More than Smoke

It’s wonderful that Penn undergraduates finally have a cinema-studies major [“Now Playing on the Big Screen,” January/February]. In your brief survey of film studies at Penn, however, credit should be given to history professors Robert Rosen and Stuart Samuels, who taught a pioneering and hugely popular course on “Film as Social and Intellectual History” in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as upper-division research seminars where undergraduate TAs for the course were trained. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.)

Their survey course, which met in the basement of the Fine Arts building, must be the one Dr. Larry Gross disparages indirectly in your article ( “a film history course … where it was not unusual to pick up the scent of marijuana wafting across the back of the room.”)  But it was far more serious. Rosen and Samuels lectured expertly on a wide chronological and geographic range of film history, showed two classic films each day for the entire semester, and brought important guest lecturers to campus.  Their efforts inspired several students to pursue graduate work involving film.

Rosen went on to direct the UCLA Film and Television Archive and currently is dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television.  Samuels has produced several documentaries about film, including Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography, which won the National Society of Film Critics nonfiction film award in 1993. When they left Penn around 1974 undergraduate film studies experienced a real setback.

Carl Guarneri C’72 Oakland, CA


Remember Rudy Burckhardt

Now Playing on the Big Screen” could have also mentioned Rudy Burckhardt’s classes in experimental film-making at Penn during the late 1960s. We not only viewed many short films during the term, but also made our own 8- and 16-mm films. Rudy was friends with many noted artists and film makers, some of whom, such as Red Grooms, made appearances at Penn to show their works. Rudy was himself an acclaimed  photographer and film maker, but did not teach us rigorous techniques or  styles. He just let us loose to see what we might create.

Mitch Lansky C’70 Reed Plantation, ME


Expanding Horizons

Samuel Hughes’s article, “The Biggest Sister,” in the January/February Gazette captures with great fidelity the philosophy and goals of the Big Brother Big Sister program. At the same time, it brings to attention the innovation and progress which Judy Vredenburgh, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, has brought to the agency nationally.

I make these observations having served as a Big Brother in the Worcester (MA) County Big Brothers Big Sisters agency. The greatest evidence of success was seeing my former Little Brother expand his horizons enough to become a Big Brother himself.

God speed to Judy Vredenburgh in achieving her goal of 2010 to have “a cool million” matches of volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

H. Martin Deranian D’47 Worcester, MA

Wishful Thinking

The statement by Judy Vredenburgh in “The Biggest Sister” that, “If there are 200, 250 kids in the school, and you’re reaching 40 or 50 of those kids, all of the kids have an improved environment in which to learn” appears to be wishful thinking.

As a professor at Penn for more than half a century and living in Center City I often became involved in the education at the Greenfield School [a public school at 22nd and Chestnut streets].  I would take three or four of the best physics graduate students to the school once a week. We did not lecture but supervised students doing simple studies, often advising the principal on what apparatus to purchase.

In the process, I observed how students of different abilities performed.  There were three groups: (1) the small group of very good students; (2) the small group of very bad students, who got special attention in their studies as part of the school program, and (3) all the remaining students.

The students in Group Three did not get the slightest benefit from having Group One students in their class.  When students were asked questions, only Group One raised their hands and Group Three paid little attention to the questions or to the teacher’s response.

Aware of this fact, we had to find ways to keep all involved. One way was to give Group Three an easier set of apparatus experiments than Group One.  Also our group could pay more attention to the Group Three students.  Group Three was unaware that we assigned the experiments this way.  There was one (excellent) science teacher in the school who understood this well and appreciated our help, but unfortunately she left. She was replaced by an English teacher. It appeared difficult then to keep teachers with some science skills.

Professors at Penn, especially those living near Center City, might want to do the same today and, in the process, also teach some interested graduate students something about elementary school problems. It might also help them gain skills useful in teaching freshmen at Penn.

Sherman Frankel, Emeritus Professor of Physics and Astrophysics


Tears of Memory and Laughter

Loved the essay by Michael H. Levin about his childhood during the 1940s and 1950s in the East Oak Lane section of Philly [“Alumni Voices,” January/February]. He brought tears of memory and also laughter about some of the characters who were his family and neighbors back then.

I sent the article to my childhood chum Jeanette D’Orazio, who now lives in Florida. We have recently reminisced about how “innocent” life was back then.  Our families moved to the corner of Harper and Bond avenues in Drexel Hill just before the outbreak of the war. There were several square miles of woods, fields, and two farms behind my house between Harper Avenue and Landsowne Avenue, and between State Road and City Line Avenue.

Born around 1934, we would go off for the day into the woods with brown bag lunches our mothers would pack for us with never a care in the world.  Later, when we mastered two-wheel bicycles we would ride from Drexel Hill to Paxon Hollow Country Club in Broomall and back.  It was a different time.

S. Reid Warren III SW’61 Elverson, PA


Those Were the Days

Michael Levin’s excellent essay, “Block Party,” concerning people in the 600 block of North Twelfth Street in Philadelphia took me back to my days of growing up in the 4600 block of North Twelfth Street in Philadelphia.

In the street we played softball, touch football, and roller-skated. There were very few automobiles.  We talked about school, girls, and what we wanted to do when we grew up.

Those were the days!

Leonard S. Rosen C’42  Villanova, PA


Misspell, Memory

Great article by Michael Levin, but a small correction: it’s Oldsmobile Hydramatic, not Hydromatic.

Ed King W’66 Freehold, NJ


Unethical Animal
Research is Continuing

The article “Bad Medicine” in the January/ February issue of the Gazette referred to unethical medical research in Japan, Germany, and the U.S. during wartime. I applaud the Gazette for exposing readers to unethical research on humans, but perhaps you might also address the continuing unethical research conducted right on campus. I’m referring to much of the animal research conducted at Penn during the last half century and that still continues today.

If, as Dr. Susan Lindee was quoted as suggesting, we should ask ethical questions of experiments in which cats were shot to “determine ways to make more effective, more powerful, and more destructive bullets,” surely we might ask questions about the thousands of experiments performed at Penn. Such research includes experiments in which animals have been psychologically traumatized (in fear, shock, aversion, and “learned helplessness” experiments); pain research, in which anesthesia and pain relief have been withheld; and experiments in which monkeys (later replaced by pigs) have been given severe head injuries, to name just a few.

Surely, other sentient animals deserve moral consideration, especially when they are used in research that promises little human benefit.

Zoe Weil C’83 G’83 Surry, ME


Will Penn Confront
its Own “Sordid History”?

Nary a word appeared in the article, “Bad Medicine,” and not a syllable was uttered at the conference it reported on, about the formidable part played by Penn in the not-too-distant-past in unethical research activities. Beginning in the late 1940s and extending into the 1960s, the department of dermatology conducted human experiments on mentally retarded children, inmates at Holmesburg Prison, and indigent elderly people living in the Riverview Home near the prison. These experiments were often painful and/or harmful, and all were conducted without authentic informed consent and in blatant violation of the Nuremburg Code, promulgated in 1947, a year after the Doctors Trial of Nazi physicians at Nuremburg (referred to in the article).

It is long past due that the University deal honorably and courageously with its own sordid history in regard to human experimentation, instead of mouthing platitudes and offering self-serving excuses. A great university has responsibilities not only to those whom it has victimized, physically and spiritually, but to its charges, especially those in the School of Medicine, who must be educated profoundly about the “sins of the fathers” and about their own obligations to society at large.  Penn has failed egregiously in each of these respects, just as it failed all too many of its trainees in dermatology during the 1960s by communicating, clearly and repeatedly, that what they were doing at Holmesburg was highly meritorious.

I know first hand; as a second-year resident in dermatology at Penn, I did “research” at Holmesburg Prison. It was wrong then, and to fail to deal with that reality—by way of apology heartfelt and compensation to those violated, and by educating potential perpetrators against similar deviations from Hippocratic principles in the future—is wrong now.

Let Penn, at long last, make amends and thereby do honor to itself and to a profession that should be noble, as well as learned.

A. Bernard Ackerman GM’67 New York


What’s in a Name?
(Not Much, Sometimes)

Although I have become a Washingtonian, I don’t much care what the Redskins are called. But, I could not help but note the irony of the appearance of an article on “Putting an End to ‘Name-Calling’ in Athletics” [“Gazetteer”] in the alumni magazine of a school whose sports teams are named after a pacifist religious sect. The speaker complains that “Native references in American athletic programs” constitute “identity theft.” But to be consistent, shouldn’t this logic apply to the Quakers also? Is not the Quaker also a “cartoon figure” and “sports mascot?” And what about Notre Dame’s “Fighting Irish?” As a person of Irish descent, should I sue?

One may certainly question the propriety of the name Redskins. But for the sake of providing readers with more complete information, it should be noted that various theories exist as to the term’s origin, and not all suggest that it was derogatory. Also, it should be noted that the original team had several American Indian players.

At any rate, it would be interesting to know if there is a consensus view among American Indians regarding the use of “Native references” before we purge them from our increasingly bland and homogenized culture. Like many issues today, this is one which might be better addressed through broad, inclusive dialogue than through lawsuits filed by small, potentially non-representative groups.

William F. Byrne C’85 Arlington, VA


Seriously Silly

It’s always a little depressing to read the Gazette because the University and the Gazette writers are so earnest in their liberal view of the world. A case in point: President Amy Gutmann’s column [“From College Hall,” January/February] that explained—very earnestly—how the solution to Penn’s problems is spending more: more on endowed chairs, causing tuitions to rise, requiring additional donations to subsidize worthy students who cannot afford an annual tuition rivaling a luxury car. It never occurs to anyone involved with a university that, in the real world, corporations deal with these problems by occasionally cutting costs and focusing on what they do best, instead of trying to expand beyond the corporation’s competence.  Depressing, no?

Then I read “Rights vs. Capabilities” [“Gazetteer,” January/February] and cheered up. This piece is surely a parody of a fuzzy-thinking left-wing professor, I thought. From the article I learned that I had “emotional entitlements” including “justified anger.” Every time I get angry I’m just getting my share of my entitlement!

And it was surely a parody when University of Chicago Professor Martha Nussbaum, whose campus talk was the subject of the article, explained that the Indian constitution was preferable to the U.S. Constitution because the former expresses rights in a positive way while the latter merely limits government’s ability to infringe on the rights of citizens—priceless!  Nussbaum could have used a different example, that of the old Soviet constitution, which also expressed the rights of its citizens in positive terms. Too bad that one didn’t work out so well.

Perhaps the crowning moment was the logic that quotas for women or minorities, which treat similar people dissimilarly, were “not merely compatible with constitutional guarantees for nondiscrimination and equal protection, but are actually in their spirit.” Again, the utopia of India leads the way, guaranteeing a third of the seats on village councils to women.

No parody of the left would be complete without a little moral relativism, so we have the gem that, though countries such as the U.S. may fall short of this utopia, one may not “license intervention in the affairs” of such an unenlightened nation because, after all, we have to be culturally sensitive.

Unfortunately, the joke turned out to be on me when I realized that this was no parody. Both Penn and the Gazette took this stuff seriously.

Jeffrey H. Fischer C’86 Germantown, MD

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 03/05/05

Uncredited film faculty,
successful sister,
and more.

Mar|Apr Contents
Gazette Home
Previous issue's column