Letters to the Editor

Letters: July/August 2017

Readers talk about Ed Bennett ’84, their Yale weddings, J. Willard Gibbs, 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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I can’t imagine a better gift for the gift who was Ed Bennett than being memorialized on your cover (“Boundless,” May/June). Ed was Yale, through and through, and he taught me so much. He was the first person I’d ever met who was a passionate advocate for improving disabled access, which was still so inadequate in the mid-nineties.

My Div School study group met in his apartment as he attempted to plow through the piles of commentaries related to our Old Testament seminar, each session rewarded by a new episode of Seinfeld. He once said that his sanity regarding the overwhelming volume of biblical material he was supposed to absorb was restored by Law School friends who regularly reminded him that he had, after all, survived the endless columns of numerical data for tax law.

While we took our written exams, Ed’s answers were recorded in another room with a graduate assistant. I’m sure the tape from our first exam captured a GA’s audible gasp when Ed calmly announced at the tape’s beginning, “And now, I will fully explain the problem of evil, once and for all.” That would take a true Yalie. You go, Ed! Thanks for being here so fully.

Karen L. Mulder ’97MAR
Charlottesville, VA


Having Ed Bennett ’84 on your cover is exceptional. As a pastor, I have witnessed the relentless courage of those who suffer the burden of MS, ALS, and other kinds of debilitation. It is no small dose of reality to wake up each day in a body slowly shutting down. Many know the name of Joni Eareckson Tada, who lives  a life of creative determination as a quadriplegic and who is a well-respected artist. There is also something admirable about an Ed Bennett (and others like him), who persevered as a quadriplegic to receive his college degree. I am inspired by such people. I am no less inspired by and grateful for those ever-faithful classmates, friends, and family who surround people like Ed (and Joni), without whom their life would have been “mission impossible,” but with whom their life proved to be a blessing to many in so many ways.

Gus Succop ’79MDiv
Charlotte, NC


The great Gibbs

On the occasion of the passing of the J. W. Gibbs Research Laboratories, Richard Panek did a commendable job of summarizing the intellectual contributions of Professor Gibbs which remain fundamental to physics, chemistry, and mathematics (“The Greatest Mind in American History,” May/June). In the same issue, Edward Silberman’s letter “Don’t forget Gibbs” defends the position that even in the Yale pantheon Josiah Willard Gibbs deserves further recognition. Perhaps it was similar respect that motivated the German physical chemist Walther Nernst to donate his honorarium from the 1906 Silliman lecture for the bronze which had been located in Gibbs Labs.

Had Gibbs lived after the inception of the Nobel Prize, he would have been a recipient. Scientists have been commemorated before at Yale: Benjamin Silliman was recognized with a residential college, and mathematician and computational scientist Grace Hopper has appropriately joined him. Benjamin Franklin is certainly deserving of the honor. Might it be possible to link Franklin and Gibbs as Franklin-Gibbs College? 

David Zaleske ’71
Naples, FL


Richard Panek’s article on Josiah Willard Gibbs is very interesting and provides background on the importance of this extraordinary Yale alumnus, emphasized by your inclusion on the front cover of a quote referring to him as “the greatest mind in American history.”

I did, however, come away with a sense of disconnect when I read of Yale’s plans, following the demolition of the Gibbs Laboratories building, to downsize his memorial to a sidewalk plaque and an undescribed memorial in an unspecified location. It seems to me that there is a decided reduction in scale taking place.

Academia, and its athletic offshoots, have been leaders in our recent half century in developing the concept of “naming rights.” Presumably, if the new building that will replace Gibbs Laboratories is funded by an alumnus or family, it will bear that name, but Gibbs’s contributions to Yale, to science, and to our nation are so great that it seems unworthy not to continue to honor him on his former scale. Perhaps the university will be able to retain his name either singly or in combination with a new donor—as in Gibbs-(donor). Would that not be appropriate for “the greatest mind in American history”?

Bromwell Ault ’49
West Palm Beach, FL


The new building under construction on the site of Gibbs Laboratories does not yet have a name. In May, Yale revealed that, at the request of donor Edward Bass ’67, the 500-seat lecture hall in the building will be named for nineteenth-century Yale paleontologist O. C. Marsh.—Eds.


Congratulations on your attempt to bring recognition to Gibbs, a much neglected scientist! At Yale I heard several stories about Gibbs. One which should be checked and added to his biography is this: several distinguished European scientists came to Yale to award Gibbs a scientific medal. On first attempt they could not find anyone who could direct them to his office. When they finally arrived at the physics lab, they had to climb four stories to his office.

I’m sure he was surprised.

Harmon Dunathan ’58PhD
Memphis, TN


Fashion detective

I read with great interest Jay Winter’s article about World War I (“How to Commemorate Catastrophe,” March/April). However, I should proffer a correction to one of the photos. The image labeled as “Jewish refugees from Russia” dates in fact to circa 1878–80, not 1915. 

The women’s clothing provides the dating parameters, and a number of key characteristics indicate a late 1870s date. The stylistic details include the knife pleats at the bottom of the women’s skirts on both the left and the right of the photograph, as well as the elaborate cuff treatment on the sleeves of the apron-clad woman on the left. The skirt of the third woman from the left shows a line of vertical gathering up the center front: this, too, is a fashion feature of 1878–1879. The long, double-breasted winter coats also characterize women’s fashions of the 1870s.

The men’s clothing tells a similar tale through subtle details of narrow suit coat lapels and the cutaway curve of their jackets. No ethnic or religious group in Western clothing would continue to wear styles over 40 years out of date. With the inaccurate attribution, the entire content of the image is thus called into question.

Karin J. Bohleke ’96PhD
Director, Fashion Archives and Museum
Shippensburg University
Shippensburg, PA


We’re grateful for Dr. Bohleke’s sharp and experienced eye. For the record, the image was not supplied or identified by Professor Winter. We got the photo, and the apparently erroneous caption, from Getty Images.—Eds.


Salutes to an ecologist 

You pay a well-deserved tribute to Paul B. Sears (“The First Graduate Program for the Greens,” May/June). In 1955, I elected quite randomly Plant Science 25a, “Plants and Man,” an overview of economic botany that the university permitted despite (or because of?) an enrollment of only three undergraduates. There was no opportunity for unpreparedness, and mandatory class discussion.

None of us was a science major; our very innocence made us Professor Sears’s favorite class. On us he lavished the care and attention appropriate to postdoctoral ecology colleagues. Eminent visiting experts enlightened the class. Field trips visited businesses profiting from plant products: an apple orchard, a hand-rolled-cigar factory, a tire and rubber plant (looking and smelling like Dante’s Hell—I was taking Thomas G. Bergin’s course at the same time), and, best of all, a brewery with unlimited samples of the product from irregularly filled bottles pulled from the assembly line.

For a living I taught history and literature for 40 years, but what feelings for and sense of the natural world I retain, I owe in large part to the great and good man whose memory you justly honor.

Frederick W. Gerstell ’58
Leesburg, FL


I was pleased to read the story about Dr. Paul Sears. I attended his twice-a-week Ecology of Resource Use seminars in 1960 for students in the graduate program in city planning. Back then none of us knew what ecology was, but we learned quickly. Dr. Sears had an important impact on me as a city planner and architect.

The seminars and field trips to West Rock showed me how land characteristics can have positive or negative impacts on land use. These lessons were of immense help when, in 1963, I was chief planner for Columbia, Maryland, a new city now celebrating its 50th birthday. Jim Rouse, the founder and developer, said in 1965, “We allowed the land to impose itself as a discipline on the form of the community.” The result is that the 13,690-acre city was planned to preserve 25 percent as permanent open space and three lakes. As the city expanded to 14,272 acres, the permanent open space expanded to 37.8 percent. The 100,000-population city is considered “a city in a park.”

In 1964, Dr. Sears was invited to tour Columbia by helicopter, and he confirmed potential lake sites and warned us about lake management. He also predicted the wildlife the lakes would attract.

Robert Tennenbaum ’61MCP
Columbia, MD


On the TAs’ union

I write to express full solidarity with the oppressed graduate students at Yale University (“TAs in Nine Departments Vote on Unionizing,” May/June). Forced to attend one of the world’s great institutions of higher learning for years, they eke out a miserly existence on a $30,000 annual stipend, and don’t even have the privilege of paying the annual $40,000 tuition. What is especially egregious is that privileged professors ruthlessly exploit them as teaching assistants, forcing them to gain pedagogical experience by leading two one-hour discussion sections a week at starvation wages. I am still recovering from six years of toil, drudgery, and abuse as a doctoral student in the 1990s. This is surely oppression most brutal.

David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye ’79, ’98PhD
St. Catherines, Ontario

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