One of the Best
Many thanks for the article on “The Nora Network” [Mar|Apr]. I was unaware of the Mentorship Prize and the community of former students still honoring an extraordinary educator by carrying on her traditions. As someone lucky enough to have had a class with Ms. Magid, I was delighted to be reminded of my experience. In this era of dime-a-dozen superlatives I’m not one to pile on the accolades, but she was certainly one of the best teachers I had in my time at Penn. I’m inspired to share a bit of my experience with her.
It was early spring in 1974, the sun was out, the birds were singing, and the grass was green and fresh. I was sitting on the lawn in front of College Hall waiting for my English professor. She said she “wanted to see me,” and had chosen this spot. Since my schedule was packed with required Wharton courses—and the painfully dry and formal instructors who taught those courses—I found her casual teaching style refreshing, and had thoroughly enjoyed attending her class. I was actually thankful for Wharton’s English requirement; else I would never have taken her course. I waited with some trepidation though, as we had all just turned in a long essay and it was going to represent a significant part of our grade. I had taken what I thought of as a fairly aggressive approach and feared she had a dim view of it. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned out that she wanted to see me to persuade me to submit my paper to the freshman essay contest. This was quite a surprise as I didn’t fancy myself much of a writer, and I’d never even heard of the contest.
So we sat there on the lawn chatting, first about writing, my paper, and the essay contest, then about my loosely formed career plans. I probably said something about becoming a corporate lawyer, and though she knew I was in Wharton, she showed some disappointment in my lack of interest in future writing courses.
She was enthusiastic about my paper though, so it was easy to accept her suggestion to submit it, subject to some editing, of course. With that she returned the paper, marked up in in the constructive way I had become used to. I committed to a re-write, which I somehow managed in time to submit the paper to the contest. And as we parted, the last thing she did, which struck me as endearing and would have been unimaginable from a Wharton prof, was to pull out a Polaroid camera and ask if she could take my picture. I had no idea why she wanted to do that, but I had no reason to object.
As the years went by I often wondered whether there was a bunch of albums or a big box somewhere that holds a photographic history of the students she took the time to inspire. I imagined her looking through the photos and feeling a sense of well-deserved satisfaction … or one I thought she was entitled to. Over the years I thought of her often, and referred to the impact she had on me. For what it’s worth, I came in second in the freshman essay contest, which made us both feel pretty good. Foolishly, I wasn’t wise enough to stay in touch with her, but at least I never became a corporate lawyer.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
Dave Lenowitz W’77 Philadelphia
No Better Honor
I read with fascination Alyson Krueger’s article about the Nora Magid Mentorship Prize, which has helped outstanding student writers break into careers in journalism.
I met Nora in my first semester at Penn, when she taught a general-honors writing class for incoming Benjamin Franklin scholars. While Nora was a demanding editor, once I started to incorporate her suggestions, I found that I could be an even better writer.
Nora cared about all her students, not just those who aspired to be journalists, and stayed in touch with them both on campus and after graduation. The Nora Network includes students who became, for example, lawyers, business people, and bankers.
I couldn’t think of a better way to honor a teacher and mentor than a program that gives Penn’s best student writers a chance to work with some of the best mentors in the country to begin careers as professional writers. Steve Fried did an amazing job bringing us Nora-ites together, and every year the committee finds a writing superstar to honor with the mentorship.
Keep bringing us stories like this, showing how Penn alumni mentor the current generation of students.
Ralph L. Landy W’79 L’84 Gaithersburg, MD
What MOOCs Miss
Trey Popp’s thorough discussion of the massive open online course phenomenon [“MOOC U.,” Mar|Apr] saves the strongest argument in favor of Penn’s traditional education until last. It’s that learning also takes place outside the classroom.
Long after cognitive outcomes are forgotten, affective ones are retained. I don’t think anyone will ever be able to quantify that part of the process. Certainly on Penn’s multicultural campus, the experience of interacting with those from different backgrounds will leave an indelible imprint. The best that MOOCs can do in this regard is to create it virtually.
Walt Gardner C’57 Los Angeles
Virtual Connection Pays Off
My wife and I graduated from Penn in 1957 and moved to Palo Alto in 1962. In my day I’ve given to the General Fund, established scholarships in our names, etc. I retired after 40 years at Morgan Stanley, Annie retired 10 years ago from a Stanford psychology clinic. She paints, and I take photos.
I was looking for some sort of intellectual stimulus, but didn’t want the discipline of Stanford’s MLA program when I found Coursera [the MOOC provider with which Penn is partnering] and Al Filreis’ ModPo course. Besides wanting to understand New Yorker poems, I didn’t have any notion about poetry or Al.
Bottom line, I’ve joined the Harrison Society with a bequest for Al’s use.
Your article on MOOCs mentions ways the University will benefit from Coursera, but you forgot the alumni who would prefer to give to learning, not just athletics.
Samuel Gordon W’57 Portola Valley, CA
College Not Just About Education
The article concerning the trend toward taking courses online is worrisome. Going away to college is not just about getting an education. It is also about taking care of yourself, honing your social skills, living within a budget, managing your time more effectively, joining clubs and teams, and growing up. Sitting in your parents’ house staring at a computer screen does not contribute much to these other important goals.
Irving Shapiro C’64 Rockville, MD
If there is an award for fine articles in college and university journals, Samuel Hughes’ “Constructing a New Kahn” [Mar|Apr] should get it. It was consistently fascinating.
Nathan Glazer G’44 Cambridge, MA
Penn Supports Social Justice
I continue to be delighted with Penn’s commitment to education for and participation in social justice issues as exemplified by many past statements by President Gutmann and by the articles about John Legend and about Du Bois House [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr]. How times change. When I was an undergraduate at Penn in the late 1950s and very early ’60s, advocacy for peace and/or social justice and/or any kind of ethnic studies was likely to get one red-baited and, depending on one’s employer, fired.
As a matter of fact I recall that DuBois, a lifelong advocate for peace and social justice and a founding light behind the NAACP and Pan-Africanism, was briefly jailed during the McCarthy era for circulating the Stockholm Peace Petition. If you Google my song, “You Ain’t Done Nothin’ If You Ain’t Been Called A Red,” you get three different singers doing it, none of whom are me. It tells the story of that period very well.
Eliot Kenin C’61 Oakland, CA
No Copying—or Else
Judging by “The Copycat Economy” [“Expert Opinion,” Mar|Apr], Christopher Sprigman C’88 maybe ought to go back to school, at Penn, where Founder Ben Franklin could educate him about inventing.
Franklin appreciated the value that patenting and copyrighting—the right to make copies—were going to have toward making this the most amazing country in the world.
Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were both inventors. Ben certainly knew the value of his inventions, and put his inventions—e.g., the Franklin stove—into the public domain, while Jefferson became the first patent Examiner, and pretty much worked out the system we (and everybody else) use to this day.
Ben and Jefferson made sure that the Constitution would read in relevant part like this: “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”
Got that? Inventors have a Constitutional right to their discoveries. In fact, it is the only right a citizen has under the original Constitution. (Our “Bill of Rights” are amendments that were handed out to us after the fact as afterthoughts.)
The right to your discoveries—your inventions—are a Constitutional right. You don’t want to mess with an American’s Constitutional rights. You can take away my right to my discoveries at the same time that you take away my right to keep and bear arms, which is about the same time that you’ll be peeling my cold dead finger off the trigger.
Richard Katz C’70 Point Richmond, CA
Handing on Joy
I have never written to the Gazette before, but after reading the article “Celebrating a Choral Master’s Four Decades at Penn” about William Parberry [“Arts,” Mar|Apr], I was moved to respond.
The article brought back fond memories of ending long grueling weeks of study and an internship by attending the classical music concerts that he conducted. How I looked forward to them.
The musicians were wonderful, that’s for sure, but what I remember most about the concerts were his hands leading the orchestra! Yes, I would watch his hand movements from where I sat in the audience, now matter how close or far back, and just be mesmerized. I could not take my eyes off his hands. I would often remark how they flowed like butter and relaxed me in such a way as if I were in a yoga or meditation session.
I’ve been to many classical music concerts since, and have never felt the same way about a conductor as I have with Professor Parberry. I am very happy to read that he continues to give joy to others, both students and audience members alike.
Carole B. Okun SW’95 Plattsburgh, NY
We received more letters concerning Steven Conn’s Jan|Feb “Expert Opinion” essay, “We All Built That,” responding both to the original text and the letters about it published in Mar|Apr—in particular, Steven Gidumal W’79’s letter, which led off the section. As with the first wave of responses, we printed a selection, and the rest have been included here.
Democracy is the Problem
The letter writers were vehemently against Steven Conn’s essay because big government is problematic in a democracy. I say not so. The problem is not with the big government but with the democracy. To cite Winston Churchill: “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Do you see the culprit?
Edward L. Jeska Gr’66 Green Valley, AZ
Government Has Improved Freedom Lots of Times
In his attack on President Obama’s healthcare initiatives and Steven Conn’s recent essay [“Letters,” Mar|Apr], Steven Gidumal asserts, “It has never happened before in history where a powerful central government improved the freedom of its citizens. Never. Not once.” Amazingly, the Gazette chose Mr. Gidumal’s conclusion as the unquestioned headline of the section.
It’s hard to understand how any graduate of the University or editor of this magazine could accept Gidumal’s critique for more than a split second. Just a few examples that may be familiar to readers: In 1865, the United States abolished slavery, increasing the freedom of millions. In 1920, women in the United States were guaranteed the right to vote, insuring for the first time that a majority of our citizens could participate in elections. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act ended segregation and many other forms of discrimination against minorities. In each of these cases, and others too numerous to list, a strong central government flexed its muscle to overcome the resistance of many individuals and local governments to “improve the freedom of its citizens.”
While we are years away from knowing if President Obama’s healthcare reforms will succeed, we know today that it’s wrong to attack the plan with false generalities. The Gazette needs to work harder to insure that vehemence does not trump reason on its pages.
Peter H. Glick W’85 Sudbury, MA
We have faith that our readers can determine for themselves where reason lies, and—excepting words of praise for the magazine—highlighting a comment indicates neither agreement nor disagreement with the sentiment expressed.—Ed.
The First Thing We Built
Steven Gidumal’s letter is well-written, as befits a Wharton graduate, but it inadvertently makes Steven Conn’s original case.
Gidumal claims that improvements in business logistics and in home devices are key reasons for the drop in US food costs. True. But better logistics in the food business are utterly dependent on the world-class trucking infrastructure provided by the US interstate highway system, which was Ike’s vision and a big federal project. They are also the result of the US-based computer revolution, which enables marvelous efficiencies in storage and distribution. That computer revolution would never have happened without the US government, which funded and drove the beginnings of it all, from the ENIAC computer at the Moore School, built for the US Army, to the Internet itself, built for the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Gidumal also writes that Conn is wrong to suggest that the way our government adjudicates and enforces contracts is an important reason for how well business does in the US. Gidumal then goes on to describe how he negotiates around the world, and deals with the unreliability of local governments and courts by insisting that international deals be done under US jurisdiction. Huh? In other words, Gidumal is arguing that if the US government were like other governments, he’d be out of business. On behalf of Steven Conn and those of us who agree with him, let me be the first to say thanks for making the point.
Finally, Gidumal ignores or distorts much of American history when he paints the US government as an enemy of freedom. Gidumal writes, “[I]f a family business decides to discriminate against certain consumers, that business will soon go out of business, as consumers will push back.” Has Gidumal never heard of Jim Crow laws in the American South, and how it took the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enable his black Wharton classmates to sit at local cafes in Mississippi and Alabama? Does he not know how many black consumers who “pushed back” were beaten and even lynched before the federal government stepped in?
Gidumal’s closing peroration that no “powerful central government [ever] improved the freedom of its citizens” is obviously wrong. The government of the US is a beacon to the world precisely because it has used its power so many times for the sake of freedom. Because it mobilized its army to ban slavery. Because its courts forbade segregation in public schools and federal troops were sent to make that so. Because it ended poll taxes and other malicious restrictions on the most fundamental freedom of all, the right to vote. And because soon, it will enshrine the right of all of its citizens to love and marry the person of their choice, regardless of race (which took a while, but finally happened) or gender (which has taken longer, but is finally almost here).
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
That’s the first thing we built. And it’s the reason so much else has been built. By all of us. Together.
Michael Fuchs CGS’05 Philadelphia
Share the Common Wealth
Steven Gidumal’s letter makes me wonder what they’re smoking down there in Orlando, but following the rule that simpler explanations are always to be preferred I should attribute it to ignorance rather than nervelessness. When did a powerful government advance human rights and freedoms and happiness? The Declaration of Independence seems to assume some of this was in the government’s power, at the very least as an enabler, and American history has on the whole borne out Jefferson’s prose.
To be sure there have been winners and losers, which is often the case in a democracy, but the idea that we all must have lost is absurd. By conquering the slave south in 1861-1865, a strong federal government freed millions of new citizens from an abject servitude that seems on its face to have been run by private enterprise. About a century later, a powerful federal government started to make good on that promise of freedom by extending voting rights to all Floridians, a freedom which some of them were denied along with the freedom to eat peacefully at St. Augustine lunch counters.
Meanwhile, albeit more prosaically, a government agency known as the Florida Extension Service has helped Floridians on the land to make economic sense of their low-lying and often swampy properties. Mr. Gidumal should check it out. It’s administered by the University of Florida, a land-grant institution run (at last report, anyway) by the state, and latterly it’s been helping urban Floridians (of whom, perhaps, Mr. Gidumal is one) find their own way into productive enterprises.
The University of Florida also substantially subsidizes the higher education of thousands of Floridians, through both federal and state taxes, thus enabling them to experience something more of the promise of American (or Floridian) life than, perhaps, their parents did.
In helping Floridians to deal with their swamps, the extension service was only following the lead of President Herbert Hoover, that notorious collectivist-socialist, who followed up a long series of public-private partnerships in Florida land development by sending in the Army Corps of Engineers to create the Hoover Dike (so-called, although perhaps Mr. Gidumal would like to call it the Lenin Levee).
For various reasons which had a lot to do with ignorance of water levels and flowage (an ignorance shared by private and public entrepreneurs), the Hoover Dike didn’t work so well, but since then most of the damage has been undone by other government-funded work which has restored the Everglades, while enabling Floridians north of the Hoover Dike line to make a good living out of various enterprises, notably farming, tourism, and real-estate development, few of which could even exist without public investment.
Our federal government had helped Floridians to live with their excess water, just as it has helped Arizonans to access water. Living in the temperate north, as I do, I have helped to pay for Florida drainage and Arizona irrigation through my federal taxes, which is fine with me because when government shares out the common wealth it often helps to enhance it. Just so with freedom. Get out there and vote. Join the 47 percent. Move to Florida.
Bob Bliss C’65 St. Louis, MO
Government is the Only Check On Irresponsible Businesses
Steven Gidumal’s letter misses some important facts. There is a check on government—the vote. It works as long as elections are honest. He also misses some accomplishments of business—the depression of 1929, the recession of 2008, the Madoff scandal, and the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy to name a few. Government is the only possible check on irresponsible businesses. Some businesses will do anything to make a buck, regardless of its effect on people or the environment. Cigarette manufacture is a prime example.
In the United States, government funding produced a number on benefits, including funding the invention of the computer and the Internet. I can’t think of a single bridge or highway funded by business. Our society depends upon government to insure its functioning. That includes reining in business excesses.
Theodore (Ted) Bonn EE’43 GEE’47 Sarasota, FL
Been There, Done That, Know Best
Of the seven respondents to “We All Built That” whose letters are on the website, the most recent graduate is from 1979. (I am confident the editors did not “stack the deck” to reflect any bias with the published letters.) This means that all of them have had at least 34 years since graduation to observe the workings of both government and the private sector.
That they all soundly condemned Conn’s position proves that those who have the experience of being in or observing the private sector and seeing how it is more efficient and more effective than government, realize that both freedoms and economic well-being flow from a vibrant private sector and that whenever government restricts economic freedoms via regulation or taxation, everyone suffers except the regulators and the tax collectors.
Perhaps I’m overworking such a small sample (this might explain why I managed to go through Wharton undergrad without passing Statistics 101 A & B!), but usually any Gazette article that evokes multiple responses has letters on both sides. The skewing of these responses (I did memorize a few of the statistical terms) shows that people who’ve “been there, done that” in the private sector know the cost, dangers, and destruction that is inherent in a metastasizing central government.
I venture that if there were any letters supporting Steven Conn, they were from more recent graduates still inhaling the vapors of the liberal, anti-business environment that, sadly to say, is all too common on many college campuses including Penn.
Lewis R. Elin W’60 ASC’61 Chicago
Generally speaking, disagreement is the most powerful motivator for letter-writers—thus the preponderance of letters disputing Conn last time, followed by the group taking Gidumal to task in this issue. The latter range from the Class of 1943 to 2005, so make of that what you will.—Ed.
One Dollar, One Vote
If “We All Built That,” as Steven Conn suggests, then a logical corollary would be to give hardworking taxpayers one vote per tax-dollar paid for what they funded. Layabouts get nada.
Douglas Herz GEE’79 WG’83 Pleasanton, CA
Steven Gidumal’s diatribe against big government is titled “Pure Ideology,” which is most appropriate for his argument. He obviously has a very poor grasp of history. He lives in the same fantasy as many people who think they are “conservatives.”
He praises corporate agriculture for bringing good and cheap food to our table. Obviously, he is unaware that their products are cheap only because they don’t have to pay for the abuse of the land, the abuse of the environment, and their pollution of air and water.
Without strong government our high-minded business community would still be selling lime water as milk and killing babies as it did 125 years ago, before FDA. It would still be dumping its waste into the air and the streams as it did before EPA.
Remember Love Canal and literally thousands of other Superfund sites? We saw what can happen a few years ago when a weak government allowed greedy business people to sell worthless bonds to our pension funds.
He claims government writes no books of instructions; I guess he has never learned about the thousands of extremely well-written pamphlets published by the federal government on hundreds of subjects every day, useful topics for consumers, something that no publisher ever did. I am sure that he is safe in his car, but only because the government makes sure that flaws are fixed.
He claims that no business can afford to exclude a class of customers; when did we ever hear of a restaurant, a hotel, or any other business fail because they would not serve African-Americans before the Civil Rights movement convinced the government that this was unacceptable?
He believes that poor people have the same standing in court as the rich; maybe in theory, but how many poor people who did not have any or only inadequate representation have been convicted and later found innocent because their court-appointed lawyers were drunk or sleeping during their trials. Maybe he should read some of the cases.
His grasp of history or his memory is very poor. Railroads were built only after the government gave them huge tracts of land; customs regulations were designed to protect American industry from foreign competition. Our sugar is expensive because of import restrictions, we pay multiple times what other nations pay for medicines because of monopolies and the government protecting Big Pharma. We have been sold a bill of goods that they need these exorbitant prices to do their research, but their profits on sales are three to 10 times what other industries can earn after research and development costs.
How many roads and bridges have been built by private enterprise? I don’t see the electrical-power industry doing anything to modernize the grid, and they are resisting any effort by the government to make it less subject to terrorism because it is “ too expensive.” How expensive will it be after someone hacks into their computers and brings the entire nation to a standstill?
We need a government that is sufficiently strong to assure our safety from internal and external threats. Are there excesses? Yes, but mostly because so many attempts to cheat are made that we have to try to make sure that we protect ourselves from the cheaters.
Werner Zimmt G’ 81 Tucson, AZ
Government May sometimes Overstep,
But Silly to Deny Role in Protecting Freedom
I can think of many examples, right off the top of my head, where the federal government of the United States improved the freedom of its citizens, and even of noncitizens. Sometimes it did so by amending the Constitution. For example, the First Amendment established freedom of speech and of the press and forbade Congress from establishing a state religion. The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, except for people duly convicted of a crime. Those amendments, among others, did a lot to improve freedom in the United States.
The federal government also passed laws that promoted freedom: the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act, etc. Mr. Gidumal evidently disapproves of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In his letter, he argues that business owners should have a right to discriminate against “certain customers.” Does he really believe that Americans were more free when black people couldn’t eat lunch at Woolworth’s, when women were systematically barred from many schools of law or medicine, or when some deeds included a legally binding restrictive covenant preventing the property owner from selling the property to a Jew?
Many Supreme Court decisions improved the freedom of people in the United States. For example, in West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, the Supreme Court decided that the state could not expel the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses from a public school for refusing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance; the Court decided that the state doesn’t have the power to compel that sort of speech from anyone. In Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Supreme Court ruled that segregating black and white children in the public schools was unconstitutional. Those two decisions improved the freedom of members of religious and ethnic minorities to get a public education.
In Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court overruled state laws against mixed-race marriage. In Griswold v Connecticut, the Supreme Court affirmed the right of married couples to use contraceptives. In Eisenstadt v Baird, it affirmed the same right for unmarried people. In Roe v Wade, it affirmed that the decision of whether a woman may have an abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy must be left to the woman and her doctor. In Lawrence v Texas, the Supreme Court struck down all existing sodomy laws. In those decisions, the Supreme Court forbade the state governments from policing the private sexual behavior of consenting adults and the reproductive careers of women. Thus, the central government provides some protection from abuses by state and local governments.
Some federal programs have also improved personal freedom. Social Security enabled many elderly people to continue to live independently. Medicare not only gave the elderly and disabled access to medical care, it led to the practically instantaneous desegregation of the hospitals. Even things like the FBI’s fingerprint database and now its CODIS system (Combined DNA Index System) have promoted freedom by helping law enforcement agencies to cut short the criminal careers of serial rapists and murderers.
Gidumal wrote, “If the citizens place unchecked power in the hands of a central government, who will stop the inequities?” Is he really unaware that our Constitution is based on the concept of checks and balances? It would be silly to deny that the federal government sometimes oversteps its boundaries. But it would be equally silly to deny the role of the federal government in protecting the freedoms that we currently enjoy.
Laurie Endicott Thomas C’83 G’85 Madison, NJ
View Needs Broadening
Professor Conn certainly appears well meaning. He does, however, reflect an ignorance bound by US history. Would Professor Conn’s views change were he to realize the biggest proponent of big government is communism, a school of thought and government even the Chinese are gradually abandoning? Does he not realize that the strong government-run support systems in Europe and elsewhere have proven unsustainable? He cites healthcare. Does he realize that much of the healthcare system in New York, for example, can be attributed to religion—the Catholics, the Jews?
I will not deny that strong government has its place. It was a travesty, for example, that we found ourselves with inadequate resources when the second front broke out in World War II. But big government is, by definition and absent the incentive to be otherwise, the very picture of the inefficient use of resources—increasingly scarce resources, as the geopolitical balance of power shifts.
For the good professor to have graduated dear Penn, and for him to have assumed such an august position with the Buckeyes, he must be very intelligent indeed. I suggest that the raw material of his intelligence would benefit greatly from the perspective of some international travel.
Jose Lanuza G’95 WG’95 Greenwich, CT
Two Troubling Thoughts
I had read the essay, “We All Built That,” by Steven Conn and didn’t offer my two-cents because I knew so many others would.
Now that I’ve read the many letters slamming Professor Conn I have two troubling thoughts. How does an individual who is so obviously unqualified to be a professor of history actually become a professor of history? Worse, how does a magazine with claims to sophistication, professionalism, and learning actually publish an essay such as “We All Built That” from an author who is so clearly biased and untrustworthy.
Methinks that The Pennsylvania Gazette needs not only a new essay-reader but should hire a fact-checker lest you are further tainted by such disgraces to academia as Steven Conn.
Robert M. Rosenthal W’60 Studio City, CA