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Quick Football Update

The football team’s strong season continues. Many of the trends Whitney noted in his post at the beginning of the month have continued. The defense is strong, giving up less than 10 points a game. The offense has continued to be a power house – over 30 points a game. amHerst also is having a good season with a 4-2 record. Both teams have lost to Middlebury, who is 6-0 and seems to be headed to a conference championship. While a conference championship seems like a long shot for the Ephs, the little three title is right in front of them and more importantly, they can be happy for ever by beating amHerst on 11/9. Good luck to the team and all the athletes representing Williams this Fall!

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Shallow Provocateurs

In DDF’s “Weekend Links” post, he included an article written by Wesleyan President Michael Roth link in the Wall Street Journal. The article is a relatively short and interesting read about “why universities need affirmative action for the study of conservative, libertarian and religious ideas.” Here is one quote I would like to highlight:

We are not interested in bringing in ideologues or shallow provocateurs intent on outraging students and winning the spotlight. We want to welcome scholars with a deep understanding of traditions currently underrepresented on our campus (and on many others) and look forward to the vigorous conversations they will inspire.

This principle is something that I hope people of good faith can agree on. What do you think?

Of course, it is a much trickier question to ask, who gets to decide if some one is a “provocateur” or a “scholar”? My answer is that I trust any faculty member to decide if someone is a scholar. I do not trust students to the same degree and I am OK not giving them carte blanche to invite anyone they want to speak on campus.

Regardless of who gets to decide, I am confident that speakers will be invited that some groups will see as a “provocateur.” When that happens, what is the appropriate response? I think there are several options: protest the speaker, provide counter programming that illustrates the “provocateur’s” lack of scholarly bona fides, engage (and defeat) them in the arena of ideas, expose the nefarious motivation behind the people who invited them. However, I do would be extremely hesitant to ban the speaker or allow violent protests to keep the speaker from presenting their view.

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Harvard Wins Anti-Asian Affirmative Action Case

From the Harvard Crimson:

Harvard College’s race-conscious admissions policies do not illegally discriminate against Asian American applicants, federal judge Allison D. Burroughs ruled Tuesday.

The ruling brings an end to this stage of the lawsuit filed against the University by anti-affirmative action group Students for Fair Admissions in 2014. SFFA alleged that the College’s admissions policies discriminate against Asian American applicants by holding them to higher standards. Burroughs, however, found that Harvard’s use of race in its admissions process is legal.

“Ensuring diversity at Harvard relies, in part, on race conscious admissions. Harvard’s admission program passes constitutional muster,” Burroughs wrote in her decision.

See the full decision (pdf) for details. I could spend a week or two going through the decision. Should I? Not sure any commentary would be that different from my five part series last year.

Thanks to David Kane ’58 for the pointer.

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Weekend Links

Wesleyan President Michael Roth writes in the Wall Street Journal about “why universities need affirmative action for the study of conservative, libertarian and religious ideas.”

DOE Office of Civil Rights investigates College’s alleged Title IX violation in discipline case” — good Record coverage from new (?) editor-in-chief Nicholas Goldrosen.

Lovely feel-good column from the Eagle: “As a community welcomes Williams students, they repay the favor with a meal.”

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Elite Admissions Based on Academics Alone

We have covered the Harvard admissions trial a bit at EphBlog. Do readers want more? In the meantime, one of the most interesting exhibits comes from this expert report (pdf):

There would be (shockingly?) few African-Americans or Hispanic students at Harvard if admissions were based solely on academics. If fact, this table is an overestimate since things are worse in the tails and Harvard could admit an entire class from just the top 5% of academic ability. Interestingly, white enrollment is largely unaffected.

Affirmative action at elite schools consists, almost entirely, of replacing Asian-American students with African-American and Hispanic students.

Although we lack the data, the same is almost certainly true at Williams. In fact, it is even worse because Harvard (and Yale and Princeton) accept/enroll not only the (few) African-American/Hispanic students with HYP credentials but also the next few hundreds, i.e., all the African-American/Hispanic applicants with only Williams-level credentials.

Maybe this is good policy. Maybe not. But EphBlog is here to explain exactly what is going on.

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We’re #1 (for the 17th year in a row)

Williams is #1 in the US News ranking, for the 17th year in a row.

For the ninth straight year, Princeton University was named the No. 1 college among national universities, and Williams College was named No. 1 among national liberal arts schools for the 17th year in a row, according to the latest ranking from U.S. News & World Report. Every year, the news outlet publishes what many regard as the gold standard for college rankings in the United States.

Every time that we appear in a sentence like this (with Princeton!), the better for our brand. (And if you find that notion of the College’s “brand” to be distasteful, you are a child. Parents will not pay a quarter million dollars $300,000 for something with a less-than-amazing reputation.)

1) We did a detailed dive into the rankings three years ago. Should we revisit? If so, I would need someone to send me the underlying data. See here and here for previous discussions.

2) Kudos to Maud Mandel, and the rest of the Williams administration. Maintaining the #1 ranking is important, especially for recruiting students who are less rich, less well-educated and less American. There is no better way to get a poor (but really smart) kid from Los Angeles (or Singapore) to consider Williams than to highlight that we are the best college in the country.

3) Many schools do a lot of suspect/sleazy things to improve their rank. Does Williams? Morty, infamously, capped discussion class size at 19 to ensure that the maximum number of classes met this US News cut-off.

4) There is a great senior thesis to be written about the rankings, similar to this article on the US News law school rankings. If you write such a thesis, hundreds of people around the country will read it.

5) Any comments on changes in the rankings below us?

6) Below the break is a copy of the methodology, saved for the benefit of future historians.

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The Real Problem at [Williams] is Not Free Speech

Last week, I came across a thought-provoking article: “The Real Problem at Yale is Not Free Speech,” by Natalia Dashan, published in Palladium. While the article obviously deals with the author’s experiences and observations at Yale, I believe you could replace most of the occurrences of the word Yale with Williams and have an observation that, for me, remains true.

The article is not so much, in my opinion, coming down one way or another on the “free speech debate.” Rather, it’s a look at the same issues said debate takes up through a slightly different paradigm, one that rings more true to my own experiences at Williams than the paradigm of “free speech” ever did. The article’s thesis is this:

Student at “elite” colleges are increasingly rejecting the role of  becoming “the elite,” with all of the privileges and responsibilities that being in the elite comes with. Instead, students frame themselves as underdogs and fighting against the elite. The elite colleges themselves follow suit, purporting to be in line with the students in taking down an oppressive system that they are, inherently, representatives of, causing an identity crisis for colleges today. The result is “controversies about free speech” that are, at heart, more precisely rooted in powerful students at powerful universities presenting themselves as devoid of power.

Phew! If I presented that as a thesis of a paper for class, I’d probably get called out for some much-needed revision. But, the article is a hefty 10,000+ word piece, and it’s worth considering. I do recommend reading it in full, because I’ll be not always reconstructing the arguments as much as pulling out salient bits and considering how they apply to Williams. This week, I’ll look at the first half of the article: the phenomenon of how students present themselves as devoid of power, and why. Next week, I’ll look at the second half, of how that manifests in the “controversies” plaguing Yale/Williams.

A final note: I personally don’t agree with everything in this article. Though I think Ms. Dashan did a great job in terms of it being a feat of long-form publication, it is a bit all over the place, with some points tying into her argument less clearly than others. In other cases, my disagreements might come just from Williams being a different place than Yale. I’m certainly curious to hear everyone else’s thoughts.

After the break, Part One!

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KC Johnson on Oberlin

As a follow up to JCD’s post below (and to WW’s interest in a discussion location), here is a snippet from former Williams professor KC Johnson’s article about Oberlin:

The story, by now, is well-known. A few days after Donald Trump’s election, an underage black Oberlin student attempted to purchase a bottle of wine. The white proprietor of a local store, Gibson’s, refused to sell the wine, prompting the student to try and shoplift it. He and two friends fled the store with the proprietor in pursuit. The arrests of the students prompted protests by other Oberlin students suggesting that the shoplifters were innocent (they weren’t) and that Gibson was racist (it wasn’t).

A senior Oberlin administrator, Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo, joined in the protests. The college ceased purchasing goods and services from Gibson’s—causing the victims of a crime economic harm. And after the college refused to apologize or release a statement denying Gibson’s racist intent, the store, and its owners sued.

Both sides presented mounds of evidence in the 11-day trial. But three items especially stood out.

First: Raimondo maintained that she was a neutral observer at the protest, acting in her official capacity as an Oberlin administrator and only seeking to safeguard the First Amendment rights of the student extremists. But testimony at the trial showed Raimondo handing out flyers denouncing Gibson’s as racist, indicating that she (and through her, the college) endorsed the protesters’ message. Raimondo was also subjected to a brutal cross-examination in which she refused to concede that it was harmful to a business to be falsely accused of racist behavior.

Should we worry? Probably not.

1) Williams has such a strangle-hold on Spring Street that there are very few non-College owned properties for students to protest at. And students are not engaged enough to protest someplace further away.

2) Williams is a much more “conservative” institution than Oberlin, so this SJW nonsense is less a part of the administrative culture.

3) Steve Klass is about a million times smarter than Meredith Raimondo.

4) With Oberlin as an abject example, schools will learn their lesson.

5) Williams students are not nearly as left-wing as Oberlin students.

Or am a too sanguine?

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Atlantic on Admissions, 2

This Atlantic article about legacy admissions is a mess, but it does have a couple of interesting data points. Day 2 of 2.

From the article:

Yale is an interesting case study. The school currently gives the children of alumni an admissions bump, but from 1980 to 2010, the proportion of students in its freshman class with a parent who also attended dropped from 24 percent to 13 percent.

1) Just because Yale tells a gullible Atlantic reporter something — like that it does not discriminate against Asian-Americans — does not make that something true. Yale has many reasons, mostly related to fund-raising, to claim that it gives legacies a “bump,” even if — especially if! — the bump is so small as to be invisible.

2) I don’t think the drop at Williams has been so dramatic, but there has been a drop. I think a recent class was only 10% legacy, whereas the usual number was closer to 15%. I don’t know what it was in the 80’s, although that information is available in the library in the annual letters that the Admissions Office used to produce for the trustees. On my list of projects for reunion week-end!

3) The numbers for Yale help to explain the dramatic increase in legacy quality at Yale. (We don’t have Yale data but there is no reason why the trends would not be the same there as at Harvard/Williams.) First, if you only take half as many legacies, you can reject the really stupid ones. Second, the doubling of the Yale undergraduate class size from the 60s to the 80s means that there are, more or less, twice as many legacies to choose from. Third, Yale students in the 80s are much smarter than those from the 50s, so their children will form a much more academically accomplished pool to choose from.

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Atlantic on Admissions, 1

This Atlantic article about legacy admissions is a mess, but it does have a couple of interesting data points. Day 1 of 2.

Applying to college as a legacy is like having a superpower. It has been estimated to double or quadruple one’s chances of getting into a highly selective school, and has been found to be roughly equivalent to a 160-point boost on the SAT.

I need to re-work my annual post on legacy admissions to deal more directly with (excellent!) comments/criticisms from folks like abl. In the meantime, can we agree that the above is incredibly misleading? The average SAT score for Williams legacies is higher than the average for non-legacies. Nor is this only a Williams phenomenon:

And a Harvard spokesperson told me that admitted legacies tend to have higher median test scores and grades than the rest of admitted students. This doesn’t make the admissions advantage that legacies are given defensible, but it’s possibly another reason that the status quo of legacy admissions persists.

Now “admitted students” are not the same as “enrolled students,” which is the real comparison we want. But Harvard enrolls 80%+ of its admitted students, so the statistics for admitted students are very likely to be similar to those of enrolled students. Moreover, it is not obvious which way any differences would go.

The question is that same as before. If, among enrolled students, the average Harvard legacy scores 1500 (or whatever), and the average non-legacy scores 1480, how much of a preference could being a legacy possibly be?

Entire article below the break:

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Restoring Free Speech

From The Wall Street Journal last month:

While opinions differ sharply about President Trump, everyone can agree he speaks plainly. On Thursday he issued an executive order supporting free speech on campus.

It is too early to say how much good the president’s executive order will do, but it was long past time for the federal government to face up to the rot of political correctness and intolerance that is subverting the American educational establishment. There are some points of light. The so-called Chicago Statement, for example, named for a declaration of principle from the University of Chicago, embraces open and robust debate even about subjects that “some or even by most members of the University community [find] offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.” Several institutions have endorsed that document.

But many others, including some of the most prestigious, reject it outright. Students and professors at Williams College, confronted with an initiative to adopt the Chicago principles last year, took “grave issue” with its “premises” and warned of “the potential harm it may inflict upon our community.” You might have thought that supporting free speech was an obvious good. Not so fast. The Williams activists declared that the notion “has been co-opted by right-wing and liberal parties as a discursive cover for racism, xenophobia, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and classism.”

The authors of the Williams counterpetition made a show of demanding greater diversity at the 226-year-old Western Massachusetts school. But it’s long been obvious that calls for “diversity” usually amount to demands for strict intellectual and moral conformity on contentious issues. By that inverted standard, a campus is more “diverse” the fewer voices it tolerates.

This is precisely the situation that the president’s executive order promoting free speech on campus is designed to address. That its effect is likely to be more hortatory than coercive may be an advantage, not a liability, since serious reform of these institutions will come about not from the imposition of a law but a change of heart. The prospect of losing federal dollars is one sort of incentive. The spectacle of those passionate, articulate and besieged young students may prove to be an even greater one.

The only “change of heart” I have seen at Williams over the last 30 years is an ever-increasing restriction about what students, or their invited guests, are allowed to say. Will Maud Mandel change that? I don’t know. Any rumors on how the process is going?

Meanwhile, things have gone from bad to worse at Middlebury:

Middlebury College has canceled [yesterday] a campus speech by conservative Polish Catholic philosopher Ryszard Legutko in response to planned protests by liberal activists.

A professor of philosophy at Jagiellonian University and a member of the European Parliament, Legutko was scheduled to speak Wednesday at the Vermont college’s Alexander Hamilton Forum, delivering a lecture entitled “The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.”

The liberal activists took issue with Legutko’s pointed critiques of multiculturalism, feminism, and homosexuality, calling them “homophobic, racist, xenophobic, [and] misogynistic.”

“Inquiry, equity, and agency cannot be fostered in the same space that accepts and even elevates homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic discourse,” they demand. “Bigotry of any kind should not be considered a form of inquiry.”

The chairmen of both departments denied the activists requests, defending the event on grounds of academic freedom. But hours before the event was scheduled, Middlebury Provost Jeff Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Baishakhi Taylor sent a campus-wide email indicating the lecture was canceled.

NESCAC schools may have started by banning people like John Derbyshire. They are now banning (right-wing) members of the European parliament. Where will this end?

I am having breakfast with one of the most powerful Middlebury alumni on Friday. What questions should I ask him?

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College Admission Bribery Scandal

From the Wall Street Journal: Federal Prosecutors Charge Dozens in College Admissions Cheating Scheme

From the New York Times: College Admissions Scandal: Actresses, Business Leaders and Other Wealthy Parents Charged

1) This is the biggest college admissions scandal of the last 20 years. Crazy stuff!

2) Alas (???), there is not (yet?) a Williams connection, unless someone can identify an Eph in this list of the (so far!) indicted.

3) I could spend a week or two parsing these articles and connecting them to various EphBlog themes. Worth it?

Full articles below the break:
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Harvard Admissions Trial, 5

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 5.

The Harvard Crimson‘s coverage of the trial has been excellent. My favorite article so far:

Getting into Harvard is hard. But it’s a lot less hard if your family promises to pay for a new building, according to internal emails presented in court on the third day of the Harvard admissions trial.

Same for Williams. You really think that applicants named Hollander or Horn are treated the same as everyone else? Ha! My best guess — and I don’t have good information on this one — is that between 5 and 20 of the students in each Williams class would not have been admitted were it not for their families being major donors, or potential donors. Other estimates? abl?

The handful of emails — most of them sent between administrators and admissions officers — hint at the College’s behind-the-scenes fondness for applicants whose admission yields certain practical perks. Hughes referenced the emails as he quizzed Fitzsimmons on the “Dean’s Interest List,” a special and confidential list of applicants Harvard compiles every admissions cycle.

1) Never put something in an e-mail that you wouldn’t want to be read out loud by your worst enemy in open court.

2) At Williams, the lingo is “development or future fundraising potential,” although, back in the day, folks in the admissions office used to refer to a rich-but-not-very-qualified applicant as a “Morty Special.”

“Once again you have done wonders. I am simply thrilled about the folks you were able to admit,” Ellwood wrote in the email. “[Redacted] and [redacted] are all big wins. [Redacted] has already committed to a building.”

If you don’t think that there are similar e-mails floating around the Williams computer system, you are naive. Helpful advice to new General Counsel Jamie Art: Time for some spring cleaning before Williams gets involved in this sort of litigation.

Yet another email Hughes read aloud Wednesday offered a window into how Harvard courts candidates whose families have deep ties to the University — and even deeper pockets.

After the family of an unidentified applicant donated $1.1 million to the school, former head tennis coach David R. Fish ’72 treated that candidate to a special tour of campus.

Who remembers this fun discussion from EphBlog 13 years ago?

For Sam Dreeben ’06, the July 12 campus tour was already unusual. With a tour group of undercover College dignitaries — President Schapiro and the Schow family — and unsuspecting prospective students, his job as a guide was to make Williams seem an idyllic mountain paradise of academic excellence.

Which, of course, it is. But big donors make the paradise possible, so take care of them we must.

Read the rest of the Crimson‘s coverage for more fun details.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 4

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 4.

Yesterday, I wrote (slight edit):

If admitted students in a category, like legacies, have similar academic qualifications than other students in the class then, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.

This seems obvious to me. Now, a nihilist might disagree, might claim that the “holistic” admissions that Harvard and Williams practice make it impossible to compare categories. The galaxy brain of Admissions Director Sulgi Kim ’06 is a multi-splendored emerald of infinite complexity. Mere mortals can no more discern its inner workings than dogs can interpret the movements of the heavenly spheres. I think this position is nuts — and both sides of the Harvard case disagree with it, hence all the regression modelling and expert testimony — but it is logically consistent.

abl, one of EphBlog’s best writers, disagrees with me about legacies:

That’s not true. If literally every legacy applicant was an AR1 and AR2, and legacies were guaranteed admission, you would simultaneously see (1) that legacies have, on average, higher academic credentials than the average student (because the average student at Williams is not an AR1 / AR2); (2) that legacies received a large boost in admissions (because a 100% acceptance rate would represent a very significant advantage for AR1 and AR2 applicants).

[A]ny proportionate (or disproportionately high) number of legacy high performers in the class does not imply that legacy applicants are given no meaningful advantage in the process.

abl continues:

My point is that, without inside knowledge of the process, or without very good knowledge of the applicant pool and relative admit rates, it’s difficult to look at the class of admitted students and draw these sorts of inferences about the advantage of applying as a legacy student.

This is dangerously close to the Sulgi Kim Inestimable Galaxy Brain view of admissions. I have (almost) no “inside knowledge” of the process and not “very good knowledge” of the applicant pool. Almost all my information comes from public statements by college officials. Are you claiming that I can’t know — without inside knowledge — that Williams provides significant advantages to recruited athletes and African-Americans? And, if you agree that I can make those judgments, just what is stopping me from making a judgment, using the same tools and analysis, about the lack of advantages given to legacy applicants?

abl is certainly correct (and he uses a similar example later in his excellent comment) that weird stuff might be happening behind the scenes. There are 55 legacies in the class of 2021. Perhaps 35 are AR1 geniuses, applicants who were also accepted at HYPS but turned them down to come to Williams. The other 20 are AR4 chuckleheads, who never would have gotten in if it were not for their legacy status. This scenario would create a group (55 legacies) with similar academic credentials to the class as a whole, but it would still be the case that 20 of them received a “meaningful” admissions advantage (and 35 did not).

I agree that this is possible, but it also strikes me as highly unlikely. The world is a continuous place.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 3

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 3.

In the last two days, we have established two key facts about legacy students at places like Williams and (?) Harvard. First, legacies — meaning the children and grandchildren of graduates — are about 10% to 20% of each class. Second, legacies as a whole have more impressive academic credentials — meaning test scores and high school grades — than non-legacies.

Is legacy versus non-legacy an apples-to-apples comparison? Probably not. Legacies are whiter, richer and less athletic than the class as a whole. Since all those things make it harder to gain admissions, we really ought to compare legacy students to a “matched” group of non-legacy students, a group with the same distribution of characteristics like race, family income and athletic ability. That would help us to determine if legacies get an advantage or not.

Note that the argument can also go the other way. Consider the case of “development” admits, students who would not have gotten in if their families were not major donors, or at least potential donors. Such admissions are much more likely to be legacy students. But they aren’t getting accepted because of their legacy status. It is their families wealth that is getting them in. They still would have gotten in, regardless of where their parents went to college. Without the family wealth, however, they would have been rejected.

The expert testimony in the Harvard trial tries to tease apart these effects using a regression analysis. We can dive into the details, if anyone is interested.

For me, the key point is the following: Any category of applicants which receives a meaningful advantage in admissions — recruited athletes, racial minorities, billionaire families — will have lower academic qualifications than the class as a whole. If a category, like legacies, has similar academic qualifications than, almost by definition, they did not received a large advantage in admissions.

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 2

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 2.

Yesterday, we confirmed that 10% to 20% of each class at elite colleges like Harvard and Williams are “legacy,” meaning students with a parent (or sometimes just a grandparent) who attended the college. Today, we review how much being a legacy affects one’s chances at admissions.

The brute fact is that the average Williams legacy is more academically impressive — higher SAT/ACT scores, better high school grades, more impressive teacher recommendations, et cetera — than the average non-legacy. Whatever advantages legacies have in the admissions process is de minimus. The same is almost certainly true at places like Harvard. Razib is wrong when he writes:

I think the current lawsuit may win on the merits, but the “Deep Oligarchy” is more powerful than the judiciary or the executive branch. If, on the other hand, Harvard gets rid of legacies and special backdoor admissions, I’ll admit I was wrong, and the chosen have lost control of the system. As long as legacies and backdoor admissions continue, you know that the eyes are on the prize of power and glory.

Harvard and Williams have, already, gotten “rid of legacies” in terms of this being something that matters significantly in admissions. Let’s review the story at Williams.

1) Back in the 1980s and before, legacy was a significant advantage in admissions, partly because there were so few high quality legacy applicants. These were the children of the 50s graduates, an era when lots of not-too-smart men attended Williams.

2) Things began to change in the 90s and 00s. First, the raw number of alumni grew significantly. (Williams doubled in size, mainly as a result of the move to co-education.) The pool of legacies doubled in size as well. Second, the academic quality of the students was much higher in the 60s and 70s, which led to smarter children. Rising numbers and quality of legacy applicants meant that Williams could become more choosy. And so we did. From 2008:

Morty [then-President of Williams] noted that a decade or so ago [or perhaps when he arrived?], the average legacy was a 3.3 on the 1-9 scale of academic ranks while the average non-legacy was 2.3. Morty did not seem to be a huge fan of this gap, or of giving legacies such a preference. He then noted that the latest statistics show that legacy and non-legacy are now equivalent (both at 2.3). Morty confirmed, consistent with all the analysis I have done, that being a legacy is not a meaningful advantage in getting into Williams. Morty noted that the way that some people measure this — by comparing the general admissions rate (16%) with the legacy admission rate (40%?) — was misleading because legacy applicants are often told ahead of time that they have no chance. So, they don’t apply and/or withdraw their applications, thus artificially increasing the legacy acceptance rate. Non-legacies with no chance are not given this inside scoop. They just apply and get rejected.

3) All those trends have continued to this day. From 2017:

I [Director of Communication Mary Detloff] had a conversation with [Director of Admissions] Dick Nesbitt about this, and he says it has long been our policy not to release academic standing information for specific subgroups of students. That said, he also shared that for at least the last 20 years, the legacy students have had equal, if not marginally stronger, SAT scores and Academic Rating when compared to the rest of their classmates.

4) I have had off-the-record conversations which suggest that, for the class of 2021, the 10% of students who are legacy have meaningfully stronger academic credentials than the 90% who are not legacy. This is precisely what the trend over the last 30 years would have led us to expect. Williams classes in the late 1980s were filled with smart people. Although I can’t find fecundity data, I bet that there are at least 500 (or more like 1,000?) 18-year-olds each year who are Eph legacies. Regression to the mean is brutal, but it only occurs on average. It is hardly surprising of 50 to 100 of those children would be as smart (or smarter) than their parents. Williams won’t get all of these, of course, but it will have scores of great applicants to choose from. (And the exact same math applies at Harvard.)

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Harvard Admissions Trial, 1

See The Wall Street Journal for background on the Harvard admissions trial which starts this week. Best commentary is from Razib Khan at Gene Expression. Should we provide daily coverage, connecting news from the courtroom to EphBlog’s coverage of admissions issues at Williams over the last 15 years? In the meantime, let’s spend this week reviewing some of aspects of the debate. Day 1.

How much does being a legacy matter? First, the Harvard Crimson causes confusion with charts like this:

This suggests that more than 1/3 of Harvard students are “legacy” since it implies that everyone not in the first bar belongs in that category. But that is nonsense! Legacy, at places like Williams and Harvard, has a fairly precise meaning: one or both of your parents attended the college. (Admittedly, sometimes having a grandparent (but not a parent) will get you included as well, but no one counts you as a legacy if all you have is an aunt or twin sister at the school.) The Crimson’s chart presentation, which includes double-counting, makes it hard to see the truth. (I also suspect that some (many?) students misunderstand the Crimson’s wording and answer “Yes” if their mom went to Harvard Law School. Having a parent who attended a university’s professional schools does not make you a “legacy” for the purposes of undergraduate admissions.)

Williams admissions (pdf) are 10% — 15% legacy.

Harvard and Yale have a similar percentage of legacies, as The Crimson reported in 2011:

[Harvard Dean of Admisssions William] Fitzsimmons also said that Harvard’s undergraduate population is comprised of approximately 12 to 13 percent legacies, a group he defined as children of Harvard College alumni and Radcliffe College alumnae. . . . [Yale Dean of Admissions] Brenzel reported that Yale legacies comprise less than 10 percent of the class, according to Kahlenberg.

This is, obviously, very consistent with what Williams has been doing for (at least!) 30 years. I can’t find a clear statement of the percentage of legacies in the 6 Harvard classes covered by this trial, but my back-of-the-envelope calculation puts it at around 12%, similar to what the Crimson reported in 2011 and what we know about Williams.

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Breaking News: USN&WR Rankings are Out! Purple #1.

A new system tried.

 

… however, new results seem strangely familiar.

 

Your observations?  I call your attention to ‘Best Value Schools’.

 

 

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 8

Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 8.

Seery has lots of complaints about the current crop of elite liberal arts college presidents.

Of the top ten best-paid SLAC presidents, nine had absolutely no prior experience in a SLAC, either as a student or professor, before being named president of one. None of the ten best-paid SLAC presidents had been a SLAC professor in his/her previous curriculum vitae. (One of the top ten had been an undergraduate at a SLAC; that’s the sum total of the collective liberal arts experience.)

Adam Falk was probably included in this analysis. He certainly had no small college experience prior to Williams.

Now, I imagine that some of my market-minded friends might jump in at this point to lecture me about the irresistible market forces that have virtually compelled these presidents to accept these lavish salaries so prudently offered to them. . . . Turns out on closer inspection, however, that none of these SLAC presidents on the 2014 compensation scale was ever a CEO in the business world (nor do any former SLAC presidents get CEO-business offers upon retiring), so the “market pressures” for ratcheting up salaries come largely from some conjured trajectory from within academe.

Correct! This is a fight that I get into all the time. There is no such thing as a “market” for college presidents.

1) There are way more plausible applicants than there are positions. Virtually every current Provost and Dean of the Faculty at all 11 NESCAC schools is a reasonable candidate for the Williams presidency. Alas, we can’t hire all 22 of them! Consider the 10 candidates on the short list for the Williams presidency. The vast majority will never be a college president.

2) There is no good way to forecast presidential performance. You can talk about a market for baseball players because it is possible to forecast their future performance based on their recent (documented and objective!) performance. Players who hit a lot of homers last year are likely to hit a lot of homers next year. There is nothing like that when it comes to administrators. No one on Earth knows, for example, who of the 11 NESCAC provosts has done the best job in the last year. Almost no one can even name half of them!

3) It is very hard to measure presidential performance. Who is, today, the best NESCAC president? No one knows! Only a handful of people can even name all 11 presidents. (I can’t name more than 3.)

Should I rant longer on this topic?

UPDATE: This post was originally scheduled to appear on February during our series on Seery. I will change the date on it so it fits in better there.

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Vanderbilt Better Than Williams?

As usual, the comment threads at EphBlog make for the best reading. Consider this one, which covers a lot of ground but focuses on how Williams is doing relative to its peers. Consider Vanderbilt:

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The comparable data from Williams, for the 2016-2017 school year, is (pdf):

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How can Vanderbilt (math+verbal) SAT scores have a 25th/75th percentile split of 1420-1590 while Williams is at 1330-1540!?!

I am honestly flummoxed . . .

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Chicago Drops SAT, 5

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 5.

What will Williams do?

Robert Schaeffer of FairTest: the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, predicted others would follow Chicago’s decision. He said Chicago’s decision was “potentially a huge ‘ice-breaker’ for ultraselective institutions. Several other schools in this category are re-examining their admissions exam requirements but have been hesitant to go first.”

Schaeffer is a longtime critic of the SAT.

1) Williams is “conservative,” compared to its elite peers, so, if any school follows Chicago’s lead, it won’t be us. We also don’t have a history of chasing PC fads like this one. Might Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Liz Creighton ’01 be cut from different cloth than her predecessors like Dick Nesbitt ’74, Tom Parker ’69 and Phil Smith ’58? Might new President Maud Mandel want to make a splash? Perhaps. But EphBlog bets the other way.

2) Williams should continue to use the SAT/ACT, along with other standardized tests like the SAT subject tests, the APs, the international baccalaureates and so on. They work! They aren’t perfect. But students who score well on these tests do, on average, much better than students who score poorly.

3) Other elite schools are unlikely to follow Chicago’s lead, precisely because they are so committed to admitting weaker students. It’s a paradox, but true!

If you are happy to only take the students with strong high school transcripts, your job is easy. There are thousands of students who go to elite high schools, both public (any high school in a rich town, exam schools like Stuyvesant) or private (Andover, Exeter, Raffles). Just take the ones at the top. The problem, alas, is that such students are much less likely to have the characteristics you also want: elite athlete, poor/uneducated parents and/or black/Hispanic. These students are more likely to be found at weaker high schools, places where the transcript is hard to evaluate. SAT/ACT scores are most valuable for choosing among those students.

You can argue (incorrectly!) that the SAT/ACT is biased against, say, low income applicants relative to high income applicants. (Perhaps it is!) But, once you have made the macro decision to have 20% (or whatever) of you class consistent of such students, you should pick the ones with the highest scores (and best grades). They are much more likely to do better, at either Williams or Chicago.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 4

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 4.

James G. Nondorf is either a knave or a fool.

In addition, the university announced a new program in which it will invite students to submit a two-minute video introduction of themselves. And the university will allow self-submission of transcripts to minimize the need for students to pay fees.

“Today, many underresourced and underrepresented students, families and school advisers perceive top-ranked colleges as inaccessible if students do not have the means to help them stand out in the application process,” said James G. Nondorf, vice president and dean of admissions at Chicago. He added that UChicago Empower, as the initiatives are collectively being called, “levels the playing field, allowing first-generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you — you define the application.”

“You define the application”?!? What sort of gibberish is that?

Nondorf strikes me as a hustling self-promoter, using the resources of Chicago to promote his own brand. Or he’s just stupid:

Many colleges have found that students’ transcripts — their high-school grades and rigor of courses — are the most-valuable predictors of future performance. “The transcript tells such a powerful story for us,” Nondorf said. “We went from department to department to see who the stars were. Does testing tell us who’s going to be the best art historian? The answer is No.”

Restricted range, anyone? Consider height in basketball. Being tall is (obviously!) a huge advantage in basketball, at every level of the game. But, within each level, height is poorly correlated with success because everyone at that level is tall. In the NBA, for example, there is very little (any?) correlation between height and salary. The range of height in the NBA is too narrow to fully see the importance of height to success.

The same applies to the importance of SAT/ACT scores at Chicago. If 25% of Chicago students score above 1550, then SAT scores will not be a good predictor of the best student in each department, just like height is a bad predictor of who is the best player on each NBA team.

Going forward, I predict that students who did not submit their scores to Chicago when applying will almost never “be the best art historian.”

But the most annoying aspect of Nondorf’s changes is the option — which many students will consider to be a requirement — for submitting a two minute video.

1) As if the college application process is not stressful enough already!

2) As if college consultants — and the college counselors at elite high schools — will not quickly game this process, helping their clients/students produce amazing videos, especially ones that appear to be done solely by the student.

3) As if a video is a useful admissions tool. There is a reason why the vast majority of elite colleges no longer use interviews, either at all (like Williams) or as any part of their decision-making (Harvard). Interviews don’t work!

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Chicago Drops SAT, 3

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 3.

Jeff Rubel ’18 tweets:

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Rubel is an EphBlog favorite and (normally!) sophisticated observer. How can he be so naive to think that this is all about “increasing accessibility?”

1) Chicago could just put much less weight on the SAT/ACT, going so far as to accept dozens of students with very low scores. Its current reasoning is similar to the tripe from Harvard/Princeton a decade ago about how early admissions provided an unfair advantage to rich kids. It may have, but the only reason for that was Harvard/Princeton’s own policies! They could have kept early admissions and just raised the standards. A simple way to tell if policy X is pointless virtue-signaling is to see if there was an easy way to accomplish the same thing without the fancy press release.

2) Chicago could just stop accepting the SAT/ACT.

Chicago officials analyzed plenty of internal data, Nondorf explained. “You spend a lot of time looking at students who don’t do well,” he said. What parts of their applications might have indicated early on that they would struggle? “It certainly wasn’t testing,” Nondorf said.

So why are you even accepting SAT/ACT scores at all? If scores have no power in predicting who will do well at Chicago, if they are no more valid than horoscopes, then you should not accept them in the first place.

That Chicago still accepts (and uses!) SAT/ACT scores for admissions tells me that, in fact, they are predictive (which we already know) of college performance.

3) Rubel could defend Chicago by claiming that, by not requiring the SAT/ACT, they allow students who have not taken them to apply. But that is nonsense since such students, if they want to attend an elite school, will (almost) have to take the SAT/ACT since they can’t only apply to Chicago. They might (likely will!) get rejected. Chicago will get virtually no applications from students who haven’t taken the SAT/ACT.

4) Rubel most likely means to argue that, by allowing some students to not submit scores, Chicago is “increasing accessibility” because it will end up admitting a different class than it would have under its previous policy. And that is true! But it did not need to stop accepting the SAT/ACT to achieve that goal. It could have just put less weight on it, even zero weight for certain types of students.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 2

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 1.

Several experts predicted that other top universities might now reconsider testing requirements.

1) I doubt it!

2) Reporter Scott Jaschik does a nice job, but the “experts” he tends to rely on are not nearly cynical/skeptical enough for my tastes.

3) Look at history of virtue-signally by elite colleges. The most relevant example was Harvard’s decision in 2006 to end early admissions. We noted that this was PC nonsense and we predicted, at the time, that Harvard would reverse the decision as soon as it became obvious how harmful it was to recruiting the best students. And, sure enough, that was what Harvard did.

When push comes to shove, elite colleges won’t allow PC gestures to meaningfully impact their student quality.

Prediction: The University of Chicago is treating us all to a real world example of the power of adverse selection. As long as other schools use SAT/ACT scores, they will know to reject the student with a tough-to-evaluate high school transcript but low scores. Chicago won’t have that option (assuming it really implements the policy). Such students will, on average, not send in their scores. Chicago will be more likely to admit them and, perhaps even worse, yield them once they are accepted (since they won’t be accepted at any other elite school).

4) How long with the experiment last? Tough to say. Harvard/Princeton could quickly see that a lack of early decision was causing them to lose lots of highly desirable applicants to their competitors. Chicago will not get such quick feedback. Indeed, it will be hard to see the drop in student quality quickly. In fact, the professors in the tougher majors — the ones most likely (?) to complain about a drop in student quality — are the least likely to notice it because weaker students will gravitate toward easier courses/majors.

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Chicago Drops SAT, 1

The University of Chicago no longer requires the SAT/ACT. More background here, here, here and here. Let’s discuss for a week. Day 1.

The University of Chicago on Thursday morning announced that it was dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

Hundreds of colleges — including elite liberal arts colleges — have stopped requiring the SAT or ACT. But Chicago’s move is the first by one of the very top research universities in the country. And the move is striking coming from an institution, known for its academic rigor, that has had no difficulty attracting top applicants.

For the class that enrolled in September 2017, the university received 27,694 applicants and admitted 2,419. The middle 50 percent of the range of SAT scores of admitted applicants was 1460 to 1550.

1) Surprising news! Elite schools almost always require the SAT/ACT because standardized test scores are a useful — albeit not perfect — tool for forecasting performance in college. This is all the more true when considering applicants from below-average high schools. An applicant being valedictorian in his 50 student senior class in Nowhere, Iowa tells you little. Such an applicant with a 1,600 SAT (math + verbal) tells you a lot.

2) The news is all the more surprising coming from Chicago. If you told me that a top college/university had dropped the SAT/ACT and asked me to predict which one, Chicago would have been about my last guess.

First, it is famously “conservative,” at least in the context of elite education, and (in)famous for mocking the politically correct pieties of its peers: safe spaces, trigger warnings, etc. Although the use of standardized testing is not exactly a political issue, I definitely associate it with more liberal/progressive schools. If forced to guess, I would have gone with Brown or Swarthmore.

Second, Chicago makes many fewer concessions to non-academic criteria than other elite schools, especially when it comes to athletic recruitment. Schools like Williams already concede that the SAT/ACT are not that important, which is why the bottom 1/4 of the class is allowed to have such low scores. The middle 50% range of SAT scores at Williams is (pdf) 1400 to 1570 (approximately). The top of the Williams distribution is higher but we are willing to go much lower in order to get students we want.

3) This decision is similar to how Williams, and many other elite schools, dropped the SAT subject test requirements a few years ago. I was indifferent to that change because, if you already know a student’s high school transcript and SAT/ACT scores and AP scores, it is plausible that the marginal information you gain from knowing the SAT II scores is close to zero.

This case is trickier because, without any standardized test scores, it is very hard to determine the quality of applicants from non-feeder high schools.

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Williams MBB in NESCAC Final

The Williams Men’s Basketball Team is in the NESCAC finals today (gametime: 2:30pm EST) against Wesleyan.  Williams and Wesleyan split their two previous games this season with both, I think, going into overtime.  It’s likely that both teams will get a bid to the NCAA tournament regardless of today’s result (and will likely get high seeds), but it’s likely that Williams/Wesleyan are playing for home court advantage through later rounds of the tourney — so there are real stakes here.

You can watch the free, and reasonably high-quality, live stream here: https://www.nsnsports.net/conferences/nescac/.

EDIT: early in the second half, Williams is up 35-27.

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 9

Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 9.

Seery writes beautifully about the ideal of a liberal arts college:

The smallness facilitates face-to-face forms of teaching and learning. It thus showcases an interactive mix of personalism, relationalism, and localism. Persons get to know each other as unique individuals, as part of this unique class here-and-now, as part of this particular college, a college like no other, situated in this part of the country, with these or that local and regional distinguishing features, customs, and aspirations. You don’t just take a Shakespeare class from some carbon-copy, transportable, standard-issue Shakespeare professor. Rather, you take that particular Shakespeare course because it’s being taught by a professor who has become a local celebrity of sorts (but unsung otherwise) because of the way she’s taught the course, with scholarly insights and idiosyncratic twists and inventive accommodations, always displaying a teacherly attentiveness that takes into crucial account the indispensably unique individuals in front of her in that particular class in that particular year. Over time the course becomes steeped in surrounding local traditions and lore, and in turn creates its own tradition and lore, radiating outward from her teaching brilliance, which then contributes to the overall character of the college. Such a classroom is the moral center of the college. Everything else is ancillary.

Indeed. But you can be certain that the next Williams president will agree with every word, as she should.

Seery offers limited advice:

Pause to ponder this well: many American small colleges are in a death spiral (admittedly not Pomona and other elite schools) precisely during a period when presidential salaries are zooming skyward. It doesn’t have to be this way. I pinch myself with gratitude after every seminar with my students. The classroom is and must be the moral center of a college. That’s where the action is. That’s where the priorities must be placed. That’s what must be protected and promoted. We need college leadership that believes in providing the right kind of modern bang for the buck, with budgetary sobriety starting at the top.

And the Patriots lost the Super Bowl “during a period when” Mars was in Scorpius. Two true facts often have nothing to do with one another. That third tier liberal arts colleges are failing (true) has no connection with rising (and absurd) presidential salaries at places like Pomona/Williams.

Nothing resembling “budgetary sobriety” is on the horizon. The only (likely forlorn) hope is that a visionary board/president institute following policies:

1) Fix the current number of non-faculty employees at its current level. EphBlog was recommending that policy 13 years ago. The Trustees should not micro-manage the institution, but fixing the headcount is a perfect trustee-level way of attacking the problem.

2) Ratchet down the total number of non-faculty employees by 1% each year. More than 1% of the staff leave each year, either via retirement or voluntary departure, so this would require no firings. A 1% drop each year is imperceptible, but, in a decade or two, we will have made real progress.

3) Recruit the faculty to do more. Lots of faculty have no interest in anything but their teaching and research. And that is OK! But dozens of faculty would be eager to take a turn as, say, an assistant Dean of the College or assistant Provost.

What concrete advice would readers have for Seery?

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 7

Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 7.

The real reason tuitions are skyrocketing and educational integrity has been compromised is because administrators, not educators, now run the show, all across America. They call the shots. They build the fancy buildings. They call for and approve the costly amenities. They fund what they want to fund. They hire the people they want to hire and pay them top dollar. They make the decisions about branding campaigns, and they set the agenda for student affairs staffs. They fund the kind of curriculum they want. They control the purse strings. They hold the power.

No. No. No. Even if I ran Williams, tuition would still be as high as it is now. Williams, like all elite colleges, is a luxury good, and all luxury goods come with high prices, almost by definition. Seery has the causation exactly backwards. Williams doesn’t increase tuition because it wants costly amenities. It has the money for costly amenities because it has increased tuition. (Indeed, liberal arts colleges that have tried to differentiate themselves by having lower tuition have found that students react negatively, that students use price as a signal. A Williams that only charged $30,000 would enroll lower quality students.)

That pyramidal model in which intellectual labor is transferred from the faculty to the president and his administrators and their strategic plans systematically siphons money and attention and purpose away from what matters most, the classroom.

“Intellectual labor?” What is Seery talking about. Nothing prevents Seery, in his own classes, from being just as good a teacher today as we was 30 years ago. Maybe (maybe!) he has more meetings to attend now than he did then, but that effect is trivial, and more than made up by the decrease in his teaching load. How much “money” does he need to teach political science? Who is stealing his “attention and purpose?”

To the extent things have changed for the worse in his classroom, Seery, and no one else, deserves most/all of the blame.

Historically, SLAC alumni have donated to their small colleges because they genuinely believed in the small-college, residential, face-to-face, liberal arts form of education.

Yeah, maybe. Do people donate to Yale or to the University of Texas or to Andover for different reasons? I don’t think so. People donate to institutions to which they feel a personal connection and whose mission they support.

The current crop of SLAC presidents are (with a few possible exceptions) no longer fellow travelers and true believers in that cause. Their words ring hollow. Yet their pocketbooks grow fat. That alumni donations have dropped off dramatically in the past twenty years at SLACs across the country should come as no great surprise.

Seery is much more cynical than I. I believe (most of) what Adam Falk and Tiku Majumder (and Pomona President Gabrielle Starr) say about the importance of small classes, faculty interaction, and the whole liberal arts college shtick. Who doesn’t think that small classes are good?

Seery is also sloppy in claiming that “alumni donations have dropped off dramatically in the past twenty years.” First, is that even true? I doubt it. My sense (contrary opinions welcome) is that Williams has raised much more money — even in inflation-adjusted dollars — over the last 10 years than in the decade prior, and in the last 20 years relative to any 20 year period before 1998. SLACs have tons of money to spend on all the things that Seery and I hate precisely because they have become such efficient find-raising machines. Second, it is true that there has been a drop in the rate of alumni giving. But, I think that there are many more plausible explanations for that than concern over administrative empire building — none of which the vast majority of alumni know anything about — and, more importantly, the college doesn’t really care if the rate of small-dollar gifts has declined from 60% to 50%.

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 6

Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 6.

Critics of American higher education these days frequently call for the entire edifice to be disrupted and dismantled on the grounds that tenured radicals promoting “political correctness” run the show and create an atmosphere that silences dissenting views. But that’s an outdated and misdirected critique.

Really? Doesn’t seem outdated to me! Williams bans speakers. Here’s what happened at Pomona just a year ago:

As the 2017 school year came to a close, protesters at Pomona College staged a sit-in, symbolically unregistered themselves from sociology classes and called for rescinding a visiting scholar post that was awarded to Alice Goffman, a white sociologist who chronicled the impact of prison and policing on black youth. In an open letter to the sociology department they demanded “peer-appointed influential student positions on the hiring committee.”

Sure sounds like an “atmosphere that silences dissenting views.” And Goffman is a liberal! Imagine what would have happened if Pomona had tried to hire a conservative — much less someone who voted for Trump!

First, tenure is fading; only 24 percent of undergraduate college courses in the U.S. are taught by tenured or tenure-track professors.

Again, Seery conflates two separate issues: what is happening in colleges in general (the decimation of tenure) versus what is happening at places like Pomona/Williams (tenure as strong as ever). If anything, tenure protections (or at least faculty confidence) are stronger now than 30 years ago, at least at Williams, because the rate at which tenure is granted has increased from 20% to 80%, approximately.

Second, the professorial radicals who came of age in the sixties are retired or dead, and professors who have achieved tenure subsequently have often acceded to the new Administrative Order of academe. Yes, there remain professors who espouse crazy theories, but not to the point that such textbook radicalism would threaten their jobs.

Are today’s radicals better than those of a generation ago? No! I think they are much worse, mainly because they seem much more eager to silence/punish views with which they disagree. It is hardly a surprise that the most strident critics of the College’s banning of Derbyshire were among the faculty’s oldest members.

If you look closely, the most unabashed forms of politically correct scripting on campus—the hunt to root out microaggressions and supposedly traumatizing speech—originate from the bloated administrative wing of campus, often from the Dean of Students Office(s). The people ventriloquizing students, through relentless sensitivity campaigns, about safe spaces, hate speech, structural oppression, and diversity imperatives are the deans and deanlets of residential life (as one of my colleagues puts it, the “Residential Life Industrial Complex”).

Exactly correct. (And I love the phrase: Residential Life Industrial Complex!) Consider a recent example from Williams:

On Monday, members of the Davis Center placed signs along the path on the lawn outside of the Paresky Center and the Congregational Church. The signs contained facts and statements related to the College, Williamstown and Native American history. Shawna Patterson-Stephens, director of the Davis Center, was the primary organizer behind the project.

Doesn’t Shawna Patterson-Stephens have anything better to do with her time? If we must have a Davis Center, then it ought to be run by a professor.

“Oftentimes, attempts to bring awareness can have a sense of irrelevance, a sense of ‘that happened to those people over there,’ but a project such as these signs brings the issue closer to home,” Angela Wu, assistant director of the Davis Center, said.

The Davis Center has a director and an assistant director?!? As always, if College employees, on their own time and spending their own money, want to protest, more power to them! Protest is cool. But I am pretty sure that these protests occurred during the workday, using signs constructed from materials bought by Williams.

“In recognition of Indigenous People’s Month, the Davis Center wanted to provide recognition [of] native people’s culture and the legacy of injustice that has historically been committed against the indigenous community via these signs,” Dominic Madera ’21, a community builder at the Davis Center, said.

“It’s incredibly wrong that we live on and claim land as our own that we acquired by killing, harming and moving American Indian bodies,” Katie Manning ’20, a community builder at the Davis Center, said.

The Davis Center has (multiple!) “community builder[s],” students that the College pays to protest itself!

Read the whole thing. Again, if students want to protest, great! But I bet that Manning/Madera are paid for the time they spent putting up those signs by the College. The whole article is either a brilliant parody or the perfect illustration of the Residential Life Industrial Complex.

Back to Seery:

Such people present elaborate and intensive “orientation” programs for the students. They have money to hire students to hector other students about the need for making everything warm and welcoming. On the academic side of things, the deans are constantly hiring outside “diversity trainers” and “leadership consultants” and “workplace bullying” experts to come in and present all-day workshops on said issues. There’s a whole bureaucratic apparatus in place and it isn’t faculty driven at all—though some faculty members take advantage of it, once the incentives and cues are put so clearly into place.

“Hire students to hector students” sure sounds like Madera/Manning are doing.

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 5

Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 5.

Some long-standing small-college virtues and priorities at Pomona seem to be fading, even as we get more technologically adept and administratively enabled.

True at Williams as well. Fifty years ago, almost every single faculty member lived close to the college and centered their lives around Williams. That was less true 25 years ago and even less true today.

But notice how Seery never talks about that! How many Pomona/Williams faculty members “commute” to work, either flying in from another city or only driving a long distance a couple of days a week? How many live far enough away that they don’t really care what happens in Williamstown? If you want “small college virtues,” then you want every faculty member (and every senior administrator) to live close by. Seery never demands this of his fellow faculty members, probably because of the real sacrifices it would require.

Back in 1990, if I felt a student was in personal distress, I would pick up the phone and call a dean I knew, and we’d have a discreet conversation about that troubled kid. And because I personally knew and trusted that dean, I also knew that she would follow through and contact the student and, sure enough, would see to it that she’d soon, one way or another, have a face-to-face sit-down with the student to find out what’s going on and to provide appropriate counsel and care.

And, back in the day, that dean was much more likely to be either a fellow member of the faculty or the spouse of a college employee or both. The bigger an organization becomes, the more those personal connections are lost.

Today if I have a troubled student, I’m supposed to go to the portal.


I call BS on this claim
. I am certain that the Pomona Dean of the College (Audrey Bilger) and/or the Dean of Students (Miriam Feldblum) would love to hear directly from Seery if he ever notices a student “in personal distress.”

I am sure there is a portal, but its existence does not prevent Seery from behaving exactly the same as he did 30 years ago. The more likely explanation is that he does not know Bilger/Feldblum; he no longer feels comfortable just picking up the phone and calling them.

The portal will tell me that, first, I have to fill out an information page about who I am, and then fill out another page about the student, checking off the problem from a list of possible concerns. That portal submission goes to some midlevel dean’s office that is called (for the moment anyway) something along the lines of the Office for Student Success and Personal Wellness. My portal entry, I recently learned after inquiring, generates an email or two to the student, but no phone call, and no face-to-face sit-down (unless the student shows up on his/her own initiative). Portal-generated emails to distressed students refer those students to other portal links whereby they can seek, a click away, information about counseling services or the like. All those portal links, to be sure, sit securely behind the latest ITS-supervised security firewalls (which need constant monitoring and revamping and outside vendor support and renewal) so that a student’s privacy cannot be violated.

Meanwhile, a troubled student under my watch did in fact drop out recently, and I learned after the fact that no human being, even from the rather well-staffed Office for Student Success and Personal Wellness, had ever met with that student, even after my many portal submissions and emails and desperate phone-called pleas for expert intervention.

I bet that there is another side to this story. You really believe that, at a place like Pomona, “desperate phone-called pleas” from a faculty member about student welfare had no effect? If true, someone should be fired. More likely, Seery — the hero of every paragraph — is over-stating his attempts and/or unaware of what happened behind the scenes.

But, really, a single story and portal complaints are not the point. The main issue is the size of Pomona/Williams, the tenure of the people who work there, and the depths of the connections among them. If Seery wants to return Pomona to its small college roots — as I would like to return Williams — then we simply must a) reduce their size, b) require local residency for faculty/administrators, c) preferentially hire among faculty/administrator spouses.

There are a dozen or more faculty spouses at Williams who would love a job in the Dean’s Office. We recently had two openings. Did we hire a spouse? No. Instead, as usual, we do a “national search.” I have nothing against the folks who were hired, both of whom seem well-qualified, and one of whom is an Eph. But Williams would have been better off hiring locally. We have too many strangers and transients as it is . . .

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