Letters to the Editor

More secrets of the Tomb

Readers talk back about Skull and Bones, fossil fuels, the cost of Yale, and more.

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be mailed to Letters Editor, Yale Alumni Magazine, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905; e-mailed to yam@yale.edu; or faxed to (203) 432-0651. Due to the volume of correspondence, we are unable to respond to or publish all mail received. Letters accepted for publication are subject to editing.

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In “The Origins of the Tomb” (May/June), David Richards omits discussion of who it was that paid the $30,000 used to build the 1856 Skull and Bones structure. It was Russell money, and steeped in opium. James Bradley’s book The China Mirage (Little, Brown, 2015) traces the Russell family fortune back to Russell and Company in Canton, “America’s biggest smuggler of Turkish opium into China.” The trust that holds Skull and Bones’s real estate and endowment is called the Russell Trust Association.

This history enriches our understanding of the complex debt owed to China by Skull and Bones, Yale, and large swaths of the New England nineteenth-century elite (most notably Warren Delano, grandfather of Franklin Roosevelt, whose opium-based fortune descended to FDR through Warren’s daughter Sara).

Bruce L. Reynolds ’66
Potomac, MD


Save the Alumni Notes!

As a loyal reader of the Yale Alumni Magazine for the last 35 years, I have greatly enjoyed reading the class notes for my class and have found them to be a convenient way to stay informed about the activities of my fellow alums and of others in the global Yale community. When I found the class notes missing from the May/June issue, I felt a void that will not soon be filled by the likes of Facebook, LinkedIn, or the online version of the notes on the Yale Alumni Magazine site.

In the Reader Services section of the magazine’s website, the following commitment remains: “We publish Alumni Notes in each print issue for each Yale College class.” If an editorial decision has been reached to suspend print publication of the class notes, readers deserve advance notice and the rationale for the decision should be explained. If we are in fact witnessing the end of the print era for the Yale class notes, this is indeed a sad affair, and I fear that the Yale alumni community will not feel well served by this development.

The Yale Alumni Magazine is a valuable institution serving a vital function for Yale alumni around the world. The class notes were the beating heart of the publication. Without them, the current issue seemed as cold as Skull and Bones.

Steve Woit ’80
Lexington, MA

Rest assured: the notes—in print and online—are alive and well. We publish two versions of the magazine: one with Yale College class notes, for Yale College alumni, and one without, for graduate and professional school alumni. Because of a mix-up at the place where our magazine is mailed, Mr. Woit and some 4,000 other Yale College alumni got the wrong edition. Our printer is changing its procedures to avoid it happening again.

But as always, anyone can read the current and past class notes and online notes on our website by signing in as an alum: go to yalealumnimagazine.com and click on “Alumni Notes” at the top.—Eds.


On the cost of Yale

Your graph of Yale term bills since 1939–40 (“The Cost of Yale: A History,” May/June) shows real tuition costs more than doubling over the past 30 years. Yet salaries for most of us have been flat in real dollars since the nineties. What is the cause of these increases and the rationale? When those with household income of over $200,000 can no longer afford tuition that requires $100,000 of gross income per year, I wonder: is there some plan that you can share to avoid driving everyone in the middle out of Yale and its ilk going forward?

John Steinert ’93MBA
Watertown, MA

The rise in tuition at private colleges and universities has been attributed to many factors, among them increasing levels of staff and administration, the demand for better facilities, and higher spending on financial aid.—Eds.


The fossil-fuel sit-in

We are writing to express our support for Fossil Free Yale, an organization that is calling for Yale to divest from its fossil fuel holdings, and to express our anger and disappointment at the reaction of the Yale administration to the April 9 student demonstration (Campus Clips, May/June).

In August 2014, the Yale Corporation declined to divest from the fossil fuel holdings in its $24 billion endowment, saying this would not be the right way to address global warming. But fossil fuel usage, which causes greenhouse gas emissions, is indisputably causing climate change and harm to our environment. Oil companies wield tremendous power over our government and its policies. Divestment by leading institutions like Yale would send a powerful message, help to change public opinion, and push our government toward new policies and investment in alternative energy sources and conservation. The students at Fossil Free Yale are asking that Yale “live up to our university’s commitment to sustainability and ethical investment by freezing all new investments in fossil fuels and phasing out existing ones over the next five years.”

These students care about the future of the planet. They will continue to push Yale to do the right thing, and their demonstration and sit-in on April 9 was an expression of their commitment. Their demand was not that Yale agree to divest on the spot but simply to issue a statement that they would reopen the conversation. Yale not only refused to issue such a statement, but, when the students declined to leave Woodbridge Hall without such a commitment they threatened the students with disciplinary action, called the Yale police, and chose to have the 19 students who remained, our daughter/granddaughter among them, arrested.

And don’t believe the spin Yale is putting on the incident that the students were not arrested but simply issued citations—they were repeatedly advised by police and legal counsel that they were being arrested, and they would have been charged with resisting arrest (a more serious charge) had they not allowed the police to escort them out of Woodbridge Hall.

The fact that the Yale administration was willing to call the police and arrest its own students rather than agree to engage in future dialogue on this important issue clearly shows that Yale has chosen to align itself with those who profit from the oil and gas industries rather than joining those who are working to save the future of our planet. We call on the Yale Corporation to do the right thing and divest from fossil fuels now.

Erica (Townsend) Appel ’80
Montclair, NJ
Charles Townsend ’54
Princeton, NJ

We regret to report that Mr. Townsend passed away in June, after this letter was written. Asked whether the students were arrested or threatened with arrest, university spokesman Tom Conroy responds: “The students who chose not to leave Woodbridge Hall at 5 p.m. were issued citations. No one was arrested and no one was charged with a crime, and no one was required to appear in court.”—Eds.


Iphigenia remembered

I enjoyed the photos from and article about the Iphigenia in Tauris production that was presented in the Yale Bowl in May 1915 (“Iphigenia at the Yale Bowl, May/June”). I can offer a tiny bit of information about some audience members. My great-aunt Dorothy Richardson was in New Haven that month visiting William and Susan Farnam (he, the former treasurer of Yale). On the 15th, Dorothy noted in her Line-A-Day diary that she and her hostess and “Mrs. W. H. Taft” (the former first lady, of course) “went to see Iphigenia given at the Yale Bowl.”

She gave no reaction that day; she chose instead to devote what little space was left for May 15 to mention that the Murray Sargents had dined with them that night. However, the play surfaced in her entry for the 16th of May. On that afternoon, “a lot of people” came to tea at the Farnams. Among the guests was Professor Paul V. C. Bauer, an authority on ancient Greece. Dorothy noted: “We discussed the play of the day before, and Mr. Bauer and I agreed.”

Unfortunately, she does not mention their point of agreement. Thanks to Judith Ann Schiff’s write-up, I can wonder more widely: was it the costumes? Was it the acoustics? Was it the laughter of the freshmen?

Frank Herron
Winchester, MA


It was a pleasure reading the piece “Iphigenia at the Yale Bowl” by library archivist Judith Ann Schiff. It did, however, have the ring of familiarity.

Your own archives would reveal that some years ago I researched and wrote a rather similar, somewhat longer piece: “Tragedy in the Bowl! Granville Barker’s Iphigenia at Yale, 1915,” which was published by the alumni magazine in June 1984. In preparing it (while on sabbatical leave and teaching a college seminar course at Yale as a visiting professor), I discovered in the archives of the drama school library an impressive cache of photos both of the Iphigenia (taken on a brownie camera by an undergraduate) as well as of Barker’s production of The Trojan Women, which toured with it. Barker had been the first to stage ancient Greek theater (very successfully) in the UK commercial theater, and had been encouraged by the British government to bring his productions to the United States as a public relations exercise in support of the British war effort.

Obviously the subject is an intriguing one! In fact, it figured a few years ago in a play about Barker, Farewell to the Theatre, by Richard Nelson, produced here in the UK at the Hampstead Theatre.

Richard Beacham ’68, ’73DFA
London, England

Thanks to Professor Beacham for letting us know about his earlier article. We regret that we missed it.—Eds.


Progress in mental health laws

In the article “By Reason of Insanity” (May/June), Katema Ross’s classmate Elisabeth Steele correctly identifies “stigma” as a barrier to recognition and treatment of mental illness. However, she incorrectly asserts that unlike other civil rights issues, little progress has been made in relation to public policy and mental health.

Two eminent Yale graduates have played prominent roles in advancing the civil rights of persons with mental illness by signing important mental health “parity” acts into law. The last law signed by Governor George Pataki ’67 in 2006 was “Timothy’s Law,” the New York State mental health “parity act.” President George W. Bush ’68 signed the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act into law in 2008.

Each of these laws represented important landmarks in the effort to gain equity and full civil rights for persons with mental illness in our country. While the fight for full implementation of these laws and against “stigma” continues, I think we must acknowledge that considerable progress has been made.

Barry B. Perlman ’71MD
New York, NY


Levin’s $8.5 million

Yesterday I learned of the Yale Corporation’s supplemental lump-sum compensation of $8.5 million to departing president Richard Levin (“Levin’s $8.5 Million Retirement Benefit,” page 21). Having met several of the trustees in years past and having picked up on the self-congratulatory ethos and general lovefest around former President Levin’s performance, I understand, if strenuously disagree, with the act. To me, and to many alumni with whom I have spoken, it is yet another symbol of the university becoming “Yale Inc.” The values of Wall Street, etc., are now one with the university.

A Stanford Business School professor of mine once surveyed CEOs of major corporations. Close to 90 percent privately wondered how they achieved their positions and whether they deserved them. One suspects this is because they knew that many others could do their jobs, and some just as well, if not better. It is too bad Yale’s trustees didn’t have a touch more skepticism and humility in approaching our former president’s compensation.

Still, there are greater ills in this world to focus on than Yale’s descent into an institution whose governance expresses questionable values. There are the desperate conditions facing Rohingya refugees who are dying in the Andaman Sea, as well as Syrian and African refugees dying in the Mediterranean. I for one will consider shifting our Yale contributions to institutions whose boards of directors maintain a sense of fiduciary responsibility and values that are more aligned with ours, and CEOs whose hubris is kept in check.

Derek S. Brown ’83
Charlottesville, VA


A vote for restored Sterling

I couldn’t help but laugh to myself as I read “Sterile Sterling?” (Letters, March/April), especially the line, “Seemingly banished is the frenzied intellectual activity of the past, as well as the formerly dramatic, urbane connection to the subterranean companion library.” I had just returned from three hours of hard work over an ancient Greek text at one of the comfortable new tables in the nave; I had come to Sterling right after it opened, and was quickly joined by several other students with textbooks, notes, and laptops, all working diligently. In fact, I work there many mornings, with students at work around me (and the occasional napper). I should mention that in my four years working at the SML circulation desk, the nave never felt like a hive of intellectual activity; it felt merely like a hallway.

As for that “urbane connection,” CCL by the time I was a student early last decade was dirty and uncomfortable, and that hallway was blinding white (does that count as dramatic?) to walk down as I shuffled carts full of books back and forth in it. Bass now feels welcoming, and I and many others choose it as a place to study.

So, everyone is entitled to their opinions. My experience of the renovated space has been quite the opposite than the author of the above-quoted opinion.

Rachel Gilson ’07 New Haven, CT


Nothing left to chance

I really enjoyed your article “How Science came to Yale” (March/April). When so many seemingly educated people make pronouncements on how religion and science are incompatible and even hostile, this was a great piece. Thank you for it!

Minor note—or a gem for trivia night. You write about the Gibbs-Silliman encounter as “by chance.” Given Silliman’s Calvinist convictions, I think he would attribute that most propitious encounter to Divine Providence rather than chance. Whether one interpretation excludes the other is up for discussion.

Rev. Kazimierz Bem ’10MDiv, ’12STM
Marlborough, MA

1 comment

  • Michael Montesano
    Michael Montesano, 10:27pm July 08 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    My Saybrook College classmate Derek Brown is correct in calling attention to the Yale Corporation's need to address serious questions of University governance. Should the Corporation fail to do so, alumni and other stakeholders are bound to lose their confidence in Yale. Can the Corporation, for example, articulate a code concerning executive compensation, so that we might judge discretionary payments like those recently made to Richard Levin and Linda Lorimer against the principles espoused in that code? Can it frame a policy regarding conflicts of interest, so that we might understand why it did not ask for Ms Lorimer's resignation after it was revealed that her husband had a long-term financial relationship with the government of Singapore, even as she represented Yale in treating with that government? Can the Corporation make clear its understanding of the role of transparency in University governance, so that we might understand why it has never explained the need to keep agreements between Yale and Singapore secret, let alone lift that veil of secrecy? A Yale that enjoys the services of David Swensen and can afford to hand eight million bucks to Dr Levin may not think that is needs our trust, good will, or donations today, but one never knows what the future will bring.

    Michael Montesano
    Yale College '83

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