant time.

“I consider this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved in the entrepreneurial start up of a new operation,” she said in accepting the position. “And Williams is such a fantastic school; I look forward to becoming part of the college community.”

First, it goes without saying that it is impossible to be a “part of the college community” if you live in Boston. But the key weasel phrase is “typical with such positions.” If the Record wanted to make trouble, it would investigate the truth of this statement. Find a set of positions like Chilton’s (CIO of a large endowment) and investigate how many of these individuals are located in a “financial capital” away from the institution for which they work.

Let me help. The article later mentions Paula Volent, vice president for investments at Bowdoin (and a protege of Swensen). She manages $670 million from that famous “financial capital,” Brunswick, Maine. Peter Shea does the same for Amherst from sunny central Massachusetts. Thomas Kannam is somehow able to manage Wesleyan’s $600 million endowment from Middletown, Connecticut. My, but the list of financial capitals in New England is larger than I imagined! And, of course, David Swensen himself does fine living in New Haven. Turns out that, if you control the money, people come to you.

If we can’t trust Morty/Chilton to be transparent with us about why she wants to work in Boston, why should we trust them to be honest about anything else?

From 2009:

According to the College’s Form 990, Chief Investment Officer Collete Chilton’s total compensation was $726,556 in FY 2008 and $686,053 in FY 2007.

The Record should do an article about Chilton’s compensation. Don’t the editors believe in muckraking anymore? I bet that some of the more left-wing Williams professors would provide good quotes, either on or off the record. Don’t think that there is anything suspect going on here? Perhaps you failed to read the College’s letter to the Senate Finance Committee.

Some members of the Investment Office are eligible for bonuses based on the return on our investments, though the office is so new that we have not completed the first year of returns on which bonuses would be computed. So, in the past ten years no such bonuses have been paid.

In other words, the College worries that Chilton and other (how many?) investment professionals won’t work hard enough even though Williams is paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. So, in addition to all that guaranteed money, we need to pay them extra bonuses or else they’ll —- what exactly? Spend all day at the movies?

Other fun posts include here, here and this five part series.

But credit where credit is due. The performance of the Williams endowment over the last decade has been outstanding.

Thanks to an Eph with Bloomberg access for sharing the data.

Apologies that this is tough to read. Key point is that, over the last decade, the Williams endowment has compounded at 8%, which is the second highest in its peer group of small college endowments and, roughly, 2% per year better than the average performance. How much richer is Williams because of this outperformance? Good question! My rough guess is that, if the value of the endowment has averaged about $2 billion over this period, 2% outperformance, compounded over 10 years generated about $400 million in additional wealth.

Perhaps former trustee chair Mike Eisenson ’77 — the Eph most clearly responsible for the creation of the investment office and (probably?) the person with the most say in the hiring of Chilton — is smarter than me, at least when it comes to money? Perhaps Collette Chilton knows what she is doing? Perhaps I should stick to blogging? Perish the thought!

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Weekend Links

Bethany McLean ’92 on Elon Musk in Vanity Fair. Self-recommending.

Wesleyan President Michael Roth writes in the New York Times about safe spaces.

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Things Mika Says…

Mika Brzezinski is class of 1989 and a co-host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC. A little over 30 years ago Mika and I lived in the same dorm at Williams. These days I often start my day by watching her on TV. I thought it might be fun to occasionally quote something that Mika has said and see if that sparks an interesting conversation. Technically, the below quote is not from Mika, it is from her Dad Zbigniew Brzezinski, NSA to President Carter. However, it is on Mika’s twitter page.

“Bipartisanship helps to avoid extremes and imbalances. It causes compromises and accommodations. So let’s cooperate.” ~Zbigniew Brzezinski

This largely reflects my perspective as well. Recent political history presents evidence that this might be a bit naive. However, true that may be, I am hopeful that bipartisanship provides a way forward towards a better America.

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Spoke to the White House

Could Trump do a deal with Senator Chris Murphy ’96?

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wife(?)

Your weekly opportunity to argue about politics . . .

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Morning Joe & Psycho

EphBlog loves it whenever a president tweets about an Eph.

For the second time this summer, Donald Trump has used his Twitter account to label a high-profile woman a “psycho.” Last month it was Bette Midler. On Tuesday, Mika Brzezinski who was targeted, as the president laid into her and her Morning Joe co-host (and new husband), Joe Scarborough.

Trump slammed the real-life couple and MSNBC hosts over their TV ratings, then accused them of spreading “fake news.” He went on to credit the show for helping “get me elected.” He then added a tweet tagging the Fox News show Fox & Friends, which is known for toeing the Trump party line.

Want to argue about politics? This is your weekly chance to do so.

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Weekend Links

The “Downside of Diversity” by Anthony Kronman ’68 in the Wall Street Journal.

Former Williams QB takes over as offensive coordinator at Boston College” in the Berkshire Eagle, about Mike Bajakian ’95.

Williamstown Celebrates New Police Station With Ribbon Cutting, Night Out Open House” in iBerkshires.

Read more

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“Privacy in the Digital Age” (Williams Magazine)

Privacy in the Digital Age

A cool article in the latest issue of the Williams Magazine that discusses how “four alumni are leading efforts to make sure new technologies don’t infringe on our civil and constitutional rights”.

Four Williams alumni are wrestling with these kinds of questions, raising awareness and holding public officials and purveyors of big data accountable. Jameel Jaffer ’94, executive director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, focuses on freedom of speech and of the press in the digital age. Rachel Levinson-Waldman ’95, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, studies issues related to government and law enforcement’s use of surveillance. Andrew Guthrie Ferguson ’94, a law professor at the University of the District of Columbia, researches predictive policing and whether Fourth Amendment protections include the data on our devices. And Jay Stanley ’89, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), works to uncover emerging technologies that have the potential to prey on personal privacy.

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Kramer ’03 is Particularly Perturbed

The Chronicle of Education reports:

The journal Ethnic and Racial Studies is standing by an article that has proved controversial among sociologists and race scholars. The article, about the Black Lives Matter movement, was peer-reviewed and underwent major revisions before being published, the journal said on Tuesday.

In an open letter (doc) circulating online, Szetela is criticized for ignoring, or misunderstanding, black feminism, among other disciplines.

“We are particularly perturbed by this because of the long history of negation of research by people from marginalized backgrounds as neither rigorous nor empirical research,” says the letter, which was primarily written by Buggs and Rory Kramer, an associate professor of sociology and criminology at Villanova University.

If Rory, a former EphBlog board member, has time to engage in these sorts of intra-progressive wars, he must have received tenure from Villanova. If so, congratulations! I wish I had tenure . . .

Thanks to an anonymous Williams faculty member for the link.

article below the break
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The Chin

Nothing more fun than when the President tweets at an Eph:

Tom Friedman is an Eph parent and honorary degree recipient.

This is an opportunity to argue about politics, if you are so inclined . . .

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Hardy ’10 New Assistant Coach at San Antonio Spurs

Twitter is blowing up with news that Will Hardy ’10 will be a new assistant coach at the San Antonio Spurs.

The San Antonio Spurs on Monday announced that Will Hardy and Tim Duncan will be added to Gregg Popovich’s bench as assistant coaches.

Hardy first joined the Spurs as a basketball operations intern in 2010 after graduating from Williams College.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” said Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich.

Oh, yeah. Some other guy also got hired as an assistant coach, but EphBlog doesn’t care about that!

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Billionaires Index

Bloomberg reports that Chase Coleman ’97 has amassed a $4.6 billion fortune. He is reportedly the youngest financier among the world’s 500 richest people, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Chase is perhaps best known as the hedge-fund manager who wisely made substantial bets on startups including Facebook Inc. and Zynga Inc.

As readers of Ephblog already know, he is “…a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant, he attended Deerfield Academy, the elite boarding school in Massachusetts, and went on to co-captain the lacrosse team at Williams College.”

It looks like he is enjoying life. The article reported that he often surfs the waves outside his $19 million home before flying his helicopter into Manhattan.

Chase first came to the attention of Ephblog back in January 2005 when we posted a short article on his marriage to Stephanie Anne Ercklentz.

Here at EphBlog, however, we will judge Coleman not by either the wealth that he accumulates or by the generosity of his gifts to the College, but by his fulfillment of the vows that he took today. The only more important job than husband that he will ever have is father.

By all accounts, the sentimental comments on his wedding day have rung true. His marriage is still going strong.

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Dylan Barbour ’16 on The Bachelorette


Should we be proud or embarrassed?

With so many studs to choose from, who is Dylan on The Bachelorette — and why should you care?

Dylan is a man with many layers. His ABC bio states, “the majority of his friends are female,” which could mean he’s sensitive, a good listener, and compassionate. He’s a basketball fan who enjoys scuba diving, driving his boat, and cooking (I’m free for dinner, thanks). The cutie also has a couple of sentimental tattoos including a palm tree on his ankle and a heart with roses on his chest for his mom and dad.

EphBlog also has many layers, but no tattoos.

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Robot Love

Republican stalwart Oren Cass ’05 has an interesting new issue brief over at the Manhattan Institute. Apparently, our fears that robots are taking our jobs are largely unmerited, at least when you review how well our species has weathered previous spells of productivity rate increases.

This benign interpretation of our robot overlords means Oren is now in conflict with economic heavy weights like Larry Summers, Obama’s former secretary of the Treasury, who have alarmed us with bleak predictions about the long-term strength of the labor market. As Summers wrote:

This question of technology leading to a reduction in demand for labor is not some hypothetical prospect. . . . It’s one of the defining trends that has shaped the economy and society for the last 40 years.

The gist of Oren’s article is when you look carefully at each job and isolate the elements of that job that might be automated, you will find – according to careful, reputable studies – that resulting forecasts regarding reductions in the demand for labor will most likely be in line with previous historical experience. In other words, we can handle it. Oren’s views seem like common sense when you remember that we’ve benefited from prior technology gains. Besides, I agree with Oren’s observation that there will never be a demand for automated school bus drivers.

Oren Cass ’05 was a guest speaker for the Williams chapter of the American Enterprise Institute and the Society for Conservative Thought on November 5, 2018. If you are not already reading the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly magazine, City Journal, I recommend you start. It is the Economist of our current generation.

John C. Drew, Ph.D., is a former Williams College professor. He received the William Anderson Award from the American Political Science Association for the best doctoral dissertation in the nation in his field in 1989. He contributes to American Thinker, Breitbart, Campus Reform, The College Fix, and WorldNetDaily. He has been an Ephblog regular since 2010. 

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Sentence Served

Students moving into the Horn Residence Hall should ask themselves if they feel at peace living in a building named for a pair of criminals, Joey Horn ’87 and Ragnar Horn ’85.  The Horns recently served a 75 day sentence in prison as punishment for exploiting and abusing four young Filipino au pairs. As a consequence of this scandal, Joey resigned from the Board of Trustees after eight years of service.

Working as an au pair is supposed to be a cultural exchange program. Joey and Ragnar, however, broke the regulations by using their au pairs as low paid housekeepers. They worked their Filipino au pairs 11 hours a day and then four hours on both Saturday and Sunday. In Norway, an au pair is supposed to work no more that five hours a day and no more than 30 hours per week.

The Horns also gave false information to the immigration administration in Norway, failing to report they would have more than one au pair at a time. At the trial in 2017, two of the au pairs reported that they felt like “slaves” and “in prison” in the Horns’ home. Evidence showed Joey Horn ’87 referred to her au pairs in derogatory terms and threatened to send one of them back to her “straw mats in Manila.” Read more

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Montalbano ’10 on Sixty Minutes

Hank Montalbano ’10 appeared in a 60 Minutes story:

We begin with a cautionary tale we first reported nearly two years ago: how five U.S. soldiers, including two Green Berets, died in Afghanistan on the night of June 9th, 2014.

The Pentagon concluded the deaths were an “avoidable” accident, known by the contradictory phrase “friendly fire.” It was the deadliest such incident involving U.S. fatalities in 18 long years of ongoing war in Afghanistan. It wasn’t gunfire that killed the U.S. soldiers. It was a pair of 500-pound bombs dropped right on top of them by a U.S. warplane.

You’re about to hear what happened that day from three of the soldiers who were there-including the Green Beret commander. They dispute the official version of events and warn it’s going to happen again. It started just after sundown on a sweltering night with a fierce fire-fight.

Brandon Branch: Bullets whizzing by, kickin up all around you.

Henry “Hank” Montalbano: At certain points it would die down, but it was unrelenting at other points.

I can’t figure out how to embed the video. Worth a watch.

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Democratic Debates

Some of our commentators like to discuss politics. If you have views of the Democratic Debates this past week, share them with us.

My concern, as always, is: How do we get more Ephs in (or closer to) the Presidency.

There are (only?) two major Eph connections among the 20 candidates in the debates. First, Beto O’Rourke is married to Amy Sanders O’Rourke ’03. Second, Cory Booker is an actual (honorary) Eph, having been awarded a degree in 2011. Both are in serious trouble, with a less than 7% chance (combined) of winning the nomination, according to the betting markets.

Are there other Eph connections to the other candidates? Family? Advisers?

What advice to our readers have for O’Rourke and Booker?

Booker’s best hope is to get most of the African-American vote in South Carolina. Kamala Harris is his main obstacle. He should attack her forcefully in the next debate (assuming they are on the same stage, and even if they are not).

My advice: Pick a fight over whether or not affirmative action (and reparations) should be restricted to #ADOS — American Descendants of Slaves. Should a recent immigrant from Nigeria — or the daughter of an immigrant from Jamaica — be eligible for the same benefits as someone whose ancestors were enslaved in the US?

I bet the vast majority of South Carolina African-Americans (and whites?!) think not . . .

Beto’s best bet is . . . uh . . . drop out and run for the Senate?

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