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Sandstrom Update, 5

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

Final highlights:

It is crucial for students to feel comfortable communicating to each other about following health and safety guidelines. Please speak up (respectfully) when you see someone falling short of our expectations. Similarly, please be gracious and understanding if somebody lets you know that they are concerned about your behavior. We will fail even before we have a chance to succeed if students don’t hold each other accountable and treat each other with respect. We expect the majority of monitoring and corrective behavior to happen among students.

This seems a fantasy to me. First, a central message of our social justice friends at Williams for the last decade or more has been the horrible curse of white privilege. Given that history, do you really expect a white student to tell a black student — excuse me, a Black! student — that she is doing something wrong? I don’t! Second, students don’t like to snitch on each other. Third, it is becoming rapidly clear to healthy college age students that the virus poses no meaningful risk to them.

Williams has contracted with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard for our testing kits and processing. Williams will staff our testing site. The Broad test is a RT-PCR test that is a high throughput version of the CDC 2019-nCoV Realtime RT-PCR test. This test uses nasal swabs in the lower nasal cavity (anterior nares swabs) and differs from the more uncomfortable test involving a swab placed deeply into the upper nasal cavity (nasopharyngeal swabs).

I think this is a good choice. Broad has an excellent reputation.

We are holding all students accountable to our public health guidelines — this includes students living in our residence halls, as well as students who are enrolled in person and living nearby in off-campus housing. While I fully expect students to respect these rules and show care for each other, it is important to know that students who egregiously violate our health requirements can expect to be immediately transitioned from in-person to remote enrollment, and will be required to leave campus. Such violations might also lead to a formal disciplinary process that could result in probation, suspension, or expulsion. Please know that we will be strictly enforcing our policy in order to protect the campus community.

Good luck.


Sandstrom Update, 4

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

Upon arrival, students will be quarantined in their dorm rooms until they have received TWO negative Covid-19 tests. Initial quarantine is expected to last a minimum of five to seven days. During this time, students will only be allowed to leave their rooms to use the bathroom and to go to the testing site for their second test. All meals will be delivered into a central dorm location for pick up during quarantine.

In addition to the initial in-room quarantine, students will be required to remain on campus at least through September. This means that going to Stop and Shop, Walmart, and other off-campus destinations—even within Berkshire County—will be prohibited during this time, although students may exercise or hike with appropriate social distancing in the surrounding area.

What is the scientific basis for these procedures? Honest question! If the science — excuse me, the Science! — is clear, then why do different schools have such different procedures? Answer: Virus Theatre.

During initial quarantine, students will be restricted to their rooms, and movement will be restricted to bathroom access, picking up meals delivered to the dorm, and going to the testing site. Bathrooms will be stocked with cleaning supplies so that students can sanitize between each use. Students must wear a face covering when they exit their rooms for these purposes.

Perhaps — perhaps! — this might work if students were initially placed in special quarantine dorms and then, after the 5 to 7 days — and that is a pretty big range — moved to their permanent dorm with their friends. But I doubt this is the plan. They are just going to place people in the Carter House room and expect them not to come out of their rooms and chat with their friends for a week? Yeah, right!

Varsity athletes will not be engaged in any team activity (formal or informal) until the week of September 14th. At that point, coaches will work with athletes on approved outdoor training activities.

Why the hate on varsity athletes? The JV soccer team can play games all day long, but the varsity players can’t even look at each other? Club baseball can have practice every afternoon but varsity baseball can’t? What nonsense!

If activity X is a problem, then ban activity X for all students. If X is not a problem, then it does not matter if the people participating in X are varsity athletes or noners.


Sandstrom Update, 3

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

An increasing number of faculty members (more than half so far) have informed us that they plan to teach remotely this fall. Some have personal risk factors to consider, and many with children are contending with the possibility of disruptions at local preschools and K-12 school systems.

1) What is the latest on local pre-schools? First, we have the College’s own Children’s Center. Will it be open? I hope so. Small children are at essentially zero risk of being injured by CV-19. Documented cases of children transmitting the virus to adults are also quite rare. Second, there are other childcare facilities in Williamstown. What are their plans?

2) Any updates on Williamstown Elementary School (WES)? In a world in which every elementary school in New York State is open, how can it make sense to close WES, just three miles from the border? Again, the risk to children is minuscule.

3) Updates on Mt Greylock Regional High School (MGRHS)? This is, admittedly, a harder case. But, fortunately, there is no reason why Williams faculty need to stay home to baby sit a high school student who has to learn remotely because the local school board isn’t smart enough to listen to Steve Miller.


Sandstrom Update, 2

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

An increasing number of faculty members (more than half so far) have informed us that they plan to teach remotely this fall. Some faculty may decide to switch from hybrid teaching to a remote-only option after pre-registration—or even after the semester begins—so please be aware that course modalities are subject to change, and students may find that some or all of their courses are remote.

We discussed this last month, but I want more details. Recall:

Some faculty members have raised the concern that requiring hybrid courses might discourage faculty from choosing to teach in person. “My strong preference all along has been to teach in-person,” Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Crowe ’03 said. “But the insistence on hybridity for all courses has me resigned to teaching remotely.” He explained, “To have the College compound the extra health risk of in-person teaching with extra workload — and the hybridity requirements are a substantial amount of extra work for anyone who chooses to teach in person — is disappointing.”

Though Crowe acknowledged that some students would need to continue remote learning regardless, he said the presence of other faculty who were already planning to teach remotely would provide “a decent number of courses for remote students to take.” Crowe added, “On an institutional level, I know there are lots of moving parts and conflicting interests, but it seems odd, given the dissatisfaction most students experienced with remote instruction, that we’d bring students back to campus and yet disincentivize faculty from teaching them in person.”

Key questions:

What portion of the 50% of faculty teaching remotely would still be teaching remotely if all students were on campus?

I realize that some (how many?) faculty have health concerns. Others may like Zoom teaching, for whatever reason. My sense is that there are very few faculty like that. In other words, I bet that 90%+ of Williams faculty would be teaching in person if students were on campus.

How are the faculty teaching in person planning to deal with students who want to take their class but who are enrolled remotely?

I have no idea how one would do this, at least in large classes. Maybe split the class into two sections: one in person and one on Zoom? Honestly curious to see how Williams handles this.

What portion of the 50% of faculty teaching remotely are doing so because of the incentive effect Crowe describes?

There is a great Record article to be written on these topics. Talk to some faculty! They are interesting people with lots to say!


Sandstrom Update, 1

Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom sent students an update on the fall semester. Let’s spend a week going through it.

Entire message is below the break. Please mention in the comments any particular section you would like us to focus on.

Sandstrom begins:

Dear Students,

Since late June when we announced our campus plans for the fall, the national context with regard to Covid-19 has worsened considerably. While we are still hoping to open the campus as planned, shifting national conditions as well as updated regulations by the governor of Massachusetts have required us to tighten our rules. This communication may seem unusually strict for Williams. However, all of the measures outlined here are designed to protect the safety of our community, and we look forward to a time when they are no longer necessary.

Hmm. My take is that the things have gotten much better in the “national context” since June, not worse. We knew a great deal in June. In particular, it was already obvious that CV-19 was endemic throughout the US and that our political system lacked the will/capacity to stop it. (And this is not just a dig against Trump. Democrat-controlled California has been no better than the Federal Government.) The virus was going to virus. It was, in June, unstoppable.

What we have learned since then, however, is that CV-19 may not be nearly as deadly as we feared in June. In particular, we now know that the risk to college-aged students is very low, probably less dangerous than, say, taking a cross-country car trip. That is good news! We also know that herd immunity may be much lower than we thought in June. Indeed, states like Texas and Florida seem to be coming out of the other side of the pandemic. It would not surprise me to see full college football stadiums in those states come November.

Are you more or less optimistic than you were in June?

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Future of the JA System in Doubt?

I would not be surprised if the JA system disappeared in the next decade or so.

1) Would people like more coverage of this topic? There have been a bunch of Record articles over the last few years, but they are no longer easily available.

2) The key characteristics of the JA system, and what makes it different from similar systems at peer schools, include:

JAs are undergraduates. (Proctors at Harvard are college graduates.)
JAs are unpaid. (Yale pays its counselors — “FroCos” — by giving money which is applied to food/board charges.)
JAs are chosen by other students. (No elite college I know of gives students such power.)
JAs, although connected/watched/supported/supervised by Williams, are given more freedom than their peers at other schools.

3) In her talk with alumni volunteers yesterday, Dean Marlene Sandstrom mentioned the recent problems with too few JA applications, and with too few applications for other leadership positions as well. She attributed much of this to students who felt (and whose families felt) that the College should not be asking them to do so much without paying them for their labor. She also mentioned that the College, although it does not “pay” JAs, does release JAs on financial aid from their on-campus employment obligation.

4) The College’s bureaucracy continues its endless growth. All those bureaucrats need to fill their days somehow. Selecting, paying and controlling JAs would be a natural thing for them to do.

The future? Who knows! But Sandstrom’s initial opening — which was far from a random riff — seemed designed to prepare these alumni volunteers for changes which they might not like . . .


Information about a Recent Campus Incident

From: Marlene Sandstrom
Date: September 10, 2017 at 6:49:14 PM EDT
Subject: information about a recent campus incident
Reply-To: Marlene Sandstrom

Williams students,

We write to inform you of a campus incident earlier this week that you should be aware of.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, two students defaced the door of their friend’s dorm room by painting on it. (We are not disclosing the dorm because the conduct process is confidential.) One of the two students wrote “I like beer.” The second student painted a swastika, and then quickly covered it with more paint to make it illegible. The students then removed all the paint from the door.

The student who painted the swastika reported to campus authorities what they had done. The college has begun disciplinary proceedings, and the student will be held accountable under our campus code of conduct. In addition, we will continue speaking directly with the students who were involved or immediately affected in the dorm where the painting occurred.

None of the people directly involved felt targeted as a function of their identity. For that reason we instigated our investigation and conduct processes without initially making a larger campus announcement. However, several JAs have reported that other students who heard partial accounts of the incident were concerned, especially in the aftermath of Charlottesville and other troubling events. Understanding their concerns, we want you to have full information about what happened and know what steps are being taken, and to assure you that we have no basis for thinking the incident points to an ongoing threat.

Defacing our campus is unacceptable at any time. But the use of a swastika, even as a “prank,” shows a lack of sensitivity to how that symbol has been used as a weapon of intimidation and hatred, both historically and in recent incidents around the country.

If you want support, or if you have questions, please contact the Dean’s Office, the Office of Institutional Diversity & Equity our Chaplains, the Davis Center or Wellbeing Services. And if you have experienced an incident of bias or are aware of one, please report it immediately so the college can step in.

Williams is a place where we all come freely to learn and live. It is at its best when we live up to the college’s values and make everyone feel equally welcome. This is a moment to reaffirm that commitment. We assure you that we are doing our part, and hope you will join with us to stand for Williams as a place of inclusivity and respect.

Marlene Sandstrom
Dean of the College

Leticia Smith-Evans Haynes
Vice President
Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity

Stephen Klass
VP for Campus Life
Williams College


World of Work

What are your impressions of Professor Marlene Sandstrom’s thoughts on her new role as Dean of the College?

As Dean of the College, Sandstrom will work with President Falk on big-picture challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is that the world of work is changing. Career means something different now than it meant 25 or even 10 years ago,” Sandstrom said.

Gibberish. There is no evidence that the career paths — or whatever ill-defined meaning of “career” Sandstrom has in mind — of Williams graduates will be any different for the class of 2016 than they were for the classes of 2006 or 1991. People have been observing, for decades, that most Ephs will have a variety of “careers” and that, we hope, a liberal arts education would help to prepare them to walk that path. Here is an example from Commencement 8 years ago.

Francis Oakley hit on similar themes in his induction address more than 30 years ago. The world was changing very fast, even back in 1985, and Oakley argued that a Williams liberal arts education was the best possible preparation for that world. I am glad that Dean Sandstrom agrees with Oakley, but embarrassed (for her) that she thinks any of this is new.

“Dean Bolton initiated some really positive changes to our first-year advising system, and it is much stronger now,” she said. “There may be ways to make it even more effective. The advising relationship has the potential to be a very powerful one for students, especially if it gets off to a good start from the outset.”

Hmmm. First, precisely what changes did Bolton initiate? I have my doubts that anything substantive has been done, but informed commentary is welcome. Second, is there any evidence at all that first-year advising is “much stronger now?” Not that I have seen. (And, yes, it is pathetic that the Record never asks a skeptical question in these interviews.) Third, none of this is necessarily Bolton’s fault. First-year advising has been broken for at least 30 years, not because the Williams administration is incompetent but because it is a hard problem. Connect a first year with a faculty member and the latter will not know the answer to 90% of the questions that the former has. I have, of course, a partial solution to this problem, which the margins of this blog post are too narrow to contain . . .


Sandstrom new Dean of the College

Professor Marlene Sandstrom will be the new Dean of the College, replacing Sarah Bolton on July 1. Falk’s entire e-mail is below the break. See here for Record coverage and here for the Berkshire Eagle.

1) Note Sandstrom’s 2010 New York Times opinion piece on cyberbullying. She isn’t explicitly anti-free speech, but, if I were a Williams student with controversial opinions, opinions likely to cause other students to complain, I would be worried.

2) I think that Sandstrom is the first Dean (first senior administrator?) to be married to another member of the faculty, in her case Professor Noah Sandstrom. Not sure what bearing, in any, that fact has on her appointment or will have on her performance.

3) How did Sandstrom get the job? Good question! Informed gossip is always welcome. My guess is that Falk has been a Sandstrom fan for awhile. He awarded her (and her husband) the directorship of Williams-Exeter two years ago, a position for which there is a fair amount of competition among the faculty.

4) Is it weird for me to wonder if the Sandstroms have any children? My prejudice would be that a Dean with children is more likely to be sympathetic to students and their problems, but perhaps that is unfair to the childless.

5) I am pleased to see that Sandstrom served on the Honor Committee, as every faculty member interested in being Dean of the College should.

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