The faculty hiring spree

Vanessa Fong

My sincere congratulations to Professor Vanessa Fong [’96]  (“The Great Growth Spurt,” Winter 2013). I remember Vanessa as an incredibly sincere and curious learner who threw herself into her studies like no one else I knew. She always did so much more than what was required, delving deep into her subject, such as when she attended Hillel meetings to interview students about Jewish culture for a short paper that, when she was finished, turned out to be longer than many people’s senior theses. I got chills of happiness to see her featured in a Harvard alumni magazine about seven years ago (although I wasn’t surprised by her success at all!). And now, I’m even happier to see that Amherst has re-recognized her talents and lured her back home. Best wishes for an auspicious career to Professor Fong!

Jennifer Baltaxe Kolodner ’94
online comment


A minor correction: This article suggests that the recent, successful appointment of a senior statistician was the first-ever senior appointment in mathematics. There was at least one prior senior appointment: that of James G. Mauldon in the late 1960s. Moreover, I’ve been told that Professor Tranbarger’s spouse worked for Intel, presumably not an academic position. I’m happy to note that the new, senior appointment in statistics brings to the college an outstanding academic.

Norton Starr, Brian E. Boyle ’69 Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Emeritus
online comment

Leave criminal investigations to police

I read the update on the sexual assault report in Amherst magazine (College Row, Winter 2013) and also looked at the website link at the end. There’s one thing I’m not understanding about the report’s recommendations. If one student murdered another, the college would not refer it to an internal committee for review; the police would be brought in immediately. If one student rapes another, the same criteria should apply. Rape is a criminal act and any accusations of rape should be handled by the police. If the college wishes to provide counseling or other services for rape victims, that would certainly be of value, but the college should not be investigating rape accusations. Leave criminal investigations to the police, who have the training and resources. Aside from being the proper course to take, it may also have the salutary effect of driving home the seriousness of the crime to the student population and reducing the number of assaults.

Steve Wolpe ’76
Germantown, Md.

For detailed information on issues around sexual respect at Amherst, go to

Shifting portraits

Your article about the Rose Olver portrait in Johnson Chapel (College Row, Winter 2013) was welcome news about desegregating by gender that gallery of college presidents and distinguished alumni. But you failed to report a change of equally historic proportions for the portrait of Charles Hamilton Houston ’15.

Houston, founder of the litigating arm of the NAACP and mentor to Thurgood Marshall, designed the strategy that led to Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. He was a Harvard Law Review editor and dean of Howard Law School. His portrait now lives high above the chapel organ, opposite Calvin Coolidge, thanks to President Biddy Martin’s adroit arranging.  

The portrait, gift of Gar Cross ’52, originally lived in Frost Library, where Justice Marshall helped to dedicate it decades ago. It migrated to the chapel, evidently at the request of black students. But it did not stand alone, instead sharing a space with John J. McCloy ’19. McCloy, accomplished and powerful and a longtime trustee, holds a deserved place in the constellation of alumni, but his juxtaposition with Houston, apparently an accident, was anomalous at best.

McCloy, wartime adviser to Franklin Roosevelt, promoted and engineered the relocation of thousands of innocent “Americans with Japanese faces” to concentration camps. He defended the action to his dying day, long after Earl Warren and others had repented. The Supreme Court internment cases served as a foil for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a piece of America’s past that called for civil rights advancements to expunge.

After I complained to former President Tony Marx, he told students in a convocation address that he saw the adjoining portraits as a symbol of diversity. He said he liked to think of Houston and McCloy “having a conversation.”

Last year I expressed concern about the juxtaposition to President Martin, as did Gar Cross. She said she’d look into it. And now she has. I’m prouder than ever of the college and its legacy.

John P. MacKenzie ’52
Long Island City, N.Y.

Social media posts 

On Facebook and Twitter, alumni weighed in on several stories in the Winter 2013 magazine, including the faculty growth spurt, Rose Olver’s new portrait and the college’s new open-access press:

“I’m a librarian who spends much of her time advocating open access, and this makes me so proud!” Jill Cirasella ’98, via Facebook

“Reading the latest @AmherstCollege mag—all the new profs sound inspiring! Makes this alum want to go undercover.” Katherine Cole ’11, via Twitter

“Yay, Rose Olver! Amazing experience to have her (and Susan Snively) teaching ‘race and sex’ freshman fall 1985. She opened my mind with her wealth of knowledge and experience.” Deb Pasternak ’89, via Facebook

We Want to Hear From You

Amherst welcomes letters from its readers. Please send them to or Amherst Magazine, PO Box 5000, Amherst, MA 01002. Letters must be 300 words or fewer and should address the content in the magazine.

Photo by Rob Mattson; illustration by Adam McCauley