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Teach First Years to Sing “The Mountains”

To the JA’s for the class of 2022:

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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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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Here’s to Claiming Williams (From a Maverick Student)

Another year, another day that strains my patience.

Why claim Williams as your home, when it is clearly a resource you get the privilege (yes, privilege) to pay at least 10K a year for? Indeed, my first instinct is to think, “what can I do, as a humble servant to Williams, to better Williams?”

Instead, an entire day that could be spent on classes gets skipped to pander to a particularly phonetic party of privileged pretend rebels. Yes, keep telling me how Williams needs to do more to help the political agenda of minorities when we have more left-leaning student organizations than I can count, Williamstown is a de facto Sanctuary City, and I can walk to Rice House or the Jewish Religious Center in about five minutes.

Meanwhile, I, with my crazy views that Trump’s policies aren’t that bad, or that maybe we shouldn’t outright applaud someone who broke U.S. law and falsified legal documents, or that the students should be grateful they even got into this place before whining about all its foibles, get to sit quietly, and watch this exemplary campus slip further into leftist diploma mill.

Also, the cafeteria always sucks these days. Can’t I claim a decent meal in Claiming Williams Day?

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A Student’s Views on Claiming Williams

cw

Promoted from the comments:

Claiming Williams day really frustrates me. It totally throws off the beginning of the semester.

I pay tuition so I can take classes. This is time that could be spent actually learning from qualified instructors (not my victim-complex self-obsessed peers). I attended one event my freshman year about mental health on campus and couldn’t handle the masturbatory discussion. There was absolutely nothing productive or meaningful said… one person asked the panel of “mentally ill” (read: depressed/anxious) students, “What do you wish the college would do differently to make you feel better here?” and one responded, I swear to god, “Get rid of tuition. It’s very stressful”, and nobody pushed back against that response. I put “mentally ill” in quotes because students here have a loose definition of this term — if you worry about stuff or feel sad sometimes, you qualify as mentally ill. As the son of a schizophrenic person, this annoys me.

Most of my friends don’t go to any events. I don’t go to any events. I think you totally hit the nail on the head — it’s just a poorly planned and executed day. There’s no central kick-off event worth attending that would drag people out of bed. Free food is such a no brainer, but they couldn’t even pull that together. In years past they’ve bought pizza at the *end* of the day, pulling me away from doing my homework and job apps just in time for all the events to be over. It seems Mountain Day is about 10x better planned than Claiming Williams day, which is frustrating since they’re both given the very serious accommodation of cancelled classes.

I might sound cynical, but even my SJW friends aren’t big on this day. I rarely hear people who are excited for it… a lot of them feel like it’s just an empty gesture by the administration to appease their more legitimate concerns about the colleges misdeeds (for instance, divestment). It’s interesting that this is what comes out of the Davis Center… they have like three buildings dedicated to their activities on campus and a lot of full-time faculty, you’d think something better would be arranged.

What do other students think? Is my estimate that less than 500 students participate in Claiming Williams — where participation is defined as attending at least two events — reasonable?

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Claiming Williams 2018

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 Annie Valk, Angela Wu, and Rashanda Booker. Are they to blame? Shouldn’t one of the co-chairs be a tenured faculty member? Is that a sign that the faculty is less interested and so we might get rid of Claiming Williams? Or is it just another example of the continued erosion of faculty governance at the College?

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.

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. Even the sessions that might be non-political, like this one about being Asian-American, are leftist:

What does it mean to be an Asian American at Williams and in today’s political climate? Five members of the Asian American community will respond to this question using their own understanding and experiences. The event addresses how Asian Americans can take a more political role in today’s world.

Why does this event have to focus on taking “a more political role?” Why not just gather a diverse group of Asian-Americans and let us hear from them? For example, Asian-Americans are very active in the Christian groups at Williams. Was one of them invited to this panel? Why not?

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) How can there be nothing about Uncomfortable Learning and the banning of John Derbyshire? This was the biggest national news story involving Williams in several years. To not have a single session about it is just embarrassing.

4) 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 this fall 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 chose, 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.

Full schedule below
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Spring 2018 Course Advice

Fall classes start tomorrow. Our 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! So, 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. What about Racial-Sexual Violence with Joy James or Aesthetic Outrage with Stephen Tifft or Long Term Fiscal Challenges with Peter Heller?

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 like these, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for these classes, 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.

Also, consider skipping STAT 201 if you took AP Statistics. Go straight to STAT 364 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 364. 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 136: Data Structures and Advanced Programming (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you should start with CSCI 134). 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.

The Computer Science Department seems to have re-arranged things a bit in terms of strongly recommending that students take 134 first. In the past 134 was a not very serious course which was a waste for students in the top half of ability, including anyone with any prior exposure to programming. Is that still the case? If so, skip it and go directly to 136.

Informed commentary welcome on the 134 versus 136 choice.

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 11 (?) 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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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 30 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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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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Ghosts 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 Eph ’20 or Dick Swart ’56 or Professor Steve Miler or any other author/commentator/reader. EphBlog is a collective effort. It is “supposed to be” whatever we make of it.

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 2018 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 2018. 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.

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Toaist Thanksgiving

A moving post from Professor Sam Crane:

It is a perfect Thanksgiving morning here in Northwestern Massachusetts: a light snow, about 2 inches on the ground; a chill air; great conditions to be inside and cooking and eating all day. Aidan and I are here by ourselves, however. Maureen and Maggie are down in New York City, attending the famous parade. So, we will do the whole feast thing tomorrow. Today will be just about pie baking: I have a couple of small pumpkins to bake and make into a pie. If I feel ambitious, perhaps an apple pie will follow. That will make the house warm and comfortable.

We are supposed to be thankful today, and I am. But as I give thanks I can’t help wondering: for what am I giving thanks and to whom? As is my want, I fall back on Taoism to help clarify my thoughts. And, through that exercise, I come to a somewhat startling realization: I give thanks for Aidan and his profound disability. I know that sounds a bit bizarre – how could a parent be thankful for a child’s disability? – but, as I think through it, I am happy to say that I am.

Read the whole thing. Aidan left us 11 years ago, but his memory and spirit live on, not just in those who knew him personally but in all those touched by Sam’s writing. Try as hard as I might, I worry that I was never half the father to my daughters that Sam was to his son.

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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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Semper Fidelis

Today marks the 242nd 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 12 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
Vance McKean ’40
Preston Parish ’41
Albert William Tweedy Jr. ’42
Percy Nelson ’44
Joe Rice ’54
TB Jones ’58
David Kane ’58
Jack Platt ’58
Carl Vogt ’58
John McGonagle ’84
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Brian Gugliatta ’95
John Bozeman ’98
Bunge Cook ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
John Silvestro ’06
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Jeff Lyon ’08
Hill Hamrick ’13
Tim Morris ’13
Taylor Beebe ’20
Adam Jones ’20

Hamrick and Morris are currently deployed in harms way. Please contact Stewart Menking ’79 for information on how to reach them. Many thanks to Stew for his work on Adopt-an-Eph over the last 16 years.

LtCol Bunge Cook ’98 is now commands Second Battalion, Fourth Marines, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, the Magnificent Bastards. His call sign is, of course, Bastard 6.

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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. If victory comes, it will be sweet indeed since we have lost to Amherst for 6 straight years. A win would also (probably) prevent Amherst from winning NESCAC and give the Ephs a share of the Little Three title. Did Frank Uible ’57 win or lose the games he played against Amherst more than 50 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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What Should I Do?

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.

morehouse

Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, a stock brokerage and an investment bank, occupied three floors of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Lindsay S. Morehouse ’00, a new research assistant, was working on the 89th floor when American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 AM. As The 9-11 Commission Report describes in chilling detail, there was little consensus about what denizens of the South Tower should do. Howard Kestenbaum ’67 and others started to leave the building. Lindsay Morehouse did not. She and her co-workers did not know — they could not know — that United Airlines Flight 175 was only minutes away from impact. They stayed were they were.

“What should I do?”

Flight 175 struck the South Tower at 9:03, crashing in between floors 78 and 84. Lindsay was just 5 floors above. She, and hundreds of others, survived the impact. They did not know — they could not know — that the South Tower would collapse in less than one hour.

Even five years later, the bits and pieces of a life well-lived and yet unfinished remain..

morehouse01On September 10, a dream came true for Lindsay Morehouse, an investment banker with Keefe, Bruyette and Woods. She was accepted as a volunteer at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of New York and eagerly awaited the name of her new little sister. A college tennis star who led the Williams College women’s team to the NCAA finals in her junior year, she continually sought challenges and new adventures.

Only 24 years old, she had already visited New Zealand, France, Italy, New Mexico and Greece. She had been bungy-jumping and rock-climbing. She was famous among her huge circle of friends, teammates, colleagues and loved ones for her intensity and deep feelings, for being as demanding of herself as she was of each relationship in her life.

Her passions were varied: gnocchi and Indian food, “Rent” and “Les Miserable,” the Yankees and kittens. It seemed that every time she touched a life, she made a life-long friend, as witnessed by the crowd of more than 800 mourners at her memorial service on September 15.

“What should I do?”

Lindsay had come to Williams from St. Paul’s School. Her love of tennis and academic seriousness were clear even then.

morehouse08Mrs. Maycen also talked about her daughter’s affection for St. Paul’s School and how the scholarship in her name honors Lindsay’s feelings toward the School.

“I remember clearly cleaning out her room on her last day at St. Paul’s. She said, ‘Mom, I’ve just loved this school. I just love St. Paul’s.’ Fast forward and in the last week of her life, she was accepted into the Big Sister program in New York City,” said Mrs. Maycen. “She was coming full circle; wanting to help people less privileged than she was. That’s why this scholarship is just so fitting. Giving a talented student the opportunity to have what she experienced at St. Paul’s is a wonderful way to carry on Lindsay’s desire to help others.”

Lindsay’s mother said that she believes her daughter would be honored to know that a scholarship in her name would provide individuals with leadership potential an opportunity to come to St. Paul’s, and to take full advantage of all the School has to offer; much like Lindsay did herself.

“I just know that, from her perch above, Lindsay is pleased, proud, and humbled to have a scholarship in her name at the school she loved so well,” said Mrs. Maycen.

“What should I do?”

Professor Michael Lewis shared these memories:

morehouse11I have written a great deal about monuments and memorials, particularly those at Ground Zero in New York. And in judging the design proposals, I always found myself thinking about Lindsay Morehouse, and what would be the appropriately dignified and heartfelt way to remember her.

I met Lindsay in 1998 when she took my architecture course. This was a large class, about fifty students, but she was the first one I got to know, and all because of a terrific misunderstanding on my part.

Long ago I realized how important the first day of a class is. This is where you can set the tone t, and if you want the students to feel that they can speak, and ask questions, and make comments, this has to happen in the very first class. By the second, it’s difficult; by the third, it’s too late. The invisible wall has come down. And so on that first day, you need to encourage students to make comments – so they can see that they will be listened to with appreciation and thoughtfulness, and not be snubbed. The professor cannot seem to be on a fishing expedition, wanting only to hear only a particular sentence. The instant he shows the slightest hint of disappointment over a student comment – or says those fatal words, “anybody else?” – the game is over. The freeze sets in and the class will never thaw.

Therefore, to make this happen, I deliberately put a couple of images in my first lecture that invite questions – open-ended questions where there is no such thing as a wrong answer. If student don’t automatically raise their hand, I look for someone who seems just on the verge of asking. You can always tell who doesn’t want to be singled out.

On that particular day it was Lindsay Morehouse I noticed, sitting in the second or third row on the right. She had that alert, pleasantly curious expression that tells you that she’s following right along, is engaged and responsive, and seems delighted to participate. What do you think? I asked her, and whatever she said was useful and helpful, because the class moved along happily afterwards, and I left thinking that the first class was a success.

The next day I headed to my office hours, knowing that there would be no one there, because it was only the first week of the semester. But there was Lindsay, outside my office, evidently waiting for me. I could not imagine why, but when she stepped in I could see that her face was red. I asked her if something was wrong, and she began to weep. The she said a sentence that I can still hear almost twenty years later: why were you picking on me?

It took me a moment to realize exactly what she meant, and then it was my turn to feel terrible. What I thought was relaxed banter in the class, she felt as if she had been cruelly put on the spot, without warning. I handed Lindsay a tissue, and explained just what I wrote above – that I did this on purpose, to create a certain exciting mood in the lecture hall where everyone feels allowed to comment and participate, and no one’s ideas are ever brushed off. I also explained how I looked for engaged and curious faces who seemed they wanted to comment, and that she seemed to be that person. And I told her this was the only time that I had read the signals wrong.

It is a funny law of life that after a misunderstanding or any tense confrontation with someone, you tend to feel closer to the person. This was the case with us. For the rest of the semester Lindsay was a superb presence in the classroom –just as engaged and curious as I had thought at the beginning. I soon discovered she was one of the stars of our tennis team and she often came to class in her tennis whites.

Williams sawyer library

One of the assignments was to make a new facade for Sawyer Library in the style of one of the architects we studied, and she turned in an imaginative and fabulously witty Neo-Palladian design, complete with statues teetering on the parapet. I still have it.

Lindsay_Morehouse

Lindsay showed she had a knack for architectural thinking and we even looked at creating a winter study project where she could do an advanced architectural project, but I was on leave and this didn’t happen. I later found out she had talked to her mother about this project, and her regret that we couldn’t make it work.

On September 11, I had heard that Lindsay had been working in one of the World Trade Center buildings. Two days later, the 13th, I was walking into my American art class, just about to launch into the second lecture of the year. I happened to pass my friend Dave Johnson, our tennis coach, and asked if there was any news about Lindsay. This was that time of confusion when there was still hope that some people might be trapped in the subway beneath the building, and might be rescued. And to my shock, Dave said that the memorial service was going to be Saturday. He explained to me that there was no doubt that she was lost, and that she was on the phone as it happened.

morehouse09This happened seconds before I was to walk to the podium and lecture to my American art class – which happened to be the only one I ever taught that filled the room to its 110-seat capacity. I started to tell them about Lindsay, whom many of them know, and then I cried like a baby in the room, which immediately fell silent. Although I pulled myself together to give the lecture, I was rather chagrinned. As I left the room I bumped into my colleague Sheafe Satterthwaite and I told him of my embarrassment, and that I had never openly cried in front of my students before. Satterthwaite thought about it and said simply, “it will endear you to them.”

And so that is the symmetry of my relationship to Lindsay Morehouse, which began with her tears and ended with mine.

“What should I do?”

News reached Williams slowly.

In a third message on Friday [9/14] afternoon, President Schapiro announced that one recent Williams graduate, Lindsay Morehouse ’00, was known to be missing in the attack on the World Trade Center. Morehouse was an economics major and a captain of the women’s tennis team. Betsy Brainerd, an assistant professor of economics who had Morehouse in two of her classes, remembered her as “a warm and vital young woman with a great outlook on life.”

Other members of the economics department also shared fond memories of Morehouse. Roger Bolton said that he “still [has] many of the e-mails she sent as ‘Linz’ with questions on how she could make her work as good as possible, and always with a ‘thanks’ in advance.”

“I will miss Lindsay,” Kaye Husbands-Fealing, an economics professor, said. “As I watched television this week and I saw survivors that were about her age, I could see her face in theirs. Her indomitable spirit lives on. May God bless her; may God bless her family.”

“What should I do?”

This was the last question that Lindsay’s father was to hear from his daughter, the last time that he would listen to her voice, the last chance that he would have to try to protect her from a too cruel world. Yet there was little he could do.

Morehouse called her father after the first plane hit the other tower to say that she was safe and that she had been instructed to stay in the building. She called a second time after the second plane hit her tower. That call was cut off.

And that was all. Lindsay, like more than 1/3 of the employees of Keefe, Bruyette and Woods, died that day. Neither fathers nor mothers, husbands nor wives, brothers nor sisters could save them. Although the most important tragedy of 9/11 is the deaths of thousands of innocents like Lindsay Morehouse — thousands of people who gave more to life, and had more left to give, than we can ever fully know — the rest of us must shoulder the burden of survival, of wondering what we might have done differently to save them, of worrying about the telephone call which might come to us someday.

“What should I do?”

I do not dread asking this question. I dread trying to answer it. Lindsay Morehouse was not just one man’s daughter. She was a daughter to all of us. May my own daughters be spared her fate.

Condolences to all.

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Fall 2017 Course Advice

Fall classes start tomorrow. Our 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! So, 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. Recommended:

ANTH 328: Emotions and the Self with Peter Just.

NSCI 317: Nature via Nurture: Topics in Developmental Psychobiology with Betty Zimmerberg.

PHIL 242: People Power with Alan White.

ECON 228: Water as a Scarce Resource with Ralph Bradburd.

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 like these, you are doing it wrong. Note that, even if you don’t have the official prerequisites for these classes, 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.

Take CSCI 136: Data Structures and Advanced Programming (if you enter Williams with Math/Reading SAT scores below 1300, you should start with CSCI 134). 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.

The Computer Science Department seems to have re-arranged things a bit in terms of strongly recommending that students take 134 first. In the past 134 was a not very serious course which was a waste for students in the top half of ability, including anyone with any prior exposure to programming. Is that still the case? If so, skip it and go directly to 136.

Informed commentary welcome on the 134 versus 136 choice.

If a professor tries to tell you the class is full, just claim to be future major in that topic. Indeed, many students official 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 10 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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Time Lapse Video of Class of 2021 Picture

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Old Guard Versus Greylocks

greylocks

Back in the day, reunion attendees from the post 50th class were known as the “Old Guard.” (See here for relevant links.) Now, the terminology is “Greylocks.” First, who decided in this change and/or came up with the name? (I think the name is clever.) Second, why the change? Perhaps the “old guard” terminology was too military and/or masculine? Third, do readers agree with the change? (I am indifferent.)

For future historians: here (pdf) is a copy of the Reunion Schedule. Are there many more organized events than there were 10 years ago? Seems that way. Nothing wrong with that! The more fun events at reunion, the better.

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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 77 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 this war. 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 2021:

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 Falk, 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 in August than incoming first years. 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 Falk 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 1917, 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?

First: Start early. The reason that service in the Marine Corps begins with a 13-week boot camp is that the best time to change the perceptions of 18-year-olds is at the start of their enlistments. In boot camp, Marine recruits are cut off from the world they knew before, presented with a new set of community standards for what is best and challenged to live up to those standards. The College will have much more success in changing the values and choices of first-years in August than it ever will in altering those of juniors and seniors.

Second: Separate. Many new Ephs drank too much in high school. We want them to (want to) drink less at the College. We need to distance them from their old habits, their old friends and routines. A First Month program, starting in early August, provides just such an opportunity. The reason that Mormons, and most other religious groups, favor retreats is that a departure from the secular allows the sacred to flourish. During First Month, athletes won’t practice with their sports teams, they will play pick-up games with their classmates. The first and most important commitment that new Ephs make is to their class. They are purple first.

Consider how messed up our current system is. The 5 or so first years recruited to play women’s soccer arrive a week or more ahead of their classmates. They already know each other, and their new teammates, via the recruitment process. They spend a week with each other (and the rest of the team), all day, every day. They make friends. Is it any wonder that there is an athlete/non-athlete divide at Williams, when, from Day One, athletes are segregated from the rest of their class? The same dynamics are at work with other programs (Windows on Williams Williams College Summer Science) — well-intentioned though they may be.

Assume that you are a bad person and you want Williams student to self-segregate by astrological sign. You want all the, say, Geminis, to hang out together, take the same classes, form Gemini-only rooming groups and so on. This is hard to do because Williams students don’t like to be bossed around.

Solution: Invite all the Gemini members of the class of 2021 to five weeks of special Gemini-only activities at Williams this summer. Do not invite non-Geminis.

The natural result is that these Geminis, who may have had nothing in common besides their astrological sign, will bond. Cliques form, friendships grow and romance blooms. These Geminis will grow to like and trust each other. When school starts in September, they will already have made friends with each other. They will continue to seek each other out, share meals with each other, perhaps take classes together. It won’t be that they have anything against their non-Gemini entrymates who they are meeting for the first time. It is just that they will have already found friends to hang out with.

I am not arguing that Williams cancel the Summer Science/Humanities programs or that athletes not arrive early on campus, although perhaps we should. I just want the entire First Year class to arrive together, to be together, to do things together, before various centrifugal forces come into play.

Third: Introduce. Every student in each of the first-year dorms will have at least one meal with each resident of his dorm. All students will learn the names of at least half of their classmates by playing all the wonderfully awkward name-learning games common to religious retreats. The more that students are introduced to their classmates, slowly and repeatedly, over many hours, days and weeks, the less likely that any individual is to end up isolated from the College and detached from the Ephs around him. For most Ephs, the College community is as tight-knit as it could be. They always have someone to sit with when they go to the dining hall on their own. But for hundreds of students, often students from non-traditional backgrounds or with non-mainstream interests, the College fails. Rescuing those students, enmeshing them completely in a network of friends and friendly acquaintances, would change their experience at the College from bearable to wonderful.

Fourth: Inspire. The best way to convince teenagers that Behavior X is cool is to surround them with slightly older Ephs whom they admire and who, by word and deed, illustrate that X is cool. The fewer sports captains and Junior Advisors (JAs) who are heavy drinkers, the fewer first-years who will follow in their footsteps. During First Month, every activity is designed to model the behavior that we want to see more of among students at the College. On Day Two, everyone reads one of Plato’s dialogues and discusses it at lunch and dinner at a small table with a faculty member. On Day Six, everyone spends a day on community service – anything from cleaning up trash along the banks of the Green River to talking with residents at Sweetwood. On Day 10, everyone hikes up Pine Cobble. All of these events are led by the very best people – students, faculty, staff and local residents – at the College.

Fifth: Integrate. First-years come from many different backgrounds. The best way to make these new Ephs comfortable with each other is to have them spend as much time with each other as possible, especially in situations that make their differences less important than their commonalities. It is impossible to stereotype members of Group Z once you have shared a tent with one on a WOOLF trip. It is difficult to be snotty to your classmates when you sounded just as ridiculous as they did while all learning “The Mountains” together.

Doesn’t much of this happen during First Days already? Of course! But not nearly enough. My suggestion: Expand the current First Days to two weeks this August. If, for some reason, the change fails, then we can always revert back to the traditional format. But if the College is really serious about making its students more sober, intellectual, kind, ecumenical and charitable, then it ought to devote the month of August during their first years to that project.

[Original version here.]

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Williams Reads Recommendations?

As we all returned back to campus from a (hopefully warm!) spring break, Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent out a survey to all students asking for recommendations for this coming academic year’s Williams Reads.

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Do EphBlog readers (looking at you, alumni!) have any suggestions? I know at least 10 more of my classmates read EphBlog now, and I know we’d all be interested in what you think! What should we read next?

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2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

As noted by sigh, Williams has announced its 2017 Honorary Degree recipients:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian writer and recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, will be the principal speaker at Williams College’s 228th Commencement Exercise on Sunday, June 4. The day before, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins will be the Baccalaureate speaker. Both will receive honorary degrees at Commencement, as will former Williams College provost and current president of Washington and Lee University Will Dudley; public health and environmental advocate Gina McCarthy; and Gavin A. Schmidt, the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I thought it was a very interesting group of people.  I appreciated that it was not solely academics (with apologies to Prof. Will Dudley!), but included figures from “the real world,” including the former head of the EPA in the Obama administration and a NASA scientist.  Presumably the selection of these two is intended to make a policy point that the College favors (and, of course, is not favored by some of EphBlog’s more prolific authors and commentors).

I think the choice of Ms. Adichie as the commencement speaker could turn out very well, if she gives a speech geared directly to Williams.  While not the highest profile commencement speaker (at least outside of literary circles, I guess), her profile suggests she is very accomplished and may have some very interesting ideas to communicate with the graduates and their families.

More complete bios of the honorary degree recipients may be found here.

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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 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 turn 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

Today is Claiming Williams. Here is the schedule. (Copied below the break for future historians.) Here are our recommendations for which sessions to attend. Comments:

1) This schedule is incompetent! Here is the committee, and the co-chairs are Annie Valk, Angela Wu, and Rashanda Booker. Are they to blame? I think that this is the first year in which the committee was not co-led by a [tenured — correction from comment below] faculty member. Is that a sign that the faculty is less interested and so we might get rid of Claiming Williams? Or is it just another example of the continued erosion of faculty governance at the College? I hope for the former.

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.

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. Even the sessions that might be non-political, like this one about sports, are extremely leftist:

This critique of U.S. sports culture shows how 20th-century sports has consistently reflected the hegemonic political discourse of the day, specifically, elite narratives about nationalism, war, gender, race, homosexuality and capitalism.

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) How can there be nothing about Uncomfortable Learning and the banning of John Derbyshire? This was the biggest national news story involving Williams in several years. To not have a single session about it is just embarrassing.

4) 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 200.

5) Whose idea was it to choose Shaun King as the evening key note speaker? King is [an accused — edited] fraud, on several important dimensions, not least in his claim to be African-American. If I were writing this as parody — that a white man [accused of running — edited] multiple charity frauds while pretending to be African-American would be the key note speaker at Claiming Williams— when all this started 9 years ago, you wouldn’t have believed me! Truth, at least at Williams, is stranger than fiction.

Full schedule below
Read more

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Claiming Williams Recommendations

Claiming Williams is tomorrow. There were more EphBlog-worthy sessions last year than this year, but here are still several events that look good. In order, I recommend:

Campus Spaces and Institutional History: the Courage to Examine the Past:

The Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History welcomes everyone to join in a dinnertime conversation about the history that’s built into the environment all around Williams. Last spring, we explored the history behind, and the college community’s perspectives on, the Log mural. Since the fall our task has widened as we’ve reflected on how the Williams community can engage the college’s built forms across campus — in buildings, decorations, and monuments. What ideas do you bring to this work? We’d like to hear! Sponsored by the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History.

The CCSIH is one of the great successes of the past year. It handled the Log Mural situation perfectly. It looks to be handling other controversies intelligently. Kudos to Adam Falk for creating and staffing the committee with some of Williams’ best.

Healthy Debate

Many of us share a concern about events occurring outside of our immediate communities that have “real world implications” for our work together. What are some of the hotly contested issues occurring outside of the classroom that might affect what’s going on inside of them? How do we create spaces to express a complex range of ideas and to speak frankly about what we know and what we believe? How might our ideas translate into conversations with classmates and colleagues with whom we engage with limited ways? What are the various forms that healthy debate might take among us institutionally?

Come to this session willing to enter into conversation. We have no expectation that anyone will show up as “an expert” on any particular topic, or even that anyone has to formally “debate.” Rather, we hope to engage with each other about what we think and know, and to foster broad, yet passionate, conversation focused on why differing points of view actually matter and can cultivate camaraderie among us as a community.

Suggested discussion starter: Many (most? almost all?) Trump supporters among the student body keep quiet about their political beliefs, partly because they think that open support for Trump would hurt them at Williams by, for example, preventing them from becoming a JA. Are their fears justified?

Quitting at Williams

At some point during our lives, at Williams or beyond, we have to make
a decision that we are taught to fear: quitting. Even the word “quit” summons feelings and associations that are inherently tied to failure or weakness. What is the source of this negative stigma that surrounds opting out of an activity, a group, a team, a class, a relationship, or a school, and what motivates someone to make that decision in spite of the repercussions? A panel of students will talk about their decisions to quit something because they no longer believed that what they were quitting was right for them; for the speakers, their act of “quitting” did not represent a source of shame but rather a source of empowerment.

An important topic handled in the best way: with student speakers and discussion.

Also, the Clickers session is always fun! But 9:00 AM is a tough ask . . .

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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 29 years ago and have counted my blessings ever since.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to Ephs far and wide. On this day, we give thanks to our student readers:

thanks

EphBlog would be a sadder place without you!

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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 an ex-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 241st 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 11 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
Jerry Rizzo ’87
David Kane ’88
Tony Fuller ’89
Jonathan Dailey ’91
Bunge Cooke ’98
Brian Gugliatta ’95
John Bozeman ’98
Lee Kindlon ’98,
Zack Pace ’98
Ben Kamilewicz ’99
Joel Iams ’01
Rob MacDougall ’01
John Silvestro ’06
Jeff Castiglione ’07
Brad Shirley ’07
Jeff Lyon ’08
Hill Hamrick ’13

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