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Charting a New Course

Letters to the editor.


How a courageous example changed a life

I went to Cornell because of Andrew Goodman and his companions (“Mother Courage,” May/June 2014). In 1964, I was a fifteen-year-old geek in Mississippi absorbed in weird science that occasionally threatened the power grid and eventually sent me to the International Science Fair as a Westinghouse Science Talent Search finalist. Back then, I was totally absorbed in my experiments. I just didn’t care about the outside world.

I was the last person you might think would be affected by the death of an “outsider” civil rights worker. My great-great-grandfather, James Zachariah George, a U.S. Senator and state supreme court chief justice, was the first to codify Jim Crow segregation when he wrote the Mississippi Constitution of 1890. And my maternal great-grandfather, Andrew Armstrong Kincannon, owned two cotton plantations in the Delta. But the Neshoba County murders somehow punched through to me. That epiphany eventually provoked me to lead a civil rights march that got me kicked out of Ole Miss. That act of civil disobedience was anything but civil. It also sealed my disinheritance and hastened my exit from Mississippi.

I believe that many others had their lives set on new trajectories by the strength and legacies of Goodman, Chaney, and Schwerner.

Lewis Perdue ’72
Sonoma, California

Self Reliance

No one is denying Sandra Fluke ’03 access to birth control (“Progressive Thinker,” Currents, May/June 2014). The objection is to her demand that Georgetown, a Jesuit school, be forced to provide contraception as part of its insurance coverage under Obamacare even though this runs counter to the school’s religious beliefs.

Ms. Fluke complained about the high cost of birth control for her and her student friends. Some of us were raised to believe that if you couldn’t afford something, you did without. You did not demand that someone else pay for it.

Naomi Pollin Zucker ’53
Georgetown, Texas

In a Haze

In May/June 2014, we read that Chi Psi and Theta Delta Chi have run afoul of the David Skorton monoculture (“Two More Frats Suspended,” From the Hill). It is reported that there were “allegations of serious hazing,” and on May 2 Cornell revoked its recognition of Chi Psi. Of course, the University does not want you to know what variety of “serious hazing” occurred for fear that you might think a factual account would seem laughable instead of “serious.” And Day Hall is pleased to keep the alumni ignorant of how they use anonymous informers, closed hearings, unpublicized charges, a slippery definition of “hazing,” and the hammer of collective punishment to cripple the Cornell fraternity system.

H. William Fogle ’70
Mesa, Arizona

Ed. Note: On May 15, Vice President Susan Murphy ’73, PhD ’94, responding to an appeal, upheld the Chi Psi revocation but reduced the loss of recognition period from three years to two years, with the possibility of returning to probation after one year.

Above and Beyond

The Sagan Files” (March/April 2014) pointed out that Carl Sagan “leapt over conventional boundaries.” But many do not realize that he did so even within his scientific work. I worked in Professor Sagan’s lab after graduation, and his research group was exceptional among investigators in at once engaging in space exploration, laboratory experiments, and computer modeling. The experimental work, in particular, often delved into detailed physical and chemical properties of planetary materials using spectroscopy and other approaches. The work in his lab was guided by broad intellectual significance, not quick publication. In natural but pioneering ways, this and other experimental work in Sagan’s lab bridged two distant and seemingly unrelated fields—astrobiology and materials science.

Likwan Cheng, MEng ’88
Evanston, Illinois

Corrections—May/June 2014

Sports Shorts, page 19: We wrote that Mark Tatum ’91 was named deputy commissioner of the NBA after Adam Silver became commissioner upon the retirement of “Larry Stern.” The former commissioner’s correct name is David Stern.

Authors, page 21: We listed the book White Man’s Problems by Kevin Morris. His correct class year is ’85, not ’91.