Letters to the Editor

July/August 2016

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Letters to the Editor

‘Kids Are Hurting’

I wouldn’t want to begrudge anyone the joys of newness; the poet W.H. Auden, late in life, wrote about the musical, early-morning birdsong just outside his beloved cottage in the Austrian countryside, saying it made him think of “that joy in beginning, for which our species is created.”

Your piece on departing Stanford President John Hennessy touched something of the same chord—in conveying his feelings about convocation (“Where He Took Us,” May/June). “It’s a yearly rebirth,” Hennessy said. “And in comes a bright, highly capable group of freshmen who, when you meet them, you just think, these people are going to do great things in the world.”

Bright shiny newness is a wonderful thing; but we shouldn’t get carried away. I wish it weren’t so, but underneath it all, a lot of those kids are hurting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, ’89, dean of freshmen at Stanford for 10 years (until 2012), writes compassionately in her bestseller, How to Raise an Adult, of a kind of student she too often saw. “Often brilliant, always accomplished, these students would sit on my couch holding their fragile, brittle parts together, resigned to the fact that this outwardly successful situation was their miserable life.” She goes on: “A great many students experiencing such things sought mental health counseling. Some dropped out of school for a while. Some fell completely apart.”

I feel Lythcott-Haims’s observations deeply, because these are the same kinds of kids I also too often saw at the high school where I taught English, only a stone’s throw from Stanford. This was Gunn High in Palo Alto—a city that’s suffered the suicides of 11 teenagers in only seven years, including the friends and classmates of kids who sat in my classroom, and including kids admitted to highly selective places: UC-Berkeley, Washington University in St. Louis, NYU. My high school is the mirror image of many schools in affluent communities across the land, and there have been teen suicide clusters in Newton, Mass. (next door to Harvard and MIT), and Fairfax County, Va. (across the Potomac from D.C.).

My seniors, soon to be college freshmen, were the kind of high-aspirational kids whose eyes grow wide at the superachievements we all too easily extol, including Hennessy: “Who would have ever guessed we’d go to multiple Rose Bowls and still have a football team that has a 99 percent graduation rate.” Accomplishments that Stanford can be justly proud of—from the monumental rate of new building to the arts expansion to rival East Coast colleges—are “world-class” achievements that can’t help but imprint themselves on the high schoolers just down the road. And with so much surrounding you that’s world-class, you feel like a failure if you’re not world-class, too. 

It’s not that the achievements are bad; it’s that they’re touted so highly, puffed up out of proportion to what is treasurable in the everyday. Even the celebrated prominence of the Stanford football team—and, believe me, I was just as thrilled by our (chronic traumatic encephalopathic) Rose Bowl win as any other alum, I really was!—is pounded into Palo Alto’s kids by the sight of Saturday tailgates, city streets cordoned off, and by the national telecasts and rankings. It’s hard to be just a plain old human kid in this town.

I’m told that Stanford, just like my school district, has had to invest in its mental health services in recent years, and I’m told that the admissions office has tried to keep an eye out for at-risk applicants. I hope admissions staff will do everything they can to put out a calming word to high schoolers everywhere—to let them know that, despite Stanford’s tiny, 5 percent acceptance rate, one doesn’t have to be a superstar or brain surgeon or basket case to get in. Nationwide, our kids and their parents need to hear—again and again until it sinks in—that a 4.3 GPA and multiple APs aren’t a make-or-break aspect of teenage life. Stanford may have to do some soul-searching. Its own department of child and adolescent psychiatry, in its advisory role to my district, has failed to forestall five more teen suicides since November 2014.
Marc Vincenti, MA ’96
Palo Alto, California

I just picked up our Stanford, and your tribute to John Hennessy is outstanding. “What’s New on the Farm” was a neat surprise and is fantastic, as is your entire tribute focusing on his legacy to Stanford.

Thanks for another wonderful issue.
Marilyn van Löben Sels, ’66
Clarksburg, California

I read the article on John Hennessy’s legacy, and it was wonderful to have such a comprehensive summary of his highly successful 16 years. However, as someone who has long been affiliated with Stanford in many capacities, I think the article does not give John full credit for all of the work he has done in graduate education. As many do not know, the graduate student body outnumbers the undergraduate student body (9,200 to 7,000), and in 2004, John called for a Commission on Graduate Education to study and report back on the status and needs of graduate students and how to fully enhance their Stanford education. The commission’s report was published in 2005, which led to the establishment of a vice provost position and Office of Graduate Education. Through John’s leadership and support, the office has provided the bridges across all seven of Stanford’s schools to promote collaboration and expand cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary educational opportunities for graduatestudents. The commission also recommended greater emphasis on expanding both student body and faculty diversity. Just one example of this is the DARE (Diversifying Academia, Recruiting Excellence) Program, which focuses on diversifying, broadly defined, the academic ranks in our colleges and universities. The need to diversify academia cannot be overstated. This is all to say that the record of John Hennessy’s legacy would not be complete without proper acknowledgement of his leadership in graduate education, which no doubt was the precursor to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program.
Bernadine Chuck Fong, ’66, MA ’68, PhD ’83
Los Altos, California

Amid the current euphoria surrounding John Hennessy’s retirement as Stanford’s president, one negative item should be noted: Although he was asked on several occasions to address the issue of concussion caused by head trauma during football games, he steadfastly refused to do so other than to indicate that Stanford was “awaiting the recommendations of the NCAA committee investigating the matter.”

Hennessy’s failure to speak out publicly was not the action one should expect from the leader of one of the nation’s premier institutions of higher education. It was a cop-out of major proportions.

While so many Stanford students, faculty and alumni are enjoying the afterglow of the recent winning ways of the Stanford football team, we should also ponder the possibility that more than a few of the young men who have achieved so much as athletes will live to suffer debilitating neurological problems in their later lives—problems that John Hennessy might have mitigated or eliminated by speaking up more forcefully to ensure safe equipment, coaching and rules in intercollegiate football.

Hopefully president-designate Marc Tessier-Lavigne will recognize this issue early in his administration and address how college football can be a safer athletic activity for its participants.
Dan Gold, ’57
Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania 

I count myself extraordinarily fortunate to have known John Hennessy professionally, and even more, to have become his friend. I know that his fondest wish will always be for Stanford to advance still further—and it surely will—but when the second century of the university comes to a close, 75 years from now, I fully expect that the principal author of what the university is then will be John Hennessy. He preached “impact”—and he has had more than anyone could have imagined was possible. Jane and Leland are very, very proud.
John Cole Bravman, ’79, MS ’81, PhD ’85
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania

Tickets, Please

The May/June issue promoted an article about a student-written program that makes challenging a traffic ticket easier (“My Bot Will See You in Court,” Farm Report). Apparently Josh Browder, ’19, received a parking ticket that was valid. So, rather than take a position of honesty and responsibility and pay the fine, he developed a program to easily appeal the ticket—even if the ticket was justified—based on technicalities. What a shame!

And then Josh goes on to condemn both officers issuing tickets and lawyers, and comes up with the unsubstantiated statement that there are a lot of unfair parking tickets issued. He appears to subscribe to the idea that folks are being taken advantage of by anyone who attempts to enforce the rules of our land. Such an attitude doesn’t help improve our understanding of and respect for law enforcement agencies. Is that what our education system is promoting?
Bill Pahland, ’57, MS ’59
Chester, California

Naming Names

I read with some amusement the article “What’s in a Name” (Farm Report, May/June). So long as some of us will not be satisfied without everything being extremely politically correct, we may have to change the name of the university, too. After all, the money to found it was often ill-gotten by one of the rapacious robber barons of the Gilded Age, Leland Stanford (read The Associates by Richard Rayner).

Every one of us has faults, and virtually no one who wields or wielded any kind of power is going to be free of controversy. Perhaps we should just forget about honoring anyone historically important and name everything after plants . . . except, of course, that evil sap-sucking parasite, mistletoe.
Matthew Buynoski, Engr ’73
Palo Alto, California

The May/June issue told of a campaign to remove the name of Junipero Serra from campus facilities. There is considerable irony, or perhaps ignorance or chutzpah, in this stand by students attending a university named for a robber baron family.
Harold G. Diamond, MS ’63, PhD ’65
Urbana, Illinois

The article is disturbing in what it manifests about today’s Stanford students. The Franciscan missions established more than 200 years ago are a glorious part of the history of the Golden State. Their founder, Father Junipero Serra, is to be lauded for this major achievement. The missions brought Christianity, education, laws and modern agricultural methods to backward indigenous peoples. Judged by the standards prevalent at the time, the missions were an unqualified force for the betterment of these indigenous peoples. Is this what today’s Stanford students call subjugation? Do we live in a perfect world? Why don’t the students expend their efforts on today’s injustices, rather than rewriting past history to comply with today’s mores?
Roderick Hall, ’54
London, United Kingdom

I was very offended by the activities reported in the article. First, I am a Native American born to a Native American. Although I am not an aboriginal, I have just as much a right to my sensibilities as they. The vilification of a Catholic priest in the name of all Native Americans is an act of ignorance unbecoming an institution of learning. The understanding of history is the understanding of the context in which historical figures acted. Fr. Junipero was in his time in history “making a difference” and “disrupting” old-fashioned culture. Sound familiar?

As reported, the Faculty Senate’s actions are reprehensible. By suggesting that a name change to a building is sufficient reparation for the destruction of a culture and seizure of its territory, they make Fr. Junipero (who was only trying to modernize these aboriginals and save their souls) look like a saint. If the Stanford community was truly contrite, it would return the territory it occupies back to the aboriginals from whom it was taken, and use Stanford’s considerable wealth and influence to shield their culture from regulation by Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

Or maybe Stanford should stick to education and leave politics to the citizens of the country whose protection it enjoys.
Joe Iaquinto, MS ’71
Leesburg, Virginia

The current students and faculty have really hit upon something. No doubt Father Junipero Serra was an evil figure who had nothing on his mind but to trample on the rights and dignity of Native Americans. How could it have been overlooked for these past 129 years? Now that these historical facts have been rediscovered, Stanford needs to clean house and rid itself (street names, building names, library books, stationery, etc.) of any reference to him. 

But it is shortsighted to stop with Father Serra, as it should also offend the sensibilities of all the concerned students and faculty to be associated with a university whose very name also has connections to an equally evil past. So why not go all the way and eliminate the most significant source of angst? Therefore, I have another suggestion to add to the list of banned persons: Leland Stanford Jr. After all, the university with his name was founded by Leland Stanford, who along with Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins acquired fortunes that were the direct result of the near-indentured servitude of Chinese workers brought to California to build the Central Pacific Railroad in the 19th century. It is my recommendation that any mention of Leland Stanford Jr. and his parents be eliminated from all the university’s facilities, instructional materials, publications and so forth. This would be the ultimate in cleansing and would let the world know that the university is finally coming to grips with its own evil past, not just that of a historical figure after whom a street was named.

As a replacement for the university name, I have a suggestion: PCU!
Jackson McElmell, ’56, MA ’57
San Francisco, California

Thoughts on Scholarships

One focus of the impressive Knight-Hennessy Scholarship Program is to examine why huge gifts to education don’t always work (“Hennessy to Direct Scholars Program,” Farm Report, May/June). Great idea, but how about doing that prior to deploying the $700-plus million rather than coming out of the chute with a fully formed program?

As motivation for such study, consider that the stated goal is improving the world, but it’s enough money to fully endow a university serving 3,000 students at the median U.S. endowment level, and perhaps three times that number in poor countries harboring incredible untapped talent. So these generous gifts could deliver education to 10,000 students per year in perpetuity or to a few hundred exceptional and lucky brain-drain students who would likely have been at a top international school in any case. As is, the program could be mistaken for a recruiting tool intended for bringing glory to Stanford rather than a program to help the world.

There was sting to Malcolm Gladwell’s tweet, “If Stanford cut its endowment in half and gave it to other worthy institutions then the world really would be a better place.” We should take heed of such perceptions and consider whether Stanford is raising and deploying funds in ways that are as innovative, evidence-based and true to stated goals as we would like.
Frank Selker, MS ’85
Portland, Oregon

Critical Thinking

Thank you for printing in your May/June issue such a wide range of letters in response to your March/April cover story on George Shultz. One of the letters was particularly well-informed and balanced. The author’s name, Peter C. Haley, was not followed by designation of a Stanford degree. I was proud of Haley’s critical thinking, wherever it may have been nurtured.
Allen Dull, ’64
Vista, California

Shultz and Patriotism

Although definitely in the minority at the time of my graduation, I chose, in George Shultz’s words, to “do the patriotic thing, which is to serve” (“Steadfast,” March/April). Ten years later, in the midst of increasing tensions between the United States and Libya, I found myself strapped into the front seat of a Navy F-14 fighter, flying sorties from the deck of USS Saratoga (CV-60) in the Gulf of Sidra. In late March 1986, I piloted one of the first aircraft to cross what Muammar Gaddafi asserted as the “Line of Death”; crossing the line was an initial step in the escalation of operations which resulted in the destruction or damaging of Libyan patrol boats and surface-to-air missile sites over the next 48 hours. Operations successfully completed, Saratoga prepared for her scheduled departure from the Mediterranean to return home. Prior to leaving “the Med,” however, I was fortunate to experience what might be called my “closest point of approach” to Secretary of State Shultz. On March 28, 1986, I was tasked as part of a multinational team of fighter aircraft to provide airborne escort to the secretary on his flight between Athens and Rome. In Athens, he had had defense-related discussions with Prime Minister Papandreou and senior Greek officials, and was on his way to Rome for similar talks with Prime Minister Craxi and senior Italian officials. I was piloting “Devil 112,” attached to Fighter Squadron 74; our weapons load included AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. The escort flight was a tag-team effort as the flight proceeded westward: We took over from Greek F-4 and USAF F-15 aircraft, and were in turn relieved by Italian F-104 fighters as we approached Italy. Then it was back to Saratoga for our exit from the Med and transatlantic crossing to get back home. Just two weeks later, more substantial airstrikes against Libya were carried out in retaliation for the Berlin discothèque bombing.
Cmdr. Scott McCarty, USN (ret.), ’76
Ventura, California

Gone Too Soon

Thank you to Jocelyn Wiener, ’99,  for her beautiful piece, “Words to Live By” (March/April). While I did not know Susan O’Malley, ’99, personally, Jocelyn’s words brought me to tears, as if Susan were a close friend of mine. As a fellow mother of twins, I felt a kinship with her. She sounded like a kind and thoughtful person, who inspired those around her to follow their hearts. I hope to come across her work someday. I am deeply saddened that she and her babies were taken from this world much too soon.
Megan Freitas, MA ’98
San Diego, California

More Broccoli

Just to add to the historical record, as someone present at the end of the era: Occupancy was the real reason ADP became EBF (“How ‘Broccoli Forest’ Happened,” Farm Report, March/April). Whatever problems may have been haunting the house, administrators didn’t make the decision until growing displeased with the ratio of Alpha Delts to “boarders” (others who chose to live there when “actives” didn’t take all the rooms, which had become a consistent occurrence).

The house was not a wasteland: It was full of residents who welcomed visitors of both genders as if it were their home. ADP comprised some of the brightest minds on campus, including a National Hispanic Science Scholar and a fifth-year senior doing research for SLAC. The guitarist for the campus’s top band, Cerebral Paisley, was my neighbor; sorry to dispel the image, but he also was a diligent student. Moreover, the [San Francisco] Chronicle did an article on the fraternity in ’86 for turning around the image perpetuated by indeterminate labels such as “troublesome record of drug abuse” cited from the Stanford News Service. 

By the way, a photo from that article recently got republished in an online gallery—“Bay Area college life back in the day” on The caption writer had fun with the wall decor; but far as I know, no one was harmed by, or in the making of, paddles. They represented a satirical commentary on stereotypical frat culture and an avenue for creative self-expression, both hallmarks of the Alpha Delts and the culture fostered in the house. 

I graduated before the nomenclature permutations of AD House and EBF. Thank you for sharing this snapshot, and allowing additional angles.
Evan M. Tuchinsky, ’89
Chico, California


Credit for the cover photograph (May/June) was omitted. The photograph was by Joel Simon, ’74, MS ’84.

The title of the poem by Noah Warren, Stegner fellow 2015-17 (Shelf Life, May/June), should have read “The Tines.”

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