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Your independent source for Harvard news since 1898

Letters

Cambridge 02138

ACLU, Harvard architecture, personnel costs, Islamic democracy

November-December 2003

THE STADIUM'S CENTENNIAL

I was initially intrigued by the sidebar "Little Red Flag" in Craig Lambert and John Bethell's "First and 100" (September-October, page 42). The sidebar listed previous carriers of the flag, this somewhat arcane snippet of history. This November I'll attend my forty-fourth consecutive Yale game. No doubt many have been to more. But I went to my first Yale game at the age of eight, so I calculate that at the age of 82 I will have seen more H-Y games than anyone in history. Not that this is of the slightest importance.

However, I was then flabbergasted to read that "seeing the most Yale games is no longer the criterion for flag bearing" and that a fellow who is otherwise described as "Superfan" (with all of 12 H-Y games to his credit) is now the designated flag bearer. No doubt William Markus '60 is a loyal and active Harvard sports fan, but he has, in my opinion, no standing in the matter of the little red flag. Your article fails to note who changed the criterion, and, more to the point, by what authority this was done. The legitimacy of such a maneuver is shaky at best, and certainly morally questionable.

Unless this aberration is corrected, I have no choice but to eventually construct and carry my own flag, which, I can assure you, will some distant day be passed on to another steadfast individual according to the old (and proper) criterion.

Some may question my assumption of continued and unbroken attendance in the future. First, I am in excellent health. Second, I really don't like Yale and would travel in any weather conditions and/or socioeconomic upheavals to see them lose to Harvard. And, in what may prove to be the most important factor of all, I would point out to the naysayers that my father (Paul Lee '46) has given me firm instructions that, should his (ultimate and lamentable though) inevitable demise occur on such a date as to create a scheduling snafu with The Game, I am to move the funeral to Monday, and make attendance at The Game my highest priority, pausing only to raise a glass to him at halftime. I shall, of course, comply with his wishes.

Jeffrey P. Lee '74
Norwalk, Conn.

 

Editor's note: The flag is in the control and custody of the Varsity Club, whence it emerges on The Day.

 

While my undergraduate days were spent at Yale (class of '45), I did gather some crimson moss as I rolled carefully through two years at the Business School (M.B.A. '49), and I have attended many games at the Stadium. Admittedly, my allegiance at The Game is clearly to Yale. I have amassed a mighty record in attendance at Yale-Harvard football encounters. Barring the always lurking unforeseen, I shall attend my sixty-seventh this fall. To my knowledge, Yale has no equivalent of the little red flag. Were it otherwise, I would apply for the privilege of bearing it, presumably the little blue flag.

F. Steele Blackall III
Providence, R.I.

 

You omit mention of a surprise visit to the Stadium by President John F. Kennedy '40 during a Harvard-Columbia football game (a tie) in October 1963, a month before he was assassinated. The Band played "Hail to the Chief" on his appearance and "Hit the Road, Jack" when he left at the half.

Barry S. Levy, M.D., M.P.H. '70
Sherborn, Mass.

 

As a Harvard Law School graduate who was born, raised in, and resides today in Allston-Brighton, I noted with some dismay that your article continues the misconception that the Stadium is located in Cambridge. It is located in Allston-Brighton, a neighborhood of Boston. The geographic area known today somewhat awkwardly as Allston-Brighton was part of Cambridge, and was called Little Cambridge, until the 1820s, when it was separately incorporated, only to fall on hard times in the 1870s and be "acquired" by the City of Boston. Now that the University is about to expand dramatically for its next hundred years in my hometown, the recognition that Harvard is not just a Cambridge institution must be championed by the University: 02138, please say hello to 02134 and 02135!

Vincent P. McCarthy, J.D. '65
Brighton, Mass.

 

Editor's note: Among the illustrations to the text are two antique postcards that label the Stadium as in Cambridge. "A picture is worth a thousand words," declares McCarthy. "Even Harvard alumni frequently look only at the pictures in an article and not the written words."

 

I wonder if my father, Joseph (Brown '00 and Harvard Law '06), and my uncle Walter Downs (who never went to college) set some kind of record. They attended the first football game held in every new stadium built by Ivy League colleges as the years went by, beginning with Harvard in 1903. I never did get a rational explanation from them about why this was important.

John H. Downs, J.D. '47
Lyndon Center, Vt.

 

CASE-METHOD TEACHING

Professor David Garvin's comparative review ("Making the Case," September-October, page 56), while making many interesting points, fails to emphasize the major advantage of the Business School case-study method over its Medical and Law School counterparts: its ability to capitalize on the wealth of real-life business knowledge students gained through their preceding years in the workplace. First year HBS students, on average, are 27 years old and have four years of full-time business work experience. Most of what is learned in the classroom comes from the students—each bringing unique, practical business knowledge acquired in diverse industries and countries.

Jack Lutkowitz, M.B.A. '90
New York City

 

Use of the case method to teach law harmonizes with, if it is not based on, the common law "working itself pure." There are those like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, LL.B. '60, who question the method's appropriateness for our current legal system, overwhelmingly governed by statutory law. Scalia believes the "common law" attitude produced by law schools can be a handicap to competent statutory interpretation. How he would train for such interpretation is unclear. He eschews examination of statutory history to determine legislative intent, apparently relying solely on a good dictionary plus his own predilections.

In any event, the difference between the case methods as used for law and business schools is, it seems to me, fundamental. Law school cases represent dispute resolutions by impartial judges utilizing earlier cases similarly produced, in an attempt to find justice for litigants. That is neither the source nor the purpose of the cases used by business schools.

Charles Tillinghast, J.D. '57
Oro Valley, Ariz.

 

Although Dean Daniel Tosteson greatly expanded utilization of the case method of teaching at the Medical School in 1985, this method had been introduced there a century ago by two pioneers in medical teaching. Dr. Walter B. Cannon, then a senior medical student, who later became the Higginson professor of physiology, roomed with a Law School student and was greatly impressed by the enthusiasm with which law students embraced the case method of teaching. In the first issue of the twentieth century of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, later to become the New England Journal of Medicine, Cannon authored a paper entitled "The Case Method of Teaching Systematic Medicine." Harvard president Charles W. Eliot strongly supported Cannon's proposal, and within a few years this new method of teaching was introduced.

Meanwhile, Dr. Richard C. Cabot had already been using the case method informally with third-year medical students. Soon after he moved from the school to the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1908, he established there weekly clinicopathological conferences based on analysis of individual patients' case histories. In 1923 these cases began to be published on a weekly basis and still appear at a rate of about 40 a year in the New England Journal of Medicine. In 1906 Cabot authored his first book, Case Teaching in Medicine. Although this new method of teaching was mainly used during the clinical years of medical school training, it penetrated to some extent into the first two years as well.

Robert E. Scully, M.D. '44

Editor emeritus, Case Records of
Massachusetts General Hospital
Boston

 

DEFENDING-ANGEL STROSSEN?

Harvard Magazine is always good for a few hearty chuckles, at the unselfconscious silliness of overweening vanity. But you really outdid yourselves in the hagiography of Nadine Strossen, doyenne of the American Civil Liberties Union ("Liberty's Defending Angel," September-October 2003, page 94). I laughed so hard I nearly wet myself. Author Craig Lambert, my old Leverett House pal, perfectly captured the tone and phrasing of official Stalinist hero tales of the 1940s. Strossen became a terrorist mouthpiece because a Minnesota librarian would not let her read Nancy Drew mysteries. A brilliant lampoon from beginning to end. Priceless!

Bernard Levine '69
Eugene, Ore.

 

Nadine Strossen '72 claims that the ACLU works at "conserving the founders' ideals." The ACLU is only partially aware of such ideals and has a more myopic perspective than that of our founders.

Ideals are universal truths that are greater than any single person. Our founders did have ideals. They enumerated some of them in the Declaration of Independence. They declared that they were acting within the law because the rights they recognized were greater than King George or his government. These rights were "endowed by their Creator."

Sadly, the ACLU has not only failed to recognize this, but they have made a cause of eliminating any mention of "nature's God" in government, education, history, and public discourse. If God is not acknowledged, then there is no higher authority, there are no ideals, and rights become mere constructs granted by the power elite.

James Bair '72
Ansonia, Conn.

 

EXPENSIVE PYRAMIDS

The "how" of the pyramids has always been one of their greatest draws, and Mark Lehner's findings, described in "Who Built the Pyramids?' (July-August, page 42), besides illuminating this, underscore the enormous resources mobilized. Just think of the quantity of wood used up in all that baking! I would be fascinated to know Lehner's take on how much of the surrounding desert was actually created by the project itself.

Hugh W. Thompson
Newark, N.J.

 

Mark Lehner replies: As part of a radiocarbon dating project, we tested hundreds of charcoal samples from the mortar that bonds the core stones of pyramids. Wood fires were needed to create the enormous quantities of gypsum used in pyramid construction, and this leads me to suspect that the pyramid builders burned their wood cover with abandon. This picture is reinforced by the ash and charcoal found in our excavation of the pyramid-age town site. Rainer Gerisch, a botanist on our team, has so far examined the cellular structure of 27,160 charcoal fragments from our excavations of the ancient settlement. The majority of the fragments are Acacia nilotica, the local, hot-burning acacia wood. At the town site, the pyramid builders consumed wood in tremendous quantities as fuel in the form of charcoal, like our barbecue briquettes. Wood fuel was needed not just for food preparation, but also for processing what might have been the largest concentration of copper in the third-millennium-b.c. world. Copper was used for dressing stone for the tombs, temples, and pyramids: in particular for the—literally— acres of finely dressed outer-casing stone. Obviously, the pyramids were thermodynamically very expensive.

Archaeologists do recognize that a major environmental shift took place in Egypt not long after the fourth dynasty of the Old Kingdom. At that time, grassland and acacia growth gave way to the more arid, sandy conditions that we see today. It is certainly not impossible that the builders of the Giza pyramids could have had a hand in changing their local environment.

 

ONE WESTERN AVENUE

Harvard is reputed to have a distinguished school of architecture. Why then that new blight of a building, One Western Avenue, near the Business School ("River Mid-Rise," September-October, page 71, and "Nausea on the Charles," "Letters," same issue, page 8)?

William Schechter, G '70
Brookline, Mass.

 

One Western Avenue: See the joy of it?
Photograph by Stephen Lee

Readers of the latest edition of my Built in Boston, City and Suburb, 1800-2000 and of my Harvard University: An Architectural Tour will know how interested I have been in the plans of architects Machado and Silvetti for One Western Avenue.

Looking at the built design is a great way to experience a key vector in Harvard's history: the shock our many-times-great-grandparents felt when first they beheld University Hall in 1813, so challenging were Bulfinch's sheer, sophisticated granite facades to the venerable red-brick Georgian of the Old Yard. Or their grandchildren's shake of their heads over the gold pinnacles and multicolored Ruskin Gothic exterior of Memorial Hall in 1866, so antithetical to all those classic rectangles of the Yard, brick or granite. It was like a brass band, someone said, marching up the street of staid Old Cambridge.

I regret I wasn't there when H.H. Richardson's Sever Hall emerged from its scaffolding, introducing Harvard Yard to, of all exotic things, the Syrian arch. But I must not complain. My generation's treat, instead, was to absorb the shock of the Carpenter Center!

Every Harvard has struck out boldly for its own characteristic image. And in time we all come to see the necessity of the experience, and sometimes even the joy of it. I believe that will happen with Machado and Silvetti's One Western Avenue.

To be sure, it is not as accessible as their recent and nearby Allston branch library. The library, however, though a fine building, is not a great building. One Western Avenue is. Not surprisingly, therefore, it is a more demanding design.

Particularly demanding is the way the architects have attempted to register the powerful geometry of the building's masses on the planes of its various façades, which—to my mind, artfully—are enlivened by abstract fields of patterned brickwork, one pattern bleeding into the other on façades kept very flat so as to make this detail the more telling and the more easily read. It is a modernist language of detail every bit as satisfying for modern architecture as the old Classical language (of column and arch, for example) was for traditional architecture. But we don't know it as instinctively, and are the more likely instead to appreciate its other virtues: that it somewhat scales down the great masses. Yet study the wonderful "veining," after the fashion of marble, of the building's bridge. More than artful, it is beguiling.

All this comes together best, I suggest, from a vantage point on Western Avenue in Allston, a little ahead of the new building, with the Cambridge riverfront on the right. From this vantage all my generalities become specific. Across the river are the two examples of iconic Harvard architecture that have inspired Machado and Silvetti: Georgian Dunster House, an outstanding example of the brick style Charles McKim introduced to Harvard in the late 1880s and Charles Coolidge perfected in the late 1920s, and the elegant modernist profiles of Peabody Terrace by Josep Lluís Sert, landmark of a later golden age of Harvard architecture when Gropius and Sert and others made Harvard the leader in this field in America. The eye needs little learning to see at once how Machado and Silvetti's five-story brick court mirrors Dunster's, or how their 15-story cast-stone tower reflects Peabody Terrace. Reflects. Not clones. Which is the great danger Harvard faces in Allston, where cloning Harvard Yard is the misguided goal of some.

Machado and Silvetti's court is not better than Dunster's, or their tower more elegant than Peabody's. But they have animated both reflections on Harvard's architectural past with a brilliant stroke: with incredible bravura they have thrown a great three-story bridge across the front of the court, spanning 180 feet. That this bridge makes possible the practical purpose of giving river views to both the back and front wings of the court only makes more memorable this bold and original bridge. It may be the most magnificent architectural gesture in years in American design history, comparable to I.M. Pei's majestic glass pyramid in the great court of the Louvre in Paris—Greater Boston's loss, of course, because of the ancestors of the same sort of philistine that just last year murdered Renzo Piano's lovely riverfront Harvard museum of modern art.

One Western Avenue survived their attacks. Whether it is episode or herald of Harvard's twenty-first-century architectural future is yet to be seen.

Douglass Shand-Tucci '72
Boston

 

THE HOUSING-COST STRUGGLE

Writing of Harvard's finances, G. Mansfield suggests in his letter to the editor ("Control Voluntary Spending," September-October, page 8) that "Personnel costs, particularly now in the face of global price deflation, do not have to rise every year." I note that the writer is in Hong Kong.

Global prices may indeed be deflating. However, this change is only beginning to be felt in the Boston housing market. Many of us who work for the University, especially in support-staff positions, struggle to pay for housing. My coworkers can recite various sagas involving two-hour commutes, overcrowding, moldy basement apartments, and annual moves in search of affordable rent. The last are often accompanied by periodic second jobs, needed to pay deposits on new apartments. Those who own houses often do so with the help of low-income mortgage-support programs. I'm not talking about a group of kids just out of college, but about workers my own age with a decade or more of service at the University.

Our jobs are better paid and stabler than they were before the advent of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers. Nevertheless, housing is viciously expensive here. Freezing personnel costs is not a good idea—not for the workers and not for Harvard. It does the University no honor, and no practical good, to have its workers living this way.

Mary R. Hopkins '79
Somerville, Mass.

 

UNIVERSITY VALUES

Charles Factor's response ("Letters," September-October, page 9) to Derek Bok's warning ("The Purely Pragmatic University," May-June, page 28) about the "encroachment of commercialization on educational values" is based on one fundamental flaw: that the pursuit of wealth and power is an ultimate good, whether for a nation or an individual. Many (including most, if not all, of the world's religions) would insist the opposite is true, that any worthy society would have loftier goals than merely the crass acquisition of wealth and power.

Surely any respectable university would have a far higher value system than merely to, in Factor's words, "respond to the needs of the commercial interests, the military, and our society." The free pursuit of ideas, uncompromised by military, commercial, or political ambitions, serves society infinitely better, even if partially funded by those same interests.

Earle C. Batchelder, M.Ed. '61
South Dennis, Mass.

 

ISLAMIC DEMOCRACY

The Norris-Inglehart study, as reported in "One Nation, under Allah" (September-October, page 17), finds that societal attitudes on sex correlate with democracy. But while the distinction between attitudes toward status and attitudes toward conduct may not be significant to sociologists or political scientists, from a moral and ethical point of view it is crucial. Traditional societies, which retain a religious and moral perspective, are more likely to accept a social order with equality of sexual status (men and women) than one which equalizes different forms of sexual conduct (e.g., marital and adulterous relations). Does discriminating among various forms of conduct make a society less "tolerant" and "democratic"?

It depends, of course, on how one defines democracy. If it is a system where equality and tolerance override all other values, then a society that supports sexual equality and tolerates a diversity of sexual practices is more likely to be democratic. Traditional societies will have to jettison their moral-religious norms and become more like us—if that's what they want. If, on the other hand, democracy is a system where equality and tolerance are complemented by other values such as truth, justice, ethics, and morality, then the values of a traditional society (including religious norms on sex) can more likely be accommodated. Indeed, the tension between democratic and traditional values, expressed in a free public discourse, can be culturally creative, and preferable to a sterile secularism. If that is so, some Muslim societies may not be as far from "democracy" as we think. And we may not be as close.

Andrew Sorokowski, A.M. '75
Rockville, Md.

 

 

A TRADITION OF SERVICE

In October, Daniel Steiner '54, LL.B. '58, concluded his term as president of Harvard Magazine Inc. and also stepped down from the Board of Directors, on which he had served since 1995 (and previously from early 1978 through 1986). Those many years scarcely begin to measure his contribution. In the mid 1970s, at a critical moment in Harvard Magazine's history, Dan, as reader and as administrator—he was then the University's vice president and general counsel—crafted a modern system of governance by which incorporators, alumni, faculty members, and Harvard appointees combine forces to secure the publication's editorial independence and devotion to excellence on readers' behalf. He has ever since been a wise adviser and constructive critic; the editors cherish his continuing role as counselor emeritus.

Steiner
Photograph by Paul Foley

 

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