The University of Chicago Magazine June 1996
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The Magazine invites letters on the contents of the magazine or on topics related to the University. Letters for publication, which must be signed, may be edited for length and/or clarity. To ensure the widest range of voices, preference is given to letters of no more than 300 words. Address letters to: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5757 Woodlawn Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. The Internet address is:

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Missing in (dorm) action

I want to reassure recent College alumni (1976-1996) that, notwithstanding the mysterious absence of Shoreland Hall in the dormitory photo essay of the April issue ("Rooms with a View"), the Shoreland is still alive and well on South Shore Drive on its 20th anniversary. The present population in Shoreland is about 650 students, more than one-fourth of all students living in residence halls, and Shoreland is currently one of the favored dorm destinations for both first-year and returning students. A strong community atmosphere prevails there, which contributes to College life. It is up to the editor to explain why one of our dorms is missing from the pages of the Magazine.

Isaac D. Abella
Professor in Physics and the College
Resident Master, Shoreland Hall

Lloyd DeGrane's photo essay focused on two of Chicago's many houses and residence halls; even then, there were several scenes (and photos) that we simply didn't have the room to run, which in itself says something about the vibrancy of dorm life.--Ed.

All in the family

In your dorm story, I noticed the comment that the bathrooms had become coed just recently. In Upper and Lower Flint houses in the late 1980s, when I was there, the bathrooms were completely coed (showers, too). About once a year someone "in charge" would try to attach signs saying "men" and "women." But the signs were quickly removed by the students, who found it too troublesome to walk to the far side of the house to get into the correct bathroom. I think that this arrangement led to a greater feeling of "family" for the house.

Kurt Hoffacker, AB'89
New Britain, Connecticut

Caught in the middle

I have a few comments on "Is This Tax a Candidate?" (April/96). The article omits from discussion some of the most controversial features of the Forbes flat-tax plan, such as the elimination of the mortgage-interest deduction and the exemption of investment income from taxation. All of the flat-tax plans reduce the top rate dramatically. This will obviously reduce the taxes paid by the wealthy. Because the poor cannot afford to pay much in taxes, any increase in their rates will be difficult to collect. The only way to make up the difference is to increase the tax rate for the middle class. Thus, the reduction in the overall rate is actually a wealth transfer from middle-class people to upper-class people.

A more fundamental problem is that the article ignores the effect of the elimination of the mortgage-interest deduction. This deduction is designed to benefit middle-class homeowners. Lower-income people don't usually have mortgages. The deduction is less important for those with large incomes. The elimination of the mortgage- interest deduction transfers wealth from the middle class to the wealthy.

Still more problematic is the article's failure to discuss the plan to exempt dividends and capital gains from taxation. This would allow a person collecting dividends to pay absolutely no tax while another person working at a fast-food restaurant would pay the flat tax. This is grossly unfair. Eliminating this tax may make it easier to fill out a tax return every year, but it will penalize people for working. It would ensure that the wealthy make no contribution to the reduction of the national debt. It would have the potential to transform our society into one resembling pre-revolution France or Russia.

In sum, the flat tax will flatten the middle class.

Edward X. Clinton, AB'88

Don't overtax the tax code

I am pleased that a discussion of the flat tax has found its way to the pages of the University of Chicago Magazine. I am also pleased that there was implication of the most important favorable argument, albeit near the story's end, "The tax code wasn't built for `social engineering,' [GSB professor Austan Goolsbee] says."

Perhaps the most compelling reason for adoption of the flat tax is to separate the revenue code from social and economic legislation. Almost all of the several hundred IRS forms were created as incentives for social and economic activity. It is politically easy for our legislators to "give a tax break" to encourage responsible performance. It is a harder vote to directly put the cost as a line item in the budget. Giving tax credits only shifts the burden proportionally to those not receiving breaks.

As in the discussion of almost all revenue legislation, the focus has been almost entirely on who wins or loses how much. Before nitpicking the life out of a good idea by speculating on details, the basic merits of the concept should be understood.

Bill Phillips, PhB'48, MBA'51

Regressive opinions

Andrew Campbell's flat-tax story should have been marked as an opinion piece, and a misguided one at that. Mr. Campbell writes that "Steve Forbes's proposal...meant tax cuts for everyone." Under Mr. Forbes's flat tax, Bill Gates could retire tomorrow, rake in millions of dollars in investment income and never pay another dime in taxes, while his employees continue to pay out. Where are these "tax cuts for everyone"?

Furthermore, why shouldn't income taxes be progressive? A flat tax becomes regressive, since 10 percent of a middle-class family's income of, say, $25,000 means more to them than 20 percent of an annual income of $1 million, which still leaves $800,000 to spend. I think most of us could manage to live on that.

Victor S. Sloan, AB'80
Westfield, New Jersey

Of dream teams and free agents

I was sorry to read of the impending departure of University of Chicago sociology professor William Julius Wilson ("Chicago Journal," April/96), because I agree that the University will lose a giant. I also congratulate you for publishing news of his departure: Most house organs simply ignore bad or unfavorable news.

Professor Wilson's impending Harvard arrival has prompted talk of a much-ballyhooed "dream team" of black scholars in African-American studies. Since Cornel West decries the "Contract with America" as destroying the fabric of African-American culture and Wilson's research suggests that public policies are responsible for the problems associated with the black community, there could at first be a significant diversity of opinion flowing from the "dream team." Still, I suspect more team members share the worldview of West than that of Wilson.

After he goes to Harvard, can Professor Wilson successfully be "turned" in his outlook, so that he and (one presumes) the rest of the team speak as one? And if so, can he maintain his scholarship at the same high quality that characterized it at Chicago?

It has been said that a Harvard professorship provides the best bully pulpit to influence government from within the academy, and the temptation to preach from there will be enormous. Intellectually, the difference between the two models I have suggested is the difference between a university and a cheerleading squad. We'll be watching....

Grant A. Williams
Washington, D.C.

In step with the dance of life

Memories came flooding back to me as I read Lawrence Seiver's letter on dancing classes at Ida Noyes Hall ("Letters," April/96). In 1946, as a World War II veteran returning to complete my college education, I had to take a physical-education course. I chose ballroom dancing at Ida Noyes, under the tutelage of Miss Ballweber, who taught us the fox trot, waltz, and tango. She so liked the progress of our group that by the end of the 1946-47 academic year she had arranged for a presentation before the Chicago Dance Council. My partner and I demonstrated our version of the tango.

Encouraged by my progress, I then took private lessons at Teresa Dolan's dance studio on 63rd Street, where I learned to jitterbug. Once a week I ventured into the Empire-style interior of the Trianon Ballroom on Cottage Grove Avenue and danced to the music of the big bands.

About this time, I met my wife-to-be, Mary E. Darrow, SB'43, at an officer's dance in Chicago. As to the dance of life, our six children have given us eight grandchildren. May ballroom dancing always be a part of the program at Ida Noyes Hall.

Thomas J. Whitby, PhB'47, AM'52
Littleton, Colorado

The prime of Mr. Becker...

I wonder how many readers noticed the error in the equation on the blackboard just beneath Professor Becker's right hand in the photograph on the inside back cover of your April issue. There is a missing prime denoting differentiation on the right side of the equation, namely f(a) should be f '(a).

Professor Becker has no doubt noticed the omission, to his mortification. I don't ordinarily nitpick to the extent of carefully inspecting a blackboard full of math in an advertisement, but this one just jumped out as I casually looked to see what Becker was lecturing about. Such little omissions have from time to time infected my own blackboard math in the "din of battle" during a lecture, so Professor Becker's small lapse is a familiar one. I write to remind your editorial staff of the mercilous scrutiny under which they labor. Nice magazine, though!

Jay Burns, SM'51, PhD'60
Indialantic, Florida

...and the prime of Mr. J.

The account of the interview with Mr. J. conducted by Dr. Bruckner in "Bedside Manners" ("Course Work," February/96) was rather confusing, to wit: "...Retired after 27 years as a domestic-violence counselor with the Chicago police, the 71-year-old Mr. J. went to college on a football scholarship...."

He must have been quite a guy to be able to go to college and play football at all, let alone on an athletic scholarship, at 71. Maybe the run-ins with violence in the course of his job toughened him up enough to do that. But I still wonder?

Nancy E. Surkin, PhB'44
San Francisco

Crew news

The U of C Crew would like to get our newsletter--Lagoon Maroon, last published in 1993-94--back into publication, with articles by members and alumni about rowing experiences as well as information on U of C Crew-sponsored alumni events. If you are a past rower interested in keeping in touch with rowing buddies--or if you'd like to keep up with the U of C group engaged in this incredible sport as we update our equipment and search for a permanent coach--please send your name and address to: Tammy Servies, 7206 Ohio Place, Hammond, IN 46323-2511 (E-mail: teservie@midway.uchicago. edu). The crew also has a Web site at

Tammy Servies, '98
Hammond, Indiana

The Magazine invites letters on its contents or on topics related to the U of C. Letters must be signed and may be edited. Preference is given to letters of fewer than 300 words. Write: Editor, University of Chicago Magazine, 5757 Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:

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