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Columbia Magazine Fall 2014James McGirk’s fine article on John Berryman ’36CC (“Heavy Heart, Empty Heart,” Fall 2014) reminded me of when I met the poet as a freshman at Columbia College in 1966. He came to Ferris Booth Hall and read his work to a group of forty students.

What I remember most was his discussion of being a rather unhappy undergraduate at Columbia who was not doing well with his grades. Things got so bad that he received a note from a dean that he should come to the dean’s office to discuss his grades “at your earliest convenience.” Berryman interpreted this phrase to mean when he had the time, if he had the time. Berryman said that he concluded he didn’t have the time and never set up an appointment with the dean despite subsequent notes, all of which ended with “at your earliest convenience.” Finally, the dean showed up at his dorm room, knocked on the door, and a meeting was scheduled, which he kept.

Berryman was a lively and humorous speaker. I was shocked when I learned he had taken his life six years later.

George Baker ’69CC, ’73LAW
New Canaan, CT

I sent a copy of James McGirk’s article to Peter W. Dowell, my Princeton college roommate and a longtime professor of English at Emory University. Peter is bed-ridden and suffering from a number of dis-abilities, but he sent the following response and asked me to share it with you.

“One of my favorite memories of my graduate-school days at the University of Minnesota is the lecture John Berryman gave on figurative language to the freshman English course for which I was a teaching assistant. The course had hundreds of students, so the lecture was given in the huge auditorium where both the Minneapolis Symphony and the Metropolitan Opera performed in those late days of the 1950s. The lecture was given shortly after lunch and, as was not unusual, Berryman was slightly inebriated. He was articulate, but he couldn’t seem to stay at the podium and stop weaving about. At one point he stumbled backward and disappeared into the giant stage curtain.”

Robert K. Hornby ’63LAW
Stockton, NJ

In his fine article on the sad life of John Berryman, James McGirk makes only a passing reference to Columbia English professor Mark Van Doren ’21GSAS, ’60HON as helping Berryman with his studies. This is accurate: Van Doren insisted that Berryman do makeup work and encouraged him to graduate.

Not mentioned is the lifelong friendship between the two. Berryman wrote in the 1960s, “I have loved Mark Van Doren’s poetry all my life, or for thirty years. He was the first modern poet I seriously read; and I have never recovered, or tried to recover.” Referring to T. S. Eliot’s and John Crowe Ransom’s early praise of Van Doren’s poetry, Berryman said, “It is delightful to join these high judges by saying that his very recent ‘Dunce Songs’ are beautiful, too. Beautiful and weird. Among his middle splendors are the violent ‘Winter Tryst’ and the pensive ‘This Amber Sunstream,’ but under his hand the needs and fears are the same. Like that’s writing, man.”

The teacher and the student never stopped a highly productive and creative friendship that began at Columbia in the 1930s.

William Claire ’58CC
Naples, FL


The Primary Sources item “I Am Also a Black Man” (Fall 2014) quotes remarks made by outgoing US attorney general Eric Holder ’73CC, ’76LAW during his August 20, 2014, appearance in Ferguson, Missouri. In those quoted remarks, Holder projects his negative experience as a young, black federal prosecutor stopped by police in Georgetown onto the regrettable shooting incident in Ferguson this past summer. I would characterize Holder’s personal comments about an incident from his own past during an ongoing investigation by local, state, and federal law-enforcement officials as unprofessional, prejudicial, and inappropriate for the US attorney general to make.

William L. Robbins ’88BUS
Los Angeles, CA


In his review of book-jacket designer Peter Mendelsund’s Cover and What We See When We Read, Joshua Friedman quotes Columbia creative-writing professor Ben Marcus as saying of Mendelsund, “I was struck by how carefully he’d read [my] book. He fucking seemed to have studied it.” I think that Marcus could have found a more suitable adverb than “fucking” to convey his meaning. Perhaps he is trying to relate to his students by being “hip.”

Robert C. Gamer ’72GS
Franklin Lakes, NJ


Many thanks for the Fall 2014 issue of Columbia Magazine, with its 150th-anniversary article on the School of Mines, established in 1864 (“Miracle of the Mines,” Finals). Accompanying the article is a photo showing the school’s first building of its own, a converted factory at Columbia’s 49th Street campus. However, the view is not of 49th Street but of the south side of 50th Street. The camera is looking roughly westward from Fourth (now Park) Avenue, with its railroad tracks. At the extreme right of the photo is the north facade of what was then Columbia College’s main building, the former headquarters of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, where the College had moved from Park Place in May of 1857. And who is the figure standing on the sidewalk in front of the School of Mines? The photo is somewhat blurry because of its relatively long exposure, but one wonders if it could perhaps be Charles F. Chandler, the founding dean of the School of Mines.

Francis J. Sypher Jr. ’63CC, ’68GSAS
New York, NY


I doubt that many alums will bother to read Columbia’s new policies to combat sexual violence on campus (News, Summer 2014), but those who value civil rights and due process would be quite concerned if they did.

What is prohibited conduct? The policy says, “For purposes of illustration, the following list sets forth examples of conduct that could constitute gender-based misconduct.” We don’t know what is gender-based misconduct, only what could be but perhaps isn’t. The first example is “Coercion for a date or a romantic or intimate relationship.” Where does permissible persuasion become prohibited coercion, and how does one know where that line is?

As for due process, the parties may have attorneys or other advisers, but their counsel cannot question witnesses nor address the hearing board. Although it is not a criminal proceeding with the threat of loss of one’s liberty, the potential sanctions, up to and including expulsion from the University, are hardly trivial and can be nearly as life-altering as a criminal conviction.

In its eagerness to demonstrate to the Department of Education that it is serious about sexual assault, the University risks riding roughshod over the civil rights of its members.

Andrew Terhune ’80BUS
Philadelphia, PA

The University’s new gender-based misconduct policy for students provides paragraph-long definitions for the following terms, among others: sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, gender-based harassment, stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, intimidation, retaliation, coercion, and consent. The full policy can be downloaded as a PDF or read online at sexualrespect.columbia.edu. — Eds.

After seeing my alma mater excoriated in the news for its management of campus sexual assault, I find myself wondering why everyone is ignoring one important factor and an easily available tool for dealing with it.

While college students may be adults in the eyes of the law, they are actually still young people who have yet to become fully adult. Research in neuroscience has shown that the human brain is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five — and that one of the last functions to mature is the capacity for good judgment. Further, recent research into attachment behaviors has shown that the separation-individuation process once believed to take place in early childhood actually continues into early adulthood.

Students need to take responsibility for their own behavior. But we need to acknowledge that they still need adult guidance. A joint study by Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland found that when parents limit their children’s alcohol consumption in high school, those children are far less likely to drink excessively in college. The resistance to these ideas is not surprising, given the tendency to label any parental involvement in a student’s life as overprotective “helicopter parenting.” Yet these techniques can help students make a healthy transition to independence and adult functioning.

As a psychotherapist, I have found that college students who reach out to their parents for genuine, age-appropriate guidance are often better able to solve whatever problems have brought them into therapy than those who reject all parental contact. This has been true not only for young people who are dealing with potentially dangerous sexual behaviors and binge drinking, but also with eating disorders, addictions to gambling and pornography, depression, and anxiety. I know that it’s asking a lot to expect colleges and universities to go against the popular tide of demanding full separation as part of the freshman entry fee. Yet who better than the purveyors of higher education to alter the very core of our teaching process?

F. Diane Barth ’73GS, ’76SW
New York, NY


I would like to address some of the points made by SIPA professor Jean-Marie Guehenno about Operation Iraqi Freedom (“Define Intervention,” Spring 2014).

First, he writes that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about “transforming the Middle East into a zone of peace and liberal democracy.” That was not the reason for the intervention in Iraq. Rather, President Bush enforced American law — namely, Public Laws 102-1, 105-235, and 107-243 — to make Iraq compliant with the UN Security Council resolutions of the Gulf War ceasefire. After Operation Desert Fox in 1998, the last measure that could persuade Saddam was the threat of regime change. When the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission found “about 100 unresolved disarmament issues” in Saddam’s “final opportunity” (UN Security Council Resolution 1441) to comply, Bush was compelled to follow through or else risk freeing an unreconstructed, noncompliant Saddam from constraint.

Second, he writes, besides self-defense, “the Security Council itself can make the decision to use force . . . Force may not be used in any other situation.” In fact, Bush acted under UNSCR 678, which “authorizes Member States . . . to use all necessary means to uphold and implement resolution 660 (1990) and all subsequent relevant resolutions and to restore international peace and security in the area.” Before George W. Bush, Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton acted under UNSCR 678 to enforce the resolutions with Desert Storm, the no-fly zones, and Operation Desert Fox.

Finally, he writes, “Saddam Hussein, awful as he was, was no Hitler.” Saddam was awful enough to compel the Gulf War. Thereafter, Saddam’s external threat was held in check only by an American-led “containment” that was collapsing. Inside Iraq, according to the UN Commission on Human Rights, Saddam was responsible for “systematic, widespread and extremely grave violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law by the Government of Iraq, resulting in an all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror.”

Eric Chen ’07GS
New York, NY

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