Letters - May 20, 1998

"On machine"

Thank you for publishing "Do you want him on machine?" (First Person, April 8). Maureen D'Honau w'49's sad portrayal of death in a hospital raises important issues. Her husband's primary physicians abandoned him in the emergency room and the intensive care unit, a common practice with the fragmentation of specialized medical care. While I do not defend the doctors' actions, I believe that several additional points should be made.

First, many physicians with the skills to prolong life appropriately also use them to prolong life inappropriately. Discerning the difference involves both ethics and medicine and is quite difficult at times, especially in the emergency room.

Second, the death of a patient is not the same as the death of a family member, and many young physicians have not experienced the latter. The patient's and family members' interest in the patient's outcome will almost always be greater than the physician's interest. This and the frequency with which patients die partly explain a physician's emotional detachment.

Third, a physician with excellent medical skills may have little interest or skill in discussing death. Physicians can be in denial, too.

For these reasons, there are two important steps we should all consider taking. First, write out an advanced medical directive. In the case of Mr. D'Honau, whose previously expressed wish was "no life support," this could have taken the form of a "do not intubate (place on ventilator)/do not resuscitate" order. Second, patients with a progressive, irreversible illness should initiate a discussion with their physicians about their eventual demise, and plan accordingly.

Don Gilbert '87, M.D.
Baltimore, Md.

As a practicing internist, I was saddened and troubled by Maureen D'Honau's article about her husband's death. With the rapidly changing manner in which medical care is delivered, the time-honored professional (and often personal) relationship between patient and physician continues to erode. Often this means the internist or primary-care doctor is replaced by a physician who specializes in the care of hospitalized patients. In this scenario, communication between physicians and the patient and family becomes a considerable challenge. None of this, however, excuses the lack of interest or compassion by the physicians Mrs. D'Honau describes.

David B. Case '64, M.D.
Bronxville, N.Y.

After spending the last decade of my life in academic teaching hospitals like the one in which her husband died, I empathize with the confusion and anonymity experienced by Mrs. D'Honau. Much of the behavior of the physicians who cared for her husband was reprehensible. I do not, however, understand the purpose of the first sentence of her narrative: "The doctor's accent was Middle Eastern." Is there some hidden connotation the author wishes to convey by describing this physician's ethnicity? I wonder if paw would publish sentences such as "The physician wore a yarmulke," "The physician was African-American," or "The physician spoke with a heavy Indian accent."

The remainder of Mrs. D'Honau's narrative is suffused with sentiments that raise concern. Does she believe that having "generous insurance coverage" should protect a patient from becoming "just another numbered patient" similar to an indigent patient from the inner city? As Mrs. D'Honau realized, her privileged circumstances gave her husband the "best medical care available," but they did not change a fundamental truth of the human condition: the last days of a chronic illness are frequently sordid and emotionally devastating.

Sharath C. Raja '88, M.D.
Burlington Township, N.J.

Grade inflation

Your article on grade inflation and compression (Notebook, March 25) appeared after the same story broke on the front page of The New York Times, and I have to confess to a bit of Schadenfreude at such exposure of the university's highly leveraged grading system. However, in one regard both articles are misleading in stating there has been steady grade inflation since the mid-1970s. In fact, the process must have been well along by that time. In the fall of 1959, the start of my senior year, students in the top 10 percent of our class were invited by the deans to a briefing on applications for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships. I found myself at that meeting (doubtless by a whisker), even though I carried a cumulative grade-point average somewhere between a B and B-plus.

The current president of the USG, David Ascher '99, believes that because today's students are stronger than those in the past, they deserve all those A's; but he could do a little research to discover that, 40 years ago, there were hundreds of high school valedictorians entering Princeton each fall, students used to getting straight A's who suddenly found themselves with B's and C's in most of their courses. The difference between then and now: a student wasn't embarrassed about earning a less-than-perfect grade when so many others were doing the same. Perhaps we might have done better if we had enjoyed today's notably lighter course loads.

C. Webster Wheelock '60
New York, N.Y.

Are the inmates running the asylum? Have administrators, professors, and students conveniently joined together in mutual back-scratching? This is not the first time that small, occasional dispensations made for apparently good reason have, over time and in response to social and economic pressures, become the norm. The result is behavior fundamentally incompatible with a university's purposes.

Jack K. Busby '38
Pinehurst, N.C.

We are witnessing a process that makes all grades meaningless. The present situation is approaching pass/fail grading, which in its forthrightness may be preferable to what's happening now. This lowering of standards is not just Princeton's problem, but is widespread throughout American educational institutions. Nor does it pertain strictly to academia. Our universities are woven inextricably into the fabric of society. Although their primary function is to educate, they also owe society a fair assessment of students' abilities.

Stephen Silver '58
Waterford, Conn.

In praise of Tosches

One has to sit in awe, rather than risk fainting, while whirling through the disorienting alternative universe described by Charles F. Huber II '51 in his March 25 letter about football coach Steve Tosches. To Huber, the Ivy League apparently still plays Division I football, and Princeton could be a national-caliber team if only it had a better coach.

In brief, Huber declares that, because basketball coach Bill Carmody can vault the Tigers into the top 10 -- and congratulations to him and the team, too! -- Tosches should be able to do so with his squad, if only he were more "imaginative" in his offense. But in Huber's universe, it would be just as reasonable to expect Carmody to get his cagers into the NBA playoffs.

Tosches's record speaks for itself. At present he is the winningest coach in the Ivy League and is sixth on the league's all-time list. Since Tosches took over the team 11 seasons ago, Princeton has won more games than any other Ivy squad. At present his record is 69-39-2, which leaves him third on Princeton's career- wins chart, behind Dick Colman (75 wins) and Charlie Caldwell '25 (70). He also has three Ivy championships.

But Huber hopes that next year "we will have a new coach prepared to deliver something that will live up to the tradition of Caldwell," who coached when the Ivy League was still able to produce a Heisman Trophy winner, Dick Kazmaier '52. I prefer to sit in the new stadium and be bored watching the Tigers win.

Stephen R. Dujack '76
Fairfax, Va.

Donovan Campbell '72

Your April 8 profile of Donovan Campbell, Jr. '72, attorney for Paula Jones, and its discussion of his involvement with the Rutherford Institute and the battle to reinstate sodomy as a crime in Texas, leads me to propose a new slogan for our alma mater: "Princeton in the nation's bedrooms." Or perhaps "Princeton in the nation's disservice."

Jeffrey Shallit '79
Ontario, Canada

Kathy Kiely '77's article on Donovan Campbell states that he helps "needy clients who are being oppressed for their beliefs -- usually religious, usually by government authorities." Later she tells us he was instrumental in reinstating Texas's sodomy law. Apparently the only "oppressed" he defends are conservative Christians, all others be damned. The hypocrisy of the religious right never ceases to amaze me.

Bion Smalley '65
Evanston, Ill.

That was a noteworthy piece on Donovan Campbell, defender of the religiously oppressed, deposer of CEOs, disparager of substandard presidential candidates, and scourge of sodomy and its partisans.

One thing stumps me: about that lady who was kicked out of church when she left her husband for another man, Campbell says "we had to do independent discovery of her sexual relations with the man." What, pray tell, does that mean? Could we call such activities "investigative prurience" or "salivating inquisitioning"? Is it done over transoms, in the manner of old house detectives? Is it something you have to do by yourself? Is it dirty? I hope so.

Goodnight, Paula Jones, wherever you are.

David G. McAneny '41
Paoli, Penn.

Ducklings and gulls

I was impressed by Professor James Gould's innovative use of computer graphics and modeling to bring to life the subjects of his animal behavior course ("Real Toads and Virtual Crickets," April 8). I only wish he would also use computer technology to replace the damaging experiments undertaken by his students upon ducklings. Placing ducklings in isolation for 18 hours after hatching and then encouraging them to bond with mechanical toys does not advance our understanding of animal behavior. It is a common experiment, repeated over and over again by generations of students to demonstrate imprinting instincts. What it does is harm ducklings by denying them connection with their mother at a critical stage of development. Professor Gould says he "wants students to think about what it's like to be an animal." Were he to think more empathetically about what it's like to be an animal subject of his experiments, perhaps he would forgo needless repetition of these live experiments in favor of the computer models and video graphics he so ably employs in his lectures.

Jon Blazer '90
Philadelphia, Penn.

The photo on page 15 of your article about James Gould shows two birds. As the caption correctly states, the lower one is an albatross (probably a Layson albatross). However, the upper photo is not that of an albatross -- it's a gull, most likely a herring gull.

Guy Tudor '56
Forest Hills, N.Y.

Careers vs. kids

Your articles on parenting and careers touched so many nerves in my husband and me that we have been tingling for weeks. We felt relief that we are not alone in our soul-searching, guilt over underestimating our own mothers, uncertainty that children really need the homemade cookies and handmade Halloween costumes of our youths, gratitude for the contributions that other adults make to our children's lives, gratitude for the flexibility of our work hours, regret over having so little time for family recreation and community service, and frustration that we cannot cut back on work without radical loss of already moderate incomes. We also felt anger that, despite the fact that the parenting-career conflict affects both men and women, you focused nearly exclusively on women's experiences. Every man who has children does, or should, feel this pinch.

All of these feelings are symptoms of one intractable problem: Career vs. family is not a lifestyle issue, but a conflict created by the way in which paid work is conceived and rewarded. Quite simply, not only the professions but many full-time service jobs are set up for parents who have full-time, at-home spouses. Part-time work is rarely viewed or rewarded as serious.

We happen to be lucky. My husband has a half-time call at a Lutheran church in Chicago. He puts in half-time hours and receives half the salary and benefits appropriate for someone with his experience. But such positions are rare, and he has had to overcome a great deal of skepticism. In my profession (I teach at Northwestern University), such flexibility isn't possible: you're either in a full-time, tenure-track position, with attendant stress and long hours, or you teach on a contract basis as an adjunct member of the faculty. (I know of only one part-time tenure-track position in the country). Yet if, as an adjunct, I taught a course load equal to the one I carry now, I would earn between $5,000 and $15,000 a year -- without benefits, technological support, travel funding, an office, or consistent library privileges. Adjuncts often earn less than the federal minimum wage.

Obviously, this is no real choice. We have three children to support. Although I might prefer a one-half or three-quarters time position, I work full-time. Period.

Maybe the academy would like to return to the medieval model of the celibate -- or at least single! -- scholar. But if this model were universalized, who would raise and support children? All American employers need to wake up and realize that serious work can be done in fewer than 40 (or 60) hours a week, and that it ought to be rewarded justly.

For those of us fortunate enough to be in white-collar jobs, managing work and family gracefully is next to impossible. There are many more people who don't have access to the white-collar world, and for them it really is impossible. That is the most frightening thing for this generation of children.

Cristina L.H. Traina '83
Evanston, Ill.

I was deeply moved by your articles on careers and children -- thank you for looking at this important issue. As a family physician and a mother, I have stayed at home full-time and also worked part-time. The articles reflect the truth that no one choice is right for everyone. I was especially touched by the profile of Alex Randall '73, whose situation brings sharply into focus the importance of settling early on priorities. I wish your articles had included more examples of families in which the husband as well as the wife shares responsibility in a career-compromising way. After all, they are his kids, too.

Pushpa Lall Gross '80
Charlotte, N.C.

The most stimulating and time consuming part of parenting is emotional, spiritual, and moral: teaching -- through words and example -- kindness, empathy, respect, self-discipline, and love. The work of character development is far more challenging (and rewarding) than designing semiconductors.

Nancy Prince King '83
Short Hills, N.J.

I am happy that the parents you profiled have taken responsibility for their children and are working their hardest to raise them well. But I wonder: Is there any parent out there who would admit in the kind of articles you published that he or she regrets intended reproduction? Where are the brave and honest souls who would risk scarring their offspring by stating on the record that their miraculous creation was a well-planned, but wrong, choice?

Sandra Grace Susino '95
New York, N.Y.

I was disappointed that in an otherwise fine profile of Alex Randall you chose to characterize him as "the father of three young adopted children." That Randall's kids were adopted was of no relevance in your article. Such a description reinforces outdated stereotypes about adopted children as different from "real" children. Pointing out that the children joined his family through adoption was no more necessary than writing that they had been born, say, by Caesarean section.

Mitchell R. Semel '81
Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.

As a working mother, I find it outrageous that your article included no examples of parents who have worked full time continuously since their children were quite young. Young women need to know that older women have successfully pursued full-time careers while also raising happy and healthy children; Princeton women in particular should realize that their marvelous education gives them many choices.

Erica Thaler '86, M.D.
Merion, Penn.

I would like to suggest a couple of simple editorial rules for paw to follow in the future. One: never use the words "kids," "mom," or "single mom" except when a quotation forces you to do so. Two: in their place use: "children," "mother," and "unwed mother." By doing so, you will be reinforcing your respect for the English language. More than that, the fairness and balance of your text, whatever the subject, will be greatly enhanced.

Walter Guzzardi '42
Charlottesville, Va.

More on head-shaving

Progress has been made in identifying the head shavers in the From the Archives photo of last May 7. But in his March 25 letter, Robert H. Collier '55 misidentifies the shavee. The target is not Homer Smith '54, as good a story as that makes because of his contributions to Tiger football. In fact, the person being shaved is Bob Golembiewski '54 -- me. In September 1951, I was returning from football practice one evening during the week before the season's first game. I was heading for the Chapel for some reflection when accosted by a mob of freshmen. The shaving occurred on the steps of the Mather Sun Dial. I struggled some, but was gentled by someone saying: "Relax, it's only the riot."

My memory yields additional details. On Friday of that week, at a pep rally on the steps of Blair Arch, I made a brief speech, mentioning the head-shaving incident as a counterpoint to the unified effort by all classes that would surely be in evidence on Saturday. I then doffed my cap, revealing my new hair style, and the crowd went bananas.

The following afternoon, the three classes of football players -- no freshman eligibility, then! -- did generate a united effort in Palmer Stadium against NYU. The 54-20 score wasn't even close, and I recall making a tackle or two.

I can understand why Mr. Collier thought the shavee was Homer Smith. We then looked a bit alike -- about the same size, and with sandy hair cut short.

Robert T. Golembiewski '54
Athens, Ga.

Clapper kleptos

The caption for your March 11 From the Archives photo by Elmer Samson '41 suggests these students might be "doing a little dorm room repair." Actually, they appear to be freshmen who have just stolen the Nassau Hall bell clapper and are struggling to remove it from its yoke.

Frederick B. Allen '48
Houston, Tex.

The clapper hangs on a shackle with an eyebolt through the top of the bell. The only way to remove the clapper is to take out the whole assembly, which is secured by several big nuts. The fellow on the left is holding the eyebolt while the one on the right is futilely trying to clear the shackle -- it takes a big wrench!

When I succeeded in stealing the clapper during my freshman year, my coconspirator was Walter Lord '39, the future author of A Night to Remember, the story of the Titanic, and the subject of a profile in the March 25 PAW.

Oliver H. Reeder '39
Towson, Md.

The students on the left and in the center, respectively, are Rolf Kip '43 and Frank Carolan '43. I'm not sure, but the one on the right may be John Seed '43.

Edwin W. Bragdon '43
Weston, Mass.

For the record

Jay Crawford '54 is correct in stating that it was Joe Jacobs, Max Schmeling's manager, who complained, "We wuz robbed!" (Letters, March 25). But the robber -- presumably the victim of a low blow -- was Jack Sharkey (not, as Mr. Crawford misspelled it, Sharkie), and the fight was in 1930. In 1932, Jack defeated Max in a rematch and briefly reigned as heavyweight champion.

Adie Suehsdorf '38
Sonoma, Calif.

Editor's note: As sharp-eyed readers have pointed out, some other errors of proper names crept into our March 25 Letters department: the offended parties were football coaches Dick Colman and Fritz Crisler (pronounced "Crysler"), New York Times sports writer Ira Berkow, and columnist Walter Lippmann.

In the March 25 In Review, reviewer David Galef '81 quotes author Gary Krist '79 referring to the famous sociologist George Herbert Mead -- but the last name is misspelled "Meade." In my junior year I became much attracted to Mead's Mind, Self, and Society. An odd quirk of memory: I recall that Mead was born in the same year (1863) that another important George Meade (with a final "e") commanded the Union troops at the Battle of Gettysburg.

John W. Henessey, Jr. '45
Hanover, N.H.

I enjoyed Tom Krattenmaker's article about Jeff Bezos '86, the founder of Amazon.com ("Young Entrepreneurs," February 25), but I would like to correct his reference to an "ISBN number." ISBN is the abbreviation for International Standard Book Number, so "ISBN number" belongs in the Department of Redundancy Department, along with the Alps Mountains and similar usages.

Braxton D. Mitchell '50
Ruxton, Md.

In your March 25 profile of intimacy expert Harold Bernard '68, you quote him saying, "I use the preposition 'a' rather than 'the' to emphasize a point." I believe that "a" is an article, rather than a preposition.

Valerie A. Winters '80
Roselle Park, N.J.