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Expand Academic Horizons

Though it was somewhat beyond me technically, I found Trey Popp’s article “An Architect Walks Into the Lab” [Jan|Feb] quite fascinating. Having recently read “The Last Lecture” by the late Professor Randy Pausch from Carnegie Mellon, I was reminded of the creative and innovative similarities when students and faculty with contrasting skills are brought together in a highly creative and challenging environment.

Pausch created a course called “Building Virtual Worlds” that attracted students from several different departments including actors, English majors, sculptors, engineers, math majors, and computer specialists. In teams of four they were challenged to build a virtual world with no violence or pornography. The results were amazing. He then teamed up with Drama Professor Don Marinelli and created a two-year master’s degree program called “The Entertainment Technology Center” ( that brought “right brain/left brain, drama guy/computer guy” together. It has proven to be so successful that companies are offering written employment contracts for students not yet admitted.

The message from these remarkable experiences at the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon is for college deans and professors to be encouraged to expand their horizons beyond their somewhat autonomous academic worlds and think creatively as to how they can partner with other academic disciplines to creatively address problems and challenges. Enlightened empowerment can be such a powerful, creative tool.

Merrett R. Stierheim WG’60 Miami

Energized and Inspired

I was energized after reading your piece on “The Energizer Dean” of the School of Nursing, Afaf Meleis [Jan|Feb]. She is an accomplished woman who has not forgotten her roots and humble beginnings. Her work in globalization and women’s health has greatly impacted not only nursing science but also the provision of patient care. As an alumna, I am proud to remain tied to the school as I use Dr. Meleis’ Transition Theory in my own doctoral work. I commend writer Caroline Tiger and photographer Chris Crisman because they were able to clearly show Dr. Meleis’ energy, enthusiasm, and passion on paper.

Sigrid Ladores Nu’97 GNu’02 Orlando

Photographic Memory?

Dennis Drabelle’s article [“In Dreams Begin Discoveries,” Jan|Feb] reminded me of a time when I had misplaced my camera. After looking everywhere twice, I followed some advice I had read about how to find anything missing. Just before falling asleep, I asked my subconscious to tell me where I put the camera.

The next morning and the next, no news from my psyche. But one morning as I was watching the news, I glanced over at my needlework bag and the previous night’s dream came rushing back: I had dreamt that I was looking for the combination lock to my gym locker and had eventually found it in my needlework bag. A brief search of the bag turned up my camera.

A caveat: this doesn’t work with anything you have carelessly mislaid. It must be something you have knowingly stashed. In my case, I had been on a long-distance bus trip and had secured the camera in my workbag to protect it from any possible travel-related injury—at the same time leaving it to the mercy of my short-term memory.

Elizabeth Kennedy Hewitt CW’45 Chapel Hill, NC

Dream Discoveries Can be Emotional, Too

Dennis Drabelle is correct that dreams do not hold the central place in psychoanalysis that they once did, but he dismisses psychoanalytic understanding of dreaming prematurely. The subject of occasional creative accomplishment and problem solving in dreams, discussed by Drabelle, has a long history. The 18th-century composer Tartini, for example, reported that he wrote his most famous work, his “Devil’s Trill” violin sonata, after hearing the Devil play it in a dream. But dreams like this are the dramatic exception and are neither inconsistent with nor detract from the clinical usefulness of dream analysis.

Indeed, one of the contributions of psychoanalysis is to recognize that people are solving problems in their dreams all the time, but especially emotional problems, more than cognitive ones. The extraordinary creativity with which people do this is seen in psychoanalytic offices daily, and new empirical research confirming unconscious emotional conflict appears frequently.

Lawrence D. Blum M’81, faculty Philadelphia

Solve This Problem

My relish, in reading “In Dreams Begin Discoveries,” at the prospect of a “knotty geometry problem”—to find the intersection of a tangent line to an ellipse and the perpendicular to it emanating from either focus—was almost instantaneously dispelled by the appearance in my mind of at least three solutions that render the problem trivial. Those of us who have labored in education understand what is happening.

The problem, posed by Penn Professor William Lamberton, related by William Newbold in 1896, and resolved by Lamberton in a dream-state, points to the progression and accumulation of knowledge. Today, we would expect advanced high-school students to rise to such challenges while awake—and some actually do.

When I was a public-school eighth-grader half a century ago, my teacher could not cope with the 100-ft-ladder and 100-ft-building puzzle, in which the ladder’s base is moved 10 feet from the building, causing the ladder’s top to slide down from the building’s roofline. He had to find another teacher, one who knew the mysterious Pythagorean Theorem, to determine how far from the roof the ladder had moved. Now, eighth-graders are supposed to know Pythagoras; those who hope to achieve something in academia can resolve right triangles in their heads.

And there’s the rub: fewer American students are achieving at the highest levels, especially as compared with international students. In my home regional school district here in Pike County, not one senior from the 2008 graduating class was accepted to a selective college. Our “average” has become simply miserable, though we are acceptable according to state standards.

We talk about class sizes, teacher preparation, spending per student, school-year length, computers in classrooms, etc., but never about how much information and how many skills are being required. Every aspect of education has been the professionalized subject and object of entire scholarly careers, yet an increasing fraction of our population verges on illiteracy and is inarguably innumerate.

In terms of our public schools, the United States is attaining third-world status among the developed world’s nations—as schools close, classes swell, school days shorten, attention to sports expands, the school year remains based on the agricultural calendar, and the demands of the science/knowledge society increase. We are headed for a crisis that will make the economic collapse of 2008 seem like the good old days.

Anthony Splendora C’83 GEd’86 Milford, PA

Palin: Dangerous Radical Posturing as Conservative

May I suggest that Ronnee Schreiber’s admirable essay, “The Rise of the Female Right” [“Expert Opinion,” Jan|Feb] might have included examination of Sarah Palin as a dangerous radical posturing as a conservative in what may have been the closest face of “crypto” fascism we have seen since the McCarthy era of the 1950s. And just what did she do to “liberate” women in public life? She is a pure daughter of our reckless times, inheriting “agendas” or fixed “ideologies” such as we have seen rampaging in the past decade which cannot advance causes of conservatism—restraint, probity, forbearance, equal rights, and protection under the law. Even to use the word Right is to frame the discussion in an almost indecent way.

As a conservative voter for the first time in 1968, I have never seen such a free-falling abandonment of public stewardship as in the past administration, which has inflamed the hot-beds of ignorance and prejudice, giving rise to Governor Palin’s ascent to national attention, and worse, the conservative banner.

David Taylor Johannesen W’68 Topanga, CA

Don’t Group ERA Critics and the Klan

Ronnee Schreiber writes, “Female activists challenged other women’s attempts to win suffrage, formed into Women of the Ku Klux Klan, and perhaps most famously, led a successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).”

We associate the Klan with racism. Is Schreiber implying that “female activists” are racists? An explanation, at least—and, likely, an apology—are in order for grouping anti-ERA citizens with the Ku Klux Klan. Suffrage and ERA battles happened decades apart; the only connection I know is that both suffragettes and ERA critics opposed abortion.

Albert J. McGlynn C’67 Philadelphia

Left Doesn’t Own Feminism

Ronnee Schreiber portrays the female Right as “advocating antifeminist views.” Feminism is defined as “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.” The female Right certainly is for equal rights for women, so it is not fair to accuse them of being anti-feminist or non-feminist simply because they disagree with left-wing feminists.

Although the feminist Left believes that women should have the right to abort their children, and views that as a feminist issue, it does not belong to the definition of the word feminism. Equal rights to men does not imply the right to abort simply because men don’t get pregnant. The argument can be made that the female Right is more feminist than the female Left because in contrast to the feminist Left the feminist Right advocates the right of the female embryo to live.

Schreiber’s article also pooh-poohs the concerns for women’s health expressed by the feminist Right, but there are legitimate health concerns associated with abortion, such as the reduced ability to have children in the future. There again one could argue that the feminist Right is more feminist than the feminist Left.

Gamaliel Isaac Gr’92 Highland Park, NJ

A Correction on Philly’s Place de la Concorde

While impressed with the thoughts of Nathaniel Popkin in the article “City of Dreamers” [“Alumni Profiles,” Jan|Feb], I must nevertheless correct an error in the accompanying excerpt from his book The Possible City.

The passage to be corrected is as follows:

“In between, at Logan Square, is a Philadelphia Place de la Concorde. The library and courthouse there replicate the Hôtel de Crillon and the building that houses the U.S. Embassy.”

While the library (where I happened to have stacked books while attending Central High) is a replica of the Hôtel Crillon, the courthouse is not modeled after the building which houses the U.S. Embassy but a replica of d’hôtel du Ministère de la Marine (Naval Ministry). The U. S. Embassy is west of the Hôtel Crillon, and does not front on the Place. (I am familiar with that Embassy in that, attempting to photograph it, I was ushered away by our Marines.)

As a professor at Miami-Dade College, for years I proudly showed my students here in Miami those same buildings, comparing them to the two at the head of the Place de la Concorde. In fact, I often showed one or the other (Philly or Paris) in an exam, with the only difference being the French flag flying atop one, just to test their powers of observation.

In fact, the two buildings in Logan Square (or “circle”) are more complete than the two in Paris, which have only finished their facades facing the Place, with slight wraparounds. The remaining two sides and rears are not adorned with classic details at all, while “ours” have all four sides finished!

Also, I could not help but empathize with Popkin’s comment on returnees from outside the States—Asia, Europe, and Latin America—asking, “Well, why don’t we have that?”

Back in 1974, when I was involved in the citizens’ end of planning our Metrorail here in Miami, I showed slides of the Mexican subway system, jammed with people, and also with eating kiosks on or near the train platforms. The floors were spotless. I was lobbying for eating spots along our Miami-Dade system, and the then-mayor of Coral Gables (through which the system runs) said: “Well, they would get cracked on their skulls if they littered. We can’t have that here.” And when Coral Gables issued its first permit allowing a restaurant to have 10—count them, 10!—chairs outside on the sidewalk, a city commissioner vehemently opposed the exception in what locals like to call “The City Beautiful,” asking: “We don’t want another South Beach here, do we?”

So at some point we need to educate the public and our elected officials. People would actually tell me that Europeans were “different,” and that whatever we wished to emulate here would simply just not work for that reason.

Edward D. Levinson Ar’57 GAr’58 Miami

Further Reading

To fully appreciate Peter Conn’s review of Stanley Fish’s Save The World On Your Own Time [“All Things Ornamental,” Jan|Feb], readers also need to consider Charles Murray’s Real Education. Both authors pull no punches in exposing what purports to be higher education in this country at a time when the stakes have never been higher.

The truth is that degrees have lost much of their worth because their original purpose has been undermined by competing demands. The U.S. stands out in this regard as a result of its commitment to democratization in education. In sharp contrast, other countries engage in a policy of differentiation beginning as early as the end of elementary school and continuing well on into tertiary education.

The debate will only intensify in the decades ahead as reformers seek ways to prepare students for the new global economy, and the cost of earning degrees of any kind skyrockets. This combination is unprecedented in higher education.

Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles

Season of Discontent

The men’s and women’s basketball teams are an embarrassment after so many years of competitive and enjoyable seasons.

Oleg N. Dudkin ME’48 Berwyn, PA

Dude, Relax!

Michael Kasloff informs us that he will no longer receive the Gazette or contribute to his school and, what’s more, will “work tirelessly” to encourage others to do the same—all because the magazine printed a letter expressing an opinion about which he disagrees [“Letters,” Jan|Feb]. Dude, relax! If the man’s thoughts are really that offensive, they will be recognized as such by any intelligent reader. In the marketplace of ideas, we don’t have to buy everything on the shelf. Tolerance becomes a meaningless piety if you try to suppress the opposition.

David Bolger D’79 Williamstown, NJ

Editor’s Note, Annotated

In the editor’s note responding to my letter regarding page 96 of the Nov/Dec issue [“Window”], you write:

No doubt we’re all smarter, or at least humbler, than we were in college, but laughing at our politicians and political campaigns is surely something to which all Americans, of whatever age and beliefs, have a right.

Illiterates ought to be humble, but, alas, your response isn’t. You missed the point of my letter and that of Roger Fulton, who bemoans the “intellectual arrogance” that permeates page 96. He and I don’t assert that you shouldn’t have made fun of Palin or Biden; we’re objecting to the tasteless, politically biased way in which you did it. And please spare us your sanctimony about “rights”; obviously you have the right to free speech … but not to publish crass drivel without expecting a backlash.

In truth, we have no idea what moment in the debate prompted the students’ laughter. The headline, however, seeks to be an equal opportunity offender, combining Biden’s Champ and Palin’s You Betcha to create a single faux-folksy phrase.—Ed.

This is the most cowardly equivocation I’ve read in some time. Even if this is true, your “single faux-folksy phrase” is both illiterate (conflating Biden and Palin) and a failure as an “equal opportunity offender.”

Let me guess how many letters you got from Biden supporters irritated that page 96 insulted him. Zero, right? You’re well aware that Palin’s You Betcha was cited incessantly by the media during the campaign, and her folksiness was far more of an issue than Biden’s. Your response is therefore laughably evasive, and its smug tone approaches that which pervades Page 96.

Thomas Dineen GL’95 Baltimore

Lame Effort

I just read the letters from Thomas Dineen and Roger Fulton [“Letters,” Jan|Feb]. I couldn’t agree more with what they both said. When I saw that photo of the students (or “juveniles” as described by Mr. Fulton) my reaction was instant and exactly the same. It was crystal clear what prompted the obviously derisive laughter, despite the lame effort of the editor to explain that the photo’s headline was “an equal opportunity offender.” How many letters did you receive from liberals accusing the students of mocking Joe Biden? My guess would be zero.

Chris Olmstead C’64 Atlanta

Mr. Dineen and Mr. Olmstead are correct that we have received no complaints from Biden supporters. Apparently, they did not take the opportunity to be offended.—Ed.

“Window” on Intolerance

I must take profound issue with the most insulting and intolerant anti-woman and sexist “Window” page in the Nov/Dec issue.

I would expect better from the Penn student body but, then again, maybe I shouldn’t. Politically conservative thought on most college campuses including Penn is on the endangered-species list. Invited speakers with a conservative point of view are routinely shouted down, or worse.

As stated under the caption this event was purportedly part of a voter-education program sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Some education!

I would hope that the present female president of Penn, Dr. Amy Gutmann, would find this picture equally distasteful and demeaning to a fellow accomplished woman, the governor of Alaska, whatever her political persuasion. Such closed-minded behavior is shameful and undeserving of any institution of higher learning.

Finally, it would have been bad enough to merely print this photograph in an on-campus student publication where it would be confined to the apparently brainwashed population of undergraduate liberals at Penn. But to proudly display this ignorance to the wider and presumably wiser Penn Alumni magazine audience is truly beyond the pale—or must the brainwashing continue even after graduation?

David S. Robin C’79 Fair Lawn, NJ

Please Try Understanding

Why label college students juveniles, 21-year-old-know-nothings, and opinionated? Could it be that substituting attack for reason and intelligent debate suggests the smug moral superiority of the right that sets them off?

Please try to understand instead of inflicting your cherished beliefs on others. Outrage at a difference of opinion is suitable for a totalitarian society, not a democratic one.

Marjorie Cohen Ed’59 Silver Spring, MDu


Though it was considered in some plans, no “hole was blasted through the biomedical library” to improve access to the School of Nursing’s Fagin Hall, as was stated in “The Energizer Dean” [Jan|Feb]. Our apologies to the library staff and anyone else who was confused by the claim.


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Last modified 3/03/09