Duke University Alumni Magazine

Please limit letters to no more than 300 words. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity. Include full name, address, and class year. Our fax number is (919) 684-6022 and our internet address --for Forum and class notes only--is: dukemag@acpub.duke.edu



I was inspired by a recent article in your magazine, about Duke electronic food-purchasing cards and the like ["Velocity," July-August 1999], to write with this observation: When I first arrived at Duke, the old "Dope Shops," the ones that really looked like Fifties "malt shops," were still intact. The post offices had beautiful old brass hardware. The school paper was laid out and pasted up with razor blades and hot wax adhesive. And the computers batch-processed punch cards.

By the end of my freshman year, the Bryan Center had opened and the Dope Shops were formica. The post offices were aluminum (or whatever they are). The first IBM PC's arrived. We saw the rise in importance of Central Campus, the introduction of the Duke Card, and the birth of the Duke in New York internship program.

We saw a lot of changes; most were improvements. But I think the Class of 1985 might be the last one to have a sense of both the "Old Duke" and the school it is today.

Joseph Francis '85
Los Angeles, California



I am disgusted and distressed by the letter from Fred Dennerline ["Forum," September-October 1999] complaining about Duke's affirmative action policy and claiming that affirmative action has been "thoroughly discredited." Unfortunately, his arguments display a (perhaps) unconscious form of racism that is, sadly, very prevalent today. The flaw with Mr. Dennerline's argument is that the comparison among candidates for a professorship (or, I suppose, for any other job) is never a clear-cut choice, but depends upon many intangible factors that cannot be reduced to a simple numerical formula. Thus, intuition and extrapolation are essential in any hiring decision.

To give an example: Let's say candidate A had a degree from a prestigious university, say Harvard or Duke, while candidate B was a graduate of a lesser university, perhaps a predominantly black college such as North Carolina A&T.; Simplistic reasoning would indicate that candidate A was more highly qualified, and that hiring candidate B, in Mr. Dennerline's words, "...damages students by creating the possibility that they might not be studying with the best professors available." What affirmative action attempts to do is to take into account that differences in canonical background criteria might be due to lack of opportunity due to ethnic factors, and to provide a more holistic evaluation of each individual's worth.

It might be difficult to convince Mr. Dennerline that he is mistaken. I attended Duke (1949-53) about the same time as Mr. Dennerline, and I still recall the active segregation and discrimination practiced at the time. The simplistic thinking of the proponents of racial segregation then is in many ways similar to the simplistic thinking of the opponents of affirmative action today.

Paul F. Zweifel Ph.D. '54
Blacksburg, Virginia


I am not sure what "general reading" Fred Dennerline has been doing that has led him to believe that affirmative action programs "have been thoroughly discredited." However, I would like to respond to his apparent belief that there will necessarily be a single "best-qualified candidate" for any position, since qualifications can include many different things.

Having been on a number of departmental search committees, and having chaired two, I know how hard it is for a committee to compare the sometimes very different strengths of the dozens of applicants for any position we advertise. What usually happens is that we wind up interviewing candidates we like for a variety of reasons. Among those reasons can be the fact that a particular candidate would, because of his or her ethnicity, bring a welcome diversity to what has been a fairly homogeneous faculty. Admittedly, this may be more of an issue in a public institution such as the one where I work, because we serve a region with a diverse population, and our public expects to see that diversity reflected in our faculty and staff. But I see nothing wrong with Duke having as a goal increasing the diversity of the faculty.

Dennerline is right to imply that issues of race and gender should not outweigh matters of scholarship and teaching, but he is wrong to suggest that diversity issues should play no part at all in hiring decisions.

Robert Zeller '73
Cape Girardeau, Missouri



I noted with interest the "spin" that Duke Medical Center used in describing the suspension of federally supported clinical research as described in the story "Managing a Medical Makeover" [September-October 1999]. As per the story, on May 10, the federal Office for Protection from Research Risk (OPRR) directed the medical center to suspend enrollment of new subjects in federally supported clinical trials because of "administrative deficiencies" with Duke's Institutional Review Board (IRB).

The article states that IRBs examine and approve research proposals that involve human participants. This is a correct statement, but doesn't do justice to the critical role of IRBs: safeguarding the rights and welfare of human research subjects. They do this by carefully reviewing the study protocol and consent forms prior to the initiation of any study, reviewing changes to these documents as the study proceeds, evaluating serious adverse events that occur during the study, and annually reviewing the progress of the study. According to the story, Duke Medical Center conducted as many as 2,200 projects involving human subjects at any one time with a single IRB that met once a month and had a support staff of two. There is no way that IRB members, no matter how conscientious, could possibly review adequately that many studies under those conditions.

Moreover, I think the statement in the story that "there is going to be a significant cost factor" in implementing changes in Duke's IRB is unwarranted. Clinical trials are one of the dwindling sources of income to university medical centers in today's health-care environment. Duke receives tens of millions of dollars annually for federally and privately supported clinical research. The cost of an IRB and its support staff is a very small part of the income generated by these research dollars.

Finally, the sidebar about Single Project Assurances is irrelevant in this setting. Duke and most major U.S. medical institutions have received Multiple Project Assurances (MPA) from OPRR, an Assurance that applies during fixed and renewable periods to a broad spectrum of unrelated research activities. Federally supported research at institutions with an MPA-type Assurance may be reviewed by the approved IRB at the MPA site without further involvement of OPRR. This is all the more reason that such MPA-approved IRBs must have the time, training, resources, and staff to perform their duties adequately.

I am glad that Duke has modified its IRB procedures, and I hope that my alma mater will become a leader in promoting quality human subject research, including research on how to perform clinical studies under the highest ethical standards.

Linda L. Rosendorf '69
Rockville, Maryland


Robert J. Bliwise's story describing Duke's subject protection revisions was excellent! It was clear, concise, and complete. I have been monitoring clinical trials for nine years and have visited a number of investigator sites. A successful clinical trial requires excellent ethics, high quality communications, and complete and accurate data. All team members are important.

Thanks for the insight offered in this article.

Sally Peterson Snyder '66
Hopkinton, Massachusetts



I was surprised at the "unscientific" tone of "Evidence of Evolution" ["Update"] in the September-October 1999 issue of Duke Magazine. The article employed the same concept as raising your voice in an oral argument when you don't have the facts on your side.

Calling the theory of evolution a fact is unscientific in itself. Comparing evolution with gravity, which can be readily observed, leads to the notion that scientific "facts" are established by observation. Belief in the theory of evolution requires faith. Could it be that this belief stems from philosophical rather than scientific presuppositions that tend to ignore or minimize evidence to the contrary?

It takes far more faith to believe in the evolution of man from other species than it does to believe in an intelligent Creator. The intricacies of the human body, the constancy of days and seasons, and the variety of species all stand as overwhelming evidence of a Creator.

James M. Robinson '75
Norcross, Georgia


In response to "Evidence of Evolution," I am somewhat dismayed by its biased slant. While it presents interesting information about recent fossil finds that the article's writer obviously believes support the belief that evolution is more than a theory, the article never defines what it means by the term "evolution." The question is begged--presuming that everyone knows what evolution is. Evolution has become a general term that confuses everyone.

I presume from "Evidence of Evolution" that evolution is the progressive change occurring in natural species over many years and originating in "accidental" mutations that have perpetuated themselves through so-called natural selection. Perhaps the story also implies that animals and plants evolved through "choice" of their own--that they have somehow had and now have the power to progressively change themselves without any assistance from a higher intelligence, or mind. If this were true, it seems to me that birds would have developed along with wings the mental capacity of humans, and humans would have grown wings so they could enjoy flying like the birds without the hazards of commercial aviation.

Reference is made in your story to the August 1999 Kansas state school board decision to remove evolution as a requirement of the state curriculum, and with all due respect for Duke primatologist [Elwyn] Simons, I think those who believe in creation by a Supreme Mind or Being are justified in considering some views of evolution as "only a theory," and are not "ridiculous." Belief in the law of cause and effect requires many people to believe that a Supreme Being, Mind, or God caused the natural world to be designed and made as it is. The common sense of everyday life tells us that behind every design with a purpose there is a designer. Whether it be wings of a bird, the snapping of the jaws of a Venus flytrap around a hapless insect, or the amazing structures of eyes and teeth, there is ample evidence in the world of purpose and design that points to a Supreme Intelligence.

No reasonable person would want to take science out of education, and doesn't everyone agree with Professor Simons that "Science is why we have medicine, this telephone, airplanes..." I think that the scientific fossil records do show that living things of the natural world have changed over periods of time, and one can call this process evolution; but this does not justify the teaching of some presentations of the theory of evolution that preclude the reasonable point of view that there is a Supreme Mind called God who designed, brought, and is bringing the changing natural world into being.

Professor Simons said in your story that evolution is "a fact as much as gravity is. Who has seen gravity?" I ask Professor Simons: "Who has seen God?" But there is plenty of physical evidence recorded in the Holy Bible that God exists. Of course, belief in that physical evidence requires an element of faith that may seem too unscientific for many present-day evolutionists.

Lee James Best Jr. '52
Dunn, North Carolina



In the September-October 1999 "Forum," David Henderson '68 was concerned about the emphasis placed on an exhibition of covers from "romance novels" mounted by the Duke University Museum of Art. He hoped that if Duke is "going to be the best university in the world then we have to get the best university art museum in the world," and it is agreed that with the gift of Raymond Nasher, such a museum may be realized.

However, if Duke is to remain true to its students and alumni, past and present, including the Durham community, it is hoped that the director of the evolving new museum will correct a glaring absence in the permanent collection by starting the acquisition of representative examples of the works of African-American artists. It is my understanding that the museum does have an ever-expanding collection of Russian and South American art, but almost nothing representing the many artists with recognized reputations, such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, David Driskell, Sargent Johnson, William H. Johnson, and many others who have worked hard in the present and past to achieve national and international reputations, producing works that many academic institutions utilize as teaching support for the undergraduate and graduate art history students.

Initiating and expanding such a collection would certainly have the support of the Durham community, students, and alumni, and very possibly draw the financial support of many business leaders throughout the country as well as eventual participation of the many African-American alumni of Duke.

Joseph S. Cooper '50
Pittsboro, North Carolina



The faculty selected some excellent books for first-year students to read [Quad Quotes, "Reading List," September-October 1999], but I am disappointed that not one faculty member selected any book written before World War II. Do our faculty think all great thoughts began in 1945? What happened to the idea that students should read great classics? The students will not understand the important ideas of the earlier centuries.

Jim Horton '77
Charlotte, North Carolina



I was recently purging a small stack of Duke Magazines I have collected over the past few years and was reminded what a welcome gift it is each issue to be pulled back into the university community. It has been nearly seven years since I stepped on campus and, other than the high profile of our athletics on television, it is easy to lose the anchor Duke has always provided as I have moved from Minneapolis to New Orleans to Seattle.

That said, I would encourage the editors to include a regular update on the city of Durham as a further gesture to connect us back to a place we all once called home, whether it was 1929 or 1999. Though Duke has been criticized for turning an elitist shoulder to the local community, most of us who ventured outside the East Campus walls are as likely to be moved by the progress of the living community around Duke as by the expanding resources on campus. An honest look at Duke's role in civic initiatives, public celebrations, cooperation, and conflict would open a fuller picture of the wide life the magazine otherwise describes.

Since so many of our faculty and alumni have deep connections to Durham, through the public schools, political and community organizations, or through research on the cultural history of the area, I am sure a profile of local people, places, and challenges would be a welcome addition to Duke Magazine. For those of us many thousands of miles away, it would remind us of how long it has been since we've been home.

Greg Carter '89
Seattle, Washington

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