Educator without a department
I was delighted to see professional education as represented by
Barbara T. Bowman, AM52, on the cover and also featured inside
the February/99 issue. I do not know Mrs. Bowman, but it appears
as though she is working in an area of tremendous need, helping
But, I was surprised that nowhere did you mention that the University,
which gave her and many of us our background in the field, is closing
its Department of Education! I am perplexed that an institution
with an illustrious reputation in the field of professional education
from John Dewey to the present would do this in the first place,
and in the second place, that you would not even allude to the fact!
In retrospect, it might have been a mistake to house education
in the Social Sciences Division. At the time that Ralph Tyler, PhD27,
headed the department and was dean of the division, it worked to
the advantage of both. But I suppose professional schools always
risk their resources when they seek close relationships with the
disciplines on which they depend for much of their base knowledge.
This is especially true when there is a financial crunch. Thus,
I can understand why the Social Sciences Division might prefer to
use its resources for its disciplinary departments instead of supporting
a professional school. But why the central administration would
allow this to happen, I have yet to understand. I have little doubt
that at some point it will be reversed at considerable expense by
a future administration who will curse this one for letting it happen
in the first place. That is of little current consolation.
Alumni who protested were told that the University was not abandoning
its commitment to the field of professional education. But I, for
one, have yet to see that this is the case. Perhaps you can run
a story that indicates this sorry affair is going to have a happy
David R. Krathwohl, SB43, AM47, PhD53
Syracuse, New York
The decision to close, over five years, the Department of Education
was made in early 1997 and was discussed in the Oct.-Dec./96 Magazine.Ed.
U of C in the news
Heres what I know happened, because I read it in a faculty
A couple of years ago, the administration informed the faculty
that it was not financially feasible for the University to continue
to operate using a system in which it pays most of its students
to attend. The administration recommended an increase in the number
of undergraduates, many of whom (unlike their graduate-student counterparts)
actually pay for their education. The faculty conceded the problem,
but noted that it was in the business of growing knowledge from
more to more and was therefore unlikely to be able to accommodate
the teaching of many additional undergraduates. Result: stalemate.
Heres what I suspect happened next:
A. The administration, under the budgetary gun, said, Additional
undergraduates we must have. You may have them educated, or uneducated,
as you prefer. When the faculty persisted in its reluctance
to take on more basic-level teaching responsibilities, the administration
looked for alternatives. What about reducing the number of Common
Core courses each student takes, spreading the same number of Common
Core teaching chores over a bigger student body? What about encouraging
students to go overseas for a year, where teaching them is someone
elses problem? Each of these represents a rather resourceful
attempt to teach an increased undergraduate population without an
increased burden on the faculty.
B. Faced with the need to recruit these additional undergraduates,
the administration found itself paying some long-overdue attention
to the question of social and athletic facilities on the campus.
C. The popular press took A and B and combined them into some
sort of berserk search for a new fun image for the University
of Chicago. I dont, as I say, really know whats happening
[on campus], but I cant imagine any administrator seriously
thinks that de-emphasizing the Universitys academic excellence
is either necessary or sufficient to solving its enrollment problems.
What I can imagine is that the administrations efforts make
an easy target for those faculty members who would prefer not to
take responsibility for the Universitys long-term financial
or educational health. College education at the University of Chicago
has always been most remarkable for the notion that thinking is
contagious, and that therefore it matters what undergraduates think
about, and under whose guidance. If this idea has been abandoned,
I dont think its the administration thats abandoned
Are my speculations correct? The Magazine would do a service
to the entire University community if it gave us all a serious chance
to find out. Let faculty members present the view that increased
undergraduate teaching will damage the Universitys intellectual
lifedamage it more, say, than reducing the Common Core or
running out of money altogether. Let the whole community hear the
computations: Is there some amount of additional alumni giving which
would enable us to keep the College the size it is now? How many
more faculty members will an enlarged College require? Can we afford
them? How many additional students, or classes, or quarters, will
faculty have to teach to preserve the Common Core? Is it worth it?
When an employer on the East Coast asked me once, How do
they get such strong students at Chicago? I replied, They
dont get usthey make us. It was truer than I knew,
for I was part of one of those classes in the early 1970s that was
small and select because it couldnt be filled.
Still, I defy anyone to tell the difference between my class and
any of the Chicago-educated classes that came before us, or after.
Nor will anyone be able to tell the difference between todays
students and those in the larger classes to come, provided that
the University continues to make usto educate
undergraduates as if doing so is part of the business of growing
knowledge from more to more. That doesnt require any particular
arrangement of the Common Core, and it certainly doesnt require
an absence of athletic facilities; but it does require an honest
conversation about the choices that now face the University.
Kelly Kleiman, AB75, JD79
Though Ive some doubts about viewing the education that the
College provides as a product to be marketed, I do want to express
general agreement with Thomas K. Franklin [AB86]s letter
in the February/99 issue.
The College of the University of Chicagosmall, tough, hard-workingwas
the glory of American education. I lived off the intellectual capital
of the Hutchins College for 32 years in the American Foreign Service,
including two ambassadorships. Yet from the day RMH left and Larry
Kimpton came in, people have been trying to improve the image
of the College by mild or serious de-naturing, so that it would
more nearly resemble the shopping-mall approach taken by so many
Thomas Franklin said, Changing the core means tinkering
with the brand. It means risking the reputation. It means, quite
possibly, squandering the Universitys most valuable asset.
But the asset is not the reputation, it is the education.
I live in Virginia and I have a son who will be entering college
before too long. If what he and I wanted was four years of good
times in a nice place or a rich menu of electives that he could
take in large classes taught by teaching assistants, why we could
save a lot of money and he could go to the University of Virginia.
Charlottesville is a very pleasant little town, and theres
good skiing nearby in winter.
But for the kind of education that lasts a lifetime and opens
the door to thought and reflection, we both hope the College of
the University of Chicago will still be there, and be there pretty
much the way it was. Small classes taught by skilled and experienced
academicians, original texts, a community of scholars.
Harvey J. Feldman, AB51, AM54
I am writing to voice my severe opposition to the planned expansion
of the College and to the dilution of the Common Core.
I chose the College among undergraduate institutions I was accepted
into because of the core and because of the Colleges reputation
as a challenging institution with an impassioned following. I believed
then, as I do now, in the core as a means to ensure that all College
graduates have the common ground for intellectual discourse, the
basic knowledge and training that allows us to call ourselves educated.
This, not the preparation of students for professional school, not
the generation of larger tuition and alumni endowment bases, and
certainly not the provision of student entertainment, is the mission
of undergraduate education.
Now I am caught in a battle for my loyalty. The University, which
has taught me to so proudly value my education, seems now to be
telling me that it would have been better if I had been in larger
classes with fewer faculty instructors, if I had been able to extricate
myself from the community of the College and its core after my second
year, if I had not wasted so much valuable time on foreign languages
and art, or if my class had been composed of more affluent students.
Officials at the University point to scientifically biased opinion
data that tells me I was unhappy in such a challenging and intangibly
rewarding curriculum and that I wished college would have been easier,
or at least more fun.
For the University to promote this is hazardous to the alumni
support on which it so relies. It would bring the quality of undergraduate
education at Chicago down to the level of the so-called top-tier
Ivy League schools where more energy is spent on indoctrinating
undergraduates than on educating them. The core in [Harvard]
University is cafeteria-style, with some classes numbering close
to 1,000 students. I shudder to think that this is the academic
environment that Chicago suddenly aspires to rather than eschews.
I know that I join countless Chicago alumni in saying that I would
have grave reservations financially supporting and encouraging prospective
students to attend a College altered beyond my recognition. I ask
the University to reconsider these changes for the security and
health of my dear alma mater.
Matthew Leingang, AB95
Alumni children & college choice
One of the alleged issues in the enrollment crisis
of the College is the low rate at which alumni/ae send their children
to the College. Anyone who has been a parent in the past 20 years
knows that you dont send your children anywhere.
They can be pointed to certain directions, but they make their own
If the premise remains that the Colleges distinctive educational
formation is not for everybody, if the College remains sui generis,
then it would follow that alumni/ae children would need to be of
a disposition and temperament that fits the College if they are
to enroll happily.
I have two children. The elder has graduated from another college
and is very happily employed in Silicon Valley. The younger is a
member of the class of 00. The College is right for one, but
would not have been the best place for the other. My responsibility
as a parent is to try to ensure that my children end up in the right
place for them, not to fulfill any wishes or fantasies I may have
about them, nor any desire to be a loyal alumna of the U of C. (Neither
did they go to Harvard, their fathers school.)
So it returns to the basic issue of the distinctiveness of the
College. While I might prefer the College of my years (Aristotle
Schwartz has, no doubt, departed many times again), I know that
the curriculum has continually evolved. After all, I didnt
take OII or OMP. The goal should remain to keep the current version
of the curriculum a special vision which, inevitably, will not attract
students simply because one or both of their parents attended the
Jordy Bell, AB65
Croton-on-Hudson, New York
Whats critical to criticism
In saying that criticism is more about creation than about
discovery, classics professor Shadi Bartsch expresses a view
that is widely held in todays humanities departments but is
logically shaky (Investigations, February/99). The sign
of that shakiness is her puzzlement at the paralyzing
question, [I]f we are creating, not discussing, how can we
justify that creation? The question is paralyzing because
the answer is, you cant. If the discovery of a texts
actual meaning, value, and truth is either impossible or trivial,
then it is impossible or trivial to try to understand the meaning,
value, and truth of Ms. Bartschs writing.
If I were to say that Ms. Bartsch believes that books are motorcycles
and that Aristotle had an eye defect, these creative misreadings
of her comments would be better criticism than if I were to report
accurately what she said. If she argues against this letter on the
grounds that I have wrongly interpreted her comments, she is conceding
that an interpretation can be either right or wrong, and that what
matters most is to try to get it right. Ms. Bartsch says, There
has to be a happy medium between honest attention to the text and
saying something that will matter. But honest attention to
the text is just what should matter to the critic, and what a reader
of criticism has the right to expect.
George Ochoa, AM82
Dobbs Ferry, New York
Seats of learning
Thanks for the illuminating article concerning chairs and culture
in the February/99 issue (Seats of Power). I have strong
feelings about the subject in reference to my graduate work at Chicago.
All the chairs in Wieboldt Hall had buttons on the bottoms of the
legsI suppose to make them easier to move across the floor.
That put the seats just high enough for a short person like me
that my feet were off the floor. I tried to make do by resting my
feet on the rung of a nearby chair, but I was always squirming and
shifting position. I remember after the first half-hour of a seminar
(I think they lasted two and a half hours), I was in agony. (I got
my Ph.D. in 1955; we had grown up during the Depression and World
War II, so we didnt expect our material comfort to be considered,
and I never thought to complain.)
We also did not have a seminar table to gather around. We just
sat in rows, looking at the backs of the folks aheadhardly
contributing to a sense of a group of peers. I hope Chicago does
better by its graduate students these days.
This is a significant problem for short people nowadays, however.
I have season tickets at two different theaters in the Washington,
D.C., area with new theater seats. They were obviously chosen by
tall men. The seats are too long back to front for short folks to
bend their knees. I look across the aisle and most of the women
have their feet hanging in the air. The only way to reach the floor
is to sit slumped on the back of ones spine. A very serious
issue for architects and designers to consider.
Virginia W. Beauchamp, PhD55
Severn on the Hudson
I thought you might be interested in a New York City follow-up
to James Lessly [PhB50]s February/99 letter on the late
great comic actor Severn Darden, X50. He lived in the Columbia
University area for a while and had a small role in the 1980 anti-CIA
movie Hopscotch that starred Walter Matthau and Glenda Jackson.
My lasting memory of Severn is of him pushing a shopping cart in
a local supermarket, wearing his trademark cape, with an attractive
young woman on each arm.
Herbert J. Gans, PhB47, AM50
Up with (individual) people
I would like to thank you for printing the quote from Carol Moseley
Braun, JD72 (Chicago Journal, February/99). Ms.
Brauns statement about the dangers of allowing people to make
their own choices about education reminds me why it was so important
to remove her from the U.S. Senate this last election.
The most stunning aspect of her statement is the implication that
markets have losers but government programs do not.
Government programs certainly have winners and losers; this is
not a feature exclusive to markets. The question Ms. Braun (and
all of us) ought to be asking is not whether a school-voucher system
would have winners and losers, but rather who the winners and losers
are now. We should ask who the winners and losers would be if we
had a voucher system, and if society as a whole would be better
off if people were able to make their own educational choices.
Ms. Braun apparently believes that central policymakers can make
better decisions than self-interested individuals. Unfortunately
this is not an uncommon belief in our society. In spite of many
historical examples that show this belief to be misguided at best
and totalitarian at worst, Carol Moseley Braun (like many others)
refuses to believe in people.
Matthew Moran, SB93
Road scholars do it for love
The inside cover of the February/99 issue caught my eye. The announcement
that many distinguished faculty members were scheduled to speak
to gatherings of alumni throughout the country was accompanied by
glowing testimonials from several professors regarding the value
of scholarly exchanges with alumni. My first reaction: Ill
wager a pitcher at Jimmys that faculty contracts require these
exchanges as a condition of employment. So, do they?
Chuck Pollack, X86
Hartsdale, New York
Laura Gruen, AB67, AM68, the Alumni Associations
director of alumni education and communications, responds: There
is nothing in faculty contracts about presenting programs for alumni.
All the faculty who teach alumni on campus, travel the country to
lecture to alumni groups, and lead alumni study programs abroad
work as volunteers. They are not compensated and often go to quite
a bit of personal inconvenience to meet obligations. I have been
producing these programs for a decade now and am still
surprised that I can call on individuals who command enormous lecture
fees and have them agree to give a presentation to alumnifor
free. Indeed, faculty thank me for the opportunity to speak to alumnitheir
Perpetuating a myth?
The Tiananmen Square massacre (Breathing Lessons, February/99)
is a myth, invented and perpetuated by the media, now including
your magazine. What really happened is convincingly explained in
the enclosed article from the Columbia Journalism Review.
Alan J. Whitney, X49
The Myth of Tiananmenand the Price of a Passive
Press, by Jay Mathews, appears in the September/October 1998
issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.Ed.
invites letters on its contents or on topics related to the University.
Letters must be signed and may be edited. Write: Editor, University
of Chicago Magazine, 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637. E-mail: