Letters

  • Comments (0)
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print
  • Text Size A A A

NETHERLAND

Self-Portrait of Steve Duncan, Old Croton Aqueduct, Upper Manhattan 2006

Paul Hond’s chronicle of Steve Duncan’s urban exploring (“The Night Hunter,” Spring 2010) was a delight to read. As a municipal employee, I’ve had the chance to spelunk the storm sewers underneath Dallas, and have seen undiscovered craftsmanship and hidden beauty dating to the Works Progress Administration. I would be remiss, however, not to offer some caution: Noxious gases are heavier than atmospheric gases, and thus gravitate to low-lying areas, such as tunnels. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides guidelines for confined-space entry, which include carrying an oxygen tank and a four-gas meter, to monitor ambient oxygen content, natural gas and combustibles, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide (sewer gas). There should be a colleague at ground level and a predetermined plan to get out fast should the alarm on the meter sound.

A final tip is to carry an extra-high-powered flashlight. Had I relied on the floodlight on the camera I was carrying (which went dark in the middle of my walk) to record my findings, I would likely still be stranded underneath the Texas State Fairgrounds, 1000 feet from the nearest access manhole.

David Recht ’04GSAPP
Irving, TX

--

I can readily identify with Steve Duncan’s emotions about exploring tunnels. As an engineering student in the early 1960s, I attended many classes in Pupin Hall.

I don’t quite remember how I discovered the entrance to the tunnel connecting the buildings along the west side of campus, but the secret passageway is etched into my student memories. It was during extreme winter weather that this corridor became particularly handy, helping me to avoid the freezing crosswinds.

I accessed the tunnel through an inconspicuous door inside the School of Mines that I believe is now the Mathematics Building. It was eerily lit by a few lightbulbs emitting a dusty glow, and one would walk along large-diameter pipes, which perhaps may have distributed steam for the heating system.

This provided us weary students with contrasting and comfortable warmth while crossing campus. The trick was to know which of the unmarked passageways led to which buildings. In my case, this tunnel guided me to what was then the mechanical engineering lab in the basement of Pupin. I had arrived home, warm and cozy, ready for an exploration into thermodynamics.

Nicolas Kariouk ’61SEAS

Baton Rouge, LA

--

Your article on Steve Duncan was absolutely fascinating. The photographs of Duncan holding onto a manhole cover with one hand while steadying himself with the other was simply great. Add to that the furtive look in his eyes, as if he were a sewer rat coming out to do some mischief. The photos — all wonderful. The picture of the Fleet River sewer in London shows a wonder of architectural masonry. I would not be surprised if down the line Duncan fi nds the organ used by the Phantom of the Opera. You never know.

Alfred Hamady ’44CC
Battle Creek, MI

--

SUSPICIOUS MINDS

I read “Defending the University” (Spring 2010) with interest, since after more than a quarter century as a professor I have grown very suspicious of universities. I’m afraid that Jonathan Cole’s evasive answers to the Columbia interviewer’s questions did nothing to allay my doubts. I note, for example, that when the interviewer asked whether the voices of well-informed nonfaculty critics should be heard, Cole’s answer was that their freedom of speech should not be restricted. I would have liked Cole to indicate an interest in listening, or, if he thought no listening was warranted, to say so directly.

When Cole said that universities expect the state to allow them to be autonomous, and the interviewer asked, “Are you telling society and the government, you just have to trust us?” Cole replied that he wants our graduates to support universities against “possible” intrusion. Would “Yes, society just has to trust us” have been too honest? The interviewer’s question about funding also deserved an answer. It is incredibly disingenuous for a former university provost to suggest that there has ever been an understanding between universities and their financial supporters that universities are to be left autonomous. Any time a scholar, lab, or research center applies for a grant, they describe in advance what the money will be used for. Columbia and other major research universities have no problem accommodating themselves to the demands of governments and other institutional patrons. Judging from the interview, what bothers Cole about the U.S. government is the sometimes inconvenient responsiveness of its elected offi cials to their constituents’ concerns. One wonders what kind of government Cole would prefer Columbia to work with.

The interviewer quotes Cole’s cliché that great universities “challenge orthodoxies . . . as well as social values, and public policies.” Professor Cole: Universities are a public policy. That is why they should be challenged more, by thinking people within academia and outside — studied critically as social institutions, not hidden behind a self-serving mist of praise.

Cole talks about what universities have produced to change our lives, as if all of it were good. His story about the discovery of the prion narrates how a scientist with an unorthodox idea couldn’t get his research funded. Obviously, the scientist’s eventual success had more to do with his personal determination than with the academic system, which sent him the signal to give up. Does Cole know how many unorthodox researchers do give up when institutions let them know they’ll be better supported if they accommodate accepted agendas? And does Cole deduct anything from the university’s ledger of accomplishment when society implements research fi ndings that later prove to be faulty?

I am much less pleased than Jonathan Cole is about the enormous and continually growing role that universities and their research play in our lives. For one thing, as a citizen and a human being, I resent being viewed as a specimen. Jonathan Cole is a sociologist, so he knows what I mean.

Bruce Heiden ’72CC
Columbus, OH
Heiden is a professor of Greek and Latin at Ohio State University.

--

Jonathan Cole responds: It is unfortunate that after 25 years as a university professor, Bruce Heiden has let his appropriate skepticism about the value of great research universities turn into cynicism. His suspicions are apparent in his response to a brief conversation about parts of my book, The Great American University, with the editor of Columbia magazine.

Heiden makes several points that require clarifi cation. Listening is, of course, a valuable trait, and at universities it is particularly valuable when the voices have enough expertise to make judgements about the quality of a professor’s work — not when they don’t know what they are talking about.

University leaders should not simply tell society to “trust us.” We should earn public trust by demonstrating how the transmission and creation of knowledge has intrinsic value and leads to discoveries, innovations, ideas, and concepts that change our ways of thinking and the quality of our lives. Of course, not all that comes forth from great universities is admirable. But a convincing argument can be made that universities have become essential engines of change and innovation in a knowledge-based society. Most people are not fully aware of how much they rely on discoveries spawned at great universities like Columbia.

I wish that the idea that the mission of great universities is to “challenge orthodox-ies” had become a cliché. Then I could be confi dent that the public and its legislative representatives would better understand why great universities are open spaces in which radical ideas should be heard while conservative methods of determining their fact basis and truth value should be applied to them.

If Heiden read my book, which I suggest he borrow from the Ohio State University library, he would know that I discuss resistance to new ideas and their consequences for the growth of knowledge.

--

Who could disagree with Jonathan Cole and his well-argued case defending the great American research universities? At its best, university research supports the courage and determination to ask immense, impossible questions. My perspectives differ from those of faculty at colleges and universities. I teach at a community college, where my students — who work 40 to 50 hours a week, often at more than one job — show up for a class that runs from midnight until 2:30 a.m. In my 7 a.m. section, students come from work at Boston’s Logan Airport. They all do the homework. They participate in discussions. I offer classes over spring break. Students come and do the extra assignments. Don’t we all — research universities included — want to invest in this level of drive and motivation?

In 2007–08 I was lucky enough to win a fellowship from the Hechinger Institute at Columbia’s Teachers College. I researched and wrote about financing at community colleges. Among the things I discovered — undisputed by experts in higher education — is that research universities and private liberal arts colleges would collapse without the substantial federal support they receive. This support includes tax policy allowing deductions for donations and permitting no taxes on endowments, along with federal research grants, loans, and loan subsidies for students. Assuming even modest endowment growth, the federal subsidy, via tax policy alone, for a Columbia or a Williams undergraduate is $20,000 to $30,000. By contrast, students at Bunker Hill Community College, where I teach, usually don’t qualify for even a full federal Pell Grant of about $5000.

How I wish all the disciplines of a great research university would gather to ask how the nation could offer the 6 million students in 1177 community colleges even a fraction of the everyday opportunities and resources that students get at universities such as Columbia. Isn’t solving the inequity in our educational system in all its dimensions and complexity just the kind of impossible, multidisciplinary question U.S. research universities ought to be able to solve?

Wick Sloane
Cambridge, MA
Wick Sloane teaches writing at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and writes The Devil’s Workshop column for Inside Higher Ed.

---

WETZSTEON AND WOOLF

The name of Rachel Wetzsteon, and the tragic account of a gifted young person taking her own life, as described by Eric McHenry in his compassionate article in the Spring 2010 College Walk section, might not have struck me so forcefully had I not recently bought Virginia Woolf’s 1919 novel Night and Day. The introduction by Ms. Wetzsteon is beautifully written and invaluable. I am glad to bring this note as part of her lasting legacy to the attention of readers of Columbia magazine.

David Hamerman ’46CC
Bronx, NY

--

PHILOLOGY

I read with delight Paul Hond’s masterful tribute to one of the Columbia community’s underappreciated treasures, the inimitable music historian Phil Schaap (“Every Day Is Bird Day,” Spring 2010). Hond certainly captured the fascinating and endearing character of the classmate who introduced me to New York City and its cultural richness in 1969. Hond’s article also conveyed the joyful élan that pervaded Low Library on the occasion of Phil’s fourth decade. It was an evening that validated my passion for this amazing academy and its provocative people, most especially my cherished friend, Phil Schaap.

Robert A. Pruznick ’73CC
Nazareth, PA

--

FAULTY TOWERS

I was surprised that in his review of Stephen H. Norwood’s The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, Ari L. Goldman did not mention the Ivy League’s long history of quotas for Jewish students, thoroughly documented in Jerome Karabel’s award-winning 2005 book The Chosen, in which we read, among other lamentable things, that “the creation of the country’s fi rst Offi ce of Admissions, established at Columbia in 1910, was a direct response to the ‘Jewish problem.’” But I was pleased to read in Columbia magazine that, despite the predictable cowardice and complicity of the administration in accommodating Nazism, Columbia’s students, at least, protested.

Frank Salvidio ’56GS
West Springfield, MA

--

BUYER BEWARE

The news article about the impact of Columbia and its peers on the purchasing practices of Russell may be a bit misleading (“Universities’ Boycott Wins Garment Workers Right to Unionize,” Spring 2010).

When Columbia’s Code of Conduct is mentioned, it reads as if the code is used by Columbia. Is it in fact applied to Columbia’s own purchasing and not only to the purchasing practices of its licensees? If so, it would be excellent news that the University community is walking the talk and being an ethical purchaser, in addition to requiring that licensees be ethical purchasers. Your article said that Columbia’s code applies to its “vendors.” If so, and if those policies have been in place since 2000, it would be really great for Columbia to run an article reporting on the impact of 10 years of ethical purchasing by the University! I look forward to that disclosure, and evidence of implementation, as substantive follow-up to this news item, and also as a story of which the Columbia community can be truly proud.

Eileen Kohl Kaufman ’91BUS
New York, NY
Kohl Kaufman is the executive director of Social Accountability International.

--

ALL OR NOTHING

Richard Cummings’s letter about Mark Mazower’s book (“UN in the Middle,” Spring 2010) perpetuates a myth about UN Security Council Resolution 242 by stating that it called “for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders.” It is well known that the word “all” was deliberately left out of the resolution’s text (“Withdrawal of Israel armed forces from territories occupied in the recent confl ict”) because the drafters of the resolution and the members of the Security Council neither demanded nor expected Israel to withdraw to the prewar borders. Resolution 338 said nothing about withdrawal, but rather called for a cease-fi re among the parties “in the positions they now occupy,” and refers back to Resolution 242.

Michael Frank ’89BUS
Atlanta, GA

--

In his letter, Richard Cummings makes an important point that the United Nations did not create the State of Israel. But he makes some errors on another important point.

Israel was required to eventually give up territories captured in the 1967 War, but the Soviet attempt to have the requirement be from “all” of the territories was defeated, and omitting “all” meant less than all. In fact, as English was clearer on this point than French (“des territoires” could mean all or less than all), the English meaning was specifically adopted.

This was deliberate. The inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war means by offensive war (which is how Jordan obtained the “West Bank” in 1948–49), and in 1967 Jordan attacked Israel. In giving up the Sinai to Egypt, Israel has returned over 90 percent of the territories it captured in 1967. It can, of course, give up more, but it is not required to by UN Resolutions 242 and 338, or by any other binding document.

Edward M. Siegel ’55CC, ’57GSAS, ’60LAW
New York, NY

--

BARNARD MAN

James R. Gaines’s review of Alan Brinkley’s The Publisher is accompanied by a picture of Henry Luce and Raymond Moley on page 53. Your identification of Moley was incomplete: He came to Barnard College from Cleveland as a government professor in 1924, from which position he was one of the original recruits for FDR’s Brain Trust, while Roosevelt was the governor of New York from 1929 to 1933. I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Moley for my senior thesis about Roosevelt as governor. He remembered his days at the College fondly.

Sarah B. White ’71BC, ’73JRN
Williamstown, MA

--

I believe your caption implies that Raymond Moley was on the faculty of the law school, but in fact he was a professor at Barnard, where his title might have been professor of public law and government —what now might be styled “public affairs.” He directed the staff of something called the Crime Commission, which Governor Roosevelt headed. It proved to be a producer of campaign issues for the ’32 election. Moley hired his former students as researchers. Once the campaign began in earnest, I believe the staff of the commission, including Moley, worked on electing FDR. Moley was at the Blackstone Hotel when the nomination was secured. My mother worked for him on and off from 1932 into the late ’50s. After the election he said to my mother, “Annie, we are going to Washington.” And she did.

In Robert Dallek’s ’64GSAS bio of President Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, there is a wonderful picture of Kennedy sitting in a chair with a bookshelf in the background. Clearly identifiable in that shelf is a copy of Moley’s After Seven Years, which was a harsh critique of what he saw as the Roosevelt administration’s drift to the left. Moley was an old-school progressive, but never a proponent of European-style social welfare programs. He was close to Nixon and Goldwater. Soon after the Washington Post took over Newsweek (Moley and W. Averell Harriman ’54HON had started a precursor, Today, which Vincent Astor then purchased and merged with Newsweek), the Grahams eliminated Moley’s political column.

I spend about five times as long reading Columbia magazine as I do the Cornell Alumni Magazine.

Jason R. Gettinger ’67LAW
New York, NY

--

DISARMING GENTLEMEN

Congratulations to, and God bless Paul S. Sandhaus ’44CC and men like him who were involved in bomb-disposal work during WWII (“The Big Hurt,” Spring 2010).

In the horror that was Peleliu, in the South Pacifi c, in September of 1944, I led my battalion inland to escape the casualty mill the enemy had made of the beach. Less than 50 yards from that bodystrewn shore, I chanced to look down, and stopped; not two feet from where I stood, I noticed about four inches of wire. I immediately ordered the battalion to halt, then called for my bomb-disposal man to come forward. Sure enough, it was attached to a seven-foot torpedo. Disarming it was a delicate procedure, but the lieutenant did it with routine precision. Had it not been for him, at least half of the leading company would have been wiped out. Me, too.

Sandhaus may consider himself foolhardy for taking on his assignment, but he had to be courageously cool to do the job with careful effi ciency, and survive, while saving the lives of many soldiers and marines.

Vic Streit ’40CC
Tequesta, FL

Log in with your UNI to post a comment
  • Email
  • ShareThis
  • Print

The best stories wherever you go on the Columbia Magazine App

Maybe next time