Forum: September-October 2009

Uncle Terry, the devil made us do it.Duke University Archives

Duke University Archives

Say Uncle

Thank you for printing former President Terry Sanford's January 1984 "avuncular letter" [Under the Gargoyle, May-June 2009], which urged students to clean up our language at basketball games.

I remember receiving the letter and having to look up the word "avuncular" in the dictionary. I also recall the next basketball game, during which students heeded Uncle Terry's advice. When a ref made a bad call, instead of shouting an obscenity, the students chanted: "We beg to differ." Clever, and classic Duke.

Abby Johnson Raphael '84
Arlington, Virginia


Ouch! That really hurts, Uncle Terry.

Twenty-six years after last camping out for a Duke basketball game, I find out—from the 1984 "avuncular" letter you so graciously reprinted—that President Terry Sanford thought we as Duke fans were crude and profane, lacked ideas, originality, and respect, and were without class.

As a member of the Trinity Class of 1983, I was a freshman when Bill Foster left Cameron and was replaced as coach by a young, unknown New Yorker who insisted that our then-slow-footed, but sharpshooting guards play only man-to-man defense. We, as a class, watched as Tinkerbell [Eugene Banks '81] made magic as a senior in a 66-65 triple-overtime win against Carolina, only to later miss out on the NCAAs that year.

We watched as our beloved Blue Devils missed all postseason play our junior and senior years while the hated Tar Heels and Wolfpack each won a national championship. It was all so painful. But not half as much as learning that our memories of jeering Michael Jordan, Ralph Sampson, and Lorenzo Charles—memories of smug cleverness and wit—may have been all wrong.

I so enjoyed your silver-anniversary issue with the looks back and forward—until that last page and the dreaded letter. Maybe your choice to print the letter was profound; all our wonderful memories from the past need a jolt of truth every now and then. But this one hit home.

I'll think about it long and hard. But for now—Go to hell Carolina! Go to hell!

Jonathan Wroblewski '83
Arlington, Virginia

In Defense of Klopfer

I am writing in response to the assertion made that students have been inspired to attend Duke by student-athlete Bill Werber ['30] but not by Professor Peter Klopfer [Forum, May-June 2009].

Peter's reputation as a researcher attracted a number of graduate students to Duke, many of whom have become well-known biologists in their own right. These include Dan Rubenstein [Ph.D. '77], now chair of Princeton's department of ecology and evolutionary biology, and my father, Ron Pulliam [Ph.D. '70], now a professor emeritus at the University of Georgia. In addition, Peter's enthusiasm for Duke was a large factor in my decision to attend the school, nearly thirty years later.

I have made an additional gift to the school this year in honor of Peter's many years of service to Duke, his enthusiasm for the school and its students, and his willingness to stand up for what's right in spite of the consequences. I encourage others who have been inspired by Peter through the years to do the same.

Juliet Pulliam '02

Statistics Test

Among astute comments about the next twenty-five years, I was surprised to find egregious abuse of statistics by public policy professor Paula McClain ["Hold the Hallelujahs," May-June 2009]. She argues that voters who don't vote for Democrats and Obama are proof of racism. The 54 percent of younger whites who voted mostly for Obama, she says, "might signal that younger whites … were more likely to support a black man." Probably, it indicates the truism that younger voters favor liberal politicians.

She abuses statistics, facts, and reason to equate conservative or libertarian with racist. What about conservative support for black figures like Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, Michael Steele, Ward Connerly, Clarence Thomas, or J.C. Watts? She would have to say that the only true blacks are liberal blacks.

McClain also abuses statistics on education, infant mortality, and housing. "Income and credit scores" are not the only or even always the most important influences on mortgage rates. Infant mortality rates strongly correlate with single motherhood, teenage mothers, education, and drug and alcohol use in all races. Using her logic, we'd have to say that America discriminates in favor of Asians because they consistently score higher than whites or blacks academically.

Racism exists in all races, but McClain proves nothing but her own bias, and she insults many who worked hard for civil rights. I won my first journalism award in high school for editorials against racism. At Duke, I joined the civil rights movement and picketed downtown. In rural North Carolina, as chairman of a county Democratic Party, I integrated the party leadership and supported my black successor. I chaired the Chapel Hill-Carrboro ACLU. I didn't vote for Obama.

More important than my feelings about McClain's stereotypes is whether the kind of shoddy argument she uses is accepted as scholarship and teaching at Duke.

Wallace Kaufman '61
Harrisburg, Oregon

Paula McClain implies that because a majority of whites (55 percent) voted for John McCain, there is racism among the white voters, and more work needs to be done to bring that number down in the next twenty-five years. This might be true if race was the only significant issue in the election, but obviously there are others.

For instance, if white voters were to vote their pocketbooks, since McCain wanted lower taxes for the wealthy than Obama did, and since the wealth of the median white is higher than 55 percent of the population, that shows that whites actually voted against their economic self-interest to vote for someone of another race.

Also, she doesn't mention the percent of black voters voting for Obama. Since this was above 85 percent, are the black voters therefore racist?

Richard Bergesen '59
West Chester, Pennsylvania

Paula McClain responds:
Both letter writers attribute to my essay things that I did not say, which highlights the difficulty of talking about race. No matter our own personal narrative in working to alleviate the effects of the nation's racial history, we cannot ignore the very real fact that racial disparities exist, as the statistics reported in the essay confirm.

In January 2008, the City of Baltimore filed suit against several banks, charging them with steering blacks, who qualified for prime mortgages, into the subprime market, and the U.S. Supreme Court, on its last day of its most recent session, upheld the New York State attorney general's right to go after banks for the very same practices. The Court's recent upholding of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, by an 8-1 vote, is also illustrative of the continuing role that race plays in the electoral arena.

In the area of electoral politics, political-science research on voter choice continues to show that race of the voter and race of the candidate are significant predictors of the calculus that individuals use in deciding for whom to vote. Does this mean that race is determinative for every single voter? Of course not, but our multivariate, generalized models continue to show that race is a statistically significant predictor. 

Art, Rethought

It is regrettable that the explicit instructions I gave for the layout of my essay with Dan Perjovschi's drawing ["More and Less," May-June 2009] were not followed, as the way my piece appeared in Duke Magazine's twenty-fifth anniversary issue is incomprehensible. Although the magazine's online site also does not follow the layout I requested, it is closer to my original intention.

Kristine Stiles
Professor of contemporary art

Editor's note: To see the alternative presentation, go to click here.

Hogwarts and All

I enjoyed various perspectives in the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the magazine. However, I was appalled, somewhat terrified, though not altogether surprised, to see that Dean Sue Wasiolek's ['76, M.H.A. '78, LL.M. '94] vision of Duke's future includes constant surveillance of all students with swift punishments meted out to any student who might disable the "personal GPS so that you can run and hide." It seems that overseeing noise complaints and underage drinking is not quite Orwellian enough; apparently all student activities—anytime, anywhere—must be carefully monitored. Dean Sue also predicts that Quidditch will someday be a varsity sport, but it is clear that Duke already has its Dolores Umbridge!

Robert T. Tally Jr. '91, J.D. '01
San Marcos, Texas

A Continuing Education

Thanks for the silver anniversary issue's "continuing-ed" flavor. The voices of faculty members and students effectively extended the Duke classroom experience to this half-century club "student."

Virginia Gunn Fick '47
High Point, North Carolina

Additional Letter for the Web

Loved the content of the twenty-five-year prospective, but I have to say that the layout was a bit odd. Splitting authors' words onto different pages was confusing and not as visually appealing. Just my two cents.

But again, I loved the content—very useful and thought-provoking.

Paul Teller '93

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