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CV-19 Questions, 8

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 8: How will Williams handle gap-year requests from admitted students?

If it looks like the disruption might go on into the fall (and I would put the odds of that at 50/50 right now), there will be a lot of first years who would want to take a gap year. And who could blame them! But Williams won’t want that. Its costs, at least in terms of faculty and staff, are fixed. It has 540 seats to fill in September 2020, and it wants to fill them, even virtually.

Solution? Williams should/will probably require students to make the gap year decision much earlier, perhaps by May 31. And it should/will put some teeth on it, will insist that anyone deciding later to take a gap year will, except in exigent circumstances, have their acceptance withdrawn. With good information by May 31, it could use its wait-list more extensively than it has in the past. And you can be sure that this year’s wait-list will be the longest we have had in a generation.

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CV-19 Questions, 7

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 7: Will time-off policies change?

Williams might still be an online-only school in September.

If you were a rising senior, wouldn’t you take a gap year if you could not return to campus, especially if you were an athlete? And wouldn’t you be all the more likely to do so if all your friends were doing so? The snowball effects would be strong.

Solution? This is a harde problem! Williams does not have the threat of acceptance withdrawal to hang over the heads of current students, especially rising seniors. Maybe try to bribe them? Williams only costs X in 2020-2021, even if students are allowed to come back in January. How low would X have to be to ensure that most (80%? 95%?) students came back?

Of course, the demand for Williams spots is strong. We could take scores of transfer students. Or am I overestimating the number of students who would be interested in transferring to Williams if classes were still virtual in September? There might be very few interested in transferring for just a year. But would a (rich!) student (and her family!) be interested if she could transfer into Williams permanently? I bet that there are hundreds of students who were rejected from the classes of ’21 and ’22 who would consider that offer quite closely . . .

What do you predict will happen? What should Maud be doing now to prepare?

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CV-19 Questions, 6

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 6: Will grading policies change?

This question was over-taken by events. President Mandel writes:

[W]e have made the decision to switch to universal pass/fail for all courses taken by undergraduates this semester. You will not be surprised to learn that many people have expressed strong views on the subject, sometimes referring to what other schools are doing. Those examples vary, because each college or university is responding in ways appropriate to their own situation. Some are continuing with existing grading policies. Some are moving to optional pass/fail, with a subset pushing back their deadline for declaring a class as pass/fail. Still others, including MIT, Columbia, Wellesley and Bowdoin, have established universal pass/fail grading policies for all students.

Maud’s letter goes into a lot of detail. Would readers like a close reading? Could spend a week on this one! It has more nonsense than I expected. Key line:

Some people expressed concerns to me that a move to pass/fail would disincentivize students.

“Some people!” Did “Some people” also forecast that the sun would rise in the east? I want to meet these “Some people.” They are very smart! I would also like to meet the person who disagrees with this forecast . . .

There is zero doubt that students work much less without grading. Call the amount that students would work X — even with a global pandemic, but with the structure/incentives of grades — measured however you like. With universal Pass/Fail, do you forecast 90% of X, 50% of X, or even lower?

What do our student readers plan to do?

If I were on the Williams faculty, I would have voted against this. Maximum understanding/leniency toward students who have problems — just as most of us do even in the absence of a global pandemic. A virtual college course without grades is little more than an extremely expensive TED-talk.

Is this the first sign of Woke Maud?

Entire e-mail below the break.

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Close the Borders, 2

Professor Darel Paul notes:

Recall our discussion from last week. (And note some of the over-taken-by-events nonsense in that comment thread.)

The point that Paul is making, and that is very little discussed, is that there is no (plausible, short-term) solution which does not rely on vast restrictions on movement and behavior. Don’t the readers of EphBlog see that?

Imagine that we magically made every person in the US free of CV-19 tomorrow. Problem solved? Crisis averted?

No! The crisis would just be (briefly) delayed. Tomorrow or the next day or the day after that, someone would come into the US, unknowingly infected with CV-19, and the spread would just start again. We haven’t (even today!) closed the borders. We haven’t (even today!) set up 14-day quarantines for new arrivals into the US. I don’t even see any discussion of those (necessary!) policies outside of EphBlog.

We have no (public?) plausible plan for the sort of extensive contact tracing and electronic monitoring which countries like Hong Kong and Singapore are using. (To be fair, this is now a topic of discussion in certain parts of the internet.)

Paul’s point is that, without these policies, it is inevitable that CV-19 will work its way through the US population, at least until we reach herd immunity or develop a vaccine. Anyone who isn’t discussing that mathematical fact is not serious.

UPDATE: Even the New York Times is still writing nonsense:

If it were possible to wave a magic wand and make all Americans freeze in place for 14 days while sitting six feet apart, epidemiologists say, the whole epidemic would sputter to a halt.

The virus would die out on every contaminated surface and, because almost everyone shows symptoms within two weeks, it would be evident who was infected. If we had enough tests for every American, even the completely asymptomatic cases could be found and isolated.

The crisis would be over.

No. In a world of global travel and open US borders, the spread would just start again. If the Times (and the “experts” it talks to?) is still this clueless, on March 23, what hope is there?

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CV-19 Questions, 5

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 5: How is the endowment doing?

Answer: Not well.

1) Williams is about 30% less wealthy than it was a month ago. Wow! Even as rich as we are, that sort of drop will put a crimp in some of our strategic plans. The new art museum is the first things we should cut.

2) The endowment was at $2.9 billion last June 30. Through the end of February, it was up about 9%. But the college was also spending money, and raising money, throughout that time period. Put our total wealth at over $3 billion and the recent drop cost Williams a yard, as we finance bros say.

3) Will the next report from the Investment Office look that bad? No. First, the S&P is only down around 17% since last June. Second, a lot of the College’s investments — especially in private equity, venture capital and real estate — is not “marked-to-market.” The College’s managers are able to “smooth” returns, and you can be certain they will do so this year.

4) How much of a hit will this cause to the Williams budget for next year? I am unsure. Recall:

Spending from the endowment to support operations, referred to as asset use at Williams, is expected to be 5.0% of the twelve quarter trailing average of the end of year investment pool over the long run.

There is a big hit now, but endowment growth has been significant over the last few years. So, it could be that the trailing twelve quarter average wealth as of June 2020 is not that different from the same figure calculated for June 2019. So, perhaps the allowed “draw” from the endowment won’t be much lower. Of course, 6 months ago, the College planned/hoped that it would be higher, so some (minor?) belt-tightening might be required.

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Kudos to Cohen

We have had our differences with Professor Phoebe Cohen in the past, but this is good stuff!

Kudos! Any other faculty involved in the fight? Tell us some stories.

#OurFinestHour

I worry a lot about Berkshire Medical Center. What is the latest news?

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CV-19 Questions, 4

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 4: What about graduation?

Graduation will not happen. (Anyone think otherwise?) What are Maud’s options?

1) Plan on a September graduation. Might work wonderfully! Worst of the virus will be passed, one hopes. Hundreds of people would come back. Combine it with Convocation. Could make for an epic week-end!

2) Plan on a double-graduation in June 2021 for members of the class of 2020 and 2021. Benefit is that things are (highly?) likely to be settled by then. There is plenty of room on campus to house 500 returning members of the class of 2020. Easiest logistically and most satisfying emotionally.

3) On-line graduation this spring. I am suspicious. But, then again, who knows? Could be very moving, especially if it were combined with faculty actually walking through the their places in the lawn and a handful of nearby students participating. A lot would depend on the state of meeting-size restrictions in MA by the middle of May.

I recommend plan 2) because I am worried that this crisis, and the resulting travel restrictions, will continue into summer.

What advice would you give Maud? What do you think she will do?

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CV-19 Questions, 3

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 3: What about staff?

There are dozens (100? 200?) staff that Williams no longer needs, at least until September, mainly dining hall workers and custodial staff. What should be done?

Given how rich we (still?) are, and how close we are to the end of the school year, I recommend just paying them “as-if” the students were still around. Assuming that some social distance can be maintained, now is a good time to work on cleaning and renovation projects which are normally pushed to one side during the school year.

But, come June, things get trickier. (Does anyone have details on how staffing normally fluctuates during the summer? I assume that some staff stay on, but surely not all of them.) Williams can’t pay salaries forever. That is why we have unemployment insurance. If Williams is not hosting summer camps and the like, then it should furlough staff it does not need, with the hope that they can be brought back in September.

But, in between the faculty (working as normal) and the support staff (with nothing to do), we have the endlessly bloated administrative staff of Williams. What should happen to them? Will the Title IX office just be investigating itself? Will the grievance mongers in diversity/inclusion/equity turn their greedy eyes on the faculty? (Probably!) For now, there is no need for changes.

But, if I were Maud, and there were 50 or 100 positions/people I wanted an excuse to get rid of all at once, now (or, better, May) would be a good time to strike . . .

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CV-19 Questions, 2

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 2: Will Williams modify international admissions this week?

EphBlog has been a big fan over international admissions for more than 15 years. We loved it when Maud increased the percentage of internationals to 11% for the class of 2023. But does the existence of a global pandemic change that?

And, with admissions decisions due in a week or two, now is the time to ponder that question. Come September, students from some countries might be prevented from coming to the US. Or, if they do come, they might find it difficult to travel home. Would Williams be doing them any favors by admitting them with so much uncertainty?

Why not just skip a year with regard to international admissions? Just admit US citizens and permanent residents from the regular decision pool? (We would still have a bunch of international students already admitted early.)

Again, this is not what I want! I want Williams to become 25% or more international. But maybe not this year . . .

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Reunions?

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

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

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

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CV-19 Questions, 1

Let’s spend the next few days asking questions about the future of Williams in the era of CV-19. (And, yes, I was sorely tempted to call this series “Wuhan Flu Questions,” but I resisted the trolling urge.) For each question, I want your thoughts on what will happen, what Williams will do, and what Williams should do.

Question 1: Will Williams re-open in September 2020?

I don’t know. And isn’t that scary? There are many unknowns, of course, but Mission Park is, basically, an ugly, immobile cruise ship. Will cruises be running by September? Again, I don’t know. But it is easy to imagine a world in which they won’t be.

Maud, being a smart college president, will very soon have some of her best people pondering this question. After all, she can’t make this decision on September 1. She will need to make the call . . . when, exactly? And much of the decision may be out of her hands. If Massachusetts is still forbidding large gatherings in August, how can she possibly open Williams in September?

What advice do you have for her?

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Ask a Pandemic Expert: How are we doing?

Dr. Rich Besser ’81 is probably the leading Williams-affiliated voice on pandemics, having served as the acting director of the CDC during the emergence of the novel H1N1 influenza virus (often labeled “swine flu”). Dr. Besser was widely lauded for his response to H1N1 (which, fortunately, turned out to be far less serious than what was originally thought–it has a reproduction rate between 1.4-1.6 (SARS-CoV-2 looks to be around 2.2) and only a 0.02% fatality rate (SARS-CoV-2 looks like it kills between 1-5% of those infected)).

So what does he have to say about our current predicament?  In a March 5 Washington Post editorial, Dr. Besser writes:

The failures of public policy and imagination have been stalking us for years, creating haves and have-nots: parents who don’t have paid sick leave from work (only 10 states and the District of Columbia mandate it); a lack of affordable childcare or sick child care; at least 28 million Americans living without insurance and nearly one-third of the population still underinsured; health protections that are not distributed evenly from region to region; and fear among undocumented immigrants regarding access to care.

Our nation’s predicament today is both tragic, because so many people will likely suffer, and maddening, because it didn’t have to be this way. In the short term, the United States must play the hand that we’ve dealt ourselves. Indeed, there are no short-term solutions to our long-term neglects. The underlying work our nation must do to ensure all people in the United States have a fair and just opportunity for health and well-being — sick leave, universal health care, quality child care and early education, as well as fair immigration policies — must be done in moments of calm.

In the meantime, we could also consider a fund to compensate hourly workers without paid leave for their loss of income when sick; provide legal aid for those who are fired for not coming to work when ill; fund outreach to non-English speakers; ask insurers to waive co-pays for testing and treatment; supplement funding for community health centers that care for a large proportion of those without insurance; and ensure free meals are available for children when schools are closed.

This time around, things seem likely to get far worse in the U.S. before they get better.  How do you feel about our public health response to the SARS-CoV-2 virus?  Have we missed our tracking window with all of the testing mishaps of the past month?  Or have our current problems been baked in for years, not just in the 2018 disbanding of the Pandemic Response Team (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/05/10/top-white-house-official-in-charge-of-pandemic-response-exits-abruptly/) but in the policy decisions that we’ve made, or failed to make, over decades.  Or are you pretty happy with how things are going?

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Close The Borders

Professor Darel Paul wakes me from my dogmatic slumber by tweeting:

Assume that President Trumps has three goals: protect the the health/lives of US citizens, minimize the damage to the US economy and win re-election. (Fortunately, achieving the first two will be great help to the third.) Note also, that there is nothing that businesses hate more than uncertainty. As long as the crisis rages, they will want to cut back. They would prefer a scenario in which things are very painful for two months and then finished. Nothing is worse than a somewhat painful period for an unknown length of time.

It is the interaction between business behavior and uncertainty which highlights the importance of Paul’s question. Even in a world in which COVID-19 turns out not that bad over the next few weeks, as long as it is bad enough, business can’t get back to normal. Even if we knew Orlando were mostly OK today, it is hard for people/businesses in Orlando to return to work as long as a bunch of travelers from Seattle could show up tomorrow. Given those facts, Trump’s optimal strategy is fairly obvious: Close the borders in April. Crush COVID within the US by June. Reopen the US for business on July 4th with a big party. Keep the borders closed till the election.

March: There is not much to be done in March beyond what Trump and every governor/mayor is doing. We need tests. We need masks. We need ventilators. We need to prepare for the unstoppable wave of very sick people. The die is cast. Trump should not be overly political, but he should keep a list of every bonehead decision made, by both Democrat and Republican officials. How could Governor Doug Ducey allow the Arizona Renaissance Festival to go on? Why did NYC Mayor Bill DeBalsio wait until day X to close the bars? Don’t make a big deal of those things now. Stay above the fray. Offer to help. Invoke federalism. Insist that you should not be making decisions for every school district in America.

April: Disaster strikes. This is now inevitable, no matter what Trump (or anyone else) does. Math plays no favorites. When things appear at their worst, have a televised address. (With no other speeches before this. Indeed, avoid the cameras for the two weeks prior.)

My fellow Americas. The wolf is at the door. Our mothers and fathers are dying in the hallways of our great hospitals. Our doctors and nurses are fighting the tide of death each day and night. Their bravery is that of our greatest battlefield heroes. Never, in our 200 years as a Nation, has the future looked so bleak.

This will be our finest hour.

I am taking personal command of the fight against COVID-19. The buck stops with me. I will, with your help, either conquer this threat or resign the Presidency.

Today I am ordering the closing of all US borders. We can no longer allow even a single infected person into our country. The borders will stay closed until we can be certain that only healthy people are allowed in.

And so on. Many more things will be done, of course. Wuhan and South Korea show how COVID-19 can be contained. We should follow their playbook. Test everyone all the time. Isolate the ill. Confine people to their homes. Federalize the National Guard. Recall our troops from Japan, South Korea and Germany. And so on.

Yet the border closing is the key political maneuver. It is consistent with Trump’s message. Only he would even consider it. Joe Biden is on record against it and will probably object when it happens. Make the election of 2020 all about whether a US president has the right to close the border — and about whether doing so was justified in the case of a global pandemic — and Trump wins.

May: Things get better on the health front, not least because the initial set of social distancing directives in March had a significant effect and because hospitals are ramping up their capacity and skills. Indeed, the reason for giving the speech in April is that, again because of math, you can be mostly certain that things will look better in May. But the economy is still frozen. How to fix that in a world where people can’t go out? UBI will probably be popular. Perhaps incentives to companies to maintain their current payrolls. But those are just delaying actions while the virus is brought under control.

June: Another televised address, either one to three months after the first one.

My fellow Americans. We are winning the war against COVID-19. The bravery of our doctors and nurses, the ingenuity of our scientists, the dedication of our public servants, the individual contributions of every citizen in every neighborhood have swung the battle in our favor. We are at the beginning of the end.

Today, I am declaring July 4th to be the re-opening of America for business. You will be able to leave your house, go out for a meal, take the family on a vacation. Life can start to return to normal.

Does this timing make sense? I don’t know. Yet regardless of the timeline, the key trick is for Trump to provide a focal point, a specific date, given a few months in advance, at which things can return to normal. The hardest part of coming out a recession is the coordination it requires. I won’t go out to eat if none of the restaurants are open. You won’t open your restaurant if no one is going out to eat. If the whole country knows that on, say, September 1, we are back in business, then all the restaurants and bars and hotels and amusement parts will open and all of us will go to them. It will be a giant national party.

Whether the “re-opening” — and we need a better phrase — happens in July or in September does not really matter. The key is that Trump gets to declare victory, in a clear fashion, to claim credit for a battle won, to cite some of the (un)popular decisions he made in leading the country. The economy will do nothing but zoom forward, from that day until the election. Trump wins in a walk.

Quibbles:
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Close Williams

timber_wolfEphBlog’s advice: Close Williams today.

1) There is no better time to close Williams than a week before Spring Break. Pull a Harvard! Tell students they have to pack up and leave. (Allow some flexibility for low-income/international students.) Treat it like the end of the semester. Empty the dorms. Cancel all sports. Go online.

2) The people who run places like Harvard and Yale (and even Amherst!) are smart and serious. If they are closing — and closing Harvard is much harder logistically than closing Williams — then we need a really good reason not to close.

3) What about graduation? Graduation has already been cancelled! You just don’t know it yet. The Governor of Massachusetts will, within weeks (if not days!), ban any gathering over 1,000 people. And then he will ban gatherings over 100. And then he will institute a quarantine with the National Guard patrolling the streets. That is how bad this is going to get. Whatever else the next few months will bring, Williams will not be seating 500 graduating seniors together on June 7.

4) Might this be an overreaction? Maybe! (EphBlog does occasionally overreact to global events.) South Korea seems to have bought things under control. The warmer weather may help. But overreaction in an attempt to fight a global pandemic is no vice. If things look much better in two months, you can invite the seniors back to spend three weeks on campus prior to graduation. What a party that would be!

Good luck to all!

UPDATE: EphBlog gets results!

Williams College will end in-person classes on Friday, March 13, and dismiss students for spring break on Saturday, March 14, a week earlier than planned. We will be moving to remote learning beginning on Monday, April 6.

This seems a touch panicky to me. There are, presumably, a number of in-person exams which were scheduled for next week. How easy for is it for students to move already-bought plane tickets up a week? Then again, closing is the right call and reasonable people can disagree on the timing. Maybe the goal is to move out 80% of the campus by this Saturday, including the 50% (?) who drive, and then have a week to deal with the laggards.

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Amherst Closing Thursday

Amherst is closing on Thursday. Who knows when it will re-open . . .

Dear students, faculty, staff, and families,

The COVID-19 virus continues to spread and affect many parts of the U.S. and the rest of the world. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has announced that we are past the point of being able to contain this disease. While there continue to be no reported cases of the virus on our campus, we need to focus on mitigating its possible effects.

We know that many people will travel widely during spring break, no matter how hard we try to discourage it. The risk of having hundreds of people return from their travels to the campus is too great. The best time to act in ways that slow the spread of the virus is now. Let me make our decisions clear and then provide additional information:

Amherst will move to remote learning after spring break, beginning Monday, March 23, so students can complete work off campus.

Classes are cancelled on Thursday and Friday of this week, March 12-13, so faculty and staff have time to work on alternate modes of delivering courses, and students have every opportunity to secure transportation.

All students are expected to have left campus by Monday, March 16. Only those students who have successfully petitioned and have remained in residence over spring break will be allowed to stay on campus to do their remote learning.

Campus will remain open and all faculty and staff should continue their regular work schedules.

0) Amherst is closing! Our work at EphBlog is done!

1) Wuhan Flu is the greatest crisis (90% certainty) of my lifetime. So, I will try to make fewer jokes. This is all going to be much less funny in April when sick old people are being turned away from Berkshire Medical Center and left to die at home.

2) If I were Maud, I would be sorely tempted to do the same. One argument against is that Williams is a much more isolated location and so, perhaps, less likely to be hit as quickly as Amherst/Northampton/Holyoke. But that is far from certain. And, moreover, Spring Break is the most obvious time to do this.

3) Although the message above is not overly clear, I believe that this is as extreme as it sounds. Amherst is sending students home, not just early or for a few weeks. It is sending them home for the rest of the semester. There will be no classes at Amherst until September, at the earliest.

4) Does this mean that Amherst will be forfeiting the rest of its athletic contests? Presumably so. It would be beyond weird if sports teams could petition to stay on campus while non-athletes were sent home. No Directors Cup for Amherst this year!

5) Will students receive refunds on, at least, room-and-board charges?

6) How tough will Amherst be with the “petition” process? It might allow hundreds of students to stay. It might allow only a score. I assume it will be very tough.

7) If things are bad enough, in Biddy Martin’s view, that Amherst should close now, what are the odds that things will be better enough to open in the fall? Many of the experts I read think that things might be worse next October than they are now.

What do you predict Williams will do? What do you think Williams should do?

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Coronavirus Email Updates & New Website

Update on coronavirus measures – Week of March 4th

Dear Williams students, faculty and staff,

Following is this week’s email on COVID-19. Because the situation is changing constantly, we’re going to launch a college website where you can find updates and additional information at any time. Look for an announcement once the site goes live later this week.

The first thing we want you to know is that the college’s academic mission and your health and safety are our top priorities. If decisions need to be made or actions taken, we’re going to do so with those concerns foremost in mind. A leadership team is conferring daily to review emerging developments and promptly make any necessary decisions.

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Coronavirus and Williams

As the Record points out in a slew of articles, two groups of students are being hit particularly hard by COVID-19: international students, and students studying abroad.

From “International students feel impacts of coronavirus travel restrictions”:

Many international students have changed or cancelled their plans to travel home during spring break. “I have already had to cancel my trip home to Dubai, but now I am unsure of whether traveling even within the U.S., like to California for example, is worth the risk either,” Simran Sohal ’20 said. “It’s hard to distinguish between paranoid and prepared.”

KJ Kogawa ’23, whose family lives in Shanghai and who also has Japanese citizenship, agreed. “It’s affected a lot of my plans,” he said. “I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m abroad and just being told, ‘you can’t fly back’…there’s a chance that I might just stay here, which is okay… Because I’m definitely not going home… And I don’t know if I’m even going to go back during the summer.”

There’s the obvious concern for students from those countries that have been hardest hit by the epidemic, who can’t even consider going home for spring break to see their family and are worried about whether their families will be able to visit them; the CDC has so far suspended entry of Chinese and Iranian citizens foreign nationals to the US, and has travel health notices for the majorly-hit countries. This worry about travel is on top of what must be fairly constant worry for their families in those countries.

But, as the article points out, there’s also a more general concern even for international students not directly from those countries; they’re stuck wondering if, by the time spring break rolls around–or even, as someone quoted mentions, by the time commencement rolls around–if flying anywhere means getting stuck in that country, being denied re-entry, or other such complications.

Meanwhile, juniors who are studying abroad in those countries affected by coronavirus probably aren’t having the phenomenal semester they were hoping for, either.

The Record highlights Italian study abroad programs that have been cancelled and directly affecting students; I don’t know how to tell if this is because Italy is somehow the only country in which junior Ephs are currently studying abroad, or if the Record just for some reason chose not to cover what’s going on with study abroad students in the other affected countries. In any case, in their article on Italian study abroad cancellations:

Ten students enrolled in study abroad programs in Italy are facing uncertainty about the rest of their semester due to the country’s coronavirus outbreak and subsequent program cancellations. Many students have already left Italy and will finish the semester through online classes. …

Students whose programs are suspended will not be allowed to return to the College at this point in the term, according to Chief Communications Officer Jim Reische. …

All of the students’ programs will be offering online classes, through which students can finish the semester. In a break from its standard policy, the College will grant these students credit for courses completed virtually, according to Christina Stoiciu, the College’s director of study away. The College will also provide support for students who will need to make up for course deficiencies over the summer, said Vice President for Campus Life Steve Klass.

That must be a pretty big letdown: to go from, say, studying classics in Rome to apparently having the entire program suspended, so that you’re sent home and left to take classes online, going from maybe one of those Williams students’ best educational experiences to probably one of the worst.

The article implies that, while other colleges are requiring that their students who are studying abroad return home, Williams hasn’t made any such demand of its students; instead, students are coming home because the programs they’re in are being outright cancelled.

It’s unfortunate, but makes sense, of course, that Williams can’t let them back on campus, but boy, must it be a bummer for those students. Next semester, though, they will be back on campus–and if coronavirus continues to preclude study abroad, then Williams will have a pretty big housing problem on its hands when those students who would have studied abroad are suddenly all on campus.

From the Record, the College is apparently thinking about contingencies for housing issues brought about by COVID-19:

If more juniors than usual are on campus because of disruptions to study away, students would be housed according to what Schiazza called a “stepped approach.”

First, students would fill all the beds in regular housing, typically by picking into “dingles” — doubles being used as singles — and thereby turning them back into doubles. Second, rooms that Schiazza termed “double-singles,” formerly known as flex rooms for their ability to function as either doubles or singles, would be converted into doubles.

If all the dingles and double-singles were to be used as doubles, and there were still not enough room for every student — a situation Schiazza called “not likely, but still possible” in his all-campus email — doubles of at least 230 square feet would be made to accommodate a third student. These larger doubles are called “triple-doubles.”

Fun stuff.

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