Share Button

“This desire to keep families safely together or to reunify a family after a removal is nothing to be mocked and should be seen as a respectable professional mission.”

The following letter from Dorothy Roberts— the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, and professor of Africana Studies—arrived too late to include in the print edition of the Sep|Oct 2017 issue. —Ed.

Attending to Social Justice Is Essential for the Welfare of Children

My colleague Richard J. Gelles points out that the Code of Ethics of the National Association of Social Workers calls on social workers to “challenge social injustice.” He then reaches the conclusion that social justice blinds social workers to the sight of tortured children and prompts them to coddle abusive parents, whom they supposedly view as their true clients.

To support his claim, Gelles offers only the fact that children sometimes die horrible deaths even after they are “known to the system.” The one case he cites involved criminal wrongdoing by caseworkers—something that is hard to blame on the NASW Code of Ethics.

In fact, attention to social injustice is not the cause of these horror stories. To the contrary, attending to social justice is essential for the welfare of children. First, the real reason for missed cases of extreme child abuse is almost always because underprepared, undertrained caseworkers have overwhelming caseloads. They lack the time to investigate cases properly, so they make terrible errors in all directions. What is overwhelming them? False allegations, trivial cases, and the confusion of poverty with child “neglect.” Such cases are far more common than the horror stories Gelles cites.

Second, ignoring social injustice causes horrendous harms to children. One need only read the recent New York Times story on foster care as the new “Jane Crow,” documenting case after case of needless removals of children, largely because of their poverty, to see how the system destroys individual families and undermines entire communities of color. Or consider the multiple studies that have found that 30 percent of America’s foster children could be home right now if their families just had decent housing. Or the study showing that, the NASW Code of Ethics notwithstanding, caseworkers given otherwise-identical hypothetical scenarios are more likely to consider a child “at risk” if the family is black. Other studies reveal it takes less risk for caseworkers to remove a black child from the home than to remove a white child.

So it’s no wonder enduring the trauma of a child maltreatment investigation has become the norm for black children. A recent study found that a majority of black children will suffer this trauma before they reach age 18. As I argued in my book Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, this excessive and discriminatory disruption of black families constitutes a form of racial injustice.

All this harm is compounded when children are consigned needlessly to the chaos of foster care. Because most cases are nothing like the horror stories, two massive studies , involving more than 15,000 cases, found that in typical cases children left in their own homes fared better even than comparably-maltreated children placed in foster care.

Philadelphia tears apart families at the second highest rate among America’s 10 largest cities—triple the rate of New York and quadruple the rate of Chicago. Yet Philadelphia’s appalling rate of child removal did not prevent the tragedy Gelles uses to make his case. Research confirms that taking away more children does not reduce child abuse fatalities. In contrast, when Alabama was forced by a lawsuit to rebuild its entire system to emphasize family preservation independent court-appointed monitors found that child safety improved.

More broadly, a system attentive to social justice would generously support families’ ability to care for children, reduce both parental and societal child maltreatment, and avoid the trauma to children caused by needlessly tearing them away from their homes. Social justice matters to child welfare not because it’s what parents want, but because it’s what children need. For social workers to do anything less would be unethical.

Dorothy E. Roberts, faculty, Philadelphia

Preserving Families Is a Worthy Goal

As a child-protection professional for the past 15 years, I was very happy to see this topic covered in the Gazette [“Expert Opinion,” Jul|Aug 2017]. I did, though, find Professor Gelles’ article to be too brief and felt that the inclusion of some key legislation and data would have presented a more comprehensive article.

The article lacked a mention of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), which requires that states make motions to terminate a parent’s rights if a child has spent 15 of the past 22 months in foster care. This federal legislation guides our daily practice and is designed to put children and their development first. Also, this article failed to discuss the number of children that we are able to safely keep in their homes, and the studies regarding trauma around children who are removed from their homes, and how more in-home services could have better outcomes for these children.

I also found this article to lack knowledge of the intricacies of child protection work, in that Professor Gelles has discredited our system for being “parent as client.” It is the action or inaction of the parent, not the child, that led to their involvement in our agency, so it only makes sense that we provide services to the parents. One of the first things we tell children when we make the difficult decision to remove them from their parents is “this isn’t your fault” and so, while we are primarily focused on the safety of the children, it is the parents who need to change.

Finally, it is not just the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics, but even more strongly it is also respect for human rights and a value of the family unit that drives us to keep families together or reunify them after a removal. This desire to keep families safely together or to reunify a family after a removal is nothing to be mocked and should be seen as a respectable professional mission.

As an open-minded social worker, I look forward to reading Professor Gelles’ book and continued coverage of social work and social policy in the Gazette.

Faith Dzurovcik C’00, Cranford, NJ

Wrong Target

Pointing to professional social work ethics as an enabler of child maltreatment and the tragic deaths that occur is analogous to blaming the Hippocratic Oath for physicians who ignore patient wishes to administer unwanted medical procedures. In every profession, there are cases of malpractice.

Family breakdown is everywhere. It is a horror that nearly 700,000 children are abused in the US each year. According to the US Administration for Children & Families, in 2015 an estimated 1,670 children died from abuse and neglect. That year children’s advocacy centers around the country served more than 311,000 child victims of abuse, providing victim advocacy and support to these children and their families. Approximately 3.4 million children received an investigation or alternative response from child protective services agencies.

It takes great courage and skill for protective service social workers to bring the state’s police powers to investigate child abuse cases. They must, when necessary, refer to the court to temporarily place a child, and in extreme cases, seek termination of parental rights and permanency planning for the child. The latter is not often a positive result for any party.

Dr. Gelles rightly points out that it is malpractice for a Child Protective Services social worker not to continually check and evaluate the health and safety of a referred child. The consequences of child neglect and abuse are horrendous. Social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers, friends, and neighbors can help save lives. However, the CPS frontline throughout this country is inadequately funded. High caseloads, poverty, unemployment, poor healthcare, poor childcare, poor schools, as well as attitudes of juvenile and family court judges, prosecutors, police, public school officials, and the media all impact child welfare outcomes.

Dr. Gelles knows better than most of us the complexity inherent in the role of CPS. His point, based on the tragic Philadelphia case, may be intellectually valid, but his “Expert Opinion” demeans the heavy lifting provided by dedicated CPS social workers.

Jeffrey E. Lickson SW’66, Tallahassee, FL

How Do We Make the Child the Client?

In his article “Social Justice at Children’s Expense,” Richard Gelles describes problems with the child welfare system and proposes a solution by making the child rather than the parents the client, but he doesn’t tell us how this should be done. Yes, he does tell us that the system needs to make “decisions with the child’s safety and well-being as the most important consideration …” For most children, their well-being is to be raised by their parents, but their safety must come first, as Gelles advocates. We have had a law that leads us to do “what is best for the child.” There is also a law about placing a child in a permanent home in order that the child’s sense of time is considered. Why haven’t these laws worked, and how do we make the child the client without working with the parents intensely?

Having worked with both children and parents in the field of child welfare for many years, I have seen how what we want for children—to be safe, to be loved, to grow up with their biological families—does not always happen. Our society does not see it as important to make this happen. Gelles mentions the failure of the Family Preservation program. The Family Preservation pilot program was successful, and then I saw how it operated in the city where I worked. In the pilot program, workers had a certain number of families with whom they worked and a certain length of time the families were offered the service. However, when the program was no longer a pilot, workers had to carry more families for a shorter length of time. There was not the money to provide the same service for the same length of time. There was not sufficient money for the number of workers needed in the child protection agencies. Some parents are difficult or not willing to change, and a permanent plan elsewhere is best.

What I saw the most for children and families in the child welfare system were the problems of poverty, unemployment, discrimination, alcohol/drug abuse, and other social problems. As far back as 1902, Homer Folks, a superintendent of the Children’s Aid of Pennsylvania, said that, “Children rarely became the subjects of public care except because of the poverty of their parents, or their own wrongdoing” ( The Care of Destitute, Neglected, and Delinquent Children, p. 167). We continue to see this problem of poverty, with a majority of children in foster care and the child welfare system coming from poor families. As social workers, we must continue to address this problem, but children must be protected both in their own homes and in foster homes. Changing the client from family to child will not change the problems of poverty, unemployment, and injustice. Until our society decides to enable families to have employment that can financially support a family and decides that the care of children is important, changes in the child welfare system will not happen. The changes in our current society are not leading in the direction of change.

Cynthia Blanchard Kittle SW’66, Atlanta

More Nuanced Discussion Needed

I certainly approve Richard Gelles’ reminder that child welfare agencies must place the child as the primary client and that social change efforts do not override the primary foci of a child welfare field of social work practice. I don’t think he would object to my nuanced discussion of these issues.

We could implicitly have a binary conflict here. Should we provide services to parents and caregivers or should the child be the primary client? There is clearly a more complex, relational solution available. The maltreated child (our first social justice concern) is assisted by assisting designated members of the family complex (not simply the birthparent(s)) to care for him/her. That failing, Parens Patriae should intervene with appropriate substitute care arrangements.

At least two problems make these idealized suggestions very difficult to achieve in practice. First, while the various helping processes demand great professional skill, very few, if any, professional social workers serve in child welfare in direct service capacities. Second, the substitute care system often can become itself abusive. Thus, there can be a rational disincentive to place.

On the other hand, the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work has long been very concerned about development of specific practice in all aspects of child welfare. Obviously, the complex answer to our dilemma is systematic development of the entire field of child welfare, but with its current incentive structure and understandings of professional practice, this is far from happening. From my perspective (and I am certain Professor Gelles would not disagree), the development of both models and systems of excellent, family-oriented practice in the field of child welfare would also directly serve a professional concern for social justice and social change. The Penn tradition, more than others, saw the necessity of field-specific development in areas of child welfare, family, health, schools, probation, etc. We, who continue to write out of this tradition, remain hopeful that social work practice and policy will develop in these basic areas, all necessary and expected in modern society.

Robert T. Constable GrS’70, Chesterton, IN

Mother Doesn’t Always Know Best

I agree with Dr. Gelles that the American child welfare system “does not see vulnerable children as its primary clients.” And he correctly identifies that legal precedents reinforce this idea. What needs additional emphasis is that until our “family law” courts change their focus from one of prioritizing conflict to one of truly helping families—parents and children—already stressed by divorce, there can be no relief of suffering. The child welfare system and the “family law” courts assume that children not only do best when raised by their birth parents but also do best when raised by their mothers.

Most of my friends who have tried (sometimes successfully) to adopt children through the foster system have been forced to endure the ignorance and obstinacy of a court that seeks to “reunite” children (again and again) with their drug-addicted, abusive, and/or incarcerated mothers rather than provide them the security of a loving home that truly wants them to be there. And personally, I had the unfortunate experience of spending years trying to protect my own children from their abusive mother simply because of the absurd idea that “mother knows best,” the final proof of which was provided by my attorney who, after witnessing (through my employment) years of indefensible behavior stated as a matter of fact that even with his knowledge of the circumstances and abuse, it would be his “job” to keep the children with their birth mother if she were his client. Our children will never be protected until both our child welfare system and our “family law” courts make “decisions with the child’s safety and well-being as the most important consideration.”

Alexander Werner V’87, Hidden Hills, CA

Punch, Not Platitudes

Thanks for your joyful coverage of a beautiful Commencement [“Gazetteer,” Jul|Aug 2017]. My focus on graduating 50 years ago was primarily on my family, and I think it rained. So, I took full advantage of the glory of 5/15/17!

I am not, however, a fan of Senator Cory Booker’s speech. The speech did have some uplifting homilies about Gandhi, his mentor, and Chris Christie. Such a mensch. Who knew?

But, it had no bite. I mean, maybe that’s what people think a commencement speech is supposed to be, but—even though I teared up a couple of times—I don’t go for that.

I had a really smart brother, Stephen, may he Rest in Peace, who went to Yale. President Kennedy gave the commencement address there in 1962. It was both substantive and emotional, about the importance of bringing expertise to policy-making rather than relying on myths and archaic opinions.

“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie—deliberate, contrived, and dishonest,” he said, “but the myth—persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”

Kennedy spoke as if we were all educated enough to keep up with his sophisticated thinking about the American project.

Senator Booker’s speech happened on the occasion of the nation learning that the President of the United States had given Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov classified information during a meeting at the White House, the day after he fired FBI Director Comey for investigating Trump’s Russian connections.

In my opinion, Booker blew it. He had an opportunity to educate all of us, especially the young people going out into the larger world, about the complex, larger situation we are all facing. He could have gotten there from his line, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” He could have rattled our cages by speaking about how propaganda and nonstop lies turn our minds into a multi-screen movie theatre so that we forget how to concentrate. But, he didn’t do that. He went with the tried-and-true bromides that people use as synonyms for the Golden Rule. Did he get his talk from a sermon manual?

I’m not saying that he ought to have talked about what I think he should have talked about. There are a lot of things I like to listen to. I’m actually pretty easy to please when it comes to speeches. And, clearly, most people loved it; they gave him a standing ovation.

I stayed seated.

Michael Sales W’67, Newburyport, MA

The Other Side of Change

Julia Klein’s report on Sharon McConnell-Sidorick’s book, Silk Stockings and Socialism [“Arts,” Jul|Aug 2017], omits important history. Socialism is solely viewed through the lens of worker rights, its deadly aspects ignored.

McConnell-Sidorick relates the key role of hosiery workers in the American labor movement and Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. She emphasizes “the importance of knowing history,” including union members’ “contributions to social change.” Let’s examine the other side of change.

We are told the hosiery union “brought the industry to its knees,” and helped create the Congress of Industrial Organizations and National Labor Relations Board. The CIO’s agenda for women’s rights, minimum wage, and fair housing are praised.

The key descriptor “communist” is avoided. Also unmentioned is strong communist power in the CIO and NLRB.

Before Congress in 1938, CIO metal-workers’ union leader John Frey testified to 238 full-time, paid CIO communist “organizers” working to recruit members. Of five million CIO members, 1.25 million belonged to communist-dominated unions.

Frey’s comments were unimpeachable, supported by union books, police reports, informants, and Communist Party USA membership lists.

A key CIO leader, garment-workers’ union boss and socialist Sidney Hillman, selected Senator Harry Truman as Roosevelt’s vice presidential running mate in 1944. Left-labor political clout produced heavy Roosevelt electoral votes that year and in 1940. Roosevelt owed left-labor his third and fourth terms. Truman owed Hillman his vice presidency, and soon, the presidency.

Astute Soviet specialist George Kennan believed American socialist power a great political force bent on destroying America. Socialists were/are unceasingly hostile to America. Free enterprise, personal freedom, family, religion, academia, Constitution, law enforcement, and patriotism are constant targets.

Socialist marching rules are straight from Marx-Engels’ Communist Manifesto, and holy writ of Lenin, Stalin, and later, Mao. One message: America equals world evil.

For disloyal Americans working in key government posts as covert Communist agents, Soviet Russian interests naturally took precedence. Reds ran the Far East Asia State Department section, Treasury Department foreign aid, and White House dealings with the Soviet espionage apparatus. Ditto for the NLRB.

Thanks to socialist power, American World War II military victory in Europe and the Pacific meant catastrophic political defeat. Over 400,000 GIs died, Penn alumni among them. Instead of long peace, their sacrifice brought immediate capitalist–communist world hostility. Korean and Vietnam wars against communismfollowed,and another 112,000 dead Americans. Most were 18 and 19 years old, some from Penn.

One wonders if formal campus remembrance attends University war fighters killed in action. Would progressive student and administrator mindset permit it?

In the words of late author Emily Hahn, “The public has been fooled. Is it too late to start telling the truth?”

Richard Masella D’74, Boynton Beach, FL

Misleading and Untrue History

It is unbelievable to me that the author of the book Silk Stockings and Socialism is considered a scholar when she writes such obviously misleading and untrue history.

The hosiery business moved South because union work rules (not wages) made it impossible to run a mill in the North. Few mill workers in the North joined the strikes that moved the industry South. The union employed non-textile workers to man the picket lines and do the dirty work. I know. I was there.

I ran a hosiery operation in the South after WWII and ended my business life running plants that employed over 4,800 men and women. In 35 years no worker in the South wanted a union or asked me for a raise in wages. They were happy to have a good job.

A little-known fact is that the textile industry ran out of white workers in the early 1960s and was a major reason for the end of segregation in the South.

If the author of this book did her research at Penn, it is very worrisome to me.

Today we have 27 million people out of the work force and cannot graduate more than 80 percent of our youth from high school. We have a huge deficit and we gave China the textile business that built America’s Industrial Revolution. Have labor laws been a major reason?

William Buck W’49, Mount Pleasant, SC

Leave Him Alone, He’s Reading

I thoroughly enjoyed the article, “Ink Addict” [“Alumni Voices,” Jul|Aug 2017], by Joanne Mulcahy, which vividly captures the intimacy and joy experienced by many of us while reading a hardbound (and often well-worn) book. Mulcahy’s apt self-recognition that the “tension between the certain joy of literature and the chancy pleasure of people will plague [her] for life” could be the battle cry of literate introverts the world over. If the well-meaning, sociable folks at our swim club could relate to this sentiment, my summer reading would encounter far fewer interruptions.

Brian O’Neill C’93, Bryn Mawr, PA

A Question of Perspective

I read with interest the article by Samuel Hughes, “Scanning Sacred Interiors” [Jul|Aug 2017]. The technology is fascinating and undoubtedly valuable, but the article in my opinion was not nearly as well written as it should have been.

The twin challenges were to describe the process and results clearly in the text and to exhibit examples of the three-dimensional results in two-dimensional photographs. The text is marginal in terms of technical clarity, but the photos miss the mark by a wide margin. The photos are tantalizing but difficult to comprehend because the captions do not describe the perspective of each photo. Is an image looking up as if inside the cathedral or looking down from above? The confusion particularly applies to the photos on page 30, the top photo on page 32, and the photo on page 33.

Fredric M. Blum ME’63 WG’65, Wynnewood, PA

Joy of Genetics

I enjoyed Beebe Bahrami’s article “Mapping the Human Journey” [Jul|Aug 2017], about molecular anthropologist Theodore Schurr. My mother enjoyed genealogy and traced our family tree back for many generations. I was raised on a farm and was involved in animal breeding and genetics. As a fermentation engineer I was again exposed to genetics. I enjoy reading about the studies of human genetics and the interactions of various humanoid species. I hope to read Bahrami’s book, Cafe Neandertal.

Don Ristroph GCh’78 GrEng’81, Baton Rouge, LA

Lilly’s Addictive Influence

I never met John Lilly [“The Psychonaut You Never Heard Of,” Jul|Aug 2017], but I knew Britton Chance well. As an undergrad, I worked directly under Dr. Chance at the Johnson Foundation, aka Penn’s Department of Biophysics and Physical Biochemistry. Brit had somehow figured out that I was going to elucidate for him the puzzle of why Candida yeast are sometimes susceptible to rotenone poisoning and sometimes they aren’t. (I figured out that their mitochondria were sensitive to the poison when they weren’t growing and pretty much shrugged it off when they were busy having babies—as long as you kept the oxygen concentration up in the yeast’s culture. Everybody else had let their yeast asphyxiate. Dr. Chance designed, and had the shop build, the world’s first electronic oxystat for me. The JF certainly was an amazing place.) We published that.

I didn’t think much about it at the time—that I was lucky enough to have gotten to work directly for the Director; he paid me arbitrarily whatever he paid his grad students, and let me do whatever I felt like doing, as an independent investigator/protégé.

I read all of Chance’s papers, of course. There was a colleague and coauthor of some interesting Chance et al. publications—interesting early papers on mitochondrial metabolism. Somebody in the JF told me that this person had also been an undergraduate, like me.

About 35 years later I was hanging out with Britton Chance in his lab where he was engrossed in measuring oxygen consumption by the prefrontal cortex using near infrared spectroscopy while professional Scrabble players were un-jumbling eight letter anagrams/jumbles. More or less out of the blue, I asked him what had happened to this other undergraduate and protégé?

Here was a guy—a world famous scientist and Gold Medal sailor—who, over an entire lifetime, I had never seen get mad, at anybody about anything; a total patrician of unflappable cool, always in command. And a scowl crossed his face the likes of which I’ve never seen on the coarsest of my countrymen! He told me that he had come under the influence of John Lilly and gotten addicted to ketamine.

Richard Katz C’70, Point Richmond, CA

Reminded of Rosenberg Case

“Guilty Until Proven Innocent” [“Gazetteer,” Jul|Aug 2017], with its discussion of innocence and anti-Semitism, reminds me of the Rosenberg case. I believe it has been learned that Julius was guilty of giving non-nuclear information to the Soviet Union during WWII when we were allies, and that Ethel was guilty of nothing at all. All of the principals on both side of the case were Jewish to prevent accusations of anti-Semitism, but I believe that the whole prosecution was a largely successful attempt on the part of the government to frighten Jews away from left-wing or liberal activity. Of course, during the depths of the so-called McCarthy era jurors would have been afraid to vote for acquittal lest they be accused of being soft on communism.

Eliot Kenin C’61, Martinez, CA

Few Exonerated Among Many Innocent

Although I am not a graduate of Penn, I was the paying parent of one and was able to read your excellent magazine. I was a little disappointed when I saw the statistics for the number of prisoners who are incarcerated and the number that have been exonerated in the article, “Guilty Until Proven Innocent.”

When we examine the estimated percentage of innocent prisoners, we assume that 8 percent of the prisoners in our jails are innocent, or 176,000 of the 2.2 million in jails. The number exonerated is only 350, or 0.2 percent, certainly not figures to be proud of. Having said this, those in prison either accepted plea deals or were convicted by their peers.

Nelson Marans, parent, New York

Divided on Key Issues

I initially was going to send this letter following the May|Jun Gazette with its three related items: the two feature articles, “Peter Struck’s Odyssey” and “When Lies Go Viral,” and the letters-to-the-editor dealing with President Donald Trump and the University’s status as a sanctuary site for immigrants. I decided to wait to see what the Jul|Aug letters looked like.

The two articles presented substantially different ways of looking at how we govern ourselves as a society. And the letters in both issues show how divided the Penn community is in relation to key issues that face our country—the leadership of our President and the status of immigrants, particularly those who are undocumented.

The “Odyssey” article makes a strong case for the value of a liberal arts education in cultivating “a way of thinking … a curiosity with a very broad reach.” A liberal arts education emphasizes the deep thinking and introspection needed to effectively understand the interconnections of issues that face any society, and that few of the big decisions society has to make are simple this-versus-that situations. Contrasted with this way of learning about the world and its challenges is the alternative reality/fake news/viral deception discussed in the second article. The power of fake news to affect opinions and motivate corresponding actions is shown by the Pizzagate story described in the article. This method of informing people about the issues of the day flies in the face of the open multi-dimensional learning-and-doing process of a liberal arts background.

While we all were part of the Penn learning experience, I am struck by the passionate difference in our views about our society. There’s no surprise there, but it is a reminder of how divided our country is and how important it is that we figure out how to talk with, rather than at, each other if we are to continue to be the nation our founders had in mind.

Jim Waters WG’71, Pearl River, NY

About that Motto

Recent letters to the Gazette continue to quote the University’s motto, Leges Sine Moribus Vanae as “Laws without morals are empty.” In fact, the translation of that motto is a good deal more nuanced. The quote itself derives, of course, from the Odes of Horace (Book III, Ode XXIV). The Latin word moribus is a form of mores, which may translate as “morals” but more generally refers to customs or behavior. Thus, Penn’s motto should translate as: “Laws without customs (or behavior) are vain.” In other words, laws are useless if they don’t reflect society’s values.

A good example would be our experience with Prohibition in the 1920s. The law may have been moral, and in fact it was touted for its moral quality—but it was a failure, precisely because itwas in conflict with the customs of the time. Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider—not the Latin original of our motto—but the unfortunate and moralizing mistranslation it has been given.

Stuart Friedman C’66, Cleveland

More to Say

Don Goldstrom W’51’s obituary in the Jul|Aug 2017 Gazette was a disappointment for those of us honored to know him as a friend and fellow alumnus.

When Don joined the Armstrong advertising department in 1951, the company was indeed the Armstrong Cork Company, headquartered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but should not have been described as “a cork manufacturer.” Cork had long since ceased to be of any significance from a sales-revenue standpoint to the firm founded in Pittsburgh in 1860. By 1951, Armstrong had become a leading manufacturer of building and industrial materials and an industry leader in floor coverings and acoustical ceilings. In the 1970s, the company became Armstrong World Industries.

Don’s contributions to the University were more than just “a member of the football team,” as appeared in your obituary. He was, until his passing, one of the Mungermen—a group formed in tribute to Penn’s legendary football coach of the 1940s and early 1950s, George Munger Ed’33—and was the recipient of the Edgar Church Award, voted on by members of the football team, for outstanding leadership by a member of the senior class.

Don was also a member of the University’s baseball team and a talented cartoonist, who served as the art editor of Pennpix, the campus humor magazine. Last but certainly not least, Don served on the University’s board of trustees as an Alumni Trustee.

Walter H. Offermann W’58, Lancaster, PA

Drawn from Memory


I was saddened to learn of the death of Stu McGee C’71 [“Obituaries,” Jul|Aug 2017]. We met in Penn Players as freshmen, doing scenery and lighting design, and were roommates sophomore year. After that I left the demanding and exhilarating world of theater to avoid failing the academic subjects that were supposed to be my reason for being in college. We reconnected as our 40th reunion approached, and he was helping to organize it. After a most enjoyable reunion experience I remembered I had done some sketches of him one night in school for drawing class homework and sent him scans of them with a thank-you note.

I assured him they were proof he had actually cracked a book in college.

He kept in touch, of course. Around that time, I was avoiding social media, but then I got an invitation to Twitter that I could not ignore: Stu had used one of the sketches as his profile picture on Twitter. Also on LinkedIn.

We met for the last time at our 45th reunion. Ever so belatedly I realized that while we had met first in technical theater his real talent lay in bringing people together any way he could, especially in an event that made the best memories.

Jeffrey Berg C’71, Cambridge, MA


Nick Lyons’ essay, “Not Here” [“Alumni Voices,” May|Jun 2017] says it all. I am grateful to him for putting into words this “raw hole,” and to the Gazette for publishing it.

Carolyn S. Croshaw V’66, Parksville, KY

Reasons, Please

The logic of a Trump supporter? He deserves praise because he was “[t]he winner” and because his foes are “tone deaf, no free speech colleges” who are “bigoted sore losers” and “jackasses” (Mary Gedney CW’64). Another supporter mentions a praiseworthy Trump accomplishment: transforming the “vagrant-infested Commodore Hotel … into the Hyatt Regency,” changing “midtown Manhattan in the late 1970s for the benefit of literally millions of Americans” (Steve Gidumal W’79).

How many of these millions are appropriately grateful to Trump’s Hyatt Regency? Will the skills that resulted in the Hyatt Regency produce an affordable and comprehensive healthcare plan? Will the Hyatt Regency enable Trump to bequeath to posterity a safe and clean environment? Will it shelter those who will have to move to higher ground when the swollen oceans reshape the continent? Will it stop Trump from packing the Supreme Court with ideologues? Will it teach Trump how to deal with terrorism and North Korea? Will the Hyatt and all that it represents to millions of Americans enable Trump to investigate thoroughly Russian interference in our democratic elections? Will it propel him to take steps to protect the United States against future cyber threats to our democracy? Will the Hyatt teach Trump manners? Will it teach him how to think?

Is there a Trump supporter who can refrain from name calling and present cogent reasons for supporting him?

Don Z. Block Gr’77, Malvern, PA

Laws, Not Whims

Allan Daniel wrote [“Letters,” Jul|Aug 2017] that Trump should only appear as a cartoon character and quoting the Penn motto that “laws without morals are empty.” The purpose behind Trump is “laws without enforcement are empty.” I believe we are still a nation of laws, not of whims.

David Smith ChE’56, Newport News, VA

When Leadership Fails Us

It seems that lately we’ve been willing to accept less than stellar leadership at the national level and in the boardroom.

Somehow, we’ve been willing to give a pass to people we’ve entrusted with our safety, our livelihood and our paychecks.

Somehow, we are being held to a higher standard than those in greater positions of authority and power.

Some say it’s always been this way, but I don’t think so. Today even those with means and a voice seem willing to abdicate their responsibility to speak up for fear of affecting all they’ve accumulated.

They seem willing to accept boorish and unqualified CEOs, business leaders and politicians, leaders who have no business leading, under the false assumption that there can only be negative consequences if they stand up and stand out.

But isn’t it the responsibility of those of us with the most to lose to speak up and give voice to those who are unable? Isn’t that what real leadership is all about? Putting it all on the line for what’s right vs what’s comfortable?

If you’re a CEO and there’s policy that is likely to favor your company, but disenfranchise many, isn’t it still your duty to call that out?

If you’re a congressperson and the leader of your party stands for indecency, isn’t the decent thing to do to call that out even if it may put you at odds with party leadership?

If you are a business leader and the behavior of those above you disadvantages those you’ve been entrusted to look after, isn’t it your responsibility to challenge that behavior?

What example do we who have some power set for those who cannot when we don’t speak up?

And what about our children who will have to endure this legacy?

We’ve benefited from past generations who were willing to put it all on the line to see that we’d have a better life. But, what are we putting on the line for others? If the answer is (just) protecting what we’ve accumulated or worse, seeing to it that others are unable to achieve what we have, then progress ends here.

What do we do when leadership fails us? We lead by example!

Mike Bellissimo C’81, Louisville, KY

Editorial Suggestion

Enough is enough. While I hate the Idiot-in-Chief, our GOP-loving whack job fellow alumni have a point. The president is a Penn graduate, and that cannot be ignored in our alumni magazine.

Here’s what I suggest: Dedicate the next issue of the Gazette to Trump. Call it the Trump Issue. Some potential articles could include:

· Alumni discussing life at Penn while Trump was on campus (including those who knew him and are willing to speak on the record)

· A survey of other “controversial” Penn alumni

· Political science professors weighing in on the “Trump phenomenon”

· Annenberg professors analyzing the use of media by the president

· International Relations professors speculating on Trump’s effect on world politics

· Wharton professors evaluating Trump’s influence on the business environment

· A “Note from the Undergrad” about campus life in the Trump era, maybe written by an undocumented student or a #MAGA hat wearing Whartonite

Lord knows I love reading about the latest research from the Judith and Irwin Sokoloff Distinguished Professor in Ornithology, but I get the feeling the Trump Issue might be of more interest to your audience. Embrace the Trump Issue. As a man much dumber than me would say, it’ll be yuuuuge.

And then never mention his name again, until the successful impeachment.

Mike Silverstein C’01, Los Angeles

Liberal Ideals Taint Mainstream Media

In regard to “When Lies Go Viral” [May|Jun 2017], fake news is not only what is incorrectly reported, but how badly it is tainted by the bias of the reporter, something that could be called innuendo news. Another factor that reflects a loss of journalistic integrity is not reporting news that might grate on the bias of a media group … burying is another means of improper reporting.

A prime example of fake news is the totally incorrect article in The New York Times falsely linking Sarah Palin’s rhetoric to the January 2011 shooting of then-Representative Gabrielle Giffords. She is suing the newspaper and rightly so.

The emergence of editorial news programs deeply immersed in liberal ideals can be the influence that has over the past 20 or so years all too obviously tainted the mainstream media. It will be interesting to see if any of them can get back to reporting the news fairly. Highly unlikely.

Sydney Waud C’63, New York

Uplifting Contrast

The primary motivation for my letter is President Gutmann’s “Penn Will Not Bend” response to President Trump’s anti-immigration executive order of January 27 [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2017]. I particularly appreciated her words: “We [at Penn] stand for open-hearted compassion and open-minded opportunity. We will remain unyielding in our allegiance to our fundamental principles and to each other.” Penn is fortunate to have her.

President Gutmann’s statement was an uplifting contrast to the letters from some graduates who were blind or insensitive to the intent of some of President Trump’s policies and actions. They would find it enlightening and rewarding if they spent some volunteer time assisting some of society’s least fortunate. Although I was a Wharton graduate, I spent almost all of my vocational life working among society’s disadvantaged. This involved me in civil rights activity in Mississippi and the grape strike in California, where, along with others, I got arrested to challenge (successfully) illegal action by law enforcement. I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything.

Jack Bartlett W’53, Mill Valley, CA


We misspelled the Basser Center for BRCA (as Brasser) on the Jul|Aug 2017 contents page. Our apologies for the error.

Share Button

    Leave a Reply