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R versus Python

Professor Phoebe Cohen tweets:

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Language wars are boring, but Cohen is probably better off spending time improving her R rather than learning Python.

1) Cohen already knows R. This fixed investment will make further study more productive.

2) Cohen uses statistics/programming as a minor part of her research. She devotes the vast majority of time to field and laboratory work. So, it makes no sense for her to get good at two languages.

3) The entire Statistics Department at Williams uses R. This means that Cohen’s students are highly likely to know some R. She also has a set of colleagues who are R experts and likely willing to answer her questions.

4) R can do everything (that Cohen cares about) that Python can do, and can generally do it more easily, especially graphics. (If Cohen’s work were more computational, with lots of simulation, the balance might shift the other way.)

Contrary opinions?

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Kornell on Professor Evaluation

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Good thing that Kornell has tenure! This is not the sort of thinking that his colleagues, like Professor Phoebe Cohen, would find . . . uh . . . congenial.

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Professor Dudley W. R. Bahlman

Inspired by the “Good People of Williams” post (but not wanting my story to be lost in comments), I figured I’d write about Professor Dudley Ward Rhodes Bahlman. (Although to be fair, he went by the less formal “Dudley W. R. Bahlman”). Now that’s a name for a college professor. He looked the part as well. Easily 6’2,” he was a big man. Rumor had it that he’d played on the Yale football team. I never found out whether it was true, but he certainly had the build of a linebacker. A linebacker who wore three-piece suits to class; on his days off he’d wear a tweed sportscoat or a Shetland sweater.

Between the name, his build, and the way he dressed, he was an imposing man. So it was with some trepidation that I sat down in his class, my first class in my freshman year at Williams: History 101. “Good morning, class,” he started. “My name is Professor Bahlman. It’s not ‘Dudley’ or ‘Dud’–it’s Professor Bahlman. You will be ‘Mr. Creese’ and ‘Miss Coolidge.’ Maybe when we all die and go to that big Heaven in the sky I’ll be Dud and you can be Chip or Buffy, but in this class we will address each other formally. Is that understood?” We all gulped and nodded.

“Now, you’ll notice that I walk around a lot in class,” he said, striding forcefully back and forth across the front of the room in Greylock. “I have a lot of energy and I find it useful. I used to twirl my pocket watch on the end of its chain, but the chain let go one day and beaned a student. Knocked him out cold. Took several minutes to bring him around. So now I just walk back and forth.” Once again we gulped and nodded.

I learned a lot from him, but two lessons stand out. The first paper we had to write for him was a five-pager answering the question, “Was World War II inevitable?” Like many students at Williams, I had been a straight A student in high school. Needless to say, I was shocked when I got the paper back with a big “C+” on it. Everyone else was pretty much in the same boat, so the general demeanor in the class that day was total disbelief.

He started out, “I suspect that many of you are disappointed in your grade–as well you should be. Frankly, many of the papers were not well argued. It’s fair to say that your first mistake was to answer the question I posed.” We’re looking at each other, going, “Huh? What was that again?” He went on. “Look at how I posed the question: ‘Is World War II inevitable?’ You need to qualify the question. Inevitable when? In 1935? In September 1939? Furthermore, the word ‘inevitable” is a trap. It’s too absolute. You should have started your paper by saying something like, ‘I will answer the question, “Was World War II inevitable?” by answering the more specific question: “At the beginning of December 1941, was it probable that the U.S. would have eventually entered World War II, even if Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened?”‘ Remember, it’s your paper; you’re in control of what you write. Don’t blindly follow the professor over a cliff.”

Thirty-seven years after that class the lesson is still burned into my brain: Recast the question if necessary.

My junior year I took Professor Bahlman’s class on Victorian England and learned yet another lesson. He was a big believer in making us read “the definitive works,” some of which were quite dry. We had a quiz at the start of class one day and although most of us did pretty well, the entire class was stumped by one specific question. (We all compared notes during the break, since it was a three-hour class.) We ganged up on him once we got back in class, all of us claiming that that we’d never seen that answer in the assigned reading. “Ah,” he said, his eyes sparkling. “That was in the footnotes. You should always read the footnotes.”

I carefully read footnotes to this day.

Finally, to give a hint of his softer side, a story from outside of class. One Winter Study I did an oral history project about Williams during the Baxter and Sawyer administrations. I went around and interviewed faculty and staff who’d worked for Presidents Baxter and Sawyer, and Professor Bahlman was one of them, since he had served as Dean of the Faculty under Sawyer. At one point he got onto recounting some student pranks during the 1960s, and made the comment, “You know, I think students take themselves way too seriously these days. We haven’t had a good student prank in the past several years.”

Partly emboldened by his offhand comment–and somewhat distressed that the future Sawyer Library was being built without the obligatory construction sign listing the architect, construction firm, etc.–my roommates and I decided we would correct that omission. We created a large plywood sign, white with purple letters, that said, “Site of the Future Smilin’ Jack Sawyer Library.” We attached it to the fence surrounding the construction site in the dead of night (and got caught by Security in the process–but that’s another story). The sign suddenly appearing out of nowhere caused a minor sensation, since many people couldn’t figure out whether the sign was official or not. (We’d worked hard to make it appear professionally done.) Its appearance was written up in the Williams Record, and the college sent a picture of it to alumni in a newsletter, attributing the sign to “student humorists.” Several days later, I ran into Professor Bahlman at a hockey game as I was scooting past him to get to a seat. He looked down at my sneakers with dabs of paint on them, smiled, and said, “That’s an interesting shade of purple paint, Mr. Creese,” and winked.

In my mind, a great professor.

UPDATE: This post was originally posted in 2008. But, we need to “re-up” wonderful writing like this, bringing Williams history to a new generation of readers. — DDF

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How Faculty Can Change Williams

A conversation with professor at reunion leads to this post about how faculty — even a single faculty member — can create significant change at Williams. Most of this advice applies to any topic, but, for concreteness, let’s assume a professor who is concerned about the decline of faculty governance at Williams and the rise of administrator numbers/power/salaries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Provost Presentation, 5

Provost Dukes Love gave a presentation (pdf) on “Access and Affordability in Higher Education” at the Alumni Leadership weekend in May. Thanks to popular demand, we will spend this week going through some highlights. Background reading: this 2016 overview of similar material from the previous provost, Will Dudley ’89, and our 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project. Day 5.

If your provost is an economist, his first instinct will to draw budget constraints. And so we get:

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1) If we fix our financial aid spending at its current level, then we can only slide up and down the curve on which the purple dot currently sits. If we want to give more aid to currently aided students, then we need to reduce the percentage who receive financial aid in the first place.

2) If we increase the financial aid budget, then we can work with a new budget curve, up-and-to-the-left of where we currently are.

3) Biggest surprise of the entire presentation is how “cheap” it would be to become as “generous” as Princeton. It looks like just $4 million of extra spending would allow us to match them. That isn’t much! There are 1,000 or so students who get no financial aid. Imagine that we raised the price of Williams from $67,000 to $71,000. There is your $4 million right there! EphBlog votes Yes!

4) However, the central problem with this presentation, indeed with almost all presentations at Williams, is its refusal to grapple with the key issue: the quality of the student body. I assume (hope!) that such presentations are created and presented to the trustees, that the people who run Williams worry about us maintaining our status as the #1 liberal arts college in the world, and that the key to that status is the academic quality of each new incoming class of first years. When will Dukes Love share that analysis with us?

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Provost Presentation, 4

Provost Dukes Love gave a presentation (pdf) on “Access and Affordability in Higher Education” at the Alumni Leadership weekend in May. Thanks to popular demand, we will spend this week going through some highlights. Background reading: this 2016 overview of similar material from the previous provost, Will Dudley ’89, and our 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project. Day 4.

This is the most interesting and original slide in the presentation:

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1) Although not mentioned explicitly, this data probably comes from COFHE. It is a shame that COFHE is so secretive. There should be much more transparency among non-profits in general and in higher education specifically.

2) Each dot is a peer school. Williams is the big purple dot. The axes highlight the two major choices that elite colleges face in terms of financial aid:

  • What percentage of students should we aid? This is the y-axis. Williams, relative to its peer group, is about average. We give financial aid to about 50% of all students, a number that has been fairly stable (page 9 of the pdf) for more than a decade. Note that this percentage, alone, is a poor guide to how generous (or economically) diverse a school really is. Imagine a school that gives almost every student $100, even those who come from millionaire families. Such a school would have a high percentage of aided students, without giving much aid.
  • How much do aided students pay on average? This is the x-axis. This measures catches those schools who try to game the system, as above. (Note the two outlier dots at the top of the chart in the center. Which schools are these? Maybe Wash U? I would guess Emory, except that Emory is not a part of COFHE.) Williams does very well (?) on this measure. We charge aided students less than all but 2 or 3 other schools. This metric can, in isolation, be gamed by only aiding a handful of students but giving each of them free rides.

3) By combining the two measures, this chart does an elegant job of highlighting the schools that are truly generous. Kudos to Provost Love and his team! The more up-and-to-the-left you are, the more generous you are to more students. (Of course, this is really just a measure of how rich a school is. The people who run elite schools are very similar in their ideological preferences. They vary in the wealth of the institutions they control.)

4) Who are the two schools clearly more generous than Williams, i.e., the two dots above-and-to-our-left? Presumably Princeton and either Harvard or Yale. (I am not sure how Stanford could be included in this analysis given all of its athletic scholarships.)

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Provost Presentation, 3

Provost Dukes Love gave a presentation (pdf) on “Access and Affordability in Higher Education” at the Alumni Leadership weekend in May. Thanks to popular demand, we will spend this week going through some highlights. Background reading: this 2016 overview of similar material from the previous provost, Will Dudley ’89, and our 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project. Day 3.

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1) This is the ugliest graphic I have ever seen in a Williams presentation. Eph (honorary degree in 2000) Edward Tufte would say:

  • Be consistent with your x-axes across the presentation. This (using academic years like 2016/17) is the third different choice you have made. Best is probably using “2018” to mean values for the 2017/2018 academic year. Also, there is no need to show every year. Doing so is too busy. Every 5th year, plus the start and end years, would be fine.
  • Don’t show regression models and summary statistics. How many people in your audience will know what R2 = 0.9138 means? Will you have time to explain it? Should you spend your/their valuable time trying to teach your audience about linear models?
  • If you insist on showing nonsense, then at least show a sensible number of significant digits for your nonsense. R2 = 0.91 would be more sensible, perhaps even R2 = 0.9.
  • Think harder about the substance of what you are trying to convey. Would even a statistically sophisticated reader care about the exact values of R2, much less for the values of the intercept from your linear regression? No! Your main (only?) point is about the slopes. And that is an interesting point! Including all the other statistical arcana hides the interesting facts you have discovered.
  • The purple/gold bars at either side of the graphic are very hard to interpret. I realize that you can explain them on the fly, but the need for explanation is often the sign of poor graphics.

2) Your key point is that Williams sticker price has gone up about 4 times faster than median income but only half as fast as 95th percentile income. Good stuff! And worth thinking about. This is why the regression lines are interesting, not because of the intercept for the R2‘s. But the exact coefficient values don’t really matter. All that you (and your audience) care about are relative magnitudes. So, perhaps better would be to just show a line graph of these two ratios directly. Graph the ratio of family income (median and 95th) to the Williams sticker price. That would make clear that former in falling very fast, i.e., that the cost of Williams has gone from a smallish portion of median family income to almost equal to it. (The ratio has fallen from about 3 to close to 1.) The ratio has also fallen for the 95th percentile but, in this case, the drop has been much less, from about 6 to 3. (You could also present this in percentage terms: The cost of Williams has gone from 30% (15%) of the median (95th percentile) family income up to 95% (26%).

3) Indeed, the best method would be to have two slides. The first shows the raw line graphs, so that people can see the actual numbers. You say a few words about how, yes, the price of Williams has increased. (Make a joke about the class of 1988’s class song with refrain “Sixty thou to live with cows,” the punch line being that this was the 4 year cost 30 years ago.) But the only people who pay full freight have seen their incomes increase as well. (Also make a few remarks about stagnation for the median family.) Then, next slide, show the ratios. People like more slides rather than fewer.

4) Math quiz for attentive readers: If family incomes at the 95th percentile have gone up twice as fast as the Williams sticker price, then how could the sticker price as a percentage of 95th percentile family income also increased from 15% to 26%?

5) All these numbers reinforce my claim that Williams pricing strategy, like that of other elite schools, is sensible. We are selling a luxury good to rich people. They are not deterred by price. In fact, they often (and not incorrectly!) view price as a signal of quality. We should continue to raise prices at a fast rate while, simultaneously, offering extensive financial aid to non-rich admitted students. Relevant New York Times analysis here. Worth spending time on?

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Provost Presentation, 2

Provost Dukes Love gave a presentation (pdf) on “Access and Affordability in Higher Education” at the Alumni Leadership weekend in May. Thanks to popular demand, we will spend this week going through some highlights. Background reading: this 2016 overview of similar material from the previous provost, Will Dudley ’89, and our 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project. Day 2.

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This is a highly misleading graphic. It suggests that Williams is much more socio-economically diverse today than it was in 2005. This is untrue! (Note that I am not accusing Love of being purposely misleading. EphBlog loves Provost Love! I suspect that he has too poor (?) an opinion of his audience to confront them with the full richness of the data he has on this topic.)

1) Show us more data! Although it is useful to see the percentage of Pell Grants, Williams has, easily accessible, much more data on socio-economic diversity. If you really want to inform the audience, share as much of the data as you (easily) can.

2) Start with the percentage of each class that is “Socio-Ec 1,” also known as SEC1. Recall that, for decades, Williams has been tracking socio-economic diversity by tagging every applicant’s status as SEC1 if a) neither parent has a BA and b) the student applies for financial aid. This may not be the best measure of economic diversity, but it is the one that Love has the most data for and the one that has had the most impact on admissions. Alas, this time series won’t show nearly as happy a story as the one on Pell Grants, but Love owes his audience the whole truth.

3) Show a line graph of inflation-adjusted Eph family incomes for a couple of places in the income distribution. Williams has great data on family income, again going back decades, for all students who apply for financial aid. So, we know the 100th, 200th, 500th poorest families (out of 2,000) each year. Show us that data.

3) This five part series on Pell Grants (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5) from last fall is useful background.

4) Recall that Pell grant percentages of have been increasing for reasons unrelated to changes in the socio-economic diversity of the student body.

At Ivy-Plus colleges, the fraction of students receiving Pell grants increased from 12.1% to 16.8% between 2000-2011, an increase that has been interpreted as evidence of growth in low-income access at these colleges. In Online Appendix F, we show that the apparent discrepancy between trends in Pell shares and our percentile-based statistics, which show little or no change in low-income access, is driven by two factors. First, Congress raised the income eligibility threshold for Pell Grants significantly between 2000 and 2011, mechanically increasing the share of families that qualified for Pell grants. Second, as noted above, incomes fell sharply during the 2000s at the bottom of the distribution, further increasing the number of families whose incomes placed them below the Pell eligibility threshold. We estimate that the changes in eligibility rules mechanically increased Pell shares at Ivy-Plus colleges by approximately 2.9 pp from 2000-2011, while the decline in real incomes increased Pell shares by approximately 2.5 pp (Online Appendix Figure IX). Together, these changes fully account for the observed increase in Pell shares. Accounting for these factors, the Pell data imply that there was no significant change in the parental income distribution of students at Ivy-Plus colleges between 2000-2011.

The same is almost certainly true at Williams.

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Provost Presentation, 1

Provost Dukes Love gave a presentation (pdf) on “Access and Affordability in Higher Education” at the Alumni Leadership weekend in May. Thanks to popular demand, we will spend this week going through some highlights. Background reading: this 2016 overview of similar material from the previous provost, Will Dudley ’89, and our 2017 series about the Equality of Opportunity project. Day 1.

Although dual y-axis charts are evil, this one provides some useful time series.

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Like all of Gaul, the last 60 years of applications to Williams can be divided into three parts. First, we have the single sex era, with 1,000 to 2,000 applications and an impressive yield of over 50%. Second, the initial 30 years of co-education, with applications mostly stable between 4,000 and 5,000. Third, the current era, with much higher raw application numbers, stable yield and falling admission rates. Comments:

1) Did Williams really yield around 65% in the mid-1960s? That seems implausible. Williams has been losing out to Harvard/Yale/Princeton for decades. I doubt that the 60s were much different. Perhaps Williams used more early decision? Perhaps there was more information sharing, allowing Williams to reject students who it knew would turn it down?

2) The shown yield rate is highly misleading. Students admitted early decision should not be included. They have no (meaningful) choice so it makes no sense to include them in a yield calculation. (Doing so also makes it harder to compare our yield with our competitors who don’t use early decision.) Yield should be measured only from the regular decision admittees. Doing this leaves our yield closer to 30%.

3) Stacked bar charts are not very helpful, especially with this color scheme. (Who can see the change in class size in the light green at the bottom?) Line graphs would be better. A better design for the same data:

  • Three separate panels, stacked on top of each other, each with the same x-axis. All feature line graphs.
  • The x-axis should be academic years, not class years. We want to know how many people applied to Williams in the fall of 2017. Telling us class year just forces us to do math in our heads.
  • The top panel should be raw applications. This is where the process starts. In addition to the raw numbers, we should have some shading or other indication of major changes like the start of co-education or the first time Common Ap usage was above 500. Even better would be to show multiple line graphs which broke total applications into a couple of different categories, like domestic versus international.
  • The second panel should be line graphs of admitted and enrolled students. Since the y-axis range would be much narrower than panel 1, we could easily see the increase in the size of the college (doubling with co-education and then increasing by another 10% since the 80s). Ideally, this panel would also include the number of students admitted early decision.
  • The third panel would combine the information from the top two to show us line graphs of percentage admitted and percentage yielded.
  • Throughout the three panels, we should see information associated with changes in the process. For example, I have a vague memory of applications rising/falling depending on how specific the supplemental essay was.
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Confederation of Deplorables

An anonymous faculty member writes:

My father was a laborer all his life. Our entire home life was shaped by his weekly shift postings: one week, 0700-1600, the next 1600-1200, and the third 1200-0700. My parents grew up and married during the Depression and became solid FDR adherents. So our household was a solid Democratic bastion. And when I came of age, I followed my parents’ lead, registered Democrat, and voted Democrat. And I remain a registered Democrat, perhaps out of familial or working-class-origin loyalty. But, please note, I haven’t voted Democratic in more than 30 years because of the Democrats’ profound leftist lunge and its betrayal of its former constituents, like my parents and me.

I mention this because current party affiliation is not necessarily a reliable indication of one’s political sentiments. I remain a registered Democrat, simply because of my family history. I can’t affiliate myself with RINOs and/or country-club Republicans. I’m a proud Deplorable. Ironically, we owe the detestable HRC for our name. Do you know that there is a small, quiet, but stalwart confederation of Deplorables among Williams faculty members, who not only deplore the rapid (does any other word apply?) Democratic/media attack on President Trump, but who also deplore the radical leftist policies instituted by presidents/deans/administrators of Williams College?

Are there really? I like to consider myself a friendly acquaintance — mostly via e-mail but also in person — of many (most?) of the non-liberal/progressive members of the faculty. I have only met one who thought highly enough of Trump to vote for him.

More importantly, why is this “confederation of Deplorables” so quiet? Many (all?) of them have tenure. Why not speak up? Recall:

With Richard Herrnstein, the late Harvard professor, he [Charles Murray] was about to publish The Bell Curve. There were early warnings that the co-authors would come in for a rough time of it. Murray was in the Herrnstein home, having a nightcap. And he said to the professor, “Exactly why are we doing this anyway?” Herrnstein recalled the day he got tenure, and how happy he was, thinking what it meant: For the rest of his life, he was free to do the work he loved at a place he loved. “I said to myself, there has to be a catch. And I figured out what it was: You have to tell the truth.”

Indeed.

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Provost Presentation at Alumni Leadership Weekend

Provost Dukes Love kindly shared the slides (pdf) from the presentation he gave on Saturday May 5 to the muckety-mucks at the Alumni Leadership event. Thanks! Dukes is EphBlog’s favorite member of the Williams Administration because he is so committed to transparency, as every real academic should be. (Provost Will Dudley ’89, on the other hand, refused to share his presentations from similar events.)

Lots of interesting material, like this chart:

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Worth spending a few days going through in detail?

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Faculty Political Diversity, 3

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 3.

Nicholas Goldrosen ’20 reported in January for the Record that:

Over the course of 2017, faculty and staff employed by the College contributed a total of $20,325.22 to candidates and committees in federal elections, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) disclosures. All of these contributions went to Democratic or Democrat-leaning candidates or committees. The vast majority of contributions were modest, and individuals often made multiple contributions over the course of the year.

In 2017, 76 individuals who listed their employers as “Williams College” or some subsidiary – and did not list their occupations as “student” – made a total of 1240 contributions in federal elections. Of the 76 people who made contributions, 43 were members of the faculty and 33 were employed as staff members.

Comments:

1) Goldrosen fails to quote a single person in this story. Why? Reporting 101 is: Go out and talk to people and tell your readers what they say. There are faculty who are experts in US politics. Ask them questions! There are students involved in political campaigns and fund-raising. Interview them!

2) I asked Goldrosen to share the data with us. He never responded to my e-mail. Advice to our readers: Always respond to (non-spam) e-mails. The more people you network with, the better your career will be.

3) The FEC data is public. Should I spend sometime going through it?

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Faculty Political Diversity, 2

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 2.

Recall our previous discussions about which Williams professors might be considered to be on the non-left-wing side of the faculty as a whole. Of those candidates, here are the ones that appear in Langbert’s data:

  
  name       sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
                                      
1 Miller     M     Associate REDACTED   Mathematics    0.800 R             44.0
2 Paul       M     Professor REDACTED   Political      1.90  NP            50.0
3 McAllister M     Professor REDACTED   Political      2.20  NP            54.0
4 Kirby      M     Professor REDACTED   Psychology     1.90  NP            55.0
5 Marcus     M     Professor REDACTED   Political      0.400 D             75.0
6 Jackall    M     Professor NA         Sociology     NA     NR            NA  
7 Lewis      M     Professor NA         Art           NA     R             NA  
8 Strauch    M     Associate NA         Physics       NA     NR            NA  

UPDATE: See below.

Mathematics Professor Steve Miller is the only registered Republican on the Williams faculty. He is the “1” in the 132:1 ratio that Langbert reports.

Having only one Republican professor at Williams is about as bad as an alternate reality in which Williams had only one African-American professor. I am comfortable with people claiming that neither situation is a concern because Williams faculty teach in an unbiased fashion: you can’t tell from their lectures or their grading what their politics or race are. I am also comfortable with people claiming that both situations are a matter of great concern that the College should work to fix. I am uncomfortable with the current Williams view: We desperately need to increase racial diversity and we don’t need to worry about political diversity.

dcat asks what we should do. That is easy!

Williams could have the exact same set of policies about faculty political diversity as it has about faculty racial diversity. For example, Williams could keep track of (and report) on political diversity in the same way that it does racial diversity. It could insist that departments go out of their way to advertise positions in ways likely to come to the attention of politically diverse candidates. It could require (or strongly urge) departments — as it now does — to have at least one fly-out candidate who helps with political diversity. It could create positions for which the hiring pool is much more likely to be politically diverse. And so on.

This won’t make Williams 50/50 anytime soon, but it would quickly lead to a Williams with 10+ republican/libertarian/conservative faculty members, thereby (one hopes!) creating a very different political environment on campus.

UPDATE: I redacted birthdays by request. Although birthdays are public information (else how did Langbert find them), we like to stay on good terms with our faculty readers! Separately, Michael Lewis reports to EphBlog that he is a registered Republican in Williamstown. So, the ratio of Democrats to Republicans among the Williams faculty is 66:1. EphBlog gets results!

UPDATE II: Professor Miller writes:

I’ve held many political affiliations over the years, often due to what party’s primary I want to vote in. I was a registered Democrat in MA for awhile until the Affordable Care Act was passed. I view myself as a Conservative Libertarian.

Thanks for the clarification!

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Faculty Political Diversity, 1

Mitchell Langbert writes about the dramatic lack of political diversity at elite colleges and universities. Previous discussions here, here, here, and here. Langbert kindly shared the data (faculty_registration) for Williams. Let’s spend 3 days discussing this. Day 1.

Langbert writes:

In this article I offer new evidence about something readers of Academic Questions already know: The political registration of full-time, Ph.D.-holding professors in top-tier liberal arts colleges is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Key table:

Screen Shot 2018-05-08 at 12.48.49 PM

Am I truly a right-wing nutjob for wanting Williams to have more than a single Republican faculty member? I hope not!

The data is very interesting, not least because it includes date of birth and distance (or residence) from Williams. Here are the youngest and oldest faculty:

   name      sex   rank      dob        field       distance registration   age
                                      
 1 Friedman  F     Professor 1987-12-25 Language       0.900 D             30.0
 2 Heggeseth F     Assistant 1986-05-23 Mathematics    2.00  D             31.0
 3 Smalarz   F     Professor 1986-08-08 Psychology     0.400 D             31.0
 4 Simko     F     Assistant 1984-09-21 Sociology      0.900 D             33.0
 5 Leight    F     Assistant 1984-11-15 Economics      0.200 NP            33.0
 6 Phelan    M     Assistant 1984-12-10 Economics      0.400 NP            33.0
 7 Blackwood F     Assistant 1984-06-08 Mathematics    0.600 D             33.0
 8 Johnson   M     Professor 1937-05-22 Art           11.4   D             80.0
 9 Graver    F     Professor 1936-08-17 English        1.30  D             81.0
10 Beaver    M     Professor 1936-07-16 History        0.400 NP            81.0
11 Dew       M     Professor 1937-05-01 History        1.00  D             81.0

Immediately, we see some problems with the data. Friedman and Smalarz were not professors at such a young age. In fact, (Nicole) Friedman does not really belong in the data set at all because she was not tenure-track. I have reported these issues to Langbert. Overall, however, the data looks very good to me. Do other people see any problems?

Here are the professors that live furthest away:

  name     sex   rank      dob        field     distance registration   age
                                  
1 Pye      M     Professor 1953-09-06 English       47.0 D             64.0
2 Merrill  F     Professor 1963-12-02 History       58.3 D             54.0
3 Ephraim  F     Assistant 1978-12-03 Political     69.8 D             39.0
4 Campbell F     Assistant 1981-03-06 Music        132   NP            37.0
5 Limon    M     Professor 1951-08-29 English      159   D             66.0

Do John Limon and Corrina Cambell really live more than 100 miles away? I have my doubts. Also note that some other professors (e.g., Singham) who I think live in different states are shown as living near by. So, I am not sure I would trust the distance data that much.

Screen Shot 2018-05-13 at 5.10.09 PM

None of us are concerned with students being “brainwashed” — although never forget the saga of Jennifer Kling ’98. The issue is political diversity. If racial diversity is important for the faculty, then why isn’t political diversity?

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Charismatic Nerd Looks for Fun Times

From Professor Phoebe Cohen:

Screen Shot 2018-05-10 at 3.01.19 PM

Who will #meToo come for next?

If Cohen were seriously concerned about such behavior, shouldn’t she focus more on her Williams colleagues some (many?) of whom were seeking sex with their students in the not-so-distant past? Cohen, now tenured, is well-placed to call out such “super-sketchy behavior.” If she declines to do so, how seriously should we take her condemnation of Feynman?

UPDATE: BH’s comments remind me that not everyone follows this topic as closely as we do. From October:

At least three current students have reported to EphBlog that professors in a for-now-unnamed department warn current students they advise to either a) not take a course and/or b) distance themselves from one particular professor due to a number of sexual harassment complaints, including “coming onto” students during office hours and attempting to engage in other inappropriate behavior. Despite the complaints, which have come at least since the 2013-2014 academic year, this professor is still currently in the employment of the College and is teaching a class this semester. Notably, this professor only conducts class on a limited number of days a week when they are allowed on campus, a measure enacted since the 2014-2015 academic year in response to the complaints. At least for the last year, this professor has not held office hours for their classes.

Note that this post was not written by me.

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 3 of my 3-day reply.

I don’t know whether my students had SAT scores of 600, 700 or 800. I never had reason to look. I do know that, for myself and many of my colleagues, SHSS has reaffirmed our sense of why teaching matters.

Kane would do well to pause before prescribing further aggressive changes to admissions policies. I welcome him to sit in on any of my courses, and to see for himself whether those changes would damage or improve the college that we both love.

EphBlog loves nothing more than to educate the Williams faculty. If Rosenheim really can’t tell the difference between students who scored 600 or 800 on the verbal SAT, then he is fooling himself. Consider these three graduates from the class of 2017.

Ariel Chu, Highest Honors in English and Magna Cum Laude
Apurva Tandon, Highest Honors in English
Chelsea Rose Thomeer, English, Highest Honors and Magna Cum Laude

You can be (almost) certain that all three scored very highly on the verbal SAT because it is, for most practical purposes, impossible to do as well as Chu/Tandon/Thomeer have done without high verbal fluency, precisely what the SAT measures so well. If you don’t have that ability by 17 — if you score, say, 600 on the verbal SAT — there is little/nothing that Williams can do that will allow you to catch up with your classmates.

There were 62 English majors in the class of 2017. Imagine that the Williams English Department sat down and grouped them into quintiles, looking not just at their simple class ranks, but at their grades in English courses, the quality of their papers, the insight from their comments in class. The top quintile (top 12) would consist (almost?) solely of students with SAT verbals scores of 700+, perhaps even 750+. In the bottom quintile, we would have a similar over-representation of students with verbal scores below 700, even below 600.

Of course, none of these facts mean that Rosenheim or his colleagues should teach or grade any differently. When I grade a paper, I don’t care what a students SAT score was. (All the more so because I grade anonymously.) But, to the extent that Rosenheim doesn’t really understand the connection between SAT score and performance in his classes, I am happy to educate him.

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 2 of my 3-day reply.

For instance: I’ve taught Moby Dick a dozen times as part of a 300-level English course. For the last three years, I’ve also taught the book in the Summer Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) program. Without question, the SHSS classes have been better – in fact, they have been some of the most serious and electric courses that I’ve had the privilege to teach. My pre-frosh brought unusual guts and heart, as well as brains, to their work – at times challenging my assumptions, at others finding unexpected resonances between their personal histories and Melville’s. Their diversity of experience was a fundamental resource for what we learned.

What is wrong with the English Department? I am sure that Rosenheim’s SHSS classes are wonderful. Williams pre-frosh are smart and excited. But then he, and the rest of the English Department, takes those same students — and students chosen using the same procedure — and turn them into, what, exactly? Surly malcontents? Drunken layabouts? One purpose of studying English at Williams is to get better at understanding novels like Moby Dick, better at analysis, better at discussion, better at writing. How can 2 to 3 years of English classes at Williams create students who are worse at discussing great novels than a bunch of 18 year-olds are? Possibilities:

1) Rosenheim is blowing smoke. If an outside observer looked at videos of the two classes, she would rate the quality of class discussion as higher in the 300-level class.

2) Smart students don’t major in English. All the smartest students in SHSS, the ones who make Rosenheim’s class so wonderful, major in topics like math and philosophy. They never take 300-level English classes.

3) English majors are as smart as non-English majors (or at least as smart as SHSS students) but 2-3 years at Williams (or in the English Department?) have soured them on the academic enterprise more broadly, and/or on class discussion specifically. As juniors/seniors, they know more about analyzing novels than the SHSS students, but they decline to speak up in class.

4) The PC environment of Williams (or the English Department?) stifles class discussion. No one is comfortable saying what they really think, at least about controversial topics, and no one wants to offend a fellow Eph.

5) SHSS students are not afraid to speak openly, mainly because they are still innocent of the PC landmines and/or because their very lack of diversity — all are URM and/or low income — means that they don’t need to worry about PC niceties.

I don’t know which of these explanations, if any, is correct. What do readers think?

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Professor Shawn Rosenheim 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 Shawn Rosenheim wrote a letter to the editor in response. Day 1 of my 3-day reply.

In his op-ed “What Does It Mean to be the Best?” (Sept. 20, 2017), David Kane ’88 is right to wonder about how to make the College the best that it can be. But his account of what we mean by “best,” and the changes he recommends to achieve that – such as reducing the pursuit of under-represented minority and low-income students – are based on a dangerously abstract notion of how learning actually takes place.

Shouldn’t English professors be better at reading comprehension? How can he plausibly claim that I am in favor of “reducing the pursuit of under-represented minority and low-income students?” I wrote:

Fourth, we need to recruit more seriously. The number of Tyng Scholarships should be increased and their use should be focused on the most desirable applicants, almost all of whom will be African-American. Rather than offering them for incoming first-years, we should use the Summer Science Program and Summer Humanities and Social Sciences Program to target high quality poor and URM high school juniors, potential applicants that we currently lose to HYPS. Senior faculty at the College should devote as much effort to attracting excellent students as our coaches do to recruiting excellent student-athletes.

I specifically urge Williams to spend more money and time on recruiting well-qualified under-represented minority and low-income students. I want more “pursuit,” not less. More effort. More money. More time.

How can Rosenheim misread me so blatantly? My suspicion is that anytime you say anything inconsistent with the current Williams godhead — Diversity Über Alles — the Eph bien pensants assume that you are the devil. Since my proposed changes in admission would lead to fewer African-American students, it is inconceivable to Rosenheim that I am in favor of increased efforts to recruit the high quality African-American students we currently lose to Harvard.

Other hypotheses for Rosenheim’s error?

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BSO as Economic Farce

EphBlog loves Economics Professor Steve Sheppard something fierce, but corporatist nonsense like this requires rebuttal.

More than $260 million statewide, including $103 million in Berkshire County.

That’s the overall economic impact of the Boston Symphony’s summer season at Tanglewood and its three-season schedule in Boston, including the Boston Pops.

The big numbers come from an independent study by Williams College professor of economics Stephen Sheppard that depicts the BSO as “a key economic force” in western and eastern Massachusetts.

This is not just nonsense, it is Nonsense on Stata.

1) Sheppard’s study is in no meaningful way “independent.” Doesn’t Eagle reporter Clarence Fanto have a clue? The BSO gives money to Sheppard/Williams and, in return, gets a report. The BSO is the customer and it gets what it pays for. Moreover, Sheppard has been producing reports like this for the BSO for more than a decade. Do you really think if his last report (pdf) had come up with the wrong answer that BSO would have hired him again? Ha!

2) This is not to say that Sheppard is a “hired gun” who will say whatever his paymasters demand. No! Sheppard is an excellent (and honest!) economist, one who really believes that the BSO magically generates phenomenal wealth. And that is why BSO hires him and not some other, more skeptical, economist.

3) I am happy to spend several days going through the details of why this analysis is nonsense, if readers are interested. Short version: This is a “promotional study,” just like the ones used to justify public subsidies for sports stadiums. See this report from Brookings about why stadiums are a boondoggle.

4) Never forget to look, not just at what is seen, but at what is unseen. The policy issue is: Should the state of Massachusetts (or the town of Lennox or a rich philanthropist) give $10 million more to BSO or, instead, give $10 million to some other non-profit, like the basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield? We need to compare the jobs (or whatever) generated by spending on the BSO with the jobs (or whatever) generated by devoting the same quantity of resources to something else. The Eagle, either out of economic ignorance or local cheer-leading, fails to even ask the appropriate question.

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President Maud Mandel, 10

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 10, our last day of this series.

What do we know (or guess) about Mandel’s politics? From The Daily Herald:

Dean of the College Maud Mandel donated $1,000 to Clinton. When asked why she chose to donate, Mandel said, “I gave that donation as a private citizen,” citing that as dean of the college, she did not feel it would be appropriate to comment on her donation.

Good stuff!

1) Hope she follows the same policy at Williams. A good Williams president has many things to say about Williams and some things to say about higher education. The less time she spends opining on politics, the better. Or do readers miss Adam Falk spouting off about immigration or the alt-right?

2) I don’t care that Mandel is a Clinton supporter. No (?) president of an elite college — or plausible applicant to be one — voted for Trump.

3) What are Mandel’s views on political diversity, or the lack-there-of, at Williams? My hope is that we will be leaving behind the Falk era of speaker-banning. There are some encouraging hints, albeit sotto voce, from the Administration, despite this nonsense from President Majumder in January. Mandel might send a useful signal on this dimension by joining Heterodox Academy, joining current Williams faculty members Michael Lewis, Robert Jackall and Eric Knibbs.

4) Can we connect Mandel’s scholarly work on Jews/Muslims in France to her likely views about running Williams? I don’t know. Studying closely the rise of modern antisemitism in France seems a naturally “conservative” topic — I bet that many (most?) French Jews wish there had been a lot less immigration to France in the last 50 years! — but Mandel seems to have been on the “liberal” side in the associated academic debates. Any historians among our readers?

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President Maud Mandel, 9

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 9.

Her latest book is Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict. From a review:

In view of the growing number of Muslim anti-Semitic occurrences in France culminating in anti-Jewish terrorist attacks, this historical analysis of Muslim-Jewish relations in France during the twentieth century is a most timely contribution. In her examination of this dynamic, Maud S. Mandel pays attention to the developing social, economic, cultural, and political status of Muslims and Jews in France, on the background of France’s changing foreign and domestic policies—especially as related to France’s colonial position in North Africa—and the impact of the creation of the State of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Palestinian nation. She shows how these internal and external changes impact Muslim-Jewish relations in France. The analysis makes it clear how the different history of both groups in France, and especially the impact of French Colonial and post-Colonial policies, had a lasting effect on both communities and their relations with each other.

I have not read the book and am no historian, but color me suspicious about Mandel’s underlying thesis. From an interview:

What do you think is the book’s most important contribution?
As in all historical projects, my goal is to complicate simplistic understandings of the problem before us, to challenge notions of inevitability, to force us to question how and why the past took the shape that it did, and to push against monocausal explanations. This approach has pointed me to the diversity of socio-religious relationships between Muslims and Jews in France; conflict is not the only–or even the primary–way of understanding these relationships. This approach has also directed me away from conceptualizing Muslim-Jewish relations in France as arising inevitably from conflict in the Middle East. Rather, I argue that where conflict does exist, its origins and explanation are as much about France and French history as they are about Middle Eastern conflict.

Mandel suggests that French colonialism and other policies plays an important role in causing Muslim antisemitism in France today. That seems suspect to me. (And perhaps this highlights the difference between how historians (N = 1) and statisticians (N > 1) see the world.) If Mandel is right, then another European country, without France’s history of colonialism and Middle East meddling, would see very different relations between Jews and Muslims. That is a testable claim! If Mandel is right, then there should be much less Muslim antisemitism in a country like Sweden, which never had colonies and plays no role in the Middle East. And, yet, this is not true. Muslim antisemitism is as much (more?) of a problem in Sweden than it is in France.

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President Maud Mandel, 8

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 8.

One more comment from the 2014 The Brown Daily Herald article:

Mandel is concerned about the decreasing number of undergraduates concentrating in the humanities, a trend she has personally witnessed at Brown, she told The Herald. As dean of the College, Mandel will be poised to make clear to students and parents that the humanities teach valuable skills, she said, adding that tackling the problem also “has to do with admissions and the type of students we want to bring to Brown.”

I can find no evidence that Mandel worked on this topic at Brown, or that any work she did was successful. Any readers with inside information? Comments:

1) I dislike these conversations, not least because people (not Mandel!) are often sloppy in the terms they use, worrying about the decline in the “liberal arts” (when, in fact, everything taught at Williams is part of the liberal arts, by definition, since we are a “liberal arts college”) when what they really care about are lower enrollments in “humanities,” as in this quote. It is certainly true that many professors at Williams worry about increases in Div III enrollments/majors at the expense of Div I.

2) In 50 years, these sorts of worries will seem as absurd and parochial as the worries 50 years ago about declining enrollment in Latin and Greek. That was a big deal, back in the day. But the decline didn’t stop and couldn’t (really) have been stopped. The same is true of the move away from, say, English and toward Stats/CS.

3) Somewhat contrary to 2), there has not been much (any?) decline in humanities majors at Williams:

Screen Shot 2018-04-05 at 11.08.04 AM

Division I majors have gone down some but not much. Instead, Div III majors have sky-rocketed. Big picture: There are as many History majors as before, but more of those History majors are adding a double major in computer science. Is that bad?

4) Of course, a dramatic increase in majors almost certainly means a dramatic increase in course enrollments. I haven’t found any data, but it would hardly be surprising of the total percentage of humanities course enrollments at Williams has gone from 30% to 20%. If so, big deal! Students should take classes in what they want.

5) Don’t the faculty deserve lots of the blame for the decline in student interest in the humanities? Let’s focus on Mandel’s own field, history, and look at the courses on offer this spring at Williams. Much of this is good stuff. Who could complain about surveys of Modern China, Medieval England or Europe in Twentieth Century? Not me! I also have no problems with courses on more narrow topics. Indeed, classes on Witchcraft, Panics and The Suburbs are all almost certainly excellent, and not just because they are taught by some of the best professors in the department. But notice what is missing: No more courses on war (now that Jim Wood has retired). No courses on diplomatic history (RIP Russ Bostert). No courses in the sort of mainstream US history topics — Revolutionary Period, Civil War — which would interest scores of students.

6) Your likely success when applying to elite schools like Williams is mostly baked in, a function of your high school grades and test scores. But, on the margin, I bet that expressing a strong interest in the humanities might be helpful for male applicants. (Williams so wants to get to gender parity in STEM fields that female applicants should shade their application in that direction, if possible.) If Mandel wants to increase enrollment in the humanities, she may very well tell admissions to admit more students with a demonstrated interest in the humanities.

PS. Thanks to Jim Reische for forwarding this more extensive history of Williams majors (pdf). Worth a detailed review?

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A Heads-Up …

Louis+XIV+(r.+1643-1715)+Personal+rule+began+in+1661+with+the+death+of+Cardinal+Mazarin.+L+État,+c+est+moi+(the+state+is+me)

It must have been difficult for the Bourbons to go from Louis XIV The Sun King and cited expounder of “L’État c’est Moi” to devolve to Louis XVI The Restorer of French Liberty who died by the guillotine as plain old Louis Capet.

I think Williams Professor Susan Dunn‘s book The Deaths of Louis XVI and her course Sister Revolutions in France and America would be interesting to read and take during this time when an American President can equate the raid on his lawyer to an attack on America.

The Bourbon timeline from XIV to XVI was 149  years.  How quickly things may work in our time and without the guillotine.

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President Maud Mandel, 7

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 7.

The 2014 article from The Brown Daily Herald reported that:

Mandel said, she is particularly interested in the international impact students can make.

Williams should increase the quota on international students. Consider the distribution of students at Brown in 2016-2017 (pdf):

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 6.10.10 PM

1) Looking at first year students, Brown is at 11% international. Woo-Hoo! If Mandel moves Williams to 11% (from our current 7%, pdf), she will instantly be a better president than Falk.

2) I like the way Brown makes extensive use of “Two or more races, non-Hispanic” and “Race and/or ethnicity unknown.” More than 11% of the student body falls into these categories. I always felt that Williams tried “too hard” to force every student into a specific racial box. (For many years, Williams had exactly zero students in the unknown box. Latest data shows us with 5% in that box and 5% in the “Two or more” box, which matches pretty closely with Brown. So, I guess my hope is that Williams goes even further in this direction, perhaps by subtly signally to Asian/white applicants that checking these other boxes is helpful.)

3) Brown is 6.5% African-American. Nice discipline! (Williams is at 9.5%.) Does Brown — does Dean Mandel — hate black kids? No! But they probably do a much better job of not admitting as many poorly qualified (SAT < 1300, AR < 4) applicants as Williams does. (The sad truth of elite college admissions is that HYPS hoover up all the African-American applicant with elite credentials (about 2%) and then all the applicants who would be good fits at schools like Brown and Williams. This leaves Williams/Brown with a tough choice. They can either be disciplined in admissions --- using affirmative action but not too much --- or they can do that and also accept many applicants who are almost certain to struggle academically. I hope that Williams moves in the Brown direction on this dimension.

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President Maud Mandel, 6

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 6.

Mandel became Dean at Brown in July 2014. We know how her achievements in that role over the subsequent four years are described today, but how did she think about her goals at the start?

Mandel named her long-term experience at and consequent personal connection to Brown as one of three factors that drove her interest in the dean of the College position since it first became available. The vision of the current administration and the proliferation of massive open online courses, which has challenged traditional ideas about what universities can offer students, also drew her in, Mandel said.

This wording confuses me. Was Brown/Mandel pro-mooc or anti-mooc? Brown started participating in Coursera in 2013 and now has a handful of classes up at EdX. But it seems less committed to on-line learning than most big schools. I assume that Williams will continue down its current path of no-Moocs and that Mandel agrees with that strategy.

Mandel witnessed changes to the advising program under Bergeron and said she hopes to expand on those reforms. … Advising, which [Brown President] Paxson called Mandel’s “personal priority” in her email, must address all the opportunities available to Brown students, Mandel said — a goal she describes as “advising the whole student.”

“We want students who come to Brown to feel like they got an experience here that’s unique and important that would not be available to them at other places,” Mandel said, with advising a vehicle to achieve that goal.

Good stuff. Williams could do a much better job with advising. Start with an on-line resource, like the old Willipedia, which features the answers to the 100 most commonly asked question.

Mandel will also confront the issue of grade inflation, which was discussed during the selection process, she told The Herald. “President Paxson has made clear that one of the initiatives of the dean of the College will be to address grade inflation.”

Did Mandel do anything about grade inflation at Brown? Not that I can see. I hope she tackles the issue at Williams. Start with greater transparency and a student/faculty committee.

Mandel will have a leading role in implementing the components of the University’s strategic plan that focus on strengthening undergraduate education, according to the press release.

Big picture, it is tough for an outsider to provide a meaningful score card which compares Mandel’s plans in 2014 to her accomplishments in 2018. Moreover, a good Dean takes her lead from the President. Perhaps Paxson wanted her to focus on items like “diversity and inclusion” instead of grade inflation.

Any Brown-insiders among our readership?

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President Maud Mandel, 5

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 5.

EphBlog loves stories about mothers and their daughters. From The New York Times in 2009:

Like the Obamas’ new domestic arrangement, whereby Marian Robinson, Michelle Obama’s 71-year-old mother, will become a third head of household and the primary caregiver for two children born to two high-achieving parents, the linchpin of the Baker-Roby household is a grandmother. Theirs is an old-fashioned scenario that fell out of style as Americans drifted to the hermetically sealed nuclear family. Since the early part of the last century, academics have noted the waning of this arrangement in the United States, because of increased mobility, smaller families and even Freudian attitudes, rampant at midcentury, that described “too close” adult maternal ties as unhealthy.

It is a choice, however, that is cycling back into favor. . . .

And it looks as if one particular family relationship — that of adult daughters with their mothers — may be entering a period of more than just détente, as veterans of the women’s movement endeavor to help their own daughters achieve the work-life balance that may have eluded them.

Ruth Mandel is the director of the Eagleton Institute for Politics at Rutgers University, and former head of the Center for American Women and Politics there. One of her assignments in her course on women’s memoirs was to ask students to write autobiographies. “I was struck by how many would say their mothers were their best friends,” Dr. Mandel said. “I don’t know that they would have said that in my generation.”

Dr. Mandel’s mother, an Austrian Jewish refugee, worked reluctantly, Dr. Mandel said. “She wasn’t raised for it and her great dream in life was to stay home.” Conversely, Dr. Mandel’s daughter, Maud, is more like her: a professor.

Twice in the recent past, when Maud’s research required temporary residence in Paris, mother and daughter lived together, with Dr. Mandel maintaining daily e-mail and Skype contact with her office while caring for Maud Mandel’s two young children (Maud is a professor of history and Judaic studies at Brown and her husband, Steve Simon, runs an online business that allowed only intermittent time in Paris).

O.K., so a stint in Paris is not exactly a hardship, but it revealed to mother and daughter that theirs was a strong partnership. “It was wonderful to have time together again,” Maud said, “and also because my mother’s life was so complicated as she juggled her intense commitment to her work with her new role as primary caregiver to her grandchildren, I was both grateful and deeply touched.”

Good stuff. A healthy relationship with one’s family is a good sign in a Williams president.

As Dr. Mandel pointed out, “Working daughters need their mothers.”

So say we all. Recall EphBlog’s key advice to young men: Marry a woman smart enough to have a professional career and live in the same city as your mother-in-law.

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President Maud Mandel, 4

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 4.

What might President Mandel bring to Williams from Brown? My favorite candidate is their open curriculum.

In 1850, Brown’s fourth president, Francis Wayland, argued that students should have greater freedom in pursuing a higher education, so that each would be able to “study what he chose, all that he chose, and nothing but what he chose.” A century later, this vision became the basis for a new approach to general education at Brown: the open curriculum.

Williams should copy Brown. There should only be two academic requirements: 32 courses and a major. Forcing students to take courses they don’t want to take accomplishes nothing.

How might Mandel accomplish this?

First, appoint a committee, led by (and made up of) people who share this view. Williams makes major changes via committees and this would be no exception.

Second, guide the committee toward making two recommendations: a) All extra academic requirements — three classes in each division, DPE, writing and quantitive courses — should sunset after five years. The faculty could re-instate them (or different requirements) in 2023, but doing so would require new votes. b) Randomly select 25% of the class of 2022 to be exempt from the extra requirements. These students would, obviously, be able to take whatever classes they want, including having the option of meeting the standard requirements. But they would also have the option not to.

The great benefit of such an experiment is that it would demonstrate clearly the effect, if any, of the requirements. Does the writing requirement make students better writers? Does the DPE requirement make them more aware of the importance of diversity? If these requirements have any effect, then they might be worth keeping. But I doubt that they do. More importantly, it is an empirical question that the College should investigate.

In 5 years, the College would be well-placed to revisit these requirements and decide which ones, if any, should be kept. Of course, even better would be to just get rid of them quickly, but I doubt that will happen. There are too many faculty members who think, incorrectly, that they are doing students a favor by restricting their course options. If Mandel wants to move more toward an open curriculum like Brown’s — and I hope she does — she has much work to do.

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President Maud Mandel, 3

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 3.

From the College’s news release:

As dean at Brown, Mandel has been deeply involved in efforts to advance diversity and inclusion, including promoting programs to foster retention for historically underrepresented students in the STEM fields. She also led a collaborative process with students and staff to open the First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center (FLi Center), the first center at any Ivy League school to be dedicated to first-generation students.

A strong proponent of the liberal arts, Mandel established the Brown Learning Collaborative, aimed at strengthening student learning in the core competencies of a liberal arts education, including writing, reading, research, data analysis, problem-solving and public speaking.

Most of the news release is the sort of fluff that we would expect in such an announcement. Mandel is wonderful! Williams is wonderful! We will all be even more wonderful together! The above paragraphs are the only substance. Possibilities:

1) Jim Reische is filling space with whatever material he has at hand. Those activities were part of Mandel’s CV, or at least the package that search firm Spencer Stuart prepared for her as they shopped her around the presidential market. But they aren’t, really, important to her or to the Williams search committee that selected her. They tell us little/nothing about what to expect over the next few years.

2) These achievements were among the primary reasons that the search committee selected Mandel. They felt that Williams was not doing nearly enough about problems associated with URM under-representation in STEM (and/or the other items) and wanted a president who would make tackling them her highest priority.

3) These projects were truly important to Mandel. She wanted the job as dean precisely because she saw certain problems at Brown. She identified and fought for these improvements. Since every school, including Williams, can do better along these dimensions, these will be her highest priorities as Williams president.

My guess is that 2) is not true. Virtually every dean/provost at every elite college/university can point to similar projects/achievements. Mandel’s tenure as Dean is completely typical in that regard. So, it is unlikely that these played a meaningful role in her selection. (I would feel otherwise if she had done something unusual and/or if the search committee signaled us more clearly. For example, if Mandel had come from Harvey Mudd it might have been because the search committee wanted Williams to create an engineering major.)

I don’t have a sense of how much Mandel truly cared about these projects at Brown — I am sure she was in favor, but were they the source of her passion for the job? — or how much of these she will bring to Williams.

What do readers think?

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President Maud Mandel, 2

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 2.

There is no doubt that Mandel is highly qualified (CV) to be the president of Williams. Traditionally, elite colleges require two characteristics in presidential candidates: academic success (i.e., being a tenured professor) and administrator experience. The vast majority of NESCAC presidents have had such a background, including at least the last 5 Williams presidents. (Jack Sawyer ’39, with no administrative experience, is an interesting exception to this rule.) Occasionally, an elite liberal arts college will appoint someone who is not a tenured academic, like Barry Mills at Bowdoin, but such cases seem increasingly rare.

Mandel is a tenured professor and has spent the last 4 years as Dean of the College at Brown. Check and check!

Speaking very roughly, Maud probably does better on the academic dimension than she does on the administrative. Tenure at Brown is impressive! The last few Williams presidents have had less imposing academic pedigrees than that. But Dean of the College is generally viewed as less useful preparation for the presidency than Dean of the Faculty or Provost. So, net-net, Maud has about the typical background for a NESCAC president.

Side note: There is no better example of former President Morty Schapio’s menschness than his decision to transform Carl Vogt’s ’58 interim one-year presidency into an official Williams presidency. This is why Maud is officially the 18th president rather than the 17th. Vogt’s presidency should not really be counted, just as other interim presidents (Hewitt, Wagner and Majumder) are not counted. Vogt had no academic background, but I don’t count him as part of my “last 5 Williams presidents” claim above since he was not selected as a permanent president.

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President Maud Mandel, 1

Brown Dean of the College Maud Mandel begins her term as the 18th president of Williams on July 1. EphBlog welcomes her! We are pro-Mandel and hope that her presidency is successful. (Full disclosure, our preference would have been for an internal candidate like Lee Park or Eiko Siniawer.) Let’s spend some time discussing what we know about Mandel so far. Day 1.

Start with the acknowledgments from her 2014 book Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict:

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Beautiful stuff. How could we not like Mandel after reading such obviously heart-felt prose?

The modernists among our readers will insist that we have it all backwards, that we should start with Mandel’s CV, the dry listing of her professional accomplishments. I disagree. Although a stable marriage and loving family are not a requirement to be the president of Williams, they are a very good sign of character, judgment and stability. After our experience with President Working-on-Wife-Number-3, it is nice to know that Mandel will not be concerned with the dating scene in Williamstown.

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