Letters to the editor

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

(Letters about spring 2009 and previous issues.)

Memories of the Depression

Your article on ND during the depression brought back a few memories of the 1950s. I noticed that tuition, room and board and laundry was $650 in the early 1930s. By the 50s it had nearly doubled to around $1,200. Still when my father received an almost apologetic letter announcing a $100 dollar a year increase, there was a note that effectively said, “Let us know if you have a problem with this.” My father wrote back that he had a problem with this, and we received a note in return that said, “Very well, we are awarding your son a $100 scholarship.”

Jack Barthel ‘58
Cutchogue, NY


I am not a Roman Catholic but consider myself Catholic (Protestant). I am an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and have the great privilege of being a hospital in an acute care facility under Catholic Health Initiatives (Centura Health) here in Colorado Springs.

One of your grads, Father Donald Dilg, CSC, left the latest copy of the Notre Dame Magazine, which he received in the mail, and while I was eating dinner I pondered on some of the articles in the magazine and was profoundly challenged. I get the TCU Magazine and it is not near the quality inspirationally that your magazine is. Quite informative it is, but not as inspirational, so I wanted to write and say thank you for producing such a quality publication. I have long admired Holy Cross (Father Hesburgh had a great deal to do with that as I was growing up). Another great privilege I have is working with the Holy Cross Novitiate (Cascade, Colorado) novices, who volunteer one day a week during their novitiate here at Penrose Hospital.

Thank you for such an uplifting read.

Alan E. Filippi
Penrose Hospital
Colorado Springs, Colorado

Congrats — looks like the best Notre Dame Magazine ever. Can hardly wait to digest the God features.

Joe Schrantz ’57
Villa Park, Illinois

About dogs

I thoroughly enjoyed the article “The Natural Goodness of Dogs" (Spring 2009), which confirmed that more than just enjoyable companions, dogs are actually blessed with intrinsic integrity. This further supports the adage: “May I strive to be the person my dog believes me to be.”

The article prompted this observation from my dog loving, 9- year-old twin daughters — it is time to bring back Clashmore Mike, the Irish Terrier mascot that roamed the ND sidelines during the Leahy years, the most successful era in ND history. Yes, my daughters are the proud owners of an Irish Terrier and can testify to their Fighting Irish spirit, keen intelligence and all around good karma.

As a program that prides itself on its unparalleled traditions and winning history, certainly the Fighting Irish’s current fortunes on the gridiron could benefit from some Irish Terrier mojo. Not that we should replace the Leprechaun, who like all of us, would benefit from having a loyal companion, with, as we learned from the article, integrity.

ND Nation should rise in the support of the reinstatement of the Irish Terrier mascot — bring back Clashmore Mike!

Jim Desmond ’78
Portland, Oregon

I enjoyed Jake Page’s argument that dogs have a natural sense of ethics, perhaps even a moral orientation approaching that of humans. But I would submit, in light of the “Search for God” theme of that entire publication, that one would more easily fathom the existence of God than comprehend the thoughts of a dog — or cat.

I’ve observed cats (tigers, cougars and domestic tabbies) at play for 30 years, and the Stanley Coren experiment, while enlightening, falls short of proving like-mindedness of dogs and humans. In his version of the game “fetch,” if the human turns his back the dog will circle him and place the ball in front of the human. In my experience, a cat would stick a claw into the ball and hurl it into the back of the human’s head, with the seeming admonition, “No more stupid human tricks!” I surmise that such feline behavior, though violent, is not unethical since it is just and fair.

Mr. Page and Professor Coren should note Father Ted’s 1962 comment on page 9 that science and theology are in conflict only when there is bad science or bad theology. This is bad science. As for the theology, my book (The Rainbreaker) argues for the deification of cats, a view science is finally coming around to.

Steve (Simon) Hook ‘65
Reynoldsburg, Ohio


In his examination of the defection of Catholics from the sacrament of confession (“Sharing our Sins”), Andrew Santella notes that “With Vatican II reforms, Catholic teaching seems to shift from guilt and damnation to love and forgiveness.”

Unfortunately, after offering this tantalizing suggestion, he does not follow it up. If indeed this shift has happened: Why did it happen? What changes in thinking led to its happening? What are the implications of this change?

Could Catholics have begun to think that fear smothers love, and that fear compromises love, and that the “God of vengeance” and the “God of love” are incompatible images?

If the image of God is not right, what else is?

Kenneth A. Stier Jr.
Great Neck, New York


Professor Michael C Desch’s article “Professor Smith goes to Washington” as an interesting joining of two articles, the first half of that article was a reasoned discussion of the issue of academics in government service. In the second half of the article Professor Desch seems to let his distaste for the Bush Administration to lead him into four rather embarrassing scholarly errors, that are hopefully not representative of work coming out of the Institute for Peace Studies.

His first errors is to claim that the Obama administration if much more friendly to academics, and he give the example of a single appointment, that of Larry Summers, who was unceremoniously exiled from academia when he offered the possibility of a politically incorrect answer. He countered by offering up as proof that the Bush Administration was hostile to academia that President Bush appointed the provost of Stanford University first as National Security Adviser and then as Secretary of State and that President Bush appointed a PhD as the lead general in Iraq. Both statements are stronger evidence for support of academia by the Bush Administration than anything this is presented to support the support of the Obama Administration for academia.

The second error is Professor Desch conflates the public relations battle with the Joint Resolution on the use of Force in Iraq. That resolution laid out 23 reasons why the use of force in Iraq was justified. As Douglas Fieth laid out in “War and Decision,” the PR effort focused to only a small subset of the justifications for the reasons that Professor Desch talked about, 24-hour news cycle, etc. For Professor Desch to confuse the debate in Washington with the PR battle that was being waged does not reflect well on him.

Professor Desch makes his third error, in my opinion, when he relies on number, quoting 33 professors or almost 650 professors. Academic search for truth is not about numbers or democracy but rather facts and reason, if the 33 or almost 650 were not able to put their arguments down in logical and understandable manner as such to convince others of the validity of their argument then there is a question if they deserve the title of “leading scholars.” Appeal to Authority is one of the least persuasive means of rhetoric.

The final and most egregious error on the author’s part was his throwing around of anti-intellectualism of anyone who does not agree with him. I am much more convinced that the anti-intellectualism that Professor Desch decries has much more to do with leading scholars just being wrong than in any of the of the reasons that Desch puts forward. Having seen the high profile errors of Paul Ehrlich and the neo-Malthusians, the IPCC and how wrong all of their climate change models were, and even all of the leading scholars who stated unwaveringly that there is no way that the surge could possible work, most people who watch carefully are not impressed by the batting average of the views of academics. Professor Desch would like us to put all of that down the memory hole and accept, uncritically, whatever the next pronouncement for academia is.

At the end of the article, Desch give his three points of advice all which come down to “listen to us and do exactly what we tell you, we know best.”

I would feel better about Professor Desch’s desire to engage in productive solution if he acknowledged that part of the solution was to address head-on the monolithic leftist ideology of much of higher education and the unwillingness of most in academia to waver from the echo chamber of political correctness. If universities actually had vigorous debate among a variety of divers positions then the output of academia would be of more value to the government and society.

Chris Kennedy ’93Ph.D.
Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Though Michael Novak’s thinly veiled attack on science and scientists seems compelling, it is deeply flawed.

What Novak attacks is in fact a caricature — a bit like attacking fundamentalist Christians and pretending to have thus vanquished all theism. For example, he states that science “declares that outside its bounds no realities are to be found of the sort designated…as the Highest Good, the Light [etc.]” Really? Does science declare that? Or does Michael Novak imagine science declaring that?

Novak also invokes the apparent intelligence and order in the universe as evidence for God. But the “God” of an ordered universe may simply be that which imposed the laws of particle physics, and then bowed out — hardly warrant for the existence of the theist’s God.

Finally, Novak’s “problem of good” is meant to attack atheists and scientists (the terms are not synonymous). But a worthy retort to his argument is easily formulated. And he virtually ignores the very real problem of evil, particularly in its non-human form — arguably the thorniest of problems for the theist.

I once wrote in these pages that “humility means recognizing the limits of our knowledge and accepting those limits.” But that acceptance can be exceedingly difficult, and Mr. Novak’s essay is one more example of the fact that we humans often can’t resist the temptation to demonstrate the existence and nature of a spiritual realm through arguments that are fundamentally unsuited to this greatest of all tasks.

Gary E. Bowman
Associate Professor of Physics
Northern Arizona University

Always ND

Today’s kids are different, very different, as the times do make the crowd. Thirty years ago kids entered ND not so neatly packaged. They took the SAT only once, had little sense of “resume,” no cell phones or omnipresent instant communications. The ND students of 30 years ago were less evolved with raw-unrefined ethos, an expectation of a national championship every year, and the stress of a 4-to-1 gender ratio. Today’s students have been raised more prescriptively and in tune with a connected world.

I offer an alternative to the Father John Jenkins’ view of the “Final Destination” (Winter 2008-09 issue). Short of rejoining Jesus; there is no “Final Destination.” Notre Dame is an important destination, an important chapter in life. Where else does one develop timeless friendships, endure tragedy, experience romance, learn amazing things, and set the course of a life’s career on less than four years. For most of us, the “ND Chapter” comes not in the beginning or the end of the book of life. We are always ND!

R.J. Stell ’78
Friendswood, Texas

Adoption myths

As an adoptive mom I found Amy Paturel’s article offensive (The Life You Save, Winter 2008-09) due to the common myths about adoption that she chose to weave into her otherwise navel-gazing story as if they were fact. I am offended she used quotes to describe her boyfriend’s parents — when in fact they were his parents, the ones who raised him, fed him and gave him love. While it is true that current wisdom says that you should talk about adoption sooner instead of later with children, we do not know enough about the boyfriend to agree with the author’s conclusion that being adopted is what has messed him up emotionally. The vast majority of adoptees lead normal, emotionally healthy lives.

Perhaps Notre Dame Magazine can venture into the more positive aspects of adoption in a future publication.

Lynn Chaffin ’92
Nashville, Tennessee

See letters about President Obama and the 2009 ND commencement.