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CGCL VI: Learning from Black Williams

First, an apology for any grammar mistakes and lack of clarity. I had great plans to spend this afternoon revising this piece and the excellent work of the students who wrote this history of Black Williams deserves those revisions (sad note: I had to revise this sentence twice due to grammar mistakes!). Unfortunately, my own work has a deadline and has called me away from this much more fun endeavor.

I engaged the report (available here), written as a winter study in 2003 (the story of that alone is interesting and told in the introduction) in four ways, though only one will be the focus of this write up:

1. As an example of a winter study: Wow. I never did anything like this for winter study. Hats off to all involved for doing something intellectually engaging, but also valuable to the Williams community.
2. As a fellow academic (in other words, with swords sharpened and ready to impale): The lack of citations bothers me a little and I wonder if they should have attempted to first find the narrative arc of Williams and then split up the chapters. Then again, see my above comment. Any critique comes only after acknowledging how superior this work is to 99% (90% whatever, you get the idea) of the stuff submitted for winter study.
3. For lessons to learn: This is a history with which a new president must grapple and must try to move forward.
4. Awkwardly: HA! I know all of the authors as classmates and many as friends. Kind of strange to review this for ephblog knowing what I know about that winter study (shades of Sharifa stressing out while I looked at her thinking “dear god, it’s a freaking winter study!” Guess she was right about making sure this work came together and I was wrong when I thought it was no big deal. Lesson: Sharifa’s always right).

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CGCL VI: Report by the Athletics Committee

This year’s athletic report is much, much shorter than the one I first discussed in 2004 (known as the MacDonald report); this one is just a follow-up. It is only four pages long, so any of you who are really interested should consider reading the whole thing. I have excerpted over 50% of the entire document below.

First, good news:

We find that the gap in academic performance, as judged by grade point average, has narrowed substantially overall and has essentially disappeared for female athletes and for male athletes in low-profile sports. The gap for male athletes in high-profile varsity sports (which we defined as football, ice hockey, basketball, and baseball […]) appears to be narrowing, but persists even after we adjust for 1) academic qualifications prior to enrolling at Williams College, 2) socio-economic status, and 3) the individual’s year (e.g. sophomore, senior). Thus academic under-performance by male varsity athletes in high-profile sports continues, and cannot be attributed to academic credentials prior to Williams or to socioeconomic status.

Five years ago, the females’ difference was very small — less than .05, if I recall — so I am not surprised that the effect has disappeared completely. Also, note that five years ago, men’s football and hockey were the only sports singled out in various statistics (which led to their being called, colloquially, “helmet-sport athletes”) such as the following:

Football players are 47% more likely than students who are not football players to take easy courses, and men’s ice hockey players are 93% more likely than other students to take easy courses.

Now, the list of “high-profile,” i.e. “low-achieving” teams has grown to include men’s basketball and baseball as well.

Note that in this paragraph, the committee says that “academic under-performance by male varsity athletes in high-profile sports continues, and cannot be attributed to academic credentials prior to Williams.” Okay, next paragraph:

The narrowing of the overall academic performance gap since 2002 could be due to any of a number of factors (perhaps including changes in team culture during the past decade) but one likely factor is the change in admissions standards for athletic “tips”. The minimum qualifications required for admission to Williams have been raised during the intervening years, and are continuing to rise.

Thus varsity athletes’ academic preparation for Williams College is increasingly similar to that of the rest of the student body. Our data indicate that academic under-performance by male varsity athletes playing high-profile sports can largely be attributed to those who are less well-prepared academically for Williams, and thus it is our sense that the “raising of the floor” for admissions tips may have been an important factor in reducing overall difference in the GPAs of varsity athletes and non-athletes.

Wait, first the difference is not attributable to differences in preparation before Williams, and they say that “academic under-performance by male varsity athletes playing high-profile sports can largely be attributed to those who are less well-prepared academically for Williams.” Huh? I sense a contradiction here. True, the first paragraph discusses a static difference (between GPAs of athletes vs. non-athletes just this year) and the second discusses a change (the GPAs have gotten closer together over time), but the underlying forces are the same. These two paragraphs certainly appear to contradict each other. Thoughts?

The report goes on to discuss that high-profile athletes tend to congregate in Division II majors, and that all athletes take tutorials and write honors theses at a lower rate than non-athletes. This is important stuff, but it appears to be unchanged since the MacDonald report.

Now the committee does an interesting comparison:

Some possibilities [for athletes’ underachievement] that have been raised in the literature and in our discussions are 1) “stigma” – that some faculty members have a negative view of athletes and that this could affect grades and admission to courses; 2) that athletes experience stereotype threat; 3) that recruited varsity athletes are primarily committed to their sport and coach and do not place as high a priority on academics as do other students; 4) that some teams’ culture promotes a disengagement from academics; and 5) that investing time and energy in athletics reduces time spent on other activities.

I agree with this analysis. I cannot think of any significant reason that is not on this list. I think — and this opinion is heavily influenced by taking a course with Sheafe Satterthwaite, who spoke of football being a “fifth class” for football players — that #5 is the most probable reason. The writers of the report apparently agree, because they did a great comparison:

We did investigate the “time and energy” hypothesis indirectly by asking whether JAs (a group of students with a substantial time commitment to an extracurricular activity that spans the entire year) demonstrate any under-performance in terms of GPA and low rates of enrollment in tutorials. After correcting for academic preparation, sex, and socioeconomic status, the grades of JAs were statistically indistinguishable from those of other juniors, although they enrolled in tutorials at a slightly lower rate than did their peers. Which of the other explanations might help to explain academic under-performance by male varsity athletes in high-profile sports at Williams College is not clear. It is our view that this question merits further study, and we recommend that the college take advantage of a future COFHE questionnaire to ask students about the rationale for their choices and priorities with respect to participating in tutorials and writing theses.

Alas, the result of the analysis was inconclusive. Such is science. “Statistically indistinguishable” makes one wonder which GPA was actually higher, but perhaps it is better that we don’t know, since the difference is not statistically significant — p > 0.05, move along, nothing to see here. Sigh.

The footnote in this section would be of interest to hwc:

A recent study using Swarthmore varsity athletes as subjects demonstrated an effect of stereotype threat; the MacDonald report raised concerns about “athletic culture” discouraging academic engagement; and Bowen and Levin, in “Reclaiming the Game”, favored the explanation that recruited athletes’ first priority is athletics. However, we have no evidence to support or refute any of these hypotheses.

I would think that there would be more of a stigma against athletes at Swarthmore, where the stereotype is of nerdy bookworms, than at Williams, where the stereotype is either “Mens sana in corpore sano” (for the pro-athlete) or “Of course, this isn’t a college. It’s a Nike Camp with enrichment classes” (for the anti-athlete).

Now for the committee’s nine recommendations:
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CGCL VI: The “Neighborhood” Housing System — A Pyrrhic Failure of Social Engineering

My discussion text is the Interim Report on the Neighborhood Review Committee.  As a long time critic of the administration’s misguided (and, as this report illustrates, ineffective if not counterproductive) attempts at residential social engineering (even before Neighborhoods, from gender-capping houses to reducing group pick size), I’m glad to be discussing this issue.  I would like to have been proven wrong, but the only really surprising things about this report is just how colossally Neighborhood housing has failed and that the administration has released a document confirming it.  They try to soften the blow as much as they can, trying to muddy the waters by conjecturing that the deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the housing system is in part a proxy for the way that various student groups interact on campus — but the unmistakable conclusion is that the housing system is not a symptom of another illness, but instead of a part of it.
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Link Request for CGCL

I think that our January seminar is going so well that, for the first time in several years, I am requesting that the College provide a link to it. Below is my e-mail to Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs. What do you think he should do? What do you think he will do? What suggestions would you have for me in terms of making this e-mail more persuasive?
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CGCL: The Canon

This discussion comes to us from regular EphBlog commentator Parent ’12

From the introduction for CGCL VI:

“Williams is about to start its first new presidency in a decade.  What does the past tell us about the future?”


Can a Canon be a Crystal Ball?

What are your associations to the word, canon   … ecclesiastical laws?  … a body of knowledge?  …. music?

When I hear the word, canon, given my past, I first think of a round, like “Row, row, row your boat,” then I think of other contrapuntal music, like a Bach fugue… at some point, “dead, dead, dead white men” will come to mind.


In December, here on EphBlog, (EB) a discussion started in response to a change in the Art Studio major.  The discussion had been prompted by an essay, “Challenging the Canon,” in the Record (Dec. 9, 2009).   Shelley Williamson, a senior, majoring in French and art studio, wrote

The much-lauded ARTH 101-102 course is no longer the only art history course required to finish the art studio major; instead, any two art history courses will be accepted. Although this modification may seem miniscule to many, it is in fact an incredibly progressive step for the department, one I believe will strengthen the quality of Williams’ art students ten-fold.

You may be asking yourself why anyone would find this problematic enough to deem it a controversy; the truth is that I simply couldn’t tell you. I am a senior art studio major and I absolutely loved my semesters with E.J. Johnson and Eva Grudin, both of whom are amazing professors. In spite of this, I think that the changed requirements will provide art studio students with a great new opportunity for dialogue. ARTH 101-102 is a survey of the Western canon, also known as the Holy Grail of art history. However, in order to think critically about the canon, there must be an understanding of non-canonical art as well. For example, an understanding of Cubism is incomplete without recognizing the influence of African masks on Picasso.

Without a counterpoint, the canon cannot exist. In identifying the Western tradition as the standard, there is also the acknowledgement that another convention should also be present for comparison. As art studio majors, shouldn’t we be able to choose to study the history of the work that most inspires our practice?

Various reactions to the change were expressed in the EphBlog discussion.   They seemed to reflect how a canon, be it a set of tenets, images, or texts, might influence one’s present and future perspective–  how one sees the world and possibly how one wants the world to be.

In response to the change in the art studio major, those who held firmly to the importance of taking Art History 101-102 seemed to believe that one had to have a common body of knowledge, which had to be Western Art, and that one’s understanding of all art was seen through this particular lens.  A less dogmatic position, as far as whether studio majors should be required to take ArtH 101-102, was that Western artists will naturally be aware of Western Art because of their cultural origins.

Another issue raised in the EB discussion  was the relationship between creativity and a canon:  Can innovation or progress occur without exposure to a canon?


Is the art history canon only Western Art?  Or, must it be Western Art because of the culture of the college, as opposed to the student’s culture?  (Remember, all Williams students do not share the same Western culture.)

And, to provide counterpoint to extend the discussion and return to this year’s CGCL theme of looking to the future-

How far has the canon in art and other fields expanded beyond  “dead white men” to include others?

Knowing what you know now, what changes would you make to the requirements for your major?

If a canon is a crystal ball, is it searching for dead souls, or gazing into the future?


CGCL VI: The Presidential Search Prospectus

It’s that time of year again. In Williamstown Winter Study has arrived. January is when athletes suffer through two-or-three-a-days (the idea of Winter Study as a pleasant little wintry jol was always a myth to me), when seniors want to live life to the fullest but also wonder where they will be and what they will be doing in just a few months, and when acolytes of David Kane fall in love, or at least try desperately to.  I miss Williams this time of year even if I would not survive the first morning workout. Then again, I miss Williams at every time of year.

At Ephblog we have developed our own January tradition, our own Winter Study program. We have taken the “Cross Generational Community of Learning,” Professor Robert Jackall’s felicitous phrase for what we all might aspire to for Williams, as a model for our own winter study seminar. This year’s theme for CGCL VI is “A New Presidency.” 

David Kane asked if I would start off as the ringleader for the first discussion, which will be on the College’s Presidential Search Prospectus.  (I’ll wait for you to go read  it . . . Ok, you’re back.) We know a great deal about the process and the outcome of the search and many of us have strong ideas about every step along the way as well as what we hope (and fear?) will come from President Falk’s tenure.

Here are my very tentative and episodic thoughts. Once I am done, you will carry the day with the quality of the discussion.

My first impression of the prospectus was and is not especially astute, insightful, clever, or scholarly: Wow!

We get so caught up in the minutia

 Williams could beat a Division I sports team! [New Building X] is a monstrosity! The way Williams students go through the housing process is different from how I would do it! I would spend money this way! A random alum hates the Yankees! Etc. etc. etc.

that we often miss out on a larger truth:  Williams is a special, transcendant place and we are lucky, whether as alums, current students, parents, members of the Williamstown community, or interested observers to have had any affiliation with the college whatsoever. Four years pass by in my life in what seems like no time these days and yet those four years in the Purple Valley seem to loom ever larger and somehow seemd to have lasted longer as the years go by.

The Presidential Search Prospectus is divided in to five sections, though one of these, the last, is the application process itself. The other four are “The Williams Community,” “Williams: Essential Facts,” “The Leadership Challenge,” and “Qualifications and Experience.” I will address these subsections only briefly and then the floor is yours, my colleagues in this cross generational community of learning.

The Williams Community: This is the most inspiring part as far as I am concerned. It is a beautifully-written narrative that captures how most of us think of the college and would like for others to think of it.  It captures the sense of community that envelopes Williams; the advantages of its location; the strength of its students, faculty, and staff; the importance of its history in shaping its present state; and the role leadership has played in turning the college into the institution it is today. This section inspired the “Wow!” response I noted above.

Williams: Essential Facts: This section is a great deal drier, the nuts and bolts. It is also all of the material that we know by heart because it seems to find its way into every mailing from the college, particularly those that we alums get in hopes of inspiring our financial largesse. Far less inspiring than the section that preceded it, this section also probably gives the sort of information that might most interest a prospective president. I would have supposed that someone interested in applying for the job of Williams President would have a pretty good idea of what Williams is about, but then again, I’ve sat on enough search committees in which it took fewer than ten seconds to realize that the applicant was utterly unqualified for the post and they should have recognized as much from reading the ad. (Even with all of this, I bet the folks at Isaakson, Miller received a few applications that left them scratching their heads.) 

I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no mention of the college’s rankings in US News and its ilk. The prospectus made passing reference to the college’s success in the Director’s Cup, but in a sense that surely was intended to provide a specific and perhaps not as well known context about the college (sporty, successful in small-college sports, but with priorities in order) that truly should be unnecessary for the college’s academic standing. My university received nice mentions in Newsweek and US News for real but modest accomplishments a few years back and we still keep yammering on about it at every turn. I really appreciate that Williams could provide a solid sense of itself without descending to that level of crassness.

The Leadership Challenge:  This brings us to the nutmeat, as Stephen Colbert might say. And I would surmise that both in this discussion and over the course of the month it will provide the most grist for discussion. Perhaps it can be summed up as: “You now know that Williams is awesome. Now make it awesomer! Oh: And you’re inheriting some money troubles.” At the same time, this section also reminded me again of why Williams is such a special place. The various priorities all come back to the idea of sustaining the Williams community, of serving students and faculty and staff, of having a vision far beyond fundraising even if fundraising is part of the job. Trust me when I say: Most places do not see leadership in the way that Williams seems to, and if they do, it is boilerplate and perfunctory.

Qualifications and Experience: It comes down to this: You should be brilliant and charismatic and funny; You should understand the liberal arts model and especially the way Williams has perfected it; You should enjoy students and faculty and administrators (oh my!); Oh, and: that money thing again.

For as long as I have been affiliated with Williams (and by all reckonings long before) Williams presidents have fulfilled these long-standing objectives and have left an imprint on the college so that presidential terms really do embody their eras of Williams history. I suspect that Adam Falk will do the same.


January Seminar

Our annual January seminar, a cross generational community of learning, starts soon. Here is the draft syllabus. We still have a few spots open for discussants. Please let me know if you are interested.


Last Day of Winter Study …


My diversity’s not big enough.

I wonder how much Nip and Tuck would charge for the procedure?

This morning, a young man dressed in a blue suit with leggings and a billed cap pulled up on a Schwinn Roadmaster bicycle, knocked on my door and presented me with this cable from Rechtal Turgidley, Jr. In keeping with the Retro sense of the experience, I tipped him 25¢.

Here is Rechtal’s report.

This Winter Study V comes to a close just prior to Super Bowl LXIII.

And just as the hard-fought season has brought the Steelers and the Cardinals together in Tampa Bay next week, so to, the rigour and review of the accrediting process has pitted a tough and seasoned review committee against the administration, faculty, and students of our famed alma mater.

However, and strictly as a toss-in, while the outcome of LXIII is very much a question, was V’s accrediting outcome ever in doubt? Had the history department been replaced by the faculty of the Modernella College of Beauty? Had the office of the President been redecorated with $1,645 waste baskets? Had the SOHO (South of Hopkins) neighborhood torched Goodrich? Were students begging on the streets for Blackberry batteries?

I just ask to try to put the focus on the process and values of the review which might be inherent to it.

As I understand the process:

1. Standards for Accreditation are submitted to the college for understanding of them.

2. The College carries out a rigorous self-examination of these standards.

3. The College presents the results of this study to the Committee

4. The Committee comes to campus and reviews the self-study

5. The Committee goes away and writes its’ report and evaluation of the self-study

6. This report is submitted to the College

7. The College replies

8. The Committee replies and states certain areas of possible concern which will be further reviewed at a later date as a continuing part of the required Accrediting.

That’s a hell of a season!

Small wonder the result, which while never in doubt, is, as PTC so aptly says, self-absorbed.

I call readers attention to PTC’s analysis which, as he tells us, ignores the questions of the perception of Williams by those outside “the purple bubble” and the College’s lack of perception of those not inside “the purple bubble”. Telling points and I admire PTC’s view and perspective! Perhaps “Good Local Citizenship” needs to be added to the standards.

My assignment is to comment on points 7 and 8 above, the handshake and singing of The Mountains, if you will.

The preceding points 1-6 were the game. And if there is a value to the report, to me it is not in the recommendations themselves, but in the process per se.

The obligatory development of vision and mission statements, of objective setting by units, of strategy and tactical development against budgets, and contingency planning are well-known and have been experienced by many readers (we even went through this process at the Quark Island Ferry Company), Yet the very act of doing the work is the value in terms of understanding and commitment and a sense of being on the team. Yes, yes. The clichemeister comments on corporate culture. But it’s the differece between having a play book and not having a play book.

Better ways of doing things come out of these processes. And, for the community of educators, and in particular those on this committee, it is in the examining of values and methods at one institution that can take good ideas and spread them to others.

Very good discussions have already been a part of V on specific content over the course of the last week. My out-take is Diversity = Dollars. And Dollars = the weathering of the financial storm of the century (easy to say since the Great Depression was in the last century). The various comments made on ephblog may contain some ideas to add to the self-study previously developed, particularly in the light of 2007 (bulk of the report data) and the situation in 2009.

I have been speaking of process and committees. This very situation often leads to, as has been pointed out by many, a sterility of language and a pulling of punches in outside committee reports. Indeed, some have often complained about consultants that they listen to what you have to say and then say it back to you.

And, of course, fellow students in Dr Dave’s Winter Study V will have already seen when the anodyne is expressed in very long sentences containing many polysyllable words, readability goes right down the tubes.

If you are interested
I find Fogg and Flesch good indicators of the accessibility of a piece of writing.

Yes, yes, I’m coming to my specific assignment.

The Committee has presented its’ detailed report to Williams. And now Williams acknowledges receipt.

7. President Shapiro’s reply. Short and direct. Active verbs, shorter sentences. A sense for the reader that he damn well gets what is said, thanks the committee for its time, notes with reservations its carefully parsed and watered recommendations and will now get on with the business of running Williams.

Hurrah for President Shapiro. Even though written in the first person plural, the first person singular comes across. I don’t believe he is using the Royal We. I think he is recognizing the contributions of so many while accepting the final responsibility. This is a good CEO!

8. The statement of Accreditation. What this was about, after all. Yes, we can go on! When I researched findings, some schools are put on probation and others loose their rating. The committee chooses to point out the same areas of concern reported before, in very temperate language, and with the caveat that these topics would be included at the next recurring review for progress in 2012.

I don’t doubt the need for accrediting institutions. I don’t want to have my gall bladder removed by a graduate of the the Ray Croc University of Hamburger Knowledge, good as it is in training Mickey D personnel.

And I absolutely don’t question the value of an inclusive process and the actions it can produce.

I do believe that the caveats of the committee were in the nature of the earlier reported view of consultants. They played back what was told to them.

And I do believe that the experience benefitted the committee participants, not because Williams is so smart nyahhh, nyahhh. nyahhh, but because the exchange of ideas between institutions and people is so important.

What does this mean for ephblog. Keep on and expand as a medium for the exchange of ideas between members of the Williams community. For the furthering of a school spirit and camaraderie. A part of the reason the outcome of this game was never in question is the wonderful sense of school spirit that produces such active support. This means, as noted in a comment from a reader, the accosting of someone wearing a Williams sweatshirt with a name, a class, and a hand shake!


1. PTC has presented a view of “the Purple Bubble”. Do you agree or disagree or find another view. Is the view of enough value to be included in administrative decisions and evaluations such as the process just completed?

2. Is the review about accrediting or is there another agenda?

3. The wording of some standards allows for individual institutional particular goals and missions. . Thus the definition of ‘diversity’ might be at the discretion of the institution. What role should the accrediting process play in achieving societal goals?

4. Given that the accrediting of Williams was never a question, what values do you see coming out of the review? Were any new specific ideas/insights added by the committee? Should the process be ‘streamlined’ in any way?

5. Was the Williams response sufficient to or lacking in proportion to the committee’s report? What changes, if any, would you have made to President Shapiro’s reply?

(I shall send this missive by cable to Swart for posting. I hope a suitable delivery service is available in Hood River)

Rechtal Turgidley, Jr
Quark Island, Maine


CGCL Day 6: Visiting Team Final Report

My section, the Report to the Faculty, Administration, Trustees, & the Students of Williams by an Evaluation Team representing the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Prepared after study of the institution’s self-evaluation report and a visit to the campus October 28-31, 2007 for decennial reaffirmation of accreditation…. I think you get the idea!


I am going to give you the “in compliance with NEASC’s Standards of Accreditation” as seen through the eyes of a townie who reads Ephblog, townie synopsis version.

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CGCL: Technological and Physical Resources

Sorry folks for the delayed posting, got caught up in Obama fever.  My post deals with a wide variety of topics: Library and Other Information Resources, Physical and Technological Resources, Financial Resources, Public Disclosure, and Integrity.  I am going to skip Financial Resources, as (a) I know nothing about finance, (b) that topic has been discussed ad nauseum on Ephblog, and (c) again, that topic has been discussed ad nauseum on Ephblog.   I am also going to skip the Library section, because that ship has, in large part, already sailed: while it may be slightly delayed, for better (as I tend to think) or for worse (plenty of others) the Sawyer project is basically in final or near-final form.

Instead, I am going to focus on physical and technological resources, which in many ways dovetail nicely into public disclosure.  I read through the report and found it to be, for the most part, backwards looking on these issues, so I decided to focus on areas for potential improvement.  In essence, in my view Williams, once at the forefront of its peers in terms of technological innovation, now lags substantially behind in several key areas (many of them previously discussed at Ephblog).  Remember the 1990’s, when Williams was graduating the likes of Bo Peabody, founder of Tripod, who received enormous assistance from (sadly, since-deceased) faculty member Dick Sabot?  Reveling in the success of AOL led by alumni Steve Case?  Working with North Adams as an incubator of high-tech start-ups?  When students created WSO, a first-of-its-kind, truly pathbreaking student-run virtual campus nerve center?  When Williams featured the first class taught via teleconference across the Atlantic?  Those days seem to be long gone.  Williams now appears to be a follower, and a reluctant one at that, rather than a leader in the world of technology.  And that is a discredit to its students, who will need to be increasingly fluent in that world to survive, let alone thrive, in the coming decades.

First, the school makes far too few events and far too little information readily accessible to alumni and the public at large.   For a small, fairly isolated college with relatively little name recognition outside of elite academic circles, this represents a massive missed opportunities.  The college blog page is amazingly skimpy.  Why not an Admissions blog (as some colleges have), something with compelling and relevant content that will serve as a great (and basically costless) advertising tool to reach out to non-traditional and foreign applicants?  How about an administration / President’s blog?  I am happy to see that, to its credit, Williams finally has a truly fantastic virtual tour (though oddly not as fleshed out as it could be), but it took Williams several years to finally catch up to peers in this regard.  Why aren’t more art history lectures, or football and basketball games, or Chapin Hall acappella concerts, or guest speakers, webcast in real time, or at least available via podcast (to be fair, the college has finally made some great strides here, but again as a follower rather than a leader among its peers, and still has a loooong way to go)? Why is the Williams webpage so pedestrian, uninspired, and lacking in aesthetic appeal? Feel free to list other suggestions via comments; these are but a few.  Since sunlight is the best disinfectant, the interests of public disclosure (obviously) and integrity (less obviously, but no less forcefully) will also be served via these suggested changes.  [Update: thanks to DK for providing links in the comments section to previous threads where some of these, and some other, technological initiatives were proposed and discussed]

The second major arena for potential technological innovation lies in the connectivity realm.  The alumni networking database is ridiculously outdated and incredibly unwieldy, with basically no useable search function.  There is no reason for this to remain in its current form, both in terms of content (the college needs to be at least half as aggressive soliciting alumni as volunteers and for updated contact information as it does for money, especially because the former is generally far more appreciated) and functionality (again, embarassingly bad and it has been that way for years).   Why not make annual giving fun, not to mention a far more visceral / interactive experience, via this brilliant idea from Jonathan Landsman?  Why not save trees and allow folks to opt-out of receiving class notes in paper format?  Going electronic will not only better serve the environment, but also allow for more timely distribution of news and enabled embedded photographs, links, and videos of interest.  Moreover, the college could do more to facilitate, or at least refrain from obstructing, networking, information sharing, and general communication between students, applicants, alumni, parents, basically all current, past, or prospective members of the Williams community.  Others more creative and more technologically fluent than myself could surely provide some specific ideas here — but really, the point is not a paucity of creative ideas, but rather a lack of initiative in implementing bold, off-the-beaten track suggestions.  And as the college that made purple cows cool, shouldn’t Williams be a leader when it comes to quirky, inventive, maybe even slightly offbeat technological innovations?  This may require less administrative control over messaging, and more trust in the college’s individual students, faculty members, and alumni, but isn’t that generally a good thing?


I want to raise one additional point within the ambit of my assigned arena, but outside the scope of my central theme: what capital projects do folks believe Williams should embark on over the next 20 years?   Fortunately, this is one arena in which Williams is far, far ahead of its peers, or at least it will be once the Sawyer project is completed.  But, there are still a few campus eyesores / deficient facilities which could be remedied.  All of these projects figure to be far smaller in scale and cheaper in cost than any of the recent massive construction projects (Unified Science Center, Paresky, 62 Theater, and Sawyer/Stetson).  In no particular order, I nominate: (1) getting the football field project back on track as soon as financially feasible, (2) reconfiguring Chandler gym to be far more accessible and have better locker room, training, and weight facilities, (3) expanding / replacing the Fieldhouse, (4) excising the tumor that is Bernhard from the side of Chapin and building a new, more attractive, largely underground music facilities, (5) demolishing Tyler Annex and replacing it with better (and likely more) housing, (6) working with the town to create a true pedestrian connection / flow between Spring and Water streets and insure construction of more apartment style housing and student-friendly businesses, and (7) repurposing existing space or via creative remodelling of space [the new field house]? create a large scale music venue that can host semi-regular major concerts in an attractive setting with great accoustics.  Any other nominations?


CGCL Day 4: Students

Posted on behalf of regular commentator Parent ’12. Any formatting errors are my fault. — DK


Week 2 of CGCL began with a focus on faculty. Now, it’s time to consider the other side of the desk, students. I’d like to believe that Dave asked me to start this discussion in order to expand or diversify participation, which fits nicely with the college’s promotion of itself.

Here, I write as a parent of a 1st year student. For this I’ll set the stage and use as a model one of the last classes I attended. It was a seminar a long time ago. My memories include spending time listening and talking, not always directly from the reading. So, for those who might sit quietly in the back of the classroom or are behind in their reading please comment. Here’s my view and questions to start a discussion

Self-Study on STUDENTS: “Since the last self study, we have increased the academic potential and diversity of entering classes, greatly enhanced student support services, and revamped the residential life system. These developments work together to enrich students’ educational opportunities in all aspects of their College experience.”

Thus begins the next accreditation section — In my take of the reading about students I was struck by how committed Williams was to diversity and integration. It should really permeate the ethos of the community. Does it?

Much of the student self study reads like advertising or self-promotion. So, before reading my comments, one caveat. Although I might sound glib, please don’t read it that way. I sincerely believe that the college under Pres. Shapiro has been genuinely trying to make this ethos viable.

Below, I focused on the self-report on Students, which was divided into 4 main sections and a summary statement, all highlighted in bold. For each section there’s a brief precis followed by questions to stimulate discussion. One could support comments with data from the tables on diversity and the common data set, which Dave provided.

Diversity Report Data Tables (pdf) and 2008 — 2009 Common Data Set (pdf).

I also found Additional Supplemental Reading and Tables on the Williams website:

On Diversity throughout the college, steps taken in 2004-06:

On changes in student distribution within residential housing, tables of various demographics, such as gender, white vs non-white, & athlete vs non-athtlete:

Admission and Financial Aid: We’re trying, working hard, & continuing to want to do more to have a student body with a multi-faceted demographic: multiple ethnicities, many from foreign lands, & all socio-economic classes. Plus all are extremely bright, capable, & talented, be it in the arts, sports, or any other passion-filled diversion. And, we put our money where our ideals are.. no more student loans.

Soliciting Observations from alumni, current students, and visitors, like parents & local citizens:

Was this your experience when applying & when you were on campus. Did you feel that admissions actively sought you because you lived outside the U.S. or for being athletic or non-white or poor? How multi-faceted did the campus really seem. Is it now?

Support of Student Learning: All these talented undergraduates need our support. They have different backgrounds & varying expectations. So, we’ll provide them with academic tutoring, better yet peer tutors, whom we’ll train, plus add sensitive oversight for quality control. With both a writing-intensive and quantitative distribution requirement we have to be certain the linear thinkers can explicate and the non-linear ones can quantify. So, we’ve brought in consultants and created a new position to strengthen our Writing Workshop and Quantitative Studies Program. Lest anyone get lost, all are housed together within the Academic Resource Center somewhere in Paresky.

To alumni, faculty, & current students: The report focused on what Williams has done primarily in 2005-06 to improve academic services.

Are these services as user friendly and beneficial as the report makes them sound? Is there any stigma associated with using them?

Student Services: We need to keep every one healthy and safe within a culturally sensitive environment. Plus, we’re not just committed to academics, but also to the community and experiential learning. To show not only our commitment, but also improve, we’ve re-organized management of these services and increased staffing.

To All: This section was divided into 4 sub-sections: Health Services, Campus Safety and Security, The Multicultural Center, & Community Service.

It should be read with an eye to what’s not said. For example, the health section is followed by campus safety, but there’s no mention about alcohol or recreational drugs use except to note that substance abuse education & counseling is available. What else is missing?

Residential Life: We can, yes we can… be elite without being elitist. Ages ago we got rid of fraternities. We renamed their houses. Then, we had houses with chefs. There was Odd Quad. Now, we have neighborhoods, 4 microcosms of the mini-world of Williams.

Compromise for Community:

Assume neighborhoods a given, how could the system be improved? Where is faculty involvement or connection to a neighborhood?

What Now: The report ends with a summary & projection for the future.

What recommendations would you make to whomever follows Morty? And, related to last week’s reading, how has your experience at Williams affected your current life?


CGCL Day 3: Faculty

First off, I want to thank Dave Kane for inviting me to participate in this project. Second, I hope I do not disappoint. I have been out of town for more than ten days and when I got back this weekend had to hit the ground running for the new semester, which started today. Yet frenzied timing notwithstanding, this is an apt time for me to think about the role of faculty within an accreditation process, and to look at how Williams addresses such issues.

For right now my institution, the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, is in the maelstrom of the accreditation process, so these are more than mere thought exercises: What are the characteristics of an effective faculty? (And what does “effectiveness” mean both for the bean counters at the accrediting agency, and perhaps more significantly, for the self-reflexive institution?) What are the desires that an institution has for the faculty within an institution, whether an elite liberal arts college at the top tier of American higher education, or a small branch campus of a major state university. Accreditation can be tedious. It can be rote. It can be about jumping through hoops for the accreditors. It can be about creating patently false measurements and matrixes that take time away from an institution’s mission. In sum, the process of accreditation can at times be more of a headache than it would seem to be worth (and must be even more of an annoyance at Williams, which hardly seems ever to be in jeopardy of not flying through accreditation.

Before us we have two documents. One is the college’s “Self Study” on faculty issues. The other is a pdf document on an issue that occasionally arouses controversy here at Ephblog: Diversity, in this case, faculty diversity, in the form of the college’s 2005 “Diversity Initiative Self Study.” Both reveal some of the characteristic hallmarks of the genre: prose that is at best bureaucratic, at worst just plain clunky; the jargon foisted upon the world by the solons in control of accrediting boards; a sense of simply rewording things that have been written in the past to make them seem au courant; and the general sense of the perfunctory.

In short this is evidence of a pretty tedious endeavor. After all, no one looks forward to this kind of self study. Nonetheless, hidden within, it seems to me, is a reminder of what is special about a Williams education. The Self Study is an affirmation of the college’s longstanding goals with regard to the role of the faculty. The college is committed to recruiting and maintaining a vibrant talented faculty. Williams wants to continue to hold the highest standards in the classroom, and this starts with world-class teachers, but those teachers must also be first-class scholars, writers, and artists. To do this, the college must continue to affirm and expand its support for the faculty. And the college wants faculty (and select others) to be able to advise students to allow them to maximize their Williams experience. There is nothing new here, but the Self Study shows that as the years have passed, these standards have been relatively consistent, and by most measures the college continues to move toward some sort of ideal that it will never achieve, if only because each time it clears a height, it sets the bar another notch higher.

It is clear that among the many values that the college holds dear, the question of diversity continues to be a major priority. “Diversity” is, of course, one of those culture war words that can rouse controversy. And yet for a place like Williams in particular, much of the worst of the controversies associated with diversity ought to be avoidable. For Williams is able to recruit among the very highest ranks of prospective faculty, meaning that once a search is narrowed down to the final few candidates, any of those finalists ought to be able to excel on the faculty and within their disciplines. Nonetheless, by the standards the college has set, it has accomplished much, but has a great deal more to do in terms of achieving the sort of faculty makeup that it envisions as an ideal, though (wisely) no one has come forward and laid out what exactly that ideal would look like.

In recent weeks there has been much talk about where Williams can cut its budget. This was inevitable, and probably wise. Nonetheless, I have been chewing over the old maxim (probably from Warren Buffet or some other insanely rich person who can afford to have his own advice fail him) that says to save while others spree and to spend while others are bunkering down. Might this not be a great time for Williams to continue forward with all of the hires it hoped to undertake, perhaps even to add a few to the wish list? Would this not be an ideal year, when so many institutions are canceling searches across disciplines, for Williams to spend when others are cutting back, to buy when the market is low? Would the economic crisis not offer a wonderful opportunity to target hires that would expand on the diversity of the college’s top-notch faculty without having to engage in some of the zero-sum games that detractors often see in diversity-oriented hiring?

But furthermore, looking beyond the boilerplate, how do people feel that Williams is doing with regards to its faculty goals as expressed in the two self-studies that most of you probably gave a grad school reading (ie judicious skimming)? What goals are not well articulated? Which do you see as overstated, if not unnecessary? Is this whole process useful or necessary? Is the accreditation process useful or necessary? Could we rely on Williams to maintain its own high standards without having to go through this exercise that, as I have indicated, I believe absorbs institutional resources away from the very things that the institution would be doing anyway?

I hope these questions provide fodder for conversation and a starting point for whatever ideas are on the minds of everyone affiliated with Williams. The faculty is an essential component of any college and nowhere is their role more cherished than at Williams, where the teaching ideal still is a professor on one end of a log, a student on the other.


CGCL Day 2

Whoever you are – student, staff, faculty, graduate no matter how many years out – How do you assess your own education now? How could that inform what Williams, or any college, does in a self assessment such as we are reading?

The boundaries of this assessment – and it’s standard practice – are almost entirely the four years that a student is at Williams. So be it. My premise is that this is necessary but not sufficient.

Not even a madman would assume that everyone, or anyone, has read the 43 pages of ten-point type David assigned here. These sections more recitations of what happens at Williams than an assessment of what happens. I don’t state that with any judgment or assessment, implied or otherwise. I don’t propose changing a syllable of the sections for today. My proposal is that we see what we can invent to help a college assess the lasting value of what happens during those four years.

No one could read this recitation of all Williams does with other than respect for the depth of programs from budgeting to the physical plant to the academics. My dream is that everyone could have a Williams education. I know that Charles Murray and others would decry that notion. Then, what would the value of a Williams education be if everyone had a Williams education? I’d love to find out what such a world would be, but this is not the time to discuss.

Here is the first paragraph of the section, “Assessment of Student Learning.” Most of the rest of the section amplifies this paragraph:

Assessment of student learning at Williams, as at most liberal arts colleges, is based on close student-faculty interaction, careful grading in courses, and course sequences in majors and programs, including capstone courses that require the acquisition of knowledge and skill to progress. Assessment is built into the structure of a Williams education and it is a fundamental responsibility of every teaching faculty member. We operate under the presumption of faculty responsibility and quality: teachers get to know their students well, they know best how to gauge student progress, and they are thoughtful and self-reflective in their evaluation of student performance. The careful assignment of grades is merely an endpoint in a system of assessment whereby faculty measure student progress frequently and provide individualized feedback. Faculty routinely work to enhance student learning in light of scholarly and pedagogical developments within their fields, and use student learning as a gauge of their own effectiveness. They also take seriously students’ own perceptions of their learning experience, as reflected in our mandatory course evaluation surveys, which use quantitative measures and have separate pages for optional written comments.

Change nothing here. How do you know today that you have a great education? How would you assess this value? Go back to your own time in school. What else could Williams, or anywhere else, both do and assess during the four years to see if Williams is creating lifelong value? What’s the survey Williams could give you now? What would the questions be?

This is a big question in education. No one has an answer. Let’s put Ephblog on the map for inventing this new assessment.


CGCL V: Accreditation — Introduction and Overview

Come one, come all, to the Fifth Annual CGCL.  For the uninitiated, that’s a “Cross-Generational Community of Learning”.  Though perhaps not quite as brilliant as Frank Costanza’s “Festivus for the rest-of-us,” Dave Kane came up with a pretty good and worthwhile idea — Winter Study (or at least a slice of it) for the rest of us, who can no longer go wander around campus and wonder at the winter whispers of Williamstown’s accumulating snow.  Maybe of greater interest is that CGCL is assuredly one of EphBlog’s most successful — and no less importantly, least controversial — initiatives.

After one year off, due to the rather political nature of CGCL IV (demands of federal judicial employment and all), I’m very pleased to be back and participating for the fourth time this year, to discuss Williams and the Accreditation Process.  My topic is the overview and introduction, more specifically, Williams’s own Self-Study process, the first step in Accreditation.  Self-Study, in turn, comprises an Introduction, Preface, and Overview, which I will talk about in turn, after the cut.

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Do Your Reading

CGCL starts tomorrow. Have you done the reading? Get going! We still need discussants for the 15th and 27th, although I hope that our fearless EphBlog president Dick Swart ’56 will take that last date. Who better to sum up the discussion and point us onward?


Discussants Wanted

Here is the rough draft of the syllabus for this year’s CGCL Winter Study seminar. I am still arranging the material, but the draft is stable enough to seek discussants. If interested, please either contact me (dave at kanecap . com) or leave a note in the comments to this post.


CGCL – Chapter 5, “Spirit in the Age of Science”


Kronman describes science through the research ideal, then draws a comparison to technology. He argues we use technology to increase out power and defy fate, but that it ultimately obscures understanding of the world. Social science is likewise dominated by the research ideal, with Economics leading the charge.

However, the humanities have no such guide, and Kronman paints that field as lost and weak, especially since the field’s instructors have PhDs from large research universities. This, he says, has led to the rise of fundamentalism, which currently has no counter in the world. Kronman hopes that Secular Humanism will enjoy a resurgence in humanities departments, again providing instruction in the meaning of life.
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Education’s End, Chapter 2, “Secular Humanism”

In the second chapter of the book, Tony Kronman gives us a 53 page (pp.37-90) summary of the three phases of the life of the humanities in American higher education and he certainly doesn’t leave the reader in suspense about his assessment of the current relationship between the humanities as taught and the meaning of life.  

It has been stripped of its legitimacy as a question that teachers of the humanities feel they may properly and competently address with their students in a formal program of instruction. It has been exiled from the classroom and kicked out of school, so that today it survives only in private, in pianissimo, in the extracurricular lives of teachers and students, even those in liberal arts programs whose distinctive purpose presupposes the vital importance of this question itself (p.45)     

Phase 1, which I like to call “The Christian Gentleman Phase”, started in 1636 at that other college at the Eastern end of Route 2. The Puritans were quite keen on education, but it was much more focuses on shaping the character of their students than producing original scholarship. Everybody pretty much memorized the same thing (Latin, Greek, the classics, the Bible), and were to use these works and the men in them as sterling examples of behavior. (Given my limited knowledge of the classical world, I do wonder if Aristophanes, Catullus, Terrence or Petronius got much play in these classrooms. Also, the lives of Alcibiades and Caligula were probably what financial analysts like to call contrary indicators) There wasn’t much distinction between areas of study, the faculty were the staff, and generally the president of the college taught the senior capstone of the course. (More on this in a moment) Dr. Kronman lays out the two assumptions that girded this world.

 1)    Teachers have an unassailable authority on matters moral thanks to their experience.

2)    Every branch of study is connected to everything else, so don’t leave out anything.

Williams was, at this time, more or less a little po-dunk college out in the sticks of the Berkshires, but it did have one Mark Hopkins of “the log” fame, who pretty much lived up to all of this. He was the president of Williams, he taught the capstone course and it is fair to say that he was much more interested in the character of his students than their (or his to be honest) intellectual accomplishments. 

His (Hopkins’) triumph as one of the old-time college presidents must be attributed, in no small degree, to the success with which he refused to permit learning to assume an ascending importance in his life. (p.27, Mark Hopkins and the Log, Yale, 1956)   


I must admit that the thought of a 19th century Christian madrassa came to mind while reading this part, though the greater tension was probably between the education itself, based on the liberal arts, those subject fit for the study of “free” men, which meant the gentry in Europe, and the useful arts, for the study of artisans, which was championed by Ben Franklin and probably quite a bit more useful in the development of the continent. This leads to the second phase in the life of the humanities, “The Secular Humanist Phase”. 

As the 19th century progressed, America saw the ideal of the German research university transferred to its soil (Dr. Kronman will go into more detail on this in the third chapter. Here’s a bit of foreshadowing, the research ideal has a lot to answer for). Cornell, Johns Hopkins, even Harvard got the fever under President Eliot, and, boom, out goes character formation as the goal of a college education and in comes learning and scholarship. The explosion of knowledge in the 2nd half of the 19th century put to bed any idea that a student could come out in four years with a grasp on the totality of knowledge, which meant that some things had to be left out, which eventually led to the ideas of majors and electives and to the formation of distinct academic disciplines. 

If we use Williams nomenclature and say that knowledge was being divided into divisions 1,2 and 3, then 2 and 3 were prospering in the new world thanks to their use of the scientific method. Div 1, however, doesn’t use the method, so it had to pay its way in this new world by continuing to talk about the purpose and value of human life. What separated these new humanists from the Mark Hopkins type? Well, each believed there is a common human nature, but the secularists: 

1) Thought that a common human nature did not preclude pluralistic beliefs about the meaning of life.

2) Thought that human nature, though open and malleable, still followed a discrete number of life paths (warrior, artist, priest, etc) and that these paths could be studied.

3) Thought that transcendence could no longer chalked up to the supernatural, but to rather Platonic values that were larger than any one person. 

The great conversation among western thinkers, from Biblical to current time is essentially how each person was trying to sort out how their lives and thoughts related to these timeless values. Unfortunately, while the age of secular humanism was advancing, forces were gathering that led to Phase 3, The Death of the Dead White Male (my terminology, not Dr. Kronman’s) 

In Phase 3, the Great Conversation itself is attacked as the limits it proscribes: a singular core human nature, a limited number of patterns to human life, and an elite, though slowly growing canon, are held up as illusory and masked expressions of power used to marginalize other cultures and ideals. This, accompanied by the spread of the research ideal from the sciences into the humanities, sounded the death knell for the search for life’s meaning in the humanities department. Chapters 3 and 4 will go into this in far more detail. 

I would have liked Dr. Kronman to spend a bit of time talking about how this change in higher ed mirrored the economic changes going on in the country as a whole, since Phase 1 to Phase 2 rather neatly follows the model of artisan/apprentice work in antebellum America to the rise of the factory and mass production in the second half of the 19th century and Phase 2 to Phase 3 from mass production/consumption to customized production/consumption in the second half of the twentieth century. Were the humanities just following the money?


Commentary on Wick Sloane’s “The Undebated Billions

I know that this will have a lively comments thread because Wick is here and participating in EphBlog, so I have my work cut out for me.

The shortest summary of Wick’s paper is that US tax policy allows educational non-profits to save much more of their endowment than other non-profits. Because colleges don’t have to spend as much of their endowments, Wick asserts that this requires the government to issue more Pell Grants to make up the difference, and implies that in the alternative, colleges would make up more of the difference by lowering tuition. Consequently, Wick argues that Colleges are “raiding” the federal treasury by decreasing the base of taxable income when they raise money to increase their endowment. Wick also correctly points out that the debate is not so much over the answer he proposes (with which I disagree in large part, unsurprisingly, but more on that later), but that this question has not yet been asked at all.

Wick, I certainly commend you for pointing out this issue, and I agree that it’s something that warrants a great deal more discussion than it currently has. However, I think that it cannot be limited to colleges, or even education, and that it’s much more difficult to logically draw a bright line around colleges than Wick thinks it is.

A more detailed summary, interspersed with commentary, below the cut.

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Diversity Makes a Difference

Professor Brown points out this Washington Post article, “In Boardrooms and in Courtrooms, Diversity Makes a Difference” and comments that it may be relevant to much of the seminar, especially to the “Social Comparison of Abilities at an Elite College: Feeling Outclassed with 1350 SATs,” by Matthew B. Kugler and George R. Goethals, our assigned reading for Monday.

When the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called on America to open the doors of opportunity to people of color, the civil rights leader was making a moral argument.

Cedric Herring recently decided to take things one step further. Given that discussions about morality are often divisive, the sociologist decided to take a more scientific approach. In other words, beyond the question of whether diversity is a good thing, is there evidence that it makes a difference?

Herring has just completed his study. He found that companies that are more diverse have more customers, a larger share of their markets and greater profitability. In fact, when Herring puts his numbers on a graph, he finds a linear relationship between diversity and business success, meaning that as diversity increases, those business indicators increase in step.

“Those companies that have very low levels of racial and ethnic minorities have the lowest profits and the lowest market share and the lowest number of customers,” he said. “Those that have medium levels do better, and those that have the highest levels do the best.”

Herring got his results by obtaining data about diversity levels and business performance from about 250 companies. He verified the information with independent statistics from Dun & Bradstreet Corp. and documents filed with the federal government. The 250 companies are representative of all U.S. businesses with more than 10 employees — from the restaurant down the street that employs a dozen people to multinational corporations with thousands of workers. Herring found the same relationship between diversity and business success whether a company was large or small.

Not to be too cynical, but that seems like a highly suspect result to me. I can’t find a copy of the working paper on Herring’s website, so perhaps these concerns are answered therein.

1) How were these 250 companies selected? Of course, the answer had better involve some sort of random process otherwise selection bias could easily tilt the reults one way or the other.

2) How are these 250 companies “representative” of all US business with more than 10 employees? If they really are a random sample from this universe, then the vast majority of them would be small. (There are, obviously, many more companies with 15 employees than with 15,000.) I doubt that the sample was random.

3) What does it mean that Herring “verified” the data? Small companies do not have to make much data public and, as a rule, therefore don’t. You think Dunn & Bradstreet has a file on every company in the US with more than 10 employees? Hah! There is probably a federal file on every such company since they all need to get a Federal Employer Identification Number, but I do not think that large amounts of such data are publicly available.

4) I am probably being too hard on Herring. It isn’t his fault that the Post writer can’t accurately describe the study. But I have seen too much junky social science research to simply assume that everything is well-done, especially since there is no working paper. I will e-mail Professor Herring and invite him to comment.

5) Even if Herring somehow got a more or less random sample of 250 firms, I can’t imagine how he got the rest of this data. Assume that one of the firms was, say, a landscaper in Des Moines. How did Herring find out what the racial composition of this company, either its workforce as a whole or just the leadership? I do not think that such data is available anywhere.

6) My guess is that the writer has not accurately described the sample. Perhaps Herring just looked at firms in the Chicago area and gathered relevant statistics by hand. Perhaps he just looked at large, publicly traded companies. One could, by studying websites, come up with a sense of the racial diversity of the leadership of such firms.

7) But even in this best case scenario, I still have my doubts. How does Herring measure, for example, market share? In the real world, this is very hard to do. What is the total market for, say, landscaping in Des Moines? Does the market include just Des Moines or also the surrounding suburbs? How about the surrounding counties? Each different measure of the total market size will lead to a different measure of market share for the landscaper in our sample. To come up with useful data on this, for 250 firms in different industries, is hugely difficult. Now, Dunn & Bradstreet might have some sorts of market share measures for large companies, but even then, the strength of the results, as described in the article, leave me suspicious. The other example cited in the article, work by a Tufts psychology professor, seems equally suspect.

Herring, who works at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says he agrees with advocates who have long argued that workers with different backgrounds make companies more responsive to customers. This model suggests that racial diversity is a marker for diverse ideas, attitudes and life experiences, and that having a range of perspectives can alert a company to threats and opportunities.

New research from psychology, however, suggests that this information model might only partially explain diversity’s impact. Something more subtle — and intriguing — also seems to happen when people of color join groups that were formerly all white: The entire group starts to think in new ways. Minorities, in other words, not only bring new perspectives to the table but also seem to catalyze new thinking among others.

Give me a break. Let’s all just gather round the camp fire after a fun afternoon of trust-building exercises and sing Kumbaya! Although it is a pleasing and not-implausible hypothesis that racially diverse groups do better than racially homogeneous ones (all else equal), there is no good evidence for this that I have seen. Nor is there any evidence that such groups do worse, although folks like Steve Sailer argue otherwise.

Again, perhaps I have been too harsh here. Those with conflicting views should speak up!

UPDATE: A copy of the paper is available here. Although it appears that the sample is more random than I initially thought, the whole exercise is fairly sloppy. Although the source used by Herring does seem to provide a reasonable 1,000 company sample, there is no reason to believe that the 250 companies he focuses are a random sample of those 1,000. Nor would I put much faith in, for example, the market share data, which seems to be self-reported. I suspect that the entire project is skewed by the fact that very small firms are, obviously, less diverse than big firms. There is no way to stay 100% white if you have 1,000 employees. Diversity doesn’t cause bigness. Bigness causes diversity. Want more details? Let me know!


CGCL Seminar

Our Winter Study seminar on the Diversity Initiatives has concluded. See how much fun we had last year. Check out our syllabus. Click on a name to see the discussant’s comments on the assigned reading, along with the resulting conversation.

David Kane ’88 on Introduction by President Morty Schapiro.

Professor James McAllister on Ideological Diversity.

Reed Wideower ’00 on Student Recruitment and Admission by Director of Admissions Dick Nesbitt.

David Rodriquez ’06 on Student Input.

Diana Davis ’07 on Student Experiences and Support Services by Provost Cappy Hill, Dean of the College Nancy Roseman, et al.

Lowell Jacobson ’03 on Curriculum by Professor Stephen Tifft.

Whitney Wilson ’90 on Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Satisfaction by John Gerry, Associate Dean of the Faculty.

Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07 on Alumni by Paula Moore Tabor, Associate Director of Alumni Relations.

Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 on Orientation and Ongoing Education by Gail Bouknight-Davis, Director of the Multicultural Center.

Jeff Zeeman ’97 on College Procedures by Nancy McIntire, Assistant to the President for Affirmative Action and Government Relations.

Ken Thomas ’93 on Consultants’ Report by Kimberly Goff-Crews, Dean of Students, Wellesley College.

Professor KC Johnson on Consultants’ Report by Evelyn Hu-DeHart, Professor of History and Ethnic Studies and Director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Brown University.

Beides these featured discussions, we also discussed related issues here, here and here, among other places.

Thanks to Ronit Bhattacharyya ’07, Diana Davis ’07, Lowell Jacobson ’03, Professor KC Johnson, David Rodriguez ’06, Noah Smith-Drelich ’07, Ken Thomas ’93, Reed Wideower ’00, Whitney Wilson ’90 and Jeff Zeeman ’97 for volunteering to be discussants.

Suggestions for next year’s topic are welcome.


Goff-Crews: Practical Directions (revisited)

[This thread is an elevation from another post. In consideration of other discussions, it may be lowered in priority or temporarily removed. -K]

Frank, hwc, ’04 and All,

First, thanks for your responses. Because this is not the kind of seminar where we can look across the table at one another for guidance, I hope I may use them as a series of starting points in examining Goff-Crews (and Hu-DeHarts’) concrete proposals.

As you seem to note, the consultants’ section of the report, and the report in general, is more-than-complex in structure. I tend to prefer that proposals begin with a very short goal or mission statement and a series of bullet points. Literary theorists (and we later) may ponder that the policy recommendations of these reports are not clearly highighted by such bullet points, or even vertical bars and bold titles.

Rather, they seem subordinated within the larger narrative of the reports, a narrative that (I think it is fair to say) seems disjointed and confusing … in that old question from first-year philosophy, what do we make of how this is presented to us?

But before we get to “narrative” and structure, perhaps it is time to do what others have done– pull out the specific proposals of this section of the report, and place them in something like bullet point structure (with my comments, which I’ll keep very brief).

Goff-Crews’ specific proposed action items (using her headers) are thus:

Proposed Diversity Initiatives to Improve the Quality of Student Life

1. Create [a] centralized academic support center:
(self explanatory?)
2. Consider reshaping transition programs:
Goff-Crews suggests that existing Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences summer transition programs have their components extended into term-time, “strengthening” their impact”.
3. Use New Residential Plan to Enhance Initiative: [my emphasis]:
Goff-Crews suggests the development of a “full-blown” diversity training model for HCs and JAs, and use the new house system as a “new opportunity” to enhance “awareness” of “diversity.”
4. Enhance Role of Associate and Assistant Deans in the Diversity Initiative Efforts:
Goff-Crews suggests that the Deans take a stronger role in campus life, that the officially make themselves available to address racial/diversity issues, and that they become more “connected” to such issues by assigning one Dean to diversity/race issues.
5. Make campus protocol and expertise on racial incidences transparent:
In short, appoint an Omsbudperson to as point-of-contact for racial issues, and distribute a policy document that outlines procedures.
6. Enhance diversity of Health Services staff:
7. Regularly discuss diversity issues among senior staff:
(self-explanatory?: senior staff should meet every six weeks to explicitly address these issues).
8. Consider creating fellowship opportunities to attract more diverse senior administrators to Williams:
(self-explanatory, but within, the suggestion is that current senior staff can explicity serve as mentors for a more diverse junior staff)
9. Recognize and enhance support staff efforts to support student development:
recognize that ‘support staff’ such as secretaries, dining services etc play a key role in student life, and “regularly” educate these support staff in diversity issues.

Do we believe in these proposals?

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Goff-Crews: Practical Directions?

[Originally published 1/24/06 -KT]

Dear Seminarians,

As I first heard the story, Laszlo Versenyi used 1975 to mark the first year in the evolution of American higher education when he felt that he could no longer conduct a substantive exploration of Plato in his first-year courses.

Well over a decade earlier, in the fall of 1963, Allan Bloom had sat in the common reading room of Cornell’s Telluride House, writing similar concerns into the House Log. Those concerns would become, in part, The Closing of the American Mind. A few weeks later, the young Paul Wolfowitz would add to the log that Allan Bloom was the first “intelligent conservative” he had ever met.

At about the same time, John Sawyer was, with Kaplan and Goff’s petition against the fraternity system in hand– and with far more concerns about the social and academic systems of the College–, travelling with a group of students and professors to listen to Clark Kerr’s Godkin Lectures at Harvard.

Working from previous conceptions of the University– which he rather boldly declared “illusions of its inhabitants”– Kerr declared that the modern university was a “new type of institution in the world.” Lamenting that the previous century had “turned the philosopher on his log into a researcher in his laboratory,” Kerr outlined the vision of a MultiVersity– a dynamic institution serving divers and even incompatible purposes– an institution “neither entirely of the world nor entirely apart from it”– an institution whose fundamental pursuit of knowledge would extend far into its surrounding community.

Kerr’s handling of Mario Savio’s free speech movement would hamstring his position as President of Berkeley, lead to the election of Ronald Reagan as governor of California, and to Kerr’s own removal by Governor Reagan in 1967. On the “fraternity question” and so much more, however, Jack Sawyer would begin to parallel a similar vision at Williams. A cursory examination of the course catalogs of Williams versus other institutions reveals that Williams dared to be the first to act to change the content of American education– far “diversifying” the then-current disciplines and endeavors of the liberal arts college, and many other institutions in turn.

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The Curriculum

The CEP, after investigating the curriculum for possible improvements in the area of diversity, has identified 3 main areas for improvement: (1) student interests that can be fulfilled by faculty teaching at Williams [“student interests”]; (2) hiring priorities that would help Williams enhance it’s curricular diversity [“hiring priorities”]; and (3) Re-examining the People & Cultures requirement [“the PC requirement”]. The committee will be discussing the latter two in April and May.

Please note that all commentary in square brackets is mine.

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Student Experiences and Support Services

This entry discusses the one-page student experiences report, which is descriptive, and the 10-section student support services report, which is prescriptive. Since the two reports are very different, I shall discuss them separately.

I don’t have time to go into detail on all of them, but the diversity report includes 50 very interesting tables and graphs; see here for a list.

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“Student Discussion”

Recent CGCL discussions on the Diversity Initiatives report have centered around political diversity. While certainly a worthwhile topic, I feel we’ve gotten to the point where we’re simply beating a dead horse (< sarcasm> clearly a David Kane et al and Ephblog first). I will most definitely concede that the vast majority of the Williams faculty and student body falls left of center in political viewpoints, but I have never once felt that my professors’ beliefs had factored into their teaching; nor have I ever felt any level of “proselytizing” on their part.

As a rightward-leaning moderate, I have certainly encountered opposition from students in a number of class discussions. Regardless, I cannot remember any instance where a professor disregards a student’s opinon because it doesn’t jive with his or her political convictions. That’s all I’ll say about that.

In beating this dead horse, we have ignored much of the reason and purpose behind the diversity initiatives report itself. Namely, Morty himself points out that a significant portion of such an effort centers on the following issue:

“To put it more generally, we want to move toward the day in which every Williams student, faculty, and staff member can feel that this is their college, not a college for others to which they’ve been invited. We have not reached that day yet, but we will.”

Though I have regrettably little time to delve into such a deep and difficult topic–I write this as my sixth graders take a practice New York State English Language Arts standardized test–I feel that it is a question that has thus far received fairly little attention on our part. Reading through the comments section of the Diversity Initiatives report, one can easily see why many students feel largely alienated from “mainstream” Williams culture. Thus I ask fellow Ephbloggers to leave the dead horse to rest once and for all, and move on to a new–and far more worthwhile–topic. I’ll add my own comments later when and if I get the chance.


Student Recruitment and Admissions

After reading Dick Nesbitt’s article and perusing the accompanying table showing enrollment by race, several things stand out to me. Follow the jump for all my thoughts…

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Ideological Diversity

I have a few comments to make about David’s remarks about political diversity at Williams. First, I think that it goes without saying that there should be more political diversity among the faculty at Williams. However, framing the issue in terms of professors allegedly “willing to publicly argue the republican /conservative/ libertarian view” is not helpful. I have taken many public positions in favor of the war in Iraq and the Bush’s administration’s national security policy in general, but I have never thought of myself as arguing for the Republican Party or Bush himself. This is true both inside and outside the classroom. My credibility with students, and I would suspect the reason my classes are always overenrolled, is precisely due to the fact that Williams students generally do not welcome ideologues disguised as scholars. Just because 95% or more of the Williams faculty are registered Democrats, does not mean that we should have an affirmative action program for Republican scholars.

I also think President Schapiro is largely correct in his belief that “prosleytizing” is not a major problem on campus, although I disagree with the implication that Williams could not be a better place in terms of intellectual diversity. I have no idea what my colleagues do in the classroom on a daily basis, but I have not heard many horror stories about students being subjected to daily rants and tirades about current political issues. I do not remember any Faculty Senate meetings taken up with resolutions opposing the Iraq War or letters to the editor signed by 100 faculty members protesting this or that issue. While the case of Jennifer Kling is truly sad, I would be shocked if you could find anything even remotely close to that today. Again, I would agree with Morty that active “proselytizing” is a fringe concern in 2005 and has been for many years.

Since I suspect that much of the discussion here will be fairly critical, let me conclude with a few optimistic thoughts. First, compare Williams with any of our peer institutions and I think you will find a much greater tolerance for so called conservative ideas here than elsewhere. Second, as a faculty member who is rightly or wrongly thought to be conservative (I am certainly conservative in comparison to the vast majority of my colleagues, but probably not in comparison to the population at large), I can say that I have never experienced any serious trouble with my colleagues on political grounds. President Schapiro has always been supportive of things I have tried to do here and I know from personal experience and actions that he is supportive of intellectual diversity.

Unfortunately, I have to run but I look forward to reading more of what everyone has to say. I certainly support critical thinking on issues of intellectual diversity and everything else related to Williams, but let’s also keep in mind the many positive elements of Williams. There is no other place in the nation that I would rather be–that would be true even if we did not have the wonderful Taconic Golf Course.

James McAllister



President Morty Schapiro’s Introduction to the Diversity Initiatives merits careful study. It perfectly captures the confusion, obfuscation and borderline dishonesty which plague discussions of diversity at Williams and elsewhere. Although Morty (and Williams) deserve praise for the openness with which this study has been conducted — especially for the publication of a variety of data tables — the overall result lives down to my already low expectations.

The confusion and obfuscation start at the very beginning.

The most significant change in higher education during our time may be its increasing inclusion of students, faculty, and staff from groups that had previously been excluded from its campuses.

First, the notion that there was a great deal of exclusion at Williams and places like it is, historically, false. Morty may not have read The Chosen by Jerome Karabel, but those of us who have know that there is little if any evidence of significant discrimination against Asian American, Latino or African Americans (AALAA) since 1900 in elite admissions. If you had the grades (and the money), you got in (unless you were Jewish). If you didn’t have the grades and the money, you didn’t get in, regardless of race. There were, of course, individual acts of discrimination — see pages 232-233
of The Chosen for a particular disgusting example involving a Williams graduate — as well some schools, like Princeton, with particularly backward attitudes, but it is just false to claim that the number of AALAA students at Williams and other schools prior to 1965 would have been much higher in a colorblind world than it was in our imperfect world. It would not have been. Discrimination, at the admissions stage, probably affected dozens of students, not hundreds much less thousands. The real victims of elite discrimination in the 20th century were the Jews. The Report has little if anything to say about that.

Second, the most significant change in higher education — outside of exploding sticker price — in our time (meaning, say, post 1950) has been sorting by IQ. In the 1950’s, lots of not so smart (white) men got into Williams and places like it. (Not you, Dad.) Now, with very few exceptions, almost every student at Williams is from the far right tail of the Bell Curve.

Now, Morty knows these things, and there is nothing wrong with a little pablum from a college president. Yet issues surrounding diversity at Williams are difficult. The closer we can get to an honest description of the facts, the more progress we can make.

Although mission statements are mostly fluff, it is nice to see Morty provide a clear goal for Williams.

The College’s mission to provide the highest quality liberal arts education is enhanced by the rich variety of backgrounds and experiences that students, faculty, and staff bring to the task of educating each other.

I agree that the goal of Williams should be “to provide the highest quality liberal arts” in the world. I also agree that diversity of all types helps with that goal. I can’t imagine that Williams could be as good as it might be if there were, for example, no international students on campus. But it is a long leap from this premise to the actual policies that Williams currently follows, and even longer to the policies that people like Evelyn Hu-DeHart would like to see Williams follow.

More importantly, as every good economist (like Morty) knows, there are trade-offs. Every time you let in an under-represented minority (URM, which in a Williams context almost always means Latino or African American), you deny admission to someone else, someone who might be smarter, who might be poorer, who might even be a minority herself. (Williams denies admissions to dozens of Asian American applicants with much stronger SAT scores and high school grades than those of some of its URM admittees.) Williams is poorer because that student is not present. But she is also invisible. It is hard to judge the cost of rejecting her if none of us can clearly see what she might have added.

The hard decisions are, as always, made on the margin. The first 20 URMs that Williams admits are as good as any Jewish or Asian or WASP Eph. The second 20 are also. But by the time we get to number 100 of enrolled, not just accepted, we are talking about applicants with significantly weaker high school records than their classmates at Williams.

In the class of 2009, Williams is 20% URM. The hard question for those who love Williams is whether this number should be 10% or 30%.

One of the stranger parts of the discussion involves Morty’s desire to focus on “intrinsic” factors.

For all the progress Williams has made in becoming more open and supportive, the case remains that some people, because of factors intrinsic to them, are excluded from the College or have less full and satisfying experiences here.

Does this make sense? Morty implies that by “intrinsic” he means things like race and gender that we are born with, not factors like religion. (Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not one can be born a Jew.) The problem is that no one is born Hispanic, at least by the definition of Hispanic that is used by Williams.

Again, I realize that the Diversity Initiative can not be about everything and that it is reasonable for Morty/Williams to focus on some aspects of diversity rather than others. But, don’t claim to be focusing on “intrinsic” factors and then spend time on cultural ones.

Greater awareness of this fact, resulting from the compelling testimony of current and former members of the campus community and from analysis of data on student demographics and student experiences, led to the launching at the beginning of this academic year of the Diversity Initiatives.

Isn’t this borderline dishonest? Unless I am mistaken, there were no plans to launch a great big Diversity Initiative until the Nigaleian fiasco of last fall.

But the most disingenuous section of the Introduction involves those dreaded conservative critics, bane of left-thinking college presidents everywhere.

Several submissions to the Web site raised issues regarding the political beliefs of faculty. These echo concerns expressed more publicly about college faculties in general, usually in terms of suspected proselytizing to students. These submissions failed to gain traction through the Initiatives process, perhaps because few people, if any, on campus believe such proselytizing takes place, and because one’s political views are considered to be a characteristic that is acquired rather than intrinsic.

Why is this dishonest? First, Morty acts as if the primary, if not only, concern about political diversity raised by outsiders involved fears of “proselytizing.” But, as anyone can see, not a single outsider raised this concern. There are several discussions of diversity of political opinion among the faculty, but they almost all fall in the category of diversity-of-opinion-is-a-good-thing. Of course, few if any readers of the Diversity Initiative are likely to read those comments, so Morty can safely (?) misrepresent their contents.

I suspect that I speak for the vast majority of the political diversity camp when I claim that the problem is not that Williams has leftist professors. Some of my friends are leftist professors! The problem is that Williams has virtually no professors willing to publicly argue the Republican/conservative/libertarian view. That is a problem.

Second, Morty acts as if concerns about “suspected proselytizing to students” are crazy kookery. Why should such ridiculousness get any “traction” with the members of the Coordinating Commitee? Tell that to Jennifer Kling ’98 (and her family). The New York Times reported back in 1996 that

Jennifer Kling left Williams College here to join the National Labor Federation in Brooklyn with dreams of organizing the poor to create a more just world.

Instead, Ms. Kling found herself trapped in a cramped, tense apartment building, unable to walk outside. Every second was charted. During the day, she filed papers, wrote articles and worked a phone bank, selling advertisements in the organization’s publications. In the evenings, she was required to attend political lectures that would often go until 4:30 A.M., when she was finally allowed to collapse into sleep in a small room with five other women.

Six hours later, at 10:30, the wake-up call would come over the loudspeaker, and Ms. Kling and about 50 other members of the group, which has been called a cult, would start the cycle all over again.

”They didn’t encourage idle chatter,” she said. ”Time was precious. Every minute was pre-scheduled. They kept you so busy that you didn’t have time to think about leaving.”

It took a terrified Ms. Kling weeks to build up the courage to sneak out of the building one morning last year and take a bus home to her family in Missouri.

Scary stuff. The entire article is provided below the break. If any of our seminar participants were on campus in this era, please provide some background and details in the comments.

Morty might like to claim that this is just some sad story unconnected to “proselytizing” by the Williams faculty. After all, only those crazy conservative wingnuts think that this might be a concern at Williams, land of the open-minded professor.

Indeed, Western Massachusetts Labor Action became almost an institution on campus and enjoyed a reputation as a sort of Salvation Army with a political edge, a place where socially conscious students could go to work with the poor. Its connection to Mr. Perente-Ramos was not readily apparent, and the local group’s lead organizer was invited to economics and political science classes to lecture on the region’s social conditions.

Kling and others were sucked into this cult directly from a Williams classroom. My former professor Kurt Tauber, now retired, is mentioned by name. I believe that other Williams professors still on the faculty were involved as well.

Now, just because a few students were lost to one cult does not mean that having outside visitors is a bad idea or that students shouldn’t be encouraged to participate in social work in the local community. But Morty does us all a disservice when he pretends that “proselytizing” is a fringe concern. Nothing to see here. Just move along.

Why should a concerned alum trust the rest of the Report when it is so misleading about this sordid history?

All in all, the Introduction is weak. I realize that Morty (rightly) feels constrained in how “presidential” he must be in this context, but a little more directness and a lot less dissembling would have reassured me that the entire Diversity Initiative was a worthwhile project and not just a circular PC love-in, an exercise in which the people that mattered knew the answer before the first meeting was held. I am not reassured.

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CGCL, Day 3: A hard look at varsity athletics

Did you hear? Williams is really good at sports. The Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Athletics was formed at the behest of President Morton Schapiro to explore the status of athletics at the college. A part summary, part discussion of their report follows.

Varsity athletics have a profound impact on Williams College — even moreso than at Division I colleges, because there only 5% of the student body is composed of varsity athletes, and here 30% of students are varsity athletes. Over half of Williams students say that their status as an athlete or a non-athlete defines them at Williams, and 70% of students believe that athletics are significant or dominant in organizing social life — a feeling that is much more pronounced among students that are not varsity athletes. Only 30% of students feel that varsity athletics enhances the educational mission of the College.

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