Review welcomes letters from readers and will print them as space permits. Letters may be edited for brevity and clarity. Unsigned letters cannot be used, but names of the writers may be withheld on request. Send letters to Rochester Review, 147 Wallis Hall, P.O. Box 270033, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-0033; rochrev @rochester.edu.
“The letter . . . brought back vivid memories for me.” —Steve Leberstein ’67
More on Wallis Hall
The letter from Mel Hyman ’71 in the Winter 2005–06 issue of Rochester Review alerted me that the Administration Building has been named for W. Allen Wallis, and that brought back vivid memories for me as it did for him.
My memories begin in 1964, the end of my freshman year. That was the year Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation began organizing in Rochester to persuade the Eastman Kodak Company to adopt some form of an affirmative action policy. It also was the year of the riot in the city that summer.
As it later became evident, the University was one of the largest, if not the largest, shareholders of Kodak stock. Following a report in the Campus Times, a campus movement emerged to pressure Wallis to cast the University’s shares in favor of a shareholder proposal for a hiring plan that would have opened Kodak’s workforce to Rochester’s African-American citizens.
In his usual taciturn but authoritarian way, Wallis declined to take a stand in favor of ending employment discrimination at Kodak.
In 1966, Wallis invited Richard Nixon to be that year’s Commencement speaker and to receive an honorary degree, apparently without the faculty’s approval. He did so just as Nixon was mounting a political resurrection by attacking Eugene Genovese, then a critic of the Vietnam War, and urging the state of New Jersey to fire Genovese from his position at Rutgers University for his political stance. After loud protests from students and faculty, and a promised boycott of the ceremonies by a great majority of the Class of 1966, Wallis had to rescind the offer of the honorary degree. In a compromise, Nixon spoke but got no degree.
Those incidents define my memory of Wallis’s tenure at Rochester and lead me to add my voice to Mel Hyman’s in characterizing his legacy as one of “scorn for anyone not sharing his corporate, elitist view of society.” During my time at Rochester, the faculty and students who were important to me lived in a world apart from those who ran the University. Perhaps that makes it all the more appropriate that the Administration Building be named for him.
Steve Leberstein ’67
I found the letter by Mel Hyman a kick. He complained that Chancellor W. Allen Wallis got a hall named for him when he “showed utter disdain” for faculty members. The “kick” I got was the editorial blurb you printed under the letter, referring to Wallis, not unsubstantially, as “a man of absolute integrity.”
I guess the corporate elitists won the culture wars. I remember Wallis from his arrival at Rochester in 1962. In the 1964 school year—the year of the Mario Savio speech at Berkeley and as opposition was growing to a draft-fed escalation into what was essentially a French colonial war—I made a speech, phrased as a question to Wallis, from the audience in Strong Auditorium. Just as the invasion of Iraq is doing now, the Vietnam War, in which civilians were burning up with napalm, was bringing dishonor to U.S. foreign policy.
I was upset by the war, but I asked about a parochial problem: Wallis’s rapid change of “everything” on the River Campus. My tone must have carried over, because when Wallis responded, a gasp, then boos, spread over the auditorium. He said, “What was the question?” Clearly, sensitivity to others is not a trait of men of absolute integrity.
My roommate who went on the “freedom rides” never had a hall named after him. Nor was an accolade printed in Review for my English professor who protested Richard Nixon addressing my M.A. graduation.
Bruce Russell ’65, ’68 (Mas)
I was sorry to read that Anastasia Jempelis ’46E, ’48E (Mas) died in July 2005. I know she graduated from Eastman, but she was also a member of the faculty. Her many violin students would be happy to have her recognized.
Athena Apanomith Sarantos ’52
Jempelis indeed had a long connection to Eastman as a teacher in the Eastman Community Music School. We apologize for failing to recognize that. You can read a tribute to her in the January 2006 issue of Eastman Notes—Editor.