Currently browsing posts filed under "Adam F. Falk"

Follow this category via RSS

← Previous PageNext Page →

End of Year Falk E-mail

Adam Falk’s end of the year e-mail includes lots of news. Should we spend a week going through it? Tell us what you want readers! One highlight:

As I look back on the extraordinary success of the campaign in this first year of its public phase, I must share some bittersweet news, which is that our campaign’s chief architect has accepted an exciting new professional opportunity. Vice President for College Relations John Malcolm ’86 will take on the role of chief development officer at the Boston-based Partners in Health (PIH).

Losing your chief fund-raiser in the middle of your big capital campaign is either extremely bad luck or a sign of less-than-climb-high competence. Malcolm was an exceptional rainmaker. He had spent the last 5 (?) years building relationships with all the richest Ephs. This is example #103 of why the College ought to do a better job of screening/hiring/retaining employees who want to make a career commitment to Williams.

With luck, Malcolm’s departure won’t matter. I hope that he lassoed most of his targeted big givers during the quiet portion of the campaign and that his departure won’t cause them to renege.

Entire e-mail below the break:
Read more

Facebooktwitter

Tuition Update

All campus e-mail about tuition:

To the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019,

I am writing with information about the college’s financial planning for the coming year.

The money we spend on your education every year comes from three main sources: what we take from the endowment, what you and your families pay, and what we receive as gifts for current use. To sustain the endowment in perpetuity, each year we aim to spend no more than 5 percent of its value. That money plus gifts for current use represent 59 percent of our revenue.

Virtually all the rest comes from student charges. After projecting revenue from endowment and gifts, we calculate that to provide a Williams-quality education in the coming year will require a comprehensive fee that grows by 3.46 percent. That’s the ninth year in a row of declining rates of increase.

Here’s how it breaks down:

Tuition $51,490
Board 6,760
Room 6,930
Activities and Residential House Fees 300

Total $65,480

This total falls in the middle of those at peer institutions.

Our financial aid program will remain among the strongest anywhere, and if you think that you may be among those who now qualify for aid for the first time, please contact the financial aid office as soon as possible.

We’re fortunate at Williams to have the support of our relatively large endowment and of the exceptional generosity of our alumni, parents, and friends. At the same time, we understand the financial sacrifices that your families make to provide you with an education. In a recent letter similar to this one, I thanked them again for those sacrifices, and I suggest that this might be good moment for you to do the same.

Sincerely yours,
Adam Falk
President

Comments:

1) “That’s the ninth year in a row of declining rates of increase.” Could only be written by a physicist! So, although the first derivative is positive, the second is negative? Or is it different in dollars as opposed to percentages? Help us out, Eph Math Mavens!

2) Williams is a luxury good. Once you realize that fact, it is obvious that bragging about low rates of increase in the sticker price is stupid. You never read about Gucci or Prada doing that! Indeed, perhaps the single most costly financial mistake by a NESCAC school was Middlebury’s tuition “freeze” five years ago. Williams is smart, at least, to avoid that mistake. Virtue signally can be an expensive hobby.

3) The best strategy is not to aim for the middle of “peer institutions.” Instead, charge at the top of the range. This indicates high quality to poorly informed customers, provides more resources for improving the actual quality, and gauges as much money as possible from the global 1%. What is not to like?!

Facebooktwitter

What Charles Murray Believes

Charles Murray will be speaking at Williams tomorrow. Professor Nate Kornell comments:

The next speaker in the [Uncomfortable Learning] series is Charles Murray. I’m glad he was invited because whether you agree with him or not, he raises important questions that push students and faculty alike to think hard.

“Important questions,” huh? Tell that to the current crop of social justice warriors at Williams, people like Sam Alterman ’18 and Professor Sam Crane. From their point of view, Murray is every bit as bad as Derbyshire because he believes that there are important genetic differences between human races — differences that are much more than skin deep — differences which help to explain, among many other things, why Japan is a much nicer place to live than Nigeria.

Consider Murray’s review of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History.

The problem facing us down the road is the increasing rate at which the technical literature reports new links between specific genes and specific traits. Soon there will be dozens, then hundreds, of such links being reported each year. The findings will be tentative and often disputed—a case in point is the so-called warrior gene that encodes monoamine oxidase A and may encourage aggression. But so far it has been the norm, not the exception, that variations in these genes show large differences across races. We don’t yet know what the genetically significant racial differences will turn out to be, but we have to expect that they will be many. It is unhelpful for social scientists and the media to continue to proclaim that “race is a social construct” in the face of this looming rendezvous with reality.

Indeed. From the Record:

Murray, author of The Bell Curve, is scheduled to come to the College this spring. He believes that race and class are linked to intelligence. Falk has no plans to cancel Murray’s visit.

“It’s actually instructive to compare [him] directly with Derbyshire. Charles Murray has never written anything, to my knowledge, like Derbyshire’s ‘The Talk.’ I don’t agree with what he says, I haven’t agreed with much of what he has said for 20 years, but he’s a scholar,” Falk said. He hopes that people start a civil and constructive argument with Murray when he comes.

Good luck! When it comes to race/genetics/{intelligence,criminality,empathy,etc}, Murray and Derbyshire are identical. Genetics has a huge influence on most personal characteristics. Those genetics differ across races. Therefore, . . .

Think this is nothing but right-wing racist nonsense, correctly relegated to the dirtiest sewers on the web? Think again, starting with Sunday’s Boston Globe:

The effects of genetic differences make some people more impulsive and shortsighted than others, some people more healthy or infirm than others, and, despite how uncomfortable it might be to admit, genes also make some folks more likely to break the law than others.

Charles Murray believes that genetics cause criminality (along with the Boston Globe) and genetics differ among races (along with Nicholas Wade). Therefore, he believes, at a minimum, that it is possible that races differ in their genetic predispositions to criminality. In fact, Murray almost certainly goes full Derbyshire and believes that different racial groups have different genetic predispositions to criminality and that this, among other factors, helps to explain why Japan is a much nicer place to live than Nigeria.

This is the person that Falk considers a “scholar” and that Kornell thinks “raises important questions.” What do Sam Alterman and Sam Crane think?

Facebooktwitter

Eagle Critiques Falk

From the Berkshire Eagle:

Our Opinion: Wrong call by Williams in cancelling speaker

At a time when too many college student bodies are demanding that controversial speakers be banned it is disappointing that Williams College won’t get to hear such a speaker who was invited by students.

1) Any forecasts on what other media outlets will editorialize about Falk’s decision? I am most curious about the Record, which deeply embarrassed itself last fall in the Venker controversy but is now under new leadership.

2) Key in this whole discussion is that Derbsyhire was invited by members of the Williams community. He wasn’t just wondering in off the street. I don’t think it should matter whether the invitation came from students or faculty or staff.

Williams President Adam Falk has ordered the cancellation of an appearance Monday by former National Review columnist John Derbyshire, who some have condemned as being racist. He had been invited by a student group called Uncomfortable Learning.

In framing the debate, how one describes Derbyshire is key. I think that the above is a fair description. It is both true (lots of people, including Adam Falk!, do condemn Derbyshire for being racist) and it highlights the reasons behind the controversy. This is much more neutral than describing Derbyshire as a “white supremist,” since he would disagree with that terminology, or as a “race realist,” which is too confusing for Eagle readers.

Students, faculty and administrators at colleges and universities nationwide have taken to banning or disinviting speakers whose views some find discomfiting. Teachers introducing similar views or failing to provide “trigger warnings” about controversial subjects are demeaned, harassed and threatened with suspensions or firings. The offending speakers and viewpoints are almost invariably conservative or far-right

Mostly correct, although a bit overwrought. But is there a single example — either at an elite college or anywhere else — of a president “banning” a speaker, of forbidding Person X from stepping foot on campus even though they have an invitation from current students or faculty? I can’t find one but pointers are welcome!

This is counter to the mission of higher education, which is to expose students to a variety of disagreeable viewpoints, not to protect their delicate sensibilities from them. Mr. Derbyshire denies he is a white supremacist (Eagle, February 19), and while The Eagle disagrees with the sentiments expressed in a National Review column advising white children about how to be safe among African-Americans, he is entitled to them and Williams students should be able to hear and debunk them.

Fifty years ago, Robert Gaudino considered it one of his missions to “expose students to a variety of disagreeable viewpoints.” Does any faculty member at Williams agree? I am honestly curious.

A Williams grad told The Eagle that “White supremacy has no place in the Purple Valley,” but all manner of racist views exist in the wide world outside of that protected enclave. There is no hiding from them and it is best to be exposed to them in school. That is part of the educational process, one that has been denied to Williams students.

Indeed.

Facebooktwitter

Advice for Falk

pinker

What advice do our readers have for Adam Falk?

First, admit that you have a (big!) problem. This controversy shows no signs of going away. If anything, it is on the verge of snowballing out of control. When well-respected Harvard professors like Steven Pinker are openly mocking you, it is time to do something.

Second, the best approach would be what I suggested yesterday. Issue the following statement:

I have talked to many Williams faculty, students and alumni. I have now read John Derbsyhire’s book We Are Doomed, having checked it out from our own Sawyer Library. Although I profoundly disagree with Derbyshire’s views on a variety of topics, I now realize that my earlier decision was a mistake. Williams College is precisely the place where these odious opinions need to be explored, confronted and debunked. If not us, then who? If not here, then where? So, in the spirit of uncomfortable learning, I have personally invited John Derbyshire to Williams, where we will stage a debate between him and some of the members of our faculty.

And so on. The exact details are unimportant. But banning student-invited speakers is a horrible idea. Admit your error and move on.

Third, the second best approach is to shut up! Stop giving interviews. Stop talking to people. If anyone has questions, refer them to your statement. There is no upside (for you) in continuing the conversation. Your quotes in the Washington Post are a disaster. Consider:

“The understanding I came to of his writing was that it was simply racist ranting, with no redeeming intellectual value whatsoever,”

Then why does Williams have three of his books in its library? Are your staff idiots? Do Williams librarians purchase many books that are simply “racist ranting?” Providing quotes like this only makes you look incompetent. Moreover, John Derbyshire regular writes for The New Criterion, as hoity-toity an egghead magazine as you are going to find. Do you really believe that The New Criterion publishes a lot of material with “no redeeming intellectual value?” Are they a bunch of racists too? That is nuts, and readers of the Washington Post are smart enough to know it.

“The college does not have an obligation to give a platform to absolutely anybody. And a self-proclaimed white supremacist who was going to come and tell students … that they should avoid the African American students, was over a line.”

Note how the Post leaves out a part of your comment? Reporters are not your friends. They have a beast to feed and you are the meat. The more you say to them, the more you leave yourself open to quote-mangling, malicious or otherwise.

And you leave yourself open to rebuttal on the facts. John Derbyshire is many, many things but he is not “a self-proclaimed white supremacist.” You have just opened yourself (and Williams!) up to claim of defamation! Listen to your lawyers and shut up. (Attorney readers are welcome to offer their opinions as to whether or Derbyshire would have a case.)

And you aren’t even accurately summarizing Derbyshire’s infamous article correctly. He writes:

In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.

Derbyshire’s (rude) advice to non-black Williams students is exactly the opposite of what you have claimed it to be. He recommends that they go out of their way to make friends with black Williams students. He reasoning may be false and obnoxious and racist — and you are allowed to call it all those things and more — but you aren’t allowed to say that Derbyshire gives Advice X when, in fact, he gives Advice Y.

Fourth (and this is by far the worst option but still better than the path you are going down) is to make someone else at Williams the face of this issue. That is why senior administrators like Will Dudley, Denise Buell and Sarah Bolton get paid the big bucks. Let one of them — or perhaps a senior professor looking for a fight — spout off to the Washington Post. You are the president of Williams College. You should step back from the fray. You already made the decision. Let other faculty members talk about it.

What advice do our readers have for Falk?

Facebooktwitter

FIRE Slams Falk

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has slammed Williams/Falk for cancelling the UL/Derbyshire talk. Best part:

There is no reconciling Falk’s October position with his current one, leaving students with unclear guidelines as to which speakers or subjects are out-of-bounds at Williams College. In fact, the only thing that is clear now is that President Falk has declared his administration to be the sole arbiter of what can and cannot be said at the college, the college’s supposed commitment to free speech notwithstanding.

Although Williams is, as a private institution, free to craft its own rules, it has stated that it is “committed to being a community in which all ranges of opinion and belief can be expressed and debated” and that “controversy is at the heart of … free academic inquiry.” Imposing restrictions on what topics may be discussed and who students may invite to discuss them is the polar opposite of “free academic inquiry”; it is closer to indoctrination than education.

Indeed. What would Robert Gaudino say? FIRE continues:

It’s worth noting that some of the most controversial speakers invited to speak at colleges and universities over the past century have sparked the adoption of policies that protect robust and open debate on campuses. The prime example is Yale’s 1975 Woodward Report, which is regarded as the first free speech policy statement by a university to espouse a deep commitment to examining all viewpoints, no matter their popularity, as a path toward truth. That report was adopted only after students called for the disinvitation of controversial Nobel laureate William Shockley, whose views many contended were not only patently racist, but incontrovertibly false. The Woodward Report has been cited as an inspiration for the University of Chicago’s free speech policy statement, which FIRE has endorsed, and which schools are increasingly adopting.

For the moment, it appears Williams has chosen a different path—a path on which paternalistic administrators decide which ideas are too dangerous for college students to hear, even when students themselves have established a program specifically for the purpose of engaging with such ideas. It is now up to the students, faculty, alumni, and trustees of Williams to decide whether that is truly the kind of place they want their college to be, or whether they are going to push back against this act of censorship.

Are we going to push back?

Facebooktwitter

Falk Cancels Speech

I enjoyed Adam Falks op-ed in the Record last fall, especially this part:

The senior class may remember that in my Convocation remarks to them this fall, I gave them an assignment to seek out someone whose opinions and beliefs are different than their own, and to engage in a conversation to really listen and learn from one another.

Excellent advice! Alas, it looks like Adam Falk no longer agrees.

To the Williams Community,

Today I am taking the extraordinary step of canceling a speech by John Derbyshire, who was to have presented his views here on Monday night. The college didn’t invite Derbyshire, but I have made it clear to the students who did that the college will not provide a platform for him.

Free speech is a value I hold in extremely high regard. The college has a very long history of encouraging the expression of a range of viewpoints and giving voice to widely differing opinions. We have said we wouldn’t cancel speakers or prevent the expression of views except in the most extreme circumstances. In other words: There’s a line somewhere, but in our history of hosting events and speeches of all kinds, we hadn’t yet found it.

We’ve found the line. Derbyshire, in my opinion, is on the other side of it. Many of his expressions clearly constitute hate speech, and we will not promote such speech on this campus or in our community.

We respect—and expect—our students’ exploration of ideas, including ones that are very challenging, and we encourage individual choice and decision-making by students. But at times it’s our role as educators and administrators to step in and make decisions that are in the best interest of students and our community. This is one of those times.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk
President

Good stuff! But surely there is more that Falk should do. For example, if Derbyshire can’t speak at Williams, then we can hardly allow his books to stay in the library.

derb

Hate speech is hate speech, whether it is spoken or written.

With luck, Falk will correct this oversight immediately. EphBlog recommends a nice book burning ceremony this afternoon, right on the steps of Chapin.

Facebooktwitter

MinCo Replies to Falk III

The Minority Coaltion has responded to President Falk’s e-mail about The Merrill Committee that is charged with examining problematic decorations/monuments/images at Williams. Let’s spend three days mocking this madness. Today is Day 3.

President Falk responded in the Record. Worst part:

How can we be the inclusive, welcoming place we want to be – and increasingly are – if the images and stories that surround our students, faculty and staff are largely from a time when so many of them wouldn’t have been welcome here?

I dislike the trope of “Williams was an evil nasty place until me and my friends showed up.” Is that really true? My importantly, will Ephs 50 years from now judge the Williams of 2015 as more welcoming than the Williams of 1985 or 1955 or 1925? I have my doubts. Read “Black Williams: A Written History.” Some students (and faculty?) feel disaffected from Williams today. The same has always been true. The same will always be true.

Most interesting part:

Here’s what I imagine to be a logical set of outcomes: The committee may determine that some historical representations on campus ought to be left as they are, that some ought to be removed or altered or that some ought to be added to, perhaps with historical context or commentary.

Where can we find a list of “historical representations” that the Merrill Committee is likely to consider? In all honesty, other than the painting at The Log, I have trouble coming up with anything even remotely controversial. Ideas from our readers?

Best part:

At Williams, committees are often the places where ideas are born and where decisions are made. It was the alumni-and-student Angevine Committee appointed by President Jack Sawyer that spent a year considering fraternities and in 1962 came to the conclusion that they needed to go. And it was the Committee on Coordinate Education that recommended enrolling women, a recommendation adopted by the Board of Trustees in 1969.

Exactly right, and exactly what EphBlog told you yesterday. EphBlog and Adam Falk, in agreement once again! However:

1) The Committee on Coordinate Education is a lousy example because it was never going to decide anything other than to admit women. Every elite school did the same. Any elite school that didn’t would have become unpopular.

2) The Angevine Committee is a great example (read the details on Wikipedia) because eliminating fraternities was a radical choice that most peer schools refused to do. That was real change.

3) Another good recent example is the MacDonald Report which led to a significant decline in the admissions preferences given to athletes.

4) Anchor Housing (the Dudley Committee?) is an example of major change coming out of the committee system. Alas, it was a total failure, as EphBlog predicted.

Big picture: Falk is correct to claim that change comes via committee. MinCo is foolish to pass on this opportunity to put its fellow travelers in positions of (some) power. Getting a seat at the table is the first step in social change at Williams.

Facebooktwitter

Log Painting

From Adam Falk:

To the Williams Community,

Built over a period of more than two centuries, the Williams campus is a collection of structures old and new. We are fortunate to have been bequeathed such a remarkably diverse set of facilities, and in our commitment to sustainability we renovate and reuse old buildings as often as we reasonably can.

The students are diverse . . . the faculty is diverse . . . even the buildings are diverse! Diversity is every modern college’s godhead. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

But it is also true that as many campus buildings were constructed in eras quite different from our own, at times they were decorated in ways that seem problematic in a modern context. The same is true of some of the monuments that are found on our campus. How do such forms of decoration, conceived in an earlier time, affect our capacity to be a fully inclusive community in this century? And what should be done about historical images that portray Williams as less welcoming than we are or aspire to be?

Why raise this topic now? Why send out this e-mail? Perplexing. I have seen zero discussion on campus about “problematic” monuments. Has anyone else?

The most famous example that I can think of is/was the swastika on the side of Weston.

DSCN2138.JPG

Previous discussion here and here. I had heard that this had been sandblasted away last year. True? Who made that decisions and why did they make it?

Back to Falk:

I would like our community to consider these questions—which go beyond any one object—in a thoughtful and comprehensive way. With that purpose in mind, I’m assembling a special committee of students, faculty, staff, and alumni to bring forward recommendations of a nature both general (what principles should guide us?) and specific (what should we do about a particular piece that’s of concern?).

EphBlog is here to help! What is a list of problematic objects/monuments/images that the committee should consider? Needless to say, a lot of the books in the library will need to go . . .

My thanks go to Karen Merrill, chair of the history department and former dean of the college, who will lead the committee. Additional members will include:

Joe Cruz ’91, professor of philosophy
Katarzyna Pieprzak, professor and chair of Romance languages
David L. Smith, professor of English
Keli Gail, secretary of the college
Ferentz Lafargue, director of the Davis Center
Kevin Murphy, curator of American art, WCMA
Rick Spalding, chaplain to the college
Leila Jere ’91, president of the Society of Alumni

Smart presidents know the answer that they want ahead of time and select the committee accordingly. What answer does Falk want?

The committee will also include three students, whom I will name in consultation with College Council and the Minority Coalition. The committee will begin its work in the new calendar year, at which time it will outline the process for engaging the wider community about these questions.

This was a stupid decision when Falk made it, as later events proved clear. (Discussion coming tomorrow.) Why privilege the Minority Coalition? They don’t have a reputation for sober discussion and reasonable decision-making. Much better is to, ahead of time, pick students for the committee. Needless to say, the three would be racial diverse, with at least one African American member. But Falk hardly needs Min Co to accomplish that. Any member of the committee would be happy to suggest a dozen names, all of whom would be honored to be asked.

Finally, I should note that one item is of particular concern, a mural in the Black Room of the recently renovated Log depicting Mohawk Chief Hendrick, Ephraim Williams, and others before a battle. Because the mural portrays the Mohawks in a way that is potentially problematic, I have instructed that it be temporarily covered while the committee considers the larger questions with which it is charged. I expect that in the course of its work the committee will issue a recommendation regarding this particular mural. Covering it now is not intended to be a prejudgment—of any kind—of the committee’s eventual recommendation, which we anticipate in due course.

Is this the painting that Falk is talking about?

log

If so, what is the problem? And, if this painting can’t be hung at The Log, then there must be a score of paintings at The Clark that will have to go . . .

I’m grateful to the committee members for undertaking this important task. We begin this work out of genuine care and concern both for the Williams we inherited and the Williams we continue to create together.

Sincerely,
Adam Falk
President

If I were Falk, I would focus the College’s energy elsewhere.

Facebooktwitter

Caring for Community

An all-campus e-mail from President Falk:

To the Williams Community,

The solidarity our students and other community members showed yesterday for their peers on other campuses was an inspiring demonstration of support. It was also an important reminder of all the work still to be done—here and everywhere—to create a society that’s free of discrimination, in which all members are valued and have equal opportunities to thrive.

As we continue that critical work at Williams, done in ways public and private, large and small, students working with each other and together with faculty, staff, alumni, and parents, we acknowledge that we’re a long way from the goal, but our pursuit of it guides our determined steps every single day.

The events at Missouri, Yale, and other places are experienced here in a variety of ways. If you need support—now or at any time—please remember that you can find it in many places on campus, including the dean’s office, chaplains’ office, health center, Davis Center, and Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity.

Finally, a request: We’re heading into a celebratory Homecoming weekend, welcoming lots of alumni and visitors to campus. Looking ahead, I ask you to please keep in mind the important work we’re all doing to make this the community to which we aspire, and, in so doing, to take care of each other and of Williams.

Sincerely,

Adam Falk
President

Comments:

1) I believe that Falk is referencing the black out rally in Paresky from Thursday.

2) Should we be surprised that there is less campus turmoil at Williams than elsewhere? No. Williams has always been among the most “conservative” of the elite liberal arts colleges. Not “conservative” in the sense of voting Republican, of course, just much less likely to devolve into far left (in the context of US political views nationwide) controversy and rebellion. I prefer “classy” to “conservative,” in describing the difference between Williams and, say, Swarthmore, but maybe “reserved” or “restrained” or “traditional” would be more neutral.

3) Most of the letter is harmless. Was Falk wise to send it? I don’t know. Was there a demand on campus that he address recent events? If so, I am not sure if this letter would do much to appease the protesters. Might it anger them? With luck, Falk got good advice from someone.

4) The “request” in the last paragraph is weird. He makes no request except a vague plea to “keep in mind” happy thoughts. Is that all he really wants? Or is this code for: “Don’t protest at the gatherings of rich alumni during the Capital Campaign.”

5) Grammar mavens are invited to parse that last sentence. Is “take care of each other” one of Falk’s requests or not?

Facebooktwitter

College Scorecard

The College Scorecard is the most important thing to happen in the world of higher education data in several decades. From The New York Times:

President Obama on Saturday abandoned his two-year effort to have the government create a system that explicitly rates the quality of the nation’s colleges and universities, a plan that was bitterly opposed by presidents at many of those institutions.

Under the original idea, announced by Mr. Obama with fanfare in 2013, all of the nation’s 7,000 institutions of higher education would have been assigned a ranking by the government, with the aim of publicly shaming low-rated schools that saddle students with high debt and poor earning potential.

Instead, the White House on Saturday unveiled a website that does not attempt to rate schools with any kind of grade, but provides information to prospective students and their parents about annual costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation.

There is no reason why the Federal Government needs to rate universities. Why would anyone think that the Feds would be particularly good at such an exercise? But only the Feds could have made the student loan and income data so readily available. With that info public, we can watch a thousand ratings systems bloom.

Perhaps some of our data jocks could tell us how Williams stacks up . . .

And, as usual, President Falk agrees with EphBlog!

Officials at many schools said the government had no business competing with college rating services like those offered by U.S. News and World Report. Many chose blunt language to describe what they said was a misguided effort by Mr. Obama and his administration.

Charles L. Flynn Jr., the president of the College of Mount St. Vincent in the Bronx, called the president’s idea “uncharacteristically clueless.” Adam F. Falk, the president of Williams College in Massachusetts, predicted that it would be “oversimplified to the point that it actually misleads.” And Kenneth W. Starr, who is the president of Baylor University in Waco, Tex., and who, as a prosecutor, led the investigations of President Bill Clinton, called it “quite wrongheaded.”

The Eph Brigade of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy is pleased to see Falk in agreement with Ken Starr . . .

Facebooktwitter

Can-Do Charm

Lovely remembrance of Jimmy Lee ’75 in Vanity Fair.

Remembering the Can-Do Charm (and Fierce Temper) of Wall St. Legend Jimmy Lee

Everybody on Wall Street has a Jimmy Lee story, mainly because he was the kind of banker who really doesn’t exist anymore. The JPMorgan Chase & Co. vice chairman, who died unexpectedly this morning of a heart attack at age 62, was the kind of investment banker who told you immediately what he could do for you, not what he could not do for you, and then, through his considerable will, forced his firm to make good on his myriad of promises.

He never seemed to get bogged down in the mechanics of deal-making, nor did he seem much concerned with the infernal political infighting that is part and parcel of every big Wall Street firm (even though he had nearly flawless political skills). Rather, he maintained a consistent air of euphoria about the prospect of doing deals. Not for nothing did Jimmy—always Jimmy, not the more formal James B. Lee Jr.—wear his signature suspenders with silver dollars depicted all over them. With his slicked-backed hair and Hermès ties, he looked every bit the part of an unabashed gung-ho, can-do investment banker. He had not the slightest bit of conflict about what he was meant to do, even in the years following the financial crisis when Wall Street bankers were increasingly depicted as unsavory types. That kind of soul-searching was not for Jimmy.

Rest of article is below the break. Read the whole thing. There is even an Adam Falk sighting!

Indeed, the last time I saw Jimmy was on April 9, the night before General Electric announced that it was getting out of most of its finance businesses. My wife and I were invited to a dinner with the president of Williams College, which our two sons attend, as did Jimmy and his three children. Jimmy loved Williams. He had recently joined its board—something he had long aspired to—and the dinner was one of the ways he ginned up financial support for the college. The dinner was a small, intimate affair—eight people or so—and it was held in JPMorgan Chase C.E.O. Jamie Dimon’s private dining room on the 42nd floor of the company’s headquarters at 270 Park Avenue. Jimmy was his usual charming self, extolling the virtues of Williams College and facilitating a dynamic discussion at the table about the virtues of a liberal-arts education.

Cohan’s sons are apparently Teddy ’16 and Quentin ’17. Regular readers will recall that Quentin wrote the best Eph April Fools article in several years and that Teddy was involved in the College Council election scandal this spring.

Rest of article below the break.

Read more

Facebooktwitter

Williams Goes to HBS

Three years ago, Adam Falk assured us that all those fancy MOOCs (massive open on-line courses) had no future at Williams.

Technology has and will continue to improve how we teach. But what it cannot do is remove human beings from the equation. Coursera, one of the new purveyors of massive, open online courses, proposes to crowd-source the grading of essays, as if averaging letter grades assigned by five random peers were the educational equivalent of a highly trained professor providing thoughtful evaluation and detailed response. To pretend that this is so is to deny the most significant purposes of education, and to forfeit its true value.

But what about this news?

HBX, Harvard Business School’s online digital education initiative, has announced that it has entered into agreements to work with several U.S. liberal arts colleges to provide additional benefits for their students taking the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program.

CORe is an online program, consisting of approximately 150 hours of learning, for students and early career professionals to learn the fundamentals of business on a highly engaging and interactive platform designed by Harvard Business School faculty, according to Harvard Business School.

One of the schools listed in Williams. Anyone have any further details? Comments:

1) You can be sure that any grading here will not be done by Harvard professors. It will be a mix of computer and peer-graded work. Does Falk object?

2) I am probably being unfair to Falk because I suspect that this program is merely an additional option for Williams students, not a replacement for their current coursework. That is, any William student who participates in CORe will still need to take 32 Williams classes for credit.

3) If you don’t think that MOOCs are the future of education, you aren’t paying attention.

Facebooktwitter

ACSR Report on Fossil Fuels

All-campus e-mail from President Falk:

To the Williams Community,

Given the broad interest in the work that the Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility has been doing to analyze the proposal that the college divest from 200 companies involved with fossil fuel extraction, I thought I’d let you know that the committee’s report on the matter is now complete and available online.

The report articulates those areas on which the committee reached consensus and those on which after careful deliberation there was not agreement.

The Board of Trustees began discussing the report at its meeting last weekend. The trustees’ deliberations, which will continue over the coming months, rest on the premises, which I share, that the climate is changing, that the causes of that change are almost assuredly human, and that Williams must develop a strong and broad-based response.

For now our thanks go to ACSR Chair Anand Swamy and the whole committee for their thoughtful work on this important issue—work that has modeled how people with differing viewpoints of how to achieve a shared goal can engage with each other in ways that are both vigorous and respectful.

First, kudos to the ACSR/Falk for making the report public. Williams needs more transparency. (But, since Williams has a history of making reports public and then disappearing them, I saved copies of the report and the appendix.)

Second, I am unimpressed with the report because it fails to provide the best arguments against divestment, even in the section labeled “The Case Against Divestment.” This is, frankly, pathetic. It is perfectly reasonable to conclude, as Stanford has done, that a college should divest. You or I may disagree, but that is OK. It is not reasonable to claim (believe?) that you are, for purposes of discussion, providing the best arguments against divestment when, in fact, you are not, either because of a desire to win the argument or a failure to even know what those best arguments are. (I am not sure which explanation reflects more badly on the ASCR.)

Third, there is much material in the report worthy of discussion. Who wants to see a 10 day EphBlog critique/discussion?

Fourth, as always, the underlying politics are interesting. I suspect that there are powerful forces at the College who do not want divestment and have pushed hard against it. Why else would the Investment Office go to the trouble of writing an op-ed in the Record? (By the way, this op-ed is filled with lies-by-omission. With luck, it will only take 5 days to unpack them.) Comments by insiders on the internal politics of divestment are welcome.

Facebooktwitter

A Physicist on Falk

Curious what his fellow physicists think about Williams President Adam Falk? An anonymous physicist friend told me five years ago:

Falk is definitely one of the best researchers of his age cohort. His work had a lot of impact, which led to his early career success. However, much of that work was done with more senior and more famous colleagues (e.g., his advisor Howard Georgi). I would guess that to, e.g., get tenure at a place like Harvard or Caltech he might have been required to do something of equal impact and by himself.

But I think all of this is irrelevant to his qualifications to lead Williams. For the type of ability you are asking about Adam is already at the level of diminishing returns when it comes to being a university president. He certainly is well above the intellectual caliber necessary to command the respect of Williams faculty. In fact, I doubt there are more than a dozen faculty on the Williams campus who are as bright as Adam. How he does there will be more a function of his people skills, judgement, strategic thinking, leadership ability, etc.

I’ve known Adam for many years and I would say he is a very good person, and very sincerely dedicated to the ideals of higher education. I think Williams made a great choice.

Some time ago (like 5-10 years ago, I can’t recall exactly), I heard through some common friends that Adam had lost “the fire” for research in theoretical physics, and was headed into administration. (Actually I already knew something was up because Adam’s productivity had dropped off.) Luckily for him he was taken on as a protege by the then-dean of arts and sciences at JHU, becoming assistant or associate dean. When that person left JHU for another position, Adam was (amazingly, given his age) promoted to the dean-ship.

I don’t know how long he’s been looking at the college president market, but it would be natural that after a few years as dean at JHU the recruiters would come around, assuming (which is quite likely) that he had a good reputation in that job.

I really do think Williams did well in getting Adam. So many college administrators are just “suits” — they lack passion, are risk-averse, not creative, etc. Adam is none of those things, at least as I knew him :-) It’s possible that these traits are inevitable outcomes of the pressures and incentives of the system, but for now I think it’s possible for him to do a lot of dynamic things.

What I would really be worried about if I were an Eph is that Williams is just a stepping stone for Adam on his way to an Ivy-level presidency!

That was written in 2010. Has Falk done “a lot of dynamic things” at Williams? Not that I have seen. My faculty contacts report that his main focus in the first few years was an attempt to upgrade the quality of the faculty (meaning the quality of academic research produced by the faculty, especially those coming up for tenure), an attempt that was largely beaten back by academic departments jealous of their own prerogatives.

What have you heard?

Facebooktwitter

Life Tasting

From the Washington Post:

College presidents taste life outside their offices

In his three years as president of George Washington University, Steven Knapp has tried nearly everything to bond with undergraduates.

He moved onto campus, right across the street from a freshman dorm known for its party culture. He hired a graduate student to tell him which events to attend. He helped students haul their stuff into the dorms, created a Facebook account, danced at parties, judged a pie-eating contest and drummed with a basketball player.

Still, many students thought he was boring and out of touch.

They kept comparing the quiet academic to his gregarious predecessor, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who worked the campus like a politician for 19 years and wrote a book called “Big Man on Campus.”

In the popular-with-students category, Adam Falk had big shoes to fill in following Morty. How has he done? My interactions with him have been wonderful, but I am just another old alum. Is Falk as accessible to, and popular with, students as Morty was?

Facebooktwitter

2010 Reunion Notes

An alum who attended reunion last year kindly passed along these notes (doc). Thanks! Perhaps another reader would be willing to take similar notes this year?

Facebooktwitter

Meaningless

From last August:

Each year the splash it makes gets smaller, as more students, parents and even college administrators realize the truth about the U.S. News and World Report college rankings: It’s largely a beauty contest — one that bears little relation to the quality of the education kids will actually receive.

Indeed, the president of Williams College, which was named the No. 1 liberal arts college in the country this year by U.S. News, told Bloomberg News that the rankings were “meaningless.” That’s pretty tough talk, coming from a winner.

Cheap talk, actually.

The rest of the article is not worth reading because the author makes a living based on the theory that college rankings are a poor guide for decision making.

Facebooktwitter

Life With the Falks

The President's House, from smugmug user Rustic

A recent iBerkshires.com article profiled how the Falk family is settling into life across the street from West College. Best quote is from Adam Falk himself: “I was glad to see Stop & Shop.” Besides buying groceries, here’s how the family spends their free time:

Thanks to Scott Lewis, director of the Williams Outing Club, his wife, Bernice, and their daughter Mariah, we have experienced activities we never did before, such as canoeing, rock climbing, and cross country skiing. We bought our own cross country skis,” Falk said, adding with a hint of satisfaction, “And I took a downhill ski at Jiminy Peak.”

Relaxing at home, the family plays games in the formal living room. “We most like ‘Yahtzee,’ ‘Scrabble’ and special version of [the card game] beggar-my-neighbour,” Falk said. If they want to watch a television program or a movie, they gather in the cozy family room down the hall from the formal living room.

And even though Williamstown and North Adams have broadened remarkably in terms of restaurant diversity, it sounds like there’s still some room to grow to satisfy the Falks: “Adam’s and my favorite [dinner] is probably a couple of Ethiopian dishes,” says Karen Falk.

Read the rest here.

Facebooktwitter

Williams Event – NYC Reception with Adam Falk 11/18/2010

The Williams College Metro New York Regional Association and The Williams Club of New York cordially invite Williams Alumni, Parents and Friends to a special reception with Adam Falk, 17th President of Williams College

Location: The Williams Club of New York (at its new home at The Princeton Club)
15 West 43rd Street (Between 5th and 6th Avenues)
New York, NY
212-596-1200

Date: Thursday, November 18, 2010

Time: 6:00 p.m. Reception; 7:00 p.m. Conversation with President Falk

Cost:
$20/Alumni (Classes 2000 and older, Williams parents, Guests)
$10/Young Alumni (Classes 2001 – 2010)
Hors d’oeuvres and beverages included

Attire: Business casual

Your RSVP is important

Please register and pay by credit card through Williams College’s secure on-line system

http://tinyurl.com/williamsreception11-18

or you can register on-line and mail a check by Wednesday, November 10th. Additional information available through the link above. Please contact the Williams Alumni Relations Office at (413) 597-4151 or alumni.relations at williams.edu with any questions

(above copied from an Alumni Relations email)

Facebooktwitter

Induction Seminar: Conclusion

This post concludes our month-long seminar about President Adam Falk’s Induction address.

Pulling out the most important terms and phrases from the speech foreshadows the next decade at Williams.

A Williams education, as this history indicates, provides not merely a private good, found in the betterment of individual graduates, but a public good, measured in the impact those graduates have on the world. … We aim to prepare students for service to the world … The greatest, and most beneficial, change at Williams has been its opening to the wider world … the highest manifestation of the public good we provide is to be a college for all of the United States, and of the world. … And yet, Williams’ greatest advances have occurred when we led, rather than followed, our peers. … It means arguing for the value of the liberal arts by sharing with the world the example of what we do.

[W]e must develop a deeper understanding of what it means for Williams to be an international institution. We must simultaneously be local and global, building a very specific, Berkshires-based Williams that could only be found in this valley, while reaching out far beyond to prepare our students to be effective citizens not only of this country but of the world. … bring international students to Williams … our conception of a global strategy is still emerging … We must become global within our existing scale and scope … we must think of the internationalization of Williams as something that happens here in Williamstown

Williams is full of wonderful students from every walk of life, and many corners of the country and the world … we can become truly global, and teach and learn as never before. … we will welcome here those born to every circumstance – whether economic background, or national identity

[W]e will love even more the Williams that we create . . .

Within a decade, Williams will be more than 20% international students, a greater percentage than any other elite college in the world. That is where Adam Falk proposes to lead us. Are you ready to follow him? I am.

Facebooktwitter

Induction Seminar: ‘Confectionary’

This post continues our month-long seminar about President Adam Falk’s Induction address.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjUCCuFpfCs&start=775

Another challenge through our history has been balancing for our students their academic activities and other learning experiences. While academic pursuits are at the heart of what we offer, it’s the case that artistic and athletic endeavors, religious and social justice commitments, along with simple play all contribute to student development. In case you suspect that finding the right balance among these is a new challenge, I submit the following words of Mark Hopkins:

But the truth is that students, in common with other classes of the community, not only do not exercise enough, but they live in the constant violation of all the rules of dietetics. Some have used, and still do, intoxicating drinks; a much larger number use tobacco, many of them are constantly loading their stomachs with raisins and almonds, and various kinds of confectionary. They eat too much, they sit up late under the excitement of novel reading, and perhaps for study. Let their food be of proper quantity and quality, let them avoid poisonous and narcotic substances, let them keep regular hours, and shun the predominance of an excited or polluted imagination, and they will find that there is an elasticity in the human frame that requires exercise.

The continuing need to recalibrate that balance has been, and I suspect always will be, a matter of some tension within our community. Since the days of Mark Hopkins, the worry has often lurked that if we don’t maintain a certain balance, our College will lose its way. But what students bring to the college experience and the ways in which they need to develop, change as continually as does our culture. It will always remain our work to understand our students’ shifting needs, and to help them balance work and play, sports and the arts, activity and rest, and even – yes – the consumption of raisins and almonds. After all, we are more than simply teachers of the mind, we are developers and nurturers of the spirit.

Read more

Facebooktwitter

Falk on Willinet

Sr. Mom provides an excellent review of Adam Falk’s Willinet interview from September 26.

Granted I did not listen carefully, or to every bit of it. (I put it on while doing other work) But what Falk says, while not going against Dave’s interpretation of Falk’s ambitions, seems to indicate a very different path than has been outlined here.

A few things that stood out:

Falk said that he does not envision expanding the size of faculty or student body.

He emphasized the importance of making the right curricular choices.

He mentioned the strength and importance of first generation students (now at about 20%), citing the value of economic diversity in the overall makeup of a diverse student population.

He cited the entry system as something that needs attention.

Made a comment about the marked difference between the experience of Varsity athletes and other students, and how that needed to be examined.

He emphasized (as an opportunity) the importance of faculty “publishing and scholarship”, and the value of getting “more public about what we do”, even citing Susan Engle’s recent article in the NY Times and the awards won by the Math department.

When asked about becoming more International, he cited the challenge of doing that on a campus situated in the way that Williams is. He mentioned the value of Study Abroad in building those ties, that the programs could be made more meaningful, and that those kinds of programs should be offered in more ways, like through Winter Study and Summer programs. He made no mention of expanding the number of international admissions, but did bring up the importance of “infusing” the campus with more international perspectives and making the campus itself, more international in what it offers.

He did go into Athletics a bit more in depth towards the end, the value of sports in the overall development of the individual and how well the Varsity programs, in particular, accomplish this. Key mention was something about how the emphasis should be on the shaping of the individuals (and hiring coaches with this strength), and not on winning the Director’s Cup…but that he thinks Williams will actually win more when the emphasis shifts to the individual.

He talked about making better use of the the “force” that is the Williams alumni, in networking, recruiting, and in hiring of recent grads, hopefully in more substantial ways than just internships.

Great talk. Thanks to Jeff for posting it on Speak Up.

P.S. Dave, you will like what Falk said about immersing himself in Williams history and why he thought that was important.

Indeed. How many recent additions to the Williams faculty have spoken with Fred Rudolph about Williams history? I second all of Sr. Mom’s comments above. Further thoughts:

1) I could be wrong about Falk’s plans to dramatically increase international admissions. Like any good statistician, I update my estimates as new information comes in. I used to be certain that Falk planned to make Williams 25% international. (I have a bet with Jeff along those lines.) But this interview provided a bunch of evidence against my belief because Falk did not mention international admissions at all. Distressing!

2) I agree with Whitney that Falk’s comments on the entry system were surprising. I doubt that much will come of them.

3) I need to do a thorough fisking on Engle’s op-ed yet, it is so wrong on so many levels that it is hard to know where to begin . . .

Facebooktwitter

Faculty Governance Seminar: Conclusion

This is the eighth and final installment in our slightly-more-than-one-week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Falk’s summary of his goals is almost diametrically opposed to his proposed solution. Let’s step through some of them with reference back to our previous discussions.

Any realignment of senior administration must:
* encourage strong faculty leadership and governance,

No. Recall:

Kane’s Maxim #6: Every hire of a senior administrator weakens faculty governance.

Maybe Williams needs more senior administrators. Maybe we don’t. But there can be no doubt that every hire of a senior administrator weakens “faculty leadership and governance.” How could it be otherwise?

* enable faculty to set priorities,

See above. Imagine that future Vice President of Student Life Steve Klass (annual salary: $261,000 ) feels that X should be a priority while several junior faculty (annual compensation: $65,000) disagree and want to focus on Y. Who wins that dispute? In almost every organization, the more that you are paid and the more contact you have with the boss, the more that you get to “set priorities.”

* preserve the number of faculty in senior roles and ensure that each of these positions be open to faculty in all disciplines represented in the College,

Already true. Again, it is simple false for Falk to suggest that these positions are not, right now, “open to faculty in all disciplines.”

* design senior faculty positions that are attractive and manageable in scope,

Also misleading. There are many more faculty who want to hold these jobs than Williams could possibly accommodate. Specifically, there are more than 5 (and probably more than a dozen) faculty members who would love to take over as Provost next summer.

Summary: I do not know whether Falk’s plan is a good idea. Part of me likes Falk and wants to believe that any idea he supports must be good for Williams. But part of me thinks that the faculty should have more power in running the College. Every decade for the last 100 years has seen a decrease in faculty involvement and control. Just because a trend has been going strong for over a century does not mean that we shouldn’t fight to stop it . . .

Facebooktwitter

Falk at the Faculty Meeting

Spectral Talent (who seems to be a faculty member and who ought to join us as an (anonymous) author) writes:

It does appear that he [Adam Falk] has not appointed an independent committee. However, from his lengthy discussions about his plans at two faculty meetings, one of which was devoted entirely to this topic, it is clear that he has spent a great deal of time hammering out these ideas with present and past senior staff (with the present senior staff appearing to be strongly in favor of the plan). It is also clear that he and others have looked closely at what other institutions are doing and that that has informed his own ideas here. Finally, he is not “just announcing the decisions that he has already made.” Rather, he is spending hours of time getting input from the full faculty on those plans before presenting them to the trustees. Will he change his plans based on these discussions? Who knows? But at least he is having them.

1) Alas, my descriptions of Falk’s actions are coming across more critically than I intended. I simply wanted to note that, unlike Morty with athletic admissions and student housing, there has been no independent committee or formal survey of peer institutions. And that might be a very good thing! Perhaps it is about time that a Williams president exercised more executive energy. I just wanted to point out how surprising I, and others, found it. I have no doubt that Falk and others have thought long and hard about this topic and that they have excellent reasons.

2) Now that we have solved the Form 990 issue, the next step in my endless transparency crusade is to make faculty meetings more transparent. How to do so? Simple:

  • Post on the Dean of the Faculty’s webpage any material (handouts, Powerpoint slides, et cetera) that are distributed/shown at (or before) the meeting.
  • Post the notes from faculty meetings. (These are currently (corrections welcome) distributed to department/program chairs and are also available to any faculty member for review.)

Related thread here. Within the context of this greater transparency, it would be fine to withhold some sensitive material (perhaps about compensation, perhaps in reference to a specific student). My proposal is for 95%, not that 100%, of the handouts/slides/notes. If this were done now, then it would be easier for the larger Williams community (especially students, staff and alumni) who are not (and can not be) at the faculty meeting to appreciate the work that Falk (and others) have put into this proposal. Thanks to spectraltalent for bringing this to our attention.

On the larger point of the need for more transparency, who can argue with Professor Frank Morgan?

Our mission and purpose (which can be found online at www.williams.edu/home/mission) not only justify our best decisions but also mandate a more open decision process, in which we can practice what we preach about the free exchange of ideas leading to better understanding, more ideas and better solutions. Such open exchange of ideas, one of our core values, however inconvenient, deserves and requires our commitment, especially because it is sometimes inconvenient.

Exactly correct.

Facebooktwitter

Faculty Governance Seminar: Many Candidates for Dean/Provost Position

This is the seventh installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

This is the single most misleading sentence:

Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions [Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, Provost] can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

Now, it is true that there is at least one faculty member who finds these positions “less attractive” then they might otherwise be, but the overall implication of this sentence — that the College has trouble attracting faculty to these jobs — is completely false. Consider a similar comment from Guy Creese ’75:

My father put up with being a Dean for five years and went back to teaching. Professors can be real prima donnas, and often invoke “academic freedom” as a way to get what they want. It’s a pretty thankless job, and saying the faculty should do more governance may sound nice, but there’s no guarantee people will be willing to do the work. If you create a Frankenstein of a job, you may get no takers.

Again, there is nothing literally false about Guy’s comment. (And Guy is extremely knowledgeable about elite education in general and Williams in particular.) But, like Falk’s letter, it implies that Williams has a recruitment problem, that the President has trouble finding anyone to take on the “thankless job” of being Dean of the Faculty.

That implication is false. There are dozens of Williams faculty who would love to be offered these positions, far more than will ever have the chance to serve Williams in this way. Don’t believe me. Ask Williams faculty members that you know. I did and everyone I talked to agreed that there were 5+ (and probably many more) faculty members who would be eager to take one of these positions if it were offered to her. Professor Joe Cruz writes:

I think that there are many faculty who would be very pleased to take on leadership roles at the college, including, of course, Dean of the Faculty, Dean of the College, or Provost. Venturing numbers would be pure speculation on my part, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t dozens of us who believe enough in the importance of faculty governance to seriously and enthusiastically see ourselves in those roles. To me, the most serious downside would be not spending time with students in the classroom, in tutorials, and supervising theses. Now, I don’t know how you can twist my words around here and I hope you won’t. I take myself to be saying something obvious (to me) and clear: Though I have not personally talked about this matter with more than a handful of friends, I strongly suspect there is no shortage of willing faculty members who would readily serve in these positions if asked by the President and Steering Committee. I am not saying that President Falk’s proposal for reorganization is a bad idea (my opinion is quite the contrary) nor am I saying that, were things to stay as they are now, that faculty would remain the best suited candidates to address the growing complexities of those positions.

If past experience is any guide, some commentator will now claim that I made up this quote, that I don’t really know what is going on at Williams and so on. Most of the time, I ignore this sort of stupidity because, ultimately, arguing with stupid people is a waste of time. But, for those who don’t believe my summary of faculty opinion and don’t believe my quote from Professor Cruz, here is Professor Frank Morgan’s comment.

I think that plenty of Williams faculty would like to be provost or dean of faculty. The talent for and interest in leadership at Williams exceeds the need. This has been fortunate for helping to keep our priorities academic rather than administrative.

Correct. And finding out the truth on these matters (and truth notably absent from the Record‘s pathetic coverage) is why you read EphBlog.

UPDATE: Apologies for messing up the quote attributions in this post. My mistake! I have fixed the post accordingly.

Facebooktwitter

Faculty Governance Seminar: VP of Student Life

This is the sixth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Consider the discussion of the proposed new vice president of student life.

Let’s start with the Dean of the College position, which is currently sprawling in its scope. It seems to me that it would be logical and sensible to focus it somewhat more on academic matters. We could do that by moving responsibility for Health Services, Safety and Security, Chaplains, and Campus Life (residential life and student activities) to a position that I’ll call for now Vice President for Student Life.

We have, in Vice President for Operations Steve Klass, someone who could take on this position, having done so previously at the University of Chicago. He’d retain the parts of his portfolio most relevant to students, namely Dining Services and Facilities. Naturally, he and Sarah Bolton, and those who report to them, would need to work in close collaboration. But she’d then be able to focus on many essential academic issues, such as strengthening our advising program and developing and integrating the programs that provide students with academic support. At the same time, his newly configured operation could focus on the quality of student life outside the classroom.

1) I have heard nothing but wonderful things about Steve Klass. The more things that he is in charge of, the better.

2) Again, it is interesting how Falk is, more or less, just announcing the decisions that he has already made. No independent committee. No survey of other institutions.

3) “strengthening our advising program?” How many times do I need to explain how I solved this problem years ago? Just create a Wikipedia webpage with the 500 of so most common academic advising questions. Allow anyone (students, faculty, alumni) to edit it but put a student-faculty committee in charge. Organize the questions in a sensible way, with lots of cross-linkage and easy searching. Example questions:

  • What is a good major for someone interested in medical school?
  • If I did poorly in AP Statistics in high school, should I take STAT 101 or STAT 201?
  • Should I go to the Williams-Oxford program?

And so on. None of these questions have correct answers. Reasonable Ephs will differ. But students just need to read a variety of answers from different perspectives. That is what the best academic advising amounts to. Fortunately, 99% of the questions asked each year were asked in previous years, and new questions can always be added to the advising Wikipedia.

Do this, and almost all the problems associated with academic advising at Williams will disappear.

Facebooktwitter

Faculty Governance Seminar: End of the Boston Investment Office?

This is the fifth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.”

Most interesting omission from President Falk’s letter? Any use of the word “endowment.” If I were Collette Chilton or a member of her staff, I would be concerned. Consider the duties of Suzanne Welsh, Swarthmore’s Vice President for Finance and Treasurer.

The Finance and Investment Offices oversee the financial responsibilities of the College which include the budget, financial planning, endowment and debt management, and stewardship of financial resources.

How about Pomona?

Vice President and Treasurer Karen Sisson oversees the College’s budget and endowment, as well as Office of Facilities and Campus Services, which covers construction planning, maintenance, sustainability, summer conferences, dining, grounds and housekeeping; Human Resources; the Business Office; and Real Property.

I can’t find an elite college (pointers welcome) which has a (highly paid) vice president of finance/treasurer who is not also in charge of the endowment. Can you? Anyone qualified to do all the things that Falk wants the new Vice President of Finance to do would be more than competent to handle the endowment. This would, more or less, simply take Williams back to the structure we had prior to 2006. (Related rants about the Boston Investment Office are here, here and here. Highly recommended for new readers!)

Summary: The Boston Investment Office is a $2-$3 million per year waste of money. We don’t need it. Instead of pretending (unsuccessfully!) to be Yale, Williams should follow the practice of similar elite colleges like Pomona and Swarthmore. Have the Trustees pick the major investments. Hire a VP of Finance who, among her other duties, would keep an eye on the endowment.

Is President Falk heading in this direction? Unfounded rumors and gossip welcome in the comments!

Facebooktwitter

Faculty Governance Seminar: VP of Finance

This is the fourth installment in our week-long seminar on President Adam Falk’s letter about the “alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.” Consider his discussion about the proposed vice president of finance.

The responsibilities of the Provost have also grown considerably in the past decade, and I believe we should consider some refocusing here as well.

As a matter of simple history, this is false. The year 2000 was not that long ago and, if anything, the responsibilities of the Provost have decreased, not increased. You think that Williams pays Stephen Klass hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to sit around? No. Klass does many of the things that, a decade ago, the Provost would have done. Even looking at those roles, like budget-setting, that have continued in the Provost’s office, there is no reason to believe that these have gotten meaningfully more complex. Running the College’s finances was a hard job in 2000 (ask Cappy Hill!) and it is a hard job today.

It’s critical that this position remain one in which Bill Lenhart’s successors are responsible for the College’s overall budget priorities and the marshalling of academic resources for new and existing programs. It’s also important that faculty continue to exert leadership in such areas as Admissions, Financial Aid, the Museum, the Libraries, and Information Technology. But the financially challenging world that we’ve entered and are likely to remain in for the foreseeable future requires sophisticated leadership in complex areas such as treasury, finance, audit, reporting, debt management, and budget operations.

We already have highly trained and experienced staff working on these topics. You think Associate Provost Keith Finan is an idiot? You think that Budget Director Tom Dwyer is a moron? Untrue! These are skilled professionals. They, obviously, need to keep up with changes in auditing requirements and whatnot, but, first, they already do so and, second, the College hires (and should hire) outside professionals to handle some of these matters.

As always, if the College were rolling in money, then spending $250,000 to hire another senior administrator might be reasonable. But Williams currently offers significantly less generous financial aid than Amherst. Until that problem is fixed, there should be a hiring freeze.

To provide this, we should consider creating a position perhaps called Vice President for Finance, which could take these technical duties, along with allied functions currently under Steve Klass, such as Human Resources, Real Estate, and Legal Affairs.

An experienced observer pointed out to me that Falk is being quite aggressive in suggesting these changes. Typically, a college president would first appoint a committee (perhaps staffed by those who agree with him) and charge it with studying the (hard!) question of college organization. The committee would then survey peer institutions, talk to stakeholders and issue a report. Falk skipped all those steps. If I were a faculty member, I would wonder what other steps he might skip in the future . . .

Doing so would open the Provost’s position to faculty in all departments, and bring to bear the kind of experienced financial expertise that I believe the College needs in these increasingly challenging times.

This is perhaps the most dishonest part of Falk’s letter. Provosts don’t spend their time doing dynamic programming. No math beyond algebra is required. No computer knowledge beyond Excel is used. And, even with the algebra and Excel, you have Finan and Dwyer to do the heavy lifting. Any Williams professor interested in the Provost position today could handle the demands of the job. That Provosts (just at Williams?) tend to come from numbery fields (like economics and computer science) is merely a reflection of both the sorts of people who are interested in such a role and/or the applicant profile that Williams presidents seem to have preferred historically.

The Provost then could be freed to focus on moving forward our top academic priorities. Close collaboration between the Provost and the Vice President for Finance would be essential, especially in developing the annual budget. In this key process, the Provost’s responsibility would be to develop the College’s budgetary priorities, and the Vice President for Finance’s to see that those priorities are reflected in the actual budget that is presented to the Board.

“Be freed to focus” is code for “have his power significantly reduced.”

If it were the case that no faculty member at Williams wanted to be Provost given the demands of the job, then it would make sense to decrease those demands by hiring more senior administrators. But I have never heard that. Has anyone? My understanding is that many (5? 10?) faculty members at Williams would like to be Provost because a) It is an interesting job, b) They sometimes day-dream about being a college president and the Provost position provides a useful stepping stone, c) They want Williams to go in a specific direction and the Provost has some power to do that, and d) The money is good.

Does anyone know if Lenhardt was the only candidate for Provost five years ago?

Facebooktwitter

Induction Speech Suggestions

President Falk’s induction speech on Saturday will probably be the only thing he ever writes that will be read 50 years from now. (Many thanks to College Archivist Sylvia Kennick Brown for gathering the induction speeches of past Williams presidents.) Do you have any suggestions/requests for Falk? Write them in the comments and we will pass them along.

My main suggestion: Specify public metrics by which we can judge the success of your presidency.

Most induction speeches are boring and trite. (Links to good ones are welcome.) Part of that is the nature of the beast. Presidents should not give offense and are mostly charged with a) raising money and b) not messing up. Williams after 10 years of a Falk presidency is going to look a lot like Williams today. Most of Falk’s speech will, therefore, simply re-iterate areas of common agreement. Williams is one of the best liberal arts colleges is the world today. We all want it to be better tomorrow.

But there is still room for Falk to give a better induction speech than those given by the presidents of Amherst, Swarthmore or Pomona. He should to provide specific measures by which we can determine his success or failure.

If he just says, “We will continue to improve the quality of our teaching,” then there is no way, five years from now, for us to measure that. If he just says, “We will continue to attract the very best students,” then there is no (easy) way for us to decide if he has failed. And so on. Instead, he could, right now, propose some specific measures and then promise to make the data available for all to see. Consider these concrete suggestions:

1) Student quality. 90% or more of the students admitted to both Williams and to Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford turn us down. Many of them are making the right choice for good reasons. But many are not. At least 1/2 of them would be better off at Williams. Improving our cross-yield percentages, both with HYPS and with other competitors like Amherst/Brown/Dartmouth, is the single best way to increase the quality of the student body.

2) Student experience. As a part of COFHE, Williams already collects a great deal of high quality data about the student experience, inside and outside the classroom. COFHE rules prevent Williams from releasing the data for other schools, but we are allowed to release Williams data. Falk should promise to do so. He should also specify now what outcomes he thinks are most important and what he plans to do to improve them. He might also propose to gather more and better data. (More on that tomorrow.)

3) Alumni engagement. Williams graduates are engaged with Williams, but they are not nearly as engaged as they ought to be. If improving this engagement is an important goal for Falk (and I think it should be), then he ought to propose specific metrics (annual giving rates, reunion attendance, correspondence with class secretaries, interactions with OCC and admissions, et cetera) and commit to making the past and future values of these metrics publicly available.

Any of these measures might be “gamed” in various ways. But the more transparent Williams is, the less likely that is to occur.

Falk is a young man with big dreams. Although he does not know where he wants to be in 10 years, he would certainly like to position himself so that, if he is successful as Williams president, elite universities like Hopkins and Harvard will consider him a plausible, even desirable, candidate for their own presidencies. The best way to do that is to propose specific, measurable goals for Williams and then spend the next decade achieving them.

Facebooktwitter

← Previous PageNext Page →

Currently browsing posts filed under "Adam F. Falk"

Follow this category via RSS