Letters to the Editor

Our readers respond

Blue and green

In your environmental section ("Yale's Big Green Experiment," November/December), Dean Speth states that the next step "requires a focus on human behavior and ethics. . . . We now need to hear more from . . . people who understand the wellsprings of human behavior and values."

I couldn't agree with him more. Unfortunately, psychologists and psychiatrists have been very slow to be concerned about the psychological aspects of global warming.

Nevertheless, there are many contributions psychology and psychiatry can make to this next phase. We can remind everybody that it is a natural evolutionary process for us to be concerned with immediate danger, rather than something like global warming in the distant future. This is our fight-or-flight response. Therefore, we need to continue to make global warming seem to be a more immediate concern to us. For me, this was realizing the effect it would have on my newborn granddaughter. If we don't do that, it is very easy for our psychological defense mechanism of denial to take place. Next, we should use the well-established principles of behavioral modification to change behavior. Best in this regard is to find ways to positively reward those who make changes to reduce global warming. Then we might need a name change. Businesses know the importance of a brand name. "Global warming" is just too lukewarm. After all, don't most people in climates like my Milwaukee or New Haven want their winters to be a bit warmer?

Instead, I would suggest "global boiling." This term relates to the proverbial experiment of the frog in boiling water. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out immediately. However, if you put that same frog in warm water and gradually increase the temperature, it will end up being cooked to death. As we might be.
H. Steven Moffic ’71MD
Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, WI

I allowed myself a reminiscent chuckle
at the cartoon that imagined a tree housing the president's office. Just 60 years ago a group of us, protesting the university's intention to build on an unused piece of land somewhere out past the cemetery, solemnly stole out at night and planted a seedling in the sacred ground. To my knowledge this was the crowning (perhaps the only) achievement of the Miniature Treegrowers' Association. So I'm glad to see that Yale's campus greening is more serious and effective than we were!
Hugh E. P. Quetton ’45W

Victoria, BC

The section on Yale's recycling program
notes only that "student volunteers launched it in the early 1970s." I believe that this program is actually due to the efforts of one student, Kim Elliman ’76 (originally ’75). Kim was able to convince Yale to provide pickup trucks and bursar's wages if he could find students willing to drive around campus on Sunday mornings at 7 a.m., often in the dark and cold, to collect the recyclables each week. Kim launched the program and kept it going in its early years. Yale is fortunate to have had a number of environmental leaders, and Kim is one. Gregory F. W. Todd ’75
New York, NY

Your articles, paired with information conveyed by the university at the AYA assembly
held in November, have given me something that is rare in the complex discussions of global warming: a glimmer of hope. I have a greater awareness of the extraordinary threat to the planet and the life that clings to it, but this fear has now been balanced by a sense that smart people are thinking deeply on the subject and (even more importantly) are beginning to take real and substantive action. 

President Rick Levin is, by his own admission, a late arrival to the party. As an economist and the manager of a major university, he is by definition a numbers guy. Well, the numbers are in, and he now argues that the threat is too great and the moral obligation too evident to delay taking action any longer. At the assembly, President Levin announced that a 17 percent reduction has been achieved already and that another 17 percent will be achieved by capital projects approved and scheduled. He even hinted that Yale might raise the bar for itself further based on these early accomplishments.

Much of the solution is in building smarter, more energy- and water-efficient buildings, and we in the architecture profession are trying to mend our habits. The "Building for Keeps" article in the same issue -- about Yale's attempt to construct Kroon Hall as a carbon-neutral project -- is both informative and inspiring to us. Still, the task of sustainability is so large that everyone will need to look at the way they live and find ways to reduce their "carbon footprints" in ways both big and small.
Ross Sinclair Cann ’85
Newport, RI

Yale's commendable progress on sustainability
merited your recent insightful coverage. The article highlights the millions of dollars that the university is wisely investing to advance campus sustainability priorities like energy efficiency and carbon reduction, but it mischaracterizes key sustainability aspects of Yale's $22 billion endowment.

Yale's grades on the College Sustainability Report Card 2008 reflect this disparity. Campus sustainability practices achieved four "A" grades and one "B"; endowment policies earned an "A" for shareholder engagement, but only a "C" in investment priorities and a "D" in endowment transparency. Both the article author and President Levin incorrectly attributed the "C" to lack of social/environmental screening of investments.

In fact, the Report Card does not evaluate such screening. Rather, its "investment priorities" category focuses on maximizing profit, investing in renewable energy funds, and investing in community development funds. Yale received a "C" because it has made no public statements that it is active in the last two areas. Yale received a "D" in endowment transparency because it does not disclose information about its investments. Several Ivy League peers -- Harvard, Dartmouth, and Brown -- all achieved higher marks on these endowment sustainability categories.

Yale's campus sustainability efforts and the endowment's financial performance are both impressive, but the disconnect between the two stands in the way of an authentic institutional commitment to sustainability. The question remains, Will Yale rise to the sustainability leadership challenge?
Walter Corey ’65MA, ’66JD
Board of Advisors, Sustainable Endowment Institute
Portland, ME

Your articles made no mention of Yale's undercover assault on the local environment
as a principal aider and abettor of a misguided effort to reverse the 60-odd years of total failure to meet projected use forecasts at Tweed-New Haven Airport.

I was the attorney who represented the residents of New Haven and East Haven in federal and state courts during their opposition to the Tweed expansion between 1967 and 1975, and I have followed subsequent developments. Recent efforts to expand this white elephant have been largely promoted by Yale. If the plan succeeds, 22 acres of coastal wetlands will be destroyed. Since 1996, the State of Connecticut has lost less than an acre of wetlands a year -- thanks in part to citizen interest and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. This organization is on record as opposing this project. The proposed expansion will also impact residences in New Haven and East Haven, moving planes virtually into front and back yards.

Yale has been the major contributor to the subsidies showered on the inefficient airlines to entice them to fly in and out of Tweed-New Haven Airport. I cannot confirm the figure, but it has been reported that Yale was the major donor of the $500,000 paid to Delta Airlines to lure them to New Haven. This subsidy was gobbled up in yet another airline bankruptcy, and Delta withdrew to mark 61 years of failure.
Anthony V. DeMayo ’48
East Haven, CT

The articles on the greening of Yale were comprehensive
, but there are some questions that I'd like to pose to the experts: what is the total volume of greenhouse gases (ghg) put into the atmosphere in a year? What is the total volume of ghg emitted through natural or non-human sources, i.e., hurricanes, fires, volcanoes, evaporation (since water vapor is a ghg), methane, and CO2 attributable to animals, etc.? What about solar activity? The remainder is assigned to human activity. This is significant because it quantifies what effect humans actually have on ghg. It also tells us what measures are feasible in reducing the human effect.

I have seen estimates by experts that the percentage attributable to humans is a little less than 4 percent. That certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't conserve as much as possible. But it does mean that draconian measures are not going to make much difference except to our way of life. Reduction in CO2 emissions should be a goal; but we must realize that CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a necessity for life.
Wayne Blankenship Jr. ’47
Kenner, LA

The president's car

"Why the President Drives a Prius" (Q&A: Rick Levin, November/December) provided a challenge to all universities as to how to respond locally to the global challenge of climate change. I have been a convening lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments since 1994 and can now see the payoff. In the beginning, the media reporting was "balanced" in that for every new scientific finding on climate change, the stories always included an opposing view. With the carbon industry funding these opposing viewpoints, there was always a ready debate opponent for the media.

What was hardly mentioned was that (a) a great many more scientists supported the new finding and (b) the number of opponents were few and unchanging no matter what aspect of the science was being discussed. Thus, an editor's requirement for the pro and con often misled readers as to the likelihood of one side or the other being correct. Over the last year, I have noted a shift in people's attitudes and in the media's reporting. The P. T. Barnum-like debate about global warming is over. It is time to evaluate the current scientific uncertainties, continue the research to better plan for a future of climate surprises, and make commitments to reduce this unplanned-for alteration of our planet.

The story touched me personally, since at one time I owned three Prii, albeit in different locations across the country. I applaud Yale in taking the lead.
Michael J. Prather ’69, ’76PhD
Fred Kavli Chair and Professor, Department of Earth System Science
University of California-Irvine
Irvine, CA

For ummah

This thought may have relevance to two of your departments, "Quotations" and "Letters." The letter I have in mind (November/December) came from Eric S. Rubin ’83. It dealt with a Muslim Students Association T-shirt that had on its back: "For Allah, for Ummah, and for Yale."

Mr. Rubin objected that this Arabic variant of "For God, for Country, and for Yale" amounted to "rejection of the patriotic values that Yale has embodied for three centuries" and that have helped make "Yale a more open and diverse institution." He urged keeping the original wording unchanged.

At the time, I chanced to be idly skimming (again!) Fred R. Shapiro's scholarly Yale Book of Quotations and ran across this excerpt from Arthur J. Arberry's translation of the Koran: "We believe in God, and in that which has been sent down on us and sent down on Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the Prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them, and to Him we surrender."

You could easily fit my knowledge of larger religious matters, let alone translations, into a shot glass with plenty of space left over, but isn't there a middle ground in this somewhere?

The Koran specifically refers here to exactly one "God" and to "prophets" known to be venerated by at least three religions, including Christianity and Judaism. That should make Mr. Rubin and fellow traditionalists happy. In fact, nothing above would (or should) seem to prevent those Muslim students wishing to display "historic" Yale on their backs from doing just that, and doing it comfortably -- except, of course, for the sharp little tab that maddeningly scratches the back of every wearer's neck regardless of religious faith, perhaps our modern equivalent of the hair shirt.
Emerson Law Stone ’48
Greenwich, CT

There is no need for distress over Muslim students' T-shirts
that read "For Allah, for Ummah, and for Yale." The word ummah, meaning "of the mother," signifies any group or community, and is often translated as "people" or "nation." "For Allah, for Ummah, . . ." could be read as a direct translation of "For God, for Country, and for Yale."

It is true that "the ummah" often signifies the world community of Muslims. But "the ummah" also refers to believers of all communities.

Further, a Muslim's "community" responsibilities do not end with the believers. "And do good --," we are told (Suran Nisaa, IV, 36), "to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the Companion by your side, the way-farer (ye meet), and what your right hand possess. . . ." Muslims have religious duties towards others that are comparable to our notions of citizenship.

We all know that putting one's own spin on an idea is a particularly Yale thing to do. Happily, there is no one-size-fits-all version of patriotism, and in fact, we should thank God that it comes in all shapes and sizes.
Sara Ahmad ’92
Vienna, VA

Yale for free?

What if a multibillionaire benefactor offered Yale a gift of $3 billion for the specific purpose of endowing a fund to cover the cost of tuition, room, and board for all undergraduates? Would the university turn it down? Unlikely. Yet such a gift, and more, has been given to Yale by its endowment fund managers over the past several years ("Of Interest," Light & Verity, November/December). A recent article in the Boston Globe reports an average annual rate of return on endowment investments of about 13 percent at Ivy League and several other elite schools, with Yale's fund now standing at upwards of $22 billion.

Using a very conservative rate of return of 8 percent, it would take something under $3 billion to endow a fund to cover the cost of tuition, room, and board for all 5,300 undergraduates at the current rate of $45,000 per student. At that rate (or perhaps, even at a higher rate) the return on investment could be expected to be quite stable and secure. Sequestering such a fund would still leave Yale with a much larger -- and faster-growing -- unrestricted endowment than anyone could have imagined just a few years ago.

Tuition-free education has been central to establishing Rice University, Cooper Union, and the Curtis Institute as premier institutions, and a recent gift has allowed the Yale School of Music to adopt the same policy (Light & Verity, January/February 2006). Removing fees across the board at Yale College would have tremendous benefits for Yale and American society. In the short run, it would give Yale an enormous advantage in recruiting the best and most promising students. And if other world-class American universities followed suit, so much the better. That would be a major step toward boosting the numbers of the most underrepresented minority group at our elite universities -- students of all ethnicities from blue-collar backgrounds.
Edward K. Silberman ’65
Gloucester, MA

A lasting impact

As a Yale graduate who recently started a second career in nursing, I read "The Children of el Mercado Oriental" (September/October 2007) with great interest. I am delighted that the Yale School of Nursing encourages its students to expand their vision and experience beyond the life of privilege we enjoy in our country. The YSN asks crucial questions: with financial and time constraints, how can Americans have a lasting impact for the future of these Nicaraguan children and their families? How can we work as collaborating partners to further existing local resources and priorities?

One way that we can make a lasting impact is to study the interconnections between our lives and theirs, and to seek out those levers we can move, here. In a democracy, we can influence the foreign policy decisions our nation makes. The article hints at a grassroots health infrastructure promoted by the Sandinista government, without mentioning the role our country played in undermining its work during the 1980s through funding for the armed contras. Our nation continues to engage the region in many ways: through trade agreements such as CAFTA, by export of manufacturing to maquiladoras, through foreign aid skewed towards the military rather than human needs, and through the debt burden underdeveloped nations continue to bear.

Why should we care? In the urban Boston hospital where I work, almost half of the patients I work with are Central Americans who have fled extreme poverty and violence in an effort to eke out a humane future for their families. A Guatemalan woman told me the other day about her three-year-old granddaughter, who just died there of a cough and fever. Nicaragua, and El Salvador, and Haiti arrive on our doorstep daily. How am I responsible for this situation, and what can I do to change it?
Judy Goldberger ’92
Boston, MA

The asterisk question

The September/October Class of 1949 alumni notes state that the asterisk after names of those classmates who brought companions to a mini-reunion "refers to spouses, significant others, whatever." Without this thoughtful clarification, we might have assumed that it indicates use of steroids, but perhaps this, too, is covered under "whatever"! In any case, we live in a culture in which the asterisk is burdened with increasing responsibility.
Bromwell Ault ’49
West Palm Beach, FL


On the road to The Game

Yale's disastrous performance against Harvard in this year's game was bad enough. The lack of any coherent traffic control for the thousands of fans was abominable. Cars were stuck for over an hour on Central Avenue, found parking lots closed, and were subjected to gouging lawn parking fees of $40. It is unlikely that the Yale Bowl will be filled again any time soon, but, at least, how about distant lots with a shuttle service?
Bernard Kosto ’57, ’62MD
West Hartford, CT

Drivers approaching New Haven on the Merritt Parkway
don't have to take their eyes off the road to read the large sign announcing the upcoming presence of Yale -- and its notice of Yale's athletic teams' recent achievements (squash, crew, etc.). The university administration undoubtedly has something to do with that message, but what reason can there be for associating athletic team victories with Yale's institutional identity rather than the many academic honors awarded its faculty and students -- some of which would easily fit on the sign?
Berel Lang ’54
Department of Philosophy
Wesleyan University
Middletown, CT

Recognize Gibbs

The article by Judith Ann Schiff on stamps in the September/October issue ("Yale on Stamps") included (not counting a couple of early inventors) no famous Yale scientists or engineers. A recently issued U.S. stamp (2005) featured Josiah Willard Gibbs (1839-1903), perhaps the first great American scientist. Gibbs spent not just his career but his life at Yale, and is often cited as a mathematical physicist. However, he was awarded the first American PhD in engineering (1863). The citation with the stamp reads: "formulated the modern system of thermodynamic analysis. For this and other extraordinary achievements, Gibbs received some of the most prestigious awards of the era, including the Rumford Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences." He also invented vector analysis.
Hendrick C. Van Ness ’53DEng
Troy, NY

A news item about the Gibbs stamp, with a reproduction, appeared in the Yale Alumni Magazine in May/June 2005. -- Eds.

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