"The mind can be a passionate organ, too"
is hard to resist the temptation simply to gush-about the University
and its people, about the city and its people, about the excitement
of being a member of both groups. At a recent and magnificently
warm welcoming event on Navy Pier, I poached on an essay by Nicholson
Baker to describe Chicago as a city of tall thoughts. In daily
life, during the few months since sinking my roots here, I have
often been struck by a metaphor a good deal closer to the ground-a
city and a university of really big shoes. My father teased me
a lot about my big feet when I was growing up. I wouldn't mind
his reassurance on the point now. Whether as a member of the faculty
or as the president of the University, I cannot help but think
of shoes and feet to fill them.
much I may feel myself to be inextricably rooted in this University
and in this city, I am, of course, a newcomer. This fact inspires
many questions of me from people who have been here much longer.
"Are you settled? How do you find the University and its community?
What do you think of it?" Underneath these questions lies a question
clearly present but never asked in these terms: "Do you love it
as much as I do?"
short answer is "yes," though it may take some time yet before
some of my interlocutors come to believe that I could possibly
both know it and love it as much as they do. What I can say with
perhaps more authority-the, as it were, dispassionate authority
of a kind that a newcomer can claim to have-is that the University
is in fact today precisely the University that you have always
known and loved and that it is now my privilege to know and love.
the midst of our recent and characteristically rambunctious debates,
what about this University continues to make it the one we know
and love? It is that we care about ideas above all else, and we
believe in the power of ideas to transform the lives of us all,
individually and collectively. The word fun got into a
certain amount of trouble here recently. This is not because fun
is inherently a bad word but because fun, at least in current
usage, is not a big enough word-because fun in current
usage tries to drive a wedge between thinking and feeling, a wedge,
with ancient roots, to be sure, that we ought not to admit to
the discussion of our university, however much in its thrall other
universities listed in the rankings of U. S. News and World
Report may be.
we are not about fun as the low-grade hallucination that passes
for it in many quarters. As two faculty colleagues (Joel Snyder
in art history and Berthold Hoeckner in music) have said to me
in one way or another in recent exchanges, here we are about something
more nearly akin to joy and, yes, happiness. That is what we,
at least, mean by fun. It rests on the belief that the life of
the mind is the only life worth living and that the mind and the
heart are not wholly unrelated organs.
are blessed in these first weeks of the fall quarter with an inspiring
and moving and entertaining production at Court Theatre of Tom
Stoppard's The Invention of Love. It is about A. E. Housman,
scholar and poet, in relation to Oscar Wilde. It is about the
relation between thinking and feeling. At least one reviewer (Daniel
Mendelsohn in the New York Review of Books) thinks that
Stoppard has got it all wrong, failing to recognize in the character
of Housman that "the mind can be a passionate organ, too."
is something that the University of Chicago has got right-that
thinking is the inseparable companion of the feelings most worth
having, that joy and happiness (as distinct from mere fun) are
the ultimate aims in life and that thinking is the activity most
likely to lead to them. As Housman, the most serious of scholars
and at the same time a poet of profound feeling, put it, "Our
business here is not to live, but to live happily." More and more
talented students understand the difference between mere fun on
the one hand and joy and happiness on the other and that the University
of Chicago is a place like no other in precisely this respect.
On the first day of Orientation I passed a first-year on the sidewalk
wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Got any evidence?"
is what we still teach at the University of Chicago and what we
believe, assuming a subtle and broad definition of evidence, is
most likely to lead to joy and happiness. In this sense, it is
still the University that you know and love, even as we rethink
regularly, as we have through all of our history, precisely which
books to read and which courses to require. We have a one-of-a-kind
university in a one-of-a-kind city. This should continue to inspire
in all of us-well, joy and happiness.
Magazine has invited President Don Michael Randel to write a column
each issue on a topic of his choosing.-Ed.