The Scene welcomes letters. We reserve the right to decide whether a letter is acceptable for publication and to edit for accuracy, clarity, and length. Letters deemed potentially libelous or that malign a person or group will not be published. Letters should not exceed 250 words. You can reach us by mail, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name, class year if applicable, address, phone number, and/or e-mail address. If we receive many letters on a given topic, we will print a representative sample of the opinions expressed.
Amongst promising scholars
AS AN ACTIVE 1955 Colgate alumnus and retired longtime college president, it was my honor during the 2008 fall term to audit, as I could, the new Benton Scholars Program’s introductory course, Political Theology. The course was ably team-taught by President Rebecca Chopp, in her role as professor of philosophy and religion, and Tim Byrnes, professor of political science (my long-ago Colgate concentration). The new program’s goals are encouraging the highly selected and cohesive 19 first-year Benton Scholars to explore on a global scale complex changes taking place in politics, economics, and culture. The Political Theology course is designed to introduce the Benton Scholars to the concept that many people in our world define political views in religious terms. Amidst creative academic pressure, the Benton group worked hard but had fun, too.
For me, an additional joy at age 75 was getting to know the promising new scholars themselves, still in their teens. Like both their professors, these students are articulate, courteous, prepared, smart, and welcoming. One even offered to walk me to my car after each course session I attended, perhaps concerned that I may have forgotten where on campus I parked. Through all this recent positive activity, I have come to realize anew what today’s distinguished Colgate is truly about: individualized best and brightest educational excellence.
William L. Boyle Jr. ’55
New Hartford, N.Y.
Editor’s note: Read more about the Benton Scholars Program in Life of the Mind
|The Blackmore Media Center, new digs for WRCU in the O’Connor Campus Center |
I WAS PLEASED TO BE able to attend the dedication of the Blackmore Media Center in January. The event was thoughtfully planned and reflected the sophistication, yet informality, befitting Bob Blackmore. He would have loved the event.
As I was hosting a radio show after the dedication, a number of the students associated with the station came into the studio. Interestingly, they really seemed to want to hang with an alumnus who graduated some 30 years ago, even if we share this common bond of radio. At first, my ego was touched, but then I realized there was something greater. These young adults were fantastic ambassadors of the university. It moved me enough that I made note of it on the air, thanking them for their hospitality.
The night before, a number of my colleagues and I had gone downtown for a bite to eat at a local establishment. We met some juniors and seniors who asked if we were alumni and what brought us back to town. We told them, and they were thrilled; not only because of our celebration of the media center, but also that we came back to the school! Some members of our group were greeted with “Welcome home.”
I was truly impressed by their graciousness, and the warmth I felt from their genuine character.
Chuck Dickemann ’78
Senior Director, Major League Baseball Programming
Sirius XM Radio
|Overlooking moral hazard
YOUR ARTICLE “Reversal of (mis)fortune” (Winter 2009) is striking for its omission of any discussion on moral hazard, which current government policies have institutionalized on an unprecedented scale. In the financial sector, the issue of moral hazard is complicated by the broader economy’s need for functioning capital markets, but current government policy is extending the moral hazard to non-financial industries where no such issue exists. I have run businesses ranging from start-ups to subsidiaries of multibillion-dollar public companies, and I can tell you from direct experience that managers will absorb the moral hazard and incorporate it into future decision making. Managers in these sectors will consider implicit expectations of government backstops when assessing risk. Inevitably, they will take risks they would not take absent implied governmental support.
Furthermore, what these industries have in common is political alignment with, and heavy donations to, the Democratic Party, mostly via unions. So the moral hazard will not be limited to managers; union bosses will also build it into decision making. Why not risk bankrupting a company with a strike, if you are in a politically favored industry and you are confident your allies in government will be there to bail it out?
Beyond the obviously corrupting political implications — union cash for pro-union bailouts — this institutionalized moral hazard comes with large, real, and inescapable future economic costs.
Ronald P. Bertasi ’86
Johns Creek, Ga.
On 13 questions
HOWARD FINEMAN'S The Thirteen American Arguments addresses a baker’s dozen questions across American history and culture that he believes have not been satisfactorily answered. Fineman does not worry because Americans are good and decent people who need only to keep slugging it out as they have for the last 200 to 400 years.
If Fineman finds 13 unanswerable questions, what better questions should we ask? Outstanding journalists find and ask them. For example, Fineman’s first question asks, “Who is a person?” The better question, “What shall we do with unwanted children?” would allow both sides of the abortion issue to bypass an unsuccessful question and make progress toward common ground.
But Fineman distracts readers, offering a tour-de-force of facts that Thomas Gradgrind, the overbearing schoolmaster in Charles Dickens’s Hard Times would admire. Gradgrind’s facts led to confusion, not clarity. Fineman’s facts tend to clutter. They obscure a dependence on philosopher John Rawl’s dated view of social
justice, an infatuation with post–Woodward-and-Bernstein celebrity journalism, and a selective use of history as a convenient source of bystanders to support sweeping generalizations.
Fineman tries to grab the reader’s attention in the beginning of each of the 13 essays with “once upon a time” anecdotes designed to entertain and convince. He follows with pejorative adjectives and platitudes that reveal a lack of objectivity. What poses as an expression of enduring arguments turns into another overwrought tribute to moral relativism, liberally interspersed with enough preachy snipes to make the reader’s fillings ache.
Washington’s rarified atmosphere causes such hypoxia that the mainstream media to which Fineman belongs forgets that solid journalism asks useful questions.
Recasting Fineman's 13 arguments:
1. Who is a person?
What shall we do with unwanted children?
2. Who is an American?
What are the responsibilities of citizenship?
3. What is the role of faith?
What shall substitute for faith that cannot convince non-believers?
4. What can we know and say?
How should citizens defend themselves against scurrilous hatemongers and selective users of fact who have bedeviled Americans from George Washington to George Bush?
5. What are the limits of individualism?
What economic practices have consistently failed in history?
6. Who judges the law?
Are judges best held accountable by Congress, the people, or the press?
7. Debt and the dollar
Which problem? International debt is an equal trade. National debt is political theft.
8. Local vs. national authority
What matters most, style or substance, and who gets to pick the facts that create the premise of relevant history?
9. What are the limits of presidential power?
What are the limits of journalistic assertion?
10. Who sets the terms of trade?
Isn’t each trade a give-and-get between individuals?
11. Who sets war and diplomacy?
What are the enduring underpinnings of all society, where individual cultures interact?
12. Who preserves the environment?
What is the environment? Who gets to assert what the environment should be? Does science matter more than conventional wisdom? And who gets to judge if the cost of “curing” the crisis is worse than the crisis itself?
13. A fair, “more perfect” unionWhich comes first, a “more perfect” union, or more capable people?
Stephen Waters ’69
|Words that move us|
CONGRATULATIONS ON A wonderful magazine. I enjoyed virtually every single article. And the presentation was amazingly inviting. You have single-handedly put Colgate ahead of all the other colleges by producing the best college magazine (and I receive several, including one from the Ivy League).
I was especially touched by the Passion for the Climb essay by Lara Hueth Cilwik ’00, “Finding Meaning in Blagoveshchensk” (Scene, Winter 2009). Colgate produces thoughtful, sensitive people who know how to put thoughts and feelings into words that can move us. Thanks so much for all your efforts to publicize the best of Colgate.
John Zarecki ’69
New Bedford, Mass.
Stop being so PC
I ENJOYED THE WINTER 2009 issue of the Scene, but what possessed the caption writer for the photo on the inside back cover: men’s football team?
Please, enough with political correctness. I have written thousands of articles, stories, and game reports regarding college athletics, and if a school doesn’t have men’s and women’s teams in a particular sport, there’s no need to reference the gender of the team being reported. Also, the nine guys in the photo leave little doubt as to their gender.
Brad Tufts ’59
Hilton Head, S.C.
A Better Colgate. . .?
I RECENTLY RECEIVED A publication about “A Better Colgate”* that contained nothing but a bunch of irrelevant and misleading facts and statements. Then I noticed that many alumni have aligned themselves with the sponsoring group. As such, and for whatever reason, I am led to believe that many of these individuals have fallen victim to one of the greatest PR and advertising deceptions that have ever been perpetrated on Colgate’s alumni.
The publication cites many other universities as examples of those that directly elect alumni to their governing boards, which is fine; however, not one of these institutions elects a majority of their boards in this manner
. . . and that is what this group proposes. God help Colgate if that movement ever succeeds!
Lawrence Scharbach ’56
*Editor’s Note: The February 2009 newsletter produced and distributed by A Better Colgate contains a number of misstatements presented as fact, including several regarding the Colgate Scene. The redesigned Scene, introduced in autumn 2008, is being produced by the same number of staff and is funded by the same budget as the previous format. The collaboration with the communications firm Sametz Blackstone Associates was limited to the initial redesign concept for the publication. Fonts and spacing employed throughout the magazine were specifically designed for readability. Class News continues to be a critical element of the publication. Space for class columns was not cut back in reducing frequency; the page count is largely determined through accommodating the amount of class news submitted. The staff is working with class editors to ensure that the print version remains robust, while addressing timeliness of class news by adapting to the 21st-century communication habits of many alumni via the web and e-mail for those who are interested. For more information, go to www.colgate.edu/abc.