Yale now and then (hazily remembered)

shapeimage_5Posted by Alec Haverstick

40th reunion May 29-June 1, 2014

We have now been fortunate enough to recruit five outstanding current Yale faculty/staff members to our “Yale Then and Now” faculty/staff panel and the wonderful Mary Miller to moderate it. I hope you are all as thrilled as I. Class of 1974 panel members will include Fred Strebeigh, George Miles, Margaret Homans, Ed Kamens and Chip Spear. Special kudos goes to Fred for his urging and inclusivity as well as to Brian Kelly who was determined to get George.

The panel is scheduled for Thursday afternoon at 2PM, and I hope all you early arrivers will make an effort to attend.

Without getting too ambitious, I would like to use the panel to kick off a continuing conversation that is perhaps somewhat untraditional for reunions. Rather than focus on why the football team loses or other things we can grouse about, I would like us to appreciate the evolution of the institution in so many areas and perhaps celebrate how far it has come from our fondly remembered home.

A few hazily remembered factoids may help. Not all are rosy but it is more to indicate the times in which we entered Yale and not a comment on the University:

In September 1970…

May 4, 1970
May 4, 1970

· We were 5 months after the bombings in Cambodia and the deaths at Kent State

· Nixon was firmly ensconced in the White House

· The Selective Service System was contemplating doing away with the 2S classification

· Draft counseling was offered in Dwight Hall; the “counselor” turned out to be a Yale Freshman named Joel Rogers who graduated in two years

nixon· The voting rights act had been on the books for 5 short years

· Yale was committed to educating 1000 men each year and our female classmate’s could be asked for the “woman’s perspective” by any faculty member of either gender and regularly were

· The doors to Vanderbilt were known as “the hymen” of the Old Campus

vanderbilt· Despite the best efforts of Inslee Clark, roughly 10% of our male classmates came from only 4 schools (Andover, Exeter, St. Paul’s and Hotchkiss)

· Fathers of Black Panthers served us cocktails and Bobby Seale was imprisoned in Litchfield. A rally on the New Haven Green to “free Bobby” was well attended but unsuccessful.

· Kingman Brewster had announced the previous spring that no Black Panther could get a fair trial in the United States but the parent of one could work at Fence

· Black separatism was in vogue and a large part of the African American undergrad population was firmly self segregated in Saybrook from which they “criticized” fellow members of their race who did not choose to live there

MLK-Brewster· Financial aid students bussed our trays and waited on us in kitchen lines

· Grades like “high pass” encouraged academic laxity

· The intolerance of the times encouraged groupthink

· Dan Voll was about to make the cover of Time broken finger and all

· Did the word “entrepreneur” even exist?

· Women’s sports were virtually non-existent as there was no Title IX

· The middle class was being squeezed out of Yale which was increasingly bar-belled between rich and poor

· The school administrators were largely members of the Northeastern WASP elite who had attended the University at a very different period in our history

bull_tales· “Bull Tales” had been renamed “Doonesbury” and had gone national. “Phred the Terrorist” was about to be introduced as BD went to Vietnam only two years after having averred, “at Yale we say take the next bus back to Briarcliff”

· The book, “A Student Guide to Sex on Campus” was the talk of the Ivies. They obviously hadn’t read it.

greening_of_america· Nonetheless, we entered with a sense of freedom and the possibilities of life as well as the need to be somewhat sheltered from the events of the day

· By and large, we were but it was hard to miss what was going on just outside our gates and Joni Mitchell was no longer singing about “Woodstock” but “Four Dead in Ohio”

· It was also hard to miss Charlie Reich in CCL. It was also hard not to laugh.

 

By May 1974…
· The Watergate Scandal was about to drive Nixon from the White House and we had learned a great deal about what really went on in the Oval Office

· A “sex blind” admissions policy had been adopted by the Yale Corporation

· The two new colleges had been voted down by the town and one had lost its funding when Jock Whitney’s grandnephew was not admitted

· “The war” was winding down and very few were being drafted

salinger_maynard_nytimes· Joyce Maynard had run off with JD Salinger

· The NY Football Giants had taken over the Yale Bowl and made our team look like the Green Bay Packers; they had yet to sign a QB named “Eli” though Laura Nyro had predicted it in song

· Neither Westmoreland nor Shockley had caused a riot

· An incipient “grim professionalism” seemed to take over our class as we took the MCATs, the LSATs and the GMATs and discussed where we were applying

· The Morgan Guaranty training program appeared harder to get into than Harvard Business School

billie_bobby· Billie Jean King had vanquished Bobby Riggs

· Alvin Kernan had delivered his last lecture

· The Beatles had not gotten back together

· The grading system had been changed but was still obscure

· We still didn’t understand the “Tuition Postponement Option”

OAYMorysVB· Mory’s had admitted women so as not to lose its liquor license

· College seemed well kind of like college and Vietnam didn’t seem to loom as large as it once had

· It would be six months before Gerald Ford told New York to drop dead and five months before Saigon would fall

· Nobody even thought about closing the “Doodle”

· In 20 years The Greening of America would apply to the environment

· Interests of the students seemed much more inwardly focused than affected by societal woes

We were about to leave but what were we taking away? For this individual, it was of course “the friendships formed at Yale” but even more so the “life of the mind” to which I had been exposed by the remarkable academic offerings at Yale and the remarkable people who actually taught undergraduates. Where else would Cleanth Brooks have invited a senior who slept through his modern poetry final to take it at the Professor’s home later in the day? Where else would Robert Penn Warren have commented on my first attempt at a fictitious memoir? What had been constant for me during my four years and had protected me from the world being too much with me was the classroom and the expanding intellectual life of the community as it opened itself like a flower in the fall of my junior year. Thank you American Studies.

yale women basketballI don’t know how it happened or evolved but as the world changed so did the discourse at Yale. Believe me, I also enjoyed beating Harvard my last two years (I will never forget Kevin Rogan’s performance our senior year or reading his wife’s great novel so many years later) and probably attended every ice hockey game I could. I even drove to Providence to watch Yale soccer play in the first round of the NCAAs. Kudos to Norm Selby, John Bellis and others in our class who were members of that team. And kudos to Yale’s first women’s basketball team whose games I also attended faithfully for two years. There were many available seats.

Today the outside world is no less grim, and while the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy Assassination gets a lot more press than the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Yale seems to match the world step by step if not lead it. Or does it? Yale is a major international university; women make up more than 50% of the undergraduate student body and, while we cannot seem to prevail on the football field, sports like hockey (both ice and field) flourish. The members of the faculty that will join us are no less products of 1970-1974 than those of us in more commercial fields. But it is they who lead Yale’s academic offering now, and, if we do Thursday afternoon well, we’ll have the opportunity for a very different kind of conversation over the next three days as we hear Wes’s entrepreneurs, visit the YUAG, enjoy the wonders of Kroon and share lives with old friends. But I hope we also will take a moment to consider how far both we and Yale have come and what it means to us as individuals and for the University itself. We were a transition class as was the class before us but less the class after us. Does that make our educational provenance any less meaningful in our lives or does it make it more? Think about who you were and what you were thinking when you walked onto the campus for the first time, think what Yale was, think about your expectations then and your realities now. I look forward to the conversation.

Cheers,
Alec


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