BILL KEITH’S BANJO

Reading about Bill Keith ’61 (“Rewriting the Book on Banjo,” Amherst Creates, Winter 2016) brings back the nostalgia of our days together at Chi Psi. I remember sitting for hours in Bill’s room, listening as he did amazing things with the banjo, and I can still hear him playing for my present wife and me at the house’s traditional pinning ceremony. Hank Fieger ’62 was the singer, with Bill accompanying him as Hank sang “More I Cannot Give You” to celebrate the occasion. I had lost track of Bill and his career, but I am not surprised that he went on to make an indelible mark on music history.

DAVE NICHOLS ’62
Bellingham, Wash.

ILL-DISGUISED HIT PIECE

In his ill-disguised hit piece on Trump in the Winter 2016 issue of Amherst, James Warren ’74 is too clever by half. Warren accuses Trump of being a “flatulent, ego-mad blowhard” and “far-right candidate” who supports “anti-immigrant nativism and racism” and “fear-driven politics.” No, wait, he only supportively quotes Scott Turow ’70, John Kasich and Thomas Dunn on those points. Innuendo and indirection are the refuge of cowards. Warren expresses hope that the elitist Republican establishment will eventually “make [it]self known with money, credibility and clout.” Does Warren not realize that the credibility of this establishment (albeit not its money), as represented, for example, by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, was blown out of the water some time ago?

A one-sided, race-baiting attack in the guise of analysis, the Warren piece sets a new low for Amherst. Perhaps in the works for the next issues will be a balancing dissection of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party by Michelle Malkin?

STUART H. HURLBERT ’61
Del Mar, Calif.

THE MASCOT DECISION

For the past year, I have been a vocal opponent of the elimination of Lord Jeff as the Amherst mascot. Proponents of the change have relied too heavily on historical revisionism and overzealous condemnation of Lord Jeff, whose personal war experiences and inner motivations remain basically unknown. Many of us have lamented the refusal of students to appreciate that Lord Jeff and the “Lord Jeffery Amherst” song have considerable sentimental significance to alumni. Shame on the students for their unwillingness to give greater deference to the feelings of their predecessors during the process of advocating change.

But, to some degree, shame on us, too, for our intransigence and unwillingness to consider the concept of change advocated by a new generation and the Amherst faculty. As Cullen Murphy ’74 eloquently stated on behalf of the Board of Trustees, the mascot should be a uniter, not a divider. Since all of us are beneficiaries of a liberal arts education second to none, there should be a collective capacity to seek common ground. For proponents of change and those of us who have opposed it, that task should be achievable.

The mistakes from which lessons should be learned were made by the entire community, including the administration, faculty, students and alumni. The failure at the outset to propose a viable alternative, as opposed to a moose, served to polarize the debate and fueled an uncivilized exchange from both sides. This should have been anticipated.

The elimination of Lord Jeff, in the end, is a sign of change—and hopefully one for the better. Further discussion should prioritize selection of a mutually acceptable new mascot and eliminate both vilification of a historical figure and fixation on the way we were. The goal for the entire College community should be to do better the next time a controversial issue arises. Amherst gave us the capacity to do so.

STEVE KRAMER ’75
Medfield, Mass.

For a long time I have thought of Lord Jeffery Amherst as a bad guy because of his use of smallpox-contaminated blankets as a weapon against the Native Americans. But until the recent debate about the Amherst mascot, I never gave it any deeper thought.

Perhaps Lord Jeff should be judged by the standards of the time in which he lived, and not by today’s standards. I would say the same for others. How about Teddy Roosevelt, who was involved in the slaughter of the great American bison herds that provided food, clothing and shelter for the Plains Indians? Should he be removed from Mount Rushmore? We could also ponder the status of Harry Truman after his decision to use the atomic bomb. The list is long.

I won’t miss the mascot, but I will miss the songs. Nostalgia is not the only reason we support the College, but it is a strong reason.

ROBERT W. DOWLING ’50
Wapiti, Wyo.

AS IF IT WERE A NOVELTY

In a letter in the Winter 2016 issue, a member of the class of ’73 boasted about putting Frost Library on tap, as if it were a novelty at the time. Alas, perhaps because he was a TD, or because of your word limit, he neglected to credit Phi Gamma Chi for showing his crew how to do it. Phi Gam did the same thing, better, two years previously, on March 1, 1971. Your correspondent as a sophomore may even have been among those enjoying our beer.

My chronicle of Phi Gam’s escapade, naming names, is unfortunately way beyond your word limit. But among other things, for some reason I noted at the time that “The TDs were flabbergasted.” You can see pictures in the 1971 Olio and read about it in the March 4, 1971, Amherst Student.

I expect no less than an abject apology.

LAURENCE N. WESSON ’71
Blue Bell, Pa.

 INCLUSIVENESS, THEN AND NOW

I enjoyed “Mansions in our Midst” (Spring 2015), about the 13 former fraternity houses, but I noticed two errors. The national fraternity that expelled its Amherst chapter for pledging Thomas Gibbs ’51 was Phi Kappa Psi, not Phi Alpha Psi—the name adopted by the independent local. 

Similarly, the reference to Theta Xi omits its later name, Alpha Theta Xi. I have asked two of my classmates, members of Alpha Theta Xi, about this. They tell a story similar to Phi Psi’s. In 1957 Amherst’s Theta Xi chapter pledged African-American James Jackson ’60. The national did not expel the chapter, as happened with Phi Psi, but instead suspended it for three years, until Mr. Jackson graduated. The chapter could be reinstated if it committed no similar “offense” in the interim. The chapter declined to accept those insulting terms, preferring to become independent with the name Alpha Theta Xi. These name changes remind us that questions of inclusiveness were alive at Amherst long before the recent campus tensions. The fraternity-centered 1950s surely look peculiar to today’s students, as they did to many of my contemporaries even in our student days. The intervening decades have brought a vastly more heterogeneous group of students to Amherst. Issues of inclusion are more subtle than they were in the mid-20th century.

In 1991 then-Harvard President Neil L. Rudenstine observed, “The problem of how individuals and groups establish and assert their own identity, without being tempted to repudiate or diminish the identity of others, is one of the deep riddles of our time.” Another Harvard president, Charles W. Eliot, remarked in 1869, “A good past is positively dangerous if it makes us content with the present, and so, unprepared for the future.” Rudenstine’s puzzle remains unsolved. Though Amherst certainly has a “good past,” the College fortunately shows no signs of being “content with the present.” Amherst’s current discontent is a hopeful sign for the future.

CHARLES W. HUSBANDS ’61
Lexington, Mass.

 

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