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In Every Issue ::

Letters: By standing still you are simply left behind

Fat as risk factor

It was with dismay that I read the comments attributed to Eric Oliver in “Fat Free” (April/05). Extensive research supports the medical community’s concern that morbid obesity is a major risk factor involved in the pathogenesis of multiple diseases. Since morbid obesity induces changes in normal physiology, it cannot be simply considered a cosmetic disorder.

Unfortunately, while humans have metabolic mechanisms that support survival during extreme starvation, presumably mechanisms that permit the continuation of populations during periods of famine, there does not appear to be any effective homeostatic mechanism that promotes the correction of morbid obesity. This absence of an effective internal mechanism is then coupled to a 95-plus percent failure rate during medical management of morbid obesity.

Rather than promoting the idea that physicians operate on patients because it is a lucrative business, it would be more productive to consider other policy approaches to this tremendous public-health problem. For example, should we as individuals withhold investment in national companies that promote and advertise the consumption of excessive calories? Would an excise tax on high-caloric foods lead to a decrease in their utilization?

I look forward to our social-science colleagues completing additional careful analysis of the rising problem of morbid obesity, developing insightful hypotheses to be tested, and gathering the data that we will need to prevent this problem from leading to further societal disruption.

Timothy Koch, MD’80
Washington, D.C.

Dieting, anyone?

I read the article about stomach stapling (and the many variations of that procedure) in the April issue. I tried to read with an open mind, but these procedures seem utterly barbaric. People who undergo this procedure lose weight because the surgery forces them to restrict caloric intake. This suggests that restricting caloric intake will result in weight loss. That’s called dieting. It seems terribly misguided that some choose dieting at scalpel point and risk all sorts of horrible complications.

Kirston Fortune

Keeping an eye on Ida

It is unsurprising but saddening to read that Ida has been snatched from her frame near La Verne on the landing in her eponymous edifice.

Late on a weekday afternoon last August I wandered from top to bottom in Ida Noyes Hall and met nary a soul. Without being questioned, I could have taken anything in the joint, including Ida and La Verne in their frames.

I appreciated the opportunity, rare these days, to wander unsupervised around the campus where it is clear that the locus of activity has moved from the Midway and the southeast to areas west and north of the quadrangles.

If Ida Noyes is a student center, it is now off the beaten path, hence a more tempting target for predators who filch for “fun” or profit. In life, unlike school, tests always precede lessons.

Mary H. Deal, AB’65, AM’66
Akron, Ohio

On honesty

President Don M. Randel, in building his case for “A Clear Need for Honesty” (“From the President,” April/05), finds “poetry in the active practice of telling the truth” and refers to Richard Wilbur’s poem “Clearness.” I am sure President Randel would agree that a need for “promises kept” is equally compelling. Who better addresses that need than Robert Frost in his poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

May all of us travel those miles of commitment before we sleep.

Reed M. Badgley

How can honesty prevail when all our institutions and our thinking are dishonest and lacking in almost any truth based on close examination? By decrying the need for honesty, Randel only disguises the truth of ourselves, our society, and our institutions. Does the free market need honesty? Obviously not—we see the Chinese being blatantly dishonest and no one in our government seems too concerned about this dishonesty and the economic damage it creates for U.S. workers dislocated by it.

Does democracy really need honesty? Aside from the question of whether we really live in a democracy or a dictatorship of the rich few, can anyone after the last two U.S. elections doubt that we do not have any honesty in our allegedly democratic system? Don’t we now have to ask, “Do we really have free markets and have democracy—honestly?”

Beyond generalizations about the political system and the free market, Randel slides down a very slippery slope by stating, “Love surely requires honesty as well.” Maybe our distorted perspectives on relationships pretend to require honesty, but our personal lives indicate that monogamous relationships and the straitjacket that this society places on relationships are dishonest relative to the anthropology studies showing the nonmonogamous nature of the human being and its ancestors. As spiritual thinkers over millennia have stated very clearly—love requires nothing—especially not honesty.

Unfortunately, the thinking at any university is constrained by the thought prisons of Western logic and the latest paradigms. Just as I have to constantly be honest about what is really true about my distorted thinking process and the data I analyze or don’t analyze, I wonder if any of us can be honest enough to accept the world as it is—not the way we would like it to be?

Richard Cree, MBA’78
Columbus, Ohio

With all due respect to President Randel, his ideas about honesty in business are idealistically oversimplified. It is rarely the case in business that decisions are made with a clear intent to be dishonest. Most decisions that in hindsight are deemed dishonest actually were made with intentions that were either honorable, misinformed, or uninformed. For example, in accounting decisions about capitalizing funding can be clear or can be, when taken in historical context, not clear at all. If I purchase an expensive piece of equipment, it can be capitalized over the life of the equipment (simple). If I choose to invest millions in the assembly of a marketing database that will be productive over many years with no more maintenance cost than an expensive piece of equipment, the cost of building it must be expensed in the year incurred (not so simple).

If a company had been capitalizing marketing expenses over the years, as was done in certain circumstances in some industries, then when Sarbanes-Oxley came about, that company could be interpreted as having been dishonest, when in fact its actions had a not unreasonable logic. Of course, I am not justifying what the charged companies did that was dishonest, such as double counting revenues or putting excessive “good will” on their books. I am only reminding our good president that business is not as black-and-white as his remarks seem to imply.

Chuck Patton, MBA’68
Orlando, Florida

I agree totally with President Randel’s statement that to be honest is not only never to tell a lie but also to always tell the truth even if it is not politically correct.

Sadly, honesty, based on my 40 years of experience as a consultant, is lacking or nonexistent in today’s corporate world. What has replaced honesty and integrity is a convoluted value system based on greed, fear, and more greed—a system that stems from leadership based on arrogance, ignorance, and insecurity.

While leadership is hard to define and harder to measure, strong vs. weak leadership is easily recognized in an organization. By strong, I do not mean loud, abusive, and arrogant leadership, although many organizations exhibit these leadership traits, a sure sign of insecurity at the top.

Arrogance on the part of those “in control” is probably the biggest killer of leadership. This common organizational disease was described some years ago by D. Wayne Calloway, former CEO of PepsiCo: “Arrogance is the illegitimate child of confidence and pride. Arrogance is the idea that not only can you never make a mistake, but no one else can ever be right.”

In the words of a former New York City police commissioner, “Leadership will either be a constant inspiration or instant depression. Those at the lower levels of an organization, no matter how idealistic, energetic, or motivated, can never transcend the caliber of their bosses.”

When those at the top, with the responsibility and authority to solve problems, blame those at the bottom, yet continue to live with the problems, it is a sure sign that true leadership has been replaced by arrogance, smugness, and apathy. Depression reigns, and individuals who show energy, motivation, or creativity soon go elsewhere.

The effort to cure this widespread corporate disease has not had much success; the cure is difficult. As a start, integrity and honesty must become an organization’s guiding principles, with compensation and job progression based at least in part on the demonstration of these principles. This generates trust in the leaders, a trust that not only holds the organization together but also encourages focus and teamwork to move forward successfully.

And studying and reading poetry may very well help even the corporate thieves as they sit in their cells.

Fred Kessler, MBA’65
Fountain Hills, Arizona

Cyclists have long road ahead

Sharla Stewart’s “Cycle Into Spring” (“Chicago Journal,” April/05) made me chuckle. Mayor Daley wants to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the U.S.? He reminds me of the beaver who has been trying to climb Long’s Peak for the past 78 million years.

I moved to Colorado from the Chicago area years ago. Colorado has one of the nation’s best bike systems, and Daley could learn from it. Putting bike carriers on city buses is laudable but insufficient. Dedicated bikes lanes and streets, road signage, bike paths that extend from residential areas to work/shopping areas (Chicagoland’s bike paths are really not suited for going anywhere), convincing state legislators to enact bike-friendly road laws, and harmonizing road rules with neighboring towns all would help. But the greatest ingredient that Chicago and much of the nation lacks is social acceptance of bicyclists. In the Midwest I always felt that to many motorists, we bicyclists were one step away from roadkill.

Ed D’Silva, MBA’88
Fort Collins, Colorado

The importance of browsing

I was saddened to read the plan for an addition to the Library (“Chicago Journal,” February/05) involves partly or entirely nonbrowsable storage of the collection. As a librarian who retired early to escape the follies of a library that went to nonbrowsable storage for most of a collection far smaller than Chicago’s, I hope that this concept will be rigorously examined and its implications fully understood. There are advantages to such systems but also tremendous losses when much of the collection can never be browsed, only accessed through catalog records.

Many librarians disapprove of browsing, and many faculty don’t really like using the library, preferring to send underlings to gather material. From their perspective, the efficiency of nonbrowsable storage may dominate, but as President Randel says in the same issue, beware of false economies. Those who see the benefits of being able to browse the shelves for learning and research should make their voices heard and not assume that everyone in the University shares their values.

The letters about eliminating the list of alumni publications show how much alumni value books. I hope that current students share that feeling and haven’t completely gone over to the new conventional wisdom that libraries are dinosaurs, everything’s online, etc.

Mary Clare Beck, AB’63
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Glory days and gender studies

In response to Chuck Pollack’s letter, “The Beauty of Days Gone By” (April/05): I have been the director of the Center for Gender Studies for the last three years. I was trained in the “tried and true character-building” field of Italian language and literature as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh and a doctoral student at Yale University.

Like my colleagues in the center and in the undergraduate major program in gender studies, I believe in serious and rigorous training in an academic discipline. I also believe in the serious and rigorous program that our majors in gender studies follow, and upon which we insist.

Because an approach to learning “encompasses diverse disciplines, modes of inquiry, and objects of knowledge,” it does not follow that it is a “politically correct piece of academic deadwood.” Indeed, it is my opinion that we give undergraduates at Chicago an opportunity to investigate scholarly topics and humanly meaningful issues pertaining to the significance of gender and sexuality across a wide spectrum of academic disciplines, while maintaining the standards of those disciplines and expanding their scope of inquiry. Our recent majors, from areas as diverse as literary studies, history, sociology, cinema studies, and political science, have written deep and scholarly BA papers, on a par with the work of students in these and other disciplines who have not chosen to focus their interests on issues and methodologies that engage gender. Neither I nor any of my colleagues from across the University who believe in the value of the major in gender studies would tolerate anything less.

I have been a member of this University’s faculty for 32 years, and I do not agree that “times have changed...for the worse.” Times have changed, punto e basta, as the Italians say (meaning “precisely so”), and it is a privilege to be a member of an academic community that moves with the times while doing everything possible to maintain the highest scholarly and disciplinary standards. I hope that you will allow your “little dickens” of a daughter to explore the major in gender studies further; I would be more than happy to discuss what such a major could be, both with her and with you. A word of warning: majoring in gender studies is more than “character-building”; it is intellectually demanding, so she would have to be prepared to hit the books and engage ideas with all of the sweat-producing effort of generations of Chicago undergraduates. Some things don’t change, meno male (thank goodness)!

Rebecca West

West is the William R. Kenan Jr. professor in Romance Languages & Literatures and the College, the Committee on Cinema & Media Studies, as well as director of the Center for Gender Studies.—Ed.

Chuck Pollack’s letter bemoaning the “glory” days of the U of C before gender studies reminds me of the doubters of Galileo. Why shouldn’t a school as respected as the U of C offer a concentration in an emerging field? Who better to help decide policy regarding gays in the military or gay marriage than a U of C gender-studies major? Closed mindedness is exactly what the U of C is supposed to be against. Mr. Pollack should realize that gender studies may be vapid to him but to other members of society it can be an area worthy of intellectual pursuit.

As a science major I have an appreciation for how fast an academic landscape changes. By standing still you are simply left behind. I for one would like to make sure that the U of C doesn’t go down in history with the faculty at Bologna.

Christoph Hutchinson, AB’03

Joy of volunteering

I am finishing my second three-year term on the Alumni Board of Governors (ABG) this June and would urge alumni interested in improving alumni relations, who have a history of involvement with the University, to volunteer to serve on the Alumni Board of Governors. To serve, one must be nominated and then elected by current board members. But don’t be shy. You can nominate yourself or ask a friend to do so. My wife (Alicia Rasley, X’77) nominated me.

Serving on the ABG was not as stimulating as being a student in the College, but it was much more stimulating (for me) than studying law. It has been extremely interesting and gratifying. Board members receive regular reports from the administration, the development office, the divisions, professional schools, and the College. I have learned much about how the U of C works. And, unlike learning about how sausage is made, increased knowledge about the University has made it even more appealing.

Most of the substantive and gratifying work ABG members do is through service on committees with Alumni Association staff. The Alumni Association sponsors and provides advice on projects promoting student internships and externships. We encourage young alumni to volunteer for postgraduate support activities such as serving on class reunion committees and interviewing applicants to the College in their locales. The committee I have most enjoyed serving is the Awards Committee. I have helped to decide whether such alumni luminaries as Justice Stevens and David Broder were worthy of receiving the Alumni Medal (they were).

I have also enjoyed having an excuse to come back to campus two or three times each year. Meetings are usually in October and April when Hyde Park is most beautiful. But what has been most interesting and enjoyable is working with other alumni on activities that serve the interests of the University we love. In committee meetings U of C alumni may be challenging and even irritating, but they are always interesting.

I will miss the many friends I have made through the Alumni Board of Governors.

Jeffrey S. Rasley, AB’75

Department of corrections

The May/05 UCHICAGO.EDU e-bulletin item on the Divinity School’s appointment of Michael Sells, AM’77, PhD’82, as the John Henry Barrows professor of Islamic history & literature inadvertently implied that work in Islamic studies is not currently being done at Chicago. Such research is, of course, alive and well in the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.

The April/05 “William Rainey Harper’s Index” said that Richard Nixon was the only sitting U.S. vice president to visit the quads; Al Gore spoke at a July 1997 panel discussion “Investing in Higher Education.”

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