Williams College Blog
Monday, April 07, 2003
Although I have posted enough political stuff for the day (month?), I can't resist commenting on this Record editorial on faculty diversity. The Record has a cool feature whereby articles from the archives are displayed on the right whenever you pull up a story. That's how I came across this year-old editorial. Here are some highlights along with my comments:

Yet, does the College have a faculty of sufficient diversity to reflect the values of our nation’s culture? The answer to this question is undeniably no, and this lack of diversity in the faculty is one of the most disturbing shortcomings of the College today.

It is hard to know how to parse this sentiment. Our nation has a culture. That culture has values. How, precisely, does diversity "reflect" those values? Is it because a diverse (meaning racially diverse) faculty is more likely to share/promote the values of our culture? Or is it that the act of having a diverse faculty would allow the college to live up to the ideals of our nation's culture? Presumably, the author just wants to suggest that diversity is as American as apple pie, which is fine, as far as it goes.

As it currently stands, minorities compose just 14.1 percent of the voting faculty, which represents a minuscule 0.1 percent increase from the 1994-1995 academic year.

So, what percentage would make the Record happy? 15%? 25%? 50% 99%? If diversity is a good thing, and more diversity is better then less, then a simple rule of thumb would be: Don't hire any more Anglo men. To be fair, the call for diversity will decrease once the faculty starts to "look like America," as in President Clinton's description of his goal for his cabinet. But the Record should give some guidelines as to what it would consider a success.

The virtues of a diverse faculty probably do not need to be explained.

Try me. Why not just hire the best teachers, regardless of their skin color? Assume, counterfactually, for a moment, that I am a better math teacher than my (differently colored) wife. Why is it that Williams students aren't better off with me than with her? Of course, the suggestion here is that my wife's color gives her certain insights and experiences that, ipso faco, make her a better teacher. This could very well be true. But, in that case, she is already better teacher. No preferences are needed. But what if she fails to bring any of these experiences to the class room? What if she just teaches math in a way that is totally independent of her skin color? Hiring her would still increase the magic percentage to 14.5%, but, by construction, the education provided would be hindered and not helped.

Even the most enlightened and well-intentioned of professors – a category which, we would argue, includes the entire Williams faculty –

Your naivety is charming. Of course, the Williams faculty, taken as a whole, is excellent. But, if they are all the "most enlightened and well-intentioned of professors" then, surely, we are already in the best of all possible worlds and no further suggestions need be made.

can provide only limited insight into an experience that they have not personally had. Minority faculty members bring a perspective that is of vital importance to the community and simply will not be adequately expressed until the faculty is more diverse.

Perhaps. But, again, if their perspective informs their teaching and makes it better than those with whom they are competing, there is no need for preferences. Professor David Smith is a fine teacher. (I took a class from him during Winter Study.) Perhaps he is a fine teacher because, at least partly, of his expereinces. Perhaps he would be a fine teacher without those experiences. From the perspective of Williams, it shouldn't matter. Hire the best teachers that you can find. Such a procedure, honestly implemented, will provide for all the diversity you need.

The administration undoubtedly knows more about the problems that the College needs to overcome to achieve this objective than we do, so we urge them to take whatever steps are necessary so that Williams can buck the national trend of stagnation while maintaining the high quality of our faculty.

But in the end, choices need to be made. You can have Katie Kent, Tom Smith, Drew Erdman, Rob Chase on the Williams faculty or you can have someone else. In this, the second best or all possible worlds, you can not have it all. If you can find someone who is a better teacher (leaving aside how difficult this is to define, measure and predict), then, by all means hire her. If she is a different color, then more power to you. But to hire someone who is not as good a teacher, even once you have accounted for the life experiences that she brings to the classroom, is to cheat Williams students out of the education that they deserve.

Of course, lest I be accused of being too hard on the editors, let me note this passage:

There is a significant conservative intellectual presence in our nation. This movement is often overlooked at Williams and in academia in general. It is disappointing that the commitment that the administration has to bringing qualified minority scholars to Williams has not been expressly extended to qualified conservatives.

You know how to reach me . . .


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Continuing on the diversity theme, Philosophy Professor Steve Gerrard has an article that ties the debate to Wittgenstein. After a too long pre-amble, he concludes with:

My Wittgensteinean argument has been: the pursuit of truth depends on the selection of a plurality of salient and representative examples; the selection of such examples is, at the very least, partially determined by what strikes the individual as salient; thus, the pursuit of truth partially depends on a community of seekers of truth who consider different examples salient.

What kinds of diversity are epistemologically relevant is a contingent matter, and it is a contingent truth that in our particular society at our particular time, race and gender (and not, say, the color of one’s eyes) are crucial (but not necessarily overriding) factors in determining what examples an individual considers worth noting and investigating. This becomes especially significant in the case of individuals who are members of groups that have historically been marginalized in the academy.

Thus, in addition to the moral, political, and pedagogical reasons for Williams College’s affirmative action programs, our institution, as a community of seekers of truth, depends on the increasing participation of diverse and previously marginalized voices.

If the United States Supreme Court voids affirmative action programs, that would not be the first time that government has made philosophy more difficult.


1) I shouldn't be too critical since I love it when professors write for the Record and otherwise engage in the public intellectual life of the College. Williams needs more of this, not less.

2) To be cool, remember to say, "Vittgenstein."

3) It has been a long time since I read Wittegenstein, but, as best I remember Professor Lipton's class on the topic, Gerrard is perfectly correct in his argument.

4) As a "contingent matter," I couldn't disagree more with Gerrard's claims about the importance of race, at least as it is currently used by Williams. While it is true that my lovely daughters are members of group (women of mixed race ancestry) that has been "historically been marginalized in the academy," I don't think that it is true that their perspectives will be different enough from randomly selected Anglo (more polite terminology than "white", in my view) applicants to warrant a preference in the admissions process.

5) But I would still go along with this argument --- i.e., that Williams provides a better education with preferences than it would without them because of the increased diversity of viewpoints thereby provided --- if it were more widely applied. For example, an applicant who had grown up in a city like Sarajevo or Grozny or Bahgdad would be likely to have a dramatically different viewpoint regardless of the color of her skin then one who had grown up in the typical US suburb. If affirmative action as practiced at Williams bought more of these students to Williams, then it would seem a lot more reasonable than a program which seems mostly designed make for pleasingly diverse pictures in the admissions brochures.

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Although I think that spring break should be over by now, there doesn't seem to be a lot of activity over at the Williams Record. Fortunately, there has been some interesting articles in the last few weeks. Here are some highlights:

The Record ran a two part series on Diversity at Williams in the March 4th and 11th issues. It was extremely well done, focussed on the situation specifically at Williams. (I can't figure out a way to link to those issues in their entirety, but you can get to them via the "Archives" box on the left of the home page.) The article on faculty diversity was particularly strong. Consider this section:

At Williams, 91 percent of assistant professors in Division I are female, compared to only 57 percent of doctorates given out in 2000-2001. Further, 46 percent of Division I assistant professors at Williams are minorities, while only 14 percent of Division I doctorates given out went to minorities.

These numbers have started to concern certain members of the community, who argue they indicate what may have once been a noble effort to diversify the academic ranks is now overcompensating at the expense of scholars not looked at as part of the affirmative action program.

“The juggernaut of affirmative action hiring continues despite long-ago demonstrated success,” said Robert Jackall, professor of sociology. “At what point will the College declare victory and peace with honor and leave the battlefield?”


1) Although I am pleased that our classmate Katie Kent is tenured, a wonder about the sort of education that my lovely daughters will receive at a place where men don't get to teach English. Then again, perhaps Dean Fix will still be around to help out!


2) As far as Professor Jackall's question goes, I don't know the answer. But I suspect that only males with tenure are well served to ask these sorts of questions in public.

3) I wonder about the definition of "minority" in this quote. One of the subtle points in these sorts of debates is who gets to "count" as a minority? Sometimes Asians are included (I would wager that they are in the above); sometimes they are not. This issue came up during our time at Williams over the issue of counting a professor with a Spanish last name as a "Hispanic," even though he was from Spain and, therefore, not really Hispanic in the eyes of some activists.

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Sunday, April 06, 2003
Here is the last page from the 1954 pamphlet on Freshmen Parents' Weekend.

I especially like the photo of the Octet. [Quick quiz: Name the members of the Octet from our class.] The fact that the Octet has been in operation for more than 50 years is just amazing.

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Saturday, April 05, 2003
I think that our blogger problems have been resolved. Here is the 3rd page from the 1954 pamphlet on Freshmen Parents' Weekend.

I wonder if the poor high schoolers from Tabor were selected especially for this week-end?

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Thursday, April 03, 2003
Our hard-working treasurer, Ben Miler, provided this update of people who are definately signed up. Ben notes that "the adults are finally overtaking the kids. Our purple card list (and the reunion organizing committee!) is still rather unrepresented...but hey, there are 2 months to go and we've all been highly trained to procrastinate."

Andersen, Joyce N. 
DePippo, Theresa
Fiocco, Nancy T. 
Groh, Stephen
Hartnett, Anne M. and James
Mandl, Lisa A.
Miller, Benjamin J. 
Phillips, John D. 
Rakonitz, David
Smith, Tom
Swindell, Chris
Thomas, Susan L.
Treworgy, David E. 

I would tell all of you lazy reader to get your acts together and sign up, but then a picture of a kettles and pots clouds my visions . . .

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After reading some of the press clippings on Jon Edie's site (Chajo), I think I have the answer as to how the name evolved. His partner in crime, Chanin Cook, provides the "Cha" in Chajo, so Jon must round out the name. Their work is really unique and a great combination of contemporary design using natural materials, including fossils! Some day I'd love to own a piece of their work. And, my birthday is coming up in a few weeks also...!

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Tuesday, April 01, 2003
I've been wondering who are readers are. Turns out that one of them is Urs Webster '84. He writes:

David. I saw this in the newspaper and thought '88 would be interested. I came across your Blog and have enjoyed reading the exploits of 88 safe from the pre-20 year reunion status of 1984. Ken recently volunteered to help run a free orthopaedic clinic here in Philadelphia and actually missed the closing of his company's (Morphogen) financing to travel here to take care of a child who needed surgery and could not afford the care. He has been coming on weekends seeing the patients then heading back to Connecticut to manage his own busy practice.He has been a longtime friend and I am really happy he has found a soulmate. Great job with the Blog. Way to go '88.

Flattery will get you everwhere. Here is the article that Urs was kind enough to provide.

The New York Times
March 23, 2003

Shaun Biggers and Kenneth Alleyne

When Kenneth Alleyne proposed to Shaun Biggers last month, a saxophonist played John Coltrane's and Johnny Hartman's "My One and Only Love," softly in the background.

Shaun Biggers and Kenneth Alleyne

Dr. Shaun Denise Biggers, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in Manhattan, and Dr. Kenneth Rupert Alleyne, an orthopedic surgeon in Hartford, were married yesterday. The Rev. James M. Lawson, a Methodist minister, presided at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort and Spa in Dana Point, Calif. The bride, 39, is the daughter of Florestine Biggers and Dr. Samuel Biggers of Los Angeles. Her father, a neurosurgeon, has a private practice in Los Angeles and is the assistant chairman of neurological surgery at Charles R. Drew Medical College, also in Los Angeles. The bridegroom, 37, is a son of Claudette and Rupert Alleyne of Cromwell, Conn. His mother is an administrator in the medical records department at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. His father, who is retired from Northeast Utilities in Middletown, Conn., chief plant engineer and monitored the electrical power output at the Millstone and Middletown facilities.Dr. Biggers, who teaches at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University, named each of the 26 tables at her wedding reception after standard love songs — "My Funny Valentine," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Misty," "Stardust" — and put the lyrics on the table. Rather than clinking silverware on wineglasses to get the couple to kiss, the guests had to sing a line or two from the song on their table.Music has played a central part in the couple's lives together almost from the very beginning. In May 2001, a mutual friend attended a wedding with Dr. Biggers. The friend said, "I know someone perfect for you." Dr. Biggers said, "'Give him my number.'" She went on: "I didn't think something would happen. People often say these things, so I was very casual about it."But Dr. Alleyne called, and there was instant rapport. "Our first conversation was over three hours long," said Dr. Alleyne, who practices with Capital Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Hartford. "I remember because I had to be up the next morning at 6, and only had two hours' sleep that evening."A major topic of that conversation was their mutual love of jazz. Every other day for more than two months they spoke on the phone for hours, often playing "name that tune." Each tried to identify the name of a jazz melody from a few bars played on a CD. On their first date, in July 2001 in Manhattan, they attended a concert that marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Louis Armstrong. Afterward, Dr. Alleyne went with Dr. Biggers to her Upper East Side apartment and then accompanied her while she walked her dog, a poodle named Satchmo. In the fall of 2001, enjoying the foliage of Williamstown, Mass., Dr. Alleyne tried to impress Dr. Biggers with a picnic during which Dr. Biggers's favorite song, John Coltrane's and Johnny Hartman's "My One and Only Love," played softly in he background. It was a bust. "This music is far too urbane for this setting," she recalled telling Dr. Alleyne. Undaunted, Dr. Alleyne tried the song once more, last month when he proposed to her with a saxophonist playing "My One and Only Love" on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade — a setting appropriately urbane, albeit cold and windswept. Afterward, Dr. Alleyne recalled, the saxophonist remarked, "Dude, that's the best gig I've ever played."

Father-in-law a neurosurgeon, eh? Just don't tell me that Shaun was his only daughter. I have some experience in the matter of high-speed physician father-in-laws . . . They throw great weddings, though!


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Unfortunately, blogger (the service that we are using) is giving me some trouble. So, we may have to wait awhile before we can see Jon Edie's work here. We can post text but we can't seem to upload pictures. (There is also a chance that I have used up our disk quota). Of course, if I were really smart and geeky, I would host the blog myself, but that is still a ways away.

Sure there is some classmate reading this who would let us post our pictures on her site.

In any event, until we get this resolved, it's all text, all the time.

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Here's a piece from Jon Edie's work that I like.

Don't forget: My birthday is coming up. It is the same day as Julie Cranston's.

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Well, Jody's answers to the "picture game" provided some fodder for Googling. I think this is Jon Edie, and maybe someone can confirm. If it is, he is designing some very cool stuff. There's even a picture of him in action! And, the company name (Chajo) is pretty cool...I wonder what it stands for?

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Blog Highlights

Homepage for items of interest for the extended community of Williams College, with a special focus on alumni activities. Comments, links and suggestions are welcome at dkane _at_ latte.harvard.edu, 04man _at_ williams.edu, david.nickerson _at_ yale.edu or kjordan _at_ cmu.edu.


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