Letters to the Editor

Women, men, and academia

Readers talk back about female faculty, admissions, Robert Moses, and more.

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Meg Urry (“Astronomy and Gender Politics,” March/April) arrived at Yale during my senior year, much lauded by the astrophysicists with whom I was taking classes. I love the sciences and still read physics textbooks for fun, but ultimately I went in a different direction. After I graduated I chose to earn a doctorate in art history. I did not choose art history because it was more “feminine” or “easier” than the sciences. I just liked it.

Earning that PhD was challenging, even painful at times. Yes, I did witness men receiving preferential treatment, and yes, there were many more male professors than female ones. So while I congratulate and admire Dr. Urry for her spectacular career, I ask: is a doctorate in a science more of an achievement than a doctorate in the humanities? Couldn’t we have had a nod to those of us in the humanities who face plenty of the same issues?

Lauren Murray Kinnee ’02
Midland, MI

In addition to the article “Astronomy and Gender Politics,” there are several other mentions in the March/April issue of discrimination against women in Yale faculty positions. Professor Meg Urry makes the good point that a diversity of viewpoints produces better science. The chart accompanying the article about her shows that there are no tenured male faculty in the Yale School of Nursing. It would seem that there might be much more need for the diversity of a male viewpoint in nursing, where a huge proportion of the patients are male. Perhaps the Yale Alumni Magazine will run an article on the history of gender bias in the nursing school.

Fred Graf ’70
Concord, NH


World War II stories

I read, with pleasure, From the Editor—on the SS Elihu Yale—in the January/February edition, in which you asked for World War II stories. My uncle Taras Hallas attended Yale after serving for the duration of WWII in the South Pacific theater. He had graduated from high school in 1934 and served two stints in the Civilian Conservation Corps before becoming a naval radio operator. He was stationed at Ford Island Naval Air Station, Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941. His squadron was virtually wiped out in the first 15 minutes but was reconstituted and played a major role in the Battle of Midway. He and his squadron jumped all across the Pacific in support of the US Marines. When I researched his service for a family book I was amazed that he made it back.

The day before his discharge from the Navy (and from the hospital where he was recovering from bleeding ulcers) he was apparently struck by an article in Reader’s Digest. The article was written by a Yale professor and discussed at some length a newly created Yale program for returning GIs and the newly signed GI Bill. Yale had decided to create a special program to encourage returning servicemen to get a college degree.

The day after he was discharged, Taras took a train to New Haven and looked up the professor who had written the article. In essence, he talked his way into the program and being admitted by Yale. He graduated in three years with a degree in economics and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He was a classmate of former president George H. W. Bush ’48.

Hank Hallas ’63
Richmond, NH


In the fall of 1980, my husband (Kim Woodle [’86PhD], then a grad student in physics) and I had been married a year when his parents came to visit us in New Haven. We went on a campus tour, and when the guide brought the group to Payne Whitney Gymnasium, he explained that it was the largest gymnasium in the free world. It seems the guides were claiming it was the largest gymnasium in the world until they were corrected by a recent tour participant who informed them the Soviets had a larger gym somewhere.

As we stood there, my father-in-law told us he had taken his army swim test in that gym. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps and, I suppose because he was nearby, received his basic training at Yale. He took his swim test at Payne Whitney gym and later served as a first lieutenant with the 500th Bombardment Group in the Pacific, earning a Distinguished Flying Cross. As far as we know, he never had to swim as part of his duties, but if he’d had to, he’d proven in the waters of Payne Whitney that he could.

Joanne Downs
Bellport, NY


What kind of transparency?

On page 40 of your March/April issue there is an article titled “Corporate Transparency,” about the School of Management (SOM)’s innovative use of glass construction to produce light and transparency. Alas, on page 19 there is an article (“Professor Sues SOM for Gender Discrimination”) describing a lawsuit directed at SOM. The closing paragraph says that the university declined to provide copies of internal reports related to the allegation. May we conclude that in the world of the SOM, “corporate transparency” is just an architectural concept?

Earl Hunt ’60PhD
Bellevue, WA


Questions about Quinn

Regarding your interview with D. Michael Quinn (“Excommunicated,” March/April): there are already enough outlets for lazy anti-Mormon condescension without the Yale Alumni Magazine. How many layers of open prejudice are revealed by the question, “Can Mormon scholars do good work?” Quinn gave generous and charitable answers, yet other issues also surround the story, including the shadow of the Salamander Letter folk magic forgery. This interview was ill-conceived for a one-page format and written as if Mormons were space aliens. Your brand of elitist snobbery manifested towards small groups, including Native Americans, people from Oklahoma and Arkansas, and poor students, has bothered me since I was a freshman.

Mark Choate ’94, ’02PhD
Provo, UT


I am writing to object to the ink and prominent position to an interview with D. Michael Quinn about his ejection from the Mormon Church 20 years ago. Although I am a Presbyterian rather than LDS, this is not an anti-Mormon comment. I began 55 years of studying and writing the Latter-day Saints’ history in 1958 in Howard Lamar’s frontier history course at Yale, and in 2010–11, I was president of the Mormon History Association. But I am questioning what this story has to do with our university, especially in light of the Statement of Purpose as set forth atop your magazine’s masthead. Wholly independent of Yale, I have known Mike Quinn and empathized with the story of his travails for decades. Perhaps you need to clarify the purpose of the “Where They Are Now” feature.

William P. MacKinnon ’60
Santa Barbara, CA

In addition to reporting on the university, it is part of our mission to tell compelling stories about alumni in their lives after Yale. The quotations from our Statement of Purpose on our masthead and on the opening page of our Letters section have until now only reflected the part of our mission that relates to reporting on Yale. (We’ve changed that in this issue, thanks to Mr. MacKinnon.) The full Statement of Purpose calls for the magazine to “record news of the alumni, providing them with a continued sense of belonging to the University and with opportunities to communicate with each other.” (To read the entire Statement of Purpose, go to yalealumnimagazine.com/about-us.) “Where They Are Now,” our Alumni Notes, and many of our feature articles reflect that part of our mission.—Eds.


The world according to Moses

I enjoyed Judith Schiff’s nostalgic description of the 1939 World’s Fair (“Robert Moses and the World’s Fair,” March/April), yet another example of the way she brings the rich history of Yale to life. When I started my career in New York City in 1965, I became acquainted with the significant and enduring work of Robert Moses, and I have learned more about him over the years. One of my sources was a novel by David Gelernter ’76, ’77MA, a renowned computer science professor at Yale, entitled 1939: The Lost World of the Fair. Gelernter’s novel captures Moses’s vital role in the fair, but it also establishes how the fair was a tipping point in the evolution of twentieth-century society and technology.

Anthony M. Lavely ’64
Atlanta, GA


I couldn’t help but wonder why “Robert Moses and the World’s Fair” omits any mention of The Power Broker—Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize–winning biography of Moses. Was it because the article’s characterization of Moses is very different from the one offered by Caro, who has described Moses as “the most racist individual in public life that I have ever met” who “had an absolute contempt for human beings”?

Or perhaps it was simply that Caro went to Princeton.

Nick Kessler ’96
Richmond, VA


The article about Robert Moses brought to mind my experience meeting the master builder of New York City in 1977, just three years before his death. A group of us taking a course with Professor Douglas Yates in the Study of the City major had just finished reading Robert Caro’s monumental biography of Moses, which is one-sided in its criticism of his career. We wanted to get the other side of the story and wrote Moses a letter asking for an audience.

Remarkably, we were invited to the bunker under the Triborough Bridge where Moses, then a “consultant,” was ensconced. Mr. Moses’s handlers led us into a conference room where a model of the great man’s last project, a bridge across Long Island Sound, was displayed. Finally, a wizened old man, hunched over in his wheelchair, was pushed into the conference room. That was the once-powerful Mr. Moses, and we all wondered if there was any life left in what appeared to be only a shell of a man.

Like frisky cubs pestering an aged lion, we peppered Mr. Moses with questions: why not an expansion of the subway system in tandem with the new bridges you built? Why not new rail lines for moving freight in the city? The withered man came to life with these challenges. The old spark in him reignited, and I’ll never forget him pounding the arm of his wheelchair proclaiming “Rubber over rails! Rubber over rails!” That was his way of saying that cars and trucks would be the only way of moving people and goods. He has since been proven wrong, but I will always admire the passion I saw him exhibit that day.

Dana Gumb ’77
Bayside, NY


Robert Moses was largely responsible for the relocation of the Brooklyn Dodgers to Los Angeles. Walter O’Malley, owner of the Dodgers, wanted to build a new stadium on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Moses insisted on Flushing Meadows in Queens. Neither man backed down, so the Dodgers packed up and moved to Los Angeles. It was a great loss for the city of New York.

The “master builder” destroyed a large part of the Bronx in order to build the Cross Bronx Expressway. His attempt to build a highway through lower Manhattan inspired Jane Jacobs to write the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities and begin the city revival movement. The highway plan was defeated.

Moses, who was born in New Haven, no doubt had an influence on Richard C. Lee, who proceeded to tear down a large part of New Haven—including much that did not deserve to be demolished—and construct the poorly conceived Route 34 highway connector.

Was Moses a “master builder” or “master destroyer”? I argue for the latter. Moses may have been an expert at building highways, but he had little appreciation for the the things that make cities special.

Edward J. Bayer ’76
New Orleans, LA


I recall hearing Robert Moses speak informally at Yale in 1960 or ’61. At the time, I was a recent civil engineering student from a Midwestern college, enrolled in a then-offered two-year postgraduate program combining Yale’s Bureau of Highway Traffic (located in Strathcona Hall), which granted a “certificate’’ for completion of its traffic engineering curriculum, and the Master of City Planning degree offered in the School of Art and Architecture.

In the late 1950s, Moses was held in high regard by the “highway people” because of his accomplishments in building highways, parkways, and bridges in the New York City region. Conversely, he was held in low regard by some urban planners and others who despised his tendency to route his highway alignments through lower-income neighborhoods, forcing relocation of thousands of people who had the fewest resources and limited choices in finding new places to live. He was also criticized for, allegedly, building low-height-limit bridges on parkways leading to his Jones Beach State Park project on Long Island, so that lower-income city residents, many bus-dependent and without cars, would not be able to get to the beaches by bus.

We students in the combined traffic/urban planning program, many of whom were employed by local or state highway agencies, were encouraged to attend the Moses talk and hear “from the master’s lips” his response to these and other views about his career. Ms. Schiff’s article brought back pleasant memories of my two years on the Yale campus (a time when I met my future wife), and the variety of viewpoints that was a hallmark of Yale education.

Edward Daniel ’61
Rockville, MD


More on admissions

I have read with some considerable interest and acute disappointment the two articles in your January/February issue (“Wanted: Smart Students from Poor Families” and “Grand Goals, Hard Choices”) about Yale College’s attempts to create a more economically diverse student body. I was personally involved with two different efforts by elite and academically competitive institutions to diversify their student enrollments.

In 1965, I joined the staff of A Better Chance (ABC), which had been established the year before to assist a large group of mostly independent boarding schools to recruit academically talented students from low-income families (mostly minority). ABC continues to serve talented minority students by arranging for their enrollment in some of our nation’s most challenging and competitive secondary schools.

In 1967, I left ABC briefly to take a position with the Cooperative Program for Educational Opportunity. CPEO was based in New Haven and administratively was a part of Yale, but it served the same function as ABC except it recruited its students for a consortium of Ivy League and Seven Sister colleges and universities. I stayed at CPEO for less than a year because I was asked to return to ABC as its president, a position I held for eight years.

My point in sharing my personal history is to suggest that, when elite institutions decide to make a commitment to a cause, they can generally find a way to fulfill that commitment. Yale is 15th among a group of 18 similarly competitive institutions in enrolling poor, minority students because it simply hasn’t made the commitment to do better.

William D. Berkeley ’53
Asheville, NC


David Zax’s excellent article explains why diversity in all its manifestations (gender, genetic, geographic, and economic) is important both for Yale and the nation. One need only look at what earlier “scholarship boys” (and now also thankfully “scholarship girls”) have accomplished to realize why such a policy is productive. I have only two criticisms of the article.

First, I object to the use of “elite” as a pejorative noun and “elitist” as a pejorative adjective. All Yale students should be elite in the sense of being highly intelligent, motivated, and gifted scholars, and ultimately as profoundly productive members of society. Anthony Marx is correct: we all should be against Yale or any other organization coddling the merely privileged. But we should keep in mind that the fundamental mission of Yale is to cultivate and reward the intellectually elite, whether from farms, ghettos, suburbs, or cities.

Second, the use of statistics to make a point should always be used cautiously and only after analyzing their meaning. For example, the article laments that “of the poor, smart kids who applied to elite schools in the Hoxby-Avery database, a mere 21 percent lived outside an urban area.” This fact is neither surprising nor instructive given that exactly 21 percent of the nation’s children attend high schools in rural areas (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007; Status of Education in Rural America).

A sheep ranch–raised alumnus myself, I certainly applaud Yale’s expanded search for diversity, and I look forward to reports on the university’s progress in our alumni magazine.

James Luce ’66
Los Altos, CA


The Yale admissions office can do whatever it wants, but there are dangers in striving to create an education-based meritocracy that gives special considerations to applicants disadvantaged by class or race. First, the admissions process is a zero-sum game. In giving special preferences to some types of applicants, you take away opportunities for others to the same degree. Is it better to have a consistent set of standards in admitting students or for the admissions office to intervene with its own, sometimes quirky criteria? The spotlight will be upon the favored applicants while the disfavored ones will simply be forgotten. That is unfair.

Second, there is a danger of degrading the Yale “brand” over the long term. Like it or not, multigenerational social advancement has been the name of the game in US higher education for more than a century. Where the nouveau riche used to marry their progeny to aristocrats, they now send them to elite colleges. The strength of the college system is a thriving middle or upper-middle class (often distinguished by wealth) that has social ambitions. They want their children to have cultural polish in addition to the money or whatever else is given the next generation. That is the US model of socioeconomic advancement.

I think Yale will be making a mistake if it sees itself as arbiter of an education-based “meritocracy.” Such meritocracies reached their peak in the Chinese mandarin system. True meritocracy is not education-based. It is what people are able to achieve in various ways in a variety of pursuits.

William McGaughey ’64
Minneapolis, MN


If the “low-hanging fruit” analogy on your January/February cover is correct, then what farmer wouldn’t want to harvest those harder-to-reach fruits, the good ones up high that ripened intact despite increased exposure to flying predators and lousy weather? Among all the professional fruit pickers I know here in rural California, not one would recommend doing anything less than taking every good specimen from every tree.

The simple fact is that only Yale has the ability to identify these Yale-worthy non-applicants and the power to turn them into future Yale graduates. Nor would it be difficult to have grateful alums like me reach out to those individuals on behalf of Yale. Without special training, I already interview about a handful of applicants each year, many of whom ask important questions like “Would I be happy at Yale?” and “Who would pay for what costs?” Surely there are others like me who would be happy to help recruit some excellent candidates that Yale is actively interested in admitting. No taboos to shatter, no dusty roads to comb. (But should it really come to that, please stop by on my dusty road for a cold beer and some loaner rakes.) If Yale really wants these folks, the effort and commitment must come from Yale itself.

Vlasta Maric ’89
Nevada City, NV


Elm City entrepreneurs

I was pleased to read the interview with President Peter Salovey (“Resource Analysis,” March/April). I applaud and am encouraged by his advocacy of urging young Yale entrepreneurs to remain and create jobs here in New Haven.

It should be noted, however, that many established local businesses have in fact long espoused these same principles and, as such, have positively contributed in their own right to the growth, vibrancy, and dynamism that downtown New Haven’s economy now enjoys. While the interview cites a number of recent business successes, one should acknowledge those businesses that were established in less desirable economic environments and that have thrived.

Bill Chilton, my business partner, and I established our architectural design business, Pickard Chilton, in downtown New Haven for exactly the reasons cited by President Salovey. We have been able to attract many of the architecture school’s graduates to stay in New Haven to take advantage of the deep resources available throughout the greater New Haven community.

We are quite proud of our successes as we have grown into an internationally renowned firm of some 50 professionals. Working solely from our studio in New Haven, we are currently designing state-of-the-art and environmentally responsible developments in 16 cities globally for such Fortune 500 companies as ExxonMobil, Northwestern Mutual, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, and Eaton Corporation.

As we look forward to our sustained growth and continued success in downtown New Haven, we wholeheartedly wish the same for President Salovey’s efforts in attracting and keeping Yale’s young entrepreneurs.

Jon Pickard ’79MArch
Guilford, CT


The fossil fuel debate

I note that the undergraduates approved a referendum to request that Yale divest its endowment from those fossil fuel companies contributing the most to climate change (Light and Verity, January/February). The students obviously have a very idealistic view of the world, but maybe they would become more realistic if they were given the opportunity to live in the cold and dark for a while. Oh, and also limit their transportation mode to only walking or bicycles.

William Dickinson ’56
Santa Ana, CA


You note that in an undergraduate referendum last November, between a third and a half of the student body voted that “Yale should divest its endowment from those fossil fuel companies contributing the most to climate change and associated social harms.” Would Yale students consider pledging to drive fuel-efficient cars, live in small houses and apartments, and limit their travel by air? I am not suggesting becoming eremites or moving to the twenty-first-century version of Walden Pond. But somehow it is necessary to change how we all live, in the same way that over the past 50 years changing public perceptions—supported by taxes and government mandated warnings—reduced cigarette smoking.

Do Yale students—some Yale students, anyway—support a carbon tax? Reducing reliance on fossil fuels in a free market economy cannot happen on a large scale without a price increase. Our dependence on fossil fuels for the ordinary activities of life is too great. Rationing of fuel seems unlikely. Most European countries tax fossil fuels far more heavily than the United States, which is one reason that European automobiles and houses are far smaller than ours, on average. Are there Yale students working on developing policies that would return to society tax revenues thus generated, to prevent such taxes from being overly regressive?

I could not help noticing that the same issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine that reported the student vote included on its back cover a full-page advertisement for an expensive sports car. There was no reference to miles per gallon. Just as cigarette advertisements must contain information about nicotine content, should not automobile advertisements contain information about fuel efficiency? Perhaps the magazine would consider developing such a policy. Some future alumni apparently care.

Eli Nathans ’80
Ann Arbor, MI


I have to believe that the referendum on fossil fuel companies was an easy but unthinking way for these students to express their concerns about climate change (which I share). However, if one thinks about it, it should be obvious that we the consumers—including the Yale students—are the ones who spew the carbon dioxide into the air. And, for the most part, we do this voluntarily. The fossil fuel companies just provide us with the means. If the fossil fuel companies are ethically deficient, so are we.

It follows then that, if for ethical reasons the university divests its financial portfolio of fossil fuel providers, it also should divest its student body of its fossil fuel burners. To do otherwise would obviously be ethically inconsistent.

Nick Tingley ’57
Greenwich, CT


I have been in the oil and gas industry for over six decades. I have been a professional landman in the exploration and producing part of the industry. I would bet that not very many of the undergrads have ever heard of my profession. In a nutshell, we are the businessmen of this part of the industry.

I would suggest that the undergrads invite experts from the Independent Petroleum Association of America to give them a presentation that will inform them of just how the oil and natural gas companies operate. They could learn how important tax breaks are for the preservation of the industry and therefore of our economy. It would be an eye-opener for them because I’m sure most, if not all, have never visited an offshore or onshore rig to see how sophisticated they are. They have never lived next door to or associated with any of the millions of people employed directly or indirectly by the industry. If they had, they wouldn’t have voted as they did. Nor do they know that almost 90 percent of the wells drilled in the United States are done by Little Oil and not by the few integrated companies called Big Oil.

Wayne Blankenship Jr. ’47
Kenner, LA



In our article about physics professor Meg Urry (“Astronomy and Gender Politics,” March/April), we reported incorrectly that Urry was Yale’s first tenured woman physicist. In fact, Karin Rabe, a physicist now at Rutgers, was tenured in 1995 by the Department of Applied Physics and was given a joint appointment in the Department of Physics, six years before Urry became the first professor tenured by the Department of Physics.

Because of an editing error, our Findings article about the 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking (“What the Surgeon General Did,” March/April) misstated the estimated effect on US life expectancy of the report and subsequent tobacco-control measures. A Yale study estimated that those measures were responsible for 30 percent of the increase in US life expectancy since 1964—not that the measures increased life expectancy by 30 percent.

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