Thank you, Robert Hardy!
Thank you for the beautiful cover story on Althea Sherman in the summer 1997 Oberlin Alumni Magazine. For a number of reasons, the story really struck a chord with me. After my graduation from Oberlin, I went on to graduate school, earned my doctorate, and taught at the college level for a year and a half. Then I became a homemaker. I began to spend my days caring for children, baking bread, observing the world from my kitchen window. I began to notice the arrival of the redstart and the catbird in Minnesota in late May, the slightly later appearance of the ovenbird. I began to learn about prairies and oak savannas. I made a pilgrimage to a local prairie remnant for the mid-April blooming of the pasqueflowers. Gradually, I became a homemaker in a larger sense, making my home in this particular place, rooted in Fairhaven silt loam on a bed of Prairie du Chien dolomite, shaded by bur oaks and surrounded by the seasonal transit of birds
In some ways this has taken me a long way from my Latin and history double major at Oberlin. But in the most fundamental way, my life is still grounded in the liberal arts as I received them at Oberlin. I was pleased to see in the report on "Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future" a commitment to community, to "lifelong self-education," to interdisciplinarity, and to "cocurricular activities." Through such commitments, Oberlin educated me to be a homemaker in the larger sense, to see beyond the four walls of myself to the diversity of life with which I share my home.
Rob Hardy '86
"Staggering Drop" in Oberlin's Reputation?
The Summer 1997 OAM included a piece written by Ross Peacock advising alumni to "brace yourselves" for the upcoming issue of US News and World Report's college rankings. This advice was well-founded. Oberlin finished a dismal twenty-fourth in the magazine's rankings of the top 25 liberal arts schools. Rather than casually dismissing the report, as Mr. Peacock does, I believe that it accurately reflects a staggering drop in Oberlin's reputation that should be of concern to the Oberlin community.
When I enrolled at Oberlin, our school was always considered among the nation's top liberal arts schools, along with Swarthmore, Williams, Wellesley, and Amherst. I was appalled to see that we are now outranked by Davidson, Vassar, and Grinnell. Just to make sure that US News had not simply bungled the rankings, I walked over to a neighborhood bookstore to check out some of the guides I had used while making my choice back in 1979. Unfortunately, those sources were generally in agreement with US News. My alma mater didn't even make The Princeton Review's list of the fifty top colleges in America. Even the write-up in the Yale Guide was not as laudatory as the one that helped me make my decision over a decade ago.
Mr. Peacock dismisses US News because it is based on "quantitative analysis." In fact, the statistics paint a decidedly unflattering picture. Oberlin accepts sixty percent of its applicants but enrolls about a quarter of those accepted. Average SAT scores are below those of schools that we are used to thinking of as our peers. According to US News, the school ranks an astonishing forty-second in "student selectivity." Oberlin has apparently become, at best, a safety school for America's most talented students. Oberlin's problem is not that it isn't accepting a diverse student body, as is suggested in the school's recently concluded "long-range planning" process, but rather that it isn't selective at all.
At any other school, a decline in reputation and standing half as large as the one that Oberlin has experienced over the past decade would draw the immediate attention of angry alumni and concerned administrators. Why has this slide towards mediocrity taken place and why isn't the topic even discussed in Oberlin's long-range plan? What, if anything, does President Dye plan to do in order to restore and protect the value of an Oberlin degree?
Steven Shapiro '83
Ross Peacock, Director of Institutional Research, replies:
I do not believe that we should dismiss the importance of college rankings in the higher education marketplace. Rather, as I stated in my article, we should continue to work with publishers to broaden their assessments of higher education institutions and discourage the reductionist and misleading practice of ranking them. Mr. Shapiro is correct that selectivity and yield (the percentage of students admitted who choose Oberlin) in A&S are not at the levels we believe they should be. I'm happy to report that progress is being made on both fronts and that we consider both to be among the important indicators of institutional health.
Pride in Obie's Achievement Blurrs Editorial Judgment
I was astonished -- and appalled -- to see the feature on me in the Summer OAM, which you printed without my knowledge or input. Since the magazine generally gets information on alumni from the subjects themselves, and since the tone of the piece suggested cooperation between subject and writer, readers of that article naturally would assume I sent you written notice, or gave an interview, or both. In fact, I did neither.
My reasons for not notifying Oberlin, towards which I have only the fondest memories, are not germane here. If you had wanted to run the article, you should have called the primary source -- me -- if for no other reason than to check quotes and facts. Had you done so, you could have avoided reprinting the same errors that appeared in the newspaper articles written about me (including one in that paragon of culture and highbrow literary journalism, the New York Daily News) from which you presumably culled the information. Failing that, at least you should have demonstrated the basic civility and professionalism of informing me, prior to publication, that you planned to run the piece. Tougher journalistic imperatives may apply to hard-hitting investigative pieces. But a simple human-interest story for a college alumni magazine? Fuhgedaboudit.
I fear being thought a curmudgeon and ingrate. Wasn't the profile flattering? Well, if I had sought the attention, I could have notified you myself. Since that was obvious to you, you must have printed the piece without contacting me not because you believed I would welcome it, but because it didn't matter to you whether I did or not. That's your prerogative, but it strikes me as a strange attitude for an alumni magazine.
Lest I be branded a first amendment basher: as a "card-carrying member of the ACLU" (in the immortal words of George Bush), I do not question your right to publish what you choose. That right, however, does not alter the standards of, nor responsibility for, sound journalism. Supermarket tabloids and hate-mongering newsletters have the same right, and it should be defended whenever attacked. Their exercise of this right, however, does not change the nature or quality of their work.
An institution that prides itself on professionalism and ethical conduct should eschew such shoddy practices--yes, even in its alumni magazine. Please think about this the next time you consider profiling an alum who has chosen not to send you notice of his doings.
David Ballon '79
New York, New York
Our sincere apologies to David Ballon, whose beguiling story of his performce at Carnegie Hall appeared in the Summer issue of OAM. As he states so memorably, there is no excuse for assuming that news about Oberlinians that appears to be "in the public domain" is grist for our mill. Lesson learned, with assurances that we will certainly not fuhgedaboudit.
Academic Rigor and Diversity Not on Same Wavelength
Although it is after midnight as I sit down to write, my need to respond to a Fall '97 letter from '91/'92 grads Jonathan Sonne and Karl Spielmann far supersedes my fatigue. I differ strenuously with their apprehension of the meaning and the reality of "diversity initiatives" in educational institutions.
To embrace diversity is to promote unbiased education through a broader base of understanding of human, institutional, and group behavior, relationships, and interactions; to understand history without the ethnocentric focus of white western culture; to examine learning and teaching as a culturally impacted phenomenon which needs to accommodate numerous styles and perspectives; to open our lives to sights, sounds, and ideas which have never crossed our paths; and, very importantly, to bring people into our lives who have lived and learned somewhere outside of our majority American culture.
Such an education is not only crucial to our children's chance for peace and freedom in their lifetimes, but is, moreover, a joy and a privilege to experience. The goal of education is not only the accumulation of a body of information, just as the purpose of a life is not the accumulation of possessions. My Oberlin years were just the beginning of a lifetime of learning, and I remain grateful that it was a place where I began to understand ideas and values as well as academic issues.
Thus I must take issue with the Sonne/ Spielmann comment that "...increasing that diversity of the curriculum... has thus far only served to diffuse the academic rigor of the institution." Academic rigor and diversity are not on opposing ends of the same spectrum. I have every confidence that Oberlin, and every other institution so dedicated, can attain both, to the exclusion of neither. Diversity is an inextricable ingredient of true excellence.
Evelyn Bloom '69
Remembering Osborne Scott
During spring vacation of 1941, Osborne Scott* and Jack Hume, both seniors that year, and my classmate Kenneth Clement and I, two of us black, and two white, traveled to Hampton Institute, now Hampton Univer-sity. This was a "Negro" college in eastern Virginia, and we had accepted the invitation which had been extended to the Oberlin student body--to send representatives to Hampton for a good-will visit.
We traveled in a Hume family automobile. The trip almost ended on the Pennsylvania turnpike when, traveling east, the car skidded for what seemed like eons and light years across the median strip, and we were suddenly going backwards in the westbound lane. Fortunately, no one else was foolhardy enough to be driving in that lane at the time.
Outside of Washington, a big "Eat" sign drew Jack's attention and we drove in. Osborne and Ken muttered something about waiting in the car while Jack and I went in. I was puzzled. So was Jack. Jack was from Cleveland, I from the Chicago area. Neither of us had ever been in the South before. Then the awful truth dawned. Our nation's capital was a southern city. Osborne and Ken wanted to save themselves and us from the embarrassment of rejection. Later we stopped for a meal at a "Negro" restaurant in Richmond where Jack and I were no doubt curiosities, but were not made to feel unwelcome.
At Hampton we participated in organized and in ad hoc discussions with groups of students and faculty members; we spoke along with Hampton student leaders at student assemblies, and finally met informally with the president in his home. The students almost uniformly asserted a racial pride that I, at least, had not heard expressed before, and a determination that the adverse treatment of Negroes in America had to be corrected and that they would play a meaningful part in that correction. The president, Dr. Malcolm Shaw MacLean, was a fiery personality who was enraged by racism in America and particularly around Hampton. He was a (Presbyterian, I believe) minister; he referred to the racist white ministers in that part of Virginia as "bible-pounding bastards."
Either Osborne or the Institute arranged a tourist attraction for us. On a cold blustery day, we visited Langley Field, a US Army Air Force facility nearby. The irony of our visiting this facility at a time when no Hampton student, nor Osborne nor Ken, would have been admitted to flight training, may have escaped us at the time.
We were invited to dinner at the home of Osborne's parents who lived in a small town just outside Hampton. We were greeted very warmly by the senior Scotts, and were served a magnificent dinner that challenged even the voracious appetites of "growing boys." I had never been entertained in the home of a black family before. Though I may not have articulated it at the time, I was most gratified, perhaps surprised, by the friendliness exhibited. "White guilt," no doubt.
Osborne Scott went on to further study and then to a distinguished career in military chaplaincy and in academe. Ken Clement became a very successful pioneering black surgeon in Cleveland. Jack Hume had a brief career in journalism in Cleveland before his all-too-early death at age.After WWII, I ended up in law and in law teaching.
The Hampton trip was an important part of my education during the Oberlin years. With Osborne's death, I am the only survivor of the four. It is my fallible memory, alone, that can now supply an account of that most memorable trip.
Vic Stone '42
*Osborne E. Scott '41 died in New Rochelle, New York, November 2 at 81. His obituary appears in the "Losses in the Oberlin Family" section in this issue. Victor Stone, whose recollection appears above, is a longtime trustee of Oberlin College.
Where Is Everybody?
Each time I receive the alumni magazine, I am struck by the dearth of contributions to the "News & Notes." I had always thought it was paltry, but had my suspicions confirmed when I read the alumni magazines of Williams and Stanford. For example, the most recent OAM contained three listings for my class, 1991. My class had about 600 graduates. News from three is clearly pathetic; other alumni magazines typically have news from upwards of 100 alums from each class. Why is this? It could be that Obies are just so busy leading our exciting lives that we have no time to write. Perhaps Obies are just less fond of Oberlin after departing than are alums of others schools. Or, perhaps, other schools have better systems for keeping up-to-date with alums. The abovementioned schools each have class secretaries who compile their class news and notes; perhaps folks feel more connected to the intimacy of contacting specific classmates rather than the school's alumni office or magazine staff. Or perhaps there are individuals out there who are uniquely skilled at collecting and passing on gossip. Additionally, with such a system, people can contribute news of other Obies they have spent time with -- in this way people are not simply relegated to writing about themselves. Whatever the case, this system certainly results in more students keeping in touch. I strongly advocate that the editors of OAM to check out other alumni magazines. I'm certain that the majority of Oberlin graduates out there feel fondness for their Oberlin days and enjoy hearing of news of other grads.
Jennifer Taub '91
How do other readers feel about the way OAM handles Class Notes? Although Jennifer likes the idea of third-party submissions, our present policy is to print only items which are submitted directly to us from each individual. (See David Ballon's letter, above.)
"Specific" Directions to Follow?
Oberlin would no doubt be a better place were the aspirations detailed in the booklet, "Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future," to be realized. Yet one wonders whether the elaboration of such broad directions means much without clear, detailed proposals. As far as academic work is concerned, the only practical suggestion I could discern was a proposed reduction in course load. A further report--"Specific Directions for Oberlin's Future," perhaps--might provoke some disagreement; but it might also be more useful.
Michael Kimmage '95
Letters to the editor are welcome. They should be on subjects of interest to readers of this magazine, with emphasis on exchange of views and discussion of ideas. Please limit length, where possible, to 250 words. Letters may be edited for clarity or con-densed. Include a daytime telephone number and mail to "Letters to the Editor" at the addresses listed in the masthead on the preceding page.
- Back to the OAM winter 98 table of contents.