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Article of Faith

Your March/April cover story,The Birth of Birth,” was a fascinating description of how evolution is governed by changes in the function of HoxA-11 genes which “act like the director of a movie.” But the statement “biological creativity does not require a divine act of creation” is not a scientifically verifiable conclusion. As a person of faith, I would affirm that scientists are learning how creation takes place and admit that my statement is a statement of faith, not, at this point, scientifically provable. The article’s statement is also an act of faith (or non-faith), not scientifically verifiable.

Even as the dimension of spirituality is hard to put under the scientist’s scrutiny, despite the misuse of “religion” to foster religious wars, the existence of the human encounter with spiritual forces is evident throughout known human experience. For many of us God still calls us to a rich life in experiencing the joys of nature, calls us to social justice, and teaches us something about moving beyond material “survival of the fittest” to loving our neighbors.

Your article questions “why just 14 percent of Americans unequivocally accept the standard scientific account of how evolution works.” Maybe there is still too much common sense around for people to accept the notion that intelligent life evolved, on its own, from abject stupidity.

What we unequivocally do know about natural processes is that they spontaneously run down; not up. Just think how far scientific thinking has run downhill in barely one human lifetime, since Albert Einstein wrote that “every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

Without humility, science is worse than mindless. It is dangerous.


How could we forget?

Your compendium of fictional characters who once were Yale students (“… But I Play One on TV,” March/April) overlooked that pioneer space explorer and star of the Sunday comics section, Flash Gordon. To cite a typical lead-in to one of his weekly adventures (circa mid-1930s), “Flash Gordon, Yale graduate and superman, is now on the planet Mars.”

Phil Lamarr '88, who appeared in Pulp Fiction and as a regular on MADtv, also played a Yalie for a few minutes. In an episode of Murphy Brown, Lamarr was a brainiac contestant leading a team of Yalies in a College Bowl-like contest against Brown’s team. Lamarr identified himself as a journalism major in the show.

In the answers to the quiz on fictitious Yale alumni, you state that “authors Jack McCallum and L. Jon Wertheim must have begun and ended their [Yale] research at the Anchor [bar].” Had you done more of your own research away from the Anchor, you might have cited Mr. Wertheim’s Yale College graduation year—1993.

We regret the omission.—Eds.


Baby, remember my name

The interesting article about Martin Bresnick (“A Maestro from the Bronx,” March/April) contained a minor factual error. The High School of Music & Art was not the ostensible location of Fame. The location was the School of Performing Arts High School. The two schools were subsequently combined into the Fiorella H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts.


Bah, humbug

In the Letters section of the March/April issue, Eugene P. Cassidy '66MD writes, “Isn’t it time Yale euthanized the Divinity School? This academy for irrational humbug is an embarrassment to the real graduate schools.”

I would suggest that Cassidy revisit Yale’s history. One need merely surf over to the “About Yale/History” section of the university website in order to be reminded:

Yale’s roots can be traced back to the 1640s, when colonial clergymen led an effort to establish a college in New Haven to preserve the tradition of European liberal education in the New World. … [T]he charter was granted for a school “wherein Youth may be instructed in the Arts and Sciences [and] through the blessing of Almighty God may be fitted for Publick employment both in Church and Civil State.”

Without seventeenth-century visionaries who engaged in “irrational humbug,” neither Yale College nor the Yale School of Medicine would have seen the light of day.

I do not share Mr. Cassidy’s criterion for evaluating the legitimacy of the Divinity School. While his standard would seem to be an institution that produces minds that conform to modern modes of knowledge and technology, mine is this: whether the Divinity School proves itself capable of cultivating new religious genius in the seedbed of the old. Let other schools within the university produce their Newtons and their Mozarts, but let the Divinity School produce its Aquinases and its Johns of the Cross.

Thank you so very much for giving us Eugene P. Cassidy’s letter in the March/ April issue. I suppose what you printed is a much-edited version of a longer letter. But what we read says it all succinctly. Bravo!

Dr. Cassidy’s letter appeared in its entirety, as quoted above by Rev. Sprowls.—Eds.


When journalism is heroism

Jim Amoss '69, editor of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Paul Steiger '64, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal (and all their colleagues), emerged quite simply as heroes in “Extreme Journalism” (Notebook, March/April). Both men, in their interviews, recalled in very minimal language what they did during Katrina and September 11, respectively. They portrayed the ideal of just doing one’s job in awful circumstances, doing it without fanfare, without fuss, and giving most credit to their coworkers. Amoss and Steiger are heroes, and they honor the human spirit.


On containment

I am puzzled by Professor Ian Shapiro’s effort to rehabilitate the doctrine of containment (“A Better Strategy Against Terror,” Forum, March/April). Terrorist networks such as Al Qaeda can’t be contained, so Shapiro focuses on containing the “enabling states” that host them. In his view, containment boils down to “cooperation” and “development assistance.” How can we stabilize southeastern Iraq? With “Iranian cooperation” and “Syrian help.”

Unfortunately, neither Iran nor Syria wishes to be “helpful” at this point in history. Instead, they are the world’s largest sponsors of Islamic terror, pouring money, fighters, and training into groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. Shapiro’s view that we can change this by wielding “economic sticks and carrots” is simply the triumph of hope over experience. This particular delusion even has a name, and that name is “containment.”

My jaw dropped when I read Shapiro’s claim that we should welcome tensions between national and international Islamist movements. Shapiro frames the issue in terms of military strategy and in so doing misses the much more significant spiritual point. We should never hope for conf lict in any major world religion, not Christianity, not Buddhism, and not Islam either. In effect, Shapiro has allowed the actions of a small number of highly atypical people (who claim to be devout Muslims) to shape our perceptions and policies towards Islam and “international Islamist movements” as a whole. In doing this, he gives bin Laden exactly what bin Laden wants, an adversarial relationship between the United States and Islam.

The United States should be supportive of Islam, nationally and internationally. The stronger and more self-assured Islam is, the more guidance it can provide to its people and the more difficult it will be for bin Laden to tempt good Muslims to do evil.

I believe it is inappropriate for you to devote your pages to political debate. It is not what we, the alumni, want from this magazine. It is especially inappropriate when you take sides by publishing only one side of the debate. Is Paul Wolfowitz getting a “Forum,” or is this forum just for anti-Bush rhetoric? Shame on you—what poor journalistic standards. This was a very poor editorial decision, and one that diminishes the credibility of the magazine.


Tenure reassessment

I applaud Yale’s interest in reassessing its tenure system (Light & Verity, March/ April). Calling “quirky” a system in which only 11 percent of humanities faculty receive promotion to tenure seems charitable, even comic. I hope that in its reassessment of junior faculty mentoring and promotion policies, Yale will make provision for mentoring and retaining women. In particular, I hope that Yale will offer maternity leave off the tenure clock to junior faculty who choose to have children.

There is a false and mean-spirited perception among some that young mothers might use this off-the-clock time to “get ahead.” Anyone with young children (mine are 4 years and 10 months old) knows that even the most diligent and ambitious scholar, with a supportive partner and good childcare, gets very little substantive work done in those first months of a new baby’s life.

I believe in working mothers. Working mothers make wonderful models of balance and commitment for Yale undergraduates. In reconsidering how it treats its junior faculty, Yale has an opportunity to step forward as an example of how an institution can work with young families to combine family life with an energetic and ambitious career.

Yale tenure policy currently stops the clock for a year for child-rearing. The tenure report endorses that policy and recommends that it continue. In April, the faculty approved the tenure recommendations.—Eds.


Whose chaplain?

Whoever wrote that the Puritan founders of Yale “would no doubt have been astonished” at the appointment of the new university chaplain (Light & Verity, March/ April) clearly has no clue about the welldocumented, biblically based convictions of those early church leaders. “Thoroughly appalled” would be a far more accurate description of their reaction.

Upon reading that a Catholic layperson has been appointed Yale’s seventh university chaplain, I asked myself, “How about an atheist chaplain?” During my days as a philosophy major, Brand Blanshard headed the philosophy department. As one who entered Yale as a devout atheist, my non-belief in supernatural beings was only reinforced by learned professors such as Blanshard. Given that rationalism and empiricism permeate Yale’s hallowed halls of learning, an atheist chaplain would be superfluous.

I was bemused by the comment attributed to President Levin, that “It was a strong view of mine and the search committee’s that the new chaplain needs to minister to the entire [multifaith] community.” This suggests that the whole idea is new to Yale; that only a layperson—not a member of the ordained clergy—can fill the role.

Over 20 years ago, we at Allegheny College were already engaged in such a total-community approach to campus ministry. On the eve of the first Gulf war, on very short notice, we were able to mount an all-college prayer service for peace attended by faculty, students, and administrative staff and led by a Jew, a Muslim, and a Christian—two men and one woman, all students. All read from their own sacred texts, then led the gathering in prayer, the first in Hebrew, the second in Arabic, the third in English.

My family and I are deeply saddened to know that this will be Rev. Frederick J. Streets’s last year at Yale. As university chaplain, Rev. Streets '75MDiv has embodied Yale’s commitment to social justice, community service, and interfaith, intercultural partnership, and I feel lucky to have attended Yale in time to benefit from his invaluable friendship, empathy, and support.

My four years at the college were marked with disaster—the outbreak and escalation of the war in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in South Asia, and the tragic deaths of several classmates. Rev. Streets held our hands through these painful moments—literally held them, in silent, respectful vigils on Cross Campus and Beinecke Plaza. He called on us to take loving action on behalf of those in need, and then did so himself both on campus and in outlying communities.

For me, his unfailing understanding and encouragement provided solace and direction during the dire illness of a beloved relative, the untimely death of a dear mentor, and the painful end of a significant relationship. I never expected, as a young Jewish woman struggling with her religious beliefs and cultural identity, that my most insightful and compassionate spiritual leadership would come from a Baptist minister. But it did.


A female brain, after all

In the March/April Letters section, Douglas Derrer '67PhD argues that The Female Brain, by Louann Brizendine '81MD, and the Yale Alumni Magazine review (January/February) are “popular psychology overgeneralization of … human behavior.”

While I agree that science is far from being able to make generalizations that attribute sex differences in behavior to underlying neurocircuitry and hormonal influences, one still must acknowledge that sex and hormones can profoundly influence the brain. As a student of neuroendocrinology studying the ways in which estrogens affect our brain and cognitive behavior, I think it is important for others to realize that hormones (and not just sex hormones) have organizing and activating influences on the fetal, child, and adult brain that influence brain function and behavior in the laboratory. These real differences may very possibly lead to differences in behavior, in susceptibility to and presentation of myriad psychiatric and neurologic diseases, and in response to treatment. The very existence of sex differences necessitates inclusion of women in all federally funded clinical trials, as now required by the National Institutes of Health.

Although the science is still young, and far from applicable to everyday situations (such as girls' reactions to losing a game, an example mentioned in the review), it is nevertheless a fruitful, active area of research at top institutions, including Yale.


History misconstrued

Teaching has fallen victim to political correctness. The portrait of Elihu Yale has reportedly (Light & Verity, March/April) been removed and replaced after hanging in the Woodbridge Hall Corporation Room for almost 100 years. It was removed not to give the room a fresh look but because a portion of the canvas depicted a “darkskinned servant wearing what appears to be a metal collar.”

Yale vice president and secretary Linda Koch Lorimer '77JD said of the removal, “This is a case where history was being misconstrued.” It is Yale’s job to teach to a level where history will not be misconstrued but understood within its own context. The portrait could have been used to educate, but it is now relegated to space in storage. Thankfully a different decision was made regarding the restoration of the magnificent ceiling in the Common Room of the Hall of Graduate Studies (Last Look, March/April). Rather than paint over its Christian symbolism, Yale returned it to its original beauty, at least for now.


Counterfeit public service?

The essay on Teach for America (News from Alumni House, March/April), equating that organization with public service, is terribly disturbing. Its statement about “the gap between our nation’s ideals of equal opportunity and the brutal reality of … students' lives” sounds wonderfully idealistic but fails to recognize that things are worse in 2007 than when Teach for America was founded in the early 1990s. TFA, in fact, perpetuates the problem.

In almost two decades of operation, TFA has made no public statements about achieving substantive public school reform, which would, if effective, put the organization out of business. At best, TFA is a medicated band-aid that allows graduates of elite universities to feel good about themselves for their two years of service before heading out to work for law or consulting firms and getting on with their “real” lives. In their wake are the children who remain in those under-resourced schools and the professional teachers who have dedicated their lives to genuine public service.

If more of our Yale (and other elite university) graduates would actually consider teaching as a career, then we might begin to see change.

Iris Chen, author of the essay and TFA’s New York City executive director, replies:

"The problems in education are daunting, and we need more people, not fewer, coming together to tackle them. Teach For America recruits future leaders who will work throughout their lives—in education, at every level of policy and business, and in every profession—to help ensure that all students get the education they deserve.

"Since 1990, TFA members have taught more than 2.5 million children in the nation’s highest-need communities. Independent studies show that they perform as well as or better than other teachers in comparable schools. Principals report being highly satisfied with the training, impact on student achievement, and effectiveness of our corps members. Additionally, our alumni continue to work for broader education reform, both from within education and through other sectors. Nearly two-thirds of our 12,000 alumni are still working full-time in education, with growing numbers leading schools or school districts, and playing key roles in our nation’s most significant education reform initiatives.”



I was struck by a recent article (Light & Verity, January/February) on whether Yale should add new residential colleges. The project seems less than visionary—especially in light of Yale’s often stated priorities of becoming a global university and beefing up the sciences.

For the same cost as building and running two residential colleges in New Haven, Yale could create something truly extraordinary. It could establish a full-f ledged Yale campus in India with ten residential colleges or it could reestablish the Sheffield Scientific School as a small, quasi-independent, preeminent science institution modeled on Caltech and MIT.

Why Yale-in-India? Aside from increasing Yale’s global reach and establishing Yale’s preeminence in the subcontinent, the additional opportunities for American Yale students to study abroad would alleviate the New Haven student-housing shortage. Besides, for diversity purposes, one could expect Yale/India to admit about 10 percent of its students from the United States.

Why Sheffield@Yale? What Yale lacks and Harvard has is an MIT down the block—a neighbor institution with its own character, suited for different (though no less brilliant) types of students, but where synergies can be promoted for the mutual benefit of both institutions, their students, their faculties, and regional venture creation. We often forget that Sheffield was one of the first science/polytechnic schools in the nation—pre-dating both MIT and Caltech.

At an AYA Business Leadership Forum in spring 2005, a panel was asked what the most important academic subjects are for preparing students to become world leaders. President Levin and Indra Nooyi '80MPPM, president of Pepsi, answered as one, “Science and math.”

To be sure, a couple of spanking new residential colleges would seem grand—just the sort of thing to spice up a capital campaign. But Yale can do better.


Milgram aftershocks

Thank you for Philip Zimbardo’s thought-provoking articleWhen Good People Do Evil” (January/February), about Stanley Milgram’s experiments in social psychology that showed how ordinary people can be induced by authority figures to inflict harm on others. It seems to me that one of Zimbardo’s most important observations is found in two inconspicuous sentences near the middle: “Want resistance to authority pressures? Provide social models—peers who rebel.”

The implication is that dissidents and nonconformists fulfill an indispensable function in society: they exemplify to others that disobedience to immoral authority is possible and therefore necessary. We saw this happen on a large scale in the 1960s and '70s, when civil rights, antiwar, feminist, and countercultural movements made it thinkable for mainstream leaders to challenge established and authoritative social, cultural, and political practices. Those leaders may not have marched, protested, or dropped out themselves, but the dissent of those who did opened the door to real change.

Could it happen again?

Zimbardo’s article calls to mind some longheld questions. I was a graduate student at Yale in 1961-62, and I was horrified to learn about Stanley Milgram’s experiments and their use of simulated electric shocks. I heard that the subjects told to administer the supposed shocks showed a wide range of emotional responses—from relative calm, to crying hysterically, to reluctance followed by sadistic glee. If this is accurate, the experiments not only elicited obedience, but also induced psychological breakdowns in participants. Does anyone have any information about the subjects' emotional reactions?

In his biography of Milgram, The Man Who Shocked the World, social psychologist Thomas Blass writes extensively about the effects, short- and long-term, that the experiments had on participants. According to Blass, Milgram designed post-experimental procedures to measure his subjects' reactions and to reassure them. (Milgram is thought to be the first psychologist to use the word debrief.) In their answers to his questionnaires, about two-thirds of the respondents said they were not bothered at all by their participation. About seven percent reported being bothered quite a bit, and Milgram asked Paul Errera, a Yale psychiatrist, to evaluate the 40 “worst cases.” Errera reported that he found “no evidence of harm.” However, the experiments raised considerable ethical concerns and helped lead, in the mid-1970s, to federal guidelines about the use of human subjects in research.—Eds.


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