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Columbia College Today March 2003
Cover Story
My Columbia Connection and Amit
Roar, Lion, Roar
Hitting the
    High Notes

Double Discovery
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    to the Community


Alumni Profiles





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Teaching the Wake

When Nora Joyce looked at her dead husband in his coffin, she cried out, “James, how beautiful you are.” It was wonderful to read (January 2003) that his works are well taught at Columbia and that Columbia students cried out for a seminar on Finnegans Wake. Bravo!

CCT January 2003 Cover
Professor Michael Seidel
on the cover of
Columbia College Today
January 2003

In the 1950s, Professor Gilbert Highet had a radio program during lunch on which he discussed various literary matter, including Homer and James Joyce. (I think they can be mentioned in the same breath, with Dante, Shakespeare and Lady Murasaki in between.) Highet was not too pleased with Joyce. I still remember his closing comment on Finnegans Wake: “I wish it had never been written.” Now that’s criticism! Imagine getting that comment back on a term paper.

Desmond J. Nunan Sr. ’50
Ocean City, N.J.


Professor Michael Seidel, in “Teaching the Wake” (January 2003), says that Joyce was inspired by the “Jabberwocky” of Through the Looking Glass. He also may have been inspired by Lewis Carroll’s poem “Poeta Fit, Non Nascitor,” in which an old man teaches his grandson how to write poetry. A stanza pertinent to Joyce’s style reads:

First you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases makes
No difference at all.

Part of another stanza in this wonderful poem reads:

And evermore be sure
Throughout the poem to be found
Consistently obscure.

Saul Ricklin ’39, ’39E, ’40E
Bristol, R.I.

Typos and Kudos

Kudos for a very enjoyable issue (January 2003), but several proofreading failures blemish the image of an intellectual enterprise. “Notes & Keyes”? I always thought the group’s name continued the musical reference and included the word “Keys.” Was I wrong? Further, and it should be embarrassing, “Joyce, Elliot and Pound” in an otherwise fascinating article about a professor (Michael Seidel), whose name is new to me. Even I know that Thomas Stearns Eliot spelled his surname with only one L, and that his was the name intended in the reference to Wallace Gray’s famous class. [Editor’s note: “Keys” and “Eliot” are correct, as Russell points out.]

And why do I write this? Because in quoting me in Des Callan ’50’s obituary, you misspell “plummiest” with a most uncommon error. Yes, the word has two m’s, not one. Thank you for running the story, a well-deserved remembrance, but by referring to me, you give me undue prominence, and I am abashed.

Joe Russell '49
New York City, NY


The photo caption on page 15 of the January 2003 issue asserts that Professor Michael Seidel is showing “a Matisse illustration from a valuable first edition of Ulysses to students during a seminar held at the Rare Book Library in Butler Library.” Actually, the first edition of Ulysses, published in Paris, was not illustrated. The Matisse illustrations appeared in a later edition published in New York by the Limited Editions Club. And I hope that Seidel mentioned to his students that Matisse, as he executed these illustrations, thought that they were for an English translation of Homer’s Odyssey!

William Cole ’84
Director, Cole & Contreras Rare Books
Sitges (Barcelona) Spain


The January 2003 CCT looks to be another interesting edition. The publication has improved greatly in the past few years.

While scanning the issue, I read the Class Notes article, “Brie Cokos ’01: Seaweed Farmer in Belize.” For the record, there are a few details not mentioned in the article.

Brie was an environmental biology major. The main difference between an EB major and a traditional biology major is its focus on organisms and ecosystems as opposed to a focus on molecular biology. This EB major is now offered by the new ecology, evolution and environmental biology department.

Brie’s internship was a requirement of the EB major. These internships are coordinated and managed by CERC, the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation, and they form the basis for the student’s senior thesis. Funding comes from private sources, and in Brie’s year, Joseph H. Ellis ‘64 made it possible for CERC to send nine students to projects in the program.

Internships themselves are not particularly special, but the CERC/EB internship offers unusually broad options for majors. CERC is a consortium of Columbia, the American Museum of Natural History, The New York Botanical Garden, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Trust. Each year, juniors apply for internship projects at sites all over the world, offered by scientists of the CERC consortium institutions. Students are matched with projects, and stipends are awarded.

Brie’s post-graduate success is due to her drive, creativity and educational experience. Her Columbia College education provided the opportunities, through the EB major and CERC, to get the training and develop associations she would need to realize her potential. These opportunities would be difficult, if not impossible, to find at other universities.

I believe these points underscore the unique advantage offered to Columbia College students, especially those looking beyond traditional careers. These advantages, however, are not especially well known in the alumni community. That circumstance may change in the near future with continued reporting on graduates such as Brie.

Bob DeMicco ’79
New York City

Let's Be Competitive

I thought your piece “Whither Columbia Athletics” (January 2003) was excellent and right on point. We are not and need not be the University of Michigan when it comes to athletics, but we certainly can be competitive and occasionally frequently excel within our own league, and, as you note, it’s important to do so in the marquee sports. I certainly hope that President Lee C. Bollinger works toward this laudable end.

Lee J. Dunn Jr. ’66

The Right Climate

Alex Sachare ’71 writes (January 2003) that “The choice of the next coach presents an opportunity to take a major step toward turning the football program around. Columbia’s next coach … should inspire players to have faith in the program and inspire fans, especially students and alumni, to show up on Saturdays at Baker Field.”

That’s right. But until and unless the entire Columbia community faces up — at long last — to the true nature of its football difficulties, no new coach by himself, nor even a new University president, can generate such “inspiration.” The problem is systemic, institutional and 40 years in the making, and unless the entire campus attitude can be changed, results on the field won’t be.

Every coach faces two fundamental tasks: recruiting adequate material for his competitive level and managing the four-year improvement of the material at hand. In the 1960s and 1970s, Columbia’s recruiting fell below Ivy League standards. In the 1980s, it improved, and since the 1990s, it has been good enough to hold its own. But the second part is much harder, and requires an appropriate campus climate, not just the things a coach can control.

Football demands sacrifices not demanded of other students (including other athletes). In terms of physical effort and pain, drain on time and energy, inflexibility of personal schedule and class-and-lab complications, varsity football players can’t lead “normal” college lives. But their performance is held up to public scrutiny to a degree other students’ activities are not.

To deal with these pressures, all players — regardless of individual ability — must sense support from the community their football uniform represents. They must feel respected on campus, by fellow students, faculty, administrators, staff and alumni for the task they have undertaken, not simply for victories when they occur.

At most of the other Ivies, especially at Yale, Harvard and Princeton, tradition and active alumni always have provided such support. At Columbia, essentially because emphasis on developing the University submerged College identity from the 1920s well into the 1960s, no comparable tradition developed.

Indifference at best and outright hostility at worst has been the reaction to football’s “brutality” and “anti-intellectualism” among Columbia’s elite. An honest response by those who feel that way should be to advocate dropping football. But it is unfair and irresponsible to pretend there’s another choice. If you make football an official (and highly publicized) activity, you must recognize and provide for its necessities.

Players don’t need adulation and perks, as so-called “football foundries” deliver. But they can’t deal with condescension and contempt and jokes about losing streaks demonstrating Columbia’s intellectual superiority. The implication is that they must be stupid to be willing to carry the football burden (with its inescapable publicity) while so many around them sneer or snicker.

Morale is as tangible an element in football as in combat, on which the game is modeled. It’s no coincidence that football begat cheerleaders and marching bands. “Homefront” support is as vital as the five days of practice between games. Without it, the capabilities of even highly talented recruits deteriorate during their four-year experience.

Columbia has had too much of that malaise for too long, always recurring after short interludes of success. Nevertheless, Columbia got by until 1965. Then the football rules changed, making offensive and defensive specialization possible and requiring more than twice as many top-flight participants. The record is revealing.

Through 1964, Columbia had played 74 seasons and won or tied 52 percent of its games, with 30 winning seasons. In 38 seasons since, it has won or tied 25 percent, with three (three!) winning years.

The only acceptable goal is to break even across decades. This is not simply a matter of “finding the right coach,” or greater effort within the football program and a limited group of dedicated insiders. Only when an institution accepts football as a worthwhile activity, making participants feel at least understood (if not fully appreciated) by their peers and teachers, can a coach — and president —- expect better results.

And it’s about time Columbia tries. REALLY tries.

Leonard Koppett ’44
Palo Alto, Calif.

[Editor’s note: The writer is a longtime sports writer for The New York Times and other publications and the author of numerous sports books, and has been honored by both the baseball and basketball Halls of Fame.]

Why Not Win?

Mark Hoffman ’76 (January 2003) described how he feels uneasy when alumni criticize our athletic teams and demand winning ones. He also said that it should be fun and a relief from the demands of rigorous study. I cannot agree with Mr. Hoffman’s points, and am disappointed that some at Columbia might agree with him.

I am not sure why we field teams at Columbia, if not to have them win. I feel uneasy as an alumnus when teams at CU consistently lose.

Other Ivy schools share our academic standards, and are roughly the same size. Yet, they manage to have winning programs that are better supported by administrators and students alike. I really do not think that anyone expects Columbia to be similar on the playing field to, say, Michigan. But if we are to have student-athletes, then they need the proper atmosphere in which to prosper.

Mr. Hoffman might want to read your article, published in the same issue, concerning Javier Loya ’91, entrepreneur and minority owner of the Houston Texans NFL franchise, who played football at Columbia. I do not believe this young man received any preferential treatment to play for the school, while he has enjoyed admirable success after his time on Morningside Heights. I do not think, at least in the Ivy League, that any student body is tainted or compromised by having a winning or successful football team, or any intercollegiate team.

From my perspective, alumni are not out of place in demanding and expecting winning athletic teams at Columbia. I believe it is an appropriate desire. I can only hope that fellow alumni will come to share our view.

Alexander Peck ’96 GS
New York City

Not Just Athletes

After reading Mark Hoffman ’76’s letter to the editor (January 2003 CCT) about athletics, I want to articulate what I think is a problem regarding Columbia athletics; namely, opinions like Mr. Hoffman’s. The supposition that if a student at Columbia is a member of one of the intercollegiate athletic teams he or she also cannot be an artist, a musician, a thespian, a journalist, and so forth is absurd. The opinion that athletes are just athletes is something that has hindered the success of many a student-athlete at this “small, coeducational, undergraduate school.” The fact that a Columbia athlete is a person who must dedicate a minimum of four to five hours per day to his or her sport for practice and leave school on numerous weekends to participate in games, meets, matches and tournaments, and very likely also has a work-study job, is something that should be appreciated and supported.

I am familiar with a number of athletes who had better grades than non-athletes as a result of the hard work and dedication that they applied to their desired field of study, whether it was political science, environmental biology, history, art, music or theater. Have we forgotten that the athletes, like other Columbia students, are expected to maintain an exceptional level of academic achievement, all the while maintaining a decent field goal percentage, batting average, or 400m split time? How dare anyone imply that recruiting talented, driven and maybe even overachieving individuals would be a detriment to the diversity of Columbia. If anything, we should provide more support for these individuals who desire to dedicate every minute of their time to their University, both on the field and in the classroom.

Mr. Hoffman, please turn to page 58 of the January 2003 CCT. Brie Cokos ’01 is a successful environmental biologist and an alumna of Columbia athletics (women’s basketball). I am proud that that article was written in our college magazine and not in that of a “huge state university with 30,000 undergraduates.” Then again, at such a school, this community servant would probably be just a number and never be recognized. How lucky for her that Columbia was willing to make a sacrifice at the expense of a more diverse student body in order to admit her.

Caitlin Schrein ’99
Tempe, Ariz.


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 the editor.”

Editor, Columbia College Today
475 Riverside Dr., Ste 917
New York, NY 10115-0998
Telephone: (212) 870-2752
Fax: (212) 870-2747





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