Web Extra Letters

Author: Notre Dame Magazine

Standards too high?

With great interest I read the Summer 2003 article “What they’re like” in the Notre Dame magazine. I was happy to read of Notre Dame’s application numbers for the Fall 2003 class, and the description of the students accepted as the most qualified students ever to attend Notre Dame.

However, I am writing to voice my concern with regard to Notre Dame becoming a school where only the brightest of the bright can be admitted, students that rank in the 97th percentile of the SAT scores. At first glance this may seem wonderful, but why would the school only want to have the brightest and lose the diversity of the past? Could a Rudy of 2003 ever get into Notre Dame? Notre Dame should not become a school full of students that have been driven or forced to over-achieve, so the number on antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals to treat mental and emotional problems becomes the norm instead of the exception. Note Dame must seriously consider the comments by the Holy Cross priest in the article, “They all look so grim. They don’t seem to be enjoying life and my God at that age — 18 years old.” Please reconsider your position to accept only the brightest while taking away the opportunity to have Notre Dame help an average student to become a star.

Patricia M. Higgins
Kettering, Ohio


You never fail to provide a tempting menu — the Freedom treatises is another superb effort — I read all of them. To me, the most provocative offering was Professor Anthony Walton ’82, now a professor at Bowdoin, “With Freedom and Justice for All.” From my purview this appears another veiled apologia for righting wrongs among minorities, quintessentially African-Americans. It has been four generations since the Civil War (parenthetically, the righting of a grievous wrong by a Republican president despite congressional resistance; ergo, “how soon we forget”).

The clamor of “gimme & grievance” fostered by the Jacksons/Sharptons et al was not the premise of Dr. Martin Luther King. The opportunity to assimilate in an inherited national culture has been the hallmark of melting pot characteristics indigenous to the late 1900s (1800s?) and early twentieth century. Despite their unrelenting work ethic at low wages, nothing could have been more odious than the Irish/Italian/Polish Catholic stigma when confronted by the WASPs who dictated the social agenda. This amalgamation had as its underpinning the desire to be a good neighbor and striving to get ahead by your singular efforts. This work ethic transcended the absentee parenthood/support.

The positive ingredients mandated a thirst for education, tempered by a personal discipline and a compelling sense of responsibility. America was built, and continues to survive, as the greatest nation on earth despite its detractors who have “yet to see the light” or refuse to. Inherently, FREEDOM has its limitations largely derived from a close and unrelenting mind(s).

William R. Waddington
Bayville, New Jersey

Thank you for the essays on the topic of “Freedom.” The essays are delivered with lucidity, thoughtfulness and learning we associate with Notre Dame and its magazine. They indicate an intention to treat this topic with some of the seriousness it exacts in modernity. But among the most thoughtful witnesses I sense a bondage, an unwillingness to confront issues, even in that sport, Chet Raymo, who nets up his impressive serve on one side of the court.

Anthony Walton’s essay shimmers with a facility of definitions which do not really define. How would these nice terms illustrating various kinds of freedom fare in a tangle with social phenomena registered by Dreiser, Dos Passos, Richard Wright? Walton’s typology of the black Chicago ghetto does not carry us very far in examining the roots of the political idealisms he parades.

Lawrence Cunningham suggests that the modern mind is timidly skeptical before the Gospel narratives of possession. Is it unfair to say that Cunningham thinks that the transcendental causality of sin abrogates all other forms of causality, material, genetic, and chancy? I think it is unfair and that he recognizes an ironic duality of human perfection. There is an inspiration attaching to nature as there is a far different one to spirit; the first we may call freedom, the second liberation, each, hazardously, a form of potential excess, a “possession.” Their relation is complex, involving gradations of harmony, conflict, confusion, sickness, and health. This is the modern version of the ancient problem of the daimon. At least five undergraduate seminars might be devoted to the way in which this phenomenon is variously and multitudinously attacked in Goethe, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Freud, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Lawrence and Joyce. It has a clear reference to the abuse scandal and its elucidation might help in the reconstruction of a religious humanism. But by his glancing reference to “Freudians,” Cunningham seems not much at home with the question of instinctual determinants in their dynamic relation with consciousness.

I realize that the pages of the university’s magazine are not necessarily the best place to judge the cogency and depth with which a topic may be handled in the classroom. But here it lacks weight and genetic substance, as if some of its key terms were not fully deserving of a real assent, since their import had already been clarified. The epigraphs surrounding the texts are far more suggestive of material density and complexity; they hover around the skeletal outlines like birds of prey condemned to famine.

Joseph Ryan ’59
Yarmouthport, Massachusetts

Chet Raymo’s dogmatically reductionist account of human behavior (“A Bird That Burns Like a Luminous Flame”) reminded me of an old physics exercise that included the hint “Replace the man by an equivalent sphere of water.” Dr. Raymo’s assertions notwithstanding, the findings of molecular biology have not banished free will. Quantum indeterminism is apparently an intrinsic feature of our universe; human actions are not necessarily determined by the laws of physics any more than chess players’ moves are determined by the rules of chess.

So do we have free will? Why does anything exist at all? Were we created by a supernatural being who is somehow involved in human history? These crucial questions call for introspection, philosophy, and a serious examination of the evidence for miracles; we are not well served by an uncritical belief that science can explain everything.

James R. Roche ’85
Ellicott City, Maryland

Who Cared About the War?

I read with great interest your “Letter from Campus: Who Cared About the War?” in the Summer 2003 issue of Notre Dame Magazine. (In fact, I was so engrossed in it that I almost missed my subway stop.) I was particularly curious about the reaction of students on ND’s campus to the war with Iraq for two reasons: (1) because I remember from my own time on campus (1995-99) how hard it was to raise a passionate response from a significant group on any issue (besides football, of course, and possibly bookstore basketball); and (2) because I found the nationwide, indeed one could argue global, engagement with the issue of the war with Iraq somewhat surprising but very heartening.

The big issue for activists on campus in my time was the lack of a nondiscrimination clause, in particular concerning sexual orientation, and the blatant existence of discrimination in specific instances. Even with an issue so close to home (and, really, uncontroversial: Who wants to support discrimination?), organizers celebrated great success when a couple hundred students participated in a rally. Why did so few care to take a stand back then? Why do so few care to do so now?

You write that the students’ lack of activism “made perfect sense” because they themselves have never lived through a horrific war and don’t face any immediate consequences one way or another in their personal lives. Of course, you are right that greater interest and involvement is to be expected from someone directly affected. But how do you then explain the participation of hundreds of thousands of people all over the United States in antiwar marches in February and March of this year, people from all walks of life and of all ages, some old enough to remember the Second World War and others too young to recall the first Gulf War?

The lack of caring about what this nation in doing and what kind of world our leaders are shaping for us only makes sense if you posit a fundamentally selfish or ignorant student body at Notre Dame — neither one of which adjectives I think is a fair characterization. So what is it that dampens the activist spirit on this beautiful campus?
People used to say there is little political debate going on, because everyone is Republican anyway. But you say the student body was more or less divided 50/50 on the war. So where were the other 4930 or so who agreed with you but didn’t come to the candlelight marches? Did they think it was more important to study for the next chemistry exam or finish up the paper due the next day? Did they feel that theirs would be but a small voice in the wilderness, which wouldn’t make a difference anyway? Is it that while Notre Dame students are more readily willing than most to donate their time and effort to a worthy cause, they are reluctant to do so when it is the least bit controversial and they might risk attracting negative attention? Or is Notre Dame just too good at creating a safe bubble, where the problems and dirty realities of the larger world become little more than academic issues or a spring break experience?

A healthy democracy needs a population that holds its leaders accountable and actively expresses its views. That is especially true today, where the government is limiting civil liberties and the electorate’s influence on policies more and more in the name of “national security”.

Maybe it is time for Notre Dame to lay to rest the legacy of Father Hesburgh’s threat of expulsion to student protesters and make it a graduation requirement that every student has to hold an opinion on at least one issue strongly enough not only to write a fervent essay but to stand up for their beliefs and be counted.

Helga Schaffrin ’99
New York, New York

It was with great interest that I read the many splendid articles in the current issue of your magazine. I try to read it cover-to-cover every time it arrives. Over the years I have found one thing a bit disturbing and, since it surfaced again in your current issue, it has prompted me to write this letter.

I had the distinct privilege to attend ND, and to attend it during the turbulent ’60. I did not feel that our campus was a “hotbed of radicalism,” nor should it have been. Believe it or not, there were students then, as there are now, who do not believe that they are insensitive or immoral if they support a American foreign policy which involves the use of military force.

I hope I am wrong, but I did notice a tone of “moral superiority” from students and faculty who did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Let the record show that there are students and alums who “morally” ( no pun intended) support and DID support American military action overseas.

Douglas Marvin ’69
Bethel Park, Pennsylvania

I suppose one should feel somewhat sorry for Ed Cohen, “A Letter From Campus, Who Cared About the War” (Summer 2003): all those candlelight marches that worked so well during the Vietnam War have seemingly lost their magic. Not that Mr. Cohen’s Notre Dame Peace Coalition didn’t make a valiant attempt to increase their audience, even springing for free hot dogs and hamburgers at an on-campus rally. Alas, Mr. Cohen was still disappointed, leading him to call some of the attendees “freeloaders.” One wonders how he was able to tell the difference. Did they not know all the words to Kumbaya? And given the chance for Father Ted’s celebrated “further reflection,” wouldn’t he concede that it was probably just a bit presumptuous to expect instantaneous conversion at first bite? I believe the English clergy had similarly poor results during the Irish Potato Famine, so it’s not as if history didn’t offer a precedent. But then again, that would require an appreciation of events prior to the 1960s.

What is most distressing, however, is that Mr. Cohen’s self-absorbed satisfaction appears to vary inversely with the subject war’s ultimate impact on the freedom of the surviving citizens. How very sad.

Ron Kurtz ’68
Spring, Texas


John Monczunski’s “Spent” (Summer, 2003) is very hard-hitting in favor of the Simplicity Movement’s countering the dry-rot of consumerism. It is remarkable that Lao Tzu made the article but not Jesus, the foremost and longest-lived proponent of simplicity known to me.

For a starter, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests but the Human One (Son of Man) has nowhere to rest his head.” Matthew 8: 20.

W. H. Kenmey S.J.
Lexington, Kentucky

Middle East Crisis

I am pleased that Notre Dame Magazine chose to publish two articles on the Middle East crisis, written by two Jews with different perspectives. I take issue with Kacowicz s contention that reality could have changed if the Palestinians had chosen to turn to nonviolent resistance . In the first Intifada in 1987, Palestinians did in large part resist the occupation nonviolently with boycotts, shuttering of their stores and silent protests. Interspersed with these actions was the stone throwing by children, symbolizing the David and Goliath saga, albeit with roles reversed. Yitzhak Rabin responded to this with his policy of broken bones in which resisters limbs were purposefully broken by the IDF. Thousands were maimed and hundreds killed.

My question to Arie Kacowicz: Why doesn t Israel act non-violently? Israel has deferred justice too many years for the people and nation it occupies that despair and rage is all that some can muster. Neve Gordon (In South Africa They Call it Apartheid) reveals the true color of Israel s modus operandi and he identifies it correctly as apartheid. Out of fear of being labeled anti-Semitic , most refuse to make much of this apartheid policy of Israel. The United States can do the most to alter Israel s methods of governance, but to date has done nothing but reinforce its unjust actions against Palestinians. Thank you for publishing these two articles. Continue to do so.

Michael Hugo
Mundelein, Illinois

Tone Deaf?

Page 48 of the Summer issue attributes “Don’t Fence Me In” to Sammy Kaye, rather than Cole Porter. Kaye may have had a hit record of the tune, but Porter wrote its music and lyrics. Or did he? Apparently, the point was litigated, as described in Cole Porter, a biography by William McBrien, a distant cousin of mine who spent a year at Notre Dame but left due to illness. He eventually studied at Saint John’s University and retired last year from his role as a professor of English at Hofstra University.

Bob Walsh
New York, New York

I am applying for the job as music editor. You may need one after crediting Sammy Kaye!! instead of Cole Porter for the lyrics of “Don’t fence me in.” For shame . . . Sammy Kaye indeed! The rest of the issue is, as usual, superb. Thank you for such a great magazine.

William Sullivan
Friend of ND

In your Summer 03 issue on page 31, Mr. Joseph Epstein leads in his article with a quote from Kris Kristofferson’s song “Me and Bobby McGee.” He refers to it as a “popular song from the 1960s.” Please advise Mr. Epstein that the song he refers to was not released until August 1971.


Apparently the troubles of The New York Times have spread, re: checking facts before printing stories. Ms Susie Schaab wrote an interesting story on Hurling, saying that someone had claimed to have brought the sport to Notre Dame. The real founder of the sport on campus is Matt Connolly, who first saw the game in Milwaukee, his home town, and played the game long before arriving at ND. The mistake was made at Gaelic Park in Chicago when the announcer misquoted Mr Quinn as the founder. Bishop Croke of Dublin, the original organizer, laid out the rules and regulations for the sport of Hurling and Gaelic Football in the late 1800s. Croke Park is where the Fighting Irish play when visiting Dublin. I’m sure the bishop did a quick turn in his grave when he heard the falsehood.

It is a joy to see Americans mastering the sport and playing so well for in Ireland children are taught the game beginning at age 7 and many continue to play in pick-up games well into their 50s.

In Milwaukee the sport was started by Tom Mills (grandson of Tom Mills of Rockne fame), in 1995 and has since continued to grow. The founder unfortunately had to retire early with bad knees.

The young Americans who play, love the game to the extent that a student in Paris for a year asked his mother to mail his hurley as he missed it. In Milwaukee we are proud of the young players and doubly proud of Matt Connolly for starting a tradition at Notre Dame.

Mrs M. Mills (wife of Robert P. Mills ’50)

(Editor’s note: The story on hurling said Gerry Quinn founded the hurling club on campus, not that he brought the sport to Notre Dame.)

Lyons Hall

As a three year resident of Lyons Hall, during the first years of stay hall, I enjoyed your profile of what is still probably the nicest hall on campus. I was disappointed, however, over the omission of the name of perhaps the most important Lyons resident, Frank O’Malley. For many, Frank remains the heart and soul of what Notre Dame has been about.

Doug Lovejoy ’65

Affirmative Action

I read with great disappointment my alma mater’s stand with the University of Michigan on race-based preferences in admissions (Spring 2003 issue). President Malloy jumps on the politically correct bandwagon, driven by a misplaced liberal guilt in search of “diversity.”

We didn’t fight the Civil War for diversity. And if Dr. King was to be believed, the goal was color-blindness. Notre Dame is supposed to be above color (other than green, of course).

And if my splendid University wishes to strike a blow for students seeking admission, it could use a small fraction of its considerable endowment to cut tuition to $10,000 a year. This would shake down the thunder in colleges across the nation, which appear to be price-fixing tuition at around $35,000, regardless of widely varying operating expenses.

Dave Cameron ’68
Burbank, California

(October 2003)