Letters to the Editor

December 2003

Honor and Glory

Heading Controversy

While I have always enjoyed the content of Columns, the September issue was remarkable. For example, when I saw the cover, I wondered how you might handle the controversy that some see between academics and athletics. As usual you did it well ("Honor and Glory") and the interviews shed light on the subject from several points of view. What I think we all can agree on is that the UW is one of the best universities in the country. Speaking of honor and glory, I'd like to applaud the math students ("Wizards of the Coasts") on wining top honors at the Mathematical Contest in Modeling.

Jim Morrison, '81

Irrational Provincialism

The recent scandals surrounding the UW athletic program (what former President William P. Gerberding euphemistically referred to as "infractions") have triggered a well-intentioned series of interviews in the recent issue of Columns ("Honor and Glory"). However, except for one token faculty member, the responses are from coaches, former players and administrators, all of whom, in one way or another, are the direct beneficiaries of the system itself. The results, unfortunately, are the usual clichés about the virtues of character building and the evil influence of money.

No sports fan needs to be reminded of the real pleasure derived from observing a genuinely talented athlete. Someone once said that Michael Jordan must have been cut from some higher league. But any serious discussion of the role of college athletics must include the observations of some of the serious critics, who argue that big-time athletics, at any level, insists on a blind obedience to authority and generates an irrational provincialism, qualities that, by definition, are incompatible with the intellectual independence that presumably is the major premise of institutions of learning.

To the extent that those criticisms have some merit, and some of us believe they do, then any discussion which ignores them will inevitably be shallow and self-serving.

Professor Sol Saporta
UW Dept. of Linguistics, Retired

Farm Leagues

As always, the latest issue of Columns was interesting and informative. I was struck, however, by the "Honor and Glory" article about the place of athletics on a college campus. I attended UW because of its excellent academic programs. Sports and whether or not the University had a winning team never factored into my decision-making process.

I am dismayed by the growing emphasis on athletics and championship teams. When I read that a college football coach has been given a multimillion dollar contract at the same the school is facing significant budget cuts and tuition hikes, it makes me question the school's priorities. It also sends the message to state legislatures and the general public that schools have plenty of money, and that sports are more important than academics.

Maybe it is time to admit that college athletic programs have become "farm leagues" for professional sports and ask the NFL and NBA to start underwriting the costs of our college programs, including coaching salaries and athletic scholarships.

Marie Valenzuela, '79, '82
Westminster, Colo.

Where the Buck Stops

What could be more disingenuous than an issue discussing the current state of UW athletic management titled, "Honor and Glory"? I know that in the current "P.C. above all" philosophy of my beloved alma mater, this letter has no chance of publication, but as a loyal alumnus and serious Husky fan, I had to write. Why, unlike the senior executives of most multimillion dollar enterprises, does the responsibility/accountability "buck" at the UW athletic department never reach the athletic director's desk? Barbara Hedges' tenure has been distinguished by serial embarrassment, incompetence and vacancy of integrity. She hires the head coaches of our major athletic programs, and they either don't hear a message of "intolerance of anything less than absolute integrity and NCAA compliance," or they aren't smart enough to understand the words. Either case, she is the senior executive, it's her watch, and the "buck should stop" on her desk. If there was any "honor" left in the UW athletic department, Barbara Hedges would step forward, take responsibility and resign.

Bob Bajema, '69, '72
Shimonoseki, Japan

The Sham of Amateurism

IThe cover story in the September issue was most interesting. Could the juxtaposition of "Bouncing Back" with "Honor and Glory" possibly have been coincidence?

It was gratifying to learn that my alma mater's program is among the 40 Division 1-A NCAA self-supporting programs. I trust that it will remain that way.

I have long wondered how the NFL managed (with all its hype, blather and commercialism) to make the NCAA its minor league. Is there something incongruous about football coaches being the highest paid individuals on campuses, not by small factors but by multiples? Is this a case of the camel getting his head in the tent and then succeeding in getting all the way in? Is the tail wagging the dog?

I relate to President Gerberding's observation that "we have a tiger by the tail," but I'd say let's find a way to let go. I relate to Kate O'Neill's statement "that the University's priorities should be student learning and research." Let the NFL establish and run its own farm system; major league baseball does it. And top-notch college baseball players still find their way to the major leagues.

This is not to suggest that sports and athletics be dropped from college and university curricula. No. But can't ways and means be found to sustain those programs without the sham of "professional" football being labeled "amateur" and being kept on campus with so-called "student athletes"? Or should Division 1-A football simply be recognized for what it is: Professional? And the athletes be recognized for what they are: Professionals? And compensated accordingly?

W. A. Sandholtz, '48
Livermore, Calif.

Avoiding the End

I believe you misquoted Professor Donald Brownlee in the article "Dead Reckoning" (Sept. 2003) when he states: "The sun get about 10 percent brighter every million years." At the sun's fusion conversion rate of hydrogen to helium, the brightness would increase approximately 10 percent every billion years. No use in getting casual readers too worried about their distant ancestors due to increased solar energy for a few hundred millions of years.

Also, as to the statement attributed to Professor Brownlee, "There is nothing more ridiculous than the cantina scene in Star Wars" (referring to human-like alien body symmetry), I would argue that natural selection would drive to a humanoid-like body type on any planet that might harbor intelligent technological (by default land-based) life. Basic physics and geometry have produced via natural selection many parallel broken top/bottom and front/back symmetries, leaving only right/left symmetry operative. There are also many examples in nature of parallel evolution of a face structure (eyes, mouth, sensory organs packed together near the brain). Successful survival designs in nature are not random. Technology can only be developed on land as there is no way for a civilization to move to an advanced state without being able to change the state of material via fire (no metal tools built under water).

As to the statement regarding the near impossibility of travel between the stars: I am reminded of a statement in 1956 by British "Astronomer Royal" Richard Wooley: "Space travel is utter bilge." Assuming human civilization survives overpopulation, disease, war, environmental degradation and resource depletion, who can even accurately state what technologies may be available 200, 1000 or 5,000 years from now?

JGreg Christison, '86

Professor Brownlee responds: As Greg Christison points out, the 10 percent increase brightness of the Sun every "million" years was a typo. It should have been Carl Sagan's favorite word, "billion." The end is coming but fortunately it is a comfortable ways off.

The issue of other intelligent beings looking like human actors in costumes is an interesting one. Perhaps a human-like body plan is the ultimate peak of evolutionary processes, but perhaps not. Earth and Space Sciences Professor Peter Ward and I are always impressed by the diversity of creatures in zoos, aquariums and in the fossil record and we imagine that wider diversity will be seen among life on different planets. Until information on real aliens is obtained, Hollywood will probably dominate the speculation market on the nature of intelligent aliens. Some people believe that the ultimate intelligent creatures in the universe will not at all resemble Earth's "water-balloon life" but will be something more akin to computer chips. This is simply because our form of life has limiting environmental requirements and short life spans. Computer chip life might be dull by our standards but, batteries willing, it could survive a very broad range of environments in the Universe and even the boredom of the millions of years needed for serious travel among the stars.

The caution on predicting the future of space travel is a wise one. Perhaps we will find a way to the stars, perhaps we will not. I am impressed by the difficulty of human travel to the stars using known physical principles. We know of no means for practical space travel among the stars as is commonly seen on TV. The leap from the Apollo program to the Spaceship Enterprise is a truly vast one. Many people believe that it is human destiny to travel among the stars, but it is highly likely that, like all Earth creatures that have lived before us, future Earthlings will be born, live and die on Mother Earth. Peter and I think that this is probably the natural way of universal life and that we are better off cherishing our planet and dealing with its problems than musing about flying the coop.

Anti-Ivy League

Thanks very much for the article on invasive species. Many people are not aware how harmful certain plant choices can be. English Ivy, in particular, creates "ivy deserts," eventually choking or smothering everything it covers. The Washington State Department of Transportation plants and sustains English Ivy all over the I-90 corridor. Local governments and civic groups regularly hold "Ivy Brigades," but this effort is only temporary because the ivy living on the freeway continues to spread. The University of Washington also plants and sustains English Ivy. Bainbridge Island, however, has made English Ivy illegal. When you pull ivy there, there is hope that your hard work is not in vain. An ivy pull in the woods does a lot of good, but we need to stop selling, planting and sustaining it for good.

Candace Gudmundson, '87
Bainbridge Island

UW Landscape Architect William Talley responds: The UW adopted a policy for not planting invasive species in the Campus Landscape Advisory Committee meeting of April 5, 2001. Prior to that time, different zones included plants later recognized as invasive. With the adoption of the new plan, the lists are being purged of invasive species and only planting designs approved prior to that date contain any invasive species.

Defending Herbicides

I was interested to read the article by David Williams about "Alien Invasion." He had some good information about this real environmental problem and had some good input from some UW graduates who are working to combat these weeds. I was troubled by his single line which stated: "In addition, herbicides and pesticides used against invaders end up in streams and threaten wildlife." This sentence appears to be his opinion, a knee-jerk reaction statement with no data or input from the experts he interviewed for the article. Williams is listed as a free lance writer with no other expert credentials.

I am a certified forester (UW, '75) who has worked in the field since graduation. For the past 21 years I have specialized in vegetation management solutions for forestry in the Pacific Northwest. Invasive weeds are a huge problem and we use many tools to try to control their spread. Herbicides are a very important tool which, when used properly, do an outstanding job of controlling these invasive weeds. The US EPA registers their use after a product has undergone over 120 tests for toxicology, environmental fate and wildlife impacts. Only then is a product legal to sell and use. When used as directed, these herbicides control the weeds, break down rapidly in the environment and do not contaminate streams or groundwater, nor harm wildlife.

It may come as a surprise to Williams that environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy use herbicides to control invasive weeds on their property because they are effective and have a lower impact on the environment than some other methods of control. A few herbicides are even approved for application to weeds growing in water, since these products are extremely low in toxicity to fish and aquatic insects. Many modern herbicides work by blocking the production of certain enzymes found only in plants and are therefore practically non-toxic to animals, fish and humans.

Invasive weeds need to be dealt with through all measures of control; from banning the sale of aggressive alien plants, to hand pulling and grubbing out existing plants, to the use of seed eating insects and the careful use of herbicides.

Bruce P. Alber, '75
Vancouver, Wash.

David Williams responds: Bruce Alber is correct that the careful use of herbicides can be an effective management tool against invasives. The problem is that far too often herbicides and pesticides are not used as directed and they do end up in local streams. A recent USGS survey titled "Water Quality in the Puget Sound Basin" found 29 different pesticides and herbicides in the region's waterways. This included diazinon, 2,4-D (weedone), carbaryl (sevin), malathion and triclopyr (garlon), several of which were found at concentrations above chronic guidelines for aquatic health. The same survey also noted DDT, DDE and PCBs in Thornton Creek, the largest watershed in the city. Furthermore, for over 40 commonly used or frequently detected pesticides, the EPA has determined that their use may harm fish or fish habitat, despite their previous approval by the EPA. Pesticide-related problems include impairing a salmon's sense of smell, reducing their stamina, interfering with their hormones, and depressing immune systems. Alber is also correct that dealing with invasives requires a variety of measures. The question is whether the benefits of removing invasives by using herbicides and pesticides outweigh the potential for damage to the environment and animal species.

Lasting Contributions

TThanks for the news and views of the compelling new buildings on the campus ("Up and Coming," Sept. 2003): William H. Gates Hall; Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering; UWMC Surgery Pavilion and the IMA Addition. Certainly I cannot mention the first two buildings without recognizing and saying "thank you" to Bill Gates, Paul G. Allen, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Microsoft Corporation, and a number of others, businesses and alumni, who made substantial contributions to support their construction. Thanks, too, for the news about the new Milgard School of Business at UW Tacoma. It's wonderful for me to have this opportunity to thank Gary Milgard and Jim Milgard for this very substantial gift and lasting contribution to both UW and the City of Tacoma.

Walter L. Wagenhals, '56
Monterey, Calif.

Pods and Quonset Huts

For years local community leaders argued to prevent a new law school from being built in the northwest sector of campus. Ultimately, the state gave in to the local power brokers and Gates "Legacy" Hall was constructed. This six-story facility dwarfs nearby, long-standing, historical campus buildings with an architecturally out-of-scale, overbearing and inharmonious structure. Even the eight-story historic Malloy Apartments just across the street has totally lost sight of Mt. Rainier. Can it be that to gain an improved law school national ranking that "bigger is better" thinking was used? Even the four glass-domed skylights, a.k.a. attorney embryo development pods, seem to be misplaced, but alas, there is no room at the overdeveloped medical center and health science areas to the south.

While a goal of the UW campus master plan is to enhance and open up the off-campus access to the local communities, William Gates Hall appears more like a "great wall" fortification to the north and west. "Heaven help the foes (community) of mighty Washington!" When coupled with the WWII Quonset-hut style addition to the Henry Art Gallery, the northwest quadrant of campus is more of a militaristic façade destined to keep the locals at bay.

Hopefully, the UW request, recently approved by the city, to build up to an additional 3 million square feet of facilities on the Seattle campus will not have the same devastating impact.

Douglas K. Wills Jr., '64

Above Par Math

Kudos to the UW math teams for their outstanding performance in the February competition at the Consortium for Mathematics event, reported in the Sept. Columns. However, I am concerned that by publishing the pictures and names of the team members, you will be subject to the ire and likely face an investigation by the Martha Burkes of this nation, due to the obvious discrimination against women that must exist at the University of Washington mathematics department.

Howard T. Almquist, '60, '66

Postponing the Inevitable

"The sun gets about 10 percent brighter every million years"? ("Dead Reckoning," September 2003). I find that very hard to believe.

If by this Donald Brownlee means the absolute luminosity of the sun (and thus the solar constant at the distance to the Earth) is increasing by 10 percent every million years, then it follows that Earth must have been colder in the past and will be warmer in the future. The Earth balances the sun's radiant influx by thermal emission, proportional to the fourth power of its surface temperature.

If Brownlee had said, "10 percent brighter every billion years" I could accept the results. In fact, this is implied by Brownlee's later remark, "in a few billion years when the sun becomes twice as bright...," which implies a brightness increase of about 20-40 percent per billion years. I suspect something got lost in the translation.

By the way, it is a pity that Brownlee and Peter Ward did not exercise their imaginations to find a response to this future threat. Surely, in a matter of several million years of scientific and technological progress, humanity would find a way to maneuver an asteroid into a powered orbit around the sun, so as to block 90 percent of the solar disk? It may only postpone the inevitable, but isn't that what life is, anyway?

Michael J. Dunn, '72

Liberal Brainwashing

Two articles in your September 2003 caught my attention, spotlighting the liberal thinking which permeates academia. "Alien Invasion" goes into painful detail on how to control unwanted plants, but there is no mention of herbicides which do it easily. Previously 24D and 245T were even better than current produces, but were shot down by radical invironmentalists.

The article describing a test giving people one second or so to decide whether to shoot at someone who might be threatening them, "Shooting the Wrong Man? Blacks More Likely to Be the Target," concluded that racial prejudice exists because a few percentage more people shot at black people than white. When a very large percentage of violent crimes in this country are committed by blacks and Latinos, logic would say to expect not a small but a large percentage difference.

Given the liberal thinking and brainwashing of our universities, it is a wonder that as many business people give as much money to them as they do.

Robert E. Hannay, '47
Paradise Valley, Ariz.


In the September 2003 issue the article "Up and Coming" quoted the wrong figure for the cost of the IMA Addition. The correct amount is $41 million. In the same article we reversed the counts of undergraduates and graduate students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The correct numbers are 450 undergraduates and 275 graduate students. Columns apologizes for these errors.

Ben Carlsen, '00

Letters to the editor are encouraged. Brief letters are more likely to be published; longer letters may be edited. Please include a daytime phone number.

Editor, Columns Magazine, 1415 N.E. 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98105
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