To and from the
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
Haig H. Najarian '48
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
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
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
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
Angus G. McQuilken, '91
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
Rocco R. Petrillo '53
(and Middlebury '57G)