Currently browsing posts filed under "Faculty"

Follow this category via RSS

Next Page →

K.C. Johnson on WIFI

K.C. Johnson, a former Williams professor, has written a detailed description of the WIFI saga for The Tablet.

Separate and Unequal for Jewish Groups on Campus

He pulls the whole matter together including the chronology. He hits many of the salient points that caught my attention including a truly bizarre Williams Record article, signed by 11 anti-WIFI activists, saying “The state of Israel does not need a student group defending its ‘right to exist’ on this campus any more than we need to ‘defend’ the rights of wealthy, straight white men.” What?!

K.C. moves the narrative forward when he dissects some of the key arguments made before the College Council. He writes,

Though constricting the spectrum of acceptable positions on Israel would seem to undermine principles of free speech, a WIFI critic explained otherwise. “It’s really important,” he reasoned, “for us all to take a moment to just think about what ‘free speech’ and ‘democracy’ actually means.” Two sides should present “clashing free ideas,” after which the council should “vote in what we think are the best ideas and for us to vote out what we think are ideas we think are worthy of being discarded.” Defining free speech as tyranny of the majority is a mainstream view on too many contemporary campuses.

K.C. Johnson expresses gratitude for the way Maud eventually went all out to protect and fully fund WIFI. Nevertheless, he sees this as a national-level conflict which will continue to worry us.

Facebooktwitter

Lewis on Wouk

Herman Wouk, 103, died last week. He was the author of The Caine Mutiny and Winds of War. Prof. Michael Lewis reminds us that Wouk was  “America’s only prominent Orthodox Jewish novelist.” It is worth rereading Lewis’s wonderful Commentary essay on Wouk.

How This Magazine Wronged Herman Wouk

 

Facebooktwitter

Strategic Planning: May 2019 update

Latest message:

Date: Mon, 13 May 2019 13:59:39 -0400
From: President Maud S. Mandel
Reply-To: communications@williams.edu
To: WILLIAMS-ALL@listserv.williams.edu
Subject: Strategic Planning: May 2019 update

To the Williams community,

Following is my final update on strategic planning for academic year 2018–19. While many on campus are turning attention to finals, papers and summer plans, our work to envision Williams’ future continues in parallel.

Here are a few highlights from this semester:

* We’ve finished recruiting faculty, students and staff for our eight working groups (many of the faculty and staff are also alumni). You can find an alphabetical list on the Strategic Planning landing page, with individual group rosters on the eight Working Group subpages. As you may recall, unlike other committees that make decisions on behalf of their constituents, these groups are expected to create opportunities where anyone in the community can contribute their ideas, and then convey this input back to the Coordinating Committee. Look for details on such opportunities next fall.

* The Working Group pages now also include drafts of the eight group charges. We welcome your feedback on the drafts via our online comment form.

* We’ll hold an open forum for all staff members and anyone else who’s on campus and wishes to attend at 4 p.m. on May 22, in Paresky Auditorium. Faculty will focus on Strategic Planning at the all-faculty retreat on May 21. And we’ll make sure there are plenty of opportunities for students when everyone returns in the fall.

* Alumni will soon receive an invitation from the Alumni Relations office to hear from me about the project and ask questions via an alumni phonecast I’ll be hosting on Thursday, June 13.

* Finally, any member of our community is invited to share feedback with the Coordinating Committee via our online comment form at any time. We’ve received some great suggestions and questions already, and look forward to more.

Thanks for keeping up with the project, especially in the midst of a very busy time. It’s always the case that some people will want to get more involved than others. But our success depends on broad awareness and interest: Even reading these updates makes a difference.

At Commencement in a few weeks, I’ll wish our graduating seniors and Master’s candidates a great start on their future. I’m equally grateful for the chance to work with you all on Strategic Planning and a promising future for Williams.

Sincerely,

Maud

Analysis later.

Facebooktwitter

Requesting evidence is violence

The Record’s final edition for the year came out on Wednesday, featuring several opinions. A couple of them appeared to respond to Professor Luana Maroja’s recent op-ed, “Refuting claims of institutional violence: Analyzing evidence of racism at the College.” Professor Maroja has historically been an advocate for free speech at the college, and her article’s thesis was simple: There is not sufficient evidence for claims of institutional racism at the college.

Two opinions this week sought to provide an argument for structural racism at the college. Professor of geoscience Phoebe Cohen wrote the more compelling of these, at least trying to provide evidence for racism. She begins her article with the following:

I am white. I am racist. I am not proud of this fact, but I have accepted it. Acknowledging that I am racist helps me to become, I hope, less so. I catch my instinctive thoughts and ask them why they are there. Why am I feeling annoyed, fearful, dismissive in this moment? When someone in my community at Williams tells me they feel unsafe, and my first instinct is skepticism, I know that it is a fallacy to say that I’m skeptical because of my training as a scientist. Instead, it is because I don’t want to believe that my colleagues are racist, sexist, transphobic. Not believing it doesn’t make it true. I am a white person raised in a racist, white supremacist country. Every day I have to make a conscious decision to fight against that and to challenge my own thoughts and biases. 

Truthfully, I would expect more out of a scientist. Skepticism is never a fallacy; it should be the instinctive response to any claim. What is a fallacy, however, is blindly accepting anecdotal evidence as statistically significant.

Professor Cohen spends a large part of her article describing racist events outside of Williams and employing definitions of racism, white supremacy, transphobia, etc. that are strictly unscientific (if they cannot be refuted and their validity is contingent upon diagnosing their opponent, they are scientifically meaningless). She finally hits a note, however, in her discussion of microagressions:

As a scientist, I love to go to the literature. I pull up Google Scholar and what I find confirms what I am telling you. People are racist and full of biases. And while it may be true that people don’t often get punched in the face on our campus, that does not mean that violence does not occur. What happens more often are the much maligned “microaggressions.” The thing is, even if you don’t want microaggressions to matter, they do. The research backs this up, but so do the experiences of our own friends and colleagues.

However, this point is mostly trivial. Of course microagressions and implicit bias exist; nobody is denying this fact. Tribalism is unfortunately a very instinctive trait among humans. However, it is important to remember that this bias exists among all groups. In fact, I would argue that whereas there is only implicit bias toward minority groups on campus, there is very explicit bias toward majority groups; people are not afraid to say they hate or do not trust white men. All individuals should seek to be aware of our biases. However, implicit biases and microagressions are a far cry from the much more alarming claim of “structural violence,” which merits stronger evidence.

While I disagree with Cohen’s article, I thought it was at least a thoughtful contribution to the discussion. Students were not so thoughtful. The op-ed titled “Bearing witness to aggression against faculty of color: Calling for accountability from the College for structural racism” features a number of bizarre claims. I won’t recreate them in full here. However, we need to draw attention to one sentence in particular:

The constant request for more evidence of racism is also violence because it invalidates the ways in which racism harms our mental health and our bodies.

This is the absolute worst response possible to the debate, but, unfortunately, is the crux of most of the arguments of the Social Justice Warriors. No matter how true your claim is, dogma is bad. These students could have discovered a unified theory of science, and this dogma would still be terrible. In what world is it good journalism to equate basic scientific inquiry to violence?

The lack of ideological diversity is already a problem at institutions like Williams, but nothing fatal. An attack on scientific methodology and healthy discourse, however, is a much more dangerous development. Consider that, additionally, students on campus have been calling for Professor Maroja’s op-ed to be taken down because it is disrespectful to minority communities. A plea for free speech is now ironically being attacked by suppression of free speech. Of course, the college will not dignify this suppression of speech (Mandel’s recent WIFI statement proved that she is not a pawn of these activists). But it remains unsettling that a growing number of students are adopting this philosophy and dogma is now the social norm.

Facebooktwitter

Crafty Students

Professor Darel Paul tweets “Some crafty students hung this banner outside my office building overnight. Can anyone in the Twitterverse make heads or tails of this? Greek maybe?”

Perhaps our readers can help . . .

Facebooktwitter

Good News? Mandel Opposes Personal Attacks

I had a chance to review Maud’s response to CARE Now. I didn’t notice much that was new or unusual in it. As best I can tell, she is trying to quell the protesters by dumping tons of disorganized facts on them regarding every little thing the school does, substantively or symbolically, to meet their professed demands.

The good news, I suppose, is she won’t be handing the school and its vast resources over to what’s left of the Mohican Nation.

One of the themes that did catch my attention was her willingness to rebuke those who wage vicious personal attacks on their political opponents. I have no doubt she followed up on this theme in reaction to the substantial visibility of the anti-white bigotry displayed by CARE Now leaders at the April 9, 2019 College Council meeting.

As to the issue of engagement across difference, this has also been a year in which people tried to make their views known to each other on a range of complex issues, from free speech to racism to geopolitics. Such debates are always happening at schools like Williams, and should happen: it’s one of the hallmarks of the liberal arts that we’re constantly exploring and testing new ideas and relating them to what we see in the world. But changes in our political environment are making it feel like the stakes for such debates are now especially high. It’s clear that we need to do more to teach and uphold principles for such engagements, so that people can debate issues vigorously without devolving into personal attacks.

As far as I know, this is her first presidential message which comes out against personal attacks. Her comments go so far as to assert that unless this changes the school will be in great trouble. This, I take it, means Williams College will become another Evergreen State University. She writes:

I believe deeply in the importance of process and consensus-building in a campus community. To reach our shared goals, we must exchange ideas, agree and disagree, and come to a common understanding of how to move the institution forward, one step at a time. I’m committed to this effort and hope that the many members of our community will join me in articulating and living these principles.

With such principles in place for a robust, respectful and inclusive intellectual community, Williams will thrive. Without them, we’re unlikely to progress on any other work, no matter how important.

She has a point. I don’t see how you can operate a modern college if you allow it to be the scene of nearly constant, unabated, anti-white bigotry.

Nevertheless, Maud does come to the defense of the student activists on the topic of affinity housing. Conservative media outlets have pointed out that the demand for black affinity housing is basically a request for segregation. It is a demand, I assume, that would not be considered if white students asked for white only housing. She adds:

We do want to pause and recognize that, at the time of writing, some students involved in the affinity housing and other efforts are being subjected to unduly harsh media and social media attention that misrepresents affinity housing as “segregation.”

In this instance, I believe she is referring, primarily to criticism of the idea of affinity housing offered by conservative news outlets including Breitbart and The College Fix.

As she mentions above, the issues being addressed on campus are heightened because the stakes are higher now. One of the changes in our political environment that is making the stakes higher is conservative students on campus now have outlets like Breitbart, The College Fix, and Campus Watch which they can rely on to bring national attention to the way conservative students and faculty are facing discrimination and suppression at places like Williams College.

Full text below the break:
Read more

Facebooktwitter

Prof. Maroja: Intimidation Works

The College Fix has a new article up regarding the comments of Williams College biology professor Luana Maroja regarding the suppression of free speech at Williams College.

This is a form of intimidation meant to shut down debate. Further, we are told to “accept grievances from professors of color without question.”

As a scientist, I have learned not to accept assertions without evidence. But this intimidation method seems to have worked: Few dissenters want to risk opprobrium from aggrieved students.

I think the article is worth reading in full. It shows the frustrations of a liberal professor who is facing down the same sort of mob mentality which tore apart Evergreen State College.

Facebooktwitter

Tolerate their Membership?

New Eph Parent? says:

As a parent whose child will decide this week whether to accept Williams’ offer of admission, I’d like to be encouraged by this letter, but President Mandel’s appeal to mutual respect seems like an attempt to turn back the clock. Respect is appropriate when people of good will have differences of opinion; that’s the old liberal model that those of us in Maud’s generation grew up with. But what is its place when power, oppression and “discursive violence” are at stake? If someone’s views are oppressing or harming me, why should I extend them respect? Why should I even tolerate their membership in the community?

If discourse is understood as a communal journey toward the truth, it can be respectful. If it is understood as a struggle for power it will be “intolerant and harsh.” The tone this letter laments follows naturally from what is being taught in the classroom.

Good questions!

I hope that your child chooses Williams and that you join us as an author at EphBlog!

Facebooktwitter

Listening at the Great Awokening

The great Darel E. Paul, professor of political science, published a well-researched and thoughtfully organized article at Areo on how the new identity politics has taken hold at schools across the nation. He connects the dots which show how identity politics has become a staple at schools as different as Williams, Sarah Lawrence, Evergreen State College and Yale.

Listening at the Great Awokening

Colleges and universities across the English-speaking world are caught up in the enthusiasm of a Great Awokening. Its dogmas are structural violence, systemic racism, racial stress, white privilege, white fragility, implicit bias and microaggressions. From the University of Missouri to Evergreen State College to Sarah Lawrence College and beyond, faculty and students are ablaze with the fire of social justice.

In Paul’s view, liberal arts colleges are particularly likely to get wrapped up in the dogma of critical race theory because they lack – by definition – traditional STEM programs like business, medicine, engineering and agriculture. He reports that predictably “…this spring the Great Awokening finally came to my home institution, Williams College.” Unfortunately for Williams, Paul writes that the school seems unpleasantly close to being another Evergreen State College.

Administrators and other campus leaders have encouraged white members of the college community like myself to listen. Over the past two months, I have striven to do exactly that. In fact, I’ve done quite a lot of listening (and reading). I have spent dozens of hours listening at meetings and reading copious documents produced by activist students and faculty. I have also watched videos and read documents resulting from the racial blowups at Yale University in 2015, Evergreen State College in 2017 and Sarah Lawrence College in 2019. Listening to these views from multiple campuses helped me realize that what seems to be a local discourse responding to local issues is actually a local manifestation of an international social, political and ideological phenomenon. All the accents and cadences of critical race theory can be identified. Williams, Sarah Lawrence, Evergreen and Yale could really be Any Residential College in Any Town.

Paul notes that the folks promoting critical race theory are ultimately leading us into a Soviet Union style educational system where truth matters very little. All that matters is whether research and teaching supports the dominant ideology.

Just as critical race theory can destroy knowledge, it can likewise destroy institutions premised upon the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge. Thanks in large part to the influence of critical race theory, Evergreen State College melted down in Spring 2017. The concrete results of that meltdown included numerous faculty resignations, a catastrophic collapse in enrollments, layoffs, budget cuts and worldwide humiliation. Every institution of higher education should learn the lessons of Evergreen, for history is wont to repeat itself―the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

Areo is an opinion and analysis digital magazine focused on current affairs — in particular: humanism, culture, politics, human rights, science, and free expression.

Facebooktwitter

A Large Animal Moves Slowly

This is some of Zach Wood’s ’18 best writing:

“Confidence is the memory of performance,” he told me. I didn’t realize it then, but this pithy observation was just another of many memorable aphorisms from George E. Marcus.

We were hanging out in Professor Marcus’ den, arguing over Kobe Bryant’s rightful place in NBA history and watching playoff basketball. His was a man cave populated with hardcovers, mineral specimens, and substantial artifacts acquired from foreign travel with his wife. I had recently received galleys of the manuscript for my first book, “Uncensored,” a memoir about my life and naturally Professor Marcus was among the first people with whom I shared a copy.

Per usual, he finished it a few days later and sent me an attentive email that reminded me of how lucky I am to have him in my corner. This was the second time we’d had an opportunity to chat about “Uncensored” and knowing some of my concerns, Professor Marcus told me about his time at Columbia University, rowing as an undergraduate. He explained what being an oarsman meant to him as a young man — how the rigors of sport fostered fraternity, spurred strain against physical reach, in turn, bolstering self-confidence. “Confidence,” he said, “is neither fixed nor immune to changing circumstances.”

Indeed. Any readers with George Marcus stories? EphBlog has always been a fan.

“Every opportunity can be used to exercise a particular muscle.” He reclined on the backrest of his sofa, fingers interlaced behind his head, ankles crossed over the coffee table — as I digested the subtler implications of what he said.

I first met Professor Marcus, professor of Political Science, Emeritus, at Williams College, during the fall of my sophomore year. I was the only student that semester who signed up for his tutorial, “The Holocaust: Challenges of Knowing.” Rather than canceling his course and dismissing my interest, he welcomed me. He proposed that each week we write and present papers to each other. One of us would write a five to seven-page paper, the other a two-page critique. Once a week we would meet in his office to read our papers aloud, take our gloves off and swing with abandon. The following week we would alternate.

How many Williams professors would do that? Have many have? Tell us about them! They deserve all the praise we have to offer.

I had never had so much fun in my intellectual life. Surgical and concentrated in print; Professor Marcus argued energetically and good-naturedly in person. He gloried in playing devil’s advocate as much as I did, and he was singular in his ability to capsulize complex ideas and distill them using real-world examples. I remember once asking him if there was an upshot of the territoriality theories in environmental psychology and he gave the example of seating behavior in a typical classroom. “You see people voluntarily sit in the same seat every day and people begin to notice and tacitly accept the arrangement,” he remarked. “It’s a way of trying to regulate and control our relationships with other people in shared spaces.” Possession and predictability usually comfort us, so we seek them, he said.

Intellectually, however, Professor Marcus enthusiastically sought discomfort. He encouraged me to look at the data, to be suspicious, and qualify my interpretations of reality. He taught me that while evidence matters, many theories are underdetermined, so our conclusions should be framed as tentative, provisional, measured and context-dependent. Though not infrequently, Professor Marcus harbored zero misgivings about entertaining extraordinary leaps of the imagination, so long as they were subject to debate. After all, he still believes Bill Russell is the greatest basketball player of all-time. Not to worry: I’ll persuade him eventually.

When we finished watching the Celtics (his favorite team) beat the Cavaliers, we made our way to the kitchen for dinner where his wife, Lois, enriched our conversation with humorous insight. The three of us discussed culture and politics over white wine and delicious fish with mixed vegetables before devouring some of the finest chocolate chip cookies I’ve tasted. Soon enough, I gathered that while I had learned much from Professor Marcus, I could learn even more from his wife. Two hours later, it was almost 10:30 p.m. and we seemed to grudgingly concede that sleep should count for something.

Williams should care much less about research productivity in its faculty hiring and promotion, and much more about a willingness to engage with undergraduates.

On my way back to my dorm, I thought to myself: those eight hours spent with the Marcuses in their beautiful home had to have been among the most meaningful of my experiences at Williams. As I make my way through life after college, I think often of my teacher, mentor, and friend. In class, his command of material was keen and ruthlessly composed; his nonverbals even and deliberate, but impactful — the way a large animal moves slowly. I hope that beyond his weighty contribution to political science, George Marcus will be remembered for the difference he made in the lives of his students.

Exactly right. As long as a single student remembers me, I will never die.

Facebooktwitter

How Faculty Can Change Williams

How can faculty — even one professor — create significant change at Williams? Most of this advice applies to any topic, but, for concreteness, let’s assume a professor who is concerned about the decline of faculty governance at Williams and the rise of administrator numbers/power/salaries.

First, educate yourself on the topic. The Provost’s Office produced this wonderful report (pdf) on college staffing. Read it more than once. See EphBlog’s 9 (!) part series of faculty governance: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Talk to some retired faculty members (e.g., Frank Oakley) about how the College used to be run. If you want to change policy about topic X, then you need to be as well-informed about X as anyone at Williams.

One tidbit on the history of faculty governance: Just 25 years ago, there were two assistant provosts, both members of the faculty. They assisted the provost in all her duties. (One of those assistants was Morty Schapiro!) There is no reason why the faculty could not be much more powerful than they are, no reason why Williams could not revert back to arrangements of that era.

Second, schedule an appointment with Maud Mandel. She is still (I hope!) eager to chat with faculty. The goal for this meeting is not to harangue her with your views. Instead, find out what she thinks! Is she concerned with the growth of administrative power? Did she witness similar trends at Brown? What does she think the correct ratio is of faculty to administrator hiring? And so on. At some point, ask her: “Interesting point, Maud! Would you mind if I followed up with Dukes Love and his folks in the Provost’s Office to gather more information?” She will probably encourage you to do so. And getting that permission/encourage was your goal from this meeting.

Third, meet with Dukes Love or Chris Winters ’95 or someone else in the Provost’s Office, ideally whoever was the lead person on the Staffing Report. Again, your goal is not to bore them with your views. Be realistic! They don’t really care what you think. You are just one of the 250+ faculty members they have to deal with. Instead, your goal is to get access to their data on staffing, or at least as much of it as they will share. It is one thing to read their report. It is another to have a copy of their Excel spreadsheets, to be able to work with the raw data that they work with. The rules are such that they can’t share with you the salaries of individuals, obviously, but they can share anything else. And since you seem so reasonable — and since Maud Mandel encouraged your efforts, as you casually mentioned to them — they might be quite accommodating. Data is power and, the more you have, the more likely to are to accomplish something.

Four, write a 5 page report, expressing your concerns. Your goal is not to bombard readers with your views, much less with your proposed solutions. Instead, you are highlighting key facts. Of the 20 highest paid people at Williams, 18 used to be faculty, now only 10 are. The ratio of spending on faculty versus administrator salaries used to be 5:1 now it is only 2:1. There used to be 7 faculty for every administrator, and now there are only 3. Much of this information is already in the staffing report, but much is not. (And the staffing report pulls a few fast ones as well. Should I spend a week going through it?) The goal of the report is to highlight that things have changed dramatically in the last 20 years and that this topic merits further exploration.

Five, gather faculty support. Most faculty agree with you that the Administration has grown too big and too powerful. Show them your report. Get their feedback. Ask them if they would be willing to join you in working on this problem. Present the report to various committees, perhaps all the way up to a full faculty meeting. Key at this stage is to identify your core supporters, the 5 (10? 30?) faculty members who are willing to work hard on this topic, even if it means going against the College Administration.

Six, start thinking about goals. What, precisely, do you want to accomplish? What policy change would make Williams better off 10 or 50 years from now? This is not about an individual administrator or even a class of positions. My recommendation is that you want a non-faculty net-hiring pause of 10 years. You certainly don’t want anyone to be fired. Current Williams administrators are, overwhelmingly, good people, working hard to make the College better. You just want to bring Williams back “in balance,” to where it was 20 years ago. Since many people leave the College each year, the Administration would still have a great deal of flexibility in terms of shifting resources around. But, right now, Williams has 200 (?) administrators. That is enough. Other plausible policy changes include a (more draconian) hiring freeze which would, over time, decrease the administrative bloat at Williams, or a freeze on total spending on administrators.

Seven, lobby to create a committee. Major changes at Williams come via two mechanisms — presidential fiat (Falk’s alignment) or major committees (the end of fraternities, the decrease in admission preferences for athletes, neighborhood housing). You want President Mandel to form a committee — preferably faculty only, but maybe to also include students and alumni — charged with examining administration growth at Williams. You would not presume to demand that this committee come to a specific conclusion. Instead, your only point is that there are few more important issues to Williams over the next 100 years than the role of faculty in college governance. Therefore, we need a committee to examine this topic.

Eight, keep Mandel/Love/Buell informed as you proceed. Perhaps one or more of them might be an ally! You never know. At the very least, keeping them informed is probably politically wise since only they can create the committee. You just want to maneuver them into situation in which, from their point of view, giving you your committee is the best option.

That is enough for today! More advice available, as requested.

Facebooktwitter

Williams Reads One Idea

Professor Nate Kornell tweeted a link to this article:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highly recommended.

Facebooktwitter

K. C. Johnson on How to Fight BDS

I saw an excellent article in the Tablet today from one of my favorite former Williams professors, K.C. Johnson, on the successes enjoyed by those fighting against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. In particular, he applauds the presidents of Pitzer, Cornell and the University of Michigan for standing up to the BDS movement.

Nevertheless, Johnson thinks it is foolish to depend on college presidents to stamp out the BSD movement. Instead, he recommends more aggressive actions by faculty and students. Among faculty, he notes:

On the faculty side, after several minor academic organizations had adopted resolutions committing support to BDS, the American Historical Association seemed poised to follow suit. But the Alliance for Academic Freedom, an organization championed by high-profile professors such as Maryland’s Jeffrey Herf and David Greenberg of Rutgers, engaged the BDS advocates on a variety of grounds, and helped to persuade more moderate AHA members to decisively reject the BDS resolution. The 2016 vote blunted the momentum of BDS activists in targeting academic organizations.

Likewise, Johnson also sees great hope in encouraging students to show courage in combating the BDS movement on their own, potentially with the help of legal talent.

Earlier this week, meanwhile, San Francisco State University settled a lawsuit filed by two Jewish students who alleged religious discrimination in one of the nation’s most virulently anti-Israel campus environments. The university agreed to spend $200,000 on “educational efforts to promote viewpoint diversity (including but not limited to pro-Israel and Zionist viewpoints).” The school also released a statement reiterating “its commitment to equity and inclusion for all—including those who are Jewish,” and affirming “the values of free expression and diversity of viewpoints that are so critical on a university campus.

It is, of course, a great shame that K.C. Johnson saw his excellent research demeaned while he was a junior faculty member at Williams. According to a report he gave to an Ephblog correspondent, he bailed out rather than endure what looked like a fruitless, upcoming tenure battle. It warms my heart to see such a courageous fellow sticking it out in the academic world, promoting the freedom of speech standards which once made our elite institutions truly elite.

 

Facebooktwitter

Authenticity

From The Washington Post:

[T]hat hasn’t stopped senators and newly minted presidential candidates Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) — youngish politicos trying to appeal to even younger voters — from recently wading into the murky waters of cultural commentary, with similarly mixed results.

“Folks running for president in the digital age are controlled by memes and discourse that takes place online — it’s faster,” explains VaNatta Ford, an assistant professor of Africana studies at Williams College in Massachusetts. “They’re really trying to engage with millennials and Gen Z, and in order to do that they have to be hip to what’s happening.”

That’s how Harris and Booker (among other politicians) ended up becoming part of the Jussie Smollett saga. Smollett alleged that on Jan. 29 he was beaten in Chicago by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs. Both senators described the attack in the very same way on social media: “a modern-day lynching.” Apparently a noose was involved. But there’s just one problem: Smollett’s case has been unraveling, according to Chicago police, who say the hoax was somehow tied to the actor’s salary on the Fox drama “Empire.”

Was this a misstep for the presidential aspirants? Ford says no, in part because this was more serious — and more political — territory than your average viral story. “To get out in front of it when it happened, that’s one thing politicians should be doing, calling out racism,” says Ford. “When it comes to standing up for the black LGBT community, being fast is never a bad thing. You can never go wrong with that.”

Never?

“They’re doing what politicians always do. The difference is they’re both black, and they’re both a little bit younger,” says Ford, who researches African American rhetorical traditions and hip-hop.

While it might appear that Booker and Harris are doing something new by appearing on “urban” radio and rapidly engaging with the news of the day on Twitter — much like social media and millennial superstar Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — they are in fact following the same old playbook that has politicians eating ribs, sipping beer and heading to the county fair.

So there’s nothing wrong with the general idea of what Booker and Harris did — but the trick is to do it like a normal person and not someone’s imaginary hip best friend. Ford has some advice that every politician should heed. “One of the things they have to do a better job at is authenticity,” she says. Put another way: It’s best to leave the lingo to the millennials.

Nothing more authentic than EphBlog.

Facebooktwitter

Show Them The Money

My co-bloggers here at EphBlog, along with other Ephs of goodwill, often take issue with my complaints about the College’s gifts to charity. As many times as I ask, I have trouble finding anyone who will specify where $250,000 should be cut from the College budget to fund worthwhile programs at Mt. Greylock High School.

But perhaps I should turn the question around. Assume that the College has decided to spend an additional $250,000 this year (or even every year) on attracting and retaining the best college teachers in the country. How would I spend this money, if not on gifts to the local schools and hospital along with realestate development?

Call me crazy, but I would . . . Give the money to the very best teachers at Williams!

Show them the money. Would that really be so hard? Establish “Ephraim Williams Awards for Teaching Excellence.” Five would be given out every year, each consisting of a cash prize of $50,000. Winners would be selected by a committee dominated by students. The only restriction might be that the same person can’t win two years in a row. Nothing would prevent truly exceptional teachers from being recognized several times each decade.

Of course, there is a lot that could be done with these awards. Perhaps one of the awards should be reserved for excellence in advising senior theses and/or individual projects — thus ensuring that not just the best lecturers win. Perhaps 2 of the five awards could be determined by former students — ideally committees centered around events like the 10th and 25th year reunions. This would nicely bias things toward professors who make a career at Williams, thereby giving folks like Gary Jacobsohn and Tim Cook a(nother) reason to stay.

If you want great teachers to come to and stay at Williams, then giving them special prizes is almost certainly the most cost effective way of doing so.

Facebooktwitter

The Pillory of McPartland

Professor McPartland’s duties, as a philosophy, a teacher, and a mentor to students, have been jeopardized by the Hollander Hall backlash:

  • The man is deeply dedicated to the principle of free speech and equality. Opportunists on both sides of the political aisle will now attempt to connect his principles and actions either to a racist agenda or as a sacrifice done in support of the persecuted right. These are distortions of his real beliefs. Nevertheless, they will out into the campus and beyond, allowing others to hijack his beliefs.
  • Minority students who wish to work with him will hesitate to ever approach McPartland, now. He’ll be known as the ‘racist’ professor, and such a label is as damning as it is indelible. Yes, he is tenured, but this won’t prevent the jury of popular opinion from denigrating his reputation. If people won’t approach him, how can he properly teach?

The worst part of all this? This could happen to any other professor who happens to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong professional capacity. As a student who cares for that unique bond between professors and students formed by an education in Williams, I worry for the future where all are subject to the pillory.

Facebooktwitter

McPartland in the Crosshairs

Where will the madness end? Your guess is as good as mine. Our story so far:

0) Assistant Professors Kimberly Love and Kai Green ’07 write an essay for the feminist wire in November. It is hard to summarize. Selected quotes:

We write this piece as two untenured junior faculty. We are Black Queer Feminists, serious about our call to research, service, and teaching. We are not safe. And it is not because we do not have tenure that we are not safe. …

We navigate this academic career with integrity and a deep love for knowledge. We are tired of shrinking ourselves to be here! We are tired of holding our tongues out of politeness because our colleagues are not ready to ask certain questions and are not ready to accept certain answers:

Colleague: Can I touch your….?

Answer: NO!

What we have been doing to fit our bodies in these institutions is killing us and we WANT TO LIVE! And not even tenure is worth our Black joy.

1) Love and Green cancel their classes just prior to the start of the spring semester, leaving their students (and departments) in the lurch. Their reasons for doing so are opaque at best.

2) Students (only?) sympathetic to Love and Green create a display/memorial around their (unused?) offices in Hollander Hall.

3) Philosophy Professor Keith McPartland removed the material in his capacity as Chair of the Hollander/Schapiro Users Committee after consultation with Campus Security and a conversation with them about the fire code. (It is hard to believe that no one mentioned this to the Administration. McPartland, and the folks at security, are well-versed in the nonsense which passes for political discussion at Williams. Surely they anticipated a blow-back? Surely they sent an ass-covering e-mail to higher ups?)

4) President Mandel sends a somewhat bizarre e-mail about the removal. Mandel claims that, previously (meaning last week?), “after senior staff and I confirmed that the materials were not impeding movement through Hollander we had asked custodial, CSS and other staff not to disturb them.” Sure would be weird for Mandel to tell CSS not to touch anything and then, a week later, McPartland checks with CSS and they say, “Go ahead. Remove it.” But, then again, miscommunication is the curse of every bureaucracy . . .

5) Students (how?) discover McPartland’s role and decorate/vandalize his office. These photos (four more below the break) are from Thursday morning. Should McPartland be concerned about his future at Williams? What advice would you give him?

What does this mean? We need a scandal name! The saga of Love/Green will be with us for a while. Suggestions? Longtime readers will recall that EphBlog loves to name Williams controversies. Classic examples include: ¿Quién es más macho?, Nigaleian, Safety Dance, Prospect Must Die, Willy E. N-word, Catch Moore If You Can, The Taco Six, Mary Jane Hitler and Self-CARE Now.

“Love” and “Green” are good words to work with. How about “Love Green Black joy”? Suggestions welcome!

Four more photos below. I believe these are from the morning of Feb 14. Thanks to an anonymous reader for sharing them!
Read more

Facebooktwitter

Violent Practices

EphBlog has been telling you for months that Professors Kimberly Love and Kai Green ’07 are . . . uh . . . not the very model of modern major Williams faculty. The Record reports:

Two professors canceled their courses in the days leading up to the start of spring semester. In an email to students enrolled in her courses, Kimberly Love, assistant professor of English, cited “a refusal to continue business as usual” in the face of “the College’s violent practices” as the reason that she would not return to the College this semester. Kai Green ’07, assistant professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies (WGSS), is spending the semester on medical leave, writing in an email to the Record that the College is not a “safe place” for him.

Worth going through the (pathetic) details? Let me know!

Who is at fault for this nonsense? In order of culpability:

1) Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell, whose relentless focus on hiring (unqualified) applicants who check the right boxes has led us to this sorry state.

2) Former President Adam Falk, who aided and abetted Buell for almost his entire presidency.

3) The members of the English and WGS Departments, especially the ones who served on the search committees that selected Love and Green.

Entire article below the break:

Read more

Facebooktwitter

Four Letter Word, 14 Years Later

This post was originally written 14 years ago. More true today than ever?
—————————

What is the stupidest, most out of touch statement by a senior faculty member to be published in the Record in the last year? Good question! Given all the misrepresentations concerning anchor housing, the competition is a tough one. But I am going with this.

To bring discussion [on racial incidents] to a more public arena, Schapiro and Roseman are hosting an open forum in Griffin at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Roseman said she felt that WSO blogs are ultimately limited in lasting value, despite the good content they sometimes contain. “They’re not really a dialogue,” she said. “They always degenerate over time.”

Pathetic. Roseman was also reported to refer to “blog” as a “four letter word” — i.e., something that she thought was not just useless but positively harmful.

First, does Roseman even read the WSO blogs? In other interviews, she has claimed not to. How can she know that they are “not really a dialogue” if she doesn’t read them regularly? How does she know that they “always” degenerate? Now, she is under no obligation to read the blogs, but if she is ignorant on the topic she has no business being insulting.

Second, the WSO blogs have many, many examples of incredibly lucid and subtle dialogue. Consider Katherine Dieber ’07 on campus racism:

In my opinion, the crime is not fearing, but letting that fear dictate actions. I’m always questioning whether or not I’m subconsciously racist or afraid, and if that’s the deeper reason for the way I interact with people of different backgrounds. Here’s my confession: I question most my interactions with black people. I wonder if I should be taking bigger steps to blend white American culture with black American culture, and this sort of worry colors my interactions with black people (until/unless I get to know them fairly well). Frankly, I’m intimidated. Am I the privileged white kid that black kids see as their enemy, or at least opposite?

Or Nick Greer ’08 on the Odd Quad:

We’ve built our own culture, we built the kind of tightly-knit “cluster” that you want for yourself, but one that excludes you. We built a culture that accepts even the most socially awkward. First years that have already given up on their entry? They’re in Currier common room hanging with us. People like you Kati- I mean Jessica, you make up 80% of this campus so from your perspective clusters aren’t that bad. I mean you may share a bathroom with that frumpy girl who plays D&D but it’s not like she hangs out with you or anything. No, Friday nights when your cluster is having another OC party she’s in her room. Oh, you’re so nice, you’ll invite her to come? Well she’s not interested, she hates you remember. Not everyone on campus likes that sort of thing and when you assume everyone on campus is like you, you exclude the people who are not.

Or Diana Davis ’07 on athletics at Williams:

My childhood friend, who is a year younger than I, looked at Williams when she was considering her college choices. She plays the oboe and the piano, sings, dances, acts, and does all sorts of wonderful things, but she is not an athlete. On her tour, she and her dad report that her tour guide repeated three times the impressive statistic that Williams wins 77% of its games. She was turned off by this athletic focus, and nothing I said could get her to reconsider and apply to Williams. This is sad. Are we alienating many such prospective students? Look on the bright side — that leaves more spots for athletes!

Or Cassandra Montenegro ’06 on Queer Bash pornography.

i didn’t know what to expect going into my first queer bash, but it wasn’t that. i was in no way warned. i dressed up for (what i was told was) the semester’s best party and left feeling the victim. i was so confused as why someone would do that to me–with no concern for my feelings. i couldn’t ‘just look away’ if i didn’t like it, like my friends told me to do. it was more than that, it was the principle. why porn? why on a screen? why at a campus party?

If Roseman doesn’t think that this sort of writing — and the larger dialogues in which they are embedded on the blogs — is the heart and soul of what a Williams education should be, then she is an idiot. More importantly, dozens of similar examples are available for all to see.

Third, it’s not that similar dialogues don’t occur over Mission lunches and late night pizza, just as they did 30 years ago. There are few better parts of a Williams education than the talks/arguments you have with your fellow Ephs. But the blogs provide an extra dimension that we lacked back in the day. They give students a chance to think for a moment about what they want to say, to pause and reflect on the opinions of others. The blogs are not a substitute for other dialogue, they are a complement.

Fourth, any regular blog reader will tell you that the blogs have two big advantages over in-person dialogues. First, they often bring together Ephs who don’t know each other well, who don’t share a dorm or classroom together. Second, they provide a way for the rest of us to listen in, to learn from the conversations among our fellow Ephs.

Why is Roseman so blind to the benefits that the blogs bring to Williams? Tough to know, but I’ll freely speculate. I think that there is a certain kind of administrator who does not really trust the students, who thinks that any discussion on a controversial topic needs to be supervised and moderated. This sort of administrator likes campus forums and classroom discussions because some adult is in control, someone is running the show. For this sort of person, the blogs are anarchic, out of control, always degenerating, making more trouble. A real dialogue includes a teacher, a Socratic figure who guides the benighted students.

Blogs are messy. They aid the students in doing for themselves what the College is unable and, often, unwilling to do for them. They represent a loss of control for Hopkins Hall.

I don’t know if Roseman is this sort of administrator. Perhaps there is some other explanation for her ridiculous comments. But, regardless of the explanation, the messiness is here to stay. The Dean of the College today has much less control over conversation on campus than the Dean did 20 years ago. Nothing can stop that trend from continuing. Embrace the Blog, Dean Roseman. We are the future.
—————————

Fourteen years later, we have some updates.

1) Nancy Roseman, being an idiot, was an utter failure as Dickinson’s president. Where is she now?

2) Williams students are still discussing things, but those discussions are less open and inviting, more narrow and restricted.

A well-run school would urge WSO to bring back Discussions and make them readable by all.

Facebooktwitter

Vibrant Campus Community

Latest e-mail from President Mandel:

Williams students, faculty and staff,

Spring is here! Well, spring semester anyway, although you wouldn’t know it by the weather. Ever the optimist, though, I feel like I can see the (day)light at the end of the tunnel. If you’ve been away, welcome back. If you stayed here, I hope you had a great Winter Study.

The new semester will be as busy as ever, starting tomorrow with Claiming Williams. I’m excited for my first experience with this unique program, and the organizers have assembled a great schedule for the day. Please find a way to participate if you can, since the program embodies the values essential to building a healthy and vibrant campus community.

Meanwhile, work on strategic planning is coming along nicely: I’m happy to announce a new website where you can learn all about the effort. I want to start this process by inviting your feedback: if you have comments on our organizational structure and plan for moving forward, please submit them via the website by February 15. That’s when the coordinating committee will begin writing charges for each working group, and we want to be able to incorporate community input. Then, starting later in February, I’ll begin to provide monthly updates via campus email, EphNotes and the project website. These will include information about next steps and further opportunities to share your ideas.

I’m also pleased to announce that we’ve finalized the membership of our new Ad Hoc Committee, which will develop recommendations on how Williams can maximize our commitments to free expression and inclusion. The roster and charge are available on a new page of the Committees website, and also via the Strategic Initiatives menu of the president’s office website. Thank you to the faculty, students and staff who are making time to participate on the committee. This is an important project, and I look forward to working with them.

On another issue of national importance, Williams today submitted a letter to the U.S. Department of Education commenting on their proposed changes to the Title IX process. While we’re always looking for further ways to help prevent and respond to sexual harassment and discrimination, my letter explains how the Department’s proposed changes could actually impede our efforts.

On a happier note, the Teach It Forward campaign recently exceeded both our 85% engagement goal and $650 million fundraising goal. Beyond the numbers I’m proud of TIF’s impact, from funding the new science center to endowing the CLiA directorship to supporting a world-class faculty and expanding financial aid offerings—including our recent elimination of one summer’s earnings contribution for every student on financial aid. We hope the change will help all students explore learning and career opportunities when school isn’t in session. This and many other good things are made possible for us by Williams alumni and friends, so I hope you’ll join me in thanking them. And we’re aiming still higher in areas from financial aid to sustainability, so will make the most of the time remaining before the campaign ends this June.

All of this is just the beginning. I look forward to starting a new semester with you and to seeing you in the dining halls, on the athletic fields, in the classrooms and meeting spaces, and on Spring Street, as well as at Claiming Williams tomorrow.

Lots to unpack here! Alas, no time to do it!

Facebooktwitter

Ad Hoc Update, 5

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 5.

Once the committee presents its recommendations in May, I will share this information with the community, and we will organize next steps for when people return in the fall. It will be helpful if the report identifies the historical, philosophical and other considerations that influenced their recommendations. The report should also identify likely costs and benefits of any proposals.

Some people have looked at the current “free speech” debate in this country with dismay. I believe, in contrast, that this is an important step toward building the most vibrant educational community possible. I am deeply grateful to the committee members, and to Williams, for taking on this challenge.

How can Maud be “deeply grateful to the committee members” if she doesn’t yet know who they are?

1) Sure looks like a draft of this statement was written when Maud (and/or Jim Reische?) expected that the committee would have been named by now. If it had been, then thanking them would be the natural way of ending this statement. But the committee has not been named — presumably because of extensive infighting behind the scenes — leaving us with a mistimed expression of gratefulness.

2) Glad to see that Maud, the historian, wants the committee to dive into some history. Start with the time that Mark Hopkins banned Ralph Waldo Emerson from speaking at Williams.

3) But, again, note the incoherence of telling the committee to only provide her with “a set of speaker invitation guidelines” while, at the same time, encouraging them to provide “the historical, philosophical and other considerations that influenced their recommendations.” Just how complex is the history or philosophy associated with such guidelines?

If, however, Maud wrote this draft a few weeks ago — back when she expected this committee to have a large focus and when she expected to have the membership settled by the “end of the calendar year,” everything fits together . . .

except that Jim Reische should have raised these concerns before the e-mail went out . . . ;-)

I am excessively proud of my reasoning on this one, although not quite J’accuse proud. Feel free to disabuse me in the comments.

Facebooktwitter

Ad Hoc Update, 4

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 4.

Following are a few framing questions the committee might consider in this work:

  • What obligation do liberal arts colleges have for exposing students to new ideas and ways of thinking about the world?
  • What responsibility has Williams assumed (or should it) for helping students achieve equal footing from which to study, expound and challenge diverse ideas?
  • Given the wide range of content available on-line, including many speeches, what types of presentations (in both form and content) best support our educational mission?
  • What support, if any, should Williams give to campus members seeking to host, engage or debate speakers?
  • Are college guidelines related to campus activism toward speakers adequate?

Framing the debate is the first step to victory.

But note how these questions have little/nothing to do with the committee’s new charge to come up with “a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion.” The first two questions are too broad to be of use to a committee which is just working on invitation guidelines. Even the fifth question, which is obviously speaker-related, has nothing to do with invitations per se. A question like that is only relevant if the committee has a much broader mandate than, in fact, it has.

The whole effort is fairly schizophrenic, as if it were written with two different mindsets:

Mindset 1: This committee is a successor to Angevine in its importance. It will solve the problem of free speech/expression at Williams, perhaps via a Chicago-style approach.

Mindset 2: This committee is narrowly focused on the topic of speaker invitations. Other people/committees will handle the broader issues.

What could explain this discrepancy? (Maud and her staff are smart and excellent writers.)

My guess: The initial plan was to go the Angevine route, a committee which would solve the problem. The charge was draft during this period. Later, once it became clear that this was not going to work, the remit of the committee was drastically reduced, but no one went back to do a thorough edit of the entire draft.

Other explanations?

Facebooktwitter

Ad Hoc Update, 3

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 3.

Proposed Committee Charge

Williams, like other schools around the country, is debating how to uphold principles of open inquiry and free expression. The debate has focused on how to do so while not providing a platform for hate speech, racism, or other forces that are corrosive to a learning community. This issue was identified as a concern in Williams’ Fall 2017 accreditation self-study, which was shared with campus at the time:

“intellectual freedom… is defined broadly at Williams to include the unfettered exchange of diverse points of view, the dissemination of original scholarship, and respect for faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others who wish to share their opinions on how the college is governed. This “basket of rights” must sometimes be actively managed.” (pp. 103–4)

The conversation at Williams has recently focused on speaker invitations, as it has elsewhere around the country. I am charging an ad hoc committee with recommending to me, by May 2019, a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion.

The most important part of this update is right here. Mandel is restricting the work of the committee to “speaker invitation guidelines.” This is a dramatic change from her November vision:

I’ve decided to charge an ad hoc committee with exploring various points of view and making recommendations for how Williams can ensure an educational environment that’s both intellectually open and inclusive.

Possible explanations:

1) Nothing-Burger. I am reading too much into some minor word changes. Mandel has not changed her approach/goals despite the superficial changes in phrasing.

2) Worrying about failure. Perhaps Mandel realizes that Williams — or at least the Williams as represented by the committee she has no choice but to name — is not ready for full-scale Chicago-style academic freedom. Rather than let the Committee do some real damage, she is restricting its remit.

3) Changing the battlefield. Perhaps Mandel has decided that this Committee — whatever the strengths and weakness of its membership — is the wrong venue in which to push for the changes she seeks. Note what follows next in her charge:

This targeted project will complement our broader attention to learning and campus climate through the strategic planning process. I further ask that they do so through a process that allows for input from anyone in our community with opinions or ideas to share on the subject.

Calling it a “targeted project” is quite a comedown from the language two months ago. Moving the real battle to the “strategic planning process” places the debate in an area over which Mandel has much more power. Who is in charge of that? Meet the Coordinating Committee:

The most important news is that a Coordinating Committee has been formed to guide the work. This committee will articulate a vision and goals, organize and develop charges for sub-committees working on each area of focus, create opportunities for input and knit all the aspects of the planning process into a unified, final plan. The Committee, which I’ll chair, includes faculty, staff and students.

This is a committee which Mandel will do much more than “chair.” This is a committee which will do her bidding, a committee which will support their President in whichever direction she wants to take Williams. More on the committee some other day, but, for now, note that it includes David Gürçay-Morris ’96 one of the three faculty leaders of the free speech push and Essence Perry ’22, one of the very few (only?) students to outline a pro-free speech position in the Record. What better venue could there be for Mandel to push Williams in a more Chicago’sh direction?

Facebooktwitter

Ad Hoc Update, 2

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 2.

Mandel’s e-mail continues:

Faculty, student and staff governance bodies are helping me build a committee roster, and I expect to have a final version to share with you in my start of semester message on January 30. In the meantime, below is a copy of the proposed charge for the committee. I hope this will help you and our whole community understand the scope of their work and the framing questions I’m posing to help them get started.

My original recommendations were sensible. I reprint them below, along with some additions.

Administration: Jim Reische, Keli Gail, Dukes Love.
Black Faculty: DL Smith. Maybe Neil Roberts if it is clear he will play ball. Maybe Leticia S. E. Haynes if no Black faculty member can be found.
Hispanic Faculty: Joseph Cruz ’91, Peter Montiel, Greg Phelan.
Asian Faculty: Eiko Siniawer ’97, Lee Park.
White Faculty: Karen Merrill, Katarzyna Pieprzak, Darel Paul, Steve Miller, Fred Strauch, .
Athletic Faculty: Lisa Melendy, Marshall Creighton.
Students: Jake Bingaman ’19, John DiGravio ’21, Ariana Romeo ’19, Alex Jen ’19

With either Joe Cruz or Karen Merrill as chair.

But this is now (sadly?), out of date. I thought — and I suspect Mandel originally planned — that the committee would consider the broad issue of free expression at Williams and, after 6 months or so, recommend that the College either sign the Chicago Statement or something similar to it. However, I now think that Mandel is going in a different direction. Key sentence from her charge:

I am charging an ad hoc committee with recommending to me, by May 2019, a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion. ”

The Commitee’s charge is remarkably narrow. You aren’t going to get anywhere near the Chicago Statement, or the broader issues associated with it, if you are restricted to discussing “speaker invitation guidelines.”

That means that this Committee is a side show, a distraction from the main event. So, who cares who is on this committee or what they decide? Not me!

Or maybe, more deviously, Mandel has decided to set this committee up for failure by stocking it with some of the most polarizing — and least likely to compromise — figures on campus. Perhaps Luana Maroja, Steven Gerrard and David Gürçay-Morris ’96 on the pre-speeech side and Joy James, Kai Green and Kimberly Love on the pro-safety side. Such a Committee is unlikely to make much progress. But a high profile failure might allow Mandel to swoop in from the side and institute a broader solution . . .

UPDATE: I wrote this series last week. We now have new evidence that the analysis is spot on! Consider the all-campus e-mail from College Council which went out yesterday. (Thanks dshakirov!) You can tell that the Committee on Campus Speakers, Inquiry and Inclusion — Is this the official name? — will have no real power because:

1) It has four students on it! That is way too many. Williams loves its students but, as an institution, it does not trust them that much.

2) The naming of those students is being left (completely?) to the discretion of the College Council Appointments Committee. Williams loves CC but, as an institution, it does not trust CC with truly important decisions. Note that CC played zero role in, for example, naming the students appointed to the search committee which chose Mandel.

3) CC is likely to (and should?!) name students deeply involved in this debate. Why not include at least one (and maybe more!) of the students involved with CARE-Now? If you were on CC, wouldn’t you appoint Liliana Bierer ’19, Audrey Koh ’21, Isabel Peña ’19, Isaiah Blake ’21, Carlos Cabrera-Lomelí ’20, Suiyi Tang ’20, Annalee Tai ’21 or Rocky Douglas ’19 if they applied? These students are all intelligent and committed. Good stuff! But, from Mandel’s point of view, they are highly unlikely to come up with the answer that she wants.

4) The name of the Committee begins with “Campus Speakers.” This is further evidence that the Committee’s charge will be exceedingly narrow.

If Mandel’s strategy for freeing Williams from the legacy of Falk’s folly depended meaningfully on this Committee, she would put fewer students on it, ensure that those students were carefully selected and entrust the Committee with a broad mandate. She is doing the opposite. Therefore, we know that this Committee will be unimportant. More evidence over the rest of the week.

Facebooktwitter

Ad Hoc Update, 1

In February 2016, the (now defunct) student group Uncomfortable Learning invited Dissident Right author John Derbyshire to speak at Williams. Then-president Adam Falk cancelled Derbyshire’s talk, causing a public relations black eye for the College. Current President Maud Mandel seeks to undo the damage associated with that decision. We have named the associated controversy Self-CARE Now. This week, I will review Mandel’s latest e-mail and her draft charge to the Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion. Day 1.

Mandel’s email begins:

As I noted in an all-campus message before break, “Williams, like campuses across the United States, has engaged in debate about how to bolster its commitment to free expression while maintaining its responsibility to ensure an inclusive environment for all community members.” In that same message I announced plans to charge an ad hoc committee with recommending policies and practices that will help us achieve these goals. I’m pleased to provide you with a brief update on that work.

1) Quoting yourself is the Historian’s Vice.

2) Maud is wise to use the term “free expression” rather than the more controversial “free speech.” Too many of her opponents have already decided that “free speech” is something to which they owe no allegiance. They may be more open to defenses of free expression.

3) Even better would be a focus on “academic freedom.” Recall that Maud wants Williams to end up with as much free speech/expression/whatever as state schools like Berkeley. No more cancellations, or even demands for cancellation! Framing is one of the most powerful tools she has to achieve that goal.

Centering the debate around “academic freedom” is more likely to work because it activates the amygdala of every Williams faculty member. They may differ in their views about what sorts of speakers (stupid) undergraduates can invite to campus. They are united in their demand that they have complete “academic freedom” — as they should be! And the vast majority insist that academic freedom includes their right to invite anyone they damn-well please to Williams. Once they demand that, Maud need only insist that students’ rights are no less, at least when it comes to academic freedom. Problem solved!

4) Why the delay in naming the committee? Recall what Maud told us in November:

I intend to recruit the committee by the end of the calendar year with counsel from leaders of faculty, staff and student governance.

We are now two weeks past the end of the calendar year. Still no committee. And note this note from December 13.

In late November I announced my plan to charge an ad hoc committee with the responsibility of moving this discussion forward and proposing policies or programs that will help us achieve both goals. I’ll share the committee charge and roster with campus and alumni in my start of semester message in late January.

So, by mid-December it was obvious to Maud and her team that they would need more time to name a committee. But, then why share the committee’s charge now? (Or is it just a draft of the charge?)

My guess: Maud has decided that this committee — which she originally envisioned as another example of the sorts of Committees that, at Williams, have led to institutional change, i.e., Angevine getting rid of fraternities, MacDonald tightening admissions standards for athletes, Dudley instituting Neighborhood Housing — will not serve her well. Faculty and student attitudes are too anti-free speech for this Committee to succeed. So, Maud has decided to head in a different direction. Read later posts this week for evidence and more speculation.

Facebooktwitter

Update: Ad hoc committee on speakers, inquiry and inclusion

Maud’s Moment has been delayed a bit.

Williams faculty, staff and students,

As I noted in an all-campus message before break, “Williams, like campuses across the United States, has engaged in debate about how to bolster its commitment to free expression while maintaining its responsibility to ensure an inclusive environment for all community members.” In that same message I announced plans to charge an ad hoc committee with recommending policies and practices that will help us achieve these goals. I’m pleased to provide you with a brief update on that work.

Faculty, student and staff governance bodies are helping me build a committee roster, and I expect to have a final version to share with you in my start of semester message on January 30. In the meantime, below is a copy of the proposed charge for the committee. I hope this will help you and our whole community understand the scope of their work and the framing questions I’m posing to help them get started.

After the committee comes together I expect they’ll want to communicate with campus about their process and opportunities for input. In the meantime, I look forward to sharing news about the roster in a few weeks.

Sincerely,

Maud

————————–

Proposed Committee Charge

Williams, like other schools around the country, is debating how to uphold principles of open inquiry and free expression. The debate has focused on how to do so while not providing a platform for hate speech, racism, or other forces that are corrosive to a learning community. This issue was identified as a concern in Williams’ Fall 2017 accreditation self-study, which was shared with campus at the time:

“intellectual freedom… is defined broadly at Williams to include the unfettered exchange of diverse points of view, the dissemination of original scholarship, and respect for faculty, students, staff, alumni, and others who wish to share their opinions on how the college is governed. This “basket of rights” must sometimes be actively managed.” (pp. 103–4)

The conversation at Williams has recently focused on speaker invitations, as it has elsewhere around the country. I am charging an ad hoc committee with recommending to me, by May 2019, a set of speaker invitation guidelines that would demonstrate our full commitment to both inquiry and inclusion. This targeted project will complement our broader attention to learning and campus climate through the strategic planning process. I further ask that they do so through a process that allows for input from anyone in our community with opinions or ideas to share on the subject.

Following are a few framing questions the committee might consider in this work:

What obligation do liberal arts colleges have for exposing students to new ideas and ways of thinking about the world?
What responsibility has Williams assumed (or should it) for helping students achieve equal footing from which to study, expound and challenge diverse ideas?
Given the wide range of content available on-line, including many speeches, what types of presentations (in both form and content) best support our educational mission?
What support, if any, should Williams give to campus members seeking to host, engage or debate speakers?
Are college guidelines related to campus activism toward speakers adequate?

Once the committee presents its recommendations in May, I will share this information with the community, and we will organize next steps for when people return in the fall. It will be helpful if the report identifies the historical, philosophical and other considerations that influenced their recommendations. The report should also identify likely costs and benefits of any proposals.

Some people have looked at the current “free speech” debate in this country with dismay. I believe, in contrast, that this is an important step toward building the most vibrant educational community possible. I am deeply grateful to the committee members, and to Williams, for taking on this challenge.

Maud

Looking for my line-by-line exegesis? Of course you are! Sadly, you will have to wait till next week.

By the way, we still need a scandal name. I was planning — in my role as elder statesperson — to go with “Name-of-Chair Committee” once Mandel named the committee. But is that too wishy-washy?

In my role as senior trouble-maker, I am inspired by this student op-ed. It begins:

The student letter that surfaced in response to the faculty petition was co-authored and edited by over 20 students from a wide range of identities and positionalities. It was, above all, a democratic, grassroots project from start to finish. We are now continuing under the name “Coalition Against Racist Education Now” (CARE Now) in the legacy of Black-led organizing efforts on the Williams College campus.

Worth going through? Perhaps. In the meantime, I laughed out loud at their closing paragraph:

Beyond this statement, we have chosen to not comment on our next steps as we are focusing on building coalition and self-care.

Scandal name? “Self-CARE Now

I am a bad person . . .

Facebooktwitter

A Chance to Step Away

Staff/Faculty e-mail from President Mandel:

Dear Williams staff and faculty colleagues,

I am writing to wish you a very happy, healthy, and peaceful holiday season, as well as to thank you for welcoming me and my family to the Williams community. This is a special campus, and I am grateful for all you do to help make it so.

One of the distinctive features of Williams’ winter break tradition is that it gives staff a chance to step away and enjoy time off. So I would like to extend an extra special thank you to our colleagues who will continue to work through the break to keep campus running smoothly.

Many warm wishes for all things good in 2019!

With gratitude,

Maud

I should not be too churlish during the Christmas holiday season, but I believe that the “chance to step away” refers to the College giving staff an extra week of vacation — in addition to the regular paid vacation that they would get if they worked for a “normal” employer — during the winter break. A nice perk!

Facebooktwitter

Paul on Free Speech

Professor Darel Paul tweets about the Ricochet article from two weeks ago.

No offence to Lukianoff et al., but trying to convince opponents of speech that free speech protects the rights of the minority is a loser of an argument for at least 2 reasons.

First, the opponents of the Chicago statement at Williams are not the “minority”. They are the majority, at least of those holding power (student government, student newspaper, etc.). And it makes sense that the majority might like to ban speech.

Moreover, this majority has no fear that it may one day become a minority on campus (a very reasonable belief) and thus one day require the protections of something like the Chicago statement.

Second, in a therapeutic culture like the one which characterizes elite college campuses in America today, freedom is a secondary value. Safety is a primary value, one which is potentially threatened by speech.

I don’t know how to get opponents of freedom to value it, but going about assuming that they actually do so in a way they don’t yet realize is an obvious mistake.

Right on all counts.

Facebooktwitter

Admit Your Privilege, 6

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 6.

Furthermore you can learn a lot from arguments you disagree with—something I have learned listening to creationists, climate denialists and even some bigots. I emphasized that the reason we want free speech is not because we want to invite bigots, but because we don’t want to see discussion shut down. The recent cancellation in theater shows how “protection” of feelings actually hurt African-Americans (the artist who wrote the play)! Students are hurting the very cause they think they are defending.

Finally, I re-emphasized that invitation is not the same as disinvitation: the Chicago Statement has rules on what to do once someone is invited, and has no guidelines about who should be invited. Furthermore, the guidelines allow disinvitations for extremist speakers who poses a genuine physical threat to individuals.

1) Just how much time has Maroja spent listening to creationists? Maybe quite a bit, depending on the social milieu in which she was raised in Brazil. But lately? And just what did she “learn?”

2) How does Maroja define “climate denialists?” I know as much about the scientific literature associated with climate change as Maroja, whose field is biology. Why does she insist on insulting people like me by comparing us to those who deny the Holocaust?

3) “the reason we want free speech is not because we want to invite bigots” — Who is the “we” in this sentence? As long as Muroja (and the rest of the faculty . . . and all the students . . .) have no interest in bringing “bigots” — as defined by CARE Now — then there isn’t a problem. In fact, there is no need for the Chicago Statement!

4) Does the Chicago Statement really have “no guidelines about who should be invited?” Key sentence:

Because the University is committed to free and open inquiry in all matters, it guarantees all members of the University community the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn.

Almost everyone involved in this debate believes that this applies to the right of faculty/students to invite whoever they want to campus, so that they can “listen” to them. This is the same right that faculty/students at places like Berkeley and Michigan take for granted.

Does Muroja understand this key point? To the extent that she wants the College to adopt the Chicago Statement, or something like it, the best rhetoric will focus on the rights of students/faculty. Students/faculty hate to be told that they can’t do X. They would be enraged to know that they can’t do X while their counterparts at Umass/Michigan/Berkeley can do X. That framing would maximize support for something like the Chicago Statement.

Indeed, this framing provides a way for President Mandel to solve the problem in a particularly Williams fashion.

The Mandel Doctrine: Williams College enforces fewer restrictions on students/faculty with regard to intellectual activities than any public institution.

No need to parrot the dweebs at Chicago! I don’t particularly like this phrasing — reader suggestions welcome! — but the framing is perfect. Or maybe:

The Mandel Doctrine: Williams College does not restrict the academic activities of our students and faculty, nor does it allow others to do so.

1) The vast majority of Williams students/faculty want at least as much freedom as their counterparts at MCLA down the road. They will be in favor.

2) No need to enter the weeds of who is a “bigot” or what is the definition of “hate speech.” No need to consider the “harms” which might result from a Derbyshire visit.

3) First Amendment jurisprudence, especially with a conservative supreme course, is very strong on the issue of state interference. This means that places like MCLA can’t do anything against an invitation to Derbyshire. They have to treat all activity in a content-neutral way. Mandel does not need to spend her presidency policing the edge cases. She can just defer to the US court system.

I hope that my Hopkins Hall readers will pass on this most excellent idea!

Facebooktwitter

Admit Your Privilege, 5

Associate Professor of Biology Luana Maroja‘s report about the state of free speech at Williams is the most important statement from a member of the faculty in years. Let’s go through it. Day 5.

While most professors at the meeting were highly supportive of free speech and many sent me grateful emails, I was shocked at the behavior of some of my colleagues. For example, one professor turned to the students and said that they should read the names missing from our list of signatories, as “those were professors that were with the students” (an appalling tactic that created an “us vs them” atmosphere). Another professor stated that she was involved in creating violence in UC Berkeley for Milo Yiannopoulos’s disinvitation and would be ready to do the same at Williams.

1) Which professor did the “us vs them” trick? Surely, we have a reader or two who was at the event.

2) A professor threatening violence is nuts! Is anyone else shocked by this? But, at the same time, tell us your story! EphBlog loves a riot. What was the Berkeley riot like? What did you do? What lessons did you learn? Perhaps you could share those lessons with your Williams students . . .

3) Who is the professor? The Record ought to find out. The Course Catalog (pdf) lists faculty backgrounds. Sarah E. Olsen (2016), Ianna Hawkins Owen (2016), Kailani Polzak (2017) and Yana Skorobogatov (2018) are the Williams faculty with the most recent degrees from Berkeley. Of course, just because this professor was at the riot does not mean that she has a degree from Berkeley, but this is the place to start. I also suspect that this is more likely to be a new faculty member since most already-hired Williams faculty would have been teaching during the February 2017 Milo riots.

Facebooktwitter

Next Page →

Currently browsing posts filed under "Faculty"

Follow this category via RSS