Letters to the Editor

Letters: November/December 2018

Readers talk back about student jobs, Brett Kavanaugh, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; 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.

In my view, it would be hard to overstate the importance of explaining one’s work succinctly, as graduate students were required to do in the competition you described (“The Three-Minute Thesis,” September/October). Years ago, when I was a grad student in applied math, people quizzed me about my doctoral thesis all the time. My typical response reinforced certain negative stereotypes: I looked at my shoes, mumbled, and radiated embarrassment. These exchanges rarely led to second dates.

I soon realized that preparing a jargon-free summary of my work that included practical benefits (earthquake prediction, in my case)—essentially the three-minute thesis—was a good idea. But I found I needed to rethink everything I thought I knew, because it turned out I didn’t fully understand what I was doing. With this new awareness, I was able to better express my goals clearly and speed up my research. I learned that composing ever simpler summaries of advanced work makes further research and innovation that much easier, and this insight has served me well in everything I’ve done since then.

My friends back then seemed really pleased to understand what I was spending all my time on. But alas, second dates became no easier.

Alan Hoenig ’71
Carlsbad, CA 


Working students

I am writing with respect to the discussion of the student financial aid policy set forth in the last issue (“Student Group Questions Financial Aid Policy,” September/October). As students on financial aid work an average of five hours per week, I think the college should adopt a formal policy that requires non-scholarship students to spend not less than the same five hours weekly in socially beneficial activities. These students would perform unpaid work such as tutoring schoolchildren, participating in big brother–big sister programs, assisting the homeless, serving in soup kitchens, and the like.

A large number of students already do this. For those who don’t, it would become an important and memorable part of their Yale experience. As a freshman in 1951, I worked as a volunteer orderly at New Haven Hospital through a Hillel program. It was not only productive and enlightening but also a constant reminder of how lucky and privileged I was to be at Yale.

Joel Freedman ’55
Stamford, CT


At the risk of “micro-aggression” toward Students United Now (SUN) and its key position, my voluntary bursary job was exhilarating, not demeaning. It provided this American studies major unparalleled access to Yale’s Mabel Brady Garvan Collection of American Decorative Arts. But in fairness, to advance Yale’s social-leveling mission, SUN might better occupy itself promoting an equalization formula of cash credits or surcharges based on family income and assets.

Dan Church ’68
Bethlehem, PA


It is distressing that intelligent, extremely fortunate applicants accepted for scholarship aid show gratitude by protesting the requirement that they contribute financially to their own education, with an illegal trespass resulting in the arrest of around two dozen students.

In the late 1940s, students—some World War II veterans—earned tuition and spending money waiting on campus dining room tables, managing student agencies, typing, tutoring, etc., and cleaning professors’ yards on football weekends. Only scholarship students got bursary jobs. Compared with more affluent students, the extracurricular aspect suffered. Were we to have occupied the dean’s office and been arrested, jail and expulsion would ensue. Why should it be different today?

Requiring parents of means to contribute to the education of children of the less affluent, like all redistribution endeavors, never satisfies recipients. Envy and grievance are growth industries. The entitlement attitude is the problem; maybe this explains speech codes, left-wing political attitudes, and intolerance over slavery issues requiring buildings to be renamed.

Alphonse I. Johnson ’53E
Lisbon, IL


Yale and Kavanaugh

You should address the editorial decision to feature Brett Kavanaugh in the magazine with a light hearted “fun” blurb about his Yale affiliation (“Another Yalie on SCOTUS?” September/October), despite his conservative reputation of limiting access to women’s reproductive health (which if law of the land, would severely impede women’s abilities to even be part of the Yale community) and now the credible sexual assault allegations against him. Given that he likely committed sexual assault when he was 17 and in high school, and that he continued his reputation for disrespecting women by joining DKE as a Yale College student, I am fairly confident he was not an ally to women during his time on Yale’s campus as an undergrad or law student, just as he is not an ally now.

Celebrating prestigious degrees and nominations while ignoring a history of casual and serious disrespect for women only validates many people’s experiences on Yale’s campus that Yale is an unsafe space, uncommitted to supporting survivors of sexual assault. I see that any insight and empathy we might have gained as more respectful, reflective, and conscious members of the Yale community as alumni were absent in the Yale Alumni Magazine’s efforts to keep Kavanaugh “fun” despite many alumni’s concerns.

Yale is privileged to have alumni working full-time for various causes that support marginalized communities. Many alumni are survivors of sexual violence, which often occurred on Yale’s grounds, who support other survivors and fight a culture of disrespect every single day. I was privileged to be able to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the world, but I am not proud to be a part of the Yale community when Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination is what we choose to celebrate as alumni. The alumni magazine is certainly not the only Yale outlet that should have some integrity in its stance on Kavanaugh and on supporting sexual assault survivors, but it is definitely one of the places that should consider what a “celebration” of his alumni status means for the larger alumni community.

Joan Rhee ’16
New York, NY


Our September/October issue went to press in late August, well before any allegations of sexual misconduct against Justice Kavanaugh became public in mid-September. Our short item about his nomination was not intended as “fun.” It noted that three Yale alumni are already on the Supreme Court and that open letters from faculty and alumni were circulated for and against his confirmation.—Eds.


Recent disclosures about a US Supreme Court nominee widely mentioned as a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School are casting a harsh light on campus practices formerly left in shadow. I have been, off and on, an alumnus interviewer of Yale applicants, but I think I will have to take a sabbatical this year. I simply do not know how I can answer questions about the culture of alcoholism and sexual assaultive behavior they portray. These issues are beyond my capacity to explain to the kind of candidate that (I hope) Yale seeks to attract. I believe the administration faces a major hurdle in presenting Yale favorably to the outside world and even to the Yale community.

Ron Sipherd ’64
Oakland, CA


Freedom in research

I was encouraged to read that President Salovey recognizes that data, not “an ideological or partisan point of view,” should drive research conclusions (“Public Policy and the Social Sciences,” September/October). Does he recognize, however, or even have the ability to combat, the unstated social and political pressures that drive what questions are researched in the first place? Like the “unconscious bias” the left decries and the “political correctness” the right decries, cultural pressures may make it difficult, if not unthinkable, for certain questions to be investigated and certain conclusions to be reached.

Salovey personally may be “agnostic about which public policy topics our investigators address.” But a faculty member who wants to make tenure, or not be shunned by colleagues, or not face a publication blacklist, will understandably avoid certain “radioactive” topics. I don’t see any obvious solution to such self-censorship aside from ensuring a truly rich—not just token—diversity of perspectives among the faculty, with vigorous administrative backup.

Walter Weber ’84JD
Alexandria, VA


More Native Americans

A chart in your most recent issue on Yale College enrollment from 2003–04 through 2017–18 (“By the Numbers,” September/October) tells us that Native Americans constituted less than 1 percent of “domestic enrollment” over most of that period. That is profoundly disturbing.

As of July 1, 2017, according to the Census Bureau, an estimated 1.3 percent of the US population report only Native American ancestry. Infoplease tells us that Native American and Alaska Natives, including those reporting more than one race, made up “about 2.0 percent” of the total population in 2015.

Why are Yale students being denied the opportunity to learn with and from the descendants of our First Americans? Yale’s spokesperson says that the university “seeks to create a vibrant and varied academic community where students interact with people of different backgrounds.” But that apparently does not include interaction with Native Americans.

In order to provide a modicum of social and historical justice and a more diverse experience for all Yale students, Yale should work to increase Native enrollment to at least 5 percent of total enrollment.

Felice Pace ’69
Klamath, CA


Dishonorary degrees?

Each year at the university’s commencement, the Yale Corporation awards honorary degrees to recognize outstanding achievements in academia, research, arts, and politics. The list of recipients often includes distinguished Yale alumni who best represent the university’s ideals. Yale has granted honorary degrees for over 315 years, and currently these are the highest honors conferred by the university.

It is now logical to expand this tradition. In addition to awarding honorary degrees, I believe Yale should start issuing dishonorary degrees. A dishonorary degree would be issued to an alum who is among the worst members of society or who otherwise exemplifies the exact opposite of the ideals of this institution. A dishonorary degree would signify the university’s repudiation of this person’s values and that we are collectively ashamed this individual represents Yale.

Keith Herrmann ’88MBA
Raleigh, NC


Lacrosse champs from ’56

I read with interest your article on the Yale lacrosse team winning the national title. In your article on the history of Yale lacrosse, however (“Starting Strong,” July/August), you fail to note that my team of 1956 was the undefeated Ivy League champion. At that time, there was no NCAA playoff system. I just wanted to bring this to your attention, since many of my teammates are gone; the 1956 championship of Yale lacrosse should be noted.

Terry Malloy ’56
Philadelphia, PA



If there is anything that leaves an editor more red-faced than having to print a correction, it’s having to print a second one. In a May/June article about the Yale Day of Service, we misidentified nine-year-old Kaz Carter-McGinty as Kas Carter. We corrected his last name in the September/October issue, but missed the misspelling of his first name. We are doubly sorry for the errors.

In our article about the first graduates of Yale-NUS College (“Trailblazers,” September/October), we included data from two different surveys of Yale-NUS graduates, but we misidentified the source of some of the data. The following figures came from a 2017 Yale-NUS internal survey: 17 percent of members of the Class of 2017 went into the public sector and policy, 14 percent into consulting, and 24 percent into finance or consulting. The data in a pie chart on page 45 came from the same survey. The other statistics cited were from a 2018 national survey of graduates six months after graduation.

1 comment

  • Gabriel Monteiro da Silva
    Gabriel Monteiro da Silva, 2:29pm November 13 2018 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    How was Alphonse I. Johnson's vitriolic letter approved? It's nothing but empty rhetoric, history revisionism, and prejudice.

The comment period has expired.