I wish to protest strenuously your editorial policy in publishing "In Training . . . with Live Ammo" as part of your November/ December feature on Yvor Winters. The excerpt from the late Richard Elman is not only false in many details but also slanderous--and offensive to nearly every student or friend of Winters during his 40 years in the English department.
Had you desired to publish an article presenting a view of Winters by someone other than Kenneth Fields, author of your main article, you could have found memoirs of him by at least 16 fellow poets, former students and colleagues. I name only Marianne Moore and Allen Tate, Robert Pinsky, Philip Levine, Donald Hall, Thom Gunn, Judith Rascoe, Turner Cassity, Donald Justice, N. Scott Momaday, the late Donald Davie, Donald E. Stanford, the late Albert Guerard, David Levin, Edgar Bowers and, last, myself, in my introductory essay to Selected Poems of Yvor Winters. Your policy seems to have been to dig up purely for sensational value the malicious, mentally warped, envious ruminations of a man whom Winters had offended by refusing to cooperate in his exploitation of the 1933 David Lamson case ("Was It Murder?" January/February 2000). Elman took out his anger first in a novel fictionalizing the case and then in the passages you excerpted.
It is my belief that had Winters been a scientist of worldwide distinction, as he was a poet and literary critic of such distinction, you would not have dared to publish such a travesty. The intellectual life in the humanities is difficult enough at Stanford without having to contend with such "in-house" misrepresentation of one of the finest minds to teach English literature in 20th-century America and one of the most generous of men personally.
Helen Pinkerton Trimpi, '48, MA '50
Palo Alto, California
I was gratified to see that a couple of the contributors to your Yvor Winters feature openly discussed his pattern of sadistic cruelty to some students. I have always had a hard time with the fact that he was never meaningfully and publicly called to account for that despicable behavior. Even so, it is only anecdotally noted in the generally laudatory, if not reverent, pieces you published about him. I think the issue here is: at what point should antisocial behavior by a professor eclipse academic accomplishments? The idea, I suppose, is that Winters was Stanford's Bobby Knight of poetry academics. Clearly an effort was made to note his sins, but you seemed to portray such sins merely as an interesting aspect of the great man's crusty and eccentric personality.
How much other, unknown damage do you suppose Winters inflicted in his half-century of narcissistic tyranny? I believe it is inappropriate for Stanford to advocate a bemused view of insults committed by those in the University's academic power structure. Winters was an extremely privileged man at Stanford, and I believe he repeatedly failed his obligation to respect his students.
Who wants to read his poetry, anyway? Why should anyone labor through the fine points of Winters's meticulous language and technical trappings, only to wearily come upon the mean-spirited distillation of the thing or idea he thought so precious? It's like finding some previous climber's trash high up on Everest. Winters apparently could not tolerate ambiguity anywhere he perceived it--yet ambiguity is the central theme of many of our lives.
Needless to say, I was a minor roadkill of Winters's, a flattened jackrabbit on the road to reason and objectivity that ran through his office. I only wish that I had had enough nerve and sense of my own identity to give him the cream pie in the face he so richly deserved.
Dennis J. White, '66
I enjoyed the article about Norbert Wu by Robert L. Strauss (November/December). However, as a NAUI instructor and a scuba diver, I want to point out that the "universal signal for low on air" is not a slashed finger across the throat. That underwater signal means "out of air." Strauss also stated that Wu made it to the surface "just as his oxygen ran out." Scuba divers use regular air that is compressed. Using pure oxygen would kill a diver at depth.
Richie Meyer, BA '54, MA '61
I ripped out Norbert Wu's delightful photograph on page 76--the line of penguins dropping "like dominoes" into the icy water--and taped it to my refrigerator. It's a perfect essay about ourselves, too, all in one picture. What a talented photographer and a very good story, opening a door I'd never have gone through otherwise.
I was also delighted to read Kevin Cool's column (First Impressions), with the wonderful phrases ("the embrace of the place") and ideas ("Stanford ignores the stuff that doesn't matter better than any place I've ever been"). My son is in his second year at Stanford, and I have felt "the embrace of the place" all the way up here in Seattle. The ethos is palpable, infectious, tonic.
'SOME KIND OF FLOPPY SHRUB'
The day I received your magazine with the article on the Tree (Farm Report, November/December), I also received my copy of Newsweek with an article called "Mind Your Own Mascot." The Newsweek piece says fans are beginning to fight back to save their "Indian" mascots. The reporters attribute the beginning of what became a national exercise in political correctness to Stanford's decision to ban "Prince Lightfoot" in 1972. The article ends with San Diego State University keeping the "Aztec," and comments, "Perhaps they feared an outcome similar to Stanford's: after the name change, the school's mascot became, inexplicably, some kind of floppy shrub. Who wouldn't mess with a mascot like that?" Seems like a fair comment from the real world.
Mike Myers, '63
Los Altos Hills, California
MAKE THAT THIRD
In Century at Stanford (November/December), you proudly note the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Graduate School of Business. You mistakenly say that it was "the nation's second graduate school of business, after Harvard." Make that "third, after Harvard, which was second." The first graduate school of business was the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, founded in 1900 at Dartmouth College, which was also the first to offer the master's degree in management. Tuck has remained the only graduate school of business to offer only the MBA
Frederick Webster Jr., PhD '64
Two letters in the November/December issue address important issues concerning Black English and linguistic diversity ("In Praise of Spoken Soul," September/October). First, Ronald Hilton's assertion that "the modern proliferation of languages is a curse" is unfounded. As linguist Michael Krauss has noted, approximately 7 percent of the world's 4,500 mammal species are endangered, but about 50 percent of our 6,000 languages are doomed, since no children speak them, and another 45 percent are threatened because the small groups speaking them are declining rapidly. Each loss of a language may represent for scientists a reduction in our ability to understand the full complexity and richness of the human experience, and, for its speakers, a diminution in their sense of community and identity.
Mr. Hilton's claim that "without a common language, countries tend to fall apart" also fails to stand up to scrutiny. Switzerland, with four languages, is a model of stability. Ireland's woes continue despite its relative linguistic uniformity. According to the Linguistic Society of America, discord is more often "the result of majority attempts to disadvantage or suppress a minority linguistic community."
Eugene Danaher refers to Black English as "slang" and "a hodgepodge" and to nonstandard English varieties as a "gaggle" with "puzzling syntax." This represents a fundamental misunderstanding. As we note in our book Spoken Soul, the most linguistically and pedagogically significant aspects of Black English are its phonological and grammatical rules, which are systematic and regular, in common with every other human language variety.
No single variety of American English has attracted more scholarly attention in the past 30 years than Black English. This is partly because of its relationship to the tragic failure rate of African-American students in schools across the country. Among the factors fueling that failure are teachers' negative reactions to and misperceptions of the students' vernacular. Studies have shown that mastery of the standard variety is enhanced when it is taught through systematic comparison and contrast with the vernacular. Mr. Danaher and I both value Standard English. Why object to more promising ways of teaching it?
John R. Rickford
M.L. King Jr. Professor of Linguistics
PANDEMONIUM IN PARIS
In your September/October feature on the Sydney Games, Christina McCarroll recapped her choices for the top 10 historic episodes of Stanford Olympic participation. I would like to make a case for including nine Stanford men who were members of the 1924 gold medal rugby team that beat France 17-3 in what still ranks as one of the greatest upsets in Olympic team competition history.
Why? France was a long-standing European rugby power, and because of their dominance and a reputation for rabid local press and fan support, no other country except Romania wanted to play them in the Games. Even the U.S. Olympic Committee was reluctant to take up the challenge, because U.S. collegiate rugby had not been played since 1918. And France wanted to play the rugby matches at the end of the European rugby season in May, a full month before the start of the rest of the Paris Games. Nevertheless, tryouts were conducted in San Francisco and a team was formed. None of the selected members had played rugby for four years; eight had never played the sport. But all were superior athletes and competitors.
Stanford produced nine of the 15 who competed in the championship game. When the final whistle blew, signaling the U.S. victory, pandemonium erupted in the stadium. The American anthem was drowned out by the booing and catcalls of the French fans. According to later interviews, the U.S. players felt fortunate to reach their dressing rooms unscathed. Needless to say, this was the last time rugby was played in the Olympic Games.
The Stanford gold medal luminaries were Phil Clarke, Dud DeGroot, Lin Farrish, Charles Doe, Dick Hyland, Jack Patrick, Norm Cleveland, Robert Devereaux and Charlie Austin (coach).
David Scholz, '59
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