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Sexual Assault Railroading

Former Williams professor KC Johnson writes:

Yu and a fellow member of the crew team attended a party, had quite a bit to drink, and then returned to his room to have sexual relations. Yu’s roommate interrupted them, the accuser said she didn’t want to go any further, and she left—following this up with several Facebook messages, over many weeks, in which she expressed regret for how the evening had wound up. Then, on the last day allowed under Vassar procedures, Walker (whose father is a Vassar professor) filed a sexual assault complaint at the school; the timing precluded Yu’s filing a counter-claim. She further requested that the matter be handled for Vassar’s opaque Interpersonal Violence Panel (whose procedures aren’t public), on which three of her father’s colleagues would serve. (Vassar denied Yu’s request that the panel include a student.) The entire process—from filing of charges to the “investigation” to the adjudication to Yu’s expulsion—took less than three weeks.

Read the whole thing.

If Yu isn’t innocent, then no heterosexual male undergraduate is. And the single person most responsible for Yu’s persecution is, of course, Cappy Hill ’76, Vassar’s president.

Two Williams students were expelled in 2012-2013. Were both of them as “guilty” as Peter Yu?


Worshipping at the Shrine of Pell

A loyal reader asks for my comments on this New York Times article.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.


Lots of rich schools are, unsurprisingly, at the top of these rankings. It is easy to preen if you have a billion dollar endowment. Perhaps naively, I expected Williams to be higher. I am surprised by how well (if that is the word you want to use) Vassar, led by President Cappy Hill ’76, has done. Details on the methodology:

To measure top colleges’ efforts on economic diversity, The Upshot calculated a College Access Index, based on the share of freshmen in recent years who came from low-income families (measured by the share receiving a Pell grant) and on the net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families. The following table also shows colleges’ endowment per student, which is a measure of the resources available to colleges. Colleges with a four-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher in 2011-12 are included.


1) I find the focus on Pell Grants deeply suspect. First, international students are not eligible. So, a school that with 50% of it students from very poor Mexican or Brazilian or Ukranian families would not do well because those student aren’t counted in this methodology. Second, it is not obvious that Pell Grant eligibility is a good measure of economic diversity. Would the child of a rich (but retired) parents be included? I don’t know the details. Does anyone?

2) The numbers are suspect. The key phrase is “net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families.” See the methodological details. (Kudos for transparency.) Also, the raw data seems off. Vassar is at $5,600 but Amherst is $8,400? Impossible! Amherst is much, much richer than Vassar, and is every bit (perhaps even more so) committed to socio-economic diversity as Vassar. Why would they charge poor families 50% more than Amherst does? I believe that the authors got the numbers correctly from IPEDS, I just doubt the quality of the underlying data.


Veteran’s Admissions III

This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 3.

As of this year, Vassar has successfully matriculated two veteran cohorts, bringing the number of veterans at Vassar to 21, out of 2,450 undergraduates. The hope is to continue to admit one group of veterans every year, which would mean, in two years, veterans would constitute nearly 1.5 percent of the student body, should overall enrollment remain the same.

Hmmm. “Successfully matriculated” is not the same thing as “successfully educated” or “successfully integrated into the class” or even “successfully retained.” How many of the 10 (?) veterans that came to Vassar as a part of the class of 2017 are still at Vassar? How many are glad that they came? Is there a single veteran who is unhappy with the program? Hard questions are not going to be asked or answered in this article because it is a puff piece. If I were the editor involved, I would be, at least slightly, embarrassed.

“One of the things we have been trying to do over the last decade or so is create a diverse student body,” Ms. Hill said. “This effort is part of creating that diversity.”

How about creating a “smart” or “talented” or “hard-working” student body first? Now, this is somewhat unfair to Hill. Vassar is a fine school, ranked 11th by US News, with many smart, hard-working students. But hundreds and hundreds of smarter, harder-working high school seniors turn down Vassar each year to attend better colleges. That is what Cappy Hill ought to work on.

This year, Wesleyan University followed Vassar’s lead and admitted 10 veterans to its freshman class under the Posse program.

Hmm. The fact that Wesleyan is participating in this program makes me even more suspicious. First, it is reasonable to argue that a veteran ought to choose Dartmouth over State U because of the better education and/or networks that Dartmouth provides. But that argument does not apply nearly as strongly, if at all, to Wesleyan. (Contrary arguments welcome.) Second, Wesleyan faces non-trivial budget problems. Does it find this program interesting, not because it likes veterans (this is Wesleyan, after all), but because the GI Bill makes such students “cheap” because they do not need financial aid?

“The goal,” Ms. Hill said, “is to get 10 to 12 schools in the program. With the current three cohorts in place, we will be able to converse with other schools about how they might make this program work for them.”

I am all for experimentation, but only if the results of the experiment are honestly reported. Again, Dartmouth has been matriculating veterans for at least five years. What happened to them? If Hill hasn’t tried to find out, then she is not doing her job. If she has found out and isn’t telling us, then . . .

But matriculating veterans is a complex operation. Most four-year colleges cater to students between the ages of 18 and 22. Student veterans, on the other hand, tend to be older, are sometimes married or have children, and can present challenges different to those of a typical undergraduate student.

Dan MacDonald, 50, a freshman at Dartmouth, is married and has a 10-year-old daughter. Though he was able to secure off-campus housing with help from faculty members, he will attend the first term alone, leaving his family behind on Long Island.

50?!? We are very far away from my hypothetical 20 year-old USMC lance corporal. Dartmouth can do as it wants, but I don’t think Williams should have any 50 year-old students. Williams has a hard enough job to be the best college in the world for 18 to 22 year-old young adults. Trying to incorporate someone as old as MacDonald is too hard a problem.

And this example — the best one that they could come up with for the article?!? — highlights the shallowness of Cappy Hill’s previous discussion of diversity. One can make a reasonable case for “diversity” — i.e., for affirmative action for Hispanic/black applicants — because a variety of backgrounds, when interwoven within a students four year experience at Vassar — makes for a better undergraduate experience. Fine. But that argument requires integration both in the classroom and, more importantly, in the dorm and dining hall. Most (90%?) of the benefits of diversity come outside of the classroom, in discussions and debates and conversations. But Dan MacDonald will, through no fault of his own, participate in very little of that. He won’t live in the dorms or eat (much) in the dining hall. He will come to campus to take his classes and then head back to his family, as every father with a 10 year-old daughter should.

Vassar could have a 100 veterans on campus, but if they aren’t completely integrated into undergraduate life, then they will add a trivial amount of “diversity” to the education on their non-veteran classmates.


Veterans Admissions II

This The New York Times article on special admissions programs for military veterans at elite colleges provides a good excuse for a four day review of the topic, one we have covered before at EphBlog. This is Day 2.

According to school administrators, there was one undergraduate veteran attending Princeton during the 2013-14 academic year, out of 5,244 undergraduates. Harvard had four among its roughly 6,700 undergraduates. Brown had 11 out of 6,182. Dartmouth, whose former president, James Wright, is an enlisted Marine Corps veteran who encourages veterans to continue their education during his visits to military hospitals, had 18 of 4,276.

Williams, I believe, has zero. (Corrections welcome!) Previous serious discussion of this topic five years ago.

Despite all the (deserved) grief that Wright used to take from our friends at Dartblog, I am still a fan, as I am of anyone who visits the wounded in our military hospitals.

But Wright/Dartmouth have been doing this for many years now. How well has the program worked? A dozen or more ex-military students have entered and then graduated from Dartmouth. Tell us about their experiences. How many failed to graduate? How many now think that the decision to go to Dartmouth was a mistake?

The fact that these schools don’t produce and/or make public such a report makes me suspicious about how well (or poorly) the program has worked.

In response to those numbers, organizations like the Posse Foundation have turned their attention to bringing more veterans to the nation’s colleges. The foundation was started in 1989 to help underrepresented students to enter top-tier schools. Two years ago, Catharine Bond Hill, the president of Vassar College, began working with the group to apply their model — which focuses on helping exceptional community college students gain admission to elite four-year colleges — to veterans.

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill ’76, but is Vassar, as an institution, better off when its president uses college resources to support her personal (and idiosyncratic?) moral views? There are many, many groups of people who are underrepresented at Vassar. Why all the resources devoted to veterans? Why not, say, victims of domestic violence? Or orphans? Or survivors of childhood cancer? Each of these groups would benefit from the resources that Cappy Hill is devoting toward veterans. Each would add a true diversity of experience to Vassar.

A wiser president would spend her time and resources to make Vassar a better college by increasing the quality of the student body, mainly by convincing at least some of the hundreds of students who turn down Vassar each year (in order to go to higher ranked liberal arts colleges like Williams and Amherst) to choose Vassar instead.

The Posse Foundation mandates that every member of a class attend a monthlong training seminar designed to prepare them for the rigors of full-time scholarship and to promote camaraderie among the members. Additionally, members must begin as first-year students, regardless of how many community college credits they have accrued.

The Posse Foundation might be the world’s most wonderful non-profit, but every institution is tempted to do things that are good for it, whether or not those things are good for its (purported) clients. How much “camaraderie” can there be among veterans who will soon attend a variety of colleges? I bet close to zero. But such a training program provides all sorts of empire-building possibilities for the Posse Foundation itself . . .

More importantly, would you advise a veteran who already had two years of college credits to start over again in Vassar instead of finishing up at his state university in just two years? Not me. At least, not until we had a thorough discussion about the costs and benefits of both choices.


(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor IV

Fourth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“You can make big statements about being accessible, and have need-blind admissions and really low net prices for low-income kids, but still enroll very few of those low-income kids, by doing minimal outreach,” said Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College. “There has to be a commitment to go out and find them.”

Since when did every college president decide that coolness requires three names? Cappy Hill, or in more formal settings, Catharine Hill, was happily associated with Williams for 20+ years without anyone ever using her middle name. But now we have to include “Bond?” Weird. And Morty Schapiro seemed to do the same for a while, with his regular reminders that his middle name is Owen. Anyway, back to the article . . .

EphBlog loves Cappy Hill ’76 something fierce
, but this is misleading. Hill is implying that there are hundreds (thousands?) of low-income students with Williams-caliber credentials who don’t apply to Williams or places like it because of ignorance. But there aren’t! This is a pleasant fantasy of those who like to believe that parental wealth and student academic achievement are not as correlated as, in fact, they are. Consider the flaws in Hill’s research (pdf):

First, “high ability” is defined as 1420 or above combined math/reading SAT scores. Recall that Williams uses a system of academic ratings (AR) and that ratings below 2 are automatically rejected unless they have some special attribute like race or athletics. From Peter Nurnberg’s ’09 thesis, here are the relevant definitions:

AR 1: “Valedictorian/top or close to top”, A record, “Exceeding most demanding program, evidence of deep intellectual curiosity, passionate interest in particular discipline”, Exceptional, Exceptional, 770–800, 750–800, 1520 — 1600, 750–800, 35–36, mostly 5s

AR 2: Top 5%, Mostly A record, “Most demanding program, many AP and Honors courses, highly significant intellectual curiosity”, Outstanding, Outstanding, 730–770, 720–750, 1450–1520, 720–770, 33-34, 4s and 5s

In other words, lots of the students (SAT 1420 to 1450) that Hill describes as “high ability” are pretty much automatic rejects at Williams (leaving aside whatever affirmative action Williams places on socio-ec diversity). Moreover, lots of the other students with SAT >= 1450 lack the grades and other scores that put them in AR 2. So, Hill is (purposely?) overestimating the pool of potential applicants.

Second, even such high ability applicants are not (meaningfully) under-represented! Hill reports that these high ability, low income students make up 10% of elite schools but 12.8% of the population. Not a big enough difference to get worked up about, I think. And certainly not enough to make me think that the returns to more “outreach” are particularly high.

Third, Hill does not control for the desires of the students. Imagine two students in Georgia, both with Academic Rating 1 students (on the Williams scale), both admitted to Williams and to the University of Georgia. Both won free rides at UGA via merit scholarships. One is student is poor and one is rich. I bet that the the poor student is much more likely to choose UGA. This preference, alone, might be enough to explain why poor students are slightly under-represented at elite schools.

Fourth, Hill does not seem to recognize that a poor student, even if as academically accomplished as the rich student, might be better off at an (excellent) state school rather than a (2nd tier?) liberal arts college like Vassar. Leave the details of this debate for another day, but it is indicative of the attitude of people like Hill that they would, in most cases, think that a student choosing UGA over Vassar is making a mistake.


Low Income Students

“Low-Income Students and Highly Selective Private Colleges: Searching and Recruiting” (pdf) by Cappy Hill ’76 and Gordon Winston is an interesting read.

The evidence, then, suggests that inadequate attention to geography and the incidence of ACT tests in their search and recruiting activities has contributed to a bias in enrollment against low-income students at highly selective private colleges and universities. Other factors undoubtedly play a role – especially, for instance, widespread
inaccurate information about actual prices at these schools – but these search and recruiting practices do appear to contribute to their relatively meager share of low-income

Perhaps. But the real problem lies in their initial assumption.

So it has been our assumption that these privileged schools should aim to have their student bodies include students from low-income families at least in proportion to their share in the national population of high ability students.

Why would you ever assume that the portion of Williams-worthy students in the richest 5% of US families is the same as the portion in the poorest 5%? Before looking at the data, I would assume the exact opposite. Smart people generally share two attributes: 1) Family income above the bottom 10% and 2) Smart children. Would anyone disagree? (I doubt that Hill and Winston would. At least I hope that they are not infected with the same ridiculous genetic egalitarianism that so hampers the empirical work of, among others, Schapiro and McPherson.)


Global Meritocracy

Professors Gordon Winston and Cappy Hill ’76 provide their usual excellent research in “Low-Income Students and Highly Selective Private Colleges: Searching and Recruiting” (pdf). But, for now, leave aside the substance and consider the opening sentence.

Low-income students’ access to the best of American higher education is a matter not only of individual equality of opportunity, but of social efficiency, of fully utilizing the nation’s talents.

Really? By default, we all assume that it is a good thing that Williams, and other elite institutions, scour the earth for the best and brightest. The smartest kid in Nowhere, Kansas should go to Williams, not to Kansas State. But is this really a good thing? Is it best for society if the most talented individuals are whisked away from their local communities at age 18, fated to, in all likelihood, never return? Sometimes, I am not so sure. Consider some opposing arguments.

Indeed, with regard to higher education, we might think of meritocracy as the equivalent of the practice of strip-mining. For the meritocratic system is a method that uses impersonal technology (e.g., the SAT) to help us identify valuable natural resources (bright kids), and then pitilessly removes them from their ecological contexts (local communities), never to return them, thus creating cultural landscapes just as ravaged as the denuded mountainsides of Kentucky coal country.

In other words, in an irony not often enough noted, modernity, whose distinctive political philosophies have stressed equality, has led to greater inequality than ever, precisely because it has equalized opportunity — that is, because it has unleashed talent either to sink or swim — more than had ever previously been done. To put it yet another way, modernity has created many more opportunities for the expression of inequality than ever. And it has made inherent inequality more important than ever in determining social and economic distinctions.

For my part, I prefer to accept the critics’ assertion that the meritocratic ideal is itself mistaken. Mistaken because it leads to social resentment. Mistaken because it has disturbingly anti-democratic consequences. Mistaken because it further rewards those already favored by nature and further punishes those who have been relatively disfavored. Mistaken because it is deeply anti-communal and anti-familial. And mistaken, perhaps most fundamentally, because it is premised on the lie that we are our own, the lie that we all can make and remake ourselves into whatever we want to be, and the lie that our achievements and failings could ever be fully “merited,” rather than, as a Christian might say it, the gifts of grace or the unfortunate consequences of the Fall.

Then there is a vast interconnected network of public and private scholarships, grants, loans, and subsidies, not to mention ranking and testing systems, designed to identify and support the smartest and most able young men and women in reaching the highest positions possible in our meritocracy. Fine and good, except that it is all done without regard for the consequences for the communities and regions from which they spring. Indeed, those who are selected from the ghettos and hinterlands are typically taught only one major in college, says Wendell Berry: the discipline of upward mobility. They are encouraged to question and reject the values and loyalties and histories of their home places for the more enlightened substitutes offered by the global meritocracy.

Indeed. Obviously, I would not expect Williams to change its current admissions practices because of these concerns. I want us to find the most academically talented and ambitious 18 year-olds in the world and bring them to Williams. If that hurts the small towns they come from, too bad.

But the more firmly you hold belief X, the more you should seek out the smartest arguments against it.


Update on Presidential Search

At this mornings Ephraim Williams Society breakfast, Morty gave an update on the Presidential Search. First, the Search Committee is looking at 8-10 candidates in a serios fashion, checking resumes and so on. That seems consistent with the recent update:

The Committee has followed up on submitted names and held frequent conference calls to review the pool. We gathered in Williamstown yesterday to review our progress to date.

That progress, we are glad to report, has been substantial. We have held almost 40 meetings with potential candidates. Small teams representing each segment of our membership — students, trustees, faculty, and staff — have traveled across the country to talk personally with the men and women who aspire to lead Williams in the years ahead.

We will now conduct follow-up interviews with the most promising candidates prior to submitting the results of our work to the Board of Trustees, which has the responsibility of naming the next President.

As always, Morty is more forthcoming than official publications from the College.

Second, Morty (who is not involved in the process directly) reported that the Committee would probably reduce the pool to 2 or 3 finalists in the next “month or two.” Third, Morty mentioned that timing was always difficult to predict, but he thought that we might have an announcement before Septenber 1, with a start date for the new President of either September or next January.


1) I still hope that the Committee selects Cappy Hill ’76, for all the reasons given previously. But, given this news, I would say that Cappy’s appointment is somewhat less likely than it appeared 6 months ago. The key issue is timing. Cappy has only been president of Vassar for 3 years. If she leaves tomorrow, she is something of a bad person (depending in your point of view). One possibility is that the Commitee appoints her with a starting date of July 1, 2010. Giving Vassar 4 years (and an entire year to find a next President) is reasonable. If we haven ‘t heard anything before the fall, then the Committee might appoint her for July 1, 2011.

2) A sometimes knowledgeable alum writes:

What about trolling for the new president? You heard it here. Pam Carlton or Clayton Spencer. At best these would be neutral, one decidedly negative.

Who is Pam Carlton? I doubt that Williams would choose someone like Spencer ’77 without a Ph.D., despite her extensive experience in higher education. Spencer is on the Search Committee. Political junkies will recall that Dick Cheney went from leading George W. Bush’s search for a running mate to being the running mate.

Not that I am comparing Spencer to Cheney, of course. ;-)

3) I assume that Nancy Roseman is one of the 8-10 finalists. She is clearly interested in more senior jobs and it would be a serious insult for the Committee not to take her application seriously. I could also imagine her as one of the 2-3 finalists. Not because I think that Williams would ever choose her (that seems highly unlikely) but because a smart search committee stacks the finalists so that the whole board picks the candidate the search committee wants. Roseman was clearly just a stalking horse for the insider candidate for the Exeter job.

4) What other candidates are plausible?


Welcome Back, President Cappy Hill

Cappy Hill ’76 is expected to be named the next president of the college within the next two months, definitely before the end of the academic year, according to a person familiar with the matter, who refused to be identified because the hope is to keep the appointment under wraps for the time being. We, of course, predicted this three weeks ago.


Welcome Cappy!

cappyCatharine “Cappy” Hill ’76 will be the 17th President of Williams College. You read it here first. We need (or, the powers on the search committee will argue that we need) a quick hire, known to Williams, comfortable with our culture, and experienced with both leadership and hard economic choices. Cappy Hill fits those criteria perfectly.

Quick Hire: The financial crisis makes this the most dangerous era for Williams in a generation. We need new leadership and we need it now. Although it would be nice to conduct a nationwide search lasting a year or more, perhaps installing an interim President like Carl Vogt ’58 in 1999-2000, the College lacks the luxury of time. Hard choices must be made and the earlier they are made, the less damage to Williams. Although Morty will serve as a good steward for the next 9 months, he is in no position to demand sacrifices from various stakeholders nor to make promises as to future benefits. He is a lame duck, with at least one eye focused on his responsibilities at Northwestern. So, Greg Avis ’80 (chair of the executive board of the Trustees and of the Presidential Search Committee) will want to have the job filled no later than this summer. That means a fast search, with a preference for those candidates that Williams knows well already.

Known: Members of the search committee will know Cappy as well as they know virtually any other candidate. She is a Williams alum, a former faculty member and senior administrator. She was a finalist for the presidential search in 1999 that selected Morty. She is a known quantity. Select Cappy and there will be no surprises. The biggest mistake made by the Trustees in the last 20 years was the selection of Hank Payne. They won’t make an error like that again.

Comfortable: Cappy is as comfortable with the Williams ethos as anyone can be. One son is an alumnus and another is a current student! She knows what makes Williams tick, what makes it special. She bleeds purple. And she is a golfer! The greens of Taconic are calling . . .

Leadership: If you had to design the perfect President to lead Williams through a period of economic turmoil and difficult spending cuts, you would have two conflicting goals. First, you would want someone who knew Williams inside and out, who had served as Provost (more or less the chief financial officer of Williams) for many years. Second, you would want someone with experience outside of Williams, ideally someone who had already served as a college president, someone who has insider knowledge of how another elite liberal arts college prioritized its spending, ideally a less-rich college than Williams, a place that spent fewer dollars while providing the same quality education. Unfortunately, those two qualifications are almost never found together in one person, unless that person is named Cappy Hill.

Possible Objections:

1) Williams would not steal Cappy away from Vassar. Hah! Williams stole both John Chandler and Hank Payne from Hamilton without hesitation, after only 5 years in office. Indeed, Cappy is following precisely Chandler’s path of faculty member, department chair, senior administrator and then a different college presidency for seasoning. If Williams was willing to steal Chandler and Payne, we will steal Cappy. Her short tenure (3 years as of this summer) will make Greg Avis ’80 feel guilty, but only a little. His responsibility is to Williams.

2) Williams passed over Cappy once and will do so again. Perhaps. There was something that made Williams choose Morty over Cappy and maybe that something will happen again. But I doubt it. Being runner-up to Morty is still a good showing and her winning the Vassar job means that there was nothing substantively wrong with her application.

3) Williams may want Cappy but she will turn us down. Perhaps. Chair of the Vassar Board of Trustees William Plapinger should be a nervous man. He led the search committee that selected Cappy. He would hate to lose her. If he is smart, he is calling her right now, trying to (gently) pin her down on her future plans, double-checking that her committment to Vassar is as strong now as it was three years ago. He will not want to be so crass as to demand a promise from Cappy that she will remove herself from the Williams search, but he will strongly imply that it is unfair of her to expect him (and other senior trustees) to work hard on the current capital campaign unless she is fully committed to the future of Vassar. Luckily, Cappy is smart enough to put him off.

4) Cappy is a great candidate but there are a dozen others. True! There are many good candidates (and future posts will handicap the race) but none as perfect as Cappy. In fact, I can’t come up with anyone who comes close, at least according to the criteria I outline above. (Suggestions welcome!) She is an even money bet, at worst.

Allow me to be the first to welcome her back to Williams.


Worsening Situation

The New York Times reports on the financial crunch hitting higher education.

Tough economic times have come to public and private universities alike, and rich or poor, they are figuring out how to respond. Many are announcing hiring freezes, postponing construction projects or putting off planned capital campaigns.

With endowment values and charitable gifts likely to decline, the process of setting next year’s tuition low enough to keep students coming, but high enough to support operations, is trickier than ever.

Dozens of college presidents, especially at wealthy institutions, have sent letters and e-mail to students and their families describing their financial situation and belt-tightening plans.

At Williams College, for example, President Morton Owen Schapiro wrote that with last year’s negative return on the endowment and the worsening situation since June, some renovation and facilities spending would be reduced and nonessential openings left unfilled.

Vassar College will give out $1 million more in financial aid this year than originally budgeted, even though the endowment, which provides a third of its operating budget, dropped to $765 million at the end of September, down $80 million from late June. President Catharine Bond Hill of Vassar said the college would reduce its operating costs, but remain need-blind.

I never knew that Cappy Hill’s ’76 middle name was Bond. Is there some union rule that requires the presidents of elite liberal arts colleges (Morton Owen Schapiro, Catharine Bond Hill) to have three names, sort of like presidential assassins?


Rank Me

EphBlogs favorite Lord Jeff (after Tony Marx), Mondale Hall, points to a statement about college rankings, which has now appeared on the College’s website.

Statement on College Rankings

I, and the other undersigned presidents, agree that prospective students benefit from having as complete information as possible in making their college choices.

Correct! Information and transparency are good things. Previous commentary here.

At the same time, we are concerned about the inevitable biases in any single ranking formula, about the admissions frenzy, and the way in which rankings can contribute to that frenzy and to a false sense that educational success or fit can be ranked in a single numerical list.

OK. No single formula is best. The more (accurate!) information that colleges provide, the better. But complaining about a “frenzy” is mostly stupid. You might as well complain about the sky being blue. Outside of radical changes, there will always be a frenzy.

[For those who really want to decrease the frenzy, the only plausible way is to stretch out the process even further. Imagine that Williams accepted early, early decision applications from high school juniors in June and notified them of the results by August. This would decrease the frenzy since it would stagger the process. These students would be worried about their application (but not really that worried since they can still apply to other schools in the fall) while many/most of their friends were not. More outside-the-box thinking from your friends at EphBlog!]

Since college and ranking agencies should maintain a degree of distance to ensure objectivity, from now on data we make available to college guides will be made public via our Web sites rather than be distributed exclusively to a single entity.

Excellent! This is great news, both objectively and for EphBlog readers. Imagine all the fun that we can have with this data . . . With luck, other colleges will follow suit.

Doing so is true to our educational mission and will allow interested parties to use this information for their own benefit. If, for example, class size is their focus, they will have that information. If it is the graduation rate, that will be easy to find. We welcome suggestions for other information we might also provide publicly.

Kudos to these presidents! This is exactly the right answer to the idiocy of the Lloyd Thackers of the world.

But will they really welcome (and act on?) suggestions? I hope so. For a start, a key issue will be the level of disaggregation in the data. The more detail, the better. For example, we want to know the size of every class that a college offers, not just summary measures like the percent of classes with more than 50 or fewer than 20 students, as US News reports. We want to know the entire (joint) distribution of SAT scores, not just the 25th and 75th percentiles. We want to know how many students come from which high schools.

There are lots of messy details to figure out in how to organize and standardize this data. Let’s start.

We commit not to mention U.S. News or similar rankings in any of our new publications, since such lists mislead the public into thinking that the complexities of American higher education can be reduced to one number.

This seems sort of stupid. Why pick on US News? It also seems to hurt Williams much more than other schools, especially when we are competing for students from different (i.e., poor, non-US) backgrounds.

Finally, we encourage all colleges and universities to participate in an effort to determine how information about our schools might be improved. As for rankings, we recognize that no degree of protest may make them soon disappear, and hope, therefore, that further discussion will help shape them in ways that will press us to move in ever more socially and educationally useful directions.

Morton Owen Schapiro

Count me in!


Anthony Marx, Amherst
Elaine Hansen, Bates
Barry Mills, Bowdoin
Nancy Vickers, Bryn Mawr
Robert Oden, Carleton
William D. Adams, Colby
Rebecca Chopp, Colgate
Russell Osgood, Grinnell
Joan Hinde Stewart, Hamilton
Stephen Emerson, Haverford
Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury
David Oxtoby, Pomona
Alfred Bloom, Swarthmore
James Jones, Trinity
Catharine Hill, Vassar
Kenneth Ruscio, Washington and Lee
Kim Bottomly, Wellesley
Michael S. Roth, Wesleyan

Any Ephs in this list besides Cappy Hill ’75? Which colleges are most notable by their absence? Davidson (#9) and Claremont McKenna (#11) seem to be the highest ranked colleges not on this list. Did they decline to sign or were they not even invited. Also, whose idea was a joint letter? Who did the first draft? Details, please.

Hall writes, “I think this effectively ends Lloyd Thacker’s fifteen minutes.” I hope so!

Also, just think of all the fun that we are going to have asking for data that the colleges ought to publish but won’t want to. Morty and his friends want to make graduation rate data available? Great! Tell me graduation rate data by race or family income. Do poor students graduate at the same rate from Amherst as rich students? If not, isn’t Tony Marx failing them? Just asking!


Need Blind at Vassar

Vassar, led by former Williams provost Cappy Hill ’75, is going need-blind on admissions.

Ten years ago, Vassar College began factoring financial need into some admissions decisions, a move necessitated by ballooning aid costs that similarly affected the policies at other institutions. Last week, reflecting a growing concern over the accessibility of higher education as well as more favorable economic conditions, Vassar announced that it would buck the trend and return to completely need-blind admissions for first-year freshmen.

“We were really seeing it — along with other schools — as a way of getting the message out that these kinds of schools are affordable for families given our financial aid policies, and your financial need won’t hurt you in the admissions process, and that’s the message we wanted to get out,” said Catharine B. Hill, who became the president a year ago after serving as the provost of Williams College, one of the relatively few liberal arts colleges — now including Vassar — that have both need-blind admissions and pledges to meet full need.

Yeah, yeah. I see this as more public relations/make the faculty and other stakeholders happy.

[Former Williams professor] Michael S. McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation and an expert on financial aid issues, taught Hill when he was an economics professor at Williams and she was an undergraduate. He said that the trend for most colleges has been in the opposite direction — away from need-blind admissions — similar to Vassar’s move 10 years ago. The exception is among top-tier institutions, which have been taking various measures to make themselves more accessible to students from lower-income backgrounds.

“I would not expect this to be a dramatic change in who gets admitted,” McPherson said. “If you’re close, it’s really nice to be able to make a simple statement, so you don’t have to send an ambiguous message…. If you’re near to being able to do it, it’s great to just go ahead and do it.”

More on this topic here.


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