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Alumni Letters

Comments from our readers
January 1, 2005

Notable Alums

I applaud the punctiliousness with which you record the degrees of alumni mentioned in your columns. In your  informative article, “Gems from the Museum” in the November issue, however, you overlooked two stellar alumni—Harold “Doc” Edgerton, SM ’27, ScD ’31, and Charles Stark Draper ’26, SM ’28, ScD ’38. Another small note in the same piece: the name of the student newspaper is properly The Tech. (You called it “the Tech.”)

Claude W. Brenner ’47, SM ’48
Lexington, MA

Editor’s note: In most matters of style, Technology Review adheres to the 14th edition of the Chicago Manual of Style. Section 7.136 of the manual begins “When newspapers and periodicals are mentioned in the text, an initial The, omitted in note citations, is set in roman type and, unless it begins a sentence, is lowercased.”

A Philosopher’s Influence

Though I didn’t know Owen Franken while we were both at MIT, I recall his name distinctly from his many photography credits around campus at the time, and I enjoyed the recent profile of him (“The Road Less Traveled,” MIT News, November 2004). But I wanted to comment on an inaccuracy that made its way into the article, one obliquely related to my own career path, which, like Franken’s, was an uncommon one for an MIT undergraduate. Franken mentions recalling the advice of psychology Professor John Graves to do what he really wanted to do rather than what he thought he should do, and the effect this had on him. Good advice, indeed, but John Graves—John Cowperthwaite Graves, in full—was a professor of philosophy, not psychology, and an altogether remarkable man. It was in a course of his that the doors of that subject were first opened to me, through the vehicle of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, spurring my gradual shift, as much as anything, from physical chemistry to metaphysics and aesthetics. It seems only right that someone who importantly influenced at least two—and undoubtedly many more—MIT graduates be remembered correctly as regards the discipline to which he was passionately devoted.

Jerrold Levinson ’69
College Park, MD

Was There a Cover-Up?

The events recounted in the letter from Robert Cushman ’51 that was printed in the November 2004 edition of MIT News closely parallel my own experience with President Vest’s nonresponsiveness on exactly this issue. My first e-mail to him on Jan. 3, 2003, was answered on March 12 with the assertion that we must “determine the facts” concerning charges by Professor Theodore A. Postol ’67, SM ’72, PhD ’76, of phony tests and an MIT cover-up. On March 16, I asked President Vest if there would be an independent, third-party investigation of the alleged scientific misconduct, like the one Bell Labs had recently commissioned in a different case. He responded the next day: “When this question can be answered, you will not be disappointed with the response.” Perhaps naïvely, I took this to mean yes. On November 25, I asked him if there was indeed an independent investigation and got no reply. He announced his resignation on December 5. On Feb. 16, 2004, I wrote Professor Postol to ask about the status of the investigation. He replied that there had been no investigation.
I hope that MIT’s new president can clear the air.

Robert L. Parker ’51
Washington, DC

Competence Matters Most

I was saddened and even astounded by President Vest’s report in the June 2004 issue of MIT News. He aims to achieve “diversity” in students and faculty. First, no evidence exists that diversity, whatever it means, promotes education. More importantly, to achieve diversity means to define groups to be favored. And to define favored groups is to cave in to the most mindless, irrational political correctness. Who will define the groups to be favored? Who will ensure that candidates are truly members of the group? What reduction in standards for admission or hiring will be granted to members of each group? Taken literally, “diversity” will destroy MIT’s academic excellence, as standards are inevitably lowered to allow favored groups to survive in tech’s fast-paced environment.

I suggest that students be admitted and faculty hired solely on the basis of competence, without regard to the pressure groups in which they claim membership.

Myron Kayton, PhD ’60
Santa Monica, CA

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