Forum: March-April 2010

April 1, 2010
Forum
Wall Street

Scaling Back: Sizing Up a Smaller Duke
 

Duke Re-dedicated

I applaud the university for re-dedicating the campus war memorial ["Memorializing Duke's War Dead," January-February 2010]. As a Duke graduate who is currently serving in the U.S. military, the re-dedication is especially meaningful for me.

Updating the memorial represents an enormous step forward by recognizing the ongoing contribution that Duke and its alumni make to our national security.

As an undergraduate, I studied at the school of engineering and walked past the war memorial nearly every day. As an Army ROTC cadet, the memorial reminded me of the very serious nature of my commitment to the military and the sacrifices that I would be expected to make after leaving Duke.

I am sure that other alumni serving in our nation's military share this or similar memories of the memorial. Unfortunately, as much as the memorial reminded me of my personal commitment to the country, the fact that the university had not updated the memorial since World War II subtly communicated to me that the university was less cognizant of the recent or ongoing contributions of Duke's military alumni.

The memorial should serve as a reminder that Duke graduates continue to contribute to our national security by serving in the U.S. military around the world. Consider that the U.S. military personnel have been in Afghanistan for almost ten years, yet the university is just now recognizing the alumni service in that war.

The closing paragraph of the university's mission statement is the imperative "to contribute in diverse ways to the local community, the state, the nation and the world." Duke's military graduates are fulfilling this obligation every day. The university and the broader Duke community should maintain an awareness of our graduates' service. Do not let another fifty years pass before the memorial is updated.

Neil N. Snyder B.S.E. '98
Leavenworth, Kansas

The correspondent is a major in the U.S. Army.


Legibility Issues

The plea against tinted backgrounds and colored ink in the magazine [Forum, January-February 2010] struck a chord with all of us older readers, I am sure. Printers and experienced editors know that the readability of a printed page is enhanced by high contrast between text and background, by serifs on the typeface (to help in distinguishing between similarly shaped letters), and by well-proportioned spaces between letters, words, and lines.

Young designers and misguided publishers evidently don't know this and don't care about the readability of the text; they seem to think that liberally mixing colors and typefaces to produce something arty is the way to capture readers' attention. In fact, the result is distracting if not entirely off-putting.

In the case of an alumni magazine, that choice is especially wrong-headed. The re aders for whom the magazine should be most appealing are the older alumni, who presumably have money and are inclined to donate it. Where is the sense in producing a magazine that is difficult for their old eyes to read? Their natural tendency to think of Duke fondly and generously will give way to understandable annoyance.

Brian Vaughn J.D. '71
Oakland, California


Farsightedness Needed

Congratulations on another fine article ["Sizing Up a Smaller Duke," November-December 2009] on an important—perhaps the most important—topic for Duke and many other universities over the next several years. Anticipating that this topic may generate another article or two, I offer some thoughts that may be useful.

As you note in your article, the medical center is in a strong financial position, and this is a very good thing for Duke in the near term. However, this strong financial position and the proposed significant investments in new buildings and staff is predicated on the assumption that the nation can and will afford a continuing rise in healthcare costs and therefore in income to medical centers such as Duke's. This poses a financial and, to some extent, an ethical dilemma for Duke and its national peers with respect to their position vis-à-vis the national good.

The other thought concerns the ability of Duke and other universities to anticipate a downturn in the economy. No one can predict when such a downturn will occur precisely, but history and our knowledge of human nature suggest that every twenty or thirty years such a financial correction will occur. Given the long planning horizon that a university may wish to take, one might observe that the steps we are now taking to "rightsize" the budget should not end when the current crisis ends, but should be continued to allow Duke to take better advantage of the next downturn. For example, see [Fuqua School dean] Blair Sheppard's comment about the market for faculty recruiting in the article. Any university that can invest in faculty and staff hiring today will be in an advantageous position tomorrow.

Had we been more frugal in the past, we could be more aggressive in recruiting today. The dilemma is how to convince a leader today that she or he should put aside reserve funds for their successor to invest tomorrow, i.e., ten or twenty years from today.

Earl H. Dowell
Durham

Dowell is William Holland Hall Professor of mechanical engineering.


Bonk is a Hit

I grinned with genuine pleasure upon reading that professor James Bonk is in his fiftieth year of teaching chemistry [By the Numbers, November-December 2009]. In the mid-'70s, I was a freshman chemistry major in his formidable class. In those days there was a silly fad sweeping the campus: One could take out a "contract" on a person and cause them to be hit with one (or several) cream pies.

One day, some foolish bloke "pied" Bonk in the middle of his lecture and hightailed it out of there. Bonk shot the class a sly grin, then took off after the miscreant like Jesse Owens in Berlin. We all piled out onto the Gross Chemistry balcony and watched Bonk easily overtake and bring to justice his hapless assailant. Little did the fellow know that Bonk, a tennis coach, was in fantastic shape. Kudos to professor Bonk for his long, distinguished career, and for giving me a great memory.

Francis "Hank" Henry '78
Carrollton, Texas


Realm of Research

In "Strange Science" [Q&A, November-December 2009], author Stacy Horn claims "you can't say [Rhine's results] are the result of sloppy controls, fraud, or wishful thinking." Yet many have done so, and for good reason.

In his 1952 book, In The Name Of Science, Martin Gardner explained that Rhine, in experiments with Zener (ESP) cards, counted both hits and misses as positive evidence, explaining away the misses as "displacement," because incorrect guesses usually matched some nearby card—up to two or three cards ahead or behind the target. Even strongly negative results were reinterpreted as a psychic "avoidance of the target." Gardner reports many other obvious fallacies in Rhine's analysis.

Rhine's wishful thinking is evident in this sentence: "We need to find something about ourselves that exists independently of the body." But the selective gathering of evidence to support a predetermined conclusion is advocacy, not scientific inquiry. Indeed, one who engages in mental gymnastics to recast clearly negative results as positive evidence is, at best, a wishful thinker—and, at worst, a fraud.

Gardner considered Rhine sincere, but as the intervening years have seen no reproducible evidence for psychic phenomena, it is to Duke's credit that it no longer funds such "research."

Carl Westman '89
Chattanooga, Tennessee


Admirable Entrepreneurs

I loved reading the article "Hothouse Inc." in the November-December [2009] issue of Duke Magazine. I, too, graduated in 2006 and have since started my own company, Lark Tours. I completely agree that this recession has been a great time to become an entrepreneur. Yes, money is tight and the lifestyle is modest (at best), but this is the kind of setting that separates the quality companies from the rest. If you made it through 2009, chances are you can make it through any year.

The future looks bright, and I'm really happy to hear that other Duke alumni are forging ahead with new ideas and businesses. Sometimes you think that everybody from Duke is either on Wall Street, at a consulting firm, in law school, or in med school, but clearly that is not the case. Best of luck to all you entrepreneurs out there! I think 2010 will be a great year for all of us.

Basil Camu '06
Raleigh


Climate Curiosity

Barry Yeoman's article on Tim Profeta's work in Washington on behalf of Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions ["Pragmatic Problem Solver," November-December 2009] was enlightening, except for a couple of statements that reflect bias and not objectivity—unbiased objectivity, the factor we learned in beginning science courses but is now sorely missing in the current climate-change discussions.

As a former president of two publicly owned environmental companies, I have experienced the too-often "scientific theory" becoming "fact"—for a while, that is, until new "facts" are discovered.

For instance, in Yeoman's first paragraph, he states that a difficult issue facing Congress is "how to slow the devastating pace of global warming." Where has it been devastating? Has anyone proved Hurricane Katrina was the result of global warming? How about the farmers in Siberia and Canada who will reap tremendous agricultural advantages of a warmer climate?
Are the Sahara Desert droughts really the result of recent global warming? Are we seriously just accepting the "accuracy" of computer models for the next fifty years of climate hinged on man-made emissions of carbon dioxide? They are a very small part of the atmosphere's total CO2 content. Also, greenhouse gases are only a small part of the myriad climate variables, which include cloud cover, water vapor, wind patterns, ocean oscillations, Earth's elliptical orbit and wobble, solar winds, and sunspots.

The senator's aide was quoted as stating the three types of people involved are deniers, pursuers of other agendas, and those like Tim Profeta "who understand it and want to do something about it." My hope is that Duke will lead the way in adding a fourth: those who understand the dynamics of scientific rigor and honestly allow all scientists to publish their studies covering all sides to what is really future speculation concerning a host of difficult-to-predict climate variables.

Roger J. Colley '60
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania


Fairness, Balance

The article "Speaker Spectrum" [Gazette, November-December 2009] describes a talk given by John Bolton, in which he advocated "immediate and forceful intervention in Iran." Bolton led the charge for our unnecessary and disastrous invasion and occupation of Iraq. Now he wants to drag the U.S. into a worse war in Iran, not to benefit America, but to make Israel more secure.

Bolton accused President Obama of "putting the interests of other countries before those of his own," which is ironic, because Bolton has been referred to for years as an "Israel-firster," someone willing to place Israel's interests first and America's last.

Meanwhile, Iran is not a direct threat to the U.S., and we should be dialoguing and trading with them, not threatening harsh sanctions or military action. Bolton is as wrong on Iran as he was on Iraq.

Ray Gordon P '04
Bel Air, Maryland

 

I applaud you for inviting John Bolton to campus. I was beginning to wonder about you guys. Balance is good—keep it up!

Al Sherwood B.S.E.E. '72
Chanhassen, Minnesota


Only a Word

In the [November-December 2009] issue, you quote [President Richard H.] Brodhead as stating: "Great universities don't only advance in times of prosperity."

Given the context of the article containing this quote, I assume what he meant to say was: "Great universities don't advance only in times of prosperity."

But then, given his academic background is in English, perhaps I am wrong, and he indeed meant that great universities may also remain static or retreat in times of prosperity.

Frank Preissle '58
Columbus, Ohio


Federal Aid

I noted the article "Yellow Ribbon Scholars" [Gazette, September-October 2009], relating to returning veterans pursuing Duke degrees and a "new fund-matching partnership with the VA" now evolving. It appears that the present GI Bill for returning veterans still does not match the wonderful World War II bill that provided benefits for those veterans returning and seeking higher education.

That was the "gold standard." It provided full tuition at any institution that would admit the veteran and paid for books, supplies, and fees; the veteran also received a monthly stipend. There was no need to work out "matching" deals with the VA.

I accomplished my undergraduate work and had sufficient benefits to allow for some graduate work. It is unfortunate that Congress did not offer the same type of GI Bill to today's veterans, much smaller in number than those of the World War II period.

Joseph Cooper '50
Pittsboro, North Carolina