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Letters

Cambridge 02138

Beautiful math, guns, sexual harassment, and more

March-April 2020

The Tardigrade Moment

Regarding the cover of the January-February issue, that’s exactly how I felt on New Year’s Day.

William D. Gould Jr., M.B.A. ’65
Baltimore

Re: Harvard Magazine’s January-February cover: How in the world did you manage to get such an accurate photo of Donald Trump in his next incarnation?

Stephen Lee Saltonstall ’67
Tucson

Professional Preparation

A valuable article, as higher ed continues to understand opportunities in online programs (“Preparing for a Profession,” January-February, page 25). As a 50-year veteran pioneering e-learning initiatives, I have watched higher ed struggle with the realities of the disruption of digital transformation. While the article highlights the benefits of pre-residency prep, it avoids the key challenge of the opportunity to reduce residency itself.

Charles A. Morrissey, M.B.A. ’62
Irvine, Calif.

 

Eldercare

Facing the staggering prospect worldwide of so many elders (“The Coming Eldercare Tsunami,” January-February, page 12) suggests to me that there should be greater focus here in the United States, and the addition of political members to the [research] team. Implementation of any new program will be easier in China, with a President for Life, than here, with 50 autonomous states and governors plus thousands of mayors—i.e., Medi-caid. After creating techniques to keep elders ambulatory, fed, and housed, it will be necessary to raise the money and get the plans through Congress and the president. Perhaps politicians like the Obamas, Romney, or others on either side of the aisle can put together a team to guide implementation.

Separately, I think the stereotypical illustration in the article should be discarded as it speaks to me, as an elder, of the typical nursing home setting. Experience tells me that one-on-one aides assisting elders to exercise will not happen, nor is it likely that elders will be fed at a table with others. There is no indication that, in addition to assisting mobility and offsetting loneliness, there is an attempt to help the elders keep their brains out of neutral with stimulating programs for those who have all their mental faculties working.

Harris Cohen ’47
Montclair, N.J.

Speak Up, Please

Harvard Magazine welcomes letters on its contents. Please write to “Letters,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138, or send comments by email to yourturn@harvard.edu.

 

Climate Change

Once again Harvard students, faculty, and alumni are debating whether the University endowment should or should not divest investments in fossil fuels (“Divestment Debate, Overseer Slate,” January-February, page 19). I submit that this is the wrong question, as it would make no difference either way. Such an approach to the existential global threat of climate change is too little too late. The endowment and the Harvard-Yale football game are high visibility targets, but singularly unproductive ones.

Upwards of 90 percent of the world’s energy is derived from burning carbon. It is so ubiquitous that it is taken for granted, including, ironically, by the divestment debaters themselves. It is carbon itself that makes the debates possible, since the participants traveled to Cambridge by boat, plane, train, car, or public transit and occupy University buildings all run on carbon.

The challenge is very serious and getting worse. In the U.S. we are faced with climate change denial and withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Last year two-thirds of all passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. were classified as “light trucks,” an all-time high.

In this context, the divestment debate is simply a distraction from the much deeper question, which is how best the University can meaningfully contribute to the solutions. The answer is it can lead the way toward environmental sustainability and alternative power through scientific research and innovation. This is exactly the type of endeavor for which the new Allston science and engineering complex is being built.

William H. Nickerson ’61
Greenwich, Conn.

 

Thank you forMovement Ecology” (The Undergraduate, page 35) and “Color and Mass Incarceration” (page 40) in the September-October 2019 issue. I am glad there are both students and faculty at Harvard who are working hard to advance justice and I appreciate hearing about their experiences, research, and work. At the same time, I am disappointed that the governing boards do not seem to have same commitment. Student calls for divestment from fossil fuels and into renewable energy, and for divestment from the prison-industrial complex are laudable and should be implemented as soon as possible. It’s a matter of integrity. The wealth of the Harvard endowment is a resource that can and should be mobilized to advance justice. When that happens, we will know that Harvard stands on the right side of history.

Brendan Miller, M.P.A. ’03
Santa Fe

 

President Bacow was reported as saying at the November Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting (7 Ware Street, January-February, page 5) that as a point of agreement, “Climate change demands action.” The goals of this secular theology, I believe, are laudable, but while I attend the same church, as it were, I sit in a different pew. I ask, have we accurately defined the cause of the problem?

In my lifetime (87 years) the world’s population has quadrupled to just under eight billion people. This growth is accelerating. Since 1974, the world’s population has expanded by four billion and, so far, in the twenty-first century, by 2two billion. This is a population gain of close to a quarter-million people each and every day since 1974 and it has been rising even more, by almost 300,000 a day so far in this century. This explosive growth has taken place despite China’s one-child policy over 36 years—a policy that has recently been rescinded. If population growth continues at today’s run-away pace, there could be a further quadrupling of people from today’s eight billion to an unimaginable 32 billion by about 2110.

Pamela Silver (“Engineering Life,” January-February, page 41) believes that only through engineering biology can the world accommodate 10 billion people. This is only 25 percent greater than today’s population. If present trends continue, however, 10 billion will be reached before 2040. What then?

I am unable to offer a viable solution. Perhaps any measure that could bring about a decline, or even leveling, in the world’s population would be unacceptable, and many measures would be catastrophic. But today’s proposed green initiatives will be short term, at best. Nevertheless, I fully support them—albeit for different reasons. If we continue to deplete the world’s valuable petrochemical supply, what will we leave for future generations? What we needlessly burn today can never be replaced.

Charles W. Wilson, M.B.A. ’67
Red Lion, Pa.

 

I wish you would not use the term “fossil-fuel.” It is very unlikely that petroleum is of biological origin. The arguments for primordial origins (when the Earth formed) are: the huge quantities (there are literally oceans of it inside the Earth), highly reduced state (this is why natural oil is such an efficient fuel), and Titan (this moon is covered by liquid hydrocarbons, surely not of biological origin). Coal is another thing; it is clearly of plant origin.

Also, the cure for global warming are not “renewables” (ethanol) but rather non-combustion energy sources (nuclear, solar, wind, geothermal). Because it is already partially oxidized, ethanol produces more carbon dioxide per calorie gained than hydrocarbons.

Oljan Repic, Ph.D. ’77
Winchester, Va.

 

As a very well informed sceptic of the climate hysteria that has gripped the entire Western world, I would welcome a decision by Harvard to divest from fossil fuels. 

That step would be another blow to those who are witlessly trying to drive human civilization back to levels of material existence endured in the Dark Ages. There is absolutely no possibility over the next several centuries of supporting organized human life at material levels remotely approaching those mankind enjoys today if fossil fuels are banned. Any serious step in that direction would produce not only a massive political backlash, but, were it actually to be imposed by force, would engender violence approximating civil war. 

Harvard University has absolutely no credibility among climate sceptics (or among conservatives generally)—the suggestion that its divestment would move them toward the views of the hysterics can only come from minds completely unaware of the political realities of our hopelessly divided nation. “Another elite institution, captured long ago by the Left, led by administrators and faculty lacking the courage to say no to their most radical and intolerant students, capitulates once again.” That would be the reaction throughout conservative America.

So please, go ahead and do it.

If Harvard had a shred of courage, it would instead sponsor a major international conference, to which the best scientists in the world—including sceptics-—would actually present the facts they consider relevant and their views about them. That, of course, will never happen, not merely because Harvard as an institution collectively lacks moral courage, and, contra its best traditions, is committed to silencing climate dissenters; but because its administrators know that any such conference would be shut down by the budding totalitarians that today’s Harvard produces in droves.

 The debate is multifaceted: it is about whether and to what extent the climate is changing; whether any such change poses a serious threat to human civilization; whether mankind’s actions are a primary or even significant contributing cause to such change; and whether the West’s destruction of its own economies could halt or even slow such change while other major players (e.g., China and India) go about business as usual. 

The debate may have been declared over by such experts as Greta Thunberg and Harvard’s president (what was his field?), but that intolerant, authoritarian declaration does not make it so. The search for truth, something to which Harvard was once committed, goes on. All of the questions I listed in the prior paragraph are still open and unresolved. They will not go away because of self-satisfied, virtue signaling acts by America’s wealthiest and most privileged University.

 Jared E. Peterson, J.D. ’70 
Berkeley, Calif.

 

I read with great interest the arguments for and against divesting the Harvard endowment from the fossil fuel industry (“Divestment Debate, Overseer Slate,” January-February, 2020.) My simple overriding conclusion—the pro-divestment arguments were incredibly strong, and the anti-divestment arguments incredibly weak—pitiful, in fact.

The pro-divest arguments: we must divest now as an emergency action to save the planet’s climate and ecosystems from irreversible destruction—and we haven’t a moment to lose. Furthermore, our investment in fossil-fuel stocks makes us complicit in the continuing carbon build-up causing this destruction. In addition, the financial impact on our endowment will be nil. In fact, holding onto declining fossil-fuel stocks is a long-term risky loser.

The anti-divest argument: divestment is pointless symbolism. This reasoning ignores Harvard’s unique position as one of the world’s most influential universities, and that Harvard’s actions will reverberate and resonate around the globe. Instead, naysayers worried that we ought not appear “morally superior” and hurt the feelings of coal miners, refinery workers and “roughnecks,” as if there were no possible way for a just transition to a zero-carbon economy for fossil-fuel workers.

Fortunately, the NYC Public Pension system was not so overwrought about this when they voted to divest in 2018.

I eagerly await the Board of Overseers election this spring. All candidates should announce their position on this issue. It will give us Harvard voters a real choice.

Ricardo Hinkle, M.L.A. ’90, RLA
New York City

 

Is Math Beautiful?

“Real Math is a quest driven by curiosity and wonder,” Jacob Barandes writes in his review of Mathematics for Human Flourishing, by Frances Su (“The Mystery of Mathematics,” January-February, page 60), adding that, according to Su, anyone can become proficient at it. But should we expect all students to experience the quest for real math?

For Barandes, “Real math is about making bold conjectures and then figuring out how to turn them into eternal theorems by proving them. Kids can start to do real math as soon as they’re able to play around with puzzles, draw pictures, and reason logically….”

In reading this I realized there is a fundamental flaw in this approach, which may be why so many people fear and hate math. None but the most exceptional mathematicians will ever truly make bold conjectures and then figure out how to turn them into eternal theorems by proving them. Furthermore, by pushing this standard we set up students to fail, and then to hate math. This approach sets up a false dichotomy: either you are good at math and appreciate the beauty of mathematics, or you are not good at math, so you can’t.

​It doesn’t need to be this way. We can enjoy music even if we can’t play an instrument, yet very few people will ever write a hit song, let alone a symphony. You and I can enjoy reading and understand literature, even if neither of us can write a novel. Why do we require people to become mathematicians to learn about math? 

Instead of expecting students to become “real” mathematicians, why not show them how to appreciate mathematics? Mathematics appreciation would involve teaching the power of mathematics to solve important problems and then showing how mathematicians achieved mastery of these ideas. 

We can still teach students about proofs. We can even show how one proof can cross many branches of mathematics. Math appreciation will arise from people seeing and understanding the achievements of others, not through a requirement that each person experience the “Aha!” moment of deep mathematical discovery for themselves.

With a focus on math appreciation rather than mathematics wizardry, perhaps we can reduce math phobia and achieve greater student achievement in mathematics as well.

Andy Davidson ’81
New York City

 

Guns

I grew up with rifles in our house; they had locks on the triggers, were stored in the attic, and my father kept the ammunition at the club where he taught us to shoot trap.  

In 1992 I took Dr. Hemenway’s class, long before Columbine, Sandy Hook, and a myriad of other locations were nightmares shared by our collective American experience. I am incredulous that nearly 30 years hence, his cogent, sensible public-health policy arguments regarding gun-control (“Doing Less Harm,” January-February, page 43) still fall on bureaucratic deaf ears. Clearly, Hemenway’s research throws a mirror up to what very well may be the single greatest public health/public policy challenge we face as nation moving forward.

Robert G. Denmark, M.P.H.’92,
S.D.M. ’94, D.M.D.
Lafayette Hill, Pa.

 

In looking at the salient interface of “who” and “what” in matters of gun violence, how easy is it to overlook or forget Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1844 story, “The Earth’s Holocaust”?

The world leaders successfully convene and set about to destroy the whole “what” apparatus of war with self-congratulations in order. But an old man, dressed as a Napoleonic soldier, muses about the “who” in noting how Cain needed no weapon to kill Abel. And later, a “dark-complexioned” stranger with fire in his eyes joins the expanding conversation. He self-satisfyingly proclaims that unless some method is devised to purge that “foul cavern,” the “human heart,” it will be an “old world yet” with even worse shapes of misery. A new apparatus if you will.

John C. Rankin, Th.M. ’91
West Simsbury, Conn.


Zoning and Climate Change

I beg to disagree with Robert Liberty (“Zoning and Climate Change,” Letters, January-February, page 2) that judicial administration of local zoning under the Mount Laurel decision has utterly failed to achieve its goal of reducing local zoning barriers to more affordable housing types. Recent experience teaches completely otherwise. 

I have practiced land-use law in New Jersey for 35 years and devoted a considerable part of my practice to litigating affordable-housing issues under the Mount Laurel doctrine. The New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2015 decision (“Mount Laurel IV”), in which I participated, removed a dysfunctional state agency from the process of administering affordable-housing laws, and returned jurisdiction to the courts. Consequently, more than 300 municipalities initiated and have settled more than 300 separate lawsuits with plans to provide cumulatively for tens of thousands of affordable-housing units.

I have represented developers in about a dozen of these suits. The municipal plans, designed to create a realistic opportunity to provide each town’s fair share of affordable housing, have included substantial re-zoning by towns for the construction of new affordable-housing units as part of multi-family inclusionary developments at densities far higher than previously permitted and with unit types not previously allowed. Monitoring in the next year or so will provide hard data on how many units have actually been built in the past few years.

Effective advocacy by the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center, and courts’ extensive use of special masters, have been crucial in a state where home rule still dominates decision-making on zoning and affordable-housing issues and statewide legislative consensus on affordable housing has proven elusive. 

Jeffrey Kantowitz, J.D. ’82
Teaneck, N.J. 

 

BDS and Israel

David Mendenhall trivializes Angela Davis’s support for BDS by dismissing Jonathan Burack’s charge that BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] “aims to dismantle the Jewish homeland” (Letters, January-February, page 4). BDS founder Omar Barghoudi does not equivocate about the right of Jews to self-determination: “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish State in any part of Palestine.”

The pro-BDS organizations Mendenhall cites have long spread the myth that Israel is the cause of all ills in the region, and applied standards of morality to which no other country—dozens involved in much more violent and enduring conflicts—is subjected. 

Demonization of Israel is pursued even when it clearly harms Palestinian Arabs, the very people BDS claims to champion. For example, last year, almost 600 Palestinians lost their jobs at an Israeli-run Soda Stream factory on the West Bank as a result of BDS advocacy. The organization publicly rejoiced at this “win” for the movement.

Alex Bruner, M.B.A. ’76
Boca Raton

 

David Mendenhall, Ph.D. ’71, in his letter, starts off by whitewashing and defending the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the State of Israel; that is, to use his own words, both way “off the mark…and inconsistent, to say the least” in many ways. His arguments for supporting BDS are either factually incorrect, deliberately misleading, or simply irrelevant. He appears to be a member of and an apologist and propagandist for the so-called Jewish Voice for Peace (“JVP”).

The fact that the BDS movement may be supported by a certain physicist, by a certain Christian denomination, or by the well-known anti-Israel JVP is simply irrelevant to the BDS issue which, in fact, does have as its ultimate goal the dismantling the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. Only the Palestinians themselves, together with the Arab and Moslem world, can end the so-called “occupation,” by unequivocally accepting a Jewish homeland in the State of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to live there in peace and security.

Mendenhall then attempts to inflate the importance of and support for his JVP group. What does “advertising over 70 local chapters” mean? Are there, in fact, over 70 existing and active JVP local chapters or do they just claim that there are? What does “200,000 on-line supporters” mean? Is it that JVP has 200,000 active, dues-paying members or that JVP got 200,000 clicks from people on line for whatever reason? That hardly equates for support for JVP or the BDS movement. JVP is, in fact, a tiny organization with only a handful of chapters and a very small group of activists and supporters way outside the mainstream of the public discourse on the Middle East and with virtually no support in the American Jewish community. The only thing “Jewish” about the JVH is its use of that adjective in its name to attract the unwary. JVP is simply dedicated to demonizing and destroying the State of Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people 

He then goes on to assert that “at local JVP meetings, member lawyers have pointed out that…Individuals living under Israeli control [presumably including all Israeli citizens] cannot appeal to constitutional rights because Israel has no constitution.” This is a totally incorrect assertion on so many levels that it underlies the self-deluding ignorance of JVP. I trust that none of those so-called “lawyers” are graduates of the Harvard Law School. First, having a written U.S.-style constitution is, in itself, neither a prerequisite nor a guarantee to a government respecting human rights. Would the JVP also assert that Russia or China, which have written constitutions, respect human rights more than Great Britain, which has no U.S.-style constitution? Instead of a U.S.-style constitution, Israel does have a set of Basic Laws which govern throughout and a robust court system, including the Israeli Supreme Court, which supports human rights and the right of appeal for all Israelis and Palestinians. 

He concludes by accusing the U.S. administration’s “sanction[s of] Russia over its [Russia’s] occupation of Eastern Ukraine [of being]…inconsistent, to say the least.” What is inconsistent and a sign of something much more disturbing is Mr. Mendenhall and the JVP’s signaling out Israel as the only country who is engaged in an “occupation” where “basic human rights” are “routinely violated.” What did Mr. Mendenhall and the JVP do during the many years of genocide and population displacement in Syria? What are they doing now about the Russian occupation by force of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, the Chinese occupation by force of Tibet, the Turkish occupation by force of Northern Cyprus, etc.? What are they doing now about the far too prevalent routine violation of human rights throughout the world today including those of the Uighers in China, of Moslems in Kashmir, and of women and LGBT persons in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and throughout the Moslem world? 

What is most disturbing in Mr. Mendenhall and JVP’s factually challenged signaling out of only Israel, while totally ignoring the far too many human rights abuses worldwide, is that it is classic and dangerous anti-Semitism. It is simply anti-Semitic to deny the Jewish people their own homeland among nearly 200 nation states in the world, to criticize only Israel, and to ignore faults and human-rights issues elsewhere. Have we already forgotten that what started out as “Blame Just the Jews for All of the World’s Problems” and “Do Not Buy from the Jews” ending up as the Holocaust?

Joseph Rafalowicz, J.D. ’71
New Rochelle, N.Y.

 

One would hope that people associated with Harvard would know more about the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem. Please permit this old rancher to enlighten you. Jews have lived in Jerusalem for over 3,000 years. Except for the times when Jerusalem was occupied by the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans, Jews considered Jerusalem to be their capital city and the holy temple their seat of government. In all that time, and 3,000 years is a long time, Jerusalem was never divided.

In 1948 the Jews, supported by the majority of countries in the United Nations, declared the establishment of the first Jewish country in 2,000 years. Following Israel’s declaration of independence, it was invaded by five Arab nations who were not prepared to accept a Jewish country in their midst.

One of these countries, Jordan, occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Jordan proceeded to ethnically cleanse Jews from East Jerusalem. It turned synagogues into animal mangers and vandalized Jewish cemeteries.

In 1967, Israel recaptured the occupied lands. Jordan refused to discuss any matters relating to the living arrangements of the Arab occupants who moved into these areas, and the local Arabs who only became Palestinians in 1966 were emotionally unable to negotiate with an entity that they viewed as occupiers.

To maintain that the Palestinians have a legal claim to East Jerusalem would legitimize Jordan’s division of the city. Nowhere in international law has Jordan’s division of Jerusalem been validated.

While Israel has no legal obligation to cede half of its capital city to the Palestinian Arabs, it has a moral obligation to make life as fair and just for all the occupants, Jew and Arab alike. Arabs living in Israel are citizens who deserve all the rights and obligations one expects from a small democracy surrounded by enemies.

I’m hopeful that the information in this letter will assist people to have a better understanding of the issue of the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem.

Larry Shapiro
Rancho Mirage, Calif.

 

Responding to criticism of Angela Davis’s strong support of BDS, David Mendenhall writes that criticism of BDS is off the mark. But it is Mendenhall that is off the mark. Omar Barghouti, the founder, is quite open about the movement’s aim, namely the destruction of Israel. The fact that those with a long history of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism support the BDS movement does not change its malevolent aims. Stephen Hawking’s brilliance in physics does not make him knowledgeable about happenings in the Middle East. Jewish Voice for Peace, despite its name, is rabidly anti-Israel. Mendenhall’s belief in JVP’s size as well as its intent is also off the mark. The number of its supporters, taken from its most recent tax return, as reported by Charity Navigator, is 15,300 members, a far cry from the 200,000 he claimed.

Believing the lack of a formal constitution means a person’s basic rights cannot be defended is not only false, it is silly. Israel, like Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand, all without a constitution, have ample statutes, case law, and precedents defending individual rights. All citizens of Israel, whether Arab, Jewish, Christian, enjoy the same basic human and civil rights. It is the Arabs living in the Palestinian territories, commonly referred to as the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who live under corrupt dictatorships without freedom of speech, press, or religion.

Despite Mendenhall’s advanced degrees, his understanding of Israel is far removed from reality.

Conrad Nadell
Scotch Plains, N.J.

 

Regardless of who supports the BDS movement, David Mendenhall cannot change the fact that Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of BDS, has said the SOLE purpose of BDS is the euthanasia of the Zionist dream of Israel. A student of history, Barghouti knows full well that the Nazi T4 Euthanasia Program was the foundation of the Final Solution of the Jews as enacted in the Wannsee Protocol in January 1942. His use of the word euthanasia leaves no doubt he co-founded BDS to continue the anti-Semitic eliminationist mission formalized by Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann at the Wannsee Conference. 

As far as a constitution, Mr. Mendenhall is obviously unaware that Israel has the same constitutional system as Great Britain, which has succeeded for quite some time without a written constitution.

Richard Sherman
Margate, Fla.


David Mendenhall
writes purportedly about “Angela Davis and Israel.” When reduced to its essence, however, the letter is a “Hail Mary” attempt to justify the efforts on various campuses for BDS by relying on BDS’s support by a fringe group bizarrely named “Jewish Voice for Peace.” 

Jewish Voice for Peace is described by the centrist ADL organization as “a radical anti-Israel activist group.” ADL described a 2017 video by JVP as “veering dangerously close to repeating anti-Semitic slurs.” Yet, Mendenhall extols JVP and relies on its support for BDS as the main plank of his case.

 Mendenhall doesn’t address the substance of BDS because BDS can’t be respectably defended. He says that the statement by Jonathan Burack ’64 in his letter (November-December 2019, page 4) that BDS “aims to dismantle the Jewish homeland” is “off the mark,” but Mendenhall doesn’t explain his criticism of Burack. While BDS has recently been packaged as [representing an] objection to Israel’s dealings with the Palestinian Arabs, its founders, including Omar Barghouti, were indeed dedicated to the total elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.

BDS adherents claim that they want to help Palestinians. However, by boycotting Israeli companies, BDS is depriving Palestinian Arabs of employment. Five hundred Palestinian workers were laid off by SodaStream in 2015 as a result of BDS attacks. That does not matter, however, to BDS zealots, who will not let the welfare of their supposed beneficiaries obstruct their efforts to destroy Israel.

Mark I. Fishman ’67, J.D. ’70
Fairfield, Conn.

 

Sexual Harassment

It is appalling that the rate of sexual assaults at Harvard (“Sexual Assault Rates Unchanged,” January-February, page 24) remains unchanged since 2015. Four-fifths of attacks among undergraduates were perpetrated by other students and more than two-thirds occurred in University housing—and the report notes that “the majority of students do not report incidents to the University.” 

More worrisome to me is the lack of any information in this brief article about the University’s response and work toward prevention, even as we live in a society that generally makes little effort to protect women and men from sexual assaults. We focus on the end result. We study the woman attacked, bypassing the culture that fails to prevent it. We offer counseling and self-defense courses, but rarely deal with preventing attacks. We rarely talk about sexual assault with incoming students. I wonder what the University can do, using all its resources for the life-changing scholarship lauded by President Bacow, to change the algorithm. I wonder if the magazine can publish that information along with just the raw data. 

Harris C. Faigel ’56, M.D. 
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

 

Editor’s note: All peer schools in recent surveys report similar rates of harassment and assault, regrettably, and almost all show rates of such incidents increasing, due perhaps to increased willingness by those affected to notify authorities. The magazine has reported on Harvard’s prevention programs, and will continue to do so. The full annual University data, including deterrence and prevention measures, appear at https://titleix.harvard.edu/files/titleix/files/harvard_title_ix_odr_2019_annual_report.pdf.

 

Athletics and Admissions

Re: Thomas Ehrlich’s letter (January-February, page 74), why should corpore sano be ignored for admission? Is the College’s focus on “teaching and scholarship” or on preparing students for proactive, productive lives? Harvard commendably seeks excellence in many forms, and athletic excellence deserves “a heavy thumb on the admissions scale.”

Carlo Zezza ’57
Chicago

 

Synthesizing Biology

I found it ironic that your article “Engineering Life” (January-February, page 37), praises the development of new forms of life in the service of soldiers inflicting death (page 39). Really? That’s laudable, using cutting-edge biology to help American soldiers kill poor people for their natural resources? How about hospitals, rather than platoons, hmmm?

 Disappointed by the author’s misplaced priorities. 

Albert C. Doyle Jr. ’83, S.M. ’90
Littleton, Colo.

Editor’s note: The science and the application described pertain to situations where combatants are in service, and have nothing to do with putting them into service. When they are injured or harmed, this is a response to that damage—and obviously would apply to civilians in similar stressful circumstances. Some years ago, the magazine covered research on traumatic brain injury, led by a professor who became interested in the subject during his tours of military duty (https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2012/03/the-traumatized-brain ). Surely it is worthwhile discovering how to help people so injured, no matter the circumstances: civilians in an auto accident, the soldiers on the base in Iraq who were concussed during the recent barrage of missiles from Iran. So perhaps there is a conflating of causes and effects here: scientists working on life-saving interventions are not advocating military activity; the research indeed applies to what might go on in hospitals, or nonhospital care settings, military or civilian….

 

Tuition-free Colleges?

The article about a professor’s proposal to make public colleges tuition-free (“Could College Be Free?” January-February, page 10) is misleading and underdeveloped.

First, for-profit enrollment—a key contention driving Professor David Deming’s recommendations—has in fact declined precipitously in the last several years. Enrollment fell roughly 46 percent from the fall of 2010 to the spring of 2019 at four-year for-profit schools, for example, and their public market value has declined by $20 billion.

Second, the arguments behind free public college suffer from a number of limitations. Making college free would crowd out emerging options that are faster and less expensive; support a subpar system in which a stunning number of students fail to graduate from four-year colleges within six years; help those who need it the least and not those who need it the most by supporting their living expenses, not just tuition; cause the country to add to its debt without addressing the underlying cause of college’s exorbitant expenditures; and, as evidence from Britain and Germany shows, counterintuitively cause the country to underinvest over the long run in public colleges, which will lead to their decline.

Third, there are far better ways to influence college outcomes, such as aligning institutional risk with that of individuals and introducing more nuanced accountability systems that focus on value and comparing institutions with similar missions to each other.

Finally, Deming’s argument assumes a supply-side view of the world—that there is a monolithic set of reasons why students enroll in college. Research we conducted for our book Choosing College (Jossey-Bass), however, found that that’s anything but the case, and that people’s reasons don’t align with a “what’s best” ideal. Choice that aligns with the progress individuals are trying to make in their lives is critical.

Michael B. Horn, M.B.A. ’06
Lexington, Mass.

 

Harvard Finances

The next time the need arises to interpret a self-congratulatory report on Harvard’s finances, please share the assignment between your editor, John Rosenberg, and your brilliant Undergraduate columnist, Drew Prendergrass. Applying his literate wit and expertise to the Harvard Management Company’s “long game” resuscitation labors might spare readers effusions about “the happy result” of fund-raising or the cushion that is “surely the envy of other institutions of higher learning.” Concentrating in physics and mathematics, he would know whether, after a $4-billion loss, the glass of the inflation-adjusted endowment is half-full or half-empty.

Alfred Friendly Jr. ’59
Washington, D.C.

 

Baseball Rules

I want to respond to a letter in the November-December issue (page 86) of Harvard Magazine that is responding to a baseball profile in the May-June issue (“All Instincts,” May-June 2019, page 32). Paul Coran writes that a batter may attempt to steal first base on a wild pitch when there are no other baserunners. Jacob Sweet clarified that such a rule exists in the Independent Atlantic League but not in college or MLB. I cannot disagree with Mr. Sweet on these specifics, but I have never heard of that rule at any level of baseball. I am aware of the rule that a batter may attempt to advance to first base when the catcher fails to secure the third strike and no runner is already on first base. The batter is subject to being put out if the ball reaches first base before the batter does. As far as I know, that rule applies at just about every level of competitive baseball, at least down into high school. 

As an aside—in MLB in years past, late 1930s or early 1940s, a team lost a game and eventually a World Series when the catcher muffed a third strike and the batter reached first base safely. I am fairly certain that the losing team was the Chicago Cubs—they managed to screw up just about any way possible. You could look it up!

Richard Anton
Austin

 

Errata and Amplifications

The Coming Eldercare Tsunami” (January-February, page 12) misidentified Ph.D. student Daria Savchenko as a postoctoral fellow.

We inadvertently omitted Wendi C. Thomas’s middle initial and truncated the name of her organization, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, in “Renewing the News” (January-February, page 48).

Sports Medicine Man” (January-February, page 35), misstated Brant Berkstresser’s title; he is associate director of athletics for student-athlete health and performance. Berkstresser notes also that the athletic training staff, not the Micheli Center, carries out Harvard’s baseline concussion testing, and that the Crimson Mind and Body Program, which offers mental-health programming, is part of the athletic department’s overall health and performance model, which coordinates medical services, nutrition, mental health, and strength and conditioning for athletes.

Lena Chen (“Creative Exposure,” January-February, page 57) is enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Carnegie Mellon, not the University of Pittsburgh.

We regret these errors.

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The author is first row, second from left; Professor Mel Chen is second row, second from right.
Screenshot courtesy of Julie Chung

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A human arm wearing a white goat and rubber glove in a lab setting handles three containers of lab chemicals

A YouTube screenshot from the author’s virtual lab course

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