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Graduation and Reunions Cancelled

Full letter from Maud below. The decision was inevitable. I was struck by this passage:

My heart goes out especially to the class of 1970, whose own senior spring term was canceled due to protests over the bombing of Cambodia, and who are now having their 50th reunion disrupted by a global pandemic.

1) I don’t know this history as well as I should. I know that there was a student strike, but was the “senior spring term” really “cancelled.” What about the other students? Junior spring term went on fine, but not senior spring term. How is that even possible?

2) There is a great senior thesis to be written, tying events at Williams across this 50 year divide. Indeed, kudos to Maud, the historian, for making that connection.

Williams students, families, faculty and staff,

Over the last few weeks Williams has been assessing the question of whether or not to hold commencement and reunion, in light of the pandemic’s progress and impact. I have decided, reluctantly and with significant disappointment, that the college cannot safely hold a traditional in-person Williams commencement or reunion in June.

Every year I share in the joy of seniors who are celebrating the successful completion of their Williams education, and their excitement about embarking on their next adventures. Seeing the delight of parents and families, who have supported their students in remarkable ways, is equally moving. A week later, I welcome alumni who are returning from adventures of their own. We often say Williams is more than a campus: it is a worldwide community. Commencement and reunion together demonstrate this truth.

Seniors, while I am heartbroken that graduation cannot happen in the conventional way at the conventional time, I am determined that you will have your moment. Rather than deciding for you what that should look like, my colleagues and I want to start by asking you. Following this message, you will receive an email from College Marshal and J. Hodge Markgraf Professor of Chemistry Jay Thoman ’82, with a questionnaire you can use to share your ideas. Your responses will help inform our thinking about the options.

While the result almost certainly will not look exactly like a traditional graduation, Professor Thoman and all of us are determined to create something memorable and meaningful. Seniors,please complete the questionnaire and tell us what that might look like for you.

Alumni will shortly receive a separate note from me about Reunion 2020. Our colleagues in the Office of College Relations are going to work with the classes of the “aughts and fives,” including our 25th and 50th reunion classes, on alternate ways to get together. My heart goes out especially to the class of 1970, whose own senior spring term was canceled due to protests over the bombing of Cambodia, and who are now having their 50th reunion disrupted by a global pandemic. I promise that we will find other ways to celebrate these milestone anniversaries, which are so important to alumni and college alike.

You have no idea how much I wish we could come together in the customary ways, to celebrate as a community. But I am confident that we can work together creatively to make the most of even this unprecedented challenge. Seniors, I hope you will share your thoughts and hopes via the questionnaire. Together, we will craft celebrations befitting the great class of 2020 and all our reunion classes.

Wishing you and your families all the best in the weeks ahead,

Maud

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Four Letter Word, 15 Years Later

This post was originally written 15 years ago. More true today than ever?

In the era of CV-19 and remote learning, where is the Log?

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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.
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Fifteen 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. In fact, if WSO is too atrophied for that to happen, Maud should have OIT do it. Given that they have all the login information, it is a one-day job, at most.

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Close the Borders, 3

Professor Darel Paul commands our attention again.

Have you been paying attention to EphBlog on this topic? You should have been. Recall where we were on February 25th:

Long-time readers will not be surprised to know that the EphBlog bunker is well-prepped for pandemic mayhem. Have you replenished your supplies recently?

The two previous pieces in this area have been as prescient. Read them. Where are we now?

Any geographic area — any village, town, city, county, or country — can allow either open migration from the outside or freedom of internal movement. You can’t have both, or you will, unavoidably, be on the way to widespread infection. Only walls of some sort can stop the descent to herd immunity, and a million or more American deaths.

Paul understands that, of course. What he fails to see, however, is that limiting internal movement enough to matter in the US is impossible.

First, our governing class is incompetent. Second, our country is too wide open. How could the governor of Pennsylvania, even if he wanted to, close all the border crossings with New York State? Third, our politics are broken. Even if Trump tried to create internal borders, the Democrats would go crazy.

My recommendation to Trump is the same now as it was on March 14. Close the borders to the outside world. (We are now 90% (98%?) of the way there anyway.) Would that matter much to the course of the infection? I don’t know. But it can only help. It is also the best way for Trump to increase his odds of re-election. (I am honestly interested in contrary opinions to this claim.)

What will happen? I don’t know. On some dimensions, I am more optimistic than I was three weeks ago. Who would have predicted, say, California’s ability to stop the exponential growth of infections? Some treatments seem promising. Bill Gates is doing amazing work with vaccine production. On other dimensions, things are much worse. CV-19 is now everywhere. Even with closed borders, it might be impossible to find every carrier. Cases will explode again in the fall, just as they did with the Spanish Flu, for which the second wave was much deadlier than the first.

And what would that mean for Williams, come September 2020?

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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, all the more so as students were scattered around the world by the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 in 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.

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Disingenuous Things

Former Williams Professor KC Johnson on the up-coming changes in Title IX regulations:

Many disingenuous things have been said during the coronavirus crisis, some of them by the president of the United States himself. But right near the top must be three letters issued last week — from the American Council on Education (ACE), activist groups led by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), and 18 Democratic attorneys general — calling for the Department of Education to halt the release of long-anticipated regulations that will restore due process to the handling of sexual-assault cases on college campuses. DeVos’s proposed rule would ensure basic rights for accused students — notice, access to evidence, a live hearing, and the ability to have a lawyer or advocate cross-examine adverse witnesses — that are often or almost always absent in the current Title IX process imposed by Obama-era guidance. That system has yielded more than 170 university setbacks in lawsuits filed by accused students in state or federal court.

In its letter, ACE argued that “at a time when institutional resources already are stretched thin, colleges and universities should not be asked to divert precious resources away from more critical efforts in order to implement regulations unrelated to this extraordinary crisis.” The NWLC letter spoke similarly, but leaned harder on the supposed harm to students: “Finalizing the proposed rule would also unnecessarily exacerbate confusion and uncertainty for students who are currently in pending Title IX investigations and hearings, which have already been delayed and disrupted by the pandemic.” The letter from the attorneys general expressed similar language.

While it’s hard not to admire their chutzpah, their arguments are provably nonsense.

First, the universities have known for more than 16 months — since November 2018 — that these regulations were coming. They have had ample time both to tell the government what they think of the regulations and to start planning for their inevitable release. If some of them have failed to plan ahead, hoping that the regulations would never be released or that a lawsuit by victims’ groups would enjoin them immediately following their release, that isn’t the fault of the coronavirus.

Second, do you know who’s going to have a lot of time on their hands in the next six months? Title IX coordinators. Why? Because the number of Title IX cases is about to drop precipitously.

Indeed. Allyson Kurker’s income is about to take a big hit. So sad!

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Close the Borders, 2

Professor Darel Paul notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The crisis would be over.

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

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Kudos to Cohen

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

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

#OurFinestHour

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

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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.

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Close The Borders

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will be our finest hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quibbles:
Read more

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Faculty Advice

From The New York Times:

To the Editor:

When Cambridge University in England closed in 1665 because of the bubonic plague, a young man named Isaac Newton went home to the countryside. And there he sat under the famous apple tree and realized that the same gravity worked on the apple and the Moon.

Let us hope that the current situation leads one of today’s scholars to make a breakthrough that will help future generations.

Jay M. Pasachoff
Williamstown, Mass.
The writer is a professor of astronomy at Williams College.

Let us hope!

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Domineering State

Great book review from Professor Darel Paul:

About halfway through his new book, ­Christopher Caldwell quotes John Stuart Mill on the relationship between diversity and democracy: “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.” This sentiment haunts The Age of Entitlement. Ostensibly about “America Since the Sixties,” the book is really about rights—in particular, civil rights—and the national consequences of their expansion during the past sixty years in the context of deepening diversity. Race occupies center stage, particularly as the book reaches its concluding chapters. Yet Caldwell also shows how the civil rights movement of the 1960s set the “template” used by every group claiming rights in its wake: women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered persons. The outcome has not been the more perfect union promised by civil rights, but social inequality, political polarization, and a domineering state.

A yearning for less bureaucratic and judicial rule and more self-government animates The Age of Entitlement. I have the same desire. In the balance between liberalism and democracy, Caldwell is correct to say that America today has too much of the former and too little of the latter. Yet the way to get more democracy is not through more rights talk. It is instead through recovering (and inventing anew) an alternative vision of responsibility and sociality. Only with such a vision can we cultivate the fellow-feeling that is necessary for democracy.

With luck, that vision will be Paul’s next book.

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President Sanders?

If I were Trump, there is no one I would rather run against than Bernie Sanders.

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Wokeness is Whiteness

Professor Darel Paul has coined the phrase “wokeness is whiteness.” Example:

Another:

Is this stupid or genius or offensive? To be honest, I am not even sure what it means . . .

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Deja Vu

I really liked my post last week: Holiday Feelings and Fond Memories. I was hoping that it might inspire some great stories about Williams Professors. Also, I was hoping to get an answer to the question: Do Williams Professors still line up “outside” the West College Gate and applaud the graduates as they walk through?

Unfortunately, the only response I got was about how one fails out of Williams.

Therefore, I am posting last week’s post again and hoping to hear some wonderful stories.

I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?

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Holiday Feelings and Fond Memories

I would like to return to the warmth of the holiday spirit and expand on my recent post, “One of the best things about Williams…” I wanted to share a favorite memory of a beloved professor: It was my graduation day, a day that was not always guaranteed to occur for me. As we walked through the gates by West College, the professors lined the walk and applauded us.* I was humbly making my way through the parallel lines when Professor Mac Brown sought me out and shook my hand. I had taken many classes from Professor Brown and he had seen me at my worst and at my best as a student. The fact that he made the effort to find me and shake my hand meant more than I can convey. It is a memory that I cherish to this day.

What memory of a professor do you cherish to this day?

*Does this (unbelievable) tradition still occur?

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Warm Wishes

Maud sent me (and every other class agent? every alum? every Eph including students/staff/faculty?) this card:

In the e-mail, the card is animated and features Maud’s signature at the bottom. Sadly, I could not recreate those effects in this post. Comments:

1) Have Williams presidents traditionally sent out such e-mails? I assume that they have, but I can’t recall any specifics. We should gather some up!

2) The card does not mention “Christmas,” which I assume has been the case for 20 years or more. (Indeed, it is almost a quarter century since Williams had a non-Jewish president.) When was the last time “Christmas” appeared on such card?

3) This card does not even mention “Happy Holidays,” which is the traditional replacement on such institutional communications for the older “Merry Christmas.” Is that intentional? Happy Holidays was (is?) considered more inclusive since it encompasses both Christians/Christmas and Jews/Hanukah. But other faiths do not have (major?) holidays in late December. So, is “Happy Holidays” now considered rude? Honest question!

4) “Happy New Year” is no more controversial today than “Merry Christmas” was 50 years ago. Will that always be true? Other people have their own traditions for when the new year starts. Will our desire to avoid offense cause us to remove/replace this traditional greeting? I assume not. The Western calendar is so universal that Williams presidents will continue to write “Happy New Year” for decades to come.

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Adams Versus Topaz

Although the College Fix is not the most reliable news source, I think this is a fair summary of the Chad Topaz versus Colin Adams fight:

Thompson’s essay received negative pushback from her fellow academics, including Chad Topaz, a professor and mathematician at Williams College. Topaz publicly condemned Thompson’s argument, calling it “dangerous.” He also said he would advise his students “not to apply [to UC-Davis] for grad school,” and that he would advise fellow academics “not to apply there for jobs.”

Correct. As we have discussed, Topaz’s initial response was histrionic and inconsistent. How can Topaz recommend that “minoritized” high school seniors attend Williams or that “minoritized” graduate students apply for faculty positions at Williams if the chair of his own department, Richard De Veaux, is opposed to the proper use of diversity statements in academic hiring? The College Fix continues:

In response to the letter castigating Thompson, a counter-petition has arisen in support of Thompson. That letter expresses concern over what the signatories call “attempts to intimidate a voice within our mathematical community.”

“The reaction to the article has been swift and vehement. An article posted at the site QSIDE urges faculty to direct their students not to attend and not to apply for jobs at the University of California-Davis, where Prof. Thompson is chair of the math department. It recommends contacting the university to question whether Prof. Thompson is fit to be chair. And it recommends refusing to do work for the Notices of the American Mathematical Society for allowing this piece to be published,” the letter reads, continuing:

Regardless of where anyone stands on the issue of whether diversity statements are a fair or effective means to further diversity aims, we should agree that this attempt to silence opinions is damaging to the profession. This is a direct attempt to destroy Prof. Thompson’s career and to punish her department. It is an attempt to intimidate the AMS into publishing only articles that hew to a very specific point of view. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated into avoiding discussion of how best to achieve diversity, we undermine our attempts to achieve it.

That letter had 725 signatures attached to it as of yesterday evening, well over a hundred more than the letter critical of Thompson.

Reached via email, Colin Adams, a professor at Williams College and the author of the letter, declined to answer questions about the ongoing controversy, though he wrote that the letter has been signed by “8 past presidents of the American Mathematical Society, four Fields medalists (math equivalent of the Nobel prize) and numerous prominent members of the math community.”

Whoah! I did not realize that Adams was so central to this fight. Well done! But that fact just makes Topaz’s refusal to fight the power at Williams all the more cowardly. If Thompson’s actions are enough to cause him to recommend that students not go to UCD, how can he in good conscience recommend that students come to Williams? Honest question!

The (alt-right?) Williams professors who signed the letter include: Colin Adams, Luana Maroja, Matt Carter, Julie Blackwood, Steven Miller, Joan Edwards, David C Smith, Thomas Garrity, Phebe Cramer, Susan Dunn, Richard De Veaux, Dan Lynch, David Gürçay-Morris and Leo Goldmakher.

What does Professor Topaz think of this?

Who are the “haters” in this context? The most charitable interpretation would be that it is a reference to (anonymous) people who said mean things to Topaz on twitter. I ignore those people as well! A more problematic (but still OK) interpretation would be that haters refers to (reasonable?) critics like EphBlog. But my sense is that “haters” is a direct reference to Adams and the other signatories of his letter, including six members of his own department at Williams.

So much for collegiality . . .

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Topaz Updates

EphBlog’s favorite woke mathematician, Professor Chad Topaz, has a new analysis.

In November, 2019, the Notices of the American Mathematical Society (AMS Notices) published an essay critical of the use of diversity statements in academic hiring. The publication of this essay prompted many responses, including two public letters circulated within the mathematical sciences community. Both public letters were signed by hundreds of people and will be published online by the AMS on December 13, 2019. In this research brief, we report on a crowdsourced demographic study of the signatories to the two public letters. Letter A highlights diversity and social justice issues, and was signed by relatively more women, members of underrepresented ethnic groups, and professionally vulnerable individuals. Letter B highlights the need for discussion and debate, and, in stark contrast, was signed by substantially more men, white people, and professionally secure individuals.

Comments:

1) I like Topaz. No, really, I do! Some of my closest friends/family share his woke political outlook. He is also an outstanding teacher, and there is no faculty attribute that EphBlog values more highly than excellence in teaching Williams students. Also, he is highly transparent in his research, providing, for example, the raw data underlying this analysis.

2) Despite his recent arrival, Topaz might play a major role at Williams over the next few decades. Note the blurb on his homepage: “data science, applied mathematics, and social justice.” Topaz, a topologist, has, in recent years, dived into data science, a field likely to play a major role at Williams (and everywhere else) over the next few decades. Indeed, there are rumors that one of the major outcomes from Maud’s strategic planning process is a new focus on Data Science. Topaz would be a natural leader for such an effort.

3) Topaz’s entrepreneurial energy is impressive. He does a lot of stuff! A faculty member told me that, when Williams was hiring a senior mathematician a few years ago, Topaz was clearly the number one candidate on the market. I think that Topaz deserves 90% of the credit for the creation of QSIDE. What other Williams faculty members have done something like this over the last decade? The best analogue I can come up with is Economics Professor Stephen Sheppard and the Center for Creative Community Development. Other examples?

4) Should we be worried that Topaz is a little too entrepreneurial? Note that “The Center for Creative Community Development (C3D) is a Williams College research center.” This is the normal way that such things are organized. Sheppard fund-raises, runs the effort and so on. But Williams College gets a cut and is, ultimately, in charge. QSIDE, on the other hand, seems to exist (completely?) independently of Williams. It is a 501(c)(3) Tax-Exempt Organization. Does it use Williams resources? How do the finances work? If I were a trustee, I would ask some questions.

5) The problem at Williams is not Chad Topaz, a dedicated teacher and skilled researcher. The problem is that there is no one (?) on the faculty who represents the other side of politics in America, much less globally. No one on the Williams faculty voted for Trump while, probably, about 10% to 20% of the students will.

6) And the problem with Chad Topaz is that he probably doesn’t see a problem with this. He doesn’t “debate social justice” and I bet that he has no interest in seeing such debates at Williams, or in even hiring a junior professor who thinks that such debates might be a good idea. Am I being unfair? Comments welcome!

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One of the best things about Williams…

I loved my time at Williams and feel very fortunate to have been a student there. While I have an almost endless list of things that I am grateful for, near the top of the list are the relationships I had with a few professors over the years. Here is a tweet from Professor Sarah Jacobson that illustrates that those kind of relationships continue to this day:

Sarah Jacobson

@SarahJacobsonEc

Dec 2

“Can I brag and be proud that my independent study student from last spring (at the time a sophomore) got her term paper published in an undergrad econ journal? And that the paper had a lovely pun in the title? I think I can, right?”

Here’s the link to the paper itself, which concludes “We need to research policies that will help provide for this increasing energy demand, but at the same time will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/uer/vol16/iss1/5/

Isn’t it great that Williams has small class sizes where close relationships with professors can be built and magic like this can happen?

 

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I Don’t Debate

Professor Chad Topaz’s latest twitter thread deserves a thorough fisking. Key section:

Key sentence:

I don’t debate social justice.

What are we to make of this?

1) I believe Topaz. He has no interest in a debate. (I reached out to him and received no response.)

2) There is a long tradition at Williams of refusing to debate, although it has been somewhat dormant in the last 50 years. The ministers who started Williams had no interest in debating the divinity of Christ. Mark Hopkins refused to allow Ralph Waldo Emerson on campus. Adam Falk banned John Derbyshire. Can any historians flesh out the attitude of Williams faculty toward debate during the 19th century? Topaz is a modern version of that worldview.

3) Nothing wrong with a refusal to debate, of course, if, that is, you are running a Madrassa. Is that what Williams is? I hope not!

4) I have no objection to Williams professors who prefer to have nothing to do with Topic X. Life is short! They are busy with their students and their research. But it seems unusual for a professor, like Topaz, to be so engaged in social justice issues — as he obviously is — and yet, at the same time, to refuse to discuss/debate the topic. Most SJW professors won’t shut up about social justice.

5) I recommend that Topaz’s opponents, like Professor Colin Adams, publicly challenge him to a debate about diversity statements and the desirability of publishing the views of their critics.

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I Wish You a Restful Break

Indeed. I never wish people a “Happy Birthday,” and for exactly the same reasons. How can I ever know what sort of stressful situations they are going through? How can I ever know what effect my words might have?

More importantly, what if someone has turkeys in their extended family? This holiday is a nightmare for them! Have you no empathy?

Professor Sarah Jacobson gets it:

Exactly right. In fact, I recommend that Professor Jacobson stop referring to herself as a “Professor” at “Williams College.” Professor is, of course, a word with problematic roots. Indeed, any word with roots going back to the Normans, among the worst colonialists in history, merits banishment. And don’t even get me started on the Romans! And Ephraim Williams’ attitude toward Native Americans is well-documented.

Anyone who doesn’t want to say “Thanksgiving” should never say “Williams.”

Stay Woke, my fellow Ephs!

UPDATE: The last time the Williams College twitter account used the word “Thanksgiving” was 2015. How long before the official college calendar removes the word? (It currently refuses to use the words Columbus or Christmas.) Think I am crazy? Consider:

Enjoy the holiday-that-must-not-be named!

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Particularly Nasty and Vitriolic

Will Professor Chad Topaz’s jihad against the opponents of diversity statements go on long enough to require an EphBlog scandal name? If so, suggestions? Updates:

1) See this Inside Higher Ed article for useful background. Sadly, it does not mention Topaz or any other Eph.

2) Chicago Professor (and EphBlog critic) Jerry Coyne comes down hard on Topaz. Some of his points are good, some bad. All are made at excessive length.

3) Former Williams professor John Drew notes:

Academics offended by the extremism of Chad M. Topaz, a woke Williams College math professor, have organized a petition in response to his campaign to silence a white female math professor at UC Davis. He has gone so far as to try to get her fired.

What was most interesting to me about this statement is that it is basically coming from liberal academics who are for the most part in favor of affirmative action and okay with promoting diversity. The issue, for them, is that Chad Topaz has take on the role of enforcer of the most extreme policies expectations of critical race theory and identity politics. I was also surprised to see who has already signed the petitions complaining about Topaz.

Signatories include the following list of luminaries including at least six from his own college including – Luana Maroja, Matt Carter, Joan Edwards, David C. Smith, Phebe Cramer and Susan Dunn – and no less than five from his own math department – Colin Adams, Julie Blackwood, Richard De Veaux, Thomas Garrity and Steven J. Miller.

Hmmm. Have they really? (That is, do the petition organizers actually check that any signers are who they say they are?) If so, this should be the lead story in the Record next week.

4) Topaz provides an update here. Note:

For those of you who are in mathematics, advise grad-school-bound undergraduate students – especially students who are minoritized along some axis – not to apply to UC Davis. Advise your graduate student and postdoc colleagues not to apply there for jobs.

Shouldn’t Topaz start his activism closer to home? Assuming that the signatories on the letter are real — and I have every reason to think that they are! — there are professors at Williams, even professors in the Math/Stat Department — who agree with Abigail Thompson, or at least disagree with Topaz’s attempts to silence her.

How can Topaz recommend that “minoritized” high school seniors attend Williams or that “minoritized” graduate students apply for faculty positions at Williams if the chair of his own department, Richard De Veaux, is opposed to the proper use of diversity statements in academic hiring? The Record should find out.

UPDATE: Thanks to the first commentator for pointing out Topaz’s other posts. They are preserved below the break for posterity.
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DIE Uber Alles

Last time a Williams faculty member was tagged by Steve Sailer? Tonight!

Chad Topaz is “disgusted” by an academic writing something with which he disagrees, so disgusted that he won’t even link (pdf) to it?

I wonder if that argument would fly in a Williams history class? “I am so disgusted by this argument that I refuse to footnote it!”

Is Topaz as histrionic in person as he is here? Honestly curious!

UPDATE: Topaz provides more details on his views here.

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One Concern

From Math Professor Chad Topaz:

Here at QSIDE, we wake up early, drink coffee, and write these:

Hi organizers [of a one-day conference],

Thanks so much for organizing this event. I know it takes a lot of work to pull it off.

I do want to bring up one concern. If I am wrong in my assessment, please forgive me and ignore the rest of this email, but it seems all the speakers are liberal. It’s disappointing to see the many excellent not-liberals excluded from participating as speakers, and moreover, it sends a really discouraging message to any attendees who aren’t liberals.

I hope you might find a way to bring political diversity to your set of speakers. There are lots of great, effective practices for speaker selection that would result in a more politically-diverse program.

Thanks for hearing me out on this, and thanks again for the work you do to put it all together.

Cheers,
Chad

1) How wonderfully (passive) aggressive! Not that there is anything wrong with that!

2) Does Topaz send these out to colleagues organizing such conferences at Williams? Kudos to him if he does! The more thought put into panel selection, the better. EphBlog has been complaining about the lack of political diversity on panels at Williams for decades!

3) If you were a junior member of Topaz’s department, what would you think? EphBlog’s advice would be to follow Topaz’s suggestions! They are sensible (or, at least, not nonsensical) and, more importantly, he will be voting on your tenure in a few years.

4) How would you feel if you were organizing a conference at, say, Harvard and some rando from Williams sent you this e-mail? Good question! Perhaps our academic friends like dcat and sigh might opine.

5) I would chuckle, then ignore it. Does Topaz really think that I am unaware of political diversity and its importance? What wonderful arrogance from some nobody teaching at a jumped-up prep school! Putting together conferences is difficult, balancing participant priorities is hard, and even getting people to agree to come is annoying. The last thing I want to deal with is somebody who isn’t even attending the conference kvetching about his personal hobbyhorse. Of course, at the end of the conference, I will seek opinions from the attendees to see how we might improve things next year and, if others share Topaz’s (idiosyncratic?) views, I will try to adjust, subject to all the other constraints I need to deal with.

More:

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The Williams Record: “Profiles of Presidents Past”

Profiles of Presidents Past: Adam Falk

The Record, in a recent issue, has written a profile of former Williams president Adam Falk. The article is written interview-style, and it touches on issues ranging from expensive landscaping projects to free speech controversies.

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Weekend Links

Will the ABA Reject Due Process?” by former Williams professor KC Johnson.

They left their corporate jobs to write kids’ books in a barn. But a fairy-tale life is hard work” about Ephs Robbi Behr and Matthew Swanson.

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What Williams classes have stayed with you since graduation?

While cleaning out some old files, I recently came across a copy of my Williams transcript.  Looking at it produced some surprises, and my older son was not very impressed with my grades.  (My arguments about grade inflation did not impress him either.)

One of the items on the transcript was a political science class I took as senior with Prof. Michael MacDonald called Settler Societies. The class was a comparison of the similarities and differences between the conflicts which were then present in Israel, South Africa, and Northern Ireland.  One of my clearest takeaways from the class was how intractable each of the conflicts appeared, and how it seemed as though there was no way for any of them to be “resolved” short of full scale civil war.  Much to my surprise, within 10 years, both the situations in South Africa and Northern Ireland had fundamentally shifted (“solved” is probably not exactly accurate), despite there being no obvious way forward at the time I took the class.  It appears that the class has now morphed into a senior seminar called Identity Politics: Conflicts in Bosnia, Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, & South Africa“.  Here is the course description:

Identities have been either the stakes, or the guise taken by other kinds of conflicts, in Bosnia, Israel-Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa for centuries. They have led to, or expressed, political divisions, clashing loyalties, and persistent and sometimes consuming violence. They also have produced attempts by both internal and external actors to resolve the issues. This research seminar will engage the origins of the conflicts and the role of identities in them, the role of disputes about sovereign power in creating and intensifying them, the strategies for reconciling them that are adopted domestically and internationally, the deals that have been struck or have not been struck to bring peace in these societies, and the outcomes of the various efforts in their contemporary politics. The course will begin by reading about both the general theoretical issues raised by conflicts in these “divided societies” and various responses to them. After familiarizing ourselves with what academic and policy literatures have to say about them, we then will read about the histories and contemporary politics in each society. With that as background, students will choose an aspect or aspects of these conflicts as a subject for their individual research.

For some reason, this course has stuck with me through the years, even though it has no professional relevance for me.  Perhaps it was that the subject matter always seemed relevant to current events (and it still does).  Perhaps it was because of Prof. MacDonald’s talents as a teacher.  Probably some combination of both.

What Williams classes still stick out in your mind?

 

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Let’s Stay in Touch

LAGUNA NIGUEL, CA – If you would like to stay in touch, I have established a new blog called Williams Liberty.

Williams Liberty has a different mission compared to EphblogWilliams Liberty will be focused primarily on breaking news. It will be promoted through my existing Twitter accounts, accounts that have more followers than the college’s Twitter accounts. Covering breaking news at our nation’s top liberal arts college is a service which cannot be provided by the Williams Record and would not be allowed on the college’s websites.

It will, of course, be conservative friendly and politically incorrect. In particular, it will provide the conservative viewpoint which has been largely absent on campus since 1989. Its contributors will be immune from ideologically motivated abuse or boycotts.

Consistent with conservative sensibilities, it will be well-written, tightly edited and moderated. Its language will be professional and PG at worst.

Williams Liberty will be open to guest contributors (anonymous or not). Guest contributors will be restricted to existing or prior William’s College faculty and students. Comments will be welcome from all.

It may reserve a few spots for student contributors who will be picked on a competitive basis at the beginning of the school year or who have done a good job as guest contributors.

If you would like to submit an article for publication at Williams Liberty, please contact me through the contact form available on the blogsite or give me a call at 949.338.5921. By the way, you can follow Williams Liberty on Twitter at @williamslibert5.

 

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Professor Gibson on Fox

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Sentence Served

Students moving into the Horn Residence Hall should ask themselves if they feel at peace living in a building named for a pair of criminals, Joey Horn ’87 and Ragnar Horn ’85.  The Horns recently served a 75 day sentence in prison as punishment for exploiting and abusing four young Filipino au pairs. As a consequence of this scandal, Joey resigned from the Board of Trustees after eight years of service.

Working as an au pair is supposed to be a cultural exchange program. Joey and Ragnar, however, broke the regulations by using their au pairs as low paid housekeepers. They worked their Filipino au pairs 11 hours a day and then four hours on both Saturday and Sunday. In Norway, an au pair is supposed to work no more that five hours a day and no more than 30 hours per week.

The Horns also gave false information to the immigration administration in Norway, failing to report they would have more than one au pair at a time. At the trial in 2017, two of the au pairs reported that they felt like “slaves” and “in prison” in the Horns’ home. Evidence showed Joey Horn ’87 referred to her au pairs in derogatory terms and threatened to send one of them back to her “straw mats in Manila.” Read more

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