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There All The Time

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.

murphyBrian Murphy ’80 died 17 years ago.

The bookshelves inside Judy Bram Murphy’s light-drenched apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan are filled with photographs from before: a wedding portrait, a baby picture, a snapshot of Judy, her two daughters, and her husband, Brian. Looking at the photographs, you can almost pretend that September 11, 2001, never happened, that the two jets never flew into the World Trade Center towers. You can almost pretend that Brian came home from work that day.

But Bram Murphy has no desire to pretend. Brian’s death left her a young widow and a single mother to Jessica, who was then five years old, and Leila, who was not quite four.

Jessica and Leila are now 22 and 20, almost the same ages as my daughters. My wife, eldest daughter and I were at Ground Zero a few years ago, visiting my parents, whose office was nearby. My wife pointed out the site but my daughter did not remember 9/11. Do Jessica and Leila remember their father? How can they? Time steals all our memories, especially from the children.

For Judy Bram Murphy, Brian is most alive in their children, in Jessica’s thoughtfulness and Leila’s adventurous nature. Because of this, her daughters triggered a sadness in her during the first six months after the attacks. Gradually this sadness began to subside, and she is now able to cherish the memories her children evoke. “They bring life and spirit to my life,” she says.

She takes every opportunity to help her daughters remember their father. The three talk about him all the time, reminding one another of things he used to say and do. Sometimes the girls will say, “I miss him” or “I wish he were here.” Other times they will declare, “Daddy’s here watching my concert” or “Daddy’s proud of me” or even “Daddy’s eating all the butter on the table.”

What would your family remember if you were snatched away from them one clear sky morning? Is whatever else you are doing right now as important as that?

“I’m not sure if I said it first or if they said it first,” she says, “but they feel he’s there all the time.” Bram Murphy takes comfort in that. She believes that such a sense helps the girls to feel safe and secure. “I don’t always feel his presence,” she adds, “but if I think about him, I feel he’s there in some spiritual way. He’s a part of me.” She chooses not to shield them from her own emotions, believing it important to show them that it is permissible to be sad and to cry. She shows them that the sadness passes.

Heartbreaking. Sadness passes but never disappears. I hope that every father in the Murphys’ community kept a special eye out for Jessica and Leila as they grew up. They are all our daughters now.

When Bram Murphy runs into acquaintances who want to know how she’s been faring over the past two years, she doesn’t know how to answer. People tend to assume one of two things: that she is perpetually upset or depressed, or that by now she should be feeling better. “It’s one of those situations that is not linear,” she says. A clinical psychologist, she is a particularly astute and articulate observer of her own emotions. She has good days and bad days, she says; there are moments when she feels content and others when the sadness and the loneliness are crushing. “People in general,” she says, “have trouble understanding that I’m not one thing for having this one thing happen to me.”

I read these stories every year, and every year I cry. Do you?

Like many others who lost someone they loved on that clear, late-summer day, Judy Bram Murphy is finding her way in this new post-September 11 world. She reminds herself that it was her husband, not she and her children, who lost the most that day. “So many people complain or are dissatisfied, and he felt so lucky to have what he had,” she says. “It just seems that he should have lived longer.”

Indeed. Why was Brian Murphy taken from both his own family and the community of Ephs? We should all be more thankful for what we have. We are all so lucky.

For most people the death of a spouse is a personal loss, but the entire nation — and much of the world — feels somehow connected to the grief of the September 11 families. Many, Bram Murphy says, reached out with a kindness and generosity that she could never have imagined and that went far beyond anything she would have received had Brian died of a heart attack or in a car accident. Her yoga studio, for example, gave her two years of free instruction. Grief counselors this spring organized a day of activities for the children of the victims. Perhaps most touching, a woman last year asked for an assortment of Brian’s T-shirts and ties and meticulously crafted them into three patchwork quilts–one for each of the family’s beds. The gifts are comforting but also sometimes painful. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Bram Murphy says, pointing out a small sculpture in her living room. The sculpture is made from the metal debris at Ground Zero. “You have no warning. You open the door and there’s this sculpture. You’re happy, but you’re also upset to get it.”

I neither sew nor sculpt. What can I do? What can you do?

This summer Bram Murphy threw a party in Bedford for Jessica’s seventh birthday. “The parties are still hard for me,” she admits. She has become accustomed to Brian’s absence on special occasions and she adjusts to it, but it still hurts. A few weeks after the party, the girls’ day camp held a visiting day for parents. As has become typical for Bram Murphy at events like that, she found herself with a mix of emotions: happy, excited, and proud of her children; comforted that Brian was in some way present; sad and lonely that he was gone. “Those sorts of days,” she says, “are the most difficult — when both parents are supposed to be there.”

Brian Murphy should still be there. Perhaps the lesson for all of us to be there, wherever we are, today.

Condolences to all.

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Fall 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

See our previous discussions. Here are some thoughts from 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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Beyond The Log, 15

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 15.

(King1893NYC)_pg245_DELMONICOS,_BEAVER_AND_WILLIAMS_STREETSFred Rudolph: Now, let’s go back to that evening at Delmonico’s in 1871. Both Bascom and Garfield were charting the future course of the College. Bascom, alert to developments in higher education, knew that the Williams of Mark Hopkins was going to have to meet the challenges posed by the new president of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot, who was using electives to open up the curriculum to new learning, and to the opening of Cornell in 1867, whose founder Ezra Cornell had announced: “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” James A. Garfield, on the other hand, while not denying Bascom’s challenges, reminded his audience that the center of an institution of learning was the relationship between a talented teacher and a willing student. And he gave the College an aphorism with which to remind itself across the years when it grappled with the realities represented by Eliot and Cornell.

In the presidents considered this morning we found Chadbourne holding the future at bay, and Carter transforming Williams into a gentleman’s college that Harry Garfield would clarify and rationalize and that Tyler Dennett would challenge and rethink.

And Maud Mandel will?

And Maud Mandel should?

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Beyond The Log, 14

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 14.

John Chandler: Fred, take us back to the period right after Carter’s twenty-year tenure ended and the trustees apparently were having difficulty appointing a successor. The New York Times reported that the trustees were unable to select anyone. The vote was split about five different ways, and no candidate came close to having a majority. That’s when Hewitt became acting president. And then after Hewitt, Henry Hopkins was chosen at the age of sixty-four, which even today would be extraordinary. What was going on that they apparently were having such a hard time agreeing upon Carter’s successor?

Fred Rudolph: Hewitt was even older than Henry Hopkins, and that may be why he wasn’t named permanent president. In any event, my guess is that the trustees had to decide whether they wanted another Carter or needed breathing time while they decided how they were going to deal with the clear ascendancy of the American university. During that period Dartmouth, under the leadership of William Jewett Tucker (1893-1909), decided it was not going to be a small college any more. Williams, by contrast, decided that it was going to be a good, small, Christian college and, I would say, one that catered to rich men’s sons. Nothing much happened during the Henry Hopkins era. It was a holding operation. Whether the trustees were considering Harry Garfield at that time I don’t know. When Garfield was chosen president in 1908, he had been on the Princeton faculty only four years. When Henry Hopkins was named president in 1902, Garfield was a politician in Cleveland. But he also taught law at Western Reserve, and some people may have viewed him as a possible president of Williams when Hewitt and then Henry Hopkins were chosen.

The speeches at Hopkins’ 1902 induction made clear that the College was sensitive to the challenges it was being asked to meet. The retiring acting president, Hewitt, assured the audience that Williams had no university ambitions and did not believe all studies were equal. The trustee speaker, apparently reassuring an audience that was aware of all the new fraternity houses on Main Street, asserted that Williams was not an aggregation of social clubs nor a pleasure resort. The alumni speaker declared as how the future of the small college was about to be determined: a liberal arts college or a university prep school. Whatever the future, the student speaker was pleased to applaud Franklin Carter for having given Williams “the mark of patrician gentility.” Henry Hopkins himself came down on the side of “the well-rounded man,” on the side of athletics and Christianity. Above all, I believe, the trustees thought they had to be very careful. The big question was, “How are we going to define ourselves in this new environment?” The eventual choice of Garfield seems to me to be a decision to move forward in important ways.

Here are the speeches given at Hopkins inaugural. (When/why was the terminology changes from “inaugural” to “induction?”)

UPDATE: Alas, the link is broken. Does no one at Williams care about our history?

Which do you like the best?

The student speaker, George Frederick Hurd ‘1903, began his speech:

It is not often that the undergraduate perceives the institution of the College in its real proportions. We see one part of the structure, one manifestation of its life, and think that we are in touch with the whole. Our interest in the curriculum asserts that this department of activity is supreme in its usefulness and importance. The exultation of the athletic triumph cries that proficiency in the sports is, after all, the greatest thing to be achieved, and that to this end we owe our first duty. It is only on some great occasion, when the several elements which compose the real College are brought together, and each appears in its proper place and relation, that there rises before us as a novel thing a concept of the largeness and dignity of the institution. It is then that we are moved with a great enthusiasm and a great spirit of loyalty; and so on this great day, in this gathering of the officers, faculty, alumni, and students, all the elements which together make up the unit Williams College, we are profoundly moved, and the words which we speak come from our hearts.

Will there be a student speaker next month? (I hope so.) What should she say?

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Beyond The Log, 13

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 13.

John Chandler: Let’s look at the argument between Bascom and Garfield in the context of what was going on in higher education nationally during that period. I’m referring to movements and trends that you’ve written a lot about—the creation of the land-grant colleges, the development of research universities, debates about whether the Oxbridge classical model was still relevant, and growing interest in German higher education, with its emphasis on research and publication. New places like Johns Hopkins and Cornell were very different from Williams, and even nearby Union College developed a dual-track curriculum that enabled students to follow either the classical model or focus on science and modern languages. Were these matters being discussed at Williams?

Fred Rudolph: That kind of discussion did go on at Williams, but Chadbourne did not encourage it. In fact, one of the remarkable statements Chadbourne made in the context of what you’re talking about was, “You know, I could teach every subject in the curriculum.” When Ira Remsen, a newly appointed professor of chemistry and physics, asked if he could have some space for a laboratory, Chadbourne cautioned, “You must remember that this is a college and not a technical institute.”

Four years later Remsen was on his way to a distinguished career as a chemist, and later president, at the new Johns Hopkins University. Specialization was the new order, but at Williams deciding how to deal with it was pushed forward into the twentieth century. John Haskell Hewitt was named temporary president (1901-1902) and the trustees brought Mark Hopkins’ son Henry (Class of 1858) out of a Kansas City, Mo. pastorate to be president (1902-1908). The trustees were getting nervous about what the future of a place like Williams should be, given what was going on in the rest of the world. Williams became a wealthy college in the 1880s during Carter’s administration, and it might have chosen to go in different directions, but the Hewitt and Henry Hopkins appointments suggest that the trustees did not yet know in what direction they wanted to go.

Whatever you think of fraternities, they were intended to be instruments for fostering gentlemanly conduct. The Mark Hopkins era was still principally about students becoming good Christians. There was always an internal war at the College over the question, What are we here for?

What, indeed?

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Beyond The Log, 12

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 12.

Fred Rudolph: James A. Garfield’s remark about Mark Hopkins and the log was in response to a speech that Bascom had just made to Williams alumni at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York. That event in 1871 set the stage for the main story of the Williams presidents in the era that we’re discussing today. In effect, John Bascom said to the alumni, “You may love the place, but it’s in a mess. It’s got a president who’s sitting on his ass. The place is too close to Pownal, too far from New York and Boston, where the action is. There’s no library, there are no laboratories, the trustees are too old. The place really needs attention.”

That upset Garfield, and he got up and said, “Well, but the ideal college is Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” That was the beginning of the argument over whether the future of Williams lay with Bascom’s vision or Garfield’s aphorism.

Chadbourne paid hardly any attention to Bascom, who soon left for the University of Wisconsin, where Chadbourne himself had been president before coming to Williams in 1872. Bascom would like to have been president of Williams, I think. There’s some interesting correspondence in the Library of Congress between Bascom and Garfield about what they both said that night, and what they meant. Garfield said, in effect, “I didn’t mean that we shouldn’t have libraries and laboratories.” I don’t think Bascom ever said anything to suggest that he didn’t mean what he said. No president since 1872 including Adam Falk, who has yet to take over, has been free from the questions raised by that evenings’ contest between Bascom and Garfield over just how much and in what ways an old New England liberal arts college should accommodate itself to challenging developments in society and learning.

Indeed. How do you predict Maud Mandel will handle this century-old dispute?

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Beyond The Log, 11

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 11.

Fred Rudolph: He [President Garfiled] deserves credit for important curricular reform. He delegated leadership on that front to Professor T.C. Smith of the history department. A case can be made that Garfield’s style was to delegate. That’s one way to get things done. When he went to Washington he turned the running of the College over to Professor Carroll Maxcy, giving rise to the student ditty “Maxcy of Hoxsey, prexy by proxy.”

Great ditty! Longtime readers will recall that I quoted Professor Maxcy here, perhaps the best of my 5,000+ 10,000 posts at EphBlog.

To our faculty readers: Professor Maxcy is still being read and quoted 50 years after his death. Will Williams students and alumni be quoting you in 2060 2068? If not, why not?

The 1911 curriculum that Garfield and T.C. Smith created was a significant moment in the history of higher education, because it packaged subject matter into divisions, it created the requisites and sequences and made room for new subjects without obliterating the old ones. The departmental major of sequence courses was topped with a unique double-credit senior seminar. The Garfield curriculum was an effort to make clear that if you came to Williams you could get an education. You didn’t have to. You could come to Williams and concentrate on being a fraternity member, and some students did. In conjunction with the new curriculum was an honors program, so the best students could define themselves on a higher level of intellectual activity than had been true earlier. Interestingly, the 1911 curriculum and the honors program (which Garfield proposed in his inaugural address) were still operating when I entered in 1938. It was still there after World War II, and indeed even into Jack Sawyer’s administration. That curriculum never got the PR that it should have had.

Indeed. There are two separate (I think) issues here:

First, the honors program. Faculty often complain that students do not progress to a “higher level of intellectual activity.” I agree. The Swarthmore Honors program is widely effective and popular. Why not institute something like that at Williams as an optional track for the most intellectually serious students?

Second, the curriculum. In retrospect, it is easy to see how Garfield’s reforms were part of the leading edge of higher education, that almost all elite schools now have similar programs (leaving aside outliers like St. John’s and Olin). But the future is far less clear. What changes will the next 100 years bring? What movements should Williams try to lead, or at least try not to get left behind by? My guess would involve a curriculum in which almost all student work is public and which involves a much closer engagement with the outside world. What is your guess?

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Beyond The Log, 10

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 10.

John Chandler: It’s often remarked that Dennett enlivened the faculty with new appointments.

Fred Rudolph: Yes, Dennett really did some interesting things with faculty. In 1938 Howard Mumford Jones in the Atlantic Monthly referred to Williams’ faculty as the liveliest in New England. Tyler Dennett recruited people who were being kicked out of other places because of their politics. Among that group you get people like labor economist Bob Brooks from Yale, economist Robert Lamb from Harvard, and political scientist Fred Schuman from the University of Chicago. Dennett was bringing in exciting new faculty members such as Max Lerner, a well-known liberal and contributor to The Nation and the New Republic. At the same time Dennett was trying to get rid of deadwood.

Would anyone today call the Williams faculty the “liveliest in New England?” Probably not. And that is a good thing! The more that Williams faculty focus on Williams students — and the less they focus on the opinions of, say, the readers of the New Republic — the better for Williams.

Do you think that Maud Mandel will try to “get rid of deadwood?” Do you think she should?

When was the last time that Williams recruited a (tenured?) professor from Yale, Harvard or the University of Chicago?

I think that the most prominent (expensive?) senior appointment in the last few years was Joy James. The resulting disaster is a clue as to why senior appointments are often problematic.

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Beyond The Log, 9

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 9.

Bob Stegeman: Do you have anything further to say about the Institute of Politics?

Fred Rudolph: I think the students resented it because it had nothing to do with them, except that it took the president away for a couple of months each year as he was lining up the program. It was a summer operation that started in 1921 and lasted until about 1932 or 1933. It attracted about 800 to 900 people, which was a great boon to the Williamstown economy. People paid to come. It was a chance for countries to explain themselves and argue for their policies. Mussolini sent people from Italy. Like Chautauqua, the institute was a good way to combine a vacation with intellectual stimulation. It was undoubtedly good PR for Williams and Williamstown. According to Garfield’s account, the idea came to him one restless night at the President’s House. So he talked with his old college roommate Bentley Warren (Class of 1885), chairman of the Board of Trustees. Warren liked the idea. Then Garfield talked with Bernard Baruch, who said, “Let’s do it. I’ll pay for it.”

1) There is a great senior thesis to be written about the Institute of Politics. If you are a political science major, you ought to write it.

2) In some sense, the Summer Institute in American Foreign Policy, led by our own Professor James McAllister, is a direct descendant of the IOP. Did any readers attend this year? How did it go?

3) The single most important thing that Maud Mandel could do to ensure the future wealth (and, therefore, success) of Williams 200 years from now is to make Williams the best undergraduate college in the world for students interested in finance. We need a finance concentration, followed by a finance major and then a finance department. Along with that, we ought to establish an “Institute of Finance,” modeled directly on the history of the “Institute of Politics.”

Invite Ephs in finance for a week or two meeting each summer in Williamstown. Much time would be spent on golf and hiking (just as at Herb Allen’s ’62 annual Sun Valley meeting). There would be panels and discussions, featuring both alumni and faculty. Several dozen students would be invited to spend the summer in Williamstown, preparing for the meeting, working with professors on finance-related research and so on.

Over time (and with much hard work), this event could grow in significance and importance, even if most/all of the attendees were Ephs. It would make Williams famous for the quality of its finance education and more likely to appeal to applicants interested in finance, especially those that we currently lose to Harvard/Yale/Princeton. An Institute of Finance would bind the community of finance Ephs — students, faculty and alumni — together and more tightly to Williams as an institution.

Perhaps the only question is: Which (rich) finance Eph can play the role of Bernard Baruch? I nominate: Greg Avis ’80, Andreas Halvorsen ’86 or Chase Coleman ’97.

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Beyond The Log, 8

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 8.

Fred Rudolph: At any rate, Dennett’s three years have always seemed to me to have shaped everything that’s happened since. The presidents who have succeeded him have had the job of fixing the problem that Dennett identified. In other words, the period we’re talking about brought about all of the things that helped to define Williams as a rich man’s college. But Williams College is no longer a rich man’s college. The story of how Williams deriched itself isn’t hard to tell, but that’s not our subject today.

Has Williams really “deriched” itself? I have my doubts. See here and here for this extensive background. Summary: There is not a lot of hard evidence that Williams has meaningfully deriched itself over time periods ranging from 10 to 25, 50, even 100 years.

Vaguely related comments:

1) Williams accepts 1/2 its students from private schools of various sorts, the same as it did 50 years ago. (I don’t actually have data for that, but this is true for Amherst so I suspect it is true for Williams.) Now, Andover students have always come from families with various levels of wealth. Perhaps (!) there are more “poor” students at Andover than there were 50 years ago. But, by almost all reasonable standards of “richness” — wealth, income, family stability, cultural capital, educational opportunities — Andover students are about as well off today as they were in 1960, at least relative to the US population as a whole. So, if 50% of Williams students came from such places before, and 50% do now, then just how much derichifying has gone on? Not much.

2) Even if there is more diversity in terms of family income (which, again, I dispute), that diversity is a lot more hidden than it used to be. Does it really matter if you are poor if no one knows? My sense, contrary opinions welcome, is that current students have less knowledge about their classmates wealth than they have about their classmates intelligence, much less their looks. (Side note: And wouldn’t most Williams students gladly give up some family wealth if it meant more intelligence and/or better looks?)

A hundred years ago, students bid on their rooms!. Rich students got the best rooms. Poor students got the worst. Now wealth has (almost) no influence on housing at Williams. Fifty years ago “scholarship students” served food and bussed tables in the fraternity houses. The difference in the daily lives between poor and rich students is much less today than it has been in the passed.

3) The most interesting senior thesis on this topic would examine whether or not family income has any connection to student rooming groups. I bet that it does not. That is, a student on financial aid is no more likely to live in a given rooming group than a student not on financial aid. [This is, of course, totally different from the influence of race and athletics. Students from a given racial group (or sports team) are much more likely to room with students of the same race (or on the same team).]

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Beyond The Log, 7

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 7.

John Chandler: You’ve told us a lot about how Williams became a rich man’s college, the various steps on the way. But a somewhat different question is why it got to be that way. What about Williams attracted rich students, and their parents who paid the bills and presumably encouraged them to apply?

Fred Rudolph: There are lots of reasons why Williams became a rich man’s college. I’m always fascinated with trying to figure out why Williams became The College for rich men. Not that rich men didn’t go everywhere else, but Williams was the one that got tagged, and clearly if you’re the last college in the country with a four-year Latin requirement, you’re limiting your pool to rich men who go to private schools. But how did they start coming in great numbers? There’s plenty of evidence in student letters, fraternity lore, and administrators’ experience that many rich kids came to Williams to belong to a fraternity, not to come to Williams. Certainly instructive on this score was the experience of the College’s great benefactor, Frederick Ferris Thompson, who transferred from Columbia in 1853 for the express purpose of founding a chapter of Delta Psi (he had wanted to take Delta Psi to Dartmouth but was denied admission because of his age).

Williams’ location, the scenery, the mountains, the resort element of its environment—all these factors were part of the appeal for rich families and their sons. Williamstown had resort hotels beginning in the 1840s, and you can imagine people coming to those hotels: the Mansion House, then Greylock, saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice if junior came to Williams?” Then there was the kind of nature worship that developed as the country became more urbanized, and that appealed to wealthy people.

But was Williams more or less of a “rich man’s college” than, say, Amherst and Swarthmore during this period? See also Eric’s discussion of the Social Register crowd.

Reasonable Ephs can differ about just how many rich kids Williams should want to have today. But I hope that we can all agree that, if a specific rich applicant has a choice between Williams and Amherst (or Princeton/Harvard/Yale), we all want that rich applicant to choose Williams, just as we want poor applicants or athletic applicants or any other kind of applicant to pick us over our competitors.

So, what would be today’s analog to fraternities? My suggestion: Every room a single. Williams should institute a policy in which every student is guaranteed a single. This would be highly appealing to rich (and poor!) applicants. It would make Williams dramatically different than our main competitors. It is an advantage that is easy to explain and understand. Williams already has significantly better housing than Harvard, although we do a horrible job of explaining that advantage to applicants, or Harvard does a good job of misleading applicants about their likelihood of getting a real single.

Giving very Eph a single is, of course, hard and expensive. The easiest way would be to, over 5 years, reduce the size of the class from 550 to around 480 or so. (This would also have all sorts of desirable side effects.) We should also continue to convert smaller buildings to co-ops. Trickiest issue would be dealing 100+ first year doubles. So, best plan would be to start with: Every student guaranteed a single after freshman year.

What would you do to attract rich students?

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Beyond The Log, 6

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 6.

Fred Rudolph: My impression is that the College has always had somebody who would get up and, referring to scholarship students, say, “This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was. Carter at one point said, “Williams College is not a resort for rich men’s sons.” But it was Carter who went out and persuaded Gov. Edwin Morgan of New York to give the money to build Morgan Hall (1882). Morgan Hall was the poshest college dormitory in the country. It was the first building at Williams with running water. And how did a student get a room in Morgan? He bid for it; the rooms went to the students with the most money. Soon after Morgan was built, Lasell Gymnasium went up across the street. There you have it. Two statements about what Williams was about. And soon thereafter the fraternities started scrapping their little hovels and began to erect significant buildings.

Interim President Bill Wagner was the most recent Williams administrator to “say, ‘This is not a rich man’s college.’ And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was.”

Recall my commentary on Wagner’s 2010 decision to change financial aid policy at Williams.

Assume that I am evil, that I seek to minimize the number of poor students at Williams and that I have mind-control over Bill Wagner and the Trustees. What would I do?

Keep in mind: 1) Unfortunately, I need to be sneaky! I just can’t fire Admissions Director Dick Nesbitt or order the Admissions to start favoring rich kids. 2) Any family that doesn’t make at least $200,000 per year and have substantial assets is, as far as I am concerned, “poor.” 3) I don’t mind poor students as long as they have a burning desire to be rich, to head to Wall Street or Silicon valley after graduation and make a fortune. 4) I have already laid the groundwork by endlessly complaining about financial constraints (and conveniently ignoring that Swarthmore and Amherst are holding steady to their stated policies).

Given these constraints, we can maximize the number of rich students at Williams in five easy steps:

First, I would end the no-loans policy. I can’t prevent Dick Nesbitt from admitting all those poor kids, but I can do my best to make poor kids go elsewhere. The best way to do that is to end the no-loans policy. What poor kid would ever choose Williams over Amherst/Swarthmore/Princeton/Davidson/Haverford and so on if doing so required an extra $10,000+ in loans? Few would, and none should! See our prior discussion. Only rich students will choose Williams over no-loans schools.

Second, I would end need-blind admissions for international students. I don’t mind non-US citizens as long as they are rich (or want to be rich). I just don’t want too many poor (or plan on staying poor) international students. Williams is for the rich of all countries. Although I can’t force Dick Nesbitt to actively discriminate against poor students, I can limit his budget enough that he has no choice but to do so.

Key in both ending no loan and need-blind is that it makes Williams much less desirable to both students coming from non-rich families and to students thinking of lower paying careers in teaching, social work and so on. And that is the point! I want those students to go to Swarthmore and Amherst instead. Rich students and future investment bankers won’t be deterred by loans or need-awareness admissions. If anything, they will be looking for elite schools that “provide a better fit” for them and students like them. These two policy changes both decrease applications from poor students and make it more likely that admitted poor students will go elsewhere.

Read the rest of that most excellent rant. If Williams wanted to maximize the number of rich students, it would have made exactly the set of financial aid changes that it did, in fact, make.

And, as Fred Rudolph points out, this is not the first time a Williams administrator has said ““This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed[ed] to do what he could to make sure that it was.

UPDATE: Has much changed in the last eight years? Not really. In anything, we have even more evidence that Williams is a rich man’s college! Recall:

Screen Shot 2018-06-05 at 9.57.33 AM

About 20% of each Williams class has come from super-rich families for, approximately, forever. I don’t see much evidence that Williams is much more economically diverse today than it was 100 years ago. Do you?

Do I actually believe that Bill Wagner (or Morty Schapior or Adam Falk or Maud Mandel or . . .) thinks this way? No! They truly want greater social economic diversity at Williams. Rudolph’s point about Carter — and the other Williams presidents of that era — was not that they were nasty plutocrats who hated the poor. The opposite was true! Rudolph’s point was that their actions were, by and large, indistinguishable from those of an evil genius who wanted to maintain Williams’s status as a “a rich man’s college.”

What are the odds the trends in the above graph will change during President Mandel’s tenure? Very, very low.

(And, to be clear, that is a good thing! I want Williams to be a rich man’s (and woman’s!) college. See our ten part discussion for background. I just get tired of watching people like Morty and Adam preen about how committed they are to socio-economic diversity when, in fact, they changed so little.)

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Beyond The Log, 5

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 5.

Fred Rudolph: There’s no question about what Dennett didn’t like about the place. In a 1975 honors thesis on the gentleman’s Williams, Guy Creese ’75 documented the background of the student body that disturbed Dennett: In the Class of 1929, thirty-six percent had traveled in Europe; 1930, twenty-nine percent; 1931, thirty-six percent. That’s a pretty fancy group. In 1930 there was a Chapin Library exhibit of rare books to which seventeen students contributed. In 1935, thirty-seven percent of the upperclassmen had cars. In 1938, almost eighty percent of the freshmen families had servants. In 1938 only twenty-five percent of the students had summer jobs. Fifty-five percent came from families with two or more cars. In 1934, forty-four of the 775 students were in the New York Social Register, and four in the Boston Social Register. The Williams Record had fashion issues dealing with men’s clothing. There were three men’s clothing stores on Spring Street for a student body of less than 800. The Stork Club ran ads in The Williams Record.

When Dennett arrived as president, Lehman Hall had just been built. It had beautiful pine paneling and big fireplaces. And the top floor had modest little rooms for scholarship students. The other student rooms—handsome and spacious—commanded the highest rents on campus. At the end of Dennett’s administration, the squash courts were built. What a symbolic statement! I don’t know how many colleges in the United States had squash courts in 1938, in the midst of the most serious economic depression in history. Tyler Dennett knew that Williams didn’t need them, but the people who gave them insisted. Well, that’s the environment that Dennett hoped to do something about, the environment that he perceived as having little connection with the real America.

0) Here (pdf and pdf) is New York Times coverage.

1) Guy was an Ephblog author. Hope he comes back someday!

2) People are still reading and talking about Guy’s thesis, more than 35 years after he wrote it. Want your thesis to live as long? Write about Williams.

3) Bob Magill Jr. ’65 wrote:

QUESTION c. 1990, a book was out that tracked the top 5 college preferences of the children of the social register in large cities on the East Coast, from the years 1900 to 1950. The only college, besides Harvard Yale Princeton that was in the top 5 in more than one city was Williams (Boston and NY). The authors stated that Williams was considered “the national liberal arts college” and an exceptional alternative to HYP with the best educational facilities for a small liberal arts college. I only have some of my notes on this book — does anyone know the title, the author(s), etc? I asked Fred Rudolph over the weekend at the reunion and he could not remember either.

Can anyone help Bob?

4) I think that having students from extremely rich families want to go to Williams is a very, very good thing. If the Hollander twins had not wanted to go to Williams, we would not have Hollander Hall. How much admission preference, if any, should be given to such “development” admits is an open question. (Such cases used to be called “Morty Specials” by the admissions office. Has the nomenclature changed yet?)

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Beyond The Log, 4

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 4.

John Chandler: We all know that Dennett’s presidency from 1934 to 1937 was stormy and brief. What happened?

Fred Rudolph: Well, as you know, in 1937 Dennett gave a speech to the Boston alumni saying there were too many “nice boys” at Williams. My sense is that he meant there were just too many graduates of private schools and not enough diversity. Williams had the highest percent of private school graduates of any college in the country. A big reason was the four-year Latin admission requirement, and Garfield was adamant about keeping it. He’d gone to St. Paul’s School, and that had something to do with the kind of college that he wanted to be president of.

But by the time Dennett was made president, even in the prep schools there were many students who did not take four years of Latin. And remember that Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth were also competing for the prep school graduates. The result was that the Williams applicant pool was damn small. Williams was probably taking one out of every two applicants, and it was accepting applications from weak students, just as long as they’d taken four years of Latin. (Interestingly, the trustees reduced the Latin requirement to three years just as Garfield left and Dennett arrived.)

1) For more on the “nice boys” speech, see Guy Creese’s ’75 senior thesis: “The Concept of the Gentleman at Williams College: 1929-1939.” Guy wrote a series of three posts about his thesis: first, second and third. Highly recommended. But I really want to read the whole thing. Why isn’t it on-line?

2) Do you think that Williams gets too many or too few nice boys (and girls) today? If you could change one thing about Williams admissions, what would it be?

I would go to more of a Caltech or Olin model in which race, athletic ability and socio-economic status play much less of a role in admissions. Bring the most academically talented and ambitious students to Williams regardless of the color of their skin, the strength of their backhand or the educational credentials of their parents.1

1. I wrote that last paragraph eight years ago. My views are the same, albeit much better informed about the details.

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Beyond The Log, 3

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 3.

John Chandler: Harry Garfield (Class of 1885) was president from 1908 to 1934, a remarkably long tenure—second only to Mark Hopkins’. It encompassed World War I and a big chunk of the Great Depression. The New York Times story about Garfield’s inauguration claimed that the audience was probably the largest and most distinguished collection of American educators ever assembled. Why did he draw that kind of crowd?

Fred Rudolph: Probably by sending out a lot of invitations. And by giving fifteen honorary degrees. And, of course, as the son of a slain U.S. president he had a newsworthy name. He was also the friend of a future president, Woodrow Wilson. Garfield was known far beyond Williams, both nationally and then abroad after he founded the Institute of Politics. Meanwhile, he accomplished a lot at Williams. Like Woodrow Wilson, Garfield was a progressive politician. During his administration his concern was for good government and young men taking up lives of public service. In a way, that was a slightly secular version of what a number of speakers were saying at the Centennial celebration, and it was consistent with the direction and tone set by the Williams Christian Association when it made Jesup Hall its headquarters and the symbol of what it was about.

Williams was no longer telling students that they needed a dramatic conversion experience and then go out and become preachers. It was telling them to go out and be public servants and responsible citizens.

1) A century later, what do you think the message will be at Maud Mandel’s induction? What do you think the message should be?

2) The event for Mandel on September 8th is currently labeled an “induction.” Why that terminology? Anyone gotten an invitation yet? What events would you like to see?

3) To maximize the success of Williams over the new few hundred years, the most important message for graduates is one which causes them to center (a portion of) of their lives around Williams as an institution. We want them to care about their families and careers, of course, but we also need them to care about Williams, to donate their time, energy and money to the College. Assume for second that you agree with this goal, how would you go about doing it, above and beyond what Williams already does?

4) Amusing that Garfield was concerned about the role of the role of athletics! Perhaps this is where Morty got the idea from . . .

In any event, my opinion on athletics is the same as a (vast?) majority of the faculty. Williams should provide extensive athletics opportunities for students but it should stop giving so much preference to athletes, qua athletes, in admissions. Background reading here.

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Beyond The Log, 2

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it. Day 2.

Fred Rudolph: Garfield had high academic standards and was a creative educator. He wanted students to devote their lives to public service and good citizenship. But he also had no trouble with the role of Williams as an instrument of the upper class. Dennett was upset about that. He had no problem with upper-class kids. He just wanted a better mix. And with the Latin admission requirement you could not get a mix. Still, it’s interesting that although Dennett wanted to do something about nice boys, he refused federal scholarship money—money intended for poor kids. In addition, he told his admission officer not to accept blacks and Jews. Why? Because they were not treated fairly here. There was no synagogue for the Jewish students, and black students were treated as second-class citizens. Ironically, it was sensitivity to the life of being Jewish or black in a fraternity-oriented college that led him to take a position that defeated his effort to increase student variety. Stopping the admission of Jewish and black applicants was a dramatic step. Since the late nineteenth century the small but steady stream of black and Jewish students who came to Williams supplied a disproportionate number of academic stars and distinguished alumni.

What Dennett was essentially saying was that there were too many nice white boys, and he wanted some white boys that weren’t so nice. Charlie Keller said that the “nice boys” speech was a great boon to the admission operation, because there were people who wanted to come to Williams because it was doing something about the “nice boys” problem but also people who wanted to come to Williams because it had lots of nice boys.

There are at least three great senior theses waiting to be written about these topics:

1) A history of Williams admissions. Karabel’s The Chosen is a magisterial description of admissions to Harvard, Yale and Princeton over the last 100 years. Write the same for Williams, and scores of people will read your thesis. (I used The Chosen in these posts: here and here. Highly recommended for new readers.)

2) A history of Jews at Williams. Not written when this was first posted in 2010, now completed: Jews at Williams: Inclusion, Exclusion, and Class at a New England Liberal Arts College by Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft. See here for the start of EphBlog’s 13 part review, and we are only 1/3rd of the way done!

3) A history of African-Americans at Williams. Start with Black Williams.

75 years ago, Williams restricted the number of Black and Jewish students. Today, we restrict the number of international students. Isn’t it obvious that, a few decades from now, history will judge President Mandel — assuming she does not change the policy — in the same way that we (harshly) judge President Dennett?

The solution is simple: Williams should no more distinguish between applicants on the basis of their passports then it does on the basis of their religion. If applicant X (with Mexican citizenship) is stronger then applicant Y (with US citizenship), we ought to admit applicant X.

The best way for Mandel to get from here to there is to steal a page from Morty’s playbook when he significantly decreased the importance of athletics on admissions: Form a committee! Put together a group of 6 faculty — and choose them wisely! — to gather data and evidence about international admissions, to compare Williams with its peers, to seek the opinions of current students and alumni. Because on most important issues (!), the Williams faculty agrees with me, I have no doubt that such a committee would recommend that Williams significantly decrease the penalty placed on international applicants, just as the Williams of President Phinney Baxter ’14 significant decreased the penalty placed on Jewish applicants.

In the short term, Williams should have the same percentage of international students as, say, Brown: 11%. In the longer term, we should accept a class with the most academically talented and ambitious students from around the world. (Students must speak English fluently. Williams should pay enough attention to ability-to-pay to keep the college financially healthy.) The more international students that Williams accepts now, the more successful we will be 50 years in the future.

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Beyond The Log, 1

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Let’s spend three weeks discussing it.1 What do you want to know about Williams history? Ask your questions in the comments. Day 1.

John Chandler: As all of us know, we are going to be dealing principally with presidents of Williams, starting with Paul Ansel Chadbourne, who succeeded Mark Hopkins, and moving forward through Tyler Dennett. Perhaps first we ought to explain the inspiration for our meeting and for the interview format with which we are going to explore those Williams presidents. Fred had at one time intended a sequel to his Mark Hopkins book and in fact had spent many years of research on the post-Hopkins years. He had especially explored student life, faculty development, and trustee influence. One of the results of that research was his bicentennial essay, “Williams College 1793-1993: Three Eras, Three Cultures,” which has been included as an appendix in the 1996 edition of Mark Hopkins and the Log. A particular stimulus for this morning’s gathering was provided by Steve Lewis ’60, a former Williams economics professor who became president of Carleton. Steve asked me whether there was some way to take advantage of Fred’s understanding of this era. Fred, would you like to add any words about the book you didn’t write?

Fred Rudolph: Let it be said that the Williams archives possess the evidence of how far that project went—boxes of notes, folders of Xeroxed documents, extensive bibliographical intentions.

There is an amazing senior thesis to be written about this era at Williams. Who will write it? If you are a history major with a desire to a) Spend a summer at Williams doing some preliminary research and b) Have 100+ people read your thesis, then this is the topic for you. The vast majority of Williams theses are never read by anyone other than the adviser. Write about the history of Wiliams, and your words will live for decades.

1. The only previous version of this series ran in 2010. It has been updated.

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Reading the Declaration

One of my favorite Williams summer traditions:

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

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

Since 1987, Williams College and the Williamstown Theatre Festival have made it an annual tradition to celebrate Independence Day by reading the Declaration of Independence, the British reply of September 1776, and the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution. New this year will be a selection from “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July,” a speech by Frederick Douglass, which will be read an actor.

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

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Father’s Day

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

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

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

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

Take trips with your father, every chance you get.

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

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

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

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

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Congratulations!

Happy Commencement to the class of 2018. Video stream should be here. Alas, I can’t figure out a way to embed it here. Or any readers at this morning’s ceremony?

By the way, is the move of Commencement to the library quad permanent? I was under the impression that it was just temporary, caused by construction of the new science buildings. But this is the second (?) year in a row, so . . .

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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 78 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 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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