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Patience and learning, Edward Everett, House life

January-February 2014

Keystone Pipeline

Although Michael McElroy’s recent article, “Forum: The Keystone XL Pipeline” (November-December 2013, page 37) carefully addresses the pipeline issue, especially in terms of carbon dioxide and climate change, it neglects to adequately cover other issues related to the exploitation of this high-carbon, low net-energy resource.

Canadian tar sands, a mix of clay, sand, and sticky, heavy high-sulfur oil, sit below 34 million acres of pristine boreal forest, a natural community the size of New York State, an area which would be destroyed by mining for the oil. To extract one ton of tar sand, four tons of soil and the life it supports are removed; trees are clearcut, wetlands are drained, and rivers and streams are diverted. Net energy is low; energy economists have estimated that it takes 0.7 barrels of oil to extract, upgrade, and produce just one barrel of oil. Furthermore, the water-intensive processing of the tar sands creates toxic sludge and causes huge releases of other pollutants threatening our water and air, including inordinate amounts of carbon dioxide, thus furthering climate change.

Let’s work with nature and appreciate ecosystem services, those which give us our clean air and water and are estimated to contribute $33 trillion annually, and let’s focus our efforts on obtaining energy from the sun and other renewables, thereby keeping us and our natural world and future generations more in mind.

Peter K. McLean, Ph.D.
Middletown, Del.


Wow. So now the energy industry owns Harvard. What planet do you expect to live on after the tar sands oil has contaminated this one?

 I am ashamed of you.

 Lana Ruegamer Eisenberg, A.B.E. ’65
Bloomington, Ind.


President Obama has declared that approval of the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline is premised on “that so doing would be in the nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if the project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” In support of the president’s position, the article concludes that “the incremental pipe-line emissions would represent an increase of 0.06 percent to 0.3 percent in total greenhouse gas emissions for the U.S.—significant, though scarcely game-changing.”

The increment in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from mining the Canadian bitumen/tar sands is not as small as the article implies. The author relies on the well-to-wheel assessment of the net emissions of GHG, a method of evaluation favored by the oil/gas industry. A more accurate representation of GHG emissions would use the well-to-tank evaluation, resulting in a considerably higher assessment.

 Further undercutting the oil/gas industry’s figures is that the contribution to GHG from the inevitable destruction of large areas of the Canadian boreal forest and wetlands that overlay the bitumen/tar sands is not mentioned, even though the destruction of thousands of living trees would transform that area from a GHG sink into a GHG emitter.

 Presidential approval of the pipeline could be critical in determining to what extent oil extraction occurs—despite the proponents assuring the public that disapproval would have no effect on the rate of extraction because the oil would be transported cross-border via rail. But rail-line is a far less reliable means for oil to reach its destination than via pipeline. Between May 21 and October 19 there were six derailments of Canadian oil-carrying trains out of a total of 13 derailments. There must be a reason for TransCanada’s intensive lobbying for the new 36-inch pipeline component linking Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska. It is shocking that this projected pipeline would traverse the most productive area of the Ogallala aquifer.

Given the well-documented threat of irreversible global warming, it is irresponsible to argue that small increments in GHG emissions are acceptable. The U.S. should be the leader among industrialized nations in decreasing our planet’s carbon footprint, rather than acceding to any increase contributing to the fatal 2˚C temperature rise.

 In final analysis, however, whatever the president and the Department of State decide may be moot. A bipartisan House of Representatives proposal would fast-track approval of cross-border oil links applications by shifting approval from the State Department to the Commerce Department. That would trigger a flood of GHG emissions from bitumen/tar sands crude oil from Canada into the U.S., contributing to temperature rise, and hastening “game over” for life as we know it on this planet.

Marian Heineman Rose, Ph.D. ’47
Bedford, N.Y.


Advocating for the Keystone Pipeline, Michael B. McElroy manages to avoid any discussion whatsoever of how it will impact wildlife and wildlife habitat. At the least, such an astonishing omission makes his analysis incomplete and his conclusion suspect.

John R. Nelson ’68
Gloucester, Mass.


After making a creditable case for President Obama to deny approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, Michael McElroy disappointingly comes to the opposite conclusion. There are, however, several additions to the denial column that should be considered.

McElroy states more than once that in terms of climate impact “it makes little difference where the oil is consumed.” But the national-security aspect of allowing the pipeline to be built concerns decreasing the U.S. dependence on non-North American sources of oil. Bringing tar-sands oil to the Gulf is no guarantee that it will remain onshore. In fact, Canadian energy minister Ken Hughes said recently, “[F]or Alberta, the strategic imperative is that we get our [petroleum] products to the ocean, so that we secure global prices for our products….The solutions are additional pipelines to the West Coast, to the East Coast, [and] to the Gulf Coast.”

The Ogallala Aquifier, which lies in the path of the Keystone XL Pipeline, also deserves consideration. One of the world’s largest aquifers, it runs under eight states in the Great Plains and provides much of the drinking and irrigation water to those states. An oil spill in this area could devastate this vital and irreplaceable resource.

First Nations people on both sides of the Canada/U.S. border are vigorously fighting the pipeline. They are trying to protect their sovereign lands from this unwanted incursion, having already experienced the consequences of the tar-sands oil extraction. Native peoples in these areas have elevated rates of cancer and other diseases as a consequence of tar-sands-related pollution of water, air and soil. They realize that a huge pipeline to the Gulf would increase worldwide demand, which would increase extraction and thus increase environmental degradation.

Canada’s boreal forest, currently the largest intact forest on earth and home to innumerable species of plants and animals, is being clear-cut for tar sands extraction. The Mordor-like expanses dotted with toxic pools of sludge created by this process, while heartbreaking, are also extraordinarily short-sighted. These forests, like the Amazon in the southern hemisphere, are both vegetative lungs and carbon sinks, something desperately needed in our attempts to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Finally, while McElroy quotes preeminent climate scientist James Hansen in his first paragraph, he does not use Hansen’s most telling quote about the tar-sands exploitation: “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.”

Vote no, Mr. President, the world is watching.

Carol Soto
San Francisco


McElroy presented a fair and logical article with statistics on the Keystone XL Pipeline, in contrast to the general media. My general question, however, for all those fighting against the pipeline, is: What right do we have as Americans to tell citizens of a foreign country, Canada, what they can and can not do with their tar sands? It is their business, not ours. If we don’t buy it, China will.

Robert B. Youker, M.B.A. ’61
Rockville, Md.

I read with interest Michael B. McElroy’s “Forum: The Keystone XL Pipeline.” While I appreciate his technical analysis, his conclusion is fundamentally flawed. In addition to the environmental and economic facts that McElroy enumerates, there are also human elements that ought to be considered:

By refusing to approve the pipeline, President Obama would send a powerful political statement that the priority of the United States is long-term sustainability rather than short-term economic gain. This symbolic act would energize the environmental community and position America as a global leader on the climate issue.

McElroy stipulates that the pipeline should only be approved if in exchange the Canadian government provides assurances that they will require continued environmental progress on tar-sands extraction and processing. Once the pipeline is built, we would have no mechanism to enforce compliance with such commitments, and given the Harper government’s abysmal record regarding the environment, we would be naïve to trust such promises.

Building the pipeline will create a massive financial commitment to that infrastructure. Refiners would be obligated to sign long-term leases to buy its product—extending to 15 years. Thus our economy would be locked into a dirty source of fossil fuel for many years to come, even if the political consensus grows in favor of cleaner sources of energy.

These are the reasons that I hope the president vetoes the pipeline in favor of developing an economic future powered by efficiency and clean energy.

Timothy C. Leech, A.L.M. ’99
Columbus, Ohio

Having perused the article on the Keystone Pipeline, I did not see the potentially most important issue addressed.

What is the effect on the Oglalla Aquifer? Thirty or 80 years (whatever) of oil is not worth wrecking or risking the most important water source in the contiguous United States. Note: if the pipeline can be built without any risk to the aquifer, I am for it. However, water trumps oil every day in my estimation. We have seen enough of oil companies cutting corners in the Gulf of Mexico, i.e., British Petroleum and/or its major contractor. A similar catastrophe affecting the aquifer is not an acceptable risk. So, let’s hear something about the water risk, especially since after the oil is used up, who keeps up the pipeline, and why?

E. Whitney Drake ’58
Burke, Va.


Professor McElroy’s conclusion—that the president should condition approval of construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline on tar-sands oil achieving well-to-wheel GHG emissions parity with the average emissions associated with current use of liquid transportation fuels in the U.S.—implicitly recognizes that it is not in the national interest to invest in major infrastructure projects which would increase the carbon intensity of our economy. I wish that Professor McElroy had made that point explicitly: while the importation of an additional 830,000 bbls/day of Canadian tar sands oil in and of itself may not be a climate “game changer,” failing to appreciate the urgency of reducing GHG emissions in order to preserve a livable environment for future generations when making infrastructure investment decisions definitely is. Perhaps the president could condition his approval of the pipeline’s construction on the imposition of a price on carbon emissions—enlisting market forces to achieve emission reductions.

John H. Steed, J.D. ’77
Santa Barbara, Calif.


Thanks to Michael McElroy for reminding us all how effective has been government regulation and oversight of the petroleum extraction industry. Industry compliance with regulations has been impeccable, and if we pursue the Keystone pipeline as McElroy suggests, we can expect the same excellent standards of careful and consistency of construction that have given the industry such a fine reputation for avoiding significant spills over many years of operation.

Josh Mitteldorf ’70


I was dismayed by your latest Keystone Pipeline article. No one seems to tell about where the oil actually comes from.

Please image-search “tar-sands oil,” and see before-and-after pix, hundreds of square miles ANNIHILATED by digging out all forests, streams, and lakes up to 300 feet deep to “extract” tar-sands for “processing”...NOTHING left but extremely polluted water and waste…maybe a “cliff” far away, above which is real ground level…ALL life gone but bacteria capable of thriving in the subsoil of Armageddon.

Lumber/Paper companies use the virgin forest, instead of recycled paper from North American citizens and businesses, to make tissue. Then oil companies step in.

The oil industry’s half-truth publicity campaign shows NO destruction, but talks benignly of energy security and job creation, worthy goals, but best accomplished by promoting already viable environmentally friendly industries.

Rooftop-solar and rooftop-wind power both avoid “utilizing” more undeveloped land. Every rooftop and parking lot (even roadways and bridges)...Countless jobs! In lieu of owning, I’d pay utilities as much as now to lease, and have benignly created electricity. Remove subsidies, loopholes, easy permitting, etc., “bought” by oil, coal, and gas for so long from governments around the world, and rooftop conquers.

There’s more to existence than one’s carbon footprint; it’s about quality of one’s energy. In order for organisms to live, others must die. Other places must be disrupted to have ANY material goods. Accordingly, I envision the wake I leave behind while living on Earth. If aware, appreciative, and respectful of the places and beings my life impacts, my wake is not a tsunami, but closer to a gentle ripple.

I believe humans are smart enough to have our cake and eat it too. Tar-sands is eating to a gluttonous death.

Sincerely, and on behalf of all the flora and fauna and places that have no words,

G. S. Clemson ’77
Las Vegas


President Obama said in June that he would reject the Keystone pipeline if it significantly increases climate pollution, suggesting a vital principle for climate action: First, stop making it worse. This is common sense, backed by exhaustive research confirming that we cannot afford big steps backward on climate. We might call this the “Keystone Principle” because all strategies to avert catastrophic climate disruption depend on it.

Arguments that Keystone will not significantly increase emissions, such as Michael McElroy’s, are economically flawed. The pipeline will facilitate further exploitation of tar sands by “sinking” capital, tipping the balance of incentives toward more production. Other routes to market are less likely and less profitable. Long-lived fossil-fuel infrastructure investments like Keystone make the problem not just worse but intractable, by economically “locking in” dangerous emission levels.

There is a disturbing fatalism in the suggestion that Keystone won’t affect net emissions. The carbon math is unyielding: burning the tar sands and other major carbon deposits will cause catastrophic climate disruption. So the contention that Keystone is benign because the tar sands will inevitably be developed amounts to capitulation: “Keystone won’t hurt us; we’re cooked anyway.” Surely this is not what the president meant, having just set forth his climate plan.

The argument also reveals a chronic moral detachment from the relentless human suffering that unchecked climate disruption will cause. Even if it were true that tar sands will be fully exploited without Keystone, the results are unconscionable. “Someone else will do it” is never a good excuse for doing what’s catastrophically wrong.

The president has pledged to move forward on climate, to make the situation better. But the pledge is hollow unless we stop making it worse. Keystone is a fateful test of that core principle.

K.C. Golden, M.P.P. ’88
Senior Policy Advisor, Climate Solutions


The cover of the current issue of Harvard Magazine headlines, “Keystone and Climate Change.” Inside, the article referred to is listed as: “Forum: The Keystone XL Pipeline.” A misleading way to attract readers, who might reasonably expect a balanced presentation by proponents and opponents of this highly controversial project. Instead, one finds only the case for approving the pipeline laid out in an industry-friendly fashion, ending with a positive recommendation to the president. The calm tone and avoidance of any facts that might alarm the reader may be expected from the author, Professor Michael McElroy, a frequent contributor to this magazine. But to anyone who has seen photographs of the immense environmental destruction resulting from Albertan tar sands mining so far, it is astonishing that a professor of environmental studies would say that the landscape has been merely “altered.” Not a word about the devastation of local ecosystems; no mention of the effects so far on the health of human as well as other animals living nearby. Instead, the author seems mainly concerned with maximizing US access to fossil fuels, for “energy independence” and “energy security.”

The worst defect of the article, however, is its lack of any sense that following the path he advocates will, at the least, continue the present “business as usual” scenario. That will most likely lead to irreversible global levels of heat, loss of fresh water supplies, rise and acidification of the oceans, frequency and violence of storms and storm surges, and vicious cycles of polar release of CO2 and methane from the melting of permafrost resulting in more such melting. Since the major research published in Nature in 2009, any professional scholar in environmental sciences and policies ought to know what Bill McKibben told the general reader last year in his article in Rolling Stone, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”: that a point of no return in climate change will occur when the total amount of greenhouse gas reaches the equivalent of 565 more megatons of carbon. And that presently confirmed stocks of available fossil fuels contain about five times that amount, so that to avoid planetary disaster we have to find some way of keeping about four-fifths of those proven resources in the ground. The latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains those alarming data, which have been widely reported in the mass media. Perhaps by this time, even the tranquil environs of Harvard Yard have been penetrated by this news, and this letter may not be the last that fellow alumni hear about the global climate crisis. That makes it obvious not only that Keystone XL must be disapproved but that strenuous efforts must begin as soon as possible to stop all new exploration for and production from new reserves of carboniferous fuels, and instead to maximize the efficiency with which we use energy of all kinds.

Robert R. Holt, Ph.D. ’44
Professor emeritus, New York University
Truro, Mass.


I opened Michael B McElroy’s article on the Keystone XL Pipeline with high hopes for a balanced assessment of this complex topic. I was badly disappointed. The one-sided conclusion relies on two serious, unexamined, and dubious assumptions.

The first is that the oil or tar will be mined and burned in equal amounts with or without the pipeline. The only climate impacts it considers are the comparatively smaller ones of the relative greater energy inputs and lower quality of tar sands versus other kinds of oil. However, opponents of the pipeline have cited quotes from industry sources suggesting that Keystone will enable more production than otherwise. Everything hinges on this: how much carbon will our civilization put in the atmosphere before we stop? Anything that makes it easier and cheaper to put carbon (or heat-trapping equivalents) into the atmosphere therefore requires extraordinary justification. The article initially notes this concern, but never addresses it. Too bad. Absent a counter-argument, it would seem we have to assume that the pipeline entails a real risk of making it easier and cheaper to produce and eventually burn Bakken shale and Alberta tar sands sources of oil.

The article then weighs energy independence as a key argument, making a second unexamined assumption: that energy independence can best be achieved by producing more North American oil. Reputable studies have argued that we can achieve independence instead with efficiency gains on the usage side. Overall, based on this quite incomplete discussion, I see inadequate justification for endorsing Keystone XL. The president should base his decision on careful assessment of the likely impacts on total carbon output and on energy markets, and of the alternative investments that may equally well see us reach energy independence.

Joel Nigg ’80
Portland, Ore.


The Power of Patience

Thank you for publishing the insightful article, “The Power of Patience,” by Jennifer L. Roberts (November-December 2013, page 40). As a minister I regularly notice how bad most of us are at aging and dying, which is the one part of life we all have in common (regardless of occupation, race, income level, age, gender, or graduation year).

I regularly look to the humanities for a deeper understanding of how to be a better human and world citizen. Yet even with my very oldest members, some raised in homes without indoor plumbing and in the days of “party” telephone lines, observations about one’s own aging and dying process are woefully absent. Regardless of the year of our birth, it seems to be in our human nature to rush away from our spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional experiences.

Eleven months is a long time to wait for feedback, but even today this is a realistic timeline. “Delays can themselves be productive.” The body and mind shift over long periods of time. Are we paying attention? Do we note when our memory changes, fatigue increases, energy accelerates, spirit moves? Contemporary life might control us with its tempo, but only if we choose to let it. We can text up to the moment of our death, but in doing so, we can also render ourselves oblivious to the meaning and experience of the one precious life that each of us carries.

I suspect that if we all ruminated on being “too liney,” we would lead deeper, richer lives that result in more peaceful deaths.

Reverend Sharon K. Dittmar, M.Div. ’97


Brevity and concision dominate the pace of modern life. Jennifer Robert’s timely plea for immersion and slowed awareness in deepening learning aims to wind back the tidal wave of the “frenetic motion of the mind” (my phrase) that has become the norm in today’s college students. The distracting allure of hastily skimmed over data channeled through the portable lit screen militates against deep and meaningful engagement.

What is more worrying is that the habit of superficial grazing and casting a wide net on Google has been shown to permanently imprint itself upon the neurocircuitry of formative brains. Learning styles that favor putting down deep roots are being selected out by societal and technological pressures. The burgeoning trend for authoring abbreviated cultural commentary tailored to suit the modern distractible sensibility could reflect this seismic shift. Imagine trying to distil the epic historicity of War and Peace into tens of easily digestible pages, or faithfully rendering the essence of all Shakespeare’s plays in an evening’s sitting. Rather than being exhausted taking numerous promiscuous bites from the whole of our burgeoning cultural menu, we’d do better to select the few offerings that still allow thoughtful assessment in the midst of leisurely contemplation. Fast culture, like fast food, promises a quick fix but is unlikely to make a lasting impression.

Dr. Joseph Ting
Brisbane, Australia

Professor Jennifer Roberts’s observations called to mind the teaching methods of Louis Agassiz, a great scientist and inspired pedagogue whose virtues have of late been obscured by his deplorable racial views and his unyielding rejection of Darwinism. (Professor Roberts’s chair bears the name of his widow, one of the founders of Radcliffe.)

His demerits aside, he knew how to teach, at a time when imaginative teaching was all too rare. One of his techniques was to leave a student with just a preserved fish and ask for his observations. From time to time he would check in to see how things were going. At first the student would note some superficial details and think the work was done. Not so. Professor Agassiz would tell him to look at his fish some more, and the frustrated student would have little choice but to do so. This process was repeated as long as necessary. Over time the value of the exercise would reveal itself and the student would come away with a remarkably improved understanding of vertebrate anatomy. You can’t see if you don’t look.

But there is a danger in overvaluing close scrutiny as well. Any discipline that relies on the scholar’s esthetic response must nourish that, too. Professor Roberts’s great predecessor Max J. Friedländer, an authority on early Netherlandish painting and no enemy to painstaking research, was an eloquent advocate of the importance of one’s first, swift impression of a work of art’s totality. For him the meaning and value of the art work began and ended in that. To keep that responsiveness alive is great part of the scholar’s job. A lot of students of the humanities have learned to see trees all too well, but have lost the capacity to see forests in the process.

Anthony Dangerfield
(Co-author, with James Engell, of “The Market-Model University: Humanities in the Age of Money,” Harvard Magazine, May-June 1998, page 48)


In “The Power of Patience,” Jennifer L. Roberts argues convincingly in favor of teaching students to observe closely and slowly, to immerse themselves deeply in their material, and to engage directly and deliberately with the subject at hand. She illustrates this by discussing her requirement that incoming students look at a single painting for at least three hours while recording their ongoing observations.

Roberts is the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz professor of the humanities, and it is interesting to remember that Mrs. Agassiz’s husband, Louis, was also a devotee of extended observation. In his Brave Companions, David McCullough summarizes one student’s reaction to the Agassiz technique.

Agassiz would ask the student when he would like to begin. If the answer was now, the student was immediately presented with a dead fish. The fish was placed before the student in a tin pan. He was to look at the fish, the student was told, whereupon Agassiz would leave, not to return until later in the day, if at all. Samuel Scudder described the experience as one of life’s turning points.

‘In ten minutes I had seen all that could be seen in that fish….Half an hour passed—an hour—another hour; the fish began to look loathsome. I turned it over and around; looked it in the face—ghastly; from behind, beneath, above, sideways, at three-quarters view—just as ghastly. I was in despair.

I might not use a magnifying glass; instruments of all kinds were interdicted. My two hands, my two eyes, and the fish: it seemed a most limited field. I pushed my finger down its throat to feel how sharp the teeth were. I began to count the scales in different rows, until I was convinced that that was nonsense. At last a happy thought struck me—I would draw the fish, and now with surprise I began to discover new features in that creature.’

When Agassiz returned later and listened to Scudder recount what he had observed, his only comment was that the young man must look again.

‘I was piqued; I was mortified. Still more of that wretched fish! But now I set myself to my task with a will, and discovered one new thing after another…The afternoon passed quickly; and when toward its close, the professor inquired: “Do you see it yet?” “No,” I replied, “I am certain I do not, but I see how little I saw before.”

Scudder asked what he might do next, and Agassiz replied, “Oh, look at your fish!” In Scudder’s case the lesson lasted a full three days. “Look, look, look” was the repeated injunction, and the best lesson he ever had, Scudder recalled: “‘Look at your fish.’ One must become capable of hard, continuous, original work…to learn to think for oneself.”

In this modern frenetic world, Ms. Roberts’ students are fortunate to have a teacher who encourages them to think long and hard: to know the power of patience. And if their observational spirits flag, they may do well to remember that they need only look for three hours, not three days, and that they are gazing upon an exquisite painting, not a dead fish!

Becky Huertas
Lincoln, Mass.


Landscape Architects, Unite!

Arrrggghhh! I am getting too old to fight this fight but here goes. I was heartened to open my mailbox to Michael Van Valkenburgh on the cover of Harvard Magazine (November-December 2013, and page 32).

My mature restraint is exhibited when I hold back from trotting out all the reasons why “The Urban Landscaper” was an unfortunate title. Geeez, landscape architects everywhere are thrilled that Van Valkenburgh heads the multi-discipline team to redesign the arch grounds here in St. Louis.

If you only knew how diminished we all feel when referred to as “landscapers.” Now that I’ve gotten this off my chest, I might even read your article.

D. Anne Lewis, M.L.A. ’82
St. Louis

Editor’s note: We take the point. But a magazine headline is not a title in a professional journal. The cover reads, “Landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh.”


Fine article by William Saunders on landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh in your November-December 2013 magazine. I take issue only with the headline writer’s use of the terms “landscaper” and “landscaping” to describe Mr. Van Valkenburgh and his work. These terms, for very good reason, are not found anywhere in the article’s text. They are inappropriate, poor descriptors of the subject and his design work, akin to describing an architect as a “drywaller” or another construction trade. Of course, construction trades are important to building projects, but they do not comprise the same set of responsibilities as designing the project. I expected more from Harvard Magazine.

Kathleen M. Fox, LF ’02, FASLA
Columbus, Ohio


Everett As “Cotton Whig”

The author of the piece on Edward Everett (Vita, November-December 2013, page 44) lets his subject off too easy by referring to him as a “pragmatic Whig.” Everett was, in fact, a so-called Cotton Whig, a derisive term applied to members of that party who cared little about the “turbulent issue” of the extension of slavery and who were said to represent an alliance of “the lords of the loom” with “the lords of the lash.”

The eminent Civil War historian James McPherson, in his great book Battle Cry of Freedom, points out that the Constitutional Union Party, on whose ticket Everett ran for vice president in the 1860 presidential election, was created for the sole purpose of denying the presidency to Abraham Lincoln. McPherson wrote that “the Constitutional Unionists did not expect to win the election.” “The best they could hope for,” he wrote, “was to carry several upper-South states and weaken Lincoln sufficiently in the lower north to deny him an electoral majority.” Then, according to McPherson, the House of Representatives might elect John Breckenridge of Kentucky as president, or failing that, Everett’s running mate, John Bell of Tennessee. Or Everett himself might become “acting president” if elected vice-president by the Senate.

Lincoln was the true pragmatist in the 1860 election, for he knew how to win an election, and how to win a war. And unlike Everett, Lincoln also knew how to make a really good speech and to keep it short.

Leonard S. Elman, L ’55
New York City


Castle Freeman Jr. tosses off the comment that Edward Everett “with a scholarly friend” traveled to Germany to prepare for a professorship of Greek at Harvard. Some friend! George Ticknor, according to Wikipedia, pioneered the teaching of modern foreign languages at Harvard and advocated the creation of departments, the grouping of students in divisions according to proficiency, and the establishment of the elective system. He was not just along for the ride with Everett!

Herbert L. Mager Jr. ’64
Oakland, Calif.

Editor’s note: The Vita format often requires pruning interesting, even important, information to arrive at the specified length. Even had we known that Ticknor was Everett’s traveling companion, we might have asked the author to excise him to keep something else in the article. But having learned the name of that companion, we revisited the Vita of Ticknor (January-February 2005, page 48) and found, tit for tat, no mention of Everett there. We’re glad Mr. Mager has brought the two men together.


Houses, Renewed

In Craig Lambert’s otherwise excellent article, “Learning, and Life, in the Houses” (November-December 2013, page 46), there is a factual error that should be corrected. He wrote that “The only true counterpart to Harvard’s house system as a way to lodge, feed, and educate upperclassmen is an analogous arrangement at Yale.” Rice University has had a residential college system since the 1950s that is in every essential analogous to Harvard’s and Yale’s. Each college at Rice has a master and co-master who live on campus in a residence connected to the college (my wife and I were co-masters of Will Rice college). We ate with the students and advised them on both academic and social matters, with the assistance of two resident associates, usually other faculty members. As at Harvard, the colleges encourage theatrical productions, concerts, and art exhibits, as well as athletic and purely social events. Each college has a slate of elected officers and a legislative body. The colleges also sponsor specialty courses. Loyalty to one’s college is fierce, as it is at Harvard. When I joined the faculty at Rice, I was greatly relieved to find a system so like the Harvard houses (I had been a tutor at Eliot House) instead of the Greek system, which has been problematic for so many colleges and universities.

Edward Doughtie, Ph.D. ’64
Strafford, Vt.


I had the very good fortune to have been a resident tutor at Adams House between 1949 and 1952. I was a teaching fellow in General Education (in the late Sam Beer’s unforgettable Social Sciences II) and a graduate student in sociology. I was 23 years old when I began, and (like my fellow tutor, Bernard Bailyn) had come to Harvard from Williams College with its charms, character, and great teaching tradition. Richard Wilbur (from Amherst), the poet, was a resident fellow from the Society of Fellows and the faculty fellows were a scintillating bunch, including Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Edwin Reischauer, and Morton White. I was closest to the undergraduate members of the house in age, but all of us learned at least as much from them as they did from us. Diana Eck is right. Then, as apparently now, the houses were sites of community, extended families, and in any case, indispensable alternatives to the ferocious anonymity of a very competitive university.

Norman Birnbaum, Ph.D. ’58
University Professor Emeritus
Georgetown University Law Center
Washington, D.C.

Historically Black Colleges

I read the article concerning the distinguished new president of Morehouse College, J.S. Wilson Jr., with interest and growing perplexity (“Morehouse Man, Redux,” November-December 2013, page 72). The status of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) was covered in some detail.

It was reported that 9 of 10 young African-American men and women choose to matriculate in “white” schools of higher learning rather than an HBCU school. Is this wrong? Are these young people not saying they do not want to attend a de facto segregated school? Was not the concept of “separate but unequal” schools the basis for the fight largely won by civil-rights activists not that long ago? Was that drive not also to encourage ethnic mixing and thus lessen interracial tensions? Do HBCUs foster that desirable end? Should each of Wilson’s three children have selected an HBCU rather than Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, where they were enrolled? Should we bemoan the passing of St. Paul’s College in Virginia, any more than we should bemoan the transformation of Harvard College? It was largely a school to train white male Protestant preachers in its early days. Times change and societal needs and desiderata evolve with them.

Is there still a role in higher education for HBCUs? If so, what is it precisely?

Giulio J. D’Angio, M.D. ’45

Editor’s note: Leaders of HBCUs could address these questions. But some thoughts prompted by the profile likely occur to any reader: Certainly for students of color attending college, wider opportunity is welcome—although opinions vary about whether all such students thrive in whatever institutions they choose to attend. But HBCUs’ role is presumably still important in an era when a large portion of the cohort they serve is not achieving any higher education. And the competition for their students from institutions with greater financial resources, occurring de facto, has perhaps not been accompanied by an explicit discussion of their role in the society.


Hollywood and Nazism

The article by Erin O’Donnell in your November-December issue (“Markets and the Movie Industry,” page 10) brought many important points about the selling of the principles of the Hollywood movie industry in the 1930s and early 1940s for profit to light.

However, it missed addressing the importance of the movie industry as a medium (second only to radio) for spreading the news about the Nazi attacks on European Jews and thus raising the awareness of people about the atrocities that were happening.

Perhaps then if Hollywood would have thought a little less about material profit, and paid more attention about telling the story the way it was happening, some lives could have been saved.Probably some of their own relatives.

Sevi Avigdor, M.D.
Rumson, N.J.



Readers Gitlin and Strassman overreach (Letters, September-October 2013, page 5) when they espouse the notion that the keepers of the Harvard endowment should divest themselves of fossil-fuels investments. Better to adhere to the established practice of “every tub on its own bottom.” Let the endowment be managed by professionals who make their investment decisions in the framework of maximizing available opportunities within the established timeframe. Let the climate-change fanatics pursue their discourse in academic circles with current data that support their case. Let the policy wonks prepare the political action recommendations resulting from the scientific evidence. Jumping to early conclusions is a bad practice!

Arne Kalm, M.B.A. ’61
Arcadia, Calif.


Errata and Amplifications

The online “Extra” indicator in the profile of Michael Van Valkenburgh inexplicably misspelled his name, which appeared correctly elsewhere in the article.

James MacGregor Burns’s Fire and Light, the November-December 2013 Open Book (page 18), was published by the Thomas Dunne Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

Jon Bartel ’63 of Goleta, California, alertly noted that Vita subject Edward Everett was appointed U.S. Secretary of State in 1852, not 1849. Millard Fillmore, who appointed him, did not become president until 1850.

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