Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Hail to the patriarch

I read with great interest and emotion the article on Vincent Scully ("The Patriarch," March/April). I have spent my life in academics and he is the greatest lecturer that I have heard, anywhere. His style is the model for every presentation that I give.

Tom Abell '71
Jackson, MS


Scully's greatest legacy may be the many buildings that are better because of the clients he helped create in the darkened lecture room—for the vast majority of his students did not go on to become architects or historians themselves. Those of us that did become architects often credit the value and honor and grace that he revealed in the architecture of the past and which helped inspire us to try to create those same qualities in the architecture of the future.

I spend a good deal of my time in Newport, Rhode Island, the home of the "Stick and Shingle Style" about which Scully wrote his doctoral thesis. Elsewhere, the works of McKim Mead and White and other great American architects have been torn down long ago, but fortunately the passion that Scully inspired helped preserve them here and elsewhere.

Now, in addition to practicing architecture, I write the regular column on architecture for the local paper and serve on several boards that help maintain and protect these buildings. In all these activities, Vincent Scully's teaching and passion for architecture remain a foundation stone for what I do each day.

Ross Cann '85
Newport, RI


Professor Scully's class was the best class I took at Yale Law School, 41 years ago. But it wasn't on our law schedule.

I wandered past the law auditorium one day, looking for a place to eat my sandwich. Something was happening in the darkened room. I snuck in the back—and continued to sneak in for the rest of the semester. Unofficially (illegally?) auditing his Introduction to the History of Modern Architecture changed my life. Does any other class in America get resounding applause at the end of every session?

Scully transported us into new experiences of culture, and his love of teaching penetrated deep into my heart and stayed there. As I enter my 31st year of teaching environmental, administrative, and constitutional law, your article challenges me. Am I teaching with as much near-religious passion as Vince? How can I do it better? On Scully's pedagogical timeline, I guess I have 30 years more to get it right.

John E. Bonine '69LLB
Professor of Law, University of Oregon
Eugene, OR


The greatness of Vincent Scully as a lecturer, writer, and critic on art and architecture is simply beyond question. But I question the wisdom of the statement in the subtitle that Scully "may be the greatest lecturer Yale has ever seen." Scully may be the greatest of the last 20 years, but the long history of Yale boasts many superb lecturers who, without notes or slides that ensure the right sequence of ideas, were inspirations to generations of students.

I think of Robert L. Calhoun and his lectures on the history of philosophy and Christian doctrine. Without notes, he could within the span of an hour present systematically Hegel's philosophy with a clarity and persuasiveness that Hegel rarely achieved. And he could fascinate a class with the nature of universals as he recalled the debate between William of Champeaux and Abelard, clarifying their differences. He also related with beauty and feeling the romance of Abelard and Heloise.

There was also Roland Bainton, whose lectures on church history were so fascinating that students attended with the anticipation and pleasure of moviegoers. And let us not forget Maynard Mack, whose course on Shakespeare changed the lives and self-knowledge of all who attended his lectures. Or, from an earlier generation, we should recall William Lyon Phelps and his course on the Bible as literature. Once in that course, he fell off the lecture platform and broke his leg. Although in pain, he brought down the class with the comment, "I felt it appropriate to descend to your level."

Yale's glory is that it has recognized the importance of great teaching no less than the importance of great scholarship. There is more than enough greatness in the history of Yale's faculty to make it unseemly to suggest who is the greatest of them all.

John Silber '56PhD
Boston, MA


One of my most lasting—and amusing—memories of Vincent Scully is outside of the lecture hall, in a chance encounter in about 1986 during a semester-end exhibition of graduate art student sculptures on Old Campus. Some of the residents of Dur-fee Hall, uninspired by the grad students' work, responded by installing their own sculpture, best described as a weeping willow tree of straightened wire clothes hangers with beer cans stuck on the ends. I was standing next to this beer-can bouquet when Professor Scully happened to walk by on the path between Wright and Durfee halls. The undergraduate contribution to the grad students' exhibition caught his eye and, with a wry smile and a chortle, he stopped for half a minute to study it before going on his way. To this day, I regret that I didn't have a camera with me to record this incident.

Richard N. Osborne '87
Edina, MN


How happily astounding for a graduate, 50 years on, to discover that a former college professor is still alive, active, sentient! Vincent Scully could have been only in his mid-30s when I took History of Art 112a, though he seemed older, already a legend for his spellbinding, theatrical lecture style, which we students so gleefully parodied in late-night bull sessions and even papers for other courses. In person, of course—I now forget why I had to visit his office—he was unaffected, forthcoming, down-to-earth. Your article was fascinating, and "maybe the greatest lecturer Yale has ever seen" is not hyperbole.

Frederick W. Gerstell '58
Leesburg, FL


The 13th and 14th colleges

I find it curious that in the March/April feature, "Your Dream College Here," there is no mention of existing buildings on the site. We all agree that change and growth are part of what keeps Yale strong, but the practice of bulldozing entire precincts went out of favor years ago. This is a particularly sensitive issue in New Haven, where the words "urban renewal" still produce hot anger and sad memories.

The site contains one of the few pre-Civil War houses near downtown (88 Prospect); the Daniel Cady Eaton House, with both cultural and architectural distinction (70 Sachem); a marvelously vigorous example of Renaissance Revival style in Hammond Hall (14 Mansfield); and Donaldson Commons, the award-winning SOM dining hall that many of us still think of as new.

Incorporating or adaptively reusing all or some of these buildings will be a challenge, but one that your readers and the capable Yale Facilities Planning office should address. These buildings reflect widely distinct points on Yale's time line. Whether they can be folded into the new colleges is yet to be seen, but recognizing their merit is the first step. Failure to do so will be a black mark on Yale's "green-ness."

Susan Godshall '73JD, '75MArch
New Haven, CT


Yale should be thinking shrinkage, not growth, of Yale College. Building additional residential colleges would just jam more people onto an already fairly crowded campus. In fact, Yale ought to shrink the college a bit to reduce overcrowding in the residential colleges and some of the most popular courses. When I matriculated as a freshman in July 1942, residential college housing reflected Harkness's idea that two students shared a living room but each had a separate bedroom. Yale should try to get back to that mode.

Yale should not grow just because America and many other countries are growing. The college should shrink slightly and remain dedicated to being at the core of one of the world's highest-quality universities.

Gerald R. Daly '45W
Glastonbury, CT

For more alumni input on the new colleges, see Light & Verity.—Eds.


Yale's cop

I enjoyed reading the Where They Are Now article (March/April) on Lieutenant Anthony Duff '88. It is encouraging to see that Yale graduates are serving as law enforcement officers and managers. Lt. Duff is an example of the kind of person who puts a sense of obligation and service at the forefront of his life.

Over the past 26 years, I have had the privilege of serving in five different agencies in Washington State. I find police work to be both intellectually and morally engaging. I encourage more Yale graduates to consider joining the profession at a time when quality men and women are much needed. Their service can help make a very real difference in lives of individuals, families, and communities.

Paul A. Pastor '76PhD
Sheriff of Pierce County, Washington
Tacoma, WA



Financial aid for alums?

I read "Yale Loosens Purse Strings, Offers More Aid" (Light & Verity, March/April) about the university's new tuition policies with great interest. I've wondered for quite some time why Yale celebrated announcing the size and investment performance of the endowment at the same time the cost of a Yale education continued to increase beyond the means of most families. I graduated from Yale in 1977, and like many of my peers I participated in Yale's poorly designed Tuition Postponement Option (TPO). I worked every semester at Yale as well as every summer to make ends meet and to reduce the impact my decision to attend Yale had on my parents. I am also a parent of a recent college graduate (Notre Dame 2006) and had to scrimp, save, beg, and borrow to finance my son's education. You see, like my parents, I fell into that vast wasteland known as "middle class," where I made enough money to live a nice life, but not enough to write annual checks for $40,000 without feeling the pain.

While I applaud Yale's recent decision and change in policy, has anyone thought about going back and offering similar relief to recent graduates? How many Yale grads from the '70s and '80s might have thumbed their noses at jobs obtained at least partially for the purpose of paying student loans off, and pursued careers in public service or education, if Yale had been as benevolent then as it is now? Obviously it is too late to help graduates from that era, but I'd like to see Yale reach back and help some recent graduates who are possibly forgoing a lower-paying career simply to earn enough to pay the Yale piper. How about it, President Levin?

Brian L. Trotier '77
Coronado, CA


Bigger than capitalism

Given the fall of Soviet communism, environment school dean James Gustave Speth '64, '69LLB, was entirely correct to define the source of challenge to the global environment that we face today as "the problem with capitalism" (Forum, March/April). As a historical matter, however, it is worth noting that even without such core economic concepts as private employers, competitive markets, the price mechanism, and the modern corporation, the former Soviet Union did a bang-up job of despoiling the environment. Under whatever economic system, what Speth called "the administrative state actively promoting economic strength and growth" long has been a critical driver of environmental deterioration. It will require an almost unimaginable degree of popular understanding of the threat around the world to generate sufficient political will to change course toward sustainability.

Eric Brody '88
Castle Pines North, CO


Don't blame the capitalists, who are just trying to make a buck. Don't blame the socialists, who are just trying to redistribute the bucks. It's the teachers, from the eighth grade up through the graduate schools, who are drowning students in academic esoterica without providing the most important fact of the mathematical, physical, and biological sciences: exponential growth is not sustainable by any kind of technology, economic system, or political actions.

The only feasible option is a sustainable, steady-state economy. Within those constraints, nations can choose either a smaller population with a high standard of living or a larger population with a lower one. But "you can't have your cake and eat it too."

Foster Morrison '65Grd
North Potomac, MD


Factory managers in both modes of economic organization, capitalistic and non-capitalistic, are directed to minimize their production costs. They have a powerful incentive to dispose of wastes in the cheapest mode possible. Often this consists of dumping the wastes into the air or water.

One way to curb abuse is to impose costs on enterprises for the indiscriminate discharge of wastes into common environments. My favorite candidate is a carbon tax. As every student learns in the first few weeks of any basic economics course, taxing anything reduces the quantities produced. Subsidies increase them. Faced by tax bills that grow with the amount of emissions discharged into the environment, firms in capitalistic economies will search for ways to minimize emissions, or lose market share to competitors who do. 

Benjamin Walter '52
Nashville, TN


Self-transformation must accompany efforts to change the world. The need for a "change of heart" is difficult to quantify, and so is typically left out of most public policy manifestos. But without it, we only pretend to be at the controls of our intellectualized culture, forever moving around the external pieces—whether of the market economy or the political process or the academic orientation—without ever having to make real changes in the ways we actually live our lives. This inner obligation to transform our own lives need not be at the expense of our efforts to change societal systems. Quite the contrary. But in my experience this obligation does call forth some dimension of—for lack of a better phrase—spiritual discipline and practice. As the Dalai Lama has put it, "Spiritual practice involves, on the one hand, acting out of concern for others' well being. On the other hand, it entails transforming ourselves so that we become more readily disposed to do so."

Kurt Hoelting
Clinton, WA



In Letters (March/April), Horace McCowan '49JD claimsthat groupthink (the subject of a January/February feature) is a "rational explanation" for three historic Supreme Court decisions. The first, Brown v. Board of Education, came to the Supreme Court in the fall term of 1952 on appeal from a District Court that had ruled, as the trier of fact, that the second-class status imposed by segregation was harmful to black citizens. The lower court also found, as the trier of law, that these citizens had no remedy against the precedent of "separate by equal" set in 1899 by Plessy v. Ferguson. No votes were taken in the conference following Supreme Court arguments, but it's clear from the record that there were two probable votes to uphold school segregation (Chief Justice Vinson and Justice Reed) and four probable votes to overturn it (Justices Black, Douglas, Burton, and Minton). Three justices (Clark, Frankfurter, and Jackson) were personally opposed to segregation but were loath to overturn long-standing precedent in a politically sensitive case.

Without a clear majority for either side, the Court stalled, rescheduling oral arguments for the fall term of 1953. Chief Justice Vinson died in September, and his replacement, Earl Warren, tipped the balance, and the Court announced its decision in May 1954 that the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits segregation by race in public schools. The decision was unanimous.

We know from the justices' writings and the research that they assigned to their clerks that they independently wrestled with the issue and came to their own decisions. To ascribe those decisions to groupthink, which in Irving Janis' words requires that group loyalty become "the highest form of morality," is to insult the memory of these jurists (particularly of Robert Jackson, who as a prosecutor at Nuremberg presumably had first-hand experience with the real thing).

Neither of Mr. McCowan's other cases, Griswold v. Connecticutand Roe v. Wade, each with a dissent and three concurring opinions, qualifies as an apt example of groupthink. These cases are not immune from criticism, and all three have had their share, especially from those who mourn the passing of the golden age of racial and sexual repression. Mr. McCowan is free to vociferously join the critics, but he shouldn't misrepresent judicial history in doing so.

Jesse Kartus '72
Wheaton, IL


The interesting overview of "groupthink" seemed to be missing one factor that can cause groups to make bad decisions: the presence of an overriding agenda that causes the team to ignore possible negative outcomes. For the two examples cited in the article, those agendas would seem to be making money (Enron) and the doctrine of preemptive war (the Iraq invasion).

Richard Hall '71MDiv
Red Bank, NJ


Extreme Atkins

It was tradition for members of the men's swimmingteam to hit the Doodle ("The Death of the Doodle? Maybe Not . . .," Light & Verity, March/April) after Saturday morning practices. One Saturday, a group of us were eating at the counter when our teammate, Ted Stedem '95, ordered a fried donut and requested: "Can I get extra butter on that?" Now, if you're familiar with the fried donut (a glazed donut, cut in half, slathered in butter and then cooked on the grill), then you can appreciate the audacity of this request. A moment of silence ensued, as no one on either side of the counter had ever heard those words uttered at the Yankee Doodle. Of course, we were 20 years old and swimming four hours a day, so "extra butter" was not an issue. Still, if you could have seen the look on the face of the cook and waitress, it was priceless.

The Doodle will be missed.

Michael O'Connor '94
Portland, OR


Hold the spice

Your review, entitled "Posh Spice" (Arts & Culture, March/April), is somewhat uninformed about medieval sauces. Partridge would have been most unlikely to be "drenched in a sauce so heavily spiced you would have to work hard to choke down a bite without coughing." Many recipes for roasting game birds end, "No sauce but salt," and the majority of spiced sauces were by no means heavily spiced anyway. To learn what medieval foods were really like, readers may want to consult the introduction to my book, Pleyn Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks, which I co-wrote with Brenda Hosington and Sharon Butler.

Constance B. Hieatt '59PhD
Essex, CT


Athletic benefits

Your fine article about The Game (January/February) caused me to reflect on the role that athletics play in the overall life at Yale. I don't subscribe to the theory that athletes are detrimental to the quality and mission of the university because they prevent academically more qualified students from matriculating.

Playing on varsity team requires focus, dedication, teamwork, and commitment. These are important qualities that cannot be quantified, but which, like academic discipline, build character.

Successful teams also engender pride in one's alma mater. At The Game, there were the most people in New Haven in over 20 years. Many came to root for Yale and were reconnected with both the city and the university.

This is a good thing.

Christopher Getman '64
Hamden, CT


Guardian Angell

Katharine Angell (Old Yale, January/February), was indeed a caring and generous lady, not only for large projects and institutions but also for needy individuals. I can personally attest to her charitable work.

While pursuing bachelor and master of music degrees at Yale, I lived in Hamden, Connecticut, with my parents just down the hill from the Angell home. My mother's oldest sister served as the cook for the Angell household and through her Mrs. Angell became aware of my parents and me. At one point, when I needed throat surgery, Mrs. Angell graciously arranged an appointment with a prominent New Haven surgeon and subsequently took care of all the expenses, totally unsolicited by me or my parents. I was then able to complete my master's degree and embark on a very successful and satisfying career in music. I shall always be grateful to Mrs. Angell, not only for her generosity but also for saving my career. Thank you for recognizing this great lady.

Joseph B. Carlucci '46MusB, '49MusM
Beaumont, TX



Our March/April article on Vincent Scully, "The Patriarch," mentioned a New Yorker profile of Scully published 28 years ago. The editors realized only after publication that we had failed to include the name of its author, James Stevenson '51, a writer and artist—one of whose New Yorker cartoons hangs in the magazine's offices. We apologize for the omission.

In the March/April "You Can Quote Them" column, the German should be: "Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir" (in front of me), not "von mir" (of me). And "Posh Spice," a book review, incorrectly said it was Henry II of England who died of "a surfeit of lampreys"; actually, it was Henry I.

The comment period has expired.