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JUNE 2000: Departments (print version)

LETTERS


Covered in glory?

I hope I'm not seen as slipping into creeping fogeyism if I lodge a small complaint concerning your cover choice for the April/00 magazine. It seems to me that when a U of C icon like Edward Levi dies, the least we can do is put his picture on the cover of the University magazine. Levi was no "ordinary" U of C president--he WAS the university, for so many long and distinguished and at times tumultuous years, that it is virtually impossible to separate the U of C's unique ethical and intellectual identity from that of Edward Levi, as Mary Ruth Yoe's excellent obituary so eloquently argues. So why not an old black-and-white photo, conveying a sense of his long history, perhaps from his law school days, of this legendary leader of Chicago?

Jessica Abel's back-page cartoons are great; keep 'em coming! But trumping Ed Levi? Come on!

John L. Simons Jr., AM'68, PhD'72
Colorado Springs, Colorado


Gothic, schmothis

Good Goth! You would have readers accept the assertion ("Chicago Journal," April/00) that the design of the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center "...echoes Gothic architecture in its use of light."

Did the University's trustees believe what their renowned architect told them, or is it your job to convince alumni that the emperor does, too, have clothes on?

Beverly Simek Wendt, AB'48
St. Louis


I-House: more than meets the eye

The article in the April issue concerning the June 30 closing of International House ("Chicago Journal") neglected to mention something that by now is well known to everyone on campus, and probably many other readers as well: namely that the University's decision has created not only an enormous controversy, but an extraordinary effort to save this building by large numbers of hardworking people who represent a broad spectrum of the University and Hyde Park communities.

The loss of this institution would be a tragedy, all the more tragic because it is completely avoidable. The financial arguments made by the administration, and reported in the April issue, would seem to leave little alternative but to close the building. In fact, however, these issues are extremely complex and many sided, and knowing the details often casts them in a rather different light.

In 1994, Holabird and Root, the building's original architects, came up with a renovation plan, in conjunction with student input. For a cost of $14 million [at the time], that plan provided for all necessary repairs and a change from the current room configuration to about 200 dormitory rooms and 150 either private bath or bath suites, larger rooms sharing a bathroom with one other student. This plan would have gone a long way towards solving the "turnover" problem--the small rooms are fine for a year, but those of us who are here for the long haul tend to need more space and privacy.

Why, then, the larger figure? When the I-House Board approached the University for a loan in 1996, the administration insisted on revisions to the renovation plan that brought the cost up to $20 million--in current dollars, around $25 million. This second plan--which is not only more expensive, but also less desirable from the point of view of students--was forced on I-House against its will, simply because the administration felt that in 50 years all students would insist on having their own bathroom. It was a very shortsighted decision--for one thing, making all rooms have private baths left the rooms themselves rather cramped. Students here value space far more than a private bathroom. Now, more than ever, this decision, and a very sound original plan, need to be reconsidered.

Moreover, it would still cost $13-15 million to rehab one proposed alternative, the abandoned phone switching building at 6045 S. Kenwood Avenue. That building, however, would only have 150 rooms--versus approximately 330 rooms for a renovated I-House--not to mention that the "alternative" is vastly inferior in location, facilities, and appearance.

The rental income generated on the additional rooms is, conservatively, $600,000 a year. Which is more likely to be able to repay the capital costs--especially given that refurbishing the 61st Street location would require a two-year hiatus, with the existing community dispersed and no rental income coming in at all?

In every way, this controversy has been plagued by incomplete information. Take, for example, the issue of fund-raising. From the beginning, according to an I-House development officer, the University tied the hands of the I-House development office, insisting that the central administration alone had rights over wealthier (over $25K potential) donors. The University did not, to say the least, make International House a priority in its own fund-raising efforts.

Rather, it asked I-House to submit a list of potential "seed" donors for a capital campaign, which it then winnowed down drastically. We understand that the President made overtures to only three donors.

Another egregious example of widespread confusion resulting from incomplete information is the fire alarm issue, which has been used to support closing I-House ASAP. Contrary to what is reported in the April issue, the City never cited International House for a "violation." These are the facts. City codes changed in the 1990s, requiring an expensive upgrade to the alarm systems--individual room "rising heat sensors"--in all dorms and other Single Room Occupancy buildings. The University came to an agreement with the City that they would do this over a period of years. Currently, not only I-House, but Max Mason and the Shoreland, have to have, by law, such systems installed; one and probably both of these undergraduate dorms will not do these upgrades until the summer of 2001. The cost for the installation of such a system in I-House is $1.1 million--but for a fraction of that, in the interim period during renovations--I-House could have a system identical to what is currently in those dorms.

So, what is to be done? The University needs to slow down and take stock, and not make any irreparable decisions that we would all deeply regret later. One thing, however, that it should not do is continue what it has, for some time now, been doing: conducting confidential negotiations with the Business School for the sale of the building and the land to them for a paltry $2 million. The probable result of such a transaction: the demolition of this architectural landmark which has graced the Midway for 70 years, to be replaced with modern luxury apartments for GSB students. None of this can be allowed to happen, and indeed the Illinois Landmarks Commission is looking into the matter.

What must be resisted above all, however, is any idea that the "institution" can be separated from the "building." With its lovely courtyard, elegant public spaces, and distinctive U of C gothic architecture, this building was designed for its use and is irreplaceable. As any of the thousands of alumni who lived here understand, the building and the institution are inseparable; close one and you kill them both. The proposed alternative--any proposed alternative--cannot be taken seriously.

Properly renovated and wisely managed, International House can continue to serve the University for another 75 years. We hope that alumni will urge the University to give the future of International House its full support. Those who want to find out more should go to www.save-ihouse.org.

Jonathan Hand, AM'91
International House

As Mr. Hand notes, the City of Chicago did not order the June 30 closing of I-House, as was reported in the April issue. The lack of a fire-alarm system, however, does keep International House from being in compliance with the city's fire code. Please see "Chicago Journal," page 14, for a report on the future of International House.--Ed.


Invest in I-House

I have been disappointed to hear of the proposal to demolish the University of Chicago International House. I-House offers the University a long tradition of housing students, both international and domestic. I-House also remains the last recognizable center for informal international cultural exchange on the University campus. How many friendships have been formed between students, faculty, and staff from countries far and near?

The International House provides a welcoming site for international film, dance, national holiday celebrations, presentations, and forums. Without the troubles of organizing interdepartmental sponsorships and turf wars that sometimes plague the best plans to bring international students, scholars, and families together, I-House has consistently offered a congenial atmosphere for free exchange.

If the trouble stems from dwindling numbers of residents, the answer is to upgrade the facilities. The rooms are indeed out of date. And the food service indeed served unappetizing and costly fare. Modestly refurbished rooms and an attractive, appropriately ambitious cafe will bring students back in droves from the tight Hyde Park housing market. I-House's service to the University community is invaluable.

Invest in the facilities, and the International House will bring rich returns to the new administration.

Roland Hsu, AM'88, PhD'98
Moscow, Idaho


Unforgettable experience

Retain the I-House building, and the I-House program in a way that fully maintains the residential interaction between Americans and international students. Remodel the facility as necessary to improve functionality and residential comfort, expand the role of the GSB if necessary, but retain the ability of any graduate student at the U of C to stay there, alongside international students studying/working in Chicago.

The structure is a remarkable landmark at 59th Street, and it contains some notable facilities, despite the aging internal mechanisms and the small residential rooms. The building's historic value is more than adequate to merit changes to the residential sections, and refurbishment of the internal mechanisms, so that it can continue to have a functional role in the life of the University.

The residential program I experienced at I-House was just as vital as my graduate program--in some regards, more so. Since I left Chicago at the end of 1987, it has been the friends at I-House--nearly all from Europe, in my case--who have remained a part of my life. When I am on campus, I choose to stay at I-House. When I talk with friends from Chicago days, we easily return to discussions of I-House experiences.

Regarding any notion of turning the building (or the razed property) over for exclusively GSB housing, I would consider this a sad, serious mistake. From my own experience in 1985-87, the international students of the Law and Business schools comprised a major component of the I-House population. The American GSB students were challenged and broadened by meeting individuals from throughout the world, who held views remarkably different from those often found in MBA students.

Consequently, I consider the best plans to be those which retain the building, the residential programs for graduate students at the U of C (including the GSB), and international students studying or working in Chicago.

Mark Braden, AM'87
Pasadena, California


Landmark building

We trust that future issues will feature more balanced coverage of the intense campus debate over the future of International House. Your short report reproduces administration press releases, without mentioning the letter of protest over the proposed closing of I-House, signed by 70 faculty members. It makes no mention of I-House residents' protest rallies, marches, and fund-raisers, nor does it report on their planned class-action suit (presumably announced after your deadline). As the best campus reporting has stressed, the University community is upset by the administration's apparent lack of transparency as well as by the decision itself. Only ten years ago, I-House was sufficiently popular to operate at full capacity, with a waiting list for students unable to be accommodated.

Forced to adopt an unpopular and expensive meal plan, the house began to lose residents, yet it still runs at a profit. Mandated by John Rockefeller's original gift to watch over I-House interests, the administration seems in retrospect to have failed this duty. While I-House has solicited University assistance in planning long-term structural improvements, and in launching a fund-raising campaign, the University appears to have planned the building's closure, perhaps even negotiating with the Graduate School of Business over a future sale of building and land (for the ridiculously low sum of $2 million). The administration claims that it is impossible to raise the $25-$30 million needed for major infrastructural improvements, and that even to spend $1-2 million for a fire-alarm system would be wrong at this point, yet they offer $12-$15 million to renovate a much smaller replacement building, which would house less than half the students that the present building contains, and whose location (on 61st Street) is so marginal that most people would be afraid to walk there at night. At the same time, the administration plans to spend $500 million on campus-wide capital improvements (from new dormitories to recreational facilities, including bowling-alley and skating rink) aimed primarily at improving the quality of undergraduate life. Given the lavish scale of these plans, the zero-sum arguments about I-House seem highly inappropriate, and the apparent lack of interest in the needs of foreign graduate students is striking.

To sever the International House program from the building conceived for it is to weaken the chances that, in the long run, either will survive. The administrators seem to have no sense of the symbolic and practical importance of public space; they act as if they are only getting rid of an old dormitory. Although they now claim there is no immediate threat to the building, they have not committed themselves to preservation either (and some scenarios for selling and reusing the land clearly presuppose razing instead). Over the 20th century, the city of Chicago failed to preserve an extraordinary number of extraordinary structures: the small remaining fragment of Louis Sullivan's Stock Exchange behind the Art Institute should remind us of the folly of an earlier, raze-and-rebuild mentality. The University is an institution in part dedicated to the preservation of the past; it must not repeat the city's mistakes.

A building with I-House's historical, architectural, pedagogical, and sentimental significance should not be under threat, nor should the architectural integrity of the Midway it helps to anchor. The National Trust for Historic Preservation considers all these aspects crucial ones for making preservation decisions. In other words, an older building that is architecturally striking (even if not, in itself, a masterpiece), that forms part of an architectural ensemble, and that has been part of the fabric of the community for a long time should rightly be considered a landmark, and as such, protected from demolition or disfiguring reusage.

The facade, the exterior friezes, the silhouette, the extraordinary windows, and perhaps above all the ground floor interior, with its magnificent courtyard, remain choice period pieces; on other campuses, a building like this would be considered irreplaceable, esteemed as an architectural centerpiece, and used for ceremonial purposes. (Think of the reverence with which the University of Pittsburgh treats its Cathedral of Learning or Indiana University its Memorial Union.) If I-House goes, no feasible replacement could ever duplicate its strengths: the international student community, and the University community at large, will never get this kind of space again.

The best way to insure the survival and preservation of I-House is to see that it continues to be used for the purposes for which it was built. This structure and this institution represent an important, early attempt to expand the University's international presence and impact. At a moment marked by (often opportunistic) rhetoric about globalization, the preservation of International House and its mission seems to us a major symbolic and practical priority for the University. It is hard for us to believe that I-House alumni would be unwilling to contribute to a University-led campaign to ensure its renovation and survival as a center for international student life. Surely the thousands of U of C students who, since 1932, have lived, made lifelong international friendships, or simply attended cultural events at I-House would be extremely sorry to see this institution destroyed.

Richard Maxwell, AM'71, PhD'76,
Valparaiso, Indiana

Katie Trumpener,
Associate Professor of Germanic Studies,
English, and the College,
University of Chicago


Not too late to save I-House?

I was shocked and grieved to learn of the proposed closing of International House. I also am angry that I heard nothing of this until so late in the process. While I never lived at International House, many of my friends did, and the whole campus benefited from the cafeteria and the gracious public rooms. It was a haven for older students who did not want to live in dorms and could not afford apartments. It also was a great place for foreign students and visitors.

Since graduation, I have stayed there when I returned to the U of C. As far as I know, it is the only lodging for visitors that is at all convenient to the campus. I also have benefited from its relationship with the I-Houses at Berkeley and Columbia. It would be a tragic loss for the U of C if this building, with its history, were to be closed.

In the years since my graduation I have supported the annual U of C fund drives as best as I can. I, and I am sure many others, would gladly help a fund to save I-House. I am not the "Big Donor" supposedly sought for this purpose, but many smaller donors can produce amazing results--if they are asked. I have zero interest, however, in providing real estate for the Business School.

Please reconsider this closing of a beloved institution.

Lucy Brundrett Jefferson, AB'54, AB'55, AM'57
Boston


Improv Credits

The April Magazine ("College Report") claims that Off-Off Campus was founded in 1986, "when Second City co-founder Bernard G. Sahlins, AB'43, challenged students in his improv comedy course to revive the tradition on campus." Please allow me to correct this misleading statement.

Off-Off Campus was founded by me, then director of University Theater, and the late Prof. Frank Kinahan, then UT's faculty director. It was our idea to establish a campus comedy troupe; we asked Bernie Sahlins to lend his name to the enterprise because we knew that his association with Second City would get people's attention. The only thing Bernie did was to "teach" the "improv comedy course" that we arranged for him, in which he traveled to campus to watch the students rehearse their sketches. And yet whenever the subject comes up, Bernie, and Bernie alone, is always cited as the founder of Off-Off Campus. (E.g., on the Off-Off Campus home page.)

I mention this not only because it annoys me, but also because it may be a matter of interest to historiographers. Why does such a distorted view of history carry the day? Three reasons occur to me. First, it's simply unwieldy to cite a trio of founders. Much easier to boil us down to one; and that one, of course, must be the one whom the members of Off-Off Campus would prefer to consider their founder--reason No. 2--because through him they can trace a connection to Second City. Third, the situation seems to be governed by a fundamental rule of American celebrity culture: The best-known person in the vicinity of an event tends to receive a grossly disproportionate share of credit or blame for it.

I guess I shouldn't complain. Frank and I made a deal with the devil when we used Bernie's name to advance our project.

Steve Schroer
Minneapolis


Where in the world is the editor?

Thanks for your profile of geographer Gilbert F. White, SB'32, SM'34, PhD'42, in the April/00 issue ("Gilbert White watches the world's water," page 43). We hear too little about practitioners of geography, a discipline that analyzes the relationships between society, environment, space, and geographical information. I am not surprised that you neglected to mention that the Chicago administration did away with the geography department in the 1980s. What potential research worthy of the National Academy of Sciences' highest honor is not being done thanks to a short-sighted decision by the University's administrators?

Also, at the risk of supporting the common misconception that advanced work in geography consists of elementary-school level memorization of place names and locations, I can't resist pointing out that geographical literacy at the University of Chicago is in a sad state since the demotion of geography to committee status: The same issue ("Lecture Notes," page 36) also covers the use of the Buffalo Creek mining disaster as a Law and Society case study "in which a large settlement was procured for residents of Buffalo Creek, Virginia, after a mine collapsed...." First, the deadly disaster was not a mine collapse but a flood following the failure of a tailings dam. Second, Buffalo Creek is located in, ahem, West Virginia.

George E. Clark, AM'89
Chicago


Right Stuff sends wrong message?

I am a staff member at the Regenstein Library, and was flipping through your magazine for the first time when an advertisement caught my eye. It is for "The Right Stuff" dating service and the advertisement's first line reads, "Date someone who knows that Kofi Annan is not a decaffeinated brew." The ad then suggests that one use the dating service to meet people from 12 Ivy League and just-under Ivy League schools. While not a graduate from any of those schools, I am college educated and very much aware of Kofi Annan and his position--and found the ad unbelievably offensive.

The implication cannot be more clear: people who did not attend one of the schools listed are ignorant. How can you allow such ridiculous, mean-spirited arrogance and snobbery in your magazine? Is this the way you really feel about the relative greatness of this school--that its students are of a higher class than the great majority of the people in this country? This school (as I have realized over two years of dating my boyfriend, a student here) already has problems with unjustified arrogance and being overly class-conscious.

On behalf of all the brilliant, motivated, creative students and college graduates who didn't have the money or even the desire to attend an Ivy League school, I demand that you discontinue advertising with this disgusting company.

Emily Kahl Lauterbach
Chicago

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