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Readers React to the Baby Gamble

Re: your March/April cover, “Can Mothers Succeed in Academia?” How very Larry Summers-ish of you! How disappointing that you would even ask the question! A few years ago, I received Yale’s Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal for my work, and I am—gasp!—a mother, as are most of my female peers from Yale. If you want to answer your own question, all you need to do is look at Yale’s own distinguished alums. Of course mothers can succeed in academia!

We each read your article about the decision to become an academic mother (“The Baby Gamble,” March/April) with great interest, because we have long considered the issue to be a big problem for Yale in attracting and keeping female faculty members. When we stumbled across the box about Michael Loewenberg, however, we were mystified. While we applaud the ability of a father to take an active role in caring for his child, the article leads one to believe ten-year-old Zoe’s mother is absent from the scene. Although it may not be relevant to the scope of the article, we would like to set the record straight for the sake of those hurt by the omission.

Maya Loewenberg '98MEM is a classmate and a good friend who lives in New Haven and is still very much involved in the Yale community. She gave birth to Zoe while completing a graduate degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and was Zoe’s primary caregiver for several years (while Michael was busy working to achieve tenure) until she and Michael separated. Since that time, Maya and Michael have agreed to shared custody of Zoe, and Maya cares for Zoe regularly. She is very much involved in Zoe’s life. Maya has heard from many friends and classmates who saw the article and were confused or angered by the inadvertent portrayal of her as an absentee mother. Michael Loewenberg is indeed given “disproportionate praise” by this magazine and Maya deserves an apology for the hurt and embarrassment caused by the omission of any mention of her role as a mother.

In describing Michael Loewenberg’s role as a father, it was not our intention to disparage Maya Loewenberg’s role as a mother. We regret that we did not speak with Ms. Loewenberg before publication.—Eds.

With its schedule regarding postdocs and tenure, academia was set up with the model of a supporting non-working, non-career-directed spouse at home. “Can mothers succeed in academia?” is the wrong question. The right one is how Yale should adjust to the changing demographics that includes women in the workforce.

Perhaps Yale should take a page from the reports of Harvard’s task forces on female faculty, which recommended changes in the system beginning at the undergraduate level, through support of various kinds for women graduate students, postdocs, young faculty, and senior faculty. As long as Yale views the problem as a problem of women, rather than a problem of the university, which has not succeeded in adjusting to a new type of workforce (and it is not so new—the women’s movement began in the 1960s), Yale will lose out on hiring, retaining, and tenuring brilliant women. And that will be to Yale’s detriment.

I read with interest Nadya Labi’s article on the challenges facing mothers in gaining tenure. Like many of the parents featured in the story, I am also struggling with the challenge of meeting tenure expectations at a research university while being an active and engaged father. But I was stunned by the opening paragraphs describing Amy Hungerford’s trip to the University of Kentucky. Did Professor Hungerford really apply to the English department at Kentucky primarily to improve her chances of tenure at Yale—the only motivation stated in the article? If so, she not only wasted her time, but she also wasted the time of her colleagues in Kentucky, many of whom are also assistant professors (and likely themselves mothers or fathers).

Such visits cost money, and most universities will authorize departments to bring in only a small number of candidates. Professor Hungerford’s selection as one of perhaps three candidates brought to campus meant that some other deserving scholar (perhaps a recent PhD without a job) was left off the short-list. I am not naïve: I am well aware that sometimes employed academics apply for positions at other universities for a wide variety of reasons. But a minimal ethical standard dictates that one only apply for a job if one would seriously consider taking the position, if offered. I sincerely hope that Professor Hungerford’s motivation was not accurately reported and that her main intention was not a misguided and bad-faith attempt to “game” the system.

Amy Hungerford replies:

I agree that it is unethical to apply for jobs in which one has no interest. While I was advised to apply to improve my chances at tenure, I followed that advice only when I saw jobs I might be happy to take. The University of Kentucky has an appealing intellectual profile, and I turned down the job in large part because there was no job in the area for my husband. The fact that the offer also will make no difference in my tenure prospects at Yale only made the experience the more frustrating.

While the odds against earning tenure at Yale are high, the university has the financial resources to mitigate the challenging circumstance that one’s tenure-striving years tend to coincide with the last of one’s child-bearing years. Most public research universities, and many private ones, do not offer a semester’s paid leave for parents after the birth of a child. If one is a single mother, or indeed, if one’s partner is anything short of a corporate lawyer, one can hardly afford to have a child at all, much less pay for the nannies that some Yale faculty have relied upon. Until universities start recognizing this, one can only conclude that the often professed aim of gender equity in academia is tainted by a good measure of hypocrisy.

While some flexibility and accommodations for parents are appropriat e, a “two bar” system would create resentment among colleagues and ultimately undermine the reputations of those it was created to protect. Single, childless faculty members arguably also toil at a disadvantage. They bear sole responsibility for household chores and often craft their ideas without the benefit of a supportive (at least occasionally!) sounding board at home. For that matter, many partnered professors without children have projects derailed by illness (their own or their parents'), flood damage, or other unexpected challenges. As a mother of four with tenure, it seems to me that protecting time for optimal scholarly work is hard for everyone. Life is hazardous to professional productivity.


More hooting

Thanks to Judith Schiff for recalling the Harkness Hoot (Old Yale, March/April). I write to add one grace note: the editors of the Hoot decided to kill the magazine as they graduated. They had no wish to create something permanent, as they hooted most of all against sclerosis—intellectual, moral, and political, as well as architectural.


Not enough diversity?

Three new outstanding individuals (Milestones, March/April) deserve to be congratulated for their recent election to the Yale Corporation. But will there also be a huge elephant in the room at the next Corporation meeting?

There has been a demographic sea change in the United States over the past 25 years. Today, as much as one-sixth of our nation’s population is of Latino heritage, and in a relatively few short years that percentage may well rise to one-fifth. Ask yourself: how important is a university likely to be overall to a society when it bears little significance to a group comprising one-fifth of its population? That is the situation that Yale, to me, appears to be facing as it looks to the future.

The university’s 19-member Corpora-tion has been without an American Latino since 1999, when federal appeals court judge Jose Cabranes '65JD finished his second term. To my knowledge, with the exception of Judge Cabranes, no other American Latino has ever served on the Corporation. Also, from the time Cabranes left the university until this January, no American Latino has taught at the Yale Law School—that bastion of liberal, visionary societal thinking—other than as a visiting professor or lecturer. And, since Judge Cabranes was general counsel to the university while he taught at the Law School, it is somewhat difficult to see him as an example of “reaching out” to the American Latino community by either the university or the Law School—or at least, it was a very short reach. One thing seems certain: if Yale chooses to ignore the American Latino community, that community will ignore Yale.


Constructive criticism

The January/February cover story, “Under Construction,” was informative but somewhat distressing. We architects talk about contexturalism but where, in this article, is it? To my mind much of the work shown is an architecture seeking a direction.

The medical research center is particularly unnerving. Is this behemoth in keeping with the physical fabric of Yale (historic and otherwise)? It seems more akin to one of the Manchester-Lowell mill buildings. The proposed Art & Architecture addition does not look very promising either. It seems to miss the essence of its parent building, with its powerful, faceted, and mostly vertical masses. And let’s hope someone at Yale sends the architect back to the computer/drawing board to correct its lack of sensitivity to the Yale Daily News building.

Architectural diversity can be a good thing, but contexturalism must get top billing. Does Yale want a campus spotted with “architecture du jour"? I suspect that most of the Yale alums think fondly of the Gothic Revival parts of the campus—its charm, scale, and beauty. The Beaux Arts architects created a vocabulary that most people understand, but in this regard some of contemporary architecture speaks a foreign tongue. We all know that we can’t go on doing replicas of the past, but we can be more respectful of it.

Will history look back on a lot of contemporary architecture and give it a passing grade?


Not-so-grand strategy

I share Charles Hill’s objections to narrow number-crunching and “diversity” coding at Yale but condemn his pedagogy as Molly Worthen describes it in “Man and Myth at Yale” (January/February 2006) and as my own students describe it. That Hill speaks to the gnawing hunger for clarity which liberal education often generates doesn’t vindicate what Worthen calls his “teaching by verdict,” which undermines what it professes to save.

It’s one thing to disdain social science methodologues, postmodernists, and identity-politics advocates, as Hill and his wife Norma Thompson do often in Worthen’s recent biography of him. It’s something else to insist one has the Answers, as Hill does to freshmen and chosen acolytes. A PhD isn’t everything, but without one, he’s too autodidactic and eccentric to teach in three Yale programs, insulated from peer review.

Hill mistrusts a liberal philosophy that, as Judge Learned Hand wrote, “is not too sure it’s right” and that depends on virtues which armies can’t guarantee and money can’t buy. What Yale teaches best is that strength sometimes grows best from vulnerability. But Hill’s relentless “othering” of faculty as self-important lightweights who can’t face his grand challenges demeans the ethic of service they impart without the Iraq-War zealotry and national-security networking that shadow his classes. He’s right to teach that power counts immensely. But what kind of power does he promote? An early subtitle in Houghton-Mifflin’s online catalogue was: “Grand Strategy and the Cult of Charles Hill.”

“Anyone who is himself willing to listen deserves to be listened to,” Kingman Brewster Jr. wrote in 1967. “If he is unwilling to open his mind to persuasion, then he forfeits his claim on the audience of others.” In Worthen’s account, Hill’s students and colleagues “can never convince him he might be wrong,” and he “does not see the difference between the security bubble and the seminar room.” Yale can do better.


Defining jihad

In the March/April Letters section, Donald Bishop '50MDiv writes that “jihad is not exclusive to Islam” and that “jihadism is found in Judaism and Christianity, as well.” Bishop is wrong, at least with respect to Judaism.

What is the essence of jihad today? Islamic groups based in Syria, Iran, and the West Bank send suicide bombers to kill innocent civilians, mostly Jews and other non-Muslims. Their stated objective is the destruction of Israel (called the “little Satan”) and the United States (the “great Satan”), followed by the establishment of an Islamic caliphate over much of the earth.

Now let’s look at Judaism. Do Jews anywhere in the world today use violence to force Judaism upon those of other faiths? They do not. So what is the basis for Bishop’s claim?

Bishop defines “jihad” as any conflict in which one of the parties believes that God is on its side. Then he points to Orthodox Jews who are prepared to defend the State of Israel “by force if deemed necessary.” For Bishop, this is sufficient proof of Jewish jihadism.

But it isn’t. Bishop has simply drained all meaning from the term “jihad” and then claimed that jihad is widespread. Bishop also ignores many pertinent distinctions, e.g., wars of conquest versus defensive wars; targeting civilians versus fighting other armies; and fighting to spread one’s own faith versus fighting to retain one’s homeland.

Finally, Bishop urges the alumni magazine to publish more on this topic in order “to be fair.” What would be fair would be for Bishop to drop his apologetics and acknowledge that jihad today is a uniquely Islamic phenomenon.


Admissions evaluation

As dean of admissions during the period Owen Cylke '60, '63LLB discusses (Letters, March/April), I can confirm we used “a bifurcated criterion of promise as a student and promise as a person” to evaluate applicants. But it is a distortion to maintain that “promise as a person was the trump card ruling one applicant in and another out.” Indeed, the balance between the two criteria was the question that led to hundreds of lengthy reviews and often a split decision from the group of eight to ten faculty members, administrators, and staff members who had a vote. Deeply felt endorsements on one side and opposition on the other produced fascinating debate. Depths of personal experience, gut feelings, perspectives on the role of the college, and fluctuating group dynamics emerged from some of the wisest and most conscientious selectors I’ve encountered in a long life of such activity.

As to Cylke’s “mystification” over the “lack of emphasis and confidence in the university itself to transform promising students into promising people,” my impression is that the most influential members of the Yale community were greatly interested in that process and frequently served as important role models for undergraduates. On the other hand, one of Yale’s most perceptive professors and administrators once told me how often the freshman year counselors' reports on each student, combined with earlier secondary-school counselors' recommendations for admission, accurately described the human qualities persisting in the seniors for whom he was writing graduate school and job recommendations. While intellectual interests and capacities had usually been enlarged, the equally important personal elements were less changed. Of course there had been notable exceptions but I would endorse the generality of Yale’s influence.


Football, yes; coach, no

I feel I would be absolutely remiss in my filial duties (as a son of old Yale) if I were not to respond to two letters in the March/April issue. The first, from Dr. Richard Collins '58, '62MD, about unpleasant conditions at The Game: if he would come more often to a Yale Bowl game rather than once every ten years, he would learn to appreciate (1) the free parking, (2) the close proximity of the parking lot to the Bowl, and (3) the relative cleanliness/wholesomeness of the parking lot—the cookouts, the touch football games before kickoff, the friendly give and take.

Re: the second letter. Arvin Murch '60 is “right on,” in the jargon of the day, about the need for a new football coach. Where is our leadership? Is an endowed coaching position relevant? Can the coach rest on his endowment like a tenured professor? I sure hope not.

Ivy League colleges play for the fun of playing—but it is so much more fun WINNING! We (i.e., the Yale football program) need another John Pont or his ilk, so let’s go out and find someone capable and HUNGRY!


The “transient terrorist”

In the March/April Forum essay, “Terrorism and Civil Liberties,” Sterling Profes-sor of Law and Political Science Bruce Ackerman reacts vigorously to “this metaphorical war on terror” and hopes that the term will be “banished” from our vocabulary. Ackerman then injects new elements into terrorism and our continuing global battle with it, saying it is “merely the name of a technique” and shouldn’t be called a war but “a product of the unregulated marketplace.” Further, he states: “The root of our problem is not Islam or any ideology, but the free market in death.” Good grief, Professor, where have you been?

Ackerman has labored and brought forth the asinine idea of an “emergency constitution” and hopes and expects all Americans will happily accede to several progressive two-month extensions of weakened presidential “emergency powers” until that climactic happening takes place, way down the line, when all has been made safe again.

Ackerman is to be congratulated for a significant and triumphal discovery—the “transient terrorist” (my term). He has invented a new sort of terrorist who turns into a fine, unthreatening, and upstanding terrorist in no more than 45 days, while enjoying and applauding our largesse.

The professor lives in that illusory world in which Congress jumps onto each legislative demand and enacts it within “a week or two.” Well, if you can invent a new terrorist, why not try for the daily double, and throw in a Congress, or two?


Somewhat flattered

We are pleased that you took notice of our class, which had its 60th reunion last June, and assigned a freelance journalist to write the article “A Class That Redefines Retirement” in the March/April issue. The article drew on interviews with members of the Class of 1945W who were highlighted in Sequels and Second Acts, a book published by the Aurelian Honor Society. However, neither did I as a member of the publishing organization nor Stan Flink, a member and editor, know that this material would be used as a feature article in the advertising section of the issue.

We’re nevertheless flattered that you credit the class for redefining retirement. But of course we are not alone in this effort—only in the sense that members of our class in the Aurelian Honor Society and two other classmates gave time, talent, or treasure to record and publish in an orderly, cohesive, illustrative format the lives of 115 classmates who were willing to share the story of their endeavors and various achievements after their days at Yale. We would add that an integral part of the book is the cover, as it is illustrative of life on the Yale campus between the years 1942 and 1945, when we all were “living on borrowed time.” This book could have been written by any one Yale class who lived before, during, or after those days.

Our policy is to seek permission beforehand from all who participate in the articles published in our advertising sections. In this case, there was a miscommunication. We regret the misunderstanding.—Eds.


Oh them bones

Your article on Gargantua’s bones in a glass case (Object Lesson, March/April) at the Peabody stirs an image of a more life-like presentation if his skin had covered the bones.

A Yale Daily News article in 1950 reported that the Johns Hopkins Medical School somehow received the remains first and in performing an autopsy, shredded the skin tissue so much that only the bones could be assembled and displayed.

Perhaps Skull and Bones might award him an honorary membership because Gargantua the Great is first, last, and always a “Bones Man” to the core.



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