Friday, November 13, 2015

Should I Attend Williams College? Just Say No to Icy Roads

Red Truck on an Icy Mountain Road 
by John C. Drew, Ph.D. November 13, 2015.
I spend some time on the College Confidential website. I entertained myself by offering my matter-of-fact, truthful, comments regarding the most of the hot questions posed at the website including what are my chances of getting in? How does Williams compare to Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth? Is Williams College a welcoming place for conservatives? It only took a matter of hours for the folks at College Confidential to delete the threads I was posting on and block my account. So much for the tradition of free speech...

At any rate, I thought it would be a valuable public service to offer my take on a Williams College education based on my personal experience of having taught there in the 1980's and subsequently following the school's history through various websites including the independent Ephblog. One of my most prominent negative memories of teaching at Williams College in the late 1980's was how dangerous it was to drive there in the winter. I suppose that memory may have inspired the oil painting I did this afternoon.

What are My Chances of Getting In?

I guess I ticked off College Confidential by encouraging a young student from Washington State to apply for admission to Williams College. Since the school values geographic diversity, it was often easier for a student to get into the school if they came from a western state. Due to this geographic affirmative action, I think there is a stereotype on the campus that teaches students from outside the New England area are less bright than those who grew up closer to the campus. I also indicated that the school was generally hostile to conservative and Christian students. I recommended that a conservative Christian student, a poor white male, keep his political views secret if he really wanted to secure a place at Williams College.

How does Williams compare to Stanford, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth?

The worse roads I ever drove on in the winter were 
the ones leading in and out of Williamstown, MA.
Here, I just expressed my own preferences. I would pick Stanford over any of these other schools simply on the basis of climate and academic excellence. I shared that I liked Harvard and enjoyed Boston. I shared that Yale was in a depressing neighborhood and wasn't worth the time or money. I thought Dartmouth was more conservative than Williams, but as depressing as Yale. I would place Williams College at the bottom of any list simply because it is in a dangerous, rural, backward part of MA. The winters there were particularly terrible. The roads to the campus are these tiny, two lane death traps that become engines of mass murder during the winter months. I shared how one of my favorite students died in a car accident while traveling to a sister school for a weekend party. I never forgot that young man and how the terrible, dangerous roads of MA cut short what would have been an absolutely brilliant life.

For a student comparing Pomona and Williams College, I would -- without a doubt -- pick Pomona. I would make that decision simply on the weather factor alone. 

I also indicated that while Williams College is probably no more cliquish than other schools, it is virtually impossible to escape the cliquishness of Williams College. At Pomona, if you make a mistake, then you can always find friends at other nearby schools or in the larger community. At Williams College, however, you will find yourself trapped for a long time in a socially isolated place where there is no escape from cliquishness or social banishment. This, I think, is the sort of information which should be honestly shared with any student exploring Williams College using the resources of College Confidential.

In terms of the prestige of Williams College, I indicated that I had never heard of the school myself until I got the chance to interview there. While the school is famous among the East coast elite, it lacks the cache of a Ivy League school. Williams College students are seen as isolated, nerdy, and relatively unsophisticated compared to their Ivy League rivals. While most of us can name many famous people who graduated from Ivy League schools, I cannot think of any that came out of Williams College, except for Mika Brzezinski who graduated from William College the same year I resigned. If you do not know who she is, I am not surprised. She is the female co-host on Morning Joe.

In contrast, I can report I knew President Obama while he was at Occidental College prior to his matriculation to Columbia University. Meanwhile, Ann Coulter was one of my very first students when I taught at Cornell University.

Is Williams College a Welcoming Place for Conservatives?

Based on my personal experience and subsequent observations of Williams College, I can definitely report that it is extremely hostile to conservatives. Evidence of this hostility is immediately apparent in the school's hiring policies which have resulted in a faculty that does not contain a single conservative professor. Not one. For my take on what it was like to be a token conservative on the campus in the late 1980's see the interview I gave to The College Fix and the opinion piece I wrote for Campus Reform. One of the critiques of my perspective was that ex-MA governor Jane Swift teaches a minor leadership course on the campus. As I like to point out, I don’t think it is accurate to label Swift a conservative. After all, she is basically a pro-choice moderate. As you may remember, she was on the cutting edge of liberal Republicanism when she picked the openly gay Patrick Guerriero as her running mate for lieutenant governor. Given Swift’s political history, we shouldn’t pretend she is the MA version of Sarah Palin.

Williams College Weather: The Worst of the Worst

As a long-term resident of southern California, I cannot over emphasize how undesirable it is to live in Williamstown during the winter. I have already stressed how frightening it was to drive on small, windy, two-lane roads to get in and out of the Williamstown area. This discomforting fear was much worse during the winter when you faced the possibility of ice on the roads and the danger of going off a cliff as you climbed the mountains leading to the campus. What was most annoying to me was having to take little penguin footsteps for almost five months of the year or else risk falling backward on to an icy sidewalk. It makes my stomach knot up to remember the horrible climate of western MA. It is the sort of place that calls a portion of its highway Deadman's Curve because so many people have died trying to negotiate that piece of road.

My first winter on the campus the snow came early while there were still leaves in the trees. The weight of the snow broke trees in half and caused heavy limbs to fall on cars. It was terrible. I remember thinking I made a mistake accepting that job the first day I arrived on the campus.

All in all, I cannot recommend Williams College as a safe, pleasant or compelling place to go to school or work. It is a great place to visit briefly in the summer. If you actually try to live there, however, you will feel as if you have gone backward in time to pioneer days. College is difficult enough without the added burden of wondering if you are going to freeze to death in a snow storm on your way to the airport.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

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