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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Academic class gaps, “Fair Harvard,” final clubs

July-August 2017

Linguistic Signs

I readA Language Out of Nothing” (by Marina Bolotnikova, May-June, page 50) with great interest. I was thrilled to see that ASL has returned to Harvard, and that the University embraces what has always been obvious to me: ASL is a language. That idea was once treated with hostility. While an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland in the late 1970s, I debated my linguistics professor over the validity of her pronouncement that hearing children of Deaf parents “suffer from retarded language development.” As none of the CODAs (Children of Deaf Adults) I knew (including my sister, my three cousins, and numerous friends) suffered from “retarded language development,” I pressed for the empirical evidence in support of her statement. She admitted she had none; she had deduced it must be so because, in her mind, ASL was not an actual language. To some, her statement could be viewed as one born of sloppy scholarship. To me, it reflected the same unfortunate and uninformed bias against and condescension toward Deaf people I had witnessed my entire life.

I have tried on occasion to explain the beauty of ASL to those who see only hands waving aimlessly in midair, but it is as difficult as explaining to my mother what Celine Dion sounds like. ASL conveys the sublime in ways the written and spoken word cannot. My mother could not read aloud to me, but her hands, her facial expressions and her body movements wove a moving tapestry that none of my less fortunate childhood friends (those with hearing parents) could understand. When her hands flung wide, she was shouting with joy. When they pulled in tight, she was whispering furtively. I didn’t hear what happened as the story unfolded, I lived through it.

 The fact that ASL is entirely visual certainly distinguishes it from spoken languages, but does not make it any less a language. ASL’s differences should be studied, not denigrated. I’m glad Professor Davidson, with Harvard’s support, has chosen to do so.

Andy Shipley, J.D. ’84
Vienna, Va.

I read with interest about the emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language, but I question one passage: “[R]esearchers from linguistics and other fields have come to doubt that a language instinct even exists, pointing out, for example, that it takes children years to successfully acquire a language, and they pick up the rules piecemeal, not systematically.” That ran counter to what I wrote about [then Lindsley professor of psychology] Roger Brown for the magazine in the September-October 1990 issue.

Brown was the first to study in a systematic way how children learn language. He and a group of his graduate students recorded the speech of three children ranging in age from 18 to 27 months, one of them for 11 months, the other two for several years. The three children, from different social and economic backgrounds, exhibited a similarity in the way they acquired language that Brown likened to the biological development of an embryo. In a book titled A First Language he described and explained what the recordings revealed. I quote from the article:

He identified fourteen morphemes that children learning English acquire essentially in the same order, ranging from the present progressive (-ing) and the prepositions in and on, which are the earliest to appear, through the past tense, the possessive, and the definite and indefinite articles (a, the), to auxiliary verbs, at first uncontracted (as in “that is”), then contracted (as in “that’s”).

To Brown there was no doubt that we are born with a language instinct. How else to account for the remarkable similarity in the ways children acquire English? Brown’s research methods have been applied to children learning other languages, with similar results.

John de Cuevas ’52
Cambridge

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 e-mail to yourturn@harvard.edu.

 

Thank you, Marina N. Bolotnikova, for your article. How true that “The study of language has shown that there is no need to discriminate against people who use signed languages.”

How sad that this message is not widely understood. The default paradigm is that everyone hears, or should hear, and signed languages, although fascinating, are associated with “impaired” people.

Professor Davidson’s work, her hope that ASL can be “a more natural part of what’s going on,” promises to chip away at Audism, which spawns discrimination leading to police brutality, denial of communication access in health care, employment, education, or lack of access to the arts, cinema, and a plethora of other situations.

We inherit a longstanding practice of linguistic and cultural oppression, where the powerful seek to limit language and cultural expression other than their own, and force assimilation—in this case, auditory-vocal over visual-gestural. ASL signers form what can be thought of as a large country without borders. Distinct sign languages in other parts of the world mirror this position, though Harvard excludes them all equally.

Absurdly, ASL does not meet Harvard’s foreign-language requirement. This foreclosed my option about 15 years ago to pursue a degree as a staff member part time in the Extension School. My credits in ASL from Northeastern University could not be transferred, my study of linguistics stalled, as further years becoming proficient in another language was impractical.

Let us hope ASL will be soon be honored as a foreign language thanks in part to the initiative of Davidson and her department.

The prequel to the currently planned ASL courses and events were classes taught by visiting scholar Marie Jean Philip, a Deaf woman who was studying for her Ph.D. in cultural anthropology at Boston University while teaching ASL courses at Harvard in the early 1990s. She was an ambassador from the country of the Deaf, much loved and honored by Harvard students. Philip was a credit to the University; with her passion for teaching, academic ingenuity as a cultural anthropologist to promote understanding of culture as well as language, and her staunch defense of Deaf children’s right to learn ASL.

Rachel Herman
General cook, Lowell House
Billerica, Mass.

I come from a family of genetic and cultural deafness that has worked for generations to advance the rights of the Deaf community. Marina Bolotnikova’s article on linguistics and American Sign Language was simply superb. Her article and the research she describes will go a long way toward promoting justice for and recognition of the Deaf community. Linguists since William Stokoe have long discovered what some in the medical community have not yet accepted; that for the educational advancement of the Deaf community, Deaf children need to be exposed to American Sign Language and Deaf culture early in addition to any other approach.

Jacob Buchholz ’09
Pomona, Calif.

Let me amplify Marina Bolotnikova’s fascinating “A Language Out of Nothing.” That ASL was a true language was an early-nineteenth, not a twentieth-century, insight. William Stokoe’s American precursor was the polymath George Perkins Marsh. Marsh’s 1824 Report on the Education of the Deaf and Dumb lauded sign language as more universally and rapidly conveyed than spoken tongues. Praising deaf mutes as “good grammarians and logical reasoners,” Marsh opposed the incapacitating oral substitution later mandated by Horace Mann and S.F.B. Morse.

Best known for his conservation classic Man and Nature (1864), Marsh had to decline Harvard’s 1855 offer to succeed Jared Sparks as history professor. Instead he became U.S. minister to newly united Italy (1861-1882), and mentor there in Dante studies to Harvard art historian Charles Eliot Norton, and in forestry to Charles Sprague Sargent of Harvard’s Arnold Arboretum. Marsh felt signs were not mere adjuncts to articulate speech, but often preferable to it. In southern Europe, he wrote, “communications by hands, face, feet, the whole person are everywhere…qualifications of animated oral discourse much more truth-telling than words.” (Lectures on the English Language [1885]).

David Lowenthal ’44
Author of George Perkins Marsh, Prophet of Conservation (University of Washington Press, 2000)
Berkeley, Calif.

As a graduate student at Harvard studying child language with Professor Roger Brown in the 1970s, I was aware of the work of other students associated with him, many of whom continued to make significant contributions in the fields of linguistics and psycholinguistics. One of these students was Ursula Bellugi, Ed.D. ’67 (who married and collaborated with fellow linguist Edward Klima.) She began to study the linguistics of American Sign Language early in her career; later, on the faculty of the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, she continued to conduct extensive research on the biological basis of ASL. Given that she has been a foremost pioneer in this field, I found the absence of any mention of her work a significant omission in the article describing the research on ASL by Professor Kathryn Davidson. This seems especially true in view of the fact that Dr. Bellugi has contributed so significantly to the body of scholarship by Harvard graduates.

K. Lee (Williams) Willis, Ph.D. ’74
Charlottesville, Va.

 

Academic Class Gaps

Being one of the college-educated (and then some) whites who voted for Donald Trump, “Harvard’s Class Gap” (by Richard D. Kahlenberg, May-June, page 35) was all I expected it to be from the first paragraph to the last. The worldview of the author and the other self-proclaimed “elites” for whom he speaks has virtually no similarity to mine, which is shared by roughly half of those who voted in the election.

The condescending conviction of the “elites” in the vast superiority of the “elite” worldview is astonishing. The “class gap” is a misnomer. Those who voted for Trump are not a “class.” We are not all white, we are not all blue collar, we are not all poor, and we are not all without college educations. The “gap” is not a gap, but an unbridgeable gulf between the progeny of Burke and Adams, and the progeny of Rousseau and Marx. A better name for the “elites” is the utopians. All utopians begin on the left and eventually move to the totalitarian right. Inside every utopian is a religious zealot. Unfortunately, the utopians now control our entire educational system and can convert the vast majority of their students (80 percent at Harvard!) to their faith in a free lunch, without opposition from those who have experienced otherwise.

The utopians’ iron hand in velvet glove revolution faced a conservative counter-revolution in 2016. The United States are no longer united, and we are no longer one country. We are a house divided against itself in which a civil war is unfolding. Not being utopian and zealous, and being opposed by all ivory tower dwellers, the conservatives are likely to lose, while the utopians seize total control of the house and enforce uniform obedience to their mythology. There goes the last best hope. Too bad. I’m glad I didn’t entirely miss that wonderful historical anomaly of freedom and democracy.

Stan Prowse, J.D. ’73
Carlsbad, Calif.

I applaud Kahlenberg for chronicling “Harvard’s Class Gap.” Harvard needs to take affirmative action to fix this appalling lack of diversity. The gap extends beyond class and politics. I noted in the same issue (“Yesterday’s News,” page 22) that 40 percent of freshmen in 1952 were enrolled in ROTC. Today, less than one half of 1 percent of the graduating class serve in the military. The nation suffers when Harvard students eschew and left-leaning, elitist faculty members discourage careers in the armed forces. The result: Harvard’s influence is largely absent in the development of military strategy and operations, a major instrument of national power that has life and death consequences.

Lawrence Spinetta, M.P.P. ’95
Austin

I take vehement exception to the article’s calling America’s white working class “Donald Trump’s ‘forgotten’ Americans.” They deserve far better than to be labeled his. They aren’t his. To get elected, he conned millions of them. Now, with policies that favor the wealthiest Americans, he is screwing all of them. You could say that he has forgotten them...but, then, he had them in mind only very briefly and only for his benefit.

James Parry ’64
Darien, Conn.

The most significant article I’ve read in any Harvard publication since graduation from the Law School. Everyone, especially the political elites as well as the rest of us know-it-alls, should take Kahlenberg’s points to heart or we will not be able to save our democracy. How easy it is to live smugly in a bubble these days.

Frederick Sterns, J.D. ’54
Plymouth, Mass.

I do not agree with Kahlenberg’s premise that universities such as Harvard should don hair shirts for failure to be interested in admitting more students from working-class families. The fundamental purpose of financial assistance for undergraduates is to include students who are qualified and well motivated but cannot afford to attend without aid. This includes students from working-class families. How many more students from working-class families must Harvard and other universities admit to prevent another Trump from becoming president?

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

I am deeply grateful for this article. It is what I have been trying to communicate to my liberal friends. The liberal media, politicians, the academy and many of the liberal elite are actually at the root of our failing democracy.  We have not made space for others, and this is what it has come to. The mean and condescending tone of Daily Kos, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow et. al really disgusts me. The disdain they express for Trump's base, many of whom are white and poor, is selfish and extremely divisive. When are we going to internalize this and make bridges across these hardening lines?  It is in our hands to reframe class and race for our party.  Every time we act dumbfounded, make a joke, roll our eyes or say something patronizing about this group, we only prove ourselves to be in a deepening egocentric liberal bubble, unable to respect their point of view, pushing people away even more, and further destroying any hope we have of bringing this country back together.

Rebecca Houghton ’89
Portland, Ore.

The article on Harvard’s class gap is the best discussion of this I have read. It is a national issue which has not been identified to any significant degree yet has major consequences for the future comity of our society. One hopes that institutions like Harvard can increase public awareness of the class gap and its implications by further symposia, workshops, and publications.

Dale H. Cowan ’59, M.D. ’63, J.D.
Brecksville, Ohio

One answer to Kahlenberg’s article might be early education. The children of low-income families do not receive a good education. Their teachers are generally not as qualified as teachers in higher-income schools, especially in the formative years of K-12. These children are not receiving the education necessary to qualify for college, especially the elite colleges. So let’s not blame the admitting departments for admitting qualified applicants, but instead do something about giving K-12 children an education that will lead them to being qualified for college.

Arthur Rock, M.B.A. ’51
San Francisco

Almost 30 years ago I was privileged to take a class from Robert Coles, “The Novels of Charles Dickens.” My life continues to be enriched from exposure to this intellectual and spiritual giant. Kahlenberg did a nice job of highlighting Coles’s career. I read the article thinking he would acquaint his readers with other men and women within the Harvard orbit who’ve worked among Middle Americans, the author’s catch phrase for working-class Americans who are down the socioeconomic and political spectrums, compared to his own. It did not happen. Surely there are others who’ve attended the elite academy, who have enlightening stories and interpretations, who’ve also done great work. If Kahlenberg wishes to inform and broaden his readers, he must first inform and broaden himself.

Robert Kittrell, M.P.A. ’87
Tucson

Richard Kahlenberg asks “…what is to be done about the liberal academic blind spot (elitism) regarding working-class people?” In a following paragraph he suggests skewing admissions policies to favor working-class applicants. He goes on to propose that, “Exposing professors and fellow students to more bright young men and women of working-class backgrounds may deepen empathy and reduce the likelihood that academics will stereotype blue-color people as stupid or backward.”

Let’s be real. Except in very rare individual cases, no amount of skewing will prepare a meaningful number of working-class candidates to measure up to the level of academic performance needed to succeed at Harvard. Harvard requires not only “bright young men and women” but prepared young men and women. And if they are working-class young men and women, it requires a change in environment so great as to be sometimes shattering, a change far greater than the usual incoming students face.

Through the efforts of a childless and concerned aunt and uncle, the support of the GI Bill, and the recommendation of a member of an old Boston family, I came to Harvard as the son of a single working-class mother. Her mother ran a rooming house for railroad transients and her father repaired air brakes in the Pennsylvania Railroad round house. I can tell you that in no way did my presence at Harvard “reduce the likelihood that academics will stereotype blue-collar people as stupid or backward.” In fact, I can imagine some of those academics, a few of whom I continue to admire, crying out, “I came to Harvard to teach nothing but the best!”

Kahlenberg’s suggestions appear impractical to me, impractical because the question calls for answers that take in a larger view. In one view Harvard lies at one end of a spectrum and blue-collar workers at the other. That’s as it should be, some will say, and the farther the better.

Yet in the broad view, the working class, a term no way suggesting the variety of people it covers, deserves more than marginalization or to be categorized as deplorable. I believe the fate of today’s working class is challenging the fundamental ideals of American democracy. Certainly intensifying Harvard’s awareness of this challenge would go a long way toward bridging Kahlenberg’s gap.

Only the powers that steer Harvard’s course can reasonably be expected to cause this to happen. To those powers I say whatever their plans for Harvard are, I have a modest suggestion: keep in mind the myth of Antaeus. Hercules defeated Antaeus by lifting him off the ground. Antaeus’s overwhelming strength lay in the earth. By keeping in touch with the earth he could not be defeated. For Harvard to remain as a coherent American institution, I believe it must adhere to a course that somehow continually seeks to anchor itself to the earth, to common men and women and their world.

James W. Downs ’51
Suffern, N.Y.

 

“Fair Harvard”

The last thing that anyone could expect to find in Harvard Yard in 2017 is a living, breathing Puritan. And yet the very word, or idea, of such a being is apparently too much for today’s Harvard to endure. The news that Harvard would be holding a contest to change the last line of “Fair Harvard,” which includes the phrase, “Till the stock of the Puritans die,” raises the school, its students, and its administration to a new level of caricature.

I have to wonder how, as a scholar of history, President Drew Faust can sanction with ease the editing of a song written over 180 years ago, and also the eradication of the school’s founding sect from collective traditions. The line simply notes an optimism that the institution will last throughout history—indeed, as recipients of a Harvard education, every student and graduate is an intellectual heir of those original founders. Shall we disregard them now simply because they were white, or Christian, or “intolerant” by twenty-first century standards?

Furthermore, where do we stop? If we can edit music, why not literature? Why not art? Shall we paint over undesirable faces represented in hallway portraiture across campus? Shall we tear out pages from books assigned for classroom reading, when the content doesn’t square with modern norms?

Please, Harvard, get a grip, before you begin to do exactly what you’ve always professed to stand against.

William E. Pike ’95
Greencastle, Ind.

 

Final Clubs

Your May-June John Harvard Journal prioritized the “Social Club Saga” as the lead article (page 18). I want to share a few thoughts about the larger issue that led to sanctions on students belonging to single-gender organization.

Times have changed since I graduated in 1972. The club I belonged to (The Fly) was no more a bastion of male privilege than the two sports teams I participated on, which in spite of coeducation today, still function as single-gender programs. The surveys whose responses referenced club membership as correlated with sexual assault, also pointed to athletic team participation being correlated. Judging by recent headlines across the country, sports teams are getting at least as much negative exposure for bad behavior as fraternities. Yet there is no casual mention at Harvard of single-gender sports teams being “odious” [to quote the authors of the article] and no larger effort to eliminate them.

In 1972 the Fly Club was as diverse as the all-male university we attended. We had several black members and international boys from Mexico, France, England, Hong Kong, and Liberia. Through the club, I got to know law students and lawyers, business students and business people, future politicians, authors, journalists, capitalists, and others. I paid for my club dues with my summer earnings and had little left over to spend, but it was worth it. It was a unique class leveler.

Girls were allowed in the club only as visitors to a tiny guest room inside a separate entry, where they had to be signed in and out during restrictive hours. For social life with women, we were drawn back to Harvard’s Houses, where there were no restrictions on overnight guests or parties that I recall.

In a recent conversation with undergraduates at the club, I came to understand that socializing in the Houses has been cramped—if not stifled—by virtue of the number of undergraduates now housed. This resulted in more liberal use of club facilities for co-ed functions. I have no doubt that social functions at the Fly Cub are now better controlled than many or all that students have attended at Harvard: guest lists are strictly enforced, bartenders, bouncers, and strict codes about alcohol consumption cut off anyone inebriated and provide chaperones to make sure those who’ve had too much to drink get home safely. Learning to drink alcohol responsibly is something that may not happen outside such a structured environment.

I expect that what brought the University’s initial focus and wrath on to final clubs —sexual assault—is not now a problem as a result of the Fly Club. No surprise that, having targeted final clubs as a large contributor to the sexual assault problem, the dean and the president expanded their complaint with clubs to be one they thought that popular opinion would embrace: exclusivity and male privilege.

The issue of male privilege needs to be seen in the context of changing times. Fifty years ago, George W. Bush at Yale could amuse himself with pranks and dice and secret rituals, expecting that after four years of loafing and partying his family name and connections would get him where he wanted to be. Today, employment recruiters are screening potential candidates by their numbers: GPAs.

As for exclusivity, all elite institutions, their courses, and their extracurriculars are selective. Most of the country sees this as elitism, regardless of what Harvard says it is. Club members are selected on the basis of character and personality. One does not need wealth or privilege to become a member in a final club. Many clubs are able to help students who can’t afford the full dues.

The fact that the authors of the article allowed a balanced article to include this phrase—“a gender-exclusive social club may be odious”—says much about the broad-scale characterization which the University has drifted into making about organizations which for over a century have served Harvard students and graduates, some of whom who have gone on to become celebrated U.S presidents, senators, representatives, and governors, including a living governor of our state, Massachusetts [who later resigned]. And let’s not forget former Harvard administrators….By virtue of membership alone, are these leaders and the many others to be lumped together with founding fathers who owned slaves?

Trying to make gender separation on campus go away completely is not going to help educate this generation to meet the challenges of this decade, let alone this century. I believe that males need to come to understand the unearned privileges of “maleness” in our culture. I also believe women need to understand the important role their gender plays and has played in our culture. But I don’t believe this kind of understanding is inhibited by virtue of choosing to spend some time in the company of others of their gender. It might even be helped. There will be problems, and attitudes will need to be adjusted. Sanctions are not the way to accomplish this.

Edward R. Devereux ’72, Ed.M. ’78
Needham, Mass.

The push by the administration to penalize students who join final clubs is despicable. As a Jew who graduated from a public high school, I could not have joined a final club even if I had wanted to. I did have close friends who found such membership a valuable part of their undergraduate experience. To deny students that possibility is typical left-liberal tyranny. Remember the principle: I can disagree with what those students want to do while defending vigorously their opportunity—indeed, their right—to do so.

John P. Blass ’58, M.D., Ph.D.
New York City

As an alumnus of a final club, I appreciate the latest article and wish to comment on the position of Professor David Haig. Not incidentally, of my most lasting friendships from Harvard, many are club alumni.

The whole idea of a loyalty oath of any kind being mandated by the administration is a travesty. Had I known of such a thing when I was 18 and applying for admission, it would likely have sent me to Dartmouth (heaven forbid) or Berkeley. This is not Nazi Germany.

America has freedom of expression I believe; it is impossible (and unnecessary) to force anyone into practicing politically correct gender balance.

I applaud Haig’s objections and hope he and his colleagues can kill this cancer before it spreads.

Bertram G. Waters III ’60
Brookline, Mass.

I was moved to respond by the independent reporting during the past year on the USGSO [unrecognized single-gender social organization] social-club saga. As a member of AD Club and a participant in University organized sports, lacrosse and hockey, I am dismayed at the way the University/College administration has handled this.

I read with interest and admiration the piece on “Exclusivity from the Inside” [The Undergraduate, May-June, page 27] by Lily Scherlis which addresses this broad topic, but leaves the question open for debate (contrary to the College’s actions).

The very notion of an oath to be administered to undergraduates as a requirement to participate in University organizations horrifies me. Did we not learn from the McCarthy era?

Joe Prahl ’64, S.M. ’68, Ph.D. ’68
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

It seems to me that in recent years the big red “H,” a scarlet letter indeed, has stood primarily for “Hypocrisy.” I will pass over the fact that students, faculty, and administrators in general, while paying lip service to the principles of our First Amendment, are heavily biased in favor of leftist views and antipathetic to conservative ones (perhaps not to the degree of assaulting a speaker, as at Middlebury), to the extent that any departure from their mantra is deemed rightfully worthy of suppression. The atmosphere, of course, reminds older observers (or should) of the McCarthy era. As in those times, a person declining to pledge bovine obedience to what is or was politically correct, according to the self-constituted thought police, is censured, proscribed, ostracized (at Middlebury even injured) not for what he or she does, but for what he or she says, or even thinks. Roy Cohn would feel right at home.

No, the sharpest example of Harvard’s hypocrisy is the treatment by the Harvard administration of the men’s final clubs, in a context in which victimhood at the hands of white males has become a national sport. The ostensible and politically attractive reason for attempting to force the clubs to admit women is to curtail sexual abuse of college women on club premises. This is interesting, because most clubs have very restrictive policies for receiving women as guests and some do not receive them at all. If, then, women can be present on a round-the-clock basis, this change will work to prevent sexual abuse? If the Harvard administration were not so deeply hypocritical, and if its true motive was to curtail sexual abuse of women in the final clubs (to the extent that such exists), it would have proposed a more finely crafted solution, far less disruptive and absolutely certain to end the problem, viz., to urge the clubs to bar women from club premises entirely or admit them only for widely attended functions. I suppose clubmen could then give vent to their overweening libidos on the sidewalk, but that would be a straightforward matter for the police. Clearly, in the matter of the final clubs, the Harvard administration is cynically and hypocritically using a politically “good” but logically inapt reason to further an unassailably virtuous policy of political correctness, with the principles of the First Amendment again being conveniently ignored.

Thomas L. Higginson Jr. ’72
The Plains, Va.

Social clubs at Harvard have been around for many years. In the current discussion, it is probably worth pointing out that leadership at Harvard has frequently been provided by graduates who in their undergraduate years were members of final clubs. I am referring to Hooks Burr, Bob Stone, and Jamie Houghton, all of whom served as senior members of the Harvard Corporation in recent years. The ill effects of club membership on them are not apparent and their leadership of Harvard was exemplary.

I believe that Harvard is on shaky ground in proposing measures to discourage students from joining final clubs. Harvard College dean Rakesh Khurana would require that a student joining a final club forfeit the opportunity to obtain faculty endorsement for fellowships and would prohibit class-leadership positions. Perhaps the dean would like to go further and prohibit such a student from serving in the future as a member of Harvard’s governing bodies.

Full disclosure: I am a graduate member of a final club.

Henry H. Moulton ’46
Cambridge

When Harvard was formed, only white, male, Christian, and well-off potential students could apply. Everybody else was discriminated against. Whether it was gender, race, religion, or economic status—there was obvious, accepted, and recognized discrimination.

Today, while there has been great progress in reducing all forms of discrimination in Harvard’s policies, no one could claim that we are in a perfectly equal society, either at Harvard or in the world at large.

This is why it is so disturbing to find that the Harvard administration wishes us to believe, both in its gift policies and in its strictures against single-sex organizations, that women and men are, in their judgment, now equal. Why else would the University not accept a gift fund restricted to women, such as a scholarship for females only or a fund for, say, only women writers? Why else would the University want to outlaw women-only clubs and social organizations?

Harvard’s perverse policy stand in favor of integration of the sexes in every aspect of the University pretends that we are in a world that does not exist. Will the administration then go on logically to outlaw all organizations restricted to one non-Christian religion (Muslims only, for example), or one minority race (blacks, or Hispanics, for example), or one social class (students or parents who quality as poor)?

Until we are in a perfect society, which is probably never, students should be encouraged to correct for discrimination by being able to belong to groups which are restricted to members who are not white, male, Christian, and wealthy, or any combination thereof.

Our legal and constitutional rights of freedom of association and freedom of speech must be defended zealously, even when they conflict with ideals of nondiscrimination. Men-only clubs, for example, should be encouraged to abandon that policy and open their doors to both sexes. But students must not be punished unfairly for belonging to such organizations. Instead, students who are accepted into male-only organizations should be rewarded by the administration if they actively speak out for elimination of male-only privileges, by endorsing as strongly as possible their applications for such benefits as Rhodes scholarships.

Is not a policy of rewarding students for constructive behavior much better than an arbitrary policy of punishing students for policies which they may not endorse, may well be working to change, and were never responsible for in the first place?

I call on the faculty, apparently now the major bastion at Harvard for protection of rights of both free speech and free association, to challenge the administration’s wrong-headed punishment policies and instead institute a policy of rewards for positive action. I also call on the faculty to recognize that there are still aspects of discrimination at Harvard, and quickly force a reversal of the policy of not allowing women students to join women only social groups.

Let us all recognize that discrimination still exists, that we encourage students voluntarily to help reduce vestiges of discrimination, but that we still believe in the fundamental legal and constitutional rights of free speech and free association.

David W. Scudder ’57
Ipswich, Mass.

 

Inside The Advocate

I haven’t seen anything as deliciously chilling as Lily Scherlis’s vivid report on life inside the Harvard Advocate’s “crumbling white clapboard home on South Street” (The Undergraduate, “Exclusivity, from the Inside,” May-June, page 27) since I read Kenneth Grahame’s account of how the stoats and weasels behaved after occupying Toad Hall.

Paul Alkon ’57
Los Angeles

C’mon Harvard, lighten up! So Harvard has clubs for men only! Horrors! The dean is leaning over backwards so far his feet are off the ground. How about a little laissez-faire? You remind me more of our early, bossy Puritan forefathers than twenty-first-century liberals (or is “liberal” a bad word now?). Down with deanly meddling and purity oaths.

To top this off, The Undergraduate, by Lily Scherlis, writes with guilty feelings three pages about the clubbiness of The Advocate and scarcely mentions publishing a literary magazine. One would like to think that literary talent would be their aim. A non-Harvard person would be left wondering what function The Advocate served. I suspect than an undergraduate who had serious literary ambition would ignore The Advocate altogether. Time will tell.

Wanna bet?

Shane Riorden ’46
Newtown, Pa.

 

Fan Mail

The May-June 2017 issue was so outstanding….The thorough coverage, fine range of all important and interesting topics, writing and editing…really top flight. Will file for reference.

Diane B. Wunnicke ’62
Denver

I just wanted to say that your one-page brief lives section has been my favorite in the magazine for 40 years. I never skip it. Sometimes it’s the only thing in an issue I read. I think it could be a pretty interesting book that assembled them all together under one cover.

Dan Flath, Ph.D. ’77
St. Paul, Minn.

 

Epigenetics

I want to make a couple of constructive disagreements with the generally excellent article by Jonathan Shaw on “Is Epigenetics Inherited?” (May-June, page 13).

 Shaw quotes Karin Michels as saying, “Every cell in the human body has the same DNA, or underlying genetic code.” This is a common but quite mistaken assertion. In fact, lymphocytes undergo a period of “somatic cell mutation,” especially in the hyper-mutable region that codes for the variable region of antibodies and T-cell receptors. This mutation alters the sequence of DNA in an individual’s lymphocyte cells, making essentially every lymphocyte genetically different from all other lymphocytes. Since this happens well after conception (before and after birth), every person’s genetic sequences in his or her lymphocytes is potentially (and actually) different from other individuals’. This is not a minor nor a trivial effect—there are some 1012 lymphocytes in the human body (i.e., more than than the number of stars in our galaxy, and approximately the same number as the number of neurons in our brains). More interesting, this somatic cell mutation is an essential (and fascinating, though still not completely understood) process that allows persons to mount immune responses against many billions of foreign molecules, none of which the person has been exposed to previously. It is one of the spectacular capabilities of the human body, and shouldn’t be dismissed for the sake of simplicity.

My second point is perhaps not so much scientific as semantic, and has to do with what is meant by “epigenetics.” Shaw does not provide a rigorous definition, other than saying it “governs whether specific genes in the body are turned on or not.” My Google defines epigenetics more usefully as “the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself.” As Professor Michels points out, one of these epigenetic mechanisms is DNA methylation but, as she acknowledges, this is not the only mechanism.

Yet she argues that mechanisms that involve propagated environmental exposures are not legitimately considered epigenetic processes (in one example, coat color and nutrition): “{P]roving that an epigenetic configuration can be passed transgenerationally would require ruling out the possibility that any observed effect might have resulted from exposure in the womb [sic].” I beg to differ.

Consider a process that has been demonstrated, but whose complete mechanism is still not understood. Mother rats who are stressed and “nervous” give birth to pups who grow up to exhibit behavioral changes of nervousness and elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. There is a belief that stressed mothers have elevated levels of cortisol during pregnancy, and that as a result in utero expression of genes affecting the development of the endocrine and nervous systems is altered (but not by altering the genes themselves). This results in elevated levels of cortisol in the progeny, which results in the second generation pups having the same alterations, which may then be transmitted to their progeny, etc…. This sort of process is, I believe, an excellent example of “epigenetic” processes. It may result from, and be altered by, internal environmental levels of a chemical, but may exhibit heritability without altering gene sequences. I believe it is therefore a disservice to discount mechanisms that involve processes other than methylation as qualifying as epigenetic.

Keep up the outstanding work!

Erik Schweitzer ’75, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate research neuroscientist
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Los Angeles, Calif.

 

Women Graduate Students

While reading about the interim appointment of Professor Emma Dench as dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (“University People,” May-June, page 23), I thought of my own experience as a woman faring well as a graduate student so many years ago. During that time, the chair of my department, Classics, was Cedric Whitman. Whether his exceptionally kind treatment of me was bestowed upon all the students in the department, or whether he extended a special helping hand to me as an underdog, being both female and from the working class, I shall never know. I do know he encouraged me every step of the way, even to the point of writing a letter to my parents, who barely saw the point of a girl going to college, much less graduate school, a letter which pointed out the benefits of my remaining on the Ph.D. track, instead of leaving after one year with a master’s degree. Such benevolence during those years has given me bragging rights among my friends and colleagues who still harbor bitterness about the discrimination they faced as women in other graduate schools. I am very happy for Professor Dench.

Barbara Drushell, Ph.D. ’71
David, Calif.

My freshman advisor and Grays West proctor, Dwight Miller​,​ suggested I meet with [Eliot House master and Eliot professor of Greek literature] John Finley when I returned home…in October 1982 after my post-graduation Eurail trip, convinced I wanted to ​start graduate school in English literature ​in the January term. I was scrambling to get recommendations organized, dragging from lingering mononucleosis, and struggling to keep my confidence up. I had majored, miserably, in psychology in Quincy House ​my first two years before switchining​ to English, whereupon I had to double up on required courses in a hurry and always felt a step behind. I was intimidated about the concept of getting a Ph.D. and worried I was some kind of vainglorious imposter​, and knew my application needed a boost.​ Dwight said Finley was the one to help because his letters of recommendation were legendary and it didn’t matter that we had never met or that he was a classicist specializing in ancient Greece.

I telephoned Professor Finley and he invited me right over to his airy​ office at the top of Widener, papers and books, many written by him, piled all over the place. A tiny man of nearly 80, he was wide awake and attentive, and quickly made me feel as if I were the most fascinating person ever to sit across from his weathered desk. ​H​e wanted to know where I had “prepared” (Belmont High School) and, disappointed at that, inquired about my relatives ​, relax​ing​ considerably when we figured out not only that he had been in my grandfather Clark Hodder’s class of 1925, but actually remembered him. My grandfather, who named me, died ​when I was a little girl​, and I was thrilled to hear ​what he was like as an undergraduate.

Finley probably surmised that I had no real business applying to graduate school (“Her ardor now chiefly commends her”) but listened to ​me with such kindness and ​optimism (“She seeks a new start away from youthful scenes…resists her friends’ academic discouragements, and gives promise of keeping her deep hopes”), that I remember skipping down the steps of Widener suddenly believing in myself. ​I read in his New York Times obituary that he was against admitting women to Harvard (“I’m not quite sure people want to have crystalline laughter falling like waterfall down each entry way of the house at all hours”) and, looking back, I wonder if it amazed him to be talking to his classmate’s granddaughter; but if so, he certainly didn’t let on.

​No doubt thanks to Finley’s letter, I was accepted to my first-choice graduate school and loved every minute​. ​I am a teacher and writer myself now, and ​try to be similarly encouraging with my own students. ​Our hour ​chatting ​in Widener ​makes me​ think of The Merchant of Venice: “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.”

Holly Hodder Eger ’82​
Portola Valley, Calif.

 

Financial Priorities

I and our family foundation stopped giving to Harvard a very long time ago.

This decision was reinforced by the article in the May-June Harvard Magazine reporting that one of the things the institution does with its money is pay someone to fly out-of-season peonies from Alaska for a dinner in honor of a donor (Harvard Portrait, page 20). Wow, what a great use of funds! Much better than scholarships! And scholarships don’t add anything to the University’s carbon footprint, either.

I’m impressed, but not pleased.

Judith Friedlaender ’70
Auburn, Me.

 

Commencement Speaker Critique

Unless the movie The Social Network was a complete fabrication, Mark Zuckerberg’s “Facebook” had a tawdry beginning as a meretricious female-student rating site while he was at Harvard. I question Harvard’s judgment and high ideals in honoring Zuckerberg as speaker at this year’s Commencement. I trust Harvard has been and will be amply compensated financially by Zuckerberg for the respectability this action will confer. Harvard will, therefore, not miss my modest yearly contributions, which I now intend to withhold, as protest against Harvard’s honoring Zuckerberg in this way.

Nicholas Carrera ’60
Frederick, Md.

 

Overseer and HAA Director Election Critique

For the first time in half a century, I will not vote in the Harvard elections for Overseers and Alumni Association. I perceive the greatest threat to the current Harvard education is the lack of diversity amongst the faculty: intellectual diversity. Great attention has been given to diversity of geography, biological gender, skin color, sexual identity, citizenship, even tribal, etc., etc….As a result, teaching is virtually monopolar. The students, sadly, have learned what to say lest their grades suffer by expressing a differing opinion. The biographical information offered on the candidates is insufficient to determine if they even recognize this problem.

Peter McKinney ’56
Chicago

 

Mount Auburn Cemetery

“Cemetery” has meant a variety of things, over centuries, and it is not necessarily obvious what significance it bears for any particular pre-1900 writer, but since all of the relevant meanings known to the Oxford English Dictionary are attested by the early seventeenth century, it seems fanciful to claim any priority for the founders of Mount Auburn Cemetery in the 1830s (as in “Land of the Livingac,” May-June, page 16H). Anyone interested in the dramatic evolution, in the Anglo-American world, from burying the dead on the south side of a church to interring them in desacralized parklands, should read Thomas W. Laqueur’s The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains (Princeton University Press, 2015), especially part II: “Places of the Dead,” which describes in elaborate detail the development of the spacious modern cemetery in England, in place of the centuries-old custom of cramming the dead on top of each other in churchyards. I suspect that Henry Dearborn and Jacob Bigelow were more concerned with being up to date than being original—Yale had been involved in the creation of a park-model burial ground in the modern style in the preceding century, credited by Wikipedia as the “first private, nonprofit cemetery in the world,” predating the Cimetière de l’Est, better known as Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, in Paris by almost a decade, and Cambridge’s Mount Auburn by more than a generation.

Dennis Grafflin, Ph.D. ’80
Auburn, Me.

 

The Plight of Refugees

In response to the powerful piece “In Flight” (January-February, page 44), I submit a poem, “Classic Dilemma,” which mulls the Syrian plight in a Homeric context.

Christopher L. Chase, B.D. ’70, Ph.D. ’78
Brookline, Mass.

Classic Dilemma

A bad time to sail, winter, when the morning

Pleiades sink low. Strong winds blow,

and raging waters throw the ship off course.

So Odysseus found before reaching Ithaca.

Some say it was a love of trickery

that kept him on the sea, away from her

who so long endured his wandering.

But what was he to do: Surrender fame?

Exchange adventure for domestic servitude?

Fear held him fast. The monsters of the deep—

vicious vortices, toothed hags—

unmanned the unaware, a most grizzly fête.

Scylla, Charybdis, Penelope—a trinity of threat.

But what mischief or phobia delays the quest

of the wretches now on Lesbos’ shore?

What diversion, what test of manly pride

weakens the resolve to journey home?

Perhaps the sea, stirred by giant rocks

hurled by Cyclops or Laestrygonians,

has cast them on the sand—and so they pause.

But the true tale tells otherwise.

As plovers, when ospreys circle, flee their nests

forsaking native habitation, so these

under siege, seek safer port.

They flee bombardment, but not the cast of rocks;

they fear harm, but not from predators;

their danger, threat to life and limb,

is internecine strife. The cities burn;

none nurture hope of home return.

Odysseus forfeited his ships. The storm-swept

sea that finally bore him to Ogygyia

claimed the lives of his remaining crew

once the cannibals were done. That

fleet had been well provided—with oars,

sails, and smooth-planked decks. Not so

the Syrian float. On small, dilapidated craft,

less sound by far than Odysseus’ raft,

thousands meet a miserable end—women,

children, men. No hybris drives them.

By custom travelers have rights: to rest,

shelter, sustenance—hospitality,

a moral law. Odysseus had more:

his hostess, of immortal grace and charm,

greeted the brine-soaked one with open arms.

Food and fellowship he had—and bed.

On Lesbos’ shore, the new arrivals wait

while Europa deliberates their fate.

Some she welcomes: to these she gives

liberty of settlement, space to live.

Others she regards askance and holds—

like the animals trapped in Circe’s fold.

 

Errata and Amplifications

Curatorial correction: The May-June Treasure (“Anthropology Anew,” page 80) misspelled the name of Peabody Museum curator Diana Loren; we apologize for the error.

Author’s alterations: Daniel Ziblatt, whose book was reviewed (“Making Liberal Democracies,” May-June, page 64), wrote to advise that the title changed in production; the correct title is Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy.

Theatrical credits: Conn Nugent ’68 wrote to point out that the profile of James Bundy ’81 (“Dual Dean,” May-June, published on page 68, as it happened) failed to identify John Weidman—whom Nugent identified as “collaborator with [Stephen] Sondheim on Pacific Overtures, with Susan Stroman on Contact; Tonys, Emmys, commendations galore”—as a fellow member of the College class of 1968. Weidman was profiled himself in “Storytelling with Sondheim” (January-February 2011, page 15).

Designer’s data: In case any readers were confused, Justin Lee (profiled in “How Buildings Move People,” May-June, page 60) is an architect in practice in Somerville, Massachusetts, who designs exhibitions for the Harvard Art Museums. He is not a member of the museums’ staff.

Date of death: Elaheh Kheirandish, Ph.D. ’91, noted that Alhazen’s date of death falls post c. 1040-1041, rather than the 1039-1040 given in the catalog for the Houghton Library exhibition covered in “An ‘Enchanted Palace,’” March-April, at page 40.

At sea: Jonathan Kutner, M.B.A. ’59, of Dallas, which lies a goodly distance southwest of Cambridge, writes to note that Brevia (May-June, page 25) rendered Yale afloat (“stirrings to the southeast”); recent fact-checking conducted on foot confirms that New Haven remains terrestrial—and even if climate change raises the sea level a lot, it will still remain southwesterly of Harvard.

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