A Thrilling Detour
Just a few appreciative words about the Winter 2017 Amherst magazine: truly a remarkable accomplishment. I’ve been reading alumni/ae magazines (Amherst, Harvard and lots of others) since I was graduated. Besides being boring, they have been design-challenged. Amherst is really a thrilling detour into our shared past. The articles were intelligently selected, and the graphics, rather than gratuitous, were relevant and, most surprisingly, gorgeous. Yes, a college publication that is worth our time, beyond mere perusal, for in-depth involvement. I actually enjoyed reading the highlighted extractions on all the class notes—even those not of my class—leading me into the classes past and future beyond my class of ’68. As an architect and writer, you have achieved what I thought was impossible: a beautiful, intelligent quarterly. Looking forward to Spring!
Andrew Goldman ’68
New York City
The Ewings and Romania
The article on the Ewings and Romania (Amherst Creates, Winter 2017) brought back memories of a business trip a group of us made to behind-the-Iron-Curtain Romania in 1980. We were critical of Romanian TV programming, because it seemed to be all old U.S. movies and TV shows and groups singing patriotic songs. A young Romanian woman who was assigned to us as an interpreter asked us not to be so critical, because, she said, watching these shows was how she learned to speak English.
Chan Oakes ’49
Lake Pleasant, N.Y.
Be Honest About Goals
I laughed ruefully upon reading your article “Promoting Social Mobility” (College Row, Winter 2017). The College celebrates how “58 percent of students receive need-based financial aid” and “among its peer institutions, Amherst has the most economic diversity.” But it fails to mention that, according to The New York Times, the median family income of an Amherst student is $158,200, that about the same percentage of students come from the top 0.1 percent as the bottom 20 percent and that only 2 percent of students came from a poor family and became a rich adult.
Moreover, the recent “Place of Athletics at Amherst” report revealed that a mere 2 percent of female and 6 percent of male student athletes come from “low income” backgrounds, which the College defines in this case as students “from families whose resources limit their contribution to less than half that of an average Amherst family receiving institutional aid.” The report adds that 23 percent of Amherst students are “low income.” And according to the Times, 24.4 percent of students in Amherst’s 2013 cohort came from the bottom 60 percent of the income bracket. That dearth of economic diversity has barely changed over time: the 2002 Diver report notes that 6 percent of athletes “were admitted under the ‘socioeconomic’ category.”
When Amherst alleges that it is devoted to promoting social mobility, it is either awful at its job or awfully disingenuous. If Amherst were actually serious about helping poor students, then the College would take seriously the results of its recent athletics study and change its admissions policy. I challenge Amherst to be honest about its goal. It is not to advance social mobility. It is to win at Division III sports.
Donatella Galella ’09
Arkes and Breusch
Two adjacent letters about Hadley Arkes and Robert Breusch in the winter issue reminded me of a couple of experiences after graduating from the College.
In the spring of 1995, during my son David’s senior year, we received a message from Hadley Arkes, whom we did not know, saying he wanted to talk to us about our son. With some trepidation we returned the call. Professor Arkes told us he had invited former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh to meet with his class, and he wanted to let us know how impressed he was with David’s questions to Thornburgh.
David did not share Arkes’ views on natural law or his political leanings. “I wrangled with Arkes for a full year,” David remembers. “He taught us how to defend our own beliefs and logic, not just his own.” I believe the presence of Arkes’ conservative organization on campus is more likely to label Amherst as a bastion of free speech than as one of “reactionary thought.”
That Amherst is a small college in a small town was brought home to me when I returned with my future wife, Dina, on a fall weekend two years after my graduation. Walking back to town after the football game, we met Professor Breusch on the street, and he invited us in for tea with him and Kate. That evening we visited my senior thesis adviser, Dudley Towne, who at one point asked Dina about Tufts. Dina said she didn’t recall having mentioned that she went to Tufts. Towne admitted that the Breusches had called him after our visit and brought him up to date with some details about me and the woman I had brought back to Amherst.
Bill Weisberger ’59
Other Voices on Arkes
Matt Rawdon ’79’s thoughtful letter in the winter Amherst magazine about Professor Arkes’ toxic views closed with an invitation to Professor Arkes and President Martin to respond. I hope Mr. Rawdon is more successful than my classmates have been. We unsuccessfully sought to have Arkes adhere to the American Association of University Professors’ protocol that requires a disclaimer saying the views expressed represent only those of the author and not of the academic institution.
Among other things, Professor Arkes has likened homosexuality to “sex with animals, pedophilia, even necrophilia.” After Dr. Ben Carson parroted Arkes’ twisted views, we brought to the president and trustees’ attention the rapid and courageous response of Dr. Paul Rothman, dean of the School of Medicine and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine, who stated that the university respected then-professor Dr. Carson’s right of free expression and simultaneously condemned his “hurtful, offensive language.” Dr. Rothman elaborated that the comments so remarkably similar to those articulated by Arkes were “inconsistent with the culture of our institution.”
As Mr. Rawdon points out, Amherst has supported and provided sanctuary for Professor Arkes and his offensive views. We all recognize a professor’s freedom of expression, but we must not ignore views that are incompatible with Amherst’s promise to protect one’s sexual orientation.
By not publicly denouncing the professor’s views, Amherst’s president and trustees are in effect condoning Arkes’ hostility toward and slanderous comments about homosexuals. His “scholarship” also includes the dubious and now discredited claim that the “number of pregnancies resulting from rape in this country is minuscule.” This too was made without the disavowal that his views do not represent the College, and some politicians have been content to exploit his claims.
Shame on Amherst for not confronting the elephant in the room. Amherst’s deafening silence makes me wonder whether money from conservatives and right-wing graduates will continue to trump integrity.
Ron Battocchi ’70
I accept Matt Rawdon’s invitation to respond to his concerns that Amherst, because of Professor Hadley Arkes, looks like a bastion of reactionary thought. I was one student who first welcomed Professor Arkes to Amherst, just before graduating as a political science major in 1968.
The fundamentals of great liberal arts education begin in an open and embracing environment that includes a vast array of perspectives and beliefs. Support that with a venue where people with different views can respectfully, diligently, passionately—and even with humor—test their own views against those who see the world differently, and we will have a wonderful institution where all can learn from and teach one another.
If we accept those fundamentals for Amherst, then there is clearly a warm and welcome place for a diligent educator such as Professor Arkes. While many institutions have recoiled from these fundamentals, I think Amherst remains true.
With respect to the observation that Amherst is viewed as a bastion of reactionary thought, I cannot see the basis for that, in the totality of its offerings. Read the summary of “New Arrivals” courses elsewhere in the Winter 2017 edition of the magazine, and it is impossible to brand Amherst with any single ideology—other than as a college in pursuit of liberal arts excellence. I discern no “reactionary thought,” let alone enough to create a bastion.
Plenty of room in the heart of Amherst for both Professor Arkes and Matt Rawdon.
Steve Bonner ’68
Having survived “Political Obligations,” I’d never characterize Arkes as reactionary. He struck me as quite the opposite. I wonder if the writer didn’t mean to ask, “Does the Amherst community support the notion that a man of Professor Arkes’ political philosophy belongs on the faculty?” This alum certainly does.
Natural law, warts and all, unquestionably inspired our country’s founders. As such, it deserves serious study, and Amherst should resource it accordingly.
Those who disagree with natural law or any instructor’s interpretation of it should engage and debate. Let the best arguments win. One of the first topics they should explore is the contradiction inherent in the belief that lies at the core of many of their objections: the assertion that there is no truth that can possibly apply across time and cultures. I can hear Professor Arkes ask in reply, “You mean except for that very assertion?”
The impulse not just to avoid a legitimate field of inquiry but to encourage others to shut it down entirely is toxic. I hope Amherst never turns its back on the foundation Professor Arkes has built.
Matt Collins ’94
In 1977, Matt Rawdon attended two classes in Professor Hadley Arkes’ “Political Obligations course,” found his views challenged and elected to pursue the course no further.
I wish Mr. Rawdon had finished that course, as he might have had the opportunity to befriend a gentle, humorous, witty and ultimately respectful teacher, one who would have welcomed Mr. Rawdon’s differing views as an opportunity for a “crackling good” discussion. Professor Arkes was never one to shy away from vigorous discourse; indeed, he sought it. His favorite students were those who pushed back. Of course, a lively exchange of ideas can be demanding, perhaps even uncomfortable. Great teachers have a way of doing that.
Separately, I’d be remiss to note the irony in Mr. Rawdon’s suggestion that the philosophy of natural law—to which Professor Arkes is an adherent—is antithetical to the goals of diversity and equality. After all, Lincoln’s argument against slavery was a moral one, specifically rooted in natural law. Back then it was Stephen Douglas who questioned natural law. He thought that if the Southern states wished to have slavery, the Northern states had no moral or political basis to prevent them from doing so.
Without an understanding of what’s “right,” things inevitably tend in the direction of “might.” If the ideal of equality means anything, it must be endowed with a moral significance that’s greater than the occasional whims of tyrants, economies or fashions.
But you don’t have to agree with that to understand the value of a great teacher.
Rob Witwer ’93
I am profoundly grateful to Professor Arkes for the education he provided and consider him to epitomize the best qualities of an Amherst professor. He is a gifted and dedicated teacher. He is a thought leader who has influenced not only Amherst students but also the national dialogue and federal policy on many of today’s most contentious issues. I return frequently to his writings for clarity and guidance, because he changed the way I see the world.
Mr. Rawdon’s letter reflects a disturbing trend at Amherst to suppress ideas that run contrary to one’s own. Mr. Rawdon evokes “diversity” to mask a repressive orthodoxy rejecting ideas discordant
with current liberal trends. He labels Arkes as “reactionary” and accuses him of “exploiting his position” simply because he does not agree with him. By his own admission, Mr. Rawdon didn’t complete a class with Professor Arkes. If he had, he might recognize that the logic behind his rejection of natural law is critically flawed.
Mr. Rawdon’s baseless criticisms are deeply offensive to those of us who expect reasonable evidence for such things. Fortunately for Professor Arkes, his standing as a beloved Amherst professor is not contingent upon “acceptance” by Mr. Rawdon or even President Martin. Professor Arkes has legions of grateful students who employ his teachings every day and are better citizens, parents and people because of him. Some consider themselves conservative, some liberal, and some avoid political descriptors.
Last year’s celebration of his 50-year career, which included students from his first class to his last and so many more, is evidence of this. If that type of impact on students is not the telos of teaching, I don’t know what is. Amherst should celebrate such a legacy, not reject it.
Andrew S. Neviaser ’98
The People In the Photos
William H. Pritchard ’53, Henry Clay Folger Professor of English, Emeritus
Arlene Silva ’99
“New Arrivals,” the Winter 2017 feature about courses being taught at Amherst for the first time, mistakenly stated that Professor Nasser Hussain was 40 at the time of his death in 2015. He was 50.
In that same issue, Don Sibley ’51 (rather than Phil Knowles ’51) was the author of the In Memory piece for James Harris ’51.
We welcome letter submissions that respond to our magazine articles. Letters should be 300 words or fewer. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or Box 5000, Amherst, MA, 01002.