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Responses received to our call in the March/April Gazette for readers to tell about the faculty member who most stimulated them during their years at Penn.

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Nearing’s influence, Selvin’s C,
and more on the female Quaker

SINCE NEARING CASE, THINGS
HAVE ONLY GOTTEN WORSE

I read your excellent article on Scott Nearing by Samuel Hughes [“An Affair to Remember,” March/April]. Nearly one hundred years later the situation has changed for the worse. The trustees are plutocrats or their mouthpieces. Administrators implicitly conceive a ruthless policy of Social Darwinism in the curriculum, disguised as the “administration of things.” Faculty, with a handful of exceptions, are totalitarian liberals who do not tolerate dissent or deviation from narrow norms of behavior and “right” thinking. The Water Buffalo case still resonates in my mind. The same critical issue is at hand. There is not a just distribution of property and wealth in this country.

Socialism is now a discredited political philosophy because of the Soviet fiasco. Now, with a few individual exceptions, there is no radical left at the University. Faculty recruit their own kind, who engage in a praxis of laissez-faire liberalism to validate their own allegiance to the corporate interests of Big Business at the expense of the public. In fact, liberalism and conservatism at the University have become virtually identical ideologies.

At least the corporate powers in Nearing’s time feared him and the Socialist Party. Now there is no equivalent of either. Where is there a public intellectual or party of the sovereign people? So, the situation has actually deteriorated over time. Penn calls that Progress.

Hughes’ article stands as a reproof to the University of Pennsylvania as the bastion of capitalism and its worst elements. Simply witness how the powers-that-be destroyed the “little” people of their own neighborhood. Examine the student body with their interminable narcissism and sense of entitlement. Then, these students, with their technocratic educations, lay waste to the land with their greed and quest for power.

Nearing lived a life in vain. I regret that he reconciled with the University to give it an undeserved legitimacy.

Ronald Jeremiah Schindler C’64 Gr’78
Elkins Park, Pa.

NEARING’S INFLUENCE WAS
WIDESPREAD AND ENDURING

I enjoyed your article on Scott Nearing. As a college senior at Wesleyan University in the winter of 1976, I roomed off campus with a little old lady who had to be in her late seventies at the time, who I knew only as Mrs. Dr. Smith. She and her family were lifelong friends of Nearing, and she was a committed Maoist! I received many lectures from her about Nearing—a man I had previously never heard of—and read some of his books. We did have some differences of opinion. Mrs. Smith and her late husband tried to live the Nearing “simple” life. Her house was constructed in the 1840s and had not changed much since then. Mrs. Smith was a wonderful, kindhearted person. Those five months rooming in the house were memorable.

I believe that Nearing’s influence at Penn endured long after his departure. My father (W’37) out of all his courses was most influenced by his sociology class. The professor of that class taught the equality of all races, a belief my father maintained ever after.

Jon Lerner WG’79
Glencoe, Ill.

 

ABC’s OF COURSE SELECTION

Some of the things we learned at Penn in the early 1960s, as Rick Selvin’s piece “Saved by a C” [“Alumni Voices,” March/April] so well described, had nothing to do with academics. In many cases these were the most important lessons that enabled us to be successful in a world full of rules that needed to be “reinterpreted,” one might say.

I didn’t learn about a most important book at the University until my junior year—The Daily Pennsylvanian’s Course Guide. The cover of this Confidential Magazine-like pamphlet had a cover with artwork that reminded one of the cover of a horror magazine. And to some of the teachers it must have been a horror. The 1964-1965 edition, which according to the introduction was the eighth edition, was 96 pages long and consisted of reviews that consisted of “three parts: a synopsis of the course, its requirements and other data, and an uninhibited criticism of it. Mere excoriation for its own sake was avoided.” The editors said 20,000 questionnaires had been distributed to students. Faculty members were asked to submit either formal or informal syllabi of their courses.

This book was so important to me (as I too needed some B’s to offset my D’s to get to a C average) that I kept it stored these many years along with my most precious documents: my Marine Corps discharge, birth certificates, etc. This pamphlet was the roadmap to graduation that I so sorely needed my freshman year. Some of the course and professor reviews were hilarious as well as insightful. For instance, on page 87 is a review of Sociology 3, Criminology. Dr. X (I’ll omit his name so his heirs don’t sue me) is “the man to avoid. His lectures are dull, disorganized, and of little importance. ‘He rambles, scrambles, and falls through each dull period,’ quoth one disillusioned student. Dr. [X’s] one redeeming quality is a lax marking system.” Everything the Course Guide said was true! Thank goodness.

Another commentary read: “If [Mr.Y] can’t be avoided, drop the course and try again next semester. Unless you’re an insomniac seeking a cure, his lectures are torture.” And this, comparing two “utterly incompetent” Wharton School instructors: “As one student who has had both so aptly put it: ‘I wouldn’t trust either with running a corner newsstand.’”

Those were the days! I’m sure for the teachers who got bad reviews, it was most disheartening. Some probably just blew it off, but others perhaps took it to heart and tried to clean up their acts. I wonder if any got terminated?

Ed King W’66
Freehold, N.J.

 

WHAT DID WRITER DO,
AFTER HE WAS “SAVED”?

I just wanted to write a quick note about the “Alumni Voices” piece in the March/ April Gazette. I was disappointed that the story didn’t have an up side. I started to read it, thinking that I would be able to relate to a person who struggled for a few semesters in college, getting mediocre to low grades, but was somewhat offended when the story didn’t take a turn for the better. Basically, the author cheated the University out of a grade, and didn’t even have anything to show for it, other than the privilege of continuing his mediocre academic career.

Did he ever bother to learn the stuff for which he got the grade? Or was the point of the story simply: good thing I caught a lucky break, not that I’m any the better for it, or that I’ve done anything to help anyone else as a result of being allowed to stay on at Penn; I didn’t even respect the professor who helped me enough to remember his name?

Catherine Von Elm, G’95
Philadelphia

 

WITH TODAY’S GRADE INFLATION,
WOULD SELVIN HOLD OUT FOR AN ‘A’?

Rick Selvin’s narrative about almost flunking out of Penn in 1963 contrasts sharply with the rampant grade inflation nowadays at Ivy League schools, including Penn. It’s tempting to believe that what accounts for the difference between the two eras is that students today are smarter and/or professors are more instructionally effective. The more likely explanation, however, is that students demand, and get, A’s as an entitlement for the pain they endured in getting admitted and for the high tuition they pay once they’re in. In either case, grades are a deceptive gauge of educational quality despite what administrators maintain.

Walt Gardner C’57
Los Angeles

 

SILENCE: MAYBE NOT GOLDEN,
BUT AT LEAST WORTH A ‘B’

I was delighted by “Saved by a C.” I had a similar experience.

In 1956 I was a freshman in the College looking for some type of minor status. Despite poor high-school language preparation, I took the French placement examination. Being exceptionally skilled in multiple-choice exams, I was offered second-year French and grabbed it. Of course, I was instantly sr mon t’te! Dr. Gallagher, teaching in the second-floor classroom of a converted hovel on Pine Street, quickly discovered my plight. Worse than he thought, whenever I read from Camus’ La Peste I destroyed everyone’s pronunciation for at least two weeks. Dr. Gallagher called me aside after class and politely suggested doom and gloom for my grade-point average. This would never do as I was pre-dental and it was too late to drop the course. I explained my predicament and appealed to his gallic (Gallagher?) sense of chivalry. We struck a deal: I would pass every written examination with at least a B. I would never, ever, read or speak aloud in class. I would earn my B by silence. I did.

Charles Walowitz D’62
Owings Mills, Md.

 

HAS ANYTHING REALLY CHANGED?

It is ironic that Jessica Setnick’s story of her shabby treatment as the first female Penn Quaker should be published almost concurrently with the celebrations recognizing 125 years of women at Penn [“Letters,” March/April]. At a time when Penn is honoring the achievements of its alumnae, this seems to me to be an unspeakably shameful tale. That the events she describes happened in the 1990s and not the 1890s gives me all the more reason to shake my head and wonder if anything has really changed in a whole century.

I am not a rabid, burn-my-bra feminist: that breed had pretty much vanished from the scene by the time I matriculated in 1980. What I recall is the rise of political correctness and sensitivity training, which, when taken to extremes, produced nothing like the equal opportunities their creators had been seeking. Perhaps this incident is the result of oppositional behavior on the part of the cheerleading coach.

I am not writing because I think that Jessica Setnick needs to file a sexual discrimination suit; rather, I am writing because I think the cheerleading coach should be just plain ashamed of himself for “firing” a volunteer just because he thought the Quaker should be a man. That’s the kind of dumb, 1950s-style thinking that brought about bra-burning and political correctness in the first place, and there should be no place for it at the forefront of academia. Bad enough that in this day and age, the old thinking that, “You can’t do that because you’re a girl” still exists, but to have it affecting women at Penn is disgraceful.

Sophia Kelly Shultz C’84
Pottsville, Pa.

 

PERSON RESPONSIBLE SHOULD BE
KICKED IN HIS “HIGHBALL”

Ms. Setnick’s letter about what happened to her appalls me. In my day, out of a graduating class of 106 at the Law School, only four were women, and the older professors gave them a very hard time, on occasion reducing them to tears. That appalled me at the time, but I thought things had changed—they certainly have in terms of admission to the Law School. Ms. Setnick’s experience is especially appalling in light of the Quaker background of Penn, since the Quakers were early believers in such things as coeducation and the fact that the “inner light” is in each of us, regardless of race, sex, etc. And, I quote from the bottom of your masthead, “The University of Pennsylvania does not discriminate on the basis of race, sex … ”

The person who was responsible for removing Ms. Setnick from her position deserves to be kicked in his “highball at nightfall!” I’m surprised you didn’t have letters to print which expressed real concern that this sort of thing could still happen at Penn in this day and age. (Or perhaps there were such letters but John Prendergast C’80 simply didn’t think outrage at the situation was appropriate in the letters column, lest “the alumni” be offended!)

You probably won’t have the guts to print a letter like this, but I’d sure appreciate your forwarding it to Ms. Setnick, who deserved a hell of a lot better from Penn than she got.

Robert A. Freedman L’61
New York

We have printed all letters received on this subject.—Ed.

 

ANOTHER WOULD-BE QUAKER

I tried out to be the Quaker near the end of my freshman year. I was spurred on by the fact that I had been a well-liked high-school mascot and that my older stepsister’s college roommate had been the first female tiger mascot at Princeton.

I was required to attend approximately three weeks of training with the current cheerleaders. I was also required to learn several cheerleading lifts that I was told I might have to perform during the upcoming year. Even at six-feet tall and athletic (I was captain of the women’s track team) this was a difficult proposition for me. Nonetheless, I was ultimately successful.

During this three-week period I was the only Quaker candidate. Several people expressed to me that they were unhappy about the prospect of a woman being the Quaker. Rumor had it that they were desperately trying to recruit a male candidate. On the last day of a three-week practice period they were successful, and a male candidate showed up. He ultimately got the job. Amazingly, unlike me, he hadn’t been required to attend the prior three weeks of practice or learn any of the lifts until after he had been selected as the Quaker.

He did do an acceptable job that year. However, due to the circumstances surrounding the selection process, I have always felt that the reason I was not chosen to be the Quaker was due to my gender rather than my ability. While I believe that I was discriminated against because of my gender, that was the only time I suffered such discrimination while at Penn.

Frances Childs C’88
Oceanside, Calif.

 

READERS OWED A HIGHER
STANDARD OF HONESTY

Re: Aliya Sternstein’s piece on plagiarism [“Notes From the Undergrad,” March/April].

For all levels of writers, adopting another’s words as your own is lazy, unfair, misleading. It is not an acceptable way to become a respected, prolific, busy writer-author.

Both Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin have staffs to assist with research and they owe readers a higher standard of honesty. Finally, book publishers, and the responsible editors, need to do a more careful job of checking footnotes to discover whether quotations are essential.

Let’s hope that colleges everywhere teach students the clear right/wrong involved in plagiarism. Future generations of writers, and their readers, must understand that which is “my own” from that which I have “copied.”

George W. Nordham L’52
Winter Springs, Fla.

 

FDR LET MILITARY HAVE ITS WAY

The book review of By Order of the President: FDR and the Internment of Japanese Americans [“Off the Shelf,” March/April] reminded me of my casual friendship with Francis Biddle, then Attorney General of the United States, and my dear friendship with his son, Randy, who earned his Ph.D. in English at Penn.

Not only Biddle and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover “contended that mass evacuation was unnecessary,” but so did the Army General in charge, originally. Details can be found in chapter 13, volume 2, of Mr. Biddle’s autobiography, In Brief Authority.

However, after Hong Kong surrendered on December 25, 1941, Manila was lost on January 2, and Singapore fell on January 25, 1942, with 60,000 taken as prisoners of war, American opinion changed rapidly. With a few notable exceptions, public officials on the West Coast clamored now for evacuation of all Japanese. Two urging mass evacuation were Governor Olson and Attorney General Earl Warren of California. (The latter was widely hailed by liberals for decisions made while he was chief justice of the U. S. Supreme Court!) All the major newspapers joined the clamor, and FDR simply decided the controversy by feeling that the military might be wrong, but they were fighting the war, and public opinion was on their side.

Like his father, Edmund Randolph (Randy) Biddle CCC’49 Gr’65 had a strong, independent spirit. An Army veteran from the CBI (China-Burma-India) theater of war, Randy entered and sat in the first row of his Penn graduate English class with Professor Longacre. Being stunned by the sight of a lovely girl in the last row of the class, he kept turning around to gaze at her. Irritated, the professor barked, “Mr. Biddle, if you cannot keep from turning around to look at that girl, go back and sit next to her!”

Without any hesitation at all, Randy did so, while the young lady covered her face with embarrassment! Despite strong opposition from both families, one being Episcopalian, and the other Jewish, they were married in less than two years, raised two fine sons, and were very much in love for over 50 years.

Howard D. Greyber, Gr’53
Potomac, Md.

 

MORE PICTURES, PLEASE

I really enjoy receiving the Gazette, but one thing that would make me like it a lot more is a regular section featuring photos of the campus and campus life. I haven’t been there in decades and it would be really fun to see what’s changed and what hasn’t. There are hardly ever any photos of the campus in the Gazette.

Page Else CW’74
Sitka, Alaska

SHARING THE GOOD NEWS

I was pleasantly surprised and delighted to learn of the Penn connection to the Good News Garage [“Alumni Profiles,” January/February]. Only one week before the issue arrived, my wife had, at first most unwillingly, but, in consideration of our forthcoming addition (child), lovingly given up her 1989 Honda Civic hatchback. The Good News Garage idea was suggested by her brother, and after some research and a few weeks, we cleared the Honda of its 12-year collection of stuff in preparation for its departure. The next evening a tow truck appeared and whisked it away to a new home. Although we have only pictures, video, and memories left, we’re glad it will be helping others make their way on the road of life. Thanks to Hal Colston C’75 for his idea and community service.

Stuart Dickstein C’86
Cambridge, Mass.

 

BAD DECISION

It was a bad decision to replace “Pennsylmania,” which has been an enjoyable part of the Gazette for many years, produced by Don Block and his predecessors. The replacement was a pedantic discussion of the wording on the University’s seal [“Finals,” January/February], which could have been included anywhere in the magazine.

Stephen Schorr W’67
Encinitas, Calif.

 

CORRECTION

The review of By Order of the President in March/April mistakenly referred to Nisei—actually native-born Americans of Japanese descent—as “naturalized citizens.”

Author Greg Robinson writes: “At that time, U.S. law prohibited all Asian immigrants (apart from a handful of WWI veterans) from becoming naturalized. The distinction is important because once the war came, the immigrants, whatever their attachment to the United States, became ‘enemy aliens’ who were immediately suspect and subject to summary detention because of their status. In contrast, the Nisei were 100 percent American and only in the eyes of biased whites were they ‘Japanese.’”

We apologize for the error.


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Copyright 2002 The Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 4/28/02

 

 

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