Dogs and dogma, putting Pennsylvania 6-5000 in its place (second), one more (incredible!) Munger memory.
The following letter about our May|Jun 2018 cover story on Julia Keleher C’96 GEd’98 and her tenure as Puerto Rico’s secretary of education arrived too late to be included in the Jul|Aug 2018 print edition of the Gazette.
Artificial Storms and Inarticulate Reforms
The Department of Education of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico has a long history of deficiencies and efforts of reforms to address the needs of students and schools across the archipelago (Puerto Rico is not an island, it is an archipelago). This stems from the very culture and definitions of “education” which must strive to adapt and improve according to the continuous reviews of academic goals and achievements in response to the challenges imposed by any given context. Currently, the system of education in Puerto Rico is undergoing one of the most radical reforms in its history with the closing of 266 schools across all of the educative regions under the leadership of secretary of education Julia Keleher. Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, stated in a speech at a rally in San Juan on May 25, 2018 organized by the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR) and AFT, that this is the most school closings in any state or territory of the United States historically. The school closings and their impact need to be contextualized and analyzed in light of the conditions in which they take place. For this reason, I was surprised and deeply saddened to read an article in the Gazette highlighting Keleher’s work in Puerto Rico as “achievements” and how her work is also shaped by her experiences as a Penn alumna [“Storms and Reforms,” May|Jun 2018].
I am writing as an alumna, too. I earned my PhD in comparative literature and literary theory at Penn in 2012. I am also the mother of two children whose lives are being directly affected by the leadership of Dr. Keleher. As a Penn graduate, I was trained as a scholar and as such to highly value the process of research, documenting, using evidence to back up my analysis and interpretations. As an educator and as a mother, I strive to model and pass along these values to my students and to my children.
I purposely teach that no decision can ever be made without first identifying a set of criteria and a methodology to support and justify rationally and logically our decisions. There is value in research; this is the cornerstone of the process of contribution to knowledge. As a parent and as a scholar, I would have expected these values and processes to be a central part of any decision related to education or anything that would dramatically change the quality of life of thousands of children in schools and their communities.
One of the innovations in the Department of Education under Dr. Keleher’s leadership is that it has abandoned the usual forms of communication of using official letterhead and memoranda in favor of tweets and Facebook updates. On April 6, 2018, we learned of a list of schools identified for closure along with a list of the schools that would receive the registered students. Everyone—school principals, teachers, parents, the media, and everyone else—only learned of this decision on twitter. The schools, parents, teachers never received an official document about what the administration calls “school consolidations.”
Immediately, groups of parents everywhere in Puerto Rico started writing letters asking for more information as to the criteria used to justify the closings and requesting to participate in a process of dialogue. These communities deeply care about their children and schools; most are proud of the academic, cultural, and social achievements of their schools and how they positively impact the lives of the children.
Unfortunately, all of our letters and petitions have been consistently ignored, while Dr. Keleher has kept repeating to the media that she and the Department of Education held meetings with parents in a process of dialogue and to explain the closures. This never took place, at least not at my daughter’s school, Segundo Ruiz Belvis Elementary School in Santurce, not in John F. Kennedy Elementary School in Caguas, John B. Huyke School in Yabucoa, the seven schools closed in Salinas (50 percent of the schools in the municipality), the schools in Vieques, and over 200 schools that will have already closed now by the end of the academic year.
On April 28, 2018, Dr. Keleher met with Ms. Ashley Rios Mercado, the mother of a student in a school in Arecibo, finally meeting with a parent to answer questions about our schools in the Radio installment of Dialogando con Manolo Santiago of Radio Once. To our surprise she finally answered our pressing question as to the criteria used to identify the schools that would close. Dr. Keleher replied to the question by stating that there were no criteria, clearly and unconcernedly expressing that the closings are arbitrary.
She goes on to say that the Department of Education used a database from the 78 municipalities calculating numbers and statistics. To this day, we do not know anything about those databases, how the numbers are compiled, or anything related to the statistical analysis used—because there are facts and methods in numbers, too. In short, Dr. Keleher as a Penn alumna is proudly disregarding the value of facts, numbers, and research as her way of leading a Department of Education, not only ignoring the academic mission of any Department of Education but also the teachings, experiences, and core of our university, the University of Pennsylvania.
Everyone in the archipelago of Puerto Rico agrees that there is dire need for school reform. We do not contest the fact that many people died (including children) and left Puerto Rico in the wake of hurricane Maria, creating a significant drop in the population. This has a direct impact on how we may use our resources. However, as parents, professionals, scholars in Puerto Rico we require that any decision made must be based on facts and research. I would have to write a long series of posts to expose all of that I have documented as to the negative and absurd consequences of the imposed process of “school consolidations.” It is not badass—it is bad, and wrong.
At Penn I learned many great things, not only academically but also in terms of collegiality, the culture that sustains our academic work: commitment to collaboration, dialogue, and conversation. At Penn, I participated in active dialogue about research, but also about a deep concern with humanity, a commitment to keep learning and to teaching, values that Dr. Julia Keleher has not conveyed either through action or word. She does not represent the University of Pennsylvania I know and of which I am proud to be an alumna.
Marla Pagan-Mattos G’07 Gr’12, Carolina, PR
That Old Dogmatic Psychology
Maybe I’m being too picky, because I enjoyed reading “When William James Got Hungry” [May|Jun 2018, an excerpt from Martin E. P. Seligman’s autobiography, The Hope Circuit]. It is an interesting little story, and told well. Then, at nearly the finish, some of that old dogmatic psychology shows up.
“Thoughts of helplessness produce passivity.”
Well, yes, except when they don’t. Many people report fury in response to helplessness. And for those who do report passivity (or score that way), let’s be clear that in the real world, situations are a little more complicated and a lot more context dependent than this generalization suggests.
“Thoughts of loss produce sadness.”
Along with many other emotions, right? How did sadness win the spotlight?
Despite good intentions, I’ve seen psychological generalizations promote the idea that people can be known outside of their contexts. My 40 years in clinical social work has taught me a more modest view of our abilities. I’ve also seen these generalizations work against the interests of those who find themselves outside the “normal range.”
Foucault’s “normalizing gaze,” as a tactic of modern power comes to mind. Respond to loss with sadness or be classified as repressed, in denial, etc.
I recognize that the statements I take issue with are backed up by many hours of serious research. I’ll have to ask William James for an assist: “The simple classification of things is … a most miserable and inadequate substitute for the fullness of the truth. It is a monstrous abridgment of life which is got by the absolute loss and casting out of real matter” ( The Sentiment of Rationality).
Kevin Geraghty SW’77, Boise, Idaho
Hold the Celebration
Although The Pennsylvania Gazette celebrates Professor Martin Seligman’s new book and his creation of Positive Psychology (centered at Penn), we should not forget that his theory of “learned helplessness” was discovered primarily by torturing dogs to the point of catatonia—something he has admitted.
Learned helplessness is the only psychological theory ever developed with torture at its core, so it was a simple and probably inevitable step for the CIA—with or without Seligman’s direct knowledge—to explicitly utilize the learned helplessness model in its torturing of suspected Al Qaeda terrorists.
In 2014, the American Psychological Association commissioned the Hoffman Report to examine the role psychologists had played in our government’s use of terror. Among other things it concluded that it could not decide whether Seligman played a knowing role. Seligman dimisses the report outright as part of a radical leftist coup in the APA.
Whether the professor is right or not, the long and gruesome experiments on dogs should be kept in mind as the University of Pennsylvania celebrates Martin Seligman.
Elizabeth Pochoda Gr’68, Brooklyn
Although our excerpt didn’t address the issues raised above, Seligman does write about them elsewhere in The Hope Circuit. On the ethics of animal testing, he expresses personal misgivings about causing pain but asserts his view that such testing is justifiable when the potential benefit of the knowledge gained is great enough, as it was with the discovery of learned helplessness. He also notes that researchers—by the expedient of pulling the dogs by the leash beyond the point where the shock was administered, demonstrating how they could make it stop—were able to reverse the effects of learned helplessness in every dog, “a 100 percent cure.”
In a chapter titled, “CIA (2002),” he says it was “falsely reported” that the so- called enhanced interrogation techniques employed on detainees after 9/11 were based on the learned helplessness theory and insists that his government involvement was entirely aimed at helping American soldiers who might face torture. The key passage from the Hoffman Report is as follows: “ On balance, it seems difficult to believe that Seligman did not at least suspect that the CIA was interested in his theories, at least in part, to consider how they could be used in interrogations. However, we found no evidence to support the critics’ theory that Seligman was deeply involved in constructing or consulting on the CIA’s interrogation program.”
Seligman does describe the report as the product of a coup by “antiwar activists” at APA, aimed at discouraging future cooperation by psychologists with the government, “lest they be similarly defamed should their knowledge be misused.” —Ed.
Repeating a boast does not make it true.
Ever since its inception, Pennsylvania 6-5000 has claimed to be the first non-Glee Club a cappella group at the University of Pennsylvania. I concur that the excellent and funny men’s group did start in the fall of 1980, as noted by member D. Anthony Bullett [“Letters,” May|Jun 2018].
However, I am an original member of the group that actually bears the title of the first independent a cappella group at Penn. The Quaker Notes—a women’s group—began rehearsals in the spring of 1980. It was started by Maya Windholz C’81 L’85 and Cathy Freeman Farrell C’82.
Our group is still thriving on campus and celebrates the fact that the a cappella explosion continues, with the added booster of TV and movie attention.
Please don’t make me say it again. Seriously, guys. No more gaslighting and stealing of titles. Being first does count. And it was us.
Lorrie Sheppard Holm C’84, Sarasota, FL
The Daily Pennsylvanian online archives—our go-to source for contemporaneous accounts of campus life—includes this advertisement in the March 27, 1980, issue: “PENN WOMEN: Come sing with us next fall! Intoductory meeting of the Quaker Notes, a new group Tues., April 1, 8:30 p.m. 110 Vance Hall.” The first apparent mention of Pennsylvania 6-5000—aside from two 1962 ads where it was the actual phone number for New York’s Statler Hilton—came on October 1, 1980, in a story about “the new all-male singing group on campus” surprising then vice provost Janis Somerville with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” at the Faculty Club. —Ed.
One More (Very Strange, Truly Surprising) Munger Story
Thanks for remembering the great Coach Munger in the article “Mungermen Forever” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2018]. My father, Rex S. Morgan Sr. W’48, was a proud Mungerman, playing before WWII and after as a member of the legendary 1947 team. One of my favorite stories about my dad and George was told to me by Pete Munger, George’s younger brother. After the war Coach Munger traveled to Europe to stage football clinics with American soldiers. He met up with my father, an Army captain, in Nuremberg. Dad offered to take George to the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials were underway, and to stand in the hall as the Nazis entered the courtroom. The next morning they gathered there and here comes Joachim von Ribbentrop, Julius Streicher, Albert Speer, and the rest, with Hermann Goering bringing up the rear. When Goering passed the coach, he stopped, looked at him and said, “Guten Morgen, Herr Munger!” then turned on his heels and walked into the courtroom.
Peter said his brother was stunned and shot my father a look like “How did you do that?” which, if you knew my father the prankster, is something he would have done. But no, Dad was equally stunned. Pete Munger said that they later surmised this: Coach Munger was an assistant track coach for the US Olympic team and very briefly met Goering during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Ten years later, he recognized him standing in the hallway. Pretty scary.
My father had follow up duties at Nuremberg: As the chief of mortuaries of the European theater, Captain Morgan was responsible for setting up American cemeteries on the continent. He was also charged with disposing of the remains of the Nazis hanged following their conviction at the Trials. He attended the hangings, cut down the bodies once they were declared dead, and placed them in wooden coffins to be photographed. Dad and his men took them to Munich crematory, where workers were told they were receiving 11 American serviceman killed in an airplane crash. It was all very hush-hush, top secret. However, the by-the-book Germans insisted that my father complete a log naming each body. Dad entered the names of friends and football teammates—except for two. In a big dose of poetic justice, Julius Streicher, the notorious anti-Semitic propagandist, was cremated under the name “Abraham Goldberg.” Hermann Goering, the leader of the Reichstag, the man who cheated the hangman by biting a cyanide capsule in his prison cell, and the first to go into the crematory oven, was logged under the name … George Munger.
Rex Morgan C’77, Horsham, PA
The writer directs readers curious to learn more about the senior Morgan’s “amazing life” to https://www.facebook.com/Rex-Morgan-406262588776 —Ed.
Why Move Munger?
Why doesn’t your excellent article on the Mungermen in the Jan|Feb issue explain why the statue of Coach George Munger and the plaque listing the men who played under him from 1938 to 1953 has been moved from a prominent place at the west end of Franklin Field to a little-seen spot under the stands? Bernie Lemonick, president of the Class of 1951, who died three years ago at the age of 87 [“Obituaries,” May|Jun 2015], was an All American lineman who cofounded the Mungermen. He would call whoever moved this iconic memorial a “horse’s ass.” I’m sure your readers concur.
Pete Sigmund C’51, Ambler, PA
Thank you for the article “Why Chaucer and Why Now?” [“Gazetteer,” May|Jun 2018]. It embodied everything one would hope for in an alumni magazine—it was educational as well as enjoyable. I first read Chaucer as a freshman at Penn, so the piece had particular resonance for me.
David Handelman C’59, Los Angeles
It was great reading “Songs of Love and Kvetch” about the Robert and Molly Freedman Jewish Sound Archive [“Alumni Profiles,” May|Jun 2018]. It may be that the Freedman Archive is aware of another great collection of Yiddish music. It is the Sherry Mayrent Collection of Yiddish Recording, Mayrent Institute for Yiddish Culture at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I could not help but wonder if access to the two sources could be integrated; perhaps it would enhance both collections.
Sid Lipton WG’59, Manlius, NY
The recent notices of the passing of two stalwarts of the faculty of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering (which has been integrated into the generic Engineering school) were noted. I had the privilege and good fortune to be a student of Drs. Pier Bargellini [“Obituaries,” Nov|Dec 2017] and Ken Fegley [“Obituaries,” May|Jun 2018]. These gentlemen were respected by all of their students and attempted to make each of us proficient in the subjects which they taught. I especially recall Dr. Fegley’s class. His was the last final exam I took while I was at Penn (followed, happily, by graduation).
G. Donald Weber Jr. EE’57, Villa Park, CA
Why Wage Stagnation Exists
Re “The Single-Payer Problem” [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2018], my experiences over 50 years of international travel selling US-made specialty chemicals provides a firsthand view of why wage stagnation exists:
n The emergence of MBA management, imposition of (increasingly abusive) government regulations, imports from countries with barriers to imports of US-made countertypes, and a federal government that hubristically viewed our industry as immune from the unfolding consequences.
n MBA managers with typically short-term “bottom line” emphasis replacing BA/BS managers with focus on operations and ensuring a long-term “going concern.” Short-term “get rich quick” focus of MBA’s is destructive to a balanced economy, particularly small manufacturers. Among the more odious examples was the emergence of “M&A buffalo hunters” using junk bonds to buy and loot companies while destroying jobs, pensions, and security of employees. A Wharton MBA pioneered these destructive outrages.
n Regulations that initially targeted needed changes in worker safety, pollution, and product safety, but evolved into abusive mandates generated by government bureaucracies that are motivated to continue writing regulations to justify their existence and advance careers. Regulatory mandates became destructive and abusive, requiring enormous capital investment and extensive staff for compliance. Capital is/was diverted to compliance versus growing business and providing products, services, stable jobs, and demand for workers.
n Government lack of response as trading partners imposed abusive practices that robbed US technology, restricted dividends and royalties, and denied access to their markets. Prosperity, security, and jobs wilted in labor-intensive USA manufacturers, including autos, textiles, furniture, paper, steel.
These factors forced small companies to close or merge with other companies to survive. As the process continued, our economy has evolved into oligopoly dominated markets reminiscent of the robber baron era.
When a company closes or merges, an expanding web of destruction results: Employees lose their jobs. Suppliers to the company lose sales and, as the market shrinks, must cut talented staff (research, technical service, experienced workers and managers, etc.) in order to survive. Ultimately they must merge or close, leading in turn to their suppliers facing similar circumstances in an exponential catastrophe—particularly in manufacturing.
Things change when a customer closes or merges into a large entity. Rather than working with “on-site” purchasing managers familiar with operations, vendors are directed to remote central offices that demand marginless prices, high volumes, forfeiting any cost savings or earnings to the buyer, etc. This is a recipe for bankruptcy for all but large suppliers.
We are now in what I refer to as a “palace economy.” Huge companies dominate. Their drawbridges are closed to all but fellow dominant suppliers.
Outside the palace, talented individuals have lost their jobs before retirement is funded, with tuition bills due, demand for their expertise destroyed, and prospects poor for starting a business. The taxes and purchases they formerly generated are gone. The glut has driven down and stagnated wages.
This is why we have a “single-payer problem.”
Fortunately we now have executive leadership in Washington with the business experience needed to fix what has evolved. Perhaps we shall see the same changes in Congress. This is encouraged by an ongoing global trend of business people moving to countries that are more “business friendly.” The same is seen in the US among individual states.
It is imperative that the palace economy be overturned by businesses with chains removed. The result will be better products, better service to customers, better job opportunities, and better demand for employees to increase wages.
Bernard W. Wolff WG’70, Roswell, GA
We Hope It’s Held Up
I want to commend the Gazette on the Nov|Dec 2017 issue—probably the best issue I have read in some time. Virtually all of the content was balanced and relevant for today. Thank you and keep up the good work.
Greg Magrisi W’91, Wellesley, MA
To be fair, this message only arrived on April 17, after the last issue went to press, so this is our first opportunity to run it. For another view of the magazine, see below. —Ed.
As a 1995 alumna, I have been reading The Pennsylvania Gazette for 20+ years with my husband, who is also a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. In the past three years, I have seen the articles and narrative in the pages of your magazine become negative, divisive, ignorant, and utterly polluted by the ideologies of anti-liberty and anti-Western civilization, anti-capitalist, and frankly, anti-national sovereignty.
Having been born in Iran in the 1970s, before the crazy, anti-Semitic zealot clergy took over, then escaping and being raised in socialist England, and finally being lucky enough to have legally immigrated to the US in 1983, I of all people know what a treasure the United States of America is as a country, as a people, and as an idea.
I was certainly very fortunate to have been able to receive my bachelor’s degree in Romance languages (French and Spanish) from Penn’s College of Arts and Sciences. It is one of the great honors of my life, and I smile each time I look at my degree hanging proudly on my office wall. My loving and hard-working parents gave all they had so I could attend.
With two school-aged children, I once romanticized the idea that they would attend Penn like my husband and I were blessed to have done. Sadly, now I cannot think of a more terrible waste of our money.
Unlike Penn and Harvard and Yale and Princeton and all the rest of the rotten heap, we lovers of America want to conserve the Constitution with its entire Bill of Rights intact. We don’t believe in multiculturalism because we believe that “American” is the name of the one culture of this country … it’s a culture with many languages and cuisines and clothing and religions and music … a culture that all of us from varying backgrounds embrace and love with all our hearts. It is the culture of freedom. That’s the only culture I feel a part of right down into my bones. E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one—is printed on our coins. Out of many peoples, we all form one culture as Americans. I would have thought that the Gazette would champion that simple and powerful idea.
At least I will always have my beautiful mid-1990s memories of Penn … of living in High Rise North with wonderful Orthodox Jewish students who taught me about Shabbat (they epitomized living a life of virtue amidst the chaos of young adulthood), of Hey Day and Locust Walk … of Van Pelt Library and The Button … of Houston Hall … of the Covenant (yes, that’s what that huge red sculpture just past High Rise East is called, depicting Abraham and Isaac and God) … of the glorious statue of Benjamin Franklin on College Green and the handsome bronze “Ben on the Bench” statue right by Locust Walk. At least nothing can take any of those memories away from me.
I hold onto the fading hope that perhaps the Gazette will stop the drivel and start simply sharing interesting information rather than narratives, rhetoric, and propaganda. Most importantly, perhaps there is hope that Penn will stop the madness and once again become committed to diversity of thought above all else. I hold out hope.
Nina Martin C’95, Winter Garden, FL
Seeking Information on Chinese Students at Penn, 1925–1937
I am working on a book that, as one of its primary sources, draws on the letters my father (Richard T. Viguers W’33 L’38) wrote to his parents between 1935 and 1937 from China, where he was teaching economics at Central China College and working as a freelance foreign correspondent. He speaks of many associations with young Chinese men who had been educated at Penn. I am interested in the life of Chinese students at Penn (from about 1925 to 1937), who they were, and what happened to them with the coming of the Sino-Japanese War and afterwards.
Susan Viguers (firstname.lastname@example.org), Philadelphia
The writer is an emeritus and adjunct professor at the University of the Arts and coauthor, with Lily Yeh FA’66, of the book, Surviving Genocide [“Arts,” May|Jun 2018].—Ed.