The University of Chicago Magazine

April 1997


First encounters

I read about Professor Katie Trumpener's students and their first experiences with children's literature ("Opening Chapters," February/97) with real interest. I'm a resident assistant in a University dormitory, and some of my residents have commented on the small but carefully selected grouping of classics from my childhood that grace my shelf.

Were I to choose one that I have read over and over, it's William Pene du Bois's The Twenty-One Balloons. The story is a magical one of a world traveler waylaid in a colony of eccentric millionaires in Krakatoa shortly before the big explosion. The sense of wonder and technology in the book never fail to amaze me, and the power of travel so clearly expressed by the adventures of one William Waterman Sherman still pops up in my subconscious whenever I sit to work on my B.A. paper, which is a historical analysis of the significance of a certain highway in Japan. How travel can transform people's lives--and serve to imbue and reify certain locales with the imprimatur of legitimacy and importance--still fascinates me. The Twenty-One Balloons in many ways started me on this way of thinking, way back when.

Our first encounters with books--which usually mean children's literature--can shape us for the rest of our lives. I was so delighted reading of others' accounts in the Magazine.

Kevin Bogart, '97, The College

The healing game

I read John D. Lantos's article, "Life Support" (February/97) with interest and sympathy. He eloquently writes of many different ways of doing one's best--privately and publicly, personally and professionally--and how it does matter, even though there is "no immediately apparent endpoint." In one line, however, he refers to his "clinic for the incurables."

What these children (and all the rest of us, too, as Dr. Lantos points out) need is help for what is changeable in their lives: their pain, their hunger, their isolation. This is the help his father gave and received, the help his father-in-law was given, the help that Bethann gave her mother, and the help that Dr. Lantos and I try to give our patients every day. I was sorry to see this one line of pessimism in a paper that really does describe hope in sadness. Life, after all, is a sexually transmitted, incurable disease for all of us.

Miriam A. Kalichman, AB'73, Chicago

To hear is to heal

Please convey my compliments and thanks to John D. Lantos for his story, "Life Support." He reassures me that there are still concerns in the medical community for doing the humane things for individuals, a concern I was thinking had been lost forever. From a recent round of medical examinations and tests, I emerged feeling that I had been beaten up, physically and emotionally, and that no one cared about the results of this experience. American physicians seem to have forgotten one of the most healing of all activities: to listen.

Dr. Lantos also helped me to see what happened to the Clintons' effort to reform health care. It appears that we are headed for a future in which only the wealthy get decent medical care. The rest of us apparently have elected cowards to develop public policy, and we may have lost the capacity to stand up to a large vested industry and insist that it serve more than one constituency. Shame on us.

Kristina Replogle Sullivan, Mount Vernon, OH

More to the Yerkes story

The John Franch article, "Astronomical Figures" (February/97), focuses upon the nonastronomical figure Charles Yerkes and is a close copy of Franch's September 1995 piece in Sky & Telescope. There were many more interesting "astronomical figures" in the history of Yerkes Observatory than Charles Yerkes.

One such figure is Alvan Clark, of the opticians Alvan Clark & Sons, who obtained the flint and crown-glass blanks from Paris to fill the University of Southern California's order for a 40-inch telescope objective lens. Clark received an honorary degree from the old University of Chicago in 1866, the year the 18 1/2-inch telescope was installed there. It originally was ordered by the University of Mississippi, which could not take delivery because of the outbreak of the Civil War. The Chicago Astronomical Society bought it and had it installed in the Dearborn Observatory, then part of the Old University, in 1889. The observatory was acquired by Northwestern University but was not deeded to Northwestern until 1929, when the telescope's mounting was changed. The old mounting was given to the Adler Planetarium, where it can now be seen. As a U of C freshman, employed by the Planetarium, I had the pleasurable task of reassembling this old mounting for display.

After USC notified Clark of its inability to pay for the 40-inch telescope, Alvan Clark met George Ellery Hale and discussed the possibility of the U of C's purchasing the telescope design. At this point one can append Mr. Franch's story about Charles Yerkes. However, the story should not end there, because a great deal of astronomical research was accomplished at Yerkes.

Readers with Internet access might select the Astrophysical Journal Centennial ( for an account of 100 years of astronomical research, written by Donald Osterbrock, PhB'48, SB'48, SM'49, PhD'52 [whose history of Yerkes was featured in our February article--Ed.].

Ralph Mansfield, SB'35, SM'37, Santa Rosa, CA

Let Chicago stay Chicago

Stephen Longmire's letter (February/97) eloquently expressed the misgivings many of us feel about plans to enlarge the College. It is common practice in American universities for undergraduate colleges to be treated as cash cows to support expensive graduate and professional programs. Chicago has been nearly unique in resisting this trend. From the Hutchins era to the present, the College has remained committed to small discussion classes, taught by regular faculty, within an intellectually coherent curriculum. The College's integrity has been preserved precisely by not allowing it to be treated as an adjunct of the graduate programs, either as a supplier of revenue or as a practice-teaching ground for doctoral candidates.

When I first read of the plans to expand the College I naively thought the intent was to encourage faculty to do more undergraduate and less graduate teaching--not necessarily a bad idea. But Mr. Longmire surely has it right: The intent is to bring in more money to support high-priced graduate programs, and this must mean that more of the College's instruction would be carried out by low-priced graduate students or in high-enrollment lecture courses. This would signal the end of the College as we have known it.

The relationship between the College and the graduate programs has arguably been the central issue in the history of the University. Surely the guiding principle in addressing this issue must be that the College is not merely an appendage of the Divisions but their equal partner; for just as undergraduates benefit by being taught by a distinguished research faculty, so too does the vitality of the University as a center of scholarship depend upon its dedication to the liberal education of undergraduates. It is not mere rhetoric to say that the Divisions have a vital interest in preserving the College as the embodiment of their own essential and abiding purposes. My concern, like Mr. Longmire's, is that President Sonnenschein and his colleagues do not appear to recognize how harmful to the University it would be to expand and remodel the College on Harvard or state-university lines. At the very least they must be aware that such an expansion could not be accomplished without significantly lowering the quality of the student body.

The editor's reply to Mr. Longmire's letter, with its blather about giving more of the world's best students the benefits of a Chicago education, was disingenuous and unpersuasive.

Irwin J. Schulman AB'51, AM'54, Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Return of the native

Upon hearing rumors that sweeping changes had befallen the campus, I drove down from Milwaukee with my brother to see what was up.

My brother and I visited the Barnes & Noble bookstore as well as what I can only guess used to be the "C" Shop. These among other physical changes to the University were a bit shocking, and I admit I was saddened by some of them. While my brother and I were walking through the quads, we walked between a male and female student who were standing on the sidewalk talking. As we passed, I distinctly heard the male say to the female, "Okay, I'll call you tonight." After the initial shock wore off, I tried to explain it away. Perhaps they were in the same class and had some project to do together. Or maybe they were brother and sister who both went to the U of C. It seemed if I tried hard enough, I could come up with numerous reasonable explanations.

But my attempt to pass off what had happened disappeared as we walked toward the hallowed grounds of the Seminary Co-op. I saw in the distance a sight from which I still have not totally recovered: In front of the Co-op door stood two U of C students kissing. And not just a peck: They were kissing from the time I first saw them until I passed by. True, I don't know for certain that they were U of C students, but they looked like U of C students (except for the fact that they were kissing).

I was a student at the U of C for four long years and not once was I witness to a display such as I saw in my two-hour visit to the University--during winter quarter, no less.

I admit the place might not have been perfect when I went there, and maybe a few changes were in order, but please, let's grab the reins. Clearly, things have gotten way out of control. What's next, calendars featuring skimpily clad students of the College? Perhaps a return to Division I football? Maybe Gary Barnett wants a real challenge or perhaps Mike Ditka would like to coach the real Monsters of the Midway.

Joseph J. Charlier, AB'94, New Berlin, WI

The only good Bill of Rights is...

In her letter attacking our tradition of firearms possession (February/97), Ann Morrissett Davidon, X'47, makes a classic statement of paternalistic liberalism: "I definitely do not trust guns in the hands of most of the individuals who possess them." In her concern over safety and doubts about the deterrent quality of possession, the writer is under the impression that "statistics and common sense" bear out her arguments. While you would never know it from much of the mainline press, this is not the case. Few people are aware, for instance, that the fatal firearm accident rate per capita, as reported by the National Safety Council, has been falling for decades and is now at an all-time low. Incidentally, this has nothing to do with any government action, but stems from the safety-consciousness taught to new shooters by the "gun nuts" the writer is so wary of. On some of the other issues broached in her letter, Ms. Davidon needs to examine some recent studies, for example, those of Gary Kleck or Chicago's own John Lott.

Ms. Davidon goes on to embrace a form of the "living Constitution" argument: The Second Amendment nowadays should say something different from what it originally said. This amounts to saying that the Bill of Rights means whatever the prevailing zeitgeist amongst federal judges says it means. A "living" Bill of Rights is as good as no Bill of Rights at all.

Patrick J. Lally, PhD'92, Youngstown, OH

Intellectual food fight

I thoroughly enjoyed Jessica Abel's cartoon feature, "Scenes From the 50th Annual Latke-Hamentasch Symposium," in the February issue. As the originator and sponsor of the Latke-Hamentasch Symposium, Hillel is delighted to see that it has earned a such a prominent place in the heart of the University community.

Rabbi Suzanne B. Griffel, Acting Director, Newberger Hillel Center

Chauncey Boucher, where are you?

As a gift for a friend who recently turned 50 and who spent (as did I) a year in a room of Chauncey Boucher Hall, at the corner of Ingleside and 53rd Street, during the 1970-71 academic year, I am looking for a photograph of that building (preferably in black and white). I have tried the University Archives, the Hyde Park Historical Society, the Metropolitan Chicago YMCA (the building had been a YMCA college until the University acquired it), and I have an outstanding request in at the Chicago Public Library, but to date I have not unearthed one photograph.

I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has a photo of Boucher or from anyone who would be willing to photograph it for me if it still stands in all of its aging brick glory.

Jim Kelly, X'71, Amherst, MA

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, 1313 E. 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail:

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