Contrary to a recent campus rumor about the large number of first-years asked to leave for academic reasons in the fall of 1997 the actual number was no higher than previous years. The rumor has raised questions, however, about the operations of the Committee on Academic Standing and the academic life of first-years.
“The number of students required to resign at the end of the fall semester has not gone up,” Associate Dean and Registrar Charles Toomajian said. “This fall two first-year students were asked to leave. Over the last several years, that number has fluctuated from zero up to perhaps four.” Dean of First-year students David Edwards agreed with Toomajian. “The number of students required to resign is not out of line with previous years.”
Following the denials of the rumor, both Toomajian and Edwards responded to questions which have been spawned around campus concerning the nature of a first-years’ academic development. Toomajian said he believes the seeds of rumor may have been planted by the fact that more first-year students have been reviewed by the CAS than in past years. “The requirements for meeting minimum academic standards were raised by the faculty a couple of years ago.”
Although more students were reviewed this year, very few are forced to resign. Toomajian said most of the students who do not meet the minimum standards are placed on academic probation or given an academic warning.
Almost every year, several students are asked to leave after the fall semester by the CAS. If the student performs well enough elsewhere or improves his or her academic performance, the CAS may allow that student to return to Williams. Students who are forced to resign usually must wait for a duration of at least one school year before returning to school, and if they are asked to leave again they cannot return.
Among the students who resign, Edwards noted that many of these students “end up doing fine by the end of their time here. Indeed, some end up among the best students, and may end up doing remarkable, positive things on campus.”
Edwards further explained the situation “We’re talking about small numbers here. Each number represents a story. Many students have difficulties making the initial adjustment to college. Many others bring family and personal issues with them that have not been properly addressed before the school year begins.”
The Class of 1999 lost four students who resigned as a result of CAS decisions, but Edwards declares it is “in no way inferior to other classes.” It would be “dangerous and misguided to attribute any significance to these figures.” Edwards said he feels “even if this year’s first-year class had a disproportionate number of students in it who had been asked to leave, I still think that it would be unwarranted and inaccurate to conclude from this fact that the class is in any way a less academically qualified class than its predecessors.”
Despite such assurances, the way first-years adjust to the academic pressures at Williams is a key issue. Junior Advisors, for example, are closely related to the issue at hand.
“Since the most important role of a JA is to help freshmen adapt to college life, it follows that JAs do have a great stake in helping freshmen adapt to the academic life here at Williams” JA Craig DiFolco’98 said. However, Difalco also admits that this is difficult. “People here deal with academics differently, and it would be hypocritical to endorse study habits I myself don’t ascribe to.”
This rumor does not appear to be widely circulated. DiFolco was not aware of the rumor about first-years. “I haven’t heard about it,” he said. Illie Wu, ‘01, said “I had heard that quite a few people had gotten into trouble, but I didn’t think too many had been forced to leave.” When asked about the usefulness of the CAS’ methods, Wu said she thought “probation doesn’t necessarily motivate people. I’m sure that it’s an incentive for some, but it isn’t the best solution to academic problems.”