Letters to the Editor

Sexual misconduct and universities

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.

It was with deep interest that I read the article on how universities are handling sexual misconduct and the nuances involved (“The Toughest Issue on Any Campus,” July/August). Nancy Gertner [one of the panel members] is the only voice close to getting to the heart of the matter. Issues of sexual harassment and coercion cannot be separated from social inequality on almost every level; as we all know, rape is about power, not about sex.

In general, a man can physically overpower a woman, just as an adult can physically overpower a child. Sadly, even physical abuse can translate into a tendency to be frightened during sexual encounters, as the physical threat in both contexts can feel quite parallel.

Gertner suggests that embarrassment or anticipation of social rejection can trigger submissive, disempowered behavior from women; I would posit even deeper fears of shame, humiliation, physical retribution, and—ironically—even sexual violation become the obstacles to their fully “empowered” sexual agency. Until we have adequately confronted the causes of our cultural issues around violence and power, we will never truly have a solution.

My 16-year-old son and I have preemptively had conversations about coercion—even of the most subtle kind. While physically forcing a girl to do something may seem obviously repugnant, subtly pressuring phrases like “but it will feel good” and “I really need it” may seem more innocuous. I want him to understand that he deserves to be valued; I also want him to own the responsibility of the likelihood of his being more physically imposing than his date. Hopefully, he will be a gentlemanly “humanist”; appreciative and respectful of the spectrum of gender identity and roles, and willing to navigate the gray areas.

Like anything else worth pursuing, it is an art form that will undoubtedly never be perfected. Nonetheless, I think we need to reexamine what we mean by egalitarianism in the face of some hard truths; men and women are different in some ways, although certainly not in their value as human beings. Yale will have a tough time handling these issues until it takes a much more profound look at how it’s contributing—unwittingly or not—to our cultural definitions of success, power, and our societal obligations to one another.

Ariane Brandt ’85
South Salem, NY


Your article on sexual misconduct is an interesting piece that throws light on a subject that has come into regrettable prominence in our time.

But it’s the policy aspect for me that raises a perplexing question. Policy flows from the top, which in Yale’s structure means the distinguished trustees of the Yale Corporation whose bios I read when they are distributed prior to their election. As described in your article, the university’s policy on sexual misconduct includes nuances of “he said/she said” determination of consent. Such matters are as difficult to codify as any the trustees are likely to face in their tenure, for in addition to concerns of fairness, legality, responsibility, etc., the wise, gray heads who deliver university policy must address the sexual intimacy and patterns of students of a much different and younger generation. No small task; actually almost impossible, and the skills needed do not appear in trustee bios.

All of these policy issues result, in one or more ways, from enormous changes that our society has been unable to successfully confront and resolve. Higher education in America over the past half century has, like other sectors, made mistakes, but it is probably the best means at our disposal to clarify what is needed in the future to dispel the growing confusion and conflict that attach themselves to our societal experience of violence, religion, population, the environment, politics, security, climate change, resource depletion, migration, and more.

The final report card for higher education in America is that it has done well, but not so well that it can’t do better in the years ahead. Yale is one of only a handful of institutions that can lay legitimate claim to leadership, and there is work to be done.

Bromwell Ault ’49
West Palm Beach, FL


Expulsion is a form of ostracism, and it is one of the most painful penalties a society can impose. Before imposing this penalty or any penalty, the university ought to determine whether the student committed an offense. The only way to do that is to have a trial with cross-examination of witnesses by lawyers. Otherwise the accused is defenseless. No “trained finder of fact,” that is, a Yale investigator and report writer, can be trusted to determine the facts, and no Yale committee can be trusted to deliver a valid verdict, because institutional people are biased, and all these people are beholden to Yale, the creator of the prosecution. The committee is supposed to make a decision based on a preponderance of the evidence, which merely means the case for prosecution is one tiny scintilla better than the case for acquittal. On this amorphous base, the Yale Corporation proposes to wreck the lives of students, faculty, and employees.

Of course, some line must be drawn between criminal behavior and the freedom of individual action. It’s hard to say where to draw that line, but the criminal justice system has done it for centuries. We all want to stop sexual violence; we all want Yale to prosper. There is a better way.

Roger Ley ’67
Svensen, OR


Levin’s retirement bonus

I read with dismay the article on the benefit received by Rick Levin upon his retirement as president of Yale in 2013 (“Levin’s $8.5 Million Retirement Benefit,” July/August). Although I was a member of the Yale Corporation at the time of Rick Levin’s original appointment in 1993, and I served on the presidential search committee that recommended him, I was unaware of this deal until it became public information a couple of months ago.

I have been a strong supporter of Rick Levin from the outset and believe that he has provided outstanding leadership for the university over the years. His tenure as president will be remembered as one that had profound positive benefits. At the same time, I am concerned that this financial deal has done harm to the reputation of Yale and that it represents a trend that should have been bucked by the Corporation, not encouraged.

There are many obvious reasons. The university is a not-for-profit organization, and as such should regard itself as the steward of funds at least in part generously donated by its alumni and other supporters. It should not regard itself in competition with for-profit companies and it should not strive to emulate their behavior. This applies to the faculty as well as to the university as an institution. If you want to make a lot of money, go into the private sector. There are plenty of competent academics who are willing and able to fulfill the administrative functions of the university. They will do it because the university has allowed them to fulfill their love of teaching and research.

The larger issue is the nature of the university itself. Historically, universities have been communities of scholars, concerned primarily with the preservation and accumulation of knowledge, and the transmission of that knowledge to future generations. No one believes that our profession requires a vow of poverty. But in recent years many of our most prestigious universities have encouraged their faculty to become entrepreneurs, most notably in the biomedical sciences but also in the business and other professional schools. In my opinion, this blurring of the distinction between academics and business is fundamentally flawed and should be resisted.

I know this is not a popular view among many of my colleagues. But my personal experience over 60 years as a university professor, at Yale and elsewhere, convinces me that one must decide whether one wants to be an academic, in which case your place is in a university, or a businessman-entrepreneur, in which case your place is elsewhere.

Joseph Gall ’48, ’52PhD
Baltimore, MD


I worked with Rick Levin for almost his entire 20-year tenure as the president of Yale. Having served as chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble and chairman of the Walt Disney Company and the boards of other for-profit and nonprofit enterprises, including Yale, I can say that he was one of the finest leaders I worked with anywhere.

His strength became very clear to the Yale Corporation during the first seven years of his tenure, and we decided it was in the interest of the university to take responsible steps to help ensure his continued service. The results of his lengthy tenure affirm that this was a sound decision. During that period, Yale’s endowment, which is the university’s largest annual revenue source, increased from $3.2 billion to $20.7 billion. Annual student financial aid increased from $24 million to $120 million. School after school, including SOM, Music, Engineering, and Medicine, were transformed. Yale’s reach became global with a 50 percent increase in the number of international students, the creation of Yale-NUS College, and the promise of an international experience for every undergraduate. Yale’s productive relationship with its host city became a model for the nation. In short, Yale has been immeasurably strengthened for generations because of President Levin’s service.

In consultation with outside experts, the President’s pension plan was designed, in the context of his total compensation, to be appropriate relative to the top university presidents in the nation, as his performance placed him as the best of his generation. His compensation plan was never based on what a person of his leadership skills might have secured in private enterprise. It should be recognized that while President Levin’s pension supplement was paid out in a single year, it was designed to serve as retirement income for 20 years or more.

One thing I have learned in my long and varied professional life is the difference that personal leadership makes to the ongoing success of an organization. President Levin’s leadership made a transformational difference to Yale, and I firmly believe that the provision of a pension plan to help ensure his ongoing leadership for a period well beyond the norm for research university leaders was eminently responsible and appropriate.

John Pepper ’60
Cincinnati, OH


John Pepper was a member of the Yale Corporation, the university’s board of trustees, from 1995 to 2003, and senior fellow of the Corporation from 2002 to 2003. He was vice president of finance and administration at Yale from 2004 to 2005.—Eds.


That Richard Levin achieved in two decades “40 new buildings, 60 renovated buildings, Yale’s emergence as a global university, a quintupling of financial aid” is not surprising. What would have been surprising would have been his failure to do so. After all, he was quite simply doing his job as outlined to him by the board of an extremely well-financed not-for-profit corporation. Are we to have expected any less? I think not.

I am convinced there are numerous men and women in this world, equally talented, who could have accomplished no less than Rick Levin, and done so “as a calling” (as Richard Vedder says in the article). Such people would have been honored to work for an institution of Yale’s stature. They probably wouldn’t have expected to earn a base salary that reached 6.6 times that of a US Supreme Court justice. Perhaps such people could be found who would feel privileged to work for Yale for an even smaller base and certainly would forgo an $8.5 million retirement bonus in favor of a more standardized package.

Reid White ’57
Lenox, MA


The beginning of your article on President Levin’s $8.5 million departure payment is unclear at best and dishonest at worst. It gives the impression that federal law had somehow restrained Yale from announcing the sumptuous payout prior to this past May. In fact, IRS Form 990 (Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax), in which the information first appeared, is no more than the standard annual IRS reporting obligation for not-for-profit corporations, akin to a publicly traded corporation’s tax filing. Federal tax law places no limitation at all on when Yale may report a large bonus like President Levin’s; the university could legally have done so at any time, even 13 years ago.

Joe Asch ’83JD
Paris, France


The article began: “The deal was struck 13 years ago, and the payment was made in 2013. But the requirements of federal tax reporting are such that the world first learned on May 20 that Yale had paid $8.5 million to Rick Levin ’74PhD in a lump-sum ‘additional retirement benefit’ when Levin stepped down as president of Yale two years ago.” We did not intend to imply that Yale could not have announced the sum earlier, only that the tax report became public on May 20.—Eds.


I have been making annual contributions to the Yale Alumni Fund for some time now, in the belief that Yale would use those contributions in furtherance of its purpose. Yale’s purpose has something to do with education, and not with making extraordinary payments to well-paid retiring heads of the university.

Evans Cheeseman ’68
Southborough, MA


I’m cheered by John Pepper’s observation that Mr. Levin could have gone into “investment banking. . . . Obviously, if he’d gone into other fields, the compensation would have been orders of magnitude greater.” I’m going to speak to the president of the College of Saint Rose, where I am an adjunct, and let her know that I might have been a Hollywood actor, and that I should be compensated better than I am with that knowledge in mind. “My god,” I’ll say, “aren’t you lucky to have me? Don’t you want to guarantee I’ll stay here for many more years?”

Paul Lamar ’67
Albany, NY


About that bobblehead

Imagine Trayvon Martin as a bobblehead doll. Imagine Matthew Shepard as a bobblehead doll. Imagine Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Pearl, Harvey Milk, or Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a bobblehead doll. Imagine the Prophet Muhammed as a bobblehead doll.

When I received my copy of the Yale Alumni Magazine, I was staggered and profoundly grieved to see that the Class of 1975 had created bobblehead dolls of Nathan Hale as giveaways for their recent reunion (“Hale Fellow Well Met,” July/August). Hale’s statue—with feet tied together and arms bound behind his back in the moment of his execution—stands outside Connecticut Hall at Yale, where he graduated in 1773.

In that moment as he faced death, so beautifully commemorated by that statue, he uttered one of the noblest things any American has ever said: “My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country.” It is a holy moment in our history, that a 21-year-old would die for his country and say such a thing. Even the British were moved by his noble bearing, before and during his moment of death.

That the magazine so blithely reported on this exquisitely thoughtless desecration of this martyr to the cause of freedom is deeply disturbing and horrifying. May the Class of ’75 and the magazine reconsider this in a light more befitting Nathan Hale’s life and death.

Eric Metaxas ’84
New York, NY


After Eric Metaxas posted this letter on our website and on his own public Facebook page, reunion cochair Arthur Greenwald ’75 sent the following response:

I was disappointed to read that Eric Metaxas ’84 was offended by the Nathan Hale bobblehead figure created for the 40th reunion of the Class of 1975. As the person most responsible for the project, I can say that Mr. Metaxas is the first to raise any such objection. Indeed, we’ve received hundreds of compliments from alumni, the AYA, Woodbridge Hall, and even the descendants of Bela Lyon Pratt, who sculpted the original statue.

It’s obvious to most people that this figurine is by no means a caricature of Hale, the historic figure. It’s clearly meant to be an affectionate likeness of an iconic campus landmark. In fact, we worked closely with the manufacturer to balance accuracy with a touch of whimsy. Frankly, we’re proud of the final product and honored that it’s already been embraced by other reunion classes and alumni organizations.

Arthur Greenwald ’75
Los Angeles, CA


Slide show: the prequel

The presentation of Lux: Ideas through Light (“Slide Show,” July/August) looks very interesting, but I must point out that it is not the first time that the Beinecke Library has been used as a giant projection screen. My dorm room in Berkeley College was strategically located opposite the library, and my friends and I projected impromptu slide shows onto the library wall from across the street. We used a Carousel projector and Kodachrome slides. There was no theme and very little planning involved in the shows, but we greatly enjoyed seeing our “exploits” on the big screen. The images projected surprisingly well, likely because of the library’s white stone face. I’m sorry I missed the current show, which sounded like it was wonderful.

Henry Altszuler ’78
Westfield, NJ


Professors’ “guilty reads”

Sorry, but The Pickwick Papers, Marilynne Robinson, and new translations of Tolstoy are not remotely “guilty reads”—even for Yale faculty (“Guilty Reads of the Yale Faculty,” July/August). Kudos to Professor Laurie Santos for admitting to a book that actually does fit that category (a “cheesy celebrity memoir”).

Ivan Kreilkamp ’90
Bloomington, IN


I was pleased to see that Gary Haller chose The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time as his “guilty read.” It is one of my favorites as well. But, as Bart Giamatti might have said, he made two errors on one play when he said that the protagonist “suffers from autistic savanthood.” The term “savant” was well on its way to obsolescence when I worked at the Yale Child Study Center’s world-renowned autism clinic back in the early 1990s. And those of us with disabilities do not “suffer” from them; what we suffer from is ignorance, stigma, and outright prejudice. Potential employers love to see Yale alongside technology and public policy skills on my résumé, but when the interview comes around, it quickly becomes The Curious Incident of the Failed Jobseeker in the Day-time.

Dr. Haller’s unfortunate turn of phrase may seem like a small thing, but it is part of what keeps people with disabilities from fully participating in society. As it happens, most of my classmates with visible disabilities have gone on to succeed. But I find myself in a cubicle at a nonprofit agency, pulling down less than $40,000 a year. Quite a bargain, considering I made cum laude, even if it was by half a grade. Who knows what would happen if we were all set free to achieve our full potential?

Mark Romoser ’85
San Jose, CA


May Day memory

A footnote to your photo of J. Press boarded up in anticipation of May Day 1970 (“Prepared for the Worst,” July/August): after three years of dissertation research in Florence I had returned to Yale’s art history department in May. I was given a walkie-talkie and a bucket filled with sand and asked to patrol Street Hall, where the department was located. From the departmental office, which looks down Chapel Street, I saw people gathering in the street bearing signs and chanting. I overheard the police preparing to don helmets and charge the crowd. I got on the phone and told an officer that there was no reason to charge the crowd, which intended no harm, and that it would be better to just back off and wait. Fortunately the police never charged. The crowd never started marching and eventually dispersed, some of them probably entering Yale’s campus through the newly opened gates. The experience was quite a shock after living in the quiet city of Florence, and it was a strange reintroduction to the Yale and the New Haven I had left.

Philip Ellis Foster ’74PhD, ’75MSL
New York, NY


The Shockley controversy

The discussion on freedom of expression in the recent issue of the alumni magazine (“Challenging the Unchallengeable—Sort Of,” January/February) is not based on full disclosure of the facts of the 1974 Shockley incident, or the 1972 Westmoreland incident, for that matter.

As one of the students suspended in the Shockley incident, I can tell you that there were questions regarding the process by which a very small, ultraconservative, and seemingly very connected group was able to invite a man with no academic scholarship in any related area to say that black people are inferior and should be sterilized. He was to “debate” the publisher of a conservative magazine, so was the purpose a debate at all? Before the incident, there was a campus outcry by tuition-paying students who did not want Yale’s name associated with Shockley and his call for genocide.

After virtually the entire full-to-capacity audience continued to speak, clap, and call out (except for the one to two rows of true instigators, the group that made the invitation),* 12 students were targeted for suspension from among those identified by residential college deans. The incredibly small number of students suspended were the scapegoats. The fact that the 12 included black, white, and Hispanic students evidences what seems to be the calculating nature of the whole response.

I can’t believe “the worst fears of free speech advocates” were confirmed when we were allowed to return after being suspended. Is it such an affront to allow 12 students to complete their education? Maybe some decision makers saw injustice in punishing such a small fraction of students, or maybe it was just a pragmatic decision, taken in hopes of turning attention away from the whole incident.As a real person with a soul living in society, I do not see that any “value” is absolute, or existing in a vacuum. I do not cheer at a “hard line.” So I am not moved by the pronouncements and self-congratulatory stance of the article.

Bernadette O’Brien ’75
Brooklyn, NY


Death and euphemism

It is regrettable that a publication associated with a great university stooped to the use of a euphemism. To say that Mr. Charles Townsend “passed away” (Letters, July/August) is to diminish the hard fact that he died, deprived of the stern reality of one of the two most important parts of our lives. “Passed away” suggests a rather cozy removal from here to some place else; if this makes it easier for us to take, it also makes it harder to grasp the full force of his ceasing to be.

It would seem that the future may call us the age of euphemism, taking the edge off anything that doesn’t sound nice: there are no more “used” cars, but plenty of “pre-owned” ones, and “armpits” have disappeared in favor of “underarms.” If you should chance to record my death, kindly let it be what it is: I will be nowhere else, I will be nowhere, and I’d like people to feel all that that means.

Richard Lettis ’57
Ramsey, NJ


Reflected glory

As always, I began reading your July/August issue at the back, looking at the final page, blasting through the classifieds, and looking forward to the series of school-specific, thematic photos in the School Notes. This series of reflections is stunning. They’re always good, often amusing, but this month’s series is superior!

Judith Capen ’78MEnvD
Washington, DC



In a list of this year’s teaching-prize winners (“Commencement 2015,” July/August) we appended the wrong class year to Sarai Ribicoff’s name; it should have been ’79. The Sarai Ribicoff ’79 Award for Teaching Excellence by Non-Ladder Faculty is given in her memory.


In an article about the bonus paid to former president Rick Levin ’74PhD (“Levin’s $8.5 Million Retirement Benefit,” July/August), we referred erroneously to 2011 as Levin’s last full year as president. He retired in June 2013.

* Because of an editing error, this sentence originally read “12 rows” instead of “one to two rows” online and in our print magazine.

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