Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Summer 2007 Vol. 103 No. 1 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Memoirs of a Boy Solider

We were excited to read “Redemption in Words” (Spring ’07) and to have read A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah ’04. We were UN volunteers in Bo, Sierra Leone, from 1992 to 1994. While Ishmael was running from rebels, getting lost in the bush, and finally becoming a child soldier, John was teaching public health at the paramedical school in Bo and I was assisting with the publication of a skills manual. During Christmas 1992 we went with a group of volunteers to a park along the Sewa River. There was thick bush on the opposite side. By March 1993 that bush had been cleared, and a refugee camp of more than 50,000 people was up and running; some were undoubtedly from Ishmael’s village. Later that year I attended a meeting of CAW (Children Associated with War) in Bo and helped set up a statistical system to track the child warriors as they were released or escaped from fighting. The committee consisted of representatives of NGOs, teachers, and social workers concerned about rehabilitating the children. Ishmael attended secondary school in Bo before his village was attacked in 1993. He eventually was rescued from the military by UNICEF and rehabilitated in a CAW camp in 1996. It is truly a miracle that he survived, was rehabilitated, and was encouraged and able to become the voice of the child soldiers of Sierra Leone. Congratulations to him and to those professors and students at Oberlin who made this important book possible.

Leah ’53 and John ’51 Atwater
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Studying Sol LeWitt

When visiting our son, Everett Schlawin ’09, last spring, my wife and I took advantage of the wonderful Sol LeWitt exhibit at the Oberlin art museum. For years, I have used LeWitt’s cube stack sculptures as an extra topic in the seventh grade accelerated algebra course I teach at Princeton Charter School. I assign students the task of discovering and drawing or modeling all possible three-cube stacks according to LeWitt’s rules. He second-guessed himself on this many times, explaining in his original drawings and notes accompanying the version installed at the Dia Beacon museum that there were 63 combinations and then amending that to 67. Some of the drawn models are actually duplicates. The “correct” answer is 57 arrangements, which seems to be the number finally built and displayed at Dia Beacon. Were he alive, I think he would enjoy the intense mathematical and artistic interest his work stirs up in my middle-schoolers.

Mark Schlawin ’69
Princeton Junction, N.J.

Positive Energy

Thanks to Carl McDaniel ’64 for writing about his energy experiences upon installing a PV array on his home (Spring ’07). I appreciated that he went beyond the limited “dollars out of my pocket/payback period” perspective, and brought in other, possibly more significant, energy saving options. I also liked his view that making our choices visible in one area affects other areas as well. He was realistic about his own total energy usages and in finding ways to do better.

Harvey Baker ’66
Waynesboro, Tenn.

Realistic Rankings

While I agree with Ted Gest about not taking the U.S. News college rankings too seriously, and while I’m just as proud an alumnus as anyone (just look at that continuing stream of future PhDs), I do see a decline from the good old days (mine being the ’60s), using Ted’s own statistics. In particular, I think that Oberlin’s number 22 overall rank tracks very nicely with its number 20 selectivity rank (based on high school rank and SAT/ ACT scores, not on percentage of applicants accepted). If Oberlin could get more of those great Princeton, etc., rejects who didn’t fit the mold, then Oberlin’s rank would increase, and Oberlin would improve. And while many of Oberlin’s peers of the ’60s remain similarly ranked today, Oberlin has fallen. Take a look at number 6, Carleton, which is certainly not a household-name school. For me, Ted’s statement that average faculty compensation for some of our peers is 20 percent ($16,000) above Oberlin’s also helps explain Oberlin’s declining rank. Maybe the new “fearless” campaign should find a way to raise faculty salaries; promote uncompromising academics; and foster a fearless student body.

Rick Rothstein ’68
McLean, Va.

Editor’s Note: In the 2008 college rankings released by U.S. News and World Report in August, Oberlin’s rank among national liberal arts colleges rose to number 20. Oberlin improved in 15 of 19 categories from 2007. The biggest gains? Faculty resources, from 38 to 20, and alumni giving, from 66 to 54.

Presidential Portrait

Please identify the name of the artist who painted the portrait of President Nancy Dye. It did not appear (as it should have) in the article about Nancy (Spring ’07). The portrait is strong and very well done, with a fresh, personal gesture that is completely Nancy’s. In my view, having an excellent artist paint each Oberlin president’s portrait is a tradition that ought to continue.

Betty L. Beer ’64
Brookings, S.D.

Editor’s Reply: The oil portrait of Nancy S. Dye is the work of artist Sarah Belchetz-Swenson ’60 of Williamsburg, Mass. It measures 58” x 38”. You can see Sarah’s work at www.belchetz-swenson.com.