Lawyer-Writer Aaron Seligmann Recipient of an Honorary Degree at URCB-Teachers College June 2 2007. The text of his address to the 35 year Alumni Reunion is as follows:
"Forgiving our Debts in Academe "
It is a pleasure to be addressing you under these favorable circumstance at the thirty-fifth year Alumni/ae Reunion of the Teachers' College of the University . You have drawn from here many benefits and memories, along with the tools by which you have been able to live generously in an economically competitive world. I welcome your coming together here today to celebrate another notch in our educational history. I think the Trustees were especially interested in what I have to say when they saw the title about paying for our indebtednesses, which they probably took in a financial academic sense. But I am speaking for myself on my own at this podium and there are other things which I want to discuss with you first.
There have been many changes since the days when we were highschool students filling out college application forms and sending them off in the mail with a whispered prayer. In fact it was all easier then, the colleges were still fairly affordable for parental incomes and it was not difficult to get admitted to a college which would fulfill our hopes and expectations. Things are different now, getting admitted somewhere is in a sense a casino gamble, while costs are so great that arranging for long-term financing is standard procedure, unless you have a wealthy uncle on his deathbed.
. . . laugh from the audience. . .
But now we face a new problem, which is admittance by quotas, one for the black and one for the Hispanic speakers of any hue, one for Asians and still another for the Pacific Islanders. In all the hurry to be fair and balanced, we have forgotten how to deal with the shrinking majority, by which I mean the whites who begin to feel that they have been somehow dis-favored. The tangled web of ethnic problems is getting worse and we can not see an end.
But back thirty-five years we had other problems, as some of your may remember. Applying to a college you had to fill in a box for "Religion". You could say Methodist or Wesleyan or Baptist, that was all the same, but if you said Catholic in the deep South, or much worse Jewish anywhere, you might not get a reply to your carefully written application form. The small colleges which needed students back then had no problem accepting a minority person so long as a minority stayed a minority. But some Universities devised the idea of having a favorable quota for certain groups, like " son or daughter of farmer in Nebraska" or "poor logging family in Washington State". This initially showed broadmindedness but incidentally avoided the large number of applications from well qualified minorities in our Eastern Cities. The real reason only came out years later.
But we survived, as your genial appearance here shows, and our university, which was once restricted to what was felt a compatible clientele, did penance first with a Jewish president and then with a black lady who was a leader in the reforms under Kennedy. So, as we always believed, in America it all works out for the best, only it does take a certain amount of time.
It has been estimated that over half of you in this august assemblage are still, one way or another connected with American Education. Some you will now be considering the matter of your "indebtedness" to your college, and I want to address a special note to you. I have served as legal counselor to many in your situation, advising ways of economically distributing funds after death in an educationally meaningful and at the same time tax-wise manner. You have all been approached these last years in letters and emails, especially after your twenty-fifth anniversary . Now that you are middle aged but still able to sign legal documents, they are at it again. They speak of new programs, endowed chairs for worthy elderly professors, counseling programs such as we never needed before, and figures for comparison of our Total Endowment with that of the wealthiest universities. This is powerful medicine, it strikes the heart with a thrust of systolic energy, and we fall for it as both sincere and worthwhile. After all, it we are speaking of the future of American Education, isn't that what this is about?
But as a lawyer who has been involved in many cases of advising college alumni in their declining years, I have some advice. First of all, get a lawyer who has no connections with your college, perhaps someone from another city or even another state. Of course each university has an office of estate planning, which will produce legal documents inclining your wealth to its own interests, but I have to remind you that final decisions must be what you really desire most in your most private mind. If you want to give to a dog hospital in the Bahamas, odd as that seems, it may be what you really desire and you must find a lawyer who produces irrefragible paperwork to that end. This may be different from the aim of the Trustees' invitation to come to Campus as alumni for this Reunion, but it is good advice from one who has experience in these areas.
Ask your college Estate Planning Office how much of each dollar that is given, ends up as an invested sum in the college Endowment. The planning officer will be surprised at the question, she will say there are multiple considerations and no exact figures can be given. There are our costs in fund raising, in maintaining staff in this office, in our legal consultations and the writing of living trusts, so you see . . . . Of course you do not see, and you ask if it is sixty percent or less as a general rule, which causes her to leave the room to bring in a higher authority to frame an answer. If he says it is ninety five percent going to endowment, ask if that can be found somewhere in writing, because you do not believe it.
The rule is that at the time of giving a bequest or drawing up a living will, YOU are now the person in charge. Unlike your former position as a college faculty member or a corporation employee, you are at the center of all decisions, you are The Decider. Let them come to you with their wishes and needs and proposals, let them suggest and kneel and beg, but remember that you are the person in charge, and be sure to let them know it. For those of you who have labored in the academic vineyards, this is a reversal of normal practice. Yes, this is the time for emotional payback!
. . . . . applause . . . he pauses . . . .
But now I ask you who have been in the teaching profession to look back with me over the academic scenery of the past twenty five years. People outside the teaching world often have the feeling that all is amicable in a college atmosphere, that people get along with each others and that the Deans are there to help faculty get their work done and receive their proper recognition. But that is as forced an illusion as the notion that a factory owner appoints his foremen to see that the men and women hacking up chicken parts are happy and healthy, that they are leading full and contented lives. We know that any businessman, if he wants to keep his job with the plant, will do everything he can to get the most work done in the least time with the absolute least pay. That is the rule for business, a rule that is ancient and ironclad. And since college is now a business, it will apply here too.
But even within the ranks of the teaching faculty, life has its thorns. When position and advancement with attendant increases of pay are involved, a faculty member, whether cloaked in black gown or sheep's clothing, is often to another faculty member a natural enemy. It may be in hopes of gaining a distinguished Academic Chair, or a better office in the new wing, or more pay by a deal with the Dean without the others knowing about. But in fact it is often a case of vir viro lupus, with no palpable sexual difference. Backstabbing does not have a good word in legal Latin, I think I would choose the Latin word sicarius if I had to put something in the blank space.
. . . .after a murmur from the audience, he goes on. . . .
We live long years past retirement with the new health programs and advanced treatments for our ailments. I believe that many of you are near that critical date of retirement when you can at last flee the classroom. But you will be remembering grievances fifteen and even twenty years old, as my former psychology professor and friend Dr. Prof. Em. Wellsworth has assured me from his professional observations on faculty behavior. One can go to bed for a good night slumber and wake half an hour later with a rogue's gallery of angry faces staring out in the darkness of the night. We can try to deal with that in various ways, there is counseling and there are new drugs designed to restore peace of mind. But nothing really works, as Dr. Wellsworth has made clear in a series of articles in the APSRC. He has hinted to me several times that he has been working at new treatment, but until now nothing has appeared.
Let me pursue this subject of dealing with the hostile situations which occur throughout life. I seem to my associates in the Law to be something of a heathen, I have always remembered from my college days the line from Homer which ran "Dear to my friends - - - and bitter to my enemies." In that spirit I give the offender a kick out the door of my memory and tell him to close it after him, but the lock clicks next week and he is back. I find my Christian friends favor something that they call "forgivingness", which they use equally for an insult or for a crime, and it does seem to work for some of them. But it seems to me questionable. If a man is set on running you over with his car, do you lie down and let him do it with a forgiving word on your lips as you die? Of course not, you write his license number in blood with your finger on the pavement as you expire, knowing that the police will read it and he will get his due. That's justice, as I see it.
But Dr. Wellsworth, who is here at my side and whom I would like to introduce to you, has given me a few hints about his new research. At his advanced age his voice is unsure so let me speak for him now, reading from his sheet of handwritten notes:
I have been working for some time on a quieting and mind-relaxing treatment for those who are constantly assailed by memory of old emotional traumata. My treatment started from the ancient doctrine of samyamya from which it is evolved, and it works in two parts:
. . . .protracted applause. . . .
Thank you Professor Wellsworth, did I read your notes accurately? Well now, I can proceed. . . .
. . . . But the gentlemen from the Board of Trustees over there behind the President's chair, seem to have something to ask me. An assistant has just brought over a piece of paper which he asks me to peruse right now. It does seem that they have been surprised at the frankness of this speech, they are not happy with the tone and desire that I should conclude in a more positive spirit. The note adds that copyright to the text of this speech belongs to them and is to be regarded as classified and confidential. Yes, gentlemen, I do understand your thought, but I assure you that the copyright is mine and I can do with the text as I wish. If I wish to release it to the papers, that is my business, and please don't interrupt me again. . . . and give that message back to the gentlemen in the black robes over there . . . .
And so, dear Alumni and Alumnae of the thirty-fifth Class Reunion of graduates of the Teacher's College of this great University, I come to the end of my remarks, as this brilliantly clear June afternoon draws to a close. It may surprise you that I have chosen to talk straight with you, an unusual procedure in the Halls of Academe as you well know. But it is good to clear the air once in a while, and I strongly recommend to you Dr. Wellsworth's views on dealing with your emotional past.
Now that you know how to deal with them, you will be free to enter the good years of your Retirement and begin to enjoy life with the relish which you were heretofore denied. I wish you well in your sunny future years. You may reach me any time for aid with a bequest or living trust consultations, and if you leave your name with the clerk at the Dean's desk, a copy of Dr. Wellsworth book will be reserved for you in case the issue runs out in the September printing.
The speech has just been concluded, eager alums are crowding around Dr. Wellsworth asking questions about his important work. More are lined up to shake the hand of (now) Dr. Aaron Seligmann, complimenting him on the clarity and courage of his lecture to the Reunion group. At the other side, the Administration and the Trustees are gathering up their trailing academic gowns so that they can proceed faster to the long limousines which will take them back to their University offices. I wasn't able to get the whole of the speech because of a microphone disconnect near the end. Still it was a pleasure for me to be present as the sole reporter of this event, not only because of the resounding echo of the traditional Academic Overture, but also as witness to an important moment in the life of a University to which we owe so much. [Aloisia Hemminghauser, your education reporter]