The Colgate Scene
September 2006

Letters

The Scene welcomes letters. We reserve the right to decide whether a letter is acceptable for publication and to edit for accuracy, clarity, and length. Letters deemed potentially libelous or that malign a person or group will not be published.

Letters should not exceed 250 words. You can reach us by mail, or e-mail sceneletters@mail.colgate.edu. Please include your full name, class year if applicable, address, phone number, and/or e-mail address.

. . . I was saddened to learn that Frederick Busch had passed away (Deaths, May 2006). All of my professors at Colgate were terrific, but Professor Busch was one of my favorites. He instilled in me a deeper appreciation for the work of Charles Dickens, and he was an eloquent author in his own right. Most of all he was a kind man, and always encouraging.

I hope that one day my daughters will have professors as memorable and influential as Frederick Busch. He will be missed!  

. . . If teachers are measured by how well students remember them decades later, then John McGahern was the best teacher I had at Colgate (Deaths, May 2006). In 1972, I took his course on Irish literature, and was thinking of that this spring when I read his lovely memoir, All Will Be Well, shortly before his death.

McGahern, a visiting professor, taught as he wrote. Soft-spoken, eloquent, understated. He drew little attention to himself the way his writing drew little attention to itself. One student asked McGahern why he had not assigned any of his own novels. He paused, then quietly said, "I'd be embarrassed." Not by the novels, I assume, but by the presumption that his students should be forced to pay for and read what their professor had written.

Among the poets we read was Patrick Kavanagh. McGahern thought that Kavanagh's poetry was underappreciated and mentioned that Kavanagh lacked self-confidence. Kavanagh never went to college and was self-conscious about his lack of a formal education. McGahern added that in the long run, going to college really didn't matter that much, but to know that, you had to go to college. At a privileged place like Colgate, which can breed a sense of entitlement, it was my most memorable lesson.

. . . Bruno Katz, in his letter (July 2006), ostensibly about the Alumni Board election, does himself a disservice. The Scene did its readers a disservice by publishing it. It is nothing more than a broadside, containing Mr. Katz's fulminations and accusations about things that he tells us nothing about except that he is offended by them. Reading it was a waste of my valuable time and will discourage me from reading the Letters column again.

Anyone who wants to know what he is actually talking about would have been disappointed. He obviously takes offense at what he believes to be a liberal bias at Colgate, but presents nothing to help us evaluate the legitimacy of his opinion that, for example, "Colgate is exhibiting the signs of a declining institution." His letter is an example of what is all-too common in what passes for discourse in certain media -- broad characterizations and labels that may or may not have any basis but, once out there, obtain lives of their own. One doesn't know how to challenge them because there is nothing there to point at.

. . . I believe it is time to reestablish the ROTC program at Colgate. More than one-third of my class received their commission in the military upon graduation. With the Cold War, many graduates through the '50s and early '60s opted for military duty as an extension of their patriotism. Then came the turbulent '60s with the Vietnam conflict. Public sentiment turned against the war and the military, especially on college campuses. Enrollment in ROTC fell drastically. By the early '70s, an ROTC detachment could not be viably maintained.

With the end of the Cold War there seemed to be no interest in or reason for resumption of ROTC. However, with 9/11 we suddenly realized we were again at war, albeit undeclared, with an insidious enemy that wears no uniform yet has a worldwide composition and threatens worldwide terrorism. To combat this enemy we need strong, courageous military leadership that is creative in its evaluation of political/military situations, both domestically and beyond our borders, in order to effect viable solutions. This is the type of leadership that Colgate has always prided itself in providing to the nation.

I have been in contact with President Chopp about reestablishing ROTC and I encourage Colgate to survey the student body to see if there is adequate interest for a viable detachment to be established. I encourage all alumni who share this burden with me to write Pres. Chopp or a board member to support such a move.

. . . The eight alumni who filed petitions to contest the slate of nominees in the alumni board election presented some valid points in their dissent, but not enough to carry the day. I, too, hated to see baseball dropped; and I thought the same about ROTC. The idea of a grad school of international affairs on campus was also good.

As for the Greek system, great progress has been made in the relationship between CU and the houses. Looking back 60 years, it was us versus them, with the Greeks on one side of Broad St. and the college on the other. The houses have had to exchange secrecy for candor, initiation for information, exclusivity for diversity, and humiliation and hazing for education. I must say that when we were sent or we sent "pledges" out into the cold Hamilton night to gather firewood for the pre-Syracuse bonfire or on some snipe hunt, it was not thought of as humiliation. It was a onetime inconvenience that went along with the satisfaction of joining. The house ownership controversy could have been handled in a less bombastic fashion, but both sides were new in that fight and were just feeling their way.

Times, people, and ideas change. Colgate is still great, and I still love it. Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1816, "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, institutions must advance with the change of circumstance to keep pace with the times."

. . . I am a registered Republican but usually vote as an Independent. The choice of NYS Attorney General Eliot Spitzer as the commencement speaker (July) I find to be very poor, with him running for governor of New York. If he were already elected, I would have no problem with him as the speaker, but to give him an assist I find to be objectionable. When I graduated, Oklahoma Senator Mike Monroney was the speaker, but he was not running for anything.

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