“I am a U of C PhD. … I am also a bowling historian.”

Over the top coverage…

As a proud Graduate School of Business alum, I shuddered when I saw the headline article of the latest University of Chicago Magazine (“Elemental Obama,” Sept–Oct/08). Just another press paean to the great god Obama. I could almost hear Ms. Gibson hyperventilate as she used Obama as a figurehead for the U of C ethos.

The fact that Mr. Obama was—and still thinks as if he were—a lecturer in the Law School and can quote Niebuhr does not make him emblematic of the U of C,  any more than it makes him qualified to lead the free world.   

Mr. Obama’s view of the world is not only from the far left, it is full of racist undertones and hyperbole. If Ms. Gibson wished to view him as a critic, she has failed miserably. If she wished instead to gush over his preachy oratory skills, she should use the New York Times, not a U of C organ. Mr. Obama (I won’t call him Senator Obama because he hasn’t actually spent enough time doing the job he was elected to do) is an empty suit, filled only with cranky, misleading rhetoric that offers to lead this country down his own lefty road.

Shame on you for providing yet another example of media hero-worship.

Marcia P.  Saper, MBA’76
Wilmette, Illinois

…over-the-top cover

As a graduate of the class of 2008, I was very disappointed by the cover of the Sept–Oct/08 Magazine. Although some may feel a close connection with Barack Obama, I feel that my education and aspirations embody exactly what the University of Chicago has attempted to promote and Barack Obama has not. Michelle’s position at the Medical Center, Barack’s lecturing, and his place of residence in Hyde Park provide close ties to the University, but the University should not become a political proponent of a candidate.

What many in higher education have forgotten is a fundamental understanding of education’s purpose. The purpose of a university and its professors is to take adolescents, who have most often never been away from home, and in four years prepare them for the real world. This real world is not a liberal or conservative bastion for our university to preemptively impress on us one view, but a choice we make based on our experiences. In my experiences as a first-generation college student, and now in the career I have chosen, I have found the hypothetical arguments presented in college often to be just such: hypothetical. The politics have become more convoluted than ever (they actually affect me now).

Yet it was the attempt of many—both peers and faculty—at the University of Chicago to impress upon me certain political views that drove me to form my own opinions. I fear many others were not so lucky. It is for this reason that I say Barack Obama is no more U of C than John McCain or Sarah Palin are. But in effectively endorsing a candidate, the school has prevented many of today’s students from having the opportunity to practice the most important lesson I have learned since leaving Chicago: forming your own educated opinions will carry you further than any political affiliation.

Nicholas Hoyt, AB’08
New Olmsted, Ohio

Which U of C?

“Elemental Obama” states, “While political pundits debate whether a former Law School lecturer is too University of Chicago to be president of the United States, the U of C focuses on—what else?—what it means to be U of C.”

Obama’s economic thinking is the antithesis of the Chicago School of Economics. He is very anti-free market, anti-business, and seems to favor a large and all-powerful central government. He is certainly not a good representative of the Chicago School of Economics.

Eric Vest, MBA’85
Florence, Kentucky

See beyond the U of C

While I appreciate the education my daughter received in the College, I reacted to the subhead for “Elemental Obama” as confessing that at the U of C, self-absorption trumps all. It may be that the existence of our planet is at stake, and that concentrating on Obama’s critical capacity while avoiding preening in the mirror is more to the point.

Lowell Dunlap

See beyond the stereotype

I read the sidebar to the article about Senator Obama with interest. I had hoped that it would be pointed out that anyone who uses “too South Side of Chicago” as code for “too black” is very ignorant about the South Side. Professor Dawson’s comments, though welcome, didn’t go far enough.

When I attended the College, I often got double takes and astonished looks when I told people I was from the South Side. Many seemed unaware that the south side of the city is not monolithically black. I used to recommend they take a ride down Archer Avenue. That ride is a lot more diverse now than it was when I first came to the College: you’ll still pass heavily Polish areas, but there is a larger Latino population along that drive than there used to be.

Take a drive down Western Avenue south from Madison, and you’ll get an even better sense of how diverse the South Side is.

Marty Busse, AB’07
Bolingbrook, Illinois

Radical prejudice

I enjoyed Lydialyle Gibson’s article on Barack Obama but take exception to one part. She quotes Michael Dawson as criticizing Chris Matthews’s question (Is Obama “too South Side of Chicago?”) as “insulting” and “a not-very-coded way of saying, ‘Is he too black?’” Gibson seems to be endorsing the view that Matthews, if not prejudiced himself, is not simply alluding to prejudice among white Americans but is sanctioning it.

I don’t think Matthews is doing so. Rather, I think he is raising, in shorthand fashion, a number of related issues, of which white racial prejudice is only one.

His question references Obama’s work as a community organizer, work that was not politically neutral but ideologically based (e.g., based in part on Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals). Nor was it racially neutral (i.e., not simply on behalf of “laid-off steelworkers” and “teenage mothers and their children,” as Gibson puts it), but on behalf of an African American community that Obama chose to join.

Of course it’s commendable to work on behalf of one’s community, African American or otherwise, but during this time (and afterward), Obama was also a member and financial supporter of an Afrocentric church whose pastor gave “combustible sermons” (to quote Gibson’s phrase). These facts and others raise questions in the minds of many Americans, including those who are not racially prejudiced.

The questions raised are, first, how radical is Obama politically and, second, is he himself racially biased, i.e., would he be president of all Americans equally or would he be biased in favor of some at the expense of others?

These are legitimate questions. They should not be swept aside by an assertion that anyone who broaches them is sanctioning racial prejudice. On the contrary, they should be explored further.

Rollin Stearns, AB’60
Holden, Maine

Moving right

The Paul Douglas I remember from my time at the University in the last half of the 1940s was not as “lefty,” or “in the (Chicago) machine,” as “Elemental Obama” would have it. Instead, the machine nominated both him and Adlai Stevenson to give it some respectability and to attract the state’s professional upper-middle class.

In those days, when Stalinist, Trotskyist, and liberal students were fighting for control of campus student organizations, the first two were the lefties, had anyone then used that somewhat pejorative term. But in the 1940s, the University itself was dominated by liberals (except in economics), whereas today, the conservatives appear to be in charge ideologically. Since they are flush with rich friends, the University should do well financially, whatever the effect on its intellectual reputation.

Herbert J. Gans, PhB’47, AM’50
New York

Local heroes

While residing in the Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) dormitories as a student in the Divinity School, I can remember the excitement in the theological world about social justice, racial equality, peace, and hope for mankind. Reinhold Neibuhr, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were our heroes.

The secular world has replaced the religious world for most Americans. Even I moved from the church to the public schools of New York City, where I was a principal for 23 years, because there are more resources there for doing good than in church. However, it is my study and training in the Divinity School that made me believe that even in a place where “the children of darkness are wiser in the ways of this world than the children of light,” it is still possible to do good.

Although I am saddened by the disappearance of CTS, I am delighted that a “prophet” named Barack Obama has emerged from the environs of the U of C. Let us all pray that the children of light will prevail in the next generation.

David H. Fong, DB’63
Reno, Nevada

The Chicago Theological Seminary will not disappear. In purchasing the seminary’s main building (on 58th Street between University and Woodlawn) and McGiffert Hall (5751 S. Woodlawn), the University will build a new home for the seminary at Dorchester Avenue and 60th Street. The LEED–compatible “green” design will provide facilities for current programming as well as expansion.—Ed.

Chalk one up to Photoshop

Superb article on Obama; thoughtful, informative, and balanced.

I wonder about the inexplicable picture of Obama at the blackboard with chalk in hand on the U of C logo. Is he tracing? Creating? Could you describe what he was doing?

Sol S. Shalit, MBA’65, PhD’70
Stamford, Connecticut

Several readers asked about this photo illustration; as the very small print indicated, the undated photograph showed Obama leading a Law School class. The Magazine’s art director “erased” the blackboard, then replaced Obama’s notes with the Chicago phoenix. The actual notes read, “Power Analysis. Relationships Built on Self Interest,” key phrases used by another community organizer with University of Chicago connections, Saul Alinsky, PhB’30.—Ed.

Right down his alley

Congratulations on a superb issue. “Elemental Obama” brought smiles of recognition from undergraduate (1966–1970) forays past the Law Quad into Woodlawn to do community service, where I once tutored the younger brother of a Blackstone Ranger, who escorted me safely back to Woodward Court one dark November evening. The legacy of community organizers like Jane Addams, Saul Alinsky, and the Industrial Areas Foundation has motivated me for more than 30 years in pastoring congregations in Connecticut’s poorest (06520) and wealthiest (06793) ZIP codes, among others. Intellectuals can be as close to the ground as anyone else, and Senator Obama is no exception. The United States would be well served by a streetwise president who can cite the likes of Reinhold Niebuhr among his motivators and mentors (not to mention his ethicist brother, H. Richard, with whom I feel equal kinship, as we are all Yale Divinity graduates, albeit two generations removed). 

Spare Me,” Jack Tucker’s bowling fantasy (fact and fiction!), provided a delightful counterpoint. His streetwise usage (bowling “lanes” as distinct from “alleys”) moved me to mail copies to my uncle, Jerry, American Bowling Congress past-president, and my father, Roger, a Hall of Famer and retired ABC [now USBC] executive director. ... What Tucker failed to mention is that USBC was always an amateur organization. To his credit, however, many pro (not faux) bowlers find their way into the Hall of Fame.

On that score, it might interest readers to know that bowling was an exhibition sport in the 1988 Seoul Olympics (thanks, in large part, to my father’s lobbying efforts) but never made it to medal status—unlike beach volleyball in 2008. And, apart from the photos of Jack Turner holding small balls (sans finger holes) and those duckpins (USBC bowlers use large tenpins and up-to-16-pound balls with finger holes), your fact-checkers did well. 

All of which brings me to say that Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (Simon & Schuster, 2000), Robert D. Putnam’s celebrated sociological study of America’s waning membership in voluntary associations such as bowling leagues and churches (once home to many bowling lanes and leagues), should qualify that streetwise Harvard professor for a U of C doctorate, honoris causa.

Lastly, I challenge your fact-checkers to find any other published material in which a presidential candidate, the Niebuhr brothers, nuances of bowling, community organizing, sociological trends, and three esteemed universities are all cited (sans footnotes) in one 405-word letter.     

Michael Tessman, AB’70
South Kingston, Rhode Island

Jack Tucker, this is my life

I read Jack Tucker’s article (“Spare Me,” Sept–Oct/08) with some amusement. Like Dr. Tucker, I am a U of C history PhD. Unlike him, I am also a bowling historian.

No, I’m not kidding. Since 1990 I’ve written more than 200 articles on aspects of bowling history for Bowlers Journal International—whose offices happen to be only a few blocks from the University of Chicago Magazine at 122 S. Michigan Avenue. Among the cognoscente of the bowling community, I’m known as “Doctor Jake.”

I was never a professional bowler. But I did roll a 300 game in 1999 and have the American Bowling Congress ring to prove it.

Regarding some of Dr. Tucker’s other claims—I did write an article for the Encyclopedia of Chicago (but it was about Park Ridge). I am working on a scholarly article about Chicago’s bowling history. As for the listing of historic bowling sites in the city, the Reynolds Club on campus qualifies: Hank Marino, a charter member of the bowling Hall of Fame, worked there part time as a bowling instructor in the 1920s.

Again like the writer, I ran into the problem of a tight job market when I received my PhD. I wound up teaching in the Chicago Public School system. I’m now retired from CPS and am an adjunct instructor at Roosevelt University.

In any event, I’m gratified that Dr. Tucker was so impressed with my résumé that he patterned his fantasy life after me. I’d love to meet him.

Maybe we could bowl a few lines together.

John R. Schmidt, PhD’83
Park Ridge, Illinois

Perfect game

The article by Jack Tucker, PhD’72, reviewing his “career” as a “professional bowler,” was just about the funniest article I’ve ever read in the Magazine. I wish I’d had enough sense to keep all the issues through all the years that his article refers to, if only to see if his latest article is itself another send-up. Humor is a great leaven of the ultra-serious articles that usually characterize U of C publications, so please throw some more our way. 

Eve Jones, PhB’46, SB’48, SM’48, PhD’53
Los Angeles

Reading between the lanes

“Spare Me” reminds me of the time my wife and I met Jack at an alumni function in the nosebleed seats of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium for an O’s game. Knowing a bit about duckpin bowling, we were very skeptical that anyone could make a living at it, but he stuck to the story so well that we didn’t challenge it too much. Once we understood that he had a PhD in Eastern European history from the U of C (really, what does one do with such a degree?), we assumed that he really worked for the CIA as an analyst or the like and let the story lie, so to speak. In any case, it was the highlight of the afternoon and much more entertaining than the O’s game (at least for my wife)!

Bill Landschulz, AB’82, SM’82
Zionsville, Indiana

Duck, Duck, Hoax?

As a weekly senior-league bowler, I couldn’t help but notice that the “Spare Me” photos by Dan Dry showed the hoax perpetrator at a duckpin lane rather than the full-size pin/ball PBA type of facility. It makes me wonder if this might be a clue that the entire article is a hoax.

The allusion to the Fermi-Oppenheimer match at the University gym is a myth, of course: the only campus lanes at that time were in the basement of Ida Noyes Hall.

At any rate I was disappointed to learn when I returned to my 50th reunion that the lanes were gone and today’s students need to trek to 55th Street to a contemporary automated and computerized facility. Too bad they are missing out on the joys of setting their pins manually as in days of yore.

Roland Finston, AB’57, SB’57
Palo Alto, California

Strike one up for non-achievers

I must write to tell you that I enjoyed the article by Jack Tucker as much as any you’ve ever run.

For years I’ve read the alumni magazine and my son’s alumni magazine and seethed with feelings of envy and shame at our family’s lack of noteworthy accomplishments, academic or otherwise. Suddenly I realize that I’m not alone. For all the alums bursting with pride at being recognized for their achievements, there are at least a few non-achievers with whom I can identify.

Incidentally, while a student in the College in the mid-’40s, I earned pin money (another bowling pun) setting pins in the two lanes in Ida Noyes Hall. And we set pins. We didn’t push a button or throw the pins into a rack. We set them on black circles painted on the floor.

Theodora Carr Kras, AB’47
Downers Grove, Illinois

Lies, damned lies, and class notes

A more common form of falsehood [than Jack Tucker’s fake class notes] is the one in which people omit all the negatives to protect or promote themselves, their self-esteem, family members, or business. As in annual holiday newsletters, so in class notes: they mention their latest publication but not the fact that they got fired, and the arrival of a grandchild but not the fact that the kid’s parents are drug-addicted and dumped the kid with the grandparents. One result for readers is a false impression that their classmates are living a perfect American life.

Jean Dickson, AM’83
Buffalo, New York

More on forest myth’s origins

I am no more a fan of wholesale deforestation than the next eco-activist. But thank you to Richard Mertens (“Can’t See the Forest for the Trees,” Sept–Oct/08) for presenting new criticisms of the pristine-nature myth that has constricted so much environmental thinking and action. It has especially resulted in denial of the ingenuity that local communities of color around the world have so often shown as parts of and partners with robust ecosystems. Mertens presents several instructive examples of such ingenuity. 

However, I wish he had more directly addressed the origins of the pristine-nature myth, as well as its companion Malthusianism, in frank, outright racism and colonialism. These origins are hardly a secret. Nor are critiques, whether explicit or implicit, of the pristine myth as new as Mertens’s article seems to indicate. One need only turn to the work in which many ecologists from the Two-Thirds World, such as India’s Vandana Shiva and Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, have been engaged a long, long time.

Mary Beth Krane Derr, AM’93

Miss Abbott remembered

I read the article about the Abbott sisters (“Legacy,” Sept–Oct/08), who were social-work pioneers, with great interest and wondered if I am the only one now alive who was taught by Miss Edith Abbott at SSA.

In the fall of 1943 I arrived alone by train with a recent AB from the University of California, Berkeley, and the determination to get a degree in social work. Although it was my avowed intention to become what was called a psychiatric social worker, I rapidly found out that all master’s students were required to take a first-year internship in a public-administration setting and also required to take a course in public welfare from Miss Edith Abbott.

Miss Abbott looked very old to me; she was actually the same age as my maternal grandmother, but there the similarity ended. I soon learned that strict academics were the order of the day in Miss Abbott’s class. I can still see her in my mind’s eye. She was always dressed in plain black clothes topped off with a broad-brimmed black hat made of some kind of stiff silk material—a hat that sat squarely on the top of her head and was never taken off while she was teaching. Her posture was as starchy as a young woman’s, which spoke of long years of personal discipline and high standards. I was intimidated by this specter.

It was my hope to get through the class by keeping a low profile. But, lo and behold, although the class was large, she had gone through the records of the entering students and knew something about us. Possibly it was unusual to have a student from the western part of the country, and horrors, she expected me to know all about the California public-welfare system. I can’t think now how I must have done it, but I undertook to learn about the welfare system in my native state, a good thing because she regularly called on me to enlighten the class. In the process, of course, I learned a great deal about the state of public welfare in the United States, as well.

Miss Abbott was determined to enlarge our worlds. Several times she exposed us to visitors, the most notable of whom was Sophonisba P. Breckinridge, PhD 1901, JD 1904, who had been a pioneer in the social-work field and who then lived with Miss Abbott. Unfortunately, Miss Breckinridge was in her late 70s, past her prime and difficult to understand. However, many years later when I was teaching social work at Florida State University, it was great to have had exposure to some of the best minds in the early days of social work, as it became a credentialed profession.

This is not the end of the story. The year following Miss Abbott’s class, I was startled to discover that I still remained as one of her students. Several students in the new class told me that Miss Abbott would often say, “Now in California—Miss Conaway can tell us something about that.” Then she would look around perplexed and ask, “Where is Miss Conaway today?” only to be reminded by some of my friends that I was in last year’s class.

Although I followed her dictum that social work should be grounded in quality academics, I did not stay single as she advised but married a graduate student in another department at the University. After a long career in social work, I ended up in retirement in anthropology, where I have another master’s degree and a PhD, and it is my delight to still (remember that word “still”) be researching and writing. In the fall of 2009, the University Press of Florida will publish my book on slavery where, as usual, I drew on both fields, social work and anthropology, to complete the work.

Congratulations to Carrie M. Golus for a splendid article.

Patricia Conaway Griffin, AM’45
St. Augustine, Florida

Those who can don’t have to

Let me get this straight. Sascha Ebeling wins a prize for excellence in teaching (“For the Record,” Sept–Oct/08), and the prize is . . . a year off from teaching.

The University ought to offer a contest for excellence in teaching for non-Chicagoans. First prize can be a year of teaching at Chicago. Second prize can be two years of teaching at Chicago. They could name it after W. C. Fields.

Jeremy Ehrlich, AB’93

Second life for Reg’s trees?

I have just read “Trees On the Move,” (“Lite of the Mind,” Sept–Oct/08), regarding the trees around the Regenstein Library being moved, replaced, or sold to make room for the new Mansueto Library.

Has the University contracted with [the project’s recyclers] Horigan Urban Forest Products to create something from the oaks and maples (planted when I worked at Regenstein) that could become a permanent part of the new library or replace some worn element in Regenstein such as a counter or desk?

Although I think it is fine that the trees are being recycled, it seems there must be adequate stock for the trees to contribute to the permanent Regenstein environment, as well.

Pauline V. Angione, SM’68
Prospect Harbor, Maine

University planner Richard C. Bumstead responds: We are currently exploring the possibility of incorporating the harvested wood into either the Regenstein or Mansueto library. Harvesting the wood was the University’s first step in trying to salvage the useful wood from a job site, and I hope we will regularly be able to use the harvested wood within a project that requires the removal of the trees.

Involuntary omission

Published as a supplement to the Magazine’s Sept–Oct/08 issue, the Chicago Alumni Resource Guide provides all sorts of useful information for alumni on University services, programs, and volunteers.

Unfortunately, in the listing of the 2008–09 Alumni Board of Governors, one member, Brooks Dexter, AB’79, MBA’84, of Manhattan Beach, California, was inadvertently omitted. The Alumni Office regrets this error.

To learn more about the Alumni Board of Governors, its individual members, and its recent initiatives, as well as how to nominate candidates to the board, visit alumni.uchicago.edu/bog.

Heather Mendelson
Assistant Director,
College and Campus Programs

Department of Corrections

In “Elemental Obama” (Sept–Oct/08), the year that Abner Mikva, JD’51, was graduated from the Law School was incorrectly given. The Magazine regrets the error.

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space and clarity. In order to provide a wide range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or less. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.

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