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Sylvester's salute

I was honored and immensely pleased by the letters published in the November Scene. To each of you who wrote, a deep bow. And a salute to friends -- colleagues, alumni and students -- who gave two splendid surprise parties, who called and sent messages, who traveled to Colgate to celebrate my "graduation" from school at last, and to all of you who wanted to come but were unable to be here. Nothing could have given me a greater sense of satisfaction than your tributes and good wishes.

People often ask how I became a professor of Russian. This is a story I haven't told before. When I was a very young boy in Minnesota, my Norwegian uncle, Ludwig Arctander, a cousin of Alfred Nobel and a prominent lawyer in Minneapolis, dubbed me, for some reason, "the little professor," and never doubted that I would grow up to be a professor -- of what, however, he did not reveal, at least to me. Years later, in 1952, in my first week at the University of Minnesota, completely lost, I sought out the Norwegian language department, obscurely drawn there, I realize now, by a need for inspiration from my uncle (who was not there to advise me, having died of a heart attack the very day Hitler's army invaded Norway in 1940).

Far off the beaten track where the exotic European languages were taught, among locally famous courses in Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish, I wandered, by a kind of Tolstoyan chance -- by destiny in other words -- into a classroom where a few hardy souls were trying to say "hello" in a multisyllabic word filled with big open vowels and strangely altered consonants. It was my first encounter with Russian, and I instantly knew that was what I wanted to learn. I never looked back, nor have I ever felt a moment of regret for that lucky encounter that made my life what it finally became as a Professor of Russian at Colgate.


Burma boycott

. . . College and university students, at many times and places, have brought important moral and political issues to the attention of the public. So it was, last October, when students from Europe and Asia joined university students in this country, including those at Colgate, to protest the murderous military regime of Burma and US companies which support it with their business.

To many of us, Burma is a little known, faraway country which has little to do with issues that directly affect us. A few of us have traveled to Thailand and have experienced the truths and horrors that are the result of the past 40 years of military oppression in Burma (see General Education in the Thai Highlands, November 1994 Scene).

The UN and western governments, including the US, have condemned the military government of Burma and have asked for power to be given to the democratic party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, which won the last free election of 1990.

Burma is an extremely poor country, and those in power rely on international investors for economic survival. The boycott of October was an attempt to expose the political implications of such investment. We focused on investors such as PepsiCo, Texaco and Unocal, all of which Colgate currently invests in. A second aim of the demonstration was to urge Colgate to review its own position with respect to these issues as it relates not only to stewardship of its financial resources but also to its moral and civic responsibilities.


The state of Colgate football

. . . This letter is to thank John Konefal '89 for his excellent letter in the September Scene on the state of Colgate football today.

Not since Paul Newman and Robert Redford conned Robert Shaw in "The Sting" has a group been conned as we were by the Ivy League. Who can blame them when we were beating them at a better than 80% average in the '70s and early '80s. Now we not only lose regularly to second-rate Ivy teams, we are barely competitive with third-rate Patriot League teams. As I write this we are 0-7 with Army next week and prospects excellent for a 0-11 season.

It was wonderful coming back to Hamilton on fall weekends in the '70s and '80s. Also the Princeton game, which for many was a mini-reunion. The last game I suffered through was the 1994 debacle. I saw three people I knew at the game. I guess most older alumni were smart and stayed away.

This demise started in the Langdon era and spiraled downward under the present administration. The new football staff was supposed to turn this program around in three years, so some blame must be placed on them. Yesterday, while listening to the Columbia-Yale game, the Columbia announcer said, "Dart-mouth is rolling over the Patriot League's most inept team, Colgate, 28-0."

It is obvious this administration doesn't realize how important the football team is to us. We took great pride in our team and they bound us together at Colgate. The memory of the 1954 pep rally before the Yale game, when both teams were unbeaten and because of Saturday classes many of us couldn't go, is still vivid in my mind. Apparently to appease a few dissident faculty members a losing football program makes us better academically. Tell that to Stanford.

I'm embarrassed when people ask me what has happened to Colgate's football program. I think I have been a loyal and generous alum over the years. Until we take a different, realistic approach, I find my loyalty wavering.

New York City