Letters to the Editor

Pulling out all the stops 

Readers talk back about Yale’s first African American grad, canine cognition, the cost of tuition, and more.

Matthew Guerrieri’s article on organist Paul Jacobs (“The Radical Virtuoso,” May/June) was well-voiced, well-organized, informational to just the extent needed, and truly inspirational. It made me want to do four things: put on some organ music, buy some Paul Jacobs recordings, take in the organ concerts this summer, and go back to taking organ lessons. Well done, to both of them! You all do your jobs very well.

Langston Snodgrass ’63
Lewiston, ME


At last! An article of genuine academic, intellectual, and spiritual importance: Matthew Guerrieri’s “The Radical Virtuoso.” Everyone should read this. And here’s hoping we get more like it!

Edward Rossmann ’55
Aurora, NY


Thanks for the stunning article about organist Paul Jacobs. It was so well written that I was moved to buy Matthew Guerrieri’s book on Beethoven’s Fifth. I also purchased Jacobs’s recording of Messiaen’s Livre de Saint-Sacrement to complete my Messiaen library. But most of all, I read with real appreciation Jacobs’s radical recommendation, Joseph Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture. As a retired professor of worship, I regretted that I had not known of it earlier, or I would have required it of my seminary students.

Seldom has any single magazine article contributed so much to my enjoyment and edification. Thanks for providing such rich and provocative articles. I have become a devoted reader of the magazine and believe it consistently provides material of literary merit.

Meredith B. Handspicker ’57BD, ’66PhD
North Bennington, VT


I am not a Yale graduate, but my wife (Anne Gurian Dangerfield ’80) is, and I read the magazine. I’m writing to praise Matthew Guerrieri’s article for its unapologetic high-mindedness, a quality sadly rare in the several alumni magazines I am familiar with. Though I have not yet had the good fortune to hear Paul Jacobs, the subject of the article, play the organ, I have long been in the habit of seeking out organ performances for the combination of exaltation and repose that Mr. Guerrieri evokes so well.

Anthony Dangerfield
Medford, MA


Who was first? Who cares?

The cover story for the May/June issue (“Who Was the First African American Student at Yale?”) was an embarrassment. It is well known that Yale has a history of discrimination against blacks and Jews in the admissions process. It now appears that Yale is going out of its way to demonstrate just how many blacks and Jews actually were admitted, much to everyone’s surprise. In fact, someone thought to be Jewish was actually also black as well. Points for Yale.

We now know beyond a doubt that there is no biological basis to race; it is a social construct. As when states had different laws against intermarriage, how much black blood one had based on ancestry varied from state to state so one could change race geographically.

How black, for example, was Moses Simons? Since Judaism is matrilineal, if his mother wasn’t Jewish, then Simons would not have been the first Jewish graduate. Was he black instead of Jewish? Does skin color replace a religion? Is Jewish a race? I wonder what makes it so very important to rewrite Yale’s history based on ever-changing social constructs.

If every student completed the genographic project, we would find that each one has roots in East Africa. Based on that information, we can say that 100 percent of students ever admitted to Yale are of African ancestry. So the very first graduate of Yale would be the first black graduate.

Clearly, this is an issue worth discussing in a broader venue than the alumni magazine. I’m sure Yale has experts on the subject among the faculty, students, and/or alumni. Perhaps it would be worth a conference with Yale historians, anthropologists, and other scientists who would be very interested in such a discussion in a more scholarly fashion that might actually inform the policies and views of the university. I would certainly be interested.

Joan Edelstein ’75MSN
Oakland, CA

To be fair, Yale is not “going out of its way,” as Yale did not discover and, to the best of our knowledge, has not publicized the existence of any of these men. (The choice to commission and publish the article was the Yale Alumni Magazine’s, and we are a separate nonprofit not run by the university.) We’d also question whether the men’s existence affects Yale’s history of discrimination, given that they were all admitted more than a century after Yale’s founding. Finally, for the record, we made no claim and would never claim that Judaism is a race.—Eds.


The article “What Do We Mean By ‘First’?” refers to “arbitrary racial labels” and asks “about just what we want to commemorate when we identify a racial ‘first.’” After two columns of speculation about various students and their lineage, among them Jewish, African American, and “colored,” and about a “white wife” and a “black great-grandfather,” you fail to answer your own question. What do we really want to commemorate? That some people are darker than others, that some people can be black and Jewish, that people’s complexions differ, that some people ignore color and others don’t? Do we really need a hundred years of scholarly research and verbiage to arrive at these astounding conclusions? That some writers wish to expend time and money on this nonsense is not a reason for others to find it worthy of publication.

The navel nitpicking of the researchers results in absurd suppositions (“very likely because of discrimination”) and contradictions, as seen in the letter you quoted from Cornelius Van Rensselaer Creed to Frederick Douglass: “Both in college and out of its walls, the truth compels me to say, that I never experienced any other than the most polite treatment from my fellow class-mates.” It behooves me to reluctantly say that it sounds as though the writers must be sorry to read an authentic experience attesting to the innate fairness of American people, so eager are they to characterize us negatively.

Anna M. Boulden ’62
Johns Island, SC


Your obsession with race is unbecoming, absurd, endlessly tiresome, and—strange to say—racist. With this article you are in effect saying, “Wow, a black guy was smart enough to get into Yale in 1857.” My answer is, “Who cares?” As long as you are going to parse minorities for thrills, how about telling us when the first left-handed albino ever got into Yale?

John Barchilon ’65MD
Thousand Oaks, CA


Med school then and now

I read with great interest Dr. Jenny Blair’s article (“Med School with Less Pain,” May/June), particularly regarding the “new curriculum” proposed by Dr. Belitsky compressing the basic sciences into a year and a half. I began at Yale Med in 1968, which was the start of a very similar “new curriculum.” It also required a clinical experience the first summer. Many of my classmates spent an elective with the Native Americans out west, which stimulated me to ultimately spend two years as a medical officer with the Pima Indians. I guess what goes around comes around.

Jesse Jupiter ’72MD
Weston, MA


Yale’s sticker price

I wonder if other alums are floored by the thought that four years at Yale College cost as much as a decent house in much of the country (Campus Clips, May/June). The fact that half of the families are paying full tuition ($59,800 for 2014–15) suggests to me a strong socioeconomic shift in the direction of wealth. I know that our university is in step with others of its class with respect to charges, but I can’t help wondering if the mission of pursuing excellence is put in jeopardy. A lot of very bright and creative youngsters will choose not to apply.

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


Dog research is for the birds

If anyone wants to know why Yale is not one of my favorite charities, an NBC-TV news item yesterday about the university’s Canine Cognition Center (“Putting Fido on the Couch,” March/April) might help answer the question. What did it cost? What does it cost? What’s next? Felines? Donkeys? Earthworms? Seems like monkey business to me.

John Geismar ’51
Sydney, Australia


Supplying the atom smasher

The news of the removal of the particle accelerator (“Atom Smasher Yields to New Era in Physics,” May/June) brought back memories. As a physical plant manager at Yale during the revolutionary 1960s and ’70s, I, like all the management personnel, worked around the clock to keep the university going during strikes and other upheavals. Some of us with the appropriate operators’ licenses and experience were tasked—besides our regular duties—with bringing oil to the power plant in 18-wheelers, as well as liquid nitrogen to the labs in smaller, albeit heavier special trucks.

I would meet the liquid nitrogen truck in North Haven late at night and take it in to the campus while the Teamster driver waited for my return at the Howard Johnson’s. The Teamsters, while certainly unwilling to cross Local 34’s picket lines, had some obscure philosophical issues with that union and its leadership and did not hesitate to train us in the operation of the liquid nitrogen trucks, including the unloading of the cargo, which was a rather delicate process.

One of the labs contained the particle accelerator on Whitney Avenue. The machine somehow always reminded me of a monstrous thermos bottle.

Peter H. Tveskov ’56E
Branford, CT


The electroshock era

Thank you for the tribute to my late Yale medical school classmate Sherwin Nuland (“A Life in Medicine and Prose,” May/June). His was indeed a life well lived. The article states that in his early forties (presumably about 1970–75), Dr. Nuland was treated for severe depression with “a newfangled treatment, electroshock therapy” (ECT). For the record, allow me, as a Yale-trained psychiatrist, to advise you that, according to Wikipedia, ECT “was first introduced in 1938… and gained widespread popularity among psychiatrists as a form of treatment in the 1940s and 1950s.” Not so “newfangled” after all!

David R. Kessler ’55MD
San Francisco, CA

In our print edition, we mistakenly identified Dr. Kessler as the former dean of the Yale School of Medicine; that is a different David Kessler. We regret the error.—Eds.


Decrowding the colleges

I am delighted at the news of the construction of two new residential colleges, and warmed by the generosity of Charles Johnson (“$250 Million Donation for College Expansion,” November/December). Although I admire the wish to increase the enrollment to keep pace with the growth in population, don’t we have a responsibility to relieve the overcrowding in the residential colleges before adding new students?

I was appalled to see my daughter, as a freshman in Wright Hall, crammed with three other people in a suite designed for two. (It was already crowded at three persons to a suite when I lived in Wright as a freshman 35 years earlier.) Two desks, two beds, and one small closet were squeezed into a bedroom sized for one. The cramped undergraduate housing conditions drag down the elegance and dignity of the university as a whole. Further, the one-star housing conditions make me grumpy when I consider the five-star cost of tuition, room, and board.

I would suggest that half, and perhaps all, of the increase in the number of rooms be used to take the colleges back to the one-student-per-bedroom level at which they were originally designed and implemented. The Yale residential colleges can be, once again, beautiful places to live and as well to study.

John S. Smolowe ’68, ’72MD
Menlo Park, CA

See “Construction to Start on New Colleges” for more news on the new residential colleges.—Eds.


Trouble aboard the Yale

Regarding the SS Elihu Yale (From the Editor, January/February): a cousin, John J. Affleck, completed his NROTC training at Harvard. On commission as an ensign in the US Naval Reserve, he was assigned to the SS Elihu Yale as gunnery officer.

At Anzio, where the ship was delivering supplies to the Allied forces, Jack was in his cabin writing to tell me about a number of foreign stamps he had collected to send me. He knew his 13-year-old cousin, an avid stamp collector, would appreciate these additions to his collection. Suddenly he heard a thud, then emergency signals. German bombers had targeted the Elihu Yale. As Jack later wrote to me, he grabbed his tin hat and dove overboard.

I never received the stamps.

Robert J. Quinlan ’52
Madison, CT


Old Yale lives

It is heartwarming to know that Old Yale—a Yale where the privileged send their children “to have cultural polish in addition to the money or whatever else is given to the next generation”—is hilariously alive and well in the letter of William McGaughey (Letters, May/June). Cue the Whiffs for a chorus of “Mother of Men.” It seems not to occur to Mr. McGaughey that parental wealth (while understated) is perhaps foremost among the admissions “special preferences” he so deplores. The attempt to dress up this nonsense with a reference to “the Chinese mandarin system” serves only to underscore the obliviousness of the writer’s argument.

Peter McRobbie ’65
South Orange, NJ

We should note that Yale practices need-blind admissions.—Eds.


Sound teaching

After reading your article about Professor Meg Urry (“Astronomy and Gender Politics,” March/April), I want to share how Meg’s influence also extends into the classrooms of New Haven’s public schools.

I teach physics at Metropolitan Business Academy, a public magnet school in New Haven. In the fall of 2012, Meg and I first spoke about how the teaching of physics traditionally consists of a lecture, problem set, and test. We thought we could create a more authentic and engaging way of teaching physics that more accurately reflects the work of a physicist. So Meg connected me with a team of dedicated Yale physics students and instructors, and provided us with funding to create an engineering challenge for my students: design and build speakers from scratch using cardboard, styrofoam, magnets, wire, and various office supplies. Thirteen Yale students came into my classroom and volunteered over 25 hours of their time to help my high school students build their speakers.

Meg, thank you for your commitment to diversity, and providing our students in New Haven with rich and authentic learning experiences.

Daniel Silverman ’09, ’11MA
New Haven, CT


Another Voynich theory

I was intrigued by the story of the Voynich Manuscript (“The Voynich Mystery,” May/June). Upon researching the book, its possible origin, and its daunting script, I recognized the alphabet as possibly Urdu, Lao, or Thai. Upon delving deeper via Google, I discovered the work of a scholar who claimed a breakthrough recently and determines that the language is Landa Khojki belonging to the northeastern Sindh region, now a part of Pakistan. I was struck by the fact that apparently many cryptologists, code breakers, and renowned scholars of linguistics overlooked the Indic script as a clue to deciphering the manuscript. Anyone interested in such arcana should Google Landa Khojki scripts or the scholar, Mr. Sukhwant Singh.

Harley S. Baretz ’55
Freehold, NJ

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