Pandemic, music man, Electoral College
Thank you for the enlightening article, “From Neither Here Nor There,” by Lydialyle Gibson, about the work of sociologist Roberto Gonzales (July-August, page 32). He shows us the heartbreak and ruin of so many lives, due to our inhuman immigration policies. How did our government representatives forget that we are all immigrants, and our lives are enhanced by the welcome our forefathers received here? Why can’t we pass humane immigration laws?
Carolyn Gold, Ed.M. ’85
Roberto Gonzales is a good example of an American ideal—the working-class intellectual. I loved his personal story (although I winced slightly when he complained of the extra work required of him for resort guests in his care, as a result of a hurricane) and his stories about individual Dreamers were equally compelling.
But you failed to ask Gonzales the two most important series of questions: (1) What precisely would he propose for the Dreamers? Citizenship/a path to citizenship? If that, then describe the path that is the fairest to all concerned. (2) How do we lessen the number of Dreamers without enforcing the border laws against their parents?
These are important questions—especially now, when so many “full-fledged” citizens need every bit of help we can give them, including protection from competition for work. Until we can candidly discuss the issue with both open minds and true intellectual honesty, the solution will elude us. Gonzales could be a leader of such a discussion. You should have given him the opportunity. Perhaps you could ask him now and report back.
Henry H. Dearing ’70
Roberto Gonzales replies: DACA has lifted many of its beneficiaries into the American middle class, but it is only a partial solution. These young people merit serious policy consideration regarding their long-term futures. Given all I know, I would strongly support a pathway to citizenship. They’ve grown up in our communities, been educated in our schools, and have participated in many of our institutions. This country is their home.
One important lesson of DACA, however, is that protecting only this small segment of undocumented immigrants is not enough. Dreamers have parents and other family members who urgently require relief. How we craft policies for the larger group of undocumented immigrants may be a difficult conversation today, especially given the economic crunch facing most Americans. But it might reassure readers to know that the average undocumented immigrant has lived in the United States for more than 15 years, and the total number of undocumented immigrants has been on the decline since 2005.
A comment (and a suggestion) about the excellent article about sociologist Roberto Gonzales and undocumented immigrants.
Before the April 1, 1997, effective date of IIRAIRA (the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996), there was an earned pathway to legal residency (and eventual U.S. citizenship) called suspension of deportation. It was not an amnesty; it allowed certain individuals who could prove that they had been living in the United States for at least seven years, and that they (or a close family member) would suffer extreme hardship, to be granted (in the favorable exercise of judicial discretion) lawful resident status by an immigration judge. Suspension of deportation was replaced by the far more difficult process known as cancellation of removal for nonpermanent residents. Cancellation of removal relief requires 10 years, not seven; needs proof of “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship,” a higher level than “extreme hardship”; eliminates the ability to use one’s own hardship; and sets an arbitrary nationwide limit of 4,000 grants per fiscal year. Congressional restoration of suspension of deportation relief (again, an earned pathway, not a blanket amnesty) would go a long way toward enabling those now in the limbo aptly described by Professor Gonzales to obtain the lawful status needed to gain a better quality of life.
Judy Resnick, J.D. ’90
Practicing immigration attorney
Far Rockaway, N.Y.
Thank you so much for featuring the thoughtful, well-written article on Dreamers. As an immigration attorney for the past 13 years, I have counseled and worked with hundreds of people like the ones Roberto Gonzales follow in his research. The stories Roberto Gonzales tells and the data he has uncovered about undocumented young people ring true and deep for me. I only hope that Congress does what’s right and enacts a legislative solution soon. By not providing a path to citizenship for these young people, we are putting our own future at risk as well as theirs.
Monica Eav Glicken ’99, J.D. ’05
Los Alamitos, Calif.
From a global, as well as historical, perspective, Mr. Gonzales’s main point, that illegal immigrants are, and remain throughout their lives, liminal creatures not belonging to any society, certainly is far from a novel idea. More importantly, illegal immigrants in the United States come from all different ethnic and national backgrounds, yet Mr. Gonzales, unsurprisingly, chooses to focus exclusively on “Hispanics” from Mexico, thus inevitably raising many questions, with obvious personal stakes and scholarly bias among them.
The main themes for Roberto Gonzales are as follows:
1) “Undocumented young people” are “trapped by the limits of their immigrant status,” thus “illegality,” and not talent, education, work ethic, or “Americanness” defines their lives.
2) A “state of perpetual in-between,” desire for belonging and wanting to belong, life of inclusion (early on) and exclusion (later in life).
3) Social stigma, victimhood, the sense of “injustice.”
4) Psychological and physical consequences of being without legal status (depression, anxiety, feeling of being lost, all maladies symptomatic of unresolved grief).
5) There are significant benefits from the DACA Program for both recipients and society at large.
6) Since policy shapes everyday life, the DACA Program remains a Damoclean sword if it is temporary and subject to expiration.
7) President Trump’s agenda on immigration has been his most consistent pursuit since taking office, the campaign promise he has tried hardest to keep.
How are all of these claims to be understood? As obvious and convincing as most of them are, there are a host of deep underlying fallacies. Let us address the last one first, as it is the most obvious.
President Trump’s economic prosperity agenda has been his most consistent pursuit throughout his first term and it is erroneous, though expedient, to claim otherwise. Furthermore, his agenda on immigration most certainly is not his alone! He won the 2016 presidential election on it precisely because it reflects the views of the majority of Americans who put him in office. And he persists notwithstanding the four-year-long historically unprecedented attempts to overthrow his legitimately elected government on the part of the flawed and failed Democratic candidate, the entire outgoing government at the time, the entire army of Congressional and other Democrats, as well as almost the entire media machine. It is easy to see how jumping on the bandwagon of this relentless nation-wide demonization effort is rather expedient for Mr. Gonzales – let’s blame Donald Trump for everything, simply because this could contribute to his delegitimization, or merely earn us points as virtue signaling. Joining the anti-Trump chorus may be the PC thing to do these days, but it doesn’t make it right and, more importantly, does not solve the problem.
The lives of “young undocumented people” (an extremely carefully crafted euphemism) are, of course, in limbo. Should there be legislation? And what kind? Presumably, the only legislation that would suit Mr. Gonzales and the youths in question is full legalization (“a path to citizenship”). Such a move, essentially, would legalize the effects of illegal acts. And this, we are told, would be justice. The obvious question is: justice for whom, from whose perspective? It could certainly be characterized as complete injustice vis-à-vis all “documented” immigrants, who have followed all rules and laws to the letter and fulfilled every requirement in order to obtain their “document.” Policies which reward law breakers would be a horrible slap in the face of the millions of law abiding immigrants who, as a result, would find themselves demoralized victims of a cynical system that took advantage of them. Why should it be acceptable that those who (or whose parents) knowingly broke the law, demand that the laws be changed for their convenience? What would such legislation signal to the continuous flood of “undocumented” newcomers from across the globe, not just from Mexico and Mesoamerica, gushing 24/7 through the southern border? It would only provide them with a blank license to proceed. Why not simply hand them green cards or passports at the border, along with Medicaid cards and welfare checks (something Democrats actually advocate)? (This is not the 19th or the 20th century when allowing mass immigration was still seen as a way of expanding the growing U.S. labor market and granting refuge to people fleeing from war torn countries or deplorable and famine-stricken areas, without so much as a hint of promise of any welfare services like those in place today. Nor is it the case of persecuted dissidents fleeing repressive and vindictive communist regimes – they truly faced death in their countries and sought political asylum here rather than economic gains.) On the other hand, generations of mostly Mexican illegal immigrants would disproportionately benefit from such policies, simply because the contiguous southern border has made it so easy for them to violate it. This could also be viewed as injustice in the eyes of all potential immigrants from the rest of the world who would never be allowed on a plane or a ship headed for the U.S. From this perspective, justice can be seen as a relative concept – what is just in someone’s eyes is unjust in another’s.
The vast pool of young illegal immigrants includes people of almost all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, yet Hispanics and their advocates are the most prominent and vocal proponents of legalization. Could this be due to sheer numbers, or could also the contiguous border with Mexico and the concomitant historical circumstances involving contested regions and borders have something to do with this? Austin, Texas, was once a Mexican city. Is it that these circumstances also empower and embolden Hispanics in their claim to certain rights? All other illegal immigrantssomehow remain more mindful of their having broken the law and therefore less comfortable making demands that the laws be changed.
The current treatment of “undocumented youth” is characterized as “inequality” and “injustice.” We addressed the issue of injustice and its shifting perspectives earlier. As to inequality, the history and current state of the world indicate that there is no place under the sun where some sort of inequality cannot be found. The possible exceptions are, perhaps, early primitive egalitarian societies, but even they seem to have had their hierarchies. There certainly are gross inequalities in communist societies. We cannot possibly claim with a straight face that legalizing illegal immigration, or just “undocumented young people,” in the U.S. would bring equality across the board and at all levels. Humankind seems to always strive to achieve this elusive goal that somehow it always falls short of achieving. Yet, even with the awful legacy of slavery, the United States, in our opinion, has probably come closer to doing so than so many countries around the world today.
Now to the idea of a liminal status – status in limbo, belonging and not belonging, neither here nor there, wherever “there” is. Legalization is not going to change that very much. The process of immigration entails complex, very long and often controversial adaptation and assimilation to the host society. Multiethnic societies are generally strong when their citizens are united by an overarching and positive common identity. In the absence of such a unifying characteristic, other identities take its place, often giving rise to tensions and contested spaces. It used to be the case in America that each new wave of immigrants shared a strong desire for cultural, linguistic, etc., assimilation. This is largely no longer a reality, especially in the era of global connectivity and communications – the need to assimilate is not felt so strongly, especially when the United States is constantly denigrated as a horrible racist country. Specifically, Spanish now is proudly spoken everywhere, it is embraced even by the US commercial and business sector, and, on occasions, deemed appropriate as a language of instruction. English, in turn, is often considered not necessary or worthy of learning, let alone of being an official national language. Undocumented young Hispanics stake their claim of “Americanness.” In reality, the cultural and ethnic identity of their families will always stay with them and define them as Hispanic-Americans even under the best of circumstances. The “hyphenated” identity of most immigrants in the US has been widely documented as a reality for generations upon generations, both as a source of stigma and a source of distinct ethnic pride. This is the peculiar nature of the duality and it almost always makes people feel that they also belong in both worlds, that they are both here and there. The intrinsic feature of a margin, border, or boundary is precisely that of simultaneously dividing and uniting things/people on both sides. And this applies to those “documented” and “undocumented” alike.
The last, but certainly not least important, point concerns the activism of social scientists. The modern trend of being “not just disinterested observers and theoreticians, but moral actors bearing social responsibility,” has been embraced mostly by progressives, who think of themselves as the world’s fairest arbiters boldly appropriating the concept of “progress” and filling it with meaning that is not necessarily unbiased or uncontested. This is a very slippery slope. Sociologists and anthropologists today have gone out of their way to make students realize that there exists intrinsic conscious and unconscious bias in all human beings and their cultures. Social, racial, ethnic, cultural, etc. biases, students are told, need to be brought to awareness, exposed and overcome. (It is not difficult to see how this valid scholarly tenet has become absurdly politicized in the current climate of “white guilt” and “wokeness” stoked by irresponsible academics, politicians and others.) These social scientists have also exerted enormous efforts to expose the scholarly bias of their predecessors who were found to have produced research that has benefitted and taken the sides of various colonial powers. Yet, the same scholars today find it very expedient to have no qualms about abandoning scholarly objectivity and espousing a biased stance under the guise of “social responsibility.” In today’s America, one cannot but ask oneself to which part of society a scholar is responsible when he takes a side under the pretense of being “socially responsible” – is it, perhaps, the State and the legal citizens vs. the illegal immigrants? Certainly, taking one side inevitably entails absolving oneself of responsibility to the other side(s). We wonder if Mr. Gonzales might wish to try to overcome his own bias, personal and scholarly, and look at these issues from a broader perspective. And one of us is saying this from the vantage point of a native-born descendant of legal immigrants with deep professional knowledge of Slavic and other languages and cultures. The other one is not just a legal immigrant of over thirty years, but an anthropologist. And both of us have complete understanding of these complexities, as well as the deepest compassion for all people who are illegally in America.
Liliana D. Perkowski, Ph.D.
Jan L. Perkowski ’59, Ph.D. ’65
Thank you and at least two of the authors in the July-August issue for correctly identifying the virus, SARS-CoV-2, that causes the illness known as COVID-19. It seems unfortunate that this practice is not more widespread. I’m guessing that had governments and health organizations insisted on calling the virus by its proper name rather than conflating the name of the virus with the name of the disease, we would not be in our current dire health situation. No one would have mistaken SARS-CoV-2 for anything akin to the flu. No one creating public policy would have imagined that the virus might disappear on its own. Funny (sad, really), as far as I can tell, the name of the virus was intentionally scaled back to keep Asian countries that had been through SARS-CoV-1 from panicking. Of course, those countries were not fooled. That’s why South Korea, for example, established some of the most stringent and successful public-health measures on the planet. Too bad we in the West weren’t paying more attention!
Bob Bergner, A.L.M. ’18
Being at high risk for dying from the virus, I enjoyed “Ending an Epidemic” (July-August, page 18) because I believe that the solution lies in producing an effective vaccine in the quickest possible way. I agree that that is done by doing the necessary steps in parallel: development, manufacturing, and testing.
But people should be given the vaccine before the testing is complete. Your article and others suggest the medical profession is insisting that 100 percent testing is necessary. That is the wrong strategy when 130,000 people a month worldwide are dying from the disease. I would like a vaccine before it is fully tested, if it is not likely to kill me, and there is a 50 percent probability that it will protect me. But there are blocks.
First of all, “informed consent” is pure status-snobbery and a violation of my legal right to enter into a contract. Contracts can be written with appropriate wording, acknowledging the unknown and the dangers of death and permanent damage.
The decision of whether to risk the lives of 1 percent of the young people who have volunteered to be infected with the disease (after receiving the vaccine) is a no-brainer, when many thousands of people will be dying for every month of delay.
The possibility of lawsuits from damages caused by partially tested vaccines can be eliminated by passing a law.
The medical profession seems to be in the grip of certain rigid rules. But now is not the time for rigid rules. Regulations can be relaxed. Emergency laws can be written. Government needs to do more than print trillions of dollars in new money.
Robert S. Gebelein ’56
Your July-August cover missed a golden opportunity to commemorate a great moment in Harvard history! An inspiring caption could have been: HARVARD BEATS COVID 2020!
Raymond V. Ingersoll ’69
Pacific Palisades, Calif.
Editor’s note: We suppose we could debate hyphenating 20-20—but humility suggests the situation was nowhere near a tie, nor a victory for the human team over the virus when we went to press in May, nor today. For Harvard’s accommodations to the continuing pandemic, see page 15.
The article about Peabody professor of music Alexander Rehding (“One Small Step for Music,” by Jacob Sweet, July-August, page 41) was fascinating and also put me in mind of the greatest Saturday Night Live line ever, delivered by Steve Martin: “Send more Chuck Berry.”
William Swislow ’79
I’m glad Alexander Rehding is studying the Voyager Golden Record, and I’m proud that one of my photographs is on each of the record’s two copies, both now near the edge of the solar system. The 1977 project was last-minute for NASA, a brainchild of Carl Sagan, who was an assistant professor at the Harvard Observatory when I was an undergraduate and graduate student there. I wish Rehding had consulted artist Jon Lomberg, the design director for the record, who worked with Sagan and Frank Drake to select the music and photographs and who now has a Galaxy Garden modeling our Milky Way in plants on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lomberg was influential in the role of one of the small group of “NASA scientists” mentioned in Sweet’s article.
Jay M. Pasachoff ’63, Ph.D. ’69
Field Memorial Professor of astronomy
Alexander Keyssar, a Kennedy School expert on voting, states that our system of choosing our presidents via the Electoral College violates the expectations of “electoral democracy” (“Electoral Eccentricity,” July-August, page 49).
This phrase appears nowhere in our Constitution, wherein we can find the phrase, “The United States shall guarantee to every State...a republican form of government.”
Keyssar finds that our method of choosing a president may find that the winner is not the person with a majority of the popular votes. In fact, candidates may now focus on only a perceived number of “swing” states to achieve victory. A shift in campaign strategy if we switched to a majority of votes to be a winner would mean a focus on New York and California! I may still see little effort to secure my vote in Connecticut, but save me from that alternative.
Robert C. Baker, M.B.A. ’57
The selection from Why Do We Still Have the Electoral College? says the winner of the popular vote has failed to win the Electoral College vote “five times in our history” and has “come close…on numerous other occasions, including 2004.” But in 2004 George W. Bush won reelection against John Kerry with both an Electoral College majority (286 to 251) and a popular-vote majority (50.7% to 48.4%). It was the first time a presidential candidate had won both the popular and the Electoral College vote since 1988. How is this “coming close” to the opposite reality?
Frederic Stout ’65
Lecturer in urban studies
Editor’s note: Professor Keyssar responds, “As I recall, a switch of 60,000 votes in Ohio would have put the state in Kerry’s column and given him the presidency, despite Bush’s victory in the national popular vote.” For more on Keyssar’s searching examination of the Electoral College, see the question-and-answer discussion at harvardmag.com/electoral-college-20.
The [online Q&A by Marina Bolotnikova with Alexander Keyssar about his new book; see link immediately above] on the Electoral College seems to assume that there will be only two candidates. Bill Clinton had only 42 percent of the popular vote in 1992. The other two candidates combined got 58 percent. As it turned out, Clinton got enough electoral votes to be elected. And in 1912 Woodrow Wilson got considerably less than 50 percent of the popular vote. If a popular vote were used, would it be right to elect someone with only 42 percent? It seems to me that whatever its faults, the Electoral College resolves this issue by having the states decide. A runoff instead would not solve it. In fairness, you might have to have three or four candidates in the run off and that would likely result in a second runoff if one candidate doesn’t get 50 percent of the vote.
In summary, changing the mode of electing a president would not give us what we hoped for.
Richard Borgeson, J.D. ’69
The unconstitutional attack on freedom of association (featuring an end run around the faculty) has naturally failed [see “Harvard Single-Gender Social-Club Rules Rescinded,” June 30, at harvardmag.com/usgso-rules-rescinded-20]. Another blow against what Norman Mailer ’43 called “Totalitarian Liberalism.”
Martin Comack, A.L.M. ’94, Ph.D.
Good story about the removal of John C. Calhoun’s statue (“Calhoun-Fall,” June 29, at harvardmag.com/calhoun-fall-20).
Do the editors think that Yale should and would change its name? Mr. Yale seems at least as odious as Calhoun.
Steve Fischer ’77, M.B.A. ’82
Short Hills, N.J.
Editor’s note: The essay by Peter H. Wood, an emeritus professor of history at Duke and former Harvard Overseer, came in over the transom and was published as an informed perspective on an issue of current interest. Yale did rename its Calhoun College (a residential House) in 2017 (see https://president.yale.edu/decision-name-calhoun-college).
The Scientific Undergraduate
I commend Undergraduate columnist Drew Pendergrass (“Will Truth Prevail?” May-June, page 27) both for promoting activist science and for organizing a club that mixes continental breakfast and philosophy. If club members have not yet done so, they should read the early writings of Karl Marx.
In these writings, he observes, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Pendergrass’s thoughts and actions show that Marx’s “philosophers” perforce include our great scientists. Otherwise, we may as well give up hope for the well-being of our planet and its inhabitants.
Ira Braus, Ph.D. ’88
West Hartford, Conn.
It is a tribute to Harvard that it brought into its fold a young man so curious about the world that his reading of a monograph on chaos theory would lead him to make science his life’s work. It is an indictment of the state of education at Harvard that, after four years of it, that same young man has become, in fact, an anti-scientist who asserts that current memes ought to be accepted by all as “truth” and, therefore, enforced through political power.
Pendergrass’s particular bête noir, it appears, is “climate-change deniers.” Now, of course, no one actually denies that the climate changes. He uses the shorthand term “climate change” for what, until pretty recently, was called “global warming” to indict those who are not alarmed about the fate of the world. Whether intentionally or not, the common appellation changed only after there had been the evident beginning (since 1997) of what turned into a two-decade “pause” in global warming. By that time, it was also apparent that none of the predictions of the late 1980s (Manhattan underwater, etc.) had come about.
Global cooling was the meme when I graduated 50 years ago. Same “scientific” basis: CO2 was to blame, or maybe just pollution in general. By 1978, Leonard Nimoy did a TV show on “The Coming Ice Age.”
None of this is to argue that “climate change” is or isn’t real, whether global warming or global cooling, whether from CO2 or from sunspots. Rather, it is to argue that it is unadulterated arrogance to decide that fashionable “science,” while still in its infancy and untested over anything like a meaningful period of time, should be canonized and enforced by political will. That is political science, not science. If nothing else, the apocalyptic and disastrously wrong models used to predict the course of the current pandemic ought to give any fledgling scientist pause about using unproven models to proclaim scientific fact.
How did Pendergrass turn from science to political science? He gives us a great example: one of his Harvard advisers told him, he says, that “Our house is on fire” and that “our failure on climate change [is a result of] a lack of power, not a lack of knowledge.” If Harvard gave him four years of this, it is no wonder that he has become a political-science major using scientific terms to impose political will. What a waste of a nascent scientist.
Dan Sullivan ’70
I wish to commend Drew Pendergrass ’20 for his intellectual and entertaining article. It was a delight to see rather deep references to both the natural sciences and the humanities and their interactions. All too often, I have noted that many of The Undergraduate articles have been concerned with the individual problems and struggles of the people writing the articles. Instead, Pendergrass delves into more universal matters. His article caused me to contemplate the universe rather than one individual’s psyche.
I also wish to comment on Professor Cutler’s article, “The World’s Costliest Health Care” (see the Healthcare subhead below). He omitted an area of concern to most physicians in the past and thought by most who practice medicine to contribute to the cost—i.e., defensive medicine. By this I mean the ordering of expensive tests (CAT scans, MRIs, cardiac catheterizations, to name a few) because of the fear of being sued for malpractice. I am aware that this is a controversial area, but conversations with many practicing physicians, and having served as an expert witness (on both sides), have led me to believe that a significant, but not documented, portion of excess testing is done for protective reasons.
Perhaps less testing would be performed if the cost of the tests would be made known by computer to the physician at the time they are ordered. When I had my first blood tests, I was appalled at the cost, especially because I could have performed many of them in my own research laboratory and knew the costs there. When estimates of hospital administrative overhead, technician salaries, space costs, amortized equipment, etc. were added, the cost of the tests to my insurance company were greater by severalfold. Even when insurance pays, we all pay premiums. When Medicare pays, we all pay taxes.
Murray L. Levin ’57, M.D.
Professor of medicine emeritus
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Professor Nicholas Burns’s article on “restoring American leadership through diplomacy” (“The Indispensable Power,” July-August, page 38) raises important points about the decline of both American soft power and the professional diplomatic corps that staffs American embassies around the world. But he did not mention the role of foreign development assistance and the many U.S. agencies outside the State Department that form the largest bilateral foreign-assistance program in the world.
The U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and U.S. Department of Agriculture, among others, contribute significantly to the diplomatic corps that the article argues should be “re-imagined,” just as they have contributed immeasurably to both American soft power and international cooperation.
The key role of foreign-development assistance in American diplomacy has been validated by military and diplomatic leaders over the years, though it often gets overlooked as simple charity, or is perceived as wasteful indulgence. I suspect that Burns, who throughout his distinguished diplomatic career has championed the role of development assistance, did not intend to give it short shrift, and so I hope he and his colleagues at the Harvard Future of Diplomacy Project continue to include, promote, and reimagine it, too.
Michael C. Lisman, Ed.M. ’05
I found David Cutler’s exploration of our cost-ineffective health-care system very enlightening (“The World’s Costliest Health Care,” May-June, page 44). But he overlooks other key reasons for the nation’s shameful outcomes: our failed-state plutocracy, our greed-based economy, and our systemic racism and inequality.
An increasingly corrupt, cronyistic federal government appears willing to allow thousands to become sick and die rather than inconvenience profiteering well-connected corporations and cronies. An equitable and just government would put people first, provide a base level of health care for all, and compel corporations and wealthy individuals to help pay for it through fair-share taxation.
In addition, predatory U.S. capitalism has been able to operate with increasing disregard for human, animal, and planetary health. Agribusiness giants have pushed a factory-food diet—laden with fat, salt, and sugar—on working-class Americans for decades, resulting in record obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, as well as animal cruelty and severe environmental degradation.
Finally, our poor healthcare outcomes are a reflection of the country’s grotesque inequalities and racism, illustrated in the profile of Walter Johnson (“From Lewis and Clark to Michael Brown,” May-June, page 33), which revealed an 18-year life-expectancy gap between poor non-white North St. Louis and wealthy white suburban St. Louis.
The coronavirus catastrophe is spurring Americans to demand an extreme national makeover, and prioritize human and planetary health over profit and privilege. We must resolve that everyone have access not just to health care, but also to a healthy neighborhood and planet. This is also an essential first step in defeating racism, which thrives in a nation riven by gross disparities, where some people get the best health care in the world, and some get the worst.
Ricardo Hinkle, M.L.A. ’90
President, DC37-Local 375, Chapter 7
New York City
David Cutler’s challenge to speak morally, not just economically, about health care should also apply to how policymakers communicate with clinicians. Many healthcare reforms under the rubric of “value-based care” fail to account for the intrinsic motivations of the vast majority of physicians and other health-care professionals, which is to provide the best possible care for their patients with minimal interference. When regulators and insurers use financial incentives and penalties to eliminate perceived overutilization or misallocation of resources, they mistakenly assume that compensation drives clinicians’ desire to improve patient outcomes, and thus select performance targets with little or no relation to bedside care.
Unsurprisingly, a 2019 JAMA study found that the largest component of waste in the U.S. health-care system is administrative, not clinical, in nature. No payment scheme or reporting requirement can supplant physicians’ fiduciary duty to place the patient’s interests above their own, and any health-care policy must harness rather than hinder this medical professionalism to have a reasonable chance of success.
Charles G. Kels ’00
Professor Cutler mentions many of the oft repeated reasons for the high cost of U.S. health care, particularly compared with Canada, but does not satisfactorily explain several of the issues involved.
I disagree with the assertion that the results of Canadian care are superior. Canadian life expectancy is supposedly better than ours but death after hospitalization for stroke is 65 percent higher in Canada. Infant mortality is allegedly higher in the U.S., but we categorize as stillborn tiny infants that many other countries call miscarriages. The causes of infant mortality are low birth weight and prematurity, often related to smoking and teenage pregnancies. Shooting and knife-wound victims require expensive medical care. Crime, teenage pregnancy, and smoking are societal problems, not medical-care deficiencies and their costs should not impugn our health-care system.
Results of cancer treatment in the US are superior to all other countries.
Canada has approximately equal numbers of primary-care physicians and specialists; the U.S. has twice as many specialists as primary-care physicians. Canadians cannot self-refer to a specialist but must first see their primary physician for specialist referral. The waiting times are excessive—from a primary-care visit to operation averages 20 weeks.
As Professor Cutler correctly points out, Canada has fewer CT and MRI scanners than the US. Canadian physicians do not allocate services more judiciously; they simply can’t use services unavailable because the technology has been limited by government. Predictably, many Canadians leave Canada for medical care; some 63,000 came to the U.S. in 2016.
Not discussed in this article is the fact that part of the excessive cost of U.S. health care is due to defensive medicine. Lawsuits with large monetary awards are only the tip of the iceberg. The mere fear of liability alters clinical behavior and augments costs. A constant latent concern is “How would this play in court?…‘Doctor, why didn’t you get a stress test on this 60-year-old before taking out his gallbladder?’ ” We have allowed this fear to subtly recast the paradigm for management of all clinical problems by virtue of superfluous consultations, repetitive testing, and slavish augmentation of hospital mandates. These changes have insinuated themselves so slowly that we are unaware of their baleful malevolence.
I agree with Professor Cutler that insurance companies and overpaid hospital administrators increase the cost of health care. We have far more administrators than we need. UPMC in Pittsburgh, where I worked for several decades, is an entity that controls some 20 hospitals, had $20 billion in annual revenue, and a CEO with an $8.4-million annual salary, trailed by more than 30 deferential individuals earning more than $1 million. This compensation level is far in excess of that of the Massachusetts General or the Mayo Clinic.
Fredric Jarrett, M.D. ’67
The Silver Snuffbox
I was delighted by President Bacow’s piece on the cooperation between Edward Jenner and Benjamin Waterhouse on the early use and dissemination of smallpox vaccination (“Unprecedented,” July-August, page 3).
Owing to distant family connections, I have always known this story; what was new to me was the silver snuffbox sent from Dr. Jenner to Dr. Waterhouse. The family connection stems from the wife of Benjamin Waterhouse: Elizabeth Oliver, daughter of Andrew Oliver, granddaughter of Judge Peter Oliver, Harvard class of 1730, my ever-so-great-uncle. At the time of the “rebellion,” Peter Oliver moved to Birmingham. From there, years later, soon after the wedding of his granddaughter, he sent a grandfather clock to his new grandson-in-law; it is now in the Harvard Medical School. As Bacow relates, among the first to be vaccinated were the children of Dr. Waterhouse, the three eldest being Andrew Oliver Waterhouse, John Fothergill Waterhouse, and Daniel Oliver Waterhouse.
Some day I must come for a second look at the clock—and a first look at the snuffbox.
Andrew Oliver ’58
“Icon” (July-August, page 15), on Mass Hall at 300, had very special meaning for me.
In June 1957, I was a student in the Graduate School of Education’s pilot Ed.M. and M.A.T. Teacher Education Program. It began with an intensive summer session in Newton. By sheer luck, I was one of several assigned a room on the “residual floor of freshmen of Mass Hall.” Little could I have imagined the impact of that assignment on my life, none of which had to do with the offices of President Nathan Pusey downstairs.
That summer I met Karen Sethur, M.A.T. ’58, who lived across the hall. She later married Michael Rotenberg ’56. They introduced me to Michael’s Harvard roommate, Merle Bushkin ’56, M.B.A.’60, my future husband. Nancy Bushkin ’87 is our daughter.
“Massachusetts Hall, for many people, is Harvard.” For me, it is where the rest of a wonderful life began.
Leone E. Bushkin, Ed.M. ’58
The July-August issue included, rather modestly titled and a bit lost among the pages, a truly informative analysis of the financial and other complications that Harvard, indeed any major quality university, confronts as a result of the coronavirus (“The Coronavirus Campus,” page 21). We all know that the educational issues are very real and substantial, but this review provided solid and in-depth insight. In reading the piece, I thought of the pyramid metaphor. However, and this is not a criticism of anyone or any institution, I cannot be certain if the student is at the top or the bottom of the pyramid.
I both enjoy and learn from Harvard Magazine. It provides many superb articles and keeps readers like me in touch with the world of younger people and higher education.
Don Bergmann, J.D. ’66
Doubting Climate Change
As a leading institution of higher education, Harvard should be devoted primarily to the pursuit of truth, wherever that might lead. That is certainly not the case with climate change. You would never know it by reading “Addressing Climate Change” (July-August, page 24), but there is a serious scientific debate over the proposition that human-released CO2 is dangerously warming the planet.
Notwithstanding that the Harvard faculty and Corporation stand foursquare for “sustainability,” hundreds if not thousands of highly credentialed scientists with expertise in climate science, including a Princeton physics Nobel laureate, former heads of earth-science departments at Georgia Tech and University of Pennsylvania, as well as 30-plus-year professors at MIT, Princeton, University of Virginia, University of Alabama, and many others throughout the world who are experts in the field, do not agree with that proposition. Hundreds of peer-reviewed articles were written in the past year that oppose it.
Unfortunately, those points of view are suppressed, even at their own universities, and in the mainstream media, so that most educated people who are not climate experts believe the false narrative that “97 percent of scientists agree” that “the science is settled.” Many people holding such views are denied faculty appointments and grants and are hounded out of academia. Harvard has no one on its faculty who would speak against the proposition, but dozens or scores who would support it. How’s that for diversity?
If any of your readers would like a window into the alternative universe in which free debate on climate is welcome, explore the websites of Heartland Institute, Global Warming Policy Forum, NoTricksZone, CO2 Coalition, Climate Etc, Real Climate Science, Watts Up With That, Manhattan Contrarian, and there are many more. There you will find forums for ideas and scholarship not taught at Harvard, as well as links to popular and scholarly articles on what is in fact a fascinating debate. The truth is that the science is very uncertain,and it is unfortunate that Harvard does not provide a safe forum for that scientific debate. If you would like to see an actual one-hour debate, you will find it at the Soho Forum. (P.S. The skeptic won!)
I have suggested to my Harvard fund-raising handler, who has been contacting me with opportunities for alumni and others in the Harvard community to participate in forums, that Harvard host an on-line climate debate, featuring a Harvard faculty luminary, like Naomi Oreskes, and perhaps Richard Lindzen, holder of multiple Harvard degrees, formerly director of the Center for Earth and Planetary Physics at Harvard, and former Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT, who is an eminent spokesman for skeptical climate science (as there is no faculty member at Harvard to represent this viewpoint). Not only would this be the most well-attended event Harvard could hold online, but no one can interrupt it, which makes it a great way to do this in a manner that shows Harvard in a wonderful light, i.e., as courageously committed to open dialogue about controversial subjects, while also maintaining civility.
Bruce Goodman ’70
To the statement of Lawrence Bacow, “What I believe” [Letter to the Harvard Community, May 30, 2020 ], my response is the following: “I do not share your beliefs, which strike me as ill-founded. In particular I do not believe in the goodness of the American people. They are at least as stupidly malevolent as the majority of the human race. Founded upon the destruction of the indigenous populations of its territory, America is very far from being a beacon of light to the rest of the world. Consider its foreign policies, such as support of Saudi Arabian tyranny and of the apartheid state of Israel. It is surely necessary to confront and to admit honestly the failure of democracy in America.”
Allan C. Christensen ’62
I found the article “From Lewis and Clark to Michael Brown” (May-June, page 33) extremely interesting. I grew up in St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri, before graduating from Harvard College in 1954, completing my required active duty in the armed forces, and then returning for my M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Since then I have married, moved to the Hartford, Connecticut, area, raised a family, earned a living, and retired here. With the passage of so much time and the development of their Gateway Arch and so much new history since I last lived around St. Louis, my reactions to this article may no longer be valid, but I offer them, regardless.
I was born in St Louis. My family lived in Richmond Heights, moved to University City, and then settled in Ferguson in 1944, where my home remained until 1958, when I married and settled in Connecticut. The Ferguson of my youth was a quiet, largely white, bedroom town sitting right beside Kinloch, a growing black bedroom community. To the naked eye they were segregated. “Segregation” has a connotation of being an invariably forced process, but it is often unforced and a matter of personal choice. Many people, after all, choose to live near and socialize with those who are a lot like them.
I believe there is much enduring truth about St. Louis in the article but also a little, unnecessary, negative bias such as making it seem that “north of Delmar Blvd.” has always been the pits.
My family enjoyed our University City home and many activities north of Delmar, along with our church on North Union Blvd., one of several large churches there, and on Grand Ave the famous Fox Theater and our major-league baseball, which then was at Sportsmen’s Park.
Historically, although river boats played a significant role in early development, trains were stymied by there being only one St Louis railroad bridge across the Mississippi during key years of westward expansion. Consequently, Chicago became the big rail hub, and a major staging point for railroad westward expansion, having five train-line terminal stations when I was young, as compared to one for St Louis.
The article did not mention that there seems no longer to be any law banning racially integrated neighborhoods. Our church became racially integrated starting about 1948, while I was in high school, as blacks moved into that St. Louis neighborhood. Over time since then, the greater St. Louis population has continued to grow, generally westward, and Ferguson had become a largely black community by the shockingly terrible time of Michael Brown.
Cecil Thayer Browne ’54, M.B.A. ’58
This letter is not about Professor Walter Johnson’s new book, The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States. This letter is about the Harvard Magazine article about the book (by associate editor Marina N. Bolotnikova, “From Lewis and Clark to Michael Brown”).
In our view, the article reflects questionable judgment by the magazine about a bedrock principle of journalistic integrity: the balance, fairness, and even-handedness of the article. We consider the judgment exercised in this instance to be contrary to the magazine’s long-standing, well-earned, and richly-deserved reputation for adherence to the highest standards of responsible journalism. We hope that it is a one-off, a one-time aberration.
As usual, the same issue of the magazine includes a section titled “Off the Shelf / Recent books with Harvard connections” (page 54). Following the usual format, it contains single-paragraph summaries of 17 new books. The Johnson book, quite properly, could have been the 18th.
Instead, the book was elevated to a full-length article as the magazine’s very first feature. That should have prompted a much higher level of internal review than would be warranted for an “Off the Shelf” summary paragraph.
The issue is: Does the article tell the whole story of St. Louis’s racial history—irrespective of whether Professor Johnson told the whole story in his book? Or, is the article just plain uncritical, unbalanced, and one-sided, rubber-stamping Johnson’s central thesis by not questioning the completeness of its claimed factual underpinnings?
We believe that the article fails the tests of intellectual rigor and journalistic integrity, by reason of its failure to include at least a sampling of countervailing facts, such as the following:
St. Louis as a Border City in a Border State
It cannot credibly be claimed that St. Louis was or is a liberal “Northern city.” But, even more lacking in credibility is the article’s implication that St. Louis was or is a hard-core, racist “Southern city.” Both geography and history destroy the latter position.
The City of St. Louis and the St. Louis Metropolitan Area – Murder Rate
The City of St. Louis (disastrously) withdrew from the County of St. Louis in 1876, rendering the City a member of a tiny minority of U.S. cities which are not part of a county.
The subsequent 144 years of population growth and suburbanization have enlarged the metropolitan area so far beyond the 1876 boundaries that the City’s present population of 301,000 is now only 11 percent of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Greater St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) population of 2,803,000. As a result, talking about “St. Louis” is not merely imprecise; it is just plain loose and highly misleading talk that does not tell the whole story.
Thus, vaguely characterizing “St. Louis” as having the nation’s highest murder rate is clearly wrong without further definition. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Greater St. Louis MSA does not even make the 2018 list of the top 50 MSAs with the highest violent crime rate.
Equally misleading is the article’s unexamined lumping into “St. Louis” of two tiny St. Clair County, Illinois, cities, Centreville (pop. 5,900) and East St. Louis (pop 26,000). This uncritical combining of those two small towns with “St. Louis” is apparently a device for tainting and tarring St. Louis with the East St. Louis 1917 racially-motivated massacre of black people and the Centreville chronic raw sewage flooding problems. Presumably, this indiscriminate mixing of apples and oranges advances the central thesis that St. Louis is deeply and incurably racist.
The article’s suggestion that St. Louis may have been where the first U.S. lynching occurred also ignores the context. Missouri was not even among the twelve states where the majority of lynchings occurred. Missouri was not even among the states included in the post-Civil War five military districts imposed by the Federal Government.
The article purports to describe St. Louis as “…one of the most segregated American cities—by design.” It identifies Delmar Boulevard, a major east-west artery that runs about 80 blocks, as the dividing line. (We do not address the article’s ludicrous characterization of Delmar Boulevard as “scenic”.)
The article’s conclusion about St. Louis’s housing segregation is shockingly wrong: “…[W]hite citizens in St. Louis and elsewhere always found ways to keep black residents out of their communities.” (underscoring added).
What a stunning misstatement. In 1948—almost three-quarters of a century ago—the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Shelley v. Kraemer. The Court held that private, racially-restrictive covenants in real estate titles are unenforceable. The case arose in St. Louis, and the St. Louis trial court reached the same conclusion of unenforceability as the Supreme Court ultimately did.
Missouri Slave Freedom Cases and the Dred Scott Case
Similarly, the article ignores the non-racist and anti-slavery facts and events concerning Missouri legislation and Missouri slave freedom cases in general, and the Dred Scott case in particular, and how they played out in St. Louis.
In 1824, the Missouri Supreme Court decided the case of Winny v. Whitesides, which adopted the doctrine of “once free always free.” Then, later the same year, the Missouri Legislature enacted a law which provided both a process for enslaved people to sue for freedom, and protections for them in that process.
What ensued after those defining 1824 legislative and judicial actions was a golden age of enslaved people’s freedom suits in Missouri. During that period, “once free always free” was the standard applied to those cases. That judicial principle was applied in Missouri courts for 28 years, during which most enslaved people’s freedom suits were successful.
Now we come to the Dred Scott case. Reliance upon it to prove a St. Louis history of racism is just plain wrong. The case arose in St. Louis; the 1850 trial occurred in St. Louis before a St. Louis judge; and a jury composed of St. Louis residents granted freedom to Dred Scott and his family.
That decision was reversed by the Missouri Supreme Court in 1852. In so doing, the Court abandoned the “once free always free” standard it had adopted 28 years earlier in Winny v. Whitesides. (In the second Dred Scott freedom case, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1857 relied upon the Missouri Supreme Court’s 1852 decision in concluding that Dred Scott remained an enslaved person.)
There is a disturbing similarity in the article’s treatment of the two immediately above subjects: St. Louis residential housing discrimination and the Dred Scott case. In each instance, the evil occurring in St. Louis is identified in the article. But, Ms. Bolotnikova’s article is silent on the fact that, in both instances, the evil was cured in local St. Louis trial courts by local St. Louis judges and local St. Louis juries.
With further reference to the Dred Scott case, it noteworthy that Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Hamilton Gamble—a St. Louisan, a slaveholder and, before becoming a judge, a lawyer who represented enslaved people—dissented in the 1852 Missouri Supreme Court case.
Later, during the Civil War, Gamble served as pro-Union Missouri Governor for two and a half years. He was appointed in 1861 by the pro-Union members of the Missouri Constitutional Convention in the course of its creation of a Missouri provisional government, following the ouster of the secessionist Governor and secessionist Legislature. In that capacity, Gamble played a key role in keeping Missouri in the Union, and thus in the ultimate victory of the Union. See Lincoln’s Resolute Unionist: Hamilton Gamble, Dred Scott Dissenter, and Missouri’s Civil War Governor (Dennis K. Boman, Louisiana State University Press, 2006).
So, given his dissent as Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice in the Dred Scott case, and given his role as pro-Union Governor during the Civil War, at least this one prominent St. Louisan might fairly be considered to have played his leadership role with his non-racist bona fides very much intact and abundantly in evidence.
Thus, Ms. Bolotnikova’s article reaches its apogee of one-sidedness and imbalance in that it never mentions any of the above three matters: the St. Louis slave freedom cases, the St. Louis trial of Dred Scott, and the role of prominent St. Louisan Hamilton Gamble.
Abolition of Slavery in Missouri Before Abolition of Slavery in the United States
On January 11, 1865, a Missouri state convention, by a 60-4 vote, approved the abolition of slavery in Missouri. On December 6, 1865—almost a full year later—the requisite number of states ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery throughout the nation.
The City of St. Louis’s public schools, public transportation, theatres, hotels, and restaurants were still segregated through the end of World War II. But, beginning soon after World War II, all became integrated, almost entirely peaceably. There was nothing in St. Louis even remotely resembling the Southern resistance on all five of those fronts.
With particular reference to schools, the Missouri Legislature—distinctly unlike relatively liberal St. Louis—had enacted a particularly repugnant law, making it illegal for a black student to be taught in a Missouri classroom with white students.
St. Louis would have none of it:
First, in the category of non-public schools, St. Louis Archbishop (later Cardinal) Joseph Ritter—having only arrived in St. Louis one year earlier from Indianapolis—ordered the desegregation of St. Louis Catholic schools in 1947. The U.S. Supreme Court would not take the same action with the nation’s public schools until seven years later, when it decided Brown vs. Board of Education on May 17, 1954.
No shrinking violet he, Archbishop Ritter told opposing parents that any lawsuit filed against his decision would result in automatic excommunication. Right up to the present day, St. Louis Catholic schools have delivered excellent education at a very low price to a large number of non-Catholic black children.
Similarly, almost a year before the Brown decision, Thomas Jefferson School—an elite grades 7-12 private boarding and day school in St. Louis—integrated in 1953.
A third category of non-public schools includes St. Louis’s two principal private universities, St. Louis University and Washington University. St. Louis University integrated in the fall semester of 1944—well before the end of World War II. Washington University integrated on a rolling basis from 1947 to 1952, by which time all academic programs were integrated.
Turning now to public schools, when Brown was decided, the St. Louis Board of Education did not hesitate or agonize over what to do. It ordered Harris Teachers College desegregated before the beginning of the first semester following Brown. The next semester, the high schools were desegregated. The process was completed the following semester with the desegregation of the elementary schools.
Of the 12 members of the St. Louis School Board (all or almost all white), no one came close to being a Louise Day Hicks. Her tenure as chair of the Boston Schools Committee was notable only for her virulent opposition to integration. And, that was in Boston, a supposed exemplar of American liberalism.
That quick and complete integration of St. Louis public schools was peaceful, orderly, and successful. That was especially noteworthy at Soldan High School, which was the only “white” high school whose surrounding residential neighborhood was increasingly African-American.
As a result, alone among the nine “white” high schools, a substantial African-American influx into Soldan occurred on integration’s Day One. In a time of no TV news other than the three broadcast networks, NBC’s first anchorman, John Cameron Swayze, came to St. Louis to broadcast live the story of integration’s success at Soldan, where he stood on its front steps for his broadcast. One of us knows these facts first-hand; he was a student then and there.
And what did not happen in the course of St. Louis public schools’ integration? There was no Little Rock Central High School. There was no University of Mississippi. And, anyone who suggested resistance to school integration—or, anyone who, particularly, proposed the Southern evasion of creating “white academies”—would have been laughed out of town.
The 2014 Death of Michael Brown
It was a tragic killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri (a St. Louis suburb). But, a St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict the police officer. Then, the U.S. Justice Department, under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, after an exhaustive study, concluded that the police officer’s actions were not prosecutable violations under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute.
St. Louis certainly was not and is not race relations utopia. Walter Johnson, or any other author, can write any book he or she wishes about St. Louis’s race relations, and can make it as balanced or unbalanced, fair or unfair, as the author wishes.
But, the audience for a Harvard Magazine major article about his book includes many who will not read the book, and many who never had and never will have any direct experience with St. Louis. As a matter of journalistic integrity, this article, in writing about the Johnson book, should have considered the book with a critical eye and—irrespective of what the book said—the article should have told a fairer, more even-handed, more balanced, and more complete story of St. Louis’s race relations history.
A Harvard Magazine article about a book—and, particularly, one of this article’s size and prominence—should be approached with a healthy measure of doubt and skepticism, and not simply become a vehicle for parroting the book’s claims.
Henry S. Stolar, J.D. ’63
Andrew S. Love ’65, LL.B. ’68
Editor’s note: We stand behind our decision to feature the book, and Marina Bolotnikova’s in-depth coverage of the research and its author. Readers interested in other journalistic (non-scholarly) perspectives on the work may wish to consult the essay in The New Yorker by Nicholas Lemann ’76 or the review by The New York Times’s critic. The University news office also featured Walter Johnson and the book in a Harvard Gazette interview published a few weeks after the magazine’s article appeared.
One of my tasks during the current coronavirus “stay at home” order is getting through a months-long backlog of magazines. One thing I noticed in the November-December 2019 “Yesterday’s News” (page 24) was the 1934 item about the new telephone exchange names and the first three letters of the Eliot exchange: “Eli.”
During my last three years at Harvard, when I lived in Eliot House, my room key bore the name of that above-implied institution in New Haven, which also happens to be the name of a major lock company. Harvard was probably the only college in history to give out dormitory keys inscribed with the name of their arch-rival. I used to show my key, with great amusement, to students from that and other colleges in the area. What buildings-and-grounds person had the gall, or temerity, to choose that brand of lock hardware for a Harvard building?
Richard A. Horvitz ’66
Grand Rapids, Mich.
A grievous typo eluded us in the Off the Shelf item on Eva & Otto: Resistance, Refugees, and Love in the Time of Hitler (July-August, page 52). Otto’s opposition to Hitler within Germany obviously took place before 1933. We profoundly regret our oversight.