Amherst Magazine

College Row


First-year students to enjoy better real estate

The Trustees in May approved ambitious plans to create new first-year housing around the college's central quadrangle. Announcing the board's decision, President Gerety noted: "Our student housing is inadequate in comparison to our peers, and we have for too long deferred action on ‘de-tripling' first-year rooms, providing common space for programming, and addressing safety and infrastructure needs in some of our dormitories."

Major projects in the scheme include the replacement of James and Stearns dormitories with two new residential buildings; the relocation of the Geology Department and the Pratt Museum of Natural History to new and more modern quarters so that Pratt can be made a freshman dormitory; and the conversion or
replacement of Williston Hall—now a faculty office and classroom building—to create additional housing.

Plans also call for at least one new dormitory elsewhere on campus, to relieve crowding during work on the other buildings; they also include work to improve Pratt and Morrow dormitories, two non-freshman residences north of the Robert Frost Library.

Officials initially thought the work would be done over a period of six or seven years, but the Trustees hope the timetable can be accelerated. The estimated total cost of the projects is expected to be $50 million or more.

Much of the housing for first-year students at Amherst is now considered substandard and overcrowded, especially in the 55-year-old James and Stearns. And the Trustees and administration believe it is important to bring all freshman housing together around the central quadrangle. As President Gerety explained, "A cohesive first-year experience is one of the college's basic social building blocks." Most freshmen are already housed around the quadrangle in James, Stearns, Appleton Hall, and North and South dormitories; but
65 of them live on another part of the campus, in Valentine Hall.

Because James and Stearns are obsolescent, they will be replaced with two new dormitories of basically the same modest brick style. Likewise, if the renovation of Williston should prove to be impractical, it, too, would be replaced by a new structure—one appropriate to the other historic buildings of College Row. Philosophy and Black Studies Department offices, now in Williston, would be moved to the college-owned Cooper House on College Street.

The dormitory conversion of the Pratt Museum building would reconfigure the interior but preserve the historic exterior of that 1884 structure.

TOP


Black Tuesday

It was a campus drug bust that was reported in The New York Times and other national news media—a crackdown that briefly upset scores of students, staff and faculty. As people at the college groped their way to secure the usual coffee Tuesday morning, May 8, at the dining hall and the Keefe Campus Center, they were greeted by empty dispensers and a bold message:

"In order to curb the use of caffeine at Amherst College, the sale and distribution of COFFEE are no longer permitted on campus. Effective Immediately."

Shock and disbelief. It was true. The college had cut off coffee. With the blessings of President Gerety and the Student Government Organization, coffee was banned. Posters explained that "the alarming rise in caffeine use and the adverse side effects associated with this drug are seen as a significant public health risk."

"No coffee?" a senior asked. "Are they trying to kill people?"

Some students sold coffee on a black market for up to two dollars a cup. There were buyers, too. "Finals start next week," a junior said. "I just need it."

Turned out, the ban was just for a day. And it was somebody's art project: a piece of "performance art," guerrilla theater, that a junior, Andrew Epstein, cooked up for a studio course in "Social Sculpture," taught by Prof. DeWitt Godfrey. Epstein enlisted the administration, student government, and campus dining services in the hoax.

The artist explained his project the way a scholar would.

"Typically set outside the gallery," he wrote, "art that intrudes on our space beckons us to consider its possibilities, its meaning. I have removed this substance from a sanctioned, daily routine and provided an appropriate alternative in the same form given to any prohibited substance—illicit street distribution. I hope that after the initial shock, members of our community will consider their own substance use, how prohibition stigmatizes even casual users as 'deviants' or possibly 'addicts,' and the arbitrary criteria by which some drugs are deemed destructive."

Epstein got an A. For Audacity.

TOP


Arnold B. Arons

Early in the Spring semester we received news of the death of Prof. Arnold B. Arons, the austere and exacting physicist who directed the college's introductory science course from 1952 to 1968. Arons, who retired from teaching at the
University of Washington in 1982, died of a heart attack at his home in Seattle on February 28. He was 84.

Thousands of Amherst freshmen weathered his famous Physics 1-2 requirement (and scores—perhaps hundreds—of others did not). None ever forgot him.

After graduating from the Stevens Institute of Technology with an M.E. degree in 1937 and an M.S. in 1940, Arons attended Harvard University, receiving a Ph.D. in 1943. The degrees were all in physical chemistry.

For his entire career Arons was closely associated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Mass.—both as a staff member and, later, trustee. In 1943 he joined its Underwater Explosives Research Laboratory and conducted research for the U.S. war effort, making shock wave measurements of bomb explosions.

In 1946 Arons joined the faculty at the Stevens Institute. He left Stevens six years later to come to Amherst. He joined the University of Washington faculty after leaving Amherst in 1968, just as Amherst's required core curriculum was being dismantled.

Long after his departure, Arons recalled his Amherst experience with fondness. "I look back on those days as the most exhilarating of my academic career," he wrote.

Many alumni of that era look back on Arons's physics course with mixed feelings. Fondness may not always be one of them: Physics 1-2 was a grueling experience for the scientifically inept, and Arons was famous for not suffering student deficiencies gladly (he is widely remembered for locking the lecture room door the exact minute his early-morning class began, so that tardy students missed crucial lectures and assignments).

Arons was a strong believer in core requirements. Of Physics 1-2 he once said, "Any measure of success the course attains is predicated upon the pragmatic fact that we are dealing with a captive audience. Within this context, we can bring sufficient pressure upon the students to have them exert the necessary effort and acquire some intellectual momentum."

If Arons intimidated many students, he entertained them as well. He brought a strong sense of theater to his classroom demonstrations. To show how a neutron behaves in a nuclear bomb, for instance, he would ask someone to drop a Ping-Pong ball into a large wire cage set with mousetraps. Controlled pandemonium followed as the ball ricocheted madly around the container.

Well beyond Amherst, Arons was recognized for his highly original teaching. He once summarized his approach in a letter to Amherst. "I knew how frequently freshmen tended to confuse technical jargon with knowledge and how frequently they failed to distinguish between the name and the idea (‘the map is not the territory')," he wrote. "We therefore operated under the precept ‘idea first and name afterwards' and explicitly emphasized operationalism.

"Freshmen took scientific terms, constructs, and theories so literally that it was essential to shift this orientation and lead them to perceive the role of metaphor. We found it necessary to give students the opportunity to discriminate between observation and inference since, initially, the capacity for such discrimination was quite weak."

In 1972 the American Association of Physics Teachers awarded Arons its Oersted Medal in recognition of his contributions to pedagogy. The citation said "The very careful attention of a logical sequencing of ideas, the deep concern for a careful development of concepts in the minds of students, and the steady attention to the cultural basis of Western science . . . have been his hallmarks."

Those, and the stringent demands he placed on Amherst freshmen.

He is survived by his wife, Jean M. (Rendall) Arons, of Seattle; two daughters, Marion Grillon of North Adams, Mass., and Janet Haskell of Elmira, N.Y.; two sons, Kenneth Arons of Brighton, Colo., and Paul Arons of Bellevue, Wash.; and five grandchildren.

TOP


The bleat goes on

Paper or sheepskin? A record num- ber of seniors—59 of the 455 graduates, or 13 percent of the class— chose paper diplomas rather than the traditional sheepskin this year, after a minor controversy about the college tradition of printing diplomas on vellum.

Nationally, Amherst is one of a handful of colleges that still hand out sheepskin diplomas; issues including cost and practicality caused most colleges to shift to paper many years ago. But sheepskin diplomas have been the norm at Amherst throughout the college's history. In fact, the first Amherst diploma—presented to Elisha Gulliver Babcock in 1825—can still be found in the College Archives. For many years, students have been able to choose a "vegetarian option"—a diploma printed on archive-quality, cotton-stock paper—by requesting one from the registrar. In recent years, approximately half a dozen students in each graduating class sought out that option.

But Veggie, a student vegetarian interest group, complained this fall that the paper alternative was not readily available on the general form seniors fill out for their diploma. They objected, too, to the opt-out nature of the decision, suggesting that sheepskin shouldn't serve as a default but be one of two equal options presented to each senior at some time when a choice was required. Noah T. Winer '01, a member of Veggie, told President Tom Gerety in an e-mail: "I do not hold that humans and animals have equal rights, but that they have the right to equal consideration." At the same time, 15 faculty members signed a petition asking President Gerety to reconsider use of the sheepskin diplomas.

Gerety e-mailed the senior class to assess opinion on the issue. More than a third of the class responded, with roughly half in favor of maintaining the sheepskin tradition and half indicating a preference for doing away with sheepskin diplomas, or
at least presenting the two options equally. "I think there should be a choice for those who do not want their diploma to be on sheepskin," Peter Beardsley '01 told The Amherst Student. "After $120,000, I prefer the sheepskin, though I respect the decision of those who would not want it." Umit Dhuga '01, on the other hand, told Gerety, "I try to do what I can, and where I see an alternative to an animal product that is feasible, I use it."

Given that student opinion on the issue seemed equally divided, Gerety chose to continue the sheepskin default for the Class of 2001, providing paper diplomas, as usual, for those who requested them. Beginning this fall, though, each senior will choose between sheepskin and paper diplomas by filling out a form during course registration in the fall. Gerety also told the Student that he'd reevaluate the use of sheepskin diplomas in the future, based on the interest shown this year in paper options.

TOP


Increase in cheating

The College Council last spring examined an apparent increase in cheating and plagiarism on campus and recommended that the faculty and administration do more to acquaint students—especially new students—with the college's standards
of academic honesty.

The council, whose responsibilities include student discipline, noted that there has been a "dramatic rise" in reports of cheating and plagiarism in recent years. From 1990 to 1998 these cases averaged less than five per year. But there were 16 cases in 1999 and 19 last year. The group took note of reports that "cheating seems more prevalent nationally" and that "national media often single out the Internet as a prime contributor to the upsurge in plagiarism, pointing their fingers especially at term-paper agencies . . . ."

The council reported: "While much of this behavior is deliberate and, on occasion, highly organized, some of it reflects a diffuse ignorance of what counts as cheating (on problem sets, tests and lab reports) or as plagiarism (on essays and exams)." It found that "students have never been taught formally how to work in responsible ways with either digital or analog [that is, traditional] sources—a situation that we must rectify."

The council recommended that the college's online reference librarians and its writing, science and math counselors provide new students with such instruction and guidelines in their required First-Year Seminars. It also urged that faculty members be more conscientious about discussing ways the college's Statement of Intellectual Responsibility applies to each course.

TOP


Celebrating coeducation

Aquarter-century of coeducation was commemorated during Alumni Holiday/Reunion in June, marking the graduation of the nine women in the Class of 1976. The celebration was planned by the staff of the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs in collaboration with an advisory committee composed of alumni representing classes from 1973 to 2000.

Special events throughout the weekend highlighted historical and current coeducational experiences of faculty, students, and alumni. More than 25 members of the Amherst community participated in panels discussing the evolution of coeducation in athletics, the integration of female professors into the faculty, the experiences of women of color, an array of male perspectives, the reflections of current students, and the careers of college alumnae.

A welcoming reception on Friday night featured a reflective talk by Ellen Ryerson, deputy dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Yale, who taught at Amherst in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was a member of the Select Committee on Coeducation. Ryerson was eloquent and honest about her participation in the coeducation discussions, saying they were "exquisitely intelligent— but they went on forever." Looking back, she said, "The controversy gave me the thing itself—seven provocative, challenging years—and made me more ready for a career in college administration." About 70 people attended Ryerson's talk on the lawn of the coeducation headquarters, Appleton Hall. The lobby of Appleton displayed a photo essay on coeducation completed in 1983 by Hara Person '86.

The matriculation of the first coeducational class at Amherst (female graduates in the spring of 1976 were transfer students from other institutions) will be honored by a series of programs in the fall. Notable speakers include political essayist and social critic Barbara Ehrenreich and Lani Guinier, the Harvard University law professor whom President Clinton once nominated to be assistant U.S. attorney general for civil rights.

TOP


A success—and then some

When The Amherst College Campaign was launched in 1996, it was the largest ever undertaken by a liberal arts college. Some said the $200-million goal was too ambitious for an institution with 18,000 alumni. But when the campaign ended on June 30, alumni, parents and friends had helped Amherst exceed that goal, providing more than $253 million for Amherst's most important priorities, including faculty and academic programs, financial aid and student programs, facilities, and unrestricted support.

"Today we celebrate not only the successful conclusion of The Amherst College Campaign, but also the excellence of Amherst College," said President Tom Gerety. "The thousands of alumni, parents and friends who supported Amherst during the campaign years did so because of their commitment to the type of education Amherst offers—one that allows talented students to work closely with outstanding faculty while providing access to top-notch facilities."

Gerety offered special thanks to campaign co-chairs Axel Schupf '57 and Chuck Lewis '64. "Chuck and Axel made a real commitment to the success of this campaign," he said. "Their unfailing energy and their personal generosity have inspired countless others—volunteers and donors—to do their best for Amherst." Gerety also praised the efforts of those who led major initiatives during the campaign, inluding Rich Clary '75, Brian Conway '80, Chuck Longsworth '51, David Moore '78, Mark Perry '65, Win Smith '71, Bill Vickery '57, and hundreds of other campaign volunteers and class-based volunteers who worked on behalf of Amherst during the campaign.

Like most successful campaigns in higher education, The Amherst College Campaign succeeded, in large measure, because a relatively small number of donors were exceptionally generous. The gifts of fewer than 350 individual donors provided roughly 80 percent of the total raised. Campaign co-chair Axel Schupf pointed out that "before the campaign, Amherst had received fewer than 10 gifts of $1 million or more in its entire 175-year history. During the course of The Amherst College Campaign, the college received more than 50 new seven-figure gifts, totaling $130 million."

"Yet, what has been really remarkable about this effort," said co-chair Chuck Lewis, "is that the vast majority of the college's alumni—more than 80 percent—made a gift to Amherst at some time during the campaign.

"At so many colleges and universities," he continued, "broad-based participation drops off during a big campaign; not so at Amherst."

The Annual Fund—which perennially leads the nation in participation rates—provided $40 million in unrestricted support over the six years of the campaign. The Fund, chaired throughout the campaign by Rich Clary '75, grew from $4.5 million in 1996 to $7.3 million last year, and participation this past year was 63 percent.

All are invited to join the campus community in celebrating the campaign's impact on the college at the traditional Homecoming Fest in the Coolidge Cage on Saturday of Home-coming Weekend, October 20. Look for details in the Homecoming Weekend brochure, which will be mailed at the end of summer.

TOP


Serendipity in Szentendre

Upon concluding an evening concert in the tiny town of Szentendre, Hungary, the Amherst College Concert Choir found Director Mallorie Chernin engaged in genial English conversation with someone they did not recognize. Within minutes, they found themselves robustly singing "Lord Jeffery Amherst" while, to their amazement, the stranger sang heartily along with them. Explanations and introductions followed: the stranger was none other than Charles "Chuck" Horton '90. A former member of the Choral Society himself, Horton requested the impromptu performance of the familiar college song, bringing the Hungarian village on a hill a tiny bit closer to a certain fair college upon a hill of its own.

Horton joined the Peace Corps upon his graduation from Amherst. After his travels, he returned to the States for a few years, and then settled down in western Hungary. Having been notified of the performance, he and his wife drove to Szentendre to attend Amherst's concert and welcome Chernin and the choir to his adopted country.

Szentendre was the first of four concerts which the Concert Choir presented on their tour of Eastern Europe over May 28-June 9. Their route took them through Budapest and Györ, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia; Prague and Trebic, the Czech Republic; the Esterhazy Palace in Austria, and several smaller towns and villages in each country. In addition to giving concerts, the choir was immersed in local culture through a home-stay program as well as various sightseeing adventures.

Photographs from the tour can be found on the Concert Choir Website.

—Ania G. Wieckowski '03

TOP


Verbatim

A Compilation of Recent Remarks Made at Amherst

"And I am learning how to take my time/ So go ahead and make your millions/ I'll do just fine with my dimes."

— Emily Greene '01
Verse from "Where I've Been," song written by her that she sang at Commencement, May 27, 2001

"You have grown up in an intellectual climate that is profoundly anti-utopian. Communism is dead; socialism is a modest corrective to capitalism; anarchism is an excuse for rioting or, worse, terrorism. The communes are gone; the kibbutzim are going . . . . You are cautious about utopian dreams, even in your own lives, because so many of them have led others to tragedy or comedy or both at once."

— President Tom Gerety, in his Commencement address on "Generations," LeFrak Gymnasium, May 27, 2001

"It's not exactly a protest against Hanoi bombing, is it?"

New York Times photographer George Ruhe covering the one-day coffee ban at Amherst, May 8, 2001

"You've probably not felt it, because you don't stick around in the summer, but the month of July here, for many of us academicians,
is a very low barometer. The waters of our students' adulation, on which we float from September to May, have started drying up about this time in July."

— James E. Maraniss, professor of Spanish, addressing students at Senior Assembly, Johnson Chapel, May 11, 2001

"‘The love will always be there. The love will always be there.' That's what he said to me, my father. That is what my father said to me when I told him I—his only son—was gay."

— John Abodeely '01, senior speaker, Class Day Exercises, May 26, 2001

"If you don't feel good when you graduate from Amherst College, you deserve to be miserable."

— Morton Schapiro, president of Williams College, guest speaker, Class Day Exercises

"I gave you this much?"

— Steven M. Jacobson '53, to Mead Art Museum Director Jill Meredith, when he first saw "A New York View," Mead's exhibition of his modern art collection, June 1, 2001

TOP


From the Folger

The Folger's Elizabethan Theater is a quaint evocation of a 17th-century London performance space, as concocted by an American architect in the 1930s. Its undeniable charm belies the fact that it misleads modern audiences in almost every conceivable way. One element, however, remains true to the early drawings and archaeological findings. That is the two large pillars on either side of the stage, immovable objects that over the years have provided troublesome constraints on actors, directors, and above all, set designers. The obstacles posed by these attractive design elements wouldn't have bothered Henry Clay Folger, Class of 1879, at all, for he envisioned his theater as a site for elocution lessons, not full-scale Shakespearean performances.

Most of the stage designers who have tried to make the Folger stage work over the years have chosen to fight the pillars. But Tony Cisek, who designed the set this past spring for the library's standing-room-only production of As You Like It, took a different approach. He added eight additional pillars, which in their perpendicular mode serve to reinforce the majestic setting of the scenes at court. When the scene shifts to the Forest of Arden, though, the audience discovers that Cisek's pillars shift and move, reconfiguring the stage as a woodland, complete with fallen trees. Montaigne, reflecting on the agony of his kidney stones, wrote, "What we cannot change, we must learn to endure." Cisek goes Montaigne one better, for he not only endured but in some sense transformed the immutable. Maybe that's what theater is all about.

TOP