Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond


The tailgating accounts (“Tailgating,” January/February) fail to focus on the very high likelihood that the November 19 tragedy was simply due to driver error. Your article says that the vehicle “somehow went out of control.” This is precisely the point. I would hazard a guess that the driver’s lifetime experience with driving a truck or other oversize vehicle is next to zero.

Yale tailgate rules are already draconian enough. I can’t just drive and park in Lot D anymore. I have to secure a prepaid pass. I can’t crank up my Weber grill anymore. Charcoal fires are verboten. U-Hauls and student binge drinking are the least of my worries. I totally agree with Brandon Levin’s comment for the need to strike a “delicate balance” relative to more changes to Yale tailgate rules.

Ted Robinson ’63
Bedford, NY


Judith Ann Schiff’s article on tailgating (“A Century of Feasting Al Fresco,” November/December) looked back happily to times when the focus was on food and conviviality. The Harvard game-day tragedy made too clear that alcohol consumption has become the dominant feature of tailgating today, as did the parking fields littered with beer bottles—many of them broken—we walked through following the game.

Quite apart from the question of legal liability, the time has come for Yale to revisit its policy of allowing uncontrolled drinking on its premises, given predictably disastrous consequences. Tailgating isn’t all that innocent and harmless any more.

Richard H. Hiers ’54, ’61PhD
Gainesville, FL

For a report about changes made in Yale’s rules for student tailgate parties, see page 19.

The Title IX complaint

Your article covering the report of the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate is an important contribution to understanding changes that are needed (“Yale, Alumni Committee Respond to Title IX Complaint,” January/February). What the article fails to mention is that President Levin and the university deferred action on the single most important recommendation in the report, that the university “explore the possibility of establishing an office of organizational ombudsman, one that will be integrated into Yale’s conflict management system.”

President Levin in his response to the report indicated that he would expand the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center (SHARE), which would be available to offer assistance confidentially or anonymously. He would, however, defer any further action on the critically important informal function provided by the organizational ombudsman, an independent, neutral, and confidential resource for anyone needing to raise an issue of concern. The benefits of such an office go far beyond the narrow issue of dealing with sexual harassment.

Virtually all the leading universities have adopted this function as a best practice. Implementing such a resource at Yale is long overdue, and the advisory committee presented a strong foundation for action. The failure to move promptly to establish an organizational ombudsman is a disappointing footnote to the good work that is under way at Yale to deal more effectively with sensitive matters affecting the well-being of students, faculty, and the university community as a whole.

Jim Hostetler ’55
Washington, DC


I am shocked by President Levin’s resistance to making significant changes to the out-of-control “sexual climate” at Yale. What is his resistance to banning Sex Week at Yale? Is he afraid of looking like a prude? Is he afraid of being accused of curbing free speech? What is his resistance to regulating off-campus student groups? Is it the fear of “officially” discovering and dealing with what everyone has known all along: that many of these groups, in particular the fraternities, consistently flout the rules of the university? I feel that the advisory committee’s recommendations to ban Sex Week and to regulate off-campus student groups are finally a step in the right direction.

Levin’s resistance to these recommendations, however, is a huge setback. It sends a message of tolerance for the current climate rather than a desire for real change. Yale’s focus should not be on forming new committees to handle sexual misconduct complaints, but on creating a healthy, vibrant, and safe climate in which sexual misconduct doesn’t occur in the first place. The Yale I know faces big problems head on. I urge President Levin to do the same.

Amanda Knott Wiederhold ’96
Beverly, MA


Levin’s paycheck

I was shocked to read that Richard Levin’s compensation for 2009—it is presumably more now—was $1.63 million (“Campus Clips,” January/February). I think he is doing an excellent job, and I assume that other university presidents receive the same or more. But these salaries are ludicrously high. Both the number and cost of such individuals should be reduced and the money spent on tenure-track faculty and students. I’m surprised there is not an “Occupy Woodbridge Hall” movement.

Peter Stansky ’53
Stanford, CA


How do we remember Buckley?

I found your William F. Buckley article (“God, Man, and Yale, 60 Years Later,” January/February) entertaining—especially the critique by panelists that Yale “is just as intolerant as in 1950.” Of course, Buckley’s critique in God and Man at Yale was not that Yale was too intolerant in 1950—it was that Yale was not intolerant enough. Buckley’s argument was that atheism, collectivism, and liberalism should not have been tolerated at all, and that professors and students should have been removed for the substance of their views, if those views were insufficiently orthodox. The idea that Buckley now would be lauded for tolerance (of all things) only indicates the utter failure of his world view. We can mourn his passing, but we should sugarcoat neither the abominable substance of his opinions nor the extent of their rejection in modern American discourse. Today even Buckley’s acolytes cannot bring themselves to admit what he wrote and what he stood for.

W. Hardy Callcott ’83
San Mateo, CA


As an intensive major in government, I was required to take a year-long junior seminar in political theory, taught then by Professor Willmoore Kendall, the conservative political science professor. Imagine my surprise when I showed up for the opening meeting of the seminar, in September 1950, to find that I had been joined by six seniors, led by Bill Buckley and Brent Bozell!

We met weekly in Kendall’s living room. Much of the class took place about three feet above my brain. What I remember about the class itself is that I was privileged to attend a weekly animated discussion in which Kendall consistently, and forcefully, took Buckley’s reasoning down. Perhaps the course should have been titled “The Education of William Buckley.”

Midway through the spring semester Bill raised a question: would we have a final exam? After a short discussion it was agreed that yes, we would have an exam, and it would consist of dinner at Mory’s.

Exam time came, and we assembled in an upstairs dining room. Toward the end of the meal, the Whiffenpoofs marched in and serenaded us. After they left, the conversation turned to our obligation to thank them in some fashion. Bill persuaded us that we should reciprocate by singing for them. Downstairs we trooped, lined up in front of the Whiffs, and serenaded them with “Deutschland Über Alles.” Not waiting for applause, we went back upstairs and finished our beers; the exam was over.

Dwight C. Smith Jr. ’51
Slingerlands, NY


In Christopher Buckley’s prepared remarks from the William F. Buckley dinner, he wonders “whether we should, as Cole Porter would say, call the whole thing off.” Actually, Cole Porter did not write “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” the song in which those familiar words appear. George Gershwin did, and his brother, Ira, supplied the lyric, just one of the many, many songs they wrote together. Mr. Buckley is forgiven, of course, for this tiny error, since the song was written some time ago, but many of the Gershwins’ songs have endured, which is why I noticed the mistake.

David A. O’Leary ’52MusB
Englewood, NJ

Mr. O’Leary was not the only reader to notice. Christopher Buckley ’75 sent us this note:

It is with mortification that I received an otherwise very nice letter from Roger Horchow ’50, classmate of my father, William F., pointing out that “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” was written not by Cole Porter ’13, but by non-Yalie Ira Gershwin. Mr. Horchow’s credentials are well in order to make this humbling correction, as he produced the 1992 Broadway smash Crazy for You, with songs by George and Ira Gershwin. In 2000, Mr. Horchow won his second Tony Award for Kiss Me Kate, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

Please cancel Mr. Horchow’s subscription to the Yale Alumni Magazine so that he will be unable to spot more mistakes in whatever remarks of mine you may publish in the future.


Bells and whistles

Your article on the January 1955 production of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture that includes the use of the bells in Harkness Tower (“Showered With Sound,” January/February) mentions that the audiotape caught the sound of an unknown Yale student whistling as he walked by and about Branford College. I hereby announce that I was that student! From 1953 through 1956 I was enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, working on my PhD degree in chemistry. Harkness Tower was on my daily route walking from home to the Sterling Chemistry Building. I would often whistle “On the Banks of the Old Raritan,” the iconic Rutgers melody. Mystery solved.

Peter J. Wojtowicz ’56PhD
Princeton, NJ


I read with great interest your article about the use of the Harkness Tower bells in a recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture in 1955. This, however, was not the first time the Harkness bells were used for that purpose.

A year or two earlier, Keith Wilson and the Yale Band performed the 1812 at an outdoor concert in front of Sterling Library. We stationed a student, equipped with a score, in a window of Berkeley College, connected by telephone to one of the bell ringers in Harkness Tower. Thus he was able to bring in the bells on cue.

Unfortunately, we did not have access to a cannon, and we doubted that we would be allowed to fire one on campus anyway. We had to substitute a shotgun, whose discharge was nevertheless quite effective. One of the oboe players reported later that he almost bit his reed in half at the sound.

Richard N. Platt Jr. ’55
Milford, CT


Wilder, inside and out

The note from the editors at the top of the Wilder essay (“Thornton Wilder’s Yale,” January/February) needed, at least in my view, a little editing. The note is titled “An Outsider at Yale.” Maybe you editors want him to have been “an outsider” at Yale, perhaps to fulfill your own version of what sort of man you think Wilder should have been. Or maybe he wanted to consider himself an outsider to fulfill some brainiac self-vision he was pursuing at the time, as is consistent with his self-description in the essay. But no student whose father was in Skull and Bones will ever be an outsider at Yale. In the body of the note you write: “Moreover, he was homosexual, though never openly so, probably not even to himself.” Maybe you editors want him to have been homosexual, for whatever reason. And maybe he was homosexual. Who knows? Who cares? But if, as you write in your article, he was not openly homosexual and also did not know he was homosexual, it is implausible to definitively conclude that he was homosexual. One is reminded of the Salem witch trials, where if a girl denied being a witch that was certain proof she was a witch.

Your note suffers both from a lack of healthy skepticism and from an overabundance of political correctness.

W. Bevis Schock ’78
Saint Louis, MO

“Outsider” was taken from Wilder’s essay. As for his sexuality, we wouldn’t presume to guess; we relied on biographies and the word of his editor and his nephew.—Eds.


Thank you for presenting the long view of history via three related articles in your January/February issue. The first was Thornton Wilder’s “unflattering” (editors’ description) portrait of Yale circa 1918, where, in Wilder’s (perhaps mocking) words, “a high moral tone was prescribed by the students themselves” through participation in Dwight Hall’s “elevating ‘discussion groups,’ prayer meetings and social service programs.” Wilder further comments, perhaps derisively, that “the big men” on campus were drawn from “the leaders of Dwight Hall.”

The second of the three articles recounts the 60th-anniversary celebration of William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale. The third discusses the recent recommendations of an Advisory Committee on Campus Climate. One of the committee’s recommendations was to ban something called “Sex Week at Yale.” President Levin chose not to accept the recommendation and proposed an alternative.

For an idea of how Yale has “progressed” over the past nine decades from a culture that at the very least recognized the high ideals and broad influence of Dwight Hall to one whose student body has apparently normalized a wildly popular “Sex Week at Yale,” featuring porn-star speakers and sex-toy sponsors, one could do worse than read (or re-read) Mr. Buckley’s 60-year-old book. My hat is off to the students who organized the anniversary celebration. Would that the organizers had included members of Yale’s diversity-minded administration.

Stephen B. Finch Jr. ’69
Greenville, SC


A puzzling freshman

I enjoyed Stephen Budiansky’s crossword puzzle in the January/February issue, but I have to correct one thing! The second-most-prolific New York Times puzzle constructor from Yale is not senior Oliver Hill, with 16 puzzles (as impressive as that is) but freshman Caleb Madison with 22! They’re both incredibly talented and prolific.

Sara Kaplan ’83
Chappaqua, NY

Ms. Kaplan is right. Our research, done last spring for an earlier article, was rendered obsolete when Caleb Madison entered Yale this fall. By the way, Madison’s first Times puzzle as a Yalie included the tricky Friday clue “Peabody Museum patron, perhaps” for “ELI.”—Eds.


Word for word with Borroff

It was a delight to read Charles McGrath’s review of Marie Borroff’s translation of The Gawain Poet (Sex, Death, and Promises,” January/February) and know that she is still with us. In addition to her Chaucerian focus, she taught many of us in the mid-1960s a course called History of the English Language. Among other assignments, we pursued the derivation of each word in long written English passages, using the library’s many-volume Oxford English Dictionary.

Even for those of us who didn’t choose a life in academia, it was a fascinating and memorable experience in the richness of this language we use every waking minute of our lives.

David W. Kramer ’67
San Diego, CA


Kudos to the Illini

I agree with the readers quoted in From the Editor (“Backhanded Compliments,” January/February) that the Yale Alumni Magazine is among the best in the nation and contains “almost always, in fact, something rather riveting.” I also agree that the editorial independence of the Yale Alumni Magazine is a good thing. However, I think you were a little too hard on all those less fortunate alumni magazines out there without your editorial independence, magazines which (you say) “operate for purposes that, when editorial decisions are made, must generally trump the purpose of serving the readers.” While your magazine is superior to many of these, there are some out there doing an exceptional job, just as some of our great state universities are the equal of, or even superior to, Yale in some academic areas.

I would like to point to the alumni magazine from my graduate alma mater, the University of Illinois, as an example of this. It has been running a riveting series on the history of the U of I. By telling the U of I’s story, which is quite different from Yale’s, they are helping to illuminate one of the major events in twentieth-century American history: the opening of higher educational opportunities to large numbers of the American people. Further, they have devoted part of their series to the often-difficult experiences of black U of I students in the 1930s through the 1950s, who were among the first African Americans to gain an education at a first-rate American university. By telling this part of the U of I’s story, Illinois Alumni is helping to illuminate two more major events of the twentieth century: the Great Migration and the opening of opportunity to black Americans. You at the Yale Alumni Magazine are pretty good, but I challenge you to do better.

Chip Neville ’62
West Hartford, CT

Kathrin Day Lassila writes: You raise a point I should have addressed in my letter. In no way do we claim to be superior to other alumni magazine staffs. We receive many alumni magazines and are often and forcibly struck by outstanding articles they produce. But their successes deserve greater kudos than ours. They operate under a handicap. Yale alumni should hold us to a high standard, because we’ve been supplied with the essential condition for meeting it.


Millions, billions, whatever

Proof that I read the Yale Alumni Magazine closely: on page 53 of the January/February issue, the summary of Yale’s 2011 Financial Results reads, in part, “assets in the Endowment totaled approximately $19.4 billion, after the allocation of Endowment spending of $982.6 million billion [italics mine] to the Operating Budget.” I knew the budget was sizable, but hey!

Eugene Brice ’62PhD
Fort Worth, TX

That wasn’t the only error. We neglected to include the word “Advertisement” at the top of the page—which was Yale’s annual report to the alumni on its financial status.—Eds.



In an article about ancient sandstone carvings in Egypt (“Globalism, ca. 13,000 BCE,” January/February), we referred to paintings in “the caves of Altamira and Lascaux in southwestern France.” Altamira is in northern Spain. 

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