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Everybody Laughed

An anonymous faculty member told me this story last 15 months ago.

At the faculty meeting the other day Bill Wagner talked about the need for faculty to be discreet in talking about early retirement packages and he basically said “we don’t want this stuff appearing on Ephblog” and everybody laughed.

Good stuff! I am still waiting for the day that EphBlog makes it into the official notes for the faculty meeting.


Beyond The Log: Resort for Rich Men’s Sons

“Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf) is a product of the Williams Oral History Project, led by Bob Stegeman ’60. It features a discussion with Professors Fred Rudolph ’42 and John Hyde ’52, along with former President John Chandler about Williams presidents from Paul Ansel Chadbourne (1872-81) to Tyler Dennett (1934-37). Each day this week, I will quote selected portions of the interview and provide comments. What do you want to know about Williams history? Ask your questions in the comments.

Fred Rudolph: My impression is that the College has always had somebody who would get up and, referring to scholarship students, say, “This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was. Carter at one point said, “Williams College is not a resort for rich men’s sons.” But it was Carter who went out and persuaded Gov. Edwin Morgan of New York to give the money to build Morgan Hall (1882). Morgan Hall was the poshest college dormitory in the country. It was the first building at Williams with running water. And how did a student get a room in Morgan? He bid for it; the rooms went to the students with the most money. Soon after Morgan was built, Lasell Gymnasium went up across the street. There you have it. Two statements about what Williams was about. And soon thereafter the fraternities started scrapping their little hovels and began to erect significant buildings.

Indeed. Interim President Bill Wagner was the most recent Williams administrator to “say, “This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed to do what he could to make sure that it was.”

Recall my commentary on Wagner’s changes in financial aid policy.

Assume that I am evil, that I seek to minimize the number of poor students at Williams and that I have mind-control over Bill Wagner and the Trustees. What would I do?

Keep in mind: 1) Unfortunately, I need to be sneaky! I just can’t fire Admissions Director Dick Nesbitt or order the Admissions to start favoring rich kids. 2) Any family that doesn’t make at least $200,000 per year and have substantial assets is, as far as I am concerned, “poor.” 3) I don’t mind poor students as long as they have a burning desire to be rich, to head to Wall Street or Silicon valley after graduation and make a fortune. 4) I have already laid the groundwork by endlessly complaining about financial constraints (and conveniently ignore that Swarthmore and Amherst are holding steady to their stated policies).

Given these constraints, we can maximize the number of rich students at Williams in five easy steps:

First, I would end the no-loans policy. I can’t prevent Dick Nesbitt from admitting all those poor kids, but I can do my best to make poor kids go elsewhere. The best way to do that is to end the no-loans policy. What poor kid would ever choose Williams over Amherst/Swarthmore/Princeton/Davidson/Haverford and so on if doing so required an extra $10,000+ in loans? Few would, and none should! See our prior discussion. Only rich students will choose Williams over no-loans schools.

Second, I would end need-blind admissions for international students. I don’t mind non-US citizens as long as they are rich (or want to be rich). I just don’t want too many poor (or plan on staying poor) international students. Williams is for the rich of all countries. Although I can’t force Dick Nesbitt to actively discriminate against poor students, I can limit his budget enough that he has no choice but to do so.

Key in both ending no loan and need-blind is that it makes Williams much less desirable to both students coming from non-rich families and to students thinking of lower paying careers in teaching, social work and so on. And that is the point! I want those students to go to Swarthmore and Amherst instead. Rich students and future investment bankers won’t be deterred by loans or need-awareness admissions. If anything, they will be looking for elite schools that “provide a better fit” for them and students like them. These two policy changes both decrease applications from poor students and make it more likely that admitted poor students will go elsewhere.

Read the rest of that most excellent rant. If Williams wanted to maximize the number of rich students, it would have made exactly the set of financial aid changes that it has, in fact, made.

And, as Fred Rudolph points out, this is not the first time a Williams administrator has said ““This is not a rich man’s college.” And then proceed[ed] to do what he could to make sure that it was.


“Constructive Loyalty” or hors d’oeuvres with the Presidents

Last night (Wednesday), I joined approximately 150-200 of my fellow alumni, parents, and friends of the NorCal Alumni Chapter to listen to Chair of the Trustees Greg Avis ’80, interim President Bill Wagner, and incoming President Adam Falk.  I came away from the evening more impressed by each of them than I had been previously.  Before I go any further, I should thank Chapter Prez Shannon Walsh ’03 for pulling together the inaugural edition of this roadshow they’ll be shopping around the country to other chapters.  I know they were in LA tonight, will be in San Diego tomorrow (Friday) and in DC on Feb. 22nd, but I haven’t a clue when they’ll be elsewhere.  This is a good reason to check out the events calendar on the alumni page and/or subscribe to your regional alumni email list.

And now on to the event…(you’ll have to go below the fold for the juicy details) Read more


Wagner Letter?

The Trustees are meeting this week-end. Last year, at this time, I guessed about what they would decided and was (mostly?) correct. This year, I have a much worse sense of things. My speculation:

1) There will be a letter from Bill Wagner on Monday which discusses the Trustee meeting and some of the decisions that have been made. Falk will be mentioned in the letter, but he won’t sign it.

2) Stetson/Sawyer and Weston Field renovations stay postponed. There is just not enough money to do these right now. (I could be wrong about Stetson/Sawyer. I think that Professor Brown has mentioned that, if the College does not act, a lot of the work with regard to permits and whatnot will need to be redone.) I have no problem with these delays. If anything, Stetson/Sawer should be rethought. The College will not need to store tens of thousands of books and journals in the middle of campus a decade from now.

3) Continued crack-down on visiting professors. These are easy to cut and (I think) a poor use of resources. The only exceptions will probably be for languages.

4) Continued increase in class size from 538 to 554, as we already documented. This is a bad idea. (How much happier were you with a single rather than a double?) But the money is too easy to pass up and, when push comes to shove, the people who run Williams don’t really care if 40 extra students go from singles to doubles. However, I bet that this change is not mentioned in the letter. Why alarm the little people?

5) Salary freeze will be mentioned. I don’t have a good sense of whether or not this will be ended or maintained. Predictions? The fairest would be to end the salary freeze for those making less than $75,000 or whatever. But that is just my progressive outlook shining through again . . .

6) I hope that there won’t be any changes with regard to financial aid for international students. Might the College step away from need-blind? Perhaps. Apparently, this has been a hot topic at recent faculty meetings. My guess would be no change, just because the market has bounced back so strongly since last year.

What other topics might be mentioned?


Fire Professor Bernard Moore Now

Williams should fire Professor Bernard Moore immediately: stop his paycheck, cancel his health insurance, kick him out of College housing, empty his office, ban him from campus.

First, by most accounts we have seen, he is a horrible professor, giving everyone is his class As, while not reading their work nor providing feedback. Second, he has produced no meaningful academic research of any sort. (No one will be surprised if we discover that his Ph.D. was plagiarized.) Third, and most importantly, he has pled guilty to fraud, including acts committed during his time at Williams. He is not fit to enter a Williams classroom.

Fortunately, the College has uncontested grounds on which to proceed. Moore claimed to Williams that he had a B.A. (1978) from the University of California, Los Angeles. (See page 349 of the course catalog: pdf). In his proffer to the court, Moore admits that he “has never received any undergraduate degree.” There are few worse sins in an academic community than lying about your educational credentials. Such a lie is cause for immediate dismal. There is no need for further investigation, for weighing the good that Moore has done in arranging campus events with the poor instruction that he has inflicted on his students. Every day that Moore stays on the College payroll, enjoys the use of a campus office and benefits from the resources of the Sawyer library — every day of delay sends a signal to the Williams community that academic honesty is optional.

This is the biggest test that Bill Wagner will face during his presidency. How will he do?

UDPATE: See the faculty handbook for details on the dismissal procedure. Depending on how intransigent Moore wants to make things, this could take a while. And, given that he is still being paid, why wouldn’t he drag it out?


Wagner on Moore

News Regarding a Visiting Faculty Member

To the Williams Community,

On Tuesday evening the College learned through a media report that someone named Ernest B. Moore had pleaded guilty in district court in the District of Columbia to charges of fraud.

Visiting Assistant Professor Bernard Moore confirmed to us that he was this person. We informed him that he was suspended from the College until we can understand the situation more fully.

The Political Science Department has an arrangement in place to provide instruction for the course he has been teaching this semester.

At this point, the Congressional Black Caucus Symposium, which he has helped to organize, will go ahead this Monday as planned.

In a tightly knit community such as ours, people are understandably eager to learn what they can about this developing situation. I will write to you again as more details emerge.

With regards,
Bill Wagner
Interim President


Thoughts on Wagner

A few points of needless opinion below the fold. Click Read more


From the Next President

To The Williams Community:

I am deeply honored to have been asked by the Board of Trustees to be
Interim President from July 1 until Morty Schapiro¹s successor assumes his
or her responsibilities. I feel privileged to be able to serve the College
in this capacity and look forward to continuing to collaborate with the
other members of Senior Staff, our regular standing committees, and the
Board of Trustees to manage College affairs and in particular to meet our
current financial challenges effectively and in ways that preserve our core

Over the course of the summer I will continue to carry out my
responsibilities as Dean of the Faculty. As Greg Avis pointed out in his
letter, should it become necessary for me to continue as Interim President
beyond September 1, Andrea Danyluk of the Computer Science Department and Division III representative on the Committee on Appointments and Promotions has generously agreed to serve as Acting Dean of the Faculty until I resume my responsibilities as Dean.  In this event, Andrea would resign her position on the CAP and an election for a new Division III representative would take place at the September faculty meeting.

Let me take this opportunity to thank Morty on behalf of all of us for the
splendid leadership he continues to provide the College in these last months
of his presidency.  I look forward in the coming months to working with all
members of the College community on our ongoing goal of making Williams the finest college it can be.

With best regards,

Bill Wagner
Dean of the Faculty


Interim President Wagner

To the Williams Community,

At its recent meeting, the Board of Trustees received a report on the
presidential search, which is proceeding in an orderly and productive
manner. The community input process and the publishing of the presidential
position prospectus have been completed. The Presidential Search Committee is now focused on the parallel tasks of continuing to add names to the candidate list while researching and narrowing the field. As part of this process, delegations of committee members have been meeting with select candidates and will continue to do so.

The committee has been operating on the possibility of having the new
president in place by the time Morty Schapiro leaves at the end of June. The
chance of that has become remote enough to enact an alternative plan. In
anticipation of this possibility, the Board had charged its Executive
Committee with developing such a plan. The Executive Committee, after
deliberations and consultation with Morty, presented its recommendation to
the trustees.

I am very happy therefore to announce that the Board voted unanimously to
designate as Interim President Bill Wagner, Dean of the Faculty. He will
begin on July 1 and serve for as long as needed. Since the College Laws
indicate that, between presidencies, the Dean of Faculty would assume the
responsibilities of the President, this appointment is a natural

Williams is fortunate to be able to turn to someone as knowledgeable,
experienced, and respected as Bill. In addition to his service as Dean of
the Faculty, Bill has, in his 29 years at Williams, also served as Director
of the Williams-Exeter Programme and has chaired the Department of History,
the Committee on Educational Policy, Committee on Undergraduate Life,
Committee on Priorities and Resources, and Faculty Compensation Committee.
Please see the note from Bill that is attached below.

He will be supported by the College’s strong faculty governance structure
and exceptional administrative team. If the duties of Interim President turn
out to extend beyond September 1, Morty and Bill, in consultation with the
Faculty Steering Committee, have asked Andrea Danyluk, Professor of Computer Science, to serve as Acting Dean of the Faculty from that date until Bill could resume those responsibilities. She would bring to the task her own extensive experience in College governance, including as Chair of the Computer Science Department, Cognitive Science Program, Committee on Educational Policy, and Faculty Steering Committee and as member of the Committee on Appointments and Promotions.

The Board is confident that this arrangement will provide the College with
continuity and excellence in leadership until the next president takes
office. I hope you will join me in thanking Bill and Andrea for their
willingness to serve Williams in these capacities.

Greg Avis ’80
Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees


Tenure Denial

A disturbing report from the Record regarding tenure denial:

Mladenovic, Whitaker appeal tenure calls
Amanda Korman – News Editor


Whitaker claims that the reasons he was denied tenure were inadequate. “Bill [Wagner] cited that my publication rate for physics was low, but that’s only half of my work,” as Whitaker’s research is two-pronged. While he does do traditional experimental physics research, he has started to collaborate with Joan Edwards, professor of biology, on biophysics experiments.

Since Whitaker came to the College, he has published five papers in both fields, one in the major publication Nature. “Only two professors [in the physics department] have published more than I have in the past six years,” he said.

He claimed that his dual interests hurt his chances because he was not prolific enough in the physics department. “Of course both publication rates were lower than average, of course [the CAP] was able to use this [against me]. They said I didn’t reach their mark of excellence,” he said.

Link to the published Nature article (PDF) and accompanying videos, which garnered a fair amount of media coverage for Whitaker and Edwards last year.

Does the CAS really want to be discouraging such inter-disciplinary collaboration?


Wagner Appointed New Dean of Faculty

So says Morty:

To the Williams Community,

I am very pleased to report that, after consulting with the Faculty Steering Committee, I have offered the position of Dean of the Faculty to Bill Wagner, Brown Professor of History, and he has accepted.

In succeeding his department colleague Tom Kohut beginning July 1, Bill brings his sensibilities as a distinguished teacher and scholar as well as extensive experience with the College’s administration and governance.

In addition to his work as Chair of the History Department, he’s served as Assistant Dean of the College, Director of the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford, and Coordinator of the Tutorial Program. He’s also served on a variety of governance committees, including as Chair of the Committee on Educational Policy, the Committee on Priorities and Resources and the Committee on Undergraduate Life.

Once again Williams is fortunate to have faculty so willing and able to fill its senior administrative positions.

Please join me in thanking Bill for taking on this important role.


Morty Schapiro

Why is it so hard for the College to inform the members of the “Williams Community” who happen to be alumni about important news like this? I realize that there will probably be a news release at some point and that EphNotes will provide the information, but there are a lot of alumni (like me!) who would like to be able to subscribe to the same e-mail list as the all-students or all-staff one that this message went out on.

Not to be snarky, but if Williams really is “fortunate to have faculty so willing and able to fill its senior administrative positions,” then why do we need to pay $50,000 per year extra to senior administrators? Why isn’t the $150k+ that they are already paid enough? Just asking!

The reason, of course, is that we probably don’t have to do it. The sort of people who want these jobs want them independently of the money (although you certainly need to release them from teaching duties). In fact, the less money-motivated they are, the better they probably end up being. I’d wager that in the past the extra pay for positions like Dean of the Faculty was small to non-existent. But, the vast wealth of Williams makes it very easy for the people in charge to pay each other a lot of money.

To be precise, my complaint today is not that the Dean of the Faculty is paid $200,000 per year or that Wagner will receive an pay hike of around 1/3 for taking the job. My objection is to Morty lauding the willingness of faculty to take these jobs while paying them extra for their public spirit. Either pay them extra and shut-up about it or brag about how “fortunate” Williams is and then pay them the same.

Hypocrisy, thy name is administrator salaries at Williams.


Wagner on Training

A while ago, I posted on the topic of teaching and tenure at Williams. Professor Wagner was kind enough to send in these comments:

It is a bit hard to remember exactly what I had in mind two years ago, but reflecting on my comment, I believe that by “training” I meant the multiple ways in which the college helps younger faculty develop professionally in the crucial early years of their careers.

Much of that help, of course, is focused on teaching, and takes place both informally and through formal college and departmental mechanisms. But the college also expends considerable resources helping younger faculty (and not just younger faculty) develop their research, for example through generous leave policies (after reappointment, untenured faculty now regularly receive a full-year leave at 3/4 salary, which many extend to a year and a half through outside funding) and financial, library, and technical support. The degree of further support for research that takes place varies by department and discipline, but many departments organize research seminars where we provide feedback to each other, and the Oakley Center provides financial and logistical support for interdepartmental seminars.

Less formally, we give our work to colleagues to read for their criticisms. On a wider professional level, although this can seem a double-edged sword, younger faculty as a rule are involved in departmental and college governance from the moment they arrive, which can be time-consuming but also useful in learning how to operate professionally in the world of higher education.

All of this takes place to varying degrees at other institutions, of course, and I am not claiming Williams is unique in this regard. But my conversations with colleagues at other institutions over the years suggest that the college does compare favorably with respect to the help it provides younger faculty in establishing themselves and developing their careers.

Many thanks to Professor Wagner for taking the time to write. All of the above is perfectly reasonable and consistent with what other people have told me.

My main concern remains that Williams places too much emphasis on research productivity it its hiring and tenure decisions and that this emphasis has increased significantly in the last 20 years. I have blogged about these sorts of issues here, here, here, here and too many other places to link to. I’ll be riding this hobby horse for many years to come.


Teaching and Tenure

The priorities of the tenure system at Williams is something that should be reconsidered. The Record provided a useful overview two years ago that is probably still applicable. Some points, however, are clearly wrong. Professor William Wagner is quoted as saying:

“Williams spends a lot of energy training its young professors, and if tenure did not provide a limiting effect on job mobility, many more young professors would learn from older Williams professors and then leave Williams, taking the energy investment somewhere else.”

When tenured professors do leave Williams, they generally go to large urban research universities …. This trend – if one could call such an infrequent occurrence a trend – reflects what might hypothetically happen if tenure were abolished: big universities would use smaller schools like Williams as a training ground for their professors.

This is pure fantasy. When other universities hire from Williams (Jacobsohn to Texas, Garsten to Yale, Cook to LSU), they do not care a whit about teaching ability — whether or not it benefited from training at Williams. Texas, Yale, et al care about the quality of past research and the likely quality of future research. That is 99% of what drives the Williams-to-elsewhere transfer market. Of course, Texas thinks that it is dandy that Gary Jacobsohn is a great teacher, but they would have hired him even if he were in the bottom 5% of Williams professors.

But Wagner knows all of this, so it is quite possible that I am attributing to him a claim made by the reporter. I am assuming that the “training” refers to teaching and not to research since the vast majority of junior Williams professors have been thoroughly trained in graduate school on how to do research.

The following passage makes my blood run cold.

Wagner, who has been teaching at Williams for 22 years, says that he has only been aware of one real change in how tenure is awarded since he has been here. “In my early years at Williams, there seemed to be two career paths, each valuable, that one could follow. One would be the now standard path of being an engaged scholar and a teacher, and the other would be to use the energy that others spent on scholarship on increased student interaction and administration. The second path, through which it is virtually impossible now to get tenure, contributed something of value to the campus that is now harder to get.”

I have no reason to doubt that Wagner is 100% correct in this. Indeed, I have heard precisely this claim made by at least one other faculty member. You could also see it holding true in the case of Lisa Wright (not sure if this is the correct name), a junior English professor who was widely regarded as one of the truly exceptional teachers at Williams but who was denied tenure because she had focused all her energies on teaching and none on publishing articles in obscure journals that almost none of her students would ever read.

So, my questions are: First, has the tenure system in fact changed in the way that Wagner describes? (I think that the answer is Yes.) Second, who decided to change it? Third, wouldn’t it be a good idea to go back to the old system whereby someone like Lisa Wright would be tenured?


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