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Liquidity and layoffs, a legal citation, revamped reunions

Contemporary Cuba

Thank you for the customarily thoughtful piece by Jorge Domínguez on today’s Cuba (“Hello from Havana,” July-August, page 24). My work has taken me there about a dozen times over the last few years, and every note struck by Domínguez rings true. I would add only a little. The great challenge to the Cuban economy is to increase agricultural production. One of the most fertile countries on the planet now imports about 80 percent of its foodstuffs. How can the Raúl Castro regime incentivize farming without undermining the dominance of the state in other enterprises?

Until that puzzle is solved, the pollo in your arroz con pollo will still probably come from Tyson’s in Arkansas. Perhaps the agriculture planners will find an answer in Vietnam: every Havana dinner conversation I’ve heard in the last year features confident assertions that Raúl will follow “the Vietnamese Model,” although the speakers tend to be a little wobbly as to what that might mean. The funny thing is that many U.S. officials are saying the same thing in a different context: that the Obama administration should re-establish formal diplomatic relations with Cuba the same way the United States did with Vietnam; foster trade; and thereby deny official Havana a convenient bogeyman to excuse its own economic and civic shortcomings.

Conn Nugent ’68, J.D. ’73
New York City

 

Jorge Domínguez is incorrect when he writes that Raúl Castro “made a specific proposal to exchange such political prisoners…for five Cuban spies in U.S. prisons.” In a legal context, spies obtain classified national security information, but the Cuban Five never even saw, much less possessed, a single classified document. They came to the U.S. not to spy on the government, but to infiltrate gangs of anti-Cuban terrorists in Miami who have been responsible for acts of terrorism spanning decades, including a series of Havana hotel bombings in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist, the notorious 1976 mid-air bombing of a Cubana Airliner which killed 73 people, and many, many more. Two Salvadorans sentenced to death for those hotel bombings are, ironically, on the list of so-called “political prisoners.”

The Cuban Five are heroes. Information they uncovered foiled terrorist plots, including two plane bombings. They were convicted by a biased Miami jury in the only trial in U.S. history condemned by the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Their imprisonment for nearly 11 years represents a gross miscarriage of justice. The president of Cuba’s parliament, Ricardo Alarcón, said recently that “As long as this injustice continues, it will be a formidable obstacle, insurmountable, for having normal relations between the two countries.”

Raúl Castro spoke not of “exchange” but “gesture for gesture.” The distinction is critical, because precisely that formula was used in 1979, when four Puerto Rican prisoners were released by the U.S., followed 10 days later by Cuba’s release of four Americans imprisoned in Cuba. If President Obama wants to see normal relations with Cuba, releasing the Cuban Five as the first “gesture” would be a huge step towards that goal.

Steven Patt, Ph.D. ’75
Cupertino, Calif.

The writer maintains the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five’s website, www.freethefive.org.

 

Scientific History

Although I enjoyedWho Killed the Men of England?” (July-August, page 30), I would question the notion that the lines between history and prehistory/archaeology have been blurred. As I see it, the study of the human past is by nature an inherently unified discipline, and the division of this endeavor into separate academic fields has often amounted to little more than artificial classification arbitrarily im-posed by the academic establishment. What this article clearly demonstrates is not so much that barriers between academic disciplines are being torn down, but that many of them were illusory in the first place.

Mark Callis, A.L.M. ’05
Jupiter, Fla.

 

A Report to Readers

Last spring, we made an extraordinary appeal to you to support Harvard Magazine during challenging times: both advertising revenue and contributions had declined sharply during the autumn and winter. Now we write to thank all of you who responded with generous support for continued publication of an editorially excellent magazine that serves your needs. The magazine still faces adverse financial conditions, making your donations an essential source of support, and we are extraordinarily grateful for your enthusiastic response.

We continue to make adjustments to the difficult economic environment (including painful cuts in staff hours and compensation). Effective with this issue, the size of Harvard Magazine’s pages has been trimmed slightly, reducing costs for paper and postage. We have taken great care to minimize the effect of this change on you.

As always, we welcome your comments.

Catherine A. Chute, Publisher        John S. Rosenberg, Editor


Lessons in Life—and Politics

The current issue was one of the best in my recent memory in the variety and quality of articles. I was particularly impressed by “Lessons from an Unexpected Life” (by David G. Nathan, July-August, page 36). The interplay among patient, hospital, attending doctors of such a wide range of specialties, and the pharmaceutical industry was truly remarkable. I found the article fascinating—until the gratuitous slam at the Bush administration was slipped in near the end [Editor’s note: in a recounted conversation between doctor and patient]. This apparently had nothing to do with the subject matter of the article. If it did, it was not developed in any reasoned manner so that the reader would know in what way the Bush administration had affected the treatment of this patient and the development of treatments for him. Tossing in an extraneous political opinion indicates that the author has some agenda to promote besides the treatment as described. It makes suspect the whole article and the message that otherwise appeared to be factual and unbiased. If you can keep your authors on point, the magazine will be able to maintain its quality and credibility.

Robert Stanton, A.M. ’56
Thousand Oaks, Calif.

 

As a physician, I was engaged by Dr. Nathan’s article relating to his treatment of this case of thalassemia, and I have great compassion for his patient: undergoing this long series of unpleasant treatments as well as continuing to participate in his medical management is to be admired. Nathan’s devotion to his patient, as well as his clinical judgment and research, are marvels of medical excellence.

In my opinion, this type of treatment can occur only in an academic environment where resources are plentiful and public support and interested pharmaceutical providers are available. Not many serious health issues could be managed in this fashion. Nathan’s presentation is utopian and cannot be realistically applied to care in the United States. A government health plan would obviously be overwhelmed with requests by physicians and patients for treatment required by such complex problems that have little clinical relevance.

Leland Johnson ’52
San Mateo, Calif.

 

Liquidity, Leverage…

I read with considerable dismay the Comment “Liquidity and Leverage” (July-August, page 52), about the current state of Harvard’s endowment. While the 30 percent decline in the endowment’s value, which has been shared by investors generally, is perhaps understandable, the love affair with investment partnerships and the accumulated debt are not. If I read the Comment correctly, the present $24-billion endowment is subject to investment calls of $11 billion and current debt of nearly $6 billion. It is hard to fathom how the presumably “best and brightest” portfolio managers, to whom Harvard has been paying millions of dollars annually, together with those responsible for incurring such enormous debt, could have left the endowment in such a precarious position.

Its alumni have unfailingly entrusted Harvard with generous donations to enhance its endowment. I consider the appalling state of the endowment to be nothing less than a betrayal of that trust.

Bruce J. Bettigole ’61
Pawtucket, R.I.

 


 

…And Layoffs

It is totally unacceptable for Harvard to be laying off so many people [see “Looming Layoffs,” July-August, page 56, and “Layoffs Begin,” posted June 23 at harvardmagazine.com/breaking-news/layoffs-begin]. We know times are hard. But they are really hard on employees and their families. We urge Harvard to rehire all those laid off. If money is needed, then let the burden be shared. Cut all salaries by 25 percent, including professors’. See  if that is enough money to make certain all have jobs. I would like to hear more about these draconian moves by the administration and why so much cutting is needed.

Joseph Meissner, LL.B. ’66
Cleveland

 

Editor’s note: The magazine reports on University finances in each bimonthly issue (see “Finding a New Footing”), with more frequent updates at http://harvardmag.com/tags/financial-crisis, under the “University Financial Crisis” heading.

 

Legal Legerdemain

I was interested to read in the July-August “College Pump” about how the Harvard Law Record in October 2005 made light of grads’ job prospects. You write that the Record editors suggested a letter for students to send to the corporate law firms that rejected them: “I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your refusal to offer me a position….” I looked up the October 13, 2005, issue to read the Record’s piece in full. What both the “College Pump” item and the Record fail to acknowledge is that this “rejection letter”—nearly word for word—has been passed around via e-mail since the 1990s. I first received it as a forwarded humorous message in 1999. Shame on the Record for stealing its material!

Will Stephens, J.D. ’04 
Washington, D.C.

 

Don’t Tell

Drew Faust’s letter “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (July-August, page 5) tells me that she should be fired.

First, she has no authority in writing, as president of Harvard University, to Harvard Magazine or to the secretary of defense about an issue that has nothing to do with the business or mission of the University.

Second, in arguing “for the reversal of a wrongheaded policy,” she doesn’t appear to understand the difference between military policy and the law of the land (see the letter of Kenneth Wells ’84, March-April, page 69), which was defended in court by President Obama’s justice department, which said that the law is “rationally related to the government’s legitimate interest in military discipline and cohesion.” Before going public, she should have cleared her letters with Harvard’s legal counsel.

Third, her scholarship is suspect. The Emancipation Proclamation, as she should know, does not “guarantee the right of military service” for anyone. It says that “persons of suitable condition will be received into the armed services of the United States,” as a matter of “military necessity.” To construe that language as “a right to military service” is nonsense.

For me, Faust’s words and actions reflect the abysmal state of the “new” social sciences at Harvard wherein political advocacy has superseded scholarship. For this I blame the Harvard Corporation as well as President Faust.

Charles A. Johnson ’52, M.B.A. ’58
Hilton Head Island, S.C.

 

Hail, Columbia!

Under the leadership of athletics director M. Diane Murphy, and backed by a supportive Board of Trustees and generous alumni, Columbia (my undergraduate alma mater), has recently made steady progress toward athletic respectability. Ivy championships on Morningside Heights, alas, are not yet as common as they are in Cambridge, so all Sons of Knickerbocker appreciate when they are mentioned. Please note that Columbia, not Princeton, won the Ivy men’s 2009 tennis championship (“Spring Sports, July-August, page 63).

Donald N. Jensen, Ph.D. ’79
Washington, D.C.

 


 

Pre-Civil Rights Harvard 

The July-August issue noted the passing of J. Max Bond ’55, M.Arch. ’58 (Obituaries, page 68N), and his superb achievements in creating great design rooted in social-justice themes.

In mid May, I joined some 800 others in Cooper Union’s Great Hall for a celebration of Max’s life and career. This, from the biosketch distributed at the event:

He entered Harvard at age 15, and a cross was burned in front of his freshman dorm, where he and the nine other black freshmen were assigned. Outrageous enough, but perhaps not all that surprising, giv—en the fissures the Civil Rights Movement was opening up in our society. But even more outrageous was how Harvard’s administration responded: The 10 were threatened with suspension if they reported the incident to the Boston media. When Max expressed interest in architecture as a career, one of his professors told him there was no place for a black man in architecture; another professor trashed his design solution to an assignment, then fed his idea to a white student.

That’s all disgraceful 1950s history, and we now even have a biracial Harvard grad in the White House. But it’s important not to forget or dismiss such history, especially as it still has impact, sometimes on individual racist behavior and certainly in the powerful ways it still influences institutional racism in our society.

 Chester Hartman ’57, Ph.D. ’67
Washington, D.C.

 

Rebooting Reunions

The fiftieth reunion of the Harvard-Radcliffe Class of 1959 was wonderful. But some events—per a Radcliffe classmate—were “faithful to the practices of a half-century ago.” 

Our classmate (a Ph.D.) noted that “the women got a list only of Radcliffe attendees; the men got a list only of Harvard attendees. Radcliffe women got a single sheet listing events; Harvard men got a brochure indicating quite a number of additional activities and providing more details. And so it was that I did not know until the opportunity had passed” about various panels and other events. She added: “The Memorial Service was entirely joint!” There was no deliberate policy, but innocent failure to “connect the dots” caused more than a little distress.

Another Radcliffe classmate, and dear friend, was heard to say that 2009 may be her last reunion. Physically fit and at the top of her game, she could have been a star of our fiftieth. Now she may not return. This would be a loss on any number of grounds.

Some separate events to renew cherished Radcliffe bonds (and contain costs) are admirable. But the time for separate-and-unequal reunion guides and other disparities in essential services has long passed. Mixing an NROTC ’59 metaphor, that sunken ship has sailed.

With thanks to our organizers and all HAA staff for jobs well done, let’s provide “lessons learned” for future reunions that may be even more wonderful. Co-voyagers from Yard and Quad at 18, let’s enjoy each other’s company as we prepare for No. 75.

Terence Roche Murphy ’59
Bethesda, Md.