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JUNE 2002: Features (print version)

Chicago: Campus of the Big Ideas
The launch of The Chicago Initiative-the University's five-year, $2 billion fund-raising effort-was marked by an April 12 event that focused on Chicago's intellectual initiatives.

10 symposia offered an opportunity to experience, in President Don M. Randel's words, "the richness and the profound joy of academic life." Crisscrossing disciplines and divisions, some of the campus's best thinkers gathered to consider big issues and big problems. In search of new knowledge and transformative ideas, they demonstrated Chicago's-and the Chicago Initiative's-raison d'être.

In the beginning: what do our origins tell us about ourselves?

"All human beings are curious about how things began," said Michael Turner, the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner distinguished service professor in astronomy & astrophysics and physics.

How did things really begin? Approaching that deceptively simple question, the panel brought together a cosmologist (Turner), a geneticist (David Ledbetter, the Marjorie I. and Bernard A. Mitchell professor and chair of human genetics), and a mythologist (Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade distinguished service professor in the Divinity School and South Asian languages & civilizations).

With scrawled overheads, Turner explained how technological advances have revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe. Although we are made of "star stuff"-as the late Carl Sagan, AB'54, SB'55, SM'56, PhD'60, famously put it-star stuff is now known as "ordinary matter," making up just 4 percent of the universe. The rest is "exotic dark matter" (30 percent) and "dark energy" (66 percent).

For 21st-century cosmologists, dark energy is a main puzzle of the universe-which may actually be a "multiverse," with a six-dimensional or even ten-dimensional structure. Warned Turner: "Until we understand dark energy, we don't understand our destiny-and maybe we won't even then."

As the audience recovered from the revelation that our star stuff is ordinary, Ledbetter noted that, genetically speaking, we're mainly chimp: "We share 98 percent of the same genes. The human-chimp divide is mostly in our heads."

Even more humbling, the Human Genome Project (HGP) has shown that humans have an unexpectedly small number of genes. "There are only 30,000 to 40,000 genes in humans," Ledbetter said, "while a worm has 18,000, a fruit fly 13,000, and rice has 50,000." For HGP researchers, the small number is a pleasant surprise; but for biotechnology companies, "business plans were based on revenue per gene," Ledbetter explained, "so they were not too happy at the news."

"What sort of origins do we look for when we look for our origins?" asked Doniger, next at the podium. For religious scholars, part of this search is for the origin of the texts themselves-for "the Urtext."

Humility may be disconcertingly new in the sciences, but in the ancient Indian tradition, Doniger's specialty, it's not. The Rig Veda (1000 B.C.), one of the oldest creation myths, is "open-ended and vague," with lines like "There was neither nonexistence nor existence then" and "Who really knows?" That "charming humility" may appeal to today's audiences, Doniger said, but some Hindus were troubled enough to invent a god named 'Who,'" a semantic solution that "reminds me of the old Abbott and Costello routine."

Creation myths-including even the Big Bang-share an essential problem, she said: they never really explain how we get from nothing to something. "Myths fudge this. After the appearance of the original 'something,' myths have a system of baroque detail that's so complex, you get caught up in it." The Laws of Manu begin with "vague undifferentiated chaos," Doniger noted, that the creator organizes in very specific ways. "But," she persisted, like a child in Sunday school class, "where did the creator come from?"

Homo sapiens: are we really rational creatures?

Midway through a consideration of a question as old as human thought, session moderator Saul Levmore, dean and William R. Graham professor in the Law School, noted that although "to at least some people rationality means predictability," humans are often unpredictable. Which may be why so much thought has gone into making sense of how humans behave.

"The question is not whether humans are rational or irrational," declared John Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake distinguished service professor in psychology, "but under what conditions they are rational." Cacioppo studies the hierarchical nature of cerebral processing at both its molecular and social levels. This approach, he pointed out, helps explain why the same humans who won't willingly put their hands over a flame will walk through flames to reach a crying child. Or why, hiking in the woods, you'll start at the sight of a snake-shaped stick. "On a lower level, you notice something that may be dangerous and look closer." That look "can prompt rational or irrational behavior," responses and emotions based on contextual clues and cultural conditioning.

While Cacioppo studies individual behavior, Gary S. Becker, SM'53, PhD'55, University professor in economics and sociology, analyzes how groups of individuals respond to changes in institutions, public policy, and other social stimuli. The tool that he uses is rational-choice theory.

"I'm not going to be shy about it," the Nobel laureate said. "It's the most valuable theory that we have" to do such work. After defining the theory (a way to "analyze how individuals maximize utility based on their preferences for outcomes in a forward-looking fashion"), Becker explained what it is not: it's not "a theory of the selfish individual" nor one "that's devoid of allowing people to have emotions" or "of the individual in isolation from society." Rational choice wouldn't be at "the center of so many discussions," he argued-from why California energy prices peaked in summer 2000 to how cigarette taxes affect smoking rates-"if it weren't concerned with real life."

Next up was Martha Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund distinguished service professor in the Law School and a philosopher who sounded themes from her recent book Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (2001) to argue that emotions are not unthinking: "They have an object. They embody a way of seeing this object." Love "is accompanied by all sorts of beliefs" about its object, including an appraisal of the loved one "as valuable to the thinker's happiness."

The "much more complex question," she said, is whether such thought is reliable. That question gives rise to others: How do past emotions enter into the present? How responsive are we to what we see in front of us? Are we, as rational-choice theory would have it, really forward-looking? For Nussbaum, the day's discussions of rationality and emotion return to age-old questions of moral philosophy: "What is it for humans to live well? What is worth caring about?"

Integrating the physical and biological sciences: what lies ahead?

One is immutable and one is evolving. One is largely theoretical, the other often observational. One is hard and pristine, the other tends to the soft and sticky.

Yet scholars from the physical and the biological sciences met to talk about how their fields, once quite distinct, have begun to blur-and why that's a good thing.

The session grew out of two campus projects, one small and one huge. The small project was an effort by plant geneticist Daphne Preuss, professor in molecular genetics & cell biology, to understand pollen's elective affinities. Why, she wondered, does a grain of pollen stick to the slippery female parts of one flower yet slide right off another? Each plant's pollen, she found, carries tiny surface markers, like molecular Velcro, that let them latch on when they land on a related species but lack sticking power with nonrelatives.

How the markers work is an interesting question, but not one the tools of biology equipped her to answer. So Preuss brought in David Grier, an associate professor in physics, to measure the strength of the tiny attachments, which turned out to be more powerful than any glue, and Milan Mrksich, an associate professor in chemistry, to isolate and purify the markers.

Such teamwork underlies a much more massive endeavor. Now in the planning stages, the Interdivisional Research Building will be the largest research facility in the University's history, and at its center will be the Institute for Biophysical Dynamics, a haven for division-crossing projects.

Although biology has shifted its central focus to smaller and smaller objects-from organisms to tissues to cells to proteins and genes-by physical science standards, these substances are still comparatively large. Physicists have spent decades perfecting ways to manipulate far smaller molecules and single atoms.

For example, Grier makes optical traps-precisely focused, minute beams of light that he uses like chopsticks to capture and move particles measured in nanometers. He has used the traps to measure, among other things, the elasticity of DNA. Meanwhile, Milan Mrksich borrows techniques from the semiconductor industry to develop tools that assess cell-surface proteins and even carbohydrates, such as those on pollen. The protein and carbohydrate arrays can be used to identify molecules that control cell migration, which is useful for wound repair-and also responsible for the spread of cancers.

Applying chemistry and physics to biological problems is not only, as Grier joked, a "back door to a more lucrative area." Collaboration lets both divisions move forward at an unprecedented pace, with results likely to have medical and scientific payoffs. Biologists can go after once inaccessible, fundamental problems. And physical scientists, accustomed to dealing with theoretical problems and immutable laws, can study moving targets-or, as Grier put it, they can "dive into systems that are highly evolved, evolving, and evolvable."

Where will such efforts lead? "We simply don't know," warned Eugene Goldwasser, SB'43, PhD'50, the Alice Hogge & Arthur A. Baer professor emeritus in biochemisty & molecular biology. He's experienced in imprecise predictions: soon after World War II he set out to isolate erythropoietin, the hormone that prompts red-blood cell production. He thought it would take a few months; it took 25 years. He then collaborated with someone equally unable to predict the future: a University administrator who never acted on Goldwasser's request to patent his discovery. Sales of erythropoietin now exceed $2 billion each year.

Money, services, or laws: how do we improve lives?

Concrete floor, exposed duct work, low ceiling-one look told Edward Lawlor and his colleagues that the basement of the Oriental Institute would be a fitting place to talk about poverty, crime, and the state of public schools.

Lawlor, a sociologist and dean of the School of Social Service Administration, and his panel colleagues are scholars but also activists. Their element is not just the library but also the failing school, the crumbling high-rise, the overcrowded jail. And although they discussed some of the nation's most intractable problems, their conversation was tinged with hope.

Susan Mayer, for example, gave a spirited defense of the War on Poverty. Mayer, the incoming dean of the Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies, focuses on children and poverty. A self-described "money person," she insisted that the War on Poverty did not fail, contrary to what many people think: "Big efforts directed at big problems produce results."

A child of 1960s idealism, the War on Poverty gave us food stamps, Medicaid, and other programs for America's poorest. Yet the number of children living in poverty increased. But if the War on Poverty did not increase the income of America's poor, Mayer said, in some ways it made their lives better. Today most poor children have enough to eat and access to medical care. Just as important, the War on Poverty broadened opportunities. Poverty is no longer inescapable destiny.

The irony is that these successes made future progress more difficult. Today's poor are increasingly entangled in what Mayer called "multiple disadvantages": mental-health problems, substance abuse, low skill levels. Big solutions can no longer yield big results. "It was easy when poor children's problems were general, requiring things like more money, more food; much harder when what they need is the adults in their lives to be willing and able to be good parents and good role models."

Poverty and schools often go hand in hand, and Anthony Bryk, the Marshall Field IV professor in sociology and director of the Center for School Improvement, described the center's work in the city's public schools. "Poor and minority students, even in our most disadvantaged neighborhoods, can do the work," Bryk made plain. "There's no question."

Schools fail children, not the other way around, he said. In many schools, teachers "have been there for long periods of time, have tried lots of things, and they have come to the conclusion that nothing works." But better teachers are not enough, Bryk noted. Rooted in communities, schools need broader support. Bad schools often reflect a distrust between teachers and the community, as well as high crime rates, weak social institutions, and other blights.

"We need to create new institutions in these communities," said Bryk. He and his colleagues are putting their ideas to the test at the North Kenwood/Oakland Charter School, a public school the University began five years ago, hoping to improve urban schools by training better teachers and by linking school and neighborhood in ways that help both to thrive.

New approaches to law enforcement in poor neighborhoods, suggested Tracey Meares, JD'91, a professor in the Law School and director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, could improve community life-having police arrest the people who buy drugs, rather than concentrating on the dealers who sell them, would spread the social cost of enforcement to wealthier communities rather than concentrate it in the poor communities where the dealers tend to predominate.

The conversation recalled some of Chicago's earliest traditions, when scholars like education reformer John Dewey combined research with social activism. But an old rift needs mending, noted Lawlor. A century ago, a divide grew between Dewey's education reforms and the settlement house movement of Chicago social reformer Jane Addams. Since then, social services and public education have taken separate paths. Today, Lawlor said, social services must be centered in community institutions, like schools, not dispersed in a hodgepodge of agencies. The divorce between Dewey and Addams no longer works. "Maybe it makes sense," suggested Lawlor, "to put them back together."

Clones, genes, and stem cells: can we find the path to the greatest good?

The quick response to this session's query-at least judging from the panelists' takes on the topic-is, how can we know until we're allowed to try?

Not that a snappy rejoinder resolves it. Indeed the discussion raised as many questions as it answered. Stem-cell research, noted Lainie Ross, associate professor in pediatrics and the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, is still "at the real embryonic stage-pun intended."

For the nonscientists in the audience, she reviewed the basic science involved in "harvesting" stem cells, which can generate and renew tissue and are present in every organ, including those in the adult body. "The source matters," said Ross. Embryonic stem cells can be procured from the inner cell mass of a "blastocyst," an early-stage embryo, or from an aborted fetus. Stem cells can also be obtained from the placenta, and adult stem cells can be procured from many tissues in the human adult patient. The more mature the organism from which the stem cells are derived, the less malleable they are and the more likely to induce an immune response if placed in another person's body. Nevertheless, adult stem cells are much more "plastic"-and hold more promise-than scientists once thought, but they're neither as ubiquitous nor as "pluripotent" as embryonic stem cells, which can grow into any kind of cell.

For those who find it morally repugnant to start a human life only to end it at blastocyst stage for research, the controversy is a cut-and-dried issue: federal funding for research with embryos should be banned. The National Academy of Science disagrees, supporting embryonic stem-cell research for therapeutic purposes. Leaving his scientist-colleagues to argue for therapeutic cloning, Robert Richards, PhD'78, professor in history, philosophy, psychology, and the College, instead questioned whether reproductive cloning is such a bad thing after all: "Physicians already intervene and thwart nature," parents already "design" their babies by choosing mates with good looks and smarts, and "repugnance," he said, is an unreliable moral guide. "It's doubtful reproductive cloning would be undertaken except for fertility reasons," and after much thought his view is, "Why not?"

Why not? was the question of the afternoon. As a silver-haired gentleman in the audience asked, "Why do legislators have to be involved in scientific research at all?" The answer is economics. Panel moderator Janet Davison Rowley, PhB'45, SB'46, MD'48, the Blum-Riese distinguished service professor in medicine, reminded attendees that no U.S. scientist can now get federal funding to learn how embryonic stem cells "do what they do." She warned of an impending "brain drain," as researchers leave the U.S. for countries more open to their work. And Ross noted the irony in scientists scurrying to private funding sources: "Doesn't it make more sense to keep controversial research in the public sphere, where you can maintain higher levels of oversight?"

One positive result of the controversy, noted Olufunmilayo Olopade, an associate professor in medicine who studies the genetics of cancer, is that researchers no longer assume they'll receive funding. "We have to be honest with Congress and educate the public. It's not enough to say we need this funding so we can cure every disease imaginable. We're a long way from that." Whether they'll be allowed to try is a question still to be answered.

How will technology change the way we work and live?

The future was running behind. At 3:55 p.m., people were still choosing seats to hear a 3:45 talk. By four o'clock authorities and audience had settled, but no futuristic technology was immediately apparent in the spartan Pick Hall classroom.

Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead distinguished service professor in sociology, stood to read aloud, without audio or visual support, a handwritten paragraph about organizational structure and the impact of computer technology. But as the session got rolling, it was apparent that the future had already arrived.

We are all already "on the grid," pointed out Rick Stevens, professor in computer science, referring to the Internet. Tall and thin, dressed in black, and sporting a ponytail and beard, Stevens was a futurist from central casting, there to explain the anticipated shift from mere access to the sharing of virtual worlds.

Web access has unleashed a vast and growing amount of information, he said. But soon we will see better methods of acquiring and sharing information, new ways to collaborate on problems, and the eventual consolidation of services worldwide. One promising application will involve devoting massive computing power to biological systems, first to understand them and ultimately to modify them. This could bring a more theoretical approach, Stevens suggested, letting physicians conceive, design, and test therapies.

Vast networks of interconnected powerful computers will allow "radical delocalization," he promised, making armchair travel a reality and "virtualizing" institutions. It won't happen right away. Progress towards this future is "going to look linear for a long time," Stevens cautioned. "Then a phase transition occurs."

Computers have already revolutionized the study of language helping linguists analyze the written and spoken word in new ways, noted John Goldsmith, the Edward Carson Waller distinguished service professor in linguistics. And the pace of innovation is quickening. Language was invented about 35,000 years ago, writing around 3,000 B.C., the printing press around 1450 A.D., the telephone in 1876, the word processor in 1979, and the Internet in 1990.

Computers also are learning to translate from one language to another, a tremendously difficult activity. They are not very good at it yet, as Goldsmith demonstrated with his own talking computer, but given a basic grammar and enough practice and correction, they, like humans, can learn from their mistakes.

What does all this mean to the business world? asked Austan Goolsbee, professor of economics in the Graduate School of Business. The wealth of information helps consumers discriminate, reducing search costs. Yet it could undercut wages-even in skilled jobs. Computer technology has advanced from threatening clerical workers to endangering accountants, who already lose tax-time work to programs like TurboTax.

All three presenters agreed on several aspects of the future. Computers have already increased the ability of researchers and businesspeople to communicate and collaborate. And students, with their insatiable appetites for new technologies, will continue to drive progress, forcing their mentors to keep up.

Why do we dig up the past?

"We dig up the past because we're human," quipped Paul Sereno, professor in organismal biology & anatomy. "We're curious about where we came from and where we're going, what's possible, what could have been, what could be. No other living thing can think about the past. It's what makes us human."

While Sereno digs for bones of dinosaurs that, long before humans came along, "clamored around" the swamps in what is now the Sahara Desert, his fellow panelists dig to learn more about our species.

The earliest seeds of urban civilization have lured McGuire Gibson, AM'64, PhD'68, professor in Mesopotamian archaeology, to northeastern Syria and a dig at Tell Hamoukar. There he studies "the way people stopped being hunters and gatherers, stopped living in caves, and how civilizations came about." Among the remains of a mud-brick city wall and a large two-story building with institutional-sized ovens, he has assembled evidence challenging the view that urban civilization began circa 3500-3100 B.C. in the Sumerian city-state of Uruk in modern-day southern Iraq and then spread through the ancient Near East. Instead, he argues, urban activity was under way in northeastern Syria at about the same time-or even earlier, between 4000 and 3700 B.C.

As the fascinated murmurs elicited by Gibson receded, Michael Dietler asked the group to put on their critical-thinking caps and consider momentarily "the good, the bad, and the ugly"-that is, the human-motives of archaeology. Dietler, associate professor in anthropology, studies the Celtic speaking peoples of Iron Age Europe, digging at the site of Lattes, near Montpellier in the Languedoc region of France. "Archaeologists have too often been the weapons of identity politics," he said, citing not only the notorious digs of Nazi-financed archaeologists but also France's own rising nationalism and the zeal to make national heroes of the native Gauls who fought the colonizing Romans. "I can't help but wonder," he said, "what layers were thrown aside, what layers were left undug" to validate a national identity.

Despite the bad and ugly, Dietler said he digs for the good: because "archaeology is the only antidote to historic myopia." By the early 20th century "half the surface of the earth's continents were under colonial dominance." Dietler digs to learn more about colonialism, particularly precapitalist colonial encounters. In his material studies of early Roman colonies in France, he has found among the objects, art, and self-representations made by the Celts "the only means to restore a voice to those who were written out of history."

As for the "where we're going" aspect of digging up the past, Susan Kidwell, professor in geophysical sciences, hopes to find some answers. Describing herself as an earth-sciences historiographer, she studies the "recent" fossil record (10,000-100,000 years ago) to judge its completeness and its skew, working to understand the resilience of the biosphere. Changes in climate, tectonic activity, ocean circulation, and mass extinctions are "huge natural experiments run by nature," she explained. "From them we can learn what determines resilience and what precedes failure." Her recent collaborations with ecologists and conservation biologists compare the current environment with the past, in an effort to determine how much present-day change is part of natural cycles and how much is caused by humans. She doesn't have firm answers yet-except to say that humans have been altering the environment for a very long time.

Quoting the novelist Russell Hoban, Kidwell summed up the human desire to dig in this way: "If the past cannot teach the present..., then history need not have bothered to go on, and the world has wasted a great deal of time."

Art for art's sake?

What does it mean to be an artist at a university primarily dedicated to research? How does art contribute to the life of the mind?

For panel moderator Bill Brown, master of the Humanities Collegiate Division and the George M. Pullman professor in English, the "Chicago caricature" would suggest that mind and senses are entirely separate. In fact, Brown pointed out, as early as 1934 John Dewey argued in Art and Experience that we cannot think of art as distinct from thinking or science as separate from art.

Danielle Allen, associate professor in classical languages & literature and the Committee on Social Thought, demonstrated perhaps most clearly the falseness of the Cartesian distinction. A scholar of democracy and political theory, Allen is also the organizer of "Poem Present," a contemporary poetry series at the U of C, and a published poet.

In the days after 9/11, Allen said, U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins was asked what poetry could do for the nation-and his answer was "nothing." "I could not disagree with him more," Allen said, reading from W. H. Auden's war poem "September 1, 1939."

"Why did Auden's poem circulate so widely after 9/11?" she asked. "It spoke to our emotions at a time when we needed solace and resolution." Poetry has another, equally practical purpose, she said: "Poetry teaches me how to look at politics," because "it puts pressure on words." After the attacks, Allen, like the rest of the nation, was "glued to the television," waiting to hear what President Bush and other world leaders would say. "Words mattered," she said. "Based on words, the shape of events would change."

Several panelists spoke of the equally artificial division between creating art and studying it. At many conservatories, history and analysis are considered a waste of time, said Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker distinguished service professor in music; the attitude is "you should be practicing." Similarly, many universities have "built barriers to performance. Professors actually frown on practicing music." Chicago is different: the music department sponsors student ensembles from gamelan to Middle Eastern music, as well as two professional groups in residence. "To write about art," agreed photographer Laura Letinsky, associate professor in the Committee on Visual Arts, "it's important to try to make it."

For Shulamit Ran, the William H. Colvin professor in music and a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, the lure of on-campus performance groups proved irresistible when she was asked to join the faculty 30 years ago. "A painter or sculptor can see the work evolving," she said, "while a composer sees dots on paper." Performance groups can fulfill "a composer's dream-hearing one's own sounds."

Conversations with colleagues in other departments, Ran said, are just as valuable. Struggling with the writing of her opera, Between Two Worlds (The Dybbuk), she talked with Michael Fishbane, the Nathan Cummings professor in the Divinity School and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, about a style of ecstatic Hassidic prayer. His insights, she said, provided "fuel to what was churning inside me. I'm so grateful to be part of a university community where we have such fruitful conversations."

In the realm of the senses: how do we understand what we see, hear, feel, smell, and taste?

The goal, said James Chandler, AM'72, PhD'78, the Barbara E. & Richard J. Franke professor in English and director of Chicago's Franke Institute for the Humanities, was to "try to make sense of the senses." To that end, four scholars tackled sound, smell, touch, and sight. (Taste, Chandler joked, would have to wait for the post-symposia reception.)

We are what we sense, suggested William Wimsatt, professor in philosophy. Or are we? In the 1974 paper, "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?", philosopher Thomas Nagel argued that a bat's conscious experience-a world perceived through echoes of high-frequency sound signals-is so different from the conscious experience of humans that we can never fully imagine it. Yet, Wimsatt noted, human technology and instrumentation "is very productively seen as an extension of our senses," allowing us to experience the world in ways that our physiology doesn't-in ways, for example, that mimic a bat's sense of things.

Are we culturally biased against certain senses? Take smell. "I want to champion the causes of odor and communication," said Martha McClintock, the David Lee Shillinglaw distinguished service professor in psychology and director of the Institute for Mind and Biology. In her research on chemosignals and pheromones, McClintock said, she has tried to show how smell can "influence humans positively." Most recently her team has demonstrated that women prefer the odor of males to whom they are genetically similar-but not identical-over those who are either nearly identical or completely unfamiliar, work that may help explain how certain genes influence mating choice.

Moving from 21st-century experiments to 19th-century medical history, Alison Winter, AB'87, associate professor in history, began with a paradox: although nitrous oxide or "laughing gas" was well known by the 1790s it wasn't until the mid-1840s that the anesthesia began to be widely used to blunt the pain of the surgeon's knife. Winter's tale of mesmerists and medicine argued that anesthesia's adoption "was not a medical watershed as much as a sea change in sensibility," the result of a change in how humans felt about pain, "a different set of expectations of what the senses could do and what we could do to the senses."

A changing perception of the power of the senses was also the theme limned by Tom Gunning, professor in art history and the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies. The infancy of American cinema, he said, coincided with a "deep-rooted suspicion of the visual senses," a suspicion that prompted a 1915 Supreme Court censorship ruling to inveigh against film as "capable of evil," especially where "susceptible publics"-women, children, and the poor-were concerned. The Supreme Court's argument, Gunning noted, implied that the new medium was exempt from the First Amendment because it was more powerful than print and "the visual might somehow overwhelm the verbal."

That story from moving-picture days may seem quaint, but Gunning pointed to a contemporary moral, arguing that "training the senses, realizing their unique forms of knowledge," remains an important task in the 21st century.

Can we protect civil liberties in wartime?

John Adams locked up political rivals under the 1798 Alien and Sedition Act. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Thousands of dissenters went to jail during World War I. Some 110,000 Japanese Americans spent World War II in internment camps, and the Cold War spawned McCarthyism, loyalty oaths, and the ban of the Communist Party.

Such measures are worth recalling during the current War on Terrorism, said Geoffrey Stone, the Harry Kalven Jr. distinguished service professor in the Law School, who brought six colleagues to Breasted Hall for a conversation about the post-September 11 tension between freedom and security. His outlook was uneasy.

"As Justice Brandeis observed, fear breeds repression," warned Stone."[A]n often exaggerated sense of the danger that we face" can lead to the "temptation to too quickly sacrifice civil liberties-in particular the civil liberties of others."

After that sober introduction, the discussion took on the lively give-and-take of a classroom, with Stone quizzing the gathered experts in international law, foreign policy, human-rights law, Constitutional law, and the First Amendment like a coach rapping grounders to his infielders.

Asked if the government might try to stifle dissent, Law School professor Adrian Vermeule responded, "Look at what's happened since September 11." President Bush sprang to the defense of Arab Americans; Congress exercised "responsible oversight" by forcing the Administration to place narrow restrictions on the use of military tribunals. The government increased national security but also protected civil liberties. "There's every reason to be optimistic," Vermeule said, "about how the political process has accommodated these questions."

Things could get worse, cautioned David Strauss, the Harry N. Wyatt professor in the Law School and a First Amendment expert. "If we began to feel we were more or less continuously under threat of being attacked on our own soil by terrorists," he said, "the sense that we all have to be united and that anyone who is not completely behind what the government is doing is aiding the enemy" could lead to "repressive" legislation. Jill Hasday, an assistant professor at the Law School, worried less about laws than about the "chilling effect" of public opinion.

Much of the talk centered on the military tribunals ordered to try those accused of complicity in the attacks. Why military courts? Law School professor Jack Goldsmith noted that the civilian legal system allows a certain "slack" that military courts do not. "We let defendants go free even though they're guilty, in order to protect the innocent." In wartime, the cost of letting the guilty go free is higher.

Military tribunals will also allow prosecutors to submit evidence that the defendant may not see (although his appointed military lawyer may). The panelists seemed to agree that at least some secret evidence is okay. "I wouldn't get all religious myself about that," said Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn distinguished service professor of jurisprudence in the Law School. The important Constitutional issue, he said, is whether the defendant receives overall a "full and fair" trial, with a vigorous defense and an independent tribunal. With that standard, secret evidence alone probably is not enough to secure a conviction: "The prosecution, if they're going to be doing their job, had better come up with more."

In sensitive cases where some evidence against a defendant might be secret, said Law School professor Mary Anne Case, U.S. judges might take their European counterparts as an example. In Europe, she noted, a judge doesn't simply render a verdict but is also an investigator, taking a more active role in uncovering the truth.

The audience was eager, even feisty, and raised pointed questions. One woman asked about a civilian-court trial involving Global Relief Foundation, a Chicago-based charity accused of ties to terrorism. Was secret evidence okay in that trial too? "I would be surprised if that is upheld," Goldsmith responded.

Another questioner pressed the panelists about limits on reporting. Since Vietnam, journalists have increasingly been barred from battlefields, limiting access to first-hand information. Sunstein said such restrictions might be bad for democracy, but they do not violate the Constitution. "It's pretty clear that the deal is, essentially, with only a slight exaggeration, that the press has no First Amendment right to get its hands on information," he said. If the press does get information, "it has a First Amendment right to publish it. Period."

Most of the panelists seemed less troubled than their audience by visions of civil liberties trampled, satisfied that the government, with its checks and balances, had so far met the demands of national security without fraying the Constitution. For the moment, freedom was safe.

Chicago Initiative Goals

1. Strengthen a Community of Scholars and Teachers

The first of the Chicago Initiative's four priorities goes to the heart of the University: $275 million to provide funds to recruit and retain the world's most exciting teachers and scholars and to provide the faculty with first-class research tools and resources.
The goal includes 35 endowed professorships and funds for visiting professors, guest artists, term appointments, and lectureships.

2. Ensure Access to a Chicago Education

The Chicago Initiative has targeted $290 million to help the University meet its long-standing commitment to a need-blind admissions policy, one that brings to the University the brightest undergraduate and graduate students regardless of their financial background.

Nearly half of Chicago's undergraduates require financial aid, with an annual average need-based grant of $14,000 per student-a drain on a University budget that also must compete for the nation's most talented Ph.D. students, who typically receive offers that include full tuition, a substantial stipend, and, increasingly, fringe benefits such as health insurance.

3. Transcend Barriers in Science and Research

Almost half of the Chicago Initiative's $2 billion goal-or $955 million-is earmarked for facilities, equipment, and programs in the physical and natural sciences. Just as Chicago made an indelible mark on the science of the 20th century-from developing carbon-14 dating to proving that chromosomal defects can lead to cancer-so the University hopes to lead the scientific advances of the 21st century.

A key element will be the Interdivisional Research Building (IRB). By bringing together biological and physical scientists under one roof, in 425,000 square feet of research space, the IRB will make it easier for Chicago's researchers to break down the boundaries of traditional scientific disciplines.

Three main areas of support are sought: $445 million for research support (including funds for laboratories and scientific equipment), $380 million for core research-oriented programs in the biological and physical sciences, and $130 million for facilities, including the IRB and the Comer Children's Hospital, a new 155-bed facility scheduled to open in early 2004.

4. Cultivate the Landscape for Learning through the Master Plan

Finalized in 1999 the University of Chicago Campus Master Plan outlines crucial physical-space needs-and sets forth a plan for meeting those needs that reinforces a University-wide commitment to creating a campus that maximizes the intersection of people and ideas. $390 million is targeted to help turn the plans into reality.

On the drawing board-and, in two cases, already under construction-are three major projects:

  • A $125 million, 400,000 square foot Graduate School of Business campus has been designed by Rafael Viñoly to encourage discussion, debate, and creative collaboration, bringing together people now scattered throughout four different buildings to a location in the center of the main campus.
  • The Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, scheduled to open in fall 2003, meets increasing demand for intramural, club, and varsity sports, as well as physical fitness and recreational use. Designed by Cesar Pelli, the center will include an Olympic-regulation pool, fitness center, workout rooms, dance classrooms, and a 2,500-seat gymnasium that will do double duty for special events and sports competitions.
  • New creative and performing arts facilities are in the planning stages. Building on Chicago's interdisciplinary tradition, the facilities will emphasize intermedia exchange through new and expanded spaces for the visual and performance arts.

Annual Funds

Year-in, year-out, the annual gifts of alumni and friends to the University have enormous impact-in 2001, for example, alumni and friends made annual gifts totaling more than $13.7 million, providing ongoing support for student scholarships and graduate fellowships, faculty research and teaching programs, and research and computer labs.

Providing the institution with the greatest flexibility to support its academic mission, all gifts to the annual funds of each division, unit, or school throughout the Chicago Initiative will be included in the Initiative totals. The goal: $90 million.


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