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Nike Camp with Enrichment Classes

One of the great benefits of tenure is that Professor Phoebe Cohen can now tell us what she really thinks . . .

“Nike Camp with enrichment classes” is a quote from Professor Shanks.


KC Johnson on Safety Dance

Former Williams professor KC Johnson, co-author (with Stuart Taylor) of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities, sent in this analysis (doc) of the latest filings in the Safety Dance sexual assault case:

There have been some new filings in the Title IX/due process lawsuit against Williams. I’ve summarized the case previously, so won’t repeat what I wrote. Unique among the 200 or so lawsuits filed by accused male students, Williams features an accuser who also was a college employee. And at several points in the process, Williams administrators appeared to favor their employee over their student—in a manner that likely would have generated outrage if the genders had been reversed.

The new filings deal with attempts by the accused student’s lawyer to depose President Falk and two members of the college disciplinary panel that voted to expel her client. The judge previously had limited the number of depositions to ten per side.

There are, however, two items of potential interest included in the filings.

The first: as part of the discovery process, the accused student has obtained the training material that Williams uses for its Title IX adjudicators. (Since 2011, the federal government has required colleges to train adjudicators in sexual assault cases—and only sexual assault cases.) To the best of my knowledge, no college or university has voluntarily publicized its training material; my co-author Stuart Taylor and I obtained around a dozen schools’ training materials and analyzed their overwhelmingly one-sided nature. For a comparison to the criminal justice system: imagine if, in rape and sexual assault trials and only in those trials, the prosecutor could require jurors to spend 3-5 hours reading general material on the topic that the prosecutor herself selected—and then could deny the defense attorney any chance to see the material at any point in the process.

Williams’ training material is less unfair than that of some other institutions (for a particularly egregious example, see pages 20-21 of this decision against Penn, which eventually led the college to settle the case). Williams, typically, has filled its training with frightening statistics that say nothing about the specifics of the case the panel is supposed to judge. (One slide, for instance, claims—without citation—that 21% of college students experience dating violence from their current partner.) More problematically, the training (which is supposed to be gender-neutral, since males as well as females can be victims of sexual assault, and because gender-biased training risks violating Title IX) appears to presuppose that sexual assault victims are female, listing “toxic masculinity” as a cause of sexual assault. Would a Williams adjudicator, faithfully following this type of training, have decided to overlook the accuser’s dubious conduct? Even more problematically, the training includes a slide entitled “Meet Frank,” an apparent reference to a composite character—from decades ago—from researcher David Lisak. An exposé in Reason raised significant questions about Lisak’s credibility in his use of “Frank,” who the researcher inaccurately presented as a single person rather than a collection of quotes. The training also has several slides about trauma-informed investigation, a controversial theory debunked by Emily Yoffe in a high-profile Atlantic article.

Also striking is what the training doesn’t contain. It doesn’t, for instance, mention the presumption of innocence. Or the need for fairness. Or the importance of allowing the accused student a meaningful opportunity to defend himself.

In short, the training appears designed to make it more likely that a Williams disciplinary panel will return a guilty finding when considering sexual assault allegations.

The second item from the filings: the accused student’s lawyer included a snippet of the deposition from the investigator Williams hired for the case, an employment lawyer named Allyson Kurker. The deposition has little of substance, though Kurker’s confusion about Williams’ standards is a little striking.

More interesting here is Williams’ decision to hire Kurker in the first place. In Title IX litigation, Kurker is best-known as the investigator in an Amherst case that might well be the single most unfair adjudication of any in the country since the 2011 change in policy. (The student sued Amherst, easily survived a motion to dismiss, and then the college settled.) Kurker’s investigation failed to uncover critical, exculpatory text messages sent on the night of the incident by the accuser. Then, in depositions, she attempted to dismiss the texts’ significance on grounds that the relevant texts would have been those that corroborated the accuser’s story.

Given that record, what was the process used by Williams in hiring Kurker?

In terms of where the case might go from here, two thoughts. First, on Friday, the judge in the Williams case, Michael Ponsor, ruled in favor of UMass in a lawsuit filed by an accused student named James Haidak. Though Ponsor gave a token acknowledgement to the due process concerns, most of his lengthy opinion outlined his very forgiving standard toward college actions.

Despite some factual differences, the UMass and Williams cases have at least one important similarity: in both cases, the accused student was a highly unsympathetic figure. There’s certainly nothing in Ponsor’s holding to suggest that he (unlike judges in many of the dozens of due process cases in which the college has been on the losing end) is a judge who’s particularly concerned about the problem of unfair campus adjudication procedures.

On the other hand: while only around two dozen accused students have survived motions to dismiss on Title IX claims, colleges have been vulnerable in cases where the female student also appeared to have committed some form of misconduct, yet the institution only investigated and punished the male student. For a particularly obvious example of this pattern, see page 37 of the decision in the Amherst case.

Usually, these cases involve a single incident (for instance, sex when both parties are extremely drunk, and so neither student had the ability to consent under often-restrictive college rules). The Williams case doesn’t feature such a fact pattern—but in one respect, it’s worse: the college seemed indifferent to the possibility that a female employee was filing retaliatory complaints against a student. If, in the end, Williams loses this case, the college’s decision to so blatantly favor one party in a deeply dysfunctional relationship will likely be the reason why.

Why won’t (can’t?) the Record cover this important case, especially stuff like the absurdity of hiring Kurker?

By the way, is Kurker still working for Williams?


Welcome President Mandel

To the Williams Community,

It is my honor and pleasure to inform you that on Sunday, March 11, the Board of Trustees appointed Maud S. Mandel as the 18th president of Williams College. President-elect Mandel, who will begin her tenure at Williams on July 1, 2018, currently serves as Dean of the College and Professor of History and Judaic studies at Brown University.

You can learn more about President-elect Mandel by watching a video interview we’ve posted on the special announcement website, where you’ll also find her CV and other information about her scholarship and career.

I could not be more excited about welcoming Maud Mandel to the college. She has a distinguished record as a scholar, a teacher and an academic leader, and has demonstrated throughout her career a deep and abiding affection for the students, faculty and staff who together create a great academic enterprise. She embodies the values at our core and will provide outstanding leadership as we continue to pursue our shared aspirations for Williams.

I want to thank the members of the Presidential Search Committee for their extraordinary work leading to this terrific result for Williams. We were privileged to meet many exceptional people in the course of our search, and all of us on the Committee, and on the Board of Trustees, were truly inspired by President-elect Mandel during the selection process.

We look forward to welcoming President-elect Mandel for a visit to campus in early April, and will provide details as soon as the agenda is confirmed. In the meantime, you can begin to get to know her by exploring the materials on the announcement website.

Congratulations to President-elect Mandel, and best wishes to all of us as we begin this next chapter in the extraordinary history of Williams College.

With warm best regards,

Michael Eisenson ’77
Chair, Presidential Search Committee
Chair, Williams College Board of Trustees

Worth a week to review this material?


Hoary Specter of Junior Faculty “Mentoring”

ambrosius aurelianus, an anonymous member of the Williams faculty, writes:

I meant the high rate at which tenure is granted–right now around 80%, a number that reflects changing attitudes to the nature of tenure decisions and an administrative belief that it is the job of departments and their senior faculty to help all of their junior hires achieve tenure.

This means, effectively, that extending a tenure-track job offer is four-fifths of a tenure decision, which tempts committees to opt for safe candidates rather than take risks. In general this tips the scale in favor of applicants some years out from their PhD, with considerable teaching experience and many publications, and tends to disadvantage junior people still finishing their dissertations or straight out of grad school. That, in itself, is regrettable. In practice it also tends to make small defects in a dossier disqualifying; no amount of upside can overcome them. Committees will get spooked by the suggestion that someone’s book might never come together, even if they show all signs of being a fantastic teacher (or, conversely, if they have great publications but they’ve never logged a lot of classroom time and their syllabi are lackluster, we’ll also be tempted to pass). In my experience some of the most potentially brilliant candidates are lopsided like this. If we weren’t so committed to tenuring nearly everyone we could afford to give more exciting people a trial run. This is especially true when we’re not sure about the research, because worst case scenario, we get six years of amazing teaching out of the candidate. But we rob ourselves of these opportunities.

A cultural commitment to maintaining a high tenure also feeds the hoary specter of junior faculty “mentoring.” In itself it’s not a bad idea to look after our junior hires, but now a lot of my colleagues see junior faculty as the other half of their pedagogical mission. Frankly this hasn’t been great for junior faculty culture at the college, and its also inevitably been bound up with a lot of overblown and unhelpful evaluative methods.

Interesting stuff! aa should join us as an author and tell us more about faculty life at Williams. I would also be curious about sigh’s take on these issues, as well as the views of other academic readers.


Hall Monitors of the Diversity Brigade

From an anonymous faculty member:

I think Seery paints a very partial picture of “politically correct scripting,” one calibrated to spare his colleagues. At Williams I’d say the diversity brigade has three pillars of support: 1) Student life administrators and elements in the office of the Dean of the College, 2) more or less the entire office of the Dean of the Faculty, and 3) a substantial faculty bloc, consisting particularly of faculty in politically sensitive fields.

I want to emphasize that I like a lot of these people individually. Almost invariably they are personally well-meaning and generous. Collectively, though….

Faculty side admins put pressure on hiring and strive to define new positions in such a way as to yield the right kind of candidates, thus expanding the faculty bloc. Here it is important to note that diversity considerations provide a pretense for the administration to interfere in matters of departmental governance where it most matters, i.e. hiring and promotion. As long as this remains the case, upper administrators will always have reason to sponsor the circus. Meanwhile, politically conscious faculty and the student-facing admins create, coordinate and direct activist tendencies among our acolytes. This process makes a lot of things happen. One of them is that a great part of the campus-wide discourse is directed to identity politics 2.0, the constant elaboration of theories of repression and dominance. Another is that the process reinforces itself as student discontent demonstrates the need for more diversity-brigade staffing and more diversity-brigade activity.

I don’t know what my point here is really. I guess the Davis Center putting out lawn signs is the least of it. These are just incidental manifestations of a constant dialogue about oppression and oppressors that is echoed by many of our invited speakers, that recurs constantly in informal discussions by the Hollander espresso machine, and in faculty and committee meetings, infecting almost every social interaction (seriously, from mundane scheduling matters, to curriculum tinkering and syllabus design, internal administrative chores, you name it). On the one hand I teach my classes and write my articles and work out and I’m fine. On the other hand, the hall monitors of the diversity brigade, so quick to detect structural oppression in their opponents, have become stunningly blind to their own powers and repressive tendencies. Also there is an anti-intellectual aspect to their rhetoric that I find increasingly embarrassing.


Falk Quad == Farquaad?

What does Williams think of Adam Falk?

Lordfarquaad[T]he Board of Trustees unanimously voted to honor Adam Falk, our 17th president, by naming the Science Quad in his honor. The decision continues a Williams tradition of naming important public spaces in honor of our past presidents.

In addition, a group of current and former Trustees and other generous donors have endowed the directorship of the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) in Adam’s name. The Adam Falk Directorship is a tribute to his founding support for the Center, which engaged more than 800 Williams students in projects across our community and region this year alone.

“Williams” is, of course, not a very well-defined entity. You, random alum, might hate Adam Falk. Collette Chilton might think he’s wonderful. But, to the extent Williams, as an institution, has expressed a judgment, it is via these honors. The trustees’ opinions can be gauged by considering these names and comparing them to names bestowed in the past.

First, Falk is definitely not in the top rank of Williams presidents (again, as judged by the trustees and major donors). Those presidents — Sawyer, Chandler, Schapiro — get major buildings named after them. Falk doesn’t even get a building!

Second, Falk is not even in the second tier of Williams presidents. Phinney Baxter ’14 once had the major building on campus, the old Baxter Hall and, even now, still has Baxter Great Hall within Paresky. Frank Oakley, while not in Sawyer’s league, was still a successful president. You might think that the Oakley Center is fairly modest, at least in comparison to Schapiro Hall. But those who know Frank can confirm that he has loved the Center for the past 30 years and would much rather have his name associated with it than with any of the larger buildings on campus.

And so we come to the third tier. Hank Payne, president from 1994 to 1999, is widely (and, I think, unfairly) regarded as an unsuccessful Williams president, which is one reason why there is no campus building named for him. The trustees and/or major donors have only given us the Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts and the Harry C. Payne Professor of Poetry.

Williams places Adam Falk squarely in the third tier of Williams presidents over the last century. Indeed, other than Hank Payne, it is hard to think of a president that the college has so dissed with its naming largess.1

First, we have the Adam Falk Directorship. This isn’t even a named professorship, two of which Payne was honored by. Professors have higher status than administrators. Perhaps the CLiA was something that Falk truly cared about. (Informed opinions welcome, but I certainly don’t recall him talking about it much.) In any event, this is a small $ gift.

Second, we have the . . . Adam Falk Science Quad? Falk Quad? Who else is reminded of Lord Farquaad, the short-statured, dark-haired, inept ruler of Duloc in the movie Shrek? This strikes me as almost an insult:

a) Who is ever going to use the words “Adam Falk Science Quad?” Not me, nor any student/professor. It is an absurd mouthful. If they name something after you, and no one ever says the name, then what is the point?

b) Might the phrase “Falk Quad” be used? Maybe. (Reader opinions welcome.) It certainly does not roll of the tongue! Everyone currently uses the phrase “science quad” to refer to that part of campus. Will that really change? I have my doubts.

If 10 years from now, the only thing permanently associated with Falk’s name is an administrative position — and not even for a position in the top rung of administrators! — then it will be clear that the trustees and major donors view Falk’s tenure as a disappointment.

[1] It could be that the College, once the Capital Campaign is complete, will name a major building after Falk, perhaps one of the new structures in the science quad. If that happens, we will revisit this conclusion.


Daily Quizzes


1) How common are daily quizzes at Williams? Back in the 80s, I can’t recall a single class — perhaps outside of the languages — using them. Has that changed? Is Kornell an outlier? I can’t think of another class that uses them . . .

2) What do people think of daily quizzes? I hate them because they are a symptom of classes that are too large. Tutorials (and small seminars?) don’t use or need daily quizzes because students have no choice (?) but to do the readings. No More Lectures!

3) I think that daily quizzes were common back in the 50s. Can any of our more senior EphBloggers comment? The excellent book, Newhall and Williams College: Selected Papers of a History Teacher at a New England College, 1917-1973, includes some discussion of Newhall’s use of quizzes in his history classes.


Majumder Favors Speech Restrictions

Professor Tiku Majumder in laser lab.
From WAMC:

Campuses have increasingly become ground zero for the battle over speech. And while the First Amendment protects freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition and religion from government infringement, it faces limitations at private schools like Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

The interview is a short 6 minutes. Alas, I can’t find a transcript. Is there an easy way to make one from an audio recording? Comments:

1. Tiku, a personal friend of Adam Falk from their graduate student days and a member of the search committee which selected him, has Falk’s back. He doubles down on the banning of John Derbyshire from campus.

2. Why do this? The Derbyshire fiasco was one of the worst black eyes for the College in the last few years. Why even grant an interview to discuss the topic? If you aren’t going to change the policy, there is no reason to bring it up.

3) Why not change the policy? Perhaps it was impossible for Falk to admit his mistake. But Falk is gone. Can’t we let the mistake go with his departure? Majumder could do a big favor for the next Williams president by putting this controversy aside. He doesn’t have to issue a news release. He could just let Zach Wood know that Uncomfortable Learning is free to invite any speaker they want.

4) Majumder should practice more for these interviews. His opening answer — when he knew the topic ahead of time — was a mishmash of non-sequiturs. (The interviewer, JD Allen, does not challenge Majumder in anyway.) For example, pointing out, as Falk has done, that Williams is different than the main street of Williamstown, is effective rhetoric. Majumder should say that “The First Amendment protects the right of every kooky racist who rants to rant on the main street of Williamstown. That doesn’t mean that we (or you!) need to invite them all into our house.” (Of course, I disagree with that argument, but this line of reasoning is more persuasive than specific attacks on Derbyshire.)

5) Majumder won’t allow speakers that “provide no benefit in moving forward the conversation we are interested in fostering.” That sure seems like a sensible standard! What could possibly go wrong?

6) Compare Williams with the University of Chicago, which is allowing Steve Bannon to speak.

The University of Chicago is deeply committed to upholding the values of academic freedom, the free expression of ideas, and the ability of faculty and students to invite the speakers of their choice.

For most practical purposes, Bannon and Derbyshire have the same views on public policy.

The traditional knock on Williams, in comparison with great universities like Chicago or Yale (where Derbyshire spoke two years ago) , is that we are little more than a glorified prep school, a finishing academy where the not-really-intellectucal children of the elite go to learn some manners, to learn what they may say/think to advance in the world. Chicago/Yale/Harvard are for the true elite, for students who do not need adults to control their lives.

I have always hated that criticism, all the more so in cases where it is true . . .


Diversity Sit-In at Wooster

Latest news on Sarah Bolton’s Wooster presidency:

Students held a sit-in at the College of Wooster Wednesday, leaving at 10 p.m. after a series of discussions with administrators. Racist postings to a private Facebook page prompted the sit-in, but many other issues were also at play. A list of demands included new funding for diversity efforts, required training in cultural competency for all students and faculty members, changes in the way certain violations of campus rules would be punished, and the creation of a student-led board that would report on enforcement of campus rules.

President Sarah Bolton issued a statement that said in part, “We have had extremely productive conversations with the students about the concerns they raised, and we have committed to address them. We began developing the plans to do so today, and will share them with the community over the coming days, as they become more fully developed. Those plans will include more comprehensive educational efforts in the areas of cultural competency and sexual misconduct; more effective and easily accessible reporting and response mechanisms for all types of bias-related harm; and new resources for student groups engaged in work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”


1) Some Eph faculty go on to successful post-Williams presidencies, e.g., Steve Lewis at Carleton, Mike McPherson at MacAllister and Cappy Hill at Vassar. Some faculty fail, e.g., Nancy Roseman at Denison and Charles Karelis at Colgate. Any forecasts for Sarah Bolton?

2) Bolton was a social justice warrior at Williams. Not that there is anything wrong with that! Some of my best friends are social justice warriors. Her biggest sin, in my view, was her absurd handling of the Taco Six case.

3) My advice for Bolton: Be careful! Yale and Williams and other elite schools can get away with lots of PC nonsense because they are, at the end of the day, still Yale and Williams. Wooster is not. Handle situations like this poorly and you could create an Evergreen/Missouri scenario.

The demands of the protesters include:

There are multiple Faculty and Staff members such as Nathan Fein, Robin Shreck, Diane Uber etc. that continue to perpetuate anti-blackness, stereotyping of minority groups and simply hate speech.

We expect the college administration to hold faculty and staff to the same standards as students when it comes to racists, sexist, bigoted, misinformed, and stereotypical comments. These individuals are also members of our campus community and must be held accountable – thus, students should be able to press judicial charges against faculty and staff who violate our community standards.

Good luck with that!

If Bolton does not stand up to the social justice warriors on her own campus, things might turn out very poorly . . .

Thanks to an anonymous source, a source that is, alas, to modest to join EphBlog as an author!

Other links:


Peer Effects in Academic Outcomes

Interesting (but old) article (pdf) from Professor David Zimmerman.

I use data from Williams College to implement a quasi-experimental empirical strategy aimed at measuring peer effects in academic outcomes. In particular, I use data on individual students’ grades, their SAT scores, and the SAT scores of their roommates. I argue that first-year roommates are assigned randomly with respect to academic ability. This allows me to measure differences in grades of high-, medium-, or low-SAT students living with high-, medium-, or low-SAT roommates. With random assignment these estimates would provide compelling estimates of the effect of roommates’ academic characteristics on an individual’s grades. I also consider the effect of peers at somewhat more aggregated levels. In particular, I consider the effects associated with different academic environments in clusters of rooms that define distinct social units. The results suggest that peer effects are almost always linked more strongly with verbal SAT scores than with math SAT scores. Students in the middle of the SAT distribution may have somewhat worse grades if they share a room with a student who is in the bottom 15% of the verbal SAT distribution. The effects are not large, but are statistically significant in many models.

Should we spend a few days going through this?


A Farewell from President Falk …

To the entire Williams community,

A presidency can pass in the blink of an eye.

It was the fall of 2010, but it seems just yesterday that I stood in Chapin Hall at Convocation to deliver my inaugural address. I’d already been on the job for almost half a year, but still it felt like the beginning. What surprises and challenges lay ahead of us? What should we be mindful to preserve, and what would we need to change? What forces from beyond the Purple Valley would affect us, and how would we, in turn, aspire to affect the world?

Not easy questions to answer, to be sure. The sage Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” As all new presidents are compelled to, I still did my imperfect best to deliver on the promise of a vision. But the most important observation I made then, one in which I believe just as deeply today, is that the choices about where to go would not be mine alone. “This day is not about an individual person,” I said, “but about a college.”

And almost a decade later, I’m indeed proud of what we, this college, have accomplished.

We’ve reinvigorated our campus landscape, from the new Sawyer Library and the Class of ’66 Environmental Center to the renovated Chapin and Weston Halls, with the additions to the science center soon to join them.

We’ve started new programs like the Center for Learning in Action, which every day strengthens our relationship to our surrounding communities and deepens our students’ engagement with people throughout the Berkshires and beyond.

We’ve strived to welcome to Williams people from an ever-wider array of backgrounds and identities. Living and learning in a diverse community fosters imagination, empathy, open-mindedness and respect, all characteristics needed now more urgently than ever. And we’ve made strides in keeping membership in this community affordable to students and their families. Leaders don’t usually brag about increasing expenditures. But I’m proud of the more than $50 million in aid we provide to Williams students every year, expressing as it does our deep commitment to expanding educational opportunity.

There’s of course plenty left for the next president to work on, and they’ll do so in collaboration with our entire community: a convocation and sometimes a cacophony of many voices, many aspirations, and many efforts. Let us remember that our most important work, our hardest work, requires every one of us and is by its nature never fully done.

While it’s not my job to set the agenda for my successor, that agenda will surely include continuing to hire and support one of this country’s great teaching faculties. It will surely include continuing to open Williams to students drawn from every part of our society, and to provide everyone who is here the fullest opportunity to thrive. And it will surely include continuing to care for the natural and built environment that is the home for the remarkable work that students, staff, and faculty do: alone, with each other, and, increasingly, in partnership with our alumni.

Back in 2010, I closed my inaugural address by saying, “We love the Williams that we know and have known, but we will love even more the Williams that we create.” I love the Williams we, together, have created, and I hope that you do, too. Now will begin a new phase of its creation. I’ll be following Williams’s ongoing evolution from elsewhere, but will do so with pride, affection and gratitude for all that we’ve achieved in these past eight years.


Adam Falk


Drew on Farwell

Former political science professor John Drew shared these memories:

Meeting Pete Farwell was one of the highlights of my time as a professor at Williams College.

I was interested in Pete, in part, because I competed in cross country and track as a high school student in Southern California. With only the most inadequate coaching, I still managed through sheer will-power to break an impressive list of school records posting a 4:23 mile, a 1:52 half mile and a 0:50 quarter mile all at age 18.

I ended up at Occidental College because I was recruited for my skill as an athlete and not for my, as yet, undeveloped skill as a political scientist.

After a couple of weeks running with Pete and his team I ended up thinking I might have been an Olympic athlete if I had had him as a coach during my youthful years. I hung out with Pete and his team largely to get exercise and be of service. I got to fire the starting gun a couple of times and attended team events. I ended up learning so much from him that benefited me for years including mixing up my workouts, icing down afterwards, and correctly running heel to toe.

One of his best tricks as a coach was to not allow his cross country runners to have a slow rest day prior to a regular season cross country event. Then, at the very end of the season, he gave them a rest period prior to the championship. The result was a profound psychological and physiological advantage that supercharged his athletes and overwhelmed their opponents.

Pete was very kind to me and had me over to his home a number of times for dinner. We were both interested in Buddhism and meditation. We never talked politics. I’m glad to see him being honored. He was, without a doubt, the best cross country coach I ever had in my entire life and the best one I ever met.

Thanks again to Derek for the excellent post which started this conversation. Who else has memories of Pete to share?


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 13

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two three weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 13.

Falk’s main argument is that one article by Derbyshire, “The Talk: Non-Black Version,” makes his presence at Williams unacceptable. Falk does not so much argue against the substance of Derbshire’s views as point-and-sputter in their general direction. Falk (accurately) quotes Derbyshire:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.

First, we should always be interested in what other people tell their own children. Recall that the context is “The Talk” that African-American parents give their children about the dangers inherent in interactions with the police. Derbyshire writes:

There is a talk that nonblack Americans have with their kids, too. My own kids, now 19 and 16, have had it in bits and pieces as subtopics have arisen. If I were to assemble it into a single talk, it would look something like the following.

I certainly believe that Derbyshire is telling the truth. I also doubt that he is some weird outlier. You really think that he is the only parent in America who tells their children to stay out of certain neighborhoods? Most of us, of course, don’t put it so crudely. We tell our children to be wary of “bad” neighborhoods and “poor” neighborhoods. But, in the vast majority of US cities, the exact terminology does not change the recommended action. If you stay out of “poor” neighborhoods, you will also stay out of “black neighborhoods.”

Second, even if Derbshire is the only racist in America, it sure seems like the rest of the country is following his advice. Go to the black neighborhood in your city. How many white/Asian teenagers do you see? How many from outside the neighborhood? How many middle class or richer? Very few non-poor, non-black teenagers spend any unsupervised time in “heavily black neighborhoods.” You may decry this fact, but you can hardly blame Derbyshire for it.

Third, note Falk’s hypocrisy. You can be certain that his teenage children have almost never spent any unsupervised time in a heavily black neighborhood. And that is OK! My children haven’t either. Have your children? Of course, Falk never says the words to his children that Derbyshire said his, but the actual reality of their lived experience is probably identical.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 12

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two three weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 12.

Falk’s critique of Derbyshire is just as sloppy as his defense of his decision to ban Derbyshire from Williams. But before that a story . . .

At a 2017 May presentation to important alumni, Falk was asked:

No event in the last five years has given Williams more of a black eye in the national press than your cancellation last year of a student-invited talk by John Derbyshire, a leading intellectual of the alternative right. Since then, Donald Trump has won the presidency and several leaders of the alternative right — people like Steve Bannon and Jason Miller — have ascended to leadership positions in his administration. I met yesterday with the student leaders of the new Republican Club on campus. They plan on bringing several speakers to campus — including alumni like Mike Needham ’04 and Oren Cass ’05 — Republicans who are often branded as “racists” by their political opponents. In fact, they might even invite me to speak. I agree with some, but not all, of what John Derbyshire has written. Will you also be banning me from speaking on campus?

Falk assured me that I, at least, would not be banned from campus. Good to know! But he steadfastly defended his decision, claiming that Derbyshire’s views were too outrageous to allow on campus. At that point, Falk could have trotted out any of Derbyshire’s positions as justification. Instead he said:

Derbyshire believes that African-Americans are more violent.

And that was it! That was all Falk offered in terms of a specific example.

The problem, of course, is that — using any definition of violence you like — African-Americans are much more violent than white Americans, much less Asian-Americans.

Consider this report from (Obama’s!) Department of Justice or data from the FBI. Wikipedia provides a useful summary.

Derbyshire’s sin is not that he advocates violence (he doesn’t) or that he advocates hate (he doesn’t) or that he tells lies. Derbyshire’s sin is that he tells the truth.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 11

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two three weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 11.

Apologies for extending this discussion for a third week, but Falk’s misleading prose deserves a thorough fisking. His Washington Post article finishes with:

How many more examples do we need? For how long are we going to allow the vocabulary of freedom to be hijacked by people trying to impress upon us its opposite?

Let’s start with the Communists. No student should be allowed to wear a Che shirt at Williams, much less display the hammer-and-sickle on any item of clothing. We should never allow someone like, say, Angela Davis to speak at Williams, as she has multiple times in the past. Adam Falk has found the line and, one would hope, Communists, like Nazis, are on the other side of it . . .

Of course, in Adam Falk’s world, no opinion is too leftist to be heard at Williams. Only speech from the right must be prohibited.

As Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said at yet another congressional hearing on the topic recently, “Colleges should be a place of robust speech and disagreement. … But, I think, we cannot use the banner of protecting free speech to allow people to terrorize folks.”

Those who care about real freedom of speech — as I do, and as I know Sen. Kennedy does — need to be far more concerned with such threats than with even the most boisterous student protest.

As an educator, I politely decline to hide my head in a bag. It’s too important for me, and Sen. Kennedy, and all of us, to keep our eyes and ears open to the rising chorus of hate.

Note the misdirection. Adam talks about “such threats” without noting that John Derbsyhire has never threatened anyone. He has never committed a crime or even been charged with one. He has never encouraged lawlessness. He only has ideas that Adam Falk does not like.

History will remember that Adam Falk was the first Williams president in 150 years to ban a speaker from campus, to restrict discussion and debate which students had sought out. With luck, he will be the last Williams president to do so, at least for a century or so.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 10

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 10.

Campuses have to be shut down to deal with the ensuing threats. Learning is being disrupted, tuition money wasted, innocent people terrorized.

Some version of this drama has played out at Texas A&M. At Syracuse University. At the University of Iowa and Evergreen State and Dartmouth and Hampshire College and Trinity College and Drexel University.

Note what Falk leaves out: He fails to mention the time that he shut down the Williams campus! How stupid he must think we are. He, and he alone, was responsible for “tuition money wasted” and learning “being disrupted.” Back-of-the-envelope, there are 120 class days per year, so Falk’s cancellation caused 2,000 Williams students to miss almost 1% of their education that year. Total cost: more than $500,000.[1]

Most annoying is Falk’s concern over “innocent people terrorized.” Falk’s 2011 campus shut down involved racist grafitti (“All Niggers Must Die”) in Prospect House. We now know — and the Williams administration knew very quickly — that this was written by black/Hispanic student Jess Torres ’12. Scores of students were honestly terrified by this event. (I have spoken to some.) They really believed — because the Williams administration led them to believe — that there was a (potentially violent?) Klansman with access to the inside of student dormitories. Falk allowed them, even caused them, to feel terrorized because he was too much of a coward to reveal the truth. And now he seeks to lecture us about the dangers of John Derbyshire speaking on campus?

[1] Note that I don’t think this sort of calculation makes a lot of sense. But Falk is the one arguing in these terms.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 9

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 9.

There are times when I’ve wondered whether we should treat these events as a type of performance rather than speech: If the World Wrestling Federation demanded to hold a cage match on the Berkeley campus, would the university be obligated to host it at public expense?

Views that Adam Falk agrees with == Speech.
Views that Adam Falk disagrees with == Performance.

The First Amendment applies to Speech but not to Performance. Simple!

Let’s try rewriting that last bit:

If When Brothers Speak demanded to hold a spoken word concert on the Berkeley campus, would the university be obligated to host it at public expense?

First, making fun of the enthusiasms of whites, especially poor, less educated whites, is OK, if you are Adam Falk. Making fun of the enthusiasms of African-Americans or Jews or just about any other group? Forget about it!

Second, is Falk so uneducated that he does not realize that this is a settled matter of Constitutional law, a non-problem that is easily handled hundreds of times each week in this great country of ours? Any public institution — whether it be the University of California or Margaret Lindley Park must operate in a viewpoint neutral manner. If you allow group A to hold an event of type X, then you must allow group B to hold an event of type X. You can have rules about X — nothing for profit, nothing loud, nothing with more than 100 attendees, whatever — but those rules must apply to everyone.

The incidents we’re being forced to contend with are far more pernicious and no less staged.

I suspect that Falk is not clear-eyed enough to understand exactly what his views imply. Can public institutions, like Margaret Lindley Park, bar “pernicious” events? Or only pernicious events that are “staged?” Who gets to decide? If that is the rule then, in addition to Nazi events, I would like to ban Communist events since Communists were responsible for at least as many innocent deaths in the 20th century as Nazis.

Nor should we be concerned solely with sensationalist speakers. Too many of our students and faculty are being threatened and harassed for expressing challenging points of view, especially about race. Their words are picked up by websites such as Campus Reform and The College Fix, amplified and distorted and shoveled into the Internet outrage machine.

Adam Falk is concerned with rudeness on the internet? Good luck! But it sure would be nice to see some concern for harassment directed at Williams students like Zach Wood. Adam Falk has no said one single word about that. As best we can tell, he only cares about threats and harassment from the right.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 8

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 8.

Private colleges have a great deal of discretion to choose which guests to invite to speak in our communities. Our campuses are not legally public squares. So these provocateurs have instead turned their focus to the more vulnerable public institutions.

“Vulnerable” is an interesting choice of works. Often, when people think that an institution is “vulnerable” to something pernicious, they want to strengthen or protect it. Would Adam Falk like to strengthen public schools so that they, like Williams, are no longer “vulnerable” to people like Derbyshire? I am honestly curious.

After all, laws, even the Constitution, can be changed. Or judges can change what the laws mean. If the First Amendment were to be interpreted as strictly as some other amendments, it might become possible for public universities to ban “hate speech.” Is that what Adam Falk wants?

Just this fall we’ve seen the University of Florida forced to spend more than $500,000 to enable a single speech by Spencer.

“Forced?” Not by Spencer. Spencer is happy enough to speak for free. The problem is, obviously, Antifa, the same group responsible for the violence at Middlebury. They seek to deprive, using violence, Spencer from exercising his constitutional right to free speech. Does Falk really want to see the heckler’s veto work so well?

Falk’s opinions are not important because he is important. They are important for the light they shed on where elite opinion is heading in America: Toward the restriction of unpopular speech.

And of course there were the far more agonizing costs of the tragedy in Charlottesville, which began with people carrying torches, swastikas and Confederate battle flags across the Lawn at the University of Virginia.

The Lawn is public. Would Adam Falk like to ban Confederate flags, and the people who like them, from the Lawn? From all public property? From private property? Of course, we need rules and regulations and permits for the use of public land. Current US law is that all such regulation must be viewpoint neutral. The rules for having a Black Lives Matter march on the Lawn must be the same as the rules for having a Nazi march. Adam Falk seems to prefer an America in which some viewpoints are allowed on the Lawn and some are not. Is he some weird outlier? I doubt it.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 7

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 7.

The problem is that provocateurs such as Derbyshire, Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolous are intentionally blurring the line between the two. They have few policy ideas to offer, conservative or otherwise, and little or nothing interesting to say about critical issues such as health care, foreign policy or the tax code.

Unlike, say, Jiz Lee (NSFW)? Recall that Williams invited porn star Jiz Lee to speak on campus in 2012, during Adam Falk’s presidency. And that is OK! Williams should be a place for free-wheeling debate. Not every speaker needs to have an opinion on, say, health care. But Falk can’t pretend that there is no place for “provocateurs” on campus while, at the same time, allowing Jiz Lee to speak.

Instead they’re obsessed with provoking outrage by demeaning whole populations and challenging their right to be on our campuses or in our country.

Falk misleadingly conflates Derbyshire (the person he actually banned) with Yiannopolous, much less Spencer. Perhaps Yiannopolous enjoys the outrage game. Derbyshire doesn’t. Perhaps Spencer challenges rights. Derbyshire doesn’t.

Note the sloppy language/thinking in a phrase like “challenging their right to be on our campuses.” What does that even mean? Do Derbyshire/Yiannopolous/Spencer (DYS) challenge the right of any Eph to be on the Williams campus? No! Falk is just making stuff up. (Williams, of course, reserves the right, not only to prevent DYS from being on campus, but to reject thousands of applicants each year.)

Is Falk’s position that anyone who challenges the “right” of group X to be “in our country” is a hate-filled bigot? I am honestly curious. DYS, like President Trump and a majority of American citizens, believe that immigration to the US should be significantly restricted. The Williams faculty/administration has certainly never invited a supporter of immigration-restriction to campus. Is this view banned as well?

What today’s students object to is not hearing points of view different from their own, but hearing their contemporaries publicly humiliated and threatened.

Falk did not object very strongly when Zach Wood and other Williams students were “threatened” by Eph social justice warriors. From Wood’s Senate testimony (pdf):


Or are threats against conservatives OK?

Speakers such as Spencer and Yiannopolous — craving attention, backed with outside money, pumped up with social media muscle and often surrounded by literal muscle — cleverly bully students into a prescribed role in a formulaic drama: intolerant liberal “snowflakes” silencing courageous speakers of uncomfortable truths.

Exercise for the reader: Evaluate the (sloppy) rhetoric in this passage.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 6

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 6.

Before we continue our examination of Falk’s justifications, I want to step back and examine my claim that, if Falk is remembered for anything 50 years from now — in the same way that we remember Williams President Jack Sawyer ’39 for his elimination of fraternities — it will be for banning Derbyshire. Are there other candidates for historical importance during Falk’s tenure?

1) His tenure placed the final nail in the coffin of faculty governance. Recall the “alignment” (pdf) that Falk outlined 7 years ago. I devoted nine days of discussion to explaining what this meant: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Read it if you want to understand the past/future of faculty governance at Williams. Short version: Faculty governance has decreased each decade at Williams for at least the last 50 years. Falk accelerated/completed that change.

2) Falk’s naivete about fake hate crimes might be an example in a history book 50 years from now. In November 2011, someone wrote “All Niggers Must Die” on the door of a bathroom on the fourth floor of Prospect House. (Record coverage here, here, and here.) That someone was almost certainly student of color and campus activist Jess Torres ’12. Evidence here: pdf. Previous discussion starts here. Falk cancelled classes even though he knew, or should have known, that this was a hate hoax. This was the first campus-wide cancellation of classes for almost 50 years.

3) Might Zach Wood ’18 go on to greatness? Probably not, since there are few slots available in history’s pantheon. But, if he does, his battles with Falk will live on.

4) Someone suggested (sorry, can’t find the link) that Falk would be remembered for turning Williams into a mall and/or ski-lodge. I disagree with that assessment because the major changes in campus construction (replace Baxter with Paresky, add Hollander/Schapiro, remove Sawyer Library) all occurred before his arrival. Even the major change during his time (completion of new Stetson/Sawyer) was planned/started before him.

What do readers think Falk will be remembered for in 2067?


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 5

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 5.

My presidential colleagues could add many examples from their own schools. Such events are happening on American campuses practically every day.

No kidding! The issue is not: Is there a single conservative speaker at Williams? The issues are: 1) What is the ratio of liberal-to-conservative speakers? 2) How does the format of events differ depending on the political views of the speaker? 3) How does student reaction vary? Falk insults his most serious critics by declining to consider their strongest arguments. Answers for Williams:

1) The ratio of liberal-to-conservative speakers invited by Williams faculty/administrators has been 25:1, or even 50:1, over the last 7 years. Does that seem sensible?

2) Liberal speakers almost always appear on stage alone and are provided an opportunity to make their case, followed by a Q&A. Conservative speakers almost always appear in a debate/discussion format.

3) Students often react very negatively to conservative speakers. Although we have (thankfully!) seen nothing like the physical violence at Middlebury, individual Williams students have been harassed.

What has too often been portrayed as a simple problem of liberal campuses censoring conservative ideas is something far more complex.

No, it isn’t. You banned a conservative speaker. Hundreds of Williams students (and faculty?) want to ban almost any speaker who is pro-Trump.

Sen. Kennedy himself stumbled onto the real issue when he told the hearing that schools should be allowed to respond differently to “speech that’s inflammatory; speech that uses a racial epithet; speech that’s designed to provoke” than to “a point of view that may not be popular.”

Is Falk well-served to refer to a US Senator as having “stumbled?” One view is that it is stupid to gratuitously insult powerful people. Why not be polite to Kennedy if politeness is free? The alternative view is that Falk is playing to the crowd, to the sort of people who read the Washington Post and run the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. For those people, Republican from Louisianan are capable of little more than stumbles . . .


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 4

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 4.

I can offer numerous examples in support of my argument from just the Williams campus. Three weeks after I declined to host Derbyshire, Murray spoke to a respectful student audience. Later in 2016, a similarly civil gathering heard Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute debate Daniel Weiner of the Brennan Center on campaign finance reform.

Unpacking this suitcase of misinformation is my raison de blog.

First, the only reason that Murray spoke at Williams was because Uncomfortable Learning invited him. In the last four years, Williams faculty/administrators have invited almost no conservative/Republican/libertarian speakers to campus. Moreover, Falk/Williams tried very hard, over multiple years, to shutdown UL. If he/they had been successful, Murray never would have come.

Second, Williams — and I suspect Falk was involved in this subterfuge — couldn’t even allow Murray to simply speak. Instead:

In response to Murray’s scheduled appearance at the College, the Williams College Debating Union (WCDU) invited Joseph L. Graves Jr., an evolutionary and nanobiologist and historian of science based at the Joint School for Nanoscience and Nanoengineering. Graves’ speech, entitled “Race, Genomics and Intelligence: Slight Return,” occurred in the same venue as Murray’s talk, immediately before the AEI fellow was to speak.

The Record is almost certainly guilty of its usual lousy reporting on this. First, the WCDU was not very active 2016, inviting zero speakers other than Graves to campus. Second, the sign for the event gives the leading spot for funding to the “Office of the President.” In other words, Falk was so concerned about (the reaction to?) Murray’s speech that he used a bunch of his own discretionary funds, laundered through a student group, to invite a mediocrity to speak for 90 minutes directly before Murray. That seems like a vote of confidence in the Williams community’s ability to handle controversial speech!

Third, explicitly mentioning a Charles Murray talk at a NESCAC school without discussing the violence which erupted at Middlebury is . . . a rhetorical trick that relies on the (assumed!) ignorance of his audience.

Fourth, the Shapiro/Weiner event, while praise-worthy, is one of only two non-UL events in the last four years involving a conservative/libertarian/Republican perspective. For Falk to cite this as if it is a common event on the Williams campus is absurd. Note also that neither of these two events featured a right wing voice speaking alone. Neither the College nor any faculty member has invited a solo speaker like Shapiro in the memory of any current student.

Last November, two days after the national election, former senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.), a prominent Donald Trump supporter, participated in a well-attended analysis of the results. And American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers recently came to offer her critique of contemporary feminism. Our students listened closely, then responded with challenging questions and in some cases blunt critiques — utterances to which they, too, surely were entitled.

First, many students (and faculty members?) felt that someone like Brown should not be allowed to speak on campus.

Second, Brown was, like Shapiro, paired with a liberal speaker. During Adam Falk’s 7 years at Williams, there have been scores of events featuring a liberal/progressive/Democratic speaker sharing her views with the audience, without the need for a debate or an opposing viewpoint. Outside of Uncomfortable Learning events, I don’t think there has been a single such event featuring a speaker from the Right.

Third, notice how Falk takes credit for Sommers even though she, like Murray, only appeared at Williams because of Uncomfortable Learning, an organization that senior faculty members like Sam Crane have gone out of their way to try to destroy.

If UL goes away with Zach Wood’s graduation next spring, will there be a single (solo) conservative/libertarian/Republican speaker invited to campus in 2018-2019? I have my doubts.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 3

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 3.

Sen. Kennedy portrayed the controversy as a matter of campus free speech. True, my decision made Williams an early entrant into the national debate on that issue. But his comments exemplify a widespread misunderstanding about the state of speech at American colleges and universities.

If the banning of Derbyshire is not a controversy about “campus free speech,” then what is it a controversy over? If anything, Falk’s actions are on canonical example of the problem.

Today’s students are far more eager to hear and engage with serious points of view of all kinds than you would think by reading the headlines. To understand this, just tally the annual speaking engagements of Charles Murray, Arthur Brooks, Jason Riley and other prominent conservatives who regularly speak to college audiences. But you won’t see many media stories titled, “Conservative Thinker Received Thoughtfully by Campus Audience.” That’s not a story that sells papers.

1) There are scores (hundreds? a majority?) of Williams students who think that speakers like Derbyshire/Veneker/Murray should be banned from campus. This is the official editorial position of the Williams Record. If we can’t trust Falk to be truthful about the problem, then why would we look to him for a solution?

2) Jason Riley is a prominent conservative? Uhh, maybe. But note that Riley is also the author of Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, perhaps the most un-Trumpian book imaginable.

3) I agree that it is a good idea to “tally the annual speaking engagements” of, not just conservative speakers, but of all speakers. What would that show at Williams? The vast majority of speakers are, of course, non-political. Adalyat Issiyeva, speaking on “Russian Orientalism: Russo-Japanese War and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Opera ‘The Golden Cockerel’” is non-partisan, regardless of whether Issiyeva voted for Trump or Clinton. But the vast majority of explicitly political speakers at Williams are liberal. (Surely, no one doubts that?) Would the ratio of liberal-to-conservative speakers be 10:1? 50:1? I would guess at least 25:1.

4) A concrete example of the bias at Williams under Falk was the refusal of the College to invite anyone with a “Republican/Sceptical” perspective on climate change to the year-long examination of the topic. In this case, the ratio of liberal-to-conservative speakers was infinity.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 2

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 2.

Williams College president: Don’t ignore the real threats in the debate over free speech

Authors don’t always get to choose their titles, but, in this case, I bet that Falk did. Even though Falk, personally, has done more damage to free speech at Williams than anyone else in the last century, he wants to employ some misdirection, like any good Three-card Monte hustler. “I, banner of campus speakers, am not the problem,” says Falk, “the threats are elsewhere.”

Last June, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) announced that I was unfit to be a college president, so I should resign and “put [my] head in a bag.” The insult wasn’t all that bad: In my job, you get worse. I was far more concerned by the misinformation behind the pronouncement.

Oh, Adam! You are so brave! Standing up to the brickbats of the hoi polloi. To think that you are willing to do this for only $810,821 per year. How is Williams ever going to survive without you?

The senator’s comment apparently referred to my February 2016 decision not to offer the blogger John Derbyshire the opportunity to speak on the Williams campus. Derbyshire, a self-described white supremacist, had been fired by the National Review for writing about how he would teach his children to avoid black people and advise other white parents to do the same.

How misleading can a paragraph be?

1) You banned Derbyshire from campus, forever, no matter the topic. This is much worse than a “decision not to offer” an “opportunity to speak.”

2) Calling Derbyshire a “blogger” is like calling Falk “short.” It is true that Derbyshire blogs and it is true that Falk is not the tallest Williams president in history. But, when writing in the Washington Post as the Williams president, you have an obligation to refer to your opponents politely. You should describe Derbyshire as an “author” since he has written several books with leading publishers, books that are available in the Williams libraries.

3) Derbyshire is not a “self-described white supremacist.”

I will save discussion of the “avoid black people” slur for another day.


Adam Falk’s Legacy, 1

To the extent that historians in 50 years comment on Adam Falk’s tenure, their discussion will focus on his decision to ban John Derbyshire from Williams and the larger debate over free speech on campus. (Key previous threads start here, here and here.) Let’s spend two weeks going through Falk’s two main discussions of this decision: his extended defense last year as published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and his Washington Post swan song. Day 1.

Is Adam Falk a phony or a naif? Tough to tell. Think that is too harsh a framing? Consider just one sentence from his Washington Post article:

Today’s students are far more eager to hear and engage with serious points of view of all kinds than you would think by reading the headlines.

Really? Consider three examples from the Record:

1) Valerie Oyakhilome ’18 wrote that “the administration is able to disinvite John Derbyshire, but chose to allow [former Senator] Brown to enter into our sanctuary, incite concealed racists and further rob minority students of their sense of safety, security and agency.” Oyakhilome does not think that (liberal!) Republicans like Scott Brown should be allowed on the Williams campus.

2) Olivia Goodheart ’18 and Marissa Levin Shapiro ’18 wrote, “Students already encounter anti-feminism every day at the College, and no matter your opinion on free speech, uncomfortable learning or promoting dialogues, this is unacceptable.” Goodheart and Shapiro do not think that conservative women like Suzanne Venker, a perfectly mainstream Fox News commentator, should be allowed on the Williams campus.

3) The Record Editorial Board argued that “the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman.” A naive observer might think that the Record was just following Adam Falk’s lead in attempting to ban nasty racists [sic] like John Derbyshire from campus. Untrue! The Record published that op-ed months ahead of the invitation to Derbyshire. They believed — and perhaps the Record still believes! — that no one to the right of, say, Scott Brown should be allowed on the Williams campus.

Now, admittedly, there are some student voices (e.g., here) at Williams in favor of open debate. But Falk is misleading his readers by pretending that there are not scores of students (hundreds of students? a majority of students?) who want to restrict debate at Williams.

So, is Falk a phony or a naif? My view is that he knows all too well how censorious current students are but that he wants to pretend that they (and their faculty teachers/enablers!) are not. He is the very model of a modern college president, committed to obfuscation when it comes to discussion about the status of open debate at places like Williams.


Falk Libels Derbyshire

Adam Falk squawked this swan song in the Washington Post, revisiting the Senate hearing featuring Zach Wood ’18 and Frederick Lawrence ’77 which discussed Falk’s decision to cancel a Williams speech by John Derbyshire.

1) I have put the entire article below the break. Jeff Bezos is rich enough without your dollar.

2) Why write this article now? Falk has six weeks left as Williams president. His new role at the Sloane Foundation has, fortunately, nothing to do with free speech on campus. Does this article help Williams? Not that I can see. The Derbyshire cancellation, while perhaps justified, is nothing but a reputational black eye for Williams. Bringing it up again only hurts the College. He could have easily waited six months and left Williams out of the conversation.

3) Worse part of the article is Falk’s libel of John Derbyshire as a “self-described white supremacist.” If you call someone a “self-described” X, you better have evidence of him describing himself as X. Falk can write that “Derbyshire is a white supremacist” or that “Derbyshire is a poopy head.” That is Falk’s opinion. Even if he is wrong, it would be hard for Derbyshire to prove it. But it is much easier for Derbyshire to sue Falk (and Williams?) for libel given that there is no evidence that Derbyshire has ever described himself as a “white supremacist.” Perhaps some Eph attorneys could forecast how such a suit might go?

4) I asked Falk for a citation on this point. He fobbed the question off to Jim Reische, who pointed to this article. Alas, this makes the exact opposite point! Derbyshire considers a wide range of possible names for his position, including “Alternative Right,” “White Supremacist,” and “White Nationalist.” He rejects them all, settling on “Dissident Right.” If this is the best/only evidence that Falk has, I suspect he might have set himself up for some legal trouble . . . Informed commentary welcome!

Read more


Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 3

Let’s revisit our September discussion over the (infamous) claim that the mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world and that being the best college requires admitting (and enrolling) more of the best students. Professor Matt Carter wrote a letter to the editor in the Record in response. Today is day 3 of my 3-day reply.

In truth, we know that our colleagues in the admission and financial aid offices collectively work hard to admit exceptional students who each bring unique and lasting contributions to our community.

True. And I am eager to educate Carter about the gritty realities of how that work is done. In particular, the SAT plays a major role in who gets admitted to Williams. If Carter doesn’t think that it should, he should complain to Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03.

We want students who will excel beyond Williams and have an impact on the world after they graduate, not students whose sole purpose for attending Williams is increasing indices on the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

The naivete here is impressive. Just how does Carter propose to look into the souls of applicants? How will he determine their motivations? How can he tell which applicants have a “sole purpose” connected to US News rankings? Good luck.

All students should know that they deserve to be here, that they are exceptional in ways that standardized test scores can’t measure and that they make Williams an outstanding college because of their presence, not despite it.

Should we also tell students to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny? 8,500 students applied to Williams last year. You really think that a dozen admissions staff, as wonderful as they may be, had the time to look much beyond Academic Rating? Ha! Do the math! Each officer is looking at around 1,000 applicants! (Academic rating is calculated separately by two people.) There is no time to do much beyond that.

Ultimately, Professor Carter is a scientist so I hope he is ready to consider (and privately confirm with Liz Creighton) some facts. Williams is, right now, considering a few dozen African-American applicants as part of early decision for the class of 2022. Virtually every single one of those applicants with an AR of 4 or above will be admitted, not because there is something “exceptional” in their application which “standardized test scores can’t measure” but because Academic Rating drives Williams admissions, especially within specific categories of applicants. Similarly, not a single applicant with AR 8 or 9, African-American or otherwise, will be admitted.

Williams, today, does not have an admissions system which, to any meaningful extent, looks at items “that standardized test scores can’t measure.” That is a fantasy. Instead, Williams decides, before it sees a single application, that it wants to “admit a class that reflects national populations,” which means somewhere around 100-125 African-American and Hispanic students. It then uses Academic Rating (which is about 50% driven by standardized test scores like the SAT) to determine which African-American and Hispanic students to admit.

I have few problems with Williams people who defend the current system. My issue is with faculty members like Matt Carter who don’t understand how Williams works and then spread their ignorance in the Record.

I can actually understand why some students feel like they snuck through a selective admissions process because I occasionally experience these same feelings myself. These thoughts are common, especially at high-achieving institutions like Williams. The key is to recognize the universality of these feelings, to realize they are unproductive and to ultimately ignore them. We should do the same with Kane’s unthoughtful article.

My position on Williams admissions is the same as it was a decade ago:

Admit that smartest, most academically ambitious, English-fluent students in the world. Some will be poor, some rich. Some black, some white. Some born in India, some in Indiana. Some can play basketball, some can’t. Some will have parents who went to Williams, some will have parents who did not graduate college. None of that matters. Ignore it for admissions purposes. Look at grades, look at scores. Summarize it in the academic rating. Admit and attract the best. Williams should have more internationals, more high ARs (many of them Asian Americans), fewer tips and fewer URMs then it has today. I suspect that the ideal class of a typical Williams faculty member is much closer to my ideal class than it is to the actual student body at Williams. So, I wish that the faculty were much more involved in admissions.

The fewer admissions preferences we give — whether to athletes, URMs or students from poor families — the less common/destructive will be the feeling that a student “snuck” into Williams or does not “deserve” to be here. To the extent those feeling are common, they aren’t my fault. They are the fault of Professor Matt Carter and everyone else at Williams who insists on putting so much emphasis on non-academic factors in admissions.


Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 2

Let’s revisit our September discussion over the (infamous) claim that the mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world and that being the best college requires admitting (and enrolling) more of the best students. Professor Matt Carter wrote a letter to the editor in the Record in response. Today is day 2 of my 3-day reply.

Therefore, the opinion piece by David Kane ’88, “What Does It Mean to be the Best?” (Sept. 20, 2017), does great disservice to our community by suggesting that some students actually don’t deserve to be here and that they gained admission for illegitimate reasons.

Hmmm. Does the word “deserve” appear in the op-ed? No. Does the word “illegitimate” appear? No. Do any synonyms of “deserve” or “illegitimate” appear? No. Professor Matt Carter is just making things up, claiming that the op-ed includes sentiments that, in fact, it does not.

Is Carter a fool or a liar? Neither! He, if he were to go back and re-read the op-ed, he would probably be honestly surprised to discover that it doesn’t say what he claims it said. For most of the Williams faculty and administration, an accurate description of the admissions process, along with a proposal to modify it, is indistinguishable from an attack on the legitimacy of (some) current students. That is a childish attitude because it makes discussion of policy change impossible.

Recall the 2002 MacDonald Report (pdf) and the 2009 Athletics Committee Report. Both argued that Williams should place less emphasis on athletic ability in admissions. Naive critics would often, like Carter, read these proposals as an attack on the legitimacy of (then) current students. But those faculty authors were not questioning whether any of the (then) current student-athletes “deserved” to Williams, just as I do not question any students today. An Eph is an Eph is an Eph. They (and I) just argue that Williams should change its policies.

Even forgetting the absurd argument that SAT scores should be the main determinant of college admissions, or that the ultimate goal of Williams is “to be the best,” Kane’s article has great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students that they snuck through the admissions process.

First, I do not argue that “SAT scores should be the main determinant of college admissions.” Carter creates so many straw men that I fear for fire safety in the Science Quad. Second, SAT (and other standardized test) scores are, along with high school grades, the most important applicant qualities in the Williams admissions process. Don’t like the fact that SAT scores are so important at Williams? Don’t blame me! Blame Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03. They could make the SAT (and other achievement test) optional, like Bates. They could go further and not even consider standardized test scores in admission. Falk/Creighton do none of those things because they recognize that SAT scores help Williams to select the best students.

Second, I argue that the goal of Williams is to be the best college in the world. What does Carter think the goal should be? I am honestly curious. Whatever his statement of the College’s mission, doesn’t he agree that we should admit the “best” students we can. (I assume that he does!) We might have a disagreement over how to define/measure “best,” but, until we start focusing on this sort of substance, we won’t make much progress.

Third, I agree that the article has “great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students,” just as the MacDonald Report had “great potential to reinforce self-doubts and anxieties among some of our students.” Any time we discuss the performance of students at Williams, we run that risk. Does Carter believe that we shouldn’t? Would he argue that the authors of the MacDonald Report were derelict in their responsibilities to Williams students 15 years ago?


Professor Matt Carter on Best College, 1

Let’s revisit our September discussion over the (infamous) claim that the mission of Williams is to be the best college in the world and that being the best college requires admitting (and enrolling) more of the best students. Professor Matt Carter wrote a letter to the editor in the Record in response. Today is day 1 of my 3-day reply.

In my brief four years as a faculty member at Williams, I have been struck by the number of students whom, during one-on-one conversations with me, have confided their beliefs that somehow they “snuck into” Williams. “I only got into Williams because I’m an athlete,” some have said. “I only got into Williams because I’m an underrepresented minority.” “I only got into Williams because I’m from an underrepresented part of the country.”

Some of those students are correct. If you are an athletic tip, then you would have not gotten into Williams if you had not been on the coach’s list. Some of these students are misinformed. Although a desire for geographic diversity does exist, it plays a de minimus role in Williams admissions.

Indeed, “I only got in because _____” is more common than individual students think, and I even know of some faculty who feel the same way about their own job offers.

Luck and talent and the often mysterious preferences of opaque institutions play a role in all our lives.

Of course, from my vantage point, each of these students has not only deserved to be at Williams, but has contributed much to my courses, my lab and just about every corner of campus.

Note the subtle shift from getting in “because” of factor X to discussion of who “deserved to be at Williams.” This is sloppy and unhelpful. That athletic ability, as measured by inclusion on a coach’s list of tips, affects admissions in general, and the status of certain applicants specifically, is an statement of empirical fact. You may like it. You may not like it. But your preferences are irrelevant to the truth. Notions of who “deserved” admission are completely different. They are moral judgments. There is no necessary connection between the reality of how admissions works at Williams and the moral argument about how it should work.

For me, and I suspect for Professor Carter, every student at Williams “deserves” to be at Williams (except in extreme cases of, say, the forgery of a high school transcript). Applicants don’t make the rules. They don’t decide the policies of Williams. They submit themselves to our judgment. If they are accepted, then, almost by definition, they “deserve” to be at Williams.

Nevertheless, these feelings persist and can lead to pessimistic views that “my best work will never be as good as the students who actually deserve to be here.” I am so sad when I hear these feelings, especially because they remove a sense of optimism about assignments, exams and meaningful projects in and out of the classroom.

Whose fault is that? Not mine! The vast majority of Williams students with, say, academic ratings of 4 went to high schools with lots of applicants to Williams. They know applicants with much better grades and test scores who were rejected from Williams. For me, they “deserve” to be at Williams as much as any Eph. But, it is hardly crazy for them to wonder at the process, to worry that they will be outmatched academically in Professor Carter’s class, to suspect that their “best work will never be as good as the students” with much higher test scores and high school grades.

The average African-American student in Professor Carter’s classes has an math+verbal SAT score of around 1270. The averaged tipped athlete is at 1350. The average for the class as a whole is 1450. And, for those applicants without a hook involve race/wealth/athletics, it is probably above 1500. If that range causes problems, don’t blame me! Blame Adam Falk and Liz Creighton ’03.

Moreover, whether or not these views are “pessimistic” is another question of empirical fact, one that I urge Professor Carter not to investigate until he receives tenure in another three years. Do AR 4 and below students do as well in Professor Carter’s class as AR 1 students? I bet that they do far, far worse.


Pell Grant, 5

Whitney Wilson ’90 points out this Washington Post article (and chart) about the rise in the percentage of Pell Grant recipients at elite schools like Williams. For background information on this topic, read this, this and our ten (!) part series from 2014. Let’s spend a week on this topic. Today is Day 5.

The lowest Pell share on the list belonged to Washington and Lee University — 6 percent. Will Dudley, who this year became president of the private Virginia liberal arts school, said the share rose to 11 percent this fall and he wants to lift it further. Dudley said he raised the issue of socioeconomic diversity at Washington and Lee when he was interviewing for the job. Previously, he was provost at Williams College, which had a far higher Pell share in 2015 — 22 percent. “If they didn’t want to make progress, they wouldn’t have hired me,” Dudley said.

Washington and Lee President Will Dudley said the university’s share grew to 11 percent this fall and he wants it to rise further.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “I don’t want to be a school that is near the bottom of the pack.”

EphBlog loves Will Dudley ’89, but this sort of prattle makes me less unhappy that he won’t be the next president of Williams.

First, admissions are, largely, a zero-sum game. Every high quality low-income student that Dudley brings to Washington and Lee is one less high quality low-income student who goes to school X. Does that really make the world a better place? I have my doubts.

Second, Washington and Lee is #10 on US News. Not bad, of course, but nowhere near the first tier, mainly because the quality of the student body is so much worse than at places like Williams/Amherst/Swarthmore.


A better president would devote his energy toward improving the overall quality of the student body (which is not an easy thing to do!) rather than parading his virtue to the readers of the Washington Post.

Third, if I were a Washington and Lee trustee, I would challenge Dudley about his focus on Pell Grants as a meaningful measure of socio-economic diversity. It is not a bad measure, but, as we have discussed all week, it is not a particularly good measure because a) it changes over time via Congressional whim and b) it is too dependent on one specific point in the income distribution. If all Dudley has done in the last year is to replace a bunch of applicants from families who make $70,000 with other applicants whose families make $50,000 — and who would have been rejected in the past because their credentials were worse — because the latter are Pell-eligible), then he has accomplished very little, and certainly has no business bragging about it to the Post.


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