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Local Legend

I am very saddened to read of the death of Larry Kelley, Yale’s first Heisman Trophy winner (“Faces,” Oct.). His courage and optimism were great inspirations to his fellow students. He and Yale’s other Heisman winner, Clint Frank, carried on a Yale football tradition dear to all of us.

Following a Yale-Navy football game, the press reported an episode characteristic of Larry. During a time-out, Navy sent in a substitute for their backfield, which was constantly being harassed by Larry. There was obvious confusion as to the person that the Navy substitute would replace.

Larry stepped forward and said to the referee, “Maybe he’s coming in for me; I’ve been playing in the Navy backfield all afternoon!”

God bless Larry. We all loved him!


Star Wars Snafu

Unbelievable coincidence! As I started writing this letter this morning about the feature article in the March issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, (“Days of Duck and Cover”), ABC’s talk-radio was airing vituperative exchanges between the right and the left on the new Republican rebirth of Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, known more colloquially as “Star Wars.” What prompted this letter was the paragraph of Mark Branch’s piece wherein he recounts the Russian misinterpretation of NATO’s aims during the war games of 1983. This is the first written report of what I have always believed could happen.

In those Reagan years, I frequently discussed what was happening with engineer friends who were actively working on segments of that program. One man dismissed my analysis as merely typical of another left-leaning radical who just does not understand the situation. He said, “After all, Rob, I cannot reveal all. You do not have top-security clearance!”

But first a little history. In January 1945, as the Battle of the Bulge came to a close, this then-19-year-old radio operator in the 87th Infantry Division was transferred from the 345th Infantry Battalion to the escort team accompanying Major General Frank L. Culin, CO of the 87th. My job was to be his communications link to all that he commanded. From the data I collected each evening, the next day’s action was planned out with pins on a map. It was quite exhilarating to watch! However, one night he spun around and barked at me, “Frank! Where in hell did you put the 346th Battalion? The whole damn German army could run through that hole!”

The obvious 400-yard gap in the front said that I had not done my decipherment correctly! The war waited while I redid my calculations. I was terrified. Lowly two-stripe non-coms do not get much notice from a two-star line officer.

Yes, it had been my error—and I showed it.

I will always remember his next remark. He rose, came around the table to where I was standing, put his arm around me, and said, “Don’t worry, soldier. We’re going to win this one because they f*ck up more than we do!”

With that in mind, here is the analysis so universally dismissed by my engineer friends.

You are a Russian who believes (that must be the operative word), whether it be true or not, that: 1) The United States is ready to unleash an atomic attack upon you, and the only thing that prevents it is the present Russian capability of appropriate response; and 2) Once “Star Wars” becomes functional and capable of effectively intercepting any such response, such attack is certain to occur.

If you believe both of the above statements, what should you as a Russian patriot do? In other words, the preemptive strike becomes the only viable answer!

I sincerely wish I had the opportunity to hear Professor Gaddis’s comments on the above theory.


Hats Off to Priorities

In a letter appearing in the October Yale Alumni Magazine, W. James Price laments the presence of students clad in baseball hats, oft-reversed, in my course on intermediate economics.

As teachers, we constantly face the challenge of deciding what are the appropriate norms to transmit to our students. Should we insist that they learn economics? If so, should the economics be applied, theoretical, policy-oriented, or historically informed? Should the students learn how to apply economics to the budget surplus or to the plight of African countries?

At the same time, what should our expectations be about their abilities to speak good English? To write well? To be able to apply lower or higher mathematics? To conduct themselves with civility with respect to their peers? To understand the complex relationships between themselves and the larger society in which they will function? How should we help them understand the complex ethical issues faced by adults in a rapidly changing world?

And when making these choices, we teachers must be ever mindful that we can be no more than tour guides, showing students the way but being unable to force them to learn what they resist learning.

So, at the end of the day, in a society where the varieties of dress are as great as the varieties of speech, dialects, customs, backgrounds, and philosophies, it never occurred to me that the presence or absence of baseball hats, or their directional orientation, was high on the list of instructional or moral priorities.


Brandy and Burgers

I write in regard to the letter by Brian Clarke titled “Paeans and Peons” in the Summer issue.

First, I believe there ought to be room for both brandy and burgers in a university; after all, a university should introduce students to all aspects of society.

Second, even before the “Big Change in the admissions policies of the 1960s,” about one-third of the students in my class were public high school graduates (a sizeable minority). And before the Civil Rights movement, Yale did at least admit African American students, which certain other Ivy League institutions did not.

Third, Yale did fail the students of my generation by not admitting women. There was no excuse for this in the 1950s. There were many examples for Yale to follow. Cornell, Harvard, and Brown were all either coeducational or had coordinate women’s colleges.

I can only wonder why it took Yale so long to pay attention to this “other half.”


Whose Heroes?

I was interested in Sargent Shriver’s view of Kingman Brewster’s contribution to Yale (“Letters,” Mar.). He wrote, “It is almost accurate to say that [without Brewster] Yale would never have begun its efforts to become one of our country’s most prestigious institutions in higher education.”

Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Shriver’s view is even close to being accurate.

Yale was one of our country’s most prestigious institutions in higher education long before Brewster, long before Mr. Shriver, long before any of us living today.

Yes, Brewster and his admissions director Inslee Clark brought significant change to Yale, but they were not saviors. These men were outstanding in many ways, but let’s not forget that they started with an already valuable and outstanding academic franchise; let’s also not forget that along with many others they rode a broad and powerful wave of social change and reform. Probably because of the confusion of those times, the Corporation and the rest of us (perhaps by default) empowered them to take hold of a prominent and respected institution (already well endowed with unique prestige, rich traditions, and capital), and to shake the institution too vigorously, without much respect or mercy.

In awarding credit for the positive changes Brewster and Clark initiated at Yale, we certainly should not fail to debit them with the harm they caused. And we should realize that their successes were not entirely, or even necessarily, due to extraordinary vision and leadership. Many other fine colleges and universities saw the need for, promoted, and accomplished (less sensationally) the same kind of changes at the same time. Had Brewster and Clark not initiated the changes at Yale that began in the 1960s, surely others would have done so; it is also reasonable to think others might have more skillfully planned and executed those changes.

The fact is that Brewster and Clark didn’t do everything right, nor did they do their work with the excellence that we have a right to have expected from Yale. They took too many risks too quickly, threw too many wild darts, and didn’t have as clear a view of the outcome of what they were doing as we would like to think. They got ahead of their ability to manage their changes as well as Yale’s ability to digest those changes. Yale has been lucky to survive some of their worst work without more serious damage.

This isn’t just Monday-morning quarterbacking. At the time, both men’s work was seen and criticized by many of us as narrowly conceived, unevenly applied, frantically pursued, insensitively executed, arrogantly administered, and fraught with peril. This is neither to depreciate nor to fail to appreciate their real accomplishments—this is only to observe that less impetuous men could have accomplished the same or better results without creating so many collateral problems.

In explaining the success of today’s Yale, we should resist the simplistic temptation to identify individual heroes from the past and exaggerate their contributions. Today’s Yale is the evolved product of three centuries of dedication and hard work by many farsighted, loyal men and women, some better contributors than others. And these are not just administrators, but also faculty, alumni, thousands of valuable employees, and otherwise unassociated supporters of the University’s objectives, values, reputation, and endowment.

I agree with Edward Patterson '43, who wrote a letter on Brewster and Clark that was published in the same magazine as Mr. Shriver’s letter. As Mr. Patterson said, “Sadly, the two good men who were responsible for the change might well have accomplished their objectives sooner had they not tried to do so with such heavy hands.”

I think it is very difficult to disagree with Ed Patterson’s balanced opinion. And it is completely justifiable to more forcefully assert that their work could and should have been done in a more thoughtful, constructive, conservative, and agreeable way.


Proposition Protection

With reference to the note in “Faces” about David Broder’s comments on the ballot initiative (May), I am not sure that he remembers the one proposition that justified the whole process in California. I am referring to Proposition 13, which brought needed protection for the middle class after retirement.

Without Proposition 13, property assessments for those who stayed in their homes would have increased much more than 3 percent a year, and everyone’s tax rate would have gone above 1 percent. Sacramento would have forced the middle class out of their homes, possibly long before retirement.

The dire predictions about zero tax base did not hold up. When I left California, the majority of houses were assessed at sale price, which was very high.

I know nothing about the law, but I have no objection to people collecting an enormous number of signatures to get a proposition on the ballot, and then voting on it.

In the media, I hear a lot of pat phrases, but very little reference to justice and morality.


Classic Cross

Thanks for the wonderfully evocative “Old Yale “ article about Wilbur L. Cross in the April issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine.

The story highlights many of Cross’s talents—as an extraordinary Yale educator and successful governor of Connecticut. However, the article overlooks one of his most widely known accomplishments—his Governor’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1936.

Beginning with “Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and frost gives a tang to the air,” the Proclamation was printed in newspapers across the country at Thanksgiving for many years.


T-Shirt Power

I was excited to see that a T-shirt reading “Making Good Things Happen on Seventh Street” made its way into the article on the new Payne Whitney Gymnasium fitness room (“Details,” Mar.).

That T-shirt is given to volunteers at Bread for the City & Zacchaeus Free Clinic, a nonprofit holistic neighborhood service center providing free food and clothing, as well as medical, legal, and social work services, to low-income residents of the District of Columbia.

I was a staff attorney at B&Z for three years and know how valued our volunteers were. I’m glad that someone had the chance to deliver “Dignity, Respect, Service” (the motto featured on the front of the T-shirt) to our clients before heading to Yale.


Philanthropy’s Reach

I was pleased to see your fine tribute to Fred Rose (“News From Alumni House,” Nov. 1999). Our Yale song includes the words, “For God, for country, and for Yale.” Your piece, on the other hand, only describes Fred’s contributions to Yale.

There is a remarkable breadth to the philanthropy of Fred and the Rose family. As a New Yorker, I rarely turn a corner without seeing a building or cultural institution that they have built or helped restore. There is practically no end to the list of Rose family-supported church, community, synagogue, and scientific programs. All these programs make a difference in people’s everyday lives.

You didn’t do Fred or Yale justice by focusing in your article only on his support for Yale. Something he learned at Yale was undoubtedly part of his motivation for doing so much “for God and Country,” as well as “for Yale.”

Fred was one of the century’s most gracious and great philanthropists. It was a pleasure to encounter him and an honor to know him.



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