Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Yale's bird man

I really enjoyed the article on Richard Prum (“The Bird-Filled World of Richard Prum,” November/December). I read it to my colleague as we ran samples on the mass spectrometer. It was a great way to fill the one-minute pauses between each sample reading—though the flow did suffer. As a scientist, I was fascinated to learn of the myriad connections he has been making. Too often we get caught up in our narrow fields and forget that all facets of life—and the natural world—are connected, and often it is when we look at the world from a new perspective that things become more clear.

Elizabeth J. Traver ’84
Widler, VT


I have often wondered about the sense of beauty in animals, particularly birds, not just in appreciation of beauty but also as artists and makers of beautiful objects—bower birds, for example. So I am glad to have discovered an ornithologist who considers this a worthwhile subject for study.

Hilke Breder
Brattleboro, VT


Guideposts and sincerity

I read the article about Edward Grinnan’s work at Guideposts (“Rewriting His Own Script,” November/December) with interest. As a Princeton English major, a Yale Divinity School graduate, and an Episcopal priest for the last 21 years, I have not usually found sophistication or cynicism helpful in talking to people about God’s love for them and the possibility of redemption in the midst of a messy life. I have had to unlearn some of that “polish” in my work with people.

There was an undertone in your article that suggested that really smart people would never read or be touched by Guideposts and that Grinnan is an exception. I have always been touched by the sincerity of Guideposts’s stories, along with the editors’ theological openness. Too often, that type of openhearted, childlike faith (the kind that Jesus said was required to really experience God’s love) is also accompanied by a closed theology of salvation that excludes other religions, “non-traditional” lifestyles, and even other forms of Christianity (like mine) that don’t subscribe to Jesus as the only possible path to salvation. Guideposts stands out as sincere and open and accessible to all kinds of people. I always feel heartened by the goodness and strength of the human spirit when I have the fortune to pick up a Guideposts magazine in my travels.

Thank you for the good article and the wonderful story of Grinnan’s difficult journey to find his way to health and wholeness while working at Guideposts.

Louise Howlett ’88MDiv
Middletown, DE


Admit more athletes

In his compelling and well-balanced speech at this year’s Blue Leadership Ball, honoree Chris Getman ’64 eloquently expressed disagreement with President Levin’s policy of admitting fewer recruited athletes than the Ivy League formula allows. To no one’s surprise, not one of the other Ancient Eight members has followed suit.

President Levin’s admissions policy is, sadly, but one of many examples that reveal how little athletics matter to this administration. Consider how disheartening it was that the conclusion of the Yale Tomorrow campaign “happened” to coincide with the football home opener versus Georgetown. The result? An either-or choice between hearing David McCullough’s keynote address or attendance in the Bowl. Even the scheduling of Parents’ Weekend for October 28–30, during which the football team was playing Columbia in New York City, revealed just how little the team matters to President Levin.

Watching the athletic program reduced from “stepchild” to “out-of-wedlock” status has been painful enough. How long before this man declares it to have been stillborn? 

Brian Patrick Clarke ’74
Longwood, FL

The letter writer is referring to President Levin’s statement—in a September/October 2010 interview in the Yale Alumni Magazine—that the percentage of recruited athletes in each class at Yale College has been reduced from 17 or 18 percent to 13 percent since he became president of the university in 1993. He also said that Yale admits “significantly fewer recruited athletes than the Ivy League allows.” Christopher Getman’s address at the Blue Leadership Ball is posted on our website; you can read it at yalealumnimagazine.com/issues/2011_11/getman.html.—Eds.


Alternative advice

I was both amused and frustrated by the advice given to Will McPherson ’15 by his parents as he embarked on his college experience (“First Days at Yale,” November/December). In an exchange more reminiscent of the 1950s Father Knows Best than the present day Modern Family, his folks advised, “Don’t drink, don’t hook up.” In language that his puritanical elders might appreciate, I reply “Hogwash!” College is a time to experiment, to explore oneself, and to experience what independence and adulthood have to offer. And so to young Will I advise, “Do drink, and do hook up.” In both endeavors, I concur with the balance of his parents’ counsel: “Be safe. Definitely have fun.”

Andy Morris ’99
Seattle, WA


What would Ben do?

It was encouraging to learn that one of our founding fathers—Ben Franklin—wanted non-combatants protected from the ravages of war and that he took action to that end (“No More Raping and Pillaging,” November/December). Beginning with World War I, each major war has killed more noncombatants than combatants. And the ratio of noncombatant deaths to combatant deaths keeps going up. We now face the prospect that human combatants are becoming obsolete; soon our wars will be fought by various robotic devices directed from a safe distance.

If Franklin were alive today, what would he have to say about this situation? And more importantly, who with similar stature today will stand against methods of war which result in massive civilian deaths, maiming, and physical and mental trauma?

Felice Pace ’69
Klamath, CA


Make football safer

You recently profiled Jesse Reising ’11, a Yale football player who suffered a nerve injury in the 2010 Yale-Harvard game, which has rendered his “right arm useless above the elbow” and will prevent him from fulfilling his dream of becoming a US Marine (“The Long-Term Impact of a Collision,” September/October).

Every year, some young men die in football practices and games as a result of heat, dehydration, and cardiac disease; others become paraplegic, quadriplegic, or suffer lifetime peripheral nerve injuries as a result of playing football; and many, many more suffer concussive and subconcussive brain injuries which increase their risk of dementia and premature death. In July 2011, an Ivy League committee adopted new concussion-curbing measures for football, most notably stricter practice policies, designed to reduce some of these injuries. Several other rule changes have been proposed for college and professional football which could further reduce the risk of injuries.

When “playing games” leads some participants to suffer catastrophic injuries, we are all responsible for taking action to minimize the risk of these injuries. When I was a young physician, some people asserted that requiring face masks, helmets, and mouth guards for ice hockey players would “ruin the game.” I notice that these common-sense measures have been implemented and ice hockey is still being played—albeit more safely. For football there is, similarly, great room for improvement.

Edward C. Halperin ’79
Louisville, KY

The author, a physician, is dean of the University of Louisville School of Medicine.


The names on the wall

Those who are disturbed at the inclusion of the names of Yale’s Confederate dead in Memorial Hall (“The Mingled Dust of Both Armies,” September/October) might note that Harvard does not (as yet) honor their slain Rebels. They do, however, include the name of a Harvard man who died fighting for Nazi Germany in World War II.

Joseph R. Barrie ’56
Harvard, MA


My uncle, Fletcher Hegeman Wood, is listed on the memorial wall as a member of the Class of 1910S and, in class years, the oldest Yale casualty of World War II. He was my mother’s older brother, but I never knew him; he dropped from family records shortly before the First World War. My mother’s first communication from him was in 1943, in a penciled note delivered by the American Red Cross from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines. He had been a civilian mining engineer; he fled to Corregidor for protection when the Japanese invaded the Philippines in early 1942 and was part of the Corregidor surrender. My mother sent him a letter, with a family picture, and had one response thanking her for the picture and saying that he was in “fair” health, a description that got his note past the Japanese censors. He died in Bilibid Prison in January 1945 of beriberi and dysentery, complicated by bronchitis and malnutrition. His obituary is in the class records, and the outline of his life after Yale is on the first page of Yale Men Who Died in the Second World War.

A few years ago I Googled Uncle Fletcher and discovered, to my surprise, that he had never graduated from Yale! Instead, I learned through the Bulletin of the American Institute of Mining Engineers that he had attended Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School from 1907 to 1909, and that he earned a BE from the Colorado School of Mines in 1916.

Then how did he make it to the memorial wall? The answer lies somewhere in the arcane definition of “alumnus.” Apparently an alumnus is not a graduate, but rather someone who matriculated successfully at the university. I wonder how long one must go to Yale to claim to be an alum (think of the savings in tuition money!); and I wonder how many other nongraduates are memorialized in the rotunda.

Dwight C. Smith Jr. ’51
Slingerlands, NY

Yale’s alumni records office includes in its alumni database any students who completed at least a semester of a degree program at Yale. There are surely a number of nongraduates listed among the war dead in Memorial Hall—not least because many left Yale to go to war and never returned.—Eds.


Facing trauma head-on

The psychiatric community has been somewhat frustrated in treating vets with PTSD pharmacologically (“Coming Up Empty,” November/December), but real progress has been noted through the use of evidence-based psychotherapies that require active engagement of the veteran in facing traumatic memories, instead of avoiding them. Medication can be helpful in reducing the potency of flashbacks and nightmares, but we have seen dramatic improvement in vets willing to confront their worst fears through revisiting them in oral or written narrative. This is difficult work for the vet, because it asks him or her to do the opposite of what has been done over the years since combat.

David B. Tarr ’67, ’71MDiv
Anderson, IN


Yale and sexual assault

The more things change the more they remain the same. This expression has particular relevance to your July/August cover, which asked the question “Is Yale a Hostile Environment for Women?” (“Confusion and Silence,” July/August).

I attended the Divinity School from the fall of 1998 through 2001 after a long career in private legal practice and at the US Department of Justice. While I was there, a female student was raped by a Divinity School classmate. The victim and I contacted the local police, filed a grievance with a sham grievance committee, and solicited the aid of feminist theologians on the faculty, some of whom were ordained ministers. We were met with stonewalling and resistance at every turn. We were instructed to maintain secrecy about the rape so as not to incite the student body. I was called before the acting dean of the Divinity School and threatened for my involvement. When I questioned the acting dean about the stonewalling and resistance of the grievance committee and its confusing procedures, I was told that the committee was “only following orders” from Yale’s general counsel.

The outcome of this unfortunate situation was that the police did nothing, the local district attorney turned a blind eye to the rape, and the grievance committee removed the perpetrator of the crime from the school. Incredibly, the committee held that the rapist could re-matriculate at the school once the victim had graduated and moved on.

Based upon my experience, I have no doubt that Yale does not take sexual harassment and assault seriously and has allowed the growth of a hostile environment for its female students. It is encouraging that the federal government has finally initiated an investigation into Yale’s handling of sexual assault allegations. Perhaps the threat of losing federal funding will motivate Yale to comply with the Jeanne Clery Act and report forcible sexual assaults on campus and inform the university community of such crimes in a timely manner.

Arthur E. Gowran ’01MDiv
Washington, DC

See page 16 for an update on Yale’s response to the Title IX investigation. To this letter, university spokesman Tom Conroy responds: 

“The university takes all matters of sexual misconduct seriously. In 1999, the Divinity School had a grievance process for hearing complaints of sexual assault and harassment. A case was heard in that year, and the grievance committee acted promptly to fully address it. The university has no control over a prosecutor’s decision whether to prosecute a criminal matter.

“The new University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct is a dedicated resource available to all students, faculty, and staff to hear complaints about sexual misconduct. Through its new sexual misconduct resources websites, the university hopes to provide clear communication to all students about resources available to them.”


Nothing wrong with wealth

I am astounded that you would publish a letter criticizing the magazine for running an advertisement for the wealth management services of US Trust Company (Letters, November/December). The last time I checked, the provision of such services was a lawful one, and the magazine need not have any qualms about publishing the ad. We are not talking about pornography or illegal substances. Perhaps the letter writer—and by extension the magazine’s staff by deeming it worthy of publication—equate the transmission of wealth between generations with some loathsome and nefarious practices.

Henry Blumberg ’67
New York, NY


We’re blushing

I am a 1992 alumnus of Yale College who has, since graduation, been a student or faculty member at several institutions, from which I receive alumni magazines. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the differences among the magazines and must applaud you for producing what I consider to be, among the lot, the most engaging, vivacious, and well-composed magazine I read. It is attractive, colorful, and humorous, and it offers a great mix of small and large features, all of which I find compellingly written. In short, I love reading it, even the alumni notes from other classes (so many interesting Yalies out there!). My feelings about Yale have grown more positive because of it. The Yale Alumni Magazine renders Yale both approachable and incredibly impressive. I look forward to receiving it as much as any other magazine to which we subscribe.


Garret Olberding ’92
Norman, OK

Thank you! To be fair, it’s not a level playing field. Most other alumni mags are published by their universities and have to serve a public-relations agenda. The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by a separate, alumni-based nonprofit, and our job is to serve the alumni.—Eds.


In a March/April 2009 article about Yale football coach Tom Williams, we reported, incorrectly, that Williams was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship. Williams never told us he was a finalist, but when we sent him and the athletic department a list of statements from the article for review before publication, they returned the list without correcting that mistake. We regret the error.—Eds.


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