Amherst Magazine

Letters

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Reading from cover to cover

I intended to quickly skim the winter edition of Amherst magazine. Instead, I found myself reading from cover to cover with great interest.

The first item that caught my eye was the letter from Robert Romer ’52 about the “Phi Psi Affair.” My husband, John Sibley ’47, and my brother-in-law Harry Barnes ’49 were among the initial members who considered Tom Gibbs ’51 worthy of pledging. The first stop on our honeymoon was to visit an Amherst Phi Psi alumnus in order to persuade him to our side. Unfortunately, he was not to be persuaded: in 1948, the idea of pledging a black student was unheard of, no matter how brilliant, personable and honorable that student might be.

Then Tess Taylor’s “Stories in the Attic,” about Alden and Mary Clark, got my attention because it closely resembled our own story. We, too, met at a Christian conference and spent a career as missionaries overseas. Our love letters are still in strapped laundry boxes that I used for sending my dirty laundry home and having it returned to me washed and ironed, usually with a box of cookies.

It is my understanding that one of Mary Lyon’s purposes in founding Mount Holyoke was to teach young women to be suitable wives for the missionaries Amherst was sending forth. So it was quite appropriate that, after John’s training to be a general surgeon, we and our four children set off for 21 years in Korea, four in Nepal and a little time in a refugee camp in Thailand. In our time, the emphasis for mainline churches had more to do with service than with direct evangelism, and John became an innovator for community health in developing countries.

(John would be writing this letter, but he has a rare disability, primary progressive aphasia, that makes it impossible to process words.)

Jean Sibley, Mount Holyoke ’47
Etna, N.H.

The new personal essay

Great idea, the new personal-essay page. And congratulations to Eric Patterson ’70 on an excellent first edition
for it (“Gay at Amherst, 1966-70,” Insights, Winter 2011).

I’m thankful it’s no longer necessary to congratulate either him or you for boldness in publishing it, and I trust the era
of “hateful letters” he refers to is a thing of the past.

David R.L. Simpson ’54
Bloomfield, Conn.

Not the first

In the Class Notes of ’58 (Winter 2011), there is a sentence, “Also the president of Bolivia is Evo Morales, the first indigenous head of state anywhere in the world.”

What about all of the indigenous heads of state around the world before colonization became so widespread? Also, Benito Juárez was Mexico’s president in 1858, almost a century and a half before Morales became Bolivia’s president.

Richard Gardiner ’61
Potter Valley, Calif.

How one slave got his name

I was interested to learn that Professor Romer has written the book Slavery in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts (“FYI,” College Row, Winter 2011 and “Glass Houses,” Amherst Creates, Summer 2010). Until recently slavery in New England has been a largely unexplored topic.

My wife, Pamela Chatterton-Purdy, has created a series of paintings, Icons of the Civil Rights Movement. A few of her Icons were on view in Fayerweather Hall during my 50th Reunion. A couple of years ago, when she exhibited the Icons at Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt., we discovered that an ex-slave named Jeffrey Brace was an early settler of Poultney. Brace’s published life story is one of the few personal accounts of an African slave which describes life in Africa, the day and manner of capture, the experience of the Middle Passage and the cruel treatment received at the hands of his “owners” in Connecticut.

What might be of interest to the Amherst community is the way in which Brace acquired his “Anglicized” name. Named Boyrereau by his parents, he fought with the British as an enslaved sailor in the Seven Years’ War. In a ferocious battle with a Spanish vessel, Boyrereau fought bravely, taking several musket balls to the hip and ankle. “The captain gave me the honorable nick-name of Jeffrey,” Brace wrote. “I say honorable, as I was named after Sir Jeffery Amherst.” Brace described Amherst as someone who “possessed rather more courage than prudence. As my act of firing [upon the Spanish ship prior to the order having been given] bore some resemblance of courage and lack of prudence, and Jeffrey being a suitable name for a negro boy, I was dubbed with it at that time and have ever borne it since.”

David A. Purdy ’60
Harwich Port, Mass.

More on the Hubert-Longsworth letter

We have enjoyed the dialogue [in the Winter 2011 Letters section] inspired by our Fall 2010 letter questioning whether Amherst has created a self-sustaining environment by having a faculty leaning substantially to the left and opposed to free-market capitalism.

Stephen C. Murray ’66 suggested it would be better for Amherst “to have federal ... granting agencies better funded through taxes, and to have wealth less concentrated, so each of our 20,000 living alumni were readily able to donate $5,000.” We assume Mr. Murray meant to add “annually.”

In the current and projected financial climates, is the federal government prepared to financially prop up the Amhersts of this world? Class agents: thoughts?

Data contained in Amherst’s Annual Report reveal utterly sobering implications for the college’s future:

(1) Amherst’s annual fees as a percentage of overall required operating revenue are shrinking. Those fees now exceed the United States’ 2008 median family pre-tax income. Signs exist suggesting the population of families able to foot this bill without aid is eroding.

(2) Over the past decade the comprehensive fee’s (the price tag for families) rate of increase has been greater than that of U.S. household income growth.

(3) The need for financial aid continues to increase at a pace greater than that of comprehensive fee growth. This suggests the college will eventually arrive at a point where the comprehensive fee’s contribution to revenue approaches zero.

(4) Reliance upon the Annual Fund and endowment has increased dramatically. For fiscal year 1999, endowment distributions and Annual Fund donations accounted for 35 percent of required revenues. In fiscal year 2009, those categories contributed more than 51 percent of revenues.

All elite colleges and universities with endowments like Amherst’s are in the same fix. The only real solution is major cost-cutting.

Our college, like others, cannot continue on its current course. The argument about Amherst’s future viability must now be based on the numbers.

Dick Hubert ’60
Rye Brook, N.Y.

Rob Longsworth ’99
New York City


The four letters you printed in the Winter issue were, at best, tepid in their support of the position taken in the Fall 2010 Hubert-Longsworth letter. I find it difficult to believe that the Hubert-Longsworth letter did not evoke more ardent support amongst your correspondents.

I and many other older Amherst graduates have become increasingly aghast at the almost unmitigated progressive
political bias of the Amherst faculty and administration, clearly abetted by the Amherst trustees, and I agree with Hubert and Longsworth that Amherst has thereby set itself on a financially unsustainable course.

To my knowledge, the only admitted political conservative senior professor on the faculty is the redoubtable Hadley Arkes. The administration and faculty have been anything but warm in their welcome of Professor Arkes, despite his being a minority of one in their smug liberal midst.

Since 1945 the voting populace of the United States has been decidedly centrist. One would never know this from the lopsided balance of the Amherst faculty and administration. If the Amherst ruling elite were to have its way, private capitalistic creation of wealth would become as extinct as the dodo bird. But I do not think the Liberal Academia in America will win out, because as their students become older and more successful, they, like most of their parents, will find that once they have generated some wealth of their own they will wish to “conserve” it. This is why most older Amherst graduates will continue moving their financial support away from Amherst College in favor of institutions which favor private enterprise, individual freedoms and the principles espoused by the American Founders.

Hubert and Longsworth are correct. Amherst is on an unsustainable course as a private institution and will eventually be forced to beg for financial assistance from a federal government increasingly impoverished, ironically, by its adherence to the governing principles espoused by the Amherst academic body itself. Amherst hoist on its own petard?

Dean S. Woodman ’50
Sausalito, Calif.

Color-blind pledging

Re: Phi Psi Affair (Letters, Winter 2011):

As an impressionable senior in high school I read a Reader’s Digest article about Tom Gibbs’ acceptance [into Phi Psi]. This had a profound effect on me—so much so that, though accepted by Harvard, I chose to attend Amherst. Though my parents were most disappointed by this change in plans, it turned out to be one of the wisest choices I ever made!
Later, having joined another fraternity (Kappa Theta, formerly Delta Tau Delta) which had also been punished for accepting a minority student, I joined with a majority of my fraternity brothers to eliminate our “one-man blackball,” which a World War II veteran was threatening to use in order to prevent our acceptance of a wonderful young black freshman, Fred Culver ’54.

When, in a subsequent year, another black student sought membership and was rejected, our new brother made an impassioned speech ending in, “If you are not going to accept him, why did you take me?” The answer was simple. “We accepted you as a brother because we like you—not because of the color of your skin.”

David K. Winslow ’53
Brookhaven, N.Y.

Before we finish the discussion of Thomas Gibbs ’51 and the Phi Psi Affair, I want to relate a story I heard from a high school friend. He joined the Stanford chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, and while we were both in college, he told me their version of the episode.

The chapter at the University of Oklahoma contacted every chapter saying that Amherst should be expelled for “unfraternal conduct”—pledging a black student. When Stanford received its letter, the brothers wrote back saying, “We don’t care if they pledge someone who is black or green or polka-dot, but I wish you would keep those damned Okies out.”

Bruce W. Jones ’56
Claremont, Calif.

Giving away the magazine

During my years at Amherst, I may have learned more outside the classroom than inside. I am grateful to those who taught, befriended and tolerated me, and so it is a joy for me to read of the accomplishments of those I know, and those I don’t know, in the alumni magazine.  Many of these accomplishments are amazing and laudable, and certainly many Amherst people have done great things and been successful in many ways, but what impresses me most is the continual mention of family and friends and the spiritual aspects and pursuits in these people’s lives. There are alumni I read about regularly who are wealthy in various ways, and when I think about those whom I knew at Amherst, I remember them to be good and caring; it seems that this is still the case, and that honor and integrity are important parts of who they are.

Where I live is relatively poor. Many don’t know on a daily basis if they will have access to running water or electricity. When I get my alumni magazine, I read parts of it to children and adults in the barangay. I often read various class notes to them and then tell stories about people mentioned. Inevitably, when people see that a new magazine has arrived, they ask, “What is ‘so and so’ doing now?” In a very simple way Amherst becomes part of their lives and enhances their lives.
The In Memory section saddens me, but reading what loved ones and friends write often brings laughter and tears in the same moment.

When I finish the magazine I give it away to a child or adult, and I am not surprised to see that person carrying it around for days, even weeks, as if they intuitively know there is something exceptional about Amherst.

A.C. Cuda ’68
La Union, Philippines

An Amherst idol

Jim Lyon ’52 wrote a letter for the Winter 2011 issue regarding George Steinbrenner. Jim mentioned his “unsuccessful” Amherst football team, and I would like to set the record straight. Jim was a great Amherst athlete. He not only was an avid supporter of Amherst athletics, he founded the “A” Association (which became the Friends of Amherst Athletics) and helped football team members who followed him be better due to his strong support. As a football player myself, I saw Jim as one of my idols whose example I have always tried to follow.

Lou Greer ’59
Greenville, S.C.

If that’s genius, he’s a genius

If putting Dickinson’s poem to “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was genius (“The most famous shy person,” Visit, Winter 2011), then I am a genius. I quickly found that “To His Coy Mistress” and “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death” may nicely be sung to either the “Marines’ Hymn” or “Paige’s Horse.” I prefer “Paige’s Horse” for “Irish Airman” and “Marines’ Hymn” for “Coy Mistress,” but it depends on one’s aim in singing each of them.

Peter Amacher ’54
Santa Fe, N.M.

We welcome letters from our readers.

Send them to:

Amherst Magazine
Office of Public Affairs
P.O. Box 5000
Amherst, MA 01002

Or e-mail them to eboutilier@amherst.edu.