Letters to the Editor

Letters: March/April 2024

Readers write back about the Institute of Sacred Music, Robert Bork, and more.

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.

Praises sung

Thank you for the update on the Yale Institute of Sacred Music (“Song and Praise,” January/February). My grandfather, Hugh Porter, was the head of ISM in its previous incarnation at the Union Theological Seminary. Then known as the School of Sacred Music, it was part of a heady moment for religious thinking in the US, with Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr living close to my grandparents inlovely school apartments along Broadway on the Upper West Side. The senior Hugh’s organ playing was also in high demand, and included performances with Robert Shaw, as well as more typical support for church services in Manhattan. A final contribution of his work before his untimely death was the publication of the Pilgrim Hymnal with his wife, Ethel Porter.

I think they would have been excited to see both the continued vitality of ISM, with generous support by the Miller and Tangeman family with whom they too worked, and the outreach of ISM into new structures seeking understanding of God and humanity.
Hugh Porter ’83, ’89MPhil
Portland, OR

The casual reference to the former “Divinity School’s old gymnasium” in Matthew Guerrieri’s article about the ISM triggered memories of my years in the Graduate School. During the 1963–64 academic year, my roommate and I lived on Prospect Street across from the Divinity School. Although we were both science-based in our studies, we soon discovered the late-night all-comers basketball games in that space-limited gym. Its convenience, in comparison to a trek to Payne Whitney Gym, more than compensated for its other limitations.

The floor was of a size that, even when full-court play was restricted to four-on-four games, still felt overcrowded. The other most memorable deficit was the non-regulation height of the basket which, I soon knew, was about two inches too low. My measurement was subjective but valid in its own methodology: after years of “rat ball” in high school and college gyms from Virginia to DC to New Haven, it was the first and only basketball court where I could dunk the ball. Oh, joyful day (or night)!

Despite being a couple of inches over six feet tall, I never accomplished this feat before or after those few months of that academic year. Nature gifted me with long but skinny legs, more adept for distance running than for leaping. And despite modest achievements on the track, several marathons, and jogging many thousands of recreational miles, nothing compares to those few occasions in that cracker box gym when I soared, although barely above the rim, in the now-defunct site of my brief Walter Mitty athleticism.
Karl J. Wetzel ’65PhD
Portland, OR

I very much enjoyed your article on the Institute of Sacred Music as a remarkable collection of extraordinary and diverse talents. I was surprised, however, that there was no mention of Christian Wiman, a poet and writer on spirituality with a wide enough following that the New Yorker recently did an article on him.
Claude Lauck ’64, ’65MAT
Roanoke, VA   

Christian Wiman is indeed an important part of the ISM community. You can read our feature about him, published when he joined the faculty in 2013, here.—Eds.

Robert Bork’s legacy

In his essay about Robert Bork (“Wreak Yourself upon the World,” January/February), David Leonhardt ’94 argues that the conservative economic agenda launched in the early 1980s failed to benefit the country. This is laughable, especially for anyone over the age of 50 who lived through 1970s stagflation and the long period of growth that followed in the 1980s and ’90s.

I hope his conclusion is not representative of his teaching at Yale’s Jackson School of Global Affairs. According to the US Census Bureau, median real personal income has nearly doubled since 1980. Thanks to a liberalized labor market and increased job opportunities, real median household income has done considerably better, more than doubling since 1990.

The US economy faces many challenges, including unfavorable demographics and a ballooning public debt, but a doubling of real living standards in a generation is an impressive success. It’s unfortunate Mr. Leonhardt lets his political agenda cloud his recognition of economic facts. His article is otherwise a good one.
John M. Dusza ’03MBA
Madison, CT

Robert Bork was an acolyte of Milton Friedman, who in turn was a follower of Friedrich von Hayek, survivor of the very strained and ultimately bloody battles of 1930s European economics, when one had to choose between Communist  and Fascist ideologies. Writers like Hayek in economics, and Popper in politics, took “freedom” as an existential belief, exulting in an America which had saved them from fascism and European totalitarians.

But in America things were not so simple. At Chicago, the economists gave birth to a Chicago School which defended freedom as a religion, not addressing American problems so much as defending against old European ghosts. Yale’s own Jim Tobin, and Arrow and Stiglitz and Krugman and many others, have shown how ill-suited the old European defenses—against authoritarian dictators there—are to free and open societies very different from those of last-century Europe.

Here we dare a little balancing, adopting Stiglitz’s idea that an unregulated market cannot be a free market; a little moderation works better in the US mixed-economy case. But Bork never could see this. The Chicago School Europeans he followed were fighting old foreign battles; his and Reagan’s “originalism” and “free market” nostalgias would have corrupted and bankrupted the US. We are fortunate to have avoided his influence.
Jack Kessler ’71
San Francisco, CA

I enjoyed and learned from the article on Robert Bork, but toward the end I found it frustratingly credulous. That “inequality has soared” is offered as a failure of Bork’s plans. The right wing sees that inequality—to borrow a phrase from the tech world—as a feature, not a bug. But unlike Captain Renault of film, they don’t even bother to act shocked.
Jon Becker ’87
Piedmont, CA

Salovey and leadership

Reading President Salovey’s letter (“Learning to Lead in Times of Crisis,” January/February), I couldn’t help but think of the names inscribed on the walls of the Woolsey rotunda. President Salovey suggests that the aim of good leadership is peace, and that peace will be attained through dialogue. But just steps from the president’s office, generations of Yale’s students are honored not for their dialogue, but for their sacrifice. Were they not leaders? Or were they more clear-eyed about the existence of evil, and more courageous in their willingness to confront it?
Rather than considering a dichotomy between peace and war, President Salovey might consider a distinction among aggressors, victims, and defenders. I, for one, am grateful for leaders in the latter group who study war: in Ukraine; in the Israel Defense Force; in Yale’s ROTC program. Because the lion is not yet going to be persuaded through dialogue to lie down with the lamb.
Eric Halpern ’95
West Hartford, CT

I continue to be impressed by President Salovey and his letters about the complex issues facing us and the university. As ever, his most recent letter was balanced, thoughtful, and pleasingly articulate. I am also grateful to the Yale governing body for appointing him in the first place, and I hope they will be as selective and careful this next time around.
The Yale Alumni Magazine is always greeted by me with pleasurable anticipation. As an alumna also of the University of Pennsylvania and of Sarah Lawrence College, I receive their magazines too, but I declare yours to be the best, over and over. Your topics are fresh, balanced, multifaceted—many different voices are heard. And not to be ignored, your layout is bright, open, and attractive.

One tiny criticism—your spell-check failed you in Louise Glück’s poem Nostos. The fifth line should start with “of,” not “off.” I’ll bet I’m not the only one who noticed!

Praise to all the editorial staff and all the writers.
Henrietta Clews ’82MSN
Blue Hill, ME

Ms. Clews is correct. Several readers wrote in to tell us about that typo. We regret the error.—Eds.


In a photo caption in our fall sports article (“Fall Sports Highlights,” January/February), we wrongly identified a football player as wide receiver David Pantelis ’25. The player pictured was in fact linebacker Joseph Vaughn ’24, carrying the ball after intercepting a Harvard pass. Pantelis and Vaughn both wore number 10.

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