LINK: University of Chicago Magazine About the Magazine | Advertising | Archives | Contact
 LINK: IssueLINK:  featuresLINK:  chicago journalLINK:  investigationsLINK:  peer reviewLINK:  in every issue

link:  e-mail this to a friend

In Every Issue ::

Letters: “How many readers find themselves ‘still’ doing things…”

Hands-on difference

I was moved to read about the work members of the University community are doing as part of the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project (“Nobody’s Child,” Mar–Apr/08), a group helping, among others, “12-year-old boys flee[ing] Somalia and Sudan to escape conscription as child soldiers.” I continue, however, to be outraged by the University’s refusal to divest from companies that profit from and perpetuate the crisis in Darfur, the very situation from which some of these 12-year-old boys may be fleeing. Obviously, the University, and rightly so, supports programs like the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project because they represent moral and social values that are inherently worth upholding. Although law professor Geoffrey Stone [JD’71] may argue that divestment would make a statement about “what is morally, politically, and socially ‘right’,” something which he argues is not the role of the University, programs like the Immigrant Child Advocacy Project seem to unabashedly take a stand on what is “right” through their work in helping immigrant children, without fear of being deemed too political. While I feel ashamed of my affiliation with Professor Stone’s version of the University of Chicago, I am proud to be associated with the one that uses education not merely to debate and inquire about issues, but to make a hands-on difference. I will rethink my own decision to stop donating to the University only when this hypocrisy is resolved.

Barbara Hoff, AB’95, MAT’97

See “Chicago Journal” for more on the University’s response to the crisis in Darfur—Ed.

Band leader for a day?

As a student in Columbia University’s sociology department, I have great admiration for Professor Sudhir Venkatesh’s “rogue sociology” (“Glimpses,” Mar–Apr/08). However, unlike his sociology, Professor V’s musical taste is much more vogue than it is rogue. On numerous occasions I have witnessed Sudhir very un-roguely give impromptu performances of such un-rogue hits as Frank Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” as well as Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” While his sociology may be unconventional, his “background music” is many rogues removed from the stories told by Stony Island & Cottage Grove.

Harel Shapira, AB’01
New York City

Requiem for a grocery store

Re “Checkout Time for the Co-Op” (“Chicago Journal,” Mar–Apr/08). I’m sad to see the old place go. I lived within a couple of blocks of the Co-Op for most of my time in the neighborhood, and I thought it was pretty wonderful, a community center for Hyde Parkers of all kinds. When I left Chicago nine years ago, the Co-Op seemed triumphantly expansive, what with the new storefronts. Then it all came crashing down.

Kenneth Burns, AB’3, AM’03
Madison, Wisconsin

Call me naive, but I would have hoped that even the alumni magazine might have probed a bit more deeply in its obituary for the Hyde Park Co-Op. I am admittedly biased: having grown up a few blocks from the store, I worked there part time while attending the College, and for all I know my missing volume of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics may yet turn up when the new owners renovate the dairy refrigeration room. But speaking more objectively, it seems worth noting the deep connection between the defunct store and the University, as well as questioning what the demise means for neighborhood-community relations. The Magazine neglects to tell us that economics professor (later U.S. Senator) Paul H. Douglas was a formative influence in the original society’s founding during the Depression, or that when the present store opened in the mid-1950s the ribbon was cut by another economics professor (later alderman), Robert E. Merriam, AM’40, while the legendary Mahalia Jackson sang.

I’m not old enough to remember any of that, but I do recall an interesting and diverse mix of locals, University students, and alumni (as well as several professors’ brats) on the payroll in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Similarly, distinguished professors such as (if memory serves) Joseph Cropsey joined those equally accomplished in other fields—for instance, pioneering blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery—in the even-then-sometimes-inefficient checkout lines. I remember clearly and distinctly philosopher-recycler Ken Dunn, AM’70, coming through regularly with a small child on his shoulders. The raised coffee bar in the center of the store was a nice community meeting place, a kind of proto-Starbucks.

The Co-Op’s ideals appear to have led it astray, and it apparently lacked the advice of competent economists in making its recent business decisions. For that matter, it appears unlikely (for various reasons, including the perceived mandate of the Voting Rights Act and changes in academic attitudes and obligations) that a U of C professor will again become a Hyde Park alderman. Nevertheless, it seems ironic that just when an idealist with community and U of C connections is poised to become president, on a platform that points toward linking diverse strands of communities and tempering institutional profits with a broader social mission, a tired old grocery store that grew out of a similar hybridization many decades ago has gone kaput.

Andrew S. Mine, AB’81

Peace Corps connections

Re “Core of the Corps” (“Chicago Journal,” Mar–Apr/08): In the very first group of Peace Corps volunteers in 1961 was a University of Chicago graduate, Robert Klein, AM’52. After five years of teaching in New York City, I joined the Peace Corps in June 1961 and served in Ghana I (July 1961 to June 1963), the first project overseas after President Kennedy’s creation of the Peace Corps.

In retirement I have been working with the National Archives at the Kennedy Library, organizing and conducting oral-history interviews of those who have served in the Peace Corps (see the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Archival Project.

Robert Klein, AM’52
Tucson, Arizona

Documenting Doc’s real age

In the Mar–Apr/08 “Editor’s Notes” you wrote about Doc Films. Among the good things you wrote, you included a false statement: “at 76 the longest continuously running student film society in the nation.” That would mean that the group was founded in 1932, and that’s not true. The correct number happens to be 67, i.e., 1941, during the 1940–41 academic year.

The error of some Doc Films members, apparently in the 1970s, of thinking that the Documentary Film Group was started in the 1930s seems to have been propagated since then. I’d think that those students did know how to properly research for information, but I guess they just didn’t want to bother.

Sources have been available right there at the University: There are Cap & Gown yearbooks at the Alumni House, for example, and the 1937 one would show that the student-run U of C Film Society was formed in June 1936 at the end of the 1935–36 academic year, when there wasn’t any student-run film group. That film society lasted until 1950–51, when the Student Activities Office suspended it for repeated violations of the rules, apparently putting things on the University’s bulletin boards without getting approval according to the rules of the SA office. This is mentioned in the 1950–51 Echo-Midway yearbook.

The Documentary Film Group was founded during 1940–41 with an apparent concern among members about politics and society. The two student-run film groups were distinct organizations—both showing films during the 1940s. A search through issues of the Maroon could show what was going on. Another possible source would be the Bursar’s Office records if the old financial statements that student organizations were required to file have been kept (probably not). And there are some former Doc Film members from the 1940s and 1950s around who could know something.

Perhaps I would say, “Who cares when the film group was started?” I know that on the Winter 1951 schedules “10th Anniversary” was printed, but I don’t think we cared much about the beginning when I was a member and chair in the early-to-mid-1950s. However, if a founding time is given, it should be historically accurate. The phony 1930s date shouldn’t become one of those “lies that will never die” be-cause a respected publication prints it.
Fred C. Smith, AB’54, AB’55
North Riverside, Illinois

Still ageist after all these years

I have a question about age for one of your writers, and yourselves who published her words: Why is it not possible for a person of any age to be stylish, well dressed, clever, amusing, interesting, etc., without there being an age referent (i.e., ageist) cast to the reporting of those qualities and characteristics?

I refer to Melissa F. Pheterson’s overall charming article about Stephen Stepanchev (“Laureate Longevity,” Mar–Apr/08). I take exception to the one word “still,” used in reference to Stepanchev’s sartorial splendor.

I wonder how many of your readers, say graduates from the 1960s and earlier, find themselves “still” doing things they have done most of their adult lives. And plan to continue to do them too. These could be matters of personal style like Stepanchev’s snappy dressing. Or matters of activity like my providing most of the heat-energy needs of my household by gathering and cutting firewood each week, year-round. (I do this with my father-in-law, who is still doing it even though, at almost 80, he is even older than I am.)

It is pleasing to see a celebration of longevity. Can it be done without a degree of ageism? Possibly no; but I would have been happier to have that tweed blazer and corduroys celebrated along with the rich exchanges of ideas and without that qualifier.

Rev. Crow Swimsaway, AB’58, AM’58
New Marshfield, Ohio

The 56-year-old editor of this magazine responds: While we will continue to print class notes in which alumni themselves make note of their ability to “still” do or enjoy something, we will ourselves no longer remark with apparent wonder on the fact that anybody who has attained or surpassed the age of threescore years and ten can “still” get out of bed in the morning, get dressed, or otherwise have a life.

Our inner human

I read with great interest the article by Professor Neil Shubin (“Fish Out of Water,” Jan–Feb/08), who describes how our evolutionary history can be determined by comparing the physical features of humans with those of other species. Moreover, DNA studies of shared genes have established that the complete array of DNA base-pairs of chimpanzees is 98.6 percent identical to that of humans, which demonstrates a very close physical similarity between chimpanzees and human beings.

These scientific findings trouble some people, who interpret them as showing that humans are not much different from apes. However, such an interpretation completely misses the point. Anyone can observe how enormous are the differences between humans and apes. In the spiritual realms of creativity, intellect, understanding, and morality, the accomplishments of chimpanzees are totally negligible compared to those of humans.

What are the major artistic and technological achievements of the chimpanzee? What great cities did he build? What profound writings did he produce? What important moral teachings did he expound? What marvelous paintings, magnificent sculpture, stirring musical compositions, moving poetry, breathtaking architecture, beautiful gardens, and exciting scientific discoveries mark his sojourn on our planet? To further explore this question, I examined the U of C student lists and was astonished to discover that the student enrollment for the past 100 years did not include a single chimpanzee!

Because the physical characteristics of apes are so similar to those of human beings, one cannot help wondering why their spiritual characteristics are so very different. The idea of humans benefiting from divine input naturally suggests itself.

Nathan (Wiser) Aviezer, SM’59, PhD’65
Petach Tikva, Israel

Sexual stereotyping?

As a recent successful candidate for the great state of Arizona’s bar and new member of a high-minded and reputable firm, I was disturbed by Kathleen C. Vance’s [AM’74] ill-informed remarks (“Letters,” Mar–Apr/08) concerning Professor William Wimsatt—both as a future attorney and as a former student of the man whose integrity she arguably questioned. …

As a recipient of the privilege of a University of Chicago education, one would have assumed that Ms. Vance was familiar with close reading and capable of discerning multiple possible interpretations of a text. To many readers, it appeared from the context (“Course Work,” Jan–Feb/08) that Professor Wimsatt engaged in a bit of light-hearted banter with students while pointing toward interesting connections between childhood toys and the development of interest in the sciences. It would be reasonable to think that his mentioning of kid brothers might have been a reference triggered by a memory of his own. It seems to me that if I remembered my kid sister playing with an Erector set, then later in an off-hand illustrative remark I would naturally speak of kid sisters when discussing a related topic. I certainly would then not have been deliberately excluding kid brothers nor displaying some deep-seated hidden prejudice to men.

Ms. Vance admits that she does not know Professor Wimsatt well, does not know his work well, and did not talk with any of his students past or present. Ms. Vance “wonders” what a female student mentioned in the article thinks. I would have been happy to tell her that when I had the pleasure of taking a class with the man I was impressed with his scholarly breadth and clear dedication to general principles of social progress and equality. In a class presentation my heart sank as Professor Wimsatt off-handedly kept anticipating my presentation based on months of historical research. He really knew his stuff. I am sure other people would have reported similar experiences to Ms. Vance. It seems then rather aggressive and misguided to willfully construe the only negative interpretation of Professor Wimsatt’s reported remarks and make the rather poisonous assumption of his deliberate or hidden sexism. …

Jason Erwin, AM’8
Tucson, Arizona

South side safety

Jordan Paper’s letter (“Letters,” Mar–Apr/08) regarding security on the south side of the campus in the late 1950s reflects a misconception that leads him to malign the campus police as having “the reputation of running in the opposite direction at any indication of trouble.” I was one of several graduate students, mostly veterans, working the night shift as part of the campus police. During my tenure with them (from 1957 to 1961), I came to respect the dedication of the men with whom I worked. My partner patrolling in the squad car from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. every night was a former policeman who, I assure Mr. Paper, would never have run away from danger—as I witnessed many times when we were confronted with serious situations in trying to protect the occupants of student housing along 61st Street (where Mr. Paper and his family lived). It may be relevant to mention that my partner was an African American.
It was a grim time for all of us living on the edge of the campus surrounded by the two toughest precincts in Chicago. I was pleased to read Sonya Malunda’s reply that things have improved.

John Howett, AM’62, PhD’68

Department of Corrections

The Mar–Apr/08 feature on the Graduate School of Business’s annual business-plan competition “Venture Prone” should have identified the contest as the Edward L. Kaplan [MBA’70] New Venture Challenge. In the same issue’s “C. Vitae” article about baker and Italian senator Renato Turano, MBA’1, an editing error mangled the street address of the Catholic high school that Turano attended: St. Mel stood at Madison Street and Kildare Avenue in Chicago.

In the Jan–Feb/08 “Chicago Journal,” a story on former Law School professor Jack Goldsmith’s visit to campus (“Power Struggle”) to talk about his new book, The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration, misstated Goldsmith’s role with the Justice Department: he headed the Office of Legal Counsel. And the Nov–Dec/07 “Original Source” item on the Oriental Institute tablets—on loan to the museum from Iran since 1937 as part of the Persepolis Fortification Archive—noted that the tablets were the subject of a 2001 lawsuit but misidentified the defendant in that suit: the Palestinian militant group Hamas. We regret the errors.

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters from readers 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 no more than 300 words. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 401 N. Michigan Avenue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: