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APRIL 2000: Departments (print version)


The tough help out

Your "Minds at Work" feature (February/00) brought to mind an occasion when I was reading in that grand hall of Harper during grad student days, and noticed an undergraduate nearby who kept nodding off. After a few distracted moments, I decided to put on my "we're all family here, you know" persona. Gently tapping the student on the shoulder, I asked if we could chat for a moment in the corridor. Surprised but also curious, he followed me out and I shared a few sage bits of personal experience--about how one can study more efficiently by taking short breaks from time to time, having a well-balanced schedule, and so on. I believe the student was delighted with this evidence that people really do care for one another at Chicago.

I've often wondered whether that unique event in the student's life led to a more successful career in the College than he might otherwise have had. Who knows? He may have gone on to a doctorate--and even a Nobel Prize. Some day I'll find out.

John A. Gueguen, PhD'70
Urbana, Illinois

Tears and jeers

Boy, you guys have really screwed up. First, Jack Katz, in the manner of many academics, has expanded a simple and hoary concept into a long, boring, repetitive article ("The Stuff of Tears," February/00). Everyone knows that crying is the result of great emotion: tears of sorrow, tears of joy. His people who cried all fall into those two categories, even if he insists on calling it ontological transcendence. He insists, e.g., that the people listening to the principal were moved by an understanding of her dilemma at being forced to reply to a "casual participant" whose "bright ideas…threatened the collective understanding." Isn't it far more likely that they cried because they recognized that the principal's denunciation of scabs meant that the strike would occur, and they felt sorry for both the teachers and their kids?

Second, you wasted oodles of space on those inane photos of eyes with tears painted in. Why not save the Magazine some space and money?

Bill Kamin, PhB'47
Menlo Park, California

Culture clash

In reference to "Native Chicago" (February/00): As an attorney crusading for color-blind governmental policies, I was startled at the suggestion that the government would assign children to foster homes based upon their race. I consider such government action to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. My own view is that a loving family is more important than one of the "correct" racial group, and that any parent can make the effort to connect a child to his own culture.

Douglas E. Markham, JD'81
Houston, Texas

Good ideas come from all over

The news article ("Chicago Journal, February/00) quoting newly elected president Don Randel has him saying: "The only good ideas come from the faculty. It's been my job simply to try to get behind them, to resolve the inevitable differences about them, and see us move ahead where we had an important need to move ahead."

I wonder whether the parochialism of this comment is accurate because it seems, in effect, he is discounting any wisdom or input from intellectuals outside academia including any which might filter down--or up--from alumni. To inbreed intellectualism seems, somehow, to be a throwback to a medieval time when the church, in its wisdom, excommunicated Galileo because he differed from the doctrinal teaching. Do we deny the Enlightenment because many of the enlighteners were not academicians? Do we totally dismiss political innovators because their innovations were tested in the field of public affairs rather than in the halls of our colleges and universities?

Perhaps President-elect Randel deserves the benefit of the doubt and would care to rethink this quotation, or at least put it into a context that would satisfy independent thinkers, the world's intellectual roustabouts, and those of us who have encountered the outside world and have survived in it.

Edward S. Lowenstern, PhB'45, MBA'46

Reference librarians aren't lonely

I was startled to read your assumption ("Editor's Note," February/00) that "the nation's reference librarians are fast learning the loneliness of the Maytag repairman." The University Library's reference librarians are actually busier than ever--so much so that we've recently created four new positions: two at Regenstein (one in reference and information services and one in business and economics), one at Crerar, and one at the D'Angelo Law Library.

Far from rendering reference librarians obsolescent, the wealth of resources available on the Web actually makes these information experts more indispensable than ever to those who have become adept at finding information on-line, to say nothing of those experiencing the shock of getting their electronic feet wet. Here are some of the questions they're asked: Should I use an electronic or print source for 1960 demographic and market data, or both? Is there a better (more comprehensive? more reliable?) set of Shakespeare texts than the ones I found for free at Project Gutenberg? Which full-text journal databases on the Library homepage ( are worth searching for my topic in medical ethics? How can I use my bibliographic citation software to best advantage in combination with the on-line catalog? Can you please walk me through an on-line interlibrary loan order?

I should also tell you that our reference librarians--those who work at the familiar central desks and their distributed subject specialist colleagues--do more than repair the washer. To extend your analogy, they are full participants in the Maytag engineering teams. They scout for and evaluate new databases, assuring that readers are well-served and Library dollars carefully spent. (Most of the best sources are, alas, not free--the Library's materials budget pays for them.)

They also compile new resources to meet needs that they have identified from their interactions with readers. A notable example is the annotated and interactive database, "Selected Business and Economics Journals Available Online" ( They design the content and layout of many of the Library's Web pages and bring their detailed knowledge of reader expectations and search behaviors to bear on updates of the on-line catalog.

In short, reference librarians are more than ever an integral part of the Library and the collections and services it offers. Oh, and one more thing: Unlike the Maytag man, our reference librarians do E-mail:;;; and subject specialist addresses at

Sem C. Sutter, AM'73, PhD'82, AM'85
Acting Assistant Director for Humanities & Social Sciences, Joseph L. Regenstein Library


Celebrating an alumnus

Official obituaries are necessarily short, a dry telling of facts. But the death of a very young alumnus is an overwhelming tragedy. I wanted to celebrate his life. This, then, is not an obituary but a tribute to Matthew Valenta, AB'98 ("Deaths," February/00).

Matt left us in July 1999, but those who knew him at the University of Chicago and beyond will never forget him. A physics major, academics were of paramount importance to Matt. He was passionate about his science, and was a dedicated worker in a high-energy physics lab for most of his College career. After graduation in 1998, he moved to Seattle to continue his studies in the biophysics and physiology Ph.D. program at the University of Washington.

Chamberlin House in Burton-Judson was Matt's home for all four of his years at Chicago. He was active in his house and in his University, serving at times as house president and Chamberlin's representative to House Council. Matt was unfailingly generous with his time and friendship, and made an effort every year to get to know new members of the house and to make them feel welcome. Always one with strong opinions, he never hesitated to back them up with action. Many of us remember the zeal with which he lobbied for 100-percent juice in the cafeteria after it was removed. He didn't drop the issue when he was brushed off, but kept meeting with ARA officials for weeks until they caved and reinstated the juice.

Matt had an astounding knowledge of current music and a desire to share his favorites with his friends. He had an insatiable thirst to learn and a drive to achieve. In the spirit of Chicago, he was a terrific debater. He often played the devil's advocate to force us to solidify and support our positions. He cared intensely about many issues, and conversations with him were fascinating explorations of everything from religion to scientific ethics. I am a better person for having known him. Matt touched everyone he knew; he is deeply missed by us all.

Jessy D. Dorn, AB'98
Los Angeles

SRP reunion coming this June

The Student Representative Party, better known as SRP, is doing a '50s reprise--a party at which politics, culture, and music of the decade will be featured and appropriate connections highlighted for the 21st century.

The Party party will be Thursday, June 1, from 4 until 7 p.m. in the Coulter Lounge at International House. For those who wish to reminisce, potato chips and cheap red wine will be on the table. For those who want vigorous discourse but better food and drinks, hot and cold hors d'oeuvres and cocktails will be there, too.

The SRP kept no membership lists and the FBI will not provide its version of our membership without a time-consuming application of due process. Therefore, some heavy networking is needed to make this rally successful. Please contact old friends, associates, political allies, and enemies in person or by phone or e-mail--encrypted or not.

A "free-will offering" of $20 per person is expected and will be appreciated in advance. Please make checks payable to Professor Ralph Nicholas, International House, 1414 E. 59th Street, Chicago, IL 60637; phone: 773/753-2270.

For more information, contact: Phil Hoffmann, SB'57, PhD'62 (; Bernie Munk, AB'60, AM'62, PhD'67 (; Ralph Nicholas, AM'55, PhD'62 (; Jim Vice, AM'54 (, 773/338-2536); or Mary Ann Chacarestos, AM'66 (773/752-6566).

Mary Ann Chacarestos, AM'66

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