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Comment on this article

Degrees of Difference?

I am sure thousands of Yalies must be astounded and disappointed by the awarding to William F. Buckley Jr. '50 of an honorary degree, and especially by that part of the citation reciting that he “has for half a century passionately defended individual liberty” (“Honorands,” Sum.). That is an enormous stretch for a man who has for 50 years promoted the repressive dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, including its poisonous opposition to a woman’s right to choose abortion, and to contraception and family planning, not to mention its discrimination against women and gays generally.

Passionate? Yes. A proponent of individual liberty? No.

William F. Buckley Jr., Doctor of Humane Letters? A total oxymoron.

While reading “Light & Verity” (Sum.), I noticed that a nine-member evaluation team sent to Yale by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges last fall, “led by outgoing Stanford president Gerhard Casper, recommended that the University be reaccredited through the year 2009.”

The same Gerhard Casper was listed as a recipient of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Yale in May of this year (“Honorands,” Sum.).

While it came as no surprise that “no one believed that Yale’s accreditation was actually in danger,” and while certainly Dr. Casper’s integrity is beyond reproach, don’t you think that the selection of 2000 as the year for Yale to so honor Dr. Casper, thus allowing for even the appearance of a conflict of interest, was a particularly unfortunate, even inappropriate, choice?


Hillhouse Heritage

Thank you for your article with all the beautiful photographs on the restoration of Hillhouse Avenue (“Hillhouses,” Sum.). Very few of your readers could have been more appreciative of the story than I was, because the avenue was the subject of my senior thesis in 1948.

As an art history major, I spent more than a year in research and writing to complete the project as a requirement for graduation. I cannot recall how or why I selected this subject, but the longer I worked on it, the more fascinated I became with the many different buildings and the various architectural styles represented on the street. At the time, I had no idea that this area would someday become especially important to preservationists, the University, and the city of New Haven.

My thesis, “Hillhouse Avenue: A Museum of American Nineteenth Century Architecture,” was completed early in 1949. It amounted to 150 typewritten pages, with another 50 pages of maps, sketches, and photographs. After I graduated with the Class of 1949, I heard no more of my work until some 23 years later.

As it turned out, I did not go into a career related to my art history studies, and after I left New Haven I was unaware that efforts would someday be made to try to save the buildings on Hillhouse Avenue.

It was around 1972 when author Brooks Mather Kelley found my old thesis somewhere in the Yale library system and wrote to me asking for permission to use some of my material for a book he was writing. Permission was granted, and he eventually sent me a copy of his New Haven Heritage, along with a complimentary note saying my “pioneering work showed the way.” Mr. Kelley’s study was undertaken at the request of the New Haven Preservation Trust, an organization dedicated to preserving architectural elements of New Haven’s past.

The Trust’s president in 1963 was Yale professor Carroll L.V. Meeks, who also had been one of my faculty advisers on the senior thesis in 1948. Looking back, it seems likely that Professor Meeks already had a keen interest in Hillhouse Avenue in 1948, and he may have suggested that I study the subject in depth.

Now, as I am discovering how much effort has gone into preserving these fine old structures by so many others, I am gratified that my modest undergraduate work had some value beyond simply helping me earn a degree from Yale.

Thanks again to the Yale Alumni Magazine, photographer Michael Marsland, and everyone else who has helped to restore the grandeur of Hillhouse Avenue.


The Power of Planning

Who could say that the plans for the Yale campus outlined in Mark Branch’s article, “Framing the Future” (Sum.), are not glorious? It is therefore surprising and disturbing to read that with all the attention to campus connections and to areas of open space, both existing and new, nowhere in these plans is there a mention of the Farmington Canal Greenway that presently runs through the Yale Campus.

James Hillhouse, who owned much of Hillhouse Avenue and what is now Science Hill, gave a portion of his land to create the 19th-century Farmington Canal. The canal went from New Haven to Northampton, Massachusetts, and became an integral part of the Hillhouse Avenue landscape. The corridor remains today, because it was later used as a railroad. This corridor not only connects parts of the University, but it also connects the University with the city, state parks, and beyond. The historic greenway is an important resource for both New Haven and the University, and it is important that the University not obliterate it on its own property.

If Yale is serious about wanting to be a good neighbor to New Haven and Connecticut, then what better way to show its sincerity than to help bring this precious resource to fruition? Yale and New Haven can only benefit from having this historic greenway go through the Yale campus.

Nancy Osterweis Alderman '94, ‘97MES
Past Member of the Governor’s Commission on Greenways North Haven, CT

While our article did not mention the canal, it is addressed briefly in the “Framework for Campus Planning.”—Ed.

As a loyal alumnus and a long-time resident of New Haven, I have been gratified by the efforts of the University, in recent years, to invest in the community and work with the city. However, traces of the old arrogance towards the town keep resurfacing. I was a little unnerved to see, on the map that accompanies your article, “Framing the Future,” that my two buildings on Temple Street, from which I have conducted business for the last two decades, are shown as Yale property. Economic distress may have made the city more compliant, but Yale does not yet have the right of eminent domain.


The Reunion Tab

My wife, three children, and I attended part of my class’s 20th Reunion this spring (“Reunions 2000,” Sum.). We had a great time, but I am disappointed in the excessive cost of the event.

We only attended for half of one day, and our cost was $310. The full price for the weekend (including lodging) would have exceeded $1,200. This amount is more than enough to pay for a weekend at a first class Caribbean resort, with enough left over to pay for airfare for at least two of us. More to the point, Yale’s fees are more than twice what my friends from other colleges and universities are paying for similar events.

While attendance at the reunion is optional, and while those who do attend presumably are agreeable to paying the fees asked, I still question whether this exorbitant cost is good for the University’s long-term financial health. If Yale requires this much money just to hold a reunion, how much confidence does this inspire in alumni that the funds they contribute each year are being well spent?

I am sure that the University receives many letters of this kind, but I find it necessary to write as Yale has apparently failed to listen to previous, similar comments.


Disparate Deaning

To me, the institution of the college dean is more subject to individual variation than the article “What the Deans Do” (May) would lead one to believe.

My academic life, like that of a previous correspondent (“Letters,” Sum.), was saved many times by Dean James Davie. He had more grace than anyone else I’ve known. He always forgave our trifling ways and flimsy excuses, always cut us some slack so that we could eventually get our assignments turned in. The question whether a student “deserved” to be forgiven never seems to have occurred to him. Being book-smart but life-stupid, I left Yale. Then Dean Davie passed away.

That was in the 1970s. I returned to Yale in the 1980s with obligations to a pregnant wife, a two-year-old son, a mortgage, and a consulting business. During the fall semester, for the first time since coming to Yale, I asked for no excuses. Then in the spring, I asked my college dean for one extra week to complete the assignments that fell due on the day on which my daughter chose to be born. This request was refused.

Later that semester, I asked my dean to let me turn in one homework assignment four days late so that I could study for a final. This request was testily refused. For each of these refusals, the reason given was that I needed to learn how to be prompt.

I encountered grace when I didn’t deserve it and inflexibility when I did. Go figure.


Free the Lecture Notes!

It was with much chagrin that I read “University Balks at Online Notes” (“Light & Verity,” May). The foundation of education in Western society is based on a model where information flows freely, allowing for a system where people can learn from and teach each other in a symbiotic relationship.

Yale seemingly has not learned this lesson. The Web site mentioned in the article, http://classes.yale.edu, allows access only to current students. Even as an alumnus who paid to attend Yale and who has since donated funds, I cannot access the information. This is certainly not the free flow of information I was looking for. Yale is instead acting as an enemy of modern education.

If a company in Palo Alto wants to act as a brokerage for this type of information and make a profit from advertising revenue, then more power to them. Yale could just as easily create its own Web site to do the same job. Of course, Yale hasn’t created such a Web site, which may go a long way towards explaining the near monopoly on successful Internet startups in the hands of Stanford alumni.

Obviously, students do not pay in excess of $30K per annum for lecture notes. There is no risk that a Yale education would be devalued by allowing lecture notes to be posted. To the contrary, if others see the wealth of information emanating from this University, then it becomes free advertising for Yale to future scholars.


Was Stalin to Blame?

As a resident and professional working in the petroleum industry in the former Soviet Union since 1991, I admire the diligent work of Professor Gaddis (“Days of Duck and Cover,” Mar.). Certainly, it is interesting to view the Cold War from Stalin’s point of view, which, in fact, defined the Soviet point of view.

Stalin was a great leader by some measures, but he could certainly be defined as paranoid by other measures.

Stalin very effectively used the KGB as an enforcer of his paranoia. Additionally, the KGB was a highly organized and extremely efficient espionage machine designed, in part, to steal military and scientific technology. In fact, the first Soviet atomic bomb was an exact duplicate of Fat Man, the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Nagasaki. At least one U.S. bomber was captured intact, completely disassembled, and duplicated as nearly as possible.

School children in the 1950s in the Soviet Union scooted under their school desks, curled up on their knees and huddled over, with hands and arms covering their heads, in atomic bomb drills just as we did in the U.S. There were bomb shelters built in numerous locations in cities. A few older buildings today still contain large wall posters in remote back hallways showing large four-engine bombers flying over a city and what steps to follow in an atom bomb emergency. In the U.S. and here, both citizens and school children believed in the threat because the government told them the threat was real. Posters and in-school, under-the-desk drills added to the reality of the threat on both sides.

So who was the culprit in the Cold War? Since Stalin’s paranoid thought process dominated political thinking in the Soviet Union, I submit that it was the paranoia of a single man that was the true cause of the Cold War. Such was his power in creating, maintaining, enlarging, and enforcing this paranoia that it continued long after his death. Only until a Soviet Renaissance man, Mikhail Gorbachev, emerged, was that paranoia substantially quashed, thereby ending the Cold War.


Men Will Be Boys

Reviewing the Summer 1999 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, I was disappointed to note the pictures of Griswold Professor of Economics Nordhaus teaching fiscal policy in Linsly-Chittenden Hall (“Who’s Teaching Whom?”). In both photos, there were a number of students with baseball hats on during his lecture (a number of which were backwards to boot).

In my days, we used to talk about the Harvard students, Princeton boys, and Yale men. I guess that it is now Yale boys as well.

It is disappointing that a Yale professor would permit students to sit in his class with their hats on. There is more to education than book learning.


Thanks for the Memories

The “Sporting Life” item in the Summer issue quoted lightweight crew coach Andy Card as saying (re rowing): “There are those perfect moments that leave you wanting more.” This triggered my aging memory most pleasantly.

From 1934 to 1941, I rowed for three years in prep school (Culver Military Academy) and for four at Yale. In the intervening summers, I rowed with a little boat club in northern Illinois (our shell was a gift from a boat club in Chicago—an eight that had been raced at the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair). Then came World War II. After the war, I stayed in the Army for several years and found myself happily (if not too expertly) rowing and sculling from 1946 to 1951 with the Washington-area club crews in every size of shell in existence.

Now to my present purpose. In May of 1938, I was on the Yale second freshman boat. I think Paul Moore '41 (not yet a bishop) was our stroke. We tried hard, but not always very spectacularly. One Saturday, we raced one of the better rowing prep schools. Guess what? Everything meshed! I think we won by five lengths or so, without even trying hard. The next Monday, we were out again, but little went right. But the previous little episode was the first thing in mind when I read Card’s comment.

Now, when I sit back and close my eyes, I can almost relive that experience from 62 years ago.


Engineering on its Own

W.D. Glover’s letter in the Summer Yale Alumni Magazine did not have the dates right. When I entered Yale in 1937, the School of Engineering had existed for some years. Yale then offered three undergraduate degrees—BA (Yale College), BS (Sheffield Scientific School), and BE (School of Engineering). A not-so-subtle commentary of the Administration on the literacy of the engineers was the fact that the BA and BS diplomas were in Latin and the BE diploma was in English! The chemical engineering department, in which I labored for four years, was headed by three world-class professors—Furnas, Dodge, and Bliss. It has been sad to see the department and the School fall on such hard times. I hope that both are brought back to the level of recognition they used to have.


Earth Resurgent

I read with interest Bruce Fellman’s article on the decline of ecology in Yale’s biology department (“Replanting Ecology,” Sum.). As the article notes, the rush to molecular and cellular biology over the last three decades was a national phenomenon, but ecology’s near-death experience in the biology department at Yale was perhaps the most extreme in a major American university.

The article is correct in observing that ecology flourished in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies after the arrival of F.H. Bormann in 1966 to continue the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study, which we began together as colleagues in 1963 while both of us were on the faculty of Dartmouth College. However, in addition to getting my name wrong, the article leaves the erroneous impression that I was on the faculty in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. I left Dartmouth for Cornell University in 1969, leaving there in 1983 to found the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. Throughout this period, I maintained close ties to Bormann as our research at Hubbard Brook grew and became an international model for whole ecosystem research. I have been a professor of biology at Yale since 1984.

Yale’s new department of ecology and evolutionary biology has the opportunity to succeed, and we all hope that it will regain its former prominence.


Creation Critique

I was surprised by your subtitle in “What’s In a Name” (Apr.), which reads, in part: “But now two Yale researchers think they’ve found a way to catalogue creation.”

Creation? Hardly! They seek to describe the history and process of Darwinian evolution, as the article itself infers. However, Darwin had two criteria in mind: genealogy and similarity. Cladistics, of which Yale botanist Michael Donoghue and Yale paleontologist are proponents, ignores similarity in favor of genealogy. For the result, we must turn to Harvard’s eminent evolutionary biologist, Ernst Mayr, who in his outstanding book, This Is Biology (Belknap Press, Harvard 1997), observed: Although cladistics is “an excellent method of phylogenetic analysis,” according to its principles “the modern descendants of Charlemagne are more closely related to him than he was to his brothers and sisters.”

Occasionally, we Yalies must turn to Harvard for enlightenment. Besides, I think I would rather be called “Homo sapiens” than “homo.sapiens.123.”



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