Magill welcomed, Constan remembered, “old white men” defended, and more.
A “Natural Social Worker”
Putting together your full introduction to Liz Magill [“Liz Magill Is Listening (in a Good Way),” Sep|Oct 2022], and the emphasis offered in Proudly Penn [a supplement mailed with some copies of the issue], I see our new president as a much-needed gift for the present, a leader with long awaited qualities. As a graduate of our School of Social Work (now the School of Social Policy and Practice) and a former board member, it is clear to me that a university that protects a School of Social Work echoes its conscience and commitments.
Liz Magill both highlights and lives this commitment, one that can only serve our proud, historic university and all we touch and inspire very well. In your description of a woman who is available, listens deeply, and treats all with respect, yet is tough and decisive when this is called for, Liz Magill qualifies for the highest compliment I can offer. She, like the present dean of my grad school, Sally Bachman, is a “natural social worker.”
SaraKay Smullens SW’65, Philadelphia
Common Ground: Ice Cream
I was pleased to meet President Magill in the recent Gazette. I was resolved to dissociate myself from Penn after the former president’s treatment of President Trump during her time at Penn. Let’s hope things will be different. Anyone who likes ice cream has to be good.
Najiye Bekir Lynch CW’55, Kihei, HI
Penn Can Do More
In light of Penn having a new president, I thought it would be an appropriate time to mention something that our new administration and alumni outside of Philadelphia may not be aware of. For many years now, there has been extensive and ongoing local support for our beloved University to make payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) to the City of Philadelphia.
Over the years, there have been protests at trustee meetings, editorials and op-ed pieces in Philadelphia newspapers (including the Daily Pennsylvanian), a petition signed by more than 1,000 Penn faculty and staff, and even a website in support of Penn making PILOT payments that I hope alumni will visit.
Penn’s $20 billion endowment makes it one of the wealthiest charities/endowments in the world, yet the University pays no real estate taxes as well as many other city taxes and fees to Philadelphia, a city with a 24 percent poverty rate, underfunded schools, and deteriorated infrastructure. Using publicly available information in 2018, my accountant calculated that Penn is exempted from over $500 million annually in combined city, state, and federal taxes.
Penn’s previous administration would tout the numerous programs and funding that Penn implements and supports in our city, which we are all proud of. However, compared to Penn’s endowment, or its current annual budget of $13.5 billion, it is clear that this support is paltry.
The previous administration would also tout the wage taxes that Penn employees pay, but the wage tax rate has been reduced every year since 2005. The fact that we are a huge employer in Philadelphia is impressive, but every Penn employee uses city services that Penn does not contribute to. The University also uses many city services that the city is not compensated for, including police, fire, courts, parks, licenses and inspections, and streets.
Penn can well afford to financially help Philadelphia more than we already do, and with alumni support and the spirit of noblesse oblige, we can help our hometown address and fix many of its problems and deficiencies.
Hanley Bodek C’77, Philadelphia
Mentor and Friend
Kudos to Sundiata Rush W’93 for “Dear Uncle Nick,” his tribute to Nick Constan [“Alumni Voices,” Sep|Oct 2022]. That Nick was a mentor and friend to legions of Penn undergraduates is no surprise to those of us who were fortunate enough to know him. Not only did he befriend, uplift, support, guide, assist, advise, and make us smile (usually with a simultaneous groan), he did so for decades. He was doing so as a dorm counselor in 1962 when I started at Penn and was still doing so some five decades later.
One of my favorite things about returning to Penn football games was to go to Franklin Field’s second deck (visitor’s side, in the sun), find Nick, and catch up. He’d have you smiling in about a minute. Thank you, Uncle Nick, and thank you Sundiata for your remembrance.
Ted Underwood C’66 WG’68, Cohasset, MA
A Prince Among Men
Nick Constan L’64 interviewed me for admission to the College in spring 1965. His passing brings back so many memories for me, of Sunday mornings lounging with other freshmen in Nick’s comfortable book-laden apartment in the Quad. It was there I heard the Pirates of Penzance for the first time, and Charles Aznavour singing La Boheme. There also I learned to find Hirschfeld’s “Ninas” in the Times, and memorized dozens of Churchill quotes.
I kept in touch with Nick sporadically over the decades. I wish now it had been more, since every visit or call always left me aspiring to earn his highest accolade: “a prince among men.” It requires doing the little things right, like the time he treated this poor, hungry rower to breakfast at the diner up where the bookstore used to be near Smoke’s.
Our waitress was in a foul mood and slammed our plates down and spilled our coffee. Nick paid the bill and left a $20 bill for a tip. I said, “Nick, that’s a $20, and she doesn’t deserve a dime.” I hear his answer as I write this: “If anyone could use a nice tip this morning, it’s her.”
Anthony R. Parrish Jr. C’70, Coconut Grove, FL
Constan Kept Flags Flying
In Sundiata Rush’s kind collection of Nick Constan’s memories, he mentioned that he would occasionally meet Nick along Boathouse Row. Nick was a member of Undine Barge Club, founded in 1856 and housed in a Frank Furness–designed boathouse at Number 13, Boathouse Row. Nick was a recreational oarsman, well liked by all members and a behind the scenes mystery contributor to the club. For years I would look up at the American and club flags on the flagpole to determine the direction and intensity of the winds that day as I set my racing shell in the water. I secondarily wondered why our club flags were always in good shape while the other club flags along the river were tattered and torn. It was Uncle Nick who quietly and at his own expense restored our flags as needed.
When Nick moved into his final residence and let the club know his rowing days were over, I went to visit him to talk about flags. He gave me his final collection of new flags and assigned the job of replacing them to me, which included a pun I don’t remember but which caused a smile and distraction that did not allow me to refuse the assignment. Nick’s new flags are waving in the wind and the club has named a beautiful racing Quad (four oarsmen with two oars apiece) the “Uncle Nick,” which was christened with great humor and fanfare before being sent afloat for many years of racing and rowing pleasure.
John Cantrill W’68, Ardmore, PA
Innate Bias Exposed
I’ve just been invited to my 60th Reunion and solicited for another donation to Penn. Now I find in “Fresh Faces” [“Gazetteer,” Sep|Oct 2022] that biology professor Mecky Pohlschröder kicked off a review of portraits in the department’s halls and rooms by asking a “nonchalant” question about “why do we have a bunch of old white men on the walls?” A department art committee, probably with no old white men, chose a set of new portraits and returned those of old white men to University Curator Lynn Marsden-Atlass, who noted that 90 percent of portraits were “painted by white males of white males.”
Certainly, there is no problem broadening the portrait galleries to recognize diversity. However, if Penn doesn’t discriminate on the basis of age, race, or sex, if images matter, and if acknowledging the importance of all of the people who make Penn what it is, then recognize all those who built—and still build—the foundations of Penn.
You can find their names on the endowed chairs, on campus buildings, colleges, lectures, programs, schools. You can find them teaching, publishing, and serving here and elsewhere to brighten Penn’s name. You’ll also discover that a lot of them are “old white men,” perhaps even the chair of the board of trustees.
You can do all of this without celebrating the removal of the portraits of “old white men” and exposing the innate bias of those who resent what came before them.
Peter A. Korn WG’63, New Rochelle, NY
Is Ben Next?
I was very disappointed with the racially charged article “Fresh Faces.” I’m all for diversity in every phase and walk of life. I am against any form of racism. The portraits of the new faces are well deserved and long overdue.
I just hope that this project has not or will not change the history of Penn. Just because a Google search didn’t return a match—as was mentioned of some portraits hanging in Leidy Laboratories—doesn’t mean a person never existed. I question just how much research was actually done.
During my employment with SS White Dental Manufacturing—which was a division of Pennwalt Corporation, founded by Quakers—we donated a portrait of Dr. White, the company’s founder, to the Dental School. Dr. White is generally considered the father of modern dentistry. At the time, it was the largest dental manufacturing company in the world. I personally drove the portrait to the Dental School from our headquarters at 3 Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The portrait showed Dr. White as an “Old White Man.”
He didn’t attend Penn and may not have ever stepped foot on campus. I wonder where his portrait hangs or may be stored now. It makes me wonder when the bronze statue of Ben Franklin on College Green will be moved to a warehouse in the interest of taking down “old images.” After all, Ben was an “old white man” and the sculptor John J. Boyle was a white man.
I think the University owes all the old white male alumni an apology. Thank you.
Richard T. Harvey WEv’80, Fort Myers, FL
You Embarrass Yourselves
I gave up reading the “Letters” section a long time ago. It seemed stuffed with rightwing fuming that I assumed you ran to placate alumni offended by your editorial content. But for some reason Nadine Hackman’s letter in the Sep|Oct 2022 issue caught my eye.
Bad enough that Hackman’s “understanding of the two houses of Congress” is an embarrassment. Taxes are not the “purview” of the House, whatever that weasel-word might mean. Taxes must nominally originate in the House, but they require equally the assent of the undemocratic Senate, which was the point of the writer Hackman was trying to refute. Surely you and Hackman have both heard of Joe Manchin, the filibuster, Mitch McConnell, etc.
But never mind. Hackman goes on in her second paragraph to try in some arch, obscure fashion to twit the writer for living in Maryland, “the seventh least populated state.” This is not a matter of political taste or judgment. This is a simple matter of counting. Maryland is not remotely the seventh least populated state. Maryland is the 18th most populated state. Surely you can catch such rubbish. Hackman embarrasses herself by knowing so little of America, but that’s her problem. You embarrass yourselves, and you embarrass your university, when you publish such ignorance and such a pathetic premise for an argument under the university’s name.
Michael Zuckerman C’61, emeritus faculty, Trenton, NJ
No one on staff thought to check the math on Maryland’s population, which is embarrassing. Our apologies for this lapse of attention—but not for publishing a diversity of opinions from Gazette readers, which is very much deliberate.—Ed.
A “Quiet Retreat” on Locust Street
Regarding the article “Locust Walk Landmark Renovated” [“Gazetteer,” Sep|Oct 2022]: During the years I was an undergraduate in the College, I lived at 3725 Locust Street. I had a furnished room on the top floor of a three-story row house, with a view of the rear garden. The two lower floors were occupied by the Fine family, who charged me $40 a month for the room and down-the-hall bathroom privileges. It served as a quiet retreat from the noisy dorms and an easy walk to College Hall, where most of my classes were held.
Walt Gardner C’57, Los Angeles
Surprising Photo, Puzzling Question
I was surprised to find a photo of the front of my house on page 38 of the Jul|Aug issue of the Gazette [“Arts”]. I was even more surprised by the figure caption, which seems to suggest, apparently only on the basis of its appearance from across the street, that the 199 panes of glass surrounding my front porch might have been an after-the-fact modification to change one of two houses that were once identical. It’s a question I’ve puzzled over for over 30 years, and I still can’t decide! There’s plenty of evidence to support either position.
Christopher Kocher C’71 GEng’76, Philadelphia
Deli Search Deepens
Last issue’s “Letters” section included a request by Madeleine McHugh Pierucci W’60 for help with the name of a fondly remembered deli from her days at Penn. From the responses, it would seem that the campus was well supplied with such establishments.
“I’ve had four responses thus far to my earnest query as to matters of corned beef in the late 1950s at 40th and (then) Locust Streets,” Pierucci emailed after the issue came out. “Each has a different food/place memory in mind.” Dr. Stuart Siegel C’69 D’73 recalled the name Elray’s. Richard M. Harrison W’60 remembered The Sansom, “where I had a daily late evening corned beef sandwich. I can still taste it.” Fred Achenbach W’57 responded that Dowburd’s “is what helped keep me awake in the evenings at SPE fraternity. They did have great sandwiches, and the Silver Moon Cafe next to them also helped with great choices of beer.” And a fourth alumnus recalled the name Campus Corner.
“I have no clue which is the one,” Madeleine says, “but I’ve since unearthed other Philly 1950s deli lore, which I’m enjoying!”—NP
On reading Nick Lyons’ essay “Nearing Ninety” [“Alumni Voices,” Jul|Aug 2022], I related to his situation.
However my experience after two and a half years of being alone, and actually 90 years old, the loss seems only to grow greater. We were married 62 and a half years and lived in the same house for 57 years. It seems we thought alike and enjoyed many of the same things together, the exceptions being that Betsy wouldn’t race sailboats with me and I wouldn’t play bridge with her, though I tried.
The empty house on my return and the empty evenings and the empty mornings and the unending food selection and preparation tasks and the constant memories all around me just grind me down to sometimes tears.
My several sons and my friends have been very supportive. And I appreciate that very much.
But I just miss her!
John Majane WG’58, Bethesda, MD
Characterizations Capture Key Challenge
The Gazette has done it again: two articles with clearly connected messages that reinforce their importance. And in this case, the messages are on consecutive pages.
The articles in the Sep|Oct 2022 issue are “Professional Contrarian” by Dave Zeitlin and “Getting It Right(er)” by Alyson Krueger.
On page 39, Zeitlin quotes the subject of the article, journalist Dan Rottenberg, as saying, “I get very uncomfortable … around people who think they own the truth.” On page 40, Krueger, writing about “Superforecasters,” quotes Penn professor Philip Tetlock (who coined the term) as saying that their “most distinctive quality … is being openminded. You don’t hear a lot of dogmatic assertions from them.”
These two characterizations capture one of the major challenges facing American and other societies—accepting the idea that points of view other than your own may be valid and worth considering. And this perspective gets in the way of dialogue needed to bridge the gap of understanding and possibly develop a higher degree of acceptance of differences.
Hopefully, the consistently high quality journalism of the Gazette will help its readers become more like Superforecasters.
Jim Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY
Photo Archive Suggested, and Kudos on “Contrarian”
The obituary for Daniel L Murphy W’50 [“Obituaries,” Sep|Oct 2022] saddened but did not surprise me. Some time after the obituary for Aram “Jack” Kevorkian C’50 appeared [Jul|Aug 2004], which included a reference to me and my late husband, Alan S. Oser C’52, I received a note from Dan enclosing black-and-white photos of him with Jack from their days together on the Daily Pennsylvanian and from their lifelong friendship.
Alan was also on the staff of the Daily Pennsylvanian with both of them for a time, and he had corresponded with Dan over the years. I gathered that Dan was clearing out his stuff for the sake of heirs for whom the photos would not have the sentimental value they had for Dan.
Now as I try to clear out my stuff for the sake of my heirs for the same reason, I am thinking how fine it would be if the alumni association or some Penn organization could sponsor a digital archive for elderly graduates with photos of lifelong friends made at the University. It might be funded by a fairly hefty fee for those sending in prints of photos, perhaps less hefty for those who are able to email their photos.
And kudos for the article “Professional Contrarian” on Dan Rottenberg C’64 by Dave Zeitlin. Alan’s career was as a journalist, and he was also a professional contrarian, so perhaps that tends to come with the job.
Janice Auritt Oser CW’52, Rhinebeck, NY
Thoughtful Representation of Neglected View
Since graduating from the College in 1999, I have stayed connected to Penn in many ways. Particularly working with the Greenfield Intercultural Center, Makuu, and Du Bois College House, as well as supporting Christian groups on campus.
Throughout my time, I often felt a lack of affirmation or support of my whole person, especially related to my faith.
That wound found a salve in reading “The Law, The Gospel, and David Skeel” [Jul|Aug 2022], which sought to present a thoughtful representation of the theological, philosophical, and ethical dimensions of Skeel’s scholarship and evangelical faith in a way that was respectful and even understanding.
As someone who appreciates my experience at Penn but also recognizes my contributions to society don’t fit into the typical narrative of what is celebrated, I’m grateful for this piece.
Similar to Skeel, my approach to faith leans into justice and ethics, and while holding to beliefs that are traditional, also eschew the tenor, tone, and toxicity of the religious right’s culture wars as un-Christian.
Thanks for including this often neglected point of view.
Rasool Berry C’99, Brooklyn, NY