Concentration of talent hurts U.S. universitiesAs a...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Concentration of talent hurts U.S. universities

As a university professor who has taught and sat on numerous admission committees over the past decade at Johns Hopkins University, Harvard University and currently at the University of London, my own experience is in agreement with the central message of Michael Hill's article on college choices: "What makes a difference ... is what you do at whatever college you attend" ("College choices: All that's Ivy is not gold," May 12).

Today, future leaders can and do come from every possible college. Especially in America, graduates of the Ivies and other "elite" institutions have no monopoly on success.

This ensures that the late-blooming genius with poor marks or SAT scores, or the brilliant student unable to afford a brand-name college (or a college dropout) can still rise to the top of his or her profession simply because that person is best for the job.

This is certainly less true in the United Kingdom, where most members of the Royal Society (for example) are from Cambridge, London and Oxford universities, or in Japan, where those who attend Tokyo University have a tremendous advantage.

While many future leaders are "pegged" correctly at the age of 16 or 17 in these systems, it is clearly unfortunate that excellent people have been unable to rise to the top in these countries solely because they didn't get into the "right" school as a teen-ager.

For the same reasons, I find it disturbing that good students in the United States are "going to a smaller and smaller number of schools."

The dramatic concentration of National Merit Scholars at 40 schools instead of 150, for example, and the projection of some that they may soon concentrate at the top 10, indicates that we are reverting to the elitist paradigms of America before the 1950s and of foreign countries.

While this concentration of talent and "perceived excellence" in fewer and fewer institutions will not erode the remarkable breadth of choice in high-quality American higher education overnight, let there be no doubt that is where the road would lead.

Donors like to invest in winners, and as the group of schools perceived to be excellent becomes more select, other schools are likely to be left out in the cold.

Dwindling resources and a less selective student body would also influence where new faculty choose to work.

The strength of American higher education is precisely that there are so many good schools from which to choose. Unfortunately, in following the current obsession with getting into the "right" schools (as defined by the comical U.S. News issue), today's students and parents may unwittingly destroy this unique strength.

Santa Jeremy Ono

London, United Kingdom

The writer is professor of biomedical sciences at the University of London.

A marketing dream -- or nightmare?

Congratulations to the $200,000 consulting firm, the administration and the faculty at the former Western Maryland College for coming up with a brilliant new name: McDaniel College ("By any other name," editorial, May 14). It is a marketing dream.

The college can now be known affectionately as Mickey D's. Better still, the old obsolete arch that defines the entrance to the campus can now be replaced with more appropriate twin golden arches.

Then a traditional Mickey D's can be erected on this site, which will quickly become a popular meeting place for students and will offer them alternatives to disliked college food.

Best of all, the twin arches can be the new college logo, which should catch the eye of prospective students.

The only obstacle I can see is that the parents of prospective students (who will pay most of the bills) may not pay for such nonsense.

Marion Stoffregen Thorpe

Columbia

The writer is a member of Western Maryland College's Class of 1947.

State's abortion rate is truly shameful

The Sun claims that Maryland has the 10th-lowest abortion rate in the nation ("Where Maryland stands," Opinion

Commentary, May 14). But in reality Maryland has one of the highest abortion rates in the country.

The Sun cites the source of its statistics as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But it does not mention that the CDC relies on incomplete data provided by the states.

The CDC admits it undercounts the total number of abortions because reporting laws vary from state to state, and some abortion providers probably do not report or under-report the numbers of abortions they perform.

Maryland has no reporting requirement. In 1997, the year of the cited statistics, only 14 abortion facilities reported any abortion data to the state. According to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, Maryland has 47 to 51 abortion providers.

A more accurate picture is provided by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood. According to its latest statistics, Maryland has the country's 11th-highest abortion rate and fifth-highest teen-age abortion rate.

These shameful statistics reflect on Maryland's shameful abortion laws. This year the Senate even voted that taxpayer funding for abortion should not be limited to two abortions per recipient.

In Maryland, not only is abortion for birth control OK, but taxpayers are forced to foot the bill.

David Lam

Annapolis

The writer is executive director of Maryland Right to Life Inc.

Mistreated interns need better choices

As a retired physician and surgeon, I support Paul Jung's effort to overturn the National Resident Matching Program. In seeking to change the medieval practice of imposing intolerable work schedules and meager stipends on exhausted and impoverished medical residents, his suit is long overdue ("Medical residency system target of class action suit," May 8).

Although I recognize that long, irregular hours under the supervision of senior physicians are a necessary part of the arduous training process, the traditional 90-hour (or longer) work week for interns is inhumane.

And in the resident matching program, computer-generated selections are based upon choices submitted by the candidate and institutions, and, as The Sun's article notes, "once the computer has chosen, students are stuck with it."

The system precludes healthy competition and ensures that dissatisfied residents are prevented from negotiating more favorable conditions. And this, in my opinion, is in clear violation of federal antitrust laws.

This archaic system has been allowed to persist far too long.

William J. Vitale

Hunt Valley

Failing to treat the mentally ill

The sad trial of Frank Zito overlooked a key issue: the sadder state of treatment of the chronic mentally ill in Maryland ("Mental state likely to be key in Zito trial," May 13).

In this case, as in others, we have an individual with a long history of mental illness who was repeatedly returned to an environment that was unable to supervise him or follow up with his illness.

The commitment process for the mentally ill has been usurped by attorneys and modeled on criminal law rather than medical care.

I wonder if the public really understands some of its key aspects:

The ill individual cannot be asked to speak unless he or she desires to do so and is never examined during the commitment hearing.

The hospital must prove the need for hospitalization but cannot raise a past pattern of dangerous behaviors or failure to obtain treatment.

So-called advocates for the mentally ill often use technical violations (e.g., a misdated doctor's note) as grounds to discharge the most psychotic of patients.

The process is adversarial and lacks any pretense of understanding chronic, severe mental disorder as a physical disorder of the brain.

The lawyers have argued about whether Mr. Zito is "insane" in a legal sense.

But Mr. Zito's trial is an indictment of turning over the care of our most vulnerable and needy citizens to attorneys rather than psychiatrists.

The closing of the hospital door is forcing more and more of our psychiatric patients into prisons and jails.

Kent Johnson

Elkton

The writer has been a social worker for 22 years.

Moratorium stills thirst for vengeance

Gov. Paris N. Glendening's recent moratorium on capital punishment has prompted a tidal wave of letters decrying that decision ("Moratorium on executions isn't justified," letters, May 21).

Only a handful of brave souls have written in support of the moratorium. I feel compelled to join them.

One of the major gripes about the governor's decree is that his decision was a political move. Of course it was.

Today a person in public office rarely renders a decision based solely on his or her belief in what is right. But dismissing the moratorium as a political move does not diminish its validity.

The public's passion has been inflamed because a murderer set to die has been granted a stay. It is easy to join the bandwagon that demands an eye for an eye.

But our system of capital punishment is fraught with inconsistencies, inaccuracies and unfairness. Study after study has confirmed that the justice many states employ in their death penalty proceedings is laughable.

Yet we focus on a single crime in which the killer's guilt seems beyond doubt. We read the details of the horrific murder, and we demand justice.

In our thirst for vengeance, we adopt the same cold-blooded passion of the killer. From our armchairs, we justify such thoughts by reasoning: "He never gave his victim a moratorium, why should he receive one?"

And from this one crime, and others like it, many people become death penalty supporters, never giving a thought to how the system is implemented. But I refuse to become a murderer myself. We live in a world that kills, and I will not join the ranks. In fact, God has insisted I behave this way in His commandments.

Therefore, I will suppress my desire for vengeance, taking comfort in the fact that a sentence to life in jail is good enough for now.

And when that person dies behind bars, the ultimate authority will enact a justice that is without imperfection.

Matt Steiner

Timonium

Control of Cuba drives sanctions

There's lots of room for improvement in human rights in Cuba. In fact, I'm the type of person who would probably get in trouble if I lived there. However, the constant carping about lack of "human rights" in Cuba out of Washington is a smoke-and-mirrors act ("Bush calls for reforms in Cuba," May 21).

Around the world, Washington is in bed with plenty of governments whose citizens fare a lot worse in the human rights department than the Cubans under Fidel Castro. For starters, take our great ally, Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive, men can have four wives and limbs are chopped off for petty infractions.

It's not about human rights in Cuba; it's about political control. Washington habitually wants as much influence as possible over every government in the world, especially in Latin America. Remember the Monroe Doctrine? It's alive and well in our treatment of Cuba.

Ever since it lost the ability to control Havana, Washington has tried every trick in the book -- embargo, invasion, assassinations, crop poisoning, travel ban, and, yes, human rights protestations to get it back.

But if the United States truly wanted to see improvement in the lives of the Cuban people, it would end the 40-year-old trade embargo and travel ban, re-establish diplomatic relations and learn to live with a country that -- perhaps for good, historical reasons -- doesn't want to be under its thumb.

Herman M. Heyn

Baltimore

A beacon of relief for a city in need?

One thing that would restore my faith in the city of my birth would be to bring back the Bromo Seltzer bottle.

This 51-foot metal replica of the cobalt glass container of the Baltimore-made antacid perched and rotated on the parapet of Captain Isaac Emerson's Italian Renaissance-style tower at the corner of Eutaw and Lombard streets from 1911 to 1936. It was taken down for safety's sake.

Ironically, the metallic bottle caused city officials stomachaches worrying about its possible collapse onto pedestrians below.

But think of the appropriateness of restoring this landmark, which in its heyday was illuminated by 596 lights and was visible for 20 miles: A blue beacon of gastric peace, visible from the steps of the Little Italy restaurant from which you have emerged, your stomach struggling with the marinara sauce warring with the cannoli.

You look up, and are reminded of the relief that awaits you.

With today's technology, let's make this version of the bottle fizz. Let bubbles fly from its top.

On neighboring buildings, to complete the theme, construct giant crabcakes and coddies, maybe a plate of oysters complete with illuminated pearls.

Ed Goldberg

Reisterstown

Can cyclists, cars share the roads?

I agree that the types of assaults described by cyclists in The Sun's article "Cyclists seek road sharing" (May 15) are just that - assaults - and should be reported to the police and prosecuted. However, I've long thought that people who ride bicycles don't appreciate the danger they create for themselves and people in cars.

I very often drive behind cyclists on winding roads without shoulders, and the only way to get past them is to pull out into the oncoming lane. Sometimes this is not possible, since oncoming traffic can't be seen around the curves.

Cyclists also sometimes ride two abreast, further endangering themselves and others.

I resent the fact that cyclists continuously put me in danger by requiring me to pull out into traffic to get around them.

If they want to be responsible and indeed share the road, cyclists should acknowledge the problems cars have getting around them, and pull over or stop in these circumstances.

Sharon Lipnick

Owings Mills

Nothing can excuse the recent mindless and brutal assaults on bicyclists. However, as a cyclist myself, I am occasionally embarrassed by the behavior of some of my fellow riders - such as riding in tandem on narrow roads or not obeying traffic signals.

This inconsiderateness may have furthered the fury of some motorists.

Linda Knox

Baltimore

Just last week while passing two cyclists on Western Run Road, a narrow country lane, I was confronted by an oncoming car and had to make an abrupt move to avoid having a head-on collision or running one of the cyclists off of the road.

If cyclists insist on riding on Maryland's public highways, they should be held accountable for the close calls and potential accidents they cause.

And if cyclists insist they are being mistreated and will call 911 to report an angry driver, they should remember that this is a two-way street.

Nothing prevents drivers from calling 911 and reporting lanes being blocked by stubborn cyclists.

John Ballard

Hunt Valley

Unfamiliarity with cycling laws and disdain for bicyclists extends beyond the motoring public. After my last assault by a car while bicycling, a police officer wrote a ticket - to me.

Still bleeding and disoriented, I insisted that he take a statement from the no-longer-apologetic driver.

The part in the accident report where she admitted to going through the stop sign swayed the incredulous judge in my favor, but for months before the trial I had to live with uncertainty and threats of a lawsuit by the driver. At least she didn't try to take off with me on the car roof, as did the person who drove into my path a few years before.

John Roemer IV

Parkton

I don't condone violence toward any bicyclist, but the cyclists have to accept some of the blame, because they want all the rights of the road but none of the responsibility.

I see them frequently riding between lanes of stopped traffic, swerving around vehicles to run a red light or stop sign and going the wrong way on one-way streets. These actions are not only very dangerous, but also illegal.

Less dangerous, but still annoying and illegal, is the practice of cyclists riding two or three abreast so they may talk to each other. I also see them meandering all over their lane, forcing an approaching driver to guess where the bicyclist will be when it comes time to pass.

Both sides have equal rights, but also equal responsibility.

Clay Seeley

Owings Mills

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