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Schmoke’s Impact

Hats off to you for the fine piece on Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation Kurt Schmoke '71 (“Powerful Persuader,” Nov.).

Schmoke stands out as a beacon of sanity, common sense, and political courage for his opposition to the futile, destructive, and misguided war on drugs.

Along with conservative fellow alumnus William F. Buckley Jr. '50, Schmoke has advocated reducing the serious harm that is caused by handling the drug problem as a criminal matter rather than as a public health matter.

Unlike conservative Republican governor Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who came out for decriminalization of some drugs only during his second (and final) term of office, Schmoke defied political wisdom, which regards espousing drug law reform as an act of political suicide. Schmoke was reelected to office as mayor of Baltimore twice on just such a platform.

Schmoke’s stance contrasts markedly with that of a Yale Law School grad under whose presidency the federal price tag for the war on drugs escalated from $13 billion to $20 billion, with no discernible impact on street price, availability, or purity of drugs, while furnishing the lion’s share of the burgeoning prison population, which currently stands at a disgraceful two million souls.

Schmoke’s courageous stand has begun to influence other African American national legislators to challenge the racist effects of the war on drugs, which ensures that one in three black American males will have been incarcerated by his 35th birthday. In many states, this effectively disenfranchises them for many years, if not for life.

Yale is indeed wise and fortunate in having a man of Schmoke’s character and stature as Senior Fellow of the Corporation.

The article on Kurt Schmoke did much to broaden this student’s understanding of one of the most powerful men at Yale. However, while the article told the story of Schmoke’s involvement in May Day 1970, it neglected to tell a story equally relevant to his character.

In Schmoke’s final semester at Yale, the campus was torn apart by a bitter strike by Local 35. In the eyes of many students, the strike was forced upon the union by the University, which was unwilling to negotiate in good faith. Schmoke, along with a broad coalition of 25 other student leaders, went on a hunger strike to support a quick resolution of the strike and to demand that their University go back to the negotiating table.

“We’re here to make a sacrifice, and our self interests have no justification when compared to the plight of the workers,” Schmoke was quoted as saying in the Yale Daily News.

Schmoke’s selflessness as a student in regard to Yale workers is surely as important to his character as his “filial courtesy” during May Day.


Money’s Allure

I wonder if anyone else noticed the incongruity between two pieces that appeared in the November issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine. One was a long article in which it is stated that “Yale’s admissions officers are having to work harder to recruit the best candidates” (“Deciphering the Admissions Map”). The other was a “Campus Clip” reporting that “Yale’s endowment grew 40 percent to roughly $10 billion” (emphasis added).

Assuming Yale has roughly 10,000 students (undergraduate and post-graduate), is there no one in the admissions office who can do the math that would show how devoting just 1 percent more of the endowment (1 percent of $10 billion is $100 million) per year could allow every single Yale student a tuition cut or stipend of $10,000?

What do you think would happen to Yale undergraduate recruitment if tuition were $10,000 less every year? Would we still have graduate students seeking to join a union if their stipends went up $10,000 per year? How many more new doctors and lawyers would be willing to devote a year (or more) to public service if their student loans were $30,000 to $40,000 less?

There is one argument that is often used to defend the ever-rising cost of college tuition. This argument is that the system is labor-intensive and subject to much in the way of inefficiencies. But the reason the endowment has risen is that Yale is benefiting from the overall efficiencies of the society in generating wealth. Why shouldn’t that benefit be used to overcome the inherent inflation in the cost of higher education? Or does Yale really exist for the benefit of the endowment, instead of the other way around?


The Brooks Affair

What a waste! I was dismayed and ashamed to see former Yale Corporation member Diana Brooks (“Campus Clips,” Sum.) in Federal District Court in Manhattan, admitting her guilt to a naked Sherman Act price-fixing conspiracy. By becoming a witness against A. Alfred Taubman, her ex-boss and former Sotheby’s chairman, she may avoid up to three years in a federal prison and escape with a fine. Brooks reportedly told Judge Richard N. Berman that for over six years she participated in a hard-core price-fixing scheme “at the direction of a superior at Sotheby’s Holdings.” At the time, Taubman was her sole superior.

What went wrong? Brooks had a substantial head start over many of us—a silk-stocking upbringing on the North Shore of Long Island, prep school at Miss Porter's, membership in one of Yale’s first coed classes (1972), a husband who is a successful venture capitalist, and her own meteoric rise at Sotheby's, where she became its CEO and one of the most powerful figures in the international art auction world. Brooks was elected to the Yale Corporation, where she served while concurrently engaging in felonious price- fixing with her Christie’s counterpart, Christopher Davidge.

I hope that every American with even a modicum of intelligence and a college education knows that in this country price- fixing is a serious crime. I would like to believe that it was Brooks who failed Yale rather than the other way around. Having said this, I have increasingly observed a certain arrogance, hubris, greed, and disrespect for our laws and institutions among some of our most famous and accomplished citizens.

Universities, schools, and churches need to do a better job of instilling in all Americans a greater sense of humility, honor, and decency—as well as a willingness to do the right thing, not only for themselves and their families, but for the benefit of society as a whole. In other words, let’s not forget those often sung words—“For God, for Country, and for Yale!”


Basketball Benefits

As an old Yale basketball player (back in the days when 6'2” was tall) I have a dual reaction to Onaje Woodbine’s explanation as to why he, an all-league player, decided to forego his senior year on the team (“College Comment,” Nov.).

My main concern is that Woodbine considers his continuation on the team to be a deterrent to getting his full measure of Yale. I wonder: Had his special interest and talent been in debating, would he have dropped off the debating team because that team practices and travels a lot?

Woodbine’s list of things of which basketball deprives him amazes me. Has Yale changed so much that playing intercollegiate sports prevents one from getting involved meaningfully in other aspects of college life? It certainly didn’t in our day. Most of us, I’d bet, had lunch with professors, read as many class materials as most other students did, had spirited conversations with roommates, and even went to masters’ teas occasionally.

Basketball was not an either-or situation with me. It was an important plus, taking me to places I’d never been. It brought me close to a great group of people with varied backgroundspeople with whom I shared many a non-sport thought. Many of them became lasting friends.

Basketball helped me create a lifelong habit of healthy exercise. It taught me the pluses and the perils of challenging authority. It exposed me to a sample of life’s unfairness at times, such as when, with a few moments to go in a close game at Brown, I was called by a distant referee for a foul I didn’t commit, with the resulting two free throws leading to our team’s losing the game by one point!

It’s an impressive list of pluses for a young man, I would say. And basketball was fun. I loved it.

The other side of the coin is that I could not help but be moved by this young man’s earnest effort to put first things first—as he sees them. If his goal of a “higher aim of divine purpose and truth” is passed off by some of us oldies as youthful idealism, I think we should all be grateful that there are still young men and women who dream the dream, and who will make sacrifices to prepare themselves to something about those dreams.

Go for it, Onaje Woodbine!


Reunion Tab

I want to echo Samuel D. Zurier’s comments in the October issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine (“Letters”) regarding the high cost of attending Yale reunions. I would enjoy a day or two with former classmates in order to catch up on old times. But in the grand scheme of things, the costs exceed the benefits. There is no way reunions are worth what Yale expects us to pay.

I questioned Yale about the high costs several years ago, and I received a very unsatisfactory answer. I was told that I could just show up for free. I would not be entitled to any meals or events, but I could hang out with members of my class. This answer has had a direct impact on my generosity to Yale each year.

By charging so much for reunions, Yale keeps many people away. This makes us feel less connected to Yale. The result is that we are alienated and less supportive.


Hats of a Feather

In a letter appearing in the November issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, Griswold Professor of Economics William D. Nordhaus writes that it never occurred to him “that the presence or absence of baseball hats, or their directional orientation, was high on the list of instructional or moral priorities.”

In my years as professor, I always asked students who wore baseball or other caps or hats to remove them—partly because I did not consider wearing such attire in a classroom as “good manners.”

Another reason was that I wanted my students to learn to accept authority, mine for a time and others later in their careers. I wanted them to learn to accept social norms of proper dress within my classroom, as they would need to know these norms for the future—in corporate offices and board rooms, in private clubs, in the homes of business executives, and in other social enclaves.

The act of removing baseball hats (including those reversed) would make a good point of departure for the first lecture in intermediate economics. It would reinforce the authority of the professor, teach the facts of economic life, and help some students gain a measure of civility.

My view is that professors are more than “tour guides,” as Professor Nordhaus says, “showing students the way but being unable to force them to learn what they resist learning.” This conclusion may have validity. However, I hope that at the end of the term, students who resist learning too much are removed, baseball hats and all, from the hallowed halls of Yale.


Original Inshoot

Bruce Fellman, in “Undergrads at the Plate” (Nov.), credits New Haven native (and seven-year major league player), Freddy Goldsmith, with the first “demonstration,” in 1850, that the curve ball actually does curve.

Despite Goldsmith’s not inconsiderable talents, this would have been a truly enormous feat, as he was not born until 1856. In 1898, Goldsmith credited Charles Avery, a Yale player and later faculty member, with “discovering” the curve earlier. Not until 1937 did Goldsmith decide to credit himself with the discovery, providing an 1870 newspaper account as proof.

In fact, the origin of the curve ball—or “inshoot with a perpendicular twist,” as it was known—was probably coincident with the Civil War. The number of claimants, and recallers of claimants, is legion.

Though I fervently wish to credit Yale and Yalies with all that is miraculous and good in this world, the identity of the first curve-baller, I’m afraid, must remain a mystery—a hazy angel on the head of a very distant pin.


Wrong Weber

Tom Wolfe was reported to have said that he could not have written a book like The Right Stuff had he not become interested in “[sociologist] Max Faber” (“Faces,” Dec.). I presume Wolfe meant Max Weber. I was doing my doctoral work in sociology in the late 1950s; Max Weber’s works regarding class, status, and party were must-reads.



In our November feature on undergraduate admissions, we incorrectly reported that Harvard had changed recently from a binding to a non-binding early-decision policy. Harvard’s policy has always been non-binding. In the same article, we incorrectly identified Diana Cooke as an assistant director of admissions at Yale. She is an associate director.

In our April feature on a year-long course in world literature, we reported that the course’s enrollment dropped by half from the first term to the second. While this was correct, we erred in reporting that the Directed Studies program also loses a large number of students in the second term: According to the program’s records, DS had 124 students in the fall 1999 term and 115 the following spring. Previous years followed a similar pattern.



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