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Williams Reads One Idea

Professor Nate Kornell tweeted a link to this article:

Saying that such a dialogue was essential to the college’s academic mission, all the more so as students were scattered around the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, Williams College president Maud Mandel confirmed Monday that the school encourages a lively exchange of one idea. “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Mandel, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.

This year, the one idea will center around the benefits of immigration, especially undocumented, from formerly colonized countries. The College will explore this one idea through a required reading of Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario ’82, via the Williams Reads program.

Developed by the Committee on Diversity and Community (CDC), Williams Reads is an initiative offered as an opportunity for us to explore a book together that will help us to celebrate and deepen our appreciation of diversity.

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom noted that “Although we appreciate diversity quite deeply at Williams, we can never appreciated diversity enough. Every day, every month, every year, we must work harder to deepen our appreciation. This is all the more true in the aftermath of the recent Taco Six incident, in which 6 undergraduates failed to demonstrate in sufficient depth to their appreciation of Mexican Culture.”

“Whether it’s a discussion of a national political issue or a concern here on campus, an open forum in which one argument is uniformly reinforced is crucial for maintaining the exceptional learning environment we have cultivated here,” continued Mandel. She also told reporters that counseling resources were available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

Here at EphBlog, we have been praising Enrique’s Journey for more than a decade. Too cheap to buy the book? Nazario won the Pulitzer Prize for the newspaper articles that form the core of the story. Read them here for free.

Highly recommended.

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Reunions?

While clearly not the most important question facing the College at the moment (this discusses what I think is the most important question right now), the reunion question is important and could have some long-term implications for Williams, perhaps moreso than for many other colleges and universities.  Specifically, while the College has not yet cancelled the 2020 reunions, I think it is pretty likely that they will not take place.  Registration for reunions is currently “on hold until further notice,” and I don’t know how much planning is currently happening on campus (or by class volunteers).

If all of this year’s reunions are cancelled, will the affected classes (the ‘5 and ‘0 graduating years) simply skip their reunions this cycle?  This would mean 10 years between reunions for these classes.  (I’m ignoring the 50-year+ classes which, I think get invited every year).  I think that would have a long-term, measurable impact on giving from those classes, although probably not enough to really matter to the College.  Most troubling, I suspect, would the cancellation of the 25th and 50th reunions for the classes of 1995 and 1970.  The 25th and 50th reunion classes typically give the largest class gifts each year.  Over the past 12 years (dating back to the 25th Reunion of the Class of 1980), the 25th Reunion class gift has averaged just shy of $7 million (with individual classes ranging from $3.6-$13.6 million).  Over the past 7 years (data can be found at the links on this page), the 50th Reunion class gift has averaged over $17 million (with a low of $9.7 million and a high of $41 million).  The 50th Reunion class gifts count everything given between the 40th and 50th reunions, so perhaps cancelling the reunion won’t impact the overall gift as much, but I’m sure that smart people in the Alumni Development Office are trying to estimate what the impacts would be.

Could the College reschedule everyone for next summer?  I don’t know whether there would be room for that many classes to have reunions at once.  Or perhaps do the 2021 reunions and 2020 reunions on back to back weekends next summer?  What do you think makes the most sense? Will skipping out on a reunion cycle dampen alumni enthusiasm for Williams?

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How to Pick a Husband

About half of the female students currently at Williams will not be married at age 32. Don’t want that to be your fate? You will never be prettier than you are right now and you will never be surrounded by as many single, high-quality men. Follow EphBlog’s advice:

1) Pick 5 Williams men you would like to go out with on a date. You are, obviously, not picking a husband at this stage, but you are selecting likely candidates. Because men are shallow creatures, select men that are about as handsome as you are pretty. If you are average, then select an average man. Even better, select a man at the 25th percentile of attractiveness. If you end up married, he will spend the rest of his life marveling at the beauty of the woman in his bed each morning and vowing to do his best not to screw up his good fortune.

2) Pick a friend to be the matchmaker. Many of your friends would jump at the chance. You need someone social, someone not afraid to approach a (possible) stranger on your behalf.

3) Have your friend approach a candidate and let him know that, if he asked you out on a dinner date, you would say, “Yes.” Assuming you have picked wisely, he will be excited! There are few things a boy likes more than knowing a girl is interested in him. And the reason he hasn’t asked you out before was, most likely, that he was afraid you would say, “No.” There is nothing a boy fears more than rejection. Since he knows ahead of time what your answer will be, you can be (mostly) certain that he will ask you out. If you want to avoid the embarrassment of rejection yourself, just allow your friend the discretion to approach the men in the order she sees fit. Then she won’t even need to tell you if candidates 1 and 2 turned down this opportunity.

4) Go out on the date. Who knows what will happen? The date may be a failure. If so, have your friend go on to another candidate. But the date is probably more likely to go well, especially if you chose your five candidates wisely, picking men that you already liked and respected, men with whom you could imagine having a longterm relationship. One date may lead to another, and then another. Perhaps you will never have a need for the other four candidates.

Does this seem like a horribly retrograde and patriarchal plan? Perhaps it is! The claim I am making is purely a statistical one. Female Eph undergraduates who follow this advice are more likely to be married at 32 than those who do not.

Happy Valentines Day! And point your date toward EphBlog’s annual advice on falling in love . . .

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Claiming Williams 2020

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Comments:

1) This schedule is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the co-chairs are Bilal Ansari and Gail Newman. Are they to blame?

The main trick to ensuring high attendance at Claiming Williams is to schedule a first event that hundreds of students will want to attend (or be cajoled into attending by their JAs). That event should feature people/items that are popular with students. Everyone loves singing groups! Invite several to perform. Everyone loves honeybuns! Serve them for free. In past years, the organizers have done exactly this, thereby getting lots of students out of bed and engaged. Once they attend the first event, it is easier to get them to go from that to another. There is nothing like that this year, nor was their last year, nor the year before that, nor the year before that. I am noticing a trend!

But this year seems especially weak! Is there a single event before noon that will appeal to a large number of Williams students. Not that I can see. If we are going to go through the trouble of cancelling classes for an entire day, we should schedule events that will engage the whole community throughout the day.

2) What a narrow selection of topics! Claiming Williams has always been (and will always be) filled with leftist sessions. Nothing wrong with that! But, in past years, other sessions, appealing to a different cross-section of the community, have generated large audiences. How about something about athletics at Williams and the athlete/non-athlete divide? What about a session on the drinking culture? A more competent committee would have created such sessions.

Again, nothing wrong with extreme leftists! Some of our closest friends are . . . But there is no excuse for not having (many!) events that come at these issues from other perspectives.

3) In past years, there has been at least an event or two that was non-leftist, something about free speech, or being a Conservative on campus, or being a Catholic or . . . Nothing like that this year.

4) Canada Goose and Book Grants looks interesting, and has a great title. The same session was given last year. This is the event in the morning slot that I would attend.

5) Could the Record please do a minimal amount of reporting and tell us, approximately, how many students attend at least two events? My sense (commentary welcome) is that the College likes to pretend like a large majority of students (1500?) attend more than one event. I bet that the actual number is closer to 500, and maybe as low as 300.

I interviewed 7 students two years ago on a different topic. One was a first year. If we define “participation in Claiming Williams” as having attended at least two events, none of the other 6 participated. This is not a large sample and it was not randomly chosen, but, still! (On the other hand, 6 of the 7 had “participated” in Mountain Day, where participation is defined as going on at least one hike.) Mountain Day still merits cancelling classes. Does Claiming Williams?

I also asked the 6 students what their estimate was for student participation in Claiming Williams. The median estimate was 25%. If only a quarter of the students participate in Claiming Williams, then the College ought to cancel it next year.

6) If any readers attend Claiming Williams, please tell us about your experience in the comments.

Full schedule below
Read more

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Play Trivia Tonight

Good luck!

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Fall in Love

What is the real purpose of Winter Study, especially for male undergraduates?

The real purpose of Winter Study is to fall in love.

You will never, ever, be surrounded by as many smart, pretty, eligible women as you are right now. Life after college is, comparatively, a wasteland. Of course, as you pass into the great beyond, you will meet other women, but they are unlikely to be as wonderful, physically and mentally, as the Eph women you are blessed to know now. More importantly, the best of them will choose mates sooner rather than latter. Exiting Williams without a serious girlfriend is not necessarily a one-way ticket to permanent bachelorhood (as several of my co-bloggers can attest), but it is not the smart way to play the odds. The odds favor love now.

It isn’t that your classes and papers, your theses and sports teams, are unimportant. But finding a soulmate to grow old with, someone to bear your children and ease your suffering, someone to give your life meaning and your work purpose — this is a much more important task than raising that GPA enough to make magna cum laude.

So, stop reading this blog and ask out that cute girl from across the quad. I did the same 32 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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The Ghost of EphBlog Future

abl writes:

I’m going to add my voice to all of the calls to please keep JCD out of this. There is room for interesting and important discussion on these points. Invoking (summoning?) JCD into the discussion is not a productive first step towards reaching any greater understanding of these issues. Nor, especially, is demanding that some of our most thoughtful contributors apologize to JCD over points that they have made in the past that are only indirectly implicated by this discussion–and definitely do not require apologies. JCD leaving this blog was one of the best things to happen to it in recent times; please do not drag him back in.

Is there no spirit of Christian forgiveness among the EphBlog community? Must we be defined by our sins forevermore?

My purpose is not to defend everything that JCD has ever done or said. I disagree with much of it. Some of his statement/actions in the past have been, as the kids say today, “problematic.”

But I believe in redemption, in forgiveness, in the possibility of rebirth for every Eph, no matter the sins of their past. Do you?

And I like to think that that faith has been justified, at least in the case of JCD. After joining EphBlog as an author, he authored several posts, each with a direct connection to Williams. Each is a perfect example of what we need more of at EphBlog. I don’t agree with every word, but that is all to the good! And, if you think JCD focuses too much on Williams mentions in the conservative media, then step up and write some posts about Williams mentions from the other side of the media aisle.

JCD, being a good person, has voluntarily taken a break from EphBlog for 6 months. Is EphBlog a better or worse place without him?

David, you need to work on tempering what seems to be an innate desire for controversy.

A majority of the (smart! hard-working!) people in Hopkins Hall would define “controversy” as any negative news story about Williams. Is that your definition? Do you not think that I should write about, say, athletic admissions, Bernard Moore, sexual assault or any of the dozen topics that Williams, as an institution, would rather were never discussed? I hope not!

I suspect, however, that you like — or at least don’t object to — my posts on those topics. That sort of “controversy” is fine for you. Indeed, this is one of, perhaps even the main, reason that you read and contribute to EphBlog. Cool!

Instead, what you mean is that my “innate desire for controversy” is fine if I write about controversies you are interested in but less fine if I write about other sorts of controversies. Or am I being unfair?

You have a good nose for Williams-related issues and, combined with your focus on and commitment to the College, you can make a real contribution to the college community. Ephblog often comes close to being a really wonderful resource for both Williams alums and those interested in the college more generally (like PTC).

“Comes close?” Compared to what? Your Platonic ideal of the perfect college blog? Does any such creature exist in this fallen world?

EphBlog is the best college blog in the world. (If you disagree, suggest one that is better.)

But you continually shoot yourself in the foot by taking things just one step too far or by making points inflammatory that really shouldn’t be.

One Eph’s “inflammatory” is another Eph’s “punchy writing.”

This is a good example of this. You’ve done a nice job finding Professor Maroja’s blog and tying it into a broader discussion that is happening at Williams–one that has national relevance. And you’ve done a good job in recognizing that there are nuances to these issues that those on all sides of this gloss over–including Professor Maroja specifically.

Thanks! Compliments from discerning readers are always appreciated.

But you really stumble with your entirely unnecessary bit re JCD.

Perhaps. Mistakes will be made. Feedback is always welcome.

Ephblog could be a forum for intelligent like-minded individuals with an important shared connection to consider many important issues.

“Could be?” Again, compared to what? There is no more intelligent forum (devoted to a single institution of higher education) in the world. (Contrary pointers welcome.) Even something as excellent as Dartblog in its heyday never allowed comments.

Ephblog is at its worst when it devolves into trolling and troll-baiting.

Again, I have been yelled at (not an exaggeration!) by a trustee (in public!) about my posts on athletic admissions. He viewed any discussion of admissions advantages for athletes as “trolling,” although, back in 2007, I am sure he would have used different terminology.

I’d like to think that we, as a community of Williams alums, are better than that–but I’m not sure we always are. As the de facto (official?) leader of Ephblog, you can and should and do play a big role in setting the tone for these discussions. You do so many things so well in this regard, it’s infuriating when you just can’t resist adding some poke or snark at the end. So often the result is to derail what otherwise might be a thoughtful discussion of an important issue.

Point taken! I will aim to do better in the future. Happy New Year!

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Merry Christmas

grading

Merry Christmas to all! EphBlog hopes that the world is looking prettier to Ephs far and wide.

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The Ghost of EphBlog Present

Last week, I told the tale of the Ghost of EphBlog Past. Read that stave or continue no further. Today: A visit from the Ghost of EphBlog Present.

Touch my robe and away we go!

For anyone who remembers our humble beginning, the EphBlog of today is an amazing place. There were 187 posts in January 2010 by at least 18 different authors: Norman Birnbaum ’46, Dick Swart ’56, Jeff Thaler ’74, David Kane ’88, Derek Charles Catsam ’93, Ken Thomas ’93, Wendy Shalit ’97, Jeff Zeeman ’97, JG ’03, Rory ’03, Lowell Jacobson ’03, Ben Fleming ’04, Diana Davis ’07, Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07, Andrew Goldston ’09, Torrey Taussig ’10, tinydancer ’11 and PTC.

Also note these contributions from Williams officials: Wayne G. Hammond, librarian at the Chapin Library of Rare Books, an anonymous faculty member, Professor Gabriela Vainsenche, Tyng Administrator Jeff Thaler ’74 and Professor Peter Just. Note that all of these were just in January! If we looked at 2009 as a whole, we would find contributions from a dozen or more current Williams faculty/staff. We have even been retweeted by a trustee!

Several of our authors posted only once or twice during the month, but the diversity of contributions — including spectrum-spanning politics and a 65 year range of graduating classes — make EphBlog the most successful independent (alumni/student/parent) college website in the world. There were 2,388 comments during the month, from dozens of readers. None of the similar student/alumni blogs at Dartmouth, Middlebury, Amherst or Wesleyan come anywhere near this level of participation. Although readership is hard to measure, we had over 1,000 visitors a day in January, with at least 200 from the Williamstown area. Although the vast majority of students/faculty do not read EphBlog, many of those most concerned with the past, present and future of Williams as an institution do. I write for them, and for my father.

Alas, EphBlog is not without its critics. Consider this Williams professor:

But let’s look back over the last few weeks (or the last few years for that matter) and think about what DDF has been saying about Williams and the Williams faculty. We’re racists. We’re intolerant. We’re sleazy (indeed, any of you who know Bill Wagner will understand just how bizarre it is to use that adjective in connection to him). This list goes on and on and on, with depressing and debilitating regularity and continuity.

There is an ineluctable fact to all internet commentary: No matter how many wonderful things you write about a person, no matter how many things you both agree on, no matter how polite and open-minded you are in discussion, if you challenge someone’s deepest beliefs, they will often despise you.

And this is all the more true if you do so from the “inside.” I disagree with many professors and administrators about what is best for Williams. And that should be OK! Discussion and debate are at the heart of a Williams education. But because I do so with credentials of an elite education (Harvard Ph.D.) and Williams College insider (Winter Study adjunct instructor, knowledgeable alumni volunteer), I am a danger. And so is EphBlog.

And this is not just about one Williams professor, nor is it just about debates over financial aid policy. He is not an outlier. His opinion is common, even majority, among our faculty and administrator readership. They do not like EphBlog when it criticizes the College or its faculty. They do not like me. When they read a description of the College’s affirmative action policy or complaints about the lack of ideological diversity among the faculty, they see an unfair attack. I am accused of calling the Williams faculty “racists” or “intolerant,” when my only sin is to have a different view of policy at Williams from him and most of his faculty colleagues.

Yet the conflict between reform and stability, between outsider and insider, is as old as Williams itself. Henry Bass ’57 tells a story about Professor Robert Gaudino:

Knowing how radical Gaudino was, I knew early in the fall of ’55 there was only an amount of time, before there would be a public confrontation between Gaudino and President Baxter. Lively discussions of campus issues then took place in the new Baxter Hall. We did not have long to wait. I don’t remember what the argument was about. I do remember that it was quite heated and that Phinney soon showed signs of losing his temper. And acrimonious debates with the president of Williams did not happen in those days.

Nor today. What is most interesting about the complaint about me is how it conflates two criticisms of Williams: 1) Wagner is sleazy and 2) Wagner did a sleazy thing. We all agree that Bill Wagner is a good man and excellent professor. Indeed, he has been answering my questions (for publication on EphBlog) for many years. But even the very best Ephs among us occasionally do sleazy things. I am not without sin. Are you?

And, if EphBlog is not that place at which Williams students, alumni, parents, faculty and staff might come together to discuss College policy, then where is that place?

Gaudino is one of my two Williams heroes because he was not afraid to get in a public fight with the president of Williams. Nor am I.

What is especially annoying about these complaints is that they try to delegitimize the many voices of criticism at EphBlog by calling it “KaneBlog.” Ronit replies:

I think it’s nice that Will and Sam use the term Kaneblog to refer to this site, when Kane does not own the site, does not own the domain, does not own the server, does not run the site, does not have any kind of final editorial authority, and is not on the board. That is really fucking respectful to all the dozens of other commenters and authors who participate here and who have contributed to the site over the years. I’m glad the opinions of people like Henry Bass and Aidan Finley can be dismissed simply because they’re posted on EphBlog (I’m sorry, “KaneBlog”) and they happen to disagree with the latest sacred (purple?) cows.

Indeed. Yet note that the discussion that we have fostered at EphBlog for almost eight years includes more than just College policy. We also seek to engage in broader discussions, about both student life and alumni lives. Rory notes (correctly) that this makes me and other EphBlog authors unusual:

i still find it weird that an alum from the 80s reads wso posts. … I doubt any of the many professors I interact with at Williams and at my current institution read forums like wso. they certainly don’t copy and paste from them.

The difference between Rory’s friends on the Williams faculty and me — and the many other EphBlog authors, alumni and students both, who quote from WSO — is that we care about the opinions of Williams undergraduates. They, judging from Rory’s testimony, do not or, at least, they only care about those opinions when they are paid to, in the context of either classroom discussion or papers assigned for a Williams course.

And that is OK! My point here is not to criticize or praise the choices made by individual Williams faculty members. I just want to make clear that I seek to intellectually engage with Williams undergraduates. The first step in doing so is to consider their arguments and observations, to read their prose, to comment on their ideas, to present them with my own positions. The electronic log has room for all of us.

Jeff writes:

But I think students are perfectly capable of finding their own ways when it comes to their day-to-day lives in college. Indeed, I find it ironic that you find it so troubling (and I agree) when the administration tries to entangle itself too intimately in arenas best reserved for students to find their own way (and even occasionally screw up, as 19 year olds are prone to doing), yet you seem perfectly willing to insert yourself in much the same fashion.

Indeed. Key here is the meaning of “insert.” Consider the second of my Williams heroes, David Dudley Field, class of 1825, and, in the words of Williams professor Fred Rudolph ’39, a “instrument of interference” in the affairs of the College.

Field is the patron saint of alumni trouble-makers, an Eph who believed that “The only men who make any lasting impression on the world are fighters.” As a student, he was thrown out of Williams over a dispute with the faculty. As an alum, he led the way, both in fund-raising for Williams and in inserting himself into college affairs. (See this overview on the Field family (pdf) by Russ Carpenter ’54.) Field argued passionately that Williams should require military drills of all students during the Civil War, admit women and abolish fraternities. He won some of those battles, lost others and was vindicated by history on the most important questions. He inserted himself in the debate over the future of Williams 150 years ago just as I, and other EphBlog authors, do today.

Although Gaudino and Dudley are no longer with us, I feel certain that they are looking down on EphBlog and smiling. We are an agent of interference, engaged in public confrontation and acrimonious debates about what is best for Williams.

Would a Williams professor in the tradition of Gaudino and Dudley have it any other way?

Originally published in 2010.

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The Ghost of EphBlog Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet the commentator misses the point when he opines about what EphBlog is “supposed to be”. It is not for him alone to define what EphBlog is “supposed to be” — nor is it for me or recent grad or purple & gold or Whitney Wilson ’90 or thegoodson or any other author/commentator/reader. EphBlog is a collective effort. It is “supposed to be” whatever we make of it.

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

The best way to understand what “all things Eph” means in the context of EphBlog is to look at the body of posts over the last year or so. The range of topics that we have covered is representative, I think, of what “all things Eph” means to us as a collective. I predict that 2020 will see a similar collection of posts and comments. Adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

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

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

I don’t care. Really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The days before Christmas are a time for summing up and looking forward. The above is my view on what EphBlog has been. Everyone else can decide for themselves what EphBlog will be in 2020. My own hope is that it will be less blog and more discussion, less of my writing and more of everyone else’s. Time will tell all.

Original version published in 2004. Edited slightly since.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Last year, a faithful reader and senior faculty member wrote:

On the way to work today, I saw a group of students throwing snowballs at each other in front of Paresky. Minus the architectural backdrop, it could have been a scene from any point in the college’s history in the last 225 years.

Indeed. I am thankful for Williams, for my parents for sending me, for the time I spent there, for the professors who taught me, the peers who challenged me and the woman who fell in love with me.

What are you thankful for?

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E. Williams Armigeri

sealEphraim Williams was a career soldier who died in battle. For most of its 200-year history, the College has had a comfortable relationship with the armed forces. Williams graduates and faculty served in times of peace and war. Even the College’s motto, E Liberalitate E. Williams Armigeri, makes reference to the benefit we have all derived “From the generosity of E. Williams, soldier.”

Over the last 50 years, the connection between Williams and military service has atrophied. Virtually no active member of the faculty has served in uniform. Only a handful of graduates enter the military each year. If one admits that the military plays an important role in society and that having an informed opinion concerning the use of force in international relations is a critical part of being an educated citizen, then the failure of Williams to have a substantive connection to military life and culture is troubling.

ar_1991And, unfortunately, unavoidable. Williams-caliber high school seniors are unlikely to consider serving prior to college. Williams-caliber Ph.D. recipients almost never have a military background. There is little that anyone can do about this state of affairs. But I think that we all have an obligation to be cognizant of it.

The estrangement of Williams from things military first struck me during a mini-controversy in the pages of the Alumni Review. The Summer 1991 issue featured a cover photo of a graduating senior, Jonathan Dailey, being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Former Professor Mark Taylor, one of the best, and most opinionated, teachers on campus was so incensed by this affront that he felt compelled to write to the editor. His letter, published in the subsequent issue, is worth quoting in full.

I was deeply disturbed by the photograph of three Marines in uniform standing besides the Declaration of Independence in Chapin Library that was on the cover of the most recent Review. Many of us at Williams have struggled throughout the year to raise the critical awareness of our students about the disturbing implications of the glorification of military power in the Gulf War. In my judgment, this photograph sends precisely the wrong message to our students and alumni. taylor_emeritusIt is little more than another example of the reactionary flag-waving mentality that has run wild in the wake of our supposed “victory” in the Gulf. Such an attitude runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education. I would have hoped that the editor of the Review would have been more thoughtful and more sensitive to the power of images to communicate cultural values.

Taylor is a great proponent and practitioner of deconstruction, of looking for the meaning behind the simple words of a text. Let us deconstruct his letter.

First, it is unclear what, precisely, has made Taylor “deeply distressed.” Is it the very existence of the Marine Corps? Or does Taylor except the need for some sort of military establishment and simply object to the tradition of clothing members of that establishment “in uniform”? Or is it the juxtaposition of these Marines and the Declaration of Independence, which, after all, contains the first claim by these United States to have “full power to levy war”? Or was Taylor distressed that this scene was chosen as the cover shot for the Review? I suspect that it was the last of these which moved Taylor to write. The military, while perhaps necessary, is a distasteful part of modern life. According to Taylor’s “cultural values,” it is worthy of neither celebration nor respect.

Second, note the reference to “students and alumni” as opposed to the more common trio of “students, faculty and alumni.” Obviously, Taylor is not concerned that faculty members will receive the “wrong message.” Presumably, they are smart enough not to be swayed. He worries, however, that the same may not be said for the rest of us.

Third, consider his concern over the “reactionary flag-waving mentality” which “runs directly counter to the ideals of a liberal arts education.” Did 2nd Lt Dailey USMCR and Williams ’91 missed out on some important lectures? Is Taylor suggesting that individuals like he and Dailey, who aspire to the liberal arts ideal, should not wave flags or that they should not do so in a reactionary manner. Perhaps lessons in progressive flag-waving are called for.

The typical comment which a former Marine (like me) should make at this point involves the irony of Taylor’s denigrating the very institution which secures his freedom to denigrate. Or perhaps I should note that Marines like Dailey stand ready to sacrifice themselves for causes, like protecting Bosnian Muslims, which Taylor might find more compelling than combating the invasion of Kuwait. But, in this case, the irony is much more delicious.

parishBefore moving to Columbia, Taylor was the Preston S. Parish ’41 Third Century Professor of Religion. In other words, an alumnus of the College, as his contribution to the Third Century Campaign, endowed a chair which Taylor now holds. And who is Preston S. Parish? Besides being a generous alumnus, he is a former officer in the United States Marine Corps and veteran of World War II. He won a bronze star for leading infantry units from the First Marine Division in combat on Guadalcanal and Peleliu.

For Marines fighting the Japanese in World War II, combat looked like this:

Not much “reactionary flag-waving” going on there . . .

In the beginning of his book Tears, Taylor reminds us of Kierkegaard’s aphorism that it is not the job of an author to make a book easy; on the contrary, it is the job of an author to make a book hard. Reading a good book, like attending a college which aspires to the ideals of the liberal arts, should be difficult. It should challenge us. Taylor was one of the best professors at Williams precisely because of his ability and inclination to challenge his students — question their preconceptions and to encourage them to question his. When my sister-in-law entered Williams in 1994, I told her that the one course that she shouldn’t miss is Religion 101 — or, better yet, 301 — with Mark Taylor. He made things hard.

It is supremely fitting, then, that Williams, via the medium of the Review has challenged — or at least “deeply distressed” — Mark Taylor. It has made him think, however fleetingly, about the worth and purpose of military preparedness in an unfriendly world. A great college, like a great book, should challenge, not just its “students and alumni” but its faculty as well. Ephraim Williams’ generosity, like that of Preston Parish ’41 and Jonathan Dailey ’91, is of money and blood and spirit. They make things hard for all of us.

—–
Originally version published in the Spring 1995 Williams Alumni Review, by David Kane ’88. Modified since then by EphBlog.

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Happy Birthday Eph Marines

Today marks the 244th birthday of the United States Marine Corps, celebrated around the world at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. On many dimensions, the Marines are the Williams College of military organizations: elite, steeped in history, less well-known among the hoi polloi, athletic, cultish and intellectual. Or perhaps Williams College is the Marine Corps of American high education? Either way, there is a special bond among we few, we happy brothers of Williams and the USMC. Traditionally, Marines offer each other birthday greetings this day, and so, to my fellow Ephs Marines: Happy Birthday!

The earliest Eph Marine I have been able to find is Joseph Fairchild Baker, class of 1864, who attended Williams in 1860 — 1861 but never graduated. He was the son of a United States Senator and served as a lieutenant and captain. Does anyone know his story? If we don’t remember his service 150 years ago, then who will remember ours in the decades to come?

Joel Iams ’01 sent us this letter 14 years ago.

Iams_01.jpg

The roads of Fallujah were eventually cleared, but not until we lost Nate Krissoff ’03. Will those roads need clearing again? If the President calls, I am sure my Marines will be willing, with Ephs at the forefront.

Below is a list of Eph Marines. Who am I missing?

Myles Crosby Fox ’40
Preston Parish ’41
Joe Rice ’54
TB Jones ’58
David Kane ’58
Jack Platt ’58
Carl Vogt ’58
John McGonagle ’84
Brad DuPont ’86
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Phil Knecht ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Bunge Cooke ’98
John Bozeman ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
Nate Krissoff ’03
John Silvestro ’06
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Jeff Lyon ’08
Hill Hamrick ’13
Julius Kindfuller ’19

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Yard by Yard

More than fifty years ago, Ephs took the field against Amherst.

Saturday, they do the same. And ten years from now. And one hundred. Do our Eph football players recognize their history? Do you?

TB Jones ’58 (my father’s roommate) played varsity squash at Williams. I remember seeing his picture in one of the many team photos that used to line the walls of the old gym. Walking by those old photographs each day for practice provided me with a great sense of the history that I was becoming a part of. Years later, those emotions were perfectly captured by Robin Williams in “The Dead Poet’s Society” when he takes his class to view the pictures of past students at their fictional New England prep school.

From the script:

Keating turns towards the trophy cases, filled with trophies, footballs, and team pictures.

KEATING: “Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them.”

The students slowly gather round the cases and Keating moves behind them.

KEATING: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlmen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in.”

The boys lean in and Keating hovers over Cameron’s shoulder.

KEATING (whispering in a gruff voice): “Carpe.”

Cameron looks over his shoulder with an aggravated expression on his face.

KEATING: “Hear it?” (whispering again) “Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

The boys stare at the faces in the cabinet in silence.

Decades from now there will be another young man at Williams who will walk down those halls on his way to practice. Perhaps he will play squash like TB Jones and I did (although I hope that he plays more like TB than like me). Whatever his future might hold, I hope that he sees our pictures and wonders about us, about where we went from Williams and how prepared we were for the journey. I hope that he realizes how fortunate he is.

Does football coach Mark Raymond remind his players of the history of those who have gone before? Does he know their names and their stories?

I hope so.

Williams may win or lose on Saturday. Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 60 year ago? In the longer sweep of history, one game, one loss, is as dust in the corridors of memory. What matters is the day itself, and the place we each occupy within the traditions of the Williams community.

No one remembers the score of the game these men played 100 years ago. But we look in their faces and see ourselves.

I am Frank Uible ’57. Who are you?

[Thanks to EphBlog regular “nuts” and Williams Sports Information for the photos. Note that the original post in this series did not include a YouTube clip because YouTube did not exist. Old Time is still a-flying.]

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Reunion Musings

I’ve been getting emails recently about our upcoming 30-year reunion.  The people that organize the event deserve major kudos, as it can’t be easy keeping all of the trains running on time and to everyone’s satisfaction.  I remember our 15-year reunion when were based at Tyler (and boy was it hot!), and there were tons and tons of little kids, so the organizers made sure we had plenty of milk available for the kids to drink (thanks Megan!).

This will be our 6th reunion, and I’ve managed to make it to each one, except our 10-year, which conflicted with a trial I was involved in.  I make a significant effort every 5 years to go, because its the only time I can (or at least do) see many of my friends from Williams.  I am Facebook friends with many, but don’t often manage to see many of them.  It always surprises me (in a good way!) how easy it is, and how much fun I have, talking and spending time with people I haven’t spoken with in 5 years.  It seems as though we just pick up right where we left off at the last reunion, finding out what has been going on with our lives, and comparing notes as we “grow up.”

I’ve usually tried to stay on campus, though for recent reunions I’ve noticed more and more people staying elsewhere.  The rooms aren’t super comfortable (especially when its really hot out and the upper floors of the dorms feel like ovens), but I like being right there.  I’ll be curious to see how many people come this year.  I’m sure the College has statistics about average attendance for each of the years (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, etc.), but I’m not aware that they are published anywhere.

While poking around on the Williams website, I did come across a document entitled “Reunion Code of Conduct,”  which starts off with:

Purpose

Williams College believes our community should be truly open for everyone. As such, we are committed to providing a friendly, safe, and welcoming environment for all, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, ethnicity, race, or religion.

This code of conduct outlines our expectations for participant behavior as well as the consequences for unacceptable behavior while on campus.

We invite all staff, volunteers, attendees, local community members, and other participants to help us realize a safe and positive Reunion for everyone.

The documents describes in some detail “Expected behavior,” “Unacceptable behavior,” “Consequences of Unacceptable Behavior,” as well as drug and alcohol policies.  I wonder if there was a specific incident which prompted the creation of this document.  I know there was at least one incident involving alcohol and possible sexual assault/misconduct in the past, but I don’t know if this had become a pervasive problem every year, or whether the single incident prompted creation of this document/policy.

In any event, I strongly recommend that everyone attend their reunions. You won’t regret it!

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Family Days

Family Days start tomorrow.

1) When did Freshmen Parents’ Day become Family Days? Back in the 80s, there were two family weekends each academic year. The fall event was for Freshmen. The spring (April?) event was for all families. Also, when did a single “Day” become “Days?” If EphBlog won’t keep track of this history, who will?

2) Where were you, dear reader, 65 years ago?

I know one reader who was having trouble writing essays as polished as those from the boys who had prepped at Deerfield! How do Maud’s communications with first year parents compare to those from Phinney Baxter ’14? You can be sure that she doesn’t use the word “boy” to describe male first years!

3) Will any first year entries be throwing cocktail parties for the parents? I hope so. I still remember the hard work that our JAs put into hosting a such a party, 35 years ago. I also remember how the mom of one of the students from the entry made the female students seem like little girls . . .

Stacy’s Mom by Eph band Fountains of Wayne was probably the most commercially successful song by Williams alumni during the 2000’s. (If not, what was?)

I don’t think that either Chris Collingwood ’89 and Adam Schlesinger ’89 have been awarded Bicentennial Medals yet. Consider this EphBlog’s nomination.

I will resist the urge to see if there are any current Williams students named Stacy . . .

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Happy Indigenous People’s Day

From the Berkshire Eagle two years ago:

Williams College celebrates its last Columbus Day

In ending the Columbus Day off at Williams College, it came down to accounting.

Sure enough, the current calendar makes no mention of Columbus. Would you, dear reader, have predicted that a decade or two ago? Me either! What changes will come by 2029? There is no longer a reference to either Veteran’s Day or Christmas in the calendar. I am not sure when those disappeared. “Thanksgiving” is still mentioned, but for how much longer?

The faculty voted to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a holiday for faculty, staff and students about six months ago.

How long before the #MeToo movement comes from MLK?

The human resources department determined the college would trade off another holiday — Columbus Day — rather than adding another holiday to the calendar.

“This was just a simple trade-off,” said Jim Reische, chief communications officer at Williams College. “We didn’t do anything with Columbus Day. It was just a three-day weekend.”

Could this be (just!) about holiday bookkeeping? Perhaps! The College is a business and needs to track vacation days.

Administrative staff still had the day off on Monday, but that will change come next year. Classes still met.

Administrative staff will still be allowed to take the Columbus Day off next year if they choose, but they’ll have to use a floating holiday day. There will be classes on that day.

“The major driver was — we needed to consider MLK Day a holiday,” Reische said. “There was a strong push to make that a day off, to recognize it.”

“Push” from whom? I doubt that the typical dining services worker cares which holiday she gets. If anything, I bet that the preferences run the other way. The vast majority of Williams employees (below the faculty) are white working class, many of them Italian-Americans. An enterprising Record reporter would interview them . . .

And isn’t a holiday in the Berkshires in the fall much more desirable than one in January?

More important to the college in terms of programming is Claiming Williams Day, which began in 2009 after a series of racist and sexist incidents on campus in 2008, Reische said.

Can we please get our history straight? There was one key incident that drove Claiming Williams.

Claiming Williams Day includes a full roster of programming exploring what it means to be a diverse and inclusive campus, he said.

“It’s much more about academic and community-building than anything we ever did with Columbus Day,” he said.

Well, sure. But aren’t these separate issues? Issue one: Which holidays does Williams officially recognize and give staff members a day off for? Issue two: What events does Williams schedule on which days? The former has little to do with the latter.

The town of Williamstown took a different direction on Columbus Day earlier this year.

In May, town meeting voters agreed to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Williamstown Elementary School labeled Monday’s holiday Indigenous Peoples Day on its website as of Monday morning.

If I were Trump, I would make a huge deal out of Columbus Day: big celebration at the White House, perhaps a speech about how Democrats consider Italian-Americans to be deplorables, an (outrageous) proposal that any town/city/state which wants federal funds must celebrate Columbus Day. There would be few better ways of motivating the voters he, and the Republicans, will need in November.

Political Science 101 at Williams taught me that, he who picks the issue to fight over, wins. In any fight between “Columbus Day” and “Indigenous Peoples Day,” Trump wins easily.

Trump reads EphBlog! Last year, two hours after this post went up, he tweeted:

How long before Democratic activists start to attack Columbus?

Or maybe Trump is saving this as a fight to have in the fall of 2020?

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Do Not Go To Law School

At least half the Ephs who attend law school are making a mistake. Their lives would be fuller, happier and, often, monetarily richer if they did something, anything else. I spent 30 minutes six years ago talking with a junior (and occasional EphBlog commentator) about why his ill-formed plans for attending law school were a bad idea. Below is a cleaned up version of what I told him. Other comments welcome.

1) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what law school or the practice of law are like. They have watched Law and Order. They know that successful corporate lawyers in big cities make a lot of money. They like thinking about constitutional issues in a class like PSCI 216: American Constitutionalism I: Structures of Power. But this knowledge provides almost no grounds for making a good decision. As Jeff notes:

The only definite advice I’d give is to figure out BEFORE law school one (or more) legal career paths that are of interest to you, and try to learn what a day in the life on those paths is truly like. Too many people pursue law school, and go into enormous debt, thinking that it will “open up doors.” 99 times out of 100, the only doors it uniquely opens are doors to traditional legal careers, typically in law firms, academia, or government.

Correct.

First, before you apply to law school, you should attend a normal (not staged for applicants) first year class in something like torts or civil procedure at Albany Law School or at a night school in your hometown over the summer. (Yes, I realize that this is a hassle. But don’t be stupid. You are about to spend $200,000 (at least) and devote three years of your life. You need to get a clue.) Find out what a real law school class is like. You will probably be shocked at how boring it is. Do you remember that annoying PHIL 102 class in which 2 or 3 dweebs prattled on endlessly about the most semantic/pointless disputes imaginable? That is what law school is like. If you do not enjoy detailed discussions about extremely minor points, you will not like law school.

Second, try reading some of the material from law school, like this set of cases about torts. Read at least 100 pages of cases and commentary before you apply. You will read thousands of pages in law school. Now is the time to find out if you want to. Just because you like the sort of readings assigned in a typical Williams class does not mean that you will like readings in the law.

Third, spend a day with a lawyer, a regular working attorney. There are several alumni in the Williamstown and Albany area who would be happy to let you shadow them for a day. Find out what their lives are like. It is not glamorous! Law jobs are varied, of course, but you owe it to yourself to learn about the profession before going into significant debt. (Note that pre-med students have much less to worry about in this regard. Their interactions with doctors growing up have been very representative of what most doctors spend most of their time doing.)

All of the above is the minimum you should do before applying to law school. Too many Williams students tell themselves some version of: “I like writing. I like reading. I like thinking. I was good at all those things before Williams and I have only gotten better at them. Lawyers seem to do a lot of writing, reading and thinking. So, I should go to law school.” This is faulty reasoning because law school (and law practice) are radically different from your Williams experience.

Even worse are the Williams students who think: “I get good grades at Williams. I like school and do well at it. I don’t really know what I want to do with my life. Getting a job doesn’t have much appeal. My parents will be happy if I go to law school. So, let’s apply!”

2) The vast majority of Ephs who attend law school have little/no idea what their likely career path in the law will be. At least 1/3 of the Williams students who apply to law school would not apply if they took the above steps. They would realize that law school and a legal career are not for them. But there are still many Ephs, even among the 2/3 who find tort law cases interesting and who were intrigued by the life of a lawyer, who are making a mistake in going to law school because they misestimate the odds of getting the law job that they want.

Consider:

It’s time those of us inside the profession did a better job of telling others outside the profession that most of us don’t earn $160,000 a year, that we can’t afford expensive suits, flashy cars, sexy apartments. We don’t lunch with rock stars or produce movies. Every year I’m surprised by the number of my students who think a J.D. degree is a ticket to fame, fortune and the envy of one’s peers — a sure ticket to the upper middle class. Even for the select few for whom it is, not many last long enough at their law firms to really enjoy it.

There’s something wrong with a system that makes a whole lot of people pay a whole lot of money for jobs that are not worth it, or that have no future. If we wanted to be honest, we would inform students that law school doesn’t keep their options open. Instead, we should say that if they work hard and do well, they can become lawyers.

Or:

Every year tens of thousands of wannabe lawyers enter law school. The majority will be extremely disappointed by their career opportunities.

Thus the title of this essay: law school is a big lie. People enter law school with the idea that a law degree is their ticket to a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle. In fact, just the opposite, law school for most is a ticket to a worse financial state than if they had not attended at all.

Read these posts. (What other links would Ephs suggest on this topic?) Now, to be fair, much of this advice is being given to students without a Williams IQ, students who are considering Tier II or Tier III law schools. Most Williams students attend highly ranked law schools. But even among the graduates of elite schools, the career paths are much more restricted then current undergraduates might suspect. The vast majority of Williams students who attend a highly ranked law school go in one of three directions. (And there is a great senior thesis to be written about the career paths and choices made by Williams students who attended law school over the last 50 years.)

First, they drop out of law altogether. Our lawyer readers can tell numerous stories about their classmates who no longer practice law. Almost none of those students go into a career that either required, or provides an advantage to those with, a legal education. They are just three years behind (and much more in debt) than the students who avoided law school. (If you and/or your family are independently wealthy, then, obviously, you can afford to spend three years in law school — or getting a Ph.D. in English Literature or sailing around the world or whatever — but almost all Williams students have money concerns.)

Second, they enter poorly paid government work. Now, there is nothing wrong with becoming a lawyer for the FDIC or HUD, but students need to be aware of the economic realities of those career paths. Most Williams students, to the extent that they want to work in government, are better off just going straight from Williams to those agencies. They will be in a position to climb the ladder faster without all the unnecessary debt.

Third, they enter BIG LAW, the elite law firms of the major cities in the US. Want to know what that is like? Read this:

Economically it represented a perfect reification of various Marxist theories. As associates we were wage slaves, members of a white-collar proletariat, objectively closer to the model described in Das Kapital than most nineteenth-century factory hands. It may seem odd to call someone a wage slave whose starting salary was $85,000 (though broken down per hour it was much less impressive). But the work of a junior associate, in reality, is being a clerk, a checker, the one whose job is on the line to make sure that the decimal points are in the right place. No one with an Ivy League education is going to perform this sort of drudgery for much less than 80 grand.

We were also faced with alienation from the products of our labor. You would work on the tiniest part of a huge transaction. You would never see the big picture, never know if your all-nighter made a difference, if your clauses appeared in the final documents, never even find out if the deal had gone through.

And this.

Biglaw women are more screwed because society expects more from mothers than “I pay the bills.” It’s BS, but it is where we still are. So on top of paying all the bills (to say nothing of actually carrying a child to term — you know, something that might get you laid off from K&L Gates), Biglaw women are also expected to invest the emotional and caretaking energy a family needs.

Which is impossible to do while billing the hours Biglaw requires. Not difficult, not challenging, it’s straight-up impossible. Biglaw women can break themselves in two and put on a cosmetically enhanced face and claim that they have the perfect job and family and life, but the only people stupid enough to buy it are younger women who want to be in Biglaw and aren’t yet able to deal with the fact that their career choices will have consequences in other areas of their lives.

What other articles about life in BIG LAW would readers recommend?

Both my parents are lawyers and both my grandfathers were lawyers. (And happy birthday Mom!) I was accepted to law school and (almost) attended. I am the sort of person who would have (and does at EphBlog!) liked arguing about minor points in endless detail. I know people who are perfect for a legal career. Yet most Williams students who apply to law school are completely uninformed about what that decision implies about their future.

Summary: Do not go to law school just because you are good at school, it will make your parents happy, and/or you don’t want to start a real job. Those may all be true, but they are bad reasons. First, learn about what law school and the legal profession are like. Second, understand what sort of career you are likely to have. At least 50% of the Williams students applying to law school from the class of 2019 are making a mistake. Avoid their error.

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Do Not Go to Graduate School

An interesting forum from back in 2010:

If you’ve considered going to graduate school in history, come to a History Graduate School Panel discussion on Tuesday at 7:00 pm in Griffin 7. Professors Dubow, Fishzon, and Kittleson will speak about their own graduate school experiences, and will answer any questions you might have.

Good stuff. Kudos to the professors involved for taking the time to participate. Comments:

1) Relevant discussion here and here. I second Professor Sam Crane’s remarks:

In fact, I tell them the academic job market is horrible, has been bad for a long, long time, and is getting worse. I tell them that getting a job like the one I have is unlikely. I tell them that they should go on for a Ph.D. only if they truly love the learning, because that is something they will be certain to have for a lifetime, regardless of what job they find themselves with. And for some of them, that is what it is about. Love of learning, regardless of whether they get an ideal academic job.

This was true in 2010 and is even more true now. It is true, not just in history and political science but in almost every academic field. If anything, areas like physics and biology are even worse, mainly because of the volume of Ph.Ds which they produce.

My only quibble with Sam’s comments might be to clarify that a love of learning is not enough of a reason to justify graduate school in history. With the internet as your oyster, you can pursue learning as much as your free time allows without going to graduate school.

2) Read Derek Catsam ’93:

[G]raduate students and those looking at entering this competitive world need to be cognizant of the realities. If you are planning to enter a field like, say, US history, it is probably incumbent upon you to know the odds. Further, it seems to me that it is pretty irresponsible of those of us with the ability to advise students if we emphasize the great aspects of intellectual life within the academy and do not point out the reality — your odds of getting the PhD are smaller than you think, your odds of getting a job are slighter still, and your odds of getting tenure at a place yet smaller, and then all of this happening at a place you would otherwise choose to live? Infinitesimal.

Also Swarthmore Professor Tim Burke:

Should I go to graduate school?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: maybe, but only if you have some glimmering of what you are about to do to yourself. Undergraduates coming out of liberal arts institutions are particularly vulnerable to ignorance in this regard. …

Just don’t try graduate school in an academic subject with the same spirit of carefree experimentation. Medical school, sure. Law school, no problem. But a Ph.D in an academic field? Forget it. If you take one step down that path, I promise you, it’ll hurt like blazes to get off, even if you’re sure that you want to quit after only one year.

Two years in, and quitting will be like gnawing your own leg off.

Past that, and you’re talking therapy and life-long bitterness.

Burke is right. I hope that the panelists back then, whether or not they agreed with Burke, made sure that students know what some historians believe. I worry that such an event might too easily have degenerated into a “You are all smart Williams students who should dream big and live large!” Nothing wrong with that advice when a student asks if she should try a difficult upper-level seminar, but Ephs need a more reality-based answer when leaving the Purple Bubble. Large numbers of students in the class of 2020 who are going to graduate school are making a mistake. Professor Sara Dubow is, no doubt, a wonderful, hard-working professor. But there is also a sense in which she won the lottery . . .

3) Key data would be a listing of all the Ephs who went to graduate school in, for example, history from 1990 through 2000. Where are they now? What happened to them along the way? If there were 50, I bet that fewer than 40 made it to Ph.D., fewer than 20 got any tenure-track jobs at all, and fewer than 5 got tenure. How many got tenure at a place that pays as well as Williams? I don’t know. In fact, I have trouble coming up with many Eph historians of that era, other than our own Derek Catsam ’93, Sara Dubow ’91 and Eiko Maruko Siniawer ’97. Pointers welcome!

4) There are some fields — like economics, statistics and computer science — in which supply/demand are more in balance. There are still nice academic jobs at places like Williams and plenty of opportunities in industry.

5) Never attend a Ph.D. program which is not fully funded.

6) The 2010 comment thread includes excellent discussion. I miss the old EphBlog!

7) Still want to get a Ph.D. even though you are fully aware of the likely outcomes? Cool! EphBlog fully supports informed decision-making. Our main point here is to encourage you to be fully informed. Graduate school in history can be fun and rewarding! Just be sure to have a back-up plan . . .

UPDATE: First version of this post went up 9 years ago. What is the academic job market like? Consider what happened to the professors who participated in the panel.

Roger Kittleson was already tenured at the time of the panel. Life at Williams is (I hope!) good. What sort of advice does he give to history students today?

Sara Dubow is now a full professor of history at Williams. She is our lottery winner.

Anna Fishzon is listed as a “Adjunct Assistant Professor at Columbia University in the City of New York.” But she still lists her Williams assistant professor position at the top of her profile, so it is not clear how much substance there is to the Columbia position. Even though she did great work in graduate school — which is the only way she got hired by Williams in the first place — there is no (stable) job for her in academia. Is there one for you, Dear Reader? Probably not.

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Only For A Moment

As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a remembrance of the three Ephs who died on 9/11: Howard Kestenbaum ’67, Lindsay Morehouse ’00 and Brian Murphy ’80. Previous entries here and here.

Much of the trauma of that day lives on.

We are looking for Howard Kestenbaum. He was on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center South Tower (the second building that was hit). If you have any information please contact me.

That link worked five years ago, a constant reminder of the turmoil of those blue September days. It has since disappeared, like so many of our memories. First years at Williams now were born the year the towers fell.

Kestenbaum_Howard1Howard Kestenbaum worked at the top of the south tower, the second to be struck. In the midst of chaos, his was a voice of calm and reason in the 78th floor sky lobby as people waited anxiously for the express elevators that were to take them to the ground floor. They could not know about United Airlines Flight 175, just minutes away from impact.

Wein and Singer joined three of their Aon colleagues: Richard Gabrielle, 50, Vijay Paramsothy, 23, and the group’s boss, Howard Kestenbaum, 56.

Two elevators in the north half of the lobby were out of service, but Wein’s group stood near one of the idle cars anyway; it was less crowded there than at the south end of the lobby.

I’ve left my purse, Wein recalls saying. I don’t want to go back up, but how will I get the bus?

“Here, take some money and go home,” Kestenbaum said.

Singer remembered something she had left at her desk.

No, Kestenbaum said. Don’t go back up. They stayed in the lobby.

Howard’s last moments were spent taking care of those around him. The College has done a fine job of memorializing Lindsay Morehouse, creating an award for the player at the New England Championship “who best displays the ideals of sportsmanship, friendliness, character, fair play, and hard work that Lindsay embodied until her untimely death 9-11-2001.”

Kestenbaum was an athlete and wrestler at Williams. The College should honor him in a similar fashion. Perhaps the class of 1967 might to do the same for Kestenbaum in conjunction with the planning for their 55th reunion. Do wrestlers at Williams today know about Kestenbaum’s bravery? Why not a Kestenbaum Award, given to the member of the wrestling team who best displays the ideals of teamwork?

And then the second plane hit.

A deafening explosion and a searing blast of heat ripped through the lobby. The air turned black with smoke. Flames burst out of elevators. Walls and the ceiling crumbled into a foot of debris on the floor. Shards of glass flew like thrown knives.

The blast threw people like dolls, tearing their bodies apart.

“Howard!” Judy Wein was yelling to Kestenbaum, her boss.

It was Vijay Paramsothy who called back: “We’re over here!”

Paramsothy was sitting up, scratched and bloody. Marble slabs had fallen onto Richard Gabrielle and broken his legs. Wein tried to move the slabs with her good arm, and he cried out.

Howard Kestenbaum lay flat and still. To Wein, he looked peaceful.

Dead and wounded covered the floor of the lobby like a battlefield after cannon fire. A ghostly dusting of plaster lay over everyone.

Wein was soon saved by Welles Crowther, one of the many heroes of that sad day.

Judy Wein of Aon Corporation had also been in the 78th floor. She too was badly injured and she too heard the voice: “Everyone who can stand now, stand now. If you can help others, do so.” He guided her and others to the stairwell.

Apparently Welles [Crowther] kept leading people down from the top floors to the lower ones, where they could make their way out. Then he’d go up to find more. No one knows how many. The fire department credits him with five saved lives.

He never made it home.

Crowther’s heroism is well-known, but there were so many other acts of courage that tragic morning.

“Vijay was trying to get Howard up,” Gran Kestenbaum said, recounting a story a witness had told her. “That was the last I heard of either of them.”

EphBlog remembers Howard and Linday and Brian. Who remembers Vijay Paramsothy, one of the thousands on hard-working immigrants who made and make NYC a city unlike any other? Who do you remember?


Howard Kestenbaum
was a Ph.D., a builder of models, a quant operating in the rarefied world of risk analysis. Yet only a modeller can know that models don’t really matter, that who we are and what we have done is much more to be found in the families we cherish than in the money we make.

From the very beginning — when he accidentally fell on her at a party in the West Village — he made her laugh. He walked her home that night but, amusing or not, she wouldn’t give him her phone number.

A few days later, however, she picked up the phone to hear someone say it was “Howie.” Not recognizing his voice, she asked: “Howie who?”

“Fine, thank you, and how are you?” Howie Kestenbaum replied.

For 31 years of marriage, Howard and Granvilette Kestenbaum of Montclair talked every day, and he always made her laugh.

All good husbands want to make their wives laugh. All of us should do as well as Howard. Gran Kestenbaum desribed her husband this way.

Howard was a really good man. That may seem an ordinary epithet, but Howard thought of himself as an ordinary man — an ordinary husband, an ordinary father and an ordinary friend… He loved and cared for his family, helped friends, visited with the homeless, lonely and infirm. His modesty and leprechaun smile belied how quiet and graceful, without fanfare, the shining spirit of an extraordinary good man can touch and transform others. He would have been surprised that anyone noticed him, for that is not what he sought. And that is why we who love him are so honored to have known him, if only for a moment.

Thirty one years of marriage and family, of trials and triumphs, does indeed seem like only a moment. May we all live our moments as well as Howard Kestenbaum lived his.

How will you be spending today? Please spare a thought for Gran, Howard’s widow.

Every year on the anniversary of Sept. 11, Gran Kestenbaum steers clear of morning memorial services, to avoid the media. Later in the day, she typically leaves roses by her husband’s name on the 9/11 memorial in Eagle Rock Reservation and in Watchung Plaza. Along with the flowers, she usually leaves a note saying something along the lines of, “We are family and we will always be family. This didn’t part us.”

Condolences to all.

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Fall 2019 Course Advice

Fall classes start tomorrow. My advice:

Your major does not matter! One of the biggest confusions among Williams students is the belief that future employers care about your major, that, for example, studying economics helps you get a job in business. It doesn’t! Major in what you love.

But future employers are often interested in two things. First, can you get the computer to do what you want it to do? Second, can you help them analyze data to make them more successful? Major in Dance (if you love dance) but take 4 or so classes in computer science and statistics. With that as background, you will be competitive with any of your Williams classmates when it comes time to apply for internships/jobs.

Take a tutorial every semester. The more tutorials you take, the better your Williams education will be. There are few plausible excuses for not taking a tutorial every semester. Although many tutorials are now filled, others are not.

Too many first years take a big intro class because they think they “should.” They shouldn’t! Even a “bad” tutorial at Williams is better than almost all intro courses. If you are a first year and you don’t take a tutorial, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for a class, you should still enroll. The pre-reqs almost never matter and professors will always (?) let you into a tutorial with empty spots.

By the way, where can we find data about how popular tutorials are? For example, do most/all tutorials end up filled? How many students attempted to enroll in each one? More transparency!

Take STAT 201 (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you might start with STAT 101). No topic is more helpful in starting your career, no matter your area of interest, than statistics. Students who take several statistics courses are much more likely to get the best summer internships and jobs after Williams. Also, the new Statistics major is amazing.

Skip STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 202 instead. And don’t worry about the stupid math prerequisites that the department tries to put in your way. You don’t really need multivariate calculus for 201 or matrix algebra for the more advanced classes. Those math tricks come up in a couple of questions on a couple of problem sets. Your friends (and some Khan Academy videos) will get you through it. If challenged, just tell people you took those classes in high school.

Take CSCI 134: Diving into the Deluge of Data. Being able to get the computer to do what you want it to do is much more important, to your future career, than most things, including, for example, the ability to write well. You might consider skipping 134 and going directly to 136, but 134 seems to be a much better course than it was in the past, especially with the use of Python and the focus on data.

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students officially enroll as statistics or computer science majors sophomore year to ensure that they get into the classes they want. You can always drop a major later. Mendacity in the pursuit of quality classes is no vice.

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 12 (?) years ago about course selections for a career in finance.

What courses would you recommend? What was the best class you took at Williams?

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Eph Send-off Party

According to Maud’s Instagram (@williamspresident, if you don’t follow her), Williams’ president attended the Princeton Regional Send-Off for new Ephs. I assume this is because she has roots in the area, having grown up in Princeton and attended elementary through high school there.

Meanwhile, I attended my first Regional Send-Off, going to a sadly Maud-less party recently. I never attended one of these parties when I was actually a new Eph, though I’m fairly sure my family received an invitation. There were a good number of new Ephs there, who seemed somewhat unsure about what exactly they were there to do, and many of them clumped together and met each other. That said, most of the alumni present were incredibly eager to engage the new students and give them as much advice as possible.

Seeing on my nametag that I had just graduated, some new students specifically came up and asked me if I had advice for them. I had an unexpected amount of trouble coming up with advice when asked for it. Maybe I’m still too close to my own Williams experience; I definitely feel that I haven’t yet fully reflected and synthesized it into a few easy things to tell them. Mostly, I turned it back on them, asked what classes they had signed up for, and talked about my experiences if I was familiar with the class or professor; I gave them some idea of what to expect during first days; and I plugged my club as one they should check out when they get to the Purple Key Fair.

Most students get to campus next Monday; first-generation and international students arrive tomorrow. What advice would you give to new Ephs as they’re about to step on campus for the first time as students?

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Reading the Declaration

One of my favorite Williams summer traditions:

The Chapin Library of rare books at Williams College will host the annual July 4 reading of the Declaration of Independence by actors from the Williamstown Theatre Festival at 1:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Actors will read from the second floor outside balcony of Sawyer Library. Visitors should gather on the library quad west of Sawyer Library and between Schapiro and Hollander halls. In case of inclement weather, the event will take place inside Sawyer Library.

Since 1987, Williams College and the Williamstown Theatre Festival have made it an annual tradition to celebrate Independence Day by reading the Declaration of Independence, the British reply of September 1776, and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

The annual event happens this afternoon. If you attend, send us some photos!

This year (for the first time?) the “reading will also include a selection from “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July,” a speech by Frederick Douglass.”

It is a sign of my wrong-think that this passage from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities comes to mind. The [white] mayor of New York City is talking with Sheldon Lennart, his press flunky.

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Father’s Day

Joe Thorndike ’88 writes about his father’s book about the Atlantic seaboard.

I was present for a lot of that first-hand research, especially in Connecticut, where I grew up, and on Cape Cod, where I visited my father frequently during the last 25 years of his life. I also managed to tag along for brief trips to Maine and Florida.

But for every trip I took, there were dozens that I skipped. Occasionally, my father would ask me — in his reserved, taciturn New England way — if I wanted to come along. But like many adult children of aging parents, I found reasons to say no.

Apparently I was busy, but in retrospect, I can’t imagine with what. My father has been dead for more than a decade, but I still regret, almost daily, the many trips I didn’t take.

Take trips with your father, every chance you get.

Still looking for a Father’s Day gift? EphBlog recommends Aidan’s Way by Professor Sam Crane. Excerpts here. More from an Amazon review:

Every now and then a book comes along that wakes us out of our drab routine lives and makes us reevaluate essential questions: what is important? Am I doing something worthwhile with my life? What is life’s meaning? Trite as it may sound, “Aidan’s Way” does just that, but in a way that is subtle and avoids self-indulgent breast-beating. At its core, “Aidan’s Way” is a resounding affirmation of life. Sam and Maureen Crane are the parents of Aidan, who is profoundly retarded mentally–he cannot walk, talk or see. At every turn, they face the possibility that he may die. Pneumonia assaults his lungs and grand mal seizures force him to rely on a feeding tube for sustenance. Adversaries come in human guise as well, with the Cranes heroically combating outrageous abuses by their HMO, doctors stereotyping Aidan as “one of THOSE kids,” and a heartbreaking moment of frustration when an indecisive nurse fails to administer a drug in time to stop Aidan’s seizures from permanently damaging his already fragile brain. There are heroes, too — a doctor with cerebral palsy who doggedly probes the causes of Aidan’s condition while others write him off, a younger sister who brings hope and joy to the family, and countless therapists, journalists, and teachers. Aidan touches hundreds of people.

Indeed. Sadly, Aidan is no longer with us, except in spirit.

Happy Father’s Day to all of Eph Dad readers, including to the loyalest reader of all:

_BW15108

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Talk To Me

I will be at reunion. Want to chat with me about all things Eph? Reach out to me at daviddudleyfield at gmail and we can set something up!

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Congratulations Class of 2019

Commencement is this morning. Congratulations to all our graduating seniors!

I know that there is a livestream, but I can’t find it. Could someone please point it out?

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Ephs Who Have Gone Before

foxWho is this Eph?

He is Myles Crosby Fox ’40.

Myles will not be in Williamstown to celebrate reunion with the Old Guard in two weeks, for he has passed away. He leaves behind no wife, no children nor grandchildren. His last glimpse of Williams was on graduation day 79 years ago. Who among the sons and daughters of Ephraim even remembers his name?

I saw the mountains of Williams
As I was passing by,
The purple mountains of Williams
Against the pearl-gray sky.
My heart was with the Williams men
Who went abroad to die.

Fox was, in many ways, an Eph of both his time and ours. He was a Junior Advisor and captain of the soccer team. He served as treasurer in the Student Activities Council, forerunner to today’s College Council. He was a Gargoyle and secretary of his class.

gargoyle

Fox lived in Wood House. Are you the student who just moved out of the room that Fox vacated all those years ago? Are you an Eph who trod the same walkways around campus as Fox? We all walk in his footsteps.

The years go fast in Williams,
The golden years and gay,
The hoary Colleges look down
On careless boys at play.
But when the bugles sounded war
They put their games away.

Fox wrote letters to his class secretary, letters just like those that you or I might write.

The last issue of the Review has put me up to date on my civilized affairs. I am enclosing the only other information I have received in the form of a letter from Mr. Dodd. Among my last batch of mail was notice of the class insurance premium, and if you think it will prove an incentive to any of my classmates you may add under the next batch of Class Notes my hearty endorsement of the insurance fund, the fact that even with a military salary I am still square with the Mutual Company, and my hope that classmates of ’40 will keep the ball rolling so that in the future, purple and gold jerseys will be rolling a pigskin across whitewash lines.

Seven decades later, the pigskin is still rolling.

Fox was as familiar as your freshman roommate and as distant as the photos of Williams athletes from years gone by that line the walls of Chandler Gym. He was every Eph.

They left the peaceful valley,
The soccer field, the quad,
The shaven lawns of Williams,
To seek a bloody sod—
They gave their merry youth away
For country and for God.

Fox was killed in August 1942, fighting the Japanese in the South Pacific. He was a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps and served in a Marine Raider battalion.

Fox’s citation for the Navy Cross reads:

For extraordinary heroism while attached to a Marine Raider Battalion during the seizure of Tulagi, Solomon Islands, on the night of 7-8 August 1942. When a hostile counter-attack threatened to penetrate the battalion line between two companies, 1st Lt. Fox, although mortally wounded, personally directed the deployment of personnel to cover the gap. As a result of great personal valor and skilled tactics, the enemy suffered heavy losses and their attack repulsed. 1st Lt. Fox, by his devotion to duty, upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life in the defense of his country.

How to describe a night battle against attacking Japanese among the islands of the South Pacific in August 1942?

Darkness, madness and death.

On Memorial Day, America honors soldiers like Fox who have died in the service of their country. For many years, no Eph had made the ultimate sacrifice. That string of good fortune ended with the death in combat of First Lieutenant Nate Krissoff ’03, USMC on December 9, 2006 in Iraq. From Ephraim Williams through Myles Fox to Nate Krissoff, the roll call of Williams dead echoes through the pages of our history.

With luck, other military Ephs like Dick Pregent ’76, Bill Couch ’79, Peter May ’79, Jeff Castiglione ’07, Bunge Cooke ’98, Paul Danielson ’88, Kathy Sharpe Jones ’79, Lee Kindlon ’98, Dan Ornelas ’98, Zack Pace ’98, JR Rahill ’88, Jerry Rizzo ’87, Dan Rooney ’95 and Brad Shirley ’07 will survive our current wars. It would be more than enough to celebrate their service on Veterans’ Day.

Those interested in descriptions of Marine combat in the South Pacific during World War II might start with Battle Cry by Leon Uris or Goodby, Darkness by William Manchester. The Warriors by J. Glenn Gray provides a fascinating introduction to men and warfare. Don’t miss the HBO miniseries The Pacific, from which the battle scene above is taken. Fox died two weeks before the Marines on Guadalcanal faced the Japanese at the Battle of the Tenaru.

A Navy destroyer was named after Fox. He is the only Eph ever to be so honored. The men who manned that destroyer collected a surprising amount of information about him. It all seems both as long ago as Ephraim Williams’s service to the King and as recent as the letters from Felipe Perez ’99 and Joel Iams ’01.

God rest you, happy gentlemen,
Who laid your good lives down,
Who took the khaki and the gun
Instead of cap and gown.
God bring you to a fairer place
Than even Williamstown.

Note: As long as there is an EphBlog, there will be a Memorial Day entry, a tribute to those who have gone before. Apologies to Winifred M. Letts for bowdlerizing her poem, “The Spires of Oxford.”

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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2023:

oakleyAt the 1989 Williams graduation ceremonies, then-President Francis Oakley had a problem. Light rain showers, which had threatened all morning, started midway through the event. Thinking that he should speed things along, and realizing that virtually no one knew the words to “The Mountains,” President Oakley proposed that the traditional singing be skipped.

A cry arose from all Ephs present, myself included. Although few knew the words, all wanted to sing the damn song. Sensing rebellion, President Oakley relented and led the assembled graduates and guests through a somewhat soaked rendition of the song that has marked Williams events for more than 100 years.

Similar scenes play themselves out at Williams gatherings around the country. At some of the Williams weddings that you will attend in the future, an attempt, albeit a weak one, will be made to sing “The Mountains.” At reunions, “The Mountains” will be sung, generally with the help of handy cards supplied by the Alumni Office. It is obvious that most graduates wish that they knew the words. It is equally obvious than almost all do not.

We have a collective action problem. Everyone (undergraduates and alumni alike) wishes that everyone knew the words. It would be wonderful to sing “The Mountains” at events ranging from basketball games to Mountain Day hikes to gatherings around the world. But there is no point in me learning the words since, even if I knew them, there would be no one else who did. Since no single individual has an incentive to learn the words, no one bothers to learn them. As Provost Dukes Love would be happy to explain, we are stuck at a sub-optimal equilibrium.

mountainsFortunately, you have the power to fix this. You could learn “The Mountains” together, as a group, during your JA orientation. You could then teach all the First Years during First Days. It will no doubt make for a nice entry bonding experience. All sorts of goofy ideas come to mind. How about a singing contest at the opening dinner, judged by President Mandel, between the six different first year dorms with first prize being a pizza dinner later in the fall at the President’s House?

Unfortunately, it will not be enough to learn the song that evening. Periodically over the last dozen years, attempts have been made to teach the words at dinner or at the first class meeting in Chapin. Such efforts, worthy as they are, have always failed. My advice:

1) Learn all the words by heart at JA training. This is harder than it sounds. The song is longer and more complex than you think. Maybe sing it between every session? Maybe a contest between JAs from the 6 first year houses? If you don’t sing the song at least 20 times, you won’t know it by heart. Don’t be a Lord Jeff and settle for only the first and last verses. Learn all four.

2) Encourage the first years to learn the song before they come to Williams. There are few people more excited about all things Williams than incoming first years in August. Send them the lyrics. Send them videos of campus groups singing “The Mountains.” Tell them that, as an entry, you will be singing the song many times on that first day.

3) Carry through on that promise! Have your entry sing the song multiple times that day. Maybe the two JAs sing the song to the first student who arrives. Then, the three of you sing if for student number 2. And so on. When the last student arrives, the entire entry serenades him (and his family). Or maybe sing it as an entry before each event that first day.

4) There should be some target contest toward which this effort is nominally directed. I like the idea of a sing-off between the 6 first year dorms with President Mandel as judge. But the actual details don’t matter much. What matters is singing the song over-and-over again before their first sunset as Ephs.

Will this process be dorky and weird and awkward? Of course it will! But that is OK. Dorkiness in the pursuit of community is no vice. And you and your first years will all be dorky together.

For scores of years, Ephs of goodwill have worked to create a better community for the students of Williams. It is a hard problem. How do you bring together young men and women from so many different places, with such a diversity of backgrounds and interests? Creating common, shared experiences — however arbitrary they may be — is a good place to start. Mountain Day works, not because there is anything particularly interesting about Stone Hill, but because we all climb it together.

Until a class of JAs decide as a group to learn the words themselves (by heart) during their training and then to teach it to all the First Years before the first evening’s events, “The Mountains” will remain a relic of a Williams that time has passed by.

But that is up to you. Once a tradition like this is started, it will go on forever. And you will be responsible for that. A hundred years from now the campus will look as different from today as today looks from 1918, but, if you seize this opportunity, Williams students and alumni will still be singing “The Mountains.”

Congratulations on being selected as a JA. It is a singular honor and responsibility.

Regards,

David Kane ’88

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Change First Days to First Month

For decades, the College has sought, somewhat unsuccessfully, to mold student character and to improve the campus community. The College would prefer that students drink less (and especially less to excess); that students be more intellectual, spending more time outside of class on great books and less time on Netflix; that students be kinder to each other, especially to those most outside the mainstream of College life; that students be more diverse in their friend groups, less likely to only associate with peers that are “like” them; and that students be more involved in the community, more likely to volunteer at the local elementary school or retirement home. How can the College make its students more sober, intellectual, kind, ecumenical and charitable (than they already are)? Simple: Expand the First Days program into First Month, and focus that month on character development and community commitment.

Shaping character and nurturing community are difficult problems, so we should look for inspiration to those with a track record of success. The most relevant examples are military and religious organizations like the Marine Corps and the Mormon Church. What lessons do they have for us?
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The Purple Rubble

The College Council has removed from its Facebook account a controversial video. This video captured an example of profane, incendiary, anti-white bigotry directed at white student representatives by one of the most prominent black student leaders at Williams College on June 9, 2019.

The video featured a long, stream-of-consciousness rant saying, in part, “…to be here is like sucking white d*** every f***ing day.”

“You want a discussion and dialogue. Here’s the f***ing dialog. We don’t have dialogue, because every time we try to talk to you we get shut down by the white moderate, white liberal bull***t.”

A link to the video was published on Ephblog on April 15, 2019. A partial transcript appeared at the Anonymous Political Scientist blog on that same day. Finally, The College Fix published a link to the video on April 19, 2019. The College Fix is a national-level conservative website where student journalists write on topics in higher education.

NOTE: A heavily redacted transcript of the June 9, 2019 meeting is still available at 4_9 Minutes.

According to the Williams Record, black student activists planned a demonstration to protest their treatment by the College Council. It was canceled, however, after links to the video rant were published at various on-line sites.

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