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EphBlog Loves Provost Love

EphBlog loves new Williams Provost Dukes Love. Why? Recall our recurrent complaints about transparency with regard to already published College documents, like the Common Data Set reports. Formerly, Williams only provided the reports back to 2011. Now, it provides an archive back to 1998. Well done Provost Love!

But because this era of Perestroika might end, EphBlog has taken the precaution of saving permanent copies: cds_2010-11, cds_2009-10, cds_2008-09, cds_2007-08, cds_2005-06, cds_2006-07, cds_2004-05, cds_2003-04, cds_2002-03, cds_2001-02, cds_2000-01, cds_1999-00 and cds_1998-99.

It is especially nice to see a provost committed to transparency as Williams begins the re-accreditation process. Long time readers will recall that we devoted the month of January 2009 to going through the last re-accredidation report. Alas, we did not save a copy! Is one available somewhere?

UPDATE: A loyal reader points to this archive of material related to accreditation. Thanks! And kudos to Williams for making this material available even a decade later. Anyone interested in following this round of accreditation should study the last round closely.


SAT Score Changes

Interested in SAT score changes at Williams over the last 15 years? Me too! Alas, the College does not make it easy to study these things since they deleted the old Common Data Sets. Fortunately, I saved this link from 1998-1999 (although the link does not work):

C9. Percent
and number of first-time, first-year students enrolled in fall 1998 who
submitted national standardized (SAT/ACT) test scores. Does not include
partial test scores. SAt scores are recentered.

submitting SAT scores:

Number submitting
SAT scores:

submitting ACT scores:

Number submitting
ACT scores:

25th percentile
75th percentilee
SAT I Verbal



SAT I Math



ACT Composite



ACT English
ACT Math

of first-time, first-year students with scores in each range

SAT I Verbal
SAT I Math
















Here is the Fall 2014 data from IPEDS:


By the way, does anyone know how to get time series data out of IPEDS?

And here is a relevant table from the 2015-2016 Common Data Set (pdf):sat

1) I apologize that this is such a mish-mash.

2) It is not clear how comparable these numbers are over time. First, the rise of score choice and/or super scoring has made it easier (and more common) for students to take a test multiple times and only report the best results. Second, students are now more likely to take both the SAT and the ACT and either only report one. (Or, they report both and the College only uses the better in its own reporting.) But ignore those complications for now.

3) Scores have increased meaningfully over the last 15 years. But, given 2), I can’t say whether or not this is because the students have gotten smarter. Opinions from readers?


Grade Distribution for 2013–2014

An anonymous professor provided this Williams grade distribution (pdf) for 2013-2014. Comments:

1) Williams should be more transparent, especially with information like this that is available to hundreds of Ephs. (I believe that all members of the faculty are e-mailed a copy.)

2) Summary:


Key question: Has grade inflation at Williams (almost) stopped? Recall this discussion from 8 years ago which quotes a Record article from 2000:

The most frequently given grade in 1999 was an A- and the mean grade hovered just above a B+ at 3.34.

If the average grade since 2000 has only increased from 3.34 to 3.41 then grade inflation, while still a problem, has at least slowed down significantly. The overall average in 2008–2009 was 3.39. Again, the thing I find most embarrassing (and what we need current data about) is the hundreds of A+ grades handed out.

3) The results by Division are consistent with the standard stereotypes.


The most distressing aspect of the differences across Divisions (and across departments) is the bad signals that it sends to students. If a student gets a B+ in an intro Computer Science class but an A in Theatre, she might thing that this means she is “better” at theatre than computer science. Isn’t this one way that Williams guides her on choosing a major that matches her abilities? But, of course, the College is lying to her. She is an average student in computer science and in theatre. Lax grading by the latter is misleading her.

There is much more here. Worth a week to discuss?


April 2012 Faculty Meeting Diversity Presentation

In our on-going efforts to make Williams more transparent, here (pdf) is a 2012 presentation on faculty diversity. A representative chart:



1) Graphs in Excel give me a headache! Please use R, like all the cool kids in the Williams statistics major.

2) I think that “US Minority” includes Asian Americans who are, of course, significantly over-represented among Ph.D. recipients and, I think, on the Williams faculty.

3) What is the latest count of Hispanic professors at Williams? Recall our detective work 11 (!) years ago on the magnificent 14. At that time, we though that these were the only Hispanic faculty at Williams:

Gene Bell-Villada (Romance Languages)
Maria Elena Cepeda (Latino Studies)
Ondine Chavoya (Studio Art)
Joe Cruz (Philosophy and Cognitive Science)
Antonia Foias (Anthropology)
Soledad Fox (Romance Languages)
Berta Jottar (Theater)
Manuel Morales (Biology)
Enrique Peacocke-Lopez (Chemistry)
Ileana Perez Vasquez (Music)
Merida Rua (American Studies and Latino Studies)
Cesar Silva (Math)
Armando Vargas (Comparative Literature)
Carmen Whalen (Latino Studies)

Some of those folks have left. Others have joined. What is the current count?


Neighborhood Reports

The College can not be trusted to maintain public copies of the reports it has made public in the past. So, the responsibility falls to EphBlog. You are welcome, future historians! Below are the most important reports regarding the failed implementation of Neighborhood Housing. There were two interim reports (part I and II) and two final reports (part I and II). The reports were written by the Neighborhood Review Committee in 2009-2010. We provided extensive discussion back in the day. Perhaps the part that is most relevant is the discussion of 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 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.

As true today as it was five years ago. The College only took a decade to realize that we were right about neighborhood housing. We knew it would be a failure and it was. How long until they come to see the benefits of sophomore housing and other changes?


Common Data Sets


The College used to make its entire history of Common Data Sets available. Now it doesn’t. Am I the only person who finds this behavior pathetic?


Honor and Discipline Reports

It is becoming clearer each day that we can not trust the College to maintain public copies of official documents that it has, in the past, made public. Sad! So, before they disappear forever, here are various historical reports from the Honor and Discipline Committee: Honor and Discilpline Report Fall 2003, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2004, Honor and DIscipline Report Fall 2004, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2005, Honor and Discipline Report 2005-2006, Honor and Discipline Report Spring 2007,
Honor and Discipline Report 2007-08 and Honor and Disc Report 2008-09.

A typical example:

A Senior was accused of submitting a paper that included sections of another students’ work as part of a group project. The student admitted to the charge and described particular pressures associated with the assignment that clouded their judgment. The Committee found the student guilty and imposed failure in the course and Disciplinary Probation until graduation.

All hail the Honor and Discipline Committee! They take their job seriously and meet out serious punishment. Although grade inflation has been out of control at Williams for decades, my sense (contrary opinions welcome!) is that the punishment for, say, plagiarism is just as serious now as it was in the 1950s.


Old Common Data Sets

Sadly, it is becoming more and more obvious that we can’t trust Williams to make publicly accessible documents that it has made public in the past. The most obvious example involve the Common Data Sets, which used to go back to 1998 but now only go back to 2011. Isn’t that pathetic? (And, yes, I have e-mailed to complain.) So:

1) Below are permanent copies of what I have now, less they disappear in the future.

2) Note how we have copies for 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, but these PDFs don’t exist on the Williams webpage anymore. Isn’t it sad that, if you want to look at these, you have to come to EphBlog?

A key part of transparency (and taking history seriously) is maintaining permanent copies of public Williams documents.

CDS 2009-2010
CDS 2010-2011
CDS 2011-2012
CDS 2012-2013
CDS 2013-2014
CDS 2014-2015

I think the below links used to work, but they don’t now. I hope to investigate this later.
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5th Year Interim Report

Here is the 2012 Fifth-year Interim Report on Williams, providing an update on issues associated with accreditation NEASC. Lots of good stuff there! Example:



Is the whole document worth a three week review?


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.


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