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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.

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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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Freaking Me Out

First Democrat Candidate’s Debate – Debate Muy Aburrido

I live Tweeted the first Democrat party debate. Unfortunately, it looks like Beto O’Rourke, the husband of Amy Sanders O’Rourke ’03, didn’t do anything to stand out. Even worse, he took killer blows from Julian Castro. Castro appeared to be intent on knocking down a fellow Texan and portraying O’Rourke as an unstudied, heartless fellow who would allow children to be separated from their parents for no reason at all.

The funniest moment in the debate, however, occurred when O’Rourke freaked out Booker and Warren by speaking Spanish. Check out the video below:

If I was investing in Democrat party candidates, I’d put money on De Blasio and Klobuchar. I was extremely surprised at how well De Blasio did. Chris Matthews at MSNBC was also impressed and surprised by De Blasio’s performance.
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The “Teach It Forward” Campaign–Where is it now?

The “Teach It Forward” campaign was launched by Williams in 2015. Ephblog had posted about this at the start of the campaign, but there haven’t yet been any follow-ups on the campaign’s progression. It’s useful to look at its results so far.

According to the TIF website, the college has raised $685.01 million so far, making TIF the most ambitious and most successful campaign “in the history of liberal arts colleges” to date. This value surpasses the $650 million target that was set initially. Alumni participation (in terms of donations) stands at 74.1%, just under the 75% target. Overall alumni participation (in terms of both donations and volunteering) stands at 85%.

It would be interesting to see how the college has spent and plans to spend the money it has raised. Have they released information to alumni regarding how much of the $685 million they have alotted to different areas of expense?

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Internet Discourse Bad

WILLIAMSTOWN – I had a chance to read through the final 75 page report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Inquiry and Inclusion. Here’s my take on what we will now refer to as The Sawicki Report.

The most positive thing about the report is it illustrates the vast majority of students and alumni don’t like it when the school bans speakers. Most significantly, the report indicates hosting a speaker does not imply the school endorses the speaker’s positions. These findings support the interpretation that the vast majority of us do not buy the most important arguments for banning speakers.

In general, the report confirms what many of us active in off-campus social media – including Zachary Wood ’18 – have been saying and complaining about regarding Adam Falk’s decision to ban John Derbyshire.

On the downside, the report does nothing to reverse viewpoint discrimination.

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Rest in Peace

Simon Maloy ’03 died yesterday after enduring a year-and-a-half-long fight with colon cancer.  Simon was a researcher and a journalist with Media Matters for more than 14 years. He was, at one time, in charge of listening to the Rush Limbaugh radio show and providing his readers with commentary and fact-checking services.

Simon appeared in the pages of Ephblog over a decade ago talking about his experience as a Limbaugh listener. Over his career, his work was published at The Week, Rolling Stone, American Prospect, and Salon. He was a history major at Williams College.

Some of his friends have set up a page at GoFundMe in his honor. So far, donors have given $67,696 toward an overall goal of $125,000. You can find this GoFundMe page by clicking on the following link. 

In Memory of Simon Maloy

The authors of the GoFundMe page indicate they are “…setting up this fund to help support Simon’s family — especially his sons’ education — as they move forward without him.”

Simon Maloy is survived by his wife Leslie and his sons, Avery and James.

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Remember the Tablecloth Colors

A Record op-ed from 13 years ago:

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

No kidding. EphBlog has made this prediction over and over and over again. The more control that Williams students have over life at Williams, the better. The more people (intelligent and well-meaning though they may be) that are hired by the College to “help,” the less active students will be.

The main rational used by CUL (Committee on Undergraduate Life) in establishing OCL 16 years ago — All the other schools have one so it must be a good idea! — was stupid then and it is stupid now.

Writer Ainsley O’Connell ’06 tells a depressing tale. Anyone who cares about student life at Williams should read the whole thing.

When I arrived on campus, director of campus life Doug Bazuin and his staff were a distant idea, not a reality. Barb and Gail administered activities on campus, helping students schedule events from their fishbowl office at the heart of Baxter Hall. Linda Brown administered room draw, her maternal warmth and firmness easing the process. Tom McEvoy (who has since departed) and Jean Thorndike provided big-picture support and served as liaisons between students and administrators. When students were moved to champion a new policy or party idea, Tom and Jean were willing to listen, and often to lend moral and financial support. The execution fell to students, but this sense of responsibility fostered greater ownership.

Great stuff. One of the purposes of EphBlog is to capture this sort of testimony, the thanks of current students to the staff members that have done so much.

But those with long memories will note what a mockery this makes of the CUL’s discussion in 2001 of the lack of staff devoted to student life. Indeed, if there is any table which demonstrates the dishonesty/incompetence of CUL during those years it is this description Staffing at Comparable Institutions. Click on the link. Let’s take a tour. (The line for Williams (all zeroes in bold) is at the bottom.)

First, note how the JA system magically disappears. The “50 junior advisors” for Bates are listed under “Student Staff” but, at Williams, they have vanished. Second, the CUL pretends that Dean Dave Johnson ’71 does not exist. The countless hours that he spent (and spends) working with the JAs and First Years don’t matter. Yet you can be sure that one of the “3 Assistant Deans” at Emerson does exactly what Johnson does at Williams, although probably not as well. Third, the CUL erases all the work and commitment of people like Linda Brown and Tom McEvoy, as evoked so nicely by O’Connell.

None of this is surprising, of course. Former President Morty Schapiro decided in 2000 that there were certain things about Williams that he was going to change. By and large, he (temporarily!) changed them. He and (former) Dean of the College Nancy Roseman and (former) CUL Chair Will Dudley implemented Neighborhood Housing, the biggest change at Williams this century. It was a total failure and has now, thankfully, been removed. Schapiro, Roseman and Dudley went on, despite this disastrous own goal, to college Presidencies at Northwestern, Dickinson and Washington and Lee, promotions which doubled (even tripled) their Williams salaries.

O’Connell goes on:

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new initiatives and throw events open to the campus. For many, extracurricular activities had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from campus life, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals. Take Williams Students Online, for example, or 91.9, the student radio station: Their success lies in their student leaders, who have been willing to commit their time to making sweeping changes that have transformed WSO and WCFM, respectively.

It may have been reasonable for O’Connell not to see, in 2003, how this would all work out, but she is naive in the extreme not to see now that this evolution was inevitable. How shall we explain it to her? Imagine a different paragraph.

I will not dispute that in 2003 Williams needed a stronger support system for students looking to launch new publications and manage current ones. For many, writing for and editing student publications had become a burden, with unreasonably long hours spent planning and preparing everything down to the last detail. Yet today, some of the best and most innovative groups on campus remain far-removed from the Office of Campus Publications, driven by highly motivated and talented individuals.

In other words, why isn’t it a good idea for Williams to create an Office of Campus Publications [OCP], with a Director of Campus Publications and a staff of Campus Publication Coordinators? After all, as the meltdown of the GUL in 2001 (?) and the Record‘s occasional inability to pick a single editor-in-chief demonstrates, students sometimes need help. They often make mistakes. Who could deny that having someone to “help” and “support” the Record (and GUL and Mad Cow) wouldn’t make those publications better? No one. Perhaps OCP would even have prevented the demise of Rumor and Scattershot.

But would the experience of the students writing those publications be better with a bunch of (intelligent, well-meaning) paid employees of the College hovering over them? No. That should be obvious to O’Connell. Writing for and editing the Record those last 4 years probably taught her as much about life its own self as any aspect of her Williams education. If she had had a Doug Bazuin equivalent supervising her all this time, her experience would not have been as rich, her education not as meaningful.

As always, critics will claim that I am advocating that the College provide no help or support, that we abolish the Dean’s Office. No! Some support is good, just as some social engineering is desirable. But, on the margin, the contribution of the OCL is negative.

Vibrant means “long hours spent planning and preparing events down to the last detail.” This is exactly why student institutions like WCFM, WSO and others (Trivia? Rugby? Current students should tell us more) are so vibrant. O’Connell acts as if you can have a vibrant organization or community without time and trouble, sweat and tears. In fact, you can’t.

O’Connell writes as if vibrancy appears from nowhere, that someone just sprinkles magic pixy dust on WSO and WCFM. No. Vibrancy, community, innovation and almost everything else worth having in this imperfect life require “unreasonably long hours” and “preparing everything down to the last detail.” You don’t think that Ephs like Evan Miller at WSO and Matt Piven at WCFM sweated the details? Think again.

Unfortunately, the Office of Campus Life and the Dean’s office, which oversees it, have not fostered this model. Instead, both offices have moved in the opposite direction, at times going so far as to render student involvement wholly superficial, as with the planning of this year’s Senior Week. The senior officers elected by the Class of 2006 do nothing more than choose tablecloth colors; it is assistant director of campus life Jess Gulley who runs the show. Hovering over student shoulders, the campus life staff of today is like a mother or father who wants to be your friend instead of your parent. The office should cast itself as an administrative support service, not the arbiter of cool.

Harsh! True? Current students should tell us. But note that this is not Gulley’s fault! I have no doubt that she is wonderful and hard-working, dedicated to making student life better. Each day, she wakes up and tries to figure out how to make this the best Senior Week ever. That is, after all, what the College is paying her to do. In that very act, of course, she decreases the scope of student control and involvement.

Back in the day, students handled almost all aspects of Senior Week. I still remember dancing the night away, in my dress whites, at Mount Hope Farm, the most beautiful Eph of all in my arms. No doubt this year’s seniors, 30 years younger than I, will have a fine time as well. Because of Gulley’s successor’s involvement, it may even be true that the events are better planned and organized. Yet everything that she does used to be done by students, hectically and less professionally, but still done by them.

The more that students run Williams, the better that Williams will be.

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A Large Animal Moves Slowly

This is some of Zach Wood’s ’18 best writing:

“Confidence is the memory of performance,” he told me. I didn’t realize it then, but this pithy observation was just another of many memorable aphorisms from George E. Marcus.

We were hanging out in Professor Marcus’ den, arguing over Kobe Bryant’s rightful place in NBA history and watching playoff basketball. His was a man cave populated with hardcovers, mineral specimens, and substantial artifacts acquired from foreign travel with his wife. I had recently received galleys of the manuscript for my first book, “Uncensored,” a memoir about my life and naturally Professor Marcus was among the first people with whom I shared a copy.

Per usual, he finished it a few days later and sent me an attentive email that reminded me of how lucky I am to have him in my corner. This was the second time we’d had an opportunity to chat about “Uncensored” and knowing some of my concerns, Professor Marcus told me about his time at Columbia University, rowing as an undergraduate. He explained what being an oarsman meant to him as a young man — how the rigors of sport fostered fraternity, spurred strain against physical reach, in turn, bolstering self-confidence. “Confidence,” he said, “is neither fixed nor immune to changing circumstances.”

Indeed. Any readers with George Marcus stories? EphBlog has always been a fan.

“Every opportunity can be used to exercise a particular muscle.” He reclined on the backrest of his sofa, fingers interlaced behind his head, ankles crossed over the coffee table — as I digested the subtler implications of what he said.

I first met Professor Marcus, professor of Political Science, Emeritus, at Williams College, during the fall of my sophomore year. I was the only student that semester who signed up for his tutorial, “The Holocaust: Challenges of Knowing.” Rather than canceling his course and dismissing my interest, he welcomed me. He proposed that each week we write and present papers to each other. One of us would write a five to seven-page paper, the other a two-page critique. Once a week we would meet in his office to read our papers aloud, take our gloves off and swing with abandon. The following week we would alternate.

How many Williams professors would do that? Have many have? Tell us about them! They deserve all the praise we have to offer.

I had never had so much fun in my intellectual life. Surgical and concentrated in print; Professor Marcus argued energetically and good-naturedly in person. He gloried in playing devil’s advocate as much as I did, and he was singular in his ability to capsulize complex ideas and distill them using real-world examples. I remember once asking him if there was an upshot of the territoriality theories in environmental psychology and he gave the example of seating behavior in a typical classroom. “You see people voluntarily sit in the same seat every day and people begin to notice and tacitly accept the arrangement,” he remarked. “It’s a way of trying to regulate and control our relationships with other people in shared spaces.” Possession and predictability usually comfort us, so we seek them, he said.

Intellectually, however, Professor Marcus enthusiastically sought discomfort. He encouraged me to look at the data, to be suspicious, and qualify my interpretations of reality. He taught me that while evidence matters, many theories are underdetermined, so our conclusions should be framed as tentative, provisional, measured and context-dependent. Though not infrequently, Professor Marcus harbored zero misgivings about entertaining extraordinary leaps of the imagination, so long as they were subject to debate. After all, he still believes Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player of all-time. Not to worry: I’ll persuade him eventually.

When we finished watching the Celtics (his favorite team) beat the Cavaliers, we made our way to the kitchen for dinner where his wife, Lois, enriched our conversation with humorous insight. The three of us discussed culture and politics over white wine and delicious fish with mixed vegetables before devouring some of the finest chocolate chip cookies I’ve tasted. Soon enough, I gathered that while I had learned much from Professor Marcus, I could learn even more from his wife. Two hours later, it was almost 10:30 p.m. and we seemed to grudgingly concede that sleep should count for something.

Williams should care much less about research productivity in its faculty hiring and promotion, and much more about a willingness to engage with undergraduates.

On my way back to my dorm, I thought to myself: those eight hours spent with the Marcuses in their beautiful home had to have been among the most meaningful of my experiences at Williams. As I make my way through life after college, I think often of my teacher, mentor, and friend. In class, his command of material was keen and ruthlessly composed; his nonverbals even and deliberate, but impactful — the way a large animal moves slowly. I hope that beyond his weighty contribution to political science, George Marcus will be remembered for the difference he made in the lives of his students.

Exactly right. As long as a single student remembers me, I will never die.

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Can’t Help Themselves

Evan Miller ’06 writes:

Every computer programmer ought to read Frankenstein. It is the story of Creation, with a capital C, and contains perhaps the best description of monomaniacal flow-state in the English language.

Frankenstein, as any decent pub-trivia player knows, is the name of the scientist, not the monster. Young Victor Frankenstein creates a horrible monster; the monster wants to know why he was born, and why so horribly. Reasonable questions, both. Can there ever be an answer?

Makers, of course, can’t help but to make things; ask a 10X engineer why they do what they do, and you won’t get a convincing reply. They get an idea and have to see it through, every night, until 4 or 5 in the morning. They just can’t help themselves.

Just like we bloggers!

Read the whole thing.

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Live Your Thesis

Too few Ephs achieve the career dreams that Williams nurtured. Williamstown Town Manager (and EphBlog favorite) Jason Hoch ’95 is one of the lucky ones. Read his senior thesis, “Crisis on Main Street: understanding downtown decline and renewal through Exit, voice and loyalty.” Note the acknowledgement:

How many of us have followed so closely the dreams we first dreamt in Williamstown?

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Great Young People and Old People

From CNN:

President Donald Trump vowed Saturday to sign an executive order requiring colleges and universities to “support free speech” in order to be eligible for federal research dollars.
“If they want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak,” Trump said in part of his two-hour long speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
The President did not offer any more details on the order.

1) This seems to be one of the few topics on which Trump agrees with former President Obama. And with EphBlog!

2) Will there be an executive order? I have my doubts. Recall that Trump promised an executive order about birthright citizenship. Nothing happened. Will this promise turn out differently?

3) Biggest secret fan of this proposal? Maud Mandel! Think about it. An executive order would provide Mandel with the perfect cover to do what she wants to do anyway. No muss, no fuss. Any faculty/student complaints can be met with: “The Feds made us do it!”

4) If Trump wants to succeed on this topic, he should involve Ken Marcus ’88, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education.

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The Cudgel of ‘White Privilege’

The campus left really isn’t interested in solving problems. Their main aim is to attack whites, shut them up. It doesn’t matter whose feelings they hurt or what damage they do to others or their cause. Zachary Wood ’18 offered a great take on this phenomenon in an opinion piece that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 8, 2018. Unfortunately, the full text is locked behind the WSJ paywall.

‘White people need to be checked, Zach. End of discussion.”

I was talking with an Ivy League historian, a fellow African-American, about “white privilege.” I asked if his goal was to antagonize or to promote dialogue.

“Do you know who I am?” he demanded. “I’ve been helping black people longer than you’ve been alive. I’m telling you what I know: Lecturing these white kids is only the beginning.”

Is it really necessary to be so aggressive?

“Listen, I don’t give a damn. I’m not interested in negotiating with racists.”

I tried to close the conversation cordially, saying I’d have to reflect on the issue. But when I extended my hand, he looked at it, looked up at me, and then walked away.

To be fair, I should point out that citing an example of leftist excess contained in an opinion piece authored by Zachary Wood ’18 is, in itself, racist.

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Pish, Posh

Oren Cass ’05 takes a break from being the most important right-wing wonk of his generation to write a movie review.

I’d never sworn in front of my kids, until our drive home from watching Mary Poppins Returns. The real Mary Poppins would have understood—in fact she might have done the same, had she seen what Disney did to one of children’s fiction’s classic characters and most poignant stories.

The important thing to recall from the original movie is that it’s not about the kids. Young Michael and Jane Banks aren’t the problem that Mary Poppins comes to fix—they are stand-ins for a young audience experiencing a story about what it means to be a parent.

Mr. Banks is the one who needs help. He is the overly disciplined, career-focused father with no time for his children. His life is turned upside-down by this strange new nanny who, in partnership with Bert the chimneysweep, guides him to the revelation that he has his priorities wrong. Bert has a lesson for the children too—but not about issues of their own. Are they really in trouble, he asks them, or is their dad? “Who looks after your father?” Bert asks, in Dick Van Dyke’s legendarily terrible Cockney accent. “Tell me that. When something terrible ‘appens, what does ‘e do? Fends for ‘imself, ‘e does. Who does ‘e tell about it? No one! Don’t blab his troubles at ‘ome. ‘E just pushes on at his job, uncomplaining and alone and silent.”

Read the whole thing.

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Milquetoast Wonkery

Ross Douhat writes in the New York Times:

This dilemma is apparent in the vigorous intra-conservative debate over a new book, “The Once and Future Worker,” written by the former Mitt Romney domestic policy director Oren Cass [’05]. In certain ways the book is an extension of the reform-conservative project, an argument for policies that support “a foundation of productive work” as the basis for healthy communities and flourishing families and robust civic life. But Cass is more dramatic in his criticism of Western policymaking since the 1970s, more skeptical of globalization’s benefits to Western workers, and more dire in his diagnosis of the real socioeconomic condition of the working class.

Cass’s bracing tone reads like (among other things) an attempt to fix reform conservatism’s political problem, as it manifested itself in 2016 — a problem of lukewarmness, of milquetoast wonkery, that Trumpism’s more sweeping promises simply steamrolled in political debate.

But that tone, as much as Cass’s specific proposals, has divided the center-right’s wonks. There has been a lot of favorable attention for the book (including from my colleague David Brooks); at the same time, there have been sharp critiques, both from within the reform conservative camp (from Michael Strain and James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, and from Scott Winship, a policy adviser to Senator Mike Lee) and from more libertarian or classical-liberal types (like Sam Hammond of the Niskanen Center).

The critics’ concerns vary, but a common thread is that Cass’s diagnosis overstates the struggles of American workers and exaggerates the downsides of globalization, and in so doing risks giving aid and comfort to populist policies — or, for that matter, socialist policies, from the Ocasio-Cortezan left — that would ultimately choke off growth.

In a sense the debate reproduces the larger argument about whether a post-Trump conservative politics should seek to learn something from his ascent or simply aim to repudiate him — with Cass offering a reform conservatism that effectively bids against Trump for populist support, and his critics warning that he’s conceding way too much to Trumpist demagogy.

But the argument over Cass’s book also raises a larger question that both right and left are wrestling with in our age of populist discontent: Namely, is the West’s post-1980 economic performance a hard-won achievement and pretty much the best we could have done, or is there another economic path available, populist or social democratic or something else entirely, that doesn’t just lead back to stagnation?

A great deal turns upon the answer. Economic growth since the 1970s has disappointed relative to what many optimists imagined in 1965; at the same time it has been stronger than what many Carter-era pessimists feared we could expect. If you emphasize the disappointment, then experimenting with a different policy orientation — be it Cass’s work-and-family conservatism or an Ocasio-Cortezan democratic socialism or something else — seems like a risk worth taking; after all things aren’t that great under neoliberalism as it is.

But if you focus on the possible fragility of the growth we have achieved, the ease with which left-wing and right-wing populisms can lead to Venezuela, then you’ll share the anxieties of Cass’s conservative critics — who are willing to tinker with work-and-family policy but worry that to make any major concession to globalization’s critics puts far too much at risk.

Perhaps the best reason to bet on Cass’s specific vision is that the social crisis he wants to address is itself a major long-term drag on growth — because a society whose working class doesn’t work or marry or bear children will age, even faster than the West is presently aging, into stagnation and decline.

At the same time it might well be, as some of his critics think, that the working class’s social crisis is mostly or all cultural, a form of late-modern anomie detached from material privation. In which case political-economy schemes to “fix” the problem won’t have social benefits to match their potential economic costs.

So the decision for Cass’s kind of conservative reform would be, necessarily, a real policy gamble, based on the hope that a greater human flourishing and a more mid-20th-century style of growth is still possible in rich societies like ours. And if the first iteration of reform conservatism was defined and limited by its moderation, his version 2.0 may succeed or fail based on the right’s appetite for trying something else immoderate, even radical, after the Donald Trump experiment has run its course.

Note that EphBlog recognized Cass’s potential almost 15 years ago . . .

Also, I hope that James Hitchcock ’15, research assistant to both David Brooks and Ross Douhat, had a hand in bringing Cass’s book to their attention. We members of the vast right-wing conspiracy (Eph Division) need to look out for each other!

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Brooks on Cass

David Brooks in the New York Times writes:

Working-class voters tried to send a message in 2016, and they are still trying to send it. The crucial question is whether America’s leaders will listen and respond.

One way to start doing that is to read Oren Cass’s absolutely brilliant new book, “The Once and Future Worker.” The first part of the book is about how we in the educated class have screwed up labor markets in ways that devalued work and made it harder for people in the working class to find a satisfying job.

Part of the problem is misplaced priorities. For the last several decades, American economic policy has been pinioned on one goal: expanding G.D.P. We measure G.D.P. We talk incessantly about economic growth. Between 1975 and 2015, American G.D.P. increased threefold. But what good is that growth if it means that a thick slice of America is discarded for efficiency reasons?

Similarly, for the last several decades American, welfare policy has focused on consumption — giving money to the poor so they can consume more. Yet we have not successfully helped poor people produce more so that they can take control of their own lives. We now spend more than $20,000 a year in means-tested government spending per person in poverty. And yet the average poverty rate for 2000 to 2015 was higher than it was for 1970 to 1985.

“What if people’s ability to produce matters more than how much they can consume?” Cass asks.

The bulk of his book is a series of ideas for how we can reform labor markets.

For example, Cass supports academic tracking. Right now, we have a one-size-fits-all education system. Everybody should go to college. The problem is that roughly one-fifth of our students fail to graduate high school in four years; roughly one-fifth take no further schooling after high school; roughly one-fifth drop out of college; roughly one-fifth get a job that doesn’t require the degree they just earned; and roughly one-fifth actually navigate the path the system is built around — from school to career.

We build a broken system and then ask people to try to fit into the system instead of tailoring a system around people’s actual needs.

Cass suggests that we instead do what nearly every other affluent nation does: Let students, starting in high school, decide whether they want to be on an apprenticeship track or an academic track. Vocational and technical schools are ubiquitous across the developed world, and yet that model is mostly rejected here.

Cass also supports worker co-ops. Today, we have an old, adversarial labor union model that is inappropriate for the gig economy and uninteresting to most private-sector workers. But co-ops, drawing on more successful models used in several European nations, could represent workers in negotiations, train and retrain workers as they moved from firm to firm and build a safety net for periods of unemployment. Shopping for a worker co-op would be more like buying a gym membership. Each co-op would be a community and service provider to address a range of each worker’s needs.

Cass has many other proposals — wage subsidies, immigration reforms. But he’s really trying to put work, and the dignity of work, at the center of our culture and concern. In the 1970s and 1980s, he points out, the Emmy Award-winning TV shows were about blue-collar families: “All in the Family,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “The Wonder Years.” Now the Emmy-winning shows are mostly about white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York and Washington.
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We in the college-educated sliver have built a culture, an economy and a political system that are all about ourselves. It’s time to pass labor market reforms that will make life decent for everybody.

Indeed. When was the last time an Eph book received such lavish praise on the op-ed page of the Times?

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