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Letters: Such intellectual dishonesty is inconsistent with Chicago.

Healing arts

I read with interest the story on Comer Children’s Hospital (“Child Support,” June/05); it was good to learn that the hospital has chosen to make the atmosphere cheery and warm. Comer’s is not the first hospital to realize the importance of such an approach, of course, and so I was surprised to read that the art director is still seeking to determine if art is a “critical element of care.”

There is a growing body of literature on art’s beneficial effects in the healing process. Studies show that patients with windows looking onto a pleasant view recover several days more quickly than those without. At the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, the Arts in Medicine program has been in place for more than 15 years. Trained artists and volunteers assist patients in many forms of art work: painting, weaving, embroidery, and writing. The ceilings are bright with tiles painted by patients of all ages; the central atrium boasts a wall of such tiles and a daily piano concert. I volunteer with the drama troupe, taking theater to bedsides or community spaces. Many have said that the Playback Theater we do has greatly assisted in their recovery.

Doctors and hospital administrators have come to recognize that body and mind work together to overcome disease and illness. At the more anecdotal level, I know that when, as part of the “pet therapy” program I take my dog to visit patients, we always leave a room where everyone is now smiling.

Karelisa V. Hartigan AM’66, PhD’70
Gainesville, Florida

Yerkes observed

It was with great dismay that I read about the possible sale of Yerkes Observatory (“Chicago Journal,” June/05). One of my best U of C memories occurred when, as a undergraduate, my girlfriend and I took a spontaneous trip to visit the observatory. Professor Richard Kron of the astrophysics department had invited any member of the Common Core astrophysics sequence to visit at any time, and I wanted to take him up on the offer.

We arrived at night. Wandering around the gorgeous campus, we stumbled upon his house, where he was holding a dinner party. Though our trip was unannounced, Professor Kron invited us in to join his party, and after the guests left, gave us a tour of the facility, including a glance in the large refracting telescope there.

Professor Kron’s generous attitude toward his students inspired me to become a professor, and every day I try to bring his open attitude toward both educating students and scientific discovery into my own classroom. This trip made me appreciate research in astrophysics and Yerkes’s role in educating the community about the wonder, beauty, and sheer exhilaration of the scientific endeavor. I hope Chicago will reconsider the sale of Yerkes and value its role as an educational and historical institution.

Sean Duffy, AB’99, AM’02, PhD’03
Ann Arbor, Michigan

I am extremely disappointed with recent reports that the University might consider selling Yerkes Observatory to a developer interested in building a spa.

The 110-year legacy that the University has in Yerkes should not be degraded by transfer to someone whose vision is to build a spa, the buzz word for development in the past five years. If this scenario were taking place 15 years ago, I assume the University would be receiving unsolicited offers from some outfit seeking to race greyhounds around Yerkes’s oval, with the building and dome to be used for a grandstand and executive boxes. Hindsight shows us just how long lasting and beneficial such thinking has proven to be.

Such a mindset is not going to “preserve the historic observatory building and land immediately around it” or ensure that plans for the grounds remain “consistent with the historic landscape and an asset to the greater Lake Geneva community.” The second of the three goals expressed by Henry Webber—to generate revenue for U of C astronomy research—should take a backseat to the other goals quoted above.

I am aware of Chicago’s need to raise funds for research and financial aid. I do not believe, however, that Yerkes Observatory should be converted to cash or that it owes the University anything after the past 110 years. I suggest that, on the contrary, the University owes the local communities (the Village of Williams Bay in particular and the Lake Geneva area in general) more consideration than a convenient exit in favor of a developer with the shortsighted vision of another spa in Walworth County. Yerkes Observatory is too unique and important for this fate.

David B. Williams, JD’64
Williams Bay, Wisconsin

Staffers who lunched

The article about the Quadrangle Club (“The Once and Future Club,” June/05) brought back many fine memories. I was surprised, after earning my master’s in the social sciences, to find myself working for the University in its personnel department. Members of the administrative staff were allowed membership in the club, and I thoroughly enjoyed mine. It was an excellent place to meet for lunch, whether for business or social purposes. One might look around and see Nobel laureates or future laureates—or perhaps have a working lunch with one who had problems with research staff. The Law School table would frequently include Professor Soia Mentschikoff, with her big after-lunch cigar.

The club was a place of gathering for many purposes, celebratory and otherwise. My wife and I provided dinner for our entire wedding party of eight in the Chess Room. There were memorable poker games, shrouded in cigar and pipe smoke, in that same room.
The personnel office, by the way, was in Ingleside Hall, the original club building. A seasoned member of the Buildings and Grounds staff once told me he had been a member of the crew that moved the building across the quadrangles, where the subsurface turned out to be swampy and they had to jack and roll the building day and night to keep it from sinking.

Fred Bjorling, PhB’49, MA’51
Oro Valley, Arizona

Footnote to club’s history

The Quadrangle Club was founded by Robert F. Harper, George Vincent, and Henry Herbert Donaldson, or so Donaldson claims in an amusing account contained in an autobiography he wrote for his sons. Donaldson, professor of neurology and dean of the Ogden School of Science, describes Chicago’s original faculty as a “curious” group, drawn from Europe, the Atlantic seaboard, and the West. “They came together with the most diverse ideals and attitudes toward educational aims, and discussions were long and acrimonious. We began to hate one another,” he admits. “In response to the growing acrimony, R. F. Harper—Associate Professor of the Semitic Languages and Literature; George Vincent—a Graduate Fellow in the Department of Sociology; and I undertook to found a University Club.”

The resulting club fostered a cooperative spirit, while providing members opportunities to hone their knowledge. As Donaldson explains, “We soon learned to know its value, and when you met at lunch the man with whom you had just had a savage tilt and found that he could tell a good story and was otherwise human, it helped to make both expert in controversy, to use a phrase of Josiah Royce. All this the club made possible.”

A partial copy of Donaldson’s autobiography is in the Henry Herbert Donaldson Papers at the library of the American Philosophical Society.

Debra Henning, AM’96

No pants, no problem

Your article on the Quad Club missed a great feminist moment in the annals of the club—and a favorite club story: the day when the famous philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, upon being told at the threshold of the club that women were not permitted entrance in pants, took hers off.

Rick Perlstein, AB’92

The Bellovian connection

Saul Bellow’s writing never fails to delight me. While he was at Chicago, I attended as many of his public readings and lectures as I could, those on campus as well as those under the auspices of the continuing-education department. I never got to know him as a teacher, human being, or man; the impression I formed was of a slight, dapper, nervous, self-absorbed individual, devoid of charisma. Whatever charm he had was used to lure his various wives and lovers.

Undoubtedly, his achievements and worldwide reputation are what inspired your June/05 encomium (“He Seized the Day”). Not only was he a Chicago alumnus, but he also was a faculty member for decades. His glory reflects on and magnifies the glory of the University. Yet the rumor at the time of his departure was that he would have preferred to remain in Chicago, both city and school. Apparently he was eased out or not wholeheartedly persuaded to stay. It seems ironic that an institution so eager to claim him did so little to keep him. Regretfully, Bellow, whose books are so full of wickedly witty depictions of mischief, intrigue, and betrayal, based on real people and real events, is no longer around to tell the tale. Perhaps a future Bellovian writer will make a novel about this loss of a University and community treasure.

Margaret Poznak Mine, X’52

Reform not just for hip-hop

“Feminists Call for Hip-hop Reform” (“Chicago Journal,” June/05) cries for general awareness of Amnesty International’s Stop Violence Against Women Campaign. Amnesty International states, that “by using a human rights framework to oppose violence against women, we are changing the perception of it from a private matter to a public concern that demands attention from governments and other recognized use international human rights standards and laws.” Support and ratify the Treaty for the Rights of Women.

Mary N. Woodrich, AB’38
Chagrin Falls, Ohio

The painting on the wall

I was thrilled to see the photograph of three students sitting in the Linn House lounge of Burton-Judson (“Cultural Studies,” June/05). On the wall behind them is a painting of a book, in which all Linn House residents have signed their names. I painted that book on the wall in 1989.

Told that the lounge had been painted over, I had mourned the loss of the record of the house’s history, so I was delighted not only to see the book still there, but also to see it full of names. We tried to plan ahead and make the book impossibly huge, but it seems we were more short-sighted than we imagined. Now, can anyone tell me if our painting of the Linn House coat-of-arms is still on the adjacent wall? I imagine the significance of the symbols we chose has faded with time. The squirrel would still make sense, but what would current students make of Godzilla in a fedora?

Don Smith, AB’92
Ann Arbor, Michigan

Less than intelligent design

“Denying Darwin,” rather than “Debunking Darwin” (“Between the Lines,” June/05), would have been a more appropriate title of your item on William Dembski. Better yet would have been a profile of H. Allen Orr, PhD’90, a University of Rochester professor whose masterful article on Intelligent Design (ID) in the May 30, 2005, New Yorker shows it for the empty theory that it is—theology pretending to be science. While claiming that aspects of living systems cannot be explained by materialistic processes and thus imply the existence and action of a designer, its promulgators deny that they know who is this designer or that they are pushing a religious position. But documents circulating in the creationist community put the lie to these claims (see material at Such intellectual dishonesty is inconsistent with the University of Chicago.

ID boils down to “I am too stupid to figure out how X evolved.” Once it was the eye, now it is bacterial flagella. Each was claimed to be irreducibly complex, but scientists have stepped up and shown how such structures could have come about via gradual evolutionary processes. In the face of such challenges, rather than modify the theory or admit that it has failed, ID proponents simply move the goalposts by picking a new structure that is now declared to be unexplainable.

Dembski takes another tact based on the efficiency of search algorithms. Orr shows how this fancy mathematics is irrelevant to the actual process of evolution. Dembski simply denies his own previous statements about refuting Darwinism.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a variety of theological positions one can take on the origin of the universe, life, and species that are entirely coherent. While some may deny the overwhelming evidence for evolution (i.e., the Earth is only 10,000 years old and God put all those fossils here to test our faith), they are honest in their theological and intellectual position. ID is not.

Chicago has a proud history in evolutionary biology, starting with Sewell Wright (on the faculty, 1926–55), an architect of the Modern Synthesis. The major advances in evolution discovered at U of C continue. I am sad to see the Magazine giving space to a proponent of a failed theory, rather than the many alumni with notable accomplishments. I hope for better next time.

Samuel M. Scheiner, AB’78, SM’80, PhD’83
Arlington, Virginia

War’s reality

We will probably never read Nina Berman’s book Purple Hearts (“Arts & Letters,” June/05), since for us the reality of war is all too tangible. Our son Thomas was a soldier killed in combat November 11, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. His motives for joining the Army were opaque to most, but clear enough to him. It was not to escape his hometown, since he had many friends and options here and planned to return after his contract ended. It was not to feel important on his return, since he barely acknowledged his military service when at home. No, the reasons he cited, when anyone could get him to talk about it at all, had to do with learning discipline, serving his country, growing up. When friends asked why he would join in wartime, he told them that was better than serving in peacetime and wasting taxpayer money. What he wanted was a sense of purpose, a reason to get up every morning and feel he was making a difference, something he had not found in school.

Though he had doubts about the justice of a preemptive war, he had no doubts about defending his comrades. Thomas trained as a driver of Stryker vehicles, but the day he died his vehicle was being repaired after combat damage. He volunteered that afternoon to serve as a gunner on a mission to stop insurgents and protect his friends. Though we might flinch from the reality of what he was doing, he was good at his job, a professional soldier—as some of his colleagues wrote to us after his death, he knew war was not “about jumping out of airplanes,” and he knew freedom was not about “being able to play with your PlayStation.”

The hundreds of people who came to Thomas’s wake and funeral know all too well what the reality of war can be. We are still receiving notes from people who mourn his loss. But when we ask “Why?” it isn’t “Why did he go?” so much as “Why was he taken from us so soon?” We won’t have the answer to that question in this life, but we know he did not consider his days, however short, a waste.

Lee Ann Prewitt Doerflinger, AB’77
Richard Doerflinger, AB’75, AM’76
Silver Spring, Maryland

AD nausea?

I enjoy reading the little slice of Chicago that comes as the University of Chicago Magazine. I am savvy enough to know that advertisements make or break any slick magazine. Having put enough disclaimers in, I now must protest from a professional, and more important an intellectual, viewpoint the “Juvenon” ad in the June/05 issue: the “Slow down the clock on your aging cells” followed at the bottom by “The statements made here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

I wonder why? Perhaps there is no science behind the claims. I recommend that you read advertisements critically before incorporating them; this kind of advertising has no place in a magazine representing one of the premier universities in the country.

Sam C. Masarachia, SB’67
Glenside, Pennsylvania

Department of corrections

Two mea culpas are in order regarding the June/05 issue: The “Architectural Details” item on Walker Museum’s new tenants failed to note a recent move by the Humanities Division: all of floors 2, 4, and 5, half of floor 1, and half of the basement are now home to the Humanities. In the “College Report” story “Serious Business,” Michael Dworecki, ’08, should have been listed as one of six cofounders. Josh Vizer, AB’04, founded ILC Real Estate, and David Clayman, ’07, launched the Skyscraper Challenge. We regret the errors.

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