The Colgate Scene
March 2002

The Colgate Scene welcomes letters from readers. We reserve the right to edit letters for brevity and clarity.
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A big man

. . . My father, Don "Darb" Tobin '34, was a big man by any measure. Physically, at 6'3", he was large enough to be the starting center on his high school basketball team, and later, to play on a semi-pro team coached by Les Harrison. In those days, there was a center jump ball after every basket, so the position held even greater importance.

In the civic life of his community, he also played a large part. Not only did he coach my Little League team, he was also president of the Wayne Central School Board during the centralization of the district and the construction of the junior/senior high school.

He was a prominent businessman. Upon graduation from Colgate in 1934, he went on to help run and expand the family canning business. Later, he would become senior vice president with Curtice-Burns Foods, Inc.

As a provider, he ensured that his five sons would complete 29 years of post-high school education. Then, in later years, he and Mom provided nest eggs for the sizeable following generation.

A large fan of his alma mater, Darb truly was "a loyal Colgate son." As class agent, he did not shrink from calling on his friends to donate, even when that classmate was former Secretary of State William Rogers. Darb's name will live on at Colgate, both as a Maroon Citation recipient and as a founder of the Tobin-Billings Geology Scholarship.

However, Dad never stood so tall as when he stooped to care for his wife, Margaret, as she slipped away from us with Alzheimer's. Her flashing eyes and smile faded, but he stayed true to his vow to care for her "in sickness and in health."

As big a man as Don Tobin was, however, he freely admitted he "couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket." He knew what music he liked, though, and he liked to hear me sing with the Colgate Thirteen. I can picture him leaning in a doorway with his arms folded and his eyes closed, savoring each mellow chord. One doesn't have to be Freud to understand that both little and big boys spend much of their lives trying to please their fathers. How perfect that such a big man could take joy in such small pleasures.


. . . The article on David and Jackie Rejman Avner and their bizarre mission to genetically engineer allergy-free cats is simply disturbing (Jan. 2002). In fact, I read it several times to make sure I hadn't missed the joke.

While genetic engineering may have useful applications to health problems that, unlike allergies to cats, cannot necessarily be avoided by making minor sacrifices such as foregoing a cat (cancer jumps to mind), its exploitation for profit (note the Avners will neuter the cats to "protect their investment"!) is not a worthy pursuit. By the way, why are the Avners so bent on creating the perfect cat when they already own the apparently docile, neutered, de-clawed, de-odorized, stuffed cat pictured on their daughter's lap?

The Scene is a large part of Colgate's public persona; highlighting exploits such as the Avners' -- as if to say, "Look what Colgate has produced!" -- is embarrassing to those of us who value the Colgate tradition. Let me assure you that I embrace Colgate's liberal arts tradition and the myriad of careers and achievements it has spawned. But while Mary Shelley's Frankenstein belongs on the freshman English curriculum, the Avners' Frankenstein cats do not belong in the Scene. . . .

Disturbed by Safi

. . . I find Professor Safi's column (Jan. 2002) disturbing in that nowhere does he condemn the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the American Airlines flight that crashed outside of Pittsburgh. In addition, he stealthily hides behind a concocted, contrived, communal "response" while unabashedly blaming the victim.

Let us look at the following two quotes from the column. "Together, we continue to come to terms with this crazy, painful world in which we are now the victim, now the aggressor." What does this mean? In what way were the people who were brutally murdered on Sept. 11, 2001 aggressors? More than 3,000 people were liquidated by suicidal fanatics who failed to demonstrate the slightest respect for human life.

Quote number two: "Part of this mission consists of undertaking a more critical examination of our position in the world, particularly given our place of privilege and prominence." Oh, I see, because the United States has managed to create the greatest civilization in history, it is America that has to examine itself? True, in some respects. However, the real examination must be done by the so-called "moderate" Moslems, the perhaps 85 percent of the world's total who fail both to censure the rhetoric and to staunch the fury of the Islamic fundamentalists. The fact is that the Moslem extremists hate the West, seeing it as the Great Satan.

Professor Safi, in your position of leadership at Colgate, will you condemn, unconditionally, what your Moslem brothers did to our countrymen? Or is your next canard the usual one that if only the United States were to end its support of its only true ally in the Middle East, Israel, the Islamicists would stop assaulting us?

Lastly, Professor Safi's comments about the citizens of Hamilton, N.Y. were condescending, but all too typical of the intellectual elites. Professor Safi seems to express surprise that the Colgate community has opened its hearts and doors to him and his family. The lesson here, sir, is that small towns like Hamilton are the backbone of this country and could teach the elites a thing or two about true tolerance. Unfortunately, it is the misnamed intellectual elites, through their misguided multicul-tural programs, that have created the divisions designed to balkanize and eventually destroy the United States. Whatever happened to E Pluribus Unum, anyway?

Free speech

. . . According to recent news reports, Colgate is on the brink of becoming something other than a university. A professor on the chopping block because he dared exercise free speech? Mandatory "minority sensitivity training" (read: thought control)?

Is there anybody in the administration courageous enough to state publicly the real purpose of a university: the free exchange of ideas? All ideas. . . .

Masculinity is . . .

. . . It is my assessment that [Barry] Shain (Nov. 2001) fails to recognize that masculinity is not date-rape, it is not alcoholism, it is not heterosexual, it is not mass conformity, it is not racial segregation and it is not even necessarily male. . . .

Not unlike the experiences of countless gay men and lesbians, my college days were characterized by turmoil, self-hatred and ultimately, self-discovery. In the classroom and in the faculty, I found an incredible environment within which I became a highly educated, highly critical and highly confident. With exceptional support from Colgate faculty my academic education and the process by which I came to accept myself as a worthwhile human being became inextricably linked. . . .

Among the student body, I found an environment within which students wantonly abused drugs and alcohol, men were taught to degrade and sexually exploit women and women were socialized not to respect themselves. Mass conformity was the rule of the day, and one could cut the racial tension on campus with a knife. Like most Colgate students, I was socially as well as academically competitive. I joined a fraternity, became a member of the men's crew team, and did my best to conceal my sexual orientation despite being called a "faggot" at crew practice and earning the nickname "Gay Ted" in my pledge class. . . .

My point is to challenge current Colgate faculty and staff to seriously consider what it is that makes Colgate special and how positive change can occur on campus that does not jeopardize its unique qualities. I really don't think that it is truly an issue of "masculinity" that constitutes the problem. The Colgate environment that I experienced perverts masculinity and hijacked it the same way that the Taliban has hijacked Islam.


. . . Professor Shain correctly points out that "at Colgate, almost every expression of masculinity, particular-ly adolescent varieties, is being slowly but consistently challenged.". . .

The path forward for our nation and our university is clear. We must continue to develop citizens who appreciate our national and intellectual tradition and the superiority of a liberal arts education. All Colgate students, both men and women, benefit from the best of the male tradition at Colgate, which includes competitive varsity sports and the Greek system. These institutions develop self-confident, experienced leaders who will represent Colgate and the United States proudly, especially in times of conflict. First-rate academics, Division I athletics and the Greek system complement each other, just as traditional male culture complements both women and society. The faculty and administrators who try to abolish these elements of Colgate culture will destroy that which makes our school great. As C.S. Lewis warned us in The Abolition of Man, "We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."


. . . Our university, isolated geographically and therefore dependent upon on campus social activities and one that historically has had a strong Greek system, should seek a [president] that would advocate and enhance the Greek system. . . .

Dean Cappeto stated at a seminar reunion weekend that fraternities "are just bars with no brotherhood." That is an inaccurate and unfair statement. There is much to the brotherhood and camaraderie far beyond the bar scene.

The recent graduates I know attest to the fact that alcohol consumption is prevalent in the dorms as well as the fraternity houses. Unfortunately the 21-year drinking age has placed college administrations in an intolerable position and also encourages binge drinking prior to attending "dry" campus events. That is the fault of the law and for fraternities to bear the brunt of the problem is based on subjective rather than objective reasoning. Binge drinking is prevalent on campuses country wide, fraternities or no fraternities.

It is time the faculty, administration and trustees recognize Colgate's assets, which traditionally embrace the Greek system as part of the Colgate experience. There are admittedly faults, but let's not "throw out the baby with the bath water." . . . The administration should work to improve the system rather than eliminate an integral part of our campus life. . . .

To preserve the traditions that have been primary in maintaining the respect Colgate has enjoyed amongst the prestigious liberal arts institutions, the trustees should lead the president in determining policy. In turn, the administration and faculty should enforce policy determined by the trustees and president. Unfortunately policies recently seem to be set by consensus rather than a leader with convictions. While times and circumstances change, basic principles remain the same.

. . . I would hope that the committee studying campus life and the search committee seeking a president will be objective in considering Colgate's traditions and location and set a course that is consistent with, and one that will enhance rather than ignore, what has made undergraduate life at Colgate the great experience it has been both academically and socially.

Academic acumen

. . . As a professor at a state-owned university for 11 years, and having served as chair of an academic department, I have a perspective to offer that differs markedly from John Wilson's (Sept. 2001). Mr. Wilson seems to believe that the (in his view) poor selection of past presidents is the faculty's fault. He claims that "the administration and the faculty . . . have programmed the selection process." But with the search committee composed of seven trustees (one of whom is chair), five elected faculty and two students, the faculty and administration can't impose anything.

More importantly, Mr. Wilson seems to urge that the committee give priority to candidates outside of academia. This is the equivalent of a business in search of a CEO that looks last to the business community itself for an effective leader. In higher education, viable candidates for a presidency typically have climbed an academic ladder. They begin as department chairs, preside over faculty senates and then usually serve as deans and/or provosts. Thus their constituencies and responsibilities become ever broader and more varied, equipping them with the necessary skills to assume a presidency. The best of them develop business acumen and remain anchored by their commitment to excellence in teaching and fostering a healthy campus life. . . .

I am not opposed to including candidates from outside higher education, but I remain skeptical that there are any who will have the experience necessary to understand fully both the need for fiscal responsibility and the damage inflicted upon a university when bottom-line thinking prevails. It may come as a surprise, but there are academicians who are not only devoted to their fields and students, but also are deft administrators and leaders with integrity. Some of them currently teach and administer at Colgate.

Competitive advantage

. . . John Wilson lamented the fact that our last five presidents attempted to "destroy Colgate's unique position and take away its competitive advantage." He did not spell out just what that "position" or "advantage" is (or was). Rather, as is so often the case with those who invoke nostalgic memories of the "good old days," he simply invoked vague abstractions. That is understandable. The good old days are always better in memory than reality.

When John Wilson and I attended Colgate, what was distinctive about it, and what defined it, was fraternities, drinking and athletics. No one would have accused it of being intellectual. We may have prided ourselves on the fact that we took on and beat the Ivy League on the playing field. We certainly didn't have any interest in competing with them in the classroom. (No intellectual snobs here.) Thus, because we were supposed to be "an institution of higher learning," it was necessary to put the (then) new library at the head of the list of buildings that Colgate was planning to build. But we all knew that the field house would be completed first, which it was. Those were Colgate's priorities.

If the truth be told, one of the things that most distinguished Colgate when John Wilson and I were there was an inferiority complex. We knew we were only second best -- except on the playing field. That was Colgate's "unique position." I remember an alumnus saying to one of the first two of those five presidents that he understood that "college students today" were perhaps too serious (socially and politically) and asked him if he found that to be a problem at Colgate. "No," he answered. "I wish it were more of a problem."

John Wilson is right. Colgate's last five presidents (actually its last six) have tried to change Colgate and "make it like another school." Moreover, they have succeeded. Colgate is a very different school. In fact, it is finally the school that it always pretended to be. Yes, it is still a school for "jocks." But it is now a school for "smart jocks." I, for one, have no problem with that. I always thought that an institution of "higher learning" was supposed to be about learning.

Mr. Wilson's letter is interesting for what he conceded without realizing it, some of it positive and some of it negative. On the negative side, it is that, despite the rosy picture that the administration likes to give us of Colgate (at once perfect and at the same time striving to be even more perfect -- which we know is not possible), its last five presidents were very frustrated in their efforts. Despite the gloss that everyone has put on it, they apparently met a lot of resistance, which is no doubt why so many of them gave thought to leaving. . . .

John Wilson is right. Colgate has changed. What has also changed, though he may not realize it, is that there are not too many of us who want to go back. We like it as it is. It's now our turn to be proud of Colgate.

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