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Letters: “Only a social scientist could seriously argue that...”

Full of wonder 

I returned from my first day at the University on the other side of 60 years ago to report to my mother that everyone there was smarter than I was and they knew about things that I had never heard of. This wonderful issue of the Magazine (July–Aug/07) has reaffirmed my original estimate of my status in regard to everyone else at the University! Thank you. I think. Or perhaps that should be to the University: “Thank you, I think!”

June Arnold, AB’46, MBA’61
Indio, California

Imaginary lens

So they’ve got an imagining camera at Yerkes (“Celestial Sphere,” July–Aug/07). I want one of those! Who says pictures don’t lie?

Benjamin H. Cohen, AB’60
Niles, Illinois

As typos go, it was a provocative one, but Cohen is correct: Yerkes Observatory has an imaging camera.—Ed.

Photo fan

Where did you find Dan Dry? His photos, particularly the portraits of Chicago intelligentsia and other characters, are wonderful. I find myself thumbing through the magazine just looking for the next picture. Give that guy a big raise.

Mary Lou Dietrich, AB’74
Cape Rosier, Maine

Parental wish

As a parent and a psychologist, I found James Watson’s (PhB’46, SB’47) wish for a genetic test for schizophrenia “Glimpses,” (July–Aug/07) very poignant. Of course, as a parent, he would want the most powerful diagnostic tools to inform the most effective treatment. But of course as a genetic scientist of the highest order, Watson surely knows that schizophrenia is not a strictly genetic disorder. Even identical twins don’t show 100 percent concordance for presence or absence of symptoms. Watson’s exquisite familiarity with the ways of genetics cannot suppress his parental wish for the best life for his child.

Lucia Vail
Brooklyn, New York

No salvation here

Being a pastor is about the “care of souls.” Would I entrust my soul to any of the students highlighted in “The Word Made Fresh” “Course Work,” July–Aug/07? No.

One student concludes with “three years of struggle, doubt, and uncertainty.” Another makes the same error as the Christian Right—that the Gospel is politics. The only difference is that she is from the Left, but she is actually one with the Right as to the theological premise. It’s about political power. Or consider another student’s response to a classmate’s sermon: “[M]uch of the theology [of the Resurrection] I would find difficult to accept.” No Resurrection, no Gospel.

These students seem terribly confused and without clear direction. How can they possibly lead others into truth? How can they provide hope? How can they provide for the “care of souls”?

James Stuart, MBA’77
Oak Park, Illinois

No place for Pace

Which is worse, hypocrisy or discrimination? After reading “Pace of Progress” (“Chicago Journal,” July–Aug/07), your sugar-coated article leaning toward justification of Peter Pace’s invitation to speak at the GSB management conference, I could not help but wonder how the GSB deans and the “ballroom of business leaders, professionals, alumni, and students” at the Hyatt Regency would have reacted if Pace had been a Nazi sympathizer or racist. Would he still have been welcome to deliver a speech in the interest of “principles of free speech?” I think not. The deans’ reaction to pleas to withdraw Pace’s invitation was hollow at best: their promise to hold a conference in the fall to “focus on issues of inclusion and diversity” at the GSB was a blatant token attempt to merely appease those who opposed their decision.

It is quite clear that discrimination against the gay community is still considered a minor offense at the GSB. In the interest of civil rights, the Magazine’s gay and straight readers should be offended by the GSB’s invitation to Pace, and I am seriously worried about the precedent that this type of discrimination and hypocrisy sets for the future business leaders of America attending the institution. Chicago can do better and should take this opportunity to promote a truly inclusive policy that is sensitive to the rights and aspirations of its gay students and faculty and serves as an example for other universities. Gay people do not deserve more favorable treatment than other minorities such as African Americans, Jews, Muslims, Hispanics, etc., but they also deserve no less.

Robert F. Taylor, MBA’83
San Diego

Criminal bias

Only a social scientist “Shooter’s Choice,” July–Aug/07 could seriously argue that any possible bias against black suspects derives from “ambient social stereotypes” and not from rational discrimination based on statistical probability. The racial disparity in criminal activity in this country is widely known, yet for many in the groves of academe it must be ignored, explained away, or simply discounted.

Jonathan Ekman, AM’81
New York

Social psychologist Joshua Correll replies: Mr. Ekman’s question is one we often hear. It’s true that African Americans in the United States are disproportionately likely to be arrested for violent crime, and my colleagues and I recognize that this disparity may contribute to a pattern of bias that leads participants in our video-game studies to shoot black targets more quickly and more frequently than whites. It is not our intent to “explain away” the possibility that racial bias in decisions to shoot stems from more-or-less rational decision-making. Our intent is to understand the mechanisms that inspire this behavioral bias.In truth, no one would argue that participants in our studies shoot blacks more quickly or more frequently than whites simply because blacks are more likely to be arrested. We need to recognize that there is a crucial intervening process. People shoot African Americans more quickly because they subjectively, psychologically associate them with crime and danger. It is this psychological association, or stereotype—not arrest rates—that drives behavior.

Of course, the association may derive from racial disparities in criminal activity just as it may derive from movies, news reports, or gangsta rap music. The point is that the psychological representation is a critical, proximal variable. In our efforts to understand the behavioral phenomenon, we believe it is valuable to understand the processes that generate it. In this case, those processes seem to involve stereotypes.

Issue-induced memories

The July–Aug/07 issue brought back so many happy memories that I felt compelled to write some of them. The letters regarding David Grene brought back a mental picture of him declaiming a portion of Oedipus Rex in Greek during a humanities core course. It impressed upon me the inadequacy of any translation of a foreign language. Of course, we understood hardly a word he spoke, but the beauty of the sound emphasized the inherent poetry of the work.

It induced me to take the discussion course (around a very large elliptical table) that Mortimer Adler and Milton Mayer, X’32, led. We spent the entire time on Greek works. Fascinating! Our photograph appeared in Life magazine. I was distressed because the article commented that I was “twiddling my thumbs,” which I definitely was not.

I was also able to take a course in the Oriental Institute on ancient Egyptian history given by John Wilson. In the Physical Science III course I was enchanted by the lectures of J (no period!) Harlen Bretz, which induced me to take his Baraboo, Wisconsin, summer course in field geology. I still have the huge report I wrote for that course. Since I worked part time in the physics department under John Platt and Robert Millikan, I had several occasions to visit Yerkes Observatory, where I met such dignitaries as Chandrasekhar.

Charles W. Rector, PhB’46, SB’49
Annapolis, Maryland

Principled stands

An open letter to President Zimmer: I wish to comment upon your letter sent on July 31, 2007, to Ms. Hunt, General Secretary of the United Kingdom’s University and College Union (UCU), published in the August 10, 2007, issue of the Magazine’s e-bulletin, UCHICAGO.EDU.

In your letter ( you deplore that “(t)he United Kingdom’s University and College Union (UCU) congress has encouraged the UCU membership to consider a boycott of scholars based at Israeli academic institutions,” claiming that “(s)uch an act would be an assault on the fundamental principles of open discourse, exchange of ideas, and free argumentation, principles that lie at the very foundation of the academy and its missions of discovery, search for understanding, and education.”

With respect, sir, you seem to forget that within the state of Israel, academic institutions violate the very principles that you hold so dear. Indeed, the entire academic system (as well as legal, judicial, and property system) highly favors Jewish citizens at the expense of Christian and Muslim Palestinians who are the subject of constant discrimination at all levels of academia (and in society, generally). This is even more sadly the case regarding Palestinian academic institutions within the Occupied Territories. Indeed, the values that you prize so highly at the University of Chicago and that “support the free flow of ideas and the free movement of scholars” are not practiced in Israel if you are a Palestinian.

Thus when you “urge the U. K. University and College Union to abandon all support of this proposed boycott that violates the highest principles of the world-wide academy,” as well as “deplore which scholars purposefully exclude other scholars on the basis of nationality,” why do you not address the same opprobrium to Israeli academic institutions?

If the University of Chicago opposes “any effort prompted by political views to restrict the flow of ideas and scholars,” it stands to reason that your plea for openness and respect should be addressed to all culpable parties, Israeli academic institutions included. Otherwise, sir, your admonishment rings of hollow hypocrisy.

Anthony Edwin Nahas, MBA’99

Please forward to President Zimmer my gratitude for his defense of basic principles of academic freedom and integrity.

Michael Hollerich, PhD’85
Roseville, Minnesota

Well done!

Bobbie Gottschalk, AM’66
Washington, D.C.

Life study

Jane H. Overton died June 3. (“See Deaths”) Developmental biologists who know Jane’s work think of her as a truly scholarly scientist whose work was always solid and very often clever. Continued citations 40 years after publication show that she built things to last. I know few current scientists who have worked on as wide a variety of organisms, tissue systems, and developmental problems.

There have been women in developmental biology as long as there has been developmental biology, so I doubt that Jane thought of herself as a pioneer, but I think that putting up with a series of bizarre career restrictions qualified Jane as one. She was often disappointed to see junior colleagues jumping many of the same, senseless hurdles. Jane hated to be called a mentor. Mentors, she said, are officious people who muck around with the careers of others on purpose. She said it was OK if students thought of her as a role model, because that was their perception and their problem. 

Jane was fierce in the support of her students and good colleagues. But throwing lazy, untruthful, and just plain annoying students out of the lab was one of her hobbies. All but the densest of her students lived in terror of being found wanting until, at length, she finally had way too much invested in us to shoo us away.

Jane was a wonderful teacher but a terrible lecturer. She would get lost in thought in the middle of an undergrad lesson and stop to make notes. She would rub the end of her nose absently as she thought and return from a lecture with several colors of chalk on her nose. There was one extraordinary day when, during an Analysis of Animal Development lecture, some construction equipment working on a Hospitals extension crashed through the room’s back wall. Jane went right on talking.

Jane showed, by example, what a moral compass in teaching and research should be. Some people hear a small still voice when confronted with an ethical dilemma. I hear Jane’s voice: “If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas.” Jane was always interested in her students’ careers and progress but was a terrible correspondent. You wrote to Jane but called her to get information in the other direction. Two or three years after I graduated I visited her lab and complained that she never wrote back to me. She opened a desk drawer and showed me a pile of half-finished letters. When I reached for them she slammed the drawer and said they were a bit personal. If anyone finds a bunch of unmailed letters I would love to see them.

Jane’s influence was subtle but far-reaching. Once a distinguished cell biologist was giving a high-profile invited lecture at my university. He asked some of us about courses we taught, and when I described my undergrad teaching he said: “You must have been a student of Jane Overton.” As an undergraduate he took a similar course from another student of Jane’s at another university, and it influenced him to go into his current field. That one moment shows how important Jane the scientist and teacher was.

Ellen Chernoff, AB’73, PhD’78

Calling students of Neil Harris

Students of Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton professor of history and art history, may be interested to learn that a symposium will be held at the University on Saturday, May 3, 2008, to honor his retirement from teaching. Entitled The Politics of Display, the symposium will explore aspects of American culture central to Professor Harris’s own scholarly interests.

Among the speakers will be Daniel Bluestone, PhD’84, University of Virginia; Michele H. Bogart, AM’75, PhD’79, Stony Brook University; Hanna Holborn Gray, University of Chicago; Thomas Hines, University of California, Los Angeles; Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University; T. Jackson Lears, Rutgers University; Sally M. Promey, PhD’88, Yale University;  and Nicholas Yablon, AM’01, PhD’02, University of Iowa.

For further information, please contact The symposium will be free, but preregistration is required. Because there will be a large convention in Chicago that weekend, those planning to attend may want to book a hotel room well in advance. We look forward to seeing many students of Professor Harris at the symposium.

Kathleen N. Conzen
Professor, Department of History
and the College

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