Williams College melts down in a big way

May 8, 2019 • 9:45 am

Williams College is truly going the way of Evergreen State, and the trouble is happening today on three fronts. The College administration has lost control of the both the students and the faculty, and a student sit-in will happen this week. Here are the issues:

1.) Campus Security Officer pushes back against unfounded student complaints about university security. In a poignant letter addressed to students in the campus newspaper the Williams Record, Nancy MacCauley, a campus safety and security (CSS) officer, who happens to be black, has chastised the students for claiming that her office isn’t doing their job and is making the students unsafe. This comes from the customary accusations leveled against campus security and police  when students feel they are victimized and unsafe. (My theory, which is mine, is that when students are unsettled, they blame the cops and campus security for their insecurities and grievances. Perhaps that’s because of the name “campus security.” )  In fact, as far as I know, Williams CSS is doing a good job and has not been found culpable of anything. (We see the same criticism of the campus police by students at the University of Chicago.) One of the student demands in the CARENow list (the list compiled by the Aggrieved, Offended, and Entitled Students) is this:

9. Fund a thorough external independent investigation into the practices and interactions CSS has with students, namely minority students.

Here’s part of MacCauley’s letter (my emphasis):

Dear Williams Students,

I see you, I hear you, I have helped many of you and I have been here for you. Therefore, I feel the need to share how disheartened I am about the recent article in the Record [JAC: I believe she’s referring to this article, which makes a lot of accusations against CSS but gives no specifics] and the negative perception about Campus Safety and Security. Not sure how this all happened, this change in perception. I have lived in Williamstown and walked on this campus since 1957. This college has brought me so much joy.

Since I was 10 years old, the students at this campus have had my attention. I witnessed the Hopkins Hall takeover. There have been so many new student faces, decades of history, and conversations which have always been about giving you the tools to change the future.

The allegations made against the men and women who work hard to keep you safe from yourselves and outside the purple bubble [JAC: Purple is the official college “color”.] saddens me deeply.

We didn’t ask to be a part of your struggle. You put us in it because it was easier to blame us. You didn’t work to make change in a productive manner that this college stands for. You fail to communicate.

I was raised, as a Black woman, to communicate my frustration and work for solutions. You choose to blame and not see it worthy to come to the table and meet us as people. You say, “why do I have to, we shouldn’t have to.”

I would suggest that you look at yourselves and history. Talk to those of us who have experienced racism, fear, struggles and injustice so that you can learn. It’s a journey. We’ve all taken it. . .

. . .Disappointed, saddened I am for you…
Nancy Macauley
Campus Safety and Security

I’ve omitted some in the interest of conserving space. Note that MacCauley says “it was easier to blame us”, supporing my theory that campus security is somehow responsible for soothing sooth student anxiety. I have to add that MacCaulay is brave for doing this. Even though she’s an African-American woman, she’s now going to be demonized for telling the students that they are both wrong and overreacting. Her job might even be on the line. But she could hold her tongue no longer. Kudos to this woman (this information is on the CSS public page:

2.) Two English professors have a big public fight about racism.  This is documented in both the article below, by the paper’s editors, as well as a letter in the newspaper from two students (Jamie Kasulis and Emily Zheng) who witnessed the altercation. The altercation involved a white English professor, Katie Kent, and a “woman of color” professor, Dorothy Wang, who is Asian. Once again it involves so-called “violent practices” and “structural racism” in the college. The fight broke out when Wang asked Kent if they were going to discuss these issues at a faculty meeting vis-à-vis another English professor, Kimberley Love, who took medical leave because of “structural racism”.  The altercation is almost humorous in the extremity of the claims made, except this is not at all good publicity for Williams. From the article by the paper’s editors:

On April 17, two students saw Chair and Professor of English Katie Kent behave aggressively toward Professor of American Studies Dorothy Wang, a woman of color, in an approximately 15-minute verbal confrontation in Hollander Hall.

Wang, a former faculty affiliate in English, had approached Kent on her way to a departmental meeting to ask Kent if the meeting would discuss the recent leave of Assistant Professor of English Kimberly Love. Love had cited the College’s “violent practices” as a reason for her departure at the beginning of the spring semester. Wang had previously expressed concerns about the cancellation of recent English department meetings. For her, they were reflective of the department’s unwillingness to discuss what she sees as its longstanding history of hostility toward faculty of color (FoC) – a concern that had compelled Wang to disaffiliate from the department several weeks ago.

The two students who witnessed the event – Jamie Kasulis ’20 and Emily L. Zheng ’20 – have met with Dean of the Faculty Denise Buell and President of the College Maud Mandel about Kent’s behavior. The two have called for Kent’s resignation, citing her role in what they perceive to be issues of structural racism in the department. Kent wrote notes of apology to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, but all three found the apologies insufficient and disingenuous.

The incident is then described for a second time in the same article:

According to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent reacted immediately and negatively, saying that sufficient conversations around Love had already been held.

“Professor Kent got immediately irritated,” Kasulis said. “She took a defensive posture. She raised her voice.” When Wang mentioned the particular relevance of Love’s departure for the English department, given Love’s critiques of feeling unsafe and unwelcome, Wang said that Kent responded, saying, “‘She was talking about the College, Dorothy. She wasn’t talking about the department; she was talking about the College.’”

For Wang, that statement was emblematic of what she sees as the English department’s continual inability to reconcile with its historical and present-day manifestations of racism.

Kent briefly left after making that statement, and Wang said to Kasulis, “This is why I disaffiliated from English.” Upon hearing Wang’s comment, according to Wang, Kasulis and Zheng, Kent immediately turned around and made an incensed statement closely resembling, “Are you talking shit about me to your students?”

“She was literally yelling in the hallway,” Kasulis said. At that point, Zheng, who had been listening from a chair across the hallway, walked up to Wang and Kasulis.

“I came over as soon as I heard her run back into the hallway and yell profanities,” Zheng said. “I didn’t really want to intrude … but I did so only after she started raising her voice, because that was alarming. I stood up because I couldn’t just sit there while she verbally attacked my friend and my professor.”

Zheng said Kent’s tone and physical posture made her fear for the safety of Wang and Kasulis.

If there were a National Enquirer for colleges, this would belong in it.

Kent is not going to resign: the dean asked her to write an apology and she did. I would love to have been a fly on that wall. The issue of Kimberly Love has already been settled—she’s taken paid medical leave for the semester—but Wang won’t let it rest. My best inquiries and investigations have not led me to find evidence for any structural racism in either the college or the department. In my view, this is an issue of unhinged faculty and of entitled students who want to be offended.

There’s a lot more in the article, but the upshot is that the students won’t accept Kent’s apology: they want her GONE. And the students are arguing that this yelling by professor Kent is an example of the “violence of the institution” and the “toxic culture” of the English Department. Meanwhile, the students are now going to have a sit-in about this. This should be interesting:

Students have organized a protest, “Love and Accountability: Occupy Hollander for FoC,” for Friday from 12:30–1:30 p.m., calling for recognition of what the organizers call “violent racism” in the College’s treatment of FoC [Faculty of Color]. Students have also invited the community to express gratitude and support for FoC, and have called for Mandel and administrators to address issues of racism at the College against people of color (PoC).

3.) Williams students refuse to recognize a pro-Israel student organization though they’ve already recognized a pro-Palestinian one. The college gives the pro-Israel group secondary status, probably without perks. 

Meanwhile, as I reported a few days ago, the Williams College Council (the student governmental body) refused to recognize as a registered student organization (RSO) the group Williams Initiative for Israel (WIFI), even though they had recognized the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) as an RSO. As I said, this is manifestly unfair, constituting viewpoint discrimination. I also reported that President Maud Mandel made nice noises about approving the existence of WIFI, but didn’t demand that the students give it equal status to SJP. Mandel said this (my emphasis):

We’ve always expected the Council to follow its own processes and bylaws. I’m disappointed that that didn’t happen in this instance. College leaders have communicated to the organizers of Williams Initiative for Israel that the club can continue to exist and operate without being a CC-approved RSO. This is not a special exception. It’s an option that has been open to any student group operating within the college’s code of conduct. Even without CC approval, WIFI or any other non-CC organization can still access most services available to student groups, including use of college spaces for meetings and events. I see the communication of this fact to WIFI as a basic matter of fairness and people’s right to express diverse views. Differences over such views are legitimate grounds for debate, but not for exercising the power to approve or reject a student group.

Mandel’s tepid response has been called out by both The College Fix, which points out that the only guiding principle of WIFI is that Israel has a right to exist, and by The Algemeiner in the article below, which quotes a statement from the college rabbi:

Rabbi Seth Wax, Jewish chaplain at Williams College, told The Algemeiner on Thursday that while he is concerned about the CC’s decision, “by and large, it will not affect how the group functions.”

“WIFI organizers have been meeting with me, faculty, staff, and administrators since the decision last week,” he said. “Stakeholders at the college have made it abundantly clear that the club can exist without being an RSO, and I can assure you that it continues to do so.”

“The group can access almost any service available on campus, including campus spaces for meetings and events, even without RSO status,” Wax added.

He expressed particular gratitude to the college administration for supporting WIFI’s existence, and “viewing it as a matter of fairness and the students’ right to express their views.”

Gratitude to Mandel for allowing WIFI to exist, even with secondary status? This is like Jews in a ghetto licking the hand that gives them inferior rations. A group not recognized by the College Council, I’ve discovered, has no ability to request money from the College Council. Thanks for nothing, President Mandel, and thanks to you and Rabbi Wax for pretending that every group is equal (but some groups are more equal than others.)

Williams College Student Leaders Deny Recognition to ‘Pro-Israel’ Group, Prompting Calls for Inquiry

I wrote Rabbi Wax (my letter is below the fold) politely expressing my dissatisfaction with his tepid words, but of course I haven’t heard back from him. The biggest issue is whether the second-class status conferred with sweet words by Mandel on WIFI denies them the financial support offered to registered student organizations like SJP. The College Fix reports that “Williams has not answered College Fix queries about what benefits are only available to ‘registered student organizations.'”

The pro-Israel organization Stand With Us wrote a strong letter to President Mandel, also protesting the unequal treatment of WIFI versus SJP, and saying that this hypocrisy violates Williams’s own non-discrimination policy, its code of conduct, and the Student Council’s own protocols. And they’re right. What Williams is tolerating here is discrimination against a pro-Israel organization in favor of a pro-Palestinian one. That’s in line with Authoritarian Leftist sentiments, but not with fundamental principles of justice, equality and decency. All groups should be treated equally.

Yet some students are objecting in the other direction: they don’t want WIFI recognized at all. The letter below from three students, which just appeared in the student paper, tries to justify why SJP is okay but WIFI is not. This straining at gnats is laughable:

Although it is the first time a club has been denied in years, it is also the first time someone has attempted to start a nationalist club. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) organizes around issues related to Israel-Palestine; however, they are not interested in defending the interests of some hypothetical Palestinian state. [JAC: Hypothetical? That’s what SJP is pushing for!] Instead, SJP takes a human rights-based approach to the conflict; it is deeply troubling that WIFI could not commit to doing the same. It is this inability to take a human rights approach to the conflict that factored heavily into WIFI’s request for recognition being denied.

Failures of Mandel’s WIFI statement: How her words are being weaponized against students

Clearly, Williams is melting down on multiple fronts, and everyone is to blame from the President and the administration, to the professors, and to the students, who are becoming unhinged and are not being reined in by faculty or administration.

If Williams doesn’t want its reputation to vanish the way Evergreen State’s has, they need to act now. President Mandel needs to stand up to unreasonable student demands and emphasize that there is no evidence for structural racism or violence at Williams. And if the administration finds no malfeasance on the part of Campus Security, they need to publicize that and tell the students to shut up about it (in nice words, of course). Finally, Williams needs to stop discriminating against the pro-Israel organization in favor of the pro-Palestinian one, and give them equal status and equal access to the perks allow for all registered student organizations. Unless the administration stops catering to this whining mob of entitled students, Williams will no longer be a place where parents will want to send their kids. After all, parents want their kids to get an education, not a course in grievance studies.

My letter to Rabbi Wax (of lesser interest) is below the fold:

My unanswered letter to Rabbi Wax (something tells me it might be answered if it gets some publicity):

Dear Rabbi Wax,

As a secular Jew, I’ve been following the WIFI controversy at Williams for the past couple of weeks, and was distressed to see that the College Council voted to deny that organization status as a registered student organization. This was particularly invidious in view of the fact that Students for Justice in Palestine, which I find viciously anti-Israel if not anti-Semitic, has already gained RSO status. There is no good reason why SJP should have registered status while WIFI does not. This is palpably a case of viewpoint discrimination, something prohibited by the First Amendment in public universities. (Williams should follow these guidelines as well.)

This double standard was recognized by President Mandel, who is allowing WIFI to coexist and use student facilities while not calling for the students to grant the organization its proper status. I’m not sure if she has that power, but she should certainly be calling for WIFI to have the same status as SJP.

I read in an article in Algemeiner that you had been somewhat of an apologist for how the WIFI affair has been handled, saying that it’s basically okay for the organization to exist without being an RSO, as they still have access to campus facilities. (I’m not sure, though, whether they have been denied the funds allotted to other RSOs.)

And while you’ve expressed gratitude to the administration for “supporting WIFI’s existence,” I’m not sure if you’ve been critical of the College Council for denying the organization RSO status.

Although I’m not a religious Jew, I am deeply concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in Western countries and on college campuses. I think it’s incumbent on all of us to fight the fulminating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tendencies of colleges, particularly among the students. While I appreciate your position and need to get along with the students, I can only say that I wished you had spoken up more strongly against this odious infringement on student rights, which clearly reflect anti-Semitic tendencies.

If you have spoken up strongly against WIFI’s disenfranchisement, and I haven’t seen that, my apologies. But what I see in Williams is an increasing growth of the brand of extremist Leftism that demonizes Jews and Israel while at the same time extolling a regime in Palestine that is far less liberal and far more oppressive of human rights. I would hope that the Jewish community at Williams would stick up for its own, and fight hard against the kind of sentiments demonstrated by the College Council.

Jerry Coyne

Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolution
The University of Chicago

39 thoughts on “Williams College melts down in a big way

  1. Kimberley Love, who took medical leave because of “structural racism”.

    “Structural racism” is a mental disease, a form of paranoia.

    1. Structural or institutional racism is what you fall back on when your whole ethos is based on being a victim of racism, but you can’t actually find any.

  2. The good news is that it is May and school should by out soon for the summer. Most universities in Georgia are having graduation this weekend. We can hope that some of the people creating the disturbances will not be back next year, and that the class of incoming freshmen will be better.

    That is about the best I can hope for Williams, unless the trustees step in and take control. But does not appear to me that they are any better than the students, faculty and administration. There should be some major donors who could intervene but dies not appear likely.

  3. I want to be concerned and sympathetic, but I can’t help but get out the popcorn when leftist wackos eat each other in a purity spiral as to who can be more holy. And I can’t help but feel colleges created their own Frankenstein monster through indoctrinating students in leftist radicalism for decades.

    1. This college was founded centuries ago and not by leftist radicals. The latter have apparently overtaken it and are now pushing it to destruction. I find this worrying and very sad.

  4. So the students can yell profanities but not professors? People have heated arguments. Anger is not necessarily a bad thing and sometimes people yelling at us make us feel uncomfortable but unsafe? If that’s unsafe this person has had a pretty sheltered life.

    1. I disagree here. I think professors should control themselves and adhere to some etiquette, esp. in front of students. It would be difficult to set standards of behavior for the students if the professors themselves observe none.

      I mentioned also that a student referred to a professor as her “friend”. I find this very wrong.

      1. How is that disagreeing? My point is a student can’t act that way either and by a student storming into a meeting and screaming and dropping F-bombs and taking aggressive postures then turning around and complaining they see two professors have a disagreement so one should be fired – that’s extremely hypocritical and nowhere near a firing offence. If a student is so threatened but is not at all worried about threatening others, there is a big teachable moment here.

        1. The maintenance of civilization requires the maintenance of civility. They are really the same concept, but on different scales.

          I am aware that some of us come from cultures where expletive laced screaming is an appropriate expression of one’s views. That is certainly not the case in the culture in which I was raised. If anything, I was taught to be exceedingly polite to those with whom I am angry or disagree strongly.

          For those in positions of authority, it sets a poor example to lose one’s temper in public.

          1. So you missed my point entirely. I never said that the profs weren’t culpable. But that the students are hypocrites for engaging in even worse behaviour and then chastising the professors. Moreover, the professor wrote a note of apology but there is calling for her to be fired. Losing your livelihood over losing your temper. Seems a bit extreme especially when we don’t know what the extenuating circumstances are. I’ve been exposed to much worse in the work place and never would call for destroying the person’s Livelihood.

  5. I had a different take on Mandel’s action regarding WIFI, that she was saying, Look, you guys are fine without SGA approval. . . you can use facilities, etc. My impression was that the issue with the SGA would be resolved somehow, but pending that, the lack of approval would not restrict WIFI on campus.

    As for the “fight” between two professors, what was the “defensive” posture the department head adopted. Did she put her mitts up? I doubt it, or they would have said. While the public argument was unseemly, nothing about it was violent.

    1. As I said, Mandel deserves some plaudits for sticking up for the right of WIFI to be on campus, but she could have insisted that they be given the same rights as SJP or any other registered student organization. After all, I think those SROs get $$ that WIFI won’t, and that’s not fair. There is no reason, as Stand With Us emphasized, to give WIFI second class status without all the perks. Or do you think they should?

      1. I think Mandel is reluctant to overrule the College Council directly, at least for now. It would make the council irrelevant if the college president simply overruled it every time they disagreed with it.

      2. Not all, I definitely think they should get the dollars, too, so I hope this is not as far as Mandel plans to go. But, as I said in another post, I doubt the basis of student government generally, especially these days. If I belonged to WIFI, I would seriously consider self-funding. With Patreon and gofundme, it’s a lot easier than it was in the days of bake sales and t-shirts. Oh, and suing to not have to pay the activity fee. Indeed, schools should consider if they want to be in the business of taxing students. As an old professor of mine once said, “Politics is the debate over the allocation of society’s resources.”

  6. They are now using FoC as an acronym? Seriously?

    I wonder why they don’t say “Comrades of Color”?

  7. “I see you, I hear you, I have helped many of you and I have been here for you.”

    CSS Nancy Macualey, in her deft use of anaphora (and some other rhetorical devices later in her letter), sure seems more literate than anyone writing for the Williams Record.

    She could learn these kids a thing or two about English composition. 🙂

  8. It does seem to me that Professor Kent did react in an unseemly and unprofessional fashion, but of course it falls far short of anything beyond maybe a ‘tut tut’ from an Administrator.
    I am pretty close to my department chair and to a couple administrators that deal with conflicts among faculty and students. By a kind of osmosis I have indirectly learned of all manner of drama that the ‘higher ups’ have to deal with involving faculty, staff, and students. This is seriously nothing.

    1. With only the information from the article to go by I agree that Kent could have handled the encounter better but I think Wang was much more out of line. In particular I think Kent was exactly right about Wang talking shit about her to her students. Though it would have been better if she had expressed her thoughts on that in a way that didn’t leave her at a disadvantage. Given what Wang appears to have been doing, much more than just talking shit about another professor to her students which is bad enough but also undermining the authority and integrity of Williams’ administration as a whole, I think she should be disciplined.

    2. But who knows how that interaction really went down, considering the only apparent witnesses to it are two students seemingly unsympathetic to Kent (she being white and all).

      1. You see that the Trump administration has sent a bomber-wing equipped aircraft-carrier group into the Persian Gulf in response to unspecified “Iranian provocation”?

        The announcement came not from the president, not from the Defense Secretary, not even from anyone else in the Pentagon, but from NSA John Bolton.

        Tellin’ ya, Beej, the man’s dangerous and reckless, and it would be a maximally Trumpian move to give Bolton the green light to launch something against alleged Iranian training camps or alleged Iranian nuclear centrifuge facilities, in order to distract the nation from bad news — like Robert Mueller or Don McGahn testifying before congress.

        I thought we’d be further into the 2020 election cycle before we saw something like this, but Trump’s unspooling faster than I expected.

          1. Makes one wonder what the Trump policy on Iran is. Trump withdrew from the nuclear treaty with nothing to show for it, and without making any effort to negotiate a new one. And way back during Mike Flynn’s tenure as national security advisor, the Trump administration drew a red line concerning Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons or missiles with which to launch them.

            Iran is certainly seeking to develop such weapons and missiles, especially now that it’s seen how doing so has given Kim Jong-un a position of strength on the world stage. What do you suppose the Donald’s gonna do?

  9. Some time ago two faculty members of the Tufts University English Dept almost came to blows over postmodernism. O tempers, o mores.

  10. …if the meeting would discuss the recent leave of Assistant Professor of English Kimberly Love. Love had cited the College’s “violent practices” as a reason for her departure at the beginning of the spring semester. Wang had previously expressed concerns about the cancellation of recent English department meetings. For her, they were reflective of the department’s unwillingness to discuss what she sees as its longstanding history of hostility toward faculty of color (FoC)…

    If a department chair is letting a professor take an unscheduled leave of absence for ‘structural racism’, then I have a hard time seeing the department as being callous or hostile towards such issues. Callous or hostile would be saying “no. Medical leave is for things like having an operation or getting measles. Teach your classes or be fired.” But as many others have pointed out, the far left seems to think “I’ve listened to you, I understand, but still disagree” is equivalent to “hostile towards.”

    Having said that, there’s generally no good reason for one faculty member to yell at another in the hall. Its your workplace, be professional, and apologize in those instances when anxiety, pressure or stress causes you to temporarily lose it.

  11. We didn’t ask to be a part of your struggle

    Ah well, there’s an admission of not being sufficiently woke there. I think the next part of the conversation is “Dead man walking!”, if they still do that.

    1. They are going to be in for a hard time. The greatest crime in the ‘Woke’ lexicon is disagreeing with them.

      The punishment is straight out of the Scientologists ‘Fair Game’ handbook for dealing with ‘Suppressive Persons’.

  12. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has also weighed in on the recognition issue.

    “WIFI first requested recognition as a registered student organization, or RSO, at the College Council’s April 16 meeting, where discussions were tabled after contentious debate about the group’s mission. Discussions picked back up on April 23, leading again to arguments about WIFI’s viewpoints and the College Council’s 13–8 anonymous vote to deny the group RSO status, making it “the first club in over a decade that complied with all CC bylaws for recognition but failed to gain RSO status.” ”


  13. It will probably take another great depression to straighten out the priorities of most of these these whinny babies.

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