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Columbia Magazine Summer 2017

I am a Columbia alumnus and an inmate at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution in Otisville, New York. I was partial to your article “Opening Minds Behind Bars” (Summer 2017).

The education programs offered at Otisville don’t come close to what Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative has achieved in New York State prisons. I am involved in education at the Otisville camp; my mission is to advance the educational opportunities for inmates.

I believe your programs should be a part of the federal prison system as well. I realize there are roadblocks: to the best of my knowledge the federal system only allows written (non-online) correspondence courses, which makes college degrees nearly impossible. But from the outside, Columbia would be able to gather more data, and possibly be able to advance the capabilities of the federal prison system. Otisville is close by and could be a unique pilot initiative.

Your mission is exemplary, and I want to be involved in any way I can, while incarcerated and after my release in 2020. I used to be very involved with Columbia College and Columbia Engineering admissions, volunteering for fifteen years, and I plan to continue my involvement with Columbia upon my release.

Mair Faibish ’83SEAS
Otisville, NY

I guess my mind is closed. Get over yourselves and your alleged good intentions supported with other people’s money. Start making criminals accountable for their crimes instead of blaming society in general. Your good intentions are promoting anarchy. Divest from private prisons — really? They save the government tax money. But living in New York, why would you care about that?

Steve Rosenblatt ’74SEAS
Houston, TX

As an alum who has taught students at Teachers College and incarcerated students through the Bard Prison Initiative, I applaud Columbia’s leadership in restoring college-in-prison programs.

While your article mentions several other institutions in New York that operate postsecondary programs in prisons, Columbia’s Justice-in-Education Initiative is part of a broader national movement. The Vera Institute of Justice, where I am the acting director of the substance-use and mental-health program, facilitates partnerships in over a hundred correctional facilities.

As the article discusses, providing postsecondary education in prison confers tremendous benefits, including reducing recidivism, facilitating family reunification, and saving taxpayer dollars. And postsecondary programs equip incarcerated students with skills necessary for gainful employment.

Formerly incarcerated students often face barriers upon leaving prison that undercut the advantages of their postsecondary achievements, such as job and housing discrimination and challenges enrolling in colleges in their communities. Comprehensive efforts to support formerly incarcerated students are needed to maximize the value of the crucial programs described in your article.

Leah Gogel Pope ’12TC
New York, NY

I read your article with a mixture of interest and puzzlement. The author depicts being in stir as virtually elevating. Where else can one get free rent, free food, free laundry, free lectures, free empathy, and now even free college? Sign me up.

Milton Turoff ’55BUS
West Orange, NJ


Such a creative way to tell the story of the woman behind Columbia’s comics archives! It’s been years since I’ve done a Mad fold-in. Thanks!

Stephanie Pitsirilos ’02PH
New York, NY


I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed reading Columbia Magazine lately. The variety and depth of the articles make them extremely interesting, and the graphics are fantastic. In the Summer 2017 issue, the imaginative presentation of the story of comics curator Karen Green particularly caught my eye (“A Life in Comics: The Graphic Adventures of Karen Green ’97GSAS”).

The only thing I found sad in Green’s story was that she had to leave Columbia for Rutgers to earn her library degree. Too bad she was not able to obtain it closer to home. Columbia had a wonderful library school created by Melvil Dewey of Dewey Decimal fame. I was lucky enough to receive my master’s in library service there in 1973. Unfortunately, the school closed in the early 1990s. I was very sorry when it disbanded. The education I received there provided me with a career that was most satisfying for many decades.

Jeannette Siano Newman ’73LS
Floral Park, NY

Back in 1965 or so, when Columbia College students worked part-time at Butler Library’s main desk, an enterprising bunch of comedians cataloged and stored in the stacks a small selection of comic books, including Donald Duck, perhaps Bugs Bunny, and others.

It was a prank born mostly of the desire to challenge the alertness of the often prudish library staff. This was during the era when the library was computerizing all its holdings, so it was believed that the prank would be discovered in short order.

Time passed, and the merry pranksters graduated and went their separate ways. But I can’t help wondering: did the original, first-ever cataloged comics at Butler cross Karen Green’s path? (Search “Donald Duck.”) If still around, these comics would have put Butler Library ahead of the comic-book curve.

Dimitri Ledkovsky ’67CC
Orleans, MA

Columbia librarians gamely searched the electronic database, the old card catalog, and the stacks but sadly found no trace of your Donald comics. Luckily, only eight years after your surreptitious donation, Columbia formally acquired its first comic-book collection, a gift from another College alumnus, Jonathan Zeitlin ’72CC. This collection contained about 1,300 comics, chiefly from the 1960s, including issues of Daredevil, X-Men, The Flash, and The Silver Surfer. — Ed.


I greatly enjoyed the article on Mark Van Doren in the Summer 2017 issue (“Counting Van Dorens,” College Walk).

In my senior year at the College, I took Professor Van Doren’s course on the poetry of Hardy and Yeats. It was a small class — mostly seniors, many of them my friends. We slogged through Hardy’s The Dynasts and then enjoyed the many pleasures of Yeats.

Years later, while on an auto tour of Ireland, I stopped at Yeats’s grave in Drumcliff, County Sligo, and saw his famous epitaph: “Cast a cold Eye / On Life, on Death. / Horseman, pass by.” Thanks to Professor Van Doren, my interest in poetry has continued even to the age of ninety-four.

Melvin Hershkowitz ’42CC
Northampton, MA

In 1958, I graduated from Queens College. As valedictorian and with a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, I chose to continue my studies at Columbia. There I studied with many great professors: the majestic Jerome Buckley who intoned Wordsworth and Tennyson; Marjorie Nicolson, who taught Milton like a grand priestess of literature, always in black, with a single strand of pearls; and William York Tindall, who, in the course Modern Poetry, informed us that he wasn’t going to waste time on anyone other than Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Butler Yeats.

But best of all was Mark Van Doren, who taught a popular course called The Art of Poetry, which, we soon discovered, was so broadly defined as to include Cervantes and Dickens. At his best when lecturing on Shakespeare, Van Doren explained how the master playwright’s characters each had a distinct syntax and vocabulary: “Listen to these lines spoken by Falstaff. Short, breathy, just like a fat man. Goes with his great bulk. Almost never speaks in sentences, never more than three or four words.”

When I arrived for class on the final day of the semester, the room was crowded with photographers and journalists, who had been told in advance of the great teacher’s impending retirement. All at once, we realized we had been privileged to attend his last class at Columbia.

My notes for that day, May 13, 1959, record Van Doren summarizing his thoughts on Don Quixote. The man was a nuisance, he said, not doing anything the world wanted. Maybe he was the only knight who ever expressed his ideals in action. All of us read books and love them; only Don Quixote really believed them. The professor wondered if we did. The don’s experiment — living one’s ideals — should perhaps not be tried again. It’s dangerous, Van Doren said. I wondered if I would be able to live mine.

My subsequent journey took me to a PhD at Cornell University and then up the ladder of professorships, to emerge finally as president of Framingham State University, in Massachusetts. Now retired, I still inform my presentations in a local lifelong-learning program with the ideals and teaching insights I learned from Mark Van Doren almost sixty years ago.

Helen Heineman ’59GSAS
Brewster, MA


Thank you for bringing drug abuse to the fore in “Painkiller abuse now a global scourge” (Explorations, Summer 2017). Without a person-centered approach, doctors and regulators will focus on judging their patients’ motives rather than tending to these human beings in pain. I have yet to hear our leaders talk about ways to educate our professionals, patients, and families about the disease of addiction, underlying factors like trauma and mental illness, and the efforts being put in place specifically to intervene with youth. We must create pathways for people to talk openly, without risk, about their experience with opiates. Removing the stigma is critical.

Evita Morin ’05CC, ’09SW
San Antonio, TX


As much credit as Barney Rosset deserves for his courageous battle against censorship (“Barney: Grove Press and Barney Rosset,” Books, Summer 2017), Columbia can take genuine pride in the fact that the brilliant and tenacious lawyer who successfully represented Rosset was Charles Rembar, who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1938.

After I graduated from the law school in 1969, I had the privilege of working for Rembar, who was known to his friends and colleagues as Cy. The year before, Cy had published The End of Obscenity, which chronicled his remarkable seven-year court battle representing Grove Press, which culminated in his winning argument before the US Supreme Court.

Cy was a charming, erudite, and highly skilled lawyer, and an incisive and engaging writer. I learned so much from him, particularly about the importance of robust protection for the First Amendment, which has marked my career ever since.

Stephen Rohde ’69LAW
Los Angeles, CA



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New York, NY 10025

Letters may be edited for brevity or clarity.

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