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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Record Article on Financial Aid I

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 1:

However, many students have expressed concern about their families’ ability to pay tuition, even with their financial aid packages from the College. So here’s how financial aid measures up.

Although the article is good, it is too short. It barely scratches the surface of how the College’s financial aid policy “measures up.” In particular, not a single (adult) critic of the College’s policies is ever quoted or, I bet, even interviewed.

“Economic diversity is the single most important commitment that the College has to the student body,” President Falk said in an interview.

Really? More important than racial diversity? Perhaps we need some measure of commitment to have an intelligent discussion? Anyway, a better reporter would have asked for some statistics at this stage in the interview. For example, how does the economic diversity of Williams today compare to the economic diversity of Williams 30 years ago? That is a hard (but very interesting!) question to answer. Some comments:

1) The college does not focus on (or keep track of?) economic diversity per se. In admissions, it assigns so-called Soc-Ec tags for students from families in which neither parent has a 4-year college degree.

2) It is very hard (impossible?) for the College to focus on economic diversity (meaning family income) during the admissions process because the Common Application does not ask applicants for that data. The College can guess family income by looking at things like high school, zip code, and parent occupation.

3) If we equate Socio-Ec tag 1 with “economic diversity” — which is not unreasonable, I think — then the College has much less commitment to economic diversity than it did a decade ago. (Background on Socio-Ec admissions here.) President Falk generally quotes a one out of seven statistic for the percentage of the class with neither parent completing college. Recall my reporting from 2009:

I e-mailed Morty with some questions, and he kindly replied that the the percentage of first generation students at Williams in the class of 2012 was 21%, a fairly dramatic increase over the 13% in the class of 2008. An 8% change represents about 43 students. So, the College replaced 43 students whose parents went to college with 43 students whose parents did not.

This is either the biggest change in Williams admissions in the past decade or a lot of hype

There is your story, Lauren Bender! Williams has gone from 21% low SES to 14% in the last 5 years! We have decreased our commitment to “economic diversity” by about one third.

Back to the Record article:

“It’s essential to maintaining the relevance of Williams to the world we live in. We’ve never made a higher investment in the history of the College in that financial aid program than we have this year.”

Maybe, depending on how you look at. Certainly the College’s financial aid budget is at record levels. But so is its budget for milk. Williams has never spent more on milk than it does today, not because it is more committed to milk now than it was in 1950, but because the price of milk has risen.

According to President Falk, the College subsidizes even the students who pay full tuition, since the College spends “well over $90,000 each year” per student. When the cost of running the College goes up, as it does each year, tuition goes up.

The College spends a lot of money on a lot of cruft. If we increased Falk’s salary by $2 million, would it be reasonable to say that the “cost” of running Williams has really increased by a $1,000 per student? No. Algebra is not the same thing as truth.

Since the 1997-98 academic year, tuition has gone up from $43,527 to $61,070 (in 2014 dollars). However, the median price for financial aid students has gone down since 1997-98, from $20,518 in 1997 to $12,571 in 2012-13 (also in 2014 dollars). At its lowest, the median price for financial aid students was $8,728 in 2008-09. The median price for aid students has continued to rise each year since then.

Hmmmmm. Where is Bender getting this data? Is she being spoon-fed by the Administration? Presumably, the College has the data for every year. So, Bender ought to get that data and share it with her readers.

“If you’re on financial aid, the actual tuition number really shouldn’t matter to you,” Falk said. “What you are asked to pay for your education depends not on our posted tuition but rather on your family’s estimated ability to contribute.”

Doubtful! I am a Falk-fanboy — and I realize that college presidents can’t be perfect truth-tellers — but this is too much. Williams should not ask any student, financial aid or otherwise, to just “Trust us!” Don’t believe me? Just ask David Weathers ’18.

Entire article below the break, in case it ever vanishes from the web.

Read more


Advice for Would-Be Reporters

Are you a writer for the Record interested in a journalism career? First, read Clay Shirky on the future of print and follow his advice:

The first piece of advice is the most widely discussed in journalism circles — get good with numbers. The old ‘story accompanied by a chart’ was merely data next to journalism; increasingly, the data is the journalism. Nate Silver has changed our sense of political prediction. ProPublica has tied databases to storytelling better than anyone in the country. Homicide Watch can report more murders (all of them, in fact), using fewer people, than the Washington Post. Learning to code is the gold standard, but even taking an online class in statistics and getting good at Google spreadsheets will help. Anything you can do to make yourself more familiar with finding, understanding, and presenting data will set you apart from people you’ll be competing with, whether to keep your current job or get a new one.

Exactly correct. The Williams statistics major is a good place to start. Even better, start using data in your Record reporting. For example, how about an update on grade inflation at Williams?



From the Record a decade ago:

Though there is no official theme housing on the Williams campus, fragmentation and separation of various types of groups within the residential system have caused the Committee on Undergraduate Life (CUL) to rethink the College’s housing system. Many houses are now tremendously unbalanced in terms of gender, race or athletic affiliation of the members, such as the largely male Tyler Annex, the largely female Spencer house and the mostly minority Dodd Annex.

”We think the campus has been balkanized into enclaves where houses have taken on ’themes’ much like in the fraternity era,” said Charles Dew, professor of history and chair of the CUL. “We tend to group ourselves by gender, by ethnicity, by athletic team. . .What we’re hearing from a lot of students is that the sense of community is not what it could be.”

Thanks to Charles Dew and other Williams faculty and administrators, Williams has gone through a decade of major changes in housing policy. The result? Almost complete failure, although, to be fair, Morty did accomplish his major goal of not allowing all the African-American students to live together, as they (mostly) did during the era of Free Agency.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution (pdf). How long before Williams implements the Kane Plan?


Flirts with Preciousness and Self-Absorption

Professor Michael Brown’s Record op-ed last May urged a No vote on Claiming Williams.

This week, the Williams College faculty will consider a motion to make Claiming Williams (CW) an annual event. Prior to the faculty vote, there will doubtless be much talk about CW’s successes and its alleged value to the community. Nevertheless, the faculty should vote the proposal down.

Would that it had. Alas, it appears that we will be stuck with Claiming Williams for years to come.

Stop a minute to consider CW’s goals. Its online mission statement declares that this special day is designed to “[challenge] the effects of the College’s history of inequality that are based on privileges of class, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and religion” in order to “provoke individual, institutional and cultural change.” This implies that the College cannot successfully pursue shared educational goals and a common commitment to learning until it has atoned for its regrettable “privileges,” an atonement never likely to be achieved. Who will decide that all grievances have been heard, all past injustices righted? There is no end to it.

Exactly the point that I made here:

How would we know if Claiming Williams were no longer necessary? This is, obviously, a large question, but I would like to hear the organizers address it. How are we measuring what CW is trying to accomplish and, according to those measurements, when would they be willing to declare victory? My quess: Never!

There is a tendency for my faculty critics to claim that my views are outside the Williams mainstream. Sometimes this is true. But, about Claiming Williams, there is a non-trivial portion of the faculty that agrees with me.

By the way, did you notice how Professors Peter Murphy and Will Dudley were recently named to senior administrator positions. Kudos! I am big fans of both. But, as always, the interesting story is not just who was selected, but who was rejected. Michael Brown has held a variety of leadership positions at Williams and one other faculty member mentioned to me a few years ago that, after his work on Stetson-Sawyer, he would be a natural as the next Dean of the Faculty or Provost. I don’t know if he was a candidate for the job but writing an op-ed like this one, something that attacks the very world view of a large and noisy portion of the Williams faculty, would be unlikely to improve his chances.

Back to Brown:

The cringe-worthy quality of some elements of CW’s rationale is not lost on students of the College. A fair number – and, yes, this includes students of color – have spontaneously voiced to me and to other faculty members their skepticism and even embarrassment about the event. Among the more outspoken are those international students with first-hand experience of overt political violence, poverty and institutional discrimination in their home countries. They find bizarre and self-indulgent CW’s claims that Williams is a fundamentally hostile place. What they see is a community privileged to enjoy such amenities as physical safety, enviable food and housing and competent, caring employees. To note this is not to defend prejudice or abusive behavior, which have no legitimate place at Williams. It is only to reject the trivialization of suffering inherent in CW’s vision of the College.

Exactly right. Read the whole thing.


Ask and Learn

Great Record op-ed by Julia Drake:

In a recent English class, a student raised his hand during the professor’s typical preamble to discussion. Generally, it’s given that the professor has the floor at this moment, but despite the apparent interruption, our professor paused and nodded to the hand-raiser, who then asked, “Sorry – what does that word mean?”

I was floored. It seemed like our professor was a bit surprised too, but he gave a succinct definition of “deracinated” before carrying on. I sort of knew what it meant – I could have given some vague definition – but I was amazed that, in the three years and change I’ve spent Williams, I had never heard a student ask for a word’s definition. This is even stranger given that I have spent much of my time here in small Spanish seminars, recently grappling with Gabriel García Márquez’s inexhaustible vocabulary, half of which can’t even be found in a dictionary.

Professors have said a million words that I don’t understand, and I always just let it go. But hearing this question posed for the first time (and as a senior no less), I noticed more and more how reluctant students are to ask, not to mention answer, the most basic questions.

Read the whole thing.


Expanding the Chaplain’s Office?

Those of you who are on-campus or who read the Record probably know that, as the Record recently reported, Chaplain to the College Rick Spalding and the Muslim Students Union are cooperating in an effort to add a Muslim chaplain to the College staff. Currently, the campus Muslim community is served only by a “Muslim Advisor,” Parvin Hajizadeh. Hiring a Muslim chaplain would presumably elevate the level of spiritual services available through the chaplain program to that currently enjoyed by Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish students: (Rev. Spalding is a Presbyterian, and the other two chaplains are Father Gary Caster and Hazzan Bob Scherr).

From the Record:

The Muslim Students Union (MSU), a group of active Muslim students that addresses Islamic issues on campus, is currently drafting a proposal that would bring a Muslim chaplain to the College. In tandem with this proposal, College Chaplain Rick Spalding and his colleagues will write a similar proposal and then synthesize the two drafts.

The MSU has long hoped to hire a Muslim chaplain for the College. “We’ve been laying the groundwork for this for five or six years,” Spalding said.

In 2004, the College hired Parvin Hajizadeh as an advisor to Muslim students to nurture the campus Islamic community…

First thought: I’d sure like to know more about Parvin Hajizadeh, who gets a nod in this article, but has rarely appeared in the pages of the Record or other Williams publications.  Her brief bio at the Chaplain’s Office website is intriguing:

I’m originally from Iran and have lived in Williamstown for 18 years. Williams’ increasing diversity has had a very positive impact on our small Muslim community, and I love working with students of different backgrounds. We welcome all believers and seekers, and encourage participation in interfaith activities. I’m happy to share my energy, ideas and, I might add, my home to help us enjoy and learn from one another.

The remark about her home is true — according to the (not quite up-to-date) website of the MSU, “Girls Nights at Parvin’s House” are indeed among the organization’s events. And a Berkshire Eagle article earlier this year on the Eid-al-Fitr celebration noted that the MSU “eats halal food throughout Ramadan at the house of their adviser, Parvin Hajizadeh, of the chaplain’s office.” Opening your home to students is impressive — an example that some of the faculty follow, and that many others could learn from.

David-style suggestion to the Record: maybe it’s time for a longer profile (like this feature on Father Caster?) of Ms. Hajizadeh?

Other thoughts:

I think there’s a good case to be made that support for student religious communities may merit a greater allocation of the College’s resources. Even so, is upgrading the level of support to a community that is already served by an advisor the best next step? Isn’t it likely that the College would be better served by building on the “successful[]” model of an advisor by adding advisors to other faith communities (Buddhist? Hindu? LDS?), rather than increasing the resources dedicated to those already so served? Is there a source of information on the College’s religious demographics, i.e. the number of Catholic students, Buddhist students, Muslim students, etc.? I know it’s not in the annual class profiles, such as the one for the  “Class of 2014.”

And how best to evaluate the proposal for growth of the Chaplain’s Office as opposed to the requests for secular services to be better resourced? Many of these have even been discussed recently at Ephblog, including support for non-traditional students (thanks to current Eph Tatiana for filling us in about her student organization); veterans; the Log (recently noted in Speak Up!), and many others.

Also, the Record suggests that this proposal is prompted by the  “expanding needs” of the Muslim population. Does this reflect just a growth in the numbers of students (numbers again!), or something else — and in what ways are those needs best served through an elevation of the staff position?

Finally, will the proposal be made public? Or will it just be submitted to “Human Resources and the College’s senior staff” to act on without input from the broader Williams community?


Read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog

Benjamin Fischberg ’14 in the Record:

Before coming to Williams I had read about Claiming Williams on EphBlog, but I did not really understand what the concept was so I was unsure why people supported or criticized it. I now understand the opposition to Claiming Williams as it is nothing but an exercise in political correctness, appealing to students who feel disenfranchised by general society. Making everyone hear about the troubles of those students and how they are different from other students does nothing to improve campus unity.

Williams students are smart, but like many smart students we can easily fall into the trap of self-doubt. Claiming Williams made me question myself and made me nervous to talk about certain issues in case I came across as racist. After the Claiming Williams talk, I was discussing politics over dinner, and I had to convince non-Jewish students that engaging me in a debate over Israeli policy would not make me consider them racist. Claiming Williams has made many overly sensitive to racism, looking for it everywhere and choosing to keep their ideas to themselves lest they be thought of as racist. If Williams wished to advance the student body’s dialogue on racial and global issues, the talk the freshman class was mandated to attend failed, and we took a step backwards.

1) Accepted students read EphBlog. Woo-hoo! Is it the case that some students at Williams have read more material on EphBlog than material written by any single Williams professor?

2) Thanks to Admissions for continuing to accept non-liberal students. The more diversity of political beliefs at Williams, the better the education that we will provide.

3) I bolded the key sentences. The same thing happened to me 25 years ago. Williams actively discourages students from voicing unusual (read: non-liberal) political views, both directly and indirectly. Of course, if you are the sort of Eph who thinks that Claiming Williams is a good idea, then you may be in favor of this discouragement, you probably want fewer students voicing opinions that you consider to be offensive. Mission accomplished.

4) Since we are stuck with Claiming Williams for the foreseeable future, what should students like Fischberg do? Easy! Invite me (or someone like me) to participate in Claiming Williams. I bet that the organizers, although unsympathetic to my point of view, would hesitate to prevent me from speaking if there were a student or group of students who sought to invite me.

5) Which posts about Claiming Williams did Fischberg read? I don’t know. But here, here and here are some of my favorites.


Write for EphBlog

Matthew Yglesias writes:

I’m always surprised-anew to discover how focused on print student publications still are. When you think about it for five minutes it makes sense—these publications are largely insulated from conventional economic pressures, and that matters more than lazy stereotypes about how the kids these days love the internet.

It makes sense, but it’s foolish. If you’re in school today and think you might want to be a writer some day, you need to really focus on the fact that future labor market opportunities in the realm of writing are going to be overwhelmingly focused on hypertext.

Indeed. Record editors take note. More broadly, if you are a Williams student who has ever considered being a “writer” — understood as broadly as you like — then you ought to be writing every day. And the best way to do that is to write for an audience. And the most easily accessible audience to you is EphBlog. So, write for us.


Record Finances

As a follow up to our discussion of Record finances, new editor-in-chief Kaitlin Butler ’11 kindly provided these details.

A basic summation of our current spending is that over the past several months, we cut costs down to include only spending essentials. At last count, our business manager clocked in our print run at 2000 issues, which for a 16-pager means about $0.50 per paper including the cost of on-campus delivery. Due to the stipulations of our printers, we can’t do a print run of 500 copies or any such run below their specified numbers without incurring extra costs, and we are operating at the most reasonable level we can.

The cost of on-campus delivery each week is $49.50, or six hours pay for our delivery staff at the College’s minimum wage.

1) Kudos to Butler for sharing this data. A leadership committed to transparency is exactly what the Record needs during this difficult time.

2) If I were the Administration and/or College Council, I would cancel the paid delivery. The Record staff should be able to get the paper themselves and drop them off at a few dining halls. (If they also wanted to put copies in secondary locations like faculty offices and local establishments, that would be fine, but there is not enough money to pay for such luxuries.)

3) Butler’s central task this coming fall should be to begin the transition of the Record to a primarily on-line existence. (The Administration may subsidize a print run for years to come, or it may not. But the world is heading on-line, as should the Record.) She should spend 90% of her (Record-related) time on that and 10% of everything else that the editor-in-chief normally does. She should start by having conversations with other Ephs experienced in the world of media. Why not call Ethan Zuckerman ’93, Steve Case ’80 and David Shipley ’85? They might be too busy to talk with her or they might not.

You can never network too much.

4) Which college papers have done the best job of adapting to the internet? Pointers and comments welcome.


Grading Background

From the Record in 2008, a quiz on grading:

1) About what percent of all grades at Williams last year fell in the “A” range (-A, A or +A)?
2) What was the college-wide average GPA last year?
3) Are average grades across Divisions 1, 2, and 3 roughly equal?
4) In a consortium of about 26 highly competitive colleges and universities with whom Williams consistently shares data (including college GPAs), where does Williams rank in terms of highest average GPA?
5) Does grade inflation continue to exist at Williams?

Let’s see how you did:
1) About fifty percent.
2) As specifically as can be put in print: what amounts to a low B+.
3) No. At the 100, 200 and 300 levels, grades in Division 1 classes are consistently a tenth of a point higher than the average Division 2 and Division 3 grades at those levels. Grades at the 400 level, however, are roughly equivalent across divisions.
4) Williams is consistently near the top of the list, ranking for the 2006 to 2007 academic year among the top six schools in terms of average GPA.
5) Yes. Though grade inflation has slowed as compared to pre-1999 to 2000 rates, inflation still persists.

Useful background information to our discussion. Since this seems to be a topic of wide interest and divergent views, I am going to provide information on Princeton’s experience in a series of daily noon posts next week. Contain your excitement!


Future of the Williams Record

The Williams Record is in financial trouble. Consider:

As we have reported, the Record has been accumulating a deficit over the last several years due to flagging ad and subscription revenue as well as overspending from previous boards. It is important to us that our peers know that this irresponsible overspending on things like food, alcohol and banquets occurred under previous editorial boards that were uninformed of their financial situation. The Controller’s Office brought the debt to the Record editorial board’s attention for the first time last fall. As soon as we were made aware of the debt, we instated aggressive cost-cutting measures and revenue campaigns. The Record is dedicated to turning over a new leaf and attaining financial sustainability, if given the chance.


1) More background articles here, here and here. (Feel free to pull out highlights and add them in the comments.)

2) I assume that other college papers face similar problems. Can anyone (hwc?) provide background?

3) It would be nice to know more of the details of the Record’s spending. Perhaps new editor-in-chief Kaitlin Butler ’11 can clue us in? Without understanding any details, my guess would be that the easiest way to cut spending would be to decrease the production run and/or publish on a day (or with a delay) that caused the printer to give us a discount. The Record does not really need to print 2,000 copies. Students in the dining hall are happy to make due with someone else’s issue. If the printer provides a cheaper rate for week-end runs or a two day delay, then the Record should take advantage of that.

4) The best way for the Record to solve its problems is to grow its revenue via on-line advertising. Recall our discussion of Chad Orzel’s $3,000 annual income from blogging. Chad e-mailed me with some details on his traffic:

There’s some traffic information in this post from January. Averaged over the lifetime of the blog, I’ve gotten 67,000 hits/month. That’s pulled up a bit by a couple of occasions when I was linked by one of the really big sites, but not too far off my current level of

The Record could easily generate this level of traffic. Doing so — and dealing with ad agencies, comment threads and all the other difficulties of an on-line publication — would require a bunch of work, but that work would be highly educational for the Record staffers who undertook it. EphBlog would be willing to collaborate with them.

Can anyone explain the economics of blogging? How do 67,000 hits per month turn into $3,000 per year? (Or is it that the VC backers behind ScienceBlogs are hemorrhaging money?) By the way, Orzel’s traffic is very similar in size to EphBlog’s traffic.

5) Please help me improve the Record‘s Wikipedia entry.


Record Article On Trustees

This Record article about the Trustees is one part interesting, one part cloying and all around naive.

First, it is naive in its failure to confront any of the difficult issues connected to the trustees. Reporter Yue-Yi ought to know that, if you are writing a story about group X, then the first thing you do is contact critics of group X and, thereby, learn about the controversies surrounding group X. (You also ought to quote those critics in the story, but the more important part is the education you receive from those critics and the better questions that you will ask as a result.) Consider some controversial aspects about the trustees that the article fails to touch upon.

  1. Transparency: Professor Frank Morgan argues for a “more open decision process, in which we can practice what we preach about the free exchange of ideas leading to better understanding, more ideas and better solutions.” Given that, why doesn’t the Board allow Morgan (and others) to review the written material that they use during their meetings? The Board’s discussions are private, but there is no reason why the rest of us can’t see the Powerpoint slides and budget reports that the Board uses.
  2. Wealth: Doesn’t Yue-Yi know that the number one criteria for Board membership is wealth, and a charitable inclination toward Williams? “[T]he Board has seen changes in its demographics, which are designed to represent composition of the Williams alumni body.” Hah! The mean/median wealth of the Board is at the 99th percentile of the alumni population. Not every trustee is rich but, as a group, they are immensely wealthy. There is nothing wrong with that and, indeed, it is a standard feature of non-profit boards everywhere. But to not even mention money in several paragraphs of discussion on board membership is incompetent.
  3. Outsiders: The trustee selection process, especially that for Alumni Trustees, is dominated by insiders, a practice which is quite different from some other schools, like Dartmouth. There are hundreds of alumni who would like to see, say, Wick Sloane ’76 on the board. Why aren’t we allowed to place him on the alumni ballot?
  4. Student membership: Other schools, like Vassar, have a student on the board. Why doesn’t Williams? Background here.

Obviously, it is not Yue-Yi’s job to take a position on these controversies. But the article would have been much more interesting if she had questioned the various trustees about these topics.

Second, the article is a bit cloying. Student X thinks that trustees are amazing people! Trustee Y thinks that the students are amazing people! Great. Let’s just sit around a circle and tell each other how wonderful we all are. Now, of course, this is Williams and, objectively speaking, we have some very accomplished trustees and students. Yet a little less praise and a little more critical reflection make for a more professional news article.

Third, the article is genuinely interesting in the details that it provides about Board activities and procedures. Kudos to Yue-Yi for good descriptions and thorough reporting on that. I have quoted the most useful sections below the break.

Read more


Thank you, Record staff!

The Williams Record’s RSS feed is working again. Yay!


Dear Williams Record, please fix your feed

The Record RSS feed has been showing a 5-year-old story on top for the last couple of months. I’ve used the contact form on the Record website to notify them about this issue at least twice, and have not receive any response – not even an acknowledgment that they’ve received my message and are aware of the issue. Does anyone even read messages submitted via the contact form?

I’ve noticed recently that the Record has started to run ads on its pages. Good for them. We’d like to link to Record stories more often and send more viewers to the site, but it makes it a lot easier for us to link to your articles when you have an RSS feed that works. Most of the news and blog sites I visit daily, I visit via RSS feeds and/or Twitter. If your RSS feed is broken and you don’t have a twitter account, you are essentially off the radar. Which might be fine for a personal blog, but is hardly a good idea for a news publication that is apparently trying to earn money from advertising.

And this isn’t a personal or EphBlog-specific complaint. All of the readers who are likely to link to your stories on their own blogs, or share them on Facebook, or on Twitter, or elsewhere, are also the readers who are most likely to be using feeds to organize their information flow. These are the active, engaged readers you are losing when you have a non-working RSS feed.

PS: I should note also that the Record seems to have no social media presence. No Facebook page or Twitter account as far as I can see. Something to think about… but first, before you get onto those platforms, fix your feed. Get the basics right, at least.


Best of the Record – 10 March 2010

Quiet housing implemented for fall 2010 semester – By Taylor Bundy

Following the release of the Neighborhood Review Committee (NRC) recent report, Campus Life announced Thursday that quiet housing will be implemented beginning next fall, with West College, which has 54 beds, designated for that purpose. Students in quiet housing will be required to abide by quiet hours from at least 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day. Applications for quiet housing are due today, and the room draw will take place next Wednesday.

CC funds new Snack Bar camera – By Zach Evans

After spring break, students will be able to view the length of the line at the Lee Snack Bar through a camera that feeds into an application on the Williams Students Online (WSO) Web site. The camera was proposed to College Council (CC) through WSO last spring and is receiving financial support from CC’s “Great Ideas” campaign.

According to David Moore ’10, president of WSO, the camera image will be accessible via an Internet connection anywhere on campus. “If you’re in Tyler at 12:30 a.m., it’s freezing outside and you want to know whether it’s worth it to head over to Snack Bar to try to get food before it closes, this will help you figure that out,” Moore said. The camera will be active only during the Snack Bar’s evening hours, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Ephs choose to serve country after graduation – By Dominique Exume

With 100 Days over and spring break fast approaching, seniors are no doubt thinking, perhaps a little frantically, about what they are going to do when they have to enter the real world. Henry Montalbano ’10 and Tim Bishop ’10 know exactly what they want to do – and it doesn’t involve commuting to a small cubicle every day, or at least not yet. They plan to join the military.

Both Montalbano and Bishop seem very enthusiastic about their future careers. Montalbano wants to be in the Army, and Bishop is currently trying to decide between the Army and the Marines. This determination to join the armed forces is rare at a liberal arts college. “When I tell people that I want to join the military, people usually offer a very polite response, but at the same time they’re wondering, ‘Well, why is this kid coming to Williams and then joining the army?’” Montalbano said.

Support men’s basketball in NCAAs – By Alex Mokover

I can’t think of a better way to come together than over the best basketball team in the nation. Whether hugging a complete stranger after a thunderous jam by Troy Whittington ’11, the best dunker in Division III, or chanting “defense” in unison with 500 of your closest friends, being a member of the student section is the perfect way to have fun, blow off steam and feel a real sense of community. We’re going to have the best seats in the house reserved for the student section and the cheer sheets printed out, so all we need are your lungs and your passion. The games are at 8 p.m. Friday night and 7 p.m. Saturday, and will be the absolute perfect way to set the weekend off right. A great team is something that the campus can really unite behind, and I guarantee a good time will be had by all. Whether these will be the first games you’ve seen all year or you haven’t missed a game yet, grab your frieds, come out, be loud and watch the best team in the country. Tickets go on sale on Thursday at 9 a.m. in Lasell, and it’s a good idea to get your tickets early. NCAA rules stipulate that we have to send some tickets to other schools, and there is a good chance that the games sell out before game time. Hope to see you there, and GO EPHS!


Best of the Record – 3 March 2010

NRC final report outlines short-term adjustments – By Katy Gathright

The recommendations in the report provide ways for the College to work within the framework of the current neighborhood system. After spring break, the NRC plans to release part two of the report, which will take a broader look at residential questions that require further exploration. Part one recommends gender-neutral housing, a quiet housing option and the institution of a neighborhood affiliation lottery for all members of the Class of 2014. Its other recommendations include removing room draw penalties for students who switch neighborhoods, reinforcing the Baxter Fellows program, changing the makeup of Neighborhood Governance Boards (NGBs), incorporating neighborhood representatives into the structure of All-Campus Entertainment (ACE) and investigating the co-op system.

Will they bring us together? – By Katrina Tulla

Without such communication between the social planners on campus, the Williams community has suffered because, for instance, on many occasions different events have been taking place at the same time, while there have been whole weekends without major events in sight. In addition, there have been occasions when ACE and the neighborhoods were not able to make certain events happen due to a lack of funds. These problems could be effectively resolved through the resolutions stated in the report. Once it is clear what role the NGBs and ACE should have on campus, each institution would be able to return to its original responsibilities. The neighborhoods could focus on housing and making their residents happy, while ACE could reassume its traditional role of an all-campus entertainer.

A day in Williams history: the epic Cane Rush of 1910 – By Heath Goldman

Apparently, the Cane Rush was an intensely competitive game meant to amp up rivalry between first-years and sophomores. Freshmen had to hide a bundle of canes off-campus and then carry them back onto campus, fending off the sophomores who made every attempt to steal the canes. The canes, be assured, were not ordinary. In fact, the 1910 canes were ordered all the way from a New York City firm during Thanksgiving – four months before the Cane Rush occurred. A certain Mrs. Arthur Moody agreed to hide the canes in her house, which was “on the first branch road beyond the railway track.” And that year’s freshmen were especially sneaky, ordering a second set of fake canes that arrived on the same day in a flashy trunk. So the plot unfolded, masterminded by a special committee of elected freshman, and to go along with the sneaky fake canes, a fake committee gave false information to sophomore spies. […]

Their journey was arduous enough to put any proud sunrise-hiker or Mountain Day champion to shame: The men leaped over a fence to the embankment of Hemlock Brook, hastily forded the brook, cut to the left over the mountain back of Northwest Hill, crossed the Hoosick River, reached Mrs. Moody’s house but met pickets, retreated half a mile, crawled along a railroad embankment for a mile, boarded a passing freight train and finally jumped off the train onto a bridge near Mrs. Moody’s house at 5 a.m.

The circle game – By Isabel Griffin-Smith

The exceptional sense of cooperation, support and enthusiasm across campus facilitates our ability to pursue our ideals. The ways in which we improve the world can also be achieved by simple activities that we can build into our everyday routines. Williams has many avenues to do this, including becoming a member of the Lehman Council, the Thursday Night Group, Wraps or Catalyst, taking part in the community service work advertised around the campus or tutoring at Hancock Elementary School. These commitments form a special bond with the community and transform people’s lives. But you cannot form this connection to the community unless you make the initial effort to show your interest in helping others.

The greatest lesson that I took from this experience is the realization that it is always worth pursuing your ambitions. It’s tempting to avoid committing yourself to something because you feel inexperienced or unsure about how it will turn out, but if you want to aim high it is clear that Williams College has the facilities and the people to help you achieve your goals.

And I’ve got an op-ed in this edition as well:

Ultimately, no one knows what’s wrong with your experience at Williams but you. We walk around in a myth of “effortless perfection,” pretending that everything is wonderful for us and Williams, but there are issues everywhere. All of us struggle. If you feel that no one is responding to what aggrieves you, do something about it. In every moment I’ve reached out to change something at Williams, I’ve either been successful or come away understanding what makes my idea difficult – I’ve yet to be discouraged or given the cold shoulder.

On this campus, more than anywhere I’ve ever been, anyone can make change. There’s nothing to stop you but your fear: Go change your Williams for the better.


Eph Faculty Elsewhere

The Record ought to write an article about Williams graduates who are faculty at other elite liberal arts colleges. Ask each one this question: What one policy/tradition/idea does your school have (and Williams does not) that we ought to consider stealing?

How would our readers answer that question?

Below are the Williams graduates on the faculty of Amherst and Swarthmore.
Read more


Record Archive

If you check the Record webpage right now, you get:

Please excuse any technical difficulties you may experience while browsing the Record’s website over the next 48 hours. We are finalizing the import of the entirety of our electronic archive, which encompasses all issues from 1997 to 2010.


1) Who deserves the most credit for this project? Out going editor-in-chief Lina Khan? New editor-in-chief Yue-Yi Hwa? Whoever it is, major kudos! This is an irreplaceable resources for anyone interested in All Things Eph.

2) I am not sure if the project is done, but, skimming through the archives, I can see that they have already made a huge amount of progress.

3) I hope that they will be able to classify articles by author. Check out this op-ed by me. The “By” field is empty. Being able to find all the articles by a specific reporter was a handy feature. Presumably, this is on the list . . .

4) I have vague memories that at least 6 months or a year of electronic records were “lost” around the turn of the century. True? I will be very impressived if they can restore those articles.


Cultural Thing

Few things are more fun than trolling the Record archives for housing related discussions from a decade ago.

From 1999:

In fact, in January, Dean Peter Murphy created an ad hoc committee to create possible solutions to the housing crunch. If study abroad and off-campus numbers did not register high enough, the administration knew they would be faced with a housing shortage. The committee included Dean Charlie Toomajian, McEvoy, and former College Council Co-Presidents Kate Ervin ’99 and Will Slocum ’99.

Because making random doubles seemed like it would isolate sophomores, Ervin said, they narrowed the options down to the Mission common rooms or doubles in Brooks. After much debate, both students and faculty agreed that Mission was the better option. “Generally, people want to be in singles, and generally people want to be in Mission. A big factor in enjoying your Williams experience is being in Mission,” said Ervin.

“It’s a cultural thing at Williams: this desire to live in Mission Park,” agreed McEvoy.

As I have commented many times, the sophomores class, as a whole, wanted to live together, even before the extensive renovations. They created Mission as a central housing location, first, via the mechanism of trading and then, naturally, via Free Agency. Give them a chance, and they will be just as happy (pdf) in the Berkshire Quad.


Moore/Record Round Up: Part 2

moore1Let’s continue our discussion of the Record‘s (excellent) coverage of former Professor Bernard Moore. (Part 1 here.)

From College dismisses visiting professor mid-semester by Lina Khan:

Hiring visitors

Since news of Moore’s financial fraud first emerged, details about his false credentials and numerous fictitious identities have raised questions as to how the College found itself among the list of institutions he deceived.

Indeed! And EphBlog has provided a wealth of information on that topic (here, here, here and here), with more to come. The Record should be praised for finding out more/other details, but they ought to use our information as well, perhaps after confirming it with the quoted individuals.

Moore joined the faculty in September 2008 as a visiting lecturer in political science and taught five courses over that academic year, specializing in areas of constitutional law, race in politics and the judicial system. Moore applied for a tenure-track position in the department a few months after he began teaching but was rejected and instead eventually appointed as the W. Ford Schumann ’50 Professor in Democratic Studies for the following year, another visiting role.

We need more details! What committee initially hired Moore and when did they do it? Who brought Moore and Williams together? (My guess is that Bill Spriggs ’77 met Moore, was impressed and passed his name on to Morty, who then alerted the Political Science Department. But I have zero real evidence for this. And that is why I want the Record to figure out the history.)

1) The key person to interview is not James Mahon, chair of the political science department now, but Cathy Johnson, chair of the political science department in 2007–2008. She would know all the details of how Moore came to Williams. The Record ought to ask her. If she refuses to discuss the details . . .

2) Was there a position open to which Moore applied or was a position created especially for him? Again, there is no plausible reason for the College not to reveal this background, other than abject embarrassment and a desire to sweep everything under the rug move forward. I have been unable to use my Google-fu to compile a listing of Williams job openings in political science that were advertised in 2007–2008. Can anyone?

3) One clue to the hiring history in political science is that Paul McDonald was hired in 2008, after competing against Boaz Atzili, Michelle Murray and, perhaps, Joshua Rovner. This was probably the one job search that was authorized in political science that year. So, where did the money/position for hiring Moore come from? Thin air?

4) More clues can be found by looking at the history of visiting lecturers (what Moore was, as a non-Ph.D. in 2008-2009) and visiting assistant professors (what Moore was this year) in political science. Consider:

2007–2008: Visiting Assistant Professor: DOLGERT
2006–2007: Visiting Assistant Professors: BONG, A. SWAMY, R. SKINNER.
2005–2006: Visiting Assistant Professors: BONG, C. COOK, GROFF, A. SWAMY.
2004–2005: Visiting Assistant Professors: GROFF, A. HIRSCH, J. LEE, T. LEHMANN.

Notice any patterns? That’s right. No visiting lecturers. How did the Political Science Department magically have the money for a visiting lecturer for 2008–2009? (By the way, Moore is listed as a visiting assistant professor is his first year, but I am pretty sure that this is a mistake.)

5) The other clue that Moore’s hire was “special” lies in the courses he taught and in the professors who were not on leave in 2008–2009. The typical reason for hiring a visiting assistant professor is that you need either a) someone to help out with the intro courses because too many permanent faculty are on leave or b) someone to teach specific upper level courses because of leaves taken by specific senior faculty. But the only political science professors on-leave in 2008–2009 were: MCALLISTER, SHANKS and MELLOW, none of whom teach the sort of upper level courses that Moore would teach. Only Shanks was on-leave for the whole year.

If anything, 2008-2009 was a period of less than normal leave activity in the political science department. Assuming that this was known in the spring of 2008 (as it almost certainly would have been), the department would have had a great deal of trouble convincing the Dean of the Faculty that it needed money for a visiting lecturer in 2008–2009.

Consider the classes Moore taught:

PSCI 201(F,S) Power, Politics, and Democracy in America
PSCI 304(F) Race and the Criminal Justice System
PSCI 217(S) Constitutional Law II: Rights
PSCI 307(S) Black Politics
PSCI 320(S) Judicial Politics

In other words, of the five courses Moore taught, three were, for all practical purposes, brought to Williams by him. They were not courses that the department would have expected to have someone teach. The other two (201 and 217) were classes that are taught each year. (Ask Alan Hirsch why he wasn’t teaching PSCI 217 that spring.)

To be fair, Moore’s hiring might be connected to the departure of assistant professor of political science George Thomas. He seemed to only be at Williams for two years, before leaving for Claremont Mckenna. Still, I don’t see a connection, other than Moore teaching PSCI 217, a class that Thomas had taught before.

Summary: I bet (75% chance) that Williams was not hiring a visiting lecturer and/or assistant professor in the spring of 2008 in Moore’s subfields. Not enough faculty were on leave and those that were taught other subjects. Instead, Williams found out about Moore somehow, decided that he was a catch, and created a position for him.

6) Besides wondering how Moore came to Williams, we need to determine how he was reappointed. Who was on the committee that selected him as W. Ford Schumann ’50 Professor in Democratic Studies? When did they make that decision? (Sounds like it would have been well into the spring of 2009.) Were they concerned about Moore’s “horrific” teaching? If not, why not?

7) I bet that the folks in the department who fought against Moore being appointed to a tenure track position are feeling fairly proud of themselves! Would be fun to have a transcript of that meeting!

8) The Record needs to do a better job of describing its sources. How does it know that Moore applied for a tenure track job and was rejected? It just can’t assert something like that with zero evidence. It needs to cite someone with specific knowledge, either named or anonymous.

9) Recall what the Record reported in the fall of 2007:

While the student body becomes more diverse with each year, increasing faculty diversity remains a priority and a challenge for the College as it struggles to find and attract eligible candidates.

“This is an issue of little supply and huge demand,” said Mike Reed, vice president for strategic planning and institutional diversity. “Even though I want to increase in a certain area, you’re limited by where you have opportunities. Not only are there not that many PhDs, we probably would not accept half of them because of the degree-granting institution.”

Reed’s office targets five academic departments in particular for recruitment: English, political science, psychology, biology and athletics. Chosen based on size and the opportunities available, these departments will be the special focus of faculty diversity in next two to three years as greater networks are formed in these areas.

Six months later, Moore was offered a position at Williams by the Political Science department.

Still think that Moore’s race isn’t going to enter the picture at some point? Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .


Freeze Faculty Salaries Again?

Biggest debate going on behind the scenes at Williams now? Should faculty salaries be frozen a second year.

1) There is a story here, if the Record wants to find it. (Or maybe I am just having conversations with imaginary sources? Could be!)

2) The Record reported:

The College is currently looking into ways to accomplish the reduction in spending. “Our approach has been, and continues to be, to reduce expenditures in a controlled fashion such that we minimize the impact on the quality of the education we offer our students, while both ensuring that a Williams education remains affordable to every student we admit and protecting our current employees,” Lenhart said.

At last week’s faculty meeting, Lenhart broached several options for bridging the spending gap, including reevaluations of faculty compensation, faculty benefits, the College’s commitments to loan-free financial aid packages, need-blind aid for internationals and spending on sustainability and the Williamstown community.

This is in conjunction with the Trustees decision to spend $73 million from the endowment next year as opposed to the $70 that had been planned 6 months ago. So, there is some more money available than folks had expected.

3) The faculty want their raises and, perhaps more importantly, they want an important say in budget issues that affect them directly. If the Record poked around a bit, it could find some faculty who were quite upset about this. Start poking!

4) I think that Williams needs to spend much less money. Cutting high salaries (most of which go to faculty) is a good place to start. At minimum, we need another year of salary freezes, at least for faculty making more than $100,000.


Moore/Record Round Up: Part 1

moore1For those interested in former professor Bernard Moore, consider this collection, already highlighted by Will, of articles from the Record: College professor pleads guilty to fraud in federal court, College dismisses visiting professor mid-semester, Students reexamine Moore’s term as College professor

Highly recommended! These articles are stunningly good: well-written and thoroughly researched. If there is a national competition for college newspapers, the Record ought to submit these stories.

But you don’t read my EphBlog posts for effusive praise of undergraduate prose. You read me for a) the juiciest highlights and b) wild-eyed rants constructive media criticism on how the Record might do better. There is so much interesting material here that I will need to space these posts out over the next several days. Contain your excitement!

From College dismisses visiting professor mid-semester by Lina Khan:

Bernard Moore, former visiting assistant professor of political science, was dismissed from the College on Monday after pleading guilty in federal court in the District of Columbia early last week to fraud in excess of $820,000.

How does the Khan know that Moore was “dismissed” rather than that he resigned? This is a critical difference and it would be nice to know for sure.

The statement of facts that Moore agreed to as part of his plea offered a detailed account of his extensive history of fraud schemes, which began in 1985 and, according to online court records, included a credit card fraud conviction in 1987, for which he went to prison.

How did the Kahn get these “online court records?” Needless to say, I was hoping that the Record would get them from EphBlog and credit us. But I am certainly ready to believe that they got them from elsewhere. But, where exactly? Does the College provide PACER access?

Also, can we get more details on just when Moore was in prison, where he was incarcerated, and how he escaped?!?

Read more


Best of the Record – 18 November 2009

For those interested in Moore:

I have very little to add to these articles, other then to say that Moore was reappointed to a three-year (nevermind, I’m probably wrong) visiting professorship, and that everything I’ve heard confirms that the horror stories about his teaching were unknown until after that reappointment.

In possession of a valid, limiting difference – By Muhammad Asad Liaqat
I opened the envelope, and in an instant the uneasiness in the air was replaced by dread and the visa stamp in my thoughts replaced by the “notice of application refusal” in my hands. Disappointment soon turned to anger as I realized that my application was refused because “I did not appear to be in possession of a valid visa letter.” It was the same visa letter, issued by Oxford, that had gotten the other 25 WEPO students their visas. Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten what was more important than the visa letter in my application: my nationality, my religion and my name.

Ephs tap into creativity with backyard brewery – By Lisa Li
For two students, Tim Marrs ’11 and T. Sam Jensen ’11, satisfaction of their beer craving does not require a drive down to the Spirit Shoppe; in fact, their beer dispensary is located within the confines of their dorm rooms.

These two adventurous Ephs began their beer-brewing quest last year when Marrs heard about the process from his cousins. “My cousins first told me about it, and I thought it was pretty cool so we decided to try it,” he said. “Our first attempt ended up being a sort of hard cider … It was really harsh and very alcoholic tasting. It definitely was not the best.”

Despite illness, swine students still have Hope – By Julian Hess
What daily activities transpired at this magnificent Zauberberg? Nothing like those in the eponymous Thomas Mann masterpiece. Intense political and philosophical discourse, love affairs and vast arrays of allegorical characters were nowhere to be found. Sedentariness abounded. If not languishing on couches or in bed, we spent our days sprawled about watching whatever graced the large television in the parlor, whose programming ran the gamut from the Ephs’ heartbreaking Homecoming loss to Matrix trilogy marathons. When such a highly visual medium did not suit us, we played cards or board games.

Dial x4444 for residential distrust – By Steve Luther and Jimi Morales
Currently, students are too prone to automatically call Security in response to noise and odor complaints, among others, without actually engaging with their sources. We believe that upon receipt of a phoned-in complaint, the policy of Campus Safety and Security should be to refer the situation to a Baxter Fellow or other student intermediary as a first step in resolving the residential dispute. In practice, the Security dispatcher, upon receiving a phoned-in complaint, would ask, “Have you confronted the source of your complaint?” Emphasis should be placed on students addressing the problems of dorm life through a reasonable chain of action.


Best of the Record – 11 November 2009

DEVELOPING NEWS: College professor admits to fraud – By Lina Khan
Bernard Moore, assistant professor of political science, has pleaded guilty in federal court in the District of Columbia to fraud totaling $821,977.97. The Washington Post reported the news on its Web site on Tuesday evening. Moore has been suspended from the College until further notice, according to Jim Kolesar, director of public affairs.

Students quarantined at Mt. Hope – By Jonathan Galinsky
A mansion that used to be owned by the Rockefeller family, Mount Hope contains 72 rooms, 17 of which are bedrooms. Miles said that many of the rooms can accommodate multiple students and that there is currently space for up to 34 students at the facility. By adding more beds and converting spaces to bedrooms, however, the facility could potentially accommodate between 45 and 48 students. Mount Hope contains only three single rooms, which according to Miles are being reserved for students who exhibit serious health issues in addition to the flu.

“You’ve got to say there aren’t many with a Rockefeller mansion for flu isolation,” Merrill said.

Reviving ritual gathering – By Matthew Furlong
For the first two-thirds of Williams’ history, students attended mandatory daily chapel services led by a rotating roster of faculty members. Now we have Storytime, a Sunday evening service where one student, faculty or staff member each week tells a tale to the gathered masses assembled on couches and chairs upstairs in Paresky. You may quibble with the comparison: Storytime certainly is not mandatory; various religious services remain important to many students; whatever Paresky is, it’s not a chapel. All true points. But what Storytime shares with Williams’ daily chapel services of yore is the extent to which they are vitally communal events. While Shabbat meals and the weekly Feast dinner do rope in folk from across the College community and are, thereby, not merely Jewish or Christian events, respectively, their identities nevertheless remain essentially Jewish or Christian, and only secondarily Williams-ish, Williams-ian.

Storytime, on the other hand, is a weekly meditation on and exploration of the Williams community, as such. Like religious worship, the activity is done because it seems to those who attend, and even many who do not, to be intrinsically good.

Champion poet probes Latina identity – By Adam Century

What was it like performing for [Obama]?

It was absolutely insane. I still pinch myself about it and ask, “Did I really do that?” I took my mother with me, and that’s the part that really sticks out. It meant a lot that she could be there and listen to the piece that I performed, because it was about her mother, my grandmother. Meeting the president was definitely unbelievable, but having my mom there was even more awesome. I looked into the audience and saw her intermixed with famous faces, from the president to Joe Biden to Spike Lee. It was so surreal.


Teaching Qualifications

From the April 21, 1998 Record:

[President Hank] Payne mentioned plans for more large events, a program on leadership by Chair and Professor of Psychology George Goethals at a new center at Mount Hope Farm, and a new program to give students the qualifications to teach in public schools to increase student interest in civic life.

1) Did anything ever come of this discussion?

2) Bates offers a minor in Education. Does this help out Bates students who go into teaching, at least in terms of the certification necessary in various states? Should Williams do something similar?

3) As best I can tell, a huge percentage of teachers go on to get “Masters,” or is that only true in Massachusetts. Main benefit seems to be increased pay. So, perhaps Williams could offer a “Masters in Education” that would just count the vast numbers of AP courses that most Williams students come in with along with a couple of classes in education. That would be a scam, compared to what my daughters’ teachers — including a recent Williams graduate — have to go through, but it would be a scam in a good cause.


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