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OCTOBER 2000: Departments (print version)

LETTERS


Bloom in bloom

Just before The Closing of the American Mind appeared in 1987, I remember asking another friend from U of C days whatever happened to Allan Bloom. Even as a student, Allan was someone we expected to hear from on a greater stage. Then, of course, his book became a cause, and part of the reason for its success was due neither to its topic nor its arguments but that its tone portrayed Allan so well. From its pages he emerged as vividly for his readers as he did for friends and acquaintances who knew him head on. That his ideas are not cited by scholars and that his name does not appear in footnotes right now bothers Mr. Parikh ("Letters," August/00). The reasons for that may or may not be valid, but his place in the history of ideas is quite beside the point. Allan, the person, was a star, and it is fitting that a novelist (Saul Bellow) should tell the tale (Ravelstein) of his last shining and setting forever.

George Jackson, AB'51, SM'54, PhD'58
Washington, D.C


Allan Bloom may not be frequently quoted, but his ideas have been a burr in the saddle of the complacent academics whom he targeted. He's on their minds, and their silence is deafening!!

Norman W. Winkler, MD'65, PhD'70
Orchard Park, New York


Daylily bouquets

Here is an excellent story and a beautiful layout, about a classmate honoring a wonderful gentleman and teacher ("Daylilies of the Field," August/00). Good job, Qiana Johnson and Lloyd DeGrane.

It would be a real pleasure to contact Dr. Griesbach to congratulate him on his success and thank him for honoring such a great professor as Dr. Paul Voth.

It is my opinion that all similar articles should include the e-mail address of the person or persons involved so that friends who have lost touch can congratulate the person directly. Why don't you begin with the next issue of your magazine?

E. Gerald Pires, SM'59
Eagle Creek, Oregon


Uncivilized definition

McGuire Gibson's archaeological work ("Investigations," August/00) is fascinating, but his criteria for "civilization" strike me as pretty uncivilized. According to the story, these criteria are having "a division of labor, an organized and respected hierarchy...to help societies develop order, defend themselves, and provide opportunities for wealth to grow and arts to flourish."

This sociologist would like to know why having a hierarchy is civilized and when one was ever respected except by those at its top, whose order is being developed, who is being defended against whom, and who gets the wealth.

Some societies do nicely without many of these inequalities, and some also create art, if not always the museum kind. They may lack complexity but appear more civilized than the one defined by Prof. Gibson's criteria.

Herbert J. Gans, PhB'47, AM'50
New York, New York


Life after a tenured position

James Shapiro's trenchant article ("Death in a Tenured Position?," August/00) warns that "it won't be long before the overwhelming majority of academics will no longer be on the tenure track, and will not receive the kind of institutional support crucial to sustain scholarly work." Shapiro's underlying assumption here-that tenure, full-time service, and significant institutional support are all pieces of the same pie-is of course largely correct. But need this be the case?

After a double A.B. in music theory and English from a distinguished liberal arts college (Kenyon) I was trained as a teacher-and superbly so-in the University's M.A.T. program. I put that training to good use while working my way to a Ph.D. at another institution-though it also slowed me down, since I had a persistent tendency to think of my students as my first priority instead of my dissertation. Thereafter my career path took me away first from teaching, then from academia altogether-I currently serve as archivist for a medical specialty society.

Now contemplating the near-inevitable mid-life career change, I'd love to return to teaching. But-and here's the big catch-specifically on a part-time basis, because there are other things, like musical performance and program annotating, that I also feel called to and good at, and for which I want to leave space. Unhappily, this scenario hasn't yet panned out, in large part because part-time teaching pays so poorly that I simply can't afford to start doing it without also finding another part-time gig (something Net-related, perhaps?) that's lucrative enough to subsidize it.

So I think the problem is even more wide-ranging than Mr. Shapiro suggests. In addition to re-assessing the role of the tenure system, we need to take counsel how better to support and compensate potentially productive teachers and scholars for whom-for whatever reason-a traditional full-time academic career simply isn't the right option.

James G. Carson, MAT'75
Evanston, Illinois


In Chapter 12 of Anthony Trollope's Barchester Towers, an elderly clergyman named Septimus Harding is harangued by the new bishop's zealous chaplain, Obadiah Slope, who denounces the received beliefs cherished by Harding and the old High Church party of Barchester as "the useless rubbish of past centuries." "New men, Mr. Harding, are now needed," Slope informs him, "and are now forthcoming in the church, as well as in other professions."

I emphatically agree with James Shapiro that "new men," and new women, are "now needed" in college teaching and that it is a calamity for our profession that, for a number of reasons, they are not "forthcoming" in tenure-track positions. But I seriously doubt that the remedy proposed by Professor Shapiro, the voluntary retirement of faculty members after 35 years or so, has any chance of success.

To establish my own bona fides, perhaps I should say that I did retire voluntarily after 40, not 35, years at one university. I thought that the time had come for me to step aside to make way for younger blood, even though there was no evidence that my capacities were diminishing and considerable evidence that they were at least as resilient as ever. I have long identified with the mild-mannered Reverend Mr. Harding, and I must say that I cannot recognize myself or those of my peers with whom I have worked in the picture Professor Shapiro paints of veteran professors who knowingly or unknowingly use their privileged positions to block the careers or stifle the creativity of junior colleagues. On the contrary, I think those junior colleagues I know would agree that we have been welcoming and helpful to them, rather than the reverse, in a number of ways.

So why does Professor Shapiro's essay make me so uncomfortable?

First, there is no assurance that the retirement of a senior professor will result in the appointment of a tenure-track replacement on anything resembling a one-for-one basis. I could document that from personal experience as a faculty member and one-time department chair.

Second, why should senior faculty members bow out after 35 years, rather than 30, or 25, or what-number-have-you? Any attempt to set such a figure is as arbitrary as were the rules governing mandatory retirement before 1994.

The logical outcome of Professor Shapiro's proposal is periodic post-tenure review, which may well be coming even without his efforts. Such a procedure would be conducted either by bureaucrats, something that would please neither him nor me, or by overworked faculty members, who already spend too much of their time evaluating one another.

George J. Worth, AB'48, AM'51
Lawrence, Kansas


Bravo for James Shapiro's "Death in a Tenured Position" and to you for printing it. And for an honest response from Provost Geoffrey Stone.

Shapiro's facts and demographics are as telling as his interpretation of their import. However, he could have added a crass appeal to self-interest, namely the coupling of retirement with good health and new opportunities to engage a world beyond the university.

After a rewarding teaching career of 31 years, I retired at age 59. Making room for younger scholars was one motive, but not the main one.

Although I have published two post-retirement books and several articles, the real rewards lie elsewhere. Here are some of the remarkable experiences that would have been impossible had not my wife and I retired early:

  • A six-week camping and hiking tour of the Far West.
  • Residing twice in the Black Forest-actually using the German language required for my Chicago degree.
  • Volunteering three times at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area.
  • Two winter hikes into Havasu Canyon.
  • Traversing Alaska's Brooks Range by foot and canoe.
  • Acting as chief fund-raiser for the local Land Trust.
  • Extensive relations with corporations, small businessmen, and philanthropic individuals.
  • Working to conserve 2,300 acres of forest that includes 1,000-year-old trees.
  • Helping to create a bald eagle park on the Nooksack River.
  • Being with grandkids for days instead of hours.
  • Once again reading for sheer pleasure.

This is the crucial question we asked ourselves while pondering my early departure from academe: "What can we do in our 60s that may well be impossible in our 70s?"

Robert H. Keller, PhB'61, AM'62, PhD'67
Marblemount, Washington


Losing (weight) argument

Professor Tomas Philipson raises some interesting ideas relating obesity to economics ("Investigations," June/00), but I must disagree with his conclusion on "incentives," i.e., that government should "subsidize physical activity and tax calorie intake." He's kidding, right? Weight loss might not be "rocket science," as he says, but if he has all the answers, he should go into the weight loss industry and make some quick millions. His statements that people deliberately choose obesity in their jobs and in their food consumption, but will be thin if they are wealthy, betray an elitist and uninformed prejudice.

Influences on obesity are social and cultural as well as economic. Yes, food-industry technology has contributed to obesity, as have economics, mass advertising, mass transportation, urban sprawl, centralized shopping, and consolidated schools. Economics can no doubt provide some answers if it works with technology, sociology, and physiology. Taxing food is no solution. Neither do I agree, as the economist claims, that obesity is either "self-limiting" or a "personal choice." It's not that simple, by any means.

Phyllis Braunlich
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma


Flirtation with rationality

So seldom does the administration and Faculty Senate behave rationally where a political issue is concerned that one tends to regard such a phenomenon with the same excitement one would feel if offered the opportunity to view Halley's Comet from space or Lillie Langtry in the nude. I did not expect to see such a thing in my lifetime. Thus, the University's recent decision ("College Report," June/00) to decline joining the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) filled me with as much joy as a conchologist observing the mucous muscular spasms of a sinistral whelk.

It is natural that students, guilt-ridden because their shoe allowance, remitted quarterly, exceeds the per capita income of the heads of households of most third-world countries, should exhibit remorse at the human cost of their ensembles. Supporting liberal causes by the radical step of purchasing T-shirts and other promotional items proffered by the alternative band sector of the music business seeking to beef up its bottom line, market its product, and establish itself at the vanguard of the socially conscious may offer some respite. The pain at the point of purchase remains, and the true cost of a pair of Nikes or a U of C sweat(shop)shirt is paid in the solitary, dark hours of the night or in vocalized, collective self-loathing. The epiphany: if the wardrobe were made by well-fed, well-scrubbed workers laboring happily in well-lit factories with modern bathrooms, guilt would be replaced by the nirvana previously enjoyed only by the likes of Calvin Klein on seeing his creations spread from the runway to the discount stores.

Unfortunately, the local employees who endure horrible conditions do so because the job offers the prospect of a better life. The factory is there because its cost of production per unit is lower than at alternative locations. If regulations were introduced that increased the cost, the factory would likely lose its competitive edge and its orders. It would be forced to close. Its former employees would be back to near-subsistence existences.

In the days of apartheid in South Africa, white labor unions supported a minimum wage while black activists opposed it. Increasing the cost of employing the less educated black workers would have led to replacing them with white workers, better educated and thus more productive. Likewise, increasing the cost of less productive workers in the developing world will lead to their jobs being exported to countries with higher per capita incomes where the gross cost of employment per worker is higher, but where the per unit cost of production is less. Remember that factories have been moving into less developed countries as economic socialization and education allowed them to achieve an acceptable cost per unit produced. Adding costs to the factories in the poorer countries could reverse this trend.

Alas, the flirtation with rational behavior was as brief as the possibility of sexual orgasm among the Drosophilia melanogaster. The administration announced that it was not joining the Worker Rights Consortium because its vendors already abided by guidelines similar to the WRC's. That is, it was already doing its part to take jobs from the poorest, least employable workers in the weakest economies in order to employ better-fed, more productive workers with more liberal bathroom privileges elsewhere.

Kenneth R. Shelton Jr., AB'69
Galveston, Texas


Saving I-House may save GSB

I would like to add my voice to the loud chorus of graduates who are happy and relieved that International House will remain ("Chicago Journal," June/00). However, some of my reasons are different: I believe the Graduate School of Business will be better off.

As someone who spent two years at the GSB, I can state categorically that it was I-House that got me through. The GSB had students who cared only about how much money they made at their next job, a generally indifferent faculty, and an administration which cared only about its own agenda.

My views were not unusual. The first time Business Week surveyed students, GSB students in the class after mine gave the GSB horrible reviews, ranking Chicago literally dead last of all the student groups surveyed. The overall ranking plummeted, leading the administration, for the first time, to consider how they treated students and to establish LEAD and other programs.

It is really disgraceful (but not surprising) that the GSB would eye the prime real estate and convince the University administration to let I-House deteriorate until they could find some excuse to knock down the beautiful building. Happily, the less greedy have prevailed. Now, the GSB should work to ensure a successful I-House, one in which GSB and other students will thrive. The GSB will be better for it.

Debby Prigal, MBA'87
Washington, DC


Don't blame the cartoonist
Jessica Abel manages to misspell something every year or so in her "Chicagophile" piece, and in the August/00 issue she does it again. This time she embarrasses herself with "embarrasing." You really ought to run her material through a spellchecker.

Richard Koeneman, AB'64
Fairview, North Carolina


Doctor's gown up for grabs
I should like to donate the above to any more recent degree-holder, since there is little likelihood that I shall need it in the foreseeable future, and it is merely cluttering up my clothes bag. It's in excellent condition, long enough even for a far taller person than I, and includes a snazzy flat black velvet cap with gold tassel.

Anyone in need of such a garment may e-mail (gmwhite@oakland.edu); write (25800 W. Eleven Mile Road, Southfield, MI 48034); or phone (248/727-2296).

Gertrude M. White, PhD'50
Southfield, Michigan

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