The Colgate Scene
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. . . My older brother, John B. Wright, graduated from Colgate in 1964, was drafted, and fought in Vietnam. He was highly decorated (Silver Star and Bronze Medal) and, ironically, was killed stateside during a training mission at Fort Quantico, Va.
Besides the sense of loss and the senseless nature of his death, I had always felt that very few people knew or cared about his death. This all changed when a friend of mine, a Colgate alumnus, gave me a copy of the documentary Broken Brotherhood: Vietnam and the Boys from Colgate. For the first time in almost 40 years, I realized someone noticed that John counted, and that he had friends who cared.
I am so grateful to Lou Buttino and Robert Aberlin for their film. They talk about the sense of loss they felt because of the strife and divisions created by the war, but the effects are more far reaching than most realize. Parents, siblings, and children felt the loss as well.
My son, a high school junior, recently toured the Northeast and the Colgate campus. I was initially neutral in my thoughts of my son potentially going to Colgate. After viewing Broken Brotherhood, I would be immensely proud of my son should he be lucky enough to be accepted. A school that can produce individuals like Lou Buttino and Robert Aberlin, as well as the individuals who expressed themselves so eloquently in Broken Brotherhood, is a school that every parent should hope their child can attend.
. . . It was with sadness that I learned about the passing of Tom O'Brien '71 at the premature age of 58 (Deaths, May 2007). Tom reminded me of one of his own literary heroes, William Butler Yeats: bookish, highly intellectual, a bit eccentric, but always motivated by humane values. In a literary discussion with him, the conversation always became intense and spirited.
One of the Maroon editors, Tom often solicited material from friends who were aspiring writers. Due to his promptings, I penned some work for publication. He provided me with valuable editorial feedback, and helped me polish my writing to an acceptable level. In the language of contemporary sports, he was an impact player — he not only played his position well, but also elevated the performance of those around him.
When I participated in the London Study Group during my senior year, Tom studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. He used to come down to my flat, sip wine, and talk about literature and politics. His visits were always stimulating and instructive. In addition, he was in tune with the cultural life of London and could direct you to some of the best classical music and theatrical performances in town.
Tom O'Brien represented some of the best of Colgate University. His sophisticated analysis of issues and literary flair caused many of us to lift our game to another level. Indeed, our team sadly misses a man who was an intellectual leader and a highly skilled player.
. . . I continue to receive glossy solicitations from Colgate to contribute to its Passion for the Climb fundraising campaign, filled with meaningless marketing phrases about Colgate's "migration" and "vision." At the same time, I also receive solicitations from an outside group calling itself Students & Alumni for Colgate, Inc., decrying a purported trend toward political correctness on campus.
My Colgate education enhanced my ability to think critically, and I don't respond well to empty phrases from Colgate's administration any more than I do to homophobic appeals wrapped in an effort to reconstitute the college's governing process.
A plague on both your houses.
. . . My letter is in response to [Vice President for Public Relations and Communications] Charlie Melichar's recent classless e-mail to alumni [Colgate Response to Recent E-mail from Christine Burtt-SA4C, April 4, 2007]. I am not affiliated with SA4C, just a troubled alumnus.
It is unfortunate that the Colgate administration continues to ignore (with great disdain and ad hominem attacks) the legitimate concerns of alumni regarding the university's leftward drift (well underway during my time at Colgate), PC tyranny in the classrooms (conform, or face poor grades), and a total lack of any real attempt at intellectual diversity beyond the legendary Bob Kraynak and maybe another token or two.
The very fact that such a group as SA4C is formed and gets significant support amongst what was formerly one of the most loyal and full of "school-spirit" alumni ought to cause the administration some serious soul-searching. Instead, all we see is defensiveness, disdain, and personal attacks on the school's own alumni. How incredibly crass and tasteless. These are the people that made Colgate what it is today, who spent $120,000-plus in my day (more now) on Colgate, and have added untold tens of thousands of dollars in contributions as alums. And the administration du jour decides to attack them simply because they dare to disagree with current policies? So much for respecting divergent opinions — or the free exchange of ideas on a college campus.
Colgate used to be far classier than this. Indeed, I touted its virtues as a tour guide and admissions volunteer my entire time at Colgate. Recently, I have had to temper my supportive words about the school when speaking to high school relatives and children of friends looking at colleges. Now, I feel compelled to steer people away. How very sad.
. . . I see that a renegade group of alumni (SA4C) have embarked on an effort to blackmail the university by withholding contributions. Interestingly, they do not fly their true colors publicly, but cloud them with smoke and mirrors. Don't watch the hand with the wand waving at core curriculum and rising costs. Watch the other hand that holds the political, cultural, and sexual prejudices and, most significantly (and ironically), the fraternatural love. Their hazily recollected joys of youth at school — the hazing, the bonding through exclusion, the boozy harassment of other students and locals — are in fact embarrassing remnants of what should be a dead and buried past.
Although most readers of the Scene will likely agree that a liberal arts education should be rigorous, the truth is that at highly selective schools, Colgate among them, the "rigors" are confined primarily to the entry hurdles. Once through the front gate, it turns out to be rather easy to stay or even excel. Lesser schools let weak scholars fail, while selective ones do all they can to help their chosen students make it through, no matter what. One need only look toward the White House to confirm this fact and, of course, to see the result. So, reform is clearly needed, but not of the sort proposed by the backward-looking SA4C.
True reform would start by eliminating all non-meritorious hierarchies, including all vestiges of the so-called "Greek" societies. It would select students on merit as measured by candidates' past achievements, future personal potential, and anticipated contributions to the community, eliminating all "legacy" preferences. Diversity itself is an asset; research proves that decisions made by groups of diverse thinkers eclipse those of individuals or of homogenous groups.
Those who want to see lasting educational reform should look not inside Colgate, but rather out in the larger society. To start, let's re-institute progressive taxation by adopting the IRS schedules (inflation adjusted) used by that flaming liberal, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Then we should increase the estate tax to at least 90 percent, ending the culture of plutocracy that permits the children of wealth to control that wealth as an accident of birth. Let merit rise on its own without parental thumbs on the scale. Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson, today embraced by Republicans as their party's inspiration, fought against and ended the rule of primogenitor in Virginia. He found the idea that the eldest son should get all the wealth profoundly undemocratic. He would be appalled at the current imbalance of wealth, now at a never-before-seen level of disparity, and would urge the logical next step: the elimination of inheritances.
Ironically, if the leaders of SA4C really wanted to improve life at Colgate, they would be giving more money to the school immediately. An endowment sufficient to fund the education of deserving but non-wealthy students would be the single-most valuable asset in the battle against ignorance. SA4C has accomplished one thing — I will increase my donation this year!
. . . Colgate lacrosse is resurgent. Interest has spiked. A big reason, beyond the team and coaches, is the parents.
Last year, they began organizing special tailgates. The biggest, most talked-about event was the first Colgate Lacrosse Away Tailgate at Army. More than 100 came. Name tags displayed both parents' and sons' names, and easy conversation and shared interests — plus good food and drink — soon put everyone on a first-name basis. Colgate lost, but if you were on parking lot D afterwards, you'd never have guessed. We all made a mental note to find out where it would be this year. The answer was at Lafayette on April 14. I was there, with son Michael '90, George Behling '57, and grandsons Tommy, 9, and Zach, 7.
The parents set up with the purpose and efficiency of something between Ringling Bros. and an Army field mess (with better food). The game's first half was tight, but Colgate won 12-5, and the team stopped by to eat before heading back to Hamilton. They mixed easily and comfortably with the crowd. Tommy, a lacrosse goalie in an under-10 league, talked to Colgate's goalie and can't wait for next year.
We asked what we could bring next time. The answer was, "just be sure to come, and thanks for coming today." Well beyond their sons, their team, and school, these parents exhibit true affection for all who share a love for Colgate. It's rare and wonderful and deserves our utmost thanks.
We certainly look forward to next year.
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