Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

A new kind of congressman…?

I have no doubt that Tom Perriello ’96, ’01JD, is an intelligent, well-educated, empathetic and dedicated person (“The Virginia Experiment,” May/June). I am, however, concerned that his lack of experience in the “real” world of managing all or part of a business or running a farm leaves him poorly qualified to represent the needs of the people in his district. However, that is not the real troubling issue.

This story is very supportive of a left-wing politician badly in need of financial support and votes. To my recollection, this is the only endorsement of a political candidate I have ever seen in the Yale Alumni Magazine, even if slightly disguised.

Because of demographics, the story cannot deliver many votes to Mr. Perriello, but it can deliver significant financial support. I can only hope that my reaction would be the same if a similar article in this magazine were equally political and supportive of a right-wing politician. The point is that the Yale Alumni Magazine has chosen to go where angels should fear to tread. This magazine is not, should not, and must not be a political rag.

Erik M. Jensen ’63
Franktown, CO


The article on Tom Perriello was terrific, and this topic is of utmost importance. In many ways, our Congress seems broken. We are in dire need of more legislators with integrity and a conscience like Mr. Perriello, and hopefully the voting public will come to their senses. I am incredibly frustrated with my own congressman in Pennsylvania, who is hyper-partisan, obstructionist, and stubborn. These are very common attributes in Congress that prevent our government from dealing with the overwhelming problems that our country faces.

Jonathan Hertz ’74
Allentown, PA


Do you really think that a liberal Democrat who pretends to listen to his constituents, and then votes the job-destroying Pelosi/Obama party line on health care and cap-and-trade, is a “new kind of congressman?” If the voters reelect this man, they deserve him!

Jim Ditkoff ’68
Darien, CT


As a graduate of law school, did Tom Perriello ever read the Constitution? The document isn’t mentioned throughout the article. Yet Mr. Perriello was elected to the House of Representatives, where he presumably took an oath of office in which he agreed to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Being a law school graduate, he must have known that the health care reform bill contained highly questionable dictates vis-à-vis the Constitution. The same could probably be said for the cap-and-trade energy bill. Reading the article, I became convinced that Mr. Perriello believes in the “living Constitution” approach and leans toward a socialist government that can poke its nose into everyone’s business.

I have long believed that Yale turned left following World War II and has never looked back. Too bad. Yale had a noble tradition with such stalwarts as Jonathan Edwards, Class of 1720.

Hillard W. Welch ’48
Centerville, MA



Co-ed, 35 years ago

I am bemused by the Sturm und Drang over co-ed suites (“Co-ed Suites Now an Option for Seniors,” May/June). As a sophomore in Calhoun, I shared a suite with Jon, Don, Bruce, Becky, and Reva. That was 35 years ago. Our one rule was no in-suite romance. Everything worked out fine, and we survived the coldest winter of the twentieth century in the top of Calhoun’s tower. We are all still friends, I think, though Reva has never quite gotten over rooming with an archconservative like me!

Malcolm Pearson ’78
Medina, TN


How very thoughtful of Yale, and clever, too, to provide co-ed suites for seniors and then to add, with a stern wink, that “mixed-gender bedrooms within suites will not be permitted.” Talk about trying to have it both ways! This cozy, up-to-date option dovetails very nicely with—as Yale writing mentor Anne Fadiman says in the same issue—“the smell of secondhand marijuana smoke … or people lurching home in an alcoholic stupor” (“The Prose Whisperer”). So all the key elements are in place for an exhilarating, top-notch experience—“the pulse of student life,” as that article puts it. Cheers! If a survey says student consumers want something, then five-star Yale “studies” it and complies. That’s the kind of bold moral leadership, courage, and discipline that made Yale and this country great. And exactly the kind of responsible global leadership that our self-destructing world so desperately needs. May we fluff your pillows?

Richard D. Olsen ’71
Salt Lake City, UT


Now that co-ed suites will be an option for seniors, Isabel Marin ’12 worries that the new policy “will marginalize the few conservative students left on campus.” Not to worry, Ms. Marin. Back in my era, there were also few conservative students left on campus. But they are resilient critters, these conservatives. They kept getting marginalized in the late ’60s; they kept coming back. Ms. Marin is living proof of the failure of the last, Herculean effort that decade to marginalize the conservatives: Yale went co-ed in 1970.

Stephen Vaughan ’69
Bellaire, TX



Local luminaries

I’m surprised that Anna Gawboy ’10PhD went all the way to Boston and Northeastern University for a lighting designer to collaborate on her staging of Scriabin’s Prometheus(“Apocalypse Now,” May/June). Doesn’t she know that the Yale School of Drama is the leading educator of theatrical lighting designers? It is the oldest university-based theater school in the country, and has a distinguished faculty, including leading Broadway lighting and scenic designers.

I did note that one of their graduates, the Broadway lighting designer Tharon Musser ’50MFA, passed away recently. Tharon was active in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. As I recall, she introduced the electronic lighting control board to Broadway in the premiere performance of A Chorus Line. She was but one of hundreds of distinguished lighting designers turned out by the Yale School of Drama.

Stephen H. Arnold ’60MFA
Malvern, PA



Suicide and stigma

I read with great sadness and even greater anger the short article “College Stunned by Student’s Suicide” (May/June). The word “stunned” makes Cameron Dabaghi’s awful act seem like student suicide is a rare occurrence. It is not and it is not rare at Yale. Approximately 1,100 students take their lives on college campuses every year. At Yale, many students attempt suicide. My college roommate did. He succeeded when he threw himself in front of a subway train in New York City. I survived when I took 150 aspirin tablets one lonely night in Saybrook College.

My struggle with mental disorder continued for decades after. Today after finally receiving appropriate treatment and writing a book about the subject, I am sometimes seen as a spokesperson about suicide and mental illness. I speak out about the stigma attached to mental illness—the stigma that I believe is an undercurrent to the story about Dabaghi. Mental illness was not talked about when I was a student, and it doesn’t sound like it is much discussed today. I find it unfathomable that a student with issues must wait more than two weeks for a therapy session.

There needs to be more done than just more counseling staff. There needs to be more than grief sessions after a death. There needs to be open discussion of the problem, more understanding of its pervasiveness, and far less fear surrounding the admission of depression and suicidal thoughts. The picture portrayed of Yale is always very rosy. It’s time for a little more reality about how difficult it is to survive the pressure cooker of the Ivy League.

Carlton M. Davis Jr. ’68, ’71MArch
Pasadena, CA


The article on the student’s suicide was troubling, not only due to the tragedy of the loss of such a promising life. While such an article is no place for discussing the cause of this particular student’s suicide, to highlight the quote, “What weighed on his heart is a deep mystery we may never comprehend,” makes it seem that we don’t understand what contributes to suicide. We usually do. There are usually clues that all of us—friends, family, teachers, and caregivers—need to recognize and not ignore. Expanded mental health student services will not necessarily be the place to find these clues.

H. Steven Moffic ’71MD
Milwaukee, WI



Trees v. cornstalks

In the first 18 pages of the May/June issue of the magazine, you make two references to “dead trees.” Come on. Why not say “dead cornstalks?” There’s a lot of cornstarch in a sheet of printing paper. Cornstalks and trees die eventually.

I live in central Wisconsin, surrounded on all sides by both very productive agriculture and magnificent forests. Paul Bunyan and his friends came through here in the 1800s and clear-cut the white pine forest, building, thereby, inter alia, St. Louis and Chicago. The result was devastating floods around 1900.

Now the landholders, paper companies, public landowners, and government have rebuilt a remarkable forest. No floods for years: the forest is a sponge. (I live on an island in the middle of the river, so I care.) And it provides thousands of well-paying jobs. Perhaps your readers have aesthetic problems with plantations, but most of what I’m talking about is well-managed, diversified forest.

George W. Mead II ’50
Wisconsin Rapids, WI



Rational partisanship

Bruce Fellman reports that professors Alan S. Gerber ’01 and Gregory A. Huber from the political science department discovered that Democratic voters thought that the Democratic candidates would be better for the economy, and Republican voters thought that Republican candidates would be better for the economy (“Pocketbook Politics,” May/June). After the election, they each planned their expenditures according to those beliefs.

The article labeled this behavior partisan. This is not partisan behavior; this is rational behavior.

If I believe that Democrats will produce a better government, I vote Democrat. If I believe that Republicans will produce a better government, I vote Republican. If I believe that it doesn’t matter, I stay home.

Why is this newsworthy? Did the authors think that people vote for candidates who they think are bad for the economy and the country?

Yaakov “Jim” Watkins
Denver, CO



Haiti and Cuba

Thank you for the excellent interview with Jean Rénald Clérismé ’96PhD (Where They Are Now, May/June). From the perspective of someone who supports open cultural exchange with Cuba, I welcome his reporting of the fine work of Cuban doctors and medical personnel in Haiti. Too often, news reports from Cuba emphasize the negative.

As a musician who has performed in Cuba for many years, I have great respect for my Cuban friends and colleagues. The United States’ 50-year trade embargo of that country is a dreadful policy.

Bernard Rubenstein ’61MusM
Santa Fe, NM



Excellent company

Last night, I attended Jonathan Spence’s outstanding Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for Humanities highlighted in your magazine (Milestones, May/June). It was indeed an honor for Professor Spence to have been selected. It was also an honor for Yale to have one of its own selected. Your article mentioned several other distinguished presenters in previous years, but, although mentioning Robert Penn Warren, it failed to list Yale professors C. Vann Woodward, Cleanth Brooks, Jaroslav Pelikan, and Vincent Scully ’40, ’49PhD. That’s 6 of 39—which ought to be a measure of pride.

Michael A. Samuels ’61
Washington, DC



Spirited delivery

I found it reassuring to learn from your magazine that I am hardly the only Yale grad who has purchased spirits by the case(“Alumni by the Numbers,” March/April)—although the practice is not without hardship. In particular, there are image issues.

For example, I learned that the guys down at the local package store developed a nickname for me: “Old Jug-a-Lot Joe.” (Pointing out that my name isn’t Joe didn’t seem to help.) And then there is the potentially embarrassing Thursday morning recycling, when all the week’s … well … evidence is plainly visible in the bottle bin at the curb in front of my house.

But I’m happy to report that, at least for the summer months, I’ve solved the problem by negotiating an arrangement between Poland Spring and Tanqueray. The gin company agreed to load up the water company’s five-gallon jugs with my preferred hot-weather hooch. And now, every couple of weeks, my crystal-clear fire water is delivered right to my door by the same man who brings my crystal-clear spring water. And none of my snooping neighbors, nor the rude thugs at the package store, is the wiser. (The trick is making sure that the grandkids fill their drink bottles from the right dispenser.)

It could be a different story, however, in the autumn and winter, when, with the first chill in the air, a gentleman’s thoughts turn to the amber liquors.

Steve Heffner ’74
Jamestown, RI



Faculty-undergrad sex ban

I felt the central issue was missing in letters responding to the March/April article on the ban on sexual relationships(“University Bans Faculty-Student Sex”). My experience is with the code of ethics that we psychologists use for determining not who has sex with whom, but if there’s an abuse of power in a professional, or formerly professional, relationship. Determining if there was an abuse of power is obviously more complex than deciding who broke a rule. However, if the ban doesn’t have some flexibility, it is likely to fail its valuable purpose.

Jack Wright ’61BD
Saint Ignatius, MT


I am particularly struck by a statement that your article attributes to deputy provost Charles Long: “In his decades at Yale, Long has seen many faculty-student romances. Most turn out fine, he says.”

Can Mr. Long really have said that most faculty-student romances “turn out fine”? Even if he did, what were your editors thinking when allowing that statement to appear in your magazine? What kind of message does it send to Yale alumni, students, and most especially parents? (“Yes, our professors have taken your children to bed for decades, it was just good fun.”)

I understand from this article that Mr. Long has been advocating a ban on faculty-student sexual relations since back in 1983. That is laudable, but does his attributed statement really reflect his attitude toward the matter? I doubt it. If it does, it reflects a cavalier attitude toward the issue that is shocking. Saying that such relations are (wink, wink) not all that bad is wrong on so many levels.

Barry Lenson ’75MusM
Millburn, NJ


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