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Number 2 College on Forbes List

Williams is #2 on the Forbes listing of top colleges.



1) Any list with us between Stanford and Princeton, and with no other liberal arts colleges in the top 6, is a good list for Williams.

2) I suspect that the Forbes list is, substantively, mostly garbage. First, they do not (corrections welcome) make their criteria transparent. You should never trust any research which is not honest and open about its methodology. Second, some of the claims defy belief. Wesleyan at #9, the third highest LAC on the list? No way! There are no (reasonable) criteria of educational excellence on which Wesleyan is above Swarthmore and (it pains me to admit) Amherst.

3) Kudos to the College for ending up #2 on the list, even if the criteria is garbage. Williams needs to improve its brand among elite students, especially internationally, and these results can only help.


Can We Talk?

The official Colby College magazine covered the topic of free speech on campus.

A flood of incidents at institutions ranging from huge land-grant universities to small liberal arts colleges is growing into a conflict between “politically correct” culture and freedom of speech. The swift reaction has been passionate. Some warn of suppression of speech, while others welcome the shift toward a more sensitive culture as a needed adjustment in an increasingly intolerant world. Still others complain that such increased “tolerance” is itself a form of intolerance.

A recent national survey revealed that while most college students believe their campus environment should expose them to diverse viewpoints, a large majority also believes that schools should be allowed to restrict intentionally offensive language. And 54 percent of students recently surveyed by the Knight Foundation and Gallup said the climate on campus prevents some people from saying what they believe, because others might find it offensive.

But can colleges monitor and restrict slurs and hate speech while also protecting free speech and the give and take of ideas in what is, after all, an academic and intellectual space? In Colby’s tight-knit community, the conversation is just getting started. “We need to be very clear about our values when it comes to issues around freedom of speech and around respect and civility,” said President David A. Greene. “These things can coexist.”

Read the whole thing. Do you think that the Williams Magazine will cover the debate on this topic at Williams? I have my doubts. The Colby author writes:

As the conflict spread, Williams College canceled two right-wing speakers who were invited to campus as part of the college’s “Uncomfortable Learning” series.

1) It is interesting to see how (sympathetic!) observers portray the events of the last year at Williams. EphBlog readers know, of course, that “Williams College” did not really cancel two speakers. The students cancelled Venker and Falk banned Derbyshire. And yet, to Colby alumni, it will appear (correctly?) that there is less free speech at Williams than there is at any other NESCAC school.

2) At Colby there is a student Republican group. At Williams, there is not. Why? Should we be worried?

3) Always nice to see Robert Gaudino’s catchphrase, “Uncomfortable Learning,” get mentioned elsewhere.

4) Entire tenor of the article is remarkably restrictionist. They don’t quote — because they can’t find — a single faculty member or administrator who believes that speech at Colby should be at least as free as speech at the University of Maine.

So, I guess the answer to “Can we talk?” will be, in a few more years, “Only if you don’t say anything that upsets from from the right.” Or am I too pessimistic?


A Madrassa, Not a College

Longtime readers will recall the controversy surrounding Larry Summers comments about female achievement in math/science more than a decade ago. From the Harvard Crimson:

CRIMSON: From what psychologists know, is there ample evidence to support the hypothesis that a difference in “innate ability” accounts for the under-representation of women on science faculties?

PINKER: First, let’s be clear what the hypothesis is—every one of Summers’ critics has misunderstood it. The hypothesis is, first, that the statistical distributions of men’s and women’s quantitative and spatial abilities are not identical—that the average for men may be a bit higher than the average for women, and that the variance for men might be a bit higher than the variance for women (both implying that there would be a slightly higher proportion of men at the high end of the scale). It does not mean that all men are better at quantitative abilities than all women! That’s why it would be immoral and illogical to discriminate against individual women even if it were shown that some of the statistical differences were innate.

Second, the hypothesis is that differences in abilities might be one out of several factors that explain differences in the statistical representation of men and women in various professions. It does not mean that it is the only factor. Still, if it is one factor, we cannot reflexively assume that different statistical representation of men and women in science and engineering is itself proof of discrimination. Incidentally, another sign that we are dealing with a taboo is that when it comes to this issue, ordinarily intelligent scientists suddenly lose their ability to think quantitatively and warp statistical hypotheses into crude dichotomies.

As far as the evidence is concerned, I’m not sure what “ample” means, but there is certainly enough evidence for the hypothesis to be taken seriously.

For example, quantitative and spatial skills vary within a gender according to levels of sex hormones. And in samples of gifted students who are given every conceivable encouragement to excel in science and math, far more men than women expressed an interest in pursuing science and math.

CRIMSON: Were President Summers’ remarks within the pale of legitimate academic discourse?

PINKER: Good grief, shouldn’t everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigor? That’s the difference between a university and a madrassa.

Is Williams a college or a madrassa? Adam Falk, and (a majority of?) the faculty have decided that certain ideas may not be discussed on campus, that certain views are “hate speech.” Indeed, students who believe these things — or just want to hear those views from a published author who has spoken at places like the University of Pennsylvania and whose books are available in Sawyer Library — may very well be guilty of “hate speech” themselves, and therefore subject to discipline under the College’s Code of Conduct.


Curse of the Taco Six

What is it about sombreros and NESCAC that generates such controversy? From the Washington Post:

On Saturday, two members of Bowdoin College’s student government will face impeachment proceedings. What heinous transgression did they commit? Theft, plagiarism, sexual assault?

Nope. They attended a party where some guests wore tiny sombreros.

Two weeks ago, some students threw a birthday party for a friend. The email invitation read: “the theme is tequila, so do with that what you may. We’re not saying it’s a fiesta, but we’re also not not saying that :).” The invitation — sent by a student of Colombian descent, which may or may not be relevant here — advertised games, music, cups and “other things that are conducive to a fun night.”

Those “other things” included the miniature sombreros, several inches in diameter. And when photos of attendees wearing those mini-sombreros showed up on social media, students and administrators went ballistic.

College administrators sent multiple schoolwide emails notifying the students about an “investigation” into a possible “act of ethnic stereotyping.”

1) It would be fun to read those e-mails. Could any Bowdoin readers copy and paste in the comments?

2) This is at least the third (!) sombrero-related controversy to hit NESCAC. The first was our own Taco Six. There was a similar “scandal” at Middlebury, although I am hazy on the details.

3) Never too late to create the Eph Style Guide!


Dudley ’89 to Washington and Lee

Professor and Provost Will Dudley ’89 has been appointed president of Washington and Lee. Full e-mail from Adam Falk below the break. Comments:

1) Congrats to Will, a longtime friend (or, at least, frenemy) of EphBlog.

2) This opens up the race to succeed Falk. Dudley, because of his insider status and great alumni connections was always the favorite, especially since Williams has a history of following outsider presidents (like Falk) with insiders.

3) Washington and Lee (ranked #14 by US News) is a much more prestigious (and well-endowed) institution than Wooster (Bolton) and Dickinson (Roseman), much more the sort of school that top Williams administrators go to. Or maybe that was just true historically and now the competition for college presidencies is much tougher?

4) From the news article:

W&L, a school that traces its heritage to President George Washington and was led by Gen. Robert E. Lee following the Civil War, has sometimes struggled to reconcile its rich history with current-day issues of race and diversity. Displays of the Confederate flag at Lee Chapel, where Lee is interred, have generated controversy.

Like the 26 presidents before him, Dudley is a white male.

“At the very front end of the process, we were conscious of that,” Owens said in response to a question about how a desire for diversity influenced the school’s search.

Women and minorities made the short list, he said, “but at the end of the day, we chose somebody that was going to be the best candidate for W&L.”

I would suspect that the Black Lives Matter folks would have serious complaints about a school named after a slave owner (Washington) and a confederate general (Lee). If I were Dudley, I would do everything I could to ensure that black students at W&L were of comparable academic quality to non-black students. There is no better way to create a militant BLM movement on campus that excessive affirmative action and the academic mismatch which inevitably follows.

5) Was Bolton (also on the market over the last year) on the short list at W&L?

6) Most interesting decision that Dudley faces? I would go with fraternities/sororities, which 80% (!) of W&L students participate in. Was Will asked about this? Did he offer any thoughts? Williams College is, of course, famous for being the first (?) elite liberal arts college to get rid of Greek Life, more than 50 years ago. I bet that Dudley thinks that Williams made the right choice then. If so, what choice should W&L make today?

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Grade Inflation

Grade inflation is a problem at Williams, one we have discussed many times in the past. Start here for a good introduction. The most annoying aspect of the debate is the refusal by Williams to make the data public, or at least available to students and alumni.

Here are the grade distributions at Middlebury.


The average grade at Middlebury has increased from 3.32 to 3.53 in 11 years. How much higher will it go in the future?

Why can’t Williams be as transparent as Middlebury when it comes to this important topic?


Local demands for intellectual diversity

Saw the following today, thought others might be interested in seeing what’s going on at other schools in our neck of the world: UMass students — fed up with professors preaching anti-Americanism — demand ‘intellectual diversity’ .

The petition itself is available here. What I find fascinating is that the title of the article uses the word ‘demand’, which appears no where in their petition. They use words such as ‘petition’, ‘urge’ and ‘suggest'; it is written in a very different tone than other recent petitions (such as this one from Oberlin).



New York Times on Lord Jeffs

The New York Times covers Amherst’s decision to, sort of, eject Lord Jeffery. Comments:

1) Best part is the correction:

An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the colonial commander for whom Amherst College is named; it is Lord Jeffery Amherst, not Jeffrey.

The Times reports, as undisputed fact, that Amherst is “named” after Lord Jeffery Amherst. Note that the Trustees at Amherst disagree:

The town of Amherst was named after Lord Jeffery, and the College was named after the town.

Well, which is it? Perhaps some of our historian readers (dcat?) could help us out.

2) Diversity is the godhead, not only at Williams, both also at Amherst and the New York Times.

The institution, which is one of the most diverse private colleges in the nation

One can make a factual claim that Amherst is, for example, one of the most expensive colleges in the country. Tuition is measured in dollars. But how is “diversity” measured? What makes Amherst more (or less) diverse than Bates/Middlebury/Williams/wherever? This is an honest question! I suspect that, for the Times, “diversity” means “least white.” Does someone have a better definition?

Other comments?

(Entire article is below the break.)
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No More Lord Jeffs?

This letter from the Amherst Trustees is not — How to put this kindly? — a model of clear writing.

Dear Members of the Amherst College Community,

During the past several months President Biddy Martin and the members of the board of trustees have had scores (all right, hundreds) of communications from alumni, students, and others about the matter of Lord Jeffery Amherst. The communications reflect and embody many points of view. A lot of them begin with something like the following: “I know there are far more important issues facing the College, but….”

And I agree—with the first part of the sentence and also with the “but.” The controversy over the mascot may seem small in itself and yet in many minds it’s symbolic of larger issues. The controversy is bound up with feelings about matters as specific and recent as the protests at the College last fall and as broad and old as the College’s mission and values. It’s bound up with personal memories and personal experience. I’ll come back to the mascot shortly, but the larger issues deserve some recognition first.

Get to the point! Is it too much to ask that, somewhere in the first two paragraphs, the trustees might tell us what their decision is? Will Amherst continue to use “Lord Jeffs” as a nickname/mascot or won’t it? After several hundred words, we finally get to:

Lord Jeff as a mascot may be unofficial, but the College, when its own resources are involved, can decide not to employ this reference in its official communications, its messaging, and its symbolism (including in the name of the Inn, the only place on the campus where the Lord Jeffery name officially appears). The Board of Trustees supports such an approach, and it will be College policy

Split the baby, Solomon! By claiming (correctly?) that “Lord Jeff” is unofficial, Amherst allows (encourages?) its continued use by the whole world. Consider a typical article from last week:

The Jumbos saw their five-game unbeaten streak broken the day before with the loss to the Amherst Lord Jeffs at home.

If the people at Tufts (and Bates and Williams and . . .) continue to refer to the “Lord Jeffs,” then it doesn’t really matter if the Amherst Trustees have primly turned up their sensitive noses to its usage. If everyone — include Amherst athletes (and coaches? and fans?) — continues to use “Lord Jeffs,” then the Trustees have accomplished nothing but to assuage their own consciences and to infuriate the social justice warriors on their own campus.

Should I spend a week fisking the letter or is this topic too boring to bother?

This provides Adam Falk (and Williams coaches) with some outstanding trolling opportunities! Whenever interviewed by NESN or any media outlet, always use the term “Lord Jeffs” when describing the opponent.

Entire letter before the break, saved for posterity.
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Dinesh D’Souza at Amherst

Dinesh D’Souza speaks at Amherst. (Hat tip to Ace of Spades.)

Love the part where the audience giggles when D’Souza quotes Martin Luther King. Stay classy Amherst!


Amherst Uprising V

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 5.

Here is an account of last week’s events from an Amherst parent about the experience of his son at the library sit in.

His main observation of the original sit-in was that people seemed to have enormously negative experiences as persons of color on campus and he found that surprising. He reported that people talked about their life at Amherst as, say, a black female, being a living hell, one that my son found hard to jibe with the general intolerance in the classroom for even an ambiguously racist comment.

Indeed. This is a common reaction among white/Asian students.

One thing my son reported was that there were a lot of threats made against white students who somehow were not present in the library at the sit-in, as if non-presence at an unannounced event was somehow in and of itself racist. The general tone of the discussion was very authoritarian — everyone should be forced to be here, everyone should be forced to take diversity courses, etc.

Correct. We saw the same thing at Williams during Stand With Us in 2008.

A sleepy New England town was not so sleepy late last Wednesday night, as hundreds of students, faculty and staff poured from a packed Baxter Hall into the Williamstown streets, loudly promoting Stand With Us’ message of respect. That the movement — and this rally in particular — has galvanized much of the campus is undeniable. Yet for all the good energy that poured forth on Wednesday, a little bad energy seeped through as well, and threatened to add a tinge of dissatisfaction to an otherwise successful evening.

This dissatisfaction is due in large part to how a few members of the march handled students studying in Schow that night. In several instances those in the library that didn’t join in were yelled at and made to feel uncomfortable. Some who did not immediately stand with the rest of the group were intimidated into doing so.

Funny how these protests move so quickly from complaints about oppression to confrontations with other students.

In any event, we should not be surprised that Amherst, being Amherst, the movement has completely fizzled.up3

The protesters are so lame that they declare victory when their demands are “acknowledged.” Pathetic. And after I offered them some genius advice! Pearls before Jeffs . . .

Below the break is a copy of their most recent letter, an embarrassing climb down from their initial demands. Key section:

As an important note, the movement, both at its inception and now, by no means intends to stifle free speech. Such allegations are misinformed and misguided.

What gibberish! Their web page still demands:

President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.

If you don’t think that honor code requirements to avoid “racial insensitivity” stifle free speech, then you might just be dumb enough to go to Amherst! Here is a concrete example:

At Amherst, the average math + reading SAT scores of male Asian-American students is more than 150 points higher than those of male African-American students.

This isn’t racial sensitive but it is, for good or for ill, the truth. Would Amherst Uprising protest against an Amherst professor who mentioned this fact in class? I bet they would!

Recent letter from Amherst Uprising below the break.
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Amherst Uprising IV

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 4.

Continuing our analysis of President Biddy Martin’s statement:

And the administration will ensure that no students, faculty, or staff members are subject to retaliation for taking advantage of their right to protest.

Did an Amherst lawyer vet this? What an absurd (and dangerous) promise to make! “Right to protest” is a very different thing than the right to free speech. I am writing this prior to the events, if any, on Wednesday, but hasn’t Martin given the students carte blanche — Is that word a micro-agression?! — to do anything they want, short of violence? Imagine students protest by shutting down the presidents office (or the presidents house!) by refusing to leave. Martin has just guaranteed that they won’t be punished? What if they occupy the two or three largest lecture halls on campus, thereby preventing classes from meeting there? Again, they can’t be punished!

Amherst has committed itself to equal opportunity for the most talented students from all socio-economic circumstances.

Uhh. No. Amherst actively discriminates in admissions against non-poor students. (Discussion here, here and here.)

The College also has a foundational and inviolable duty to promote free inquiry and expression, and our commitment to them must be unshakeable if we are to remain a college worthy of the name. The commitments to freedom of inquiry and expression and to inclusivity are not mutually exclusive, in principle, but they can and do come into conflict with one another. Honoring both is the challenge we have to meet together, as a community.

“Inclusivity,” thy name is “Speech Code.” Either Amherst students have the same free speech rights as UMass students or they don’t. Which is it? Getting clarity on that point (at least for Williams College) is perhaps the most important issue in this debate. What do our readers think?

Those who have immediately accused students in Frost of threatening freedom of speech or of making speech “the victim” are making hasty judgments.

If I were an Amherst trustee, I would be reaching for George Orwell right about now, and wondering if I can trust Martin to be truthful. The protesters have demanded punishment for other Amherst students whose only “crime” was to put up posters about free speech. If this isn’t “threatening freedom of speech,” then words have no meaning.

It takes time, attention, and serious discussion to sort out and make clear how we protect free speech while also establishing norms within our communities that encourage respect and make us responsible for what we do with our freedom. That is the discussion we need to have.

Does Amherst have a history of left wing presidents? President Martin, like President Marx before her, is certainly more stridently leftist in her pronouncements (and career?) than any Williams president.

You heard it here first: Why not rename Amherst? The student protesters don’t like the Lord Jeff mascot because Lord Jeffrey Amherst fought the King’s enemies in ways of which they disapprove. They want a new mascot. Fine. But the college would still be called Amherst! (I am hazy on whether this Amherst (the town?) is also connected to Lord Jeffrey.) So, why not solicit a gift for a billion dollars or so from some really rich megalomaniac and rename Amherst after him? Everybody wins!

And I even have a candidate: Weill College, after Citigroup’s Sandy Weill. This is perfect because a) Biddy Martin has raised money from Weill before, b) Weill has (at least?) a billion dollars and c) the Weills have tried before to get a college named after them.


Amherst Uprising III

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 3.

Here is President Biddy Martin’s statement. First, why write 100 words when you can write 1,400? Second, are we allowed to make fun of President Martin’s first name? If “Biddy” isn’t the most WASPy name among elite liberal arts college presidents, then my name is David Dudley Field! Highlights:

The organizers of the protests also presented me with a list of demands on Thursday evening. While expressing support for their goals, I explained that the formulation of those demands assumed more authority and control than a president has or should have.

Hmmm. This might be a good strategy in that, if the President really can’t do thing X, then how can the protesters demand that she does? But, like the teller reporting to the bank robber that there is no money in the till, it is risky. First, college presidents are, on some dimensions, fairly powerful. There is a lot that Biddy can, in fact, do. Second, if she really does “support” the goals (and the demands?), then she is just passing the buck to whomever (the trustees? the faculty?) actually run the College. If I were an Amherst trustee, I would want Biddy to take responsibility for saying “No” to these brats. I would not want them bothering me.

Our students’ activism is part of a national movement of students who are devoted to bringing about much-needed change. They are exercising a fundamental American right to freedom of speech and protest.

Do students have free speech rights at Amherst? FIRE says No, giving Amherst a Yellow Light rating. (Sadly, Williams gets a Red Light.) I ask this question in all seriousness. Compare Amherst to UMass. Students at the latter have free speech, due to a long line of court decisions outlining that no part of the government, including state colleges, may violate the First Amendment. But those cases do not apply to private colleges like Amherst? So, is there something that a UMass student could say without fear of university retaliation but which would, if said by an Amherst student, result in punishment?


End Lectures As Usual

Deadline for our friends at @UprisingAmherst is midnight tomorrow. What should they do when their demands are not meant? Simple:

Slogan: “End Lectures As Normal.” This is supposed to be a play on “End business as usual.” Does it work? Suggestions welcome!

Goal: Stop all large lecture classes from meeting together in their usual lecture halls. I don’t know enough about Amherst to target specific classes/rooms, but there must be some, probably fewer than a dozen, with more than, say 40 students.

Method: Have at least one student (or, ideally, two or more) go to the lecture hall a few minutes before the start of class. Stand at the front of the room at the podium. Start reading aloud material relevant to the Amherst Uprising movement. Content does not actually matter but more relevant is better. You are like a filibustering Senator, so even just reading a compilation of all the supportive letters/emails you have received is fine. The important thing is that you are, non-violently, taking over that lecture hall and freely speaking about what matters to you and what should, indeed, matter to everyone at Amherst. And you are not going to stop talking, even if the professor asks you to, even if she just wants to start class, even if the students start to complain. You are standing witness. You will not be silenced.

Result: The professor will have no choice but to cancel and reschedule class. And that is OK! Your goal is not to prevent the students from hearing a lecture in Statistics 111. You goal is to prevent “lectures as usual.” Since this large lecture hall is not available — and since Amherst Uprising will be speaking witness in all large lecture halls until further notice — the professor will have no choice but to say to the class:

“We need to reschedule this large lecture into 4 smaller sections that will meet in a smaller classroom at these four times. Please attend one of them.”

In fact, you are available to help the professor with this process by providing her with a list of smaller classrooms, their seating capacity and their current availability. In fact, you have already prepared a possible schedule for her!

Result: No student is hurt. (A few may be slightly inconvenienced by having their classes meet at different times/locations.) If anything, students are better off. A discussion section of 20 is a much better way to learn statistics than a lecture of 80. Yet the professors are very annoyed. They don’t want to quadruple their teaching time. They like large lectures.

Unfortunately, as much as you probably like these professors, you have to annoy them. You have to (non-violently and using your free speech rights) make their lives difficult enough that they will force the Administration to change. It is very hard for you to get President Martin to do what you want. It is much easier for a group of inconvenienced Amherst professors to do so. Force them to only teach students in classes of 30 or smaller, and they will do whatever is necessary to make your protest go away.

Even better, it is hard/impossible for the professors to complain to you. After all, many of them have sent you letters of support! They are on your side. And you are not preventing them from doing their jobs. They can still teach their classes, as long as they do so in smaller settings.

Pushback: Might the Administration come down hard against you? We should be so lucky! You are non-violent. You are doing nothing but speaking. You are even providing convenient lists of alternate times/locations where classes can occur. How can they attack you? And, even if they do, what are their options? Send in security? You then refuse to move; link arms; go limp. You use all the best non-violent tricks to stand your ground. Are they going to call the Amherst police? Arrest you? If they did that, hundreds of students would rally to your side. Your movement would be unstoppable.

President Martin is smart, so she would see the futility of using security and/or the police to force you out.

Summary: Your biggest leverage point is the faculty. You are not powerful enough to force substantive change. Students never are. But the faculty is. You need to force — non-violently and cleverly — the faculty to force the Administration to agree with your demands. Preventing them from lecturing, while allowing them to teach the same material in small groups, is your best strategy.

Good luck! Your friends at EphBlog wish you nothing but success.


Amherst Uprising II

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 2.

Consider some of the demands from Amherst Uprising.

President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the ”All Lives Matter” posters, and the ”Free Speech” posters that stated that ”in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.” Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.

I swear, this is not a joke! These clueless students really believe that free speech has no place on the Amherst campus.

President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.

Zero-tolerance works out so well in other aspects of social policy that we ought to apply it to campus discussion and debate. What could go wrong?!

Recall our discussions about the failed (and misguided) efforts to police student speech in the Williams honor code.

Perhaps I have too much faith in Amherst President Biddy Martin, but I doubt that she will comply with these demands. The students have set a deadline of tomorrow. What is their best strategy?

First, they should heighten the contradictions. They need some racist graffiti, some death threats on Yik Yak and/or some nooses left around campus. Alas, it is unlikely that these will just materialize. Skinheads are, sadly, a marginalized and underrepresented group at campus. So, Amherst Uprising may just have to create these epiphenomenon of the underlying racism that is everywhere. So, be it!

Second, they should avoid getting caught in doing so! Nothing undermines campus activism more than unsuccessful false flag operations.

Third, they should carefully plan their direct action. Suggestions from our readers? Tough to know the best plan without having a sense of their numbers. Maybe a sit in at the President’s Office? A blockade of major lecture halls? Most aggressive would be an attempt to organize a campus wide boycott of final exams. If no students take any finals, Amherst can’t fail all of them.

Either way, good luck! The more that Amherst Uprising makes Amherst appear to be a seething cauldron of clueless leftism, the better for Williams.

Entire list of demands, saved for posterity below the break.
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Amherst Uprising I

Amherst is descending into the insatiable maw of vicious political correctness. Let’s spend a week mocking them! This is Day 1.

The Boston Globe provides a useful overview.

A group of 11 students at Amherst College, a private liberal arts school in western Mass., issued a list of 11 demands to administrators that includes making them apologize for signs that mourned the death of free speech.

The group, who call themselves the Amherst Uprising, said the college’s president Biddy Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that says the school doesn’t tolerate the actions of students who posted the “All Lives Matter” posters, and the “Free Speech” posters that stated “in memoriam of the true victim of the Missouri Protests: Free Speech.”

Via former professor KC Johnson, this is the sign.up1

Apologies for the poor quality. Does anyone know of a better reproduction? The Globe continues:

“Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats;” the post said. “Alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.”

Could this all be a joke, or a false flag operation from someone like James O’Keefe? Or could these students actually believe that putting up a poster merits disciplinary action?

“If these goals are not initiated within the next 24 to 48 hours, and completed by November 18th, we will organize and respond in a radical manner, through civil disobedience,” the group wrote. “If there is a continued failure to meet our demands, it will result in an escalation of our response.”

Pass the popcorn! I hope these students bring Amherst to its knees!

By the way, the Amherst Uprising twitter account linked above seems so absurdly over-the-top that it must be a parody. Right?up2

UPDATE: It is a (genius!) parody. Well done Lord Jeffs! Here is the official account.


We are #1

Williams is #1 again in the US News rankings. Comments:

1) We need someone (HWC?) to share with us the underlying data and provide an analysis of how safe this status is. Help!

2) Kudos to Adam Falk and the rest of the administration! There are few things more important to the Williams brand, especially with international applicants and their families, then maintaining this ranking. Staying #1 may not be hard, given Williams’ resources, but screwing this up could have been easy.

3) How many years in a row have we been #1? I lose track.

4) 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.

5) Thoughts on other schools? I am most suspicious of Bowdoin, with its SAT optional policy. My sense is that schools like Swarthmore and Pomona are much more competitive and have a higher quality student body. I am most worried, long term, about Pomona. Its LA location make it a much more practical school for international applicants from Asia.


Kafka at Amherst

From former Williams professor KC Johnson:

Kafka was born too early to write about Amherst College. At campus hearings on claims of sexual assault, procedures are relentlessly stacked again males and evidence of innocence doesn’t count. Amherst expelled a student for committing rape—despite text messages from the accuser, sent immediately after the alleged assault, (1) telling one student that she had initiated the sexual contact with the student she later accused (her roommate’s boyfriend); (2) inviting another student to her room for a sexual liaison minutes after she was allegedly raped.

Amherst, on grounds that the accused student (who, per college policy, had no attorney) didn’t discover the text messages until it was too late, has allowed the rape finding to stand, even though the college’s decision relied on the accuser’s credibility (which is now non-existent). Amherst faces a due-process lawsuit in the case.

Johnson’s summary of the case is even more damning than the Globe article we looked at yesterday. Read the whole thing.

What advice do you have for Amherst? I would settle with the student by either re-admitting him or paying him to finish elsewhere. You don’t want to go to trial with facts like these . . .


An Innocent Bystander

A commentator (who should be an author!) notes this story from the Boston Globe:

In December 2013, Amherst College imposed its first major sanction under a new get-tough sexual misconduct policy, expelling a 21-year-old senior after a disciplinary board concluded that he had forced a female classmate to perform oral sex during an alcohol-infused encounter nearly two years earlier.

In April 2014, however, the expelled student presented the college with new evidence — a series of text messages the woman sent to two other male students immediately after the alleged rape, according to a lawsuit. To one, a dorm counselor, she described the sexual encounter in language that suggested it was consensual and she wrote, “It’s pretty obvi [obvious] I wasn’t an innocent bystander.’’

Entire article is below the break. Sure seems to me like this student is a victim of a witch hunt. Would our readers disagree?

And, since this is happening at Amherst, does it also happen at Williams?

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(Don’t) Give Me Your Poor VI

Sixth installment in a two week discussion of the recent New York Times article “Generation Later, Poor Are Still Rare at Elite Colleges” by Richard Perez-Pena. Interested readers should check out our collection of posts about socio-economic issues related to admissions, from which I have plagiarized extensively.

“If you come from a family and a neighborhood where no one has gone to a fancy college, you have no way of knowing that’s even a possibility,” said Anthony W. Marx, president of the New York Public Library, and a former president of Amherst. “And if you go on their website, the first thing you’re going to look for is the sticker price. End of conversation.”

Does anyone else find Tony Marx as annoying as I do? Doubtful! After all, his main societal function is to be the courtier for the plutocrats who fund the New York Public Library, a gig for which he gets paid almost $800,000 per year. (Who knew that librarians did so well?)

And, of course, I am sad that Marx is no longer president of Amherst since he seemed well on his way to making Amherst a much less formidable competitor (here and here).

But the real sleaze here is Marx and others like him misleading poor students about the actual costs and benefits of elite colleges.

But even top private colleges with similar sticker prices differ enormously in net prices, related to how wealthy they are, so a family can find that an elite education is either dauntingly expensive or surprisingly affordable. In 2011-12, net prices paid by families with incomes under $48,000 averaged less than $4,000 at Harvard, which has the nation’s largest endowment, for example, and more than $27,000 at New York University, according to data compiled by the Department of Education.

Marx is concerned that poor students go to the NYU website and get scared by the tuition. I, on the other hand, am glad! To a large extent, NYU is a sleazy deal, especially if you are a poor student. The fact that people like Marx won’t even discuss these issues, won’t even mention that not all “fancy colleges” are created equal, makes me angry.

If you are poor, and you get in to Harvard (or Williams), then, obviously, you should go. It is free! But borrowing $100,000 (27k times 4 years plus tuition raises) to attend a “fancy college” like NYU is a very, very dicey proposition. Why doesn’t Marx tell poor students the truth?


We’re #1!

Good news:

Princeton, Williams College once again take top spots in U.S. News’ rankings for 2014-15

1) Every time that Williams appears in a headline like this with Princeton, the value of the Williams brand improves. It is very important that we maintain this #1 ranking, mainly for admissions, and especially for international students.

2) Kudos to Adam Falk (and everyone else at Williams) for making this happen. US News can be tricky about its methodology and the changes it makes from year-to-year. They would sell more magazines if there were more changes in the top, so maintaining a #1 ranking can be tricky.

3) As I mention each year, 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.

4) Is anyone a subscriber to the detailed data. All I can see is:


We need to dive into the details. How far in the lead is Williams and what do we need to do to maintain the lead?

5) Recall my predictions from 5 years ago.

Although the competition is tough, our most serious competitor is Amherst and they will face real headwinds given their financial constraints. Their endowment is in more trouble than ours. Their increase in enrollment will hurt the student:faculty ratio. These ranks are based on data from before the financial crash, so the Williams advantage over Amherst will only continue. Don’t be surprised if/when Amherst falls behind Swarthmore in a year or two. I also suspect that Middlebury’s recent (and deserved) rise may be in danger.

Amherst hasn’t caught us, as predicted, and Middlebury has fallen from 4th to 7th. I still think that Amherst is in danger of falling behind Swarthmore, but we need more detailed data to evaluate that.

6) Below the break are the details of the methodology, which I am saving here for historical purposes.
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What Pinker Gets Wrong About Harvard (and Williams) Admissions

Steven Pinker’s essay in The New Republic (hat tip Razib Kahn) provides a false description of admissions at places like Harvard and Williams.

At the admissions end, it’s common knowledge that Harvard selects at most 10 percent (some say 5 percent) of its students on the basis of academic merit. … The rest are selected “holistically,” based also on participation in athletics, the arts, charity, activism, travel, and, we inferred (Not in front of the children!), race, donations, and legacy status (since anything can be hidden behind the holistic fig leaf).

This is not true. Summary: More than 80% of admissions at Harvard (and other elite schools like Williams) is determined by academic merit, measured by past success in high school (high grades in the most rigorous classes with the best teacher recommendations and top standardized test scores), all of which best predicts academic success in college.*

First, leave aside athletics for the moment; the preferences there are real and large.

Second, consider the raw data in terms of 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores. (I have taken the latest available data and simply added the Math and Critical Reading scores together.)

Harvard:  1390 -- 1590
Williams: 1330 -- 1540
Cornell:  1320 -- 1520 

A difference of 50 or 60 points may seem small, but this is (back-of-the-envelope) 1/4 to 1/3 a standard deviation.** If we were talking about height, it would be as if the average student at Harvard were an inch or so taller than the average student at Williams or Cornell. There is no way, in a large population, to get this sort of difference unless the selection procedure has a major focus on SAT scores (or their correlates). In particular, there is no way that the top 25% (!) of the Harvard class has almost perfect SAT scores if only 10% (much less 5%!) is selected on the “basis of academic merit.” It is mathematically impossible.

Third, there are no meaningful preferences given for “the arts, charity, activism, travel” and other non-academic, non-sport reasons. Why?

  • Harvard is not that different from Williams and, as Professor of Music David Kechley explained 11 (!) years ago, there is no meaningful preference given for musical talent.
  • There is no need to give preference for things like music and art because academically strong students are often talented in music and art. Go meet some!
  • There is no reason to give preference for music/arts because schools don’t compete with each other on that basis. Imagine that the quality of the arts and music was twice as good at Williams as at Harvard. Would anyone notice? No! No one goes to enough events at both Williams and Harvard to make that judgment. (This is one aspect by which athletics is different.)
  • Even if you wanted to give preference to those students who would go on to be heavily involved in things like, say, student government and charitable work, there is no way for the admissions department to predict which students will do so, as Jen Doleac ’03 demonstrated in her thesis.
  • Harvard does not have the time or money to meaningfully evaluate the artistic ability of applicants. With 14,000 applicants, the logistics are impossible. As books like The Gatekeepers and A is for Admission make clear, admissions officers make some notes about non-academic talents, but these attributes play a de minimus role in the process.
  • “Travel?” Harvard prefers students who have done a grand tour of Europe? Give me a break! The biggest thing that teenage travel correlates with is family income, and Harvard gets plenty of rich kids already. Might Pinker be able to point to Harvard students who traveled a lot? Sure! But he could also find plenty of blond Harvard students. That fact doesn’t mean that the Admissions Office selects by hair color.

Now, every once in a while does something like music help? Sure! If the orchestra conductor calls up the admissions office and begs for some decent drummers, he may get helped out. But, overwhelming, even those drummers will have amazing academic credentials.

Fourth, even affirmative action does not change the basic story because black (and Hispanic) applicants are accepted under the same criteria as white/Asian students. The same process of looking at high school grades, course schedule, teacher comments and standardized test scores applies to everyone. Whatever it is that Harvard is looking for in white/Asian students, it is looking for the exact same thing in black/Hispanic students. Harvard just sets the bar lower for the latter. Being poor is probably an advantage. Being a non-US citizen is probably a disadvantage. But, whatever bucket you are competing in, the key criteria is academic success.

Fifth, legacy is a red herring. Do the math! There are 1,600 Harvard students in the class of 2018. There were around (I think) 1,600 Harvard students in each class in the 80’s. I can’t find good data on fecundity, but, judging from Williams, elite students from the 80’s go on to, at least, achieve replacement levels of fertility. So, there are 1,600 or so legacy students born in 1995/1996 who would love to come to Harvard (or at least be accepted by Harvard) for the class of 2018. But Harvard only enrolls about 200 of them!*** You think the other 1,400 go to Stanford? Ha! It is easy for Harvard, like Williams, to ensure that enrolled legacy students are academically equivalent to non-legacy students because the legacy pool is so strong. Turns out that Harvard parents tend to have academically talented children. Who knew?

Sixth, even in the case of athletics, academics matter because the admissions department insists. See here for some details. But, to the extent that Pinker has a point, he is correct that athletics plays an important part. And so does major wealth. But even if we combine the athletes and the donors, we are still talking about less than 20% of the class.

Big picture, Pinker’s description of Harvard admissions is fundamentally flawed because the vast majority of it (80%?) is, in fact, driven by “academic merit.” Unless you are a recruited varsity athlete or a billionaire’s child, you got in because your classes/grades/scores were better than the other applicants (at least within your race and/or socioeconomic class and/or nationality).

And this is easy to see if you follow the admissions process at your local high school, assuming it is the sort of school that sends lots of students to elite schools. On average, the high school students who get into Harvard have done better — higher grades in tougher classes with better teaching recommendations and standardized test scores — than the students who get into Williams, and then the same down the academic pecking order.

Steven Pinker is a voice of reason in many of the debates surrounding higher education. It is too bad that he is so misleading about Harvard admissions in this essay.

* Of course, it is not clear what scale Pinker is using for his 5% or what scale we should be using for our 80%. The main clarification that applies to the 80% is that, although the academic evaluation system is the same across categories of students, students are mostly competing against peers in their own racial, citizenship, and socio-economic bucket. If you are, say, rich and black, then Harvard admits use on the basis of academic merit in comparison with other rich/black applicants.

My preferred scale is to imagine that the Harvard admissions system is blinded to everything non-academic. All they see is your high school transcript and standardized test scores. Even in this scenario, more than 50% of the students in Harvard today would still have been accepted. Athletics and affirmative action do have a meaningful impact on admissions, but most of what is going on is still Pinker’s “academic merit.”

** Yes, I realize that this is a rough estimate. The standard deviation of individual SAT tests is around 100. I can’t find good estimates of the standard deviation of combined scores. If the scores from the two tests were uncorrelated, then the combined standard deviation would be around 141. But the positive correlation means that this is a lower bound. And, of course, we are talking about the far right tail of the distribution, where all sorts of weird stuff might happen. The larger point stands: it is impossible for Harvard’s combined SAT scores to be 50+ points higher than Williams/Cornell, year after year, without significant focus on SAT scores by the Admissions Department.

*** See our legacy admissions category for various calculations with regard to Williams. I doubt that things are much different at Harvard or any other elite school. Why would they be?


Forbes Ranks Williams #1

Forbes has ranked Williams the #1 college in the US.



1) This ranking, while nice, is not nearly as important as the US New ranking. If Adam Falk does not do everything he can to ensure that Williams stays on top there, then he is not doing his job.

2) Always remember that, at bottom, Williams is selling a luxury good. And the people in the market for luxury goods care both about actual quality — to the extent that they can judge it directly themselves — and about its perceived or reputational quality. The more often that Williams is ranked #1, the stronger our applicant pool will be and the more likely admitted students are to choose Williams over Amherst or various Ivies.

3) Always remember that the fundamental reason why Williams is a great school is not the quality of the faculty. You really think that, say, the average Williams faculty in, say, English is meaningfully better than the average English professor at, say, Connecticut College or any other NESCAC school? Hah! You’re deluded. But the average student at Williams is much stronger than the average students at lower tiered NESCAC schools, and that is what makes a Williams classroom, and therefore a Williams education, much better.

4) Rankings will be even more important over the next 20 years than they have been over the last 20 as the liberal arts college business becomes more global. High quality East Asian (read: Chinese) applicants and their families care a lot about rankings.

5) Details on the methodology are here or here. Score components here. Color me skeptical. The problems with these variables, and how they are measured, are almost too numerous to bother with. But the organization behind the data analysis, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) is credible, so I suspect/hope that there are not any glaring errors.

6) The main clue that these ratings are suspect is how variable they are from year to year. (Williams was ranked 8th last year and 2nd the year before that.) Whatever you think about the relative quality of, say, Williams and Harvard, your evaluation should be more or less the same next year as it was last year. Institutions change very slowly. But stasis does not sell magazines! So, these ratings are constructed to change much more often than they ought to.

What do readers think of the methodology?



Useful overview article on college rankings.

Railing against the rankings will not make them go away; competition, the need to benchmark, and indeed the inevitable logic of globalization make them a lasting part of the academic landscape of the 21st century. The challenge is to understand the nuances and the uses — and misuses — of the rankings.

Correct. It is critically important that Williams maintain and strengthen its #1 position in the US News Rankings. Suggestions for doing so? My favorites include:

1) Decreasing the number of large class sections. No class at Williams should have more than 19 students. This is a good idea pedagogically, and will help the rankings since US News penalizes colleges for having large classes.

2) Decrease the number of students. A Williams with 540 students in each class is a little too large. We are a small liberal arts college, not Dartmouth. Dropping back to 500 or so, would both improve various ratios (student-faculty, endowment-per-student) and significantly improve the quality of student life by allowing Williams to eliminate doubles.

No more lectures and singles for all who want them. Although these changes would be expensive, a Williams with them (and need-aware admissions for all applicants, not just internationals) would be better than a Williams without them (and need-blind admissions).


Top 50 most beautiful colleges

Another “best” list. Williams does not make the grade according to, guess which college does?

Yes, you guessed it!


Tennis Rivalry Showdown

Today, Williams looks to upset Amherst for the NESCAC title in both men’s and women’s tennis.  Both Eph tennis squads are led by alumni, Alison Swain ’01 for the women and Dan Greenberg ’08 for the men.  Swain has a fairly respectable start to her coaching career: three seasons, three national titles.

At 9:00 this morning at Middlebury, the third-seeded Williams men, fresh off upsetting defending national champion Middlebury thanks to a clinching comeback win from Zach Weiss ’13, looks to avenge a 5-4 regular-season loss to top seeded Amherst.  Amherst has finished second nationally two years running, and is the favorite to win this year’s national title.   The Ephs have a very young team — none of the top six singles players are upperclassmen — making this year’s run all the more impressive.  Despite being two of the top ten teams in the country, Amherst and Williams are both looking to end long championship draughts due to Middlebury’s recent dominance: since 1992 for Amherst, and since 2003 for the Ephs.

The women’s tennis match, played at 1:00 at Amherst, features top-ranked (nationally) Amherst versus number two Williams.  Amherst has dominated the NESCAC tourney in recent years (the Jeffs are looking for their seventh straight NESCAC crown), and has already beaten Williams twice this year, but oddly, the Ephs have had far more success in the NCAA tourney, including the aforementioned three straight national titles (and five total titles over the past decade).   Williams cruised path number five (nationally) Tufts in the NESCAC semifinal.

Go Ephs!



From last August:

Each year the splash it makes gets smaller, as more students, parents and even college administrators realize the truth about the U.S. News and World Report college rankings: It’s largely a beauty contest — one that bears little relation to the quality of the education kids will actually receive.

Indeed, the president of Williams College, which was named the No. 1 liberal arts college in the country this year by U.S. News, told Bloomberg News that the rankings were “meaningless.” That’s pretty tough talk, coming from a winner.

Cheap talk, actually.

The rest of the article is not worth reading because the author makes a living based on the theory that college rankings are a poor guide for decision making.


Men’s Hoops Tourney Preview EXTRA: FINAL!

UPDATED:  I have moved this preview up, and added many new links, for today’s NCAA hoops action.  As expected, Williams, VWU, Amherst and RIC all advanced to an absolutely loaded sectional in Chandler.  A few links pertinent to this weeken’s action: the latest basketball show, video highlights from the Becker game,  the North Adams Transcript’s preview, Williams’ sectional preview (including webcast links), and Amherst’s sectional preview.

Of the five teams who have dominated D-3 basketball from 2003 through 20010 (Williams, Amherst, Virginia Wesleyan, Wisconsin Stevens Point, and Wash U., who have combined to win every title during that time period, with an additional five runner-up finishes), three, number ten VWU, number nine Amherst, and number four Williams, will battle for a spot in Salem.  D3hoops previews the tourney here, Williams previews its sectional here, and Amherst previews its portion of the bracket here.  Watch the webcasts of the Williams games here.

If you want in on the Ephblog NCAA pool, there will be a bonus of five points per pick for each D-3 Final Four team.  My picks are Williams (of course), Stevens Point, Middlebury, and Wooster (I’m not exactly going out on a limb, as these are four of the eight favorites, along with Augustana, Randolph Macon, Whitworth, and Amherst).  Either post your picks, or send them to me via email.  My analysis of the teams in the Ephs’ bracket is below the break.

[Note: the women’s team also made the NCAA tournament, but they are certainly long shots … even if they win their first two games, both on the road, they will almost surely have to face Amherst, who has already defeated them three times, at Amherst in the Sweet Sixteen].

(Ed note: from Jeff’s great round-up [note: click on the Whittington article, which is truly a must-read] PLUS this additional story on NESAC Player of the Year.  For the uninitiated, I also highly recommend checking out some of Troy’s innumerable highlight-reel plays).

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Bowdoin 5 – 2 over Williams: NESAC Hockey title first for the Polar Bears …

From the Williams Athletics site:
Fifth seed Bowdoin College scored in every period in downing host and second seeded Williams College 5-2 to claim their first NESCAC title this afternoon in Lansing Chapman Rink.


Ephs win 3-2 OT thriller to advance to NESCAC finals

Matt Masucci ’11

From Williams Athletics site:

WILLIAMSTOWN, MA – Co-captain Matt Masucci’s overtime goal lifted the #2-seeded Williams College men’s hockey team (16-7-3) over the #8-seeded Wesleyan Cardinals (8-11-1) and sent the Ephs to their second NESCAC final in school history.

Forward Mark Lyons ’13 also stepped up big for the Ephs, adding the team’s other two goals.


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