Mail Room

By The Editors / November / December 2004
June 13th, 2007

Who Needs a Degree?

Sidney E. Frank ’42, who could affordonly a year at Brown, gave the University $100 million in September. Ted Turner, one of the largest donors in Brown’s history, did not graduate because he was expelled. What is the message here? That people who didn’t complete four years are the ones with the means and inclination to make big contributions? Maybe Brown’s fund-raisers should be trolling dropouts, not graduates, for the big bucks. Maybe the University should identify two dozen of the most promising undergraduates and either expel them or yank their financial aid, so they can make huge donations in 2030.

Matt Wald ’76
Potomac, Md.

I was in a bar when I first heard that Sidney Frank, the father of Grey Goose vodka, had given $100 million to fund financial aid, the single largest gift in the University’s history. Frank was forced to drop out of Brown because of financial
difficulties. He could have become bitter; instead, he became generous.

The moral here is twofold: (1) Transform past difficulties into opportunities for compassion. (2) Drink as much Grey Goose vodka as possible.

When we stormed University Hall back in 1992 to demand an end to  need-aware admissions, many of us were arrested. About a decade later, Brown fi­nally became need-blind. This recipe, too, takes patience:

The Need Blind (a cocktail in honor of Sidney Frank)

One bottle Grey Goose vodka

Ten stalks or so fresh lemongrass

6–8 ripe peaches

Simple syrup made by heating one cup of water with one cup of sugar to dissolve

A bottle of prosecco or nonvintage champagne

1. Open the brand-new bottle of Grey Goose and pour yourself a big glass. 

2. Chop the lemongrass into two-inch lengths. Put the pieces into the bottle to take up the space of the vodka you just poured. Now put the bottle in a safe place for 130 hours. (This is the number of students per year who will benefit from Sidney Frank’s gift.)

3. One hundred and thirty hours later, peel and pit peaches, then puree them in a blender. If you need to, add a small amount of water.

4. Invite a bunch of friends over. 

5. For each cocktail, shake over ice: two ounces lemongrass vodka, one ounce peach puree, and one ounce simple syrup. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top off with cold sparkling wine.


Sarah Deming ’95
New York City

May I suggest an updated version  of “Ever True to Brown”?

We are ever true to Brown,

For we love our college dear,

And wherever we may go

We are ready with a beer.

And the people always say (what do they say?)

That you can’t out drink Brown men (and women!)

With a Grey Goose dry and a Jaeger high,

And tha-anks to Sidney Frank.

I’ll let others work out the last line.

Ned Goltz ’75
Grinnell, Iowa

Culture Shock

Meadow Dibble-Dieng’s description of the online debate among her fellow graduate students, which began with a plea to help a cat stuck in a tree and moved to questions about the lack of public engagement among graduate students, raises even broader questions about the values modeled by the academic community (“A Modest Proposal,” September/October). As a (long ago!) graduate student and a supervisor to current graduate students, my impression of academic life is that it all too often actually discourages engagement in family, university, and hometown communities. Faculty as well as graduate students are “not encouraged to be well rounded,” are “sometimes fiercely rebuked for pursuing commitments outside the academy,” and are rewarded for research that may well be “self-serving and hermetic” as long as it fits within disciplinary boundaries and is published in the appropriate places. I hope Dibble-Dieng and her peers will carry their exploration of how to change this culture into long and influential academic careers.

Ann Baker ’69
Chapel Hill, N.C.


I was deeply disappointed that Brown successfully denied the rights of graduate students to choose whether they wanted a labor union (“No Deal,” Elms, September/October). To accomplish this end, Brown appealed to the right-wing-appointed National Labor Relations Board, and the students’ votes were never counted. This was a fundamentally antidemocratic action and antithetical to the “liberal education” I received at Brown. It seems to me that in this instance Brown has cast aside its core values.

Brendan Cummins ’93
St. Paul, Minn.

I just read the graduate student union update and couldn’t be more disgusted. To the grad students: good job getting a 90 percent turnout for the vote; my advice to you is to form a nonaffiliated union and strike as soon as fund-raising and community education make it feasible. Apparently the administration needs a nonacademic lesson on the labor required to have a teaching institution. Solidarity! 

David Goldsmith ’89
Olympia, Wash.

It pains me every time I read or hear about my alma mater’s treatment of her graduate-student teaching assistants. When I was an undergraduate, all my classes were taught by full-time, tenured or tenure-track professors. My giant History 1 lecture broke up into weekly discussion sections run by a teaching assistant, but graduate students were not responsible for developing and teaching an entire course.

Graduate school is supposed to be an apprenticeship for becoming a scholar. Students first take courses that give them breadth within their chosen field and then write a dissertation under the guidance of an adviser. While all PhD candidates must write a dissertation, far fewer have an opportunity to work closely with a mentor in a classroom situation. Unlike prospective high school teachers, most prospective college faculty do not have a student teaching requirement.

Those who do get to observe lectures and run a discussion section are the fortunate ones. As is more and more common today, those who have the responsibility for teaching a course, or multiple courses, on their own find that they have less time to work on their dissertation. They supply the University with cheap labor to the detriment of finishing their degree in a timely fashion. Many struggle balancing research, teaching, and family responsibilities on a stipend that is insufficient to meet their needs, and without the medical and dental benefits they need and deserve. How can Brown, in good conscience, exploit her graduate students? When did the corporate bottom line replace the educational experience as a value? When the University is unwilling to recognize that it is no longer treating its graduate students as students, but as a convenient, low-priced commodity, when President Simmons can consider the NLRB’s ruling a “victory,” and other private universities can call it a “triumph,” it is clear that the argument that the graduate teaching assistants are acting as students and not employees is spurious. An alma mater nurtures her students.  She does not triumph over them.

Betsy Cooper Smith ’66
Brewster, Mass.

As a teaching assistant at Brown, I was gratified to see Emily Gold Boutilier address the concerns of graduate students at the University. I would like to call your attention, however, to the erroneous claim that our stipends were recently increased from $12,500 a semester to $16,000 a semester. Those figures are actually for the entire year, before taxes, and the $16,000 is still far below the national average.

If we were making $16,000 per semester, I think there would be far fewer complaints.

Sarah Moran

Sarah Moran is correct that the $16,000 figure is per year, not per semester. The number for the average stipend nationally is more controversial. As an October study by the Chronicle of Higher Education found, stipend levels tend to vary according to field of study, with English teaching assistants earning far less than those in the sciences and social sciences. After surveying stipends at the eighty-three largest research universities in the United States, the Chronicle concluded that calculating an overall average fairly “is difficult because every institution handles the issue differently.” The Chronicle did go on to report that the average stipend at Columbia is $17,000, while Penn’s average is $15,750. However, Penn’s new president, Amy Gutmann, recently pledged to raise that school’s average to $17,500, which would indeed keep Brown’s average stipend below those found at some of its peer institutions.—Editor  

Colgate’s Raiders

I’m sure that many Brunonians were chagrined and disappointed, as I was, to learn of the departure of our successful athletic director, Dave Roach, to accept the same position at Colgate (“Roach Out,” Sports, September/October). However, this is not the first time the “Red Raiders of the Chenango,” as Colgate teams are called, have reached into Brown athletics and extracted a leading light. Al Kelley, our football coach during much of the 1950s, also left to take the same post at Colgate.

Could it be that the “Raiders” deserve their appellation particularly when they induce Brown athletic officials to move to their insititution? I wish Dave Roach all the best in his new job—except when Colgate plays Brown.

Allan S. Nanes ’41
Silver Spring, Md.

David Roach refers repeatedly to “student-athletes.” But during his tenure at Brown he seems to have focused entirely on the needs of varsity athletes, while neglecting the needs of the broader student community.

I can’t comment on the facilities used by varsity athletes because I never saw them: the weight room, cardio-exercise equipment, and locker rooms were off-limits to non-varsity athletes. But I’m all too familiar with the facilities available to the rest of the student body­. A small selection of outdated and overused treadmills and steppers was tucked into a tiny corner of the gym.

While I served on the Undergraduate Council of Students as campus-life coordinator, I found the athletic department reluctant to consider options for an improved exercise room for non-varsity athletes. Similarly, my repeated re­quests that the department post instructions for weight machines went unheeded—until I suggested that Brown might be liable if students injured themselves. Finally, as a club soccer player, I was all too aware of the competition for scarce field space.

I was a varsity athlete in high school and have no doubt that Brown varsity athletes deserve high-quality facilities. But Brown should also improve the facilities available to everyone else. Prospective students choose universities based on many criteria, including amenities: dormitories, cafeterias, student centers, computer centers, and athletic facilities. If Brown cannot offer students a high-quality experience in- and outside the classroom, it will lose applicants to institutions that can.

Margalit Edelman ’98
South Orange, N.J

In the Pot

I was inspired by “Found in Translation,” by Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers ’86 (September/October). He describes a world that I believe is beyond multiculturalism: “One of Jasper’s pals also has Indian parents, but she has always considered herself Taiwanese,” he writes of his son.

I enjoy interacting with people of different cultures. I do not, however, see different cultures as an end in themselves, and I admire the old U.S. concept of the melting pot. I submit that we should expand this concept to “melting-pot Earth.”

Frank Rycyk ’66
Jefferson City, Mo..

What makes a hero?

The letter from Bruce Alterman ’79 seems to posit that only firefighters who die in the line of duty can be called truly heroic graduates of Brown (“A Noble Job,” Mail Room, September/ October). My three-year-old holds a contrary opinion. His admiration for me and what I do for a living is one of the unexpected perks I’ve earned in my thirteen-year career with the Louisville Fire Department. Hardly a year goes by when we don’t bury at least 100 firefighters in the United States. They die in two-story shotguns, in warehouses, in basements, in traffic accidents, and from exposure to diseases. It is the willingness to place yourself repeatedly in harm’s way so that others may live that defines the job and makes us all heroes to someone. And, without diminishing the memory of Lt. Charles Margiotta ’79 or his sacrifice, I am certain that he had a little bit of a “thrill seeker” in him, too. I don’t know a firefighter who doesn’t.

I also disagree with Alterman about the relevance of the article and its appropriateness for the BAM. Unger relates the career experience of a Brown alum. What’s to question?

None of this, however, excuses Unger for the incompetence he describes on the fire ground, new boy or not. The fire ground is a maelstorm of confusion, to which order is slowly restored by the professional, concerted actions of competent firefighters. In attempting to convey this confusion to the reader, Unger makes it clear he is not part of the solution. I was particularly appalled by his negligence toward the child victim. Finally, Unger will come to learn that among the things he can use to muster the courage to enter the burning building, his crew is the only one on which he can truly depend. I hope he learns this sooner rather than later.

Jeffery T. Birt ’88
Corydon, Ind.

No to Intolerance

Anti-semite is not a label to throw lightly at people. The headline above the letter from Rachel Ezrine ’03 said it all: “Words Matter” (Mail Room, September/October). Ezrine states that a woman she greatly admired, the Iranian democracy activist Shirin Ebadi, said “there are Jews in this world who are intolerant of others.”

Although there is some question as to whether the translator at the Baccalaureate service mangled Ebadi’s words, the unfortunate truth is that in every community there are members who are intolerant. There is no shortage of prejudice—including anti-Semitism—in this world, but let us not use the word anti-Semitic to silence people who may just be trying to express something we just don’t want to hear. The moment we lose the ability to be critical of ourselves is also the moment in which we can do the greatest harm.

Sabrina A. Hamady ’90
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Although I wasn’t at the baccalaureate speech described in Rachel Ezrine’s letter , I was amazed at her characterization of Shirin Ebadi’s words as “anti-Semitic.” According to Ms. Ezrine,  Ms. Ebadi said “there are Jews in this world who are intolerant of others.” This is “anti-Semitic”? I would think most people would agree with this statement. After all, there are also Christians, Muslims, Buddists, Hindus, and others who are “intolerant.” Intolerance is a human characteristic that exists in all people. If this statement bothers Ezrine, I conclude that she is not as tolerant as she thinks she is.

Robert P. Pearson ’60
Wellfleet, Mass.

Write a Check

I was pleased to read a letter from Jason Leddington ’96 rightly questioning Brown’s association with MBNA, a leading donor to the Bush reelection campaign (“Plastic Politics, Mail Room, September/October). Unfortunately, the response given by Vice President for Alumni Relations Lisa Raiola ’84 was insufficient. She claimed that “Mr.
Leddington’s comments refer to donations made by individual employees acting as private citizens, who have made donations to Democratic as well as Republican candidates.”

This statement, while literally true, is evasive. These individual employees include the CEO and other top-ranking company officials, who donate far more to Republican campaigns than to Democratic ones, and are individuals in only the legal sense of the word. As documented by the Center for Public Integrity and other organizations, MBNA and its ilk make enormous partisan donations using “bundlers” to skirt the legal restraints on corporation activities.

To pretend that MBNA and other corporations are in any sense divested from the political process, or are acting in a nonpartisan manner, requires an ignorance so profound as to be willful. Brown alumni deserve more from their vice president for alumni relations. They certainly deserve more than the MBNA advertisement she offered as a response to Mr. Leddington’s quite valid concerns. I therefore echo Mr. Leddington’s advice and encourage all alumni to cancel their MBNA accounts. Make your donations directly to Brown University.

Matthew Carrano ’91
Washington, D.C.

School Spirit

Even though the Harvard football game on September 25 ended as a 34–35 heartbreaker, it was heartwarming to to see the excellent support from the fans in the stands. They rose to their feet on many occasions, and the noise was deafening at times.

I haven’t seen such an outpouring of affection and school spirit in many years. I know the players appreciate it and I hope it continues.

Harry Dahl ’50
Preston, Conn.

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November / December 2004