Spring 2003 Contents OAM Home Oberlin Online Home
Feature Stories
Money Matters
Family Tree, Oberlin roots
Operation Internship
[cover story] Fury and the Sound
David Rees Gets His (Bleep) On
Around Tappan Square
Alumni Profiles
The Last Word
One More Thing
Inside Oberlin
Staff Box


Colorful Critiquing

Reading the article about the creative writing department (Winter 2002-03) brought back memories of my own experience with Professor Stuart Friebert. Stuart—as he liked us to call him—used magic markers to critique a student's work. He would write all over our poems or short stories using bold colors—blue, green, purple. I later read a book by a famous author on writing and the teaching of writing. In it, he stressed that one should use only a fine pencil when reviewing students' work. After all, when a writer sits down and faces a blank page, any honest attempt to create something is an act of courage and should be respected—not used as a coloring book by Professor Friebert.

Chris Tripoulas '80
New York, N.Y.

Affirmative Action

In the Winter 2002-03 issue, President Dye argues that affirmative action and the deliberate cultivation of diversity through admission practices represent a continuation of Oberlin's long tradition of leading the nation's colleges in promoting diversity while breaking down the barriers of race and gender. She is right in one sense: The new policies retain an emphasis on inclusion. However, shifting the emphasis from non-discrimination—the core idea of the earlier policies—to diversity by design is a fundamental and disturbing departure.

Apparently, Dye sees planned diversity as a logical extension of the intuitively plausible and historically validated idea that college life with women alongside men and blacks alongside whites is more enriching than with one of the groups excluded. If diversity at this level is enriching for all students, then broadening and fine-tuning it must be more so. In the absence of scientific proof, the problem with planned diversity is that it is subjectively based and thus arbitrary. Under this policy (presumably), the Board of Trustees must first decide what constitutes diversity, that is, by what attributes should we classify applicants so as to maximize "differences" that justify the label "diverse?" And then, presumably, it must instruct the admissions office as to what mix of each attribute it should strive for. If it picks the conventional ones of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, then it overlooks a myriad other attributes, such as religion, political orientation, sexual preference, left-brained vs. right-brained, etc., that a priori have equal claim to generating diversity. Moreover, when an attribute such as race is declared as prime in yielding diversity, it is implicitly assumed, but not demonstrated, that intergroup differences overwhelm intragroup differences. Furthermore, this approach underscores rather than de-emphasizes racial differences, which, to me, is a retrogressive, not progressive feature. In sum, considering the near identity of human DNA across the entire species, diversity is in the eye of the beholder—something to be appreciated, but not engineered.

Insofar as affirmative action is meant to help redress social and economic inequality, as opposed to producing diversity, it is also philosophically flawed. It assumes that because, being black, and thus a member of a group that on average is disadvantaged, you are entitled to special consideration, regardless of your actual circumstances, and that if you are disadvantaged, but not black, you are not so entitled. I don't think that it takes a conservative Supreme Court justice to find this unconstitutional. Special consideration for disadvantaged college applicants is certainly legitimate; but let us make disadvantage—and not race—the relevant criterion.

Abundant diversity may be achieved by appropriate outreach efforts of the admissions staff in attracting applicants and by providing appropriate financial assistance. However, using group identity even as a partial basis for college admission is an affront to notions of individual uniqueness and equality and should have no place in a liberal institution. Indeed, I suspect that Oberlin is doing it not out of carefully considered moral principle, but because other leading colleges and universities are doing likewise.

Albert Hirsch '55
Chevy Chase, Md.

It's a Small World

Alan Ehrenhalt's column (Fall 2002, "The Last Word") unearthed a remarkable coincidence. In fact, Joel Doerfler, the charismatic upperclassman and campus activist whom Mr. Ehrenhalt remembers so well from Brandeis, was my high school history teacher and mentor. An exceptionally gifted (and funny) teacher, Mr. Doerfler taught not only standard U.S. and European history, but classes on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the politics of development in Latin America, the Vietnam War, and even a class on Freud. All classes were taught with a decidedly leftist bent, and open debate and dialogue were always encouraged. I have Mr. Doerfler to thank for being the first teacher to awaken in me a passion for international politics, a sense of social justice, and the very same healthy questioning of authority that Mr. Ehrenhalt evokes.

It's not surprising that over the years there has been a steady stream of Mr. Doerfler's former students at Oberlin. For some of us, Oberlin was the perfect conclusion to our high school education. Mr. Ehrenhalt can be assured that there are those of us who not only regard those of his generation as "nice people," but also owe them the deepest gratitude for contributing to our intellectual development and helping to make us into reflective, socially responsible adults.

Rachel Gorney '93
Paris, France

What a Lady Indeed

Thank you for publishing Sidney Rosenfeld's Memorial Minute regarding Elisabeth Rotermund. As encouraged by Dr. Rosenfeld, this former student can bear testimony to the value of Frau Rotermund's service to the College. I met my late husband, Uwe K. Faulhaber, at German House after I returned to Oberlin from Salzburg in 1962. Frau Rotermund's deep abiding and caring faith in the integrity and value of all her wards, tempered by a realistic indulgence of human foibles, made each of us strive daily to meet her quiet, high standards of humor and kindness. We loved her. We will miss her.

Cynthia B. Faulhaber '64, MAT '65
East Lansing, Mich.

Aliens? Get Real

I found John Mack's article on alien abduction (Fall 2002) to be marvelously entertaining, much better than Harry Potter. Not only was it entertaining, but it was also inspirational. It shows that one can still think and act like a little child while reaping the material and psychic rewards of solemn adulthood. When he was whining about the dean not telling him what the "high standards of clinical practice" were that he was supposed to observe, I was reminded of a neighbor who had chewed out her 7-year-old grandson for climbing on the garage roof with the purpose of jumping off. The grandson demanded that she give him a list of the things he wasn't supposed to do so that he would know next time.
Furthermore, Dr. Mack's reasoning patterns supporting his redefinition of reality reminded me of my own son when he was 5. At that time he lived in deathly fear of "slapterns," invisible beings so small you couldn't see them, but they could open their mouths so wide that they could swallow you whole. They flew so fast that you couldn't get away and you could hear them on the roof at night. I think I convinced my son by shaking some tree branches overhanging the roof that the noises he heard were berries falling off onto the corrugated metal sheets. I'm not sure what would have convinced Dr. Mack.
But anyhow, I'm looking forward to the next installment of the saga that "challenges the limits of our understanding," The Monsters under the Bed.

Daniel K. Miller '68
Stillwater, Okla.

I am puzzled that the OAM of all places would choose to give publicity regarding claims that reports of alien abductions are real events. Society already has too many people believing in the physical reality of ghosts. Certainly, I do not see much harm in Dr. Mack's clinical approach, and his listening to his patients' reports of such experiences sympathetically, and his assuring them that others have reported to him accounts similar to their own. However, I presume that once he assures himself the reports are not symptoms of mental illness, he also considers another likely explanation, namely highly realistic dreams that have crystallized about events and concerns that have grasped popular imagination. His books and articles for the general public, of course, only heighten the substrate for exuberant imaginations. I am sure that Dr. Mack is sincere and concerned about his patients and others with similar concerns, but if his main goal is to alert the profession to what he regards as a novel therapeutic approach to those reporting alien encounters, I suggest he limit himself to the professional literature for the psychotherapists whom such individuals may consult.

Ernest B. Hook '56
Berkeley, Calif.

Lewis Center Exposes Deeper Issue

I was delighted to read more about the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies (Summer 2002) and particularly happy to see mention of a student with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS). I have followed the progress of the Lewis Center through green building publications that have heralded the building as a real triumph. I think it speaks highly of Oberlin's ever-prescient sense of academia's future.

As an alum with MCS and Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome (CFIDS), illnesses that disabled me right before I left Oberlin, I have often wondered if Oberlin would make disability accommodations for me now. I could not have attended Oberlin if I had been this sick when I was a student. The cleaning products used in the dorms and classrooms would have prohibited my entry, as would the scented products worn by teachers and students. I hope the Lewis Center represents a trend toward encompassing the vast aspects of human health that tie into environmental politics, and that Oberlin makes further strides to set an educational example by providing additional accommodation for students with MCS and other illnesses caused by chemical injury.

The Lewis Center is a great start toward recognizing the synergy between people, personal health, global health, and habitat, but my own Oberlin education did not prepare me for being disabled and exiled from a toxic society. Though my classes spent hours in heated discussions about race, class, and gender, none mentioned disability, especially invisible disability, and there were few disabled students participating in campus political decisions. I wonder when Oberlin will expand its curricula to include a complex analysis of disability studies as it relates to environmental studies?

I am thrilled to see Oberlin setting an example for the Green building industry, but I hope the College will also create housing and classroom accommodations for students with conditions exacerbated by environmental toxins. How about scent-free and chemical-free dorm space, pesticide-free lawns and buildings, and greater dialogue about disability on campus? The Environmental Studies Program should be working hand-in-hand with those of us who fight for environmental justice due to toxic injury, as we are the ones most viscerally invested in political change.

Peggy Munson '91
Providence, R.I.

There You Go Again

In response to Ms. Menard's "Patriotism, Oberlin Style" (Letters, Summer 2002), excuse me, but what planet is she on? As a student during the 1980s, I witnessed unimaginable intolerance toward other views—i.e. conservative—that are nonexistent elsewhere in the country.

For example, one incident took place when an armed service color guard wanted to fire a 21-gun salute in front of Finney Chapel in memorial of our service people on Veteran's Day. They were denied this by a large group of Obies who stood in front of the service people, refusing to let them fire blanks! The service people backed down, as they did not want to hit anyone with their spent cartridges. Needless to say, Americans of both parties were angry after hearing that this salute to our heroes was denied.

Ms. Menard says, "Oberlin students are passionate and informed in their beliefs, hence Dubya's low approval rating at Oberlin!" Well, I guess the rest of America is ignorant and stupid. In 1984, Reagan trounced Mondale throughout the country, but you would not have known that if you attended Oberlin. That's how informed Oberlinians are.

The simple fact of the matter is this—there never was, is, or will be tolerance or dialogue at Oberlin toward anything smacking of conservatism. While the rest of the "uninformed" country continues to give the Fox News Network sky-high ratings, and authors like Ann Coulther, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly get best-seller status, be assured that Obies will continue to wallow in ignorant bliss! Ms. Menard's letter speaks volumes of such.

Douglas Lane '88
New York, N.Y.

Conservation Wars, Round Two

Having worked for nearly 30 years in art museums, I read the Fall 2002 Conservation Wars article with interest. It stated reasonably well the dilemmas faced by those who care for works of art. But I wonder, didn't Michelangelo know paint well enough that, had he wanted the Sistine ceiling to be "subtle and shadowy," he could have done that from the get go? What a chancy method it would be to start with brilliant color, then hope that the exact combination of smoke and time and industrial effluents would cover them to a desired dimness.

One obstacle to sound decision-making about conservation treatments is hubris. Wide-ranging consultations, considering a variety of possible outcomes, and listening to other points of view will enhance the process. Further, any treatment will involve some kind of trade-off; acknowledging that and explaining one's reasoning helps the audience to understand the action finally taken.

Kittu Longstreth-Brown '56
Denver, Colo.

Page 1 | 2 of Letters