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Anchor Housing and Intramurals

Any fan of Williams intramurals (IM) should be worried about the effect of anchor housing on this hallowed tradition. In fact, I predict that the institution of anchor housing will lead, almost inevitably, to an intramural scene at Williams that is much less popular and inclusive than the current one, and even worse than what IM sports could be with only some minor improvements. Yet only screed-lovers should read further.

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Save the Co-ops

Just when I thought that my work deconstructing the CUL’s 2005 Report on cluster housing was done, I am sucked back in. Such is our windmill-tilting life here at EphBlog. Only die-hards need read further.

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Increasing Diversity

Although my criticisms of the CUL Report itself have been fairly harsh, I have tried my best not to question the motives or the competence of those involved. Yet, the more closely I read the report, the more it seems like the CUL never thought that any skeptic would read it carefully.

Consider pages 4-5 of the pdf version of the Report. (Note that you can only see some of this with the Record’s version.)

[T]he all-campus room draw is highly stressful (even painful) for many students,

Which is why, presumably, only 17% of them are in favor of getting rid of it.

and in its initial form quickly led to various kinds of residential segregation on campus (by class-year, by gender, by ethnicity, and by athletic participation).

As usual, the CUL blames all aspects of Williams life that it does not like on free agency. What evidence is there that free agency, instituted in 1994, led to a campus that was more segregated than the one in 1993 (when extensive trading was allowed within the confines of the affiliation system) or even the one in 1988 during the glory days of the affiliation system? As far as we know from CUL, there is none.

In fact, recall that former CUL member Tom Smith claimed that a

major downside of the affiliation system was that, over time, the housing groups developed their own identities. For example, when I was there the Greylock quad became kind of a jock heaven . . .

Now, I have my doubts about this, but perhaps Tom is right. If so, then it could very well be that free agency has decreased residential segregation, at least among athletes.

Again, the CUL would build up a lot more trust among its readers if it provided data to back up the various claims that it makes about what “led to” what.

In response, the CUL recommended in 2002 the introduction of certain constraints on the room-draw process (most notably, limiting groups to a maximum of 4 students, and “gender capping” dorms, so that no more than 60% of the students in any residence may be of the same gender).

This is not a fair summary of the 2002 reforms. A key aspect, and one of the most controversial, was the removal of the WSO Plans system whereby students could see where others had already picked. Why did CUL not mention this here? After all, the list of recommendations in that report only had three items. Why mention two of the three and imply, with the “notably,” that these are just two of many?

Jonathan Landsman ’05 pointed out how poorly thought out and executed these reforms were, at least in terms of evaluating their effectiveness. David Ramos ’00 still owes us a write up on pre-2000 aspects of the debate.

These constrains [sic] are widely unpopular,

Very true! Indeed, sometimes I suspect that the reason that CUL won’t reveal the Williams survey data that it has access to is that this data would support the claim that the happiest cohort at Williams was around 2000 or so, after full implementation of free agency but before the CUL’s reforms.

sometimes on insufficient grounds (“Why should I have to live near people I don’t know?”),

Don’t you love it when the CUL portrays Williams students as idiots? Has any Williams student at any time ever said anything like this? I doubt it. Students, I’d bet, say that they want to live near people they do know. They want to live near their friends, and near to people with whom they are likely to become friends. At the very least, they want to avoid living near people with whom they suspect they would clash. From a distance, it always seemed like a huge advantage of WSO Plans was that it allowed students who wanted to have a keg every night to live near others who thought that this was a desirable quality in a neighbor and far away from those who didn’t.

This segregation and self-segregation by “party style” — for lack of a better phrase — is highly desirable, at least after first year. We want students to mix well without regard to things like race, class, major, activities and other attributes that make it likely they will learn from each other. If they choose to not-mix according to unimportant attributes (like keg-hosting on Thursdays), the College should have no complaints.

but sometimes for the quite justifiable reason that they often lead to breaking up groups of friends that have already been whittled down to 4 (for example, it is fairly common for a group of 4 people to pick into a 6- or 7-room suite, leaving 2 or 3 free rooms, which means that later in the lottery another group of 4 will have to split up to fill these spaces).

I have read a lot of complaints about the 2002 reforms, but never come across this one. Which, of course, doesn’t mean that it wasn’t made, but the most important issue seemed to be the whittling down process. It is too bad that we don’t have data on how many groups were of size greater than 4 in the pre-2002 era so we might have a sense of the magnitude of the cost of this policy change.

Such constraints have achieved their intended goal of greater diversity in many dorms, although they have not been able to affect the distribution of students according to class-year.

Hmmm. Now, before reading any further, what, precisely, do you think the 2002 reforms “achieved”? Given that this paragraph starts with concerns about “residential segregation on campus (by class-year, by gender, by ethnicity, and by athletic participation),” the only fair reading, to my mind, is that segregation has decreased if not been eliminated. That is, the campus was segregated by gender, enthnicity and sports in 2001 but is no longer. (Class-year segregation has not changed.)

Now, if you are reading this in the Record, that is what you would conclude. Only if you read the pdf do you see the footnote that accompanies this last sentence.

Appendix 1 contains four graphs that show the degree of residential diversity in recent years according to class-year, gender, ethnicity, and athletic participation.

Now, to be fair, the CUL deserves kudos for providing this data to its readers. The more open that it is with the community, the more likely the community is to respect its judgment. But, in this case, the data largely contradicts what CUL claims. Looking at pages 19ff, it is obvious that there has been no change in the amount of segregation by sports or ethnicity (while gender capping has worked). In other words, the CUL is telling us in the text that its 2002 reforms worked while providing data in the appendix that shows clearly that, at least with regard to athletic and racial self-segregation, the reforms have had no effect.

Or am I missing something?



Just because some of the CUL report is bad does not mean that all of it is.

greater enthusiasm for intramural sports (with teams representing houses rather than, as is typical under the free agent system, representing varsity sports teams that are “out of season”);

Intramural sports are a good thing. Some of my fondest Williams memories are playing intramural soccer. We have discussed intramurals here and here.

The CUL is correct to recognize the importance of intramurals and the problems with having teams form themselves. Assuming that people will sign up anyway (and they always have), it is better to have the organizers form the teams as they see fit, thereby both ensuring balance (better games for everyone) and promoting a nice set of cross cutting cleavages.

If only the CUL would focus on small, realistic improvements to student life — improvements that actually have the support of most students — it could do a lot of good. Alas, it has chosen to spend its time this year otherwise.

Moreover, to even discuss the intramurals in the context of cluster housing is to fail to come to grips with the fact that there will be only five clusters. Five teams do not an IM soccer league make. Maybe anchor housing will prove to be wildly successful in practice, but that success will have no connection to intramural sports.

Note also that the current structure of intramurals has nothing to do with free agency. (The CUL’s favorite rhetorical trick in the report is to imply that anything undesirable about campus life is caused by the current housing system.) Back in the affiliation era, intramural soccer was one of the most effect institutions on campus for developing cross cutting cleavages (you met 15 people who lived all over campus, most of whom you didn’t know before and) precisely because it did not allow groups to form their own teams.

So, why doesn’t Doug Bazuin, as director of campus life, take over intramurals? (It is not clear to me who he would be taking it over from.) Instead of seeing posts like this and this, it would be great to see a notice that invited anyone and everyone to sign up for a given intramural sport (and which also recruited people interested in being captains).

And this should probably occur even if anchor housing is implemented. After all, there will still be a need for intramural soccer (with many teams and many players) even in a world in which the best players out of the Hufflepuff and Gryfindor clusters play each other before hundreds of cheering fans . . .


Biologists Needed

Even fans of the CUL Report on anchor housing have got to agree that it would have benefitted from proof reading by a biologist. One small example:

The current residential system, which has been in place for approximately 12 years, is the product of more than 200 years of evolution characterized by what Stephen Jay Gould described as ��punctuated equilibrium��: long periods of gradual and relatively insignificant change have been interrupted occasionally by moments of more dramatic transformation.

By the way, can’t CUL manage to publish a version of its report that isn’t riddled with weirded out quote characters as in the above? Or perhaps there is some secret meaning to “��” that I am blissfully unaware of.

There’s nothing wrong with citing punctuated equilibrium, however quoted, in this context, but a more scholarly reference would have given equal if not more credit to Niles Eldredge. More amusingly, punctuated equilibrium is often referred to as “evolution by jerks,” a not so subtle reference to personality disputes in biology.

But that is small beer. The big example of biological tone deafness in the report is:

It was never decided that residential affiliation was no longer appropriate for Williams, or that there was a form of residential life better suited to the College and its students, but the introduction of the all-campus room draw made affiliation instantaneously meaningless, because students no longer lived in the same building, with the same collection of people, for more than a single year. The death of the old house system was thus thoroughly incidental, and the free agent era of today is the result of blind evolution rather than careful and deliberate design.

“Blind evolution”?! Isn’t this one of the classic lines of argument favored by creationists far and wide? Why, yes it is!

Actually, there are myriads of STRANGE PLANTS and ANIMALS having characteristics that to the superficial observer seem to be “without rhyme or reason,” that can not be accounted for by blind evolution, but show the handiwork of an intelligent Designer and Creator.

CUL, like all good creationists, does not think that “blind evolution” is a powerful force, does not believe that useful structures and practices can arise without the benefit of “design” by, presumably, groups like CUL.

Perhaps. Design certainly has a place in the governance of Williams. To cite just one of scores of examples, I think that the JA Selection Committee should have more members. This may be a good idea or it may be a bad one, but it is definately a question of design.

My issue with CUL is that they seem to denigrate the roll that evolution — blind or otherwise — played in the change in the house system from 1988 to 1992 or so. No rules were changed, but for some reason, the sophomores who had spots in the Gladden House recently vacated by Will Dudley decided that they did not want to live in Gladden. They wanted to live in Armstrong; not because Armstrong provided better housing (it didn’t) but because Mission had become the place that many, many sophomores wanted to live in.

The sophomores themselves had decided — without consulting with Will Dudley — that they wanted to live with each other, that they were better served by spending time and eating meals with Ephs that they would be at Williams with for three more years rather than with seniors who had other interests and priorities than chatting up the latest crop of sophomores.

The current housing system may reflect an evolutionary process, but that process is anything but “blind.” Former Housing Director Tom McEvoy (along with just about everyone else on campus at the time) recognized that the students — seeing perfectly well what sort of system would serve their needs — had ended affiliation themselves. Mission was more than 90% sophomores before any rule was changed. Campus wide room draw simply made more fair and rationale a system that had already evolved.

The CUL is filled with good and decent people who don’t seem to understand the history of Williams housing, at least in the last 25 years, and who are extremely distrustful of the idea that students might know what is best for themselves. Just as creationist can’t imagine the power of evolution, the CUL can’t seem to appreciate the ability of students to create their own communities, to recognize that they are better off organizing their lives in housing largely stratified by class year.

Good news: Dean Nancy Roseman is a biologist. If anyone can see through suspect appeals to the failures of “blind evolution,” it is she.



In its discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of free agency, the CUL claims that:

The most regrettable (and ironic) consequence of the free agent system is that increased choice has diminished student autonomy, which has traditionally been one of the most cherished values at Williams.

Lack of choice == “autonomy”? This doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as ignorance == strength, but makes about as much sense. To be fair, the next paragraph makes sort of clear that by “autonomy” CUL does not mean “choice of where to live” but “control over the affairs of the place where you do live,” or at least something like that. Note the claim that increased choice itself has “diminished” [read: caused] the decline. I doubt it.

Social life is now significantly less likely to be generated locally, or from the ground up, than was the case under the house system.

D’uh! Is it too much to ask that the CUL fess up and admit that it, and other parts of the College, are the direct cause of this unfortunate state of affairs? Consider:

  1. The College now has a Director of Campus Life and 4 Campus Life Coordinators. I have no doubt that they are all fine people dedicated to making Williams students happier. I am eager to believe that the money directed to this new bureaucracy — a bureaucracy largely created by CUL — is well worth it.
  2. The College now has 29(!) Housing Coordinators. I am still a little hazing on the role that HCs play. It sure seems like they do all the stuff that house officers (presidents, vice presidents and social chairs) used to do. Does Carter House even have a president anymore? If so, what does she do?
  3. The College facilitated the creation of ACE. Again, without being on campus, it is hard to know if ACE is a good thing or a bad thing. ACE certainly seems to make real efforts and Drew Newman ’04 provides an impressive argument as to its origin, function and worth.

But, whatever else made be said about DCL/CLC/HC/ACE and any other acronyms you’d care to name, they do not increase student autonomy. By defintion, they do things that students used to do for themselves. Back in the day, the students of Carter House decided who would be president, what dues would be levied and what sorts of parties to throw. Maybe they did it poorly. Maybe they did it perfectly. But they did it themselves.

Moreover, this was still the case up until 2001, at least. Perhaps these additions have made students better off. Perhaps not. Perhaps we would have been better off with them during the era of affiliation housing. But there can be no denying that they decreased student autonomy. (And yes, students are heavily involved in many of these acronyms, but each represents a centralization of planning, control and standards.)

And they were, to a large extent, CUL’s idea. CUL has no business blaming free agency for decreased autonomy when free agency co-existed perfectly well with autonomy without DCL/CLC/HC/ACE. If DCL/CLC/HC/ACE have not improved student life in the last 5 years, then CUL should recommend their elimination. (Unlikely, since DCL and one CLC and one HC are on CUL.)

Note that I am not arguing for this! I like Doug Bazuin. I am sure that Matt Boyd does a great job. I think that Karen Untereker ’05 argues eloquently in favor of anchor housing. But it is intellectually suspect for CUL to blame free agency for a decrease in autonomy that CUL itself has produced.

There was as much autonomy — student control over student life — in Carter House in 2000 as there was in 1985.

This is not because current Williams students are inherently less enterprising or friendly than their predecessors, but rather because the free agent system gives them a smaller stake in their local communities (which have become dormitory buildings filled with individuals and small groups, rather than houses filled with members)

As always, CUL provides no evidence for the claim that the Carter House of 2005 is less of a community than the Carter House of 1985. I have now described, in detail, what life was like in Carter 20 years ago. Does CUL deny the accuracy of that description? Does CUL claim that Carter today is even less of a community to any significant extent?

CUL is too ready to see “problems” in situations that might better be described as “reality” and too eager to believe that its efforts at improvement will actually accomplish its worthwhile goals.


There’s No Place Like Home

I like the CUL Report.
I like the CUL Report.
I like the CUL Report.

Maybe if I could just find my ruby slippers and start clicking my heels together, this mantra would come true. Somehow, I doubt it.

Full disclosure: I have still not read the entire report. Every time that I try, I come across incredibly annoying or misleading claims that cry out for a fisking. EphBlog’s work is never done.

In its history of Williams housing, CUL claims that:

In the early 1990s, increasing numbers of students grew dissatisfied with living for 3 years in the houses that have less desirable physical space.

Untrue! The CUL provides no evidence for this claim, mainly because there is none. Does it even make sense? Why would the percentage of students “dissatisfied” with, say, Mission go from 25% or whatever in 1981 to 75% in 1991? Did students in the 1990s start getting out more than earlier students and suddenly discover, “Hey! Some of these row houses are nice!”

No. The claim is ludicrous on its face. But note the rhetorical purpose that it serves. CUL has an incentive to down play the strengths of the current system, especially the support that it received from students at the time of implementation.

In 1992-93 this was addressed by instituting, for the first time in the history of the college, an all-campus room draw.

Wrong! If CUL can’t get the basic dates correct in a simple history of housing at Williams, why should we even bother with its recommendations? The first all campus room draw was in the spring of 1994. But more important than getting the date wrong by a year or two is the (intentional?) misrepresentation of the history.

No one has ever claimed that the purpose of all campus room draw was to “address” the (non-existent) problem of students becoming increasingly dissatisfied with 3 years of life in Mission or Prospect. This is a positively Orwellian in its twisting of the facts.

The affliation system ended because students killed it. First, by not caring much about the houses in which they lived.

According to Tom McEvoy, former housing director, the house affiliation had become meaningless when he assumed the role of housing director in 1988. “If you asked a student, they were affiliating by club or team sport,” McEvoy said. . . . “We thought the affiliation by that time had pretty much died on its own,” McEvoy says.

Second, by doing so much trading of spots that the system was close to breaking down.

The process of swapping was, in theory, a simple one. However, students found ways to manipulate the process to their advantage. While there have been students tricking the housing system for decades, by 1990 hundreds of rising sophomores were involved in some sort of swapping scheme.

Again, we have still not figured out exactly what happened between 1988 and 1993 or so. How did Mission go from 30% sophomores to 90% sophomores? However, it is clear that this change occured without any change in the housing rules. The students decided, in aggregate, that it made a lot more sense to organize themselves by class than by building.

Now, it could be that they were wrong, that this was a mistake. It could be that the College is worse off under the free agent system. But the CUL does itself and its readers a disservice when it gives a largely inaccurate description of Williams history.

CUL continues with

Intended as a modification to the house system, the all-campus room draw accidentally put an end to the long history of residential affiliation at Williams.

“Accidentally”?!? That’s right. Beavis and Butthead were just sitting around in 1993, playing with the housing rules, decided to try out a lottery and — D’oh! — failed to see that this would end “affiliation.”

No. The folks who implemented the campus wide room draw were not Beavis and Butthead. They knew that free agency would end affiliation de jure, but they saw (correctly!) that students had already ended affiliation de facto. There was nothing accidental about it.

I like the CUL Report.
I like the CUL Report.
I like the CUL Report.

Help me out here Toto.


The Motherhood and Apple Pie House System

I really want to like the CUL Report on Anchor Housing. And, even if I can’t like it, I want to respect it. And even if I can’t respect it, I want to buy it breakfast in the morning. Yet, having read only the first sentence, I may be in trouble.

What single word best describes that sentence? As opiner on all things Eph, I should avoid knee-jerk emotionalism and snap judgments, but “pathetic” is the only word that comes to mind.

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) recommends that the College adopt and implement a new system of residential life, to be referred to in this report as The Williams House System.

“The Williams House System”? Let me break out my Newspeak Dictionary and check the capitalization rules! Why not refer to the plan as “The Motherhood and Apple Pie House System” or the “Ephraim Lodging Master Plan”? All three are about as descriptive.

Why couldn’t the CUL have had the intellectual honesty to give their proposal an accurate name, a name that would inform people? Why not use the words “cluster” or “anchor” or whatever?

There is nothing wrong with good rhetoric. The CUL has every right, indeed obligation, to use rhetoric to persuade its audience. But insipid wording serves no purpose. Does CUL believe that the readers of this report find the name “The Williams House System” useful? Does it think that students are more likely to go along with the report if it hides the central organizing principle of the plan behind content-free phrasing?

Good news: The rest of the report can only be better! [You forgot to mock the wordiness of “adopt and implement,” as if one could adopt without implementing or implement without adopting. — ed. I am trying to take the high road here.]


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