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“I doubt Bucky Fuller would be impressed by Project X.”

cover_0116Hughes Was Cool, Calm, Unconfused

While reading the Jan|Feb editor’s note concerning the article about me and my work [“The Shapes of Things to Come”], I was very amused by the image of Sam Hughes throwing up his hands. I had no idea. From my numerous exchanges with him, I found him to be one of the coolest and calmest writers I have ever had the privilege to work with. To my great surprise, he absorbed new (and complex) information like a sponge and wove it together on many levels (dimensions) into a cohesive story. For this, I am grateful. I am also deeply honored that the Gazette chose this as their cover story. This was another surprise.

On a side note, I would direct readers to the online version, which was revised to correct minor factual errors and inadvertent misrepresentations in the print version.

Haresh Lalvani Gr’81 Brooklyn

“Superficial and Pretentious” Monument

Haresh Lalvani has developed a fascinating thesis about an array of processes for developing sculptural formations derived from nature, biological discovery and structural analysis. He is certainly adept in developing an innovative descriptive vocabulary. One must be impressed by his sculptural projects that have been set in public sites in New York as well as the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art.

However, his excursion into the realm of architecture raises some concerns. I am particularly disturbed to discover Lalvani’s Project X in this journal of the House of Penn’s Louis I. Kahn, that teacher and singular genius of 20th century architecture whose Penn Medical Towers were designated by the Museum of Modern Art, in 1961, as “probably the single most consequential building constructed in the United States since the war.”

Kahn went on to design acclaimed projects in the US and abroad through his heartfelt concern for those who would inhabit, use, and interact in the projects. He studied every issue of a project, including program, structure, support systems, materials, details, and construction. His realized projects were the result of his concern for person and his intensive analysis of all issues related to develop his architecture.

Lalvani’s Project X, on the other hand, appears to be a blown-up version of his sculptural projects, which might be buildable and might perhaps even contain living units. My assessment of Project X is that it represents a superficial and pretentious attempt to construct a conspicuous monument of no particular civic, inhabitable, or environmental redemption.

Although Lalvani was a student of Buckminster Fuller, I doubt Bucky Fuller would be impressed by Project X. Fuller’s systems were developed on the platform of his concern for contributing useful solutions for complementing the limited resources of our “Spaceship Earth.”

David Karp Ar’59 San Mateo, CA

Not So Modern Medicine

Kevin Hartnett’s thoughtful and provocative “Our Labs, Our Health?” [Jan|Feb], treating Professor Robert Aronowitz’s career paths, is quite simply the most satisfying piece I have ever read inthe Gazette. It brings to mind three anecdotes I often use when explaining that today’s “modern medicine” may not seem so modern and advanced 10, 20, or 50 years from now.

During my first year (1971) at Penn Med, Pharmacology Professor Domingo Aviado explained that one should not use nitroglycerine during an acute coronary event, because the drug was known to lower blood pressure. By the time I was an intern several years later, one virtually always used “nitro” during a coronary event, owing to the new and “better” knowledge that the drug increased coronary blood flow more than it might lower systemic blood pressure.

During my internship, a strongly hyped new drug called minoxidil was introduced for the intravenous treatment of severe hypertension, particularly the sort associated with kidney disease. The drug failed to maintain clinical relevance, proving to be unmanageable for several reasons. It did, however, tend to induce hair growth in some patients. Voila! A new and catchy brand name, a different delivery vehicle, and we have Rogaine, one of the most “successful” drugs in history.

Similarly, once nitroglycerine established its cornerstone role in the treatment of coronary disease, researchers looked for a longer-acting, more targeted version of the drug that might provide ongoing treatment/prophylaxis for angina. Again, the medication failed clinically, sometimes even provoking the very anginal episodes it was intended to avoid, ostensibly because it may have diverted blood flow away from the coronaries; the diverted blood also produced some, er, embarrassing side effects. Presto, change-o! Viagra becomes another of the most “successful” drugs in history. (Note the drug advertisements’ warning that “some men might experience chest pain” when taking it.)

Thanks again for a marvelous piece, and thanks to Professor Aronowitz for illuminating risk-reward metrics that perhaps too often become subverted by the “next great thing.”

Richard W. Lieberman C’71 M’75 Boca Raton, FL

Medical Practice is More Complex

The definition of the core problem in medical practice today as a dichotomy of “risk-factor medicine” versus “disease-treatment medicine” seems to leave out most of the real complexity of our lives as physicians, as well as the central issue of consumer psychology.

Patient beliefs and expectations always influence, and sometimes determine, practice decisions. This fact is well known to the multi-billion-dollar drug industry, as shown by the direct-to-consumer ads that flood the TV channels, often even for relatively uncommon diseases.

Concentrated attention on hypertension as a risk-factor for acute cardiac events is decried, although it is obvious that hypertension is a complex ailment in its own right, and certainly worthy of treatment. Screening mammography is considered as part of anxiety-producing professional activity, which may, at its worst, lead to unnecessary surgery and overtreatment with endocrine-active medications. Can we consider the possibility that more, and better, oncologic and epidemiologic research is necessary before rational management protocols are arrived at?

We already know that women with certain specific genes and family histories are much more likely than others to develop breast cancer. Women in this group, given the present statistics, may opt for prophylactic mastectomy. Scientists in the field, one hopes, are investigating the genetics of the members of this group who seem to be protected against cancer, as well as women in general.

Hypothetical cases are cited, in which a patient with diagnosed cancer and another with “risk factors” are given the same treatment. Real doctors, with real patients, one hopes, would be likely to give each one only the treatment she needs. Similar simplification to “risk factor” versus “illness treatment” has been raised in relation to prostate cancer. PSA screening, needle biopsies, subtotal removal, radical removal, robot surgery, hormonal treatments, age-related factors—all are elements in the picture that require further elucidation before physicians can begin to advise individual patients.

Since the days of George Washington, and even back to Hippocrates, medical and scientific thinking has been linked to contemporary technology and contemporary mores. Radical changes in both have been occurring in the past few decades, and will probably do so more rapidly in the near future. There are no simple and permanent formulas.

Robert Jaffe M’46 Washington Depot, CT

Teaching Transmits More than Information

In “Walking on a Wire” [Jan|Feb], Stanley Fish emphasizes that it is wrong in teaching to “[try] to nudge [students], however subtly, in some direction or other” rather than “to plumb the complexities of a subject,” maintaining that academic subject matters are bodies of information that “[w]e are trained in” and “should confine ourselves to. Period.”

Fish seems to have a view of teaching that is all about transmission of “objective” information, not recognizing the degree to which every field is saturated with ideology. Part of what an academic teaches is the mindset that accepts the underlying ideologies, the perspectives, and the methods of her/his discipline. In my own discipline, linguistics, part of what I have to teach is a mindset that accepts dialect as a descriptive, not a pejorative, term. This is more than simply teaching information; it requires addressing students’ stereotypes and prejudices about “inferior” people and “correct” behavior. Changing students’ minds is not easy, and at least some of it involves nudging them, subtly, in the right direction.

Fish disregards the degree to which teaching, certainly good teaching, is about conveying one’s nature as a human being and forming a relationship with students, a very different matter—and far more effective—than simply conveying subject matter. A field is defined not only by the nature of its subject matter but also by the nature of the people in it who shape its character and ideology as well as its subject matter.

In linguistics, two notable examples are Penn professor Bill Labov and Penn alumnus Noam Chomsky of MIT. Part of what makes Labov’s work important and attractive is an ideology integral to his sociolinguistics—the equal status of all varieties of language—which highlights, and thus combats, racial prejudice linked to language. And since the 1950s many students have been drawn to linguistics specifically because of Chomsky, the man, and his views, both political and linguistic. He seems to keep these separate, yet it cannot be denied that his public persona has had a huge effect on the field.

Academic freedom, the nature of teaching, and indeed, the nature of a university as a community of scholars working in different fields are far more complex matters than were addressed in this article.

Martha C. Pennington Gr’82 University of London

Stop Special Breaks for Abusers

As a victim of childhood sexual abuse in an organized setting (not by a priest nor involving organized religion), I have always been amazed at how our government institutions, which supposedly should show no special respect for religious institutions, as dictated by our constitution, have repeatedly given the Catholic Church special breaks allowing them to get away with what amounts to organized sexual crime. For instance, Lynne Abraham’s statement, in “Church Sex Scandals from Medieval to Modern Times” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb], admitting that her team of prosecutors was selected on the basis of their Roman Catholic affiliation is a clear admission of bias in favor of the church.

In the face of organized crime by any organization, the proper action of prosecutors should be to get an immediate court order to seize all records. Instead the prosecutors apparently waited for records from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to be “eventually” released.

I am also completely surprised at Marci Hamilton’s statement “We couldn’t see the pattern before.” Unbelievable—had she been living under a rock? The church has been engaging in organized sexual crimes for centuries, and so have many other organizations from the Boy Scouts to organized sports organizations.

Beyond the lax behavior of the criminal-justice system is the moral failure and lack of integrity on the part of those inside the organizations involved in sexual-abuse crimes. It is the proper response of anyone seeing criminal behavior of any kind to immediately report that behavior to police, not to their superior in an organization.

Maurice J. Dupre Gr’72 New Orleans

Proud to Be First

Being not only a first-generation college graduate, but also a proud first-generation American born and raised abroad, I could highly relate to the article “First Generation Students Unite” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb]. I could very much empathize with the experiences mentioned by the interviewed students and alumni, and it’s so nice to see Penn address this issue. I wish I had been aware of Penn First as an undergraduate.

Today, participating in the Penn Alumni undergraduate admissions interview program, I get to speak to many first-generation and immigrant applicants, many of them underprivileged, and I can often relate to their struggles. Thank you for the article, and for the opportunities Penn presented me with, many of which I appreciate only a decade later.

Anna Pilipienko C’04 New York

When Despots Come to Power

Consecutive, seemingly unrelated, articles in the Jan|Feb issue of the Gazette could be required reading in a University course on man’s inhumanity to fellow man over the ages and continuing to the present. A. Avraham Perlmutter’s memoir of Holocaust survival, “The Road to Liberation,” and Professor Mitchell Orenstein’s essay, “The Wandering Syrians,” each, in its own way, attest to the devastating result of uncontrolled behavior when despots come to power.

Michael G. Kurcias W’55 L’58 Floral Park, NY

Poignant Tale, Well Told

Just finished reading the story, “Memoriam for Alex Moll” [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb], and am trying to keep back the tears—what a poignant tale about an exceptional young man. But I also wanted to share that I think the Gazette is a great read. I’m always glad to read and learn from the articles in the magazine, and proud to be an alum of a school that publishes it.

Eva Wu WG’82 Winston-Salem, NC

Partners in a Journalistic Marriage

Former Gazette editor Tony Lyle was special [“Obituaries,” Jan|Feb]. I never met him. I didn’t even know what he looked like, till I saw his picture in a web obit. The world’s been a bit darker since.

Tony was my first editor when I started swing-shift journalism in 1980. I sent him a mélange cobbled from long-ago Oxford notes. He printed it as-is, and we were off to the races. Only later did I understand how unique that was.

Over the next 15 years we became partners in a journalistic marriage where each knew the other’s tastes so well they meshed without thinking. Whatever my query, the answer was Yes.

He commissioned a raft of articles that flowed from what I did anyway—articles, for example, on an archaeological dig in Boeotia near my family vacation; the first female SEC commissioner; political figures like Senator Arlen Specter; an Oxford reunion, attended by Princess Margaret; my white sled-dog Sam. For a “roots” trip to Poland, he apologized for not making the result a cover story—and side-barred a chapter from my related draft novel. Though many of these articles had tenuous Penn connections, Tony never rejected one. He became a cheerleader, endorsing non-traditional topics, egging me on.

Which is not to say our relationship lacked pain. Draft endings often disappeared after acceptance. Several articles went through enough revisions to certify a plastic surgeon. Once he rejected a piece, only to change his mind. Later came a note: “This is sure to be another best article of the year.”

Then there were the ethics Tony exuded: subjects don’t get to see their quotes. Without a carve-out they’re always on record. You can’t accept a “guest” invitation to fly off an aircraft carrier—unless that’s another piece and you’re not a guest.

He taught me what I know about journalism. It was OK all those endings went away (I tended to include three of them). And his instinct for the surgical cut, the magic title, was sure.

That’s one part of Tony I carry forward.

It’s only a part.

Michael H. Levin C’64 Washington

The writer has posted a longer version of this letter at —Ed.

Flawed Report Hurts Victims

Trey Popp’s article, “Sexual Misconduct on Campus” [“Gazetteer,” Nov|Dec], regarding the American Association of Universities’ sensationalist, skewed, and short-sighted report on sexual assault on the nation’s college campuses—particularly Penn—unfortunately perpetuates the original study’s flaws, to the detriment of assault victims past, present, and future.

Close reading of the AAU’s reports reveals faulty survey design and data analysis that increases the apparent severity of sexual assault on campus—particularly penetration due to physical force or incapacitation—while diminishing its prevalence and scope. The effect is to create a more attention-grabbing study, wherein a large number of students have suffered the most “severe” form of sexual assault and causes while the other types of assault are given a lower ranking and importance.

This skewed data collection and analysis is demeaning and marginalizing for present and future survivors of assault because it invalidates their experiences of “lesser” assault and/or assault that does not fit the survey’s narrow definitions. This then contributes to students’ tendency not to report because they do “not think it was severe enough.”

It also sets up a false notion that only the most physically forceful assault is severe. All sexual assault is horrifying and tragic, regardless of how it is perpetrated, and can affect victims for the rest of their lives. (I would know—the systemic sexual abuse I suffered 13 years ago at the hands of the emotionally abusive fellow Penn student I dated left no visible physical scars but still haunts me daily through flashbacks, crippling fears, nightmares, and overwhelming depression and PTSD.)

Finally, such bias will skew future efforts to prevent and heal sexual assault toward only the most severe instances, allowing relationship violence to continue unseen, pernicious, and rampant. Not only does the Gazette article blatantly further this demeaning ranking of sexual assaults, it bolsters the idea that victims are inconsistent and unreliable.

Penn has a commendable written policy regarding sexual and relationship violence, but has yet to fully put it into practice. President Gutmann and Provost Price’s plan to educate students about the resources available to them post-assault also does little to curb the occurrence of assault in the first place.

In responding to the AAU study, Penn must first and foremost recognize all “levels” and types of abuse and their extremely deleterious effects. It must educate students not just on how to find resources, but also how to identify abuse in their own relationships and those around them, and provide high quality and ongoing care for victims. Furthermore, Penn must reckon with the fact that there are victims and perpetrators among its students and staff. How will Penn protect assault victims from those who have hurt them?

The community of alumni assault survivors is statistically and tragically large. I am sure I am not alone in being grateful for my Penn education while unable to view it without confusion, anger, fear, and shame because of the assault I suffered there. I am still afraid of setting foot on campus, and even returning to Pennsylvania to visit my family, for fear of encountering the fellow student who abused me 13 years ago.

Part of Penn’s work in standing against sexual assault must be to reach out to its alumni survivors. They alone can provide a glimpse of the long-term effects of assault, as well as a wise and informed retrospective on what would have enabled their healing and protection at Penn. Perhaps this will also bring reconciliation between Penn and survivors who, like me, were left to fend for themselves.

Anonymous C’06

 In deference to the writer’s wish to protect her safety and privacy we’ve made an exception to our policy of not publishing letters anonymously. —Ed.

Prosecute Criminal Sexual Offenses

Thanks for running the piece on sexual misconduct on campus—a topic that needs major attention. The survey results were both illuminating and very disturbing. To me, a most upsetting aspect is the high rate at which undergraduate women who have been sexually assaulted fail to report such criminal violations, and mostly for the reason “I did not think it was serious enough,” even when they suffered physical injuries and were left with nightmares and other psychological symptoms and distress.

I also find it of concern that Penn President Gutmann and Provost Price report planning to hold meetings with different campus constituencies to discuss steps to be taken and “fair means of responding to … sexual assault and harassment,” without ever stating clearly that these are also criminal acts of violence that will also be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

I am a great believer in prevention, yet at the same time believe we must hold persons who violate others’ rights and bodies fully accountable, if we are to demonstrate that such behavior is truly “simply unacceptable” on our campuses (and anywhere!), as Gutmann states.

(Brenda) Joy Kaubin SW’75 Lake Pleasant, MA


Our Jan|Feb “Gazetteer” story, “Church Sex Scandals from Medieval to Modern Times,” neglected to note that the panel discussion on the 10th anniversary of the 2005 grand-jury report on child sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was organized and sponsored by the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society and was moderated by John J. DiIulio Jr. C’80 G’80, the Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society.

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