Cambridge 02138

The Legacy of Slavery

As a substantive matter, reparations for slavery are probably merited but unfortunately competing against the legion of other horrific historical crimes crying out for compensation (“Acting on Slavery’s Legacy,” May-June, page 13). Although almost certainly merited, $100 million seems small. The article achieved the Harvard ideal because all the money seemed to go to the process— that is, funding administrators of studies. Though I understand that spending $100 million wildly is foolish, this sentence struck me as a classic: “The aim of one other localized effort: a two-day conference in February, during which faculty members and teaching staff discussed how to integrate the report’s findings into their own curricula.” This is reminiscent of Sir Humphrey’s response to any issue in Yes, Minister—we appoint a committee to review a report for further review.

James Kardon ’71
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Editor’s note: Harvard is not funding or paying reparations, and as previously reported, the funds are being used in various ways, including exchange programs with historically black colleges and universities.

There is an irritating disconnect in the May-June issue between John S. Rosenberg’s revelations (“Unfinished Business,” 7 Ware Street, page 5) and the ongoing news about Harvard’s $100-million commitment to atoning for its legacy of slavery (“Acting on Slavery’s Legacy,” page 13). He notes that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences “has been unable to expand the faculty ranks for a decade and a half, limiting its ability to pursue new fields for research and teaching; it is burdened with about $1.3 billion of debt—and still has to fund the remaining House renewals….”

The slavery projects arise because some ancient benefactors of Harvard, by today’s standards of acceptable business deportment, were less-than-savory persons. OK, let’s assist some historically black colleges and universities, support a museum in Medford, erect a campus memorial. However, sensible use of Harvard’s finite, fungible funds requires looking forward rather than looking backward.

Steve Susman ’57, J.D. ’60,
Denver

Climate Change

An internet search for the Harvard “Veritas” logo came back to me with the following: “The University defends the truth,” says the Harvard logo. “The emblem shows respect for science, using only verified facts within the University’s walls and a willingness to defend the truth.” Yet as it relates to climate change, the University has set aside obvious truths and brought together its five professional schools supporting the new “Save the Planet” religious dogma of the past decade (“Seeking Climate Solutions,” May-June, page 17).

The first obvious truth is that the Earth’s climate was cyclically changing eons before our industrial age began using fossil fuels which brought much of the world’s population out of sustenance living, poverty, short life spans, and relative immobility beyond one’s birthplace. The Roman Empire prospered during 600 years called the “Roman Warm Period.” Since the end of the Little Ice Age around 1750, the Earth’s temperatures have been rising, underpinning another era of prosperity.

A second obvious truth is that climate change is not an existential threat to mankind. The world is not coming to an end if we do not achieve “zero emissions” by 2035, 2050, or 2100.

The third obvious truth is that the current actions being taken to reduce temperature increases will affect the climate at best minimally, but they are severely detrimental to our economies, our security, and possibly our survivability. Our economies are suffering from deficit spending on industrial policies to destroy long-term investments in electrical generation and transportation in exchange for new technologies enriching an increasingly aggressive China.

A final truth is that incorporating increasingly high percentages of wind and solar components within our electrical power grids makes them unstable under predictable load variations, weather challenges, or black swan events. For a year or more, a major volcanic eruption can cut off solar electric generation and redirect wind forces, thereby disabling an electrical grid heavily dependent on them. Our very livelihood is dependent on continuous electrical power. When the power goes out, our short supply of food, water, and transportation fuel disappears. Communications are interrupted. Our cell phones go dormant; our credit cards will not operate. If we lose electrical power for a month, we starve and die.

If Harvard still wants to justify “Veritas” on its shield, then it should use a portion of its newly found Salata Institute grant money to add a sixth research group to develop defensive measures against imprudent policies perpetuated on our populations by Green environmental activists whose view of history is only 20 years deep.

John W. Jenkins, M.B.A. ’63
Dallas

Sofia Andrade’s Undergraduate column, “The Climate Connection between Campus and Home” (May-June, page 62), says “Duke Energy (a natural gas company).” However, it is primarily an electric utility with a small natural gas distribution company subsidiary. It has been investing in solar power and all of the “right things.” It is certainly a very different business from that of Shell and Chevron. As an investment, it has done relatively well over the last several years (not that that would matter to Andrade).

Ashmead P. Pipkin, M.B.A. ’64
Raleigh, N.C.

Philanthropic Savvy

Colleen Walsh’s article (“Making Charitable Giving More Competent,” May-June, page 9) revolves around the dichotomy proposed by two Harvard academics between philanthropy fueled by emotion and that fueled by reason. But that, in my judgment, is far too simplistic and therefore a potentially dangerous distinction.

There is a long tradition in the United States of asking private citizens to fund institutions and activities which are the responsibilities of government in both the United Kingdom and Europe. This tradition has been a key reason why we lead the world in the breadth and quality of many charitable organizations, from education to health care to conservation to the arts

Some people contributed because of personal commitment, some from a sense of improving their personal distinction, some from a strong desire to further either a cause or a program. In most cases, philanthropists were not making a choice between “a favorite charity” and “a highly effective one,” as the scholars would make us believe

Any charity with an important mission can and is often, for a donor, both “favorite” and “effective.” The researchers want to apply their own standards, apparently, as to what might be “effective.” But their own standards may well not be those of all or even of many donors. The contrast between these two forms of charity is a false one, or naive.

Take Harvard itself. It may be a “favorite” charity of many alumni despite its all too obvious wealth. Whether it is “effective” is a matter of judgment. Some will regard Harvard as not a good user of funds, while others will look at its record of success in certain areas and draw a different conclusion. Both views can be considered right, depending on the highly selective view of the donor. Many large and complex institutions share these characteristics.

David Hume was one of the first observers to note that emotion is in many ways stronger than reason. Gifts given because of an emotional commitment may denote favoritism but such gifts can be also highly effective in terms of social welfare. Each charity must be examined for itself as to how well it provides both social good and personal satisfaction. Setting up a false distinction between “favorite” and “effective” is neither helpful nor accurate.

David W. Scudder ’57
Ipswich, Mass.

Colleen Walsh’s article on making the “most effective choices” when giving seems a curious inclusion in a magazine sent to alumni. I believe Harvard has an endowment of around $51 billion and total student enrollment (undergrad and grad schools) of around 30,000. If 4 percent of the endowment is used annually (the traditionally “safe” percentage to ensure that the principal does not erode), that yields over $2 billion, which is close to $70,000 per student per year. Surely a competent Harvard alumnus can find numerous charities that provide more effective charitable benefits than those that will result from additional contributions to the already enormous Harvard endowment?

Tom Vollbrecht, J.D. ’86
Minneapolis

The Grimkes

I very much appreciate knowing about this very impressive man; thanks for the brief (Vita, “Archibald Henry Grimke,” by Kerri K. Greenidge, May-June, page 37).

But I was saddened by the gratuitous and highly judgmental description of the sisters, his aunts. Greenidge gives us judgment without understanding, and thereby disparages the story of all three.

Peter Keese ’58
Brentwood, Tenn.

Editor’s note: Readers may want to consult Greenidge’s book on the Grimke family, cited in the author note; her adaptation for the magazine’s Vita format necessarily focused on Harvardian elements of the larger narrative.

The GSAS Gift

I think it is wonderful and commendable that Ken Griffin is putting all that money into training the next generation of liberal arts and sciences (LAS) professors after decades of retrenchment in American LAS higher education (“Ken Griffin’s Naming Gift for the Graduate School,” online April 11 at harvardmag.com/griffin-fas-23). We need them! Back around 1977 or so when I was getting my degrees, the entire LAS job market collapsed. There was a system failure. The Harvard philosophy department, then ranked number one in the world, announced that it would only accept five entering Ph.D. candidates because, at the end of the day, that’s all they could get hired upon graduation. At the time it boggled my mind! So I decided to teach in a law school instead of an LAS college. The LAS job market has never really recovered. But when high school and college students ask me for advice on what they should study in college in order to go to law school and become lawyers, I always tell them to get the very best and broadest LAS education they possibly can. The law is about life!

Francis A. Boyle, J.D. ’76 Ph.D. ’83
Champaign, Ill.

While I am glad for the University to receive such a large gift from Kenneth Griffin, the praise and customary naming of schools after the donor is a habit that needs to evolve beyond this simplistic gratitude that pretends that the economic systems of our country are implicitly fair to all. Griffin leveraged a system where the wealthy spend money to make themselves even more money. I’m not singling him out; most of the magazine’s readership (including myself!) have benefited from the very same systems, if perhaps not quite as generously as Griffin has. I suspect that the $300 million that was amassed over the years might have better served if injected back into the middle-class and working-class communities that were necessarily the first source of this wealth.

I am not here to espouse any tax policy but rather to name the fact that the lavish praise heaped upon billionaires does nothing to encourage the correction of a system that rewards financial managers more than school board treasurers. Rather than take the money, bow, and cash the check, some acknowledgement of the economic systems that concentrate wealth rather than disperse it feels necessary. Creating more equitable systems would be even better.

CP Chang ’91
Raleigh, N.C.

Harvard Square

The “Vintage Harvard Square” photo caption in Off The Shelf (May-June, page 50) is very wrong. There was indeed an MBTA station there. The main entrance was a very large news kiosk in the middle of the Square, and the MTA rail yards occupied the area where the Kennedy School now exists. As for dress, I would not call my khaki pants, clip-on bow tie, and white bucks, fairly normal wear for undergraduates, formal in any sense of the word.

George Sadowsky ’57
Bethesda, Md

THE OFF THE SHELF photo (May-June, page 50) purporting to show Mass. Ave. in 1960 is disconcerting in several ways. The claim that there was no MBTA station in the Square until 1960 is plain wrong, although the system was only known as the MTA then. I did not use the station to commute to work until 1962 or later, but it had been in service long before when I needed it.

I get the feeling that the writer of the caption is familiar only with the current avatar of the station and was not around to experience the escalator rising from the bowels of Out of Town News.

The photo is interesting in documenting the block along Mass. Ave. that was soon to fall to accommodate the construction of Holyoke Center (now Smith Center). Further, the caption writer notes the bygone formality of the pedestrians. That has been an interesting transition.

Charles W. Husbands
Systems Librarian in the University Library Ret.
Lexington, Mass.

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President Bacow’s Farewell

Though I frankly have no idea what kind of scholar or administrator President Bacow is (or was), I don’t need to to miss him. Just from reading his columns, I confidently gather a quality that is more important than any tangible skill or attribute. Though the word is overused nowadays, he is—simply—a mensch extraordinaire. He has perspective. Grace. He simultaneously offers both simple and profound wisdom. But he’s no pushover. Sadly, I fear, he reflects mostly qualities of yesteryear, but which we need more of today, and tomorrow.

In his last column (“Farewell,” May-June, page 3), he also subtly cautions against Harvard becoming too comfortable, too content, and too self-absorbed. It’s a good message. A return to quiet rigor and discipline—which is what originally made Harvard—is not a bad idea. As he’s paid his dues, I thank President Bacow for his dedicated service.

William Choslovsky, J.D. ’94
Chicago

Bow & Arrow Press

I READ with interest Craig Lambert’s story on the Bow & Arrow Press (“The Eviction of the Bow & Arrow Press,” published online April 21 at harvardmag.com/bow-evict-23). Having published a bi-weekly newspaper for the residents of my subdivision in the 1940s with handset rubber type, I sympathize with the undergraduates’ desire for replacement space. My late wife (M.A.T. ’60) was one of my loyal subscribers.

Although I graduated to using my grade school’s A.B. Dick Mimeograph machine before I graduated from grade school, I think the availability of a rotary press makes an important contribution to one’s liberal education. With this experience it was easy to become a co-editor of the Class of ’58’s weekly Yardling, which we printed on the Phillips Brooks House’s mimeograph.

William Malone ’58, J.D. ’62
New Canaan, Conn.

Boxing and TBI

AS AN OPTOMETRIST who treats patients suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI), I read with dismay that the well-intentioned Mr. Lopez-Carmen, a third year student at the Medical School, would train and participate in boxing (“Helping Hands,” May-June, page 60). Whatever small amount of money raised in this charitable fund raising fight will pale in comparison to losing a potential 50-year career in medicine should a TBI render him disabled or dead. That a future physician would promote a “sport” where the sole purpose is to injure the opponent and that Harvard Magazine publishes a positive story leads one to question the intelligence and morals of the participant, author, and editors.

In an era where most states have banned or ceased dog racing, it amazes me that boxing, cage fighting, and similar events are not only allowed but celebrated by many.

Stanley W. Hatch, M.P.H. ’95
Pennsylvania College of Optometry
Philadelphia

Killing Cancers

I ADMIRE Dr. Shah’s ingenuity and Erin O’Donnell enthusiasm in the article, “Using Cancer to Kill Cancer” (May-June, page 11). And I can empathize with Shah’s personal tragedy, as my brother battles glioblastoma (GBM). Still, I had a more circumspect view on the article. Transgene silencing and tumor heterogeneity are just two of the known weapons that cancer cells use in their arsenals to persistently outsmart us. In one instance, transgene silencing, or the loss of expression of engineered gain-of-function genes, would not reduce interferon beta-resistance/potency of the therapeutic cancer cells because this involves the engineered loss of interferon beta receptor expression. Conversely, silencing could limit the therapeutic cancer cells’ expression of the interferon beta transgene and linked effectiveness against GBM cells, and it could turn off their “kill switch” in heterogenous subpopulations that “go rogue.” In this circumstance, silencing of the viral kinase transgene, which is required to sensitize the therapeutic cancer cells to ganciclovir, would instead confer resistance to killing by the drug. More durable kill switches could involve loss-of-function drug-sensitizing changes engineered in the therapeutic cancer cells. It would be heartbreaking to know that the engineered cancer cells inadvertently did more harm than good.

Demetri D. Spyropoulos, Ph.D. ’89
Medical University of South Carolina
Charleston

 

Erratum

InBuilding a Better World,” on the MASS Design firm (May-June, page 24), Chris Kroner’s name was misspelled in the photo caption (page 28), and in the text he should have been identified as a designer rather than as an architect. We regret our errors.

 

 

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