The University of Chicago Magazine

June 1997


Puns intended

On the cover of the April/97 Magazine, I was confronted by "Just What the Doctors Ordered" and "Duchossois Center...puts Chicago on the cutting edge." This is appalling.

I suffered "Medium and the Message" and "Focus on Film." "Top of His Game" is illustrated with playing cards and seems to be about mathematics. Then we have "Reel Scholarship" and "Saving Grace."

Among your editorial ranks, have you considered "Mary Ruth Does Yoe(man's) Work"? "Carroll to Conduct Carols"? "Kimberly Sweet Says Nothing(s) Would Be Nicer"? For an issue on cloning, can you use "The Ewe of Chicago Magazine"? "Ewe Make Me Feel So Young"? "Clone Rangers at U of C"? "Bring in the Clones"?

Please remember that you are editing for mature graduates of a major university, not readers of USA Today.

Eugene D. Balsley, AB'51; Claysville, Pennsylvania

In the mind's eye

Your article on Larry Wos ("Top of His Game") in the April/97 issue rang some long-silent bells in my memory. In the winter of 1953, I was taking the electricity and magnetism part of the intro physics course, in which Larry was also enrolled. He asked me to read some materials to him, which I agreed to do.

About twice a week, Larry would arrive at the Burton Lounge about eight o'clock. His guide dog was probably the ugliest Doberman I have ever seen, but, of course, she was not chosen for her physical attributes. She would lie down quietly, and we would get to work.

My main task was to read the chapter-end problems to Larry so that he could transcribe them into Braille. This was a fairly routine task until we got to the circuit diagrams. It then became my task to describe elaborate electrical networks to him. I would do this by saying something like: "Beginning at the upper left-hand corner, there is a 400-ohm resistor, then a 120-picofarad capacitor. Then you come to a junction. Going to the left, you have...along the second branch you have...." I would proceed to describe an elaborate, multi-branch network as best I could.

Larry never missed a step. He took few notes; as far as I could tell, he mainly memorized these configurations and stored them in his mind until he could work out the problems based on them. When, years later, Stephen Hawking attributed his keen analytical ability to the fact that he had to keep a lot of things in mind because it was difficult to write them down, I knew exactly what he meant, because I had seen Larry Wos do the same thing.

I was delighted to read about Larry and the notable contributions he has since made to computer science and mathematics.

Lawrence S. Lerner, AB'53, SM'55, PhD'62; Woodside, California

Editors lose to reader, 1-0

I realize that the U of C is pretty rusty at reporting the activities of its sports teams, but I felt it was necessary to set the record straight regarding the "Birdwatching" item in the April/97 issue. When reporting sports scores, the high score always comes first-even if the home team lost. Your article should have said the men's basketball team "made it to the third round of the NCAA Division III championships before falling to Methodist College of North Carolina, 74-70." That the 70 belongs to the Maroons is understood within the context of the sentence. By next year we should all have this down-and then again, maybe you won't have to write anything about the Maroons losing. Go team!

Julia Giardina Shawhan, AM'91;Chicago

Speaking out on the College

As an alumnus and faculty member I must comment on "Building the U of C's Future on a Strong Cornerstone" (Oct.-Dec./96).

First, to say "a larger College enrollment could be in the picture" is to understate. The president has said openly that he wishes to expand the College substantially in order to increase short-run tuition revenue and long-run alumni revenue.

Second, in his communications of last spring, the president told the faculty (among other things) that their numbers would be cut, that there would be more students, and that the education we give would simultaneously improve. Within a week, the Council of the University Senate received a protest signed by fully a quarter of the 500 faculty who teach in the College, including many department chairs and named professors. They demanded a "year of reflection" on the proposed changes. Faculty feel that many aspects of Mr. Sonnenschein's program strike at the heart of the University and aim to make us more like the Ivy League than like Chicago.

Third, the administration openly wants to weaken the Core curriculum, reducing it considerably in size and, in particular, cutting requirements that seem onerous to 17-year-olds. The president has had such academic matters as grading and requirements studied by a market-research firm, apparently fearing to trust the nation's best social-sciences division. The study has been used to support his claim that the College is "too difficult" and "no fun." As the chair of the Committee on Social Thought, Robert Pippin, put it to the Chronicle of Higher Education, many faculty think the president envisions a "University of Chicago lite."

I could go on. The fact is that the president's plan has upset many faculty: not just College loyalists, but faculty of all types and attitudes and locations. Many of us feel he envisions a university fundamentally different from the university we came to and sacrifice for. Alumni should take a strong stand on this matter..

Andrew Abbott, AM'75, PhD'82; Professor in Sociology and the College, Former Master, Social Sciences Collegiate Division

Dean of the College John W. Boyer, AM'69, PhD'75, responds to Andrew Abbott's letter: Alumni should indeed be interested in the University's efforts to maintain the excellence of the College and its curriculum. The latest of those efforts, a review of the curriculum by the College faculty, is nearing an end this spring.

Any curriculum, even one as venerable as Chicago's, needs to be interrogated from time to time, with an eye to strengthening ongoing practices. Because our curriculum is so different from that of most colleges and universities, it is especially important that we pause periodically and think about what we are doing and why. The current review--begun last year, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the conclusion of our last review--is being conducted by a relatively large group of faculty from all of the collegiate divisions; we expect to conclude our work in the fall.

One of the review's most important goals is to strengthen and revalidate our Core curriculum. Thus, we have undertaken a careful review of how effectively the Core is taught, how coherent the Core sequences actually are, how well the current sequences live up to the goals associated with the ideals of general education that we have set for ourselves over the past 50 years, and how the Core relates to the rest of the undergraduate curriculum, especially our concentration programs.

We do plan to expand the size of the College over the next decade, just as it grew over the past decade. I am committed to making the upcoming expansion happen in ways that will preserve the best traditions of our curriculum--including small classes and seminar-style teaching. And most important of all, teaching by the faculty at all levels, from the Core through the concentrations. I am also committed to expanding the size of our applicant pool before the College grows significantly. We will do this without changing our commitment to admitting the talented and academically motivated students who have characterized the College for generations.

Native of the north

As a native and part-year resident of northern Minnesota, I was interested to read about Barbara West and her position as superintendent of Voyageurs National Park ("Northern Exposure," April/97). Ms. West's comments help to show why the park is not accepted by northern Minnesota residents.

My ancestors immigrated to the region in the 1890s; they never made much money and almost certainly could have done much better if they had moved south to Duluth or Minneapolis-St. Paul. However, they chose to stay because they loved the outdoors. My father passed his love of camping, hunting, and fishing to me. I regard my love of the northern Minnesota outdoors as an important part of my heritage.

It appears that Ms. West has not yet come to understand how deeply northern Minnesota residents treasure their outdoor heritage. In the article, she says, "We're competing with people's fleeting images of the past. They remember undisturbed beer parties on an island...."

It's difficult to imagine how Ms. West could have been more insulting. I've never been to a beer party on an island, in northern Minnesota or elsewhere. I do, however, treasure the memories and photographs of camping and fishing trips with my family to Lake Kabetogama, now part of Voyageurs.

Often polls are cited showing that a majority of Minnesotans support the federal government's presence in northern Minnesota. However, one should realize that the region's natives have relatively little in common with residents of the mall-choked suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul. Northern Minnesotans often regard people from "The Cities" as unwelcome visitors. Unless Ms. West develops more sensitivity for the outdoor heritage of her new neighbors, that is how she will be regarded as well.

John Callister, MBA'93; Angola, Indiana

Documenting DOC's birth

In reference to "Reel Scholarship" (April/97), DOC Films is even older than alleged. The Documentary Film Group was organized by three students circa 1935. Its name came from its having started by showing films from the 16mm circulating collection of the film library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, established that year. The MoMA library featured a collection of British documentary shorts-because they were readily available (before negotiations with Hollywood studios were completed, is my guess); because the curator of films, Iris Barry, was English; and because missionaries like Paul Rotha and others from the British documentary movement founded by John Grierson visited the U.S. around that time. Later, and ever afterwards, DOC Films rarely showed a documentary; their programs became resolutely feature-length fiction.

Jack C. Ellis, AM'48Evanston, Illinois

DOC's Web site ( cites 1932 as the founding date.--Ed.

African-American anomaly

I read with interest your "Chicago Journal" note about James Bowman and the African-American Legacy project (April/97), remembering a rather unusual piece of this history that occurred in the Graduate School of Business. The GSB graduated about a half-dozen blacks between 1924 and 1947. Then, in 1947, five blacks received their M.B.A.s, after which the number returned to a dribble.

I'm not quite certain what the full explanation for this unusual peak may have been. For me, as one of these five, it was the passage of the GI Bill of Rights in the closing months of WWII that made it possible for me to seek admission to a first-rate university. This was probably true of some of the others as well.

Robert S. Browne, MBA'47; Teaneck, New Jersey

The R in CPR stands for relief

The article by John Lantos ("Life Support," February/97) struck a particular note. Three days ago, while on a family outing in the mountains near Tokyo, I found myself for the second time in my life having to use the CPR from my U of C scuba class. A woman had collapsed in a small souvenir stand. Although the onlookers at first assumed epilepsy, a call soon went out for anyone who knew first aid. I went, detected no pulse, and did what I could until the ambulance arrived.

The first time I used CPR, it was early in the morning on the bike path near McCormick Place, nobody around, and the man died in my arms. This time there was the woman's daughter, beyond tears, and a crowd of bewildered onlookers. Yesterday the woman's son called to thank me for my efforts, and to tell me that she had died.

This morning I encountered John Lantos's article with a sense of relief. That CPR's rate of success is so low came as no surprise to me. But reading that a doctor's reactions were the same as mine helped me while reflecting on that nightmarish situation. In retrospect it is strange: CPR can no doubt save lives. However, for the family of the woman whom I tried to save, CPR served to give the family some slight sense of relief--that at least someone tried.

Alec Weil, AB'77; Tokyo

The education of Leo Rosten

The recent death of Leo Rosten, PhB'30, PhD'37--who wrote such enduring works as the Hyman Kaplan stories and The Joys of Yiddish, which made Jewish culture and particularly the Jewish folk language a part of our common speech--brought forth many sometimes-poignant memories, as I was possibly his closest friend in high school and at the University of Chicago, and at other times and places. We would see each other almost every day and, at times, all day. His mother would inquire, "What can you and Elmer talk about so much?"

Leo was born in Lodz, Poland, and came to this country as an infant. He was intrigued by everything that he saw and heard, and wrote about such things both as an entertainer and as an astute scholar. He wrote the first comprehensive study of the Washington correspondents. He analyzed Hollywood both as a sociologist and as one who wrote some of the best film scripts. He wrote of the psychiatrists in our daily lives, such as in his book Captain Newman, M.D., made into a film.

When the famous U of C scholar Dr. Charles E. Merriam worked with Leo on his doctoral dissertation, he was intrigued that so original a storyteller would want to devote himself to scholarly pursuits. He once asked Leo if he really wanted a higher academic degree, and when Leo asked his reason for such an inquiry, Dr. Merriam replied: "Hyman Kaplan must go on!"

Leo studied in London and in Moscow and taught at several universities. He turned all of his academic experiences into highly readable short stories, novels, and films. He became the associate editor of Look in that magazine's heyday, filling its columns with stories of great artists and philosophers.When Leo first began to write, for the publications at Crane Technical High School, there was something almost feverish in what he wrote. In time he became more disciplined. He polished his skills, and, by the end of his career, he was one of the distinguished creative persons of the day.

I was privileged to be so close to him, and I shall never forget that when we were young he inscribed a book of Shelley's poetry: "For Elmer, guide, philosopher, and friend--and more." I could have written something similar for Leo.

Elmer Gertz, PhB'28, JD'30; Chicago

Leo Rosten died on March 3; an obituary appears in this online edition (go to Departments, "Deaths," below).--Ed.

Study of former Ford scholars

In 1951, Chicago joined 11 other American colleges and universities in a five-year experimental program sponsored by the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education. Its purpose was to grant early admission to gifted students who had finished only two or three years of high school, and then track their progress. (Of course, this wasn't a new idea at Chicago.)

For my M.L.A. thesis at the University, I plan a follow-up study of the Ford scholars at two of the institutions, including the U of C. What do scholars think about having gone to college early? Did they miss, in retrospect, not having a "normal" teenage existence? Do they think going to college early was the best way for them to be educated at that point in their lives? How to educate the most able students is still a relevant question, and these Ford scholars may shed some light on the subject.

There is no list of Ford scholars who attended Chicago from 1951 through 1954, so I am writing to ask them to contact me at 2440 N. Lake View Ave., Apt. 7D, Chicago, IL 60614, or by E-mail:

Evelyn L. Ruskin; Chicago

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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