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Bostonia: The Alumni Magazine of Boston University

Fall 2009 Table of Contents

Letters To The Editor

Bostonia welcomes readers' reactions and encourages expressions of opinion,
pro and con. Submit your letter below.

Editor's Note

Alumni magazines are by nature reflective. And while looking back is an entertaining and revealing exercise, the editors of Bostonia are trying hard to look ahead. In October 2008, we launched an improved Bostonia Web site, designed to meld the thoughtful stories of the print edition with high-quality multimedia and adding some new features, such as back-and-forth exchanges between readers and BU experts.

A year later, the results are in. The Bostonia Web site was recently named Best Magazine Site in the “Judged & People’s Choice” category by EduStyle, an online service that “celebrates the best work in college and university Web sites.” EduStyle also rated Bostonia, created by BU New Media lead Web designer Ben Agoes, number one in Best Visual Design.

The new Bostonia site, which offers weekly updates of news and events, has been visited by more than 200,000 people. Our new option allowing readers to send questions to BU experts on issues such as personal finances and care of elderly parents routinely garners dozens of responses, and readers are not shy about sharing their opinions of Bostonia stories in our comment boxes.

That new online effort has been driven by two forces. One, when we try to determine where tomorrow’s readers are heading, all signs point to the Web. And two, as every magazine publisher knows, the costs of paper, printing, and mailing continue to escalate. Recently, those two forces persuaded us that the time has come to reduce the number of printed issues from four to three each year, and we will do that in 2010. The money saved and the resources unleashed will be directed online, where evidence suggests they will do the most good for our readers. Bostonia online will offer more timely updates, monthly e-mails to those who subscribe (at www.bu.edu/bostonia/address), and more ways for readers to tap the considerable knowledge of BU professors. It will deliver the same thoughtful and reflective writing Bostonia readers have come to expect, and it will include some useful features that simply don’t exist in the wonderful world of print magazines.

We hope readers will take advantage of the new offerings.

Art Jahnke Executive Editor

Busting Hoaxes

I know a bit about genealogy (“Untrue Stories,” Summer 2009) but never grasped the full extent to which these techniques could be used. Congratulations to Ms. Sergeant. If people are allowed to tell lies about the Holocaust, then others will begin to doubt its reality. Holding to the truth and confronting those who would benefit from this tragedy is nothing short of wonderful.

Donald Byrne Lecturer, Distance Education Online, BU Graduate School of Arts & Sciences

Writing a sociology term paper about the Holocaust, with the horrible human suffering wrought by the Third Reich, sensitized me to the incredible courage of actual Holocaust survivors. To exploit their suffering for financial gain is unconscionable.

Ideally Sergeant's work will induce publishers to verify autobiographical memoirs before publication, before a massive marketing campaign, movie deals, and Oprah shows, giving pause to other potential charlatans hoping to profit from human tragedy.

James Tully (MET'91) Brightwood, Oregon

Sharon Sergeant is devoted to the truth, even when it is controversial. No one is more dogged in this pursuit, and no one shines more brightly when motivations are revealed. Genealogists routinely solve issues like this, where others fail to recognize either a clue to a solution or the steps to the proof. Bravo on a quality highlight on this BU alumna.

Melinde Lutz Sanborn (MET'09) Derry, New Hampshire

Historical Treasure

As a self-proclaimed linguaphile, I thank you for bringing the topic of West African literary history to the forefront (“Lost Language,” Summer 2009). I feel it is important, however, to highlight some inconsistencies in this article.

The author at times confuses the idea of Ajami as a language and Ajami as a script/alphabet. To be clear, Ajami is not a language, but a script using the Arabic alphabet to write West African languages, usually when no indigenous scripts existed. (I'd hesitate to call Amazigh/Berber written in Arabic script Ajami, as Tifinagh is the native script that has been revived in some locations. Also, Amharic and Tigrinya have the Ga'ez script.)

One other element from the article that confuses is the historical versus contemporary usage of Ajami mélanged with the ability to read Arabic. I've just spent the last two months working on a literacy-via-cell-phone project in seventy rural Nigerien villages. In the very rare instance where I came across someone who could read the Arabic script, it was a phonetic exercise and not an example of functional literacy, which does not agree with the article's opening thesis. (For validation, I speak Arabic and some Hausa and Zarma.) There is no corpus of Hausa or Zarma texts, written in Ajami or Boko (the Hausa-Latin script equivalent) that people can read. There may indeed be pockets where people are learning native languages with the Ajami script, perhaps northern Nigeria, but this does not discount the shocking, yet true, illiteracy rates.

Despite these few points, I am thrilled that you've highlighted this rich historical treasure that will allow us to better understand the richness of the West African history and culture.

Joshua Haynes (SMG'02) Cambridge, Massachusetts

This article is fascinating. When I was in the Peace Corps from 1967 to 1969, I lived in Senegal and spoke Wolof fluently, which at the time was not transcribed. I never heard of Ajami, though now I wonder if that was the script that looked like Arabic, used in the Koranic schools (Murid and Tidjani) and written on small wooden prayer boards (aloubas), two of which we have hanging on our walls.

Thanks for this new information. I look forward to hearing more about it and have written to my friends in Senegal to ask them about Ajami, too.

Burch Ford (MET'72) Concord, Massachusetts

Summer Joy

I want to congratulate you and all the Bostonia staff for a superb summer issue. As an old BU grad who has spent all his years since graduation in the Washington, D.C., area, the quarterly publications mean a lot, especially since I lived in Andover, Massachusetts, until I came down here.

Regardless of what a person's interest is in BU, there is always at least one or two very meaningful articles. As a former track and field athlete (hammer throw) seeing the fine feature on David Proctor (SAR'08) and Andrea Walkonen (SAR'09, SED'10) (“Winners,” Summer 2009) is especially pleasing. I still follow all the teams and only wish I lived near enough to campus to see games. As a teacher/coach who is semiretired, I know my time at BU was very crucial in my developing a sense of the vital role education plays in people's lives/

All the best and to the folks who worked on the athletes feature and Vicky Waltz and Asia Kepka and my personal thanks and appreciation for a great job.

P.S. Couldn't attend NCAA hockey finals (family commitment), which was sad for me.

Ed Rice (CAS'63) Vienna, Virginia

Congratulations to those who write Bostonia. I read the Summer 2009 issue cover to cover, not because I knew any of the people, but because the writing was so compelling. Gorgeous photography, too. First-class work!

Shelley Satterlee (SED'88) Mildenhall, England

Re: The Life of O'Reilly

It was with considerable incredulity that I read the letter by Myron Binder (“Letters,” Summer 2009) stating his demeaning opinion of Bill O'Reilly based on reading one tiny excerpt of his book ("Alumni Books,” Spring 2009). I would like to state some facts that counter the content of the letter.

1. I have read all of O'Reilly's books and found them to be excellent in writing and content. All of them have been on the New York Times best-seller list for many months.

2. O'Reilly's The O'Reilly Factor has been the longest running cable news program and has millions of viewers. His radio talk show is one of the most successful in the business.

3. Bill O'Reilly received a COM Distinguished Alumni Award several years ago. I was in the audience that evening and witnessed the event.

4. Many years ago I had the honor of being a member of the selection committee for the Distinguished Alumni Awards. I was on this committee for three consecutive years. There were many nominations each year and all of them had to be very carefully scrutinized. The vetting process was profound, careful, and thorough. Very few made it through to the end. A lightweight person, such as Myron Binder described in his letter, would never stand a chance of being seriously considered. I have no reason to believe that the committee that selected O'Reilly was any less careful than we were.

In addition, and not related to this subject: I had the privilege of being the president of the BU Engineering Alumni Association for five years.

In conclusion, it is my opinion, that Myron Binder owes Bill O'Reilly a public apology.

Bernard Friesecke (ENG'58) North Reading, Massachusetts

After reading Mr. Binder's letter, one word came to mind: Popinjay! As far as wasting time and money on Bill O'Reilly's wildly successful best-seller, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity, I have a solution for Mr. Binder: visit your local library and check the book out.

Mary Jane Gautreau Karabin (MET'94) Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

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