Reading the article about the creative writing
department (Winter 2002-03) brought back memories of my own experience
with Professor Stuart Friebert. Stuartas he liked us to call
himused magic markers to critique a student's work. He
would write all over our poems or short stories using bold colorsblue,
green, purple. I later read a book by a famous author on writing and
the teaching of writing. In it, he stressed that one should use only
a fine pencil when reviewing students' work. After all, when
a writer sits down and faces a blank page, any honest attempt to create
something is an act of courage and should be respectednot used
as a coloring book by Professor Friebert.
Chris Tripoulas '80
New York, N.Y.
In the Winter 2002-03 issue, President Dye argues
that affirmative action and the deliberate cultivation of diversity
through admission practices represent a continuation of Oberlin's
long tradition of leading the nation's colleges in promoting diversity
while breaking down the barriers of race and gender. She is right
in one sense: The new policies retain an emphasis on inclusion. However,
shifting the emphasis from non-discriminationthe core idea of
the earlier policiesto diversity by design is a fundamental
and disturbing departure.
Apparently, Dye sees planned diversity as a logical extension of the
intuitively plausible and historically validated idea that college
life with women alongside men and blacks alongside whites is more
enriching than with one of the groups excluded. If diversity at this
level is enriching for all students, then broadening and fine-tuning
it must be more so. In the absence of scientific proof, the problem
with planned diversity is that it is subjectively based and thus arbitrary.
Under this policy (presumably), the Board of Trustees must first decide
what constitutes diversity, that is, by what attributes should we
classify applicants so as to maximize "differences" that
justify the label "diverse?" And then, presumably, it must
instruct the admissions office as to what mix of each attribute it
should strive for. If it picks the conventional ones of race, ethnicity,
and socioeconomic status, then it overlooks a myriad other attributes,
such as religion, political orientation, sexual preference, left-brained
vs. right-brained, etc., that a priori have equal claim to
generating diversity. Moreover, when an attribute such as race is
declared as prime in yielding diversity, it is implicitly assumed,
but not demonstrated, that intergroup differences overwhelm intragroup
differences. Furthermore, this approach underscores rather than de-emphasizes
racial differences, which, to me, is a retrogressive, not progressive
feature. In sum, considering the near identity of human DNA across
the entire species, diversity is in the eye of the beholdersomething
to be appreciated, but not engineered.
Insofar as affirmative action is meant to help redress social and
economic inequality, as opposed to producing diversity, it is also
philosophically flawed. It assumes that because, being black, and
thus a member of a group that on average is disadvantaged, you are
entitled to special consideration, regardless of your actual circumstances,
and that if you are disadvantaged, but not black, you are not so entitled.
I don't think that it takes a conservative Supreme Court justice to
find this unconstitutional. Special consideration for disadvantaged
college applicants is certainly legitimate; but let us make disadvantageand
not racethe relevant criterion.
Abundant diversity may be achieved by appropriate outreach efforts
of the admissions staff in attracting applicants and by providing
appropriate financial assistance. However, using group identity even
as a partial basis for college admission is an affront to notions
of individual uniqueness and equality and should have no place in
a liberal institution. Indeed, I suspect that Oberlin is doing it
not out of carefully considered moral principle, but because other
leading colleges and universities are doing likewise.
Albert Hirsch '55
Chevy Chase, Md.
Alan Ehrenhalt's column (Fall 2002, "The Last
Word") unearthed a remarkable coincidence. In fact, Joel Doerfler,
the charismatic upperclassman and campus activist whom Mr. Ehrenhalt
remembers so well from Brandeis, was my high school history teacher
and mentor. An exceptionally gifted (and funny) teacher, Mr. Doerfler
taught not only standard U.S. and European history, but classes on
U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the politics of development
in Latin America, the Vietnam War, and even a class on Freud. All
classes were taught with a decidedly leftist bent, and open debate
and dialogue were always encouraged. I have Mr. Doerfler to thank
for being the first teacher to awaken in me a passion for international
politics, a sense of social justice, and the very same healthy questioning
of authority that Mr. Ehrenhalt evokes.
It's not surprising that over the years there has been a steady stream
of Mr. Doerfler's former students at Oberlin. For some of us, Oberlin
was the perfect conclusion to our high school education. Mr. Ehrenhalt
can be assured that there are those of us who not only regard those
of his generation as "nice people," but also owe them the
deepest gratitude for contributing to our intellectual development
and helping to make us into reflective, socially responsible adults.
Rachel Gorney '93
Thank you for publishing Sidney Rosenfeld's Memorial
Minute regarding Elisabeth Rotermund. As encouraged by Dr. Rosenfeld,
this former student can bear testimony to the value of Frau Rotermund's
service to the College. I met my late husband, Uwe K. Faulhaber, at
German House after I returned to Oberlin from Salzburg in 1962. Frau
Rotermund's deep abiding and caring faith in the integrity and value
of all her wards, tempered by a realistic indulgence of human foibles,
made each of us strive daily to meet her quiet, high standards of
humor and kindness. We loved her. We will miss her.
Cynthia B. Faulhaber '64, MAT '65
East Lansing, Mich.
I found John Mack's article on alien abduction
(Fall 2002) to be marvelously entertaining, much better than Harry
Potter. Not only was it entertaining, but it was also inspirational.
It shows that one can still think and act like a little child while
reaping the material and psychic rewards of solemn adulthood. When
he was whining about the dean not telling him what the "high
standards of clinical practice" were that he was supposed to
observe, I was reminded of a neighbor who had chewed out her 7-year-old
grandson for climbing on the garage roof with the purpose of jumping
off. The grandson demanded that she give him a list of the things
he wasn't supposed to do so that he would know next time.
Furthermore, Dr. Mack's reasoning patterns supporting his redefinition
of reality reminded me of my own son when he was 5. At that time he
lived in deathly fear of "slapterns," invisible beings so
small you couldn't see them, but they could open their mouths so wide
that they could swallow you whole. They flew so fast that you couldn't
get away and you could hear them on the roof at night. I think I convinced
my son by shaking some tree branches overhanging the roof that the
noises he heard were berries falling off onto the corrugated metal
sheets. I'm not sure what would have convinced Dr. Mack.
But anyhow, I'm looking forward to the next installment of the saga
that "challenges the limits of our understanding," The
Monsters under the Bed.
Daniel K. Miller '68
I am puzzled that the OAM of all places would choose
to give publicity regarding claims that reports of alien abductions
are real events. Society already has too many people believing in
the physical reality of ghosts. Certainly, I do not see much harm
in Dr. Mack's clinical approach, and his listening to his patients'
reports of such experiences sympathetically, and his assuring them
that others have reported to him accounts similar to their own. However,
I presume that once he assures himself the reports are not symptoms
of mental illness, he also considers another likely explanation, namely
highly realistic dreams that have crystallized about events and concerns
that have grasped popular imagination. His books and articles for
the general public, of course, only heighten the substrate for exuberant
imaginations. I am sure that Dr. Mack is sincere and concerned about
his patients and others with similar concerns, but if his main goal
is to alert the profession to what he regards as a novel therapeutic
approach to those reporting alien encounters, I suggest he limit himself
to the professional literature for the psychotherapists whom such
individuals may consult.
Ernest B. Hook '56
I was delighted to read more about the Adam Joseph
Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (Summer 2002) and particularly
happy to see mention of a student with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities
(MCS). I have followed the progress of the Lewis Center through green
building publications that have heralded the building as a real triumph.
I think it speaks highly of Oberlin's ever-prescient sense of academia's
As an alum with MCS and Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome
(CFIDS), illnesses that disabled me right before I left Oberlin, I
have often wondered if Oberlin would make disability accommodations
for me now. I could not have attended Oberlin if I had been this sick
when I was a student. The cleaning products used in the dorms and
classrooms would have prohibited my entry, as would the scented products
worn by teachers and students. I hope the Lewis Center represents
a trend toward encompassing the vast aspects of human health that
tie into environmental politics, and that Oberlin makes further strides
to set an educational example by providing additional accommodation
for students with MCS and other illnesses caused by chemical injury.
The Lewis Center is a great start toward recognizing the synergy between
people, personal health, global health, and habitat, but my own Oberlin
education did not prepare me for being disabled and exiled from a
toxic society. Though my classes spent hours in heated discussions
about race, class, and gender, none mentioned disability, especially
invisible disability, and there were few disabled students participating
in campus political decisions. I wonder when Oberlin will expand its
curricula to include a complex analysis of disability studies as it
relates to environmental studies?
I am thrilled to see Oberlin setting an example for the Green building
industry, but I hope the College will also create housing and classroom
accommodations for students with conditions exacerbated by environmental
toxins. How about scent-free and chemical-free dorm space, pesticide-free
lawns and buildings, and greater dialogue about disability on campus?
The Environmental Studies Program should be working hand-in-hand with
those of us who fight for environmental justice due to toxic injury,
as we are the ones most viscerally invested in political change.
Peggy Munson '91
In response to Ms. Menard's "Patriotism, Oberlin
Style" (Letters, Summer 2002), excuse me, but what planet is
she on? As a student during the 1980s, I witnessed unimaginable intolerance
toward other viewsi.e. conservativethat are nonexistent
elsewhere in the country.
For example, one incident took place when an armed service color
guard wanted to fire a 21-gun salute in front of Finney Chapel in
memorial of our service people on Veteran's Day. They were
denied this by a large group of Obies who stood in front of the
service people, refusing to let them fire blanks! The service people
backed down, as they did not want to hit anyone with their spent
cartridges. Needless to say, Americans of both parties were angry
after hearing that this salute to our heroes was denied.
Ms. Menard says, "Oberlin students are passionate and informed
in their beliefs, hence Dubya's low approval rating at Oberlin!"
Well, I guess the rest of America is ignorant and stupid. In 1984,
Reagan trounced Mondale throughout the country, but you would not
have known that if you attended Oberlin. That's how informed Oberlinians
The simple fact of the matter is thisthere never was, is, or
will be tolerance or dialogue at Oberlin toward anything smacking
of conservatism. While the rest of the "uninformed" country
continues to give the Fox News Network sky-high ratings, and authors
like Ann Coulther, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly get best-seller
status, be assured that Obies will continue to wallow in ignorant
bliss! Ms. Menard's letter speaks volumes of such.
Douglas Lane '88
New York, N.Y.
Having worked for nearly 30 years in art museums,
I read the Fall 2002 Conservation Wars article with interest. It stated
reasonably well the dilemmas faced by those who care for works of
art. But I wonder, didn't Michelangelo know paint well enough that,
had he wanted the Sistine ceiling to be "subtle and shadowy,"
he could have done that from the get go? What a chancy method it would
be to start with brilliant color, then hope that the exact combination
of smoke and time and industrial effluents would cover them to a desired
One obstacle to sound decision-making about conservation treatments
is hubris. Wide-ranging consultations, considering a variety of possible
outcomes, and listening to other points of view will enhance the process.
Further, any treatment will involve some kind of trade-off; acknowledging
that and explaining one's reasoning helps the audience to understand
the action finally taken.
Kittu Longstreth-Brown '56
| 2 of Letters