Mail Room

By The Editors / November / December 2002
June 28th, 2007

Hiring Faculty

The description of how Brown goes out of its way to hire spouses of desirable faculty prospects ("The Prospects," September/October) must really warm the hearts of all uncoupled applicants who were rejected for Brown faculty jobs recently. Favoring spouses is the new version of the old-boy system and is open to the same objection as the old version: it is unfair to people who lack pull.

Felicia Ackerman

The writer is a professor of philosophy.

How to hire the best teachers and researchers? Easy. Interview a few conservatives for a change.


Geri Nelson '51
Middlesex, N.J.

Defining Buddy

What a breath of fresh air! Professor Darrell West has performed a real public service with his crisp, bold insights ("Buddy," September/October). It provides a balanced perspective after the blizzard of words generated by Cianci's trial.

Perhaps politicians who hunger for power, veto most criticism, need lavish praise, and trespass on public hopes are becoming a fading phenomenon. As a member of the initial Providence Community Policing Commission, I saw that, despite public support of our central proposals, the mayor largely ignored or rarely activated them.

David Cicilline '83, the recent Democratic primary winner, offers some chance that integrity might be restored as a trademark ("On the Campaign Trail," September/October). As an optimist, I hope that the mayoralty will change from a solo performance to a chorus of citizens whose voices will now be heard and respected.

R. Joseph Novogrod '38, '60 M.A.T.

I read West's article with interest, but also with a certain degree of skepticism. I recommend that BAM readers also consult the far more perceptive and sympathetic article on Cianci by Philip Gourevitch in a recent New Yorker. It provides a much better picture of the trial and Cianci's accomplishments as well as his limitations. For instance, Gourevitch points out that Cianci was cleared of most of the charges and was convicted mainly under the provisions of RICO, an act aimed at serious gangsters and not at disputes over property rental in Providence.

Two larger issues need to be explored. The first is class and ethnicity in Providence. Buddy Cianci, in spite of his defects, has done wonders for Providence. The University Club episode had the elements of farce in it, but the fact that it became a centerpiece of the government case shows the seriousness with which the ruling elite of the city's East Side viewed Cianci's effort to cross longstanding class boundaries in Roger Williams's city.

The second issue is the expenditure of time and effort by the federal government, especially the FBI, to win marginal convictions on minor charges. It should not be forgotten that while all these federal agents were trying to win their RICO laurels against a man whose contributions to Providence have been far more positive than negative, other individuals were planning far more horrible crimes. Maybe these government agencies should rethink their priorities.

Stephen Dyson '59
Williamsville, N.Y.

In the article on Mayor Cianci is a paragraph beginning: "Such is the paradox of popular rogues." The paragraph contains the sentence: "Chicago had Mayor Richard Daley, New York had Fiorello La Guardia, and Boston had Curley."

What is Fiorello La Guardia doing in that paragraph? Yes, he had charisma and tended to run a one-man show, but he was honest, an example of civic probity. Go look it up. Other than that, I enjoyed the article.

William E. O'Connor '42
Daytona Beach, Fla.

As a native of Providence, I have always been thankful that my undergraduate degree from Brown afforded me a brittle credential, enabling me to leave behind in 1954 the land of Roger Williams, the Federal Hill of Raymond L. S. Patriarca, and ultimately the Laurel Hill of Vincent A. Cianci Jr. - an origin left behind geographically, at least, but never completely.

"Buddy" becomes the code word for what can never be left behind - not so long as the majority of the good people of Providence and Rhode Island applaud what the Providence Journal called "the antics" of the twice-convicted felon with the private-label marinara sauce. This prominent avatar held a position of public trust as mayor of Providence, a position he used, and a trust he betrayed for self-promotion and racketeering no matter the good works to his credit. Thus the name "Rogues' Island" is again heard in the land.

Cianci is not an alumnus of, nor has he a direct connection to Brown, as far as I know; yet the six pages the BAM devoted to him speak volumes about the glee with which his buffoonery is broadcast by the media.

Robert A. DiCurcio '54
Nantucket, Mass.

Career Conflict

Ihe issues expressed in "For love and Money" (July/August) are dear to my heart, but I found the article disconcerting. For example, an official of the Partnership for Public Service is quoted as saying that the government "doesn't recruit." That is incorrect. As the career director for the Harris School of Public Policy of the University of Chicago, I work with federal agencies that visit students on campus.

I'm sure Brown's career office does a fine job of advising students. So why don't students go into public service? Salary is one issue. For my students there can be up to a $60,000 discrepancy in starting salaries between the private and public sectors. Prestige is another factor, especially after students hear big government maligned in political campaigns. The point is that there are important jobs in government open to interns and new graduates.

The advice most of us adults give to students is "do what you love." In the end, despite great programs, terrific advice, and everyone's best intentions, it is usually something most of us learn the hard way. Your recent graduates are no exception.

Phyllis Brust

Farewell, Carter

I read with sadness the farewell in the September/October issue about J. Carter Brown (Obituaries, "Art of the Possible"). I remember as a student seeing him every year marching in the Commencement procession. He had such a regal, almost Victorian stature and countenance.

As an alumna and a writer in the News Bureau, I remember that when I heard him for the first time my entire impression of him changed. He was on a panel during a Commencement weekend, talking about art and the World Wide Web. His joy and passion for art were palpable and infectious. He wasn't at all aloof or stuffy. He eagerly embraced the new, high-tech door that would allow tens of millions of people to visit the world's most famous art museums each day with just a point and click. Still, he was a purist at heart as he encouraged us to experience the works in person - to see the brush strokes, to linger on a bench and get lost in the gaze looking back at us.

Another occasion gave me an even deeper sense of this link to Brown's past. During a talk in Sayles Hall, J. Carter Brown reminisced about his childhood and family trips to far-off lands in Europe and Asia, trips during which his parents instilled in him an appreciation for art and architecture. He injected humor and a childlike wonder in this travelogue of an aristocracy most in the audience could only imagine.

On a business trip to Washington, D.C., a few years ago, when I worked for the University's Leadership Alliance, I had a few hours of free time. I took a cab to the National Gallery of Art and walked around, trying not to look like a wide-eyed tourist. I felt a strong connection to the place knowing that J. Carter Brown was its guiding force.

Thank you, J. Carter Brown.

Linda J. Mahdesian '82
Pawtucket, R.I.


I have just gotten around to reading the July/August BAM and found "The Waters of Hope" of personal interest (Finally). On Commencement Day in 1968, I had a brief conversation with an alumnus from one of the "aught" classes - maybe '08 - who told me a story about the pump that was located in front of Hope College. It seems the underclassmen of that era practiced a ritual abuse they called "pumping." A victim was chosen and was placed under the pump with its spout securely inserted into the victim's collar behind his neck, and the pump was operated vigorously. I don't know what the purpose of this practice was or how frequently it occurred. Perhaps someone else can fill in these details.

By the way, there is (or was) another well on the Hill, in the basement of Rhode Island Hall.

Bob Bouvier '68
Herndon, Va.

Restoring Balance

The September/October BAM contains several letters from alumni recommending that Brown bring ROTC back to campus, and Robert West '55 suggests awarding an honorary degree to Justice Clarence Thomas. These are interesting ideas; however, they probably will not be seriously considered by the current decision makers on campus.

In a recent survey, American Enterprise Magazine determined that fifty-four Brown professors are affiliated with the Democratic Party or with another party on the left. Only three Brown professors are affiliated with the Republican Party, or with another party on the right. When a conservative placed an ad outlining a conservative position in the Brown Daily Herald last year, liberal Brown students stole an entire press run. Some professors publicly supported this act of vandalism. Rich Lowry, the editor of the conservative National Review, refers to Brown as the most liberal university in the United States.

Brown's new president, Ruth Simmons, has a wonderful opportunity to restore some balance to the campus. She can hire some conservative professors, restore freedom of speech on campus, punish those who obstruct free speech, bring ROTC back, and bring some conservative speakers to campus who are as far to the right as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and hate-monger Al Sharpton are to the left. I am not saying that liberals are bad, or that conservatives are good. I am saying that great universities promote the free exchange of all ideas.

George Vandervoort '58
Wilmette, Ill.

Know Your College

Bravo to Judith Hushon '67 for her letter on the condition of Brown's older buildings ("Building Support," Mail Room, September/October). I have long thought the University so interested in building new ones that the old get neglected.

As an undergraduate I frequently made suggestions to the head of the building-and-grounds department, perhaps to his dismay. I had a hand in a series of informal talks called "Know Your College," which the Faunce House Board put on in the West Lounge. The series began with building-and-grounds's Ward Davenport and ended with Dr. Wriston. Forgive me a little ego trip if I go on to say that the series won recognition from the BAM. The late and admirable Chet Worthington '23 attended every talk and remembered the series when I saw him at my thirty-fifth reunion many moons later.

Dick Wilson '51

Stop Preaching

I have just read with rapt attention the letters in the September/October Mail Room concerning the abolishment of the ROTC program ("More on ROTC"). The letters all are direct and to the point.

I look forward to the day when Brown administrators stop preaching about diversity long enough to see how little of it exists among the most powerful and influential group on campus - the professors. Brown is saturated with diversity and the administration professes its allegiance to it.

Why does a student have to go off campus to get his ROTC training?

Henry C. Adams '43
Cape Elizabeth, Maine


The letter from Susan L. Schwartz '81 in the September/October Mail Room included an incorrect e-mail address. The correct address is

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November / December 2002