Dialogue — December 2022

December 2022

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STANFORD magazine July 2022 cover

Eyes on the Ball

Our September cover story explored how money and labor-relations issues are shaking up Division I sports.

I am very proud of Stanford’s success in all sports, especially its high graduation rates. The recent changes, which allow unlimited transfers, threaten that model.

Whatever decisions Stanford makes regarding athletic participation, especially when it comes to transfers and compensation for athletes, I hope that it maintains the highest academic standards and emphasizes the student-athlete concept.
Tony White, ’58 
Santa Rosa, California

When the head of the “amateur” NCAA makes about $3 million per year, any claim of adherence to principles other than making money is implausible. The article also makes assertions about the wonders of a college education for the students’ futures, ignoring the at least anecdotal evidence of numerous student-athletes admitted to colleges with little regard for their academic abilities, allowed to take trivial coursework, and abandoned once their NCAA career is completed. It seems obvious to any observer that the major sports at major colleges constitute a business based on the labor of the players and that those players should be compensated for that labor. If you don’t think that’s true, you need to show evidence for your position.  
Daniel Dobkin, MS ’79, PhD ’85
Sunnyvale, California

I remain very proud of Stanford’s record supporting student-athletes. One element that should be in the discussion is that less than 2 percent of college athletes make it to professional careers in sports. So as a “minor league” for professional sports, collegiate athletics has a record that suggests we all should focus more on the student side, as Stanford has done. Like many, I cannot imagine a world in which student-athletes become even more privileged than they already are. Perhaps, following the music, art, and drama examples, local organizations should form semipro sports leagues in which students could play for wages. 

Thanks for a lovely summary of the chaos.
James G.S. Clawson, ’69
Charlottesville, Virginia

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I hope Tara VanDerveer is right that there is a way out that works for the Stanford culture, values, and community. Seems so difficult to navigate. I really hope that the way out will care for the Stanford student-athlete experience much more than a USC-type decision does.
Renee Gurza, ’84

I’m curious how NBA and NFL eligibility rules play into the amateur/professional quandary. I don’t doubt that time in college is generally a good investment in the athletic skills and physical development a professional athlete will eventually need (to say nothing of what it contributes to emotional and intellectual development), but whether to make that investment should be a judgment made by the athlete and the professional team.

Name, image, and likeness (NIL) have turned the SEC and the Big Ten into professional leagues. You could take some of the wind out of that sail by removing the requirements that prodigies have to wait a year (NBA) or three years (NFL) after high school to enter the draft. If they’re pros, they’re pros. I think the NCAA has hoodwinked the NFL and the NBA, and it is helping destroy major college football and basketball for all but a handful of schools.
Mark Soane, MBA ’86
Denver, Colorado

I graduated from Yale in 1958 but moved to San Francisco in 1962 and have been a Stanford sports fan since. I still respect the Ivy League as a model.

Maisel explained and described all angles fairly, leaving the reader informed and worried. I believe NIL will go crazy and blow up from misuse. The NCAA will require total reorganization, and college sports will undergo major changes. I hope they are positive changes. 
Christopher Smith, MBA ’66
Bend, Oregon

In 1975, as a skinny 5-foot-11-inch senior lacking credentials in any sport, I walked on to Stanford men’s crew—back then, a club team that received (we were told) $100 per year in support from the university. Over the rigorous course of that year, I gained 15 pounds of muscle and one of the defining experiences of my life. Some 47 years on, when opening the occasional plea from Stanford Athletics for donations, I still am surprised—and gratified—to read the salutation “Dear Stanford Athlete.” As far as it was possible for me to have any coherent thoughts during the frenzied agony of an eight-minute boat race, I remember a distinct awareness that I would be letting down my school and my team if I were to give less than all I was capable of. I am wondering now how student-athletes at any college in the future will enjoy such an experience as I had—walking on to a team and consciously playing for the honor of my school—when they are merely recruited, and retained, as paid performers?
Kent Edel, ’76
Delran, New Jersey

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If you haven’t checked out this month’s @stanfordmag, I highly recommend it. A fantastic cover story from @Ivan_Maisel. 
Troy Clardy, ’97

As a former Division III student-athlete (Lawrence College in Wisconsin), I shake my head at the extent to which various Division I universities are pushing the envelope to capitalize on income from TV rights under the guise of finding a way to fund the minor sports. That, combined with the transfer portal opportunity, which makes a mockery of a transfer student’s loyalty to a particular school for a final year to showcase one’s talents before trying to turn pro, has made the entire scene rather off-putting. But so long as some Division I public universities are convinced that having a top-ranked football program enhances student recruitment among out-of-state students who pay the full ride, I doubt many Division I college presidents are going to go so far as to advocate for an Ivy League model or to go as far as University of Chicago president Robert Maynard Hutchins did when he pulled his university out of football entirely in the 1930s. I retain affection for the Division III model to this day, which represents the proper balance between academics and sports.
David L. Mitchell
Former director of medical development, Stanford Medicine
San Francisco, California

The United States is the only country that has this system of universities raising money through sports and supporting students to help in that process. Everywhere else, sport at universities is considered intramural, with participants enjoying the competition and with only a few friends and family watching. Sporting facilities are provided by the universities, but if travel is necessary, students pay their own way. 

The U.S. system uses profits from the moneymaking sports to support other, less popular sports, which provide possible athletes for the U.S. Olympic team. This is quite different from many countries, where outside private clubs funded by entrance fees cater to this need by providing facilities, coaches, training, and intraclub competitions. It seems to work quite well at providing competitive athletes for the Olympic teams. I realize this is not the case in some countries where the government gets involved with helping their athletes attain competitive status.

I often wonder what would happen if Stanford opted out of this sporting rat race. Would alumni support dry up? What would be the gains and losses of such a policy? 
Pierre Mousset-Jones, MS ’67
Reno, Nevada

Comprehensive, insightful, and realistic. Loved the humor and subtle sarcasm in the article also. How uninformed, naive, unaware, etc., I have been regarding all of this. Thanks for educating me.
Richard Swan, ’67
Irvine, California

Points for Participation

In September, we recounted the history of football halftime card stunts.

Your article reminded me, and perhaps others who lived in Cedro their freshman year of 1964–1965, of our infiltration of the stunts that fall. On the command “everyone up on white,” Cedro appeared in red. That also took some advance planning and careful execution!
Anthony Martin, ’68
Richmond, California

I take issue with my old friend Bill Kuehn, ’65: Interest in card stunts did wane, but it was thriving through the mid-1960s. The Axe Committee was the go-to organization for incoming freshmen to meet people, particularly at the famous hill parties, held in the Foothills after Axe Comm members had tacked cards to each of the 3,465 seats in the student section. 

As I recall, at one game during the 1967 season, after the cards had been affixed to the seats, it poured rain and the cards were ruined. There was no budget (or interest, by that time) to replace them, and that was the end of card stunts. 
Biff Barnard, ’67
Walnut Creek, California

Talk of the Town

An online story shared advice on how to get comfortable talking to strangers.

I myself talk to just about everyone. I would like to add one caveat: Talking to strangers is not welcome in some other cultures around the world. I participate in the Pari Roller, in which several thousand people roller-skate and rollerblade around Paris late on Friday nights. The first several times, I would start chatting with the person I was standing next to. After a while, someone told me point-blank that Parisians do not talk to strangers. So now I pick someone out in the crowd with a U.S. university sweatshirt and usually have better luck.
Don Wilson, MS ’84           
Paris, France

Tell It to the Judge

For our September issue, journalist Pete Williams, ’74, sat down with retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, ’59

I enjoyed the interview with Justice Breyer and the insight it gave on the man and the way decisions are made by the Supreme Court. I was somewhat dismayed by the writer’s repeated attempts to get Breyer to say that the Court has changed and now bases its decisions on politics. A more accurate statement would have been, “There’s a general feeling among people who share my point of view that the Court has become more political.” Breyer pointed out the obvious, that all Supreme Court justices are nominated and confirmed by politicians, who prefer judges whose judicial approach tends to “line up with the political results they want.” Ever since I can remember, the Supreme Court has been accused of political bias. Current claims to that effect are nothing new.
Gary Holzhausen, MS ’74, PhD ’78 
Salinas, California

Justice Breyer unconvincingly dodged questions of whether the Court was newly politicized. In fairness, the institution—from Marbury to Dred Scott to Dobbs—has long been a bastion of political reactionaries, so the Court’s crisis is indeed not novel. Still, Breyer’s fondness for the institution as he wishes it were ought not divert readers from its grim reality. Three of the Court’s members were appointed by an insurrectionist president, each under conditions of questionable propriety. And the whole of its Republican majority has now shown itself willing to strip basic rights from Americans, including the vital right to abortion in a nakedly self-serving ruling. The question for the public is whether they will vindicate Breyer’s faith in active liberty by challenging the legitimacy and power of the Court he loved in order to protect the nation he served.
Craig Segall, JD ’07           
Oakland, California

Major Moments

Our September issue included an essay on the purpose of a liberal education by Dan Edelstein, a professor of French who oversees Stanford’s new first-year requirement, COLLEGE.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Stanford was that I did not have to declare a major until my junior year, when I happily settled on sociology. And my older sister clued me in that I could sign up for more than a full load of classes at the beginning of each quarter, check out the profs, collect syllabi, and then drop the ones that didn’t appeal to me after the first week or two. This freedom to explore widely varied interests was a real gift that I hope undergrads can still enjoy.
Tom Goodhue, ’71           
New York, New York

I am not sure I understand your argument that the liberal arts are primarily for the support of leisure or even the hypothesis that there is a difference between vocation and leisure. You present a good case for this argument; however, from my perspective, it does not seem right. 
I did not earn my degrees in engineering to become an engineer. I was born an engineer and earned these degrees in order to meet the minimum requirements to pursue engineering as a vocation. I hunger for knowledge and study both engineering and philosophy, which underlies all subjects, both on and off the job and well into retirement. In short, there is no difference for me in terms of pleasure between my job as an engineer and leisure—they are literally the same thing.
Joe Iaquinto, MS ’71           
Leesburg, Virginia

Edelstein’s article espousing the virtues of a liberal education at Stanford omits one key reason why I took almost a dozen introductory humanities classes: The teachers for these classes were extraordinarily captivating. I probably would have sampled even more disciplines if Stanford hadn’t had that pesky “you have to pick a major” requirement.
Daniel Broderick, ’74           
Pasadena, California

What if the purpose of a liberal education is to foster resilience, options, engagement in life, a belief that problems can be addressed (sometimes solved), and courage?
Ruth Kittel, ’63             
Paradise and Chico, California

The Art of Sustainability

A July feature spotlighted plans for the new Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability.

I’m happy and heartened to read about plans for the new Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, particularly its (necessarily) interdisciplinary approach. As an artist-cartographer and landscape architect with an interest in environmental aesthetics and perception, I believe this breadth would be further enriched by a humanities perspective. While I would love to see that take the form of its own department, I hope that the new school will at least cross-list environment-related courses in departments such as history, philosophy, and art and art history—and encourage those departments to expand such offerings.
Darren Sears, ’00           
San Francisco, California


The September obituary for Robert Palmer, PhD ’74, mistakenly reported that his son Mark had predeceased him.

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