Letters to the Editor

Letters: March/April 2018

Readers reflect on Vincent Scully, professors’ politics, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing.

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Like so many other Yalies, I was very moved by Vincent Scully’s unique ability to teach art while teaching humanity (“In Awe of the Power and Beauty,” January/February). He was, by far, the most impressive teacher I ever had (even though John Blum would be a close second). I took Scully’s classes every year and left Yale with a lifelong appreciation not only of art, but of the effect art has on society, our lives, and history. The wonderful remembrance by Maya Lin was equally moving and a perfect complement to Paul Goldberger’s assessment, “It’s about what kind of society you want to build.”

Porter Bibb ’59
Southampton, NY


One of your authors wrote that Vincent Scully received a standing ovation at the end of every semester. In the year that I attended his course History of Architecture: 1876 to the Present, Professor Scully received a standing ovation not only at the end of the semester but at the end of every lecture. And deservedly so!

Lawrence Escott ’65MIA
New York, NY


Reading about Professor Vincent Scully brought back fond memories. As an undergraduate student in his lecture class, I grew accustomed to his first-rate entertainment while learning the history of art.

From describing a rounded white single-story modern home perched on a grassy green hillside as a “well-grounded spaceship” to explaining a slide of the Spanish Steps in Rome as a beautiful venue where “pretty young women congregated to give joyful, loving attention to their boyfriends, unlike the calculated noncommittance of Vassar girls,” Mr. Scully never disappointed.

I remember during one of his enthusiastic orations he accidentally fell down on the stage and, while lying flat on his back, raised his head to face the students and finish the sentence he began on the way down.

He had empathy with the undergraduate mind. He reveled in the fact that the features shown in the six New Haven movie theaters changed weekly, permitting him to see a different movie every night, with the opportunity to select the best of the six to see a second time on Sunday.

On cold, overcast February mornings, the passion of the delivery of his lectures could stimulate lethargic, hung-over, phlegmatic students into giving a rousing, cheering standing ovation at the conclusion of his class.

He put joie de vivre in academia. Students did not cut his class for missing something. Professor Scully was unique.

Fred Robertshaw ’55
Paradise Valley, AZ


Thank you for the comments on Vincent Scully and for publishing those of others. Whatever else might be said about him, I would not have become an art historian if during my first term at Yale I had not heard his lectures in History of Art 12, some of which I still remember, more than 50 years later. He made art and architecture seem central to human experience.

However, especially since today my wife was working in the archive and library of San Lorenzo in Florence, I feel compelled to note that Professor Scully, not to mention Michelangelo, would have been more than surprised to learn that the Laurentian Library is in Venice, as you reported in your From the Editor column, and not Florence.

Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann ’70, ’70MA 
Princeton, NJ


The Laurentian Library in fact has not budged from its original location in Florence. We regret the error.—Eds.


Good times

Your article about the refurbished Divinity School refectory (“Reclaimed,” January/February) brought back memories of my bursar job, which involved the potentially fatal service of meals to students, faculty, and, in one case, President Brewster, while I was quite contagious with undiagnosed infectious hepatitis. The wonderful care given by attentive nurses in the infirmary down Prospect Street, the many visits by colleagues practicing their pastoral calling, and the upbeat physicians (in spite of Yale’s having to provide the community with several hundred shots of gamma globulin as a precaution), made having to spend 21 days in isolation a blessing. Those low-fat meals weren’t as good as the dining in the refectory, though.

David Sarles ’65Div
Bayville, NY


Football fact-check

I found an error in your football article (“A Football Season to Cheer,” January/February). Back in 2006 Yale shared the Ivy title with Princeton, not Brown. I remember that season well: our senior class got the only win vs. Harvard in Cambridge, and it was an ecstatic moment. Sharing the Ivy title with Princeton was the icing on the championship cake.

Ivan Dremov ’07, ’11MBA
Somerville, MA


Mr. Dremov is correct; it was an editorial error. Sorry, Tigers.—Eds.


Preserve the sound

Gentleman songsters no more, the Whiffenpoofs really are now doomed from here to eternity. The absurd decision by Yale’s two senior a cappella groups to go coed (see page 14) will be remembered as the time when the musical identity of Yale’s most storied singing society was sacrificed at the altar of politics.

For the moment, the Whiffs claim they are committed to remaining a tenor/bass choir. It is hard to imagine that they will remain so for longer than a few years. When some enterprising soprano or alto pens an op-ed in the Yale Daily News claiming that such a policy discriminates against the higher-voiced half of Yale’s student body, the blow struck this week will hit its mark.

Why is the sound of the Whiffenpoofs worth saving? Because the Whiffenpoofs are their sound. They are a living time capsule of a style of singing that barely survives in today’s world of electrified, close-miked pop a cappella. Blending the legacy of nineteenth-century glees with the close harmony of barber shop and vocal jazz, the Whiffs and their imitators have built, over decades, a specific type of vocal blend that is unique and inimitable in other choir formats. That sound—not their ambassadorial world tours or satin-gloved tomfoolery—remains the Whiffs’ greatest asset.

During the decades-long conversation that culminated in this week’s decision, the Whiffs have been cast as an antiquated, impregnable fortress of male privilege at Yale, not as a musical organization with a musical identity. Appeals to preserve the group’s sound have been dismissed as mere distraction tactics to protect the wealth, visibility, and power of the good old boys at Yale. That this silly argument has won the day demonstrates that at today’s Yale, politics conquers all.

John Masko ’14
San Francisco, CA


Politics and professors

Jim Stiver ’62 makes a complaint that has been echoed by many others when he writes that conservative voices have been underrepresented in our colleges and universities (Letters, January/February). I have always been skeptical of this claim. True, there is a group of people who call themselves conservatives and have sometimes been referred to as “movement conservatives.” They have developed an orthodoxy to the extent that often a politician who deviates from their line is criticized as being “not a true conservative.” Are these people really the only people who have opinions which are generally referred to as conservative?

From this comes the idea that every college teacher who does not express conservative opinions is necessarily a liberal. This is far too simplistic when describing the social and political opinions of our college professors. There is a range of opinions on many different issues. On economics there is a range from total free-market capitalism to complete socialism, or various forms of a mixed economy. There is also a range on issues such as abortion rights, from total prohibition to unrestricted choice; crime-and-punishment actions of our police; freedom of speech and media; end-of-life decisions; what to do about global warming, if anything; and many other philosophical issues too numerous to mention.

Then there is the issue of intensity of belief. Many people are apolitical or have only a passing interest in some of these issues. Every university has many different departments or schools. In engineering, physics, or chemistry, political opinions are mainly irrelevant, except perhaps when it comes to government funding. Neither geology nor biology is completely issue-free, largely for religious reasons. The liberal arts and humanities are, of course, open to many opinions. But hardly ever is it true that there are two sides to an issue; there is a wide variety of sides. The claim that universities are too liberal requires a lot of serious research, which would have to begin with clearer definitions of those terms, if that is even possible.

Only in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta can one say that every child is born “either a little liberal or else a little conservative.” Reality is much more complex.

Peter B. Denison ’50
Somerset, MA


No to Kerry

The appointment of John Kerry to its faculty (“Career Change,” July/August) is stark confirmation of Yale’s inexorable, and accelerating, descent into the progressive ooze. Drain the swamp!

William Wright ’51
Ft. Worth, TX


Ads and editorial

A reader complained that an ad in your magazine promoting energy-sector investing is inconsistent with your reporting on Yale’s proactive steps to reduce its carbon footprint (Letters, January/February). The magazines I’ve written for and worked at all maintained a virtual wall between the two departments, to minimize the chance that editorial content might be affected by advertisers.

In more than 50 years, I’ve only heard from the ad department once. After one of my product roundups hit the stand, an ad salesman popped his head over my cubicle wall and asked, “Did you have to trash the one product that was an advertiser?”

Ivan Berger ’61
Fanwood, NJ


The new colleges’ design

Reading the two opposing critiques about the architecture of the new residential colleges (Letters, January/February), my response can be summed up as, “What the hell do you want?”

Science Hill is a jimjam, with Philip Johnson’s high-rise Kline Biology Tower, Paul Rudolph’s modern Greeley Lab building, and various very modern but tasteful labs nearby. And then there is the School of Management’s high-modern Evans Hall, and Saarinen’s hockey rink.

Given all of these precedents, what to do with the new colleges? A melding of faux-classical main campus with modern facilities seemed to me (a non-architect, but a student and practitioner of urban design) an appropriate choice. The towers that a letter-writer thinks clunky are a modest reflection of Yale’s library as it connects to Branford College. But the details of the colleges and the plazas and open spaces are necessary repeats of the models the main campus provides. What better solution can you imagine?

Konrad Perlman ’60MCP
Washington, DC



Our article about a Yale study on the effects of volcanic eruptions in ancient Egypt (“Climate Change and the Pharoahs,” January/February) did not mention where the study was published. It appeared in the October 17 issue of Nature Communications.

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