Admit Women to VMI; US Would Benefit

Regarding the editorial ''Gender Barriers Falling Down,'' Jan. 23: I applaud the Monitor's well-structured, cogently argued view that Virginia Military Institute's refusal to admit women is neither justified on constitutional grounds nor by the argument that VMI would be forced to change its ''demanding military-style program.''

As a VMI graduate (first captain, class of 1954), a former assistant professor of Russian at the US Military Academy, and a retired US Army officer, I have observed directly for more than 20 years the substantial contributions of women officers and enlisted personnel. VMI's admission of women would be of great benefit to the country and would enhance VMI's long-standing tradition of producing citizen soldiers to serve the nation. I am confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the law.

William F. Dunkelberger Randolph, Vt.

Migration myths

The editorial ''Immigration Reform,'' Jan. 20, contains one flawed assumption: that development in third-world countries will reduce the ''push'' factors for migration. The hoped-for circumstance - that population pressure declines in these countries as they modernize - has been shown, empirically, to be wrong. For example, emigration from Korea increased markedly for several decades after that country began to modernize.

A number of mechanisms account for higher emigration from third-world countries that embark on the path of economic development and modernization. First, modernization in the agricultural sector pushes hundreds of thousands of small subsistence farmers off their lands because they cannot compete with agribusiness. The Green Revolution caused this in India and it is occurring in Mexico because of NAFTA, which will modernize the growing of corn and other crops. When displaced subsistence farmers begin to move, they are nearly as likely to become illegal aliens in a neighboring country as street people in their own overcrowded cities.

Second, the possibility of migration to a richer country acts as a stimulus to the birth rate in the countries emigrants leave. In general, a perception of expanding economic opportunity leads to setting higher family-size targets and results in higher fertility rates. On the contrary, a perception of limits or contracting opportunity promotes marital and reproductive caution.

Virginia Abernethy Nashville

Professor of Psychiatry (Anthropology)

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine

Helping rare livestock

Regarding the article ''Modern Noahs Take on Threatened Livestock Breeds,'' Jan. 17: In addition to the organization the author lists as a resource, there is another group that is addressing this issue in the United States.

From its base at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, the Institute for Agricultural Biodiversity (IAB) has begun a program to acquire, multiply, and place herds and flocks of rare livestock on host farms. For instance, several small herds of the critically endangered Mulefoot Hog were distributed in four states this summer. This program is similar to the successful Canadian model.

In the US, most of the hobby breeders who work to conserve vanishing livestock breeds don't have the resources that the Metcalf family enjoys, allowing them to undertake long-term scientific preservation efforts.

Genetic resources in livestock and crops will be a key issue in American agriculture over the next century and beyond. The goal of the IAB program is to help ensure that the farmers' ability to respond to evolving environments is preserved for coming generations.

Hans Peter Jorgensen Decorah, Iowa

Executive Director

Institute for Agriculture Biodiversity

Your letters are welcome. For publication they must be signed and include your address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. Letters should be addressed to ''Readers Write'' and may be sent by mail to One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617-450-2317, or by Internet e-mail (200 words maximum) to OPED@RACHEL.CSPS.COM.

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