Bria’s Goodbye

George Bria’s farewell from the class of ’38 (class notes, Spring 2016) was perhaps the finest thing I have ever read in Amherst. Very inspirational coming from a centenarian, demonstrating a strength of character we can all aspire to.

Joe Osborn ’81
San Rafael, Calif.

Algebra: Not a Waste 

In the Spring 2016 issue I enjoyed the article about Andrew Hacker ’51 (“Is Algebra a Waste of Time?”) My response is “No,” but I agree it needs to be taught properly. I was a mathematics major and have fond memories of Robert Breusch (mentioned in the article) and two other longtime professors (Bailey Brown and Atherton Sprague) who inspired me to pursue a mathematics teaching career. I have taught mathematics for 52 years. 

I believe algebra should be taught as a language. An example: The equation 3x + 7 = 19 can be read, “Triple a number, add 7 and obtain 19. What is the number?” The solution process undoes the operations (multiplication and addition) used to create it: “Take 19, subtract 7 (obtaining 12), then divide by 3 (obtaining 4). The desired number is 4.” An analogy might be putting on a sock, then a shoe and then tying the laces. To undo, untie the laces, remove the shoe and then take off the sock. 

I have developed and taught practical courses in finance and statistics to young students. Tedious computations were made relatively easy using spreadsheets—and the construction of simple spreadsheet commands is heavily algebraic and requires an understanding of the algebraic order of operations.

I have witnessed excellent algebra teaching. I have also observed teachers who don’t appreciate algebra and have taught the subject as a series of techniques to be memorized. Admittedly, regulations and requirements sometimes make it difficult for good teachers to make algebra interesting and exciting for students. However, practical applications should be introduced in every course and every topic should be examined for its usefulness. And it should always be remembered that algebra is a language.

Sanderson M. Smith ’60, Ed.D.
Carpinteria, Calif.

> The Spring cover story on the alumni baseball trip asked readers: What’s your Cuba story? Here’s one about baseball in Havana. 

El jefe & The Camel Bus

We went to Havana in 1999 when the Orioles played the Cuban national baseball team. I was with ESPN and Dan Duquette ’80 was the Red Sox GM. Havana was a time capsule of Spanish architecture, revolutionary iconography and cars from the 1950s. Besides the cars, the roads contained bicycles, mopeds, horse-drawn carts and the “camel bus,” with people riding all over the outside. 

Our group was escorted wherever we went by undercover Cuban security, but you could jump in a cab and get wherever you wanted to go. Some of us drank mojitos in the Floridita, visited Hemingway’s house and smoked handmade cigars from street-corner vendors. We visited Esquina Caliente, the place in Parque Central where Cubans congregate to talk baseball. 

Fidel Castro watched the entire game wearing army fatigues, a game that included long relief by José Contreras, who later left Cuba for MLB. After the game Castro changed into a business suit and hosted a party at the Palacio de la Revolución. We entered via a single-file reception line where Castro met and spoke (through an interpreter) to every person who attended.

All of our transactions had to be done using American cash. To pay expenses for a TV crew of nearly 100 people, we carried thousands of dollars in duffel bags. Our hotel was modern and well-appointed. Cell service was excellent but expensive. You could always sense the presence of the official escort, but the everyday Cubans we encountered were open and friendly. They were knowledgeable about U.S. current affairs and appreciative of the business we brought them. When we tipped workers $50 each for loading and unloading our gear at the docks, they broke down in tears.

Mike Ryan ’81
Avon, Conn.

The Mascot: Infuriated

Those who know me have heard this credo: “An informed public is the foundation of freedom.”

So you’ll understand why I believe all graduates of the College should be infuriated with the way President Carolyn Martin and Board of Trustees Chairman Cullen Murphy ’74 handled their communications with alumni after the Lord Jeff imbroglio first appeared on our radar screen in 2015, when panelists (a student, an alumnus and faculty members) at a reunion seminar announced that Lord Jeff, without discussion or even a modern-day trial, was guilty of genocide. 

As I have confirmed with editor Emily Boutilier, not a word of this was published in Amherst or in any College e-newsletter until The New York Times’ Jess Bidgood broke the story to a national audience on Nov. 1, 2015. After that, there was a frantic College effort to play PR catch-up—most notably in the poorly executed “Mascot Discussion Page.” 

What we learned later was that President Martin and Mr. Murphy did nothing to encourage the late Paul Ruxin ’65 and D.T. MacNaughton ’65 to bring their mock trial presentation of Lord Jeff to campus. As Mr. Murphy noted in a worldwide webcast in January, which I watched, “history only takes you so far.” (To make your own judgment on Mr. Murphy’s enthusiasm for bringing Amherst students and faculty another view of Lord Jeff, go to about the 24th minute of the webcast: 

Until this letter, Amherst magazine refused to print a word in its main section (as opposed to mentions by class secretaries in the class notes) that Mr. MacNaughton and Gordon Hall ’52 have not only published a detailed historical booklet but posted it (for free) at

Those who hoped for a well-reasoned, thoroughly researched, well-informed discussion on Lord Jeff? NO such luck. Again, that should trouble every alumnus and alumna.

Dick Hubert ’60 
Rye Brook, N.Y. 

Diversity at Amherst

The Winter 2016 issue said that Amherst had received a $1.5 million grant to “adapt liberal arts education to a new population of students and changing circumstances,” noting that 43 percent of students “identify themselves as students of color.” We are celebrating diversity and being rewarded for it. But are there unintended consequences? 

As a hospital physician, I have the privilege to witness astounding diversity. I treat all manner of races, sexual orientations, religions, political persuasions, economic backgrounds, social strata and educational levels. 

During crises of illness, differences fade and the sameness of the human condition emerges. All patients want to be healthy and vital, to see their loved ones and children prosper, to be respected, to feel useful, to do things they love. We are all the same underneath our skin, our facades, our fashion, our party affiliation and our positions in life. 

From this perspective, I have come to realize that efforts to promote diversity can actually be antithetical to the unifying concept that we are all humans striving in the same world. In order to separate us into defined groups so that we can “prove” how diverse we are, we must notice and magnify differences rather than similarities. Honestly reviewed, celebration and promotion of particular groups was done by oppressors throughout history, and that did not serve us well. 

What I’d like to see is an Amherst that doesn’t care about color, gender, religion or other categories; an Amherst that promotes excellence and merit regardless of group; and an admission process that ignores ethnic, racial and economic background, looking only at accomplishment and raw potential, and then randomly admits qualified prospects. 

I believe that ideal should be our ultimate goal. Highlighting differences, while possibly useful in the short term, will not help us long term.

Jim Fulmer ’76 
Jacksonville, Fla.

Mascot Anagrams

Now that Field Marshal Jeffery Amherst has been dishonorably discharged as Amherst College’s mascot, the College is faced with choosing a new mascot. In this mission anagrams can help. An anagram for Amherst is hamster. The Amherst Hamsters: not bad. Of course, the H in Hamsters should be silent, as it is in Amherst. Another anagram, Smart, eh?, could be worked into a cheer. Turning to Williams, one need only start near the end of Williams, double back to the beginning and proceed from there. The result: I am swill. But when it comes to anagrammatic team names, nobody beats Swarthmore. Go, Earthworms!

David Sonstroem ’58
Storrs, Conn.

Definitely Not the Zumbyes

Your Spring 2016 issue includes a “1958 photo” of a group called “the Zumbyes.” First, the group was the DQ, not the Zumbyes. DQ stands for “Double Quartet.” We referred to our rivals, the upstart Zumbyes, as a pocket glee club: they had something like 14 members. 

Second, the photo could not have been taken in 1958. The members of the DQ, left to right, were Jim Vernon ’57, Pete Walsh ’57, Ned Edwards ’56, Bobby Grant ’55, Burkart Runser ’55, Ben Symon ’57, Mark Ball ’56 and Crayton Bedford ’56. 

My recollection is that our audiences were more attentive and enthusiastic than the diners in your photo. But that could be just a trick of memory.

Mark Ball ’56
Haverford, Pa. 

Nothing could be further from the truth than your description of the picture. It is not the Zumbyes that are singing, but the Amherst DQ, the venerable double quartet born in the 1920s and known for their tattersol vests, black knit ties and gray flannel suits. The picture was taken in spring 1955 when the DQ was entertaining the board of trustees. Three of the ’56 singers—Mark Ball, Crayton Bedford and Ned Edwards—attended and sang at our 60th reunion.

Ned Edwards ’56
Beulah, Mich.

> Thank you to all who told us that the singers were not the Zumbyes. Also, thank you to Andrew Scholtz ’50 for correcting the record about the photo on page 69 of the Spring issue. It shows students from the class of ’50.  –Editors

Give Us an A!

You gave me a quick and easy research project! On page 55 of the Spring issue you ask whether there were additional cheerleaders not shown in the “Give Us an A!” photo. My late parents left cartons of memorabilia awaiting my attention, and I consulted the 1942 Olio belonging to my father, Robert ’42. There, on page 16, is the same photo, along with this text: “This year there were four cheerleaders: Head Cheerleader Bill McNamee; Bill Simons, Gerrit Roelofs and Ed Koenig.” Rarely do I find a challenge met with such seemingly unambiguous satisfaction!

Roger Gies ’69 
Richmond, Calif.

Is That Me? Hope Not

Although I’m not 100 percent sure, I think the class on page 93 (Spring 2016) was “Marx and the Marxists,” and the professor (facing away from the camera) was Jerome Himmelstein.

Is that me talking in the center? I hope not, but I’m afraid it might be. I remember feeling proud of myself for managing to get through the first volume of Capital, but also feeling extraordinarily frustrated because I understood so little of it (an obstacle that has never prevented me from holding forth). I think Marx and I were not a good match. I remember that the material of the course was challenging to me, and Professor Himmelstein was generous, patient and kind. He tried to help me. And I was not easy to help.

Benigno Trigo ’84 
Nashville, Tenn.