Plastic wrap around the alumni magazine? I'm shocked! I hope this occurrence is not the start of a new Oberlin tradition.
EVA SCHLESINGER '87
San Francisco, California
Editor's reply: We've received several queries about our shrink-wrapped summer issue(s). We needed to package two publications for mailing: the regular OAM and the Commencement-Reunion Supplement to the OAM (three, if you count the special pull-out section, Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future).
We chose the shrink wrap over other methods--plain brown wrappers and polybags among them--because the shrink wrap material is chemically inert and, therefore, less harmful to the environment than other products. The shrink wrap can be recycled with your other plastics. If it should find its way to a landfill, the wrap will break down in sunlight without leaching into the soil or affecting ground water.
Some letter writers also asked, "what ever happened to recycled paper?" We still use it--in every issue of the OAM (including supplements and inserts) and all publications produced by the Office of College Relations.
Readers Rank The Rankings
I sympathize with the frustration Ross Peacock expressed in his article "Brace Yourselves: College Rankings Season Approaches" [Summer 1997 OAM]. Reducing the evaluation of an institution to a single number and then ranking schools on that basis is a ridiculous way to measure or select colleges.
On the other hand, it is clear that colleges and their admissions offices are guilty of the same error. The persistent use of the SATs, MCATs, LSATs, GREs, and so on are no less absurd than the U.S. News & World Report's ranking. Reducing a prospective student to a couple of numbers is as flawed as producing the college ranking--and for the same reasons. Protesting that the SATs are "only part of the admissions picture" is as hollow as protesting that ranking is only part of the selection picture.
In fact, the SATs are possibly more destructive, for two reasons. First, while it is not clear how many parents and prospective students pay much attention to rankings, it is
well-known that admissions offices make great use of standardized tests. Second, the college ranking is guilty only of foolishness, while the SATs and the like have long been suspected of class, gender, and racial bias.
DAVID ARNOW '73
Brooklyn, New York
As a parent of an 18 year old who has recently completed the college application process, I read with interest Ross Peacock's article about college rankings. In our case, rankings were of more interest to our son than to us. We were surprised by that, but in thinking about it more, I wonder why. Our children are confronted by test scores from the moment of birth: Apgar, IQ, SAT, class rank, GPA, and all the various achievement tests conducted by schools. Even colleges and universities who say they are interested in the whole person start with numbers.
When our son announced that he was applying to 10 schools, we were horrified, but soon realized this was not too unusual. He was pleased when he was accepted at Oberlin. We insisted he visit campus when classes were in session. He came back with a number of impressions: Oberlin was a tolerant institution; the pianos and practice facilities were numerous; the track facilities were great; biology was a strong department. Our son was reasonably happy with the decision, but not eager to talk about it and certainly not enthusiastic.
Two weeks later he was accepted at Carleton. I made a hasty trip with him to see the campus. After 15 minutes of driving around campus (in the dark) he said that he had seen enough and this was the place. Yes, he eventually had a tour, stayed overnight, and talked to faculty and students, but the decisive factor was that it felt right.
No school is perfect. But if the fit between individual and institution feels right, the commitment to one over the others comes easier.
MYRA KIEHLE JANUS '68
The article "Multi-mono-culturalism or Pluralism?" states that, at the Commence-ment symposium "Integration, Gender Equality, or Diversity," I spoke of Oberlin as "a place where racism and segregation did not occur, and where individuals were treated with respect and dignity" [Commencement-Reunion 1997, supplement to the Summer 1997 OAM]. That misrepresents what I said. I do not recollect my Oberlin experience through such rose-colored glasses.
I opened by saying that during my time at Oberlin, there was a general agreement that "respect for the dignity and worth of each individual" was an ideal worth striving for. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, we envisioned a world in which people would be judged by the content of their character rather than by their sex or race. Other ideals we held as essential in a free society were freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry.
I then cited example after example of an attitude currently accepted by many in the Oberlin community--that it is permissible to judge people based on their gender or race and not on their character if it is in retribution for historical oppression done by others of the same gender or skin color. All my examples came either directly from writings of students, alumni, and faculty in recent Oberlin publications or from direct conversations between them and myself. I distributed copies of several such articles to support my contention.
I cited letters to the alumni magazine as further evidence of the change in attitude. An older alumna made a reasoned and convincing argument that women's faces should be included among the carvings on the colonnade between Bosworth and Asia House. Letters from more recent graduates relied on sexist and racist insults.
If any alumni would like to receive a copy of my remarks and the supporting handout, they can request them by writing to the address below.
MARK ROSENTHAL '72
62 Walnut St.
Arlington, Massachusetts 02174
Editor's reply: Mr. Rosenthal's original letter to the editor contained four additional paragraphs summarizing some of the information in his handout, which is available by request.
Avery Brooks '70 seems to have fond memories of his days in Oberlin's black theater group of the late '60s, Psuekay ["Avery Brooks: The Man Behind the Mask," Summer 1997 OAM]. It might be interesting to compare Avery's fond recollections of segregated arts at Oberlin with the new book by Carl Rowan '47, The Coming Race War in America, also mentioned in the summer issue.
I recall an independent student group that performed a play called Shelter in Little Theater in spring 1968. How naive that group was--it was actually integrated. There were three black actors and three white actors accompanied by a racially mixed jazz trio. How precious and pre-racialist! In Oberlin's segregated arts atmosphere, has such a mix ever been seen again?
PHIL LEVY '68
Editor's reply: We can't verify if the mix Mr. Levy describes has occurred again on campus, but Oberlin students and faculty continue to offer performances by casts that have included students from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds and of differing skin colors. Just last academic year five productions, the cast and crew of which fit the above description, were offered by the theater and dance and opera theater departments: the plays Hamlet, A Winter's Tale, and Women of
Troy, and the operas Elixir of Love and A
Midsummer's Night Dream. The several independent, student productions offered last year--every year there are several--may very well have added to that number.
A Little Bit Obie
Thank you for all your efforts in publishing a really fine and informative magazine that keeps me feeling a little bit of Obie even all these years later.
JOEL M. KARR '81
San Francisco, California
Broadly, Which Way?
The recently released report on Oberlin's long-range planning process, Broad Directions for Oberlin's Future [Special pull-out section, Summer 1997 OAM], presents numerous noble and worthwhile goals for the future of the College. Each of us who chose to attend Oberlin was assuredly drawn not only by its unique environment but also by its standing as one of the premiere liberal arts colleges in the United States. In Broad Directions this latter reason for attending Oberlin appears to be lost beneath a drive to maintain and enhance the diversity of virtually every facet of the College. We are concerned that the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee's overarching focus on diversity results in less emphasis on the pursuit of academic excellence.
Our concern is especially relevant at a time when Oberlin accepts a large percentage of its applicants (58 percent) and has seen its ranking fall precipitously in the somewhat arbitrary but highly influential U.S. News & World Report. This zealous pursuit of diversity threatens to further diminish Oberlin's standing as one of America's academically elite liberal arts colleges. In particular, increasing the diversity of the curriculum and focusing more on interdisciplinary education, as the Long-Range Planning Advisory Committee recommends, has thus far only served to diffuse the academic rigor of the institution. The proliferation of watered-down majors has created an environment in which students are no longer required to acquire in-depth knowledge in one discipline, but rather a perfunctory understanding of a broader set of disciplines. While a diverse set of course offerings is a valuable component of Oberlin's mission, we hope that these courses will be offered in the context of a rigorous academic program. Perhaps focusing on the quality of Oberlin's students, faculty, and curriculum will allow Oberlin to flourish into the 21st century in a way in which diversity alone cannot.
JONATHAN SONNE '91
KARL SPIELMANN '92
New York, New York
I first met Professor Barry McGill when I went to ask permission to take one of his courses, Europe Since 1815. Although I was a composition major in the conservatory, I had a lively interest in European history, so I thought I'd give it a try.
Upon my asking, McGill said "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no! Take any Frederick Artz history course. Much easier. And anyway, before '1815' you must take my general European history survey course. On second thought, the very idea that you, a conservatory student, dare to ask for my '1815' intrigues me."
Terrified but determined, I took the survey course. Of all things, I received a B+! McGill then let me into Europe Since 1815, populated by hordes of history majors and me. I found his lectures, comments, and asides riveting. He rarely stopped for breath, and his knowledge and machine-gun-like presentation remain to this day, 40 years later, nerve-wracking and unique memories. From '1815,' I received a C+ and a semester-long need for Rolaids.
In 1978, at my 20th class reunion, Professor McGill and I met once again. He greeted me with "Aha, the conservatory student!" and asked, "Didn't you conduct Gilbert & Sullivan here?" I told him I had, and he said "I never missed a show in your day. They were grand! By the way, exactly when was your day, Mr. Kreis?" "I graduated in 1958," I answered. "Not a vintage year," he replied.
I vividly recall all this like it was yesterday. Barry McGill was special. I feel honored to have known him.
ROBERT KREIS '58
Return to the OAM Fall 1997 Table of Contents
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 condensed. Include a daytime telephone number.