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Clean air, new affirmative action, the Halberstam years

AT ODDS

I was dismayed to see the Faculty of Arts and Sciences mounting their protests against President Lawrence H. Summers’s suggestion that sexual dimorphism might affect performance (“Gender Gap” and “Women and Tenure,” both March-April, page 62). With 35 years’ experience in the doing and the university teaching of behavioral neuroscience, I can assure you that the brains of men and women are substantially different, when measured by anatomy, functional anatomy, or function (behavior). Were it not so, by the way, homo sapiens would be qualitatively different from the rest of the mammals ever studied in this respect, all of whom also show sexual dimorphisms of the brain and of behavior. We homo sapiens are pretty darn cute, to be sure, but qualitatively different from the rest of phylogeny in brain (or kidney, or lung…) anatomy and function? Not likely.

We Harvardians should be proud to have a president who dares speak even unpopular truths. Equal opportunity, protection, and access for all sexes, ethnic and religious groups, and so forth is a good and mandatory thing for any society. However, the idea that because we all deserve equal opportunity we must therefore pretend that we all have equal (identical, even!) aptitude for all things is just plain silly, and demonstrably false.

Let’s build our free, open, and equitable society on reality.

Christopher Frederickson ’67
Galveston Island, Tex.

 

I’m on the outside of this as an alum, but I’d say the magazine has done a great job reporting on the Summers affair. “At Odds” (May-June, page 55) is a long article, as it needed to be. It’s a long story all right, but the root of the enmity of Harvard faculty who tangled with Summers is not far below the surface. They have felt humiliation, which may be worse than physical pain. And they have returned the favor to Summers, they had to. Those faculty-meeting statements are carefully put, but the passion is right out there, from people who have been hurt. It’s dramatic even on the page—could Tennessee Williams have done better?

By the by, I’ve heard nothing about the Overseers, the ones we elect every year. What are they up to? I hope something, like having a talk with the Corporation.

Thomas Blandy ’54, M.Arch. ’60
Troy, N.Y.

 

I find this brouhaha deplorable in the extreme. If the president’s management style and managerial competence are the real issues, don’t evade them by censoring his speech. Even those of us outside the walls of academe, lacking the holy shield of academic tenure to protect us, are privileged to live in a country where freedom of speech persists.

John Lorant, M.B.A. ’57
Prescott, Ariz.

 

I have read the full transcript of Summers’s address to the NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science and Engineering Workforce twice now and can find nothing offensive about it. His remarks were tentative, thoughtful, questioning, and in the tradition of scientific enquiry: looking for alternative explanations for phenomena. What is extraordinary is the furor that ensued.

My shock at the reaction these mild comments provoked was compounded by the speed with which Summers caved in. His abject apology has diminished both him and Harvard. It should be obvious to all who care about Harvard that the institution needs someone who will stand up for what he believes in and not just mouth platitudes that conform to current fashionable theories.

We now are left with the worst of worlds: both Summers and Harvard have been weakened. And what will be the effect on America? If the president of Harvard—with all of the security and authority that comes with that position—cannot speak his mind, who can?

I have before me my pledge to the Harvard College Fund and an acknowledgment, which says, “Your gift is a vote of confidence in Harvard.” I am voting and hereby rescind that pledge.

David Devore ’65
London

 

DIESELS AND CLEAN AIR

I am a recently retired employee of an automotive company, where I carried out research on vehicle emissions primarily from spark-ignition engines. I found “Clearing the Air” by Jonathan Shaw (May-June, page 28) very enjoyable and learned a great deal about the health effects of particles in the atmosphere.

I wish to make one small comment concerning a statement in the shaded box on page 34, which might cause some confusion among your readers. Diesel engines are significantly more fuel efficient than spark-ignition engines. The main drawback to their use in the automobile fleet is the fact that the emissions of particles and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are very high for these engines and difficult to control. Spark-ignited engines have inherently low particulate emissions, but do produce high levels of NOx, which are reduced by “three-way catalysts.” These catalysts cannot remove NOx from diesels, however.

To meet the very stringent future automotive-emissions requirements in the United States, particularly California, diesel engines will require new emissions-reduction technologies, which reduce particulate and NOx emissions to levels required by governmental regulations. These devices, which complement engine hardware changes that have already reduced diesel emissions, tend to be sensitive to poisoning by sulfur, and this is a major reason why low-sulfur fuels are required. Low-sulfur fuels and other “reformulated” fuels can reduce particulate emissions somewhat, but not to the low levels required. Thus, your implication that “older diesel” vehicles can be retrofitted to burn cleaner fuels and, thereby, meet governmental requirements is not correct in my opinion. As discussed above, meeting the regulations requires not only fuel reformulation but also sophisticated exhaust after-treatment systems, advanced engine hardware, and new engine-control strategies, which cannot be easily and cost-effectively retrofitted to older diesel automobiles.

Edward W. Kaiser, Ph.D. ’70
Dearborn, Mich.

 

A NEW AFFIRMATIVE ACTION

Observing that only about 3 percent of Harvard’s entering classes are from low-income families with no previous college experience, William Bowen et al. (“A Thumb on the Scale,” May-June, page 48) ask, “What would happen if students with family incomes in the bottom quartile were given the same admissions advantage now enjoyed by legacies?”

One does not need a Harvard degree to answer this question: An equivalent number of the lowest-ranking students above the twenty-fifth-income percentile will be disadvantaged and denied admissions they otherwise would have been offered. Although the authors claim that admissions of those not in the lowest quartile will drop by only 1 percent, this drop will not be uniform. Since they correlate family income with probability of admission, they should expect that those at the bottom of the second quartile will now bear the brunt of lowered chances for admission.

Harvard accepts only a limited number of students, and admissions is thus a zero-sum game; if one person receives an advantage, another person receives a compensating disadvantage. An admission slot given to a less-qualified (please note that I did not say “unqualified”) student from a favored group results in the denial of that admission slot to a more academically qualified student from a disparaged group.

Those in favor of such programs recognize the need for sacrifice, but those who propose them never sacrifice anything. Those who will be sacrificed on the altar of this new Bowen et al. form of affirmative action will, as with past affirmative action iterations, have names like Bakke. Those with names like Bok, Bowen, or Kennedy will hardly notice.

Edward Friedman, Ph.D. ’62
Marblehead, Mass.

Editor’s note: The 3-percent figure applies to the authors’ 19-school sample, not to Harvard alone. Bowen et al. say that their data reveal that “at present large numbers of high-testing students from low-income families are being turned down.” In other words, fully qualified lower-income students are being denied admission, so while there would be displacement if the authors’ “thumb on the scale” were adopted, “in our simulation the average SAT score of the members of the entering class remains essentially unchanged.” In an admissions applicant pool of, now, 22,000 annually for Harvard College, with an acceptance rate of less than 10 percent, the College has said repeatedly that it could admit two or three fully qualified classes annually.

 

The discussion of theories on how to “socially engineer” the undergraduate body by Bowen et al., coupled with Harvard’s policy of giving a tuition-free ride to students with parents declaring less than $40,000 of income [“Class-conscious Financial Aid,” May-June 2004, page 62], reminded me of the federal welfare program of the “Great Society,” a classic example of misguided social engineering. It took more than 20 years for Congress and the president to face the facts and agree on the complete overhaul needed to minimize federal money payments and liberate many recipients from welfare dependency.

Quite apart from the gross unfairness inherent in choosing to give one student $160,000 and another zero based on parents’ declared income of $40,000 at the time, the tuition-free ride necessarily carries the same type of socially and personally destructive impact as the money-payment welfare program did.

Experience tells us that it is not long after Commencement before most Harvard graduates are in a position to reimburse the College, over time, for the extraordinary benefit of their education. It is utter nonsense to assume that Harvard sons and daughters of parents declaring less than $40,000 income in particular years need to be given a free ride on tuition—and it is very bad policy. What young people seem to be most lacking today is good judgment regarding money, credit, the role of material goods, and the need for responsible financial saving.

The tuition-free policy, instead of teaching the value of money and education and the need for financial planning, plays straight into the hands of the untamed waste-and-spend culture here in America. Harvard owes it to our young people not to exempt them from the obligations, and the lessons, that are essential to their well-being and personal growth.

Bradford F. Whitman ’66
Wynnewood, Pa.

Editor’s note: Financial aid is not an all-or-nothing proposition, cut off at parental income of $40,000. In fact, two-thirds of undergraduates receive aid (scholarships, loans, jobs) and this year 1,299 students on scholarship come from families with incomes over $100,000 and 369 with family incomes exceeding $150,000. Moreover, Harvard has eliminated the parental contribution for families with income of $40,000 or less; the students from those families remain responsible for $5,500 per year of term and summer employment, loans, or outside scholarship funds. Lower-income families are especially sensitive to assuming very large loan obligations, and are inhibited about having children apply to private colleges, according to admissions officials.

 

GAY MEN AND AIDS

The letter on same-sex marriage from Walter C. Burr ’84 (“Letters,” March-April, page 97) claims to refute a previous writer’s claim that “gay men are highly susceptible to AIDS” by asserting that “According to Center for Disease Control statistics, fewer than 2.5 percent of gay men in America are HIV positive. Since 97 percent plus are disease free, this dramatically contradicts Reiff’s assertion.” Hardly.

The relevant statistic is not the fraction of gay men who are HIV positive, but the fraction of HIV-positives who are gay. The UN estimates that about 900,000 Americans are currently HIV-positive, of which about 50 percent are gay men. This puts the assertion of gay men’s susceptibility to AIDS in quite a different light.

We also should question the assertion that only 2.5 percent of gay men are HIV-positive. If 450,000 HIV-positive gay men represent only 2.5 percent of the gay male population, that would mean that there are 18 million gay male Americans, more than 16 percent of males over age 18. That percentage is too high; credible estimates range from 2 percent to 10 percent. The low-end percentage would be consistent with an HIV-positive rate of 21 percent among gay men, and the high-end percentage would be consistent with an HIV-positive rate of 4.1 percent—considerably higher than the HIV-positive rate of just 0.3 percent for the overall U.S. population of about 296 million.

John Newmeyer, Ph.D. ’70
San Francisco

 

HALBERSTAM’S GENERATION

Perhaps David Halberstam ’55 left something out of his “A Modest Generation” (May-June, page 16). I grew up during the Second World War, too. I still remember weekly trips to the butcher, taking up a can of fat and bringing the 10 cents he gave me back to my mother. No, we weren’t particularly poor, but those trips were one of the many ways we saved and scrimped for the war effort. Rationing. Little books to be filled with stamps bought at school with saved pennies, books that could then be traded for war bonds. Victory gardens. My mother painting her legs brown because all the nylon went into parachutes. A neighbor’s car held together with bailing wire because the factories that made spare parts were turning out tanks.

Like many little boys, I killed Hitler a thousand times in my mind’s eye, but I also knew, objectively, that my reach was limited. So I did the next best thing. I worked with my family and community to defeat evil in little ways that were within my capabilities. I can’t help but think that, in adulthood, these experiences produced a sense of reality—and modesty—that today’s entertainment-oriented culture can’t begin to approach. 

James T. Caprio ’59
Green Valley, Ariz.

 

Halberstam shouldn’t confuse the foxtrot with slow dancing. The song “Slow Dancing” has it right, “swaying to the music.” On the other hand, the foxtrot is designed to move elegantly around the dance floor to a four-beat melody. I think Berlin, Gershwin, Kern, Rodgers, and Porter would be surprised to learn that they had been composing slow-dance music. And, yes, the foxtrot is still being taught.

Also, although Halberstam didn’t and doesn’t like the waltz, he should recognize that his contemporaries did and probably still do. For example, the American-style slow waltz, such as “The Tennessee Waltz,” was wildly popular then and is still played today. Also, the much faster Viennese-style waltz had some very popular examples, such as “Wunderbar.”

Third, no one can really talk about the 1950s without recognizing that we also still belonged to swing music. It was so widely danced that, I think, dancing classes didn’t even bother to teach it. In short, we were foxtrotters, waltzers, and swing and slow dancers.

About the reluctance of the Fifties generation males to enter the fray when the band is blasting out rock music, I am also not so sure. I have seen many of my contemporaries wildly lurching about to a rock beat. Watching some of these performances, I have to conclude that a little reluctance to take the floor would not be a bad idea. Let’s face it, men. The ladies are still outdancing us.

Robert Raynsford, Ph.D ’66
Washington, D.C.

 

My classmate Halberstam disowns the label “The Silent Generation,” even as he exemplifies it in his analysis. I refer to the emergence in our time of the gay-rights movement, a topic of our times on which he is strangely silent. Perhaps not so strange, for when we were growing up in the 1940s and 1950s there was no such thing as “gay.” We’ve come a long way from the gay invisibility of those days.

Now statistically, there must be at least 50 members of the class of ’55 who are gay. Yet in all the publications put out by the class during the last 50 years, I have read of only one other classmate who identifies as gay. Where are the others? I guess you’d have to say they’re “silent.”

Karl Anderson ’55
The Sea Ranch, Calif.

 

Halberstam recalls Harvard Square emporium J. August’s three-for-$10 shirts. They came in white or blue Oxford cloth and the collar label termed them “The Sportsman” in black Olde English script overlying a florid red J. August logo. An approximation of the Harvard seal and a foursquare sans-serif “Harvard Square” completed the label. Nowhere were the shirts identified as Hathaway, and if Halberstam managed to get such an upscale bargain, my already considerable respect for him increases.

A half dozen of these venerable relics, with cardboard back and collar insert stiffeners, still grace my closet, although their 14 1/2-34 dimensional specs have long since proved wanting. Any bidders?

George A. Hermann ’54
Bryn Mawr, Pa.

 

Halberstam writes, “When we entered college, there were, as I recall, two computers in the country, both belonging to the Defense Department.” But he entered college in 1951. By then, Howard Aiken, later my boss at Harvard and Ph.D. adviser, had built four substantial computers under U.S. Navy contract. One of them, Mark I, started operating at Harvard in 1944. I cut my teeth on it in 1951. Then there was Mark II in 1947, Mark III in 1949 (both may have migrated to the navy), and Mark IV, which was off-limits to us undergraduates, but continued in use at Harvard for many years.

Elsewhere in the United States, the ABC computer was invented at Iowa State University in 1942, and the ENIAC, one of the best known of the early U.S. computers, was built at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering in 1946.

By 1951, ENIAC’s builders had created the commercial UNIVAC, marketed by Remington Rand. The name UNIVAC became synonymous with the word computer when the machine correctly predicted the outcome of the Eisenhower-Stevenson presidential election on national television in 1952. No one could believe it.

The room-size IBM 701, built in 1953, was IBM’s first commercial general-purpose computer. The original model ran behind huge plate-glass windows, enchanting the public, on New York’s 57th Street at Madison Avenue. This was the scientific computing center of IBM World Headquarters. I worked there during the summer of 1954. IBM was by then The Computer Company. People would venture in to gape at the blinking and bewitching 701, calling it the “IBM UNIVAC.”

Halberstam is right, though. It would be many years before telling someone, “I work with computers,” would get more than a confused look. Not so today. As he puts it, “It is hard to imagine a country changing so dramatically in a person’s lifetime as America changed in ours.”

Martin Greenberger ’53, Ph.D. ’58
Los Angeles

 

BREAKING NEWS

For coverage of breaking news at Harvard, the editors invite you to register for “Editor’s Highlights,” a summary of the contents of each new issue e-mailed just as it is posted on the website. Readers outside the United States, who don’t automatically receive the print edition, may find this an especially helpful way to keep in touch with the University and each other.

CORRECTIONS

Because of erroneous information provided to them, the editors misidentified the rank and misspelled the surname of U.S. Army captain Vincent Tuohey ’01 in the calendar listing of the ROTC commissioning ceremony on June 8 (May-June, page 24N).

The images of two slices of human lungs on page 32 of the May-June issue, in “Clearing the Air,” were scanned by Thomas Donaghey ’92. Unbeknownst to the editors, the two images provided for reproduction that appeared on page 35 represented preliminary data and should not have been printed.

Mark Helprin notes, “In Craig Lambert’s article about me [“Literary Warrior,” May-June, page 38], I am solely responsible for stating incorrectly that ‘in 1945 we spent close to 50 percent of our Gross National Product [GNP] on defense.’ What I meant to state, or, rather, what I should have stated, was, ‘close to 40 percent.’”

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