Mail Room

December 22nd, 2014

Readers this time praise the new strategic plan for athletics and continue the discussion of CIA torture following our profile of CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo ’69.

In Praise of Sports

President Paxson’s endorsement of athletics was encouraging and refreshing (“A Sporting Education,” From the President, November/December). Her understanding that academics and athletics are complementary and not mutually exclusive stands in sharp contrast to the stance of many of her predecessors.

All the way back to 1870, for example, President Caswell’s annual report lamented that increasing interest in baseball and boating “draws off the attention of students from their studies … and reduces the standard of scholarship.” Caswell pledged to “reduce the evil to its least practicable limits.”

More recently, President Simmons in her 2012 report stated: “It is not clear that academic authorities are in fact sufficiently in control of athletics at Brown.” She recommended “reducing the number of slots allocated to athletic recruits” in order to “appropriately rebalance academic goals and athletic interests.”

Brown’s new Athletics Strategic Plan comes at a time when our teams are struggling to compete in the Ivy League. According to the report, we have won the fewest Ivy titles since 2004–05, and our position in the league “has steadily declined.” Meanwhile, the competition has ramped up. Clearly Harvard has recently decided to excel in intercollegiate competition, especially in the high-profile sports of football and basketball. Yale has recently won the NCAA men’s ice hockey championship. Princeton, whose athletic department motto is “Education Through Athletics,” has garnered more titles than anyone, often winning multiple crowns each year. The athletic success of the “Big Three” has not tarnished their academic reputations, as they continually exchange places as the top three institutions in the country in the annual rankings. It will take a herculean effort for Bruno to attain a level playing field in the ever more competitive Ivy League. The new plan provides the blueprint, and Athletic Director Jack Hayes and President Paxson are providing the leadership. Now it is up to the athletic constituency to get off the sidelines and into the game to support them.

            Peter Mackie ’59
            Lexington, Mass.

The paean to Brown athletics was both refreshing and encouraging coming on the heels of the athletic director’s Corporation-approved five-year Athletics Strategic Plan .
After a decade of “benign neglect” of athletics, I hope the plan will be implemented forthwith. I hope the University’s leadership will muster the initiatives to provide Brown’s athletes with the “even playing field” they deserve.

            Kevin A. Seaman ’69
            Stony Brook, N.Y.


The Ebola Fight

Thank you so much for your Ebola coverage (“Fighting Ebola,” Classes, November/December). Dr. Armand Sprecher ’89 is such an inspiration in the global health-care community. I cannot say enough positive things about him and the vitally important work he is doing in West Africa to combat the Ebola epidemic. What a brave and courageous Brown alum!
It would be great to continue to see coverage of such important global topics. As an African-American Brown grad and avid reader of the magazine, I really do think your team of editors and writers understands that your readers want to be engaged in many of the most serious topics that alumni are working on.

            Robert Harper ’89
            Jersey City, N.J.

Surprised AuthorsI

Imagine my surprise and delight when I opened BAM today and saw a review of my book right next to a review of my Brown roommate’s book—Sara Lippmann ’97, still one of my best friends (“Fresh Ink,” Arts & Culture, November/December). I’m not sure either of us could have predicted our simultaneous publications and reviews back in Wriston Quad in the mid-1990s, but it certainly confirmed the ways that Brown always brings people together in wonderful and rewarding ways.

            Elisabeth Anker ’97
            Washington, D.C.

More on Rizzo

Editor’s Note: We received more letters and online comments about Lawrence Goodman’s profile of CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo ’69 than we have available space in the print magazine. Although we can’t print every letter, we do include every point of view. We urge readers to view more comments at
In light of the December release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture, which contains references to Rizzo, the BAM plans to re-examine his role at the CIA and  to solicit his thoughts about the report in the March/April issue.

It is certainly understandable how John Rizzo ’69, a self-described “CIA lifer,” was appalled by the 9/11 attacks on our country and why he developed a rationale to justify the use of torture, specifically waterboarding, against high-profile radical Islamist prisoners.

However, there is no evidence that torture is or was effective in extracting useful information from prisoners; it is widely known and researched that victims will literally say anything to stop the pain, whether verifiable or not, and that softer, more subtle interrogation is far more effective.

Torture is illegal, under both U.S. and international law, and waterboarding is torture, as previously defined and prosecuted by the U.S. government.
Rizzo is either unaware of or choosing to disregard the profound consequences of torture, such as lifelong mental, physical, or psychological suffering of survivors and the diminishment of the “moral high ground” image of the United States in the eyes of the world.           

I do not envy the position of a dedicated professional like Rizzo, who was asked, at an intense, dangerous, and very emotional moment for our country, to make such an important decision. However, the “means justifying the end” argument can have grave consequences both for individuals and for countries.

             Roger Hale ’56
             Minneapolis, Minn.

BAM’s profile of John Rizzo was an illuminating, if terrifying, glimpse into the psyche of a self-described “company man” who signed off on multiple acts of torture. I was particularly disturbed by his belief that a government lawyer need not concern himself with the morality of the actions he approves. But the title, “Clear Conscience,” seems overly generous. If the article paints an accurate picture of Rizzo, then he either drowned his conscience in a bucket of excuses or never had one in the first place.

            Carl Takei ’02
            Washington, D.C.

John Rizzo gave the CIA the “green light” for “enhanced interrogation techniques,” known in the real world as torture. The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee twisted the law into pretzels so the Bush administration and the CIA could torture people without calling it torture. Rizzo approved. He says that “waterboarding was only done on three detainees . . . torture is usually done on a more systemic basis . . . the three guys all seem to be in fine fettle today.” He thought the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA were humane.

As far as I am concerned this man is an outrage and an embarrassment to the law and to Brown.  “The affable Rizzo seems to have gotten along with everyone.”  Oh, really?

            Dick Blazar ’70
            Newton, Mass.

Defining Race

As the mother of two biracial daughters, I was flummoxed to read“What Are You, Anyway?” by Amy DuBois Barnett ’91 September/October).

For one thing, my daughters are, and will remain, biracial their entire lives. To negate that fact by labeling them as black completely effaces my white husband’s identity and deprives my daughters of part of their genealogical patrimony.

It astounds me that the author was/is “shocked and offended” by her friend’s very personal choice to not label her future children as black because some individuals in American society will only see them as such. Are we to define ourselves by the constructs of others? Are we to choose how we view the world, and our place in it, by centuries old classifications?

As a black woman from New York City, never during my four years at Brown did I experience any sort of exclusion or judgment from Brown’s “black community.” (Personal definitions of blackness alone could merit a separate article.) I had friends and dated men from various ethnicities. After reading this article it is apparent that there is a generational divide between my experience and DuBois’s at Brown and our views on racial identity and biracial families.

While I respect her right to define herself as black, even though her father is white, the concept that one drop of blood defines one’s racial group still baffles me, almost as much as the conclusion of the article, where the future of black America’s “collective power” is placed on the backs of generations of biracial kids. That is a very heavy load to carry!

            Taais Jacobs Grosse ’03
            Paris, France

When I first moved to the East coast in 1968, I was often asked “What are you?” or “Where did you learn to speak?” I would answer that I was an American, which would satisfy some people and take others aback.
Then some would try to rephrase the question, “That’s not what I meant...” I would engage those probers by asking my own questions: “Guess. What do you think?” Depending on the tone of their answers, I figured the person was rude or just curious.

These days, with Providence’s more multiethnic population, I get fewer inquiries. Providence has become more cosmopolitan. Even when we lived in Paris, I would be asked, “Quelle est votre identité?” America now is a multiethnic nation with an attractive, multicolored population. I love it.

            Corinne Tan
            Barrington, R.I.

The writer is the parent of two alums.

Civil Rights
“The Exchange,” subtitled “How Brown joined the civil rights movement,” brought to mind a practically forgotten involvement between Brown (and Pembroke) students and the civil rights movement (Finally, September/October).

I was part of a group that formed a chapter of the Northern Student Movement, a northern “relative” of the well-known Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Although there was a campus chapter of the NAACP at Brown, some of us felt that it was not aggressive enough.

As an alternative, we developed a tutoring program for local students and worked for candidates running for the Rhode Island legislature who supported fair housing legislation. (The Providence housing market at the time used classic techniques for denying housing to people of color.) I’d love to hear more recollections from those alumni who were involved.

            Lee Smith ’65
            Albany Township, Me.

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Related Issue
January/February 2015