Letters to the Editor

Letters: January/February 2023

We welcome readers’ letters, which should be emailed to yam@yale.edu or mailed to Letters Editor, PO Box 1905, New Haven, CT 06509-1905. 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. Priority is given to letters of fewer than 300 words.

Mamadi Doumbouya

Mamadi Doumbouya

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Prison life

Kudos to the editors for publishing the article on Dwayne Betts (“The Years That We’ve Lost,” November/December). Most of us, unless you or a loved one or friend have served time, have no idea that our state prison systems are an absolute dystopia.

Execrable food, extremes of heat and cold, daily degradation and humiliation, gangs and drugs, violence committed by corrections staff and other incarcerated people, and meager if any preparation to facilitate return to society on release—these conditions are unconscionable. We would arrest anyone who treated an animal that way. Small wonder recidivism is so high. Death rates are excessive, and suicides are common.

I am no bleeding heart; we DO need prisons to lock up people who are a threat to society. But once we make them wards of the state, it is incumbent on all of us on the outside to insist that they are treated humanely. I have a young friend who is currently in prison here in Florida, and it opened my eyes. Get involved in your state to support responsible prison reform.
Eric J. Oxfeld ’73
Ormand Beach, FL

This beautiful man must be heard. May his words find their way into middle schools and high schools and up. This world can do better and must. The story he tells—a mere sampling of the horror of each day, the trauma he inflicted and that inflicted upon him—must lead us away from the divide of wealth and opportunity that defines us and our world.
Sam Kilbourn ’65
Freeport, ME

Hopper’s windows

The article about the new stained glass in Grace Hopper College (“Windows of Opportunity,” November/December) made me really proud to be a Yale alumna. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness with which this change was made is inspiring.
Isabel Kraut ’80
Brooklyn, NY

Salovey on speech

Thanks to the magazine for publishing President Salovey’s descriptive and aspirational address to incoming students, in which he affirms Yale’s commitment to “engaging with diverse ideas, whether conventional or unconventional, of the left or of the right” (“Pursuing Truth at Yale,” November/December). It reassuringly pushes back against what we who are no longer on campus read in the press about “cancel culture” at elite universities.

Much that is written points to the unchecked, inappropriate power of diversity, equity, and inclusion administrators on faculty and curriculum. I would welcome President Salovey communicating how DEI at Yale is simultaneously advancing broad based principles of equity while not being allowed to hamper the free exchange of ideas he affirms. Perhaps adopting something akin to the University of Chicago’s 2014 statement on free thought and clearly stating that it applies to both academics and administrators would serve Yale well.
Barry B. Perlman ’71MD
New York, NY

I was thrilled to read “Pursuing Truth at Yale,” which effectively addresses a subject that affects all of us at a time when a “cancel culture” mentality has contributed to a credibility crisis. Not surprisingly, we read that “only about half of all students feel comfortable offering dissenting opinions.”

After a career in high school and intercollegiate debate, I continue to cherish Joseph Joubert’s wise words: “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” I commend Peter Salovey for promoting “a truth-seeking climate at Yale—being willing to entertain ideas with which we do not agree, willing to extend grace and assume positive intent, by listening carefully, by thinking deeply, and by speaking with empathy and understanding.”

Exceptionally well said, and much-needed to be heard and shared when we need to assault ideas openly but not assault opponents snidely. Most thankfully, I experienced such a “truth-seeking climate” as an evangelical Christian at Yale.
Paul R. Baxter ’73MDiv
LaGrange, GA

A minor correction to President Salovey’s eloquent defense of truth in the face of “alternative facts”: Lux et Veritas translates into the Hebrew Urim V’Tummim, not Urim V’Thummim. Hebrew does not have the “th” sound.
Joshua Z. Rokach ’74JD
Silver Spring, MD

The frequent letters and articles in the Yale Alumni Magazine about free speech remind me of an experience during my undergraduate days. I was in a lecture by Professor Driver as part of my major in political science. About halfway through his lecture (on Marx) he angrily said something like this: “I’ve given this same lecture in Britain and in Germany and at this point there always were students standing up, waving their fists, and arguing with me. And all you men do is sit there and take notes.” At which point he closed his folder and walked up the middle aisle out of the classroom.

I guess it sounds simplistic, but my own experience (30-plus years in elective office and many years in the executive branch and a regulatory body, both in the majority and in the minority) is that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Said another way, if you are very uncomfortable about what is being said, whether you are a student or faculty, you can always walk out and let the other side argue with themselves.
Bill Gradison ’48
McLean, VA

Advertising for a donor

As a physician and former kidney transplant surgeon, I viewed with mixed emotions the recent full-page advertisement in the magazine for an organ donor (September/October, page 9). While I empathize with the individual in question, I was somewhat disturbed by the thought of selective solicitation based on one’s ties to the Yale community, when organ shortage is such a widespread medical concern. I suggest that you consider a more in-depth discussion of organ transplantation and organ shortages in one of your subsequent editions. There are many well-qualified faculty at the School of Medicine who could address this issue.
John Ricotta ’69
Washington, DC

Affording insulin

Assistant professor Kasia Lipska says it is “ethically wrong” for the health care system to make insulin out of reach for people (Quoted, September/October). Dubito.

Were the non–good Samaritans condemned? Must one give away his wealth and follow Christ?

A successful 1999 operation to remove a cancerous growth provided me with a 90 percent chance of full recovery. A drug costing $3,000 a month would boost this to a 99 percent chance. I gambled on not buying it. Would it have been unethical of society to also refuse payment?

It seems cruel, but we can refuse to save someone’s life. To replace this with the kind of enforcement required creates a monstrous tyranny. Consider the private charity model of the past with today’s confiscatory health administration beggaring “beneficiaries.”

Where are ethicists on this? The acceptance of this doctrine makes all of us refusing this requirement outcasts.

Let us hope a free market can more affordably provide insulin. Until then, hope for voluntary charity. This means some of us must forgo aid. But is a medical theocracy an improvement?
Alphonse I. Johnson ’53
Lisbon, IL

Changing standards

In the July/August issue, an alumnus protested the use of a “vulgar” word in an article in the March/April issue. We all need think about how there has been a big change since 2000 in what is acceptable—or at least accepted—in public discourse. In 2000, when he started writing op-eds for the New York Times, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman [’74] noted he was explicitly instructed he could not use the word “liar” in connection with the president of the United States. A couple years ago, one August night on CNN, a young lady reporter live on air said one of Mr. Trump’s aides had used the word to which my fellow alumnus took exception, in an expletive, concerning his boss, and she quoted the expletive verbatim, with no bleeps—live on air.

This is a big change. Is it good, bad, or mixed? Hopefully even controversial subjects will continue to be able to be freely and openly discussed, in respectful ways.
Bradford McCormick ’68
Mount Kisco, NY

Admissions discrimination?

As someone who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, I thought this country had—fitfully but finally—cast off explicit race discrimination. To be sure, there was still plenty of prejudice and de facto bias. But the idea of admitting to preferring members of one race over the other, just because of their race, was—I thought—anathema.
I was therefore astonished to read the following in the magazine: “Yale is one of 15 universities that have signed onto an amicus brief defending the consideration of race and ethnicity as a factor in college admissions” (Campus Clips, September/October). So let me get this straight. Yale now agrees in principle with notorious segregationists like George Wallace. Yale disagrees only, it seems, in which racial groups to prefer, and—so far—in the degree of discrimination and the level of brutality to use in enforcing that discrimination.
Walter Weber ’84JD
Alexandria, VA

Boycotting Yale Law

I imagine I’m not the only one who guffawed at the oblivious self-lampooning of the Honorable James C. Ho and Elizabeth Branch, who somehow decided that the most appropriate way to protest the “cancellation of views” at Yale Law is to pledge they will no longer hire clerks from Yale Law, and called for other judges to follow (Campus Clips, November/December). I can’t tell if this is meant to be a condemnation of cancel culture or a full-throated advocacy of cancellation?
Mark Schwab ’09
San Jose, CA

The decisions of Court of Appeals judges Ho and Branch to stop hiring Yale Law School graduates as clerks are regrettable for two reasons.

First, they ignore the steps taken by the Law School to “reaffirm our enduring commitment to the free and unfettered exchange of ideas.” In a communication to alumni, Dean Gerken detailed these steps which include:
• Making “unequivocally clear” that attempts to disrupt events on campus are unacceptable;
• Adopting a policy prohibiting surreptitious recordings;
• Developing an online resource outlining its free speech policies;
• Welcoming a new dean of students who is focused on “ensuring students learn to resolve disagreements among themselves whenever possible rather than reflexively looking to the institution to act as referee.”

Dean Gerken concluded her message by stating that “this important and ongoing work takes place against the backdrop of long-standing efforts to encourage the robust exchange of ideas that is essential to any academic community.”

Second, the judges are depriving themselves of the opportunity of having some of the best and brightest law school graduates as their clerks.
Robert Sugarman ’60, ’63LLB
New York, NY

More on artificial turf

Regarding Yale’s installation of artificial turf at the Bowl and other fields (Letters, September/October, November/December): another problem with artificial turf is the prevalence of MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which can be lethal. Staph infections can and do enter through the abrasions that artificial turf is far more likely to cause; and staph bacteria can survive a long time on the turf. For useful (and troubling) information, see a recent study in Sports Health, which points out that high school athletes are four times as likely as the general population to experience such infections, and NFL players four hundred times as likely.

I am still haunted by the death of a high school student near where I live from a leg infection incurred this way. Yale should go back to grass.
William Flesch ’78
Arlington, MA

Lift COVID restrictions

I enjoyed reading President Salovey’s address to the incoming first-year class in the November/December issue, but I was disturbed to read in the adjacent student profile section of a first-year student in the Class of 2026 who spent his orientation in COVID isolation, due to an asymptomatic positive test along with “a lot” of other “asymptomatic people.”

As an alumnus and a doctor, I find it difficult to understand why a university dedicated to the search for truth is continuing to inflict such irrational and unscientific “zero-covid” policies on a generation of students that has already suffered too much.

A recent Washington Post profile documented that Yale has a major problem with student mental health, which has been greatly exacerbated during the pandemic. I hope that Yale will remove one source of unnecessary stress by quickly ending all remaining COVID restrictions and mandates. They need normal now.
Joseph E. Marine ’86
Baltimore, MD

The Lipstick's story

As one of the original students who gave Claes Oldenburg´s Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks to Yale as a surprise gift in May 1969, I am rather appalled at the distorted narrative that Yale and the Yale Alumni Magazine now indulge in in telling the history of the Lipstick (“Monumental,” September/October).

By omissions, misleading descriptions, and outright false statements, you and the university are creating—dare one say it—a fake history of the piece. (A similar narrative can be found on the web page of the Schwarzman Center.) Not something a great university should be indulging in.

Let me clarify: the Lipstick was created as a protest monument, chiefly as an antiwar monument but also as a protest against a still-conservative society and university environment. It was specifically designed to be in Beinecke Plaza, the symbolic power center of the university (with the adjacent office of the president) and to challenge the heavy classical surroundings. Oldenburg is quoted in our original press release as saying “nothing would do but the central showplace—the plaza.”

Its purpose was not primarily as a speaker’s platform (though we were pleased that it was used as such) nor as embodying the “make love, not war” mesage of the countrculture. But just as the budding gay movement and the feminists could identify with the inclusive symbolism of dissent, so, no doubt, could the hippies.

Yale adopted a passive-aggressive attitude to the original gift. The reason it deteriorated was that Yale did not maintain it as specified in the original Deed of Gift, which is why we withdrew the gift after a year. A few years later, as the Lipstick had become internationally famous, Yale came to us and asked for it back, offering to renovate it properly. But they refused to put it back where it historically belonged, the Plaza.  

The Lipstick´s message of protest and dissent seems to have been something the university wanted to eliminate by moving it out of the way to Morse College, where it made no sense, its message no longer resonating. It has been downgraded to a Morse College mascot, and for the Yale Art Gallery, its new owner, a trophy pop sculpture.

Yale has very deliberately emasculated the Lipstick, which is both sad and strange for a university that is supposed to encourage dissent and free speech. More than fifty years after it was originally installed, what is Yale afraid of? Why are they promoting historic amnesia?

The Lipstick should be moved back to Beinecke-Hewitt plaza where it historically belongs. It would also be a fitting tribute to Claes Oldenburg [’50], one of Yale’s great artists.
Stuart Wrede ’65, ’70MArch
Lisbon, Portugal

If we understand Mr. Wrede correctly, we erred in writing that the sculpture “was created as a speaker’s platform for anti-war protesters,” although it was used as one. This is the only apparent error of fact in the article.—Eds.

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