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Millennial overstatement, Gieg response — and more.

 

TREASURES OF TRANSOXANIA?

    I enjoyed the article on the new Silk Route exhibition at the University Museum and look forward to seeing it during my forthcoming visit to Philadelphia [“Silk Across the Sands,” January/February]. I was, however, a bit surprised and amused to read that the show includes artifacts from “over four millennia of Uzbek history and culture.” This is perhaps overstating the case a little, since the Uzbeks only occupied their present abode around A.D. 1500, and they only came about as a people in the 14th or 15th century (their eponymous founder, a khan of the Mongol Golden Horde, only ruled in the early 14th century).
    It would be more historically correct and more politically neutral to say “over four millennia of Transoxanian history and culture.” All of this, of course, does not detract from the good offices of the government of Uzbekistan in facilitating what appears to be an important and attractive exhibition.

Reuven Amitai (Kahn)
C’76
Jerusalem

 

ARTICLE MISSED BIG PICTURE

    I was dismayed by your piece about Dr. Robert F. Giegengack [“The World According to Gieg,” January/February]. As a graduate of Penn’s environmental studies and geology programs, I benefited greatly from Gieg’s scientific mentorship as well as his many years of dedication in building the interdisciplinary environmental studies program at Penn. The environmental issues we face today as a society are technically complex, economically important and emotionally provocative, and we are sadly lacking in our ability to think critically and communicate about their resolution. As a senior environmental geochemist working daily with resource management challenges, I meet many entry-level environmental scientists from other undergraduate programs who miss the “big picture” perspective that Gieg has worked so hard to provide at Penn. Your focus on the opinion of an annoyed administrator, rather than on the unique contributions Gieg and his students have made to the understanding and solution of problems like global climate change and environmental resource management, is disappointing and unfortunate.

Lisa Bithell Kirk
C’83
Bozeman, Mont.

 

OVERDUE RECOGNITION

    The article about Gieg was wonderful. As a former student of his, I have to say it’s about time he gets the recognition he deserves. Penn needs to reward professors for outstanding classroom performance—not just for their research. Gieg’s enthusiasm and encouragement stretch far beyond the classroom and academic lives of his students. He’s there for personal support too!! He’s also there just to hang out with and have fun. In all of my postgraduate studies I have yet to find a professor as fabulous as Gieg. He truly is one of a kind.

Mercedes Sink Holmen
C’95
Fairfield, Calif.

 

ATTEMPT TO DISCREDIT “PENN’S WASPY FOREBEARS”

    The changes that have occurred at the University of Pennsylvania in the last 30 years are very disheartening to those of us who came of age in an era that espoused values that have been turned upside down by the University’s spineless embrace of leftist politics and social engineering.
    Comes now Greg Robinson, author of an article entitled “Admission Denied” [January/February]. His primary motivation, currently in vogue in many elitist quarters, is merely a baldfaced attempt to discredit Penn’s WASPy forebears whose only fault was to administer what was then a great institution of higher learning and who in 1941-42 were deeply concerned about the future of our country due to the catastrophic military setbacks that we were then experiencing.
    What is particularly galling is the use of the phrase “anti-Japanese hysteria sweeping the United States.” Well, when half of your fleet is on the bottom and your outmanned and outgunned soldiers are being captured and beheaded with Samurai swords, you might get a little nervous about some of those folks living in L.A., too. How would the authorities know for certain whether or not Miss Nakano was an agent for Japan? Because she didn’t wear a rising-sun flag on her sweater? How would you be certain that a navy carrier with 3,500 personnel aboard slipping out of Philadelphia wasn’t being observed by an Axis agent? Isn’t 20-20 hindsight great?
    The article conjures up a so-called nationwide storm of protest in l944 just because a Nisei woman wasn’t welcome at Penn at a time when we were losing thousands of men out in the Pacific; when we were still faced with the Philippines, Guam, Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima and Okinawa campaigns. Even Tokyo Rose wouldn’t buy that one!
    This war was not Kosovo; this was a struggle to save the world from two fiendish militaristic regimes and, while some steps were taken that in this day and age may seem unpalatable, they were taken and it’s done with.
    The Gazette and Mr. Robinson should at least have the decency to stop impugning the character and motivation of well-meaning people of the past who undoubtedly lived by a different ethos than yourselves and attempt to find other means of rearranging history so that it is congruent with your ethos.

Joseph Baker
W’50
Hillsboro Beach, Fla.

 

ALIVE WITH HISTORY

    “Rebirth on the River” in the January/February issue was a great article bringing the past and present together in a highly interesting and constructive manner.
    Perhaps some of your readers might be interested as to how that precious commodity, water, was carried into the early homes. The photo (below left) shows a section of an early Philadelphia wooden water pipe. The interior diameter carrying the water is approximately four-and-a-half inches, while the exterior diameter of the tree is a variable 15 inches at this particular point. The wood is now as dark as the photograph indicates, and while not particularly pretty, this becomes alive with history after reading Susan Lonkevich’s article.
    This section was obtained from discards when the city was replacing the old wooden pipes by my great grandfather, Henry Peter Miller Birkinbine, who was connected with the water department. The section is now displayed in our home in Tucson, along with other early Philadelphia memorabilia.

John Birkinbine
CE’52
Tucson, Ariz.

 

WHOSE TRUTH?

    It was with profound disappointment that I read the article covering the lecture given by Derrick Bell at Penn recently [“Gazetteer,” January/February]. In praising A. Leon Higginbotham (praise well deserved), Bell characterizes him as one determined to “speak the truth as he saw it.” How ironic that Bell uses that quote just prior to attacking Justice Clarence Thomas, who is evidently to be condemned for seeing the truth differently!
    I would certainly agree with Bell that racism, by both whites and blacks, is still a part of the fabric of our society and that the idea of color-blindness is a myth. One might as well say that he or she is blind to how tall a person is or whether the person is male or female. Our society will overcome this problem only when we can truly say that we are aware of another’s differences but will still treat that person with the respect he or she deserves simply on the basis of his or her humanity.
    I hope that in the near future, I will find an article in the Gazette with a countervailing point of view.

Jacob Harris
C’55 D’58 GM’61
Chevy Chase, Md.

 

ISSUE OF FINANCIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST IGNORED

    I read with some disappointment the article “Gene-Therapy Researchers Probe Patient’s Death” [“Gazetteer,” January/February]. My disappointment does not relate to the medical issues and protocols—issues on which I am not qualified to comment—cited in the article, but to the issue which was not discussed or even alluded to—financial conflict of interest. Much of The Washington Post coverage of this story dealt with the possible financial conflict of interest of one of the principal investigators (PIs) in the study.
    The public looks to universities—as opposed to private-sector companies—to conduct studies and investigations free of any direct, indirect or even apparent financial conflict of interest. Even then, as I can relate from personal experience in reviewing work of PIs, it is quite a task to be sure that both technical and philosophic biases of individuals are removed or compensated for in the published results.
    Equally disappointing was the absence of any reference to financial conflicts of interest in the quotes by Penn bioethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan cited in the article. He is most certainly correct that more university review is called for. What is not mentioned is that even those reviewing the work of such studies have to be absolutely free from any financial conflict of interest.
    Those of us who have been associated with the federal government are familiar with financial disclosure statements and, in some cases, absolute prohibitions against even owning stock of a company or entire industry regulated by a department or agency. Certainly such measures would cause some to refuse to participate, but is not the public entitled to the assurance that those conducting studies which may ultimately affect their survival did so with no real or apparent financial incentive?

Richard A. Greenstein
G’61
Bowie, Md.

For more on this story, turn to page 14.—Ed.

 

ALL WET

    “Fighting Shadows with FIRE” overstates the case [“Gazetteer,”January/February]. Although Dr. Alan Kors in his book, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses, deserves commendations for bravery for exposing Penn as “the most politically correct university in the nation” (Philadelphia Inquirer), he stops woefully short of applying his analysis to the present administration of President Judith Rodin. As your article confirms, Kors praises Rodin, which raises the question whether his courage runs out when it comes to his current employer.
    Kors claims that Penn has abolished its speech code, credits Rodin for it and admires her achievement. All three are contradicted by the record. According to Rodin, and confirmed by other official sources at Penn, the Code of Student Conduct provides substantially as follows: Student speech may be subject to discipline when it violates “applicable laws or University regulations or policies” which condemn, among other examples, “hate speech, epithets, and racial, ethnic, sexual and religious slurs.”
    This is clear notice that Penn has not learned a thing. In confirmation, Rodin refuses to amend the speech code to provide: “Speech protected by the First Amendment shall not be punished at the University of Pennsylvania.”
    The Rodin regime is precisely the type of censorship and terror which Kors’ book condemns in other institutions. In all honesty, he ought to turn his attention to the University of Pennsylvania and stop hiding in the shadows.

Burton Caine
C’49
Philadelphia

    The relevant section of the Code of Student Conduct includes among the “Responsibilities of Student Citizenship”: “(d) To refrain from conduct towards other students that infringes upon the Rights of Student Citizenship. The University condemns hate speech, epithets, and racial, ethnic, sexual and religious slurs. However, the content of student speech or expression is not by itself a basis for disciplinary action. Student speech may be subject to discipline when it violates applicable laws or University regulations or policies.”—Ed.

 

HIGH ON THE HIGH-RISES

    I disagree with many of the criticisms of the Superblock plaza and high-rise buildings [September/October and several letters in subsequent issues]. Criticizing the “look” of the high-rise “slabs of concrete” without considering the benefits of the view one has from the tops of those buildings is like criticizing the aesthetics of an airplane without acknowledging that it can fly. People say that they want buildings that “relate to their surroundings.” The high-rises offer a view of metropolitan Philadelphia and the University which is a living map. There are plenty of residential-scale buildings on the periphery of the campus that blend in well with the scale of the adjoining neighborhood. But the “surrounding” the Superblock towers “relates” the University to is metropolitan Philadelphia (which needs as close and cooperative a relationship to Penn as it can get). The towers are a good complement to the scale of Center City. They say, “Here is the urban experience on our campus. We are a piece of the city.” This is nothing to apologize for. It’s a necessity for the modern theme-park campus.
    People have always built towers to see and to be seen. A high-rise is an urban village. There is a great sense of connectedness with the surroundings one sees from the high-rise. At dusk, there is the deep blue or crimson sky, with the lights going on in the city. During the day, there is the quality of air and light and one’s intimacy with the weather. One gains a perspective on one’s surroundings which is more inclusive than that seen from the ground. As for the plaza, when looked at as a bare form, or in the middle of an ice storm, it’s a very barren and desolate place. But on a beautiful spring or autumn day, it is the largest open space on campus and is packed with young people cavorting. On those days, it has a little taste of the experience of New York’s Washington Square—the heart of the NYU campus.
    There is no argument that many people love buildings with a “livable” scale. Urban people just like livability on a bigger scale. To appreciate the architectural language of Superblock, you have to like the excitement of higher human density. You have to like being up in the air so you can see more of what’s going on. You have to like the weather of sky and light. And from the point of view of being seen, the towers are a visual landmark, pointing out the presence of the University for miles and miles around, and from many different vantage points.
    As students in Frank Kawasaki’s great Architecture 200 class, we used to draw up in the lounges that occupy the top floors of those towers. It was an exhilarating experience. G. Holmes Perkins made a brave and valuable contribution to Penn in the design for the Superblock.

Michael Neff
C’67 GAr’77
Philadelphia

SUPERBLOCK: FABULOUS VIEW, A SPECIAL MEMORY

    I have been meaning to respond to your article “The Man Behind Superblock” since the September/October issue of the Gazette arrived [“Notes from the Undergrad”]. As a member of the Class of 1972, I was among the first students to live in Harrison House in Superblock in 1970. My roommates and I thought it was a beautiful place—modern apartments complete with kitchens and nice-sized furnished bedrooms.
    Living on the 19th and later the 17th floors, my view was fantastic, just as it was from the rooftop lounge. I photographed many a beautiful sunset through those apartment windows. Harrison House was a great place to live! I am amazed at all the criticism of Superblock and would like to thank G. Holmes Perkins for giving me and many of my friends a wonderful living
experience.

    As we begin to look at colleges for our daughter and son in the future, the “dorm room” will be important to me. Our lovely appartment of 30 years ago is a standard against which I will measure college dorms. Many schools could take a lesson from Penn’s housing. I am very thankful I was lucky enough to live in Superblock so many years ago. It will always be a special memory.

Roberta (Sarlo) Fedder
Nu’72
Wynnewood, Pa.

 

WEALTH FOR WHAT?

    The November/December issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette unintentionally depicted the great irony of our time: We live in a society that can now almost effortlessly produce a generation of “near centi-millionaires” that are under the age of 30 (“From Zip to X”), but we cannot simultaneously solve the most fundamental social problems that exist in the “ground zero” neighborhoods of America’s cities (“High Noon in the ‘Hood”). I can only hope that these Web-made millionaires will realize that the most fulfillment and greatness will come not from the attainment of 100 lifetimes of earnings in five years, but from the opportunity that such wealth provides to build a community and a culture.

D.D. Paul
EAS’86
Clinton, N.J.

 


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