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Columbia Magazine Winter 2017

Great issue! Loved the articles. Thank you for the hard work of producing a stellar new edition.

Natasha Kern ’71GS
White Salmon, WA

This is a wonderful issue.

Janet Healy ’78TC
Syosset, NY

Columbia Magazine has transformed over the past year or so, very positively. Keep up the good work.

David Carrow ’71GS
Millville, NJ


I read Paul Hond’s article “Letter Head” in the Winter 2017–18 issue with great interest. My wife and I have played Scrabble regularly for the past sixty years. We stick pretty much to our current vocabularies. We do rely on words with those high-value letters — J, Q, X, Z. In a recent game, we both scored a little over four hundred. We slept well that night.

Roland Kuniholm ’51CC
Lititz, PA

As someone who occasionally plays Scrabble with his children and teenage grandchildren, I enjoyed reading about Mack Meller’s expertise in this enduring game. But I think you shortchanged Meller with regard to his opening word against Debbie Stegman. As even a casual Scrabble player knows, the J in JOLTY would have fallen on a double-letter-score box, increasing the value of that letter from eight to sixteen points. The double word score that always applies to the opening word would then have earned forty-six points for JOLTY, not thirty as stated. In addition, your list of highest-scoring two-letter words omitted QI, worth eleven points. These observations notwithstanding, I look forward to reading a follow-up article on Meller’s further accomplishments.

Alan H. Seplowitz ’68CC, ’72PS
Scarsdale, NY

We got the points right but the sequence wrong: JOLTY was Meller’s second play. We regret the error. — Ed.


I read with interest Phillip Lopate’s assessment of his experience during the Columbia protests of the 1960s, having experienced the sixties differently myself (“Confessions of a Reluctant Revolutionary,” Winter 2017–18). No protest movement is perfect, but that is the nature of protest. Some participants will have an understanding of the varied and competing interests involved, while others will tag along hoping the cause is right.

Since I had sons of protest age during that time, and since I myself was an active member of an antiwar group, I could only admire and support these young people — especially their efforts to promote voting rights in the South, at great risk to themselves, which led to important changes. I supported my sons’ work in Students for a Democratic Society and admired the courage demonstrated by many in their effort to introduce political relevance to the universities.

Now in my ninety-second year, I enjoy reading Columbia Magazine since it helps to keep me relevant.

Priscilla Ciccariello ’81LS
Montauk, NY

During my first year at Columbia Law School, I tried to come to terms with the takeover of the campus by students protesting the Vietnam War. The literature passed out at the many information tables on Morningside Heights attempted to explain the rationale for such action, though it lumped in the so-called land grab for the construction of the gymnasium in Morningside Park. I somewhat reluctantly agreed with the antiwar sentiment, but for a rationale of my own. Having briefly fought in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, during which we begged the West for help without success, I thought, why should Vietnam get more than we did?

But what still irks me after these many years is the untutored parroting by some students of talking points of communism with very little familiarity with its institutional evolution in Hungary and other countries. Some arguments were erudite, but most were along the lines of comparing the New York City police to the KGB. Having been summoned to the AVO — the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB — when I was ten, I was well aware of how ludicrous the comparison was, and I could never forgive Students for a Democratic Society for so drastically slowing down my Americanization process and preventing me from putting the maximum distance between myself and my Stalinist birthplace, where thirty thousand people, many of them students, lost their lives.

George Vizvary ’72LAW
Palo Alto, CA

I am a Vietnam veteran who attended Columbia Business School in 1972–73. I am also the parent of two children who subsequently graduated from the business school. I want to register my — and I believe other veterans’ — lack of enthusiasm for the Columbia student radicals’ antiwar organizations and activities. I served in the US Navy for many reasons, including pride in national service during a difficult period of US history. Following Vietnam combat duty, I attended Columbia Business School to get on with my life. I am particularly resentful, under these circumstances, to have been deprived of my education when Columbia student radicals periodically shut down the campus.

W. B. Shepard ’73BUS
Naples, FL

It saddens me to see in your pages Phillip Lopate’s apology for once having been young and bright. Please tell him not to worry; he was on the right side.

The Columbia whose grad school I attended in 1960–61 was a big, famous school that had been coasting on its reputation for a decade or two (or three). Then came 1968: loud voices, signs, demonstrations. Lazy buttocks were kicked, and the gentleman president of the school was told that unless your name was Eisenhower, you were expected to have some intellectual dimension and to take an interest in the school. Radical ideas on the Heights!

Make no mistake, Columbia became a much better place through the efforts of Mark Rudd and other “free radicals.” Neither Lopate nor anybody else should feel too encrusted by embarrassment to admit it.

Calvin K. Towle ’61GSAS
Walpole, MA

Phillip Lopate’s article is spot-on in many ways, yet it is a view from the outside looking in and misses some key points. The administration was so intent on running a university system that it lost sight of its primary mission: to educate and enlighten its students. It failed to provide a healthy and caring environment for those under its stewardship. It was as stony cold as
Low Library.

And it is wrong to say that the students felt immortal and cared nothing for their own safety. I was there the night of the police action at Avery and Mathematics. Most of the occupiers had exited the buildings to surrender to the police. Then a faculty group, arm in arm, formed a line between the police and the students to prevent any violence. Suddenly, without provocation and without a word, the police attacked, clubs swinging.

We were not fearless; we were naive — naive to believe our rights would be respected. Authority will do what it has to if it is threatened. I was badly beaten that night, and then, days later, the police threatened me with another beating and false arrest if I refused to sign a bogus statement. Weeks later they threatened my father and brother with false accusations. They played for keeps, and we were innocents.

Rob Smith ’71CC
Fort Lauderdale, FL

In the spring of 1968, my curiosity drew me to a meeting of the revolutionaries at McMillin (now Miller) Theatre. On our way in, students received armbands identifying with the impending strike. The hall was packed to the gills with 1,500 students, both at floor level and in the galleries, and down on the stage the professors — our moral mentors — were preaching fire and brimstone about the University and its wicked ways.

At each climax the crowd rose to its feet as one, and all the assembled students and faculty thrust their arms forward rhythmically, fists clenched, shouting, “Strike! Strike! Strike!”

As I looked about me at the outstretched arms and listened to the raucous shouts of this mass of people — my friends and colleagues — entranced by a messianic hysteria, I quietly removed my armband and slunk out of the hall, cured forever, having learned a lesson that an entire university education and a lifetime of reading about the incomprehensible rise of Nazism could never have taught me.

Harvey Bordowitz ’69GS
Avichayil, Israel


Those who oppose provocative speech on campus because it “serv[es] no valid academic purpose” should think twice (“Speech Therapy,” College Walk, Winter 2017–18). First, speech should not have to serve a purpose. Second, any invited speakers are serving someone’s purpose, or else they wouldn’t have been invited. No one should assume they can be objective arbiters of what serves a purpose. Besides, the only speech that needs to be protected is unpopular speech.

College campuses must lead, not follow. As laboratories for ideas, they are where bad ideas should go to die, but they should die of starvation, not execution. Suppressing bad ideas doesn’t kill them; it makes martyrs out of them. Let history be our guide, and let’s err on the side of free speech. The alternative is worse.

Rahul Deshmukh ’13SPS
Brooklyn, NY

Columbia, like other educational institutions, will indeed have to draw lines regarding speech on campus. That will mean considering whether it makes more sense to have hate speech and its ilk out in the open so its pernicious nature can be seen and addressed. It will also mean dealing firmly with those who would take it into their own hands to shut down speech to which they object, as some tried to do to the self-proclaimed “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer when he spoke last year at the University of Florida.

It is well said that the answer to disagreeable speech is not suppression but more speech.

Donald Nawi ’61LAW
Scarsdale, NY

Sixty-five years ago, when I was a General Studies student, Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy — as provocative and ubiquitous in 1953 as President Trump is today — was making headlines warning that the words of writers and thinkers he judged as subversive were dragging the nation into communism.

In a European poetry class, Professor Babette Deutsch began reading lines from Pushkin when a young student leaped to his feet and shouted that he would report her to University officials for quoting “a Red.” This was not an idle threat for Deutsch, a poet whose early work celebrated the Russian Revolution. Her husband, born in Ukraine, was in the midst of translating Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago.

Suddenly, without any coordination, about six of us, all veterans of the Korean War, stood and called upon Deutsch to continue reading. We said that after Pushkin, we were looking forward to discussing Lermontov and, yes, Pasternak.

The young man who attempted to stop the reading looked around at the former paratroopers, pilots, sailors, and Marines staring at him and sat down as Professor Deutsch returned to Pushkin.

None of us who stood in that classroom would ever say we fought for free speech. You fought for the men in your platoon, on your plane or ship. But I’m very proud of the twenty-two-year-old who, in that long-ago classroom, understood that free speech was worth standing up for.

Robert W. Goldfarb ’54GS
Boca Raton, FL

Fans storm Baker Field in 1988. / Photograph by AP Photo / Ed Bailey


Your article on the football team’s recent wins (“The Thrill of Victory,” College Walk, Winter 2017–18) notes that “in 1988, enthusiasts tore down the goalposts to celebrate the end of a forty-four-game losing streak.” I was among those happy few. In our well-earned delirium, we did indeed storm the field with the intent of tearing down the goalposts. However, if my memory is correct, the posts proved indestructible: heavy steel pipes cemented into the ground. We soon abandoned our pursuit of this venerable, and certainly appropriate, tradition.

James Mummery ’65CC
Nellysford, VA

The photo at left seems to suggest that both memories and goalposts can be shaky. The day after the game, the New York Times reported that Columbia supporters had “brought down the goal posts and carried them around the stadium.” — Ed.


It is with great pride that I have watched the Columbia football team mature and play with enthusiasm, class, and a winning attitude (“The Thrill of Victory,” College Walk, Winter 2017–18). Over the years I have noted the quirkiness of the band that “plays” at the football games. I never particularly found them humorous, but they seemed to pair with the futility of the football team. With the push over the last several years for athletic excellence, I believe it is time for the accompanying band to mature as well.

I had the pleasure of watching Columbia beat Cornell in Ithaca on Saturday, November 11, and I was absolutely mortified at the performance of the Columbia band. I was among other alumni, parents, and coaches’ spouses who felt the same. Wrapping oneself in bedsheets and toilet paper, banging on toilet seats, and running around like immature children is not in keeping with the highest traditions of Columbia University.

John Gadjo ’86SEAS
Fair Haven, NY


It was exciting to see the big news about the women’s cross-country team winning the Ivy heptagonal championships, their first team title since 2005 (“Women’s cross-country team claims Ivy title,” Bulletin, Winter 2017–18). What a disappointment not to get any further details about our female athletes’ achievements, but rather to read about the men’s team placing second and a specific male athlete’s accomplishments instead. Your editors may want to consider the subtly sexist message sent when the achievements of women at Columbia are not treated as standalone news in your magazine.

Katherine Anderson ’99PS
Brooklyn, NY


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Letters may be edited for brevity or clarity.

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