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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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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

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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?

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Fragmentation

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Comments:

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
traffic.

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.

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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.

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