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DAVID TRUMAN’S LEGACY

Columbia Magazine Fall 2017

Your article about David B. Truman brings back memories of him as the outstanding scholar I knew sixty-five years ago (“A Provost’s Reflections,” College Walk, Fall 2017).

The first thing Truman did while teaching Government 19–20, on American parties and politics, was to fling open the windows, whatever the temperature outside, to dispel the blinding and malodorous pall left by smokers awaiting his lecture. Fresh air was a hallmark of Truman’s approach to education and life.

When I met him, he was new to teaching, but he had much practical experience in World War II and afterward that marked him for probity and realism. He could analyze expertly and with notable fairness the strengths and failings of those engaged in the turbulence of a presidential election year (1952) in which the head of Columbia University was a candidate.

He was scrupulously honest and restrained in dealing with inevitable challenges to his presentations. His standards were high. (When I complained about a B+ grade at the end of the 1952 fall semester, he responded amiably but firmly that he did not believe anyone in the class merited an A and had graded accordingly.)

I was in Czechoslovakia in 1968 watching an effort to restore limited freedom there until the Russians decided otherwise. I could not judge from afar events at Columbia then, but recalling Truman’s strength of character and sense of purpose, I viewed and still view the outcome as a huge loss for Columbia and an unmerited blow to a life full of promise.

Kenneth N. Skoug Jr. ’53CC
Harleysville, PA


David Truman was perfectly right to understand that there was a radical core of students that not only wanted to bring down the University, but really thought (however foolish this may now sound) that this could be the beginning of a general revolution. One of the radical students at the time told me, “Dan, you’re a nice guy, but come the revolution, we’ll line people like you up against the wall and shoot them.” Needless to say, not all, or even a majority, of the protesters thought this way, but some did, and they hoped to take the lead. The Weathermen, who did turn violent, had in their ranks some of Columbia’s student leaders. I thought even then, as a rather naive graduate student, that the ad hoc faculty group had too many unthoughtful members who did not understand that what was going on was really an assault against academic freedom. 

These days, when the values we should hold onto are being relentlessly attacked from a right that is far more dangerous than the deluded left ever was, we should remember that whether attacks come from the radical left or the radical right, the old-fashioned liberal, Enlightenment vision of academic freedom needs to be defended, even if that makes us unpopular.

Dan Chirot ’73GSAS
Seattle, WA


At the time of the events of 1968, I was several years an alumnus but living on West 114th Street, in the privately owned apartment building adjacent to the Columbia-owned one occupied on May 18. Thus, I was present when David Truman was approached by a delegation demanding to know why WKCR had been ordered off the air. He was clearly startled to learn this and promptly said it should resume broadcasts. He was not the bad guy of the events, regardless of how he may have interpreted or misinterpreted motivations. 

But I was also present when twenty trench-coated men holding clubs rushed by me to a ground-level entrance to Low Library’s basement. One flourished his club in the air and brought it down with full force on the head of one of the faculty guarding that entrance. The remaining faculty linked arms and kept all but six from the building. One of the faculty asked me to notify others of what had happened. 

The person who called in the police, whether Truman, Grayson Kirk, or another, was apparently totally naive about the personalities, activities, or motives of the NYPD. They resented everyone at Columbia — administration, faculty, students — as being from a social stratum they regarded as overly privileged and under-appreciative.

Thomas Hamilton ’60CC
Staten Island, NY


I recall that as a Columbia junior, a few months before the occupation, I went to warn David Truman that many students were very upset with the University’s actions about the gym and its work with the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA). 

Maybe I was one of those “hard-core radicals” — whatever that means. I was one of the thousands of students who supported the occupation of April 1968 and was beaten and arrested for my actions. We opposed the racist gym (in a public park, with separate and unequal entrances for Blacks in Harlem and the mostly white Columbia students on Morningside Heights). We opposed the University’s heavy involvement with the IDA and its support of the Vietnam War, now widely discredited as a horrible waste of millions of lives.

But I did not want to destroy the University. After my not-so-great high-school years, I loved the learning I found at Columbia. 

Truman wrote: “I still regret that it was necessary to involve police . . . But I do not see, even after more than twenty years . . . any reasonable alternative that in the circumstances was available to us.” That is sad. When I make a mistake, I say so and apologize. It is not too late for Columbia, if not Mr. Truman, to admit a mistake and apologize. I’ve been waiting for almost fifty years.

Michael Jacoby Brown ’69CC
Arlington, MA


COURT OF APPEALS

Thank you so much for your fawning fluff piece on Justice Gorsuch, which appears to have been ghostwritten by him (“The Education of Neil Gorsuch,” Fall 2017). His expected role in overturning Roe v. Wade, giving free rein to business interests, limiting worker rights and civil rights, eviscerating environmental and financial regulations, demolishing the wall between church and state, and enhancing the power of the current embarrassing occupant of the White House will be so much more palatable knowing that he is such a nice guy.

David Hershey-Webb ’83CC
New York, NY


I am sure I am not alone in reading the puff piece on Neil Gorsuch with great dismay. Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that there would be no action taken on any nominee put forward by President Obama. Sure enough, Merrick Garland’s appointment was shelved for nearly a year, in blatant violation of the Senate’s constitutional obligation to give their “advice and consent.” Judge Garland is the most decent of men, with great intellect, charm, wit, and integrity. The same cannot be said for Gorsuch, who gladly served as an accessory after the fact in the theft of a Supreme Court seat.

Mark S. Brodin ’69CC, ’72LAW
Newton, MA


How comforting it is to know that when Justice Gorsuch erodes the division between church and state, further restricts women’s reproductive rights, and imposes his reactionary, homophobic views on the country, he’ll be nice about it.

Susan D. Einbinder ’85BC, ’95SW
Santa Monica, CA


Henry Adams famously wrote that the succession of presidents from Washington to Grant was sufficient to disprove the Darwinian theory of evolution. I was put in mind of that in reading your sycophantic profile of Neil Gorsuch. Consider the many justices connected to Columbia: Jay, Cardozo, Stone, Douglas, Ginsburg . . . and Gorsuch! What an accomplishment — to have usurped a seat on the Supreme Court by an appointment from a man like Donald Trump through the cynical machinations of a man like Mitch McConnell. Whatever his other virtues, Gorsuch is apparently lacking one of significance: self-respect.

Leslie T. Jones ’59CC
Las Vegas, NV


I enjoyed reading your recent article on Justice Gorsuch. It was interesting to know that he wasn’t a nerd who studied all the time or this super-being who always did the right thing. He was “a typical college student: he studied, dated, and hung out.” He was opinionated, but he always wanted open and fair debate. And he had a polite and gracious demeanor, a quality so rare in the current political environment. The highlight of the article was his answer to the question of why he would come to Columbia University, where all these liberal students seemed so frivolous to him. “If I surrounded myself with like-minded students,” he said, “I wouldn’t get stronger.” The courage and the confidence he displayed is inspiring.

Tang Di ’05SIPA
Sleepy Hollow, NY 


MAN IN THE BOOTH

I so enjoyed your feature on Mets announcer Gary Cohen (“Outta Here!,” Fall 2017). Speaking as a historian who is researching the history of baseball broadcasting, I have no doubt that Cohen will be ranked among the greats. But your references to Bob Murphy as the longtime voice of the Mets ignores a couple of the other voices of Cohen’s childhood: Ralph Kiner, who broadcast for the team for fifty years, and Lindsey Nelson. The three of them were baseball’s longest-tenured broadcasting trio, working together for seventeen years. 

As a beginning Columbia PhD student in 1989, I got to hear Cohen’s first broadcast as a full-time Mets announcer — including his pregame interview on WFAN in which he talked about broadcasting for WKCR — and I was impressed with him from the outset. The article didn’t say much about his work in football, but I recall him saying that once you had broadcast Columbia football, you were ready for anything. That preparation has served him well.

Michael Green ’00GSAS
Las Vegas, NV 


The story on Gary Cohen’s sportscasting career brought back fond memories. 

When WKCR went FM and could be heard not just on campus but citywide, I did the first play-by-play broadcast of a Columbia basketball game — we lost to Princeton in a very close and exciting contest — and my brother had promised to listen from home. After the game, I ran to a pay phone and called him.

“How was it?” I asked.

“You’ll never be a professional sportscaster,” he said.

“Why?”

“Because,” he explained, “no professional sportscaster ever uses the word ‘ostensibly’ during a fast break.”

Henry A. Solomon ’58CC, ’62PS
Hampton Bays, NY 


STUDIES OF VIOLENCE

A Voice for Women and Girls” (The Big Idea, Fall 2017) describes studies of violence against women being conducted in war-torn countries such as Ethiopia and the Congo. Mailman School associate professor Lindsay Stark says, “We want to know: are women and girls in these types of chaotic environments more likely to experience gender-based violence? If so, what can be done to prevent this?” There is no mention of Islam or Muslims in the article, even though violence against Muslim women, committed by Muslim men, is rampant not only in countries with significant Muslim populations but all over the world.

It would seem that the researchers are deliberately ignoring a key ingredient.

Jim O’Brien ’66CC
Maitland, FL

Lindsay Stark responds:
The majority of girls in Ethiopia we studied were Muslim, and the majority of those in the Democratic Republic of Congo were Christian, and we found extremely high rates of violence among both populations.


DESCARTES’S SAINT

Teresa of Ávila (“She thinks, therefore I am,” Explorations, Fall 2017) was not only a “Roman Catholic nun” who influenced René Descartes. Give her her due: she is Saint Teresa of Ávila, canonized in 1622, just forty years after her death. 

Of course, that may just be an additional reason for secular philosophers to overlook her influence.

Taras Wolansky ’74CC
Kerhonkson, NY


SINS OF EMISSION

Finally, the University, after much prodding, has divested from thermal coal (“Columbia stands behind Paris Agreement,” Bulletin, Fall 2017). But that still leaves possible investment in oil, gas, tar sands, pipelines, drilling rigs, offshore platforms, refineries, and so on. Leaving these gaps means our donations could still be used for those and enables more fossil fuels to be taken out of the ground, speeding up the end of life on earth.

Stan Sulm ’65BUS, ’72TC
Sunnyvale, CA


BEYOND BARS

I write belatedly to thank you for publishing “Opening Minds Behind Bars” (Summer 2017). Mass incarceration and the forms of retributive criminal punishment we engage in as Americans need to be brought up publicly again and again. More and more Americans appear to be gaining consciousness about the exceptionally high number of people we sentence to years or, too often, decades of living in cages, being subjected to violence and substandard medical care.

I want to commend you for writing this article, because although there will always be people whose knee-jerk reaction to mass incarceration is “let ’em rot,” I believe most reasonable people, when better informed about just how cruelly we treat our fellow Americans, can agree that we put too many people in jail and, when we do, we too often unjustly sentence them to entire lives without job prospects or education or the ability to vote. In that way, we harm our society and set ourselves up for failure.  Reforms can and must be made. Thank you for bringing up this issue for people to think about.

Bonita S. Gutierrez ’09LAW
Oakland, CA


I am writing in response to Steve Rosenblatt’s letter attacking the idea of inmates getting degrees, mocking “alleged good intentions” (Fall 2017). He makes a point of praising private prisons, saying they save tax money. I note he is from Houston — I suspect he will have no objection to New York tax money being spent on Houston’s hurricane recovery.

The profit motive in private prisons increases the pressure for the US to maintain the number-one position it holds among all nations in people incarcerated. Rosenblatt speaks of criminals — I trust he knows that many of those in prison have not harmed anyone and are in for drug offenses that may soon not be illegal, while many corporate lawbreakers are not held accountable and have caused massive hardships to many people. As Rosenblatt himself states, his mind is closed.

Donald Hagen ’77SEAS
Felton, DE


As a non-religious volunteer teacher in state and federal prisons for more than twenty years, I was interested in the two letters in the Fall 2017 issue from (male) readers who seem to feel that “opening minds behind bars” is wasteful and counterproductive: “Start making criminals accountable for their crimes . . .” and “Where else can one get free rent, free food . . .?”

These attitudes reflect, I am afraid, a widespread and profound ignorance of what prison is actually like and its pernicious effects on American society. Thankfully, there are people at Columbia and elsewhere who know better and are working to improve a very broken criminal-justice system.

Wally Wood ’86GS
Southbury, CT


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Letters may be edited for brevity or clarity.

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