Letters to the Editor

Drinking at Yale

Readers respond about senior societies, new colleges, and more.

With great excitement I read the interview with President Peter Salovey (“Undergraduates and Alcohol”) in the July/August issue. He speaks of students owning “the problem of high-risk drinking and the campus culture that reinforces it.” He mentions the wonderful-sounding alcohol-free space in Dwight Hall where students can go.

It’s about time!

I was at Yale from 1954 to 1958. I engaged in copious amounts of high-risk drinking and believed that my behavior was the norm—I didn’t dream that it was excessive. Besides my participation in freshman and varsity swimming and W1YU, the “Tang Cup” beer-drinking team was the highlight of my campus life.

When I encountered academic difficulties, neither my counselors nor the deans ever even asked about my drinking habits and how they might be interfering with my academic pursuits. It was more than nine years after graduating that I was able to admit that I was an alcoholic.

And to this day, alumni activities seem to encourage drinking alcohol. For this reason and because I am a recovering alcoholic I avoided going to class reunions until my 50th.

I hope Yale is able to really take the lead in changing the college environments, and I applaud Dr. Salovey’s efforts.

Charles G. McCarthy ’58E
Houston, TX


What Ostrom accomplished

John Ostrom’s seminal contributions were many (“The Man Who Saved the Dinosaurs,” July/August), but central to his life story is the link between dinosaurs and birds, or more properly, placing the bird radiation within the dinosaur radiation as a specialized branch of theropods. To do this he was in the right place at the right time—and here I am speaking about his discovery of more-complete materials of one of Barnum Brown’s Cloverly wonders, the unveiling in many ways for the first time of a very birdlike theropod, which he named Deinonychus.

But he did more than simply point out the great number of similarities between this theropod and the early bird Archaeopteryx. He argued that these similarities were derived. That is, that they were synapomorphies—shared morphology from common ancestry.

Although not a practitioner himself of cladistic methods that were in the 1980s and 1990s transforming what we now know about dinosaur descent, he was sympathetic. His work was translated in this light by the mid-1980s by his colleague and now his successor at Yale, Jacques Gauthier. Your story misses this important development that long before finding the first feathered dinosaur in the mid-1990s, the vast majority of paleontologists and an increasing number of young ornithologists realized and had accepted the mountain of osteological evidence, which Ostrom had pioneered, that frames birds as dinosaur descendants. Feathered dinosaurs were icing, yes emotional icing, on the cake. And it was a marvelous thing that he lived to bear witness.

Paul Sereno
Paleontologist, University of Chicago
Chicago, IL


Society notes

In the 1950s, there were only seven secret societies whose members recruited the most prominent men in the class (your words) for membership (“Open Secrets,” July/August). That number represented less than ten percent of the class. Now, with 41 secret societies, approximately one half of the class may feel left out. Is this progress?

William Rhangos ’53
Savannah, GA


I think one statement in your article on “secret” societies should be challenged: that the current explosion of them is unprecedented. There was also an explosion in 1968 and 1969 that accompanied need-blind admissions. My memory is that the number grew from the seven landed and two to four “underground” societies to well into the 20s. That would be enough growth to be a precedent.

I could not verify the existence of all of them. Some of them may have been names chosen to parody the ancients and may not have had much substance. I think of Crotch and Armpit and Cask and Flagon. Several were started as rather straightforward T-groups which sought to avoid the folderol and rigmarole. Some were started to expand the prestige opportunities. My impression is that a large number of people were prepared to decline an invitation.

I recall there being considerable coverage in the Yale Daily News. I believe the antiwar efforts stopped the growth and may have caused the loss of a few in the 1970 tap. At any rate this time period belonged in the article. I hope people with more knowledge write in.

Fred Graf ’70
Concord, NH


The article about the senior societies brings back a memory of the spring of 1949, the end of my junior year. About a month before Tap Day, the Yale Daily News ran a tear-jerking editorial about the cruelty of Tap Day in Branford courtyard. It lamented how many a father would walk out after it was over, his arm around his untapped son’s shoulders and a lump in his throat—his son publicly disgraced for having failed to make the grade. It urged a change to make Tap Day less of a public spectacle.

I immediately sat down and wrote a letter to the editor. The first point: after sunset anyone wanting to be tapped should darken the lights of his room and stay there, with a candle in the window. I proudly announced that a candle would be in my window. (It was a blatant lie. I had been approached by a Book and Snake grad to join, since my brother had been a member, but I regretfully declined, wanting nothing to do with any senior society.)

Tap Day rolled around. During the day I more than once saw Jim Buckley ’44, ’49LLB, and Lucius Bigelow ’48, alumni and Skull and Bones members. I first saw them as I came out of an 8 a.m. physics lecture on Prospect Street. Then I saw them at noon outside the Pierson dining hall, and finally in the afternoon outside the plant physiology lab where I had spent the last two hours. I wondered why they should be there, but gave it only passing thought. At 4:30 that afternoon—instead of going to Branford courtyard at the appointed hour—I returned to Pierson College and changed out of a pretty loud ski sweater and into a suit for tea at the master’s house.

According to a friend who was reading in our suite, at five on the button the door banged open. Two people rushed in, silently went into my bedroom, silently came out, silently went into the bathroom, silently came out, and came back finally to break the silence with “Where is Arnold?” Tom said, “Don’t know.” So out went Buckley and Bigelow to report that they had been unsuccessful in tapping me. They must have been looking for the ski sweater.

So I missed the chance to make a real hypocrite out of myself. Would I have accepted the tap? I really don’t know, but I suspect the enormity of Skull and Bones could well have made me do so. And if I had, I might not be able to live with myself.

Peter Arnold ’50, ’51MF
Grass Valley, CA


Avoiding the “Y word”

Your item entitled “Sometimes It’s Hard to Say ‘Yale’” (July/August) has inspired me to write with my own experience about how to answer the question of where I went to school. While at Yale, I worked several summers at a flour mill in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and found that people reacted oddly when I told them I attended Yale. It seemed to me that they had preconceived notions about who a Yalie had to be, as if every word I spoke had to be articulate and accurate. In order to escape those expectations, when I attended a summer program at Kansas State between my junior and senior years, I told my classmates that I had attended Pierson College. When pressed, I told people that it was a small liberal arts college in New Haven. Oddly enough, people’s reactions to me did not seem to change much, but I felt quite differently about myself—more ordinary and less entitled to adulation or reverence.

Even today, 30 years later, I rarely volunteer that I attended Yale. Mostly, I prefer for people to focus on more current achievements, such as my job or church or civic activities. When pressed, I tell the truth. Once in a while, someone will respond, with delight, “So did I!” or “So did my sister!’

Robert Y. Harper ’86

Hopkinsville, KY


I’ve always considered the practice of Harvard students saying they went to college “in Boston” as falsely modest and subtly self-promotional, since the response has to be about which Boston college they go to, so the impact of the “H-bomb” is artfully doubled. But the practice has not always been limited to our Massachusetts colleagues. F. Scott Fitzgerald, in The Great Gatsby, has an acid passage describing Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s brutish and unfaithful mate: “Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at 21 that everything afterwards savours of anti-climax.”

No reader of Gatsby in the 1920s had to be reminded that New Haven was archly self-effacing code for Yale. Of course, Fitzgerald’s nasty character was created by a Princeton man, who explained the decision by the hero of his This Side of Paradise to attend the New Jersey college this way: “I want to go to Princeton,” said Amory. “I don’t know why, but I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be, and all Yale men as wearing big blue sweaters and smoking pipes.… I think of Princeton as being lazy and good-looking and aristocratic—you know, like a spring day.”

Could this be the real reason Harvard people prefer Boston?

Carter Wiseman ’68
Weston, CT


As an undergraduate who went to a public high school in Pennsylvania from which only one other recent graduate had gone to an Ivy League school other than Penn, I once confessed to a group of high school friends that it was “hard to say ‘Yale’ modestly.” Fifty years later, I still get kidded about it.

Charles Tucker ’63, ’66JD
Exeter, NH


In defense of finding “firsts”

In response to the outraged—and not far from outrageous—letters (July/August) protesting your interest in and articles about Yale’s first African American graduate, I would say that to mention race is not to be bigoted. To insist that racism’s role in our country’s history must be ignored is to ignore Faulkner’s well-known comment that the past is “not even past.”

Awareness of what we have been is essential to our becoming something better. And the magazine’s interest in Yale’s first black student is not, as one letter writer had it, equivalent to saying “Wow, a black guy was smart enough to get into Yale,” but rather to record one of the innumerable steps we have taken toward racial equality.

Richard Lettis ’57PhD
Ramsey, NJ


As a black parent from the Deep South who never imagined two of my children would be Yale grads, I want to weigh in. The firsts are extremely important, as are the seconds and the thirds. If not, why do Italian Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America, or why do Catholics brag about John F. Kennedy being the first Catholic president? But when people of color are proud, it’s called an obsession? Keep up the good work discovering your history and sharing it all.

Freida C. Watson
Montclair, NJ


I was delighted to read your article on Richard Henry Green, who has been claimed recently as Yale’s first African American graduate. This “discovery” adds greatly to the knowledge of diversity at Yale during the 1800s. My interest in reading about this finding was heightened because of the family connections of Mr. Green, which extended back to African Americans from the state of North Carolina. As an African American myself, I also was intrigued because of the strong role that black skilled labor played in providing the support needed to gain the credentials for admission to the college during this time period. The article further was a reminder of my own family heritage, since my father, Sampson Green Jr., was also born in North Carolina.

I would like to add another name to the students of African American heritage who have been identified as early attendees. A close family friend, Mrs. Mellisandre Manning Brewer, is the African American granddaughter of John Wesley Manning, Class of 1881. Mr. Manning’s presence as an African American adds to the picture of diversity at Yale during the early years. He may have been one of the “coloreds” acknowledged informally in a correspondence printed in the Cincinnati Gazette in 1887. The article contains a letter in which an undergraduate professor of Edward Bouchet, the first African American to receive a PhD from Yale, notes with humor that there is no color line to be applied to seating in his classroom and that there are other “coloreds” at Yale. This article can be found at the Library of Congress online.

The Record of Obituaries for Yale Undergraduates 1921–1922 indicates that Mr. Manning had a connection through his paternal grandfather to French Guadeloupe, a part of the Caribbean islands, making Mr. Manning’s heritage perhaps even more unique among the early students of color at Yale.

Cynthia E. Green ’79
Owings Mills, MD


Second-year show business

I was delighted by the spotlight on the School of Medicine in words and pictures (“Med School with Less Pain” and Scene on Campus, May/June). I was a producer of my class’s Second-Year Show, a two-hour musical revue for which we were given a week of dedicated time, an off-off-off-Broadway budget, and a cast of 100 brilliant medical students with regrettably little tap-dancing experience. On paper, we were doomed.

Yet the show, continuing a 61-year tradition, not only went on, but succeeded in bringing out the talents of my colleagues while bringing together our class as a whole. Even after having survived the wards and the residency match, many of us would agree that few experiences during medical school came close to building camaraderie like the late nights spent revising scripts, rehearsing choreography, and constructing full-scale sets of the Sterling Hall of Medicine.

One reason, I imagine, is this: medical school can be a lonely place. As students, we may study in groups and take care of patients in teams, but becoming a physician is largely an individual journey. So at a school that so fervently defends its pedagogical principles—students as adult learners, collaboration over competition, creative scholarship—it’s fitting that the opportunity for each class to unite in celebrating (and poking gentle fun at) life on Cedar Street itself reflects the essence of the Yale system of medical education.

Kevin Koo ’13MD
Lebanon, NH


Thoughts on the new colleges

The design of the new residential colleges (“Construction to Start on New Colleges,” July/August) weaves a romantic spell to make sure future students know they are at Yale. It calls to mind the arch humor of a Cole Porter lyric and the astute observations of the fictional Nick Carraway, who graduated from “New Haven” in 1915.

It seems to be part of the human condition to build hierarchies of personal worth which fit the values of the day. The apparently ancient stones of Yale are a reminder that it has all been done before. These stones beg the question: given this great opportunity have you chosen your own road wisely?

Edward T. Groder ’64MArch
New York, NY


Permit me to chime in with a suggestion for the name of one of the two new residential colleges: Noah Webster, Class of 1778. Best known as a lexicographer and English-language spelling reformer, he was also a political writer, vocal patriot during the Revolution, and influential Federalist pamphleteer in the Constitutional debate a decade later.

It is difficult to exaggerate Noah Webster’s contribution to the formation of American identity. According to the historian Joseph Ellis, Webster gave Americans a “secular catechism to the nation-state.” In fact, he saw his famous dictionary as an intellectual foundation for American nationalism by developing a “federal language.” Although he has been called one of our country’s “founding fathers,” Webster has not received the wide recognition he deserves. His alma mater should help rectify that oversight by naming one of its two new undergraduate units Noah Webster College.

Mike Haltzel ’63
Alexandria, VA


I am impelled to offer the following suggestions for names for the new residential colleges. First: Alfred Whitney Griswold ’29. When he became president in 1950, Whitney Griswold inherited a Yale that was a small men’s college in a small city in a small state. Griswold made it his goal to bring Yale—especially in graduate education—up to par with the best in the nation (meaning Harvard), and in the world (meaning Harvard).

Through the 1950s, he helped Yale to more than double its graduate enrollment with one hand while resisting the assault of McCarthyism with the other. By the time of his untimely death, he had moved Yale on to the road to an international reputation as a center of teaching, research, and scholarship, an achievement that yet testifies to his commitment to Yale’s future rather than its past.

Second: Kingman Brewster ’41. Following Griswold as president, Brewster inherited the New Yale inaugurated under his predecessor and found himself facing two of the most turbulent decades in the history of the university. He proceeded to lead Yale through student protests, town and gown hostilities, and the turmoil deriving from racial animosity, with firmness, diplomacy, and even temper. He survived that time of trouble through force of character and gifted leadership, a claim that could not have been made by every university president at that time. Brewster left behind him a Yale strengthened in its direction and resources, notable among which was the admission of women to Yale College.

No more fitting memorial of these men’s leadership, service, and dedication could there be than the establishment of colleges in their names.

Bernard M. Boyle ’67PhD
Phoenix, AZ


Rethinking a degree

I don’t know the facts of the claim that Stephan Schmidheiny’s honorary degree should be revoked (Campus Clips, July/August), but Yale seems to be missing an opportunity by simply refusing to consider it. There’s a fairly widespread belief that recipients are large donors or celebrities selected with little regard to merit, and the university’s intransigence does nothing to dispel that suspicion.

Revisiting Schmidheiny’s award does not have to open the floodgates to complaints of every arguable misdeed of every recipient; there are many ways to reasonably ensure that a degree was fairly awarded without an undue drain on Yale’s resources. And the inquiry can be conducted in private, as a personnel matter would be, balanced against the press’s legitimate interest. Questions could, at Yale’s discretion, be limited to whether the recipient’s prior conduct justified the award, and not include later behavior. Yale could ask itself whether it performed due diligence in the grant, and limit its findings to that issue. Those are just a few of the many options open to the university; they have the potential to enhance its reputation and the esteem in which its honorary degrees are held.

Ron Sipherd ’64
Oakland, CA



We published a letter from Dr. David R. Kessler ’55MD in our July/August issue, but incorrectly identifying him as a former dean of the School of Medicine. The former dean is Dr. David A. Kessler, who is not an alumnus of the school. David R. Kessler is a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSF School of Medicine in San Francisco. We regret the error.



In the introduction to our July/August Where They Are Now interview with Bryce Pinkham ’08MFA, we mentioned several Yale alumni besides Pinkham who are involved with the Broadway musical A Gentleman’s Guide to Murder. Although the list was not necessarily meant to be comprehensive, we regret that we did not know that his costar Lauren Worsham, who was nominated for a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, is a Yale College ’04 graduate.

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