Letters to the Editor, March 1999

The State Should Be Ashamed

As a 1988 Ph.D. graduate of the UW's Department of Anthropology, your well-written Brain Drain article (Dec. 1998) evoked strong reactions. I have believed for years that the UW's paradoxical combination of (a) a prosperous, compelling Pacific Northwest setting and (b) low, non-competitive faculty salaries have long frustrated many people-faculty and students alike.

I can remember back in the late 1970s, as a beginning graduate student, hearing horrific, anecdotal stories about senior anthropology professors who were paid shockingly small salaries. This had apparently been going on for years, and one detected a residual low morale and strained horizons. I recall a few "star" faculty who left (no, fled) during the 1980s for Michigan, Harvard and other ethnographic dreamlands, leaving behind a depleted department and not a few now-mentorless graduate students in limbo. Those of us who remained tried to prevail, knowing all the while that events didn't bode well for our own, always highly status-dependent academic careers. Now and then a "hot" new, highly paid assistant professor would be brought in from a "big-name" graduate department (e.g., Michigan, Chicago, Stanford, Arizona), and I can imagine the resulting chagrin that must have been felt by those long-serving, often full professors whose salaries still remained low, even as the flush kids arrived.

I can only assume that the department's long (and often otherwise honored) history of mean little wages, internecine warfare (during the nasty McCarthyite '50s), revolving faculty doors, and declining departmental ratings (and, let's be candid, graduate student qualifications) must have deflated the faculty's expectations for its own graduate students. And this, in academia, is the kiss of death. After all, success breeds success, and penny-pinching resentment will induce a reduced sense both of faculty commitment and of faculty capacity (to help place young scholars).

It remains inconceivable to me (although I recognize that there are tough statewide political realities at play) that the majestic Seattle area, a place of staggering (even quite excessive) affluence, entrepreneurship and late-20th century "cutting edge" technology, should remain such a professorial graveyard. The state of Washington should be ashamed.

Michael C. Reed, '88
Washington, D.C.

Talent Sitting in the Wings

I had mixed feelings after reading "The Brain Drain" in Columns' December issue. On one hand, I understand the adverse impact of losing faculty members to other schools, and the frustration of consuming two or more years recruiting replacements. On the other hand, I too have experienced frustration in the process of completing B.A. and M.A. degrees (both from Washington) plus a Ph.D. (and three-fourths of a second Ph.D.) from another West Coast university, all by 1978, and then being unable to find a faculty position anywhere. Remember the Ph.D. glut? I was evidently part of it. As a result, I and many other well-prepared and fully qualified would-be faculty members accepted the challenge of building careers outside of academe.

Twenty years later I and my off-campus colleagues have accumulated significant experience as managers, lecturers, business entrepreneurs, professionals, actively publishing authors, consultants, subcontractors, and adjunct faculty members teaching graduate and undergraduate courses for universities, colleges and community colleges. Personally I would love to fill one of the vacated positions and have been trying to do so for several decades now. At the risk of sounding bitter, I have to admit that I just can't work up any real sense of empathy for dollar-chasing faculty members, or the competing universities trying to acquire them. In the business world, competition and job changing are the norm. Both parties do what they have to do and then move on. We are all replaceable.

Faculty recruiters, please open your eyes. There are talented, highly competent, terminally degreed, potential faculty members all around you and every other university. True, most of us are no longer 25 years old, but as we actually do research and publish articles, teach classes as adjuncts, have enormous amounts of practical experience, and would love to finally achieve a career goal that a variety of factors-including demographics, cutbacks in 1970s higher education budgets and compulsory military service-combined to block many years ago. There is absolutely no reason to spend years trying to fill faculty positions when there is this much talent sitting in the wings.

Gaylord Reagan, '70, '71
Omaha, Neb.

Starving the University

Thanks for your "Brain Drain" article in your December issue. I have read it twice and got motivated to come alive with a couple of dollars for your President. I wrote a note of thanks for your article, which made me aware that our state politicos starve the University only so much, and then you start to lose faculty. My past attitude has been, if you need more money, go to Olympia.

Of all the collegiate alumni magazines I've ever read, you put out the best, most universal issues, and I did work for two years for a Christian college as a fund raiser. All of your stories and articles in the December issue were appealing to all kinds of scholars and graduates. I found your variables are equal to, or better than, Time or Newsweek, to say nothing of the colorful pictures and methodical arrangements of article and stories. I hope the UW treats you nicely, lest we lose you.

Bob Felts, '31
Bainbridge Island

Scholarship with an Open Mind

Kudos on your article Martyrs, Myths and the Mighty [Dec. 1998]. I have to admit my bias as a graduate of the UW and now as a pastor. People like me, who believe in Christianity, have nothing to fear from honest and open-minded scholarship. I have often told people that the best theology course I had was the "History of Christianity" course taught by then-History Chair Donald Treadgold. I found in Professor Treadgold 20 years ago and in your article's Professor Rodney Stark a similarity. Both men were outstanding professionals in their fields, and they were also able to approach the topic of the early Church with an open mind.

Saint Sebastian by Andrea Montegna

We often experience scholarship with an ax to grind in the history of religions. It should be refreshing to all of us to be able to explore openly a force that has had great power in shaping our world

David. E. Carlson, '78
Madison, Wis.

Thanking the Thieves?

Page 17 of the December 1998 issue of Columns asks the rhetorical question "Would Boeing underpay its CEO so he or she could be stolen away by Airbus?" Boeing shareholders who have lost billions of dollars and tens of thousands of Boeing employees about to be laid off would answer with a resounding "Yes!"

Richard T. Kennedy, '76
Des Moines, Wash.

Fruity Statistics

The UW's success in recruiting students from the cream of the academic crop is, of course, laudable. However, to dub the 1998-99 harvest "the smartest freshman class in the history of the University of Washington"-based on the students' average high school GPAs and SAT scores-is bit hyperbolic, isn't it? [See "Entry Standards Set Record," Dec. 1998]

Are high school courses and grading standards-or the rigors of the SAT-so unquestionably uniform over the decades that we can confidently rate the average intelligence of classes using those criteria? Or would that be like comparing academic apples to academic oranges?

Just the idle musings of an academic banana.

John Dumas, '66
Yachats, Ore.

Heroes and Bums

"Pappy" Boyington's parting comment in your "Back Pages" tribute Black Sheep Hero, was "Just name a hero and I'll prove he's a bum." It is obvious that every person is a sinner and has weaknesses. The difference is that some people use this fact to excuse unbridled pursuit of drunkenness, adultery, and licentiousness and to shield themselves from criticism. There are many others who may occasionally succumb to human weaknesses and do something "inappropriate" (as our President might say); but acknowledging their faults, move forward. I've found heroism in those who continue to pursue goodness, decency, humanity and justice in spite of the cynics who will say "Hey, he's a no good sinner just like all of the other rotten people in the world."

Gregory "Pappy" Boyington

As for naming true heroes, John Glenn and John Stanford spring to mind. Boyington would have been hard pressed to prove them to be bums.

Greg Schuler, '76, '98

Joining the Big Leagues

I write primarily to make a comment on the December Columns, which I received and read recently. The use of color is excellent: It is a vivifying factor throughout. And another excellent factor is appearance: The pages all seem full, without any extra, unused space, which sometimes seems to me to be disadvantageous, as if you couldn't find enough material to fill the space. Thanks for triumphing over a habit which one finds in various such journals-giving vast amounts of space to class notes and thus filling a lot of space with what are essentially trivia. In Columns there are only five to seven pages of such stuff. Good. I like to think that if an alumni magazine looks "big league" rather than "small town," it will take its readership along with it.

Professor Emeritus Robert Heilman
UW Dept. of English

Recognize Previous Efforts

I just finished reading the Columns, December 1998, article by Nancy Wick on learning disabilities, Learning Curves. I like reading the Columns articles, yet I haven't been able to identify what I have found disturbing about them. This article may have helped me identify that concern. The article only "lauds" the UW. It makes the good people doing the research and effort to address a problem seem like the only ones.

I wonder if a sentence or small paragraph saying that this research was part of a long, ongoing struggle. I began teaching reading to dyslexics in the late 1970s at Renton High School as part of the school district's effort to continue helping those with reading and learning problems throughout the district starting with 1st grade. This school district was, at that time, a national leader in recognizing and teaching those with this reading problem. At that time, the UW was not doing much to address this learning disability, as were most schools of higher learning across the country.

In Wisconsin, where I now live, the university system and state education system does not recognize dyslexia as a learning problem. There are no programs to train teachers how to recognize or teach dyslexics.

This article sounds as if the University of Washington is beginning to allow professors enter the field. This is great. This article is good support for them. However, the article conveniently forgot the previous efforts of others. They also need recognition.

Ted Brown, '67
Madison, Wis.

The Most Magical Place

I am writing from Caldas da Rainha, Portugal. I am a UWAA member and I just want to say how sad I am about the closing of The Beauty and the Books shop ["On and Off the Ave.," June 1998]. For me that was the most magical place in Seattle, and it was the place where I spent hours of my study, because of the atmosphere to study: books, memories, knowledge and experiences.

All the cats, all the colors, all the smells belong to my dreams, and I could never imagine that one day that shop would close...

This cat gazes out of the window at the now-closed Beauty and the Books.

We should feel shabby-genteel, because it closed one of the last magic places in the world.

Once I wrote a story based on that book shop. It was spring 1993 and the teacher was Professor Amy Michaels. When I read the Columns news about the book shop closing, I remembered this work and it is like a little bird told me of this closing. I think Columns should do a special news story about Beauty and the Books, it was a fantastic and magic place in Seattle. And what is missing in the world? Magic

Mario Rui Arazjo, '93
Caldas da Rainha, Portugal

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