Letters to the Editor

Readers weigh in on the First Amendment, Yale’s mission, 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.

Gilad Edelman wrote superbly about free speech and Yale’s law dean, Robert Post (“The Supreme Court’s First Amendment Problem,” September/October). The approach he is suggesting is that when speech is part of an activity that can be legally managed by government—say, the legal system, advertising, education, the military, sidewalks/streets, regulated professions, etc.—then the speech integral to the activity can also be regulated; i.e., it does not get First Amendment protection. There is a fundamental difference between a doctor advising a patient and one publishing an article on medical policy. Students and teachers do not enjoy free speech in public schools. That difference is “public discourse.”

Post believes, as I do, that the Supreme Court got the difference wrong in the Sorrell and Reed decisions. But there are two problems here. First, Citizens United is conflated with Sorrell, but Citizens United was decisively about public discourse. If a doctor can enjoy First Amendment protection on public issues, so should a corporation, union, or any other organization.

Second, it is assumed that change can only occur through Supreme Court decisions—that the court not only defines the Constitution, it is the Constitution. That is sad and undermines “We the People . . .” More constitutional amendments are desperately needed to reassert the people’s sovereignty. No, the First Amendment should not be changed to overrule Citizens United, but limits and excluded realms should be more explicitly stated.

William N. Hoke ’69
Manhattan Beach, CA


While Post does disagree with the Citizens United decision, it was our oversight to imply that his criticism is based on the distinction between public discourse and nonpublic discourse. Readers who would like to learn more about Post’s critique of that decision will be interested in his recent book Citizens Divided.—Eds.


Your article argues that Dean Robert Post of the Law School believes that “the First Amendment [to the US Constitution] only comes into play when certain values are at stake.” The dean argues that these values play only when “democratic self-determination” is involved. That way, the government can restrict commercial speech at will, no more constitutional muss and fuss, and judges have the power to decide what speech helps with government, and what doesn’t. That can’t be right.
The Constitution says the Congress shall make no law “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Nowhere does it say freedom of speech is limited to participating in democratic government. Likewise, nothing says freedom of speech is limited to natural individuals and excluded for corporations and other entities. It’s a complete ban that protects “speech” and press. The purpose of the First Amendment is to limit the power of any government, or any branch of government, by preventing the government from censoring any speech.

Of course inference is always necessary in determining the intent of the authors of the Constitution. There are no Federalist Papers for the Bill of Rights, and there’s no way for anyone to know if they are correct.

It’s difficult to mark the line between protected commercial speech, personal speech, or other speech and non-protected words and expression. My grocery list is not protected speech. On the other hand, commercial speech and “entity speech” that use sentences to express an idea are protected. Courts can make these distinctions, even though it is hard. Courts should not have a blanket power to determine when speech has to do with democracy and then dump the rest in the censorship bin.

Roger B. Ley ’67
Svensen, OR


Tarot’s past

The article “Mystery in a Tarot Card” in the September/October issue was utterly fascinating, but I quibble with the statement “They turned up in Europe around the beginning of the fifteenth century.” While cards are not mentioned in Bocaccio, Machaut, or Chaucer, regulations dating from the 1370s in Italy, France, and Germany indicate that by then, card-playing had suddenly become very popular. The Pokémon Go of the fourteenth century?

Liz Johnson ’82MPPM
Schuyler, VA


Diversity and excellence

A letter from a fellow alum in the September/October issue reminded me of what I found most tiresome about my time at Yale: namely, the patently racist assumption that the cultivation of diversity necessarily entails a threat to a commitment to “excellence.” I say plainly that the assumption is racist because there are several studies which demonstrate that both during the years of matriculation and in their post-Yale years, members of diverse communities stand head and shoulders with their fellow Yalies. This information is easily found if one is really concerned about “intellectual creativity and cognitive brilliance.” Of course, if one is concerned, rather, with trading in shopworn canards more appropriate to alt-right discussions than serious scholarly discussion about diversity and excellence, then this old saw is as good as any.

Stephen G. Ray Jr. ’93MDiv, ’00PhD
Evanston, IL


Editing the mission statement

Thank you for asking for feedback about Yale’s mission statement (“Mission Control,” September/October). I have spent 81 years on this planet and have been a student/teacher for much of this time, including four years at Yale. In reviewing my life, I perceive that formal education at a place like Yale should be oriented toward helping a student start finding out who they are in a deep way, what the world is about, and how best to relate to it.

So the mission statement could go something like this: “The mission of Yale University is to present an atmosphere (1) where a student is allowed and encouraged to find out who they are and how to relate to their world, and (2) where the faculty, in addition to teaching and counseling the students, do research in their area of expertise to enhance the body of knowledge accumulated by mankind.”

Brian Shera ’56
Liberty, NY


The current Yale mission statement is unique as much as it is all-encompassing. However, I would suggest adding a nod to a gift Yale gave me now 56 years ago as a graduate student: the teaching of learning. I also think “practice” needs to be expanded to include faculty and students, specifically. Here are my edits that reflect those very special gifts that Yale bestows: “Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations by outstanding research and scholarship, education, the teaching of learning, the preservation of history of all cultures, and practice by its faculty, students, and graduates.”

Konrad Perlman ’60MCP
Washington, DC


Selzer’s warmth and wit

Anna Reisman ’86 beautifully expressed how Richard Selzer influenced her to become both a doctor and a writer (“A Doctor’s Life, Chronicled,” September/October). She points out how, over his 60 years of teaching medicine and writing, he inspired so many: earlier generations, hers, and those to come.

In later years, after he retired from surgery, he also taught writing at such places as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Sarah Lawrence College, pulling his lessons from his so-called bag of tricks. A self-taught writer who mixed genres, he displayed in stories and essays his favorite tropes, metaphor, allusion, and especially ambiguity, which he had a deep familiarity with as a surgeon.

Indeed, if you did not have the pleasure of knowing Richard Selzer—basking in his warmth and reveling in his wit—as I did for many years, you can still experience the man through his work. In “Witness” we learn how Selzer removes the testicle of a disabled boy, whose father’s love is “a deep black joy”; in “The Discus Thrower” his blind, legless patient exerts his life the only way he can, by repeatedly throwing his breakfast plate against the hospital wall; and in “Imelda,” a doctor on a charity mission operates on a deceased patient, “a beautiful bird with a crushed beak,” to repair a cleft lip, pleasing the mother whose daughter would now be beautiful in Heaven. But did the doctor do it out of kindness or for a slide presentation? Besides enjoying Selzer’s beautiful poetic prose, his thought-provoking stories leave us with many questions to ponder.

Leon Kass, former chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics, said it best of Selzer’s humanitarian contributions and lasting legacy: “A man who lives with a knife, has his hands on organs, but preserves wonder and awe, is special.” But as Dr. Selzer said to me two weeks before he died, “I just wanted to be useful.”

Mahala Yates Stripling
Fort Worth, TX


Ms. Stripling is the author of Doctor of Arts, a forthcoming literary biography of Richard Selzer.—Eds.


Saybrook’s English origins

Those interested in further explorations of the Yale-Saybrook connection (“How Yale Moved to New Haven,” September/October) might enjoy a visit to Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire, the residence of Lord Saye and Sele. It was his ancestor who, along with another Parliamentarian peer, Lord Brooke, sponsored the new colony at Saybrook. The current lord is well aware of his American connection. When I took a tour of the castle a number of years ago, he asked if any in our group had ever heard of Saybrook, Connecticut. My dad (Jean Morris ’41) told him that he had, as he had lived in Saybrook College. They were both delighted at this bond! All of this came as a surprise to someone who had always thought that the name came from a small creek along the Connecticut coast.

Cleveland Morris ’69
Staunton, VA


Robinson remembered

Thank you for your belated notice of the passing away of Fred Colson Robinson, emeritus professor of Old English (Milestones, September/October). Mr. Robinson was rigorous, elegant, and humorous, with a clear sense of right and wrong, even when that was unfashionable; he noted, for example, that the author of “The Battle of Brunanburh” was “a poetic genius and a moral idiot.”

Flash Sheridan ’82
Palo Alto, CA

Caught flat-footed

The picture of ROTC graduation (“Top Brass,” July/August) brought to mind an ironic memory from my freshman experience in the fall of 1960. Being the son of a career Navy man, I was interested in getting into Navy ROTC. When I went to the third floor of the military science building to apply for NROTC, I failed the physical because I had inherited my father’s genetic pes planus—flat feet. They suggested that I go down to the first floor, to the Army, who did not care if my feet were flat. I declined. The irony was that my father (William Gaffney ’38MF) was a forest ranger when World War II broke out. To stay ahead of the draft, he tried to sign up with the Army but was declined because he had flat feet! The Navy did not care about his feet; they were his second choice.

Ed Gaffney ’64
Albuquerque, NM


Murray’s legacy

I am proud that Pauli Murray’s name will grace one of Yale’s new residential colleges (“What’s In a Name?” May/June). For those who think that—in the words of alumni you quoted—“a more towering woman” should have been chosen, or that Murray “was simply too obscure,” or that the choice is “identity politics run amok,” or who concede that they had never heard of her, I strongly recommend that they read a recently published biography of this extraordinary individual, Patricia Bell-Scott’s The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice. Therein they will learn that Pauli Murray was a pioneer in our nation’s longstanding and continuing effort to achieve civil rights for minorities. How much more appropriate or inspired a choice for the name of a Yale residential college can you get—in that African American Pauli Murray’s name came up amidst the controversy over another of Yale’s colleges having the name of John C. Calhoun, a champion of slavery.

W. Royal Stokes ’65PhD
Elkins, WV



In an item about plans to demolish Gibbs Laboratory (“Goodbye to Gibbs,” September/October) we erroneously reported that the new science building planned for the site will cost $70 million. The cost will be more than $200 million. For more on the new building, see page 16.

In our article about Eugene O’Neill’s jewelry collection at the Beinecke Library (“Mementos of a Passion,” September/October), we wrote that O’Neill and his wife Carlotta were both 38 when they met; in fact, he was 43. Also, we erroneously reported that Carlotta died 7 years after Eugene. It was 17 years.

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