So vast is our historical archive that it, of course, includes more than just past issues. We’ll be showcasing a particular gem today, a complaint letter and the University’s response. The dramatis personae is as follows: the first letter is from a Punch Bowl alum from the ‘30s (whose name I’ve censored somewhat) complaining about the modern Punch Bowl, and the second letter is UPenn’s then-President Sheldon Hackney responding, with possibly the best quote ever bolded for emphasis. These were written in June of 1981. It’s a testament to mature and funny Presidents, unlike other Presidents-who-shall-not-be-named who complain to Facebook to have parodies of themselves removed.
Dear Dr. Hackney,
Let me begin by offering my congratulations to you on your assumption of the presidency of Pennsylvania. I know that you did an outstanding job at Tulane, and I feel certain that under your leadership, Pennsylvania will continue to advance.
As a former member of the PunchBowl staff, I have been disturbed recently by the issues I have received. I subscribed to lend my support to what was once, in my opinion, one of the cleverest college comics in America. If the recent issues I have received are symbolic of the new standards of morals and taste at the University, then I am shocked. I have written the magazine advising that I will no longer support it, and telling the editors that I don’t mind off-color humor that is also clever, but I don’t see anything humorous in pure, unadulterated filth and bad taste.
In fact, I have been so upset by the latest issue, that I am seriously considering eliminating the university from my will. I had included a very small bequest (I am by no means affluent), but if PunchBowl reflects current standards of taste at the University, then I do not want to be a party to supporting an institution which condones such material.
I recognize the issue of censorship is a touchy one, and that many consider free speech paramount. However, the magazine is housed in Houston Hall, and is issued under the imprimatur of the University. If it cannot operate within some guidelines of good taste, then maybe it ought to be disaffiliated from the university, and allowed to publish as a private publication, without the sponsorship of a great educational institution.
You may feel that an old alumnus of almost sixty-eight years of age, is not worth listening to, but if you examine this latest issue, I would appreciate knowing whether this can possibly reflect the standards of a supposedly intellectually elite institution.
With best wishes,
George S. T. Class of ‘34
Dr Mr. George S. T:
I was deeply interested in your comments on the current level of humor in Punch Bowl, a publication that I have not been following for very long. My first reaction was to find a copy of the latest issue and read it. I found taste shaky in places but in general not outrageous. I think that the good sense of the readers will temper their response to the Bible parodies, for example. Such spoofs of the sacred texts seem to be part of the process of growing up. I shall see that next year’s editors are reminded that they have a wider readership than their own immediate circle, and we shall see what next year’s efforts bring.
I am very sorry that you were distressed. I know what it is like to have edited a publication and to continue to care about its quality. I am very glad that you wrote me, and I shall pass your message on to those others most concerned with the journal.
Very truly yours,