Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

Eliot's five-foot shelf--and yours, Harvard history, sleep

January-February 2002

MIGHTY MOSQUITOES, TICKS

Reporting on entomologist Andrew Spielman's work and citing his views ("The Landscape Infections," November-December 2001, page 43), Jonathan Shaw writes that mosquitoes "suck protein from birds, reptiles, and mammals, and seem to serve no higher purpose--they are not an important food for any other creature, nor do they do useful things like pollinate flowers."

The moral purpose of human beings may or may not intersect with that of the mosquito. In any event, I found such a judgment jarring in the midst of an otherwise scientific primer on the natural history of what are undeniably some of Earth's most successful life forms.

Angus A. Murdoch, C '91
Kents Store, Va.

 

I had dengue fever and seven bouts of malaria in New Guinea during World War II. DDT was once a weapon against malaria, but segue to a Rush Limbaugh question: Who is responsible for more deaths--Hitler, Stalin, or Rachel Carson? Answer: Hitler, 7 million; Stalin, 20 million; Carson, 100 million. Or was it 200 million? She led the fight to ban or reduce the use of DDT, leading to a resurgence of mosquitoes and deaths.

William B. Simmons '50
Lexington, Mass.

 

Your article suggests that ticks are insects. Ticks are arachnids, not insects.

Robert C. Murphy '38, M.D.
Sheridan, Wyo.

 

THE GOLDEN RULE OF WAGES

One of the dangers of a terrific education is loss of common sense. A good example of this is the learned, verbose commentary of your economists on the issue of Harvard workers' pay, as if it were a complicated matter ("Ways and Means: Harvard's Wage Debate," November-December 2001, page 69). Some things are very simple and this is one of them. An appropriate reference in this case is the Golden Rule. Or pose a question like, "Are the rich and powerful entitled to drive hard bargains with the weaker and poor, after doing everything to deprive the latter of allies (union representation) in the bargaining?" The matter becomes particularly disgusting when the rich and powerful entity is a great university with the motto "Veritas."

Everlasting credit goes to the students, faculty, and others who can see clearly and spend time and effort for justice. In witnessing, they are experiencing an education in giving an education--to the great University and the world.

I hope the alumni who sympathize with this view will make themselves known to President Lawrence H. Summers and the Harvard Corporation. Lord knows, there will be many others indifferent or hostile to even a very modest policy on living wages. So it's important to stand and be counted on this issue.

Thomas Blandy '54, M.Arch. '60
Troy, N.Y.

 

In particular, Professor N. Gregory Mankiw's case against the living wage is both striking as well as internally consistent. Perhaps a University-wide task force should be established to assure that Harvard pays no "more than it needs to, given the competitive labor markets in which it hires." As Mankiw recognizes, this should apply to all levels of the University's personnel. The task force might begin with the president and deans, move on to University professors, thence to those holding named chairs, and so forth. Overall, one might anticipate no change in teaching quality and minimal diminution of research productivity at the same time that very substantial aggregate savings could be achieved by salary reductions in the 10 percent to 15 percent range. Although greater savings might be realized from the higher-salaried employees, I am certain worthwhile savings can be found by extending the review even to the staff of Harvard Magazine. I commend Mankiw for his cold-eyed realism.

Stephen Dell '65, M.D.
Oakland, Calif.

 

ABOLISH STUDENT DEBT

I write as a Princeton alumnus and Harvard parent ('93 and '95) to urge Harvard to emulate Princeton's abolition of student loans in favor of scholarships. With the second-largest endowment per student of any international university, Harvard has a moral obligation to lift the debt (and fear) from the shoulders and hearts of its students. Stewardship of great resources commands generosity.

Cuthbert Russell Train
Mount Desert Island, Me.

 

SCHOLARLY CROSS-DRESSING

Helen Vendler's delightful reminiscence of Harvard in the 1950s and later ("Ups and Downs with Harvard," November-December 2001, page 48) brought on much nostalgia for my late-forties and early-fifties days at the Graduate School of Education. Since the school was coed (yes!), I missed many of the gender hassles that beset Vendler. But one time I needed a book that wasn't in the school library. Ed School students could use Lamont during summer sessions, but not other times. I found out I was the right gender but in the wrong school to use the Radcliffe library, and apparently the wrong gender for Widener. How to borrow the book? I pulled on my Levi jeans, zipped up the leather jacket that made me look flat-chested, and stuffed my fairly short hair into a wool cap. Then somehow I obliterated my first name on my library/I.D. card. Thus accoutered, I made my way past a sleepy student clerk to access whatever piece of information was worth so much scheming.

Margaret S. Rusk, Ed.M. '51
Syracuse, N.Y.

 

WOMEN'S ISSUES

It is distressing that some are still concerned that we use the term "humankind"--which, we are told ("Letters," November-December 2001, page 4), has been in widespread use for at least a decade--instead of the term "mankind," as used on your September-October 2001 cover, which has been very generally accepted to mean exactly the same thing since Biblical times.

Perhaps someone today might find it useful to develop a scholarly article on the treatment of women in Muslim countries. Comments appearing sporadically in the media indicate that this treatment ranges from humiliating and degrading to incredibly and appallingly barbarous. Not much comment on this vast and terrible tragedy affecting a billion or so women has reached the general press, and it certainly makes quibbling about nomenclature seem quite trivial by comparison.

Robert O. Boardman, M.B.A. '63
New Bedford, Mass.

 

ELIOT'S HARVARD CLASSICS

Adam Kirsch, in "The Five-Foot Shelf Reconsidered", points out some glaring omissions among the books Charles William Eliot chose in 1910 for the Harvard Classics, books that Eliot hoped would serve as a testament to the "progress of man...from the earliest historical times to the close of the nineteenth century." Kirsch begins his own article with a quotation from Virginia Woolf, and he notes Eliot's "total exclusion of female authors," asserting that such an omission "would be impossible today." Yet when Kirsch himself considers what would be the "most important step toward updating the series for 2001," he suggests substituting Melville for Dana and Tolstoy for Manzoni, as well as adding Ibsen, Strindberg, Chekhov, Lawrence, Proust, Joyce, Mann, and Kafka. I find it curious indeed that poet and critic Adam Kirsch '97 does not mention in this list such writers as Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Zora Neale Hurston, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison--and even Woolf herself.

Charlotte Margolis Goodman, M.A.T. '56
Professor emerita of English, Skidmore College
Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

 

Kirsch writes, "It is surprisingly easy, even today, to find a complete set of the Harvard Classics in good condition. At least one is usually for sale on eBay...for $300 or so..." Our search has shown that certain volumes are available individually with relative ease, while others are as rare as hens' teeth. Any idea where nonfiction volumes numbers 8, 9, 31, and 49, i.e., respectively, Nine Greek Dramas, Letters and Treatises of Cicero and Pliny, the Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, and Popular Epics and Sagas, could be found?

A greatly appreciated article!

Thomas F. Faught, M.B.A. '53
Murrysville, Pa.

Michael F. Faught '79
Playa del Rey, Calif.

 

Socrates was not condemned "by the assembly of Athens," pace Kirsch. He was condemned in a court of jurors by a vote of 280 to 220. His ideals and patriotism did not allow him to break the law and avoid drinking the hemlock. Earlier (in 406 b.c.) the patriotic and idealistic Socrates actually served briefly as epistates or chairman of the Athenian assembly. In a related reference, Kirsch fails to put in perspective the Passion of Jesus Christ and its primacy in the Gospels--namely, for the remission of sins.

Lloyd B. Urdahl '45, A.M. '49
Rochester, N.Y.

 

Kirsch's fine article led me to ponder two thorny issues. The first, which Kirsch acknowledges, is that while the "great books" approach to education is viable in the humanities, it's useless in the sciences, something that reflects a fundamental and uncomfortable asymmetry between the fields. The sciences are too difficult to be learned by Eliot's 15-minutes-a-day reading regime. And the books of Copernicus, Newton, and Faraday are of little interest to modern practicing scientists, who can better learn their ideas, purified and updated, from textbooks.

The second issue is raised by Kirsch's portrayal of Eliot as a quaintly narrow-minded Stoic for whom the ideal work of philosophy was Franklin's autobiography, "a book that shows a man overcoming obstacles, doing useful work, going to bed early, and rising healthy, wealthy, and wise." In our age, intellectuals have come to regard artistic and emotional intensity as goods in themselves. The man who goes to bed early is not as interesting to us as the poète maudit, but is this not perhaps our fault? Is it not possible to both understand literature and be willing to judge it morally?

Alejandro Jenkins '01
Pasadena, Calif.

 

Kirsch's repeated insistence on including works of Karl Marx in an updated five-foot shelf of classics is a disappointing illustration of the shibboleths that remain about economic-political ideas that have been fully explored and discredited. I doubt that Kirsch would recommend reading Das Kapital if he had ever tried to read it himself. To place it alongside Adam Smith is blasphemy. In fact, if the shelf is to be what it purports to be, a record of human progress, including Marx would be a step in the wrong direction. It is progress to omit him because we have progressed beyond him.

Lawrence Cranberg, A.M. '40
Austin, Tex.

 

I was surprised that Kirsch made no mention of the very similar collection entitled The Great Books of the Western World, compiled a few years after Eliot's Classics appeared by Robert Hutchins, sometime president of the University of Chicago, with the help of Mortimer Adler and others. The Great Books contain 54 volumes, and it is quite interesting to compare the two compilations. It appears to me that 12 of the 50 volumes of the Harvard Classics are duplicated in full, and 13 other volumes duplicated in substantial part in the Great Books. Or, to look at it another way, 16 of the 54 volumes of the Great Books are duplicated in full, and 11 others duplicated in substantial part, in the Harvard Classics.

Several selections which Kirsch regrets are not in the Harvard Classics--Aristotle, Hegel, Chaucer, Melville's Moby Dick, Tolstoy, Marx, Freud, and Plato's Symposium, Republic, and Phaedrus--are all in the Great Books, as is at least one other not in the Classics--Hegel--which the magazine editors suggest would be a consensus choice if a new edition of the Classics were published [see "Your Harvard Classics," page 5]. On the other hand, the Bible, Tao Te Ching, Bhagavad-Gita, and the Koran, also mentioned by the editors as consensus choices, with others, are in neither the Classics nor the Great Books. Kirsch fails to note that Harvard president James B. Conant once wrote that for a better understanding of science, there should be translated into English and published in a single collection Copernicus's De Revolutionibus, writings of Kepler, Galileo, Lavoisier, and Galvani, and Vesalius's De Fabrica, all but the latter two of which are in the Great Books.

As to Kirsch's final suggestion that the compilation today of a new Harvard Classics would soon be just as inadequate as Eliot's compilation--and presumably therefore should not be undertaken--it would lead to the conclusion that there should be no new anthologies at all and that no attempt should be made to provide a broad history of the thinking and learning that have led to our culture because it can never be complete.

To make clear my interest and possible prejudice, I was for 12 years a member of the governing board of St. John's College in Annapolis and Santa Fe, where the Great Books are used almost exclusively as texts.

K. Martin Worthy, M.B.A. '43
Sea Island, Ga.

 

MORE ON A HARVARD HISTORY

In the course of his review of our book Making Harvard Modern ("A High-Priced Product," September-October 2001, page 22), Professor Alvin Kernan has generously shared his thoughts on the present state of American universities. But in the course of unburdening himself, he slighted that other obligation of the reviewer: to give the reader some idea of the contents of the book under review.

As its title indicates, Making Harvard Modern describes how Harvard evolved from the relatively parochial, Brahmin-dominated, socially snobbish institution of Lowell's era, to the increasingly meritocratic university of the Conant and Pusey years, and then, under Bok and Rudenstine, into the diverse, socially engaged, worldly Harvard of today.

In telling this tale, we dwelt on those aspects of Harvard's history that in our view lay at the core of its transformation. One was the internal history of Harvard's departments, schools, and disciplines: how they adapted (or failed to adapt) to the forces of academic change. Another was the role (and limits) of presidential and decanal leadership. Yet another was the governance of a University ever more embroiled in public and private fundraising, growing bureaucracy, and the world outside (the Depression, World War II, McCarthyism, Vietnam, civil rights, feminism, et cetera).

We regret that these themes--surely not marginal in the history of any modern American university--did not register on Kernan's radar. He takes us to task for focusing on "the myriad shiny surfaces that administration by its nature deals with." Surely it is untoward for a literary scholar, whose subject matter by definition is incorporeal, to so airily dismiss the story of how a great university is governed.

He thinks that we complacently believe that Harvard "managed to save its meritocratic soul" while evolving into the worldly University of today. As if to underline our indifference to political correctness, he quotes a professor's lament on its pervasiveness in the Divinity School, and cites the appearance of that statement in an earlier issue of Harvard Magazine. We offer another place where that lament may be found: Making Harvard Modern, page 355.

Kernan conjures up another chimera: our failure to portray the "student experience." That is because we do not believe any such thing exists. Thousands of talented, lively young people have experiences; they don't have an experience. We did indeed, and at length, try to describe some of these.

As his book In Plato's Cave makes clear, Kernan does not have much use for today's universities, and more particularly for postmodernism and its leading exponents (several of whom he taught, but who, like Lear's children, turned out to be ungrateful). We cannot imagine that his academic bêtes noires will find our book an apologia for their world view. At the same time, we regret that we could not match Kernan's level of outrage over the state of the modern university. We can only plead that as historians we tried to understand and explain, not condemn. But we do take comfort from this critique by a voice of the academic Right: it better prepares us for the critiques we expect from the academic Left. It is by such means that historians measure their success in describing the way things were.

Morton Keller, Ph.D. '56
Phyllis Keller, RI '71
Cambridge

 

Congrats to Kernan for his excellent and much-needed critique of Keller and Keller's book. The world being what it is these days, one may call today's Harvard "corporate," "postmodern," "relativistic" (or use several other fashionable labels), but cannot call it anymore a meritocratic place whose main goal is the unbiased search for Truth and Knowledge. There is a price to be paid for the spiritual confusion and emptiness created by this change, and it will be paid by the very soul of this nation. (Maybe we have started paying for this already...)

George Christakos, Ph.D. '90
Chapel Hill, N.C.

 

Kernan presents some very interesting ideas, but in the process gives rather short shrift to the work he is reviewing. In fact, Morton and Phyllis Keller have written a fascinating account of Harvard during much of the twentieth century. Though of great value to scholars assessing the state of higher education generally, Making Harvard Modern is of even greater value to Harvard and Radcliffe alumni interested in placing their own experience in historical context. Readers of this review are also unlikely to recognize that the book is a delight to read, its authors displaying a wonderfully light touch, a delicious sense of humor, and just the right degree of skepticism about the World's Greatest University, an institution they admire but see in perspective.

E.L. Pattullo
Winchester, Mass.

 

SLEEPING 101

An ex-student who left Stanford and got his Ph.D. at Harvard sent me a copy of Arianne Cohen's "Undergraduate" column, "Sleeping Smarter" (November-December 2001, page 83). It was truly magnificent and from a personal perspective the best review my book The Promise of Sleep has ever received. I would like permission to include it in the course reader for my undergraduate course, Human Biology 11/Psychology 126: "Sleep and Dreams."

As far as I know, the only universities where a really good comprehensive and authoritative undergraduate course on sleep is taught are Brown (taught by Professor Mary Carskadon) and Stanford. Even at Stanford, two of the most--if not the most--powerful determinants of human behavior, sleep debt and clock-dependent alerting, are completely ignored by academic psychology: knowledge about sleep has not been incorporated into the introductory department course. At Cornell, Professor James Maas, whose introductory psychology course has almost 2,000 students registered, gives six weeks to sleep-related material. I'm sure Cohen would agree that the material should always be included in any introductory psychology course. Clearly, something is badly needed at Harvard College.

William C. Dement, M.D.
Director, Stanford Sleep Research Center
Palo Alto, Calif.

 

WOUNDED VIRGINIA

The editors refer (November-December 2001, page 4) to the terrorist attacks on September 11 against New York City "and Washington, D.C." In the interest of accuracy, there was no terrorist attack on Washington, D.C. The loss of life, damage, and destruction occurred entirely within the Commonwealth of Virginia, specifically Arlington County, in which the Pentagon is located. The governor of Virginia has asked for $1.3 billion in disaster relief in connection with the attack.

James B. Cook Jr., M.B.A. '60
Chester, Va.

 

QUARTERBACKS FROM HAWAII

I was stung by the statement ("Buttonhook and Aloha," September-October 2001, page 77): "[Neil] Rose is the first Hawaiian Harvard quarterback since the all-Ivy Milt Holt '75."

Born and raised in Hawaii, I played quarterback at Punahou School in Honolulu. In 1992 I entered Harvard as a grateful recruit of former head football coach Joe Restic. I was one of several backups who played behind starting quarterbacks Mike Giardi and Vin Ferrara from 1992 to 1994. I also served as an undergraduate assistant coach in 1995. My commitment to my teammates was unwavering and my contribution to the program was significant.

You should also be aware that your use of the term "Hawaiian" is incorrect: "Rose has been a Hawaiian since age five." The term is reserved for those who are of native Hawaiian descent.

Michael A. Maciszewski '96
Los Angeles

Editor's note: As to the oversight, our apologies. As to "Hawaiian," not according to our dictionary.

 

NOSTRA CULPA

The magazine kindly published a letter of mine about the toga-clad orator in the Latin diploma riots of 1961 (September-October 2001, page 10), but changed my first name from "Jack" to "John." I would have let this pass, but for the fact that a follow-up missive in the November-December issue mentioned the letter that "John" had written. Now I know how Jack Harvard must have felt.

Jack Sando '62, J.D. '65
Bethesda, Md.

 

CULPA PRIMI

I question the report by Primus V ("The College Pump," November-December 2001, page 96) that at the installation of John Leverett as president of Harvard on January 14, 1708, it was Judge Samuel Sewall, A.B. 1661, who gave an oration in Latin. My copy of the Diary of Samuel Sewall has Joseph Sewall, A.B. 1708, Samuel's son, giving the Latin oration.

President Eliot considered the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin a classic [see page 4]. What about Judge Sewall's diary?

Christopher Niebuhr '56
Lee, Mass.

 

Editor's note: Primus erred. His source was Samuel Eliot Morison's Three Centuries of Harvard. Morison writes that "Sir Sewall" delivered the oration. Primus presumed that Joseph, a mere undergraduate, would not have been called "Sir" by his contemporaries or Morison. But no. As the historian explains elsewhere, seniors were entitled to the baccalaureate "Sir" after the end of their class recitations on March 10, not needing to wait until Commencement. Joseph was nearly entitled.