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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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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 4

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 going through it. Day 4.

The most conspicuous change I’ve seen over those years is that the number of administrators has ballooned. On the shelves in my office I still have my first Pomona College catalog, for the academic year 1990–91, a printed black-and-white publication with a four-color but poorly designed cardboard-stock cover glued over the smudgy pages in between. Toward the back of the catalog, under “Administration,” there are nine offices listed, covering three pages, naming 56 persons as the members of the administration. Thereafter, the professors are listed, a total of 180. At the time, Pomona matriculated 1,487 students. In 2016 it takes me about ten seconds to find all this information in the cheap 1990 catalog.

Good stuff. I believe the Williams library is working on putting our old course catalogs on-line. You can be certain that the same was true at Williams.

Cut to the future, 2016. . . . Pomona College now has, by my careful count, 271 administrators … . The number of Pomona College faculty remains roughly the same (a current Pomona website lists the number of regular faculty at 186). The number of students has increased to 1,640.

The president now has nine vice presidents (up from four in 1990). The Dean of Students Office has gone from six persons in 1990 to sixty-five persons in 2016 (not counting administrative assistants). . . .

Summary overview: the number of students at Pomona has increased 12 percent from 1990 to 2016; the number of faculty has increased 3 percent; tuition has increased 253 percent; the number of administrators has increased 384 percent. Pomona now employs far more administrators (271) than faculty (186) to fulfill its small college, nonprofit educational mission.

Exactly right. Administrative staff have ballooned at Pomona — and at Williams and at Amherst and at . . . .

I know that there are good people who will sincerely try to explain and defend the mushrooming increases in administrative positions. Some attribute it to an onslaught of federal regulation (e.g., Clery Act, VAWA, ADA, FERPA, Title IV, Title IX) and increased scrutiny by regional accrediting agencies, all following from reauthorizations of the Higher Educational Act of 1965. Some point to increased competition for students owing to the emergence of rankings services, globalization, helicopter parenting, and so on. Some say that a more diversified student body requires more administrators in tow. Some say corporatist trends have infiltrated higher education everywhere. The net effect of all these macro-explanations is to conclude that the administrative overthrow of the erstwhile SLAC model was inevitable, and all we can do now is shrug our shoulders, sit through PowerPoint meetings with small breakout sessions, learn to speak the prevailing jargon, and watch reruns of The Office for off-hour comic relief.

This is both true, and too defeatist. Since the same thing has happened at every single elite school, the cause is not a specific president or powerful vizier.

But a visionary board of trustees (or president) could have done something, could still do something.

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 solving 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.

Odds of this happening at Williams (or Pomona)? Zero point zero.

Here’s an increasingly typical scenario at Pomona: A meeting of the faculty is called because someone above our pay grade has decided that we all need to learn about a new complicated software package that ITS will roll out in several phases. The new package may involve the logistics of registration, or computer security, or computer storage, or business accounting (many of these matters have in fact generated such meetings in recent years). Now, if we professors were all lawyers in a corporate law firm, calling a meeting of so many lawyers time and again might be tallied in terms of collective billable hours lost to the firm. But for some reason, we in academe don’t reckon these meetings as an inherent and escalating cost of our technological infrastructure.

Seery fails to understand that many (most?) of the problems he points out at Pomona are not just problems at elite liberal arts colleges. They are problems at every successful non-profit. The exact same thing is happening at, say, the College Board and CFA Institute. When lots of money rolls in, empires will be built, bureaucracies will grow, and the original mission will fade. The old line is: Every successful organization starts as a mission, turns into a business and ends as a racquet. Where is Williams today in that evolution?

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 3

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 going through it. Day 3.

Seery pulls few punches:

For the rapid destruction of the American small college—which is what we are witnessing—I could wag my finger at a number of culprits and conditions. But I want to focus my ire here on one main responsible party: small liberal arts college presidents. They bear the bulk of the blame. The fish rots from the head down.

This conflates two separate issues. First, small liberal arts colleges have been decimated over the last 30 years. Scores have closed, almost always because students stopped applying/enrolling. Maybe a few of the presidents involved were greedy/incompetent. But not all of them! Second, elite liberal arts colleges like Pomona and Williams have changed a great deal. That is the “rot” that worries Seery.

Colleges are formally and informally governed far more like top-down Leninist organizations than hippie communes. Members of the board of trustees, operating according to a set of by-laws for the corporation, bear the legal and fiduciary responsibilities for good stewardship at the top, but in fact the president holds the keys to the Chevy and can drive it pretty much wherever he/she wishes (and over time, the president handpicks many of the members of the board and also pushes out critics, so it becomes more or less an old boys club). The president thus enjoys a great deal of formal and discretionary power, and isn’t constrained, as would be a CEO of a for-profit company, for overriding and clarifying concerns about bottom-line profit or shareholder returns.

True and false. It is true that college presidents, like corporate CEOs, have a lot of power and that, in general, trustees defer to them. But there is some amount of “market” discipline. Look at all the liberal arts colleges that have disappeared! Look at the movement in prestige and rankings. Look at the college presidents that are forced out, people like Hank Payne at Williams and Nancy Roseman at Dickison.

More importantly, it is naive to blame person X for something if that same something is happening everywhere. You can believe in the Great Man theory of college presidencies: The reason that Williams looks the way it does is because Morty Schapiro caused it to look that way. But you can’t simultaneously believe that and also observe that every elite college has changed in the exact same way. If every college now has highly paid administrators or too many staff, then the fault can not lie with a specific president. The cause must be systematic.

The hallowed and possibly countervailing notions of “faculty governance” and “academic freedom” are not professorial prerogatives or rights inscribed somehow in Nature or the Constitution but are, instead, discretionary privileges extended by the beneficence and norms of the Powers-that-Be at the uppermost echelon of the college. Oh, faculty committees can write reports and hold meetings and take votes and make a small ruckus. But the president is in charge, and can ignore or squelch all the noise below. And so the ultimate responsibility for the college’s corruption and demise should not be distributed or attenuated. No buck passing.

Huh? The faculty at Pomona used to be X powerful. It is now X/2 powerful. The same thing has happened at Williams. You can blame college presidents for grabbing more power — and Lord knows that I love to blame Adam Falk — but you have to blame the faculty as well. They could have fought much harder than they did. They could fight much harder now. What precisely has Seery spent the last few decades doing? Not much, I bet.

[S]mall liberal arts college presidents don’t know what they are talking about, and yet they talk as if they do. As a class of professional liars, they shouldn’t be trusted with the truth-seeking institutions with which they’ve been entrusted. They are to promote the college as a place of teaching. But they are not teachers. They are to sing the praises of the liberal arts classroom. But most of them have never set foot on a liberal arts college campus before heading one up. Most of them, I dare say after perusing their lifelong track records and educational and career choices, would never have sought out a presidency at a small liberal arts college but for the enormous pay and status that now come attached to those jobs.

“[P]rofessional liars?” Come on! To be a college president, you have to be a bit of a politician, you have to get along with people you don’t like — obstreperous senior professors of government, for example. You can’t tell people exactly what you think all the time. You often speak in platitudes. But that has been true of college presidents for hundreds of years. This is hardly the same as being a liar.

It is a separate question whether or not the current (outrageous!) pay of elite college presidents attract the wrong sort of candidates. I agree and, moreover, even if it doesn’t, there is no reason to expect that high pay actually leads to better presidents.

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 2

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 going through it. Day 2.

But that cancerous disease—of a burgeoning and expensive administrative apparatus über alles—has infected small colleges, too, and its damaging effects are particularly pernicious there.

An autonomous managerial class has emerged whose immediate and ulterior interests are occupational as opposed to educational (a distinction that ought not to be collapsed), and whose mission is to serve administrative purposes as opposed to teaching purposes (another distinction that ought not to be elided). Perhaps worst of all, the management model of organization, in trying to bring small colleges into the fold of purportedly national “best practices” and procedures, is destroying the distinctiveness, the localism, the teacherliness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges, one by one, all across America. Those colleges rich enough to compete for students and brand recognition with the likes of Stanford and Princeton may survive the last shakeout, but I’m afraid it will be at the expense of, as it were, their institutional souls.

An “autonomous managerial class” has certainly emerged at Williams over the last 30 years. Its key members include Collette Chilton, Chief Investment Officer; Steve Klass, Vice President for Campus Life; Leticia S. E. Haynes, Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity; and Frederick W. Puddester, Vice President for Finance & Administration and Treasurer. Note:

1) None of these jobs existed 30 years ago. Indeed, there are at least 8 people in jobs that did not exist 15 years ago and who are paid much more than almost any member of the faculty. If the Williams of 1990 could survive with these roles, then couldn’t the Williams of 2018?

2) These people are paid much more than the faculty. From the 2016 Form 990 (pdf), the total compensation numbers are:

Chilton: $1,476,000
Haynes: $122,000
Klass: $378,000
Puddester: $473,000

(The Haynes number is surprisingly low since her predecessor, Mike Reed, made more than twice as much in the same job.)

3) These people are much more powerful than the average faculty member. The easiest way to track power in any organization, other than via compensation, is to examine access. Klass/Puddester meet more with the president of Williams in an average week than the typical faculty member does over the course of a year.

4) This is just the tip of the administrative iceberg. I left out folks like Megan Morey
Vice President for College Relations, Jim Reische Chief Communications Officer and Keli Gail
Assistant to the President and Secretary of the College because those jobs existed 15 years ago, albeit with much less power, and with much lower compensation (relative to the faculty). And then, in the levels below the President’s senior staff, we have scores of new positions/employees.

Seery is correct about the growth of this “class” and its ever increasing power/wealth relative to the faculty. I devoted nine days of discussion to explaining what this meant: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. Read it if you want to understand the past/future of faculty governance at Williams. Short version: Faculty governance has decreased each decade at Williams for at least the last 50 years. Falk accelerated/completed that change.

But, is it fair to say that Pomona/Williams are losing “their institutional souls?” He offers no evidence for this much stronger claim. Steve Klass is a good guy! He would agree with everything that Seery says about the centrality of the classroom to the mission of Williams. Klass would just argue that, in addition to great teachers, a multi-billion dollar institution like Williams needs great administrators, people who decide, for example, where to build the new dorm. Does Seery disagree?

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Jeremiad and Eulogy, 1

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 going through it. Day 1.

Seery begins:

I write this essay with mixed feelings. Half of me is mighty reluctant to write something harshly critical about higher education in the United States because I’m such a true-blue believer in, beneficiary of, and insider (here in my nook) to the system: Why should I contribute to the clamorous cross-country badmouthing so in vogue? We educators today are under siege by roving bands of pauperized parents, skunk-eyed skeptics, bean-counting accountants, dastardly disrupters, cretinous accreditors, mega-moneyed magnates, technology tycoons, pooh-poohing pundits, profiteering politicos, and others.

The more you love something, the more you have a responsibility to engage in honest, thoughtful criticism of it. I haven’t written almost every day for 15 years about Williams because I hate it. I write about Williams because I love it. Despite that (or maybe because of it), I suspect that most of Hopkins Hall views me as a “skunk-eyed skeptic.” Not that there is anything wrong with that!

My on-the-ground, in-the-hallway reality thus contravenes the prevailing narrative depicting professors as a bunch of pampered partisan prigs. Go ahead, troll me, if you must.

Professors as a class are hardly “pampered.” Indeed, the dramatic over-supply of Ph.D.’s and the ever increasing adjunctification of higher ed means that the average Ph.D. who teaches college students in the US is under increasing siege.

But Seery and his tenured peers at Pomona (and Williams) are among the most pampered workers in the entire world. Does Seery really not know that? First, they can never be fired. (Recall Williams Professor Aida Lalelian use of the term “nigger” to attack a faculty colleague. In any other company in the US, she would have been fired the next day. As a tenured professor at an elite college, she was safe.) Second, they get raises every year. Even the worse teacher/scholar at Pomona, once tenured, is on almost the exact same ever-rising ladder of prosperity as Seery. Third, their required workloads have decreased dramatically. At Williams, professors have gone from “3 and 3” — meaning a requirement to teach 3 courses each semester — to “3 and 2” to “2 and 2.” You can be certain the same thing has happened at similar colleges. If tenured professors at Pomona are not “pampered,” then no employee is.

I’m an outspoken, latter-day, and self-appointed apostle for the small liberal arts college (SLAC) form of education, a distinctively American institution.

Me too! Read “Choose Williams Over Harvard” for the details.

Only about 1 percent of the nation’s twenty million undergraduates are educated these days in a SLAC. Maybe I’m whistling past the graveyard, or going down with the sinking ship, or living on an isolated island as a blinkered holdout after the war is long over, but I still assert that the small liberal arts college form of education ought to be recognized (because it is so in fact, sotto voce, even if in dwindling numbers) as the gold standard, the summum bonum, the best of the best, for undergraduate education (rich, poor, white, black, religious, secular, you name it).

That is absurd. Has Seery ever met a high school senior with, say, 25th percentile intelligence? He should go visit some average high schools! Such students don’t like school, they don’t like reading, they don’t like all that intellectual stuff that Seery (and I!) like. And that is OK! We should no more make such students go to places like Pomona than we should make non-academically inclined Pomona students get a Ph.D. Graduate school is not for everyone, and neither is life at a SLAC. Such students are much better off learning a trade after high school.

But, to the extent that Seery is talking about the intellectual elite, I agree. If you have a choice between Pomona and, say, Cornell, you should choose Pomona for all the reasons that you should choose Williams over Harvard.

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Place of Athletics at Amherst

A reader pointed out this 2016 report: The Place of Athletics at Amherst (pdf). It is similar to the 2003 MacDonald Report from Williams. You can be certain that 90%+ of its factual reporting would be the same at Williams. Worth going through for a week?

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Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy

Lovely essay from a Pomona professor about the depressing changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. Extract:

At my little college, notwithstanding the national noise to the contrary, I find myself surrounded by incredibly hardworking, conscientious, bright, creative, curious students—anything but the slacker or snowflake or sheep-like images of college millennials you see portrayed by professional cynics and anti-education propagandists. I’m also surrounded by many fellow professors who are intensely dedicated, principled, broad-minded classroom teachers who see their job not primarily as a job but as a vocation (even as that term clinks antique elsewhere). My on-the-ground, in-the-hallway reality thus contravenes the prevailing narrative depicting professors as a bunch of pampered partisan prigs. Go ahead, troll me, if you must. But I know what I know. Something tremendously right, something inextinguishable, something akin to a spark of sacred sentience or thereabouts, abides in many out-of-the-way college classrooms today, and methinks we need to dwell and build on those quietly catalytic encounters.

An autonomous managerial class has emerged whose immediate and ulterior interests are occupational as opposed to educational (a distinction that ought not to be collapsed), and whose mission is to serve administrative purposes as opposed to teaching purposes (another distinction that ought not to be elided). Perhaps worst of all, the management model of organization, in trying to bring small colleges into the fold of purportedly national “best practices” and procedures, is destroying the distinctiveness, the localism, the teacherliness, the very raison d’etrê, of small colleges, one by one, all across America. Those colleges rich enough to compete for students and brand recognition with the likes of Stanford and Princeton may survive the last shakeout, but I’m afraid it will be at the expense of, as it were, their institutional souls.

There are many connections to EphBlog themes over the last 15 years. The story that Seery tells about Pomona is similar to what we have documented at Williams. Worth reviewing in detail?

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Haughty

From a recent comment thread:

This is an interesting topic. I went to Williams for undergrad, then sequentially to a Midwest state flagship and Harvard for graduate studies.

Of the three, Williams had by far largest number of cocky, arrogant blowhards. My analysis of this is as follows: The state flagship students were fairly middle-class and quite comfortable with their place in the world. The Harvard students were understandably confident with their status, not boastful about it, and not condescending toward other institutions. The Williams students often made fun of the ivy leagues and looked down on state and similar (i.e. NESCAC) schools. It reeked of jealousy and bitterness.

I am not, and never have been, particularly proud of being a Williams alum. I hardly mention it. Compared to what I have accomplished since being at Williams, it just doesn’t matter. I don’t understand why middle-aged alums are spending so much time on this blog obsessing about Williams! Get on with your lives people! I think Williams was probably the only place in my life where I felt out of place, insecure, and looked down upon by haughty people. By the attitude and content of the comments in general on this site, I’m not surprised that that was the way I felt at the time. DDF and others wouldn’t be impressed with whatever my AR was – or my family – but I have done quite well – probably better than most white, rich AR1’s – who were most likely the people who made me feel like crap while I was at Williams.

1) Anecdotes are not data, but if you think that Harvard (or Yale/Princeton/Stanford) does not have as many (more?) “cocky, arrogant blowhards” as Williams, then I think you are mistaken. Contrary opinions welcome!

2) What could Williams have done differently — or what could it do in the future — to make you “proud of being a Williams alum?” All readers who don’t feel proud are welcome to chime in!

3) What could Williams have done differently — or what could it do in the future — to make you feel less “out of place, insecure, and looked down upon by haughty people?” Or, perhaps better, how do you recommend we turn the haughty Ephs into better versions of themselves? My answer is First Month. The better you know someone, the less likely to are to look down on them. What do readers suggest?

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“Williams Students are so Annoying!”

I chanced upon this complaint just the other day. Curious (and partially offended, as affection for one’s alma mater affects even me), I asked for some elaboration. The friend of mine, who attends another respected liberal arts college and didn’t know I attend Williams, responded:

“They’re arrogant. Whenever their team shows up to multi-school events, they think they can coast by on brand-name and being kinda smart. They’re so exclusive, too!”

or something like that.

I told them I was one of those students. The blush on their face was something to behold! I needn’t fear, they said, I’m not like the average student they had met.

Fair enough. But it got me thinking–do I really disagree with them? They’re not stupid, and the stereotype of the Williams jock had to emerge from somewhere. Personally, I do smell a scent of smugness in the purple bubble. I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. I get along well with the Williams marathoner, the mathematician, the musician, or any commingling of the personalities present. It’s more just a certain narrow-mindedness.  We appreciate how Williams College shapes the world, but we simultaneously neglect how much the world shapes Williams College.

I don’t think this mindset is as pronounced in other liberal arts campuses. That thought is subject to change, however.

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There are Hundreds of Rejected AR 1s

Some readers doubted whether or not there were enough high quality applicants (currently) rejected by Williams who could be admitted as part of this plan. Allay those fears! There are hundreds of rejected AR 1s (and even more AR 2s) who would love to attend Williams if we were to accept them. Evidence:

Recall the 2005 Recipe (pdf) article:

The admission staff wait-listed or rejected nearly 300 of the 675 applicants to whom they had given their top “Academic 1” rating — a pool of students that, on average, ranked in the top 3 percent of their high school classes and had SAT scores of 1545.

Note Adam Falk’s report that, in the fall of 2013, Williams received more than 1,200 applications from students with academic ratings of 2. Since Williams accepts many fewer than 1,000 students in total from this bucket, there must also be hundreds of AR 2s who are rejected.

Amherst, to its credit, is much more transparent with its admissions data. Consider:

am4

Amherst admissions are not Williams admissions and SAT verbal scores are not the same thing as academic ratings. But, if there are almost 2,000 students with 700 and above verbal SAT scores who are rejected by Amherst, then there must be at least a few hundred AR 1 students rejected by Williams.

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NESCAC Suggestions, 3

Some crazy Williams alum sent this letter (pdf) to all the presidents of NESCAC schools. Let’s spend three days talking about it. Today is Day 3.

NESCAC schools should measure and make public the academic accomplishments of their student athletes, both in high school (AP/SAT scores) and in college (GPA, majors).

Suggestions:

  • In the first (trial) year, allow each school to present the information in whatever way it prefers. (Smart presidents will simply delegate the task to their athletic directors and institutional researchers.) Since no (?) athletic conference has done this before, it is not clear what the best approach might be.
  • Any statistic should be presented in three different ways: for the entire student body, for the team as a whole and for the team weighted by playing time. (The last measure discourages coaches from stacking teams with academically accomplished benchwarmers.) FERPA prevents schools from releasing data about an individual student, but there is no law against making aggregate data available.
  • Include data from both high school and college. We want to demonstrate both the affect of athletics on admissions and, even more importantly, how athletes perform in college.

There are several benefits to greater transparency about the academic performance of NESCAC athletes. First, it would publicly demonstrate a fact that many non-athletes doubt: On the whole, athletes are similar in their academic qualifications and accomplishments to non-athletes. Second, it would encourage coaches to make academics a bigger focus in both their recruiting and their mentorship. If you (partially) measure coaches by the academic performance of their teams, you will get better academic performance. Third, it will prevent coaches/schools from complaining, inaccurately, about the behavior of their peers. Right now, coach X loves to claim that school Y unfairly lowers standards for its recruits. Who knows? With transparency, we can observe institutional behavior easily.

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NESCAC Suggestions, 2

Some crazy Williams alum sent this letter (pdf) to all the presidents of NESCAC schools. Let’s spend three days talking about it. Today is Day 2.

NESCAC schools should disallow participation by athletes older than 22 (except, in individual cases, by unanimous consent of the NESCAC presidents).

The average age of student athletes in NESCAC continues to increase, further deepening the athlete/non-athlete divide at most schools. This is especially true for starters in high profile sports. Indeed, it is hard to find a NESCAC men’s hockey team in which several of the best players are not two years older than their classmates after spending several years in junior hockey. Although many students use the PG (post-graduate) year option to better prepare for the rigors of NESCAC academics, others (and the coaches who recruit them) use it as a red shirt year, a chance to become a better athlete. Since athletic ability peaks in your late 20s, this aging-of-athletes process will only continue. This isn’t too large a problem now, which makes it all the easier to end. Exceptions, by unanimous consent of the NESCAC presidents could be made in individual cases, like the military veteran who starts college at 21 and was not recruited specifically for his athletic talent. Once coaches know that they can’t play outstanding athletes who are too old, they will find plenty of 18-year-olds to recruit.

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NESCAC Suggestions, 1

Some crazy Williams alum sent this letter (pdf) to all the presidents of NESCAC schools. Let’s spend three days talking about it. Today is Day 1.

Football is too dangerous.

The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at “notably younger ages” than in the general population.*

NESCAC football may be less dangerous than playing in the NFL, but there is every reason to believe that it is more dangerous, by an order of magnitude, than every other NESCAC sport. More importantly, the defenses for football are weak:

“No student is forced to play football. To the extent doing so is dangerous, it is a student’s choice, just like participation in other risky activities like rock climbing.” The vast majority of starting players on most (all?) NESCAC football teams would not have been admitted to their school if they did not agree to play football. They don’t really have any “choice,” at least if they are being honest with the coach who is recruiting them. If they tell the coach that, while they would love to go to school X, they don’t plan on playing football, the coach won’t put them on his list and they won’t be accepted.

“Ending football would be too unpopular among the alumni and/or major donors.” Connecticut College has no football program, and yet does as well as the average NESCAC school in terms of alumni giving and loyalty. Swarthmore ended football 15 years ago and, after a short-lived controversy, has raised as much money as almost any liberal arts college.

“Football may be dangerous for students but it is not dangerous for the College.” The first football lawsuit against a NESCAC school is not far away. If the NFL was willing to pay millions to injured players, even those who had only been in the league for a season or two, why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to four-year NESCAC players? Do you want to be deposed by a plaintiff’s attorney about what you knew about the risks of football? Do your trustees? Organizations with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets attract lawsuits. The more years you allow football to continue, the greater the potential liability.

* “Brain Trauma to Affect One in Three Players, N.F.L. Agrees” New York Times, September 12, 2014.

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We’re #1 (for the 15th year in a row)

Williams is #1 in the US News ranking, for the 15th year in a row.

Two schools have a lock on No. 1: Princeton University topped the U.S. News national university list for the seventh straight year, and Williams College led the liberal arts list for the 15th straight year.

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 for something with a less-than-amazing reputation.)

1) We did a detailed dive into the rankings last year. 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 Adam Falk, 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. Read more

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Mozel Tof!

Mary Dettloff kindly forwarded this e-mail, especially relevant given this month’s focus:

Hi Mary :

Mazel tov!

Williams has earned top marks in a historic new ranking of Jewish life in U.S. colleges and universities. See where your institution ranked and how you compare here.

The first of its kind, the guide comes from the Forward, North America’s leading Jewish news organization since 1897. Forward College Guide draws from over 10,000 points of data to paint a real picture of Jewish life at 171 colleges and universities across the country. The Forward created a formula to rank the schools that took into account nearly 50 variables measuring things that matter to Jewish students and parents — not just academic quality and financial information, but also particularly Jewish concerns like kosher food accessibility, Jewish Greek life, anti-Semitism, Israel opportunities, Jewish extracurricular clubs, attendance at Hillel and Chabad events, and more.

I am sure that Williams does great on the “Jewish Greek life” criteria!

For the record, Williams ranks 39th.

Note the claim that 200 students at Williams are Jewish. Is this true? What is the source?

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Parchment

Via our friends at Dartblog, we find Parchment:

As a digital credential service we connect learners to P20 academic institutions and employers to issue, receive, and share credentials in simple and secure ways.

Since 2003, our platform has helped millions of people and thousands of schools and universities exchange more than 20 million transcripts and other credentials globally.

Parchment provides data like this:

amcomp

Or this:

hacomp

1) Does anyone know anything about Parchment? Do they really have access to this sort of information? If so, how? I was under the impression that Williams did not provide anyone with a list of students who it accepted but who choose not to enroll.

2) Regardless of the source, is this data accurate? I have heard that, of all students accepted to both Williams and to one of Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford, only 10% choose Williams. So, the 15/85 split with Harvard seems reasonable. But I also thought that we only yielded 50/50 versus Amherst. Is 70/30 correct?

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Prestigious Institutions Like Harvard or Stanford or Williams

Reader WA points out this absurd 2014 article by William Deresiewicz about problems in elite education.

When I speak of elite education, I mean prestigious institutions like Harvard or Stanford or Williams as well as the larger universe of second-tier selective schools, but I also mean everything that leads up to and away from them—the private and affluent public high schools; the ever-growing industry of tutors and consultants and test-prep courses; the admissions process itself, squatting like a dragon at the entrance to adulthood; the brand-name graduate schools and employment opportunities that come after the B.A.; and the parents and communities, largely upper-middle class, who push their children into the maw of this machine. In short, our entire system of elite education.

Good stuff! Every time Williams is mentioned in the same sentence as truly elite institutions like Harvard and Stanford, the better it is for the College’s brand.

The rest of the article, sadly, is mostly garbage.

Our system of elite education manufactures young people who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.

1) Deresiewicz provides no evidence that non-elite education does a better job at these tasks. Do UMASS and Purdue have an excellent track record of creating “intellectual curiosity?” Hah! It would be one thing if he argued that all of higher education was broken. That might even be true. But to claim that elite is broken, while the third tier is not, is absurd.

2) Deresiewicz provides no evidence that elite education does a worst job at these tasks today than it did 10, 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Every graduating class at Williams has featured Ephs with insatiable intellectual curiosity and others less so blessed (or cursed). You don’t think there were any Ephs in the 1950’s who were “anxious, timid, and lost?” Hah!

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