Johns Hopkins Magazine -- November 1997
Johns Hopkins Magazine


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Students' needs have been eclipsed
What will become of the dying?
A great national resource?
The "real" cost of war
Wanted: more on undergrad life

Students' needs have been eclipsed

I was impressed with the behind-the-scenes approach taken in your article, "Tenure Under Scrutiny" [September]. The comments expressed by tenured faculty about the lack of respect afforded to excellence in teaching over that given to research is shameful.

Hopkins is a premier research institution and, indeed, this quality is a singular draw for applicants and a source of intense appreciation for those, like myself, who benefited from such rigorous experiences. However, during the years 1991 through 1995, an increased reliance on visiting or adjunct professors and teaching assistants became the norm as class sizes increased, particularly in Arts & Sciences. The result: less time spent with an experienced professor and, moreover, little opportunity for the much touted "independent study."

This trend has not always been the case. In years past, professors invited students to their homes or involved themselves in supervising on-campus organizations. Somehow the excuse of pursuing excellence in research has eclipsed the general needs of the students.Tenure should be conditioned not only on research, but also on basic interaction with the student body. It is possible to have both, but only if professors are forced to take on larger, more traditional, roles.

Adam Drew Lippe
Baltimore, MD

The perusal of your recent article " Tenure Under Scrutiny" clears up in my mind the chief reason why college educational costs have so grossly exceeded the rate of inflation for so many years.

It is now quite obvious that when the tuition costs must include 60 percent of the time faculty devote to writing books, rather than the primary job of teaching, the result will be that students are grossly overcharged so that the extra funds can be devoted to book research and writing. It is also quite probable that the teaching assignment suffers.

I am sure that the professors today are no better at their jobs than were those who taught me in the early '30s. The tuition then was $400 annually; now it is $21,000--52 times higher. Meantime, the purchasing power of our dollar is 20 times less. So tuition should actually be around $8,000 or less.

Let's get rid of "tenure." Your article indicates that the reason for establishing it no longer exists. Hire your faculty for one reason--their ability to teach, and promote on that basis only.

Caleb R. Kelly, Jr. (AB '33)
Claiborne, MD

The reporters who researched and wrote "Tenure Under Scrutiny" are to be congratulated for their thorough labors. They compel belief. It is not to be supposed that Hopkins differs much from other major universities or even from certain bucolic liberal arts colleges, but it is singularly free from any restricting effects of Judeo-Christian founding.

As for teaching, Jacques Barzun's pronouncement still rings: "Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition."

R.C. Wood '56
Memphis, TN

What will become of the dying?

I was particularly interested in "Death Be Not Painful," in the September 1997 issue. Although my father died suddenly of a heart attack at our home with no prolonged illness, I cared for my mother at home during the last two years of her siege with Alzheimer's. Although we were not officially in a hospice program at the time of Mother's death, we nevertheless were receiving regular nursing and specialty nursing visits.

Distressed as I am over losing my mother, who had become like my precious baby, it is a great consolation to me that her death was as gentle and natural and peaceful as I had always prayed it would be. On her last morning I arose early from my sofa beside her hospital bed in the living room and fed her a few spoonfuls of vanilla ice cream. She usually ate the entire bowl, but this morning after five or six spoonfuls, she just snuggled back into the covers. I pulled her favorite blanket around her and ate my breakfast beside her. I patted her on the head a couple of times and told her, "You are so precious to me," and, "I love you so much."

As she fell asleep, the most peaceful, beatific smile appeared on her face and stayed there for three-quarters of an hour. Being inexperienced in the presence of death, I did not realize until our caregiver had arrived a little while later and the living room had filled with emergency personnel that my mother was not to awaken to this world, but to Heaven.

One unforgettably beautiful memory I have of that sad morning is that once the rescue efforts were deemed ineffective, I was able to sit beside my mother's body, placed gently back into her hospital bed as though she were sleeping. The nurse supervisor knelt on the floor at my feet, and our beloved weekday caregiver stood in back of me as we all placed our hands on Mother and prayed for her safe transition into the arms of God.

I cannot emphasize enough how vital I think it is that Hopkins has embarked on the quest to support programs that espouse life until death with dignity, love, and the absence of pain. Until my own dying breath, I will be forever grateful that I, with the help of those with the courage and compassion to stand through the night, was able to be there for my mother, that we had many good hours and moments and happy times, as well as a world of love, and that I was able to see her home.

I'm left with a question raging inside me, however. In our society, what will become of the dying, the ill, the disabled? If the powerful name of Johns Hopkins aligns on the side of those who cannot speak for themselves, I know with all my heart that you, also, will never be sorry.

Linda Marie Flaherty (MLA '83)
Baltimore, MD

A great national resource?

Based on the article "Yesterday's Whiz Kids" (June 1997), it would seem that the evaluators did not address a basic premise of Julian Stanley's program: "That these children are a great national resource." Instead, the excerpts from the evaluation and the follow-up interviews seemed to focus mostly on the individual experience and not the anticipated contributions to science, mathematics, or the welfare of mankind. Little in the article suggested that society reaped much benefit from the special treatment of this group. In the absence of any evidence that these individuals contributed to the larger good, then it is hard to justify the program. Where, after all, are all these new, improved garbage trucks?

Tony Bennett (MSc '76)

The "real" cost of war

The April 1997 issue reached me recently, and I very much appreciated the article " Desperately Seeking Safe Haven." I finished medical school at Hopkins in 1967 and have lived in Kenya since 1977. I have worked for short periods of time in Somalia, Southern Sudan, Rwanda, and some Somali refugee camps within Kenya. Refugees and those in the midst of long-term civil strife are truly desperate people. Often the entire fabric of their society has broken down. This has a direct impact on my work with disabled children in that the basics of health care disappear, inviting increasing numbers of children with diarrhea, cerebral palsy, polio, measles, whooping cough, and similar preventable diseases. I, too, wish that the world was more aware of the real "cost" of war and civil strife.

Richard S. Bransford (MD '67)

Wanted: more on undergraduate life

I found the June issue of the magazine particularly attractive because of its focus on the undergraduate campus. I was drawn to the cover illustration and story (prize-winning student fiction), and to the peer counselor's journal ("Empathy 101"). I would love to see more stories and reflections on undergraduate campus life, particularly those involving students in the liberal arts.

Linda G. Libow
Great Neck, NY