By Thomas J. Bourgeois
The mailbox has been empty since my last column, but there will be no wisecracks here about the US Postal Service.
The first order of business is to thank Russell Leavitt for his three-year stint, beginning in July 2017, as the class’s at-large delegate to the YAA. When his term began, that entity was still known as the AYA, and its annual November assembly was a stand-alone event. In 2018, when it began reporting to the Development Office, its yearly meeting merged with the Yale Alumni Fund Convocation. I’m grateful to Russell for the generous gift of his time and service, and I’m equally grateful for the opportunity to get to know him as our paths crossed over the years on campus and, of course, at the Bowl.
This year’s Assembly and Convocation consists of virtual events, the first of which occurred on September 15, announcing its theme—The Arts and Humanities at Yale—and featuring an address by President Salovey and a deans’ panel discussion moderated by Tamar Gendler, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Representing their schools were Heather Gerken, Law; Robert Stocker, Music; Greg Sterling, Divinity; Marvin Chun, Yale College; and Lynn Cooley, Graduate School. There were interesting reports on, and insights into, the pandemic’s effects on teaching, community, special programs, and other aspects of Yale life. There was also exciting news about the 320 York Project, which is transforming the old Hall of Graduate Studies (our 30th reunion headquarters) into a humanities hub for the entire university, fostering new opportunities for interdisciplinary scholarship and research in language and literary studies, history, and philosophy.
Thanks to Cheryl Lewis Green, who succeeds Russell as our at-large delegate. In a late September email, Cheryl writes, “I attended my first alumni assembly and convocation kick-off this month. My only connections to Yale since we graduated had been a few reunions over the years and doing Alumni Schools Committee interviews when I lived in Chicago. [Author’s note: Cheryl now lives in Bethesda, Maryland.] I imagine being a part of the YAA assemblies will be an interesting and enlightening three-year commitment, full of both reminiscing and increasing awareness of what campus life is today. Two things jumped out at me as I listened to President Salovey’s address and the virtual deans’ panel. First, I was heartened by President Salovey’s referencing the racial disparities that have so sadly been exposed to the light of day, for all the world to see, and not ignoring them. Second, I can’t recall anyone mentioning Kingman Brewster’s name. The irony struck me since it was President Brewster who believed that a Yale education should be opened to talented inner-city minority youth like me, and not just for the wealthy and privileged. So sad to think that we are still fighting the same battles of inequities in our society today. I look forward to seeing what Yale is like today and how we as alumni can help shape the college experience.”
Since you last heard from me, there have been two more Zoom-based 45th reunion events, planned and produced by the team of cochairs JC Chaudhri and Gunnar Knapp, treasurer Nancy Young, and hosts Peter Bubriski, Brock Holmes, and Joan Spear:
On July 26, “Bugsonance,” taking its name from the “Resonance” themes of our prior performance and literary sessions, featured a delightful and wide-ranging conversation between renowned entomologist May Berenbaum and equally renowned actor Robert Picardo. They discussed their time at Yale and how it informed, inspired, and set them on their paths toward the careers that have found them flourishing. It turns out that erstwhile pre-med student Bob, who soon after graduation became a working actor (as opposed, say, to a waiter inviting diners to his off-off-Broadway showcase), more than survived his mother’s disappointment in his not pursuing a medical degree; and that May’s work as a lecturer, popularizing author, and scientist in the public sphere has more in common with show business than one might think.
Two months later, “Politics and Poetry” started with a discussion of Chris Whipple’s new book The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future, introduced by the in-demand author himself, who shared observations and anecdotes and graciously fielded a few questions before yielding the floor to Chip Carey and Rob Watson, who offered interesting perspectives on polarization, both political and cultural. Chip teaches in the political science department at Georgia State University in Atlanta and is editor-in-chief of the Journal of International Organizations Studies. Rob teaches Shakespeare at UCLA, where he has also held administrative posts, among them chair of the English department, associate vice-provost of educational innovation, and associate dean of humanities.
Rob discussed themes explored by his 2018 book Cultural Evolution and its Discontents: Cognitive Overload, Parasitic Cultures, and the Humanistic Cure (Routledge). Writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brandeis English professor William Flesch described the book as “synthesiz[ing] a number of recent or relatively recent insights in literary theory, psychoanalysis, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral economics to argue for the value of the arts. In a nutshell, resistance is for Watson their true vocation. To paraphrase Paul de Man, they demystify the discourses that would seek to demystify them.”
Chip writes about an upcoming book, Peacebuilding Paradigms (Cambridge Core), due later this year: “The book describes academic polarization in the study of international relations and peacebuilding. Relying on specialists in each of seven different paradigms of how to understand international politics and relations, each usually self-limited to its own terminology and communications networks, the book seeks to show significant, though not complete, commonalities among these disparate and isolated research frameworks. As with the counterpart political polarization afflicting many Western countries and other regions, there is usually much more in common that needs [to be] identified and utilized. . . . By sharing ideas held in common among these different paradigms, international relations scholars, like their political counterparts, would be wise to find actual common ground in their own enlightened self-interest and for the benefit of conflict preemption and peacebuilding.”
As always, I welcome your news, and I wish you all peace and health amid these trying times.