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Common Data Sets

The Common Data Set for 2015-2016 has been posted. Comments:

1) Williams has removed copies of the Common Data Set from before 2011 from its website. Pathetic! So, because we can’t trust Williams to be honest about its history, we have to start maintaining our own copies: 2011-2012, 2012-1013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, 2015-2016.

2) Do readers notice any major changes over the last five years? Should we spend a week reviewing these documents? Let us know your preferences!

3) Diversity is always interesting. Compare the first year class 5 years ago:


With today:


The biggest change is probably the increase in Asian-Americans and the decrease in whites. (Also, I would not be surprised if many students the “Two or more races” category were at least part Asian. Indeed, I know many mixed-race white/Asian applicants who check the “white” box on the Common Ap because they worry (correctly!) that elite US college discriminate against Asian-Americans. A majority (?) of international students are also Asian by race.

Put it all together and I would wager that 20% of the class of 2018 at Williams is Asian. Hard to believe that that proportion is going anywhere but up over the next few decades . . .

Not that there is anything wrong with that!


Investment Report

The 2015 Annual Report from the Investment Office (pdf) is available. Comments:

1) Should I spend a week dissecting this? Let me know in the comments.

2) If you are the Record reporter assigned to cover this, please be professional by contacting at least one critic of the Investment Office. The last few Record overviews on this topic have been less hard-hitting than the typical high school newspaper.

3) Background readings: one, two and three.

4) I am probably the Investment Office’s least popular Eph, going back to this (brilliant?) blog post 8 years ago.

5) Collette Chilton (not satisfied with her current $1.3+ million pay check) is looking for a raise! How else to explain this new (I think) line from the report:

In dollar terms, our added value for fiscal year 2015 was over $100 million.

Really? I have my doubts. And it would be pathetic for the Record to fail to determine exactly where this claim comes from.


College Scorecard

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, as usual, President Falk agrees with EphBlog!

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

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

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


Faculty Meeting Notes February 2015

Here pdf are the notes for the February 2015 Faculty Meeting, as distributed the next month. Fascinating stuff! And many thanks to our anonymous source for sharing with us. Comments:

1) The College should make these meeting notes public. Since they are distributed to 350 (?) faculty members, they are mostly public anyway. They also show the College in a good light, demonstrating that Williams is run by smart, thoughtful people who are honestly wrestling with difficult decisions.

2) There is a ton of interesting stuff here! Any readers interested in a section-by-section review?

3) Best part is this requirement concerning the newly created Pass/Fail option:

Third, the CEP (in full agreement with those who raised this issue at the last faculty meeting) has added a five-year sunset clause to the option. This means that after five years – a length that will allow one student cohort to experience the option for a full four years – the CEA will have to bring a proposal for a renewal of the option to the faculty for a discussion and vote. Such a deadline will guarantee that the option is monitored, and that any problems be identified and corrected – if the option is to survive – at that five year point.

Well done! Who are the unnamed faculty members responsible for raising this issue? They deserve kudos! The pass/fail option, like the poorly conceived Gaudino option, is a bad idea. With luck, five years experience will demonstrate that. The proponents should be forced to make their case again, with evidence.

Almost every major change at Williams ought to come with such a sunset clause.


Williams Divestment Proposal

wdpFor the benefit of future historians, here is a permanent copy of the Williams Divestment Proposal, produced by the Williams Endowment Initiative, the most impressive Eph political movement in a decade or so. (What other examples would readers cite? Perhaps Stand with Us and Anchors Away?)

Divestment, of any kind, is a bad idea because we should not mix investment policy with political views, lest it generate endless rancor.
Why these companies and not others? Investing in a company with oil fields is evil but investing in a company which makes oil rigs is not? Gas companies are verbotten but gun companies are OK? What about companies that do business in Darfur? What about companies pillaging the rain forest? What about private equity firms who make money by buying companies in trouble, laying off thousands of workers, and then reselling them? And on and on and on.

The best way to avoid this trap is not to play. Leave the investment decisions to the investment professionals.


Housing alternatives open at other schools in light of suicide …

As forwarded to me by a reader:

The tragic occurrence at Rutgers prods some colleges to open roommate selection opportunities.

Gender-neutral housing has been approved by the college following recommendations and discussions last March, 2010. as reported in The Record

The Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) and College Council (CC) both advocated gender-neutral housing last fall, following its proposal by the Queer Student Union (QSU). “I think there is a good chance that the NRC would have gone this direction anyway,” said Colin Adams, chair of the CUL and member of the NRC. “But the fact that CUL and CC supported and pushed for gender-neutral housing certainly helped to bring it to the forefront for consideration.”

And as reported int The Record

In a campus-wide e-mail last week, Campus Life also announced that a gender-neutral housing policy has been approved by the College. According to the e-mail, upperclassmen can choose to live in a double with another student regardless the students’ genders, as long as both students agree to the housing arrangement. Gender caps will apply as usual to all dorms. The e-mail clarified that the gender-neutral housing policy is optional and unless students of opposite genders decide to live together, housing placements into doubles will otherwise be based on same-gender placements…

“I’m pleased that the College can go forward with gender neutral housing,” Dean Merrill said. “It’s been an issue that students have been talking about for at least as many years that I’ve been dean. There’s been a lot of student effort, both here, and around the country, and I’m glad that we can be part of a growing number of schools that offer it.”

What changes do you see on campus that might relate to previous comments in the I am Fine posts below on the Williams experience? Additive to? Subtractive from?


Statistical Details of Athletic Report

Professor Heather Williams, chair of the Athletic Committee for 2008-2009, kindly replied to my request to know more about the details of their statistical analysis (pdf).

As chair of the committee, I am responsible for the statistical analyses. The design of the analyses was the responsibility of the committee, and several of us are statistically competent. The analyses themselves were run by the Provost’s office, and although you are certainly free to ask Chris Winters about them, I would imagine that he’ll be referring all questions to me. The report will not describe all of the results in detail, but will provide enough information about how the analyses were set up and the results to let the readers understand exactly what we did.

A quick summary, we ran a number of simple linear models (and logistic regressions, where appropriate to the question) that included a variety of variables that seemed likely to have affects on academic performance: reader rating, gender, class (fr., so., etc.), a proxy for socioeconomic status, and sport category (high/low profile), as well as a number of interaction terms.

I’m sure that, as an economist who is into numerical analyses, you would prefer to have more information, but I wouldn’t be comfortable about giving any additional details beyond this summary of how the analyses were done. The more details we give, the more people want to know, and it’s important not to make it possible for anyone (including us) to gain too much information about individual athletes.

Perfectly reasonable! I still think that the Committee ought to share the regression results (which are available in an Appendix on file in the office of the Dean of the Faculty) with the entire community, but this is a minor quibble. The Report is high quality and represents the best of the Williams tradition of faculty governance and transparency. Kudos to all involved!

For those interested, below is the e-mail that I sent to Professor Williams.
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News on the Sawyer Library Project

To the Williams Community,

That loud cracking sound you may have heard over the weekend marked a longed-for thaw of the freeze on major campus construction.

Encouraged by the great educational opportunities afforded by the proposed new Sawyer Library, by the readiness of the construction plans, and by generous pledges in recent months that bring total philanthropic support for the new library to more than half of its $80 million cost, the Board of Trustees has approved my recommendation that work on the new Sawyer begin at the start of the construction season this spring.

Part of the larger Stetson-Sawyer Project, which included Hollander and Schapiro Halls, the library was put on hold when the global financial crisis hit two years ago. We will now be able to provide for the arts, humanities, and social sciences the kinds of wonderfully effective teaching and learning spaces that Schow Library affords the sciences and math. Drawings and floor plans for the project can be viewed at .

The schedule anticipates opening the new Sawyer Library, to be attached to a renovated Stetson Hall, in 2014. This will be followed by the razing of the current library building and the construction in its place of a new green space that will connect Stetson/Sawyer with the Paresky Center and the Frosh Quad.

Our thanks go to the many people, led for years by Professor of Anthropology Michael Brown and College Librarian Dave Pilachowski, whose meticulous work produced such an exciting project, and to the faculty, staff, and students who have patiently endured a postponement that had been of indefinite length until this moment. And, of course, the deep gratitude of us all goes to our donors, a number of whom wish to remain anonymous at this time, for their great generosity and for their commitment to this project and this college.

The other project postponed by the recession has been the renovation of Weston Field, which is now being thoroughly reexamined to ensure that it meets the College’s needs. We’ll report more on the details of that process as they become clear.

I can’t tell you how deeply delighted I am to have on track a project as important to Williams as construction of the new Sawyer Library.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk


Form 990 Now Posted

Big kudos to President Adam Falk for fulfilling his promise of greater transparency at Williams by posting the College’s Form 990!

1) Thanks to whichever college officials (names?) were involved in this decision. The more transparent Williams is, the more likely we are to be the #1 liberal arts college in the world 50 years from now. (Special thanks, also, to Jim Kolesar for alerting us to the new policy.)

2) Thanks to fellow EphBlogger John Wilson ’64, who has been leading the charge on this topic for several years. This seems to be a clear case in which EphBlog has changed something about Williams. As far as I know (counter examples welcome), Williams is the only elite school which posts it From 990. If it were not for EphBlog’s agitation, I doubt this would have happened. Yeah, EphBlog!

3) Instead of just providing the most recent year, Williams ought to provide all easily accessible years. I originally stored this in Willipedia, but, now, the most accurate listing is at EphBlog, thanks to John’s efforts. Williams ought to add these past filings to the Controller webpage in the same way that it provides historical financial statements.

4) Interested in a two week seminar on the latest Form 990? Me too! But I sure wish that someone else would take the lead on that . . .


What’s Really Wrong with Housing: Statistics and More

To put it simply, I believe a closer analysis of the Neighborhood Review Committee reports will give a lot of insight into the recent actions the College has taken.

First, let’s examine the claim that “The 2009 survey data on Neighborhood housing make clear that students are dissatisfied.” That is from the Interim Report of the Neighborhood Review Committee, October 2009 [1]. This report described what the NRC found in May 2009 when they surveyed the student population. First of all, only 30% of the on-campus student body took the survey. That is not a lot. The report also says that more info was taken from past surveys, etc.

The Final Report of the Neighborhood Review Committee Part Two, April 27, 2010, notes that “[student surveys] added nuance to the most vocal complaints [about the neighborhood system]: some student dissatisfaction could be attributed to factors other than the neighborhood system and a substantial proportion of students believed the overall goals of the system were worthy” (1) [3].

The report continues, “Indeed, during the public forums of the fall, the NRC did not hear as much public criticism about the Neighborhood system as some of us imagined we would hear.

The comparative lack of criticism this academic year does not necessarily mean that the dissatisfaction had gone away or that many students were suddenly pleased with the Neighborhood system as a whole or with their individual Neighborhood. But it does suggest that what had been identified as dissatisfaction with the Neighborhoods was a complicated phenomenon” (1) [3].

Let’s take a closer look at the data to get a better understanding of these nuances. The class of 2009 was the last class to be under both the free-agency system and the neighborhood system, even though they were only in free-agency for their freshmen year. (Keep in mind that this is only the 5th year the neighborhood system has been around. It was instituted 2006-2007 [2].) They got the worst of both worlds–the un-unified freshmen experience and the lack of choice from the neighborhood system. At the time, they were randomly assigned neighborhoods, and penalized for trying to switch.
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What’s Really Wrong with the Housing System: It’s the Economy, Stupid

Hi. I’d like to use the opportunity of my first real post to introduce myself. I am Brad Polsky ’12. An Art History and Practice major, I like playing jazz and eating Italian food, amongst other things.

I am writing tonight about the housing system. If you’re reading this post, you probably already know about David Kane’s Housing Plan. If not, take a look at the posts entitled “Housing Seminars.” Dave’s plan is very detailed (18 pages long) and a good read.

However, as a student currently at Williams who is interested in the outcome of the housing debate, I cannot recommend Dave’s plan. My two main points are:

1) Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke
2) What may work in theory may not work well in practice.

I will then talk about what should be done to fix the current housing issues.

Everything’s Just Fine

In Dave’s executive summary, he gives a list of assumptions we have about housing. One that he neglects to include is that he assumes the housing system now is bad/inefficient/[insert other negative adjective here]. David says there is evidence for this: “students recognize this.” Which is funny, because he says a sentence later that he doesn’t know this but he’s sure that if students were polled they would surely agree with his view.

I’m not so sure about this. I live in Currier Neighborhood. I have friends in all other neighborhoods. Almost all people seem happy with their neighborhoods and houses, or, at the very least, are not miserable (I strongly agree with Dave on one goal of housing to minimize misery). One of my biggest issues with the system had been that it really locked you into your neighborhood, and you were penalized for trying to get out.

This has changed. There are no longer penalties for switching out. I know many people who have switched, to be closer to their friends, to get (in their eyes) better housing, or for other reasons. As I said, most people seem happy with the system and their individual situations, and if they are not they can easily switch.

And despite some of the neighborhoods not really being neighborhoods (i.e., Wood), the system has its own way of working. In Currier, the housing is rather homogeneous; there are no spectacular rooms or under par rooms. Dodd is acknowledged to have the worst sophomore housing, but housing junior and senior year in that neighborhood makes up for it. Spencer has Morgan (it used to have West; I’ll get to that later), and Wood has the beautiful row houses. As a Williams student in the neighborhood system gets older each year, she has a better pick of rooms in more locations. There is a logic to this system.
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Alignment of Senior Administration

From Adam Falk:

To the Williams Community,

I am writing to expand campus-wide a discussion I’ve begun about a topic of importance to the College: the alignment of senior administrative responsibilities.

A hallmark of Williams is the strength of its system of faculty governance. Without a doubt, this is one of its attributes that drew me here; it’s a key reason for the excellence that the College has attained. In particular, Williams has been very well served by the practice of rotating faculty into the positions of Dean of the Faculty, Provost, and Dean of the College, which embeds faculty at the center of our prioritizing and planning.

Many dedicated faculty, past and present, have done great work in these roles. They’ve done so, I’ve come to realize, despite significant drawbacks to how their positions are configured. It’s critical that the faculty in these positions be focused on advancing our top academic priorities, but unfortunately they increasingly find themselves needing to burrow into detailed administrative and management duties, which in our ever more complicated world require technical knowledge and skills. These responsibilities limit, often extensively, the time needed for strategic thinking and leadership. Meanwhile, the steep learning curves involved in these positions can make them less attractive to faculty, and the technical skills required of the Provost seem to limit its candidates to faculty in certain academic disciplines.

With the right realignment of responsibilities, I believe, we could re-focus these positions to recapture their original purpose — to think, plan, and see carried out our core academic mission.

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Falk Update on Endowment and Spending

President Falk provides an update. I have copied the entire letter below the break because the College has a nasty habit of making these documents disappear. (Can you find similar letters written by interim President Bill Wagner on the Williams website? I can’t.) Highlights:

The return on our endowment investments for the fiscal year was 11.9%. Factoring in gifts to the endowment and spending from it, this put our total funds on July 1 at around $1.52 billion, a welcome increase over its value last year, but still more than 20% lower than this time three years ago. We project spending some 5.1% of that in the current year. Although that rate is widely considered to be unsustainable over the long run, it is part of a Board-approved plan to soften, over last year and this one, the impact on Williams of the world financial crisis.

1) This is not inconsistent with the $1.6 billion number that was mentioned in June but it is less than I expected. Did various illiquid investments come in lower than Chilton expected three months ago?

2) 5.1% of $1.52 billion is $77.5 million. That is too much spending! The College continues to not take the financial crisis seriously enough. Note that Morty claimed two years ago that the plan was to spend $70 million from the endowment in fiscal year 2011. Why isn’t Williams sticking with that plan? Because the people who run Williams don’t want to cut the budget enough. Future Williams administrators will curse their profligacy.

3) This is the first time that anyone from the college has ever admitted (realized?) that 5% endowment spending is unsustainable. I have made this point over and over and over again. Glad to see that Falk recognizes my genius. (Also, I am unaware of any other elite college that admits that, over the longterm, 5% real returns are unattainable. Pointers welcome!)

4) As usual, the College ignores its debt when discussing spending rates. Williams has a $1.5 billion endowment, but we also have around $250 million in debt. So our net financial wealth is $1.25 billion. Assuming a 3% real rate of return on that would allow for $45 million in annual spending from the endowment. Williams is spending approximately $25 million more per year than it should.

As many of you know, when the financial crisis hit, the College put two building projects on hold. I remain optimistic that we’ll be able to begin work this spring on the new Sawyer Library, which we continue to seek funds for. Meanwhile, the Weston Field project is undergoing a review to make sure it’ll provide what we need at the right price. I’m optimistic about this project, too, though on a somewhat longer timeframe.

Williams is not rich enough to be able to afford major changes at Weston for years to come. I hope that Falk and the trustees adjust to this reality. Stetson/Sawyer is a tougher case.

Full letter below the break.
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The Passing of Clara Park

From Adam Falk this afternoon:

To the Williams Community,

I am sorry to inform you that Clara Claiborne Park, senior lecturer in English emerita, died on July 3. From the 1970s through the 1990s, Clara taught Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, and expository writing in ways that inspired generations of Williams students. “From the encampments of major writers, she would lead us on forays through the woods of theology, philosophy, history, and the arts,” wrote Sean Keilen ’92. “It is no surprise to me that her classes were filled not only with English majors but also with students from every other humane discipline.”

Clara’s pioneering work on women characters and female authors was hailed by her academic peers, and she reached a broader audience in articles for national periodicals from the Ladies Home Journal to The Nation. Clara received honorary doctoral degrees from Williams and from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and was awarded the prize for feature writing at the 1999 National Magazine Awards. As a speaker and writer on autism, Clara earned an international reputation. Her 2001 book Exiting Nirvana: A Daughter’s Life with Autism describes the interior of her daughter Jessy’s world, based on Jessy’s own notes and drawings.

We send deepest condolences to her family, including Clara’s husband David, the Webster Atwell Class of 1921 Professor of Physics Emeritus; her daughter Jessy, a longtime employee in the Williams mailroom; her son Paul, lecturer in English; and her daughter-in-law Deborah Brothers, who chairs the Theatre Department.

A graveside service will be held at the Williams College Cemetery on the morning of Thursday, July 8, at 10:00 a.m. A memorial service for the entire community will be held later this year.


Adam Falk


2009 Williams College Form 990

Here’s a little light reading for the holiday weekend (right-click to save, it’s a large PDF file):

2009 Williams College Form 990


News Concerning Williams-Exeter Students

To the Williams Community,

I can now update some of you and inform others about the horrible accident Sunday that has brought such grief to the Williams community. We are shocked by this sudden turn of events and need to support each other, especially those most directly involved.

Here’s what we know.

Seven of our students at the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford University (WEPO), along with two Oxford students, had organized a weekend hiking trip near the town of Frutigen in the Swiss Alps.

While walking yesterday, they were hit by an avalanche of snow, ice, and rocks. Henry Lo ’11 was swept to his death, and Amy Nolan ’11 suffered a blow to her head. Swiss rescuers responded quickly, retrieving Henry’s body and taking Amy by helicopter to a hospital in Bern. We’re told that she never lost consciousness. She was operated on yesterday, and the student who was allowed to visit her today reports that she was talking and smiling. Her parents, Cathy and Jim Nolan, professor of sociology, are now there with her.

None of the other hikers was injured. Swiss authorities activated an English-speaking response team to support them and take them to Bern, where U.S. Consulate officials were engaged.

The students have now arrived back at the Williams complex in Oxford, where they and the other Programme students are being tended to by Resident Director Tom Kohut and members of Exeter College, including the Rector, Dean, and Chaplain. The University is still in term, which ends later this month.

At this profoundly sad moment our hearts are first with Henry’s family for their sudden and devastating loss. As a parent, I can’t imagine the effect of such an occurrence. Henry was a math and religion major from Franklin Square, N.Y. His fellow students in the Programme wrote this moving tribute to him:

Henry, you transcended social boundaries – you went out of your way to show an interest in all of our lives. It was this selflessness and generosity that will stay with us. You saw our quirks and you loved us for them, just as we loved you for yours. We will remember you for so many things from your escapades on football crew dates, your WEPO Iron Chef entry of chocolate covered bacon, listening to Yeasayer and Chiddy Bang late at night, to Ice-ing and, most of all, your fantastic meals.

You made the most of your time here at Oxford: football, kickboxing, working out, wine-tasting, truly loving your academic work, not to mention all your socializing. This list only scratches the surface. To borrow some of your own words, you were not a gamer, you were a competitor. You made such a huge impression on all of us in less than a year – we all wish we could spend more time with you, get to know you even better. We can’t believe you’ve been taken from us.

As we write this, all the memories that come up make it clear how much you meant to all of us here at WEPO. You will live long in our memories.

In Memoriam,
WEPO 09-10

No plans have yet been set for any services.

Our thoughts are also with the Nolan family, including Amy’s brother David ’13, who are having to cope with such an unsettling development.

We all of us need also to support the other students on the trip, which became traumatic for them, and everyone in the Programme, since all have been emotionally affected.

The students are being wonderfully caring of each other, as we would expect in such a community, and their families also have reached out to provide mutual support. But it will take time for all of us to recover, which we should be sure to help each other do.

Meanwhile, our deep thanks go to the many people, on both continents, who’ve been involved in the response.

Adam Falk


Lo ’11 Killed in Avalanche

Tragic news:

To the Williams Community,

I am writing with tragic and shocking news.

Earlier today, while some of our Williams-Exeter students were on a hiking trip in the Swiss Alps, an avalanche occurred. Henry Lo ‘11 was killed and Amy Nolan ‘11 was injured.

Five other Williams students and two Oxford students were on the trip, none of them injured.

Amy, the daughter of Jim Nolan, professor of sociology, and sister of Jim Nolan ’13, has been helicoptered to a hospital in Bern, Switzerland, where the early prognosis is encouraging.

We have been in touch with the students. A Swiss police team is working with them and will get them this evening to a hotel in Bern. A U.S. Embassy official will be there.

Back in Oxford, the remaining Williams-Exeter students have been informed, and Exeter College officials are helping our resident representatives in supporting them.

We will be in touch as we learn more.

Meanwhile, our thoughts are with all involved, especially Henry’s and Amy’s families and friends.

Adam Falk

Condolences to all.


Bad Arguments Against Sophomore Housing

Some of the commentary against sophomore-only housing from the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) (pdf) is annoyingly ill-informed and brings up bad memories of the fight over Neighborhood Housing from five years ago.

However, others worried that, if housed all together, sophomores would miss the opportunity to forge friendships with and gain the perspectives of older students.

Others shared the concerns of those students who worried that sophomore housing could cut sophomores off from friendships with juniors and seniors and that it might not serve well those students who reach the end of their first year with ambivalent feelings about their entry experience.

These “others” are fairly clueless. Williams had a ten year experience with sophomore only housing in Mission Park under free agency. There is no evidence that Williams sophomores in that era were any more cut off from juniors/seniors then than they are today. Most substantive relationships between sophomores and juniors/seniors have always been driven by shared participation in extra-curricular activities (or via JA connections from the previous year). If you are a sophomore, the juniors/seniors you know best are those that play on your team, sing in your a cappella group, participate in your student organization or hang out with your JAs. The housing system does not change those relationships. It is true, of course, that sophomores may also get to know the juniors/seniors that live near them, but this will be a relatively unimportant part of the total cross-class interactions. No one has disputed my description of what life was like in the 1980s. Summary: Even in an era in which students lived in Carter House for three years, less than half the seniors even knew the names of at least half the sophomores. I had lunch with a current junior who lives in a Greylock dorm last month. He reported not even knowing the names of the sophomores who lived next door.

Recall (?!) my Record op-ed from 2005.

Different housing policies have different effects on student life. It would be irresponsible to implement cluster housing without taking a data-driven look at the experiences of other colleges.

Let’s focus on a specific example. The CUL’s argument asserts that cluster housing would benefit sophomores because it would allow for “deeper connections” to other classes. This is an empirical claim. It might be true, but, having lived in Carter House from 1985 to 1988 and in a Harvard undergraduate house from 1993 to 1997, I am not sure that it is. But why rely on CUL Chair Will Dudley’s assertion, my observation, or your guesswork? Why not gather some data and examine the issue?

First, we would need to operationalize the notion of “deeper connections.” What does this mean and how can we measure it? We could ask each sophomore:

1. How many seniors he knows.

2. How many seniors are among his five closest friends.

3. How many seniors he has shared a meal with in the last two days.

Much of survey research is devoted to figuring out the best way of eliciting correct information. There are several Williams professors (Marcus, DeVeaux, Klingenberg, Sheppard, Zimmerman, et al.) with the requisite expertise as well as statistician alumni more than willing to help out.

Second, we need to see how these measures of “deeper connections” vary across time and space. It is a shame that the CUL, or some other body, does not design a thorough survey of undergraduate life at Williams and administer it every year. If participation in room draw were contingent upon completing the form, response rates would be close to 100 percent.

If the CUL had been doing this for the last 20 years, it would be much easier to examine how life at Williams has changed and to speculate on the causes of those changes as well as the likely effects of alternate policies. Although this hasn’t been done, there is no reason not to start now.

Did the College listen to me? No. The problem with the Administration is not that it engages in social engineering. It has to. The problem is that it is incompetent. If the Administration really cared about the amount of interaction between sophomores and upperclassmen then it should have started to measure that interaction five years ago. If it still cares, it should start measuring it now.

But, in fact, Williams does not really care. The Administration/Trustees wanted to stop all the black students from living together in a theme-house fashion. Mission accomplished! It has no interest in taking a serious look at the interactions between sophomores and juniors/seniors. If it did, data collection would be the first step.


Create Sophomore Housing

The best part of the Final Report (pdf) from the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) is its praise of sophomore housing.

It is striking to note that just over 70% of the first-year respondents believe that the College should offer sophomores the option of living in designated sophomore housing. … The committee concluded that the sophomore housing option is worthy of further study.

Read the whole thing. As best I can tell, the Committee was pro-sophomore housing but with a non-trivial minority against. Yet the central flaw of the Report in this regard was its complete failure to describe and analyze the history of sophomore housing at Williams, at least since 1990. (Useful references here, here and here.) Short version: Sophomores decided, on their own, that they wanted to live together in Mission. A large majority of sophomores preferred living in housing that was 90% sophomores. They achieved this goal in the early 1990s by trading their picks. Free agency arrived in 1994 and made the process more simple/fair/transparent.

Recommendation: Allow the sophomores to live together in the Berkshire Quad. The Kane Housing Plan (pdf) provides all the necessary details.

A fine rant (slightly edited) from past discussions below.
Read more


Williams Club in NY is Closing 5/31/10

Below is an email that was distributed to all Club members earlier today.  I am staying in one of their hotel rooms this evening and its sad to think that it will be for the last time.  I for one will miss it.

Dear Williams Club Members,
After nearly a century of serving our extended New York City community from our location on East 39th Street, the Williams Club will cease its own clubhouse and hospitality operations and move its membership program and related activities to the Princeton Club of New York on June 1, 2010.

Through a special arrangement reached with the Princeton Club, all Williams Club members who renew their annual memberships in the coming weeks will have the full rights of regular members of the Princeton Club, located on West 43rd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues,  including full access to its membership facilities and services. The Princeton Club, which already is a base for clubs of Columbia and NYU alumni, has newly remodeled hotel, dining, meeting and athletic facilities. We hope to see a bust or image of President James A. Garfield, an 1856 graduate of Williams College, join those of Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower in the Princeton Club’s members lounge.   Read more


Hollander Hall

from: Adam Falk
date: Fri, May 7, 2010 at 8:30 AM
subject: Naming the North Academic Building

To the Williams Community,

As we conclude the academic year, I am delighted to announce that the North Academic Building, completed in 2008, will from here on be known as Hollander Hall, named by Richard and Jackie Hollander in honor of their sons Jordan and Adam, both members of the Class of 2010.

The Hollanders funded the building’s construction several years ago through one of the largest gifts made to The Williams Campaign, requesting at the time that their contribution remain anonymous until their sons’ graduation.

There are at least three things to celebrate here. The most immediate is the exceptional dedication and generosity represented by this gift. Richard and Jackie have said that they made it because of the effect they could see Williams having on the lives of its students, their understanding that the building resided at the center of a thoughtful plan to enhance the College’s academic facilities, and their deep admiration for the leadership of Morty Schapiro.

We celebrate also the extraordinary teaching and learning that Hollander Hall makes possible. Classrooms, language facilities, an archaeology lab, offices that can accommodate tutorials, gathering spaces that encourage spontaneous conversation—all of these advance the kind of activities that lie at the heart of our community of learning.

Our third celebration is of the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability, as Hollander Hall, along with its companion, Schapiro Hall, earned LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold status.

On behalf of the countless students, faculty, and staff whose experiences will be enhanced by this remarkable structure, I deeply thank the Hollanders for this truly transforming gift to Williams.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk

Thanks to ’10 for the heads up. I never would have guessed this name.


The Baxter Fellows Program is Doomed

UPDATE: A longtime reader has convinced me that mentioning the names of three specific Williams folks in the initial version of this post was a mistake. So, I have replaced their names with “the Williams Administration.” I have left the comment thread unchanged.

The single most important prediction in my five years of blogging about Neighborhood Housing was that attempts to create a meaningful neighborhood identity were doomed to failure (see here and here). Surely we can all agree that I (and others) were 100% right about this while the Williams Administration (and others) were 100% wrong.

Care to know what else the future will bring? The Baxter Fellow Program is doomed to failure. Consider the latest from the Neighborhood Review Committee (pdf).

As outlined in Part One of our final report, the Neighborhood Review Committee recommends a significant reconceptualization of the role of Baxter Fellows, focusing primarily on two areas: conflict resolution and community building within the house. Students value the freedom from oversight that they enjoy in their residences, and they have clearly voiced their resistance to a traditional residential advisor system. Yet most members of the community also recognize the need to establish mutually agreed-upon norms of behavior in residences and, moreover, accept that conflicts are bound to occur in even the best organized residential system. The committee would like to see the Baxter Fellows take on a larger role in leading discussions of communal norms within their houses, opening lines of communication, and hopefully fostering a mutually respectful environment. We believe that Baxter Fellows should be better trained in conflict resolution and better prepared to handle, with respect and fairness, issues arising from disparate lifestyles and differing expectations for dorm life. Ultimately, we believe that the Baxter Fellows should be the first resource for low-level conflict resolution within dorms.

This will never, ever work. And, as I have exhaustively documented, it has not worked over the last 5 years. Read these classic rants from 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Want more? Remember the Tablecloth Colors is an all-time favorite. Read it.

Too lazy to click on those? The argument is simple: Williams students will not defer to the judgment/decisions of their fellow students unless they want to. In certain circumstances (JAs, elected students leaders like sports captain and organization heads), they will. But why should a given Williams student listen to a Baxter Fellow? What has the Fellow done to earn my respect? Nothing. If anything, I half expect he took the job because he wanted some extra cash. All the training in the world won’t change that basic reality. And, what is worse, the Office of Campus Life has little ability to actually ensure that Baxter Fellows do their jobs.

Changing the role of the Baxter Fellows and making them into more robust, legitimate, and important players in residential life will not happen overnight. The committee urges the College to prioritize changes that will help the Fellows begin house-level conversations about expectations and norms and that will prepare them for an expanded role in conflict resolution.

Utter fantasy. The program has failed for five years. You think some magic pixy training dust is going to airlift the Baxter Fellows to Never Never Land? Instead of closing Greylock, the College should have just ended the Baxter Fellows program and closed the Office of Campus Life.

Paying students to create community is stupid. Instead: Allow students to elect their own leaders. Give those leaders money, not as salary but for spending on events. Demand transparency. The details will take care of themselves.

Professor Colin Adams, head of the NRC, is a smart guy. Doesn’t he already know this? Probably. But, whenever judging the output of a committee, you need to check its members. The two folks primarily in charge of the Baxter Fellow program, Aaron Gordon and Doug Schiazza, are on this committee. How likely were they to ever agree to its elimination? Yet, over time, the Williams administration does learn. When the Baxter Fellows program is no more successful next year then it has been this year, look for it (and the Office of Campus Life?) to be cut as well. You read it at EphBlog first.


Dining Services Changes

Email below on Dining Services reprinted in full from a campus mailing. Thanks to ’10 for providing the email and for Steve Klass for letting us publish it here:

from: Stephen Klass
date: Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 3:00 PM
subject: Message from Steve Klass and Karen Merrill Regarding Dining Services

To the Williams Community,

As an early step in the College’s reorganization process, some creative thinking about our student dining operations has resulted in a plan that both reflects the way that students use – and would like to use – the system and decreases costs.

Master planners like to say that it’s most effective to lay sidewalks after you’ve seen where the grass gets worn down, and we now have meal-count data and student input on more than three years of Paresky Center and Neighborhood System co-existence.

The new plan involves opening our most popular venue, Whitmans’, seven days (20 meals) per week plus late night. Late-night operations that currently reside in the Lee Snack Bar will move to Whitmans’. Dinner will be offered each evening until 8 p.m. there and at Driscoll and Mission. At the same time we’re working with College Council to make the ’82 Grill more comfortable and visually appealing and to offer an expanded menu and hours of operation. Details of these and additional new arrangements are listed at the end of this message.

The changes will go into effect at the beginning of the fall, when the dining operations in Dodd and Greylock will be taken out of service.

All current Dining staff in Dodd and Greylock will be reassigned based on new operational needs. We recognize that these changes may be disruptive to some of our colleagues in Dining and express our gratitude to everyone involved in making these changes possible.

We’ll host an open forum at which students can ask us questions about these changes this Thursday at the Baxter Great Hall in Paresky at 7 p.m. Read more


A disturbing incident

A campus email has been sent, and can be read here.

(Note: this post has been edited multiple times by the author due to issues of privacy and copyright with the original posting(s). We apologize for any confusion caused.)


New Vice President for Alumni Relations & Development

This message was sent to Students, Faculty, and Staff on April 22, 2010 by Adam F. Falk, President’s Office:

After a national search and with the enthusiastic endorsement of the Search Committee I have invited John Malcolm ’86 to join our campus community as Vice President for Alumni Relations and Development.

All who met John through the search process were impressed by his extensive experience in constituency (including alumni) relations, volunteer support, fundraising, and management. As President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Los Angeles, he oversees programs that match volunteer mentors with more than 1,500 youth, almost all of whom live at or below the poverty level. At the national organization he was involved with strategic planning and in expanding significantly the private revenue available to regional programs. While at Swarthmore he organized and oversaw the most successful comprehensive campaign in the college’s history. Before joining the Development Office at Bucknell, he had served as a canvasser on the West Coast for Citizen Labor Energy Coalition/Citizen Action. After graduating from Williams he worked as a visual artist, mostly in fine oil paintings and drawings.

John’s passion for education, especially of people from underserved communities, and building support for education is infectious, and he is wonderfully thoughtful and articulate about the liberal arts and about how organizations communicate their mission and purposes. His experience in reorganizing operations will be particularly helpful as we rethink our administrative structures here at Williams.

He is as eager to be here as we are to have him. As he wrote to his new Mears House colleagues:

“My undergraduate experience at Williams shaped my adult life in fundamental ways. Coursework bolstered my belief in the importance of distributing opportunity equitably to disenfranchised populations. Involvement with issue-focused student organizations launched my interest in outreach to diverse constituencies and in designing effective organizations. Friends made at Williams comprise a surprisingly hefty percentage of the folks I’m connected with on Facebook. My expectation in returning to the College is simply that we will collectively, by creatively and effectively engaging our increasingly global and diverse alumni body, ensure similarly relevant, transformative educations for current and future Williams students.”

John will succeed Mike Reed, who has served as Interim VP, since the retirement of Steve Birrell last summer. Our thanks go to Mike as well as to the Search Committee:

Chair Mike Reed ’75, V.P. for Strategic Planning and Institutional
Collette Chilton, Chief Investment Officer
Will Dudley ’89, Professor of Philosophy
Bill Lenhart, Provost and Treasurer
Keli Kaegi, Assistant to the President and Secretary of the College
Martha Tetrault, Director of Human Resources
Laurie Thomsen ’79, Trustee
Sarah Underhill ’80, President of the Society of Alumni

Please join me in welcoming John as he takes up his new position July 6.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk


Salary freeze lifted, endowment spending limit raised

Message from the new President’s office:

Dear Faculty and Staff,

As you may know, the College has been exploring ways to build a budget for the coming year that would both meet the target for spending from endowment and provide for some level of raises.

In a bit of doubly good news, the College managed, through the efforts of many across campus, to construct a budget that met the target while providing for a raise for all continuing faculty and staff of one percent, and the Board of Trustees chose to increase the endowment spending limit in order to extend an across-the-board raise in 2010-11 to two percent.

In doing so, Trustees expressed their appreciation for the thoughtful, principled, and effective process of reorganization that the campus is engaged in, which is positioning Williams for its strongest possible future. I couldn’t agree more.

While work remains to align completely our operations with the new fiscal realities, a great deal of progress toward that goal has already been made. The Board thanks you for that as do I.

We will increase spending from endowment even further in 2010-11 to take advantage of the Early Retirement Program, which in time will save money. Some 72 percent of eligible staff and 21 percent of eligible faculty have formally expressed interest in the program. We won’t, however, know for more than a month how many will ultimately take part.

Thank you again for the impressive, collaborative way that you all are pitching in to help the College face these challenges.

Best wishes,
Adam Falk

(thanks to Vicarious ’83)


First Day at Williams

To the Williams Community,

April Fools’ Day has arrived at last, bringing the most exciting day of my professional life. I’m finally able to graduate from President-elect to President of Williams!

To be sure, there is a part of me that is sad to leave Johns Hopkins, an institution I’m very fond of and where I have colleagues and friends I admire and love. But for the past six months, I have so looked forward to joining my new community, which as you already know faces such fascinating challenges and great opportunities.

I’ve taken advantage of this time—spending a day a week on campus this spring, experiencing Claiming Williams and Winter Carnival, visiting alumni groups and individual alumni on both coasts, touring the fascinating teaching laboratory that is WCMA, watching Laurie Anderson perform in the ’62 Center, taking my sons down to Amherst to cheer our basketball teams in a hostile (but still very purple) gym. I’m starting to get a feel for this marvelous place, and to see Williams through many different eyes.

I understand that in some ways these are anxious times, as our College community—and our country—adjusts to new financial realities. But, really, I can’t think of a more interesting time to join you. The choices we make now, to creatively and collaboratively readjust how Williams operates, will set the College’s course for many years to come. That’s an exciting journey and one that I believe will leave the College stronger in the end.

As both an insider and an outsider (until yesterday!), I assure you that Williams, with its relative financial strength, its tradition of collegial governance, and its extraordinary support from alumni and parents is uniquely positioned to succeed in this effort.

At the same time, we (and I love finally being able to use the word “we”) have been well served by the many thoughtful decisions made this year under the careful and steady leadership of Bill Wagner and the wise counsel of the Board of Trustees. I am deeply grateful to Bill and the Board for stewarding Williams so effectively and for making my transition so seamless and pleasant. We have also benefited during this time from the contributions of Acting Dean of the Faculty Andrea Danyluk.

My family also looks forward to being here, which won’t happen until the end of the school year. Like any father, I remain committed to attending as many of their weekend school and sports activities as possible, so I’ll be back in Baltimore many weekends for the rest of the spring. Both volleyball and lacrosse seasons are in full swing. But Karen, Briauna, David, and Alex will soon be here, where they’re ready to dive into the life of the campus, Williamstown, and the Berkshires.

Over these months, I’ve benefited from meeting a great many Williams people—here in Williamstown and far afield—and the warmth of your welcome has been extraordinary.

I’m looking forward now to getting to know the rest of you and, even more, to the learning, work, and fun we will all share as we roll up our sleeves in the months and years to come, and together make this very special college the even more remarkable institution that we aspire for it to be.

With my best wishes to you all,

Adam Falk


Jamie Neal

To the Williams Community,

I am shocked and saddened to report that, while on leave from the College, Jamie Neal died suddenly at home.

Our hearts go out to her family and friends at this profoundly sad time.

Her obituary is available at

Jamie came here in Fall 2006 as a member of the Class of 2010 and was most recently in residence at the College in Fall 2008. In addition to her being a member of the varsity basketball team, she will be remembered by those who knew her here as being a young woman full of life with a natural way of growing close to people.

Members of the campus community are understandably unsettled by this news. I encourage us all to be aware of who around us might be in need of our support.

A celebration of Jamie’s life is scheduled for Friday, March 26, at 11 a.m. at the First Parish Church in Duxbury, Mass.

Karen Merrill
Dean of the College


The Passing of Lawrence Graver

To the Williams Community,

I am sad to report the death Sunday of a much-loved member of the College community — Lawrence Graver, the John Hawley Roberts Professor of English Emeritus.

Generations of students tell of the passion for great writing inspired in them by Larry, whose humility never hid the depth of his engagement with literature and the world. He wrote of the excitement he derived when students “recognized and responded to . . . a special power inherent in the language of fiction, poetry and theater: the power to stir and give pleasure, but also to make us aware of previously unthought of possibilities of thinking feeling, speaking and existing.”

The world, too, came to appreciate the specialness of Larry’s mind. His books, which grew out of his teaching, continue to be read internationally. These include two on Samuel Beckett and “An Obsession With Anne Frank: Meyer Levin and the Diary,” a scholarly work of the first order that also became an influential trade book.

Larry was as generous with colleagues as with students. From his arrival at Williams in 1964 until well after his retirement in 1997 he seemed always to have time for you, even during his years of service as Chair of the English Department and as a member or chair of key committees.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Suzanne, the Andrew Mellon Emerita Faculty Fellow, and their daughters.

A funeral will be held Wednesday, March 3, at 12:30 p.m. at the Jewish Religious Center, followed by a private burial at the College Cemetery. A College Memorial Service will be held in mid-April.

With regards,
Bill Wagner
Interim President


Provost Report 2010: Conclusion

Today finishes our two week tour of the 2010 Provost Report. Professor Bill Lenhart concludes:

Williams is in a strong financial situation by virtually any comparison—except with the Williams of three years ago. In the wake of the financial crisis, we have significantly less revenue from endowment and less revenue from gifts. It would be unwise to anticipate endowment growth in the future of the kind we’ve experienced over the past 15 years. Our challenge then is to reduce spending in ways that protect our mission of providing the finest possible liberal arts education and that return us as soon as possible to where, if capital markets remain steady, we can resume growth in our operations each year. This is a goal we can achieve with the continued help of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends.

Indeed. Thanks for all the many thoughtful comments during this discussion. Kudos once again to Williams for providing such detailed information.

How much transparency should Williams provide in the future? That’s easy! Just slap up on the webpage whatever material is distributed at Faculty or Trustee Meetings — or, at least 90% of it. Doing so requires (virtually) no extra work since all the charts/tables/slides have already been created. A small portion of the data would need to be kept secret, because of federal regulations, fund-raising sensitivities and other issues.

But if, going forward, Williams were to be as transparent as it seems to have been in this case, I would have little to complain about, at least when it comes to financial issues. Next steps include admissions, grade inflation, course enrollments, and . . .

But, for now, baby steps!


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