...the jejune, ill-informed opinions reported as fact...



Wrong side of the fence

You have written a very one-sided article about Jon Marvel (“True Grit,” Jan–Feb/10). He is a radical, a complete I-am-right-and-everyone-else-is-wrong sort of activist. In writing for my alma mater, an institution that supposedly seeks truth, you have written a puff piece on an individual that is more interested in causing problems than in solving them. It disappoints me to see this from my university.

John Maddux, MBA’86
Imperial, Nebraska


I am disappointed that a university that has proved the error of using emotion to set financial policy would take a shot at the cattle industry based on the testimony and feelings of a well-meaning individual who has limited technical background in the area. Cattlemen are not a gang of rubes, as your article implies. Extensive studies and cooperative efforts to understand our ecosystems and use grazing as a management tool are under way throughout the United States. The article is full of misinformation and suggestions for management that would actually harm the landscapes Mr. Marvel hopes to “save.”

Helen I. Hodges, MBA’84


Best of two evils

As I read about architect Jon Marvel’s fight against using public lands for ranching and grazing, I couldn’t help but think, “Who’s calling the kettle black?” 

Cows using rangeland to provide food to a hungry world might leave a few footprints (literally) here and there. But as our planet loses the thin layer of topsoil that feeds mankind to the building and construction process, the end result of an architect’s efforts, we have a much more serious problem in permanently losing a precious and rare natural resource.

As an Iowa farmer, I concede that agriculture is far from perfect. But clearly the goal is sustainability. And to that objective I ask, “What is more important to the world, meals or mountain country estates?”

Benjamin R. Riensche, MBA’89
Jesup, Iowa


Straight from the bedside

She did it! Caught it all! “A Nurse’s Shift” (Jan–Feb/10) is a marvelous, hit-the-nail-on-the-head article of what a bedside nurse is all about in the hospital setting. Making her patient and/or patients her first priority is why she is a bedside nurse. But there running alongside her are the side issues—conferences re: patient care, re: managing staffing, re: integrating new guidelines—and while all this talk is going on, the patient needs to go to the bathroom, and the aides are busy passing lunch trays and going to lunch themselves. She got it, and in language that made me ache. Yeah, I am a retired RN—only a year—and could still feel it all as I read Ms. Brown’s article. It was glorious. Thank you for printing it. It was perfect.

Martha M. Dougherty, mother of Matthew, AB’90
Allendale, New Jersey


Medical help for women

Thank you, University of Chicago Magazine and Drs. Scott Eggener and Gregory Bales, for highlighting the plight of women in poor and war-torn countries who are suffering from fistulas after childbirth (“Medical Mission,” Jan–Feb/10). Far too many women (and often young girls) are left to suffer from a condition that could be easily repaired. The condition could be avoided altogether in most cases if more attention were placed on the widespread discrimination against and mistreatment of women in many countries throughout the world. Rape, the sex-slave trade, discrimination against girls in education, and the low value placed on medical care for girls and women all contribute to the high incidence of fistulas in these countries. Repairing fistulas is not a glamorous mission, but the procedures are important to the dignity of afflicted women.

Lexi Oberdorfer Haden, AB’96


Maroon-colored glasses

In the Jan–Feb/10 issue (Cultural Studies) I find this: “From 1903 to the 1960s, the C-Bench was reserved for varsity athletes and their girlfriends.” Please—during the Hutchins years one of the U of C’s attractions was that it had dispensed with high-schoolish nonsense!

David Wylie, AB’50


Nobel or not

In the Nov–Dec/09 issue (William Rainey Harper’s Index), there appeared a tally of Nobel Prize winners associated with the University. Joining the laureates from the hard sciences, saliently physics and chemistry, was of course Barack Obama as our single Nobel Peace laureate. Last listed were 25 “economics Nobelists.”

The so-called economics Nobel is in fact a faux Nobel. Strictly speaking there is no such prize. It was invented by the Bank of Sweden in 1968, some 67 years after the other prizes were endowed in 1901. The award bears the official name Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Apparently the Bank of Sweden convinced the Nobel Foundation to administer its prize along with the “real” Nobels. As in real estate, location is everything, and so, by an artifact of scheduling, the distinction between the real Nobel Prizes and the economics prize has been erased.

There is some reason to think that the Bank of Sweden cooked up the prize to encourage the idea that economics was a hard science. Of course, it is not. Its predictive powers are legendarily poor, and its policies arguably catastrophic. Here the so-called “Chicago School” has been at the cutting edge. Were such results forthcoming for a theory in the hard sciences, the discredited theory would be summarily dumped. If I may venture an “unscientific” prediction, don’t expect this to happen in economics any time soon. And, if I may venture an opinion, the University should own up to the fact that its economics prizes are not genuine Nobel Prizes, and henceforth list them as such. 

Michael Vernon Wedin, AM’67, PhD’71
Davis, California


Cheers to Robert Michaelson for taking the University to task for its uninformed listing of Nobel laureates associated with the U of C (Letters, Jan–Feb/10). When the revamping of names occurs, after some Chicago-style thought on those who should be claimed, another task should also be undertaken. The ridiculous inclusion of the economics prize (so evidently out of place among the other awards) as a Nobel Prize should not blemish the list on the redone U of C shirt.

Melburn D. Thurman AB’65
Tucson, Arizona


The Rowley–Kass dispute

Edward Lewis complains (Letters, Jan–Feb/10) that he would be interested in knowing of Janet Rowley’s dispute with Leon Kass (“Honor Bound,” Nov–Dec/09), whom he lauds. Lewis’s ignorance of the matter isn’t entirely the fault of the University of Chicago Magazine, since it was briefly reported in the June/04 issue in the About Alumni section. That notice refers to a couple of the many news sources that reported on the matter at the time, but which Lewis also seems to have missed (other sources not mentioned by the Magazine that reported on the matter include the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle, etc.). Before Mr. Lewis concludes that Kass’s behavior was above reproach, he should read the letter cosigned by Elizabeth Blackburn—corecipient of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine—who was dismissed from the President’s Council on Bioethics, chaired by Kass, and by Janet Rowley, who was not dismissed. The letter was published in PLoS Biology, an Open Access journal.

Robert Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73
Evanston, Illinois


That’s Queen Fridge to you

Kudos most certainly for Virginia Blanford’s recollection of the U of C all-kazoo marching band (Letters, Jan–Feb/10). But what? No mention of crowning a refrigerator homecoming queen when the U of C resumed playing football (1971)? But alas, perhaps Ms. Blanford is simply too young to remember.

John David Sturman, DMN’85


The Tea Party continues

I second Mr. Hinkle’s letter (Jan–Feb/10) regarding Dorothy Weil’s crude reference to Tea Party activists. It really was the editorial staff’s responsibility to exclude the note to avoid embarrassing both Ms. Weil and the Magazine. The editors attempt to explain their negligence by claiming to “sincerely believe it had become an acceptable term.” Please. The excuse and apology are so transparently fabricated they insult the intelligence of the reader as well those proclaiming it.

Given the state of the academy today, one is no longer surprised by the jejune, ill-informed opinions reported as fact in any university-associated publication. However, the University is degraded and cheapened by its association with a magazine that flaunts its crudity so proudly. Using the standards of these editors, the University would be better served by associating its name with Hustler or Playboy.

Richard Ptak, MBA’78
Amherst, New Hampshire


Excuse me, but the name teabagger for the group now wishing to be called the Tea Party was coined by themselves until they discovered the term had another unsavory meaning in sexual slang. The members persist in appearing in public with tea bags dangling from their hats and signs saying “tea bag” this and that. However, your name is what you say it is, so if they prefer their newer one, it may be accepted as politically correct. But neither the editors nor I should be sorry about using their earlier moniker: my letter was written several months ago before the semantic flap, and magazines have a lead time that doesn’t permit them to be up to the second. Further, Mr. Hinkle denigrates the Magazine’s editorial staff by stating that because they are probably young, they ought to be up on the latest “sexual deviancy.” Stick to the point made: the free-market economists share the draconian social policies of the right-wing Tea Party group. 

Dorothy Weil, AB’49


Great mag, but the world’s ending

The Nov–Dec/09 edition was the most intensely interesting, emotionally exciting, and thought-provoking edition of any magazine or newspaper I have ever seen. It contained two different sets of evidence of a fundamental system phenomenon operating in the United States that is at risk of bringing the country to a sudden, intensely shocking, and surprising end, unless appropriate countermeasures are taken immediately.

There were 12 letters about an economic belief system often referred to as the Chicago School. That title is misleading, because while I was working on my doctorate in zoology at Chicago from 1951 to 1954, no department other than economics had an atypical belief system. Indeed, I had three professors—Thomas Park, SB’30, PhD’32; Alfred Emerson; and Sewall Wright—who were internationally famous for a completely different belief system.

In addition, there was the article (“Read All About It”) by Tom Mullaney, AM’68, about the collapse of U.S. public interest in newspapers and magazines.

All of these are overviews about how the real world functions, about a large-scale phenomenon that will likely bring the country to a complete end in ten–20 years. Edward de Bono is the leading world thinker about different belief systems for arriving at an overview about how the real world functions. He has written more than 40 books on the subject, but a powerful summary of his analysis is the 173-page Six Thinking Hats. From 1960 to 1980, the dominant approach in the United States was his white-hat system, which develops a complete model of reality by computer analysis of data. Since 1980 control over the country has been seized by an approach that combines the yellow-hat (sunny and positive future) and red-hat views (driven by emotional desires).

The U.S. government, businesses, investment and banking, and all popular media are yellow and red hat, which explains the huge losses of money recently in financial and other areas. Paul Ormerod, one of the world’s most respected economists, says in his book The Death of Economics: “...economic forecasts are the subject of open derision. Throughout the Western world, their accuracy is appalling.” They repeatedly fail to predict enormously important events.

Kenneth E. F. Watt, PhD’54
Davis, California


Grim compared to what?

Regarding your article “Art in Transit” (Chicago Journal, Sept–Oct/09), it seems unfair to categorize the panels and structures as “grim.” A little more legwork by Mr. Fiedler could have pointed out some tangible improvements over the former viaduct conditions that were afforded by these constructs. These panels and structures would provide, to paraphrase [former Vice President for Community Affairs] Hank Webber, “canvases for the next generation of artists,” and without these “grim” panels, local artists Evans, Himmelfarb, Jones, and Burroughs would not have been able to share their future visions with us. The loss of some of the historic murals is indeed deeply lamentable, but this temporary quality is often the nature of the urban mural. However, community members wanted safe, dry, and better-lit conditions within the viaducts, and the freight rail companies forbade connection to the abutment walls, so these “grim” constructs walked a fine line to provide light, capture leakage, provide a safe and clean environment, as well as to continue a decades-long tradition of artistic expression. Aldermen Preckwinkle, AB’69, AM’77, and Hairston, U-High’79; their committed staff members; Webber and the University staff; Chicago Department of Transportation’s Streetscape and Urban Design Group; and DLK Civic Design architect Charles Friedlander deserve credit for listening to the community and responding in a way that was fresh and vital, all while respecting the tradition of urban art within Hyde Park.

Charles Crump


Snapshots of memory

John H. Martin, PhD'53, DB'54

My mother, Phyllis Greife Martin, X’53, was delighted to recognize my father, John
H. Martin, PhD’53, DB’54, in the black-and-white photo on the top corner of page 39 (“The Big 5-0-0,” Nov–Dec/09).

He and my mother were enrolled in the Divinity School in the early 1950s. The photo, of which my mother has a copy, was taken at the 1953 convocation ceremony that she could not attend because she was preparing for their wedding. The other people pictured taking photographs were Mildred Mead, wife of Professor Sidney Mead, AM’38, PhD’40, of the Divinity School; and Stanley Lusby, X’55. My mother, who is 87, called me immediately upon recognizing the photograph and was so pleased to see it in the Magazine.

My father passed away at 85 years old in September 2007. He would have been very proud to see this photo of a significant moment in his life appear in the Magazine.

Todd Martin
New York


Cover shots don’t go unnoticed

I have been disappointed by the lack of diversity on the past year’s University of Chicago Magazine covers. Is there no one of color or other physical characteristic than white male to feature on the cover? For more than 25 years, the U of C has had a goal of increasing campus diversity. It appears it is a goal that Chicago just likes to have and not achieve, based on the Magazine. Keep your blinders on, and maybe no one will notice.

Tom Herzog, AB’89
Long Beach, California

Thank you for reminding us about the importance of cover images. Although we attempt to feature a diverse set of alumni, faculty, and students throughout our pages, we have indeed lapsed on our covers this past year.—Ed.


The business of critical thinking

I was interested to see a New York Times article about teaching critical thinking in business schools (“Multicultural Critical Theory. At B-School?” January 10, 2010). As a College graduate, I thought this was a great and overdue idea. Good decision-making and motivational skills require deeper insights than just accounting and finance skills, insights whose development is the goal of a liberal education. Now that I have children attending and applying to colleges, I can see how few core curricula and other traditional accoutrements of liberal education there are anymore, so maybe it is a good thing for business schools to take up the cudgel.

I was surprised to see the quote from Chicago Booth Dean Snyder, AM’78, PhD’84, stating that the U of C did not follow this trend: “We are happy with what we do, it is good for us and it matches Chicago, our faculty and our values.” Last fall the Magazine printed a cover story (Sept–Oct/09) asking if the Chicago School of Economics was responsible for the crash (that article’s answer was no), and the New Yorker published an article on a similar theme. The impression those articles leave is that the Chicago School was not necessarily wrong, but focused and myopically so. Well, it may make sense for an academic to follow his or her logic and philosophy faithfully, but shouldn’t a business student be driven by pragmatism, learning how to choose among competing explanations, with the view that no one of them has a monopoly on truth? I associate the U of C maybe too strongly with the College, but that is the approach I’d expect a Chicago business school to take.

Jonathan Jacobs, SB’76
Piedmont, California


Read much into rare books

As a graduate of the College now pursuing a PhD in history of science and medicine at Yale, I was delighted to hear of Chicago’s recent acquisition of nearly 4,000 rare medical books [the Stanton A. Friedberg MD Rare Book Collection of Rush University Medical Center at the University of Chicago, made possible through the bequest of the late Erica Reiner, PhD’55, a longtime Oriental Institute professor and editor in charge of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary].

One of the chief reasons I wanted to pursue the history of medicine at Yale was owing to its prestigious Medical Historical Library. I have no doubt that Chicago’s acquisition and its growing emphasis on the history of medicine will attract many advanced scholars and provide valuable opportunities for students in the College.

Tyler J. Griffith, AB’05
New Bern, North Carolina


The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters must be signed and may be edited for space, content, or personal attacks. We encourage writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 401 North Michigan Avnue, Suite 1000, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.