Letters to the Editor

The college in Singapore

Readers’ views about Yale-NUS and many other topics.

Your description of Yale-NUS College and its new curriculum warms the heart (“The Founding,” November/December). In our rapid-turnover but long-lived world, students will have not one profession but several, not one career but many: there are few preparations for these realities better than a Yale education, and now Yale-NUS. The initial job scramble in your 20s always is tough, but the midlife career change in your 30s or 40s is even tougher—and just wait until you are ages 50, 60, 70; “change” becomes a real challenge then.

Generalist education and rigorous breadth are the key skills for this mobile and flexible world. “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” as Steve Jobs said (quoting Stewart Brand). Don’t get too specialized, or stuck in any ruts.

Yale-NUS will be wonderful for its students and wonderful for Yale.

Jack Kessler ’71
San Francisco, CA

As a product of Yale’s Directed Studies program, I was both excited and disappointed by your article on liberal education and the new Yale-NUS College.

Yale’s efforts to “take the idea of a core curriculum and make it global and cross-cultural” are commendable. Singapore’s government, to its credit, is willing to risk the social unrest an education whose core is the promotion of critical thinking might generate in order to gain the innovative spirit that is needed to build a knowledge economy. The implications of this vital tension, however, appear to be muted in the article. A full and open discussion about how a liberal arts education can be offered in a relatively closed, authoritarian society is missing.

Yale’s advocacy that liberal education develops the habits of mind that are essential to free and open societies and that are hostile to closed societies was very much alive in its Directed Studies program and when I was a Yale-China “bachelor” (1961–63) teaching at New Asia College, now part of the Chinese University in Hong Kong, and founded by refugee Chinese scholars to provide that space for free and open inquiry.

More recently, the Yale Alumni Chorus and the Yale Global Alumni Leadership Exchange visited Vilnius, Lithuania, to lend support to the European Humanities University (EHU), an institution founded in Belarus after the collapse of the Soviet Union, now forced to work in exile in Lithuania. Yale’s presence at EHU this summer gave visible and powerful meaning to two essential premises: that liberal education ultimately is about supporting free and open inquiry and that universities should model the behavior that they are seeking to instill in their students.

I hope Yale-NUS will embrace Yale’s promotion of critical thinking as a means for challenging accepted authorities, as well as its multidisciplinary Directed Studies tradition. Both are essential parts of the pursuit of free inquiry.

Gregory S. Prince Jr. ’61, ’73PhD
Board member of the European Humanities University
Norwich, VT

The magazine’s latest article on the Yale-NUS liberal arts college in Singapore calls the new college a joint venture between Yale and the National University of Singapore. It also notes Yale’s claims to have negotiated certain guarantees regarding freedom of expression and academic freedom for the new college.

But the article represents another failure on the part of the magazine to ask the leadership of Yale, of NUS, or of the new college what the terms of the contracts and other undertakings between Yale and Singapore are and why these terms must be kept secret. Yale regularly asks readers of the magazine to make donations to the university. Why should those readers donate a penny to a Yale that is not willing to observe basic standards of transparency in its operations overseas?

Michael Montesano ’83
Brussels, Belgium

John Hollander recalled

I’d like to add something about John Hollander (“Remembrance for a Poet-Scholar,” November/December), a great friend and superb colleague, who taught years ago at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where I teach still now. His work and works brought a kind of magnificence to us all, as did his being. I especially loved his thinking and style of writing about the verbal and the visual intertwined, as in The Gazer’s Spirit: Poems Speaking to Silent Works of Art, and I especially enjoyed speaking with him, listening to him, and reading him.

Our children, like his, went to the Hunter Elementary School, and I well remember him standing once in a parents-and-teachers meeting—in his unforgettable sideburns and maroon velvet smoking jacket—to deliver a well-earned diatribe against the person in charge. A far larger-than-life thinker and writer, he was as unforgettable as he was beloved.

Mary Ann Caws ’56MA
New York, NY

Instability and humanitarianism

I’m sorry to say that I find President Salovey’s inaugural address (“Our Educational Mission,” November/December) deeply disappointing. Statements like “the present moment of transition arrives at a time of uncertainty” and “some in public office have forgotten the indispensable role of higher education in the pursuit of the American dream” are vague and lack clarity. Calling today “a time of uncertainty” is a vast understatement when we know that Earth’s resources are being depleted, vast numbers of people are risking their lives to escape a doomed existence, and wealth is being concentrated to a level that threatens democracy. Millions, rich and poor, are nervous and fearful. In short, we face a very unstable world.

As part of “unapologetically focusing on our students,” Yale must find better ways to persuade students to be guided by values of responsible citizenship—values that go far beyond goals of financial success, values that broaden understanding. I still look forward to the day when Yale will make humanitarianism a serious subject for study.

Irwin Winsten ’45W
Scarsdale, NY

The president’s new home

Yale University has long benefited from the philanthropy of families like Whitney, Sterling, and Vanderbilt, and the names of campus buildings reflect that. Over the years I have supported the Alumni Fund with at least a token donation, even though my few dollars are a drop in the bucket by comparison. It seemed the right thing to do.

Browsing through my alumni magazine the other day, I learned that Yale had recently renovated the president’s residence for 17 million dollars (Chat, November/December). I recognize that the leader of a prestigious university deserves first-class living quarters, and that he probably does a lot of entertaining, but I find it hard to imagine what must have been done to the building to cost that much. The United States Supreme Court building was constructed in the 1930s for less than 10 million dollars. The Empire State building, 102 stories high, was built for just over 40 million (land included).

After thinking it over, I carefully tore up the check to the Alumni Fund that I had just written. It seemed the right thing to do.

Leight Johnson ’45W
Glen Arm, MD

Mr. Johnson was not the only person to question that figure. In a follow-up blog post in October, we gave provost Ben Polak a chance to explain the price tag, which he said is “comparable to the cost of renovating other similar historic structures on the Yale campus,” including two other houses on Hillhouse Avenue. To read more about how that $17 million is being spent, go to yalealumnimagazine.com/blog_posts/1599.—Eds.

More on honoring donor intent

I think this is my first letter to your magazine, stimulated by what appears to be a disingenuous response by communications director Elizabeth Stauderman to Charles Thomasson’s criticism of redistribution of gifts from one residential college to another (Letters, September/October).

Ms. Stauderman seems to say that because of the designated gifts to some residential colleges, other normal funding was diverted. The net effect is that the designated funds’ intended impact appears to have been significantly compromised. It seems that the donors wanted to benefit their residential colleges, but Yale is playing an accounting game to replace the donors’ intent with administrators’ goals.

The goal of similar experience for students regardless of residential college is understandable, but that end does not justify inappropriate means. Before doing such redistribution, Yale should secure permission from the donor (or a deceased donor’s representative). Prospectively, Yale should clearly disclose such practices in donation agreements. Donors should then be permitted to alter the wording to require that their donation constitute marginal additional funding for their residential college or, if Yale won’t accept such wording, to withhold their donation.

A friend encountered a similar failure with another university. Fortunately, she heeded my advice and moved her endowment to a donor-advised fund at a community foundation. Now, her designated trustees can assure that her wishes are reflected in the use of the money, and can name successor trustees. Donors to Yale and other institutions should consider the community foundation alternative if they feel strongly about how their donation will be used.

Claude Thau ’69
Shawnee Mission, KS

Who was Hendrie?

As a trumpet player in the Yale Precision Marching Band, I used to rehearse in Hendrie Hall, but I was never curious about its namesake until a photograph appeared in your magazine (Campus Clips, November/December) accompanied by the announcement that the building was being renamed the Adams Center for Musical Arts, in honor of donors Stephen Adams ’59 and his wife Denise Adams.

There are several Google citations for John William Hendrie, Class of 1851, in which he is described as a self-made man who grew up on a farm, paid his own way through Yale, worked as a lobsterman and fisherman, taught school, opened a clothing store in San Francisco as Lockwood and Hendrie (which expanded to 30 stores), made a fortune estimated at a million dollars, and retired to his home in Connecticut. He became a major benefactor of Yale, donating over $175,000 in various gifts, including $65,000 towards the construction of the first building for the fledgling Yale Law School—which will continue to bear his name until 2016. There is a stirring In Memoriam by Francis Wayland—the dean of the Law School who solicited Mr. Hendrie’s gift—that can be viewed at digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/fss_papers/3982.

Robert E. Hammond ’65
New Hartford, NY

Happily for Mr. Hendrie and his admirers, the name Hendrie Hall is not going away. Stefanie Parkyn of the School of Music explains that the name Adams Center for Musical Arts will refer to the entire complex created by the addition of a new building connecting Hendrie to Leigh Hall. “Hendrie Hall and Leigh Hall will certainly retain their individual identities and will be referred to as such,” says Parkyn.—Eds.

Casey vs. Brenda

A Campus Clip in your November/December issue gives the address for a document on the web to help us understand what “nonconsensual sex” means. Eight fictional cases are presented. I read them, hoping to get a helpful picture of OK and not-OK behavior. The cases include 16 proper names: Ryo, Casey, Jessie, Vic, Sidney, Harper, Jamie, Cameron, Devin, Ansley, Alexis, Riley, Morgan, Kai, Tyler, and Jordan. Because each of these names can apply to either sex, the “helpful” document was not as helpful as it might have been. Whatever happened to Bill and Tom and Lisa and Brenda?

Eugene Brice ’62PhD
Fort Worth, TX

The ambiguity of the names was quite intentional: the authors of the document (which is available as a PDF at smr.yale.edu/node/16/attachment) explain in their introduction that “the names chosen for the scenarios are gender neutral to reflect the fact that sexual misconduct occurs in all gender configurations.”—Eds.

Pierson’s “slave quarters”

I was interested to read (Chat, November/December) that the Yale Daily News had a story in September about the past use of the term “slave quarters” to refer to a section of dorm rooms in Pierson College. I can confirm that the term was used. My two roommates and I (Class of 1956) lived in Pierson for three years. In those days, it was possible to participate in a lottery each year to choose where you wanted to live the following year. The “slave quarters” were considered preferred living facilities, although I don’t know why, other than the fact that they were tucked away in the back left corner of the Pierson quadrangle and were decorated with attractive wrought iron metal work outside the rooms, à la New Orleans. We thought it would be neat to live there in our senior year and that’s what we requested in the lottery. Much to our surprise, we won! However, in the end, for reasons I don’t recall now, we decided not to move to the “slave quarters” and stayed where we were.

At that time, there was no negative or racial connotation associated with the name itself. Looking back today, though, I do think it was surprising that they were so named.

Phil Goodwin ’56
Orleans, MA

The mother tongue

I sent your article “Why Bad English Isn’t” (July/August) to my third daughter—a graduate of Dickinson College with two master’s degrees, the first from George Mason University in Virginia and the second from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California—who still used horribly incorrect English which I may not correct under pain of mortal sin. Keep using the King’s English in your magazine and in the classroom!

Edward C. Werner ’59
Washington, DC

A word for wordiness

Never did I imagine that I might be making a suggestion about any of your lexicographic or literary comments (“Legal Prose and Verborrhea,” November/December), but here goes: would not the portmanteau word “verborrhea” be better as “logorrhea”?

I do appreciate Fred Shapiro’s quotations column.

Albert R. Jonsen ’67PhD
San Francisco, CA


In our feature about Yale-NUS College (“The Founding,” November/December), we referred to a student organization called The G Spot as a “gay and lesbian group,” but it is not exclusively for students who identify as gay or lesbian. The group’s website describes it as “a community of students from Yale-NUS who promote diversity and inclusivity. We pay particular attention to gender, sexuality, and feminist issues, and are committed to being a safe space for education and activism.”

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