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Questions about the 80’s II

Gargoyle is interested in Williams history and has passed along some questions about life at Williams is the mid-to-late 1980s. I will be posting (and answering) these questions. If you were around during this era, please chime in!

What were the major issues and topics of conversation that students at Williams were concerned with?

Issues and topics of conversation were, more or less, the same then as now. Consider some front page articles from the issues of the Williams Record from September 2016.

Seniors, Faculty Convocate
Minority Students Preview Science Courses
Student Rental Disturbs Neighbors
College Council Discussed Ways to Recruit Minority Faculty
Baker Like Mass MoCA
Falk Appoints Cook to Head Race Relations Board
Department Chairmen Stress Minority Recruitment Efforts
Tauber Chairs IPECS, New Department for Innovative, Interdisciplinary Courses
Council Reorganizes Freshmen Council

Oh, wait. Did I claim that these were the front page Record articles for September 2016? My mistake! Those were the front page Record articles for September 1987. (I made two switches: replace (then president) “Oakley” with “Falk” and (then governor) “Dukakis” with “Baker.”) Careful readers might have been suspicious about some of these headlines. We now use “chairs” instead of “chairmen.” We now talk about “diversity” instead of “race” or “minority.” Professor Kurt Tauber (bless his Marxist heart!) is long retired and Professor Tim Cook, sadly, passed away several years ago.

But, to me, the amazing thing is the constancy of the issues/topics that concerned the Williams community, then and now. Indeed, with minor word changes, each of these titles could be a Record article today. We were obsessed with race in the 1980s. Williams is obsessed with diversity today. Affirmative action — admitting students and hiring faculty with worse qualifications because of the color of their skin — was controversial then, just as it is today. The general liberalism of Williams students has, if anything, grown over time. There was an active Garfield Republican Club in the 1980s, not so today.

Of course, many other issues/topics are different. The biggest single issue at Williams during this era, as we discussed yesterday, involved apartheid in South Africa and the College’s response to it, especially in terms of divesting the endowment from companies doing business there. There was a “shanty town” on Chapin Lawn, at least for a several months and maybe longer. An impressive display of white crosses in the same location, to illustrate the fatalities associated with apartheid, was a major event one year. Concerns about nuclear winter were common, with movies like The Day After highlighting the dangers of conflict with the Soviet Union.

Yet, looking back, the political disputes then and now are more similar than they are different. The major changes have been technological. For example, how much porn does the typical (male?) Williams student consume each week? Thirty years ago, pornography was vanishingly rare. There must have been (male?) students with copies of Playboy and Penthouse, but I never knew of them. My avante-garde theatre major roommates rented a porn video once and, on at least one occasion, Images showed something along the lines of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, but the modal Williams student viewed almost no pornography while at Williams.

Similar changes have come in all sorts of communications technologies. Back then, the typical Greylock suite had a single phone line, shared by 4 or even 6 students. Non-local calls were so expensive that, at the end of each month, roommates would look at the bill and specify (and pay for) the calls they had each made. Finding out a fact as simple as, did the Dodgers win last night, was non-trivial.

Some students had TVs but channels were limited and reception poor. Cable only became available in some dorms, and then only in the common areas, in the later 1980s.

Summary: A transcript of a Williams college class from thirty years ago, especially something in the sciences or humanities, is very similar (98%?) to today’s transcript. A practice session for the soccer team or the Springstreeters is also more-or-less the same. But the entertainments students consume, the communications they employ and the computer devices they use are all radically different.

How would our reader who were at Williams in the 1980s answer this question? What about readers from other eras?

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Are Sexual Assault Investigations Biased Against Poor Minority Males?

Will the Record mention some of the sensitive PC issues associated with Safety Dance? For example:

only

True? Probably. Certainly, 90%+ of the cases must be against men. But the Record ought to find out the truth. Williams can’t reveal the students involved in individual cases, but it can discuss the overall statistics. It probably won’t but the Record should push the College to explain why not. If students in category X are much more likely to commit sexual assault, shouldn’t Williams admit fewer of them and/or devote more energy to educating them?

Even if Williams can’t admit fewer men, should it change the mixture of men which it admits?

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I have talked to enough recent students to know that minority men on financial aid are much more likely to be charged with sexual assault at Williams and punished for it. John Doe fits this pattern. (The same is also true of varsity athletes, especially those playing helmet-sports.)

Recall that in the recent Amherst case (investigated by the same attorney (Kurker) who Williams employed on this case), the accused student’s lawyer claimed that:

After the College [Amherst] adopted its new policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct in May 2013, it aggressively began to prosecute alleged perpetrators. On information and belief, in doing so, the College targeted male students of color. In particular, on information and belief, the only students who have been sanctioned with separation from the College (forced leave, suspension, or expulsion) as a result of allegations of sexual misconduct have been male students of color.

My friends on the Alt-Right would claim that, first, minority men are much more likely to commit sexual assault than white men in the general population, so it stands to reason that the same dynamics would apply to elite colleges. Second, they would be perplexed at how often “minority” in this context means “Asian-American,” as in the headline cases at Amherst and Vassar. Asian-Americans are, of course, much less likely to commit sexual assaults than whites. Is sexual assault by Asian-American men on college campuses more likely than we might naively expect or is it that the college justice system is biased against them? Save this debate for another day.

The last PC issues worth pondering concern class and culture. Consider some of the speech/actions that John Doe is accused of:

Susan brought John as her date to her 100 Days Dance. They had an argument, and she told him that she wanted to leave the party because they weren’t enjoying it. John and Susan walked towards the door, but as she walked out of it, he stayed at the door and said something like, “Oh, you can’t come back in now.”

(Susan stated that once a person left the dance, the College did not allow reentry.) At the time that John tricked Susan into leaving the dance without him, he knew that she did not have her phone or ID with her because he was holding them. Without these things, she was forced to sit outside of her dorm (Dodd House) in 19-degree weather, in only a dress and heels, as she waited about an hour for someone to come by to let her in to the building.

This is one of many (not uncontested!) examples of John Doe acting like a cad. But, as the Exploring Diversity Initiative at Williams is designed to teach, cultures differ. In Ecuador, men are expected to treat women in a certain fashion. That particular example of diversity may not be what Williams is interested in having more of. Should the College, therefore, prefer applicants from some cultures over those from others?

Side note: John Doe, on his Linked-In reports that he is Williams College 2011-2015. The first problem, obviously, is that he is implying that he has a Williams degree when, in fact, he does not. The second problem is that this suggests (since he didn’t complete the required course work until the spring of 2016) that he took time off from Williams. There is at least one anonymous suggestion that the College forced him to take time off because of his behavior towards a female student. Any truth to that? Would that explain why Williams has come down so hard on him when the facts of this case, alone, would not justify such an extreme punishment?

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Notes for Record Reporting on Safety Dance

The leadership of the Record — Matthew Borin, Zoe Harvan and Christian Ruhl — faces some difficult questions in covering “Safety Dance,” the latest sexual assault controversy at Williams. Reader comments are wanted on all the below.

1) Do they mention the real name of the accused, currently called John Doe in the legal filings? We all know his name, both because of anonymous unmaskings at EphBlog and because his attorney was sloppy in her initial legal filings, as pointed out by MRL ’91. I am unaware of any journalistic standard which protects privacy in a case like this. But the Record, out of sympathy for a fellow Eph, may not want to out him for all of Google to see.

2) Do they mention the real name of “Susan Smith,” the student who accused Doe? There is a journalistic standard — as a Williams official has repeatedly told me! — that reputable publications do not publish the names of reported victims of sexual assault. But, in those cases, the reported victim has no other status in the story beyond that of victim. In this case, Smith is an admitted perpetrator. No one contests that she slapped Doe.

Imagine if the Record had gotten a copy of this March 13, 2016 cease-and-desist letter (pdf) from Doe’s attorney to Smith. It accuses a college employee (Smith) of assaulting a student (Doe). Would that be newsworthy? Of course! Would the Record be justified in publishing both Doe and Smith’s real names? Of course! So, Smith’s name would (should) have appeared in the Record back in March. Her actions alone justify a lack of anonymity. But then, two months later, she accuses Doe of a sexual assault that occurred a year prior. Does that after-the-fact accusation mean that the Record is not allowed to publish her name with regard to a different, albeit connected, news event? I don’t know.

3) Should the Record use material that was (incompetently?) redacted from the filings? Consider page 42 from exhibit 13 pdf. In the PDF, it looks like:

redact

Many of the filings feature this sort of heavy redacting (for reasons that are unclear to me). But, if you just copy-and-paste that into a text processor, you get:

Susan’s Third Interview

The alleged incident of non-consensual sex occurred on Labor Day in 2014, on the night that Matias Crespo hosted his first party of the semester. Susan responded to John’s contentions as follows:

o Susan estimates that she and John only attended two parties in Matias’s room that semester.

o Susan maintained that, with the exception of the September incident, she and John never had sex after consuming any alcohol. She disputed John’s contention that on some occasions, they would have sex after drinking between one and three drinks each. She stated that when they went out they would drink to the point of such intoxication that they would throw up together in their room, but they never had sex after drinking.

o With respect to Susan’s level of intoxication that night, she believes that John observed her shot-gunning a beer because he was also shot-gunning beers. She also recalls that she was drinking shots of Fireball.

o Susan’s last recollection before engaging in sexual intercourse was of her leaving Matias’s room. During sex, she recalls that she was “physically trying” to get away from John by attempting to “shift out from under him,” but he was restraining her, using his body weight and strength to “hold [her] down.” NB: Susan described herself to Ms. Kurker as “lying on her stomach.”

And so on. Everything in the filings that has been redacted is actually available. Should the Record use that information in its reporting?

4) Should the Record give EphBlog credit and/or reference our reporting in any way? If it only uses documents that it, on its own, got from PACER, then it probably does not have to, unless the reporter first found out about the case by reading EphBlog. Or maybe it should credit KC Johnson? Either way, if the Record uses filings that we have provided, then it ought to credit EphBlog. Specifically, I bet that if the Record uses the non-redacted (or sloppily redacted) filings — which it almost certainly got from us — it ought to mention EphBlog. It should not pretend that it is using documents from PACER unless it has gotten them from PACER itself.

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Questions about Griffin Hall Hate Hoax

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-stairs-going-up-to-rooms-6-and-7-pic-8 Kudos to Record reporter Ryan Kelley for a solid article about the Griffin Hall hate hoax. (By the way, any ideas for catchy names for the scandal? I miss that EphBlog tradition!) Kudos, also, to the Record for publishing (and the Office of Communications for providing) crime scene photos like the one to the left. What questions should Kelley and other reporters answer for the next issue?

1) Why haven’t the criminals been arrested? The College claimed that it was a crime, hence the need for local police, Mass State Police and the FBI. Now that they knew who did it, have they informed Williamstown police about their identities. If not, why not? I suspect that the College has either declined to inform the police or (better?), it has informed them but also reported that no charges would be pressed, so no arrests were necessary. Either way, there is a cover up in progress. The Record ought to get to the bottom.

11-12-16-Griffin-Hall-main-entrance-landing-near-room-4-pic-112) Mary Detloff claimed in the Globe that identifying the students would violate Federal law. This is utter gibberish. The College is no more prevented from reporting the identity of these students than it is from telling us who scored a goal in the last soccer game. (Comments from lawyers welcome!) Federal law prevents the disclosure of certain student records. The College can’t hand out your transcript, nor can it (probably?) report that you were suspended for cheating (or sexual assault?). But a student’s confession? Or the fact that the College determined, on its own, who the guilty students are? The College can report that all day long. The Record should push Detloff hard on this untruthful claim, perhaps by insisting on an interview with the college’s in-house lawyer: Jeff Jones.

3) Follow the money. What is the total cost of fixing the physical damage? What is the cost of overtime for security officers involved in the investigation? Will the guilty students be expected to pay those costs? If not, why not? If a student breaks a living room window in Carter, he is expected to pay for it. (And, if the College can’t identify him, all the students in Carter pay.) Shouldn’t the same apply in this case?

The Record has done a solid job covering these events. But there is much more to investigate. Will they?

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Notes for the Record on Griffin Vandalism

Here are some suggestions for the Record with regard to the recent Griffin Hall vandalism:

1) Get a picture of the vandalism! The College/Police certainly took some. The College may be reluctant to share them with you. If so, shame them by threatening to write, “The College refused to release pictures of the vandalism.” That is the sort of press that the College does not like, especially if you follow up by demanding to know the reasoning behind their refusal. (The real reason is that the College hates bad press, but they can hardly admit that.) Also, the Williamstown police might release photos, especially if you start to threaten them with an FOIA request.

2) If you can’t get photos, make sure to get multiple descriptions from different sources. Don’t just rely on Falk’s e-mail.

3) Make sure to explore, by talking with various observers, the two most likely scenarios: First, there are white supremacists roaming the Williams campus, putting up hateful graffiti, just as they did in 2011 and 2012 and all the way back to 1993. Second, there are liberals/progressives/leftist roaming the campus committing “hate hoaxes,” just as they did in 1993, 2011 and 2012. I would bet 20:1 on the second scenario.

4) I think that the most relevant history is the hockey rink vandalism of 2015. In other words, this is not so much a hate hoax in which someone is pretending to be racist vandal as it is people very upset about outside events and feeling the need to “raise awareness.” I would not be surprised if outsiders were involved.

5) Please tell us more about what AMKKK means, even speculation would be helpful.

Good luck!

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Diversity and Equity Forum VI

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 6.

Buell said that the faculty will vote on EDI this year and that the Committee on Educational Affairs, led by Professor David Edwards, is already reassessing EDI. “We will be hoping to make some pretty major changes,” Professor Gail Newman said.

The vision is for EDI to adopt a greater focus on social justice.

The Committee on Educational Affairs is the (somewhat neutered?) successor to the old Committee on Education Policy. Comments:

1) Background: My sense of the politics behind this change is that the Administration found the CEP to be (excessively) independent and hard to control, both because the CEP had student members and because Administration allies were too small a percentage of the votes. So, they split the CEP’s responsibilities between the CEA and the Curricular Planning Committee, which has no student members and is where the real power lies. Informed commentary on this speculation is welcome.

2) It would nice to have some more transparency about this proposed change. Has the College studied how well the current EDI is (or is not) working? Has it surveyed students and/or faculty? Has it compared the results of EDI in practice with the promises made by its proponents? Background reading here, here and here.

3) The evolution of Political Correctness course requirements at Williams would make for an interesting senior essay. First, we had the “Peoples and Cultures” requirement.

The peoples and cultures requirement is designed to ensure that all students graduate with at least some basic understanding of the cultural pluralism of American society and of the world at large.

Now, we have “Exploring Diversity Initiative.” Is that really going to change into a “social justice” requirement of some sort? Or does this seem like another one of EphBlog’s stupid parodies of political correctness run amok? Can you even tell the difference? Without checking, can you be sure that I just didn’t make up that quote in the Record?

4. The best solution is to remove all requirements, other than 4 courses per semester and a major. There is no need to micro-manage student course selection beyond that. Suggestion: Remove the EDI, quantitative and writing requirements for one Williams class, say the class of 2021. This is an easy experiment! Then, examine the choices that those students make. I bet that their choices will be almost indistinguishable from the choices made by current students. And, to the extent there are differences, I bet that those differences would be sensible and would reflect well on those students.

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Diversity and Equity Forum V

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 5.

Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell then shared some statistics regarding the College’s efforts to diversify the faculty. Of last year’s 13 newly hired tenure-track faculty members, nine identify as persons of color, and 10 are women.

Are you a white male interested in a faculty position at an elite college? Your chances are much worse than you think. Williams would much rather higher a woman or a person of color or, ideally, someone who is both.

The Record’s reporting does not really line up with College’s announcements (here and here). Professor Buell kindly provided me with this clarification.

There are actually 15 tenure-track faculty beginning this year (some were hired prior to last year’s hiring season and some folks hired last year have deferred their start dates). Of those 15, 9 identify as people of color and 11 as women. For purposes of institutional reporting, we are now keeping track of the stats for each entering cohort, so this is probably the best information to report out.

During the 15-16 hiring season itself, the college hired 16 faculty members into tenure-track positions. 12/16 identify as faculty members of color and 12/16 identify as women. But what [you] may be citing refers to the results of hiring from national searches. During the 2015-16 academic year, Williams College hired 13 tenure-track faculty into 11 academic departments and programs from national searches. 9/13 identify as persons of color; 10/13 are women. 3 additional tenure-track faculty members were hired through opportunity appointment requests.

Below the break are links for all the new faculty. Comments:

1) The Record could do a fun article comparing the qualifications of the white male hires versus the POC female hires. Even more fun would be interviewing Administration officials about what the comparison should show! The trap is that Williams wants us to believe two contradictory things: first, that the qualifications are the same and, second, that the College gives preferences to POC/female hires. Both can’t be true!

2) No time today for detailed racial bean counting, but it is unclear how Buell gets to 9 POC starting this year. Some googling suggests that this number might include: Chen, Constantine, Ford, Harris, Saint-Just and Tokeshi.

fac

But what about Eqeiq, Nassif, Singh and Yacoob?

fac2

This is 10 (plausible?) POC, without even trying to figure out if any of the other new faculty and have a grandfather from Spain.

3) As always, the fun is in the details. Should someone with Indian (from India) ancestry be classified as Caucasion or Asian, either according to the US Census (yes) or to Williams College (as long as they check the box)?

4) The most important potential change to these numbers concerns the proposal to include a MENA designation on the next census. This would allow people from the Middle East and North Africa to select a category other than “white.” If this passes, then there would, in an instant, be a much higher percentage of POC faculty at Williams. Or does Williams already count faculty from MENA countries as POC?

5) Since MENA includes Israel, it would not be unreasonable for an American Jew of European descent to check the MENA box since his ancestry derives, ultimately, from the Middle East. The Williams faculty could, in this scenario, be majority POC by 2020!

Read more

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Diversity and Equity Forum IV

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 4.

John Herrera ’17 urged the administration to revise the Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI) requirement.

EphBlog agrees! The EDI is PC nonsense that ought to be abolished. As a reminder:

Williams College is committed to creating and maintaining a curriculum, faculty, and student body that reflects and explores a diverse, globalized world and the multi-cultural character of the United States. Courses designated “(D)” in the College Bulletin are a part of the College’s Exploring Diversity Initiative (EDI); they represent our dedication to study groups, cultures, and societies as they interact with, and challenge, each other. Through such courses, students and faculty also consider the multiple approaches that engage these issues. Rather than simply focus on the study of specific peoples, cultures, or regions of the world, in the past or present, however, courses fulfilling the requirement actively promote a self-conscious and critical engagement with diversity. They urge students to consider the operations of difference in the world and provide them with the tools to do so. The ultimate aim of the requirement is to lay the groundwork for a life-long engagement with the diverse cultures, societies, and histories of the United States and the rest of the world.

Should we spend a week on EDI? In the meantime, back to the Record:

He [Herrera] said that EDI classes could be more successful if professors designed courses specifically to focus on diversity.

That is a strange comment. Does Herrera think he knows more about course design than the average Williams professor? I have my doubts! Consider some current classes with the “D” designation like AFR 343: Racial-Sexual Violence with Joy James or AFR 129: 20th Century Black Poets with David Smith. Does Herrera think that these courses are poorly designed, the readings too narrow, or the assignments ill-conceived? Perhaps. If so, he should give us some details!

Herrera suggested that the College increase the requirement from one credit to two and spread EDI classes more evenly across divisions.

Ahhh. Herrera is a Social Justice Warrior, Eph Division. He has no complaints against courses like AFR 343. He wants more such courses and he wants to force more students to take them. What a proper little Leninist!

Think that is too harsh? Perhaps. But what is the appropriate terminology for a student who wants to force other students to take courses they don’t want to take? As Morty Schapiro described it, Williams students have 32 Golden Tickets, just 32 chances — and only 24 if the spend junior year abroad — to study fascinating topics with amazing professors. Every time you force them to take a class that they would not otherwise take — whether because of requirements for EDI, divisional distribution, writing or quantitative reasoning — you steal from them.

One might argue that, for the faculty, this is an obligation. Part of their job is to make students do things — like take 4 courses a semester and major in something — that not all students would willingly do. But for a student like Herrera to argue that his peers are too stupid (or racist?) to willingly select the courses that (he thinks!) they ought to is to display the sort of arrogance that can give (some!) Williams students a bad reputation.

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Diversity and Equity Forum III

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 3.

Matthew Hennessy ’17 then provided an update on the Committee on Campus Space and Institutional History (CSIH). CSIH spent the spring semester of 2016 investigating the history of the Log mural and surveying students about the mural, he said. The committee concluded that the College should keep the mural but add written contextualization.

President Adam Falk praised CSIH for its work and stressed the importance of student engagement with complicated issues. Hennessy said this semester CSIH will continue to look into objects, spaces and names on campus that no longer align with the College’s current institutional beliefs.

1) The CSIH is one of the great wins at Williams in the last year. See our previous coverage here and here. I am still hopeful that readers will want us to spend a week on this topic . . . No takers so far!

2) Can’t we start calling this the “Merrill Committee?” That would be much catchier than CSIH.

3) The CSIH ought to tell us exactly which “objects, spaces and names on campus” they are looking at. Perhaps they are planning another open forum? We have tried (and failed!) to come up with issues that might enrage the student SJW crowd. Perhaps the Haystack Monument?

In the spring of 1806, Samuel J. Mills matriculated at Williams. The son of a Connecticut clergyman, Mills was eager to spread Christianity throughout the world.

One Saturday afternoon in August 1806, Mills and four other students gathered for one of their regularly scheduled prayer meetings. On this particular day, it is said that the skies opened up and the students sought refuge in the shelter of a large haystack. While gathered at the haystack, the students conceived of the idea to found an American missionary movement focused on spreading Christianity worldwide, particularly to the East.

Whoa! I just realized, after writing about Williams for 13 years, that “Mission Park” refers to the religious missions that these white male cisgendered Christians launched 200 years ago. Could be problematic!

Mills House is named after Samuel J. Mills who, after leaving Williams,

engaged in missions in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, in the Southwest United States, and in New Orleans. He influenced the founding of the American Bible Society and the United Foreign Missionary Society before he died in 1818 while returning from a short-term mission trip to Africa with the American Colonization Society.

I suspect that the activities of the American Colonization Society might not meet with the approval of the current Williams faculty . . .

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Diversity and Equity Forum II

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 2.

Wilkinson also asked that counseling services be more available. Students with mental illness often do not know how to access help, she said.

Wilkinson, who is on the Mental Health Committee, added that the College’s geographic isolation makes on-campus psychiatric services the only option for students. The availability of those services, as a result, is essential.

Vice President of Campus Life Steve Klass said that the College has greatly improved its mental health services in recent years and is looking to hire a new director of counseling services in the near future. The College has doubled the number of counselors on staff in the last six years.

“We’re paying attention, and we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

The Record provided more coverage of his topic yesterday.

This week, Erin Hanson ’18 launched a petition on change.org titled “Williams College: sell 4–5 marble slabs to pay for a new therapist at the Health Center.” In the petition, which is directed at the College administration, Hanson references the multi-million dollar renovation and quad project.

Hanson also quotes the Williams Committee of Transparency and Accountability, a new committee on campus: “There are only eight therapists and one psychiatrist who serve a community of 2200. At least one in five college students … have some kind of mental illness. Even if all eight worked full time, there would not be enough time for all students with need to be served. Furthermore, three of eight are fellows, who [are not licensed, paid less, and on short term contracts]. Of the three people of color on staff, two are fellows. There are few LGBT staff, and no transgender staff.”

1) I am always in favor of moving a dollar from other stuff to student spending. For example, the College ought to close the Children’s Center and spend that money on students.

2) This is clearly a topic that many students feel strongly about. The Record should report more about it. Are there really 9 full time employees working as therapists? How many students are treated? How many total hours of treatment are provided? How does all of this compare to peer schools? Without knowing more facts, it is hard to make an informed judgment.

3) The total number of non-faculty employees at Williams should stay constant. Williams has enough employees. Anyone making the case for more employees in category X should be challenged about which category Y of employees should be cut. The marginal dollar of spending should be devoted to matching the financial aid packages provided to students at Harvard/Yale/Princeton/Stanford, at least for admitted students who are accepted by those schools.

4) Does therapy for Williams students work? I have my doubts! I am ready to believe that hundreds (?) of Williams students today will make use of therapy if it is free and convenient, just as they will make use of free massages and other luxuries. Ten or 20 years ago, only scores (?) of students made use of the (less free? less convenient?) therapy that was available. But what is the causal effect of that therapy?

5) Never forget The Tablecloth Colors! Ainsley O’Connell ’06 warned us a decade ago:

I am frustrated by many of the ways in which the campus has changed, most particularly the sudden prominence of the well-intentioned but detrimental Office of Campus Life [OCL], which is locked in a stagnating cycle of its own design. By in effect naming itself “the decider” when it comes to student life, the campus life office has alienated the College’s best leaders. As a result of this rift, the office has become inwardly-focused, self-promotional and deeply resistant to constructive criticism. Student life is student-driven no longer.

The more therapists the college hires, the less room there is for students who fulfill similar roles. Should Williams replace RASAN, for example, with paid employees? I hope not! But, the more counselors we hire, the more likely that outcome. Back in the day, a melancholy first year would talk to her JA. Do we really prefer a Williams at which this JA is told (required?) to send her student to a paid therapist?

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Diversity and Equity Forum I

Record reporter Daniel Jin’s ’20 excellent article on the first diversity and equity forum of the year merits discussion. Today is Day 1.

On Thursday, students and administrators discussed major campus issues at the first diversity and equity forum of the year.

The forum was held in Griffin 3 and was hosted by Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity Leticia Haynes. Haynes began hosting the forums last year and plans to continue them this year.

The article is well-done but not perfect. First, tell us how many people were there! The picture that goes along with the story shows 15, but perhaps it was taken early or late in the proceedings.

100516_DiversityForum_GraceFlaherty_C_GF

Of course, even a forum with 10 (?) students may be worth running, but Record readers (especially trustees!) need to know if this is a topic that truly engages the student body. As best I can tell, it doesn’t. Students don’t really care about diversity/equity, or at least they don’t care enough to show up at a forum.

Students raised concerns about the high standards and expectations brought on by the student culture. They said that many students feel the need to aim for perfection in all facets, a pursuit that can cause unnecessary and unhealthy stress.

“It’s an absurd ideal, and it’s not achievable,” Natalie Wilkinson ’19 said.

Recall Brandi Brown’s ’07 work on Eph-ailure almost a decade ago. (EphBlog has been around so long that a student who participated in that discussion is now a Williams professor!) My thoughts have not changed much.

First, it is unsurprising that Williams students are stressed, competitive and fear failure. That’s what Williams selects for. If you are comfortable getting a C on a paper in high school, then you don’t get into Williams. You may be a happier, more well-adjusted person, but you won’t be hanging out with Natalie Wilkinson in Paresky.

Second, I don’t mind a little stress and competition. I want students to be worried when taking a math test from Steve Miller. I want them to think twice before handing in something sloppy to Joe Cruz. Moreover, stress and competition require failure (or at least low grades). There is much less value in getting an A from Bill Wagner for a well-done paper if even sloppy work gets the same grade.

Third, I worry much more about problems where one can make a plausible claim that Williams is worse off than other schools. Is there any reason to think that this is more of a problem here than elsewhere? I doubt it.

Fourth, stress and failure are a part of life. Want stress? Try losing your job and still having a big mortgage to pay. It would be a bad thing if the first stress/competition/failure that Williams students encountered happened after they graduated.

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Growth in Faculty and Staff Since 2002

Most interesting sentence in the Record this week:

Under the tenures of President Morton Shapiro and President Adam Falk, full-time positions at the College have greatly increased. That said, the growth of faculty has been 10 percent higher than staff since 2002.

Anyone who follows higher education closely (like our friends at Dartblog) would find this claim shocking/unbelievable. Director of Media Relations Mary Dettloff kindly provided these details to EphBlog.

1. Since 2002, there has been growth throughout the college — staff AND faculty. Schapiro grew the faculty dramatically from approximately 259 in 2002 to 306 in 2009. That represents an 18 percent increase. Falk further increased faculty to approximately 340 (our current number/2016). That is another 11 percent since 2009. So, total faculty growth since 2002 is 81 positions or 31 percent.

2. Since 2002 non-faculty staff has grown by 138 FTEs or 19 percent. This includes about 24 daycare workers that we brought on when we in-sourced the childcare center.

3. Growth in non-faculty staff occurs partly as a lagging response to growth in the faculty and the demands that places on the institution (more faculty means more demands on staff at all levels — daycare, faculty housing, science center technicians, as examples). Staff growth also has occurred as an investment in a changing student population. Today, we have a professionally staffed academic resources center, the Center for Learning in Action (community engagement), a Muslim chaplain, and increased staffing in the health center, just to name a few. None of those existed in 2002.

To sum it up, since 2002, the faculty has grown 31 percent while the non-faculty staff has grown 19 percent.

Good news! Williams should have more faculty (and smaller classes and more tutorials). It does not need any more staff. But there is still a lot to unpack in those details. (Thanks to Dettloff for providing them.) Worth three days to do so?

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Uncomfortable Learning Speakers

speakers

The Record published this nice collection. What an excellent article, much better than the biased tripe served up later (parts I and II) by Emilia Maluf ’18. Read the whole thing.

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Asian American Studies at Williams

We talked a little bit about cultural studies at Williams earlier in the week. Today, keeping with that theme, we turn our attentions to this record article:

The administration’s response to students’ demands for more Asian American studies courses and professors specializing in Asian American studies has proven lackluster. At the panel, it was stated that the administration has suggested that student demand for Asian American studies is insufficient. The administration thinks that it would be more fruitful to dedicate the College’s resources to an area in which courses have traditionally been more popular and overenrolled, such as economics.

Shameful! We ought not to be just offering what’s already popular. My thoughts:

1) While I equivocate on the value of cultural studies generally, I don’t find any reasons not to hire an Asian-Americanist to the faculty convincing.  All reasons to have Africana or Latino studies stand as fine reasons to offer more courses in Asian American studies.

2) Although I struggle to find good principles here. What is our metric for what subfields of ethnic/cultural studies deserve our attention? Is our standard rough proportionality of offered courses to population? Native Americans comprise about a percentage point of the U.S population, and a total of four students at Williams.  Should we be offering a major/concentration in Native American studies? I ask that honestly, and w/o facetiousness.

Moreover, the College’s American studies major is incomplete without Asian American studies courses. An examination of Asian American issues is essential to understanding America as a whole. Also, the College is not in a position to say that there is insufficient demand for Asian American studies courses if students do not even have the option of taking an Asian American course every semester.

3) Essential? Okay, does that hold for the study of every ethnic group of size in the US? Or is there something about Asian-Americans that’s supposed to be supranormally edifying? I’m on board w/ expanding Asian American studies, but, I don’t know that I’m not also for expanding the race critical studies of other ethnicities, too!

For example, we don’t have any dedicated, tenured professors in Arabic. Maybe we should have one. And what about people of/from the Indian Subcontinent? Asian-American studies could, technically, include them too but it seems “Asian” is usually construed to mean “East Asian” at Williams.

Someone, either in the administration or among the growing swell of student activists, needs to sit down and have a long think about what our approach to cultural studies is generally — what courses to offer, what faculty to hire, what departments to found. Every student lobby to hire more professors of X discipline is going to fail if we can’t find a way to frame this holistically and lay down operative standards of what to teach.

Alas, I am not the person to figure any of these things out. But, perhaps you are? If so, Ephblog is always looking for new authors!

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Woodward Report II

Simplicio, a regular commentator here and at the Record, suggests viewing the Falk/Derbyshire dispute through the lens of the Woodward Report. Let’s do that for five days. Today is Day 2.

What is the closest Eph connection? Former faculty member William Sloane Coffin.

So if the elimination of oppression is a rational goal for society (and I think it is), and therefore also a rational goal towards which the exercise of free speech ought to be teleologically directed, then the extent to which free speech helps us reach this “truth” gives us a rational criterion for delimiting the extent to which free speech is to be tolerated. If democratic, undominated discussion within the community so determines, we may prohibit the malicious advocacy of racist or imperialist ideas. As Rev. William Sloane Coffin pointed out: “Unless social justice is established in a country, civil liberties, which always concern intellectuals more than does social justice, look like luxuries. The point is that the three ideals of the French revolution – liberty, equality, fraternity, cannot be separated. We have to deal with equality first.”

This is from the “Dissenting Statement” portion of the report. But isn’t it just perfectly in tune — despite being written 40+ years ago — with the views of the Williams social justice warriors who opposed allowing Venker or Derbyshire to speak at Williams?

Consider the Record editorial (!) from last fall:

Though Venker’s speech is legally protected, the College, as a private institution, has its own set of rules about what discourse is acceptable. In general, the College should not allow speech that challenges fundamental human rights and devalues people based on identity markers, like being a woman. Much of what Venker has said online, in her books and in interviews falls into this category. While free speech is important and there are problems with deeming speech unacceptable, students must not be unduly exposed to harmful stereotypes in order to live and learn here without suffering emotional injury. It is possible that some speech is too harmful to invite to campus. The College should be a safe space for students, a place where people respect others’ identities. Venker’s appearance would have been an invasion of that space.

The big change from the Yale of 1975 to the Williams of 2015 is that the author (Kenneth J. Barnes) of the Dissenting Statement to the Woodward Report has won, at least at Williams. (Temporarily, we (all?) hope.)

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A Minor Problem II

We’re spending two days on minors at the college. If you haven’t, read this article, which we’ll be covering, before proceeding to the excerpted text below:

Having established how minors better illustrate an applicant’s areas of specialization to employers, and why specialization is even important in one’s education to begin with, we can now examine how minors could help support a diverse education in particular. Currently, about 38 percent of students at the College double major. Double majors take up a significant fraction of one’s education, and ought to be pursued by a more limited group of students to whom a pair of majors confers some unique value in light of their interests. At a school where breadth and diversity, especially in coursework, are core tenets of the education, it’s surprising that such a wide swath of the student body pours their academic careers primarily into two areas of study. But, this phenomenon is not a reflection of a student body that is set on double majoring. At Dartmouth, a slightly larger institution which is less devoted to the liberal arts than here, only about 15 percent of the students double major. This is because 30 percent of students at Dartmouth graduate with a minor.

While I duly commend our student authors for coming at Dartmouth sideways like that (“less devoted” to the liberal arts? Ouch!),  I think they’re burying the lede somewhat. Why does anyone care about minors to begin with? I doubt it’s a money thing. We went over this briefly yesterday, but, all save for the most optimistic would agree that minors are usually of middling value in the job market.

The only serious reason remaining for pursuing a minor (other than vanity) is for the structure that a minor degree builds into your education. And that’s what we should really be worried about: are students flocking towards supernumerary minors and majors because so much of their non-major coursework lacks coherence, and structure?

That explanation satisfies me, at least more thoroughly than any other. For all their great talent and alleged intelligence, Williams students are still very young and mostly untutored. It’s not strange that they’d want guidance. And, I think we realize that! We require faculty advising for first-years, major advising for upperclassmen, and staff bespoke academic advisers for near everything else — law school, medical school, foreign service, study abroad.

Why can’t we do something similar for non-major coursework? Granted, there are problems with advising, and giving every student an academic adviser for all four years would be impractical, but, given how often and loudly we hype the value of liberality in education, we ought to at least be doing something to make sure students are proceeding through their out-of-major classes in a way that’s thoughtful.

Comments welcome — particularly from ephs in academia (of which there are a few.)

 

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A Minor Problem I

Among what seems to be the last crop of Record articles for the year is this Op-Ed on minors at the college. Sadly, perhaps because it was published right before finals, the piece hasn’t elicited any comments. Which is a shame! The two student authors who penned this article obviously put some time into writing it and we ought to take some time to listen, although not uncritically, to what they have to say. An excerpt:

While the value of having minors for the job search process has the easy potential to be exaggerated, minors offer some appreciable value when graduates seek work. This value comes in the form of official certification. Students have the ability, even without minors, to take around five courses in a subject. But, for employers, it is difficult to discern such a specialty without formal certification. While employers with thorough hiring procedures will likely notice such areas of commitment by combing through an applicant’s transcript, a minor can ensure that an applicant’s disciplines of specialty don’t go overlooked. Minors do not change one’s ability to specialize in a subject. Rather, by providing official certification, they make it easier for these academic specialties to be recognized.

Quite a bit here, but, let’s be brave and soldier on. Comments:

1) I start to take issue at the second line: minors offer “appreciable value” when graduates seek work? I’m doubtful. Major degrees barely signal expertise anymore; why would a minor? My guess is that a minor — even one relevant to a given position — helps you get a job about as much as being an amateur flautist helps you get into Williams. Which is to say, not very.

2) Even if we’re willing to grant that minor degrees have “appreciable,” albeit small, value to employers, is that a good reason to offer them? There’s quite a few things the college could do to pump up the value of the Williams degree: start mentioning our US News ranking in advertisements, recruit harder, maybe inflate grades a bit more to help those not graduating cum laude get into fancy professional schools.

And, strangely, I’m alright with most of those things! We ought to do the best we can to communicate the value of a Williams education to everyone — prospective students, employers, the hoi polloi, everyone — but we shouldn’t cheapen ourselves to do it.

Now grade inflation is well ahead of the “cheapening ourselves” line. Is offering minors? I’d have to say  so. We’re talking about a total of five courses for a minor — one introductory, one “gateway” and three or so conducted at a level that we might term “intermediate.” Is that really enough expertise to award a degree for? If so, where do we draw the line? Should we also start giving students commendatory stickers for every course they manage to pass?

In any serious field, and I like to think that all areas of studies at Williams are serious, five courses is enough to get your feet wet. Which is alright! You can only do so much in four-years; perhaps recognizing how much is left to learn would do the student body more good than vigorously credentialing what little they’ve actually learned.

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World of Work

What are your impressions of Professor Marlene Sandstrom’s thoughts on her new role as Dean of the College?

As Dean of the College, Sandstrom will work with President Falk on big-picture challenges. “One of the biggest challenges is that the world of work is changing. Career means something different now than it meant 25 or even 10 years ago,” Sandstrom said.

Gibberish. There is no evidence that the career paths — or whatever ill-defined meaning of “career” Sandstrom has in mind — of Williams graduates will be any different for the class of 2016 than they were for the classes of 2006 or 1991. People have been observing, for decades, that most Ephs will have a variety of “careers” and that, we hope, a liberal arts education would help to prepare them to walk that path. Here is an example from Commencement 8 years ago.

Francis Oakley hit on similar themes in his induction address more than 30 years ago. The world was changing very fast, even back in 1985, and Oakley argued that a Williams liberal arts education was the best possible preparation for that world. I am glad that Dean Sandstrom agrees with Oakley, but embarrassed (for her) that she thinks any of this is new.

“Dean Bolton initiated some really positive changes to our first-year advising system, and it is much stronger now,” she said. “There may be ways to make it even more effective. The advising relationship has the potential to be a very powerful one for students, especially if it gets off to a good start from the outset.”

Hmmm. First, precisely what changes did Bolton initiate? I have my doubts that anything substantive has been done, but informed commentary is welcome. Second, is there any evidence at all that first-year advising is “much stronger now?” Not that I have seen. (And, yes, it is pathetic that the Record never asks a skeptical question in these interviews.) Third, none of this is necessarily Bolton’s fault. First-year advising has been broken for at least 30 years, not because the Williams administration is incompetent but because it is a hard problem. Connect a first year with a faculty member and the latter will not know the answer to 90% of the questions that the former has. I have, of course, a partial solution to this problem, which the margins of this blog post are too narrow to contain . . .

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Record Approval Survey

From the Record:

Dear Student,

The Williams Record is conducting its biannual approval ratings poll of local and campus institutions and leaders. Please fill out the following poll by Monday May 2nd at 11:59 p.m. The more responses we get, the more accurate the poll results will be.

Please use the following link to participate in the poll.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1y46IvKRPc7vxGeD32TJ1ZPMZEjHIe0C_7ocNQ7RCGQw/viewform?usp=send_form

Thank you,

The Williams Record

1) Copy of the survey here. What advice do you have for the Record reporters behind this effort?

2) The Record ought to make the data behind this, and its other surveys, public. Transparency is good journalistic practice in general, and releasing the data would encourage Ephs of all ages to dive in and look for interesting results.

3) Here is the Record article reporting on the results. Any surprises? The entry system earns more approval than the neighborhoods, but not by nearly as much as I would have expected.

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Maluf ’18 on UL

Part 1 of Emilia Maluf’s ’18 Record series on Uncomfortable Learning was the worst piece of student journalism this year. How was Part 2?

1) Much better than Part 1! Maluf deserves credit for getting in contact with several of the alumni involved.

2) But there are still many problems. Consider her opening sentence:

To the student body, the operations of Uncomfortable Learning (UL) are shrouded in secrecy.

First, this is a group that has invited a dozen (?) speakers to campus over the last three years. At every single one of these events, a UL student has stood up, told the audience a bit about UL and invited other students to join. There is no “shroud” or “secrecy.” The Record itself has covered many of these events.

Second, let’s try this opening sentence with other student organizations.

To the student body, the operations of the Lecture Committee are shrouded in secrecy.

Now, in a stupid sense, this is true. Only a handful of students (not directly involved) know anything about the Lecture Committee or College Councils Finance Committee or the JA Selection Committee or . . . And that is OK! Life is busy and there is no reason why a random student needs to concern herself with the inner-workings of the dozens of student (and faculty!) committees/groups/clubs on campus. But Maluf is guilty of the worst sort of yellow journalism when she pretends (without quoting anyone!) that UL is especially secretive.

All but one, current head of group Zach Wood ’18, requested to remain anonymous.

Because she is not a very good journalist! First, the absurd first part of the series does nothing to engender confidence among students/alumni involved in UL. Second, she failed to take the opportunity (which at least one person provided her with) to come up with a quote that he would be comfortable saying on the record. Serious journalist do this by allowing the source to offer some material on background and to come up with a quote, often on a less controversial aspect of the topic, that the source is happy to see in print.

There is much more that is problematic here, but my sense is that readers are bored with the topic. Sound off in the comments if you want more Fisking!

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Self-Described Reporter

Worst Record article of the year? “Community examines Uncomfortable Learning (UL) after controversy” by Emilia Maluf.

First, not a single current member of the Williams community is quoted about the role of UL! Reporting on UL is an excellent idea. I am sure lots of Ephs have opinions. Professors like Sam Crane have been examining UL closely. Professor Steve Miller, as part of PBK, has co-sponsored at least one of UL’s talks. Maluf should have interviewed them and quoted them. Or her editors needed to come up with a better title.

Second, note the absurd bias in descriptions like this:

The extension of an invitation to speak to Suzanne Venker, a self-described author and occasional Fox News contributor whose views many found misogynistic and homophobic, and subsequent cancellation of that event sparked the controversy that led to the group’s rise in ubiquity.

And that is in just the second sentence of the article! Venker co-wrote a book. You can buy it on Amazon. If this fact does not make her an actual author, as opposed to a “self-described” one, what would? Are authors only real authors if what they write agrees with Maluf’s views?

Moreover, who are the “many” that found Venker’s views “misogynistic?” Name them. Quote them. This is Reporting 101. Also, there were certainly Williams students and faculty who, while they may not have agreed with Venker, would disagree with such extreme descriptions. A real reporter would, you know, ask people questions and quote them.

And things don’t get much better:

In February, UL planned a lecture by John Derbyshire, a self-described “novelist, pop-math author, reviewer and opinion journalist,” who many believed to be a white supremacist and racist.

Derbyshire is, in fact, an author. How can I tell? Because his books are owned by the Williams College libraries! Look then up in the course catalog and, under “Author,” you will find “John Derbyshire.” If Derbyshire is a “self-described” author, then is Maluf as “self-described” reporter?

What was with the “many believed” dodge? Who are these mythical many? If you can’t find a single such person to quote, even anonymously, then you have no business with such weasel phrasing.

Moreover, given the Record’s previous mistakes in writing about Derbyshire, Maluf (and her editors) have an obligation to bend over backwards to treat him fairly now. To use the “white supremacist” slur while not even acknowledging that Derbsyhire disputes this characterization and forced the Record to issue a correction is just embarrassing.

How did an organization designed to respect all views transform into a group criticized for providing a platform for offensive speakers at the College?

Huh? I have never spoken to anyone associated with UL who thinks the organization was designed to “respect all views.” Where is Maluf getting this stuff? Did she talk to any of the student founders? Did they respond to her questions? If she didn’t talk to them, she needs to admit that fact and acknowledge that she may not have a very good idea about how/why UL was designed the way it was.

My take is that UL was “designed” to promote uncomfortable learning — in the tradition of Robert Gaudino — by bringing unpopular views/ideas/speakers to campus, to expand the space of allowed dialogue at Williams. And, guess what? Maluf provides, later in the article, evidence which supports my view.

As Fischberg told students who gathered at the first lecture in January of 2014, the group sought to invite “speakers who challenge the Williams orthodoxy and promote intellectual diversity on campus.”

Good stuff! Maluf gets credit for, at least, unearthing a two-year old quote from a student leader of UL. But isn’t it standard journalistic practice to tell readers where she got this quote from?

In the 2013-2014 academic year, the group consistently invited highly-regarded intellectuals to speak at the College.

Huh? This just nonsense. UL brought a lot of great speakers but very few people think of, say, Jonah Goldberg as a “highly-regarded intellectual.” Indeed, I doubt that almost any member of the Williams faculty would describe a single one of UL’s 2013-2014 speakers in this way.

It seems that Maluf has a narrative in her head that UL used to be good and wonderful and then turned nasty and stupid. Alas, I lack the energy to dive any deeper into this nonsense, at least today . . . But, until Maluf starts treating her subjects fairly, it is hard to trust any of her other claims, at least without independent confirmation. If she misleads us about whether or not Venker/Derbyshire are actual authors, what else is she misleading us about?

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Record Assignment Desk

The forthcoming issue of the Record will get more views outside of the Eph family than all of last year’s issues combined. The news of an elite college president banning an student-invited speaker is that big a deal. What articles should the Record be working on, in addition to general news stories?

1) History of speech debates/suppression at Williams. I am embarrassed to admit that I don’t know this history at all. Does anyone? When was the last time a speaker was banned at Williams? What have previous Williams presidents said about free speech on campus? Start here, although I couldn’t figure out how to search. Suggestions welcome! Also, Katie Nash, the new Archivist, knows her stuff.

2) A comparison to other NESCAC/elite schools. Ask Amherst and Swathmore if they have ever banned a speaker. Ask them if they ever would. They might use this occasion to make fun of Williams. Ask them if they have any official policies which would prevent their students from inviting Derbyshire to campus. Place Falk’s action in the context of our peers.

3) Interviews with prominent alumni who have experience with, or expertise in, campus speech debates.

4) Interviews with faculty who have spoken out. I would start with EphBlog favorite Sam Crane who has an extensive discussion on his own blog. The key point to push with Sam is the following: Should students at Williams have fewer rights than students at MCLA? Because of the First Amendment, students at a state school like MCLA can not be punished for “hate speech” and can not be prevented from bringing (non-violent) speakers to campus, even if they are speakers that Sam Crane does not like.

Williams is a private institution and can have whatever rules it likes. But I would love to have Sam and other faculty on record as claiming that such restrictions benefit Williams students relative to their peers down the road at MCLA.

PS. Here is another suggestion for the name for the scandal: “Derb Makes Falk Uncomfortable.” This includes a reference to all three key players: John Derbyshire (who is nicknamed “Derb” in corners of the internet), Adam Falk and the student group Uncomfortable Learning. Previous discussion here. Only thing I don’t like is that it is too long. Suggestions?

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Bronfman Science Center as a “Dubious” Proposition

50 Years Ago in the Williams Record, an editorial:

“The Smallness of Bigness”

With the Karl E. Weston Language Center, the Roper Public Opinion Center, the Van Rensselaer Public Affairs Center [and] the soon-to-be-constructed Bronfman Science Center . . . Williams College is running the risk of fragmenting the academic life of its students — much as the fraternities were criticized for fragmenting the student body and for mitigating against intergroup communication.

This is not to say that any of these centers is detracting from the general educational process. But there is, nevertheless, the possibility that Williams may soon offer programs as specialized as those offered in larger universities. The Bronfman Science Center, especially, seems dubious by the very fact that so few undergraduates will reap the benefits of its multi-million dollar facilities.

Williams must never sacrifice humanistic scope in favor of specialized obscurity. Already it has begun to succumb to the pressures of “bigness” and the need for fragmentation so apparent in contemporary educational trends… We certainly do not need a Berkshire Berkeley.

How has this critique held up today? Bronfman is coming down in 2018, to be replaced by an upgraded facility that will complement the equally-specialized Morley Science Laboratories, and, as foreseen, we have an array of ever more specialized buildings. Arguably, it is the humanities that have strayed into “specialized obscurity.” But the liberal-arts ideal seems has survived at Williams — the physical separation of academic spaces across majors and programs not imposing a boundary of academic experience.

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Veterans at Williams

Nice Record article about veterans at Williams.

I was fortunate enough to speak with three veteran students – Jake Bingaman ’19, Calum Ferguson ’19 and Nils Horn ’19 – to learn about their experiences in the armed forces and at the College so far.

The reporter, Emilia Maluf, should provide some more details, in addition to the human interest vignettes that she nicely describes.

First, are these the only three veterans in the class of 2019? (And, by the way, how did she get this information. Did the College feed it to her? Not that there is anything wrong with that!)

Second, what has been the trend in veterans admissions in the last 10 years or so? My sense is that there have often been international veterans, like Ferguson and Horn, on campus, but I don’t know the data. I also think that there has not been a US veteran on campus for years (Decades?) But it would be nice to get the facts straight.

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Questions on the Climate Change Plan

Here is the summary (only?) document regarding the College’s recent announcement of its plan to address climate change. The Record has not covered itself in glory the last few years with regard to these sorts of announcements, often failing to quote (interview?) critics of Williams or to even ask any hard questions. So, let’s help the Record by suggesting some questions it should ask. (Reader suggestions are also welcome in the comments.) Block quotations below are from the document, followed by suggested questions.

The initial cost of divestment would be in liquidating the portfolio which, even done in an orderly fashion over the course of a year, would cost $75 million or more.

Will the College share the details of this calculation? Many members of the community find it to be absurdly high, given that the vast majority of investment vehicles that Williams participates in have no coal holdings and are happy to certify this fact.

Make anthropogenic climate change a campus-wide theme of inquiry in the 2016-17 academic year.

Will Williams include all sides to the debate as part of this programming or will the College only invite speakers and/or stage events which reinforce your claim that “global climate change is an urgent issue and that Williams has an obligation to address the issue in substantive ways.” For example, many people (including many Ephs) believe that there are many policy issues more important than climate change. Others argue that elite colleges like Williams should focus on their educational mission without being distracted by contentious issues of public policy.

[T]hese planned investments will total approximately $50 million over the next 5 years

Is Williams committing to transparency in providing details to the community with regard to these investments?

A political and ecological crisis of this scale demands the leadership that the Williams community can offer.

You claim that you and the trustees agree with this statement. If so, will you and the trustees agree to the demonstrate a minimum amount of personal leadership/responsibility by, for example, not engaging in private air travel? It is hard to take serious anyone who claims to be concerned with carbon emissions but who, at the same time, takes part in just about the most carbon producing individual activity possible.

On the those same lines, will you agree to start using the Williams President’s House? As you know, you are the first Williams President for more than 100 years to insist on living elsewhere. Given that housing is one of the biggest ways that individuals contribute to carbon emissions, it is fair to say that you, personally, contribute much more to carbon emissions than your predecessors. Why not show some personal leadership and only have one house?

It is hard to take serious the claim that climate change is a crisis until the people who say that it is a crisis start acting like it is a crisis.

In 2007, the college committed to a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and we are 75 percent of the way there.

Will you commit to better transparency with regard to the College’s greenhouse gas emissions? Many people doubt whether this claim is, in fact, true. Where is the data to back it up? Indeed, given that the College has many more larger buildings and employs many more people now than it did in 2007, how could it possibly be that greenhouse gas emissions have gone down so far?

[W]e will then seek to take the further step of achieving net carbon neutrality for the college through the incremental purchase of carbon offsets on the global market.

The College participated in purchasing carbon offsets back in 2007. Many observers believe that this was a failure, bordering on fraud. Have you checked whether the College spending at Owl Feather War Bonnet Wind Farm and the Wanner Family Dairy Farm Methane Project actually resulted in carbon reductions? Has anyone? If not, then why would we expect new purchases to be any more effective?

This should be enough material to get the latest set of Record reporters going. Please try to do more than simply reprint the College’s press release.

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Create a Finance Major

Reprinted from the Record:

The single most important thing that Williams could do to ensure the College’s success 100 years from now is to create a finance major. Since creating the major will take some time, we should add some key courses in accounting and investments right now, at small expense. But before examining the case for a finance major specifically, we should review the (unwritten) rules about new majors in general.

New majors should be in fields that a) are taught at a Ph.D.-level at research universities, b) would be popular, enrolling at least 25 students in each class and c) do not require significant investments from the College, either in facilities or staff. Most candidate majors fail at least one of these criteria. Sanskrit is taught at universities but would not be popular enough at Williams. Sports management would (alas?) be popular but is not a serious academic field. Engineering is a Ph.D. field and might enroll many students (see its success at places like Swarthmore and Tufts), but would require too much spending.

A finance major, on the other hand, easily clears all three hurdles. Universities like Stanford grant Ph.D.s in finance; dozens of students at Williams would major in finance if it were offered, thereby also decreasing enrollment in the economics and mathematics majors to more reasonable sizes; and because most of the building blocks of a finance major are already in the course catalog, very few, if any, additional faculty hires would be required.

The best analog to a proposed finance major is the current major in political economy. Imagine that Williams did not have the poli-ec major. The arguments for creating it – Ph.D.-level topic, popular with students, inexpensive to add – apply to finance as well. Moreover, the many virtues of poli-ec today are the yet-unseen benefits of adding finance tomorrow. Poli-ec brings together a community of Ephs – students, faculty and alumni – who are interested in the intersection of politics and economics and who would otherwise be scattered and disconnected. A finance major would do the same.

However, the major benefit of a finance major is that it would increase the size (in both absolute and relative terms) of the College’s endowment in 2115. Cut the Williams endowment by 90 percent and we would be Connecticut College with some lovely mountains. On a 100-year horizon, wealth matters most.

First, a finance major would attract higher quality applicants. Currently, virtually no high school senior interested in Wall Street chooses Williams over Harvard, Yale or Princeton. A finance major and the alumni network it would coalesce and nurture would make Williams more desirable. (Note that this is not a plea to increase the number of Wall Street “gunners” on campus. Fix that number where it currently is, or even lower it. I just want better gunners.)

Second, Williams does a poor job in preparing students interested in finance as a career. Alas, at this stage in the argument, many of my faculty friends will complain that career preparation is not part of what the College does or should do. We should ignore such voices just as we ignored the similar voices 100 years ago who complained when the College added majors in chemistry and physics, going beyond the then-accepted notion of the liberal arts. Williams students get fewer internships and jobs in finance than similarly talented students from places like Duke and the University of Pennsylvania because we fail to teach those students things they need to know. Fortunately, a finance major, and a couple of the courses that would come along with it, would make that problem go away.

Third, better and smarter incoming students interested in finance, along with the better courses that would come along with a finance major and the natural inclinations of Ephs to help each other would lead inexorably to a Williams Finance Mafia ready to rival the famous Art History Mafia of years gone by.

John Sawyer ’39 was the most famous and respected Williams president of the 20th century, not because he did what other college presidents were doing, only better, but because he did what few were willing to do: eliminate fraternities. Adding a finance major would, like banning fraternities, entail short terms costs in exchange for long term benefits, benefits all the larger because few to no elite liberal arts colleges would follow our lead anytime soon. Even just a handful of accounting and investment courses offered every year would be a major help, especially for students from less privileged backgrounds who lack the cultural capital or connections to compete with better trained students from other schools.

Does Williams already produce graduates that go on to success in finance? Of course we do, as the upcoming Capital Campaign will make clear. But we need more of them, making more money for their clients (and themselves) and donating ever larger gifts to the College, thereby ensuring our future as the premier liberal arts college 100 years from now.

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College Council Election Controversy

The recent College Council elections have sparked controversy.

Last Saturday, on the last day of the 2015 Spring College Council (CC) elections, co-president elects Teddy Cohan ’16 and Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 made a last-minute campaign push, in which they claimed to have real-time inside election information. However, they did not actually have access to this classified information.

Vunnamadala and Cohan confirmed to the Record that they sent out multiple text messages on Saturday claiming the race was tight, though they initially said that those claims were purely speculative. “We had no access to information,” Cohan said. “The whole goal of everything we were doing was to just to make sure that people voted. We were just saying that the election was going to be close. It seemed like a lot of people were voting for Grant [Johnson ’17] and we wanted to make sure that everyone who wanted to vote for us voted … We had no idea whether we were winning or losing.” Vunnamadala added, “We said we might be losing, the polls were tight. It was all speculation.”

However, Vunnamadala later confirmed to the Record that she sent out a text message on Saturday to multiple people that explicitly claimed that she and Cohan had knowledge of election results. Vunnamadala confirmed that she sent a text that read: “I’m not supposed to know this so don’t tell people but teddy and I are losing rn.”

The Record editorializes:

We at the Record believe that College Council (CC) co-president elects Teddy Cohan ’16 and Meghana Vunnamadala ’16 violated the CC bylaws by deliberately misinforming the student population, in sending messages to multiple students claiming that they were losing the race on the final day of the election.

Although the candidates have since clarified that they did not, in fact, have premature inside information about the results, they still intentionally misled the community in order to garner additional votes and therefore failed to adhere to the election procedures and campaigning guidelines, as outlined by CC.

I doubt that there will be a new election since the arbiters are CC members who will be disposed to a) Not want to bother and b) Wish Cohan and Vunnamadala well since they are the establishment candidates.

What do readers predict will happen? What do readers think should happen?

Hat tip to Yik Yak which was buzzing about this controversy over the week-end.

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Record Article on Financial Aid IV

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 4:

In the experience of Lily An ’15, the Office of Financial Aid has not been very generous.

“When I got in, I got into both Amherst and Williams,” An said. “Amherst gave me more financial aid. Williams gave me less, but also gave me the book grant. I went to previews for both schools. When I was at Williams, my mom came with me and went to the financial aid office and asked them to match Amherst’s offer. They took a look at my numbers and discovered that they had given me ‘too much,’ and took away both the money and the book grant.”

1) This (and the rest of the article) is great reporting by Bender. Kudos!

2) Whoa! I have never heard of the financial aid office decreasing an already-made aid offer. Has anyone else? Is this common? One cynical take would be that the College, like a good used car salesman, “reprices” deals depending on supply and demand. That is, the College was originally X interested in An, and so gave her a deal worth Y. It then figured out that it was really less than X interested in An. So, it changed the deal to Z < Y.

3) Would be good to know some more details. What sort of mistake was made? Future historians would love if Bender/An were to make public the underlying documents.

Because An didn’t like Amherst as much, she decided to attend the College.

EphBlog always recommends that applicants pick Williams over Amherst, especially female applicants who are likely to find the male/female ratio in Amherst/Smith/Holyoke less desirable. But this is all-else-equal advice. If Amherst is giving you a much better deal — $10,000 over four years? $20,000? — then Williams may not be worth it.

“My parents had to take out a second mortgage on their home because they don’t want me to graduate with debt,” she said. “I am really lucky in that sense. But they were getting close to paying off their first mortgage. You don’t want to send your kid to a school they don’t like, but they shouldn’t have to pay that much money.”

Indeed. As always, parents should follow EphBlog’s advice to shelter as much money as possible away from the prying eyes of college financial aid officials. Remember: The College is not your friend. Most important tips: No money in the child’s name, maximize all retirement accounts, pay off the mortgage.

An said she felt that the College was squeezing out the middle class with their financial aid policies.

“I have such a negative impression of them,” she said. “Williams says they want students who are diverse, but I guess I’m not socioeconomically diverse enough for them. But you’re not supposed to complain, because if you’re not on financial aid then it must mean that your family can afford it.”

Indeed. Although I think that An may be misunderstanding why the College does what it does.

The College is a bureaucratic institution first and foremost. (Side note: I need to write a post entitled “See Like a College” that is a riff on James Scott‘s ’58 Seeing Like A State.) It is not that An is not “socioeconomically diverse enough” for Williams. It is that Williams measures socioeconomic diversity in a specific way: Did neither of your parents graduate from a 4 year college? If you answer Yes, you provide socio-economic diversity. If you answer No, you do not.

Ashley Graves ’15 also said that her experience with financial aid had not been a positive one.

“The people who work in financial aid are nice and relatively helpful, but they can’t do anything about the financial obligations the College expects from its students,” she said.

Correct. These policies are set by the Administration. Don’t blame Paul Boyer and his crew.

Graves has had to take out additional loans beyond the College’s maximum $16,000.

“Every year since freshman year, I’ve taken out the maximum amount of loans,” she said. “It will be $26,500 by the time I graduate, plus the computer loan, which is an extra $2000.”

Graves says she has to work three jobs to get by – as well as to help support her family.

“I came into sophomore year working three jobs,” she said. “I constantly felt like I had to be earning money to support myself. The other thing is that I’m an athlete, and sports aren’t cheap. If I need sneakers, competition shoes, doctor’s visits, proper gear and proper things to maintain my health – that’s ridiculously expensive. I felt like I was always working. Everything just broke down. My friendships suffered, my grades suffered, my relationships suffered, but God forbid I miss a day of work. I was always on time for work.”

Kudos to Graves for sharing her story and to Bender for great reporting.

Graves added that the burden on her family has been enormous.

“I’m just trying to figure out where the money is going,” she said. “I feel like as one of two teenagers from a single parent household, I should be getting more aid. It’s a burden on me and it’s a burden on my family.”

This is the end of my commentary, but Bender really ought to write a series of articles on this topic because we need more details. How, exactly, does the process work? How did Williams decide that Graves only gets $X of aid while another students get $Y? Presumably, the College thinks that Graves’s single parent ought to contribute more dollars than she can, in fact, contribute or that Graves thinks she ought to contribute. But we need to understand the exact details by which these determinations are made. Walk us through the various forms, provide copies of forms (perhaps with names redacted) that students submitted, compare the awards received and so on.

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Record Article on Financial Aid III

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 3:

One of the programs that promotes economic diversity at the College is the College’s relationship with QuestBridge, an organization that helps match low-income students with colleges and universities. QuestBridge scholars who are “matches” have their tuition for all four years paid for by the college. There are usually around 10 or fewer matches in each class year.

Alejandra Moran-Olivas ’17 is one such match scholar. “If you’re a match scholar, you have a full ride for all four years, regardless of any changing financial need,” she said. “For people that are not matches, it just depends on their financial need.”

Whoa! I never knew that. Did you? Has it been reported in the past? In essence, Questbridge students have a much better deal than non-Questbridge students. Perhaps this helps to explain why Harvard refuses to participate in Questbridge. Bender should have pushed harder on this point, quizzing financial aid officials at Williams about the basic unfairness of such a distinction.

Consider two students, both from poor families, one admitted via Questbridge and one not. Both get full rides their freshmen year. Then both suffer the loss of a grandparent, whose modest house is sold as part of the estate for $100,000. The Questbridge student still gets a full ride sophomore year. The non-Questbridge student does not. The College expects her family to spend around 1/3 of their post tax income. So, even though they are dirt poor and expect virtually zero income in future years, the College will want a bunch of money this year.

Conclusion: Tell every poor but smart 17 year-old you know to sign up for Questbridge. It can’t hurt and it might help a great deal.

Jonathon Burne ’17 is another match scholar. He served as liason between QuestBridge and the College last year.

“The difference between a match scholar and a non-match scholar isn’t drastically different, except that the match family has to have an estimated family contribution of zero,” Burne said. “If a family can contribute even 400 dollars, they’re automatically disqualified from match. So most Quest Scholars aren’t in the situation where they will need to take out loans.”

Interesting. It would be great to get more details. Googling around, I don’t see this stipulation on the Questbridge website. (Pointers welcome.) Bender could write an article with all the under-publicized/secret details about the Questbridge process because she, obviously, has access to some excellent Williams sources. Lots of people, inside and outside of Williams, would read that article.

Moran-Olivas said that her experience with financial aid at the College has been extremely positive. The only contribution she is required to make is the $1000 required of Quest scholars each summer.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to find jobs during the summer,” she said. “I try to earn as much money as possible to pay the contribution. So far, I’ve only been at home while I work, so my mom can still support me while I work.”

We need more than anecdotes. Why not conduct a student survey?

Burne also said that his experience with financial aid had been positive, but added that the College might do more to clarify the process for low-income students.

“The financial aid process is somewhat ambiguous,” he said. “Most of us have never had to deal with these kinds of bills, or huge amounts of money. It’s complex and not very easy to understand. Maybe they could do more work to present it in a more accessible way.”

Never assume that the College, or any large institution, is your friend. The College is not your friend. The College does not, necessarily, want to make things clear or “easy to understand.” The College actively misleads you about all sorts of things, especially things related to admissions.

In this particular case, the lack of clarity could be a simple oversight. Maybe Williams wants students like Burne to better understand the process. But Williams has had decades to better explain the process. Williams is run by very smart people. Where is the web page that you would point students like Burne towards? This isn’t it.

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Record Article on Financial Aid II

The Record article on College financial aid policy is excellent. Kudos to reporter Lauren Bender ’15! Let’s spend four days discussing it. Many of my comments will appear critical but I am aiming for constructive criticism. This is one of the best Record articles of the last several years. Day 2:

When students apply to the College, admissions are “need-blind,” meaning that the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students. However, this is not the case for international students, and the College does assess the family’s ability to pay when admitting international students. There are currently 85 international students on financial aid at the College.

Again, Bender needs to provide us with more context. How many international students are at Williams in total? How does the percentage on financial aid among international students compare to the percentage among US students? How has this percentage changed over time? Comments:

1) According to the latest Common Data set, Williams has 147 international students. (Note that this is last year’s data and Bender is (probably!) giving us this year’s.) So, there are 62 international students at Williams who get non financial aid. Wow! That is a huge change (I think). I believe that, when we discussed this at EphBlog several years ago, virtually every international student was on almost a full ride. Correct?

2) As you (should!) know, Williams has a shameful quota for international students. I had hoped that Falk might do something about that. So far, no luck.

3) Although I hate the quota against international admissions, I have no problem with not being need-blind for international applicants. First, the whole need-blind scheme is annoying and unfair, for all the usual reasons. Second, it is even more annoying and unfair with international students because it is impossible for Williams to accurately judge the income and wealth of students outside the US. So, we shouldn’t try to do it.

First, the College does not have the resources to deal with tax forms in other languages. Do you read Bengali? Do you think that the College should hire someone who does?

Second, accuracy (honesty?) on non-US tax forms is of much lower quality. And I don’t blame them! If I were a Chinese citizen, the last thing that I would do would be to be too truthful to the Chinese state.

4) Bender ought to know (and tell her readers!) that this claim is false: “the College does not take a family’s financial need into account when admitting students.” Of course it does! First, if you are super rich (and the College thinks that your family might donate enough for another Hollander Hall), you have a huge advantage in admissions. Second, if you are poor, the College gives you an advantage in admissions.

It is hard to fully trust Bender’s other reporting after she makes such a basic error.

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