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   UMass Magazine
   Munson Hall
   Amherst, MA 01003





To and from the editors

Angered by Honors College
I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN a letter to an editor, but "Seizing the Day" regarding the new Commonwealth College honors program [Fall 1999] really made me angry. And the more I read, the angrier I became.
     Are the Commonwealth College students paying more money? If they are, then my reaction is misplaced. If they are not, then I am shocked and appalled by this program.
     I took honors courses and graduated cum laude, so I might have been one of those students. Yet, I cannot see the need for this program or any equity in it. Why do these students need special living quarters? And a special event? With white table linens and hors d'oeuvres? Why should they be allowed to move in earlier? What makes them so much better than the other students? Why do they deserve better services than all the other students who are paying the same amount of money?
     The article likens the program to the special privileges athletes receive. Well, my friends and I used to complain all the time about the treatment of athletes — especially the better food they got. Yet, we all know sports programs are money-makers and these students are bringing money in. Are the honors students?
     For a public, state university with a mission to provide a fair and equal education to all people regardless of financial means, and with the reputation that UMass has gleaned for itself, it is unbelievable to me that they would even think of instituting such a program. As a proud UMass alumnus, I find this Commonwealth College honors program insulting and outrageous.

Christine Willis '87

Shocked by cartoons

I WAS SHOCKED AND DISMAYED by the article on Dr. Seuss's political cartoons of the 1940s ["Yertle in Uniform," Books, Fall 1999.] Regardless of historical value, depictions of the Japanese as slant-eyed, buck-toothed, evil snakes are offensive and racist. There can be no value in such "art" except to provoke.
     Even with fifty years distance between the Second World War and today, the forty-two students in my homeroom class here in Japan were shocked by such depictions of themselves. Even given contextual information and ample explanation, my family in Massachusetts still could not understand such images being described as "remarkably gentle" or as humorous and whimsical. They are insulting and rude.
     The Japanese-Americans who were wrongfully interned during WWII did not benefit from such images. All Japanese people did not support the war effort. Definitely most of those imprisoned in the U.S. were against the war. No, I'm afraid for me Dr. Seuss is neither humorous nor whimsical. He is thoughtless, unfair, and yes racist, as well; a clue to our past, a reminder of our present.
     You may say that within historical contexts such images were understandable and even prevalent, as, for example, during the American Civil War many political cartoons represented African Americans as monkeys. Does this then mean we should say that there is "value" in them? My answer is soundly "no."
     It would be unfair of me to criticize your magazine or the writers involved in saying they support these cartoons, which I definitely know they do not. But I do believe that more sensitivity should be given, and more information presented, as to the then-prevailing attitudes toward Asians and how we evaluate such images today, so that a misunderstanding on such a sensitive issue would not occur in the future.

John Nolan '85
Osaka, Japan

The writer is currently teaching at the Osaka College of Foreign Languages and International Business.

I WELCOME JOHN NOLAN'S outrage at Dr. Seuss's stereotyping of the Japanese in 1941 and 1942. Readers should not confuse the general statements in my conclusion, which UMass excerpted, with my reactions to the cartoons about Japan.
     In the course of 400 cartoons covering the waterfront of wartime issues at home and abroad, Dr. Seuss denounces anti-black racism and anti-Semitism eloquently. In one cartoon he calls for a "mental insecticide" to exterminate the "racial prejudice bug" in American heads. But his "Japan" cartoons — perhaps one-eighth of his PM output — are a different matter entirely.
     In Dr. Seuss Goes to War I describe these cartoons at length before concluding: "Perhaps it is no surprise that American cartoonists during the Pacific War painted Japan in overtly racist ways. However, it is a surprise that a person who denounces anti-black racism and anti-Semitism . . . can be oblivious of his own racist treatment of Japanese and Japanese Americans. And to find such cartoons — largely unreproached — in the pages of the leading left newspaper of New York City and to realize that the cartoonist is the same Dr. Seuss we celebrate today for his imagination and tolerance and breadth of vision: this is a sobering experience."
     Dr. Seuss drew only one cartoon featuring Japanese Americans (on February 13, 1942, days before the Roosevelt administration ordered the "relocation"). Of this cartoon, I write: "How could so antiracist and progressive a man as Dr. Seuss and so antiracist and progressive a paper as PM indulge in such knee-jerk racism?"
     So I agree with John Nolan that Dr. Seuss's depictions of "Japan" were "insulting and rude," "thoughtless, unfair, and yes racist, as well; a clue to our past, a reminder of our present." Indeed, that is in large measure why I wrote the book, and these are all points I make in my public presentations, including here at the university, at Dartmouth College (where Dr. Seuss was an undergraduate), and at the University of California at San Diego (in the Seuss Room in Geisel Library).

Richard Minear

Riveted by "Nature" . . .

I DON'T NORMALLY READ, cover-to-cover, any one of the many magazines I receive. The Fall 1999 UMass was an exception. Especially riveting was the essay "Second Nature" by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan. Made me wish I was an undergrad again. I'd have fought to participate in her class!

Ted Raymond '59
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

. . . bemused by "Life-Force"

I WAS INTRIGUED BY "Life-force 401" in the Fall '99 UMass. According to the article, Lynn Margulis, in teaching a course in Environmental Evolution, presents work by Gaia hypothesis originator James Lovelock. According to this hypothesis "the environment is shaped, in part . . . by the organisms it sustains"; proposed, in this scenario, is that the Earth gave rise to life and, through chemical equilibrium, each continues to shape the other. The article goes on to praise Margulis's multi-sensory presentations and describes her effort to "get her students in touch" with a multidisciplinary host of contemporary experts in the field.
     The fields from which the experts are drawn include "astronomy, paleontology, geochemistry, microbiology, and ethnobiology." Absent from this list, I'm certain by accident, is the field of organic chemistry. Organic chemistry is the study of carbon-based compounds, which, when applied to origins studies, helps us to understand the foundational chemical events believed to give rise to life. Though seemingly a subtle point, it is not to those who follow developments in the field of chemical origin of life or chemical evolution, and recognize the mechanistic chores required by carbon-based materials to accomplish this feat.
     One indisputable fact remains: life is not a random mixture of chemicals. Life is organized, information-packed and possesses interdependent chemical networks that are purposeful. As one takes a tour around any protein and observes the folding, unfolding, delicate precision with which other molecules are disassembled and reassembled, it becomes clear to the dimmest observer that such elegance, purpose, and subtlety are not the product of careless, random events. Rather these incredible molecular machines appear to have been designed by an equally incredible intelligence.
     I would suggest that as our prestigious, open-minded faculty look for origins and present hypotheses to young minds, we be generous in considering and questioning ALL related disciplines, facts and, yes, origin possibilities.

John DeMassa '91G
Norwalk, Connecticut

The writer is founder and technical director of Innovation Resources Group, a Norwalk-based product innovation and problem-solving company, and an independent scholar in the field of origins studies.

Like being there

READING DORIS ABRAMSON'S convocation speech ["In Good Hands," UMass Gatherings, Fall '99] was like being on the campus of the 1940s and seeing and hearing the people of that period.
     Why? Because I was a student janitor on weekends at Memorial Hall; ate ice cream outside of Flint Lab; had history courses with Prof. McKimmie (he would fall asleep mid-sentence but then continue after awakening); and had German with Fritz Ellert, botany with Ray Ethan Torrey, zoology with Gilbert Woodside, geology with Professor Gordon, and English with Leonta Horrigan. What "rememborable" people!
     Although I never met Doris Abramson, I remember her as very active on campus. Doris, the math building was a white wooden, clapboard building just southeast from Fernald Hall. I walked by it countless times on my way to many courses at Fernald Hall. My thanks and appreciation: the speech is testimony that things of lasting importance and value occurred on the UMass campus of the past, and hopefully continue in the present and beyond.

Haig H. Najarian '48
Portland, Maine

How wrong they were

AN ARTICLE ABOUT CHARLES ADAMS and Patricia Crosson ["Joint Involvement," Branches of Learning, Fall 1999] mentions that there were numerous dissenters to the programs initiated by Charles Adams in the 1970s — most notably the Inquiry Program.
     I am an excellent example of how very wrong those skeptics were. Although I began undergraduate work at UMass in 1975, at age nineteen, I did not receive my degree until 1987. I am one of those students who, because of the alternative programs offered by the university, flourished in college when I would otherwise have dropped out altogether.
     I am a graduate of both the Inquiry Program and later, the BDIC program, where I majored in writing and illustration. Even though my college career was interrupted many times, for financial reasons and because I moved to New Zealand for awhile, these programs offered me enough incentive to keep returning until I finished. I have since gone on to get an MFA in writing in another alternative program, the nonresidential masters program at Goddard College in Vermont.
     I am now, at age forty-four, a self-employed writer/artist. I have had six novels published in this country and translated and published in Europe and the Pacific countries. I am under contract for a new book, have worked as a muralist and exhibit designer in natural history museums, and have had many exhibits of my woodcut prints. I am at present working not only on the new novel but on a children's book.
     You can see that I have benefited greatly from my concentration on writing and art. If the Inquiry Program had not existed, there is no question in my mind that I would not have graduated. Although I do not need any of my degrees to write or paint, I do need them to be able to teach young people about following their dreams and focusing on their visions. When I speak to groups of young people, I tell them that I was a poor and disinterested student in school because I was so focused on my own work. And I tell them, too, that I was not accepted into UMass when I first applied because of my very low grades. However, I tell them, I persevered and wrote to the dean of admissions again, he recognized something special in my letter and allowed me into college despite my poor school record.

Deborah Savage '87

The writer's first novel,
A Rumor of Otters, received an ALA Notable Book Award in 1986; her second, Flight of the Albatross, was written that same year as her BDIC senior thesis. Published in 1989 by Houghton Mifflin, Flight was filmed on location on New Zealand by German co-producers in 1995, and won the top award for children's film at the 1997 Berlin International Film Festival.

Hitting the highlights
RE: THE PICTURE OF ROBERT FROST by Carl Howard ["Nothing Gold Can Last," Souvenir, Fall 1999]: No, I do not recognize any of the students but I was in the auditorium to hear Frost read his poems that night. Although I was a chemistry major I was "liberal" enough to recognize a class act when I heard one. It was the cultural highlight of the year.

Robert B. Heggie '56
Penn Yan, New York

Antiquated arguments
REGARDING JAMES ROBL'S response to Richard McNeil [re. Cloning and bioengineering, Exchange, Fall 1999; "Cows Now," Summer 1999], there is little excuse, in this day of alternative technologies and enlightenment, to continue the horrors of animal testing. The arguments are antiquated, besides being speciest and lamentable.

C.G. Varno '80
Stonington, Connecticut

How perceptions change
I NOTICED in a recent issue a quote from Barbara Minkley Jensen '71, who seems to have a problem with the number of minority students on the varsity sport teams. ["Views on Affirmative Action," Class Notes, Summer 1999.]
     It's interesting how generations seem to change perceptions. When I was a student on campus (1953-1957), our freshman class was 1,000 students, of whom four were blacks. We did not complain about too many whites. Ms. Jensen should take a look at some of the old yearbook pictures of the varsity teams. I played football and ran track. There were two of us on the varsity football team, and none on the varsity basketball team. I am still not convinced the playing field is level with regards to minorities attending the university.
     In spite of all, I am proud to have attended UMass. I received a great education and have donated time, on the Alumni Board, and money to the university. I am currently on the board of advisors to Commonwealth College — still giving back.

Frank Spriggs '57

Blowing up the old one

RE: "HOW SOON WE FORGET," the letter from James Molesworth '92 about efforts to restructure student government at the university in the early '90s [Exchange, Summer 1999; "Government of, by, and for the Students," Spring 1999]. I share Molesworth's sense of pride that the reform effort of that period led to recognition of the student government by the Board of Trustees, and a student government that was stronger than before. However, he mistakenly attributes the 1991 dissolution of the old and ineffective student government structure to "petty infighting by student government leaders."
     As one of those leaders (student trustee, 1990-1991), I can say with authority that the dissolution and complete restructuring of student government was in fact the plan all along. The four student officers were unanimous in feeling that the only way to build a new, more effective student government was to blow up the old one, which had become nothing more than a glorified debate society.
     Given the unprecedented budget cuts that the campus was facing at the time, we felt strongly that student government should be focused on advocacy rather than verbal jousting by aspiring political science majors. It is gratifying to note that time has proven us right.

Angus G. McQuilken, '91

The writer is chief of staff for Massachusetts state
senator Cheryl A. Jacques.

Department of corrections
THERE WAS A GLARING inaccuracy in an otherwise excellent article on "LA" Williams and his career at D.C. Comics ["Saving the City from Dr. Octopus," Mixed Media, Fall 1999]. Superman was created by Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, not Bob Kane. Kane created Batman.

A. Joseph Ross '67

MADELINE KUNIN DID INDEED graduate from UMass in 1956, as you mentioned in ClassNotes. However, the last time I looked, Middlebury College, where you announce that she has accepted a position, is in — of all places — Middlebury, and not in Montpelier, Vermont, as you stated. Horrors!

Rocco R. Petrillo '53
(and Middlebury '57G)
West Peabody

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