The Colgate Scene
September 2004

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In praise of Jerry Balmuth

. . . It was with great pleasure that I read the well-deserved tribute to Jerry Balmuth (July 2004), who was not only one of my professors but a friend as well. Though I was a history major and seldom ventured near the rather intimidating field of philosophy, I was privileged to have taken five courses with him, more than with any other faculty member: the P&R core, logic, and the American studies core. (Were I to relive my Colgate experience again, I would have taken his course in the introduction to philosophy and any course on the broad history of philosophy. For now, I have to satisfy myself with philosophy videos from the Teaching Company, one of which, by the way, is taught by a Colgate graduate. )

Jerry has a unique gift among professors; that is, the ability to make the complicated clear. He also has the gift of cutting through dense prose, be it Kant, Wittgenstein, or just a confused undergraduate, and to reveal the core of an argument. He gave me a curiosity that I hope has never left me. He also possesses one of the most versatile minds I know, for he possesses a fine knowledge of American intellectual history and of contemporary social problems. He was always a staunch supporter of the old core courses and saw them, quite correctly I believe, as part of Colgate's mission, something that separated us from Williams or Wesleyan. He was a demanding professor but never unfair. For a while, he was a presence on the board of the University Church, and it was marvelous to see his interaction with [philosophy and religion professors] Bob Smith and Don Berry at [then-President] Everett and Josephine Case's home at Van Hornesville. It was particularly during freshman year that Jerry made a difference to me, showing me that college was more than athletic boosting and fraternity life.

He is also an extremely kind human being. When I graduated from Colgate in 1960, I introduced him to my parents. He soon discovered that, being Brooklynites (as he himself was), they had no car. Jerry and his wife Ruth drove us all back to the Utica railroad station. During the academic year 1963-64, I taught at Colgate as a temporary replacement for my history mentor, Charles "T" Blackton. Jerry was more than welcoming to me; he saved me from many pitfalls into which a green instructor could fall. When passing through the village of Hamilton in the fall of 1977 on a research trip, Jerry and Ruth insisted that my wife Carol, and I stay overnight.

My thanks to the Colgate Scene for such a fine article.

. . . I am one of the 9,000 who credit a portion of their education to Jerry Balmuth. One snowy December afternoon of my senior year, I was in the basement of whichever building housed the philosophy and religion department. A secretary was typing my molecular biology term paper. Jerry and I had a lengthy, amiable discussion about the unhappy state of pre-med culture at Colgate. For some reason, I left thinking he was another professor, Coleman Brown. I had no inkling that I was speaking with then-embattled Professor Balmuth, embroiled in controversy because Values and Institutions in a Changing World -- the Core 370 course he lorded over -- was mandatory.

Come registration at the end of January, I was zig-zagging around Huntington Gymnasium, pursuing my desired courses, and planning to intercalate the dreaded 370 course where need be. Professor Balmuth sat at the folding table for the course, stacks of tickets arrayed by section in front of him, each behind a sign naming the instructor for the section. My needs dictated a noon slot. For some reason, the instructor was not named for this slot.

Recognizing each other, we exchanged pleasantries. "Who will be teaching the noon section?" I asked. "Well, that depends, are you interested more in political philosophy or economic philosophy?" he asked. I was mostly interested in finishing at Colgate. I still recall opting for the philosophical approach, but I do not recall exactly how he broached the question of whom I would not wish to teach the course, because the choice had not been made. In naive confidence, I stated, "Well, not Balmuth." "Why not?" he asked (archly). "I hear he is quite a stickler."

He betrayed nothing, handed over the noon ticket, and wished me good luck. I turned and walked away. Just then, I passed a friend heading toward his table. "Hi , Mr. Balmuth," she gushed. I stumbled on my error and quickened my steps away.

At the start of its first session, the noon 370 class tittered nervously. Balmuth flew in, ripped off his rubbers, and opened the shades. Lots of shuffling student feet. Then came the announcement: no one may opt out of this course until the end of class. One hour later, half the class was gone. Resigned to my fate, I decided to make the best of it.

The class morphed into a small seminar. Professor Balmuth introduced me to [Milton] Friedman, [John Maynard] Keynes, and others. The man and the readings earned my best efforts. In response, he wrote one of the most generous and detailed letters of recommendation I ever received.

. . . The article on Jerry Balmuth asserts that the campus had "very few African Americans, fewer Jews, and no Catholics." As a freshman in 1950 on my floor in Stillman, 25 percent of the residents were Catholic. The Newman Club was well established on campus and there were a number of Catholics in the Beta House. The Hillel Society was also in good working order and there were a good number of Jews on campus and in various fraternities, including Beta. However, there were indeed very few African Americans then at Colgate. In fact, there were more African Americans at my prep school -- Mount Hermon -- which was less than half Colgate's size. Accordingly, in my recollection, the article is just backward as to demographic numeration.

2004 retirees shortchanged

. . . The July issue of the Scene contained a well-deserved tribute to Jerry Balmuth and his long service to Colgate, but shortchanged the five members of the faculty who retired this year.

In the past, the Scene has often honored faculty retirees with a full-page feature article, recounting the past and projecting the future. These articles were especially important to alumni, who want to know not only about the next capital campaign or new building programs, but about the men and women who helped guide them to the future.

The individuals retiring this year have given Colgate 32, 30, 28, 20-plus, and 17 years of their lives. It is sad to think that we cannot honor them with more than a two and one-half column inch paragraph each. I urge the Scene to change its policy, and offer a more deserving tribute to retiring members of the faculty.

On Jack Dovidio

. . . I want to add a few comments to the article on former Provost and Dean of the Faculty Jack Dovidio (July 2004). Jack was the kind of dean whose office was open to all members of the Colgate community. Students, faculty, and administrative staff members alike knew that Jack would listen to their concerns and value their ideas. He courageously faced opposition when he had determined that change was clearly needed and never made that determination lightly or without consulting the group most likely to be affected by the change. He was both an excellent provost and a fine dean of the faculty without neglecting one role for the benefit of the other. I think that he was able to maintain that balance because, first and foremost, Jack is a man of deep integrity. I take integrity to include parity between what a person believes and what a person does. In Jack this trait was clearly evident in all that he accomplished to meet Colgate's mission regarding diversity. Jack, for example, lived up to his words to the national Race Advisory Board:

". . . we need to have pro-active policies, rather than reactive or passive policies. Reactive policies (e.g., those that simply punish proven instances of discrimination) are too late -- too much has to be undone before any positive action can be taken. Passive policies that rely on people's good intentions are not enough; contemporary biases are expressed largely unintentionally. It is, therefore, necessary to structure programs and policies that make people and organizations accountable for their actions, provide accurate assessment of patterns of bias, and initiate action to eliminate biases without necessarily demonstrating intentionality or eliminating all other possible explanations."

Jack's own words regarding what needs to be done summarize what he did.

A thank you

. . . Please extend my heartfelt gratitude to all members of the Colgate community who extended donations to the National MPS Society, in memory of my 6 1/2-month-old baby boy (and only child), Cooper Michael Cloud, who passed away on January 25, 2004, from a rare cell storage disorder. It is comforting to know Colgate alumni have the acute understanding that charity and success can go hand in hand.

As adults, we have a responsibility to ensure our children are safe, healthy, and have the best possible chance for a quality life. There are many children across this country (and world) suffering from rare, debilitating cell storage disorders that gradually cause system failures, and often, great suffering prior to the child's eventual passing. We have set up the Cooper Cloud Memorial Fund in my son's memory to help ill children. Any friends are welcome to contact me, if more information is desired.

. . . I greeted the news that Ann Coulter (Around the College, July 2004) would be speaking at Colgate with some trepidation. While Ms. Coulter is a best-selling author, her fame has stemmed primarily from her willingness to offer red meat to conservative audiences and shock liberal sensibilities, rather than her ability to rebuke liberal arguments and offer cogent, conservative alternatives. However, I put these concerns aside, hopeful that the Colgate Republicans would use the opportunity of a famous guest speaker to win converts to conservatism, not to enflame tensions. I appear to have been wrong. But the intent of this letter is not to feign shock at Coulter's remarks -- Ann Coulter is Ann Coulter. This letter's intent is to express my frustration with what passes for the conservative mouthpiece on campus, the Colgate Republican organization.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must first state that I was a member of the Colgate Republicans (1998 to 2001), and during the 2002 midterm elections actively worked for the Republican slate of candidates in my home state. I remain an advocate of the free market and a limited federal government, both resting upon the proud tradition of personal responsibility and faith. I believe that these are the hallmarks of American freedom, as well as the sources of our prosperity and happiness as a nation, and ought to be defended. Yet it seems that the Colgate Republicans believe otherwise.

What else can explain the Colgate Republicans' public statements and choice of speakers? Any organization that would host a speaker who once wished aloud that Timothy McVeigh had blown up the New York Times -- akin to advocating an act of terrorism on American soil -- does not wish to be taken seriously and does not wish to persuade anyone of the validity of its ideology. Such an organization would rather drape itself in the cloak of conservatism than aspire to the responsibility of bearing its standard.

Yet that is not the conservatism I have seen in evidence at Colgate University as of late.

How is the quest for truth furthered by "lectures" from speakers so irresponsibly provocative as to divide audiences into rival camps? Instead of being the anchor of tradition, instead of making the case for God-given liberty used wisely, the Colgate Republicans seem more than content to have their feature events defined by angry exchanges and derision, so long as they get a few clever shots in. The end result of the Colgate Republicans' self-satisfied antics is the discrediting of the conservative cause, as well as the besmirching of conservatism's good name by its association with extremism and diatribe. If this is not their goal -- and I assume it is not -- their stunning lack of political sense warrants serious introspection.

It, of course, may be objected that I am taking this entire matter too seriously. But can anyone who has lived through the past three years say that liberty is not something to be taken seriously? Does anyone believe that our political dialogue can consist only of childish tantrums? If the Colgate Republicans are truly concerned with the future of this country, it's time they grow up.

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