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Everything’s Fine

Christopher R. Beha’s recent article on Brandeis University [“Voodoo Academics,” Annotation, November 2009] presents a profoundly unfair portrait of the university.

Beha accuses Brandeis of “growth for growth’s sake” and “fiscal shortsightedness.” Yet he did not seek any information from Brandeis about the planning and prioritization that underlie the university’s capital projects. By 1999, the quality of the university had far outstripped the quality of most of its facilities. Through its capital program, Brandeis has worked to create a campus that meets the needs of its world-class faculty and students. We have scrupulously avoided extravagance and have focused on addressing fundamental and serious needs identified in the campus master plan—including scientific research and teaching facilities, additional housing for juniors and seniors, and a campus center that is properly located at the heart of the campus.

Brandeis’s unrealized losses for fiscal year 2009 amounted to $125.4 million, or 17 percent of our total endowment, which is less than the 19 percent median loss for foundations and endowments as a whole. Beha criticizes Brandeis for having “shifted funds from low-risk, low-yield investments into ‘alternative investments’ like hedge funds and private equity.” In fact, Brandeis has been implementing a diversified investment strategy, including alternatives, for more than a decade. In that time, the alternative investments performed relatively well, softening the blow from the recent economic downturn.

In any case, our greatest investment is in our students—71 percent of whom receive financial aid, with a per-student average exceeding $25,000 in grants and scholarships. Our outstanding faculty, significant financial support and the opportunities it provides, and an enduring belief in social justice are the hallmarks of a Brandeis education.

Peter B. French
Special Adviser to the President
Brandeis University
Waltham, Mass.

Christopher R. Beha responds:

Although Peter French finds accusations of fiscal shortsightedness at Brandeis “unfair,” he has elsewhere been admirably candid about this very problem. In separate presentations to faculty, staff, and students last year, French admitted that Brandeis had long operated under a “structural deficit.” For decades, French said, “we have taken too much out of the endowment.” He also acknowledged that the university didn’t have the money to pay for its capital projects. French made clear that these conditions predated the economic downturn. These facts may explain why Brandeis has attempted to liquidate the Rose Museum’s collection while peer institutions have been saved from comparably drastic measures. They may also help to explain why despite relatively modest endowment losses the university’s president, Jehuda Reinharz, announced his resignation in September.

The Disappeared

The lack of clarity surrounding the disappearance and detention of Aafia Siddiqui [Petra Bartosiewicz, “The Intelligence Factory,” November 2009] underscores the critical need for accountability and transparency in United States counterterrorism policies, including the “extraordinary rendition” program. Under this unlawful practice, U.S. officials apprehended foreign nationals for detention, interrogation, and torture in secret overseas prisons run by the United States or by foreign governments.

In an attempt to torpedo any challenge to the program, the Bush Administration regularly misused the “state secrets” privilege, claiming that any judicial oversight would be harmful to national security—even after many of the facts about the program and the cases at issue were widely known. In the case of Aafia Siddiqui, the same tactics have helped ensure that the truth about her disappearance will remain a mystery.

To date, no victims of the extraordinary rendition program have been afforded redress by the U.S. government for their injuries, nor has a full accounting of the individuals who were subjected to the program—estimated to be more than a hundred—ever been made. Some people, including our client Mustafa Setmariam Nassar, are still disappeared. Mr. Nassar was apprehended by Pakistani intelligence in 2005 and reportedly turned over to agents of the U.S. government. Since then, his family has heard nothing from him. They have no idea where he is and whether he is alive or dead.

Since President Obama took office, the Bush Administration’s secretive rendition program has remained largely intact and unchallenged, and the government has continued to assert the state secrets claim. It is time to bring an end to the extraordinary rendition program and address fully the human-rights violations perpetrated under it.

Jamil Dakwar
ACLU Human Rights Program
New York City

The Schwinn and the Whale

Richard Rodriguez’s essay [“Final Edition,” November 2009] elicited both fond and not-so-fond memories of my own 1950s experience delivering newspapers in San Francisco—first for the the San Francisco News, from fourth through sixth grade, and later for the Chronicle, while I was in high school.

I remember hanging out with my fellow carriers on the prescribed corner as we waited for the delivery truck, then riding my Schwinn up and down the streets of my neighborhood, flinging folded papers overhead and sidearm, reaching the doorsteps without breaking vases, windows, or milk bottles, without hitting the front doors or anyone’s pet.

The not-so-fond memories are of customers who routinely stiffed me on my collection rounds, or who ignored the doorbell knowing it was me, and of the remarkable toil required for a venture reaping such minuscule monetary rewards. Rodriguez’s insightful article made me realize just how much I have forgotten.

Joseph Warda
Santa Rosa, Calif.

In what is perhaps a comment on the demise of print journalism, I was not aware of Richard Rodriguez’s potshot at my Amazon review of Moby Dick for some time after the issue was out. As the author of two books and more than twenty-five published short stories, as well as eighty Amazon book reviews, I am used to vociferous reactions to my words. Given the short shrift Rodriguez gave my thoughts, you may be astounded that my review contains phrases like “narrative flashbacks,” “changes in style,” “thematic consistency,” “commentary on social norms,” “amusing and complex characters” and “promising in parts, but an uninteresting chore to read in full.”

Melville’s contemporaries found his tale slow-paced and uncompelling, and only through the efforts of critics citing its alleged allegorical and subtextual commentary has it reached its current status. Even assuming this hidden commentary, I find the book too long-winded, too stylistically dense and detailed and boring to be great in any sense. Moreover, just because critics find allegories and subtexts in artistic works does not always mean that the author intentionally put them there.

Donald J. Bingle
St. Charles, Ill.