Letters to the Editor

Yale’s divestment decision

Readers talk back about fossil fuel divestment, the Bowl, and much more.

The Yale administration just failed Leadership 101.

By ducking the decision to divest from Big Coal (see “Fuel Stocks to Stay”), the Yale Corporation just lost out on a real opportunity to distinguish the institution from its Ivy brethren. The university’s lack of political courage on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change—which President Salovey termed “the most important issue that faces the world in our time”—has diminished the Yale brand. They also just blew the only useful platform that Yale has to do something constructive on this issue.

This was a political decision, not an economic decision, and not a time for intellectual parsing that is just—well, just so Yale. As the Yale Daily News explained it: “While members of the Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility acknowledged that climate change poses a grave threat to human welfare, they said divestment or shareholder engagement as a precondition to divestment were neither the right way to address this issue nor likely to be effective.”

No one—including the students from Fossil Free Yale—thinks disinvestment solves the problem of climate change. The Corporation Committee on Investor Responsibility showed an appalling lack of understanding of the political moment we are in and what Yale’s leadership could mean. What was called for was a small act of solidarity that, because of the Yale brand, would have great meaning and add vigor to the growing national student campaign. Rather than stand tall and use the Yale brand, the administration chose to protect the brand—sitting with the rest of the Ivies and rearranging deck chairs (which will no doubt look beautiful as the ship sinks).

Yale’s long positive record in the market is a testament to David Swensen’s wise stewardship of the endowment. Swensen acknowledged at the public opening of the new SOM building in January that the next necessary step is to get a price on carbon, but he added nothing to the conversation about how to use Yale’s power to influence that decision. Yale could both be an enabling voice in a parade of voices (when a much bigger parade is needed) and take action that will set the institution apart.

Judith Samuelson ’82MPPM
New York, NY


Times letter controversy

As a Yale alumnus and a Jew, I was appalled to read the Reverend Bruce Shipman’s letter in the August 26 New York Times justifying rising anti-Semitism because of Israel’s approach to dealing with terrorists launching rockets from Gaza since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. This bile excreted from the pen of a cleric evokes the age-old “blood libel.” It’s okay to hate Jews because they kill babies. If “never again” is to be more than a T-shirt slogan, Jews (especially in the Yale community) should demand that the university fire Shipman. He has a right to speak his mind. He doesn’t have the right to have a position of such influence at (what at least used to be) one of America’s finest universities. Although I haven’t been a huge donor, no more of this alumnus’s money will go to Yale as long as Shipman remains.

Michael H. Leb ’82
Pasadena, CA

As reported in “Episcopal Chaplain Quits Amid Controversy,” Shipman resigned in September. He was employed by the Episcopal Church at Yale, which is separate from the university.—Eds.


Preventing suicide

I read with great interest the interview with Jennifer Stuber ’02PhD (“Action in the Wake of Tragedy,” September/October), who helped pass three laws in Washington State aimed at preventing suicide after the death of her husband. These laws are the first in the nation to require training of health-care professionals in suicide prevention and give schools greater ability to intervene when a student expresses suicidal thoughts. I wish that this kind of help had been available when I was a student long ago and attempted suicide.

Yet so much more needs to be done. These types of laws need to be instituted around the country. They need to have more teeth. The first time that Washington passed a suicide-prevention bill, in 2012, the state senate stripped the bill of compulsory training at the insistence of medical professionals, who said the training wasn’t needed.

Mental-illness treatment is a disgrace in our country. It is totally underfunded and enormously stigmatized. In 1966, I wouldn’t have gone to student health for assistance for fear of being labeled crazy. Students today still attempt to kill themselves in large numbers. Yale doesn’t talk about it much; maybe that will change because of the efforts of people like Jennifer Stuber.

Carlton Davis ’68, ’71MArch
Pasadena, CA


Memories of the Bowl

The photo of the open trolley in your article on the Yale Bowl (“A Hundred Years in the Round,” September/October), brought back memories of my childhood. Until 1947, we lived just three blocks from Chapel Street and not more than a half mile from the Bowl.

On game days the trolleys would load up with students downtown and proceed down Chapel on their way to deliver their loads. It seemed as if it were an hours-long procession of overloaded cable cars with people hanging on outside, screaming and cheering.

I remember being fascinated by students (all male then), shouting “Scramble!” as they threw coins to the waiting collection of kids who then raced to collect their prizes. I loved to watch but wasn’t permitted to run in the street. It seemed like carnival time in New England—New Haven’s own Mardi Gras parade. As a student myself later, and then as an adult, I would wonder at the motives of the coin tossers and whether wondering at their motives was a useful endeavor.

John O’Donnell ’61
Los Angeles, CA


The photo on page 55 of your article on the Yale Bowl is not, as identified, from the 1976 Bicentennial Cup game between Brazil and Italy (which I had the privilege of attending). For one thing, the red uniform is not something the Brazilian national team would wear. For another, the goalie seen in foreground of the photo, Gianluca Pagliuca, played for Italy’s national team in the 1990s. This picture appears to be from the 1992 US Cup game between Italy and Portugal played at the Yale Bowl.

Fred Cantor ’75
Westport, CT

Mr. Cantor is correct. Sorry, soccer fans.—Eds.


Words to live by

I noted with sadness the death of one of my teachers at the Divinity School, E. William Muehl, who died May 8 (Milestones, September/October). One day in the fall of 1978, a group of us had lunch in the refectory with Professor Muehl. During the course of our group conversation, Professor Muehl threw out the following observation: “People despair not because life has no meaning. People despair because they cannot be sure that life doesn’t have meaning.” I vividly recall pushing aside my lunch tray to begin chewing on that unexpected insight. Over the past 36 years, that insight has continued to guide and shape my pastoral theology.

Gus Succop ’79MDiv
Charlotte, NC


The Teachers Institute and STEM

I was pleased to read the article that highlighted the work of the Yale–New Haven Teachers Institute (“Teaching for the Teachers,” September/October). I have been affiliated with the YNHTI since 1999 and have led six institute seminars on science topics ranging from Renewable Energy to Chemistry of Everyday Things.

In addition to the local seminars led by Yale faculty for teachers in the New Haven school system, the YNHTI organizes a series of national seminars each summer for teachers in disadvantaged public-school systems across the country. As your article noted, the National Initiative is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year.

For both the local and national seminars, the teachers work one-on-one with the seminar leaders to develop a new teaching unit that they bring back to their classrooms. The teachers who participated in the YNHTI seminars I led developed innovative hands-on science and demonstration-based teaching units. Examples of engaging activities developed by the teachers include building solar-powered cars and racing them in a “pinewood derby”–style event and collecting waste cooking oil and turning it into biodiesel fuel.

There is a great need to improve STEM education with activities that can enlighten students about science concepts and, at the same time, tie in with interesting and current topics that can be incorporated into the school curricula. I think the programs of the YNHTI do exactly this, and they are making a phenomenal impact on STEM education in public schools nationwide.

Gary Brudvig
Benjamin Silliman Professor of Chemistry
Orange, CT


A victory to remember

Witnessing Yale’s improbable win over Army on September 27 (see “Army Drops in for a Historic Game”) brought back a host of fond memories—especially for Old Blues like me who can still remember the Elis’ equally improbable win over Army in 1955, also at the Bowl. This recent victory has to rank as the most inspired performance by a Bulldog football team in this century. And Tyler Varga’s individual effort was something to behold—five touchdowns and 185 rushing yards, rivaling the exploits of Calvin Hill five decades earlier.

Yet it was, above all, a team effort: quarterback Morgan Roberts completed 23 passes for 290 yards, and while Captain Deon Randall only caught four passes, he was double-teamed all afternoon, opening opportunities for his talented teammates. Nor should the Yale defense be overlooked, having made two crucial fourth-down stops in the fourth quarter, or the offensive line, which helped pave the way for young Varga. Both teams appeared extremely well coached and executed their deceptive offenses with both finesse and poise.

In this day of overhyped, big-time, big-money college football masquerading as amateur sport, that game showed that there’s still a place for the old-fashioned virtues of true scholar-athletes at both West Point and Yale.

Ron Bland ’57, ’60LLB
Issaquah, WA


Diversify the Corporation

In your July/August issue, there were four glowing letters praising Matthew Guerrieri’s article about organist Paul Jacobs (“The Radical Virtuoso,” May/June). One found the article “inspirational.” Another saw in it “genuine academic, intellectual, and spiritual importance.” A third said that few magazine articles had ever “contributed so much to my enjoyment and edification.” The last cited the article’s “unapologetic high-mindedness, a quality sadly rare in the several alumni magazines I am familiar with.” For me, the article itself—reinforced by this praise and evident sense of relief—crystallized some thoughts.

Early last year I wrote to the newly appointed president-to-be of Yale urging fossil fuel divestment, and excoriating the university for having a preponderance of business and finance capital representatives on the Corporation. President-elect Salovey replied, complimenting me on my “passion.”

For a couple of centuries after its founding, Yale had only Congregationalist ministers on the Corporation. Now, it has swung to the new orthodoxy: the grinding antisocialism of big business and the higher finance.

Does this institution of higher learning really believe that that is the predominant perspective that it needs to have in its leadership? Where are representatives of workers? Who speaks for Nature? Where are the artists, the poets, the social critics? Where is public health? Where are the critics of US militarism and imperialism?

People and nature all over the world are under threat from the system that the hegemony of business and finance has imposed. Surely Yale, Yale students, and the world deserve better.

Stoney Bird ’67
Bellingham, WA

Biographies of the members of the Yale Corporation, Yale’s board of trustees, are at yale.edu/about/corporation.html.—Eds.


Are college students adults?

With regard to your interview with Peter Salovey about student drinking (“Undergraduates and Alcohol,” July/August): we are used to thinking of college students as men and women, i.e., adults—even though, for example, they cannot legally drink until they are 21. But what if college students are not adults? What if they are actually adolescents, young people in the process of maturing?

A publication of the National institute of Mental Health, “The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction,” states that “the brain does not begin to resemble that of an adult until the early 20s.” And, “the parts of the brain responsible for ‘top down’ control, controlling impulses, and planning ahead—the hallmarks of adult behavior—are among the last to mature.”

Assaults, binge drinking, and engaging in unsafe sex may be the result of immature judgment, judgment obscured by runaway emotions and spur-of-the-moment impulses. College students, however smart they may be, may need more guidance than they are getting.

The current approach of the college seems to be to react to problems after they occur, and settle them as best one can. But the answer may be to be proactive, to prevent situations from arising in the first place.

So, what? A return to segregated dorms and parietal rules? I suppose not. But somehow the school has got to recognize that it has on its campus 5,000 adolescents, not mature men and women. Somehow it must work to instill a better sense of self-control in its students. I am not sure how one would go about this. But what does Alma Mater mean, anyway?

Edward Rossmann ’55
Aurora, NY



In our profile of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney ’07MFA (“That Beautiful Music of a New Voice,” September/October”), we misquoted McCraney’s instructions to middle-school students who were about to watch a performance of Shakespeare. Admonishing them to put away their cell phones, he said, “It’s going to be very important that you don’t do it for the Vine”—referring to the video-sharing service—not “do it for the vibe.”

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