Letters Summer 2014
Professor Berry recalls Cornell
Quite frankly, your spring Cornell Report is the best of its kind that I have read—positive, varied, humane (if that is the right word), and informative.
Of all the places that I have taught, Cornell is tops for faculty quality and congeniality, concern with students, and the high level of intellectual activity. It was fun to work there and live in Mount Vernon.
(politics professor, 1970-1982)
Remembering Professor Jesse Evans
I just picked up the Spring 2014 Cornell Report and was struck with what I think is best described as sudden heartache. Professor Jesse Evans, that wonderful dear, kind, competent man that all looked up to—he died. He was 89. I realize we all can’t live forever, but he deserved to and in the good health I last saw him enjoy years ago.
I recall Professor Evans as in charge of my junior orals. I was already comfortable with him, perhaps only because of his very positive reputation, and perhaps also because I’d had him briefly as part of the Humanities program. (Did I, though? The better part of a half century has dimmed my recollection of that program.) While not majoring in music myself, I certainly hobnobbed with those who did. He was someone to respect, and I did. And as I sat before him, someone in the room, him I believe, came up with the question regarding what I thought about the issue of whether or not the Eisenhower administration negatively impacted the arts. Thank you, Professor Evans, for going along with my youthful reply and getting me out of there, somehow, with honors.
But thank you all the more, and really sincerely, for your course about oriental music, which I took my senior year. That was an eye-opener. You, the gentleman, the scholar, the concerned professor who cared so much both for his topic and for each of us individually. I can’t forget what you did for me—beyond my expectations or that of the school. You gave to me, to us, and I will never forget as long as I can still remember my name. I look at the photo with the announcement of your death. There you sit at a koto. You kept it up! God bless you!
Jonathan G. Fischer ’71
St. Charles, Ill.
Reimagining liberal arts
My brother, David Bristol ’66, and I were discussing the spring Cornell Report and the letter from a ’49 alumnus regarding reimagining the liberal arts tradition. After earning the master’s and Ph.D. and spending my career as a faculty member and administrator at a public university, I attribute much of my success to those great four years at Cornell. Faculty who made a difference and were so passionate and excited about their disciplines gave me a terrific liberal arts education. Among those I remember well are Ed Rogers and Francis Pray (biology); Robert Dana and Winifred Van Etten (English); Leroy Lamis (art); Robert White (psychology), who I believe was one of B. F. Skinner’s students; Haridas Muzumdar (sociology), who was close to Mahatma Gandhi; and Alan DuVal (German). As a Fulbright Fellow in the former Yugoslavia, I tried using my meager German language skills that DuVal attempted to instill in me with great frustration, I fear, on his part. My new colleagues could understand me in spite of my lackluster achievement in DuVal’s classroom.
My advanced degrees gave me the knowledge to spend a fruitful career as a biologist/animal parasitologist, but the skills and knowledge I left the Hilltop with always served me well in interacting with a wide variety of colleagues across many disciplines—as a department chair, dean, and vice president for academic affairs.
I will always be an advocate of a liberal arts education and, as stated by Mary Elizabeth Williams in her Salon article (March 27, 2014, “Hurray for ‘Worthless’ Education!”): “When an educational system is a factory that efficiently grinds out global competitors, you may well produce a large number of people making nice money and contributing to the economic success of the companies they work for. But when your educational system also cherishes humanities, you create more thinkers and questioners. You teach people to value themselves beyond their work identities. You illuminate the human condition and cultivate compassion and service and communication.”
Jack Bristol ’61
El Paso, Texas
Brother Jack Bristol ’61 and I are undoubtedly part of the old codger contingent that upon reading about the college’s future plans has some trepidation. Like brother Jack, I will be forever indebted to Cornell for the education it provided me. It was the strong liberal arts emphasis that was key to what success I have had over the last 50 years. I can say unequivocally that the Cornell experience not only shaped me but also provided me with the tools, frame of mind, and values that enriched my life and enabled me to make a contribution. Indeed, the close reading of “King Lear” and “Hamlet” under the tutelage of a fine English professor provided me with more insights in dealing with tough human issues than most of the subsequent management training I received after leaving Cornell.
A personal story that underlines the importance of a strong liberal arts curriculum: I came to Cornell as a wet-behind-the-ears 18-year-old thinking that I would study biology. Freshman year I took biology 101, chemistry, physics, European History, and a freshman English seminar. An English professor taught me the value of metaphor in understanding and communicating the human experience. A history professor opened my eyes to the critical role the past plays in understanding the present. And, oh yes, I learned a great deal about parts of the cell, mitosis, and chemical bonds. When sophomore year came and it was time to declare a major, I sat with my academic advisor, Mrs. Rogers, one of the biology instructors, and sheepishly said, “Mrs. Rogers, biology seems so dead to me; but history and English are so alive with real people, their achievements and foibles, and the struggles to find their way in the world. I want to be a history major.” She smiled knowingly, and my biology career came to an end.
To the point: Cornell was a place of exploration, a time to find one’s passion, and an opportunity to reflectively steer a life course. One of the great strengths of Cornell is the community it creates. I understand the financial pressure behind plans to increase enrollment over 25 percent, but doing so at the expense of the communal experience would be true loss. Whatever changes are being considered, please do not diminish such a gift to young people.
David C. Bristol ’66
Santa Fe, N.M.