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UC Davis Magazine

Volume 29 · Number 1 · Fall 2011


Saving Picnic Day

portrait photo


A photo in the letters section of our print edition incorrectly identified another person as the late Professor Marion Miller. Professor Miller is pictured above. We regret the error.

I was shocked and saddened by the blurb "Picnic Day Dilemma" in the Summer 2011 edition. I had no idea such rowdiness was going on, jeopardizing the future of a nearly century-old tradition.

My father, Firmin Berta '57, made a family vacation of Picnic Day when I was a youngster, and continued to take my brother and me throughout high school (probably to greatly influence my college selection). Picnic Day solidified my decision to go to UC Davis—not only by helping me discover my somewhat obscure major [Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning] but also by revealing other only-at-UC Davis opportunities (like working at a winery, learning to milk a cow, driving a grass tractor and getting to ride a bike to campus everyday).

A solution might lie with the purveyors of alcohol. I'm sure 7-for-1 drinks could be done away with for a couple days as well as opening for alcohol service at 6 a.m. . . . I agree with the zero-tolerance policy for troublemakers; maybe academic probation should accompany punishments. . . . Let's protect Picnic Day. 

Flagstaff, Ariz.
2004 Picnic Day Cow Milking Champion

Fred Wood '80, Ph.D. '84, vice chancellor for student affairs, responds: Rest assured, we remain committed to maintaining and safeguarding our great traditions of celebrating academic excellence and service to both the community and the world that characterize Picnic Day. In reality, Picnic Day on campus remains much as Mary Berta remembers it.

Unfortunately, there are always a few who use the occasion to misbehave, especially downtown following the campus event. Most often these offenders are not students, but visitors who arrive in the evening. Regardless, we have taken a number

of steps to deal with irresponsible behaviors, including those vast majority that take place off campus. Last year the campus, the city of Davis, Chamber of Commerce and the Davis Downtown Business Association worked together to persuade local bars and restaurants that sell alcohol to open later in the day, dispense with cheap drink promotions, and to better monitor crowds and over-consumption. In addition, nearly 1,000 students, staff and faculty signed a pledge to engage in responsible Picnic Day behavior. We had in place a much larger police presence and a no-tolerance policy for alcohol on campus.

To be sure, we still have our challenges, but Picnic Day is too valuable a campus tradition to lose. We owe it to the generations of Aggies, like Mary Berta, who remember it as a celebration of everything that is special about UC Davis, and we are committed to preserving their legacy.

Stories of progress

I have fond memories of UC Davis dating back to 1957–59. At that time we were a student body of somewhat more than 2,500 students. For me, the best times focused around North Hall and the Soils Building.

I am very impressed by the progress of UC Davis as manifest [summer 2011] in the wide selection of topics for the UC Davis History Project alongside the fine article about plant breeding.

San José

Focus on the facts

As a proponent of public education, I was so eager and excited to see the "Bringing History to Life" article [summer 2011]. At last, I thought, some breakthrough teaching methods to revive and aid the study of history in our public schools.

What a big disappointment. . . .

Lower-age students do not need such "critical thinking" lessons about history without first learning the facts of history—who, what, where, when, why and how.

For a long time, I have observed students turning in "critical thinking" assignments on topics such as the Vietnam War. Few could tell me the time period of the war, locate Vietnam on a map or even explain what "north" Vietnam was. . . .

College level students . . . can and should use the critical thinking methods. For too long, public school students have not been taught the facts.

Gary Cristofani '69
San Diego

Armenian genocide

Your [summer 2011] article, "Armenian Genocide Sparked Humanitarianism," [about research] by Associate Professor Keith David Watenpaugh, would have been better titled, "Humanitarianism for Christians Only." Sadly, the world turned its back on Ottoman Muslims and Jews who also died in frightful numbers and suffered the same privations as the Ottoman Armenians. 

World War I was the culmination of nearly 100 years of constant warfare against the Ottoman Empire and the exploitation of Christian nationalism against Ottoman Muslims and Jews. During this time, Ottoman Muslim and Jewish refugees streamed into Anatolia from provinces lost to states intent on creating Christian majorities within their borders. The Armenian Revolt in eastern Anatolia, roughly 1885–1919, played a significant role in the suffering endured by Ottoman Muslims and Jews during the latter part of this period. More than 1 million Ottoman Muslims and Jews in this area were either killed or displaced. In March 1915 when Armenian rebels seized the strategic city of Van, more than 40,000 Muslims and Jews, mainly civilians, were massacred. This provided partial justification for the May 1915 security relocation of Armenians from the eastern Anatolian war zones.

In all, during World War I more than 4 million Muslims and Jews died of starvation, exposure, massacre, or were displaced never to be heard of again. The West's response to this was a studied silence. I am neither minimizing the suffering of Armenians nor regretting that the U.S., in cooperation with the Ottoman government, provided relief to Ottoman Christians through the Committee for Near East Relief. But if one speaks of humanitarianism, one should recognize its universality for Ottoman Muslims and Jews. As the Ottoman Empire died, humanitarianism of a universal sort, applicable to all humans regardless of their religion or ethnicity, was neither born nor sparked.

Potomac, Maryland

Editor's note: Gunay Evinch is a past president of the Assembly of Turkish American Associations and a Washington, D.C.-based attorney whose international law clients include the Turkish embassy. He researched international law and the Armenian tragedy as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Turkey in 1991–93.

Keith David Watenpaugh, a historian of the modern Middle East and director of the UC Davis Human Rights Initiative, responds: The First World War and its aftermath visited terrible suffering on the inhabitants of the Ottoman Empire: Turks, Armenians, Greeks, Arabs, Kurds, Jews and others. However, only Armenians were subjected to a state-sponsored attempt to exterminate them as a people in what became the Republic of Turkey—genocide.

My research in archives in Europe, the Middle East and the U.S. shows that international humanitarian efforts were directed toward the Armenians because they had faced genocide and dispossession, were living in refugee camps in places like Syria, Greece and the Soviet Union and were being prevented by the Republic of Turkey from going home. They were stateless, had no legal standing and were wholly reliant on international humanitarian assistance for their survival.

Turks and Muslim refugees from the Balkans and Russia were given refuge, citizenship and the properties of murdered Armenians. They had a state to protect their interests by prevailing international standards, even if this protection was imperfect—but the Armenians did not.

Mr. Evinch is wrong when he writes that international aid did not reach Muslims and Jews during the war. To cite only two examples among many: American faculty at the American University in Beirut established soup kitchens that fed needy Muslims and Christians; and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee sent millions of dollars to aid starving Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem. Also, Ottoman Jews did not face state persecution or deportation.

What is most important to understand is that the Assembly of Turkish American Associations has been at the forefront of a Turkish government-sponsored effort in the United States to deny that what happened to the Armenians was genocide. The attack on my work in Mr. Evinch's letter is part of that project and should be understood in this light. At UC Davis, we teach our students that history is more than just a collection of facts, but rather is the starting point for an ethical relationship with the past.

Building democracy in the Middle East

Even though my son, Ryan Arant '05, has moved on to doctoral studies in neurobiology at UC Berkeley, UC Davis Magazine still comes to our home. I typically flip through it and then away it goes to recycling.

However, with the summer 2011 edition, I was drawn in by the pictures of Bin Laden, Mubarak and Kaddafi on the cover. I finished the article—a most thoughtful and insightful discussion of the "Arab Spring" largely by people from that region. I was struck by the analysis of why there was not a more violent Muslim reaction to the killing of Bin Laden—that radicalism is on the wane as the people of that region naturally desire and strive for freedom.

Unfortunately, many of these issues have been distorted by demagoguery in the media. Even as a political conservative, I found it refreshing to read the honest perspectives of those who have lived in the Middle East and studied emerging democracies.

The question I leave you and your esteemed faculty is: Have the U.S. military incursions and attempts at nation building in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted, retarded or had no real effect on the movement for democracy in the Middle East?


Miroslav Nincic, professor of political science responds: "It is too early to tell how successful democratization in the Middle East will be, but I doubt that the Arab Spring was in any way prompted by U.S. interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The unbearable frustrations borne by the youthful, highly mobilized populations of the Middle East, and their constant exposure to electronic media and the Internet, have galvanized many to seek real change. This would have happened with or without U.S. military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democracy will not emerge overnight in those countries where unrest has been most strongly felt, as the process will probably last a generation or so. Positive assistance is more important than U.S. military incursions abroad.

Marion Miller



I was saddened to read about the untimely death of Professor Marion Miller. I really enjoyed her undergraduate environmental toxicology course. Several years later, I was back at UC Davis and unexpectedly reconnected with her at an on-campus job fair. I asked if I could be a teaching assistant for her class, and she agreed on the spot. She was an excellent and energetic boss, and I'm not surprised that she won the Outstanding Mentor of the Year award from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research. I'll always remember her as a very dedicated and kind woman.

'95, MBA '02
Los Alamos, N.M

Credit for shark census

I am glad to see that you found our recent research on great white sharks newsworthy in the summer 2011 edition of UC Davis Magazine. However, your article omitted the name of the student who did the research, Taylor Chapple, and his home department, Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology, as well as the fact that the work was done using the facilities of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory.

, M.S. '75, Ph.D. '78,
professor of wildlife, fish and
conservation biology