LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Home on the Heights
Residence halls in review.
I enjoyed “Home
on the Heights” very much. Having
lived in Furnald, Hartley and Livingston (Wallach) and worked
in Johnson (Wien), it brought back many fond, poignant memories.
C.E. “Tuba Charlie” Newlon ’41, ’42E
I write to you from my parents’ central-air-conditioned home
in Westchester County, where I had to flee last night due to the heat
and humidity. I have lived in Hartley Hall all four years of my Columbia
career, and it is a great place to study, play and grow.
However, your article, “Home
on the Heights: 100 Years of Housing at Columbia” (September 2005), is wrong about one crucial fact — Hartley
and Wallach Halls are not air-conditioned! The A/C units
seen in the picture on page 21 are units that are installed
for summer residents. Columbia students who move in during August do
not benefit from them.
I am not sure why Hartley Hall does not have
central air conditioning. Frankly, it is not a big
problem, except on unusually humid and hot September days. However,
central air conditioning would be a great addition to what is already
a phenomenal place to live.
Raquel Otheguy ’06
New York City
[Editor’s note: As Otheguy indicates, the
room air conditioners in Hartley, Wallach and John Jay Halls were
temporary, for summer residents only. The error was not
by the author, but rather by an overzealous editor who spotted them
during a summer stroll across campus.]
As a commuter during all four years of my time at Columbia College, I was taken aback
by the comments made by former dean Robert Pollack ’61, reproduced
in “Home on the Heights: 100 Years of Housing at Columbia” (September
2005). Pollack is quoted as saying in a New York Times article, “When
you don’t live in a dormitory or fraternity, you’re not really
a part of the place. You cannot be educated to think for yourself
unless you are challenged by other bright young people who are trying to
think for themselves. This occurs best in the environment of peers.”
I find it sad that the dean during part of my time at Columbia did not
consider me, or my fellow commuters, to be really a part
of the place, and take it an insult that he considers us not to
have been educated to think for ourselves because we did not live
in a dormitory or a fraternity. I gather all of the time we commuters
spent in lectures, labs and libraries was not sufficient to make us
as well-rounded as our classmates who resided on campus.
The last time I checked, though, there was no indication on my diploma
(which, by the way, Pollack signed) that my Columbia education was in any
way inferior due to where I slept at night.
Andrew E. Abere ’83, ’86 GSAS,
’87 GSAS, ’91 GSAS
Monroe Township, N.J.
Professor Pollack responds: “Dr. Abere is of course correct.
The quote from the Times does not do justice to his situation. Let me briefly
expand on that old quote, for the sake of the larger point he makes. Under the
College’s policies when I was dean — full-need financial aid and
need-blind admissions — residential life could be maintained as an
opportunity and a choice, uncoupled from fiscal concerns. If someone then chose
to stay at home, no problem. The problem of earlier days arose from the absence
of full financial aid including the cost of residential life, when the least
wealthy members of an entering class were consigned to the necessity of living
at home whether or not they wished to do that. Schapiro opened when the
College’s polices were clearly stated to include full financial aid. I
remain concerned that while need-blind admissions remains and rooms on campus
abound, full-need financial aid be endangered.”
Eggplant and Garlic
Odd, it seems, that after reading CCT avidly for almost 30 years,
it’s an article about V&T that elicits my first Letter to the
Editor. But, oh, how Tom Hauser ’67’s descriptions of the sounds,
smells, tastes and yes, constancy, of V&T resonate. Columbia alums have
many ways to mark milestones and the passage of time, but mine is an eggplant
and garlic pizza (and a Heineken and a salad with those never-ripe tomatoes)
I knew I’d marry my now-wife when she fought me for the last slice
on our first visit in 1978. I’ve celebrated more birthdays there than
I care to count, always leaving overlarge tips to assuage the guilt of meager
gratuities in my college years. How better to break a Yom Kippur fast? Where
else would my freshman roommate and our families gather to mark 30 years of
friendship; and where else would my son, Class of 2007, want to bring his new
friends and their parents after Homecoming his freshman year? You got it —
V&T. Thanks, CCT, for an article filled with delicious remembrances
— and dreams of pizzas yet to come.
Daniel P. Baker ’76
Both Sides Now
As the beneficiary of classmate Barry Dickman ’58’s kind words
(September 2005, Letters
to the Editor), I have tried to hold my anger in check.
The source of my autumnal discontent — the puff piece that touted the
arch-conservative senator from New Hampshire, Judd Gregg ’69 — invites
commentary etched in acid.
Clearly, the earlier
profile of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama ’83 strikes
me as the more appropriate face of Columbia. Evoking Horatio Alger’s
paradigm, this poor youth of mixed race rose to the top on merit fortified
by a Columbia College liberal (not conservative) arts education. Obama
advocates a progressive agenda for contemporary America. In stark contrast,
Gregg purveys the dour statecraft of Henry Cabot Lodge — as President
Woodrow Wilson remarked — “highly cultivated but essentially
barren.” Mark Brodin ’69 cites Gregg’s failure to honor
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in contrast to his ardent support of religious
bigot Jerry Falwell.
Why then this “funny valentine”? Is this the new fairness
and balance in media doctrine, shades of Fox News? Whatever the reason,
I reject in short the reactionary face of Gregg. Instead, I revere
Columbia. I revere the intellectual bastion that opposed rabid McCarthyism
in the fearful ’50s and salute the reformist tradition that inspired
young students such as this correspondent to challenge racist mores in
the segregated South. The Columbia that I cherish is the home of James
P. Shenton ’49, who led students in civil rights action in Georgia,
and the “bully pulpit” of Henry Steele Commager, who taught by
example and spoke truth to power. Their sterling examples still apply in the
era of our Bush.
Joe Dorinson ’58
As a Columbia alumnus and a constituent of Sen. Judd Gregg ’69,
I was pleased to see him on the cover of CCT (July 2005). I may not
agree with all his policies, but I am proud of the stature and influence
of a fellow alumnus. Let us recall that he represents New Hampshire, not
the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The letters of Mark S. Brodin ’69
and Thomas Weyr ’48 (September 2005) seem to imply that CCT needs
a litmus test for articles about alumni, a test that excludes all on
the political right. I think Brodin and Weyr are way out of line.
Barry Jacobs ’61
Jewish Studies at Columbia
I continue to read with interest the many reactions to Columbia’s
handling of the problems surrounding the MEALAC department. I have been
distressed by those who would imply that Columbia has become a hotbed
of anti-Semitism and that the current report is a “whitewash.” Columbia
has a long history of being one of the most hospitable campuses in America
to Jewish studies and to Jewish students. Its current faculty boasts a
number of the most distinguished scholars in the area of Jewish studies.
For those who are interested in gathering some information on the
subject, I would suggest reading a master’s paper written by Dr. Laurence
E. Balfus ’55, ’00 GSAS in 2000 (before the current problems
surfaced), “Jewish Studies at Columbia.” In it, Balfus documents
the appointment of Salo Wittmayer Baron in 1930 to the first Nathan L.
Miller Chair in Jewish History, Literature and Institutions. It puts Columbia
and its then-president, Nicholas Murray Butler (Class of 1882), in a most
favorable light regarding Jewish studies. This set the tone for the next
75 years of growth in Jewish studies. What makes this even more interesting
is that Butler always has been accused of being anti-Jewish. This paper
sheds new light on that subject.
Balfus’ paper is on file in the Liberal Studies M.A. office in Low
Library; in the office of Professor Michael Stanislowski, who currently
holds the Miller Chair, in the history department; with Jerry Kisslinger ’78
in the University Development and Alumni Relations Office in The Interchurch
Center; and with Jocelyn Wilk at the Columbia University Archives/Columbiana
Library in Low Library.
Rabbi Laurence H. Rubinstein ’60
New York City
Dr. Andreas Huyssen (“Columbia
Forum,” July 2005) is eminently
correct in observing disturbing parallels between the late Weimar period
and current American politics. Wisely, he cautions against making facile
analogies. Unfortunately, resisting this practice proves difficult for
many. Such comparisons, despite their allure, are not sufficiently apposite.
As a result, the neo-cons in power can dismiss them as overblown paranoia — thereby
adroitly insulating themselves from justifiable criticism.
For such superficial analogies are problematic. Liberal, democratic
Weimar Germany, admired today for its avant-garde culture, at the
time was an unpopular creature, born of defeat and shame. On the other
hand, 21st-century American democracy still functions, albeit more and
more imperfectly. Indeed, the illiberal, radical neo-cons go to considerable
lengths to promote “democracy,” albeit their vision of it.
Certainly, today’s (radical) conservatives’ policies resemble
the Nazis’ sufficiently enough so that reciting them merely knocks
down a straw man: appealing to a cramped, retrograde vision of “culture” and
morality incompatible with the age, exploiting xenophobia, invoking mindless
patriotism to obscure policies inimical to the public interest and so
forth. And ugly policies have surfaced — branding dissent as disloyal
or defeatist, tightening secrecy and inhibiting expression,
increasing government secrecy at all levels; colluding with big business
and disdaining due process.
Yet President Bush has no compelling need to define “the nation” in
racial terms, as Germany’s völkisch movement did. Inflated
rhetoric denouncing the President as a Hitlerian warmonger or racist (even
in the aftermath of New Orleans) only weakens his critics’ credibility.
Obliterating the basic order does not interest Bush; he would sooner entrench
selected elements of it, indeed at a high cost. Unlike Hitler, who emerged
from petty-bourgeois obscurity and nursed lifelong resentments toward
elites, Bush numbers among them. Gruesome as it sounds, though the President
may not shy away from inflicting harm on other countries, he does so for
conventional geopolitical advantage. Absent is Nazism’s untrammeled
lust for pure conquest, exploitation and destruction. Contrast America’s
efforts, bumbling and corrupt though they may be, with the Nazis’ avowed
intention to reduce subjugated Poles to abject slavery.
Hence the pitfalls of drawing glib parallels. Conservatives can legitimately
invoke the undeniable distinctions between themselves and the Nazis, and thus
decry impolitic comparisons as crying wolf. Using the Nazis as the gold standard
for evil is always tempting. But our loyal opposition’s resort to the
argument of reductio ad Hitlerum, though it may legitimately focus our attention
on genuinely bad policy, neutralizes serious criticism by claiming that Nazi
impulses dwell in the hearts of the Bush administration. More important are
the fundamentals: Bush and his people are antidemocratic and hostile to the very
freedoms they purport to be spreading worldwide. It is this Weltanschauung —
not the Nazi one of racism, nihilistic destructiveness, or a will to genocide —
that they share with the much more evil men who brought down the Weimar Republic.
Nicholas Corwin ’89
La Jolla, Calif.