Standing with all of our students: Faculty and staff unite against quantifying human value

It sounds so easy: Drop a few dozen mostly low-income and minority students, admit more students with very high SAT scores and voila! Excellence achieved. Who needs a whole admissions office working year-round to identify the students who can contribute to making the College the vibrant, challenging, transformative place we all want it to be, and convincing them that Williams is the right place for them? Just run it by numbers! But this model would be morally wrong and educationally corrupt. We, the undersigned faculty and staff, reject unequivocally the idea of defining educational value in terms of quantitative measures that are non-definitive at best, biased at worst. The notion that the College is somehow sacrificing excellence for economic and racial diversity is offensive; more than that, it’s absurd. Those of us who have been here a long time know that the opposite is true: The harder the College has worked to recruit and admit students who are genuinely diverse in backgrounds and perspectives – and then making sure that they can thrive here – the more intellectually stimulating our academic environment has become.

We reject as unhealthy, dangerous and, in the case of the College, thankfully inaccurate the notion of a purely linear ranking of “quality” when it comes to the young people who apply for and attend college. Williams and other institutions of higher education should model another paradigm in which the value of whole people and of many-faceted experience is paramount. In these times, when hate, bias, power-mongering and self-aggrandizement rule the day, colleges and universities must resist the sloppy practice – all too common – of using ill-understood quantitative pseudo-analysis to justify the perpetuation of existing structures of power and influence. Experts in the field of education have long recognized that SAT scores are highly correlated with family income and privilege, and that they can be improved through things like test prep and tutors that cost money. Admission works hard year after year to craft a wonderful class without being biased by family background and privilege.

When we look at our students, talk with them across our office tables, stand beside them in our labs and see them succeed in their post-Williams lives, we see young people who have come to the College to become their best selves, to be transformed and to transform the world, to reach out into realms they had never encountered before. Words like “best,” “smarter” and “most talented” are largely irrelevant to what education is all about at its core. Instead, a Williams education involves learning how to recognize each other and how to think critically about ourselves.

The College must broaden and deepen its commitment to educational equity, not reduce it. To all of our alums and current students, especially those who feel targeted by calls to make the College less inclusive: We who work here are lucky to know you, to teach you and, in the end, to learn from you. We are humbled every day by what you all bring to the College, and we are here for you. To the new and prospective students who enter campus: We will work to make sure that the environment you find here will be open to your contributions, and we stand ready to welcome you, whatever your life experiences have been.

Signed,

Wendy Adam, Integrative Wellbeing Services (IWS)

Colin Adams, Mathematics and Statistics

Zaid Adhami, Religion

Jeannie Albrecht, Computer Science

Laylah Ali ’91, Art

Baktygul Aliev, German and Russian

Bilal Ansari, The Davis Center

Michelle Apotsos, Art

Juan Baena ’06, Alumni Relations

Tracy Baker-White, Center for Learning in Action (CLiA)

Andrea Barrett, English

Melissa Barry, Philosophy

Magnus Bernhardsson, History

Alexander Bevilacqua, History

Mari Rodriguez Binnie, Art

Julie Blackwood, Mathematics and Statistics

Jimmy Blair, Chemistry

Robert Blay, Special Academic Programs

M. Jennifer Bloxam, Music

Meg Bossong ’05, Dean’s Office

Emily Bourguignon, Development

Ralph Bradburd, Economics, Environmental Studies

Cheryl Brigley, Development

Deborah A. Brothers, Theatre

Jerry Caprio ’72, Economics

John Carasone, Development

Ashley Weeks Cart ’05, Alumni Relations

James Cart ’05, Provost’s Office

Matt Carter, Biology

Alison Case, English

Julie Cassiday, German and Russian

Maria Elena Cepeda, Latina/o Studies

Cecilia Chang, Asian Studies

Sophie Chatas ’16, Development 

Kerry Christensen, Classics

Eddy Ciobanu ’15, Admission

Cassandra Cleghorn, English

Phoebe A Cohen, Geosciences

Cory Colbert, Mathematics and Statistics 

Jeremy Cone, Psychology

José Constantine, Geosciences

Paula Consolini, CLiA

Abigail Conyers ’14, Admission

Andrew Cornell, American Studies

Ronadh Cox, Geosciences

Becky Crane, IWS

Sam Crane, Political Science

Annelle Curulla, Romance Languages

Mary Ellen Czerniak, Corporate and Foundation Relations

Charles B. Dew ’58, History

Lisa Dorin, Williams College Museum of Art

Georges Dreyfus, Religion

Helga Druxes, German and Russian, Comparative Literature

Lori DuBois, Libraries

Sara Dubow ’91, History

Carolina Echenique ’15, Admission

Holly Edwards, Art

Amal Eqeiq, Arabic Studies and Comparative Literature

Laura Ephraim, Political Science

Patti J. Exster, Corporate and Foundation Relations

Ezra Dan Feldman, English

Amy Filson, Development

Tracy Finnegan, CLiA

Jessica Fisher, English

Brooks Foehl ’88, Alumni Relations

VaNatta Ford, Africana Studies

Jennifer French, Romance Languages

Sarah Gardner, Center for Environmental Studies

Amy Gehring ’94, Chemistry

Steve Gerrard, Philosophy

Paul Gitterman, IWS

Mike Glier ’75, Art

Susan Godlonton, Economics

Christopher Goh, Chemistry

Matthew Gold, Music

Stephanie Gonzalez, Admission

Eva Grudin, Art, emerita

Kim Gutschow, Anthropology, Religion

Amie Hane, Psychology

Pamela E. Harris, Mathematics and Statistics

Laurie Heatherington, Psychology

Guy Hedreen, Art

Kate Heekin, Admission

Brent Heeringa, Computer Science

Brianna Heggeseth, Mathematics and Statistics

Janine Hetherington, Development

Jacqueline Hidalgo, Latina/o Studies, Religion

Celia Hilson, IWS

Amy Holzapfel, Theatre

Kiaran Honderich, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS)

Vivian Huang, WGSS

Jeff Israel, Religion, Jewish Studies

Sarah Jacobson, Economics

Cathy Johnson, Political Science

Kevin Jones ’77, Physics

Jason Josephson Storm, Religion

Peter Just, Anthropology and Sociology

Paul Karabinos. Geosiences

Katie Kent ’88, English and WGSS

Don Kjelleren, Career Center

Anthony Yooshin Kim, American Studies

Roger Kittleson, History

Steve Klass, Campus Life

Pia Kohler, Environmental Studies

Neil Kubler, Asian Studies

Ken Kuttner, Economics

Karen Kwitter, Astronomy

Sara LaLumia, Economics

Tim Lebestky, Biology

Joel Lee, Anthropology and Sociology

Sulgi Lim ’06, Admission

John Limon, English

Colleen Little, Development

Gretchen Long, Director of the Williams-Exeter Programme at Oxford, History

Dukes Love, Provost, Economics

Kimberly Love, English

Charles Lovett, Chemistry

Peter Low, Art

Dan Lynch, Biology

Molly Magavern, Special Academic Programs

Lauren Magrath, Development

Tiku Majumder, Physics

Angie Marano, IWS

Luana Maroja, Biology

Laura Martin, Environmental Studies

Martha Marvin, Neuroscience

Elizabeth McGowan, Art

Gage McWeeny, English

Karen Merrill, History

Robin Meyer, Career Center

Gregory Mitchell, WGSS

Mariko Moher, Psychology

Alejandra Moran ’17, Admission

Ralph Morrison ’10, Mathematics and Statistics

Laura Muller, Center for Academic Resources, Dean’s Office

Peter Murphy, English

Donna Myers, IWS

Kenda Mutongi, History

Steven Nafziger, Economics

Lama Nassif, Arabic Studies and Comparative Literature

Richard Nesbitt ’74, Admission

Gail Newman, German and Russian

Nimu Njoya, Political Science

Carol Ockman, Art

Doug Paisley, Art

Lee Park, Interim Dean of the Faculty, Chemistry

Paul Park, English

Shawna Patterson-Stephens, The Davis Center

Kashia Pieprzak, Romance Languages

Peter C. Pihos, History

Molly Polk, CLiA

Kailani Polzak, Art

Christopher Pye, English

Lawrence Raab, English

Jay Racela, Center for Environmental Studies and Geosciences

Ashok Rai, Economics

Mark Reach, Development

Anne Reinhardt, History

Mark Reinhardt, Political Science, American Studies

Jim Reische, Communications

Bernie Rhie, English

David P. Richardson, Chemistry

Neil Roberts, Africana Studies, Faculty Affiliate in Political Science and Religion

Barbara Robertson, Admission

Tyler Rogers, American Studies

Shawn Rosenheim, English

Mérida M. Rúa, Latina/o Studies and American Studies

Sophie Saint-Just, French and Francophone Studies

Marlene Sandstrom, Dean of the College, Psychology

Noah Sandstrom, Psychology

Rob Savage, Biology

Jana Sawicki, Director of Oakley Center, Philosophy

Lucie Schmidt, Economics

Gillian Sciacca, Development

Michelle Shaw ’95, Career Center

W. Anthony Sheppard, Music

Olga Shevchenko, Anthropology and Sociology

Lara Shore-Sheppard, Economics

Emery Shriver, Libraries

Christina Simko, Anthropology and Sociology

Shanti Marie Singham, History and Africana Studies

Stefanie Solum, Art

Steven Souza, Astronomy

Rick Spalding, Chaplain’s Office

Laini Sporbert, IWS

Anand Swamy, Economics

Jay Thoman ’82, Chemistry

Christian Thorne, English

Stephen Tifft, English

Chad Topaz, Mathematics and Statistics

Dave Tucker-Smith, Physics

Amanda Turner, Registrar’s Office

Janneke van de Stadt, German and Russian, Comparative Literature

Courtney Wade, Provost’s Office

Chris Waters, History

Tara Watson, Economics

Seth Wax, Chaplain’s Office

Kaatje White, CLiA

Rob White, Dean’s Office

Bernadine Williams, Development

Lauren Williamson, Psychology

Scott Wong, History

Ben T. Wood, IWS

Sharifa T. Wright ’03, Development

Saadia Yacoob, Religion

Kasumi Yamamoto, Asian Studies

Li Yu, Asian Studies

Betty Zimmerberg, Psychology

  • Bernie Rhie

    Because of the Record’s tight letter submission deadline (Sunday evening), many Williams faculty and staff who would have like to did not have an opportunity to sign this letter. So, a copy of the letter has been posted at the following URL, where faculty and staff who would like to add their name to the letter may do so: http://williamsvalues.org/support-students/

  • Bernie Rhie

    Because of the Record’s tight letter submission deadline (Sunday evening), many Williams faculty and staff who would have like to did not have an opportunity to sign this letter. So, a copy of the letter has been posted at the following URL, where faculty and staff who would like to add their name to the letter may do so: http://williamsvalues.org/support-students/

  • Faculty Member

    Because of the Record’s tight letter submission deadline (Sunday evening), many Williams faculty and staff who would have like to did not have an opportunity to sign this letter. So, a copy of the letter has been posted at the following URL, where faculty and staff who would like to add their name to the letter may do so: http://williamsvalues.org/support-students/

  • As the last conservative registered Republican to ever teach at Williams College, I suppose I should chime in at this point. See, https://www.thecollegefix.com/post/24821/

    The reality of this situation is that a largely homogeneous population of liberal, leftist Democrat faculty members are promoting racial and sex discrimination which unfairly advances their own careers, partisan politics and substantial incomes at the expense of often harder working, more qualified, more talented and — ultimately — more interesting and more influential individuals.

    The above letter is pushing for an unsustainable world in which merit is less important that being a member of the Democrat party’s most favored social groups. As a younger man, I outperformed HYPS competitors – male and female – despite growing up poor and disadvantaged, raised by a mother who never attended college, a mother who was from a family where no one had ever attended college either. For students like me, objective test score where the ticket out of poverty. They were the great equalizer which demonstrated my abilities more accurately that grades, extracurricular activities, boarding school polish or the unspeakable harm my family suffered in the Armenian genocide.

    Ultimately, this unfair discrimination cannot stand. The faculty above do not have to face, day-to-day, the victims of their discrimination, only its beneficiaries. I suspect that they underestimate the enduring hatred, animosity and disrespect they generate by discriminating against young, innocent white and Asian students.

    • Sam

      I’m always so confused when I see people explaining how underprivileged their upbringing was – citing how hard they had to work to get where they are – and then somehow use that as an argument AGAINST measures that strive for more equity.

      Many minority students face the same issues now that you faced. Their path to Williams is much more challenging than it is for those of privilege. Why do you want their lives to be as hard as yours was?

      • Man with Axe

        What’s so hard to understand? He’s saying he was underprivileged, and excelled nevertheless, even when measured straight up against the more privileged. Nothing vague about it. It’s the same life lesson every parent who grew up in the depression told his baby boomer children: “We had it very tough and we survived and prospered. You don’t have it nearly as tough, and yet to want special privileges. Boo, hoo.”

  • Dennis O’Shea

    As a 1977 graduate of Williams, I associate myself 100 percent with the sentiments expressed in this letter, and I applaud the faculty members and staff members who have signed it.

    More important, as a former president of the Society of Alumni, I know many, many graduates of the college who feel as I do. In fact, I believe that — were they aware of the dialogue now underway in the pages of and on the website of The Record — most of my fellow alumni would also associate themselves with this letter. (Yes,including most of those as old and gray as I.)

    The faculty/staff letter includes this statement: “We who work here are lucky to know you, to teach you
    and, in the end, to learn from you.” To that I would add: We who graduated from here before you are lucky, and grateful, to be able to call you our fellow Ephs.”

    Sincerely,
    Dennis O’Shea ’77
    Former President, Williams College Society of Alumni

  • Man with Axe

    If you are concerned that people with money are able to do better on the SAT (a notion that I seriously doubt) why not use family income, and not race, as the affirmative action criterion? Why should a Theo Huxtable get preference over a Bart Simpson?

    • Angela LaMonte

      Students who are dealing with hunger, utilities going on and off, and the stress that accompany those things, understandably OFTEN do not fare as well as students who have the luxury of just learning.
      Someone who excels despite incredible hardship should be acknowledged and applauded as the exception, rather than the rule or expectation of disadvantaged kids.
      And there are programs out there, Questbridge for instance, that look at both race and family income.

      • Man with Axe

        I know from personal experience as a middle school teacher in the inner city that what you are saying is correct. But race doesn’t enter into it. There as many more poor white children in this country than black children who are just as deprived and just as challenged.

        I don’t see why a black child who comes from poverty should be given preference over a black child who comes from poverty. And I certainly don’t see why a black child who comes from affluence should get any preference at all.

  • PCVABCH

    The assumption of the hypothesis is absurd not only in regards to the opposition well stated by this article- but also by the basic and fundamental flaw with the hypothesis itself.

    Just because you admit, that does not mean that those you admit will matriculate. Williams chooses students who want to attend. A lot of AR1’s are going to go to other schools.

    You could admit simply by SAT scores. Start at the top and stop when you reach “the number.”

    What number would that be?

    How many would choose Williams?

    The rather naive and bold assumption is that Williams is so “great” (whatever that means??) that those you admit will choose Williams.

    Not so. If you were to admit based on test scores alone as suggested, what % admitted would attend?

    Maybe 10%? 20%?

    The analysis fails to mention the “small fact” that students have a choice in this process. You could admit 1000 “perfect students” and matriculate none.