Home / Fall Table of Contents / Newsstand
academic excellence at UMass
My Egypt, artist Charles Sheeler called his beautiful Precisionist painting of midwestern grain elevators. School of Athens, we've decided to call our series of essays by UMass faculty. Begun last year with "Should the Humanities Be Saved?" by philosopher Lynne Baker, the series continues in this issue with "Second Nature: Welcome to the Machine" by biologist Lynn Margulis. In its idealism and grace, the vision of harmonious intellectual discourse in Raphael's School of Athens has never been surpassed. Never mind that professors Baker and Margulis, not to mention fellow faculty John Wideman and Richard Yarde, would have been stopped at the door of that all-white-male academy. Never mind that discourse by actual intellectuals is seldom so harmonious. The ideal that's given form by this painting is unforgettable because the form is exquisite and the ideal profound.
A campus is so many things job fair, playing field, mating game, economic engine that those of us who don't live and breathe scholarship need to stop and remember occasionally what a campus is above all: a house of knowledge. And in the house of knowledge that is UMass Amherst, Commonwealth College is a high and sunny room. It was last year's arguments over the establishment of the new honors college that got us thinking harder about egalitarianism and excellence. As a public land-grant institution, UMass is built on the bedrock of the first. Is the second therefore alien to its values?
It doesn't make sense to us that it should be. "There's nothing that says 'public' and 'quality' are incompatible," observed Provost Cora Marrett in an interview for the article on page 36. "What we're supposed to be trying to do is serve all elements."
The key is access: the openness of the campus to all elements of society, to all people with the ability and willingness to do the work. (In the case of Commonwealth College, extra work.) For the broadest possible access we should continually strive, through improved support and aggressive recruiting for diversity. But from cherishing academic opportunity we should never recoil, for that's the heart and soul of our enterprise.
Ask the inaugural inductees of the Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus in 1964, pictured below; or the quick, bright, Umies whose conquest on the GE College Bowl quiz show brought such pride and joy to Amherst in that same year. Ask the Commonwealth College students and mentors described on page 32. Ask professors Margulis, Baker, Wideman, Yarde, or dozens of others. Or ask, in imagination, Aristotle and Plato, Diogenes and Socrates and the boys in The School of Athens. It goes back that far, and it's one of the best things on Earth, and it's what we do here.
I enjoyed John Hermanson's article on the collection of urine ["How now?" North 40, Summer 1999]. When I was a senior in chemistry at UMass (then UM) in 1951, a similar need arose and was fulfilled in the following manner: A large glass carboy was installed in the men's room in the Goessman laboratory, complete with funnel and a sign reading "Contribute in the interest of science." Many gallons were collected in a few days' time.
I don't know what the project was about, but I felt good about contributing to the advancement of science in some small degree.
Jerry Herlihy '51
I WISH I HAD KNOWN that you were going to feature cows in your magazine. Around 1955 I had a full page in Life magazine of the coed milking contest they held in the arena on the farm at UM. The young lady had a panicked look on her face as she attempted to fill a test tube with milk and then run back to the starting line.
Carl Howard '59
Photographer Carl Howard is a regular contributor of terrific pictures from his tyro days at UMass. His photograph of Robert Frost backstage at Bowker Auditorium appears on page 47.
IN YOUR SUMMER ISSUE, "Usefulness U," references are made to the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1857. The Morrill Act was not passed by Congress until 1862. A proposal for federal aid for agricultural and industrial higher education was developed during the mid-1850s and was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Justin S. Morrill on December 14, 1857. Despite the opposition of southern members, the bill passed both the House and the Senate in early 1859 - only to be vetoed by President James Buchanan on February 26.
Abraham Lincoln succeeded Buchanan as President in 1861. With the change of administration, Morrill introduced a second college land grant bill in the House of Representatives on December 16, 1861, and the bill was signed into law by President Lincoln on July 2, 1862. Incidentally, this was a great year for assistance to the family farmer. In addition to the Morrill Land-Grant College Act, Congress passed and President Lincoln signed into law in 1862, both the Homestead Act and an act to establish the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
I was pleased to note that emeritus professor Merle Howes, in "But where is the land in land-grant?" ["Root and Branch: The Land-Grant Idea at UMass"] correctly referred to the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862.
William L. Thuemmel
The writer is an associate professor of education at UMass. Our references to the Land-Grant Act of 1857 alluded to the bill's introduction in Congress. The date of enactment is doubtless preferable and we stand corrected.
I seem to remember that because UMass is a land-grant university, there were certain requirements that I had to fulfill in order to graduate. Your summer theme issue didn't touch on this part of the land-grant idea.
1.I had to know how to swim.
2.I had to take two years of physical education for which I received grades, but no credits.
3.I had to take and pass a public speaking course.
How good is my memory? Regardless of whether these were land-grant requirements or not, I have the following recollections:
1.I passed the swimming test with flying colors at freshman year summer orientation. But my summer-orientation roommate was petrified of the water and suffered for four years trying to lose this fear in the shallow pool at the Curry Hicks cage. He must have finally overcome this fear (or was granted a waiver?) since he went on to graduate and become a medical doctor.
2.I got all A's in the physical education courses that I took and I sure could have used some credits for these endeavors to boost my chemical engineering curriculum cumulative average. But I do remember that the phys. ed. courses offered were a wide variety and very good.
3.Because of my shyness, the public speaking course was one of the most painful experiences of my four years on campus. But wow, did it have a long- term positive effect on my career!!
John Sharland '70
I was one of many students who received a Lotta Crabtree Scholarship at Massachusetts State. [Campaign News, Summer 1999]. Crabtree also was generous to the City of San Francisco. I have seen "Lotta's Fountain" at the intersection of Market, Kearny, and Geary streets many times, for I lived in that city for six years. An article in the September 7 San Francisco Independent gives an update on the restoration of the fountain.
Florence O'Neil Brammon '41
CAVEAT RE. UPTOWN COLLEGE
I enjoyed the land-grant articles in the "Usefulness U." issue [Summer 1999], especially the "Root and Branch" article by Marietta Pritchard. The land-grant concept was a revolution in education and deserves all the attention you gave it.
I would like to offer a caveat concerning the article, however. The author drew the distinction between the new land-grant colleges, like Mass Aggie, and the older, classical institutions such as Amherst College, so sharply as to distort history. Far from being a cloistered, elite institution which spurned practical courses, Amherst College played a leading role in the founding of MAC, and was vitally interested in its mission and success.
It is no coincidence that the first president of MAC, William Smith Clark, had previously been a professor of chemistry at Amherst College. As a member of the state legislature, he lobbied long and hard to locate the land-grant agricultural institution in the town of Amherst. He was supported in this effort by influential Amherst College faculty, alumni, and trustees. And long before Justin Morrill's bill became law, Edward Hitchcock, professor of geology and quondam president of Amherst College, had a history of interest in and service to the idea of scientific education for farmers. Almost ten years before the Morrill Act, the legislature commissioned Hitchcock to travel to Europe and study the new state-supported agricultural schools there. His report was published at state expense and was no doubt of great use when the time came to create America's own state-supported agricultural colleges.
So I think it is unfair to draw the distinction between land-grant and classical colleges on lines of practicality and usefulness. I think the real distinction lies in the fact that in the land-grant institutions education was, for the first time, organized on secular lines. All the earlier American institutions of higher education had been founded by religious groups, and their mission was explicitly to provide Christian education. Many of them were founded to serve members of a particular sect. With the advent of the land-grant institutions, the separation of church and state, begun earlier in the nineteenth century, expanded to include the separation of church and education.
This was an important milestone in the development of modern American society. Hitchcock, for example, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin and published a volume titled The Religion of Geology almost at the same time that Darwin's Origin of Species appeared. Within just a few years a scientist of Hitchcock's type ordained, orthodox, evangelical Protestant minister as well as world-class scientist could not exist in American academia.
Robert Wilfong is a union millwright and an independent scholar. His current project, tentatively titled "Darwin Comes to Amherst," concerns the impact of the scientific revolution represented by the publication of Origin of Species on education at Amherst College.
DISTRESSED BY "COWS NOW"
I was quite distressed to find out that UMass conducts cloning research and supports genetic engineering. The article "Cows Now" [Summer 1999] elevates Professor James Robl to hero status while scarcely mentioning the ethical dilemmas cloning creates. I would like to know how many cows were destroyed before the healthy clones were born? Was it 100, 200, 1000? Additionally, playing with genes and introducing new species into the natural world is dangerous, since it alters the entire ecosystem. Unforeseen problems are bound to occur. Ask the monarch butterfly, currently being killed by a bio-engineered plant.
Cloning also removes the process of natural selection. Cloned species do not have the genetic variety often needed to survive illness, famine, natural disaster, etc. Scientists who support genetic engineering seem focused in the here-and-now and show little concern for the future.
Genetic research may have some good intentions, but it also exploits animals and endangers the planet. Therefore it should be prohibited from UMass and from all instititutions.
Richard McNeil '96
PROFESSOR ROBL REPLIES:
I appreciate Richard McNeil's letter, which gives me the opportunity to address questions that I am sure were of concern to many readers of "Cows Now."
The first is in regard to the use of animals in research. I teach a course called Research Animal Management in which I discuss the detailed requirements that must be met and the rigorous approval process required for conducting research with animals. Federal regulations require justification for the use of animals; description of how the number of animals will be minimized; and discussion of whether or not the animals will experience pain and, if so, what type of treatment will be used to minimize pain. Protocols for use of animals and research animal facilities undergo frequent review and inspections by officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Animals are a vital part of research and testing. Most people don't realize that by the time they arrive at work each morning they have probably used half a dozen or more products that have been tested on animals or developed using research with animals. However, it is important that we minimize the use of animals in research and testing and seek to use alternatives when possible. For our research, we use material obtained as a byproduct from slaughterhouses. Eggs and tissue samples are shipped in, and the end product is an embryo grown for a few days in a dish. Of course, some of these embryos are shipped out to be implanted into cows using a simple, non-surgical process.
Mr. McNeil also expressed concern about manipulating genes, introducing new species into the natural world and the impact of cloning on the survival of a species. In particular, he voices concern about crop-plants genetically engineered to produce a natural pesticide which kills monarch caterpillars. I cannot comment in detail about the potential hazards or benefits of genetically engineered plants. However, the monarch is an interesting example of a species which uses a natural pesticide to improve its own chances of survival. In its caterpillar stage, the monarch feeds primarily not on crop plants but on milkweed. Milkweed plants contain a natural toxin. The monarch has developed a survival strategy that utilizes the accumulation of this toxin in the caterpillar to make the butterfly very unappealing to hungry birds.
In the natural world, competition is fierce and many strategies, including genetic changes, are used to enhance the chances of survival of a species. Our synergistic relationship with domesticated plant and animal species is a prime example of a natural survival strategy. We have co-evolved with our domesticated partners and, by the standards of the natural world, this partnership has been extraordinarily successful. Cloning and genetic engineering have the potential to make this partnership even more successful for both humans and domesticated animals.
Is there potential for abuse of this technology? Yes. However, concerns about genetically modified plants don't apply to animals. Transference of pest or herbicide resistance genes to wild weed-species is an issue worthy of discussion for plants. Cows, on the other hand, are easily contained and a disease-resistant cow is only likely to be healthier and not to threaten an ecosystem. Cloning used to its ultimate extreme could certainly reduce genetic variation in domesticated species, but this concern is not being ignored. It is being actively discussed and addressed by government, academic, and industry scientists.
I believe that it is a duty for each of us to question the uses of any new technology and I welcome questions about my work. Questioning is followed by investigation, discovery, and, finally, understanding. As a professor and researcher, I believe it is my job to facilitate this process. Hopefully, our decisions about how new technologies will be used can then be made with a full understanding of the consequences of our choices.
THE EFFECT OF ISLANDS
At one of the events on Homecoming Weekend, Chancellor David Scott made reference to the article in your summer issue about his place of origin in the Orkney Islands. Not having seen that particular issue, we procured one and read "The View from South Gravity" with much delight.
My wife and I marveled at your ability to paint, through words, the physical and spiritual environment in a place so unlike what most of your readers are familiar with. You see, I spent my teens on a similar treeless island Iceland. Thus I fully appreciate what you were describing. Your insight into the nuances of life lived under such isolated conditions is commendable.
This kind of vivid reporting makes UMass the exciting magazine it is. Thank you.
Klaus E. Kroner
The writer is a emeritus professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UMass.
WANTED MORE ON SCURRY
While watching the Women's World Cup this summer, I was hooting and hollering for Briana Scurry. I mean, after all, we went to UMass together, we have a bond. Throughout the series, she was exquisite. "She had the glare of a prosecutor in a courtroom," wrote one reporter, capturing her fierce focus, her flawless instincts and intense concentration.
So when I received the last issue of UMass Magazine, I was very disappointed to see her merely mentioned in a few words ["The Women are Strong," Around the Pond, Summer 1999] that were shared with another female athlete. We are talking about an alum who played a pivotal role in the most highly attended women's sporting event in history!
I have noticed the mainstream press neglect to focus on Scurry for months now and I truly expected more celebration from a place that she once called her home. The minimal press coverage on her is a disservice to both Scurry and those of us who want to know more about this clearly talented female athlete. The next time that a UMass alum has a part in a history-making event, I think it is a safe assumption that we'd like to see more coverage.
Jeanann Pannasch '94G
New York City
The writer is managing editor at Ms. magazine. Scurry's brief visit to campus in September is touched upon in this issue's "Great Sport" (page 62), and we hope that in the future we can publish a full feature on this great athlete and great alumna.
SEES LACK OF ACCURACY, RESPECT
As coeditors of the School of Education journal, Equity & Excellence in Education, we would like to comment on letters in the previous issue [Exchange, Summer 1999] concerning "underqualified minority students" and on Patricia Wright's editorial response. She statedthat "The [13 percentage point difference in graduation rates between minorities and non-minorities] does suggest the university was admitting more underqualified minority students than underqualified non-minority students under its former practices, and that is why those practices should change."
We believe it is important to offer a more accurate perspective and to call for more respectful language.
First, to compare graduation rates between different groups such as minority vs. non-minority, male vs. female, or native born vs. foreign born without taking into account family income and educational attainment of parents is unfair and misleading. These two factors are well-known predictors of academic persistence, apart from the issue of adequate academic preparation. Until we know how many students left the university due to lack of funds or family illness or other personal crises that low-income and minority students experience with greater frequency, we should not label all such students as "underqualified." And, we all should be more sensitive to how such blanket statements of group failure sound to students of color who may already be questioning their welcome here and their readiness to compete.
Next, the actual Office of Institutional Research statistics on "Six Year Graduation Rates for Full-Time Students by Race/Ethnicity and Gender Cohorts Entering Fall 1984 to Fall 1992" paint a more complex picture than editor Wright presented or than readers reacted to. During those nine years, the six-year graduation rate "gap" between ALANA students and non-Hispanic white students generally decreased: from about 21 percentage points, to 17, 20, 21, 20, 15, 12, to 10 in the 1991 cohort, and to 15 in 1992 (misreported as 13 above). (Even the 1992 gap, while increasing, is below the average.)
All this is to say that it is very difficult to make generalizations from these complex and varying graduation rates. Statistics, alone, taken without consideration of overarching context, do not accurately or fairly portray the situations of minority students at UMass. Also, editor Wright should have stated that the university was admitting "proportionately more" underqualified minority students than non-minority not "more," because the number of minority students at UMass is and has always been quite small in relation to non-minority students.
Carolyn C. Peelle '72G
Atron A. Gentry '70G
CAN'T RELATE TO MAG
I wonder if other readers feel as I do: I just can't relate to the articles in UMass Magazine.
I must backtrack and declare that "Class Notes" are a wonderful and necessary inclusion. I'll wager that every grad goes immediately to the back pages to check on his/her class. If they are in the Class of '50 or earlier, they will then look at "In Memoriam." Some have confessed they go straight to that one first!
Instead of "picking" at this or that article, I'd rather suggest what I would like to read in UMass Magazine. What is the university actually doing course/academic-wise now, and what are its future projections? How about a bit of nostalgia concerning the campus and the town? Perhaps this look back could be carried as a series.
It feels good to participate and I intend to do more. Hopefully my letter will stimulate other grads.
Joanne Newman Kohn '52
CAN, BUT DOESN'T NEED TWO
While both my wife Lucie (Berger) Leonard '84 and I thoroughly enjoy every issue of the magazine I think, and feel certain you agree, that it's wasteful to send two copies to our home address. So I'm asking future issues simply be addressed to "The Leonards."
In addition, I ask that you request other alumni and friends to update addresses at which they receive multiple copies. I know it's a small thing, really, but it could potentially save scarce resources which might better be applied elsewhere.
Michael Leonard '83
Yes, readers please let us know if you would like combined mailings, and we will pass your request on to Alumni Records.
Our sister and brother periodicals in the academical city:
Alumni Association newsletter
College of Food and Natural
Resources alumni magazine
Isenberg School of Management alumni magazine
School of Education alumni magazine
College of Engineering alumni
Fine Arts Center Spotlight
Maroon & White
UMass Athletic Department
Massachusetts Daily Collegian
research and scholarship magazine