Mail Room

By The Editors / January / February 2003
June 22nd, 2007

Long-term Learning

I was delighted to read about the new program of seminars for freshmen (“Learning to Learn,” In Class, November/December). My first class at Brown, in the fall of 1958, was a so-called IC course (a seminar in the identification and criticism of ideas) called The Growth of the Modern State. It took me forty years to finish my own Ph.D. in history, but I have no doubt that I started down its path that very day. Nowadays any jumped-up cow college can buy a national reputation by hiring marquee faculty to publish works that will be read exclusively by their peers. The older and more difficult question of how undergraduates fare twenty-five years after graduation requires the sort of patient, long-term investment represented by the freshman seminars. Congratulations, President Simmons, and thank you.

Preston Shea ’62
Wolfeboro, N.H.

Two Questions

Two questions arose for me after reading Zachary Block’s well-balanced article on Steven Emerson (“One Man’s War on Terror,” November/December): Does one have to explain to Brown graduates the meaning of being a Cassandra? And, far more important, what are the sources of Emerson’s funding?

David P. Prescott ’64
Princeton, N.J.

Not So Fast

I am writing about your photo of the 1952 freshman football team (“Replay,” Sports, November/December). It is truly a great thing to go undefeated and untied, but this class, although the first, is not the only one to achieve this goal. The 1972 freshman team, nicknamed the “bad bunch,” also posted a perfect 5–0 record. In fact, it was this team that resurrected football at Brown. A proper salute to the football players in this class is only appropriate.

Daniel Detore ’76
Brick, N.J.

Ironic Decision

How ironic that the latest effort by the Council of Ivy Presidents to needlessly “clean up” Ivy League athletics is accompanied in the same BAM issue by a picture of the 1952 undefeated and untied freshman football team (“Time Out,” Sports, November/December). Ironic because Henry Wriston, thought by many, including myself, as Brown’s greatest president, and no friend of Brown athletics, later declared several of those players ineligible for dubious reasons. Our varsity teams of that era, although decent, suffered greatly. It is ironic also that this same Council of Ivy Presidents penalized Brown after the 1999 season after ignoring a more serious earlier incident by some of our major competition.

While the Ivy League stands for many positive things in our society, it is by no means immune from playing politics. As a group there are no better citizens in the Brown community than its male and female athletes. I, for one, would like to see our University support these students and their coaches while rejecting the pomposity, hypocrisy, and misguided political correctness of the Ivy presidents. Perhaps we must abide by the ruling, but it is wrong and we should say so.

Bob Sweeney ’57
Vero Beach, Fla.

Voting Confusion

We write to correct two inadvertent errors in our recent article on voting behavior (“Why Vote?” Faculty P.O.V., November/December). First, while reviewing several general trends in voting behavior, we noted that turnout “increases with the size of the electorate.” The fact is that for any kind of election, turnout decreases with the size of the electorate. Second, while describing perceptions of votes being wasted, we noted that “A vote cast feels more like a waste in the case of victory than in the case of defeat.” The actual finding is the reverse. People are more likely to perceive a cast vote to be wasted after defeat than after victory. We are sorry about this mishap and the confusion it may have caused.

Joachim Krueger
Melissa Acevedo ’02 Ph.D.

Joachim I. Krueger and Melissa Acevado presented some interesting ideas in their “Why Vote?” article, but they barely scratched the surface. When I recently attempted to gather enough signatures to get on the ballot as an independent candidate, I heard similar responses over and over again: “No! I don’t want to register to vote.” “I don’t want to be part of the system.” Krueger and Acevado are off to a good start, but more studies are needed.

Frank Rycyk ’66
Jefferson City, Mo.

Schooling vs. Educating

Instead of hiring new faculty (“Make Me an Offer,” September/October) why doesn’t Brown stop schooling and start educating? When I was there I was well treated, had a good time, but learned essentially nothing. I pleased my teachers with a 3.3 average and happily forgot everything as soon as the final exam had been hurdled —in preparation for the next round of cramming. I was certified as obedient and reliable and admitted to the next institution, where I memorized and forgot more stuff until I finally had on-the-job training, where integrated learning actually occurs.

Folks might recall an experiment at a British college where students’ reward for demonstrating their learning in class and papers was exemption from exams. Guess what? Those were the hardest working students in the history of academia.

Robert E. Kay ’53

Lessons from the Boss

Your Chet Worthington ’23 tribute was most appropriate (“The Gentleman Optimist,” Elms, September/October). I served as a BAM assistant editor for four and a half years and can attest wholeheartedly to your depiction of Chet as a real gentleman in every sense of the word.

Working for and with Chet was an education in how to be a “boss,” and I tried very hard in my subsequent career managing bookstores to emulate his patient and considerate manner.

In early 1950, Chet was asked to research, compile, and edit a Brown historical catalog, which became, I believe, the first alumni directory in the University’s history. This was a tremendously time-consuming project, and so I was hired to assist him with the magazine. Chet continued to plan the BAM, to write major articles, and to lay out and paste up each issue while I handled routine chores such as sports, class notes, obits, and proofreading.

I was proud of that BAM. I am even more pleased with the superior publication it is recognized as today.

Douglas A. Snow ’45
Durango, Colo.

Passion Ignited

As a graduate of the comparative literature department who had the privilege of working closely with Arnold Weinstein during my years at Brown, I was taken with his essay “Cloning the Teacher” (Faculty P.O.V., September/ October). I applaud Weinstein’s efforts to reintroduce humanity to the humanities and to foster a love of literature and inquiry. Teaching the professional lingo and aesthetic of literary studies is like attending a party wearing only one’s finest jewelry but no vestments: individual pieces sparkle, but the entire picture offends. Literature requires emotional intelligence as well as intellect, the former enriching the latter but in no way subservient to it. After all, without the passion of an amateur, what motive is there to pursue a professional career in the discipline?

I should know: after four years of cultivating a passion for literature, I now make a living attempting to ignite the same fire in my own students. My aim is not to create a cadre of future English teachers; for now I am content to help them find something of themselves and others in words. Such is the legacy that Professor Arnold Weinstein has given to me—and my students.

Elizabeth R. Jackson ’95
Cambridge, Mass.

Remembering Charlie

I was fortunate to have been a student from 1969 through 1973, when the late Charlie Baldwin was the lead chaplain at the University. (See “One of the Righteous Few,” Farewell, page 83.) It was my distinct pleasure to live with his family for eighteen months, until June 1973, when I graduated.

Charlie was instrumental in developing the relationship between Brown University and Tougaloo College, where I spent a semester. It was a life-changing experience. Charlie was also a friend and confidant to faculty and staff members, as well as to students. He taught me how to pray in public situations, and preaching at my ordination service in 1977, he spoke these words: “Trust is like a finely woven fabric. It is very strong, but if one thread is removed, the fabric unravels and it is almost impossible to put it back together.” Those sentences have molded and shaped me for the past twenty-five years.

Charlie was not perfect, but I choose to remember the good things about him. Those good things are some of my best memories of my years at Brown.

Howard E. White ’73
Northfield, Minn.

Alumni Recruiters

I wish to thank all of the Brown alumni who contacted me after “Make Me an Offer” appeared in the September/October BAM.

The story chronicled our success in recruiting Tricia Serio and Jeffrey Laney as junior faculty members of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry. They are indeed a wonderful addition to Brown. Faculty additions of their caliber epitomize President Simmons’s forward-looking initiatives for academic enrichment.

This is a very exciting time to be at Brown, a time when we plan to solidify Brown’s reputation as a serious research university. Implementation of this initiative rests on Provost Robert Zimmer’s capable shoulders. His help to us in recruiting Serio and Laney was crucial.

I recently discovered another key player who helped make the outcome a positive one. Vassie Ware ’75 returned to Brown to conduct postdoctoral research with me after completing her Ph.D. at Yale. She subsequently joined the faculty at Lehigh University, where Tricia Serio was one of her undergraduate students. They remained in touch over the years, and Ware’s fond memories of a supportive, interactive, and intellectually stimulating environment at Brown were instrumental in helping Serio and Laney accept our offer. Brown alumni are indeed vital to ensuring the strength of this University!

Susan A. Gerbi

The writer is chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry.

Flacking for Ford

I was swooning with that delicious sense called irony when I saw the ad for the (“full-size SUV”) Ford Expedition on page 17 of the July/August issue. The copy reads, “Innovation is seeing what everybody saw, but thinking what nobody thought.” Oh, my! Although the following quote might be slightly off, it’s close: Brown’s very own world-famous mathematician Albert Sczynt-Gyorgy wrote, “Research is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.”

I rather think that was a Sczynt-Gyorgy original, rather than a Ford flack original, or maybe the flack went to Brown, or maybe no one on the BAM staff noticed the bittersweet irony of using that plagiarized misquote to flog a gas-guzzling monstrosity that many of us would prefer to have banned not only from the BAM’s adverts, but from planet Earth.

Fil Lewitt ’63
Kyoto, Japan

A Modest Proposal

Saturday, November 2, marked a rare weekend day in our household, with no social activities planned and the kids’ athletic events finished at noon. By mid-afternoon my wife, two daughters (ages 11 and 7), and I were on our way to Providence to see the latest chapter in the oldest rivalry in men’s college hockey: Brown vs. Harvard.

What a wonderful evening it turned out to be. We enjoyed a pregame dinner on Thayer Street, which was bustling with activity and offered a far wider selection of cuisine than the pizza and burgers I had been limited to during my time on campus in the mid-1970s. Then it was on to the bookstore for the obligatory children’s sweatshirts, followed by a leisurely stroll around campus.

The game itself was an even more thrilling experience. Meehan has been smartly renovated, and so has our favorite (men’s) hockey team. Simply stated, these guys are good—very good, in fact. Brown’s goalie may be the best I’ve seen at the college level, and I’ve lived long enough to have seen Ken Dryden at Cornell. Action on the ice was fast and furious—and, oh yeah, the good guys won, 4–0.

The only disappointment was the attendance. Meehan wasn’t much more than half full—this for a game between two of the best college hockey teams in America, one of them a Brown arch-rival. Where have all the fans gone ?

Pardon the expression, but in the old days, the joint would have been rockin’. Almost every game was a sellout. The student section would have been full an hour before games against Harvard and Cornell. Faculty, alumni, and local fans would have filled the remaining seats. And to be honest, the game simply wasn’t played back then at the high level it’s played at today.

I thought my wife and kids were merely indulging me, but they want to go to another game, despite a four-hour round-trip drive. And we will. This team deserves far more support than it received that night. Tickets are obviously available, and they’re very reasonably priced.

So here’s a suggestion. Take a pass on the next Saturday-night cocktail party. Instead of listening to adults babble on about how talented their kids are, take your own to Brown. It’s well worth it, for you and the teams you’ll help support.

Steve Bragg ’75
Darien, Conn.

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January / February 2003