Steps Aside

Our May cover story focused on the cognitive and emotional effects of dance.

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Thank you @stanfordmag and @Stanford for including me in this story about why dance matters, and letting me leap around for an afternoon in my favorite dance pants. 

Catie Cuan, graduate student in mechanical engineering

I line dance three days a week and love it; I feel healthy and happy there. It’s great to learn that my feelings of wellness are corroborated by evidence-based research.

Bertha Alicia Moseson, MD ’75
Portland, Oregon

I have been involved in modern western square dancing, specifically challenge dancing, since 1983. If you want cognition in your dancing, challenge dancing is the place to go! It has sometimes been described as puzzle-solving set to music. It would be fascinating to see if extra brain activity inherent in square dance has an even more beneficial effect than other forms of social dance. I learned to square dance with the Stanford Quads, which was founded in 1983. Now that I’m living in the Boston area, I dance with MIT’s Tech Squares, Quads’ mother club.

Judy Anderson, ’82, MS ’85 
Sharon, Massachusetts

The gushing encomia about dance from students and faculty brought back a particular memory. In one of my philosophy classes, I read a quote attributed to the German philosopher Schopenhauer, one I agreed with then and now: “Dancing [is] the expenditure to no purpose of superfluous energy.” So get off my lawn!

Wayne Raffesberger, ’73
San Diego, California

About Admissions

The May President’s Column and a news article discussed Stanford’s reaction to the nationwide admissions scheme revealed in March.

I smiled at Stanford being shocked—shocked—that admissions were unfairly influenced. 

Money and status have always mattered. Further, applicants get wildly differing levels of help with résumés, recommendations, networking opportunities, test coaching and writing essays. To say nothing of legacy preference and athletics.

I was also amused by “contrary to Stanford’s values.” The magazine and fundraising letters make Stanford’s values crystal clear: winning at sports; having rich, powerful, famous alumni; and growing the endowment (see “winning at sports”). These values are entirely consistent with giving favored treatment. 

I would love to see Stanford reevaluate its values and instead maximize educational value to society. It would create a different institution, one not driven by ambition and self-esteem based on comparisons with others, but one having an inspiring mission. Rather like what Stanford seeks in applicants. As it stands, if Stanford applied to Stanford, I don’t think it would be admitted.
Frank Selker, ’85
Portland, Oregon

As a volunteer for admissions over about 10 years, I have seen countless bright and eager high school students frantic to get into Stanford. As much as I believe that LSJU offers an unparalleled educational opportunity, I believe just as strongly that one university does not fit all students equally well. I’m adamant that students should visit as many schools as possible, and not just because I recognize they won’t all get into my alma mater, but because they may find another place that feels more like home, and because the focus on name brands does a disservice to education more broadly. 

So, what can Stanford do to stop the lemming-like rush of applicants without losing the innovators and the expanding diversity that we are proud to call the incoming freshman class? I look forward to finding out when our administration puts muscle behind the president’s words.

Carlos Alcalá, ’79
Sacramento, California

Neither you nor President Tessier-Lavigne even mentioned the elephant in the room. It’s time to get honest and have a full explanation of exactly what effect donations, particularly from alums, have on the admissions process with full acknowledgement that the answer can adversely or positively impact the much sought-after donations Stanford needs to continue to be the great institution it is.

Stan Gibson, ’67
Walnut Creek, California

As the parent of a Stanford alum, I was most disappointed to learn of the insufficient measures Stanford is putting in place to address the college admissions scandal. What seems to be missing from these “safeguards” is any examination of the Stanford admissions office itself.

It should be no secret that, at least at the many elite private schools sending their students to Stanford, the college guidance counselors are on a first-name basis with Stanford’s admissions officers, that the college guidance counselors lobby Stanford’s admissions officers to help their students gain admission (although the college guidance counselors might use a different term for what they’re doing), and that Stanford’s admissions officers have a level of familiarity with the elite private schools that can only be characterized as “granular.” That granularity includes knowing the grading systems at the private schools, which private schools offer AP courses, and even which teachers have a reputation as hard graders.

Why haven’t we heard anything about whether Stanford has been investigating its own admissions office? And how hard would it have been for Stanford’s admissions office—or better yet, an independent entity—to make a good faith effort to probe at least to some extent the bona fides of the applications of students it planned to admit? Surely Stanford’s multibillion-dollar endowment is large enough to cover the costs of such an effort in order to ensure the integrity of its admissions process.

L.W. Glassman
Chevy Chase, Maryland

I was pleased that the Stanford tiddlywinks coach was not implicated in the admissions scandal surrounding the sailing coach.

Wait, what? There is no Stanford tiddlywinks coach with the power to sway the admissions committee? Surely, skill at tiddlywinks is as good a measure of scholastic aptitude as skill at sailing! Nay, better!

James L. Thomas, ’82
Cedar Crest, New Mexico

In the past few weeks, Stanford has almost become a household name here in Switzerland, where I have lived for 50 years. The news of the admissions scandal has revealed to me the extent to which attendance at a high-profile university has become almost insanely important in some circles in the United States. I can understand that hungry people will steal for bread, but it is difficult to fathom why wealthy people would stoop so low and abandon the rules of civil society to get their children into Stanford, Yale or USC. As a longtime devotee of the ideas of fairness and meritocracy, and as a rather emotionally charged person, I find the arrogance of these cheaters to be maddening.

Betty Amstutz-Gerson, ’64
Zurich, Switzerland

There is a natural tendency in society for families to advance and protect their children using influence, connections, calling in favors, pulling strings, making donations and perhaps passing some money under the table. People do not commit bribery to get their children into Podunk University.

Fred E. Camfield, MS ’64, PhD ’68
Vicksburg, Mississippi

The sentence “the student’s admission had been rescinded and that any credits earned had been vacated” just because “some of the information in the student’s application for admission was false” has to give many, many Stanford grads pause: They can do that? All of us who have nightmared that they took back our diplomas because our admittance was a big mistake now have documented justification for our paranoia. 

Steve Lawton, ’74
Santa Cruz, California

The news that my beloved Stanford had been involved in a cheating scandal made me so sad. I have raised my children on the Honor Code because it is the underpinning that made Stanford so special to me, and once something good has been spoiled it is hard to make it perfect again.
I feel sorry for the children hurt by this.

Frances Erickson, ’50, MA ’50
Kirkland, Washington

Renamed Ride

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Serra House alum here. I love it.  

Subodh Chandra, ’89


Does the new name come with an upgrade from the army barracks architecture of Stern Hall?  

Elaine Biester, ’80


Reassessing our historical perspectives is the mark of intelligence and wisdom. Continue to learn, continue to grow, continue to change!

Heraldo Farrington, ’87

Photo: Erin Attkisson

So, to Speak 

The May issue contained four faculty perspectives on what free expression should mean on college campuses.

I noticed in all four essays, the word “debate” was to be found, and I think the idea of debate is a possible key to the solution to this thorny issue. Why not give more support to college debating teams? Also, one might recommend that when controversial speakers are under consideration to speak on campus, they should come prepared not to lecture, but to debate a member or members of the college debating team. The subsequent discussions, both informal and in the classroom, as well as possibly in the media, would be beneficial not only pedagogically but for society as well.

Frank R. Tangherlini, PhD ’59
San Diego, California

Sometimes I think we all need to have a thicker skin. Of course, the verbal attacks do seem more personal today. But how can such words hurt us unless we allow them to? We need to send tougher graduates out into the real world.

Larry John Geisse, ’73
Huntington Beach, California

Perhaps a good first step would be for students and instructors to agree that no audio or visual recordings would be made during class discussions, so everyone would feel free to express opinions or take devil’s advocate positions without fear that doing so would go instantly viral and be misinterpreted.

Marilyn Murphy, ’65
Belmont, California

George Orwell would get an ironic laugh from the words “inclusion,” “microaggressions,” “a set of norms [that] guides the discussions” and “diversity” as used in Hazel Rose Markus’s essay. These words are shorthand for “Be quiet, I do not want to hear what you have to say!” 

William J. Glueck, MBA ’71, JD ’71
Seattle, Washington

Free speech is essential to a full life, as well as to a complete education. When I was an undergraduate, Sen. Barry Goldwater spoke at MemAud. I had been a staunch Goldwater opponent when he ran against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 after reading an article that pretty much described him as a monster. I left MemAud with a different opinion of the senator. He was articulate and reasoned. That was an enduring lesson to me to seek a broader range of views and voices.

Susan Prince, ’71, MA ’72
Alta, California

Let’s focus less on the labeling of people and more on the content of their speech. For example, Professor McConnell buckets students as “conservative” or “left-progressive” or “moderate” as if those are immutable (or even useful) classifications. This is an oversimplification of the complexity of an individual and leads to “us vs. them” interpretations of discourse. Likewise, Professor Markus lumps people into ethnic buckets who exhibit certain modes of thinking and speaking, such as “East Asian” and “European American.”

Howarth Boyle Jr., ’85
Darien, Connecticut

Thanks for the excellent forum regarding free speech on campus.

In these times, however, we need to do more than discuss. We must act.

There have to be consequences for denying someone with whom we disagree a core value of our society: civil discourse.

There is no room for modern-day brown shirts on either side of issues, and when someone is physically attacked or otherwise prevented from expressing their views, our society loses. If those doing so are not held accountable in a meaningful way, we will lose a big part of what makes America a shining city on a hill.

Colleges and universities should lead by example. That is education.

Bob Olson, ’60
San Ramon, California

Stanford needs to ensure that students hear a balanced approach from professors. Students tend to be liberal at that age, and teachers need to balance that tendency, not give in to it.

Lawrence A. Huff, ’61 
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

There can be no academic freedom without free speech, and without academic freedom colleges become nothing more than indoctrination centers. Therefore, colleges should prohibit all activities that inhibit or prevent anyone from expressing their opinion, no matter how offensive it might be to others. They should not create free speech zones but instead declare the entire campus a free speech zone. They should not charge the individual or group that has planned an event any fees to provide protection from those who would disrupt the event. They should ensure diversity of thought and political opinion in their faculties. They should require that students comprehend the history and value of freedom of speech as both a human right and a mainspring of human progress.

Roy Porter, MS ’76 
Reston, Virginia

Making anyone “safe” from ideas stunts their political, ideological and educational growth and does not prepare them for the real world, where “safe spaces” do not abound. Stanford should be a place for free expression, no matter what is currently considered politically correct. To the extent that it is not, it does not live up to its educational mission. Inclusion is not limited to race or religion—it is also about ideas. I was a conservative on campus during the Vietnam War years. People often did not like what I had to say, but they listened. I am now a conflict resolution professional, and free expression of information, opinions and feelings is my stock in trade. I want Stanford to be a place the fosters, not inhibits, free exchange.

Mark Loye, ’71 
Golden, Colorado

Having been born in the 1960s, when civil rights battles were being won at a terrific pace, I was in the first generation of Caucasian students to be fully immersed in race equality. During the decades that followed, U.S. politics, which had been dominated by conservative thought, came into question in many constructive ways, and more liberal-thinking people repeated the mantra “Be open-minded.” Out of frustration from inaction on many very important issues, they were forced to become quite vocal to elicit positive changes regarding equity in America. It is unfortunate that after experiencing the fruits of these hard-fought battles, these same liberal-minded people began to believe in their own self-righteousness, and that making noise about any issue, no matter how little critical thought had been given to it, was a good thing. 

To re-enable free speech at Stanford and in America, we need to focus on “free listening,” and true open-mindedness needs to be embraced—by everyone. That’s how we come together as a country—we close our mouths a bit more often and listen to each other. I guarantee we’ll all learn something good from the experience.

Dan Marshall, MS ’91, PhD ’96
Chandler, Arizona

April Fools’ Appreciation

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Thank you @stanfordmag for including our own #DrNeilMelendez in this month’s “Class Notes.” Hilarious! #TheGoodDoctor #ClassOf98 

Nicholas Gonzales, ’98

Photo: Mark Leibowitz, ’98

Losing Their Marbles

An article in the May issue recounted the quest of Alexis Mantheakis, ’67, to repatriate the Parthenon’s Elgin Marbles, currently housed in the British Museum.

There is some justice in returning them to the Acropolis. However, Alexis Mantheakis should be a little less angry with Elgin. Had Elgin not rescued the sculptures, what would be their condition today—if they even survived? Or were stolen? Acropolis sculptures, not protected from the awful pollution of Athens, were in generally abominable condition when I visited Athens in the mid-1990s.

Wolfgang Schaechter, MS ’59
Fairfield, California

Choking It Down

The May issue deconstructed the artichoke with the help of two Stanford botanists.

As somewhat naive Midwesterners with limited culinary experiences in 1977, my wife and I were delighted when a Stanford classmate invited us to dinner with his family. Never having eaten artichokes before, we observed as our hosts tore off “leaves” (officially bracts, according to your article), dipped them in a sauce and then “ate” them. Dutifully following suit, we tore, dipped and ate—and then chewed, and chewed, and chewed. . . . Only after giving up on two of them did we observe more closely and realize that we were just supposed to be scraping the tender part off the base of the bract and discarding the rest. We still laugh about it.

Craig Price, PhD ’82
Carmel, Indiana

Rethinking Investments

An article in the March issue discussed the university’s new framework for responsible investing.

The Board of Trustees has been challenged by the Stanford community to reconsider how the university’s endowment is invested due to ethical and environmental concerns. Two aspects of the university’s response have disappointed me:

First, board chair Raikes’s letter to the community calls out the trustees’ obligation to ensuring the long-term financial health of the university and reminds us that the endowment does not exist to choose among, and advance, other social objectives. This characterization is problematic, because it implies an inherent trade-off. Investing for the long term and aligning with the university’s mission are not mutually exclusive.

Second, the trustees’ statement that the best contribution the university can make to issues of broad social and political concern is through education, research, and debate strikes me as a sorry excuse for not creating an ethical investment framework with more teeth. The fact that Stanford is a research institution does not absolve it of responsibility for how its considerable endowment is invested.

Raikes’s letter cautions against using the endowment to make a statement about a given issue. As stewards of an endowment that dwarfs Iceland’s GDP, the trustees have a tremendous opportunity for impact. How you choose to invest $26.5 billion makes a statement, whether you choose to articulate it or not.

I had hoped the trustees would apply those exceptional education, research and debate skills of ours to developing a more robust and principled investment framework. Stanford is in a position to show leadership by combining research and investment at scale. When the Chairman and CEO of BlackRock writes in his annual letter to CEOs that “profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose—in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked,” we might even feel we’re in good company to do so.

Alexandra Michalko, ’03
Seattle, Washington

Don’t Blame Junior

Letters in the March issue both lamented Stanford’s decision to remove three campus references to Junipero Serra and asked whether a similar analysis should be extended to Leland Stanford.

While I find it most regrettable that Native Americans and Chinese laborers were mistreated due to the actions, or inactions, of Junipero Serra and Leland Stanford, I also find it most unfortunate when some of us try to “fix” history by deleting and changing campus references.

In hopes of offering some small consolation to those of you who find the name of our alma mater objectionable, please be reminded that the university was not named for Leland Stanford, but for his son, Leland Jr. I trust we will not find that young Leland, in his brief 15 years, committed any crimes against the people.

Tim Duffy, ’69
Montrose, Colorado