There was nothing I can disagree with in Roger Hull's summer essay, “Challenging our assumptions,” until I got to the last paragraph, when he wrote “that we must continue to reexamine what we do so that Union will continue to bring out the best in the people here” and “that cannot be done by remaining ever under the same regimen.”
If that regimen produces success academically, physically, and socially, why change it? With due respect to Thomas Jefferson, if a man stays in good shape, his boyhood jacket will fit. I have one my father bought for me when I was nineteen years old. I still wear it at age sixty-nine.
Although President Hull doesn't ever mention the F or S words, I presume that the Greek system of fraternities and sororities will be under the total control of the administration, and The Plan for Union is their extinction.
This issue reminds me of the Washington State initiative campaign I headed in 1978. This had to do with preserving a students right to attend his or her neighborhood school. The Seattle Public School District imposed upon itself mandatory racial busing. School board members said that cross-town busing would be an exciting social and educational experience for all participating students.
Furthermore, busing would cause equal educational opportunities for minorities that would otherwise be denied. The day before the general election, one of the leading newspapers stacked the letters to the editor, showing eighty percent opposed to our initiative.
We won the election by a two to one majority vote. The initiative was immediately enjoined in Federal District Court and ultimately declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 vote. Twenty-two years later, cross-town busing has almost completely stopped, the enrollment of the district is less than half of what it was in the '60s, the entire school district has become racially segregated, and academic achievement test scores show as much or greater disparity between Black, Hispanic, and Native American students compared to White and Asian students.
I share this story with you because I can see its very close parallel with what you are going to do. You are proposing a quick fix social engineering solution. In the case of improving Black, Hispanic, and Native American academic achievement, the answer is education, not busing. In the case of residential and social disparity at Union, the answer is to provide equal residential and social settings for the independents, not forced assignments for all students.
Bob Dorse '53
The Plan for Union calls for the creation of a House System, designed to give every student access to a social group and to good social and residential space. Every student will be randomly assigned to membership in one of the houses before arriving on campus as a first-year student. Greek social organizations may continue, although members, like all students, will live in randomly assigned residence space.
All houses will be expected to contribute to the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the campus.
Implementing The Plan for Union
In reading the letters about The Plan for Union in the summer issue, I see both ambivalence and enthusiasm from alumni. My college roommate, Ben Volinski '68, whose son was at Bowdoin when the same kind of plan was implemented, thinks it's a great idea. I see it as a plan whose time has probably come, but like Mark Ziskind '82, I see it as addressing symptoms rather than problems.
As with all private, nineteenth-century colleges in the Northeast, Union is essentially reclaiming now-valuable real estate on campus for its own purposes and, to be sure, the fraternities have put themselves in a position where they were “subject to removal.”
However, in 1965, my freshman year, the only social entertainment provided by the College was one mixer with Green Mountain Junior College three days after I arrived, exactly the same service provided my father's freshman class in 1937. Fraternities offered the only social life available.
If any fraternities at Union do remain viable, in my opinion, it will be because they will establish an off-campus presence (relatively easy in economically-depressed Schenectady) and because the College does not offer suitable alternative social venues and/or opportunities.
For years the faculty and administration have whined about the Greek system, or at least about the fraternities at Union. Now a plan that has the ability to render fraternities redundant is being implemented. The question remains: what positive steps are the administration going to take that will further benefit Union? What if the residences don't replace the fraternities as social hubs? What will the College do then? Union, of course, will survive, but will it be a better place?
Richard L. Brickley, Jr. '69
The Korean and Vietnam memorial
I read with interest your very small item about the dedication of a memorial to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars. I was in the class of 1967, but when my class graduated I was serving as an infantryman on the Bong Son plain in South Vietnam as part of the First Air Cavalry. More than once I wondered if I would wind up listed as a dead alumnus on some memorial plaque at my old school or college.
Nevertheless, I am glad to hear that there is a memorial. Many colleges would just as soon bury any past connection to the Vietnam conflict (although there seems to a certain cachet for teaching courses about Vietnam), but the dead and wounded are victims of the politics and deserve to be remembered.
John Herrick '67
Remembering Jackson's Garden
I read the article on Jackson's Garden in the Summer 2001 Union College magazine with great enjoyment. My father, Alexander J. Arony '42, M.D., proposed to my mother in the Garden. Following his graduation from Albany Medical College in 1945 and a stint in the Army Air Forces, I was born, and we all moved into the top floor of Silliman Hall. That's where I spent my first four years at Union while dad was campus physician and professor of health before going into private practice in Guilderland, N.Y. Vague memories of walks in the Garden on sunny days and visits to the greenhouse to see the frogs still make me smile.
The second four years was as a member of the Class of 1970. During that time I returned to the Garden to study and get away for a while. My fraternity, Phi Delta Theta, also took on the project of cleaning the various and sundry debris and refuse from the Brook That Bounds through the length of the Garden one spring. That turned out to be quite an undertaking once we got into it, as it apparently had not been done in some years.
I understand that there have been threats to encroach on the Garden or do away with it over the decades, as space on campus is limited. It is heartening to see it thriving in the twenty-first century, as I am sure many more will find it as enchanting as I have.
Phil Arony '70
I enjoyed the recent article on William Seward. I also am a lawyer, and grew up in the Auburn, N.Y., area. I do note one omission from the article, however, the William Seward House located in Auburn. It is a wonderfully maintained period house and museum that is on the National Register of Historic Sites. When I toured there a few years ago, there was a picture postcard with the distinctive silhouette of Eliphalet Nott on one of the walls. Apparently, Secretary Seward and President Nott corresponded with some regularity for many years.
I am forwarding a copy of the article to the Seward House and include a copy of their web page address for anyone interested, www.sewardhouse.org/welcome/seward-w.htm.
Alan Humbert '77
I read with great interest the recent magazine article on William H. Seward. Having been born and raised in Auburn, N.Y., Seward's adult home, I have many recollections of things Seward growing up. From an elementary school named after him, to city streets named after members of his family, reminders of Seward were part of daily life. Visiting the Seward home on South Street was part of the planned curriculum in elementary school, but visiting it as an adult certainly added to a greater understanding of his role during the tumultuous years of the Union.
One of my fondest memories of Seward growing up was a celebration that my father took me and my brothers to in 1967 in downtown Auburn. It was the 100th anniversary of “Seward's Folly,” which is, of course, the Alaska Territory purchase. There was a party with banners, streamers, hats, and memorabilia all celebrating Seward's purchase. I didn't realize the significance of that event until much later.
I don't think it was until after I graduated that I became aware that WHS was a Union graduate. In any event, thank you for the article, as it certainly has made me realize again the significant contributions he made to state and country.
Wade M. Goldman '82
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