IMAGE:  February 2004

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Everybody's a critic
By Mary Ruth Yoe
Illustrations by Steve Brodner

With 133,155 living alumni, the University of Chicago numbers exactly that many critical thinkers in its database. For some alumni, it’s more than a frame of mind. It’s a full-time job.

Hell hath no horror like a brainstorming session in which the participants all have studied at the University of Chicago. It’s not that Chicagoans don’t have lots of proposals. It’s more that they can’t stop judging other people’s. In the marketplace of ideas, Chicago students learn, the produce should be squeezed, sniffed, tapped, weighed, and otherwise tested before buying. So while they understand the letter of the brainstorming facilitator’s rules (“Don’t criticize other people’s ideas. This isn’t a debate, discussion, or forum for one person to display superiority over another.”), they generally take a while—or a while longer—to get into the team spirit.

Comfortable standing apart from the crowd, Chicagoans also pride themselves on being well-versed in a range of topics; able to put those subjects in historical, cultural, and intellectual perspective; and skilled in expressing their views. No wonder so many turn pro.

Of those critical masses, here are quick sketches of eight Chicago alumni who have made their names as opinion makers on matters large and small.

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