Forum: January-February 2010

January 31, 2010
Wall Street

Spencer Platt/ Getty Images

Crisis Mismanagement

I found it disturbing that you would run the article "Crisis Managers" [September-October 2009] with the congratulatory tone that "A statistically outsized number of Duke alumni played a central role." The article focuses on the crisis management, but never points out that these alumni were also part of a group of people that created the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

We have heard that the financial sector needs to pay large salaries and bonuses to retain "talent." Yet this "talent" has driven our economy off a financial cliff. The fact that they were able, at the last minute, to prevent a potentially deeper fall is not reason for congratulations. It should have provoked a deep questioning of methods, roles, and responsibilities.

All around me, I see people who have lost their dreams, retirement, homes, jobs, and health care through no fault of their own. It makes this article hard to stomach.

Julia Webb Gaskin '77
Hull, Georgia

 

While informative about several important episodes in the developing financial crisis we are still living through and the roles played by a handful of Dukies, "Crisis Managers" by William D. Cohan is distressing in two aspects.

The absence of personal responsibility is palpable—these events just "happened" to the actors apart from their volition. A matching problem is the reliance on a well-honed mantra of Wall Street: The crisis is only the downturn in the natural cycles of capitalism rather than the result of risky decisions gone bad.

Perhaps Cohan's book gives a different impression, but the article depicts the "thrill" of the managerial chase. Some ethical implications would have been welcome.

Robert Bacher P '91
Chapel Hill

 

Your dramatic story about the 2008 American financial crisis leaves out the central cause of the crisis. This, of course, is always the federal government, this time in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Also, Congress, the Federal Reserve, and ACORN were involved!

Lewis H. Lipsius HS '71
Marietta, Georgia


Striking the Band

I receive several alumni magazines, and I am always impressed with the quality of your publication. However, I believe that you have an incorrect caption under the photo of the marching band on page 53 of the September-October 2009 issue.

Instead of "halftime football festivities," this photo appears to be of the band performing the National Anthem prior to the game. If you look closely, you will notice that none of the spectators on the sidelines is wearing a cap and almost all are facing left to the off-camera flags at the closed end of Wallace Wade. In fact, two officials on the far sideline at the 42 or 43 yard lines have their hands and caps across their hearts.

The sidelines are immaculate with no discarded paper cups, athletic tape, or other debris that accumulates during a game. Also, the band's flag corps has all lowered its banners. Though this could occur during other musical numbers, it is standard procedure for the National Anthem.

I could be mistaken, but I worked for some time as a photo archivist for a sports publication, and noticing such details was a critical aspect of the job. I look forward to future issues of the magazine.

James Meier '85, M.B.A. '87
St. Louis

 

Thank you for your "By the Numbers" profile of the Duke University Marching Band in the September-October 2009 issue. I have many memories of my three years (1989 to 1992) as a member of DUMB under the direction of the great Neil Boumpani.

However, you missed the mark on one of your numbers by quite a bit. In 1991, DUMB traveled to Tokyo for the Coca-Cola Bowl (Duke vs. Clemson)—a distance of 6,902 miles (as the crow flies)—far surpassing the 736 miles from Duke to Notre Dame! Those of us who made that trek will never forget Thanksgiving in Japan, all the Coca-Cola we could drink, and those fabulous white uniforms—complete with cowboy hats!

Mary Margaret Wood Allwein '93
Columbus, Ohio


Visual Vexation

I look forward to receiving and reading the magazine. However, I am finding it impossible to read articles printed on colored backgrounds such as: "All the Money in the World" on page 18 of the September-October 2009 issue. And please, always use black ink—older eyes need the help!

Myra Clark Markham '48
Durham


Inefficient Education

In his article "Losing Our Educational Edge", Gordon Stanley contends that it is important for the U.S.to increase the educational-attainment level of the populace, worrying that "our younger generation is in danger of becoming less well educated than its predecessors."

There is a great deal of inefficiency in our educational system, especially in the early grades where poor teaching and faddish theories do lasting damage to many children. I think it's a mistake, however, to focus on the percentage of people who obtain college degrees and jump to the conclusion that the nation is becoming "less well educated" if that percentage should fall. I say that for two reasons.

First, formal coursework, credits, and degrees are not the only measure of a person's level of education. We learn at least as much, if not more, outside of classrooms. I have two degrees to my name but don't think that I'm better educated than my parents. They did not go past high school, but high school certainly was not the end of their learning.

Second, there is ample evidence that the U.S. has already pushed college education far past the point of diminishing returns. We now find many, many people with college degrees doing jobs that only call for trainability, not advanced academic preparation. It's instructive to look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data in this regard. The country has lots of college-educated people doing jobs like bellhops and theater ushers.

There is nothing to be gained simply by outdoing other nations with respect to the percentage of college graduates. Individuals will find the ideal level of education (formal and informal) for themselves. We shouldn't try to centrally plan to reach the "highest" national ranking. Doing that will give us longer and more costly formal education, but it won't make us wiser or more productive.

George C. Leef J.D. '77
Raleigh


Fair-Trade Hype

That was a very interesting article on the School House clothing line ["Move Over, Abercrombie," July-August 2009] and its conception and development. I have never bought anything from the Duke merchandise catalogues, maybe because the items offered seemed uninteresting and unimaginative. So, from a marketing standpoint, this is very impressive.

But, and a big but, the use of all the feel-good terms "ethically produced," "paying a living wage," and "fair-trade clothing," none of which is ever defined, are, in my opinion, just a lot of hype.

Rachel Weeks states that they pay their Sri Lankan factory workers double what they would typically make. Since this consisted of only sixty people, I would think that would have a very negative impact on the community as a whole.

Now this group with twice as much money can buy more than their share of living necessities, causing prices to rise and hurting everyone else. Interesting how these employees now want child care and driving lessons, as if they could not pay for these things with their extra income.

I don't know what the official definition of fair trade is, but I would hardly think it means producing something in a poor, underdeveloped country at a very cheap labor cost and then selling it to people in a very wealthy one, particularly a country that could have produced the same product and, in addition, could use some help solving some unemployment problems.

As far as the pay rate for School House factory workers, I would think 10 to 20 percent over the going rate would be more than appropriate and therefore cause other factories in the area to increase their pay rates, benefiting the community as a whole.

By the way, I hope the Duke models got paid a living wage for their work!

William R. Hanling '61
Greensboro