revisions draw national media attention
the College made news beyond campus as the new year began, starting
with a front-page story in the New York Times and followed
by articles and columns in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago
Tribune, and the Chicago Sun-Times.
of the media flurry can be traced to March of last year, when the
faculty College Council voted to revise the undergraduate curriculum
adopted in 1984. With three of 21 required core courses shifted
to electives, the total number of required courses remains 42. Going
into effect in fall 1999, the revised corestill the most extensive
set of core requirements in the countrycomprises 6 quarters
of science and mathematics, as opposed to 8; 6 quarters of humanities,
civilization, and fine arts, instead of 7; 3 quarters of social
science (no change); and tested competency in a foreign language
rather than 3 quarters of college-level course work. The revisions
are designed to give students more opportunities for advanced study
and research with faculty, the option of a double major, and greater
access to the Colleges new intensive foreign-language and
28 Times featured a page-one analysis of the winds
of academic change rustling the U of C. Besides the revised
core requirements, the changes cited were an expansion of campus
recreation and service offerings, including the construction of
the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, to be completed in 2001. Also
noted were plans to increase the undergraduate enrollment from the
current 3,850 students to 4,500 by 2006, approaching levels last
seen in the 1930s.
education reporter Ethan Bronner recited the forces behind these
shifts: too few applicants; too few alumni children applying; a
relatively high dropout rate; and an infrastructure in need of modernization.
Bronner compared Chicagos 60 percent acceptance rate to Harvards
13 percent; Chicagos 5 percent application rate among children
of alumni to the Ivy Leagues 10 to 20 percent; and Chicagos
83 percent graduation rate for entering first-years to the Ivy Leagues
concluded that Chicago is in a painful identity crisis
that is being closely watched by educators across the country.
President Hugo Sonnenschein agreed that Chicago is a higher-ed cynosure,
telling the Times that Chicago has a special role and
responsibility because it has a reputation as embodying what a great
university should be.
At the same
time, he continued, The commodification and marketing of higher
education are unmistakable today and we cant jolly dance along
and not pay attention to them. One hears constantly from parents
and students: We are the consumer. We pay the tuition.
8, the Journals Weekend Journal ran an
opinion piece by Bret Louis Stephens, AB95. Reacting to the
Times article, Stephens, the Journals assistant editorial
features editor, worried that Chicago may be tacking against
its own traditions and bending to the breeze of higher education
in the U.S. He warned that if the University of Chicago
is eventually to hollow out its core, we will all be a bit more
arrogant, and a great deal more ignorant.
generated letters. Writing to the Times, Brown University
professor James A. Morone provided an ironic perspective: [T]he
culture of choice championed by [Milton] Friedman [AM33] and
[Gary] Becker [AM53, PhD55] now vexes the university
they loved. Other writers, like Doreen Blanc Rockstrom, AB64,
MAT69, expressed concern that the effort to attract more students
would cheapen the College experience: Watering down or substituting
job-oriented courses will not teach the most important lesson: preparation
for lifelong learning.
of the Universitys emphasis on lifelong learning and general
education also figured in letters to the Journal. In one,
Provost Geoffrey R. Stone, JD71, disputed Stephens belief
that the Universitys excellence is in any way embodied
in the specific requirements of any particular version of the Universitys
always-evolving and always-demanding undergraduate curriculum or
in the fact that it has not constructed an athletics facility for
more than six decades.
story received hometown coverage on January 31, in both the Tribune
(At U. of C., C Stands for Chuckles) and the Sun-Times
(U. of C. Keeps Image in Mind). Describing the Universitys
efforts to ensure that applicants know that the Colleges academic
offerings are balanced by other kinds of opportunity, both stories
noted some on- and off-campus fears that becoming known as a fun
school might dilute the Universitys academic rigor.
Dean of the
College John W. Boyer, AM69, PhD75, took a long view,
telling the Sun-Times, Like our students, the College
is dynamic. It comes out of a tradition, and it has to be responsive
to tradition. But tradition will die if it doesnt change.
For more on those changes, stay tuned to the Magazine.M.R.Y.