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Aidan’s Way

Still looking for a Father’s Day gift? EphBlog recommends Aidan’s Way by Professor Sam Crane. Excerpts here. More from an Amazon review:

Every now and then a book comes along that wakes us out of our drab routine lives and makes us reevaluate essential questions: what is important? Am I doing something worthwhile with my life? What is life’s meaning? Trite as it may sound, “Aidan’s Way” does just that, but in a way that is subtle and avoids self-indulgent breast-beating. At its core, “Aidan’s Way” is a resounding affirmation of life. Sam and Maureen Crane are the parents of Aidan, who is profoundly retarded mentally–he cannot walk, talk or see. At every turn, they face the possibility that he may die. Pneumonia assaults his lungs and grand mal seizures force him to rely on a feeding tube for sustenance. Adversaries come in human guise as well, with the Cranes heroically combating outrageous abuses by their HMO, doctors stereotyping Aidan as “one of THOSE kids,” and a heartbreaking moment of frustration when an indecisive nurse fails to administer a drug in time to stop Aidan’s seizures from permanently damaging his already fragile brain. There are heroes, too — a doctor with cerebral palsy who doggedly probes the causes of Aidan’s condition while others write him off, a younger sister who brings hope and joy to the family, and countless therapists, journalists, and teachers. Aidan touches hundreds of people.

Indeed. Sadly, Aidan is no longer with us, except in spirit.

Thanks to Sam for reminding us all what fatherhood really means.

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Woodward Report III

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 3.

Simplicio may be right that the Woodward Report is a useful touchstone since both supporters and opponents of Uncomfortable Learning take it seriously. Professor Sam Crane comments (while quoting from the Woodward Report):

Yes, the Woodward Report is instructive. Note:

Third, the University could be more effective in discharging its obligation to use all reasonable effort to protect free expression on campus. We submit that this obligation can be discharged most effectively in the following ways:

1) The University and its schools should retain an open and flexible system of registering campus groups, arranging for the reservation of rooms, and permitting groups freely to invite speakers.

This suggests that when “group” is discussed in the report, it is referring to a group that has been officially registered or recognized by some standard procedure.

“Uncomfortable Learning” violates this provision of the Report. It has never been formally registered by the College. It does not follow the standard procedures that other student groups follow. It is not a student group of Williams College.

Here, too:

6) Much can be done to forestall disruption if sufficient notice is given of the impending event. The administration and others can meet with protesting groups, make clear the University’s obligations to free expression, and indicate forms of dissent that do not interfere with the right to listen. The inviting group can work closely with the administration to devise the time, place, and arrangements for admitting the audience (if there are any limits on who may attend) that will best promote order.

“Sufficient notice” was not provided in this case and, I believe, in most cases. Indeed, having spoken with campus staff responsible for scheduling events they have for some time noted the problem created by furtive manner in which “UL” operates. Its events have obviously caused “disruption,” indeed, they are designed to do so. But the events have not been responsibly organized.

“UL” should come into the organizational fold of the College, operate under the common procedures of the community, and be transparent about their membership, their goals, and their financing.

Agreed! As long as Sam agrees with me that, if they follow all the relevant rules, Uncomfortable Learning should have the same rights to invite speakers to campus as anyone else at Williams, I am happy to agree with him that they should follow the rules.

Of course, I think that Sam may misunderstand the rules and that he may, in the past, been unfair in applying them to UL but not to other student groups. But that is in the past! The new rules are fairly clear. Has EphBlog iterated to agreement once again? Or would Sam still support Adam Falk in banning speakers even if all the rules are followed?

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Meritocracy

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Sam is certainly right that the meritocracy is not perfect in the Chinese education system. But he fails to note the delicious irony that the beautiful building across for him, Hollander Hall, is not named from some great scholar or previous president. Instead, it was named after a couple of recent graduates who got in to Williams (according to a source) because their daddy wrote an 8-figure check. And then named the building after his kids!

Perhaps Sam should note the mote in the eye of Williams before being too mocking of our friends in China . . .

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Crane on Conservative Privilege IV

Professor Sam Crane’s Williams Alternative article on “conservative privilege” at Williams must be a parody. Right? No? He actually believes it! OK, then. Let’s spend a few days taking it apart. Today is Day 4.

At the very least, the Williams College administration should disallow the use of external alumni funds to promote the “Uncomfortable Learning” project and they should enforce all rules for student groups equally.

For students, the key policy is:

Students who wish to raise money for any campus activity by soliciting alumni, foundations, or other sources of funds must receive advance approval. Students interested in fundraising should contact the Assistant Director for Student Involvement in the Office of Student Life at least two weeks in advance. Most fundraising requires approval from the Dean’s Office, the Provost, and the Vice President for College Relations.

Questions:

1) When did this policy come into effect? Who created it?

2) Is this policy actually enforced? There are many (dozens?) of student fundraising activities, many for local charities. Does each of them really seek and receive approval? If not, then the College had better not start to apply this rule just to conservative students.

3) Does this policy apply if the students never touch the money? As it has been explained to me, the money goes directly from the pockets of alumni X to speaker Y.

4) Is this policy a good idea? Previous discussion here.

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Crane on Conservative Privilege III

Professor Sam Crane’s Williams Alternative article on “conservative privilege” at Williams must be a parody. Right? No? He actually believes it! OK, then. Let’s spend a few days taking it apart. Today is Day 3.

The group might claim that they are politically neutral but, in fact, they are being used by conservative forces nationally.

Again, Sam treats these students — some of whom are his students! — as children. He thinks that they are “being used” by the shadowing conservative bogeymen that he sees behind every purple mountain. In Sam’s world, these students have no agency. On their own, they would never think of wanting to invite a conservative speaker to campus. Of the many insulting things his article, this is the worst.

Why should a very small conservative group have privileged access to outside resources that other Williams students and faculty are denied?

Again, who is denying Professor Crane anything? Has Emperor Adam Falk issued an edit which prevents Sam from talking to alumni? Does the College monitor his phone and e-mail? No. Sam is a tenured professor at Williams College. It is still a free country. He can call anyone and ask them for money.

Now, in Sam’s defense, he might have a case that the situation for students is different than that of faculty, that students have fewer freedoms than faculty have? Perhaps. But then he ought to make that case. He ought to stop claiming that faculty can’t do these things.

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Crane on Conservative Privilege II

Professor Sam Crane’s Williams Alternative article on “conservative privilege” at Williams must be a parody. Right? No? He actually believes it! OK, then. Let’s spend a few days taking it apart. Today is Day 2.

This whole affair has been driven by a group, one that involves Williams students but is not a formal Williams student organization, that has privileged access to tens of thousands of dollars from conservative alumni, allowing them to transgress established college fund-raising rules that all other students and faculty must follow.

1) “[O]ne that involves Williams students but is not a formal Williams student organization” Hmmm. What does it matter that Uncomfortable Learning is not a formal organization? Is it illegal for students to form groups? Do they leave behind their constitutional rights to free association when they enroll at Williams? Of course not. Sam is trying to “other” a group — including some of his own students! — for doing something that is within their rights. He makes it seem like every group of like-minded students at Williams that wants to do something together has to create a “formal” organization. Untrue! Students have some freedoms.

Of course, forming a group can provide certain advantages, like potential access to College Council funding. But, for the last few years, Uncomfortable Learning has chosen not to do so. They see no reason to subject themselves to the whims and biases of a student body which, they have good reason to believe, would like to silence them.

2) “[H]as privileged access to tens of thousands of dollars from conservative alumni.” Claims about privilege are the last refuge of leftist scoundrels. The students behind Uncomfortable Learning have no special status. Any student may network with alumni. Indeed, every student should! Networking is good! The more students who reach out to alumni the better. Liberal students have just as much ability to reach out to conservative (or liberal!) alumni. Why don’t they? Probably because they don’t need to! Williams hosts dozens of liberal speakers every year. And that is a good thing! The more speakers — from every point of view — who come to Williams, the better.

3) “established college fund-raising rules that all other students and faculty must follow.” Hmmm. Why won’t Sam telling us exactly what rules he is talking about? Probably because these rules don’t exist! Let’s be specific.

a) Can Professor Sam Crane reach out to alumni without College permission? Of course he can! It is a free country.

b) Can Professor Sam Crane invite alumni to speak at Williams without permission? Of course he can! It is a free country.

c) Can Professor Sam Crane invite alumni to speak at Williams without permission even if such an event requires the alumni to spend money on items like travel, lodging and so on? Of course he can! It is a free country.

Networking with alumni is OK. Getting them to speak is OK. Having them spend money to do so is OK. Put all those things together and we have what Sam accuses Uncomfortable Learning of doing.

d) Can Professor Sam Crane invite alumni to sponsor speakers at Williams? Of course he can! It is a free country. Don’t believe me. Here is the faculty handbook. Show me the “established college fund-raising rules” which prevent Sam from doing this.

If Sam gets so many easy-to-check things wrong in this one paragraph, how much credence should we give to the rest of the article?

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Crane on Conservative Privilege I

Professor Sam Crane’s Williams Alternative article on “conservative privilege” at Williams must be a parody. Right? No? He actually believes it! OK, then. Let’s spend a few days taking it apart. Today is Day 1.

The “Uncomfortable Learning” brouhaha has subjected Williams College to a torrent of national media criticism. Most notably, conservative news outlets have shouted charges of censorship and liberal intolerance and general decline of Western civilization.

Not a promising start! Did Sam see some of the Facebook discussion about Venker cancellation? Here is a sample:

When you bring a misogynistic, white supremacist men’s rights activist to campus in the name of ‘dialogue’ and ‘the other side,’ you are not only causing actual mental, social, psychological, and physical harm to students, but you are also—paying—for the continued dispersal of violent ideologies that kill our black and brown (trans) femme sisters. You are giving those who spout violence the money that so desperately needs to be funneled to black and brown (trans) femme communities, to people who are leading the revolution, who are surviving in the streets, who are dying in the streets. Know, you are dipping your hands in their blood, Zach Wood.

If that isn’t “liberal intolerance” than the words have no meaning. Note that this sample (and there were hundreds of words like it directed at Uncomfortable Learning) was published in the Alternative as well, so Sam must have seen it. Nor was intolerance limited to Facebook. Consider the editors of the Williams Record:

Though Venker’s speech is legally protected, the College, as a private institution, has its own set of rules about what discourse is acceptable. In general, the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman.

What word besides “intolerance” would you use to describe this attitude, the idea that Williams College “should not allow speech” of this or that kind?

If parents/alumni can’t trust Professor Crane to accurately describe what is happening on campus, why should we trust his claims that are not so easy to check?

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Conservative Privilege

Loved this Onion article about “conservative privilege” at places like Williams, even funnier than the one about colleges which encourage “a lively exchange of one idea.” Highlights:

This whole affair has been driven by a group, one that involves Williams students but is not a formal Williams student organization, that has privileged access to tens of thousands of dollars from conservative alumni, allowing them to transgress established college fund-raising rules that all other students and faculty must follow. The rest of us cannot, by rule, raise money from alumni or foundations without going through College channels. Yet one group gets money, unavailable to the rest of the community, and that money lends them power to transgress other rules regarding political activity on campus.

Those wily conservatives are so transgressive that they “transgress” twice in the same paragraph!

Hilarious! Or . . . Wait a second . . . This isn’t an article from the Onion. This is Political Science Professor Sam Crane arguing, in all seriousness, that there is “conservative privilege” at Williams. I will need a week to thoroughly critique this nonsense. In the meantime, recall how Williams Professor Kris Kirby described what it was like to be a non-Democratic/liberal junior faculty member:

I did keep my views entirely to myself, but not because I was advised to do so. I had seen (on separate occasions) a senior faculty member make positive comments about a leftist job candidate and disparaging comments about a Republican student in department meetings, and these comments yielded assent from other faculty members. As a non-tenured libertarian these and other subtle signals scared me. I thought it prudent to keep quiet.

Conservative/libertarian junior faculty members (and students) have so much “privilege” at Williams that they keep their views to themselves. Sounds healthy! And, obviously, a big reason is faculty members like Sam Crane! If you were untenured, would you feel comfortable talking about your conservative/libertarian politics with faculty like Crane? Kris Kirby wouldn’t, and he is much smarter than you! Now imagine how conservative students feel . . .

There is something going on at Williams, but “conservative privilege” is not the best phrase to describe it.

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Censor Student Speech

Professor Sam Crane’s comments (and here) about Uncomfortable Learning merit further criticism. See last week for background.

I was, in fact, trying to restrain my anger at the immediate presumption that Williams faculty routinely censor student speech. Such a serious assertion should be accompanied by concrete evidence, not snide guesses about our favorite caffeine drinks.

What more concrete evidence can we offer besides Professor Crane’s own comments? Critics claim that Williams faculty/administrators don’t want students to invite speakers like Venker to campus. (I hope that Sam won’t rely on weasel words like “routinely” and “student.”) Isn’t that exactly what Sam wants, to deprive Uncomfortable Learning of funding so that they can’t afford to bring speakers to campus? If this isn’t what he wants, then just what is his complaint?

But that is not today’s deliciousness. Sam has been spewing invective about the students (and alumni) behind Uncomfortable Learning, suggesting that they have broken all sorts of college policies. Fortunately, random political science professors are not responsible for enforcing the rules. That honor goes to Dean of the College Sarah Bolton. So, all Sam needs to do is to inform Bolton about his concerns. She will surely jump in to bring the right wing rabble to heal!

Not so fast! Dean Bolton was asked about the Venker Cancellation during a conference call with class agents last week. You can listen to the entire call here. Go to the 16:40 mark to here the question and Bolton’s reply.

Too lazy to listen? Allow me to summarize: Dean Sarah Bolton likes Uncomfortable Learning! She had (almost) nothing negative to say about them. She seemed to share none of Sam’s concerns about their lack of registration, their shadowy sources of funding or their contact with alumni. In fact, she was sad that Venker did not come! “There is no need to rescind that invitation.” She wants Williams to “be there for them,” i.e., for the student leaders of Uncomfortable Learning. She wishes that they had reached out to her before cancelling. She is interested in “How we can bring conversations that might be difficult or uncomfortable to campus, and have that go well.”

So, sleep well Professor Crane! Dean Bolton is firmly on Team Uncomfortable Learning. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to rules and regulations. If Dean Bolton has no objections, then why would you?

UPDATE: Post changed to provide link to Williams’ page with the call audio.

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Fairness in Discourse

Professor Sam Crane’s comments about Uncomfortable Learning merit further criticism. See Monday for background.

Maintaining a certain fairness in discourse, not privileging some voices because they have more access to money than others, is a principle that, I suspect, Gaudino would defend.

Agreed! But this is precisely the principal that Williams, to some extent, fails to uphold. Neither Williams College, nor the Political Science Department, nor the Lecture Committee succeed to “[m]aintaining a certain fairness in discourse.” Indeed, all of them are much more likely to bring progressive/liberal/Democratic speakers to campus. Would even Professor Crane deny this fundamental reality of campus discourse? Other than speakers brought by Uncomfortable Learning itself, how many libertarian/conservative/Republican speakers have come to Williams in the last three years? If Professor Crane doesn’t believe in “privileging” left-wing “voices” over right-wing “voices,” he is doing a very bad job of acting on those beliefs.

Consider a concrete example: Rutgers Professor Donna Murch ’91 gave the 2015 Davis Lecture last week. Excellent! The more speakers with diverse viewpoints, especially alumni, that Williams brings to campus the better. But where is the speaker this fall or in all of 2015 or 2014 — outside of Uncomfortable Learning itself — who is much an Eph of the right as Murch is an Eph of the left?

Nowhere. Professor Sam Crane has done nothing to bring non-liberal/progessive/Democratic voices to campus in the last few years. (Contrary opinions welcome.) And that is OK! Sam is a busy guy, with teaching and research obligations. But, if he is not going to take the trouble to help maintain a “certain fairness in discourse,” the least he could do is to stop attacking those Ephs who are working on it.

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Should Uncomfortable Learning Register?

Professor Sam Crane insists that the students behind Uncomfortable Learning should (must?) register as an official Williams College student group. I used to agree. But maybe I am being naive? Since Sam seems (is?) diametrically opposed to the goals of Uncomfortable Learning, perhaps his “advice” is not worth taking.

Recall the excellent scholarship of Rutgers Professor Donna Murch ’91, a recent speaker at Williams. Murch documents that, in the long struggle for African American equality, many of the obstacles were “content neutral” — sort of like a requirement that student groups register. On the surface, something like a poll tax is not unfair. Everyone is subject to the same rules. In practice, however, the poll tax was both designed to disenfranchise African Americans and used by local officials to do so. Might the same be true of a registration requirement for student groups at Williams? You betcha!

First, we ought to dig into the history of this requirement. Where does it come from? (Also relevant are recent rules against soliciting funds from alumni.) Katie Flanagan ’14 kindly provides some of the history, but we need more details. Second, even if it is true that these regulations were not born in sin, there can be no doubt that Williams officials have tried to use these rules to stymie Uncomfortable Learning, just as Professor Crane has tried to do for weeks (months?).

That is, Williams officials have used these rules against students associated with Uncomfortable Learning in ways that the rules are rarely/never used against non-conservative students seeking to, for example, reserve a room.

Given that history, perhaps students are right not to register in just the same way that groups like the Black Panthers often refused to play by the rules of the society that they were challenging. A refusal to register is a form of protest. A refusal to register, to subject oneself to a set of rules that will be used by your enemies to hinder your goals, may be very smart.

Note Flanagan’s observation that “CC [College Council] would really only have jurisdiction over registered organizations.” If you doubt that College Council is very committed to your goals, then why would you register and, thereby, subject yourself to its whims?

Look at how much Uncomfortable Learning was able to accomplish in the last few years despite not being an official student group. Would it have been as successful if it had registered? I don’t know.

I still think that they should register, just as I think that they should not have disinvited Venker. But I also, with all due humility, recognize that they are much closer to the action than I am and that their judgments might be much better than mine.

If we have any former student leaders of Uncomfortable Learning among our readers, perhaps you could share your thoughts.

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Matter of Rules: The Petty Tyrants of Williams

Professor Sam Crane writes:

There is a matter of rules. You will notice that there are specific procedures that student groups need to follow, as per: http://student-life.williams.edu/student-involvement/student-organizations/. It is not clear whether “uncomfortable learning” is registered as a student group. If it is not, these other rules may apply: http://conferences.williams.edu/college-facilities/.

Does Professor Crane make it his business to ensure that every student and student group at Williams follows these rules? Of course not! If a group of progressive students fail to correctly fill out their forms or if Students For Bernie do a little vote registration on campus, Sam has no complaints. He only goes after students who he disagrees with politically. (If Sam has, in fact, hassled, say, the Williams College Democrats, as much as he has Uncomfortable Learning, then I will gladly withdraw this accusation.

If “uncomfortable learning” is a student group, then it would be bound by this rule: “Students who wish to raise money for any campus activity by soliciting alumni, foundations, or other sources of funds must receive advance approval.” (http://dean.williams.edu/policies/fund-raising-activities/).

Interestingly enough, the College did try to shut down Uncomfortable Learning three years ago by citing these regulations. Unsurprisingly, that threat was a bluff and cooler/smarter heads in the Administration prevailed.

That does not seem to be the case with “uncomfortable learning.”

Isn’t it cute the way “Professor” Crane puts Uncomfortable Learning — the official name of a student group at Williams — in quotes? Note that he does this three times, clearly meaning to denigrate the claim by these students that their group follows in the best traditions of Williams and of Bob Gaudino. Should we follow “Professor” Crane’s lead in this, using quotation marks to imply that even though “Professor” Crane calls himself a Professor, that he isn’t really one, at least in the way that we prefer to use that term, as someone committed to supporting all the students at Williams, not just those we agree with? No! That would be too cute!

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Sam Crane Demands Transparency on Alumni Donations

Williams has raised more than $374 million in its capital campaign. Professor Sam Crane has an interesting proposal.

A list of donors and the amounts of money they have given would be helpful in understanding the ideological intentions and effects of the program. I suspect rather significant amounts of money are necessary to bring in some of the speakers, but we have no idea where that money is coming from and what the providers of the money are trying to get for their investment. Follow the money.

Williams, like every US non-profit, is not required to provide a list of donors and the amounts each has given. Of course, Williams could still choose to do so, presumably after informing potential donors. The major problem, obviously, is that lots of donors prefer to give anonymously and, so, such a policy would hurt the campaign. The College, of course, is happy to publicize major donations from donors who don’t mind the press.

Sam feels very strongly about this idea, so much so that I read it as a demand rather than a suggestion. He has posted versions of it to the Williams Record, Inside Higher Ed, and the Williams Alternative.

Wait a second! I have this all wrong! Sam does not believe that Williams College should make public its donors and the amount they give. He thinks that Uncomfortable Learning (UL) a student group at Williams should make public its donors and the amount they give. Secrecy is fine for Sam and the people he agrees with, obviously. Secrecy is only a problem for people that Sam disagrees with, like the students who run UL.

That makes sense! /sarcasm

Here is a clearer statement of Sam’s views:

Who funds the “Uncomfortable Learning” series? I imagine it takes a lot of cash to bring in some of the people (Jonah Goldberg?) they have brought. Who is paying? A list of donors and the amounts they have given might help clarify the ideological context of the program.

Perhaps. But, as always, note the question that Sam does not ask:

Who funds the Dively Committee series? I imagine it takes a lot of cash to bring in some of the people (Jiz Lee?) they have brought. Who is paying? A list of donors and the amounts they have given might help clarify the ideological context of the program.

Excellent Record reporter Francesca Paris should follow up with Professor Crane, exploring his views on which Williams events require donor transparency and which do not. I guarantee that the supporters of Uncomfortable Learning would provide her with some juicy quotes . . .

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Understand Yourself

Congrats to Jon Kraft ’86, President of the Patriots, and Josh Kraft ’89 (his brother) on the Patriot’s victory last night. Professor Sam Crane explains:

What a crazy conclusion to the Super Bowl! A circus catch followed by perhaps the worst play call in the history of the game. Wow.

And it looks like both Sunzi and the Yi Jing got it wrong. But not quite. Let’s look again at what those texts suggested.

My Sunzi analysis pointed to the key match up being the Seattle offense versus the New England defense and that, indeed, is what the game came down to. At the critical moment, however, the Hawks lost sight of their strength. Instead of doing what virtually the entire country was expecting, run “beast mode” into the end zone, they threw a quick pass over the middle into traffic. Apparently, they were trying to use the clock, which seems absurd with only 20 seconds left. If that was the case they were violating a key Sunzi principle: always go for the quick victory. They had three downs, two time outs, and the best rushing offense in the game. In essence, they forgot who they were, they failed to “understand yourself,” and thus they lost.

At EphBlog, we always go for the quick victory.

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Sunzi Super Bowl

Professor Sam Crane provides this Super Bowl prediction.

So it seems clear that Sunzi can be applied to football predictions, and that is precisely what I did in my class – a short course on Sunzi and its various applications – today. The analysis yielded this outcome: Seahawks 21, Patriots 17.

It seems to me that the Seahawks defense is their greatest strength and the Patriots offense is their greatest strength. Since Sunzi tells us that strength versus strength is unlikely to be the central dynamic of a strategic interaction, we need to contemplate how the Seahawks offense matches up against the Patriots defense.

Read the rest for details.

In the same way that EphBlog always supports an Eph who runs for political office, regardless of her political views, we always support the geographically closest team to Williamstown in any professional sports match up. Go Pats!

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Toaist Thanksgiving

A moving post from Professor Sam Crane:

It is a perfect Thanksgiving morning here in Northwestern Massachusetts: a light snow, about 2 inches on the ground; a chill air; great conditions to be inside and cooking and eating all day. Aidan and I are here by ourselves, however. Maureen and Maggie are down in New York City, attending the famous parade. So, we will do the whole feast thing tomorrow. Today will be just about pie baking: I have a couple of small pumpkins to bake and make into a pie. If I feel ambitious, perhaps an apple pie will follow. That will make the house warm and comfortable.

We are supposed to be thankful today, and I am. But as I give thanks I can’t help wondering: for what am I giving thanks and to whom? As is my want, I fall back on Taoism to help clarify my thoughts. And, through that exercise, I come to a somewhat startling realization: I give thanks for Aidan and his profound disability. I know that sounds a bit bizarre – how could a parent be thankful for a child’s disability? – but, as I think through it, I am happy to say that I am.

Read the whole thing. Aidan left us eight years ago, but his memory and spirit live on, not just in those who knew him personally but in all those touched my Sam’s writing. Try as hard as I might, I worry that I will never be half the father to my daughters that Sam was to his son.

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Gleeful Amatuer: Sam Crane in Our Town

From the Eagle:

A professor from a small town plays a smalltown professor in a play aware of its audience.

That local man is George T. “Sam” Crane, a Williams College professor now on stage in “Our Town,” a classic 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Thornton Wilder that Crane considers an anthropological study of “big questions of finding eternal in the every day.”

Read more

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Ephs in Beijing

Thanks to Prof. Sam Crane for sending this in:

I thought Ephblog might like this photo, taken last night (Beijing time), Wednesday, March 24. It includes alums Thomas Jones, Jenn Lee and Joe Kauffman (and his wife Angie and little girl Avital); current students Jackson Lu, Cadence Hardenberg, Jessica Harris and Caroline Ng; uber-parent CK Shen (father of alums Clarissa, Geraldine and current student Loretta); and me. I was visiting in Beijing to, among other things, give a talk to the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, and Jenn and CK organized a dinner at a local Italian restaurant (a nice break from the ubiquitous, and quite excellent, Chinese food). CK brought the colors that we displayed throughout the evening. A good time was had by all…

Ephs in Beijing

(click for larger)

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Taoist Thanksgiving

A moving post from Professor Sam Crane:

It is a perfect Thanksgiving morning here in Northwestern Massachusetts: a light snow, about 2 inches on the ground; a chill air; great conditions to be inside and cooking and eating all day. Aidan and I are here by ourselves, however. Maureen and Maggie are down in New York City, attending the famous parade. So, we will do the whole feast thing tomorrow. Today will be just about pie baking: I have a couple of small pumpkins to bake and make into a pie. If I feel ambitious, perhaps an apple pie will follow. That will make the house warm and comfortable.

We are supposed to be thankful today, and I am. But as I give thanks I can’t help wondering: for what am I giving thanks and to whom? As is my want, I fall back on Taoism to help clarify my thoughts. And, through that exercise, I come to a somewhat startling realization: I give thanks for Aidan and his profound disability. I know that sounds a bit bizarre – how could a parent be thankful for a child’s disability? – but, as I think through it, I am happy to say that I am.

Read the whole thing. Aidan left us three years ago, but his memory and spirit live on, not just in those who knew him personally but in all those touched my Sam’s writing. Try as hard as I might, I worry that I will never be half the father to my daughters that Sam was to his son.

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Trouble the Comfortable

Reason #303 why Steven Gerrard is a great professor.

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Associate Dean of the Faculty Steve Gerrard led a philosophical discussion on Saturday in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall. The hour-long function, part of the Spring Family Weekend activities, addressed questions concerning the nature of virtue and its ability to be taught at Williams.

Gerrard, roving around in the front of the hall as if in a classroom, began his presentation with the first scene from the Platonic dialogue Meno, in which the young and ambitious Meno asks Socrates: “Can virtue be taught?” Gerrard quickly turned to the medium-sized audience, composed almost solely of parents visiting the campus for the weekend, and asked them to make a list of virtues. The list was certainly a broad one,including a sense of justice, the ability to forgive, a sense of humor and the ability to trust and be trusted.

This was more than a decade ago. I hope that Gerrard has given the same talk many times since. The parents would love it.

“I take the Socratic method seriously,” he said, “and its first step is always meant to get everyone’s feelings out in the open.” But Gerrard added emphatically that the method is based on careful logical argumentation and criticism. The feelings and original thoughts are important, but they must be subjected to strong criticism.

“This is what Williams tries to foster and nurture,” he said. “My view is that true respect for others and other cultures does not come about with a mere exchange of feelings. When differences between cultures show themselves, one can say ‘we’re both right’ or one can say ‘I understand where you’re coming from, but I’m still right.’”

Gerrard says he sees only one plausible answer. “At the end of the day, we have to believe in Truth and we have to believe in the Good, and we have to fight for what we believe in. We have to ask these questions concerning virtue and what is right. And this is our job as teachers.”

Exactly right.

Gerrard paraphrased the Talmud to complete the discussion. “‘It is the job of the teacher to comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable.’ I believe that this is true. And I believe in Truth.”

Ahhh. But does Gerrard really believe that when the “comfortable” are he and his fellow Williams faculty? I hope so, but time will tell. For example, I have never seen a Williams (academic) faculty member criticize affirmative action. Have you? EphBlog is preparing to make some “trouble” on that topic.

Stand by for some “uncomfortable learning,” in the style of Robert Gaudino.

Speaking of Gaudino, Professor Sam Crane wrote:

First, Kane is not the heir of Gaudino. Gaudino confronted privileged Eph men with “uncomfortable” material truths, taking them to Appalachia and India to see first hand the ravages of poverty and prejudice. Kane is a Reagan-era conservative trying to defend The Bell Curve and its crude conceptualizations of intelligence. With his narrow understanding of culture and society, Kane would make Williams ever more exclusive. Gaudino worked against that impulse.

This is charmingly incoherent. I suspect that Sam has few, if any, meaningful conversations with “Reagan-era conservative[s]” and so has little, if any, idea about how we think. I have never heard of any current member of the Williams faculty described as a “”Reagan-era conservative.” But the more interesting phenomenon is how Sam has taken a Williams legend and twisted him to fit into the hegemonic ideology of Williams today. The thinking goes something like:

Robert Gaudino was a great teacher.
Standard Williams liberalism — Épater les prepsters — is a great belief system.
Therefore, Gaudino’s main focus was to confront “privileged Eph men with “uncomfortable” material truths.”

How Gaudino would chuckle at that characterization of his work at Williams!

Rory makes the same mistake.

Gaudino would have tact. Gaudino never would have written or said comment six.

I (did not) know Robert Gaudino. You, sir, are no Robert Gaudino.

“Tact,” eh? Stand by to eat those words. I suspect that my comment six would not rank among top 10 most outrageous things that Professor Gaudino said at Williams, probably each semester!

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Safire and Singapore and Williams

While marking the passing of William Safire, Prof. Sam Crane recounts a fascinating bit of Williams history. This should be enough to pique your interest:

I never met Safire face-to-face, but one late summer we found ourselves thrown together as adversaries of the Singapore government.  Rest in peace.

Read the whole thing here.

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8 Years Later

Professor Sam Crane reminds us with pictures why this is a day for reflection. Dan Drezner ’90 recalls the moment.

Howard Kestenbaum ’67, Brian Murphy ’80 and Lindsay Morehouse ’00 were lost to us that sad September morning. May their memories live on.

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Just Don’t Go

In our discussion about graduate school in the humanities, Professor Sam Crane wrote:

To those students who talk to me about pursuing graduate degrees in political science, I say that they are absolutely assured to get tenure at Harvard in ten years…
That’s the caricature you are painting here.

Readers should consult that thread to see if that’s an accurate description of my argument.

In fact, I tell them the academic job market is horrible, has been bad for a long, long time, and is getting worse. I tell them that getting a job like the one I have is unlikely. I tell them that they should go on for a Ph.D. only if they truly love the learning, because that is something they will be certain to have for a lifetime, regardless of what job they find themselves with. And for some of them, that is what it is about. Love of learning, regardless of whether they get an ideal academic job.

Once we get beyond the snark, Sam and I are in agreement. The academic job market is horrible, especially in the humanities but even in things like political science. Even if you are a top student at Williams, you are very unlikely to have a career as nice (in terms of pay, teaching load and student quality) as that of most tenured professors at Williams. Related thoughts from Derek Catsam ’93 and Tim Burke. Good for Sam for telling his students about this harsh reality. Do other Williams professors do the same? I hope so. More discussion below.
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A Beautiful Family

Although Father’s Day usually calls for celebration at EphBlog — a time to remember and rejoice in all that our fathers have done for us — this year my thoughts return to the life and death of Aidan Crane.

Here is the eulogy that Professor Sam Crane gave for his son.

In fourteen years Aidan connected with more people than any one of us can know. He filled a large place in the world.

His effects on the people who met him were numerous and varied.

Aidan often brought out the good in people. This was especially true for the children around him. When he was in school here in Williamstown his classmates made him a part of their doings in countless ways. They knew he could not see, and that it was best to engage him through his sense of touch. Many a day it was, when he would come home from school and we would find flowers and pebbles and sticks and grass tucked in the crevices of his wheelchair, the daily evidence of how his friends had brought him things to feel and sense, to connect him to their surroundings

He also moved many of the adults who encountered him. I remember some years ago, we were up in Manchester. We rolled into a little restaurant to have some lunch. Maureen went up to the counter to order some food. I stayed with Aidan and Maggie, who was then just an infant. We ate. It was all fairly normal. But then a man, who had been sitting at a nearby table, got up and came over. A complete stranger. And, out of the blue, he said he had noticed us, and what a beautiful family we were, and how lucky we were to have each other. This was Aidan’s work. Aidan had inspired him.

And Sam Crane inspires me and, I am sure, many other Eph fathers. May we all be the sort of fathers to our children that Sam is to his.

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One Night in April

Sam Crane directs our attention to the passing of William Sloane Coffin, former college chaplain at Williams and social activist.

Before he became famous as an outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War and crusader for civil rights, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin — who died Wednesday at the age of 81 — was a vocal, moral critic of fraternities at Williams College, where he was chaplain for a brief time shortly after becoming a minister.

It was his forceful position on the subject that likely led to an incident in 1958 in which a window of his Southworth Street house was shot out. Though no one was hurt, the incident helped seal the fate of the Greek system on campus.

I am sure that my father, class of 1958 and president of the DKE House, has an alibi. Frank Uible ’57, also DKE president, has declined comment on the incident.

[Williams College Chaplain Rick] Spalding praised him for his courage in taking positions against the war and for civil rights, as well as for encouraging young people to think about issues of justice and privilege in their own lives.

“I think the moral compass that he was pointed often in ways that startled people, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one of those positions that time didn’t prove was right,” he said.

Ha! Now is probably not the time to get into the issue of whether or not nuclear disarmament (much less Coffin’s views on economics) is a position that time did or didn’t prove right. It is certainly true that Spalding thinks that time has proved Coffin right. Many/most Vietnamese boat people — the grandchildren of whom are probably among current Ephs — might take exception to Coffin’s refusal to support the government of South Vietnam in its fight against the Communist North.

Leaving boring politics to one side, I can’t resist noting that, like all good bloggers, I read through a story like the Eagle’s paragraph by paragraph, quoting and commenting as I go along. The “jokes” above about the DKE House were just tossed in because, well, my father was a DKE and Frank is an EphBlog regular. Imagine my surprise when I read:

Williams history professor Charles Dew [’58] was a senior when Coffin was on campus.

“In my time there, he stood out as a particularly forceful and dramatic figure,” he said.

Dew said the college was beginning to debate the role of fraternities on campus, which were an overwhelming part of the college’s social life. Coffin came down strongly against them, noting discriminatory practices at some against African-Americans and Jews, and calling them “un-Christian.”

At about 10:30 p.m. one Saturday in April 1958, a shotgun blast from the street blew out a front window of the Coffin family home at 7 Southworth St. Coffin and his wife were not home, but their 3-month-old daughter, Amy, and a baby-sitter, Ruth Morgan of Williamstown, were in another room.

Williamstown Police launched an investigation that immediately focused on students, because of Coffin’s remarks about fraternities. As part of the investigation, they questioned each of the 55 students on campus who were known to own shotguns. During the course of the investigation, someone set off a pair of cherry bombs in the Coffins’ backyard as well.

After five days, two brothers of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity came forward and confessed. Junior Stephen Barnett and sophomore Paul Crews were charged with malicious damage to property, fined $125 each, and expelled by the college.

It was DKE! Who knew? This was not a story told around the Kane family dinner table. I wonder where Barnett and Crews are now. Dad and Frank need to fill in the details. Also, someone should add this story to the Campus Controversies section of Willipedia.

According to their statement as quoted in the newspaper, the two men said they had been riding around with a borrowed shotgun and thought it would be “a good idea” to shoot up the house. They passed the house several times, and thought there was no one home.

When asked by Williamstown District Court Judge Samuel E. Levine why they chose that particular house, Barnett replied, “I’d rather not say anything about that.”

The incident had a serious impact on the fraternity debate.

“No one was hurt, but it did the fraternity’s cause no good and was certainly a nail in their coffin here,” Dew said.

The college banned fraternities in 1962.

Thanks again to Sam for the pointer. It would make for a great senior thesis or independent study to tell this story in more detail, to find and interview Barnett and Crews, to paint a picture of what Williams was like in April 1958, forty eight years ago.

Entire article below the break.

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Moore ’36, RIP

Sam Crane notes that “Barrington Moore’s passing should be noted. For many academics, he would be seen as among the 3-4 most important intellectual Ephs of the 20th century.”

Barrington Moore Jr., a Harvard sociologist whose studies of the contemporary human condition led him to dissect the totalitarian society, particularly as it evolved in the Soviet Union, died last Sunday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 92.

His death was announced by the university, where he taught from 1951 to 1979. He had also been affiliated with the Russian Research Center at Harvard since 1948.

Dr. Moore followed an interdisciplinary approach, always placing social change in its historical context. He distrusted models of social behavior that ignored politics, economics and a multiplicity of other possible factors and events that helped determine it.

His methodology had its roots in years he spent as a wartime strategic analyst for the O.S.S., the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency, and a stint at the interdisciplinary social science division of the University of Chicago.

His best-known book, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World” (Beacon, 1966), remains in print. J. H. Plumb, in a review for The New York Times, called it “a profoundly important book.”

I am such an ignoramus that I had never heard of Moore. Thanks to Sam for the pointer. Perhaps more educated Ephs than I could provide some more background on Moore and his work in the comments.

Condolences to all.

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