YAM Notes: November/December 2017

By Scott G. Sullivan

These notes are unusually succinct. While we usually have far too much matter for the allotted space, today I have virtually nothing. No deaths (a good thing), but practically none of the chitchat that usually abounds. Tim Hogen, who is usually good for a couple of items, is off riding his bike in Portugal. Summer doldrums have gotten the rest of us. A shame, though, in this reunion year, to have so little news of one another.

Speaking of the big 60th, you will all have received from Joel Schiavone instructions on writing your essay for the “service book,” the deluxe document resembling the ’58 . . . and Yale we produced ten years ago. It should be a terrific exercise, judging by the sample essays you’ve received, every one a stunner. My leading thought on the subject is that solemnity needs to be avoided at all costs. The best acts of service are fun and often funny, an extension of one’s esthetic or other interests, a pleasure, not a chore. (Incidentally, I learned recently that I am being credited with the idea for this book, though all unwittingly. Some time ago, I mentioned to Hogen how mightily impressed I was by the astonishing amount of time, energy, and money that was expended on the public weal by those classmates whose obituaries I wrote. Our pals have worked for symphony orchestras, churches and synagogues, schools and hospitals, often presiding on the boards, always key players. I really meant what I said, but was not thinking of a book when I said it. Others on the class council made that leap, and here we are.)

The only real item in my file this time is a letter from Fred Blue about his deep disappointment at the renaming of Calhoun College, which he calls a grievous mistake. Here it is: “As a resident and graduate of Calhoun College, I never questioned the naming of the college, nor did any of my fellow Calhounites. As an undergraduate majoring in history, I was well aware of the South Carolinian being a slave-holder and the leading apologist for Southern slavery. As a professor of history at Youngstown State University for 35 years, my specialization was anti-slavery politics and I published several books on that topic. I lived in Ohio’s Western Reserve, which historically had been a hotbed of abolitionism. But I never questioned my alma mater in naming one of its residential colleges for one of its most distinguished graduates, albeit a racist and defender of slavery. I understood Calhoun’s record and beliefs, and as an historian abhorred all he did and believed in. Several Yale graduates for whom residential colleges are named were slaveholders. Elihu Yale himself was an agent of the East India Company who treated slaves harshly and profited enormously from the company’s horrendous slave-trade profits. Thus, the changing of the Calhoun College name appears to me to be an effort to achieve political correctness and to appease modern sensibilities.”

A truly critical issue and one we’re bound to talk much about at the reunion. For my part, I tend to agree with Fred, although I have some sympathy for the renaming party; Calhoun was really a bad guy in his later decades. What gets my goat, however, is the preposterous set of choices made for naming both Calhoun and the two (gorgeous) new colleges. Benjamin Franklin, indeed! What a joke! Especially since we have not yet gotten a William Howard Taft College. And the two fine women who were picked as college namesakes, while they are both leading figures in science and civil rights, are scarcely household names. I appreciate the desire to get some racial and gender diversity into the mix, but unfortunately they don’t have the stature required to fill the bill. We needed Taft and, say, Cole Porter, Whitney Griswold, or Bart Giamatti. Then too, there are the living, who must await their turn: Dick Levin, Bill Clinton, and the Bushes, 41 and 43.

I did find one more likely item on Facebook, a charming description by Lee Ault of a winter nightfall at his home in Maine. But I lost it; if you are a better Facebook user than I am, have a look.

So, here’s till the Harvard game, which will also be the occasion of the gala dinner where Linus Travers will receive the Yale Medal. And there’s also a party coming up at Steve Riker’s New York home on December 6.


Happy Thanksgiving!