Letters to the Editor

Letters: July/August 2019

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. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Regarding your most recent cover story (“Can a Book Change the Course of Your Life?” May/June): it wasn’t a book that launched me. It was a bookmark.

I was under pressure to select an undergraduate major, so I went to browse our college bookstore for some inspiration. There I came across a heavy and mighty-expensive textbook of organic chemistry. As I leafed through it, I found a beautifully calligraphed bookmark carrying the following message: “Do you think this book is overpriced? It’s nothing compared to what an idea from it is worth!”

That was my fork-in-the-road moment. I bought the book, majored in chemistry, got a PhD from Yale, and spent the next 50 years trying to nudge molecules to do my bidding. Lesson: when in doubt, read a bookmark!

Neal C. Brown ’66PhD
Greenfield, NH


I want to commend you on your fascinating article, “Can A Book Change the Course of Your Life?” I loved reading this and could have read 17 more examples. I’d like to suggest you include this concept as a regular “column” or section of the magazine. If not that, then once a year, I’m sure your readers would love to hear about how more and more scholars and newsmakers have been changed by books. Thank you.

Christine Melchior
Boston, MA


I studied English at Yale, and then at Harvard where I got my PhD, so I picked up the alumni magazine with interest to see what Yale professors had to say about books that changed their lives. But as I flipped through the magazine, more disturbing memories of the university started to emerge.

The article about early women honorary-degree recipients reminded me of the 1989 events organized around “20 Years of Women at Yale,” in which we as undergraduates learned about the objections that had been raised to having females in the classroom when women were allowed to enter Yale College in 1969, the year I was born. Females would distract the scholars, lower the tone, it had been said. I was shocked at how recent the change had been, and at how angry admitting women into the college had made people. It made the oil paintings of men in suits that lined the libraries, classrooms, and halls feel menacing.

Thumbing through the magazine, I saw a letter by President Salovey, writing about “expanding access to Yale.” That seemed like a good idea. Surely there must have been a lot of progress since I left in 1992, decades ago.

But when I got to the article on books that had changed the lives of Yale professors, I was genuinely taken aback. It was the land of green leather all over again. Thirteen of the seventeen Yale professors chosen for the article were men. That’s what a professor looks like, apparently. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that in 2019, 1989, or 1969, if you want to expand access to Yale, presenting pictures of white men in a leathery library is not a good strategy. It tells people loud and clear, for the millionth time, that what a Yale student or Yale professor looks like is a white man on a leather chair surrounded by low-lit bookcases.

I think it would be in the university’s interest to “expand access to Yale.” I don’t, however, think that this issue of the alumni magazine furthers that goal.

Anna Henchman ’92
Cambridge MA


As a book lover and professor, I was dismayed to see the picture of the Yale professoriate in your article “Can a Book Change the Course of Your Life?” It was not simply a matter of demographics—is the faculty still 75 percent male?—but more fundamentally the absence of books and perspectives from so much of the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Native America, African America. I admire and respect each and every one of the 17 scholars you chose, but I hope that in the future a similar survey would honor the transformative power of languages, literatures, and thought traditions from the wider and richer globe we all inhabit today.

Kirk Savage ’79
Pittsburgh, PA


We sought a more diverse set of faculty members for the feature, but many of the women and people of color we contacted declined to participate. There are probably many reasons for this, among them the fact that faculty who are women and/or underrepresented minorities are called upon frequently to serve on committees, panels, and other forms of service to the university, and they are no doubt stretched thin. Our respondents turned out to be somewhat more male than Yale’s professors in general (76 percent vs. 62 percent) and somewhat whiter (82 percent vs. 66 percent). Should we have rethought the article in light of those numbers? We’re not sure, to be honest, but we had a deadline to meet, so we went with what we had.—Eds.


Lessons for local journalism

As a writer who recently retired after 40 years with the San Jose Mercury News, I was heartened to read Norman Oder’s piece about Paul Bass and his online venture, the New Haven Independent (“Think Locally,” May/June). From my perspective, three lessons stand out.

First: sticking around, as Bass has done, counts. Good local journalism demands years of building contacts and trust. Second: a de-emphasis on opinion is no bad thing for a local web site. In an age of fiery attack, paying attention to local issues fairly and accurately has surprising value. And third: money matters. While Bass has found a model in support from foundations, it isn’t the only route. Local business leaders—and I count Yalies in that group—ought to advertise and invest in sites like the Independent. It’s not just good business. It’s an essential voice for community. 

Scott Herhold ’71
San Jose, CA


Paul Bass and his staff do great work, but doing it requires “two foundations and a philanthropist.” Is this a practical business model for the “1,500 New Haven Independents” we need?

Edward Rossmann ’55
Aurora, NY


Honoring women

I was pleased to see the article by archivist Judith Ann Schiff on the impressive women who have received honorary degrees from Yale (“Women of Honor,” May/June). But before we become complacent, it is worth recalling the many deserving women whom Yale has not honored.

As a member of the Yale Corporation and chair of the honorary degrees committee in the late 1980s, I tried to convince members that we should recognize a leader of the contemporary women’s movement. I proposed Simone de Beauvoir, a feminist whose scholarly contributions and credentials were widely recognized. Her nomination was blocked largely by a male political scientist who objected to the women’s movement in general and de Beauvoir in particular. 

He asserted that no one knew whether she or her husband, Jean-Paul Sartre, had written her most famous book, The Second Sex. The claim was without foundation, and in fact, researchers have questioned whether de Beauvoir was responsible for some of Sartre’s work, rather than the reverse. But the committee preferred a “less divisive” female candidate, and selected the ballerina Suzanne Farrell. More of the men who dominated the committee appeared interested in sitting next to Farrell at the annual honorary degrees dinner than de Beauvoir.

As we celebrate 50 years of coeducation in Yale College this fall, it is worth recalling some of the less becoming history that preceded and accompanied it.

Deborah L. Rhode ’74, ’77JD
Stanford, CA


Words for the Whiffs

I had the pleasure of hearing the Whiffenpoofs of 2019 recently, and they are superb! Their “Time After Time” (a Whiffenpoof original, and a Yale favorite) was the best ever (you could literally hear a pin drop in the lovely Bijou Theatre in Bridgeport), and the solo on “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was perfection itself.

A serious tone for the closing anthem (“The Whiffenpoof Song”) was once a time-honored tradition. In recent years, however, the Whiffs have been playing it for laughs. I, for one, urge them to restore the song’s rightful solemnity.

Nathan M. Wise ’72
Old Saybrook, CT


Admissions fraud

Why did you bury—bypass—the admissions fraud story (“Soccer Coach Charged in Admissions Fraud,” May/June)? It’s the most powerful, compelling story of many years that cuts to the quick of Yale’s mission, and you buried it. Why?

J. Stephen Morrison ’77
Washington, DC


We summarized the episode in a 1,100-word article and called attention to it on our cover. We believe that was sufficient for an event that, as sensational and compelling as it is, seems to have been an isolated incident at Yale and not indicative of a wider problem with fraud in admissions.—Eds.


On trustee candidates

Those concerned about the future of humanistic values in our society would do well to contemplate this year’s ballot for alumni fellows on the Board of Trustees (“Two Candidates for Trustee Position,” May/June). The accompanying brochure makes it clear that nearly every Yale Corporation member—and the two candidates vying for the single open seat—have backgrounds in finance, science, medicine, and technology. One can clearly read between the lines and see that they all are also representatives of the “one percent,” no matter what their diverse ethnicities.

If this is the face Yale chooses to present to the world, it will no doubt seem obvious to those who look that Yale is a narrow institution, in several senses, and that those who are disturbed by our society and its governance can hardly look to Yale for educated leadership.

Larry Bensky ’58
Berkeley, CA

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