The University of Chicago Magazine

October 1997


Bloom's day, I

In the mid-1950s I was a student of Allan Bloom, PhB'49, AM'53, PhD'55 ("Bloom in Review," August/97), not on the quads but at the Downtown Center on Dearborn Street. I had finagled my way into the Basic Program for Adults-a program for mature professionals seeking roundtable discussions. I was a 20-year-old South Side Irish Catholic, a blue-collar worker, a graduate of a trade school who convinced the faculty that I might belong in such a program.

On Saturday mornings, Allan Bloom and his colleagues would open with intellectual intimidation-perhaps silence, or a question that seemed opaque-but, more often than not, I-the wise fool-would break the ice. What would ensue was mental wrestling. At the end of the mornings, Lucy's expressed sympathy for Charlie Brown after an especially brutal day would have been most apt: "Sometimes you win; sometimes you lose." The class's could have been Charlie's response: "That would be so nice!"

I don't think any one of us ever left a Bloom seminar feeling superior to those who would be our children and grandchildren-today's students. I do think we enjoyed not only a passion for reading but also the tough wrestling with ideas-and the erotic equivalent that comes from intense discussion of the ideas found in the "big" books.

In the seminar room, I did not find the narrowness of thought in Bloom that the article describes-sarcasm, yes-about feminism (there were feminists in the 1950s albeit less organized), Marxism, or other ideas, naive and unsophisticated as they might be, as long as they were equally provocative and confrontational.

After my first quarter, I received a scholarship to continue in the Basic Program. Larzer Ziff, AM'50, PhD'55, another faculty member, recommended that I apply to Amherst College after completing my apprenticeship. I did. With "plump" letters of recommendation from the Basic Program faculty, I received a full scholarship-despite not meeting Amherst's admissions requirements. After Amherst and Harvard, I returned to Chicago for my Ph.D. None of that would have been probable without Allan Bloom and the faculty of the Basic Program.

I still have a tie to Bloom et al.: They presented me with a fork in the road, and I turned to university teaching.

Edward S. Todd, PhD'69 Huntington, New York


Bloom's day, II

In "Bloom in Review," John Easton reported an exchange between panelists Rohit Khanna, a U of C student, and a Professor Zinman of Michigan State. Khanna charged current students with intellectual apathy. Zinman responded, "Who are you guys, and why should we be lulled into believing you're not dangerous?"

In fall 1988, I was a "Bloom transfer," a tag for students who left our former colleges for the U of C, due, to a considerable degree, to Bloom's provocative Closing of the American Mind. During O-Week Bloom was the buzz. Talk about Bloom easily led to great questions and great authors. To this day I credit Allan Bloom for opening the doorway to serious intellectual inquiry to more than a few lonely students.

For some of us, classes were primarily a means to better understanding the just, the noble, and the good, and secondarily a means to a degree. The conversations we had, in the classroom and out, remain the fondest memories of my life, and the friendships we forged in our common effort are the most enduring. Ten years later, our reflections and discussions on the perennial questions with which Bloom and the Straussians challenged students continue.

Even at the very serious U of C, not every student burns with zeal for the disinterested pursuit of the truth. Safely protected in the world of business, I can say at no risk that the divide between serious and apathetic students would not exist if professional educators knew what and how to teach. But, thanks to Bloom and the Straussian "movement," some students are getting their money's worth.

Zinman's charge that Khanna and "us guys" are dangerous is as old as the charge against Socrates. Liberal arts education is grounded in the idea of liberty, which is framed only by the laws of free governments. A free people must know how to exercise its freedom since that people, and not a monarch or aristocracy, is sovereign. At its best, education of free citizens concerns what is choice-worthy, which requires knowledge of the distinction between the just and the unjust, the noble and the base, the good and the bad. Bloom's great public service was to achieve some success at encouraging young citizens to seek this knowledge, by beginning with an inquiry into the thoughts of history's great minds.

Forrest A. Nabors, AB'93 Beaverton, Oregon


Musical lines

I can't believe that people are still arguing the relative merits of "classical" and "pop" music ("Bloom in Review"). I thought we had given up this futile exercise after the first year at Chicago.

1. There is a difference-cut it how you will-between what we call "popular" and the "classical."

2. The one is meant for dancing-and the pleasure of the ear-the other meant to glorify the ear's penchant to hear.

3. There is no similarity, though "music" both are called. Please leave the argument to those who argument applaud.

Barry Taxman, AM'50 Berkeley, California


Keeping the faith

The recent concerns about increasing the size of the College, etc. ("Letters," June/97 and August/97) certainly are legitimate but, I respectfully suggest, somewhat shortsighted.

The University and its evolving College of the late 1930s and early '40s was arguably the top educational institution in the world. But in the following decade, the U of C offered minimal thought (or respect, plans, or money) to making the campus an appealing environment for students-or faculty. It paid little attention to the condition of the buildings or the surrounding neighborhood. College applications and attendance declined, alumni support diminished, faculty members departed, deficits increased, and the University was generally felt to have declined in quality.

Fortunately this trend was reversed, and I feel that increasingly University leaders have been properly aware that to maintain quality, prestige, and success, the University must compete. It cannot do so with the mindset of half a century ago, which concentrated largely on a supposed intellectual elite.

The young students of today and tomorrow will basically want to attend Chicago because of academic opportunities accompanied by an appealing extracurricular life. The latter was largely missing 50 years ago, but comprises a significant part of the plans to increase the size of the College and the residential, social, and athletic facilities serving it.

Thus, I would be inclined to trust the administration and faculty in developing plans. I don't believe that they will deliberately reduce the quality of education offered, but rather that they will contribute to the University's future health, a source of pride to all of us.

Not so incidentally, I have always been a Chicago loyalist and a Hutchins devotee. I attended the University for 20 years-nursery school, Lab Schools, the College, and the business school.

Michael Weinberg, Jr., AB'47 Highland Park, Illinois


Signs of the times?

I must wholeheartedly agree with Susan Diamond ("Letters," August/97) about class size. First, the University hires yet another vice president, then increases class size, and now, the U of C didn't even make a recently published list of the 10 least-fun schools. Are athletic scholarships and booster clubs next?

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


An enduring education

Susan Diamond's letter reflects accurately the reaction of myself and several of my U of C alumni friends to the proposed "newer and better" College. Between the "dumbing down" of higher education and the increase in more contemporary, socially responsive curricula, the rare opportunity to offer the classical, rigorous, and enduring education of the U of C will be lost.

Chicago cannot and should not compete for more in numbers of students but, rather, should compete for the best and the brightest who will benefit most from its unique educational offerings. I am mindful that balancing the issues of funding with those of the curriculum are difficult. However, Chicago must not lose sight of its history in a misguided attempt to become "just another college."

Elenie Kostopoulos Huszagh, AB'57 Nehalem, Oregon

As others see us

I'm writing to object strenuously to a portion of Susan Diamond's letter re the proposed increase in the size of the University of Chicago's college.

While her objection to the proposed size increase is a legitimate point to argue-although it's certainly not a forgone conclusion that such an action would lead to grade inflation-I have to challenge her unsubstantiated inferences to, and fingerpointing at, "Stanford and many Ivy League schools," which Diamond asserts have succumbed to awarding lessened-in-value degrees.

We can all appreciate the necessary "rah-rah for the alma mater" character inherent in the University of Chicago Magazine as an alumni publication. We certainly have that aspect in the Stanford alumni magazine and the California Monthly. And I'm sure that the many Ivy League alumni publications do, too.

Chicago, Stanford, and the Ivy League schools are all top-notch academic and research institutions, so it seems rather perplexing, and ultimately futile, for Diamond to try to get a Chicago edge by putting down its institutional colleagues. What's the point? And how does it pertain to the primary topic of her letter? That a larger College will become as "dumb" and therefore "offensive" as Stanford and many Ivy League schools?

Could I suggest that the editorial staff of the U of C Magazine take a closer look at this type of "bashing," and rethink the wisdom of printing letters of this nature in unedited form?

Edwin Lee Redwood City, California

Mr. Lee is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (BA'74) and of Stanford University (MA'83)-Ed.


Big myth on campus

If anyone ever needed proof of how myths get perpetuated, researchers need look no further than the Letters section of the Magazine's June/97 issue. Ready? OK.

The myth: University of Chicago graduates are too intellectual to have either a real interest in sports or a really good sense of humor.

Proof #1: Ms. Shawhan, AM'91, comments that "when reporting sports scores, the high score always comes first." Uh, excuse me, but have you ever checked any golf scores, including team golf scores, in the paper? The low score always comes first.

Proof #2: Mr. Balsley, AB'51, finds "appalling" some of your puns and admonishes you to "remember that you are editing for mature graduates of a major university, not readers of USA Today." Uh, excuse me again, but I'm mature, a graduate of three major universities, and I read USA Today. And I like puns, and I think they're perfectly acceptable for inclusion in our magazine.

Like the beat, the myth goes on

Anthony M. Maramarco, AM'73, PhD'77 Gloucester, Massachusetts


Class note gets top billing

I had wrapped up a skim of the Allan Bloom story in the August magazine and began to turn to my page in the class notes. As I did that, I realized that I had never read the notes from the old codgers, and I took a scope of their entries.

I was impressed, amused, and pleased that these old grads were so involved and so busy. I was especially impressed with Louis Rapoport (PhB'25, X'27)'s comments about getting his SAG and AFTRA cards at age 93 after ten years of trying. As someone who has been working toward an IATSE card for five years, I have to tip my hat to someone who has received his showbiz entrance passes at such a great age.

I just wish he had mentioned what performances brought him into the union. I also hope he gets a role where his billing is at least 20 percent of total.

Mark Johnson, AB'83 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 or email us.


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