LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
A statement made in my book, Stand, Columbia, regrettably
remained unchanged by me in the excerpt you ran in the September
issue of CCT.
The statement as it appeared (p. 574 S/C; p. 29, CCT):
“The firing of Bob Pollack [as dean of Columbia College] in
1988 was seen by some College alumni as an example of Low Library’s
getting up to its old tricks.” While I stand by the statement
as to how some alumni construed the situation, Bob assured
me on the book’s publication that his return to teaching and
research was a decision mutually reached between him and President
Michael Sovern ’53.
Accordingly, I agreed with Bob that the term “firing”
did not fit the situation as he described it, and that I would drop
the term and amend the sentence in any subsequent edition of the
book. My apologies to Bob and to your readers.
CCT printed three letters [September] commenting on Tony
Kushner ’78’s Class Day address, one laudatory, the
others critical. The dramatically different perspectives of the
address led me to watch and listen to the speech at www.college.columbia.edu.
I found the address to be a call to involvement in our society.
Edward Broge ’43 seems to think we would be best served by
our graduates being private citizens. I agree with Mr. Kushner
that we need more public citizens. I, for one, believe that Mr.
Kushner has contributed immeasurably more to us through his work
than 100 enterprising franchise operators. Columbia always will
have well-heeled alumni; I hope our alumni also will seek truth
and speak truth.
Perhaps Mr. Broge thinks I do not live in the real world, but
part of my real world is the lyrical and transcendent works of Mr.
Kushner. I find that far more enriching than tax-free dividends.
Alan Miller ’81
New York City
I read Tony Kushner ’78’s address to the new grads
[July CCT] and howled with pleasure. He made them laugh
and then he told them to get out there and do something about the
world. The grads are pretty smart — they don’t need
to be told what to do. They’re not there for another lecture,
they want to enjoy and celebrate. I felt his tone was perfect, but
what does the Class of ’04 think? They’re the ones who
Duane “Dink” Barnes ’51
Sidney Morgenbesser was my Contemporary Civilization instructor
in 1959. Let me add a story to the ones mentioned in your article
In preparation for the final exam, Morgenbesser gave us the following
advice: “Answer the questions on the final defending your
own position. Do not try to guess my position on the issues. The
only thing on which I may have taken a position this term is free
will versus determinism. I should tell you that I have since changed
my mind on that issue, but I will not tell you whether it was an
even or odd number of times.”
Sidney Morgenbesser and Moses Hadas were the greatest teachers I
have ever had. I tried to see Morgenbesser while I was on sabbatical
at Columbia in 1998, but he was too ill to see me. Your article
made me understand the nature of his illness.
Joel Moses ’62
Institute Professor and former Provost
Truman on 1968
David B. Truman, former dean of the College and v.p. and provost
of the University, died on August 28, 2003. Following his death
and a memorial service at Columbia on October 23, 2003, it became
more widely known that in 1995 he completed a manuscript, Reflections
on the Columbia Disturbances of 1968. His family received many
requests for copies. In response, the family has reproduced the
275-page manuscript and will provide copies to those interested.
Please send requests to me (Truman’s son), Edwin M. Truman,
5803 Warwick Pl., Chevy Chase, MD 20815 along with a check for $20
tocover the cost of reproduction. The family will cover postage.
Edwin M. Truman
Chevy Chase, Md.
I read with great interest the review of Dean Austin Quigley’s
new book, Theoretical Inquiry: Language, Linguistics, and Literature
[September]. His idea that “theory has often reduced
literature to illustrating a theory’s presuppositions”
and is therefore essentially reductionist is reflected in Great
Books by David Denby ’65. Although there is considerable
food for thought in the critical approaches toward theory expressed
by both authors, theory also can considerably expand students’
horizons and give them new insights.
I teach in the Humanities Department at a college in Montreal.
We are expected to teach interdisciplinary studies. I have students
read from the textbook Controversies in Sociology, by Sylvia
Hale. The author has sympathetic presentations of the four major
schools of sociological thought today: functionalism, Marxism, feminism
and social constructionism, in the context of subject matter normally
found in sociology textbooks. I teach students to contextualize
an argument based on one of the above four schools of thought and
then organize three-to-four hour in-class parliamentary-style role
play debates on drama, as, for example, Marxist vs. functionalist
interpretations of Major Barbara, feminist vs. functionalist
interpretations of Hedda Gabler, or social constructionist
vs. functionalist interpretations of Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen.
The students and I enjoy ourselves immensely during these debates,
and we see how well students understand theory and are able to manipulate
theoretical approaches and apply them. Weak students who had difficulty
understanding the theory during preparation begin to understand
it during the debate, as students teach other students.
Rather than limiting students’ appreciation of literature,
theory allows them to consider aspects of the plays they may not
have considered otherwise. Theory doesn’t only reduce drama
to illustrating a theory’s presuppositions. Presenting theoretical
interpretations in a debate format guarantees that a wide range
of approaches and opinions are considered. Sometimes it is the drama
itself that expands the theory into new directions For example,
the sociology textbook discusses the Marxist notion of false consciousness
reducing class consciousness. In Death of a Salesman, one can see
that Willy does not identify himself as a “white-collar worker,”
or a worker of any kind, and that he only has contempt for “blue-collar
workers.” However, the false consciousness of the American
Dream in the play goes beyond eliminating class consciousness and
is far more devastating. It results in his failure to properly socialize
his children and to commit suicide with the expectation that the
$20,000 insurance policy will guarantee that his sons will thereby
have the prerequisite to become successful.
My interest in interdisciplinary approaches toward education goes
back to my years at Columbia. Allan Silverman in Sociology-Contemporary
Civilization awakened me to the brilliant ideas of people such as
Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Robert Merton, Talcott Parsons, Herbert
Marcuse and Karl Marx, and I use those ideas in my teaching. Edward
Said taught me what a sociology of literature could be like. What
I learned from these teachers and others at the College, such as
Angus Fletcher, Homer Brown and Richard Brett, remains fondly in
If anyone is interested in my teaching approach, I may be contacted
Alan Weiss ’68
CCT welcomes letters from readers about articles
in the magazine, but cannot print or personally respond to
all letters received. All letters are subject to editing for
space and clarity. Please direct letters for publication “to
Editor, Columbia College Today
475 Riverside Dr., Ste 917
New York, NY 10115-0998
Telephone: (212) 870-2752
Fax: (212) 870-2747
In “College Fund Rises for 12th Straight Year”
[September, page 7] Bob Berne ’60 should have been included
as a member of the Fund Steering Committee. CCT apologizes
for the omission.