The University of Chicago Magazine

October-December 1996


Efficient at what?

Abner Mikva, JD'51, is thus quoted in "Dissenting Opinion" (August/96): "Government is incredibly efficient. The problem is there's no newsworthiness in that...." My question is, "Efficient compared to what?" If one spends an entire career in government and education, as Mikva apparently has, does one really have a good basis for comparing the efficiency of government to that of the private sector?

Further, Paine, O'Rourke, and Reagan (also quoted in the article) were not concerning themselves with government's efficiency alone. For many, the real issue is not the efficiency of government, but its largesse. Hovering at about 20­24 percent of the GNP over the past quarter century, it has obviously become the dominant industry in the world's dominant economy. While I'm in awe of Mikva's accomplishments and public-service records, I heartily disagree with his apparent attitude about the role and extent of government.

Edward Oehler, MBA'91
Crystal Lake, Illinois

Mikva's fatal flaw

The career of Judge Mikva is blemished by the failure of this highly talented and well-intentioned government official to have an essential understanding of, and faith in, the basic foundations of rule of law, freedom, and democracy. His career fight for the use of unconstitutional government violence against the keeping and bearing of firearms by his fellow citizens marks the fatal flaw of his failure to understand the basics of the social sciences or to be acquainted with basic history. He is one of those most dangerous enemies of freedom and peace, those who believe that good intentions excuse all crimes and that government power can solve all problems, regardless of science, history, individual rights, and the constitutional system of checks and balances between the citizens and the government.

I certainly admire Judge Mikva for his many humanitarian contributions and his patriotism, but admiration is not appropriate when I know that he knows that thousands of women are needlessly exposed to rape, and are raped, because powerful men who live in safe neighborhoods won't trust them to carry guns. Admiration is not appropriate when I know that he should understand that the principles of the Athenian hoplite franchise remain basic to the political empowerment of the people against the power elite. He should understand from the history of this century the dangers of giving those in power a monopoly of force.

Mikva had a responsibility to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, including the Second and Fourteenth Amendments, and his good intentions do not excuse the very real cost--in lives and freedom--of gun control, nor the long-term risk to the world of a U.S. government that could not be physically restrained by its people.

Education and compassion are better than force of arms, when the countervailing force of arms allows the time. Abner Mikva's legacy of illegal government violence will extend beyond his years of public service, and the bitterness of the harvest will become more apparent to us all. The hubris of those, including Judge Mikva, who conduct their public life with good intentions and with the ends justifying the means, is costly to all of us, perhaps the more so when so much else merits admiration.

Edwin T. Lee, AB'72
Fort Worth, Texas

Alumni valentine

How nice that you gave a valentine to Abner Mikva, a real, old-fashioned liberal, after all the sanctimonious truckling to the Milton Friedman types and bottom-line-is-the-only-thing-that-counts clones.

Judith H. Greenberg, AB'47
New York City

Education department threatened

The reputation of the Department of Education at the University of Chicago is such that the message that it is under threat has reverberated around Australia as a shock wave.

I entered the department in October 1971. It was an intellectually wonderful experience, affecting every aspect of my work, including the generations of students that I have taught. One of the outstanding features of the department was that its staff were invariably appointed jointly with other departments. As a result, students not only got the benefit of an education department, but of the University as a whole. We were also encouraged to take units of study in other departments. The department also facilitated making contact with former students and staff. Part of the extraordinary experience was to be in a department with very able students from all over the world as well as the U.S.

Departments do get run down--this is inevitable. If at some time there are 30 to 40 staff in their own 30s and 40s, they are bound to age together. Careful decisions need to be made in order to keep rejuvenating the department, and perhaps these decisions were not made as carefully as they could have been. However, this may be the time to rejuvenate, rather than get rid of, the department. The philosophy and intellectual spirit at Chicago is such that education as a field deserves its attention. You perhaps should seek appointments of people, as when I was there, who could also hold their own in other disciplines and departments.

In many other parts of the world now, education is being mainstreamed and seen as a legitimate area of study. Chicago pioneered this. It is important that it maintains its presence.

David Andrich, PhD'73
Nedlands, Western Australia

Several other alumni wrote the Magazine to protest the news that, in late summer, following a yearlong review of the Department of Education, Social Sciences Dean Richard Saller recommended that the department be phased out over a five-year period--with the possibility of placing its research and training functions in an interdisciplinary committee made up of faculty from across the University. A fuller account of Dean Saller's recommendation and of the reviews that preceded it appears in "Chicago Journal," page 10.--Ed.

Defending a department's reputation

D ean Saller's remarks in the August 26, 1996, editions of the Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times have vindicated my wife's opinion that my donations to the University funds are a waste of good money. She's always telling me that the University doesn't actually care about me and that the best I can hope for is that it won't make life more difficult than it already is. She really was right, and I hate admitting it, but now it is plain that the University of Chicago will not hesitate to make my life more difficult.

Dean Saller's disparaging remarks on the "inferior" quality of that department's faculty and research will reflect equally on all graduates of the department no matter what the quality of their work. As a graduate (PhD'88) of the U of C's Department of Education and as a recipient of a Spencer Foundation dissertation fellowship (1987), I am confident that the work I completed at Chicago is of the highest quality. Having received salary increases of 15 percent or more in four of the last five years, I am certain that my employers also find my work to be of the highest quality.

I can see the need for change at the University of Chicago. In fact, my own work in outcomes measurement makes me one of the leading proponents for just the changes that are being considered. Irresponsible and ill-considered remarks such as Dean Saller's do irreparable damage, however. I hope that the University will soon come out with a definite plan on the Department of Education's future, and make an official apology for Dean Saller's comments. I also think you should provide the media with the evidence of the department's history of highly superior research (the list of Spencer Fellows alone is quite impressive).

Finally, if you're ever going to convince me, much less my wife, that giving to the University of Chicago is worthwhile, you're going to have to show that you're maintaining and enhancing the credentials associated with our degrees. We'll be watching.

William P. Fisher, Jr., AM'84, PhD'88
New Orleans

Solar power

Though one expects great investigative news out of Chicago science, seldom have we seen examples as stimulating as that under "Forecast: Cloudy" ("Investigations," August/96). Here indeed is the kind of work that makes the University worth supporting.

The immediate question that springs to mind is: "Where have the sun and solar system, including Earth, been in previous epochs--i.e., more than 10,000 years ago?" And then, in follow up, "What else might such positionings imply for life on Earth?"

Surely, this theory of Frisch and Welty's looks like a better lead on the questions of evolution and mass extinctions than much of the current speculation. We can only look forward to further results from their research.

Clyde Curry Smith, DB'54, AM'61, PhD'68
River Falls, Wisconsin

Waiving the U of C flag

The notice in your June/96 edition that the College will waive its application fees for children of alumni has struck me as extremely ill-fitting with the philosophy that for me has always been the hallmark of the U of C. Judging people individually by their personal merits, whatever their background, may not always have been perfectly achieved, but was certainly the ideal to be reached for.

To violate now that principle of equality without any particular reason seems quite strange to me. Children of U of C graduates do not, on average, form a particularly disadvantaged group of people. As much as I appreciate U of C alumni, I do not see on what grounds it could be justified to favor their children compared to other people's children. I am even convinced that the majority of U of C alumni, who value the principle of individual merit not least because they have been educated at Chicago, would prefer not to sell their beliefs for the $55 their children might save one day.

Martin Ulbrich, AM'91
Brussels, Belgium

It ain't got that swing

In the June/96 issue of the University of Chicago Magazine, there is an interesting article on the Oriental Institute Museum. It is only marred by a reference to Chicago's "pendulous weather extremes." Need I point out that weather does not swing like a pendulum? Or hang down?

More colorful writing, yes, but not like this! Lexicographically yours,

Leah Spilberg Joseph, AB'39,AM'40

Author's query

I am working on a book about three public intellectuals who were associated with Chicago during the Hutchins era. They are: English faculty member Richard M.Weaver; Wayne Booth, AM'47, PhD'50; and Richard Rorty, AB'49, AM'52. Former students, colleagues, and classmates of these three men are invited to write me at 910 Kennebec Avenue,
Takoma Park, MD 20912, or by e-mail:

Michael Schoop, AB'89
Takoma Park, Maryland

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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