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Recent Int’l Graduates Concern with Dean’s Office, 3/3

UPDATE: Assistant Dean of International Student Services Ninah Pretto informed recent intl graduates in Economics on Thursday morning (several emails/phone calls later and after she promised a decision on Monday, four days ago) that they can apply for STEM extensions. Hooray! Psychology, however, is still not classified as STEM.

Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international Williams graduates are having with Dean’s Office, specifically on the reclassification of the Economics major as STEM and its implications. We’re spending three posts talking about it. Find the first discussion here and the second here. This is the third post. Consider the comments of the Facebook discussion on this issue:

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If you count, that’s a total of 76 (!) likes, among which at least 53 are from distinct individuals. That’s quite a number of Facebook likes!

Although names are blacked out (for fear of retribution, a very real concern among students!), eight different students and recent alumni took part in the discussion. Let’s consider some of our fellow Ephs’ comments in light of this issue:

I called them last year to see if econ could be considered STEM, and basically got stonewalled.

Around this time (spring) last year, Williams did not yet have Dean Pretto (she joined May 2016) and Sarah Bolton was still Dean of the College, so we must assume this ’15 alum spoke to someone who reported to the latter. Can we excuse the stonewalling during this period (spring ’16) in light of the departure of former Dean Jenifer Hasenfus? Possibly, but also possibly not! We will investigate. What is clear, however, is that the recurrence (twice so far, and thrice by next week!) of ignoring the concerns of international students suggests that these instances are not isolated, but are part of a pattern of behavior that the Williams administration displays towards international students. 

“basically got stonewalled” – said everyone who’s dealt w the dean’s office

“Stonewalled” seems to be making its rounds. Tell us more at concerned.ephs@gmail.com, or join EphBlog as an author and talk about it!

In perhaps an even more disturbing comment…

Bro any lobbying I can do, if you need something written, want to get a cis white male signature, anything, let me know. Let’s chill soon.

The request to chill aside, this commentator suggests that if someone wants something done at the Dean’s Office, it will require the involvement of a”cis white male” at Williams. Is this true? Another commentator (a similar “cis white male” at Williams) who replies “Same here–how can we lobby Williams College?” suggests so. If this is true, for a college administration that likes to brag so much about how “diverse” its students and faculty are, this is very hypocritical behavior. Students certainly think this is true, so EphBlog will continue to investigate!

Deans office is utterly useless. Literally never get anywhere with them; best bet is to get some profs on board and have them help lobby you too. Then maybe petition the CAS.

“Utterly useless” is quite strong language! Is this characterization accurate? More pertinently, does this comment, in light of the previous one, suggest that if anyone wants anything done by the Dean’s Office, the involvement of professors and “cis white males” is required? I personally do not think so (and have seen otherwise) but again in light of these disturbing suggestions, EphBlog will continue to investigate. The commentator also mentions the CAS or Committee on Academic Standing, which by itself is a hotbed of student and faculty concerns… More on that soon!

Finally, in the most damning comment in this thread (at least in my opinion),

The deans are very frequently “out of the office,” particularly if they know it is going to be an unpleasant phone call/ conversation… It’s an ongoing problem with an administration completely unwilling to have challenging conversations.

This comment was made by a current student who is not an international student. Two questions: (1) Does this pattern of behavior – ignoring students – when conversations become challenging extend to non-international students as well? This commentator, who describes this as an “ongoing problem” (pattern!) suggest so! (2) Beyond simply suggesting that the Dean’s Office has a pattern/ongoing problem of stonewalling, this commentator actually tells us how the Dean’s Office stonewalls students – by being frequently “out of office”. Why would components of the Dean’s Office require to be out of campus so often as the commentator suggests? Don’t their jobs concern students – who are very much on campus during the school year? What reasons do they have for being out of campus? Is it really about having “challenging conversations”? Perhaps, but perhaps not! Fellow classmates (four so far!) suggest that Associate Dean of First Years David Johnson is known for having a number of dental appointments a year. Current students and recent alums, a request: please let EphBlog know whenever a Dean is “out of office” so we can ascertain exactly how often our Deans are not in their offices.

Thanks to tips from current students, professors, and recent graduates sent to concerned.ephs@gmail.com, we already have several of these stories – the subject of future posts! – but we naturally welcome more in our attempts to investigate the persistence of this pattern of behavior. Future generations of Ephs will thank you for a more transparent, more accountable Williams!

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Recent Int’l Graduates Concern with Dean’s Office, 2/3

Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international Williams graduates are having with Dean’s Office, specifically on the reclassification of the Economics major as STEM and its implications.  We’re spending three posts talking about it. The first post discusses troubling decision making by the assistant dean for international student services, Ninah Pretto. This is the second post. Consider the original Facebook post that started this (full FB discussion with comments can be found in the first post):

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The original poster, confirmed by the Dean’s Office, stated that the Economics major has been reclassified as STEM by the Williams administration. Consider the list of majors/academic fields considered STEM that the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement) maintains. A cursory search will show that general Economics is not considered a STEM subject, only “Quantitative Economics/Econometrics” and “Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics.” Since Williams has newly designated its Economics major as STEM, we can reasonably conclude that the Economics major must have significantly changed to be more quantitative in nature from previous years to warrant this.

Consider the course catalogs from SY 2015-16 and the current school year’s. For the sake of completeness, here is SY 2014-2015, SY 2013-s014, and SY 2012-2013. Checking is left as an exercise to the reader, but a brief summary of what you’ll find: no substantial changes in the Williams Economics major!

Let’s repeat that: there have been no material changes in the Economics major year on year since at least 2012. In other words, it is no more quantitative now than it was a year ago, two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, and five years ago. Last I checked (March 29 2017), Williams has a major in Economics, not in Econometrics/Quantitative Economics/Pharmaeconomics/Pharmaceutical Economics. Princeton, which reclassified its Economics major to STEM, has a math-track Economics major. Williams does not.

Questions/concerns:

  1. Is Williams violating the law by designating its Economics major as a STEM major when it clearly is not? It would seem that this decision is at best, deceptive, and at worst, illegal, especially since this decision has far reaching consequences in terms of visas and immigration for international students.
  2. Recall that Dean Ninah Pretto explicit stated that ultimate determination of this policy rests with Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom. Taking Dean Pretto on her word, we must ask: why did Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom reclassify Economics as a STEM major when it clearly is not? What went into this decision?
  3. In the official list of STEM majors, there are 10 (compared to Econ’s two!) fields of psychology – ranging from social psychology to neuroscience – that count as STEM. Does Williams classify psychology, whose concentrations and subject matter adhere to the official list, as a STEM major? Current psychology majors tell us that no, Williams does not consider psychology as a STEM subject! This begs the question: why not? Clearly, according to the federal bureau that regulates F-1 visas, psychology is a STEM field. 
  4. Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom is a psychology professor! In fact, she is the Hales Professor of Psychology of Williams. So why did Dean Sandstrom classify Economics as STEM and Psychology as not STEM? It seems far fetched to suggest that her expertise in psychology is lacking, so this begs the more troubling question: have either Dean Sandstrom or Dean Pretto read the official list of STEM majors, or do they just haphazardly make these types of decisions? Their actions thus far suggest the latter.
  5. On a related matter, members of the Psychology Student Advisory Board report that there have been efforts to change the division classification of psychology to Div 3, but, notably, they report that psychology professors have said that “there is no way this would happen for psychology if it did not happen for economics first.” The college course catalog still classifies Economics as Div 2, but curiously, changed its designation as STEM, although it is no more quantitative than it was a year (and more!) ago when it wasn’t STEM. However, psychology, which clearly falls under fields considered STEM by the ICE, does not enjoy STEM status. Why? 

I offer an intelligent guess that is not without precedent1: Economics is the most popular major in the college and among international students. If I were a prospective international student who wants to major in economics in the United States, as most who come here do, I would certainly want to go to a school (thus pay tuition) that would allow me to maximize my post-college employment opportunities in the United States. At least two reports on the distribution of GPAs and academic major difficulty suggest Math and Physics are much harder than Economics. So, instead of breaking my back in Real Analysis, I can just take Intermediate Macroeconomics and reap the benefits of a STEM major for my career – wonderful! Too bad for Psychology – even if it is a real STEM field, it just isn’t popular enough at Williams! 

Whatever the motivations of this policy change is, one thing is clear: whoever is making these decisions certainly leaves much to be desired by way of consistency and transparency!

 

1Recall from the first discussion that the Dean’s Office and Dean Ninah Pretto initially stonewalled and/or rejected requests from international student graduates, who no longer pay Williams tuition.

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Recent Int’l Graduates Concerns with Dean’s Office, 1/3

Fellow current students have pointed out a concern recent international student graduates are having with Dean’s Office. Consider a Facebook discussion on the matter:

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There are many statements here to unpack (especially the comments!). Let’s focus on the concern that the original poster focuses on in this first of three discussions.

Some context: international students at Williams are on the F-1 student visa, and among its stipulations is that such students are given a 12 month “optional practical training” or OPT period post-graduation to legally work in the country. However, if one declares a STEM major, that one year is extensible to three. This also gives international student graduates in STEM majors three chances at applying for work visa (a lottery with a ~25% chance of success each year) to stay longer, if that’s what they want, as opposed to just one if the student had declared a non-STEM major.

Following in the footsteps of institutions like Princeton, the original poster reports that Williams is now categorizing the college’s Economics major as a STEM major, incidentally the most popular major among international students in the college. However, unlike Princeton, which allowed international student graduates in Economics to be retroactively categorized as STEM (thus allowing them a couple extra years to work), Williams has rejected such requests from graduates of the class of 2015 and 2016. In initial emails with Dean Ninah Pretto, the new Assistant Dean for International Student Services, where students/graduates cite Princeton’s example (and material evidence of this!), she immediately rejects these requests without providing any explanation. Students and graduates, however, pressed on emailing, restating evidence from Princeton to which Dean Ninah relented. She states that she is “afraid” of retroactively applying this policy to graduates, but that she would call Princeton today. She also states that the final authority rests with Dean Marlene Sandstrom.

As this post went to press, no update has arrived from the Dean’s Office.

Some questions:

  1. Is it Dean Ninah Pretto’s personal policy to not explain decisions she makes that materially affect the lives of Williams students/graduates? The comments suggest this is endemic to the whole Dean’s Office, but that is another long (but related) discussion to have.
  2. Is it not Dean Ninah Pretto’s job to check these policies ahead of time so she wouldn’t be “afraid” of doing anything? Clearly she had nothing to be “afraid” of, since Princeton was able to do this.
  3. If she were truly “afraid” of retroactively applying this policy to recent international graduates of the college, she would have checked before making such a unilateral decision on policy, which is what she did! So, why did she unilaterally reject the initial requests?
  4. To that point, does Dean Ninah Pretto have this unilateral authority? If so, what decisions can she unilaterally make for international students? Current and future international students would appreciate a list for future reference.
  5. If the students/graduates did not press Dean Pretto, would it be entirely possible that this issue would’ve just gone away and recent international graduates wouldn’t receive any fair treatment? My guess is that yes, it would’ve just been dropped, based on the experience of my peers. Thankfully, they kept pressing, or she might never have considered doing her job!
  6. In one of her latest emails to international students, Dean Ninah states: “As your International Student Advisor, I want to reiterate my commitment to serving and supporting each and every one of you. Again, this country is made up of immigrants from all over the world and they make the U.S. a unique and amazing place.” If this is truly her position, does Dean Pretto believe that recent international graduates are less deserving of her commitment to serve and support? What criteria does she use to make this determination? Again, current and future international students would certainly like to know.

What do fellow classmates/EphBlog readers think?

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Hello, EphBlog! – Concerned Ephs ’17 (and ’18, and ’19, and so forth)

The first time I came to Williams was the fall before my freshman year – my eighth stop in my college tour, and by then, I’d discovered that the best way to truly learn about a school, skeletons included, wasn’t through admissions tours or glossy brochures, but by dropping in on a class, looking at the person beside me, shaking my head, and declaring “Oh my god, I heard that problem set was so hard.” Fortunately (for me at least) this proved quite effective when I visited because it happened to be midterm season then. I sat in a physics lecture, looked to my right, and said: “Oh my god, I heard that midterm was so hard.” The girl seated beside me, Jaime, enlarged her eyes and nodded in agreement, and to my delight, began speaking in earnest, generous detail about her packed (to put it lightly) week: a dance show just three days for which she had daily rehearsals, some RA work that was due with the statistics department, planning a surprise birthday for her entrymate (Willy D!), holding office hours for a CS class she was TA-ing, and, of course, the lab element of her physics midterm. Jaime looked exhausted and sleep deprived, and had the bloodshot eyes to prove it. As she was about to say more, to my surprise Jaime stopped herself and shrugged: “Sorry, I shouldn’t be complaining. Forget what I just said.” Perplexed with this realization following her rant, I asked her what she meant. “Everyone at Williams is so lucky to be here. Sometimes it gets overwhelming but what makes this all so worth it, what makes this place unique I guess, is that everyone really cares.” She packed up her things, and in the face of a mountain of commitments the following day, proceeded to old Sawyer, where her tutee would be waiting. I was sold – no one in any other school said anything remotely as powerful.

It didn’t take long after I first arrived to realize how true Jaime’s words (and so, so much more!) are. Coming from the other side of the world, coming to Williams was a huge leap of faith; now, some years later, my roots are firmly planted in this fertile, Purple Valley. Some of my most cherished memories and most powerful moments include the all nighters I spent with fellow classmates studying for that last bio final in Science Quad; the conversations I’d have with professors-turned-mentors, where their passions exude in their excitement; the many times I’ve seen both friends and strangers drop everything to help a fellow classmate in need. As time went by, the four years here I once considered a mere stepping stone slowly became an end unto itself. As with the many who read and write for this blog, I’ve come attribute much of who I am today to the people I’ve met, befriended, learned from, and mentored (you go full circle at Williams!), and the ideas that I’ve explored with them here in the Purple Valley.

It’s for these very reasons that I, along with two friends from the class of ’18 and ’19, have taken to EphBlog as students who are very concerned with the state of matters in the college. As our affinity and affection for Williams grew, so did our awareness of the institution and internal workings behind the name. As many of my fellow upperclassmen will agree, the more time one spends at Williams, the more one begins to notice the disturbing cracks in the well: fellow classmates unceremoniously ignored or stonewalled by administrators, the rude and unfair treatment of students who want to start clubs (some elements of Williams make this shockingly difficult if they do not agree with you!), backwards and arbitrary use of policy, rampant and potentially systemic Honor Code violations, and so much more! It was a deeply sad and distressing moment for all of us when we realized that the Williams to which we aspired wasn’t the Williams we thought it was.

Unfortunately, Williams students are not ideally placed to solve, let alone notice, these problems. We students come and go every year, the Record is unable to report anything substantive (for good reason, which we’ll get to in a future post!), and no student will have any reasonable measure of institutional memory to draw on. What’s more is that in our efforts to get answers to issues, it’s been made quite clear to us that there is no place for questions, debate, and opinions (esp. if you do not agree with Williams) in the Purple Valley. Sometimes, these concerns may initially seem isolated to individual cases. However, as we began investigating and hearing more and more Hopkins Horror Stories (as they’re known among students) and other disturbing events from fellow students and professors, patterns just as perturbing started emerging that we could no longer ignore – especially since many of them are quite structural (and thus here to stay) in nature! Many of our professors, especially those who’ve been here longer, pointed (some willingly, most unwillingly) to EphBlog as a means of cataloging, reporting, discussing, and connecting these issues – where else can Williams students earnestly, meaningfully do this? It’s our hope that these efforts help usher a more transparent, fairer Williams that all of us can proudly call their alma mater. At the end of the day, we all play a role in shaping what Williams is, and what we ultimately want it to become.

All this said, though, we also love talking about issues at Williams separate from these concerns – to alums, please let us know what you’d like to hear! We’re very into Ephs doing cool things (so we’ll post a bit about that every now and then!), career advice for younger underclassmen (such as getting that internship), and which classes to take/professors to meet. Otherwise, if you have any tips or issues you’d like to discuss (other current students especially!), shoot us an email at concerned.ephs@gmail.com – we would love to hear from all Ephs!

Happy Friday!

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Housing alternatives open at other schools in light of suicide …

As forwarded to me by a reader:

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

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

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

And as reported int The Record

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

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

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

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Is this statement true?

Link to topix debate- Great stuff! Town and gown!

The Williams College heating plant particulate emissions ranking in the Commonwealth of Mass,with 0 being cleanest,and 100 being dirtiest in the state, is 90.

What exactly is the emissions data from the college power plant, how much growth in use has there been in the last decade?

Why be for biomass and other local fuel sources? It’s the war, stupid!


(Ed Note: Picture of the 1934 Cramm and Ferguson gem added Sun 16Jan’11 at 11:11 PST)

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Satterthwaite’s contract not renewed?!


I have just received the following news about Sheafe Satterthwaite, beloved eccentric lecturer in art history:

Sheafe’s contract has not been renewed for the coming year. Sheafe is 71 and has taught at Williams for over 40 years. He has always been a Lecturer on a four-year, renewable contract. This year, citing low student evaluations, he was told in late November that his contract would not be renewed.

For those who aren’t familiar with him, Sheafe is independently wealthy (at least, is rumored to be — ed.) and teaches because he enjoys teaching. All of his courses include a once-weekly “field seminar,” where he drives the class around in a large van to areas of interest in the countryside around Williams, and lectures while driving. He also takes all of his students out to dinner (in groups) at least once, and often invites them to his house. Rumor has it that he is paid something like $1 for the four-year contract, and Williams throws in free lunches at Driscoll (this last part is true; Sheafe told me).

Would you please consider writing a letter to the Dean of Faculty, Prof. William Wagner? His email is william.g.wagner@williams.edu. I think a lot of us never expected we would need to write such a letter — perhaps we thought we might show our appreciation at a retirement party someday. But we do need to write now and explain how Sheafe has influenced our lives, our teaching, our careers, our ways of understanding the world. We need to tell the administration about the gifts Sheafe gave us and continues to give students at Williams.

This missive comes from Mark Livingston ’72 and Belle Zars ’76. Full message from Zars below the break.

Sheafe’s classes are certainly some of the most unique at Williams, and when I look back at the experiences in class that I remember most from college, Sheafe’s class was certainly one of the most memorable. Please consider writing in on his behalf.
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Ephs on Entrepreneurship #2: Anon ‘0x

Not every would-be entrepreneur is in an encouraging community. Here’s the discouraging experience of one Eph emailer who graduated in the last decade (name and class year concealed):

I see great irony in the Alumni Review celebrating those who move back to Williamstown to start businesses, because the College was certainly hostile to current students who try to start them.

Over the summer before sophomore year, one of my friends and I hit on an idea for a web service in the online photo space. A friend of his mother expressed interest and asked us to draw up a business plan, and another friend put us in touch with a coding firm in Eastern Europe. Back at Williams, as we put the finishing touches on our business plan, we proactively notified the dean’s office about our plans and asked whether approval was required by the college regulations for “student businesses.”

Big mistake. We were told that it reaction was to confirm that they considered it a student business even though it wasn’t primarily aimed at selling anything to students — the fact that Williams students could be among the users was enough. And then, we were directly discouraged from proceeding. In repeated meetings, we were questioned about our grades, our course load, our other extracurricular activities, and even our social lives. Message: you don’t have time for this. Then we were told that we couldn’t use college Internet resources — not just for hosting (which we had never planned to do), but for design, maintenance, even communicating with the overseas developers. The process of getting permission dragged on for months.

In the end, we did get approval, but my friend had made the varsity [] team, I started a new relationship, and we put the project on the back burner. . . .

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Female-to-male ratio now 55:45

Most interesting snippet in this month’s EphNotes?

Williams admitted 1,200 students out of 6,633 applicants–an 18 percent acceptance rate. Of accepted students, 659 are women and 543 are men, bringing the female to male admit ratio to 55:45.

I think I have heard that Williams, like most other schools, has a policy to accept female and male students in the same proportion as those who applied. So from this we deduce that 55% of applicants were female. However, this could (will?) create a significant gender imbalance at Williams.

I seem to recall arriving on campus in fall 2003 and learning that our class (’07) was the first class to have a 50-50 gender balance; all previous classes had more males than females. I found this interesting because I had also been a member of the first 50-50 class at Phillips Exeter, four years earlier. I am somewhat surprised that it only took seven years to go from 50-50 to 55-45.

This is a reflection of a larger trend, of more females pursuing higher education than males. Here is (fluffier but more recent) background from the NYT and (less fluffy, less recent) more background from the NYT on the trend of more females than males in college.

Thoughts?

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“The real Mayor of Spring Street”

Project webpage is up and running. It will be interesting to see what angle the Williams students take for this research? Judging from the pictures on the webpage… I think they are getting a feel for the larger metaphor.

Update: Sign up to follow the blog for the Real Mayor here. If you have “stories or anecdotes” to tell about the gas station or Art, the researchers are looking for input.

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Tufts to Students: Cut That Out!

Enough was enough, apparently.  After receiving “a significant number of complaints last year from residents bothered by their roommates’ sexual behavior,” Tufts has banned dorm room canoodling when roomie is present.  The policy further states that “any sexual activity in the room should not interfere with a roommate’s privacy, study habits or sleep.”

It wouldn’t be a new regulation from a campus life organization if there weren’t some doublespeak involved, so here’s Office of Residential Life and Learning’s Carrie Ales-Rich on why this new policy really isn’t a policy at all:

The sex policy, Ales-Rich said, is intended as a tool to facilitate conversation and compromise between roommates, rather than simply proscribe behavior. Ales-Rich emphasized that ResLife hopes students will be able to resolve the issues on their own instead of allowing conflicts to reach a point at which the office has to intervene.

“We want to make perfectly clear that we do not want to hinder someone from engaging in any personal or private activity,” she said. “But when it becomes uncomfortable for the roommate, we want to have something in place that empowers the residents to have a good conversation with the roommate.”

Yes, because those conversations always go better when one sophomore can threaten the other. Also note that the Tufts administration apparently did not consult the student government or really any students before it made the change.

ResLife saw a need to take the lead in addressing the issue due to its sensitive nature, according to Ales-Rich. “We found in the past that when it comes to sexual activity in the room, students find it an uncomfortable topic to talk about,” she said.

In short, Tufts bureaucrats don’t think their kids have the capacity to talk about sex, so they unilaterally created a new set of rules, which won’t have to be enforced because kids will talk about sex amongst themselves.

No word yet on whether the new policy will cover ties on doorknobs, condom theft, or threesome remorse.

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D.A.R.E / Amethyst

Chotch links to some recent commentary from John McCardell, President Emeritus of Middlebury College, on the Amethyst Initiative (Williams is not, yet, a signatory). Perhaps the most interesting section:

Slowly but surely we may be seeing a change in attitude. This summer, Dr. Morris Chafetz, a distinguished psychiatrist, a member of the presidential commission that recommended raising the drinking age, and the founder of the National Institute for Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse admitted that supporting the higher drinking age is “the most regrettable decision of my entire professional career.” This remarkable statement did not receive the attention it merited.

More comments below.

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Possible interrogation investigation?

Has been lighting up the news these last few days. My thoughts are that this could be very damaging to the United States. It has the potential to blow up in our faces big time.

This will damage Obama politically as well. The gain of chasing these demons could be more damaging to us than it is worth. I am sure others blogging here agree and disagree for a number of reasons.

Update 25 Aug 09: The Eph course below is sure to be interesting.

Fall 2009

Philosophy 238 – Justice, Terrorism, and Weapons of Mass Destruction (Sames as Political Science 237)
What is generally known as Just War Theory (JWT), first clearly formulated by Augustine and then developing both theistic and non-theistic variants, both of which have been forced to adapt as technological advances have brought with them new forms of violence that the theories must take into consideration, are currently challenged by terrorism, torture, and weapons of mass destruction. This seminar will review prominent current forms of JWT, examining how each deals with these challenges; its goal will be to discover, or perhaps in part to formulate, the currently best available theory concerning the political ethics of torture, terrorism, Counterterrorism, and the production and uses of weapons of mass destruction. Enrollment limit: 19. Preference given to prospective and current Philosophy and Political Science majors.
Instructor: WHITE

More thought provoking than my original post no doubt, which rated about a four out of ten on the Mancow scale of relevance to all things Eph.

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“Comments” and their deletion …

Dear EphBlog Family,

In the matter of a comment being removed without any indication of this taking place

1. The Board has given very serious consideration to the instance of a comment being removed with no notification or indication that this has happened.

By unanimous decision, The Board now requires that a note be put in to the post indicating that a comment has been removed along with the name of the person removing it, and hopefully, a note of explanation. A note has been sent by Ronit to those very few people entrusted with editing privileges informing them of this.

In addition, in the very rare occurrence in which this may happen, the person whose comment was removed may dispute this by contacting the Board, the Ombudsperson, or both to apply for mediation.

2. The FAQ will be rewritten:

My Comment was removed.

Comments may only be deleted if they are considered to be rude, obnoxious, off-topic, trollish, or SPAM .

Comments may not be removed because of ideological or political disagreement.

If your comment has been removed, the person removing it is required to replace your comment with a note “comment deleted by (name)”. We also encourage that a note citing the ‘reason why’ be added.

If this removal has happened to a comment that you have made and you wish to dispute the action, please contact the Board and/or our Ombudsperson Ken Thomas ‘93

The Board believes that these actions will best serve the interests and integrity of EphBlog.

For the Board,

Dick Swart 1956
President
EphBlog

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Lower taxes!

  One of the things we should to begin to explore is the lowering of Williamstown’s tax rate in order to accommodate more middle class owners in town. The town is strapped with the double whammy of a college that owns much of the property (a high valuation) and a high tax rate of 11.4 or 1,140 dollars of tax on every 100,000 of assessed value. That makes it hard for middle class buyers. Working people have fled the town, especially in the central areas. They simply cannot afford the taxes.

 

   To put this into perspective- other towns like Lanesboro and Pittsfield have similar rates, but much lower values. The town of Hancock has the incredible rate of .2.98, while new Ashford comes in at 6.96.

 

  A lot of the municipal costs, such as a large local police and fire department, cover the needs of the College. I took a look at the fire trucks during the parade and thought- ‘my god, this entire structure is in place to cover a possible large fire that could occur on college property.’ I believe that a study should be done to explore PILOT, in order to reduce the Williamstown tax rate below .10 to .099. That would make the town more affordable for local venders and home owners.

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Editing and Deleting

What follows is a conversation that began on “Speak Up”.

To recap a bit, PTC made a comment on this post. The comment was a criticism of Karl Rove, the author of the article to which Dave linked. There were no disparaging remarks made about the subjects of the post, the Krissof family. In fact,  I would go so far as to say that if there is any one subject on this blog site on which all agree, it is that the Krissof family commands all of our deepest respect and admiration. 

To continue: PTC’s comment was deleted. No note appeared in it’s place stating why and by whom. PTC then made a statement on “Speak Up” that his comment had been deleted and that is where the discussion (below) begins.

As a board member, I encourage the discussion to continue in a positive way, with the goal being more clarity on the EphBlog policy regarding the rules on editing, deletion, and censorship.

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Equitable Housing

From another Record Op-Ed by Andrés López ’09:

Without a doubt, Spencer Neighborhood offers the best housing in terms of location and room quality, while Dodd and Wood neighborhoods include some awkward housing choices. When Spencer Neighborhood sophomores have access to spacious singles in West Hall, while some Wood Neighborhood seniors get stuck with far-off, hermetically sealed or basement rooms, there’s got to be a problem.

My question to you folks is this: what are the hidden benefits of certain dorms, and the hidden costs? We can look at the advantages of location and room size with a map and room blueprints, but there are other factors – living above Prospect or Morgan basement is likely less peaceable than Lehman. Another factor are the small things in life, such as the motion-sensor in my shower room that inevitably shuts off the light while someone is still showering.

What do you remember about your housing here from years past?

Edited at 5:30 in order to focus more exactly on the dorms as opposed to the housing system.

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Public (?) Faculty Meetings

There was debate last week about whether or not the monthly Williams faculty meetings are public. The truth seems to be that, for decades, they were but that, very recently, things have changed. Pathetic. If you believe in the virtues of academia, then you believe in openness and transparency. Although many meetings at Williams will, of course, need to remain private, any gathering of the full faculty should be public. Aren’t all my progressive friends supposed to believe in open meetings? Details below.
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Suggestion for CCI

Emily Spine ’11 and the other Ephs on the Committee on Community Interaction continue to do fine work. They are serious, thoughtful and — most importantly from a process point of view — transparent. Alas, their task is a hard one. How can we improve “the way people in this community interact with each other” at Williams?

My suggestion: Expand First Days (pdf) by one week.

Now, to be fair, the first part of CCI’s work is to determine if Williams has a problem. I think that too many people exaggerate the extent of, say, racism at Williams (c.f. the empty star chamber) but there is no doubt that a wonderful place can always be made more wonderful. Surely we can agree that the amount of drunken vandalism at Williams is suboptimal.

The key insight of organizations that try to change their members behavior (and even value systems) is that the best time to do so is at the very beginning. The Marine Corps places boot camp at the start of your service, not because it is critical to learn how to shine your boots the first week, but because that is the occasion for leaving behind your civilian values and replacing them with different ones. The same applies to religious cults. It is hard for the CCI to do anything which will significantly change the behavior of a Williams senior. He is what he is. You can try to change him, but don’t expect to succeed.

But the same student, as an 18 year-old first year, new to college and to Williams, having left behind the old landmarks of high school and family, trying to adjust to a new world with an unknown culture and foreign standards, that Eph is malleable. You can change his “heart and mind,” if not easily than with more ease than you can an older student, someone who has already found a place for himself at Williams.

Now, the exact mechanics of how we might make First Years better people, how we might change their values so that they are less likely to trash someone’s room or shout a racial slur, is a difficult topic. Yet we can all agree that that process takes time, that First Days are already too filled to accomplish much, that any effort to improve community interaction requires hours and hours of effort. Add a week to First Days and you have that time.

Imagine an extra week of First Days, a week that focuses almost completely on meeting your fellow Ephs, on learning their names, their dreams, their hopes and aspirations. Imagine a freshmen class in which every resident of Pratt knows, not just the names of everyone in her entry, but the names of every student in her dorm. Imagine a week cut off from Williams academics and Williams sports, a week spent focusing on your classmates, the students you will spend the next four years with and then stay connected with for decades thereafter.

If you want to improve “community interaction” then you need to strengthen the Williams community, and that begins by learning names and sharing meals. Such learning and sharing occurs in entries and during the school year, of course. But the more such connections are made, the stronger our community will become.

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Student Book Initiative

A WSO Post introduces Springstreetbooks.org, a site for student book orders to avoid Water Street, which tends to run out and be expensive.

If Ephblog readers have ideas on doing this and making it work, as well as other possible uses (book swap / exchange?), I’d certainly welcome them, and will be inviting Joey to join this thread.

Rarely do I ask favors here, but this is a cause worth a bit of thought if you have the time. That goes for non-regular commenters too, all 800 of you.

Thanks!

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The Function of RASAN

The Campus Rape Myth is a long an interesting read, especially as a male member of RASAN (the Rape and Sexual Assault Network). Make no mistake, it’s quite provocative.

The campus rape movement highlights the current condition of radical feminism, from its self-indulgent bathos to its embrace of ever more vulnerable female victimhood. But the movement is an even more important barometer of academia itself. In a delicious historical irony, the baby boomers who dismantled the university’s intellectual architecture in favor of unbridled sex and protest have now bureaucratized both. While women’s studies professors bang pots and blow whistles at antirape rallies, in the dorm next door, freshman counselors and deans pass out tips for better orgasms and the use of sex toys.


Context

The “Sex Signals” show mentioned in the article came to Williams as well, and I don’t think the writer was fair in her characterization of them, so take the article with a grain of salt. Follow the jump for more quotes. Read more

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Learning from History: The Social Honor Code Proposal of 2004

Readers may recall that I have made the point a few times that, when it comes to social issues, controversies, and student self-governance at Williams, there is a certain circularity that seems to escape the notice of most on campus. The last time I wrote on this it was to cover 2007’s resurrection of the idea to “lock down” campus dorms to non-residents after a certain hour, in the name of descreasing vandalism. This same idea had been almost foisted on students four years ago, nearly to the day. Thankfully, Security showed forbearance in 2003, and student voters showed good sense in 2007.

The present project of a large group of students to consider adopting a Social Honor Code is another case of nothing new, and as intrepid and proud of their work as today’s students rightly feel, I hope proponents and opponents alike are aware that their peer predecessors had the same concerns and solution. Once again, nearly precisely 4 years ago, a draft of a Social Honor Code was on the floor at College Council. Sabrina Wirth ’05 was its author and main proponent, and she brought it to the floor during the 14 January 2004 Meeting of College Council. The text of her draft and the debate over it are recorded in the linked minutes from that meeting, and included below the break for (highly) interested readers.

Back then, the project was allowed to be forgotten. A number of people including myself volunteered to work with Sabrina on the project, but it was never followed up on, due to a combination of timing, disinterest or suspicion by some in Council, including myself. Then and now, I did not believe in implementing such a code, largely because I knew it would be actually enforced by the dean, and not what I considered a true representative body of the community. The ability to “enforce community standards” is the most broad and vague source of disciplinary power for the Dean, and I had no desire to see it strengthened.

I don’t at all wish to impose my views or arguments on the students of today, though I do hope this:

  1. Students will read Sabrina’s work and the discussions of their predecessor peers.
  2. Students will not make the interpretation of community standards the discretion of a dean, who is already the executor and need not be made judge or jury as well.
  3. If they draft a code, students make it one amendable by students alone. The Academic Honor Code is amendable only by faculty and, in this way, is not a good model for a code of the community. Only a tiny percentage of the faculty are any meaningful part of the social community.
  4. The code be publicly deliberated and voted on, and written records kept of all deliberations. All of this will be crucial to properly implementing and revising such a code in the future.

Awful as scrawling “nigger” is, arguably worse incidents took place shortly before and after Sabrina’s code proposal, and it was not taken up by enough believers to continue her effort. I’d have to bet on the side of the idea of this code being eventually dropped—doing it right would take so much time and thought, and doing it wrong would be awful—but if a code is implemented, one thing is certain: administrators now and ever after will describe it as a mandate, as “the restrictions students convened to place upon themselves.”

They had better be smart ones. When you hand over the freedom to determine community standards informally—through public shame and subtler private mechanisms—no one ever hands it back to you.
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Debating Class Requirements and Public Speaking

In the WNY thread we recently had some argument over the usefulness of Williams’ requirements for graduation, namely the Quantitative Reasoning (QR) and Intensive Writing (IW) instituted in 2001, and the Foreign Language (FL) proposed but rejected then.

Not discussed as often is a fourth proposal then, that missed 2/3 acceptance by one vote: a Public Speaking (PS) requirement.

I’d like to reopen the debate on this issue. Should Williams have requirements for graduation beyond 32 classes and a major? David takes the con side of this.

For this argument, I’ll go pro for public speaking and division requirements but con for others. Prior comments show that others will take pro more generally, supporting FL if not other requirements. My opening points are below, and I’d love for others to join the discussion on this critical topic.

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Lockdown 2007 Vote Follow-Up

We never did cover what happened with that ill-timed, ill-considered vote about locking down the campus that so bothered me to see reconsidered. Andrew’s blog for College Council has got it covered: Students voted NO to letting houses restrict access by a margin of 1,349 to 204. That’s about as clear a response as you get. I hope the College gives up trying to solve the problem this way.

Andrew’s post excerpts some good free-response quotes appended to people’s votes and posts the whole collection of free responses. Way to go, Andrew, that’s fine work. If all surveys of students were so transparent, they couldn’t be used to justify actions that were against the respondents’ wills.

A comment to Andrew’s entry alleges

Sure, restricted card access is probably unnecessary. But there are so many problems with that survey that the whole thing just became a joke.

I wonder what made it a joke? Were there other bad questions? Was it poorly advertised or something? Details, especially a post of the original survey would be great if it was anything beyond yes/no and the comment box.

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Williams goes loanless

From Morty:

I am very pleased to announce that, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, the College has decided to eliminate loans from all financial aid packages and replace them with grants.

This applies to all future aid awards, including those of current
students. First-years, sophomores, and juniors will see the change
reflected in their award letters for 2008-09.

See the whole letter via the link below.

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Lessons from the Lockdown Debate of 2003

Four years and three days ago College Council debated this very issue, and decided overwhelmingly against restricted card access. Direct input from a large number of students was the basis of the decision; we had an unusually high influx of opinions that week.

I urge the leaders of campus today to remember the debate of four years ago, links to its records are in the extended entry. I urge them also to remember that no decision that provides Security with a new tool that they feel prevents danger and damages can be easily reversed. In other words, restricted access in even some dorms this year is highly likely to lead to at least as much restriction in future years, and likely more, and even if no benefit from such restraints were to materialize the restrictions will remain in place.

We are looking at not just an inconvenience this semester but likely an enduring change in campus culture. Students may well have this forced on them someday, but they ought not to take it by choice.

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Removal Policy Going Forward

Although policies will be set by our board of directors, we will always seek community involvement. Let’s start by revisiting our policy on removals.

How can I get a post or comment about me deleted?

Just ask! EphBlog will delete almost any post or comment which mentions a specific individual at the request of that individual. We have been asked a dozen times to delete specific material and have complied with almost every request. This is not to say that we will delete anything that anyone wants us to. For example, important, news-worthy topics (e.g., here, here and here) will be covered even if that coverage makes the subject uncomfortable.

What do you want this policy to be going forward? In other words, I don’t want to revisit for now how this policy might have applied to Julia (or anyone else) in the past. Feel free to use Julia or other historical examples) in making an argument and specifying how a new policy might work. But, if you don’t like this policy, please provide a new one. Write down exactly what the FAQ should say. The nice thing, in my view, about the current policy is that it provides fairly clear criteria. We need rules based, not on how much we like the person behind a given request, but on criteria that are person/viewpoint neutral.

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