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September/October 2007




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Hurricane Steve

In your profile of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg ’59 [July/August], he is quoted as having been inspired to be concerned about students by his Contemporary Civilization instructor, Bernard W. Wishy [’48, ’58 GSAS]: “He cared about Columbia College and about students. Of course, that’s always a disability at a university.”

Wishy was the valedictorian of his Columbia class and co-author, along with the legendary Harry J. Carman and Har­old C. Syrett, of the two-volume A History of the American People. Wishy served the College in innumerable ways, most nota­bly playing an instrumental role in the development of the Contemporary Civilization course. In my day, students would strategize to gain admission to the section he taught. Many of us have not forgotten his powerful influence on our intellectual development, and the failure of the University to award him tenure was an egregious misjudgment that cost generations of Columbia students the opportunity to study with this extraordinary teacher.

Your article describes him as “not widely published,” but he was the author of several books, including Good-Bye, Machiavelli: Government and American Life and The Child and the Republic: The Dawn of Modern American Child Nurture.

Steven M. Cahn ’63, ’66 GSAS
New York City


Funny, in the New Jersey I inhabit, James McGreevey ’78 is usually viewed as both (in marvelous old-fashioned words) a cad and a bounder who presented not one but two hapless “beards” to our state body politic. Hardly as the rather admirable sort the story [July/August] presents.

Certainly, McGreevey did not at all try his darnedest “to hold together a scandal-ridden administration.” Instead, he was at the center of that administration’s scandals and split from it rapidly when it became clear even to him that the wolves were coming nearer and nearer his office and bedroom doors.

The article’s description of McGree­vey’s rushed academic career made it sound as if he completed his degree requirements (from a number of places) out of some deep desire to get to work in the “real” world before his classmates did. Others might, less charitably, view it as merely “degree shopping,” a constant rush to get ahead, to make himself look better because of where he went to school, in leapfrog bounces, as opposed to what he might actually have learned at various educational way stations.

The ex-governor’s memoir [The Confession, 2006] indicates that his basic focus has always been his own selfish interests, which, in his case, have apparently best been expressed in anonymous, quick amative contacts that recklessly ignored his marriage vows and his considerable professional responsibilities. This is a rat no sexual preference should thus be happy to claim as its own, let alone my beloved Columbia.

There is a sentence in the story that ends with “the consequences of McGreevey’s long-standing choice to prioritize a public identity over all else linger in the public sphere.” To, uh, “prioritize?” Even given that is a badly-written sentence, what is the author saying? That McGreevey is a me-me-me-me first! sort of person? If so, that might be the only good observation in the story.

Richard Szathmary ’67
Clifton , N.J.

Familiar Art

Last night, my husband, Sam Sapin ’45, brought me his recent copy of Columbia College Today, opened it to the inside back cover, then asked, “Can you identify this artist?”

I hadn’t attended Columbia College and had never entered Butler Library, but your fractured painting had a familiar look. “It’s American,” I said slowly, “and probably 1930s.” Then the name resurfaced in a flood of memories. “It’s Eugene Savage, isn’t it?”

In 1941, when my husband and I met, he was pre-med at Columbia College. I was at Pratt getting a degree in art education. He had little knowledge of art. I intended to teach it in the public schools.

In 1955, we moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced pediatric cardiology for the next 45 years. By 1975, we were both heavily involved with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and American art in particular.

One day, Michael Quick, then-curator of American art at LACMA, showed me some watercolor studies by Savage for the Elks National Memorial. I had just decided to pursue a master’s in art history, and Quick suggested that Savage might make a good subject for a thesis. I must confess that at the time, I had never heard of the man. That was soon to change.

Research informed me that by the late 1930s, social realist critics saw Eugene Savage as a “decadent manifestation of classicism.” In 1976, however, having settled on him for my thesis, I managed to see “instinctively expressive tendencies” and even the influence of “Jugendstil and Art Nouveau” in his work. One can get pretty defensive about one’s thesis subject.

When my husband showed me those rectangular fragments of painting, I hadn’t seen any of Savage’s work for almost 30 years. Call it coincidence, but to me it was far more meaningful. That issue of Columbia College Today tied two ends of my long life together in a most satisfactory way.

Thank you.

Jean Sapin
Sherman Oaks, Calif.

P.S.: A small coda to this letter: Michael Quick’s son, Thomas, graduated from Columbia College in 2004. He majored, of course, in art history.


In the profile of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg ’59 (July/August), the last name of Professor Bernard W. Wishy ’48, ’58 GSAS was misspelled and his class years were omitted. In the same story, the first name of Nobel Prize-winner Roald Hoffman ’58 was misspelled.

In “First Person,” by Jeffrey Glassman ’76, ’92 SIPA (July/August), an incorrect e-mail address was listed for the author. He may be reached at

In Bookshelf (May/June), the writeup of Alan Tompkins [’29] — Painter by Linda Powers should have described the book as celebrating “the artist’s work and life,” not the author’s. Also, the book’s publisher was misspelled; it should be Stinehour Press.

In “Homeward Bound” (May/ June), the name of Gary Ostroske, president and CPO of United Way for the Greater New Orleans Area, was misspelled.

CCT regrets these errors.





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