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Who’s on welfare?

Sometime in the past couple of years, I’m sure I read that the majority of welfare recipients were white (“Is Welfare Working?”, April/99). Now, has the situation really changed that much, or has Health & Human Services deliberately lumped categories to obscure reality and sustain the racist association most people make between welfare and minorities?

If no one group still constitutes a majority, lump the two largest if you like, but not the two brownest, unless they are the largest. That sort of unexplained twiddling with statistics ought not to go unchallenged in this magazine. It is at best sloppy, at worst dishonest and vicious. What are the data?

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, SM’74
Baltimore, Maryland

Rylaarsdam is right that the description given in the Magazine is misleading, but the fault belongs not to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), but rather to the Magazine. According to HHS data at the time the story was written, the welfare percentages were: African-American, 37%; White, 34%; Hispanic, 22%; and Other, 7%. What the Magazine published was a misleading representation of the statistics, and we apologize.—Ed.

And why and for how long?

The article by Charlotte Snow, “Is Welfare Reform Working?” seemed like a good survey of the studies under way by different parts of the University. But the article’s concluding paragraph was so jarring that I had to reread the article more carefully.
Ms. Snow wrote, “judging from the questions raised by these Chicago researchers, the latest welfare reform law does indeed need to be reformed.” What questions? All I saw were a bunch of unexamined assumptions about publicly funded child care and education, minimum wage increases, targeted tax credits, and wage subsidies and income inequality.

Welfare should not be a lifestyle, yet many of the “questions” raised in the article can only come from the assumption that government welfare programs should be a permanent part of people’s lives. For instance, researcher Julia Henley seems to deplore her finding that about four-fifths of the low-income mothers she studied relied on relatives and friends for childcare. Well, what’s wrong with that? I interpret it to mean that these women have figured out ways to help themselves so they can get and keep jobs—without an expensive and probably second-rate government day-care program. Robert Goerge thinks that stricter work will affect an individual’s parenting and result in physical abuse and neglect of a child. That’s not a welfare issue; that’s a parental fitness issue—and a red herring, I’m sure. The research projects of Waldo Johnson and James Heckman can be more usefully cast in terms of the devastation caused by family breakups and of mediocre public education, rather than of welfare reform.

What Ms. Snow and the researchers need to grasp is this: People (that is, we taxpayers) are very willing to provide temporary help to the needy. The problem with the Great Society welfare programs is that they created a large and almost-permanent welfare-dependent group, with membership that passed from generation to generation. For the welfare-dependent generations, it’s clear those massive welfare programs, well intentioned as they were, did significant harm. Change was an imperative.

Instead, nearly all of the researchers cited by Ms. Snow seem to regard welfare as a highly desirable social engineering project. In their view, welfare reform, by definition, must be a bad thing because it deliberately seeks to make government welfare a time-limited safety net. I’m hoping the research continues, and I’m sure these people can get the job done—but I surely don’t want them setting public policy.

Craig D. Elderkin, MBA’78
Park Ridge, Illinois

The old Chicago in a new century

The article in the April 9, 1999, issue of Newsweek about the admissions process at the U of C puts to rest any lingering doubts about the quality of incoming students. Despite increasing the size of the Class of ’03 over its predecessors, by all objective standards this will be the finest incoming class of young scholars to grace the Midway. And the account of the rigor of the subjective process of admission gives one confidence that the applicants admitted will make even finer students than the objective data reveals. The bar has not been lowered. It has been raised and we have every reason to expect great things from those who have made it over for the coming academic year.

Fearing change of the Common Core is to be expected and is healthy to a point. We need not fix what is not broken. But we should not cling to what worked well in the past simply because it worked well in the past. That is the way of dogmatism, totemics, and fundamentalism, not the way of liberal, critical inquiry. As Dean Boyer’s exposition (“Three Views of Continuity and Change at the University of Chicago”) to “friends of the College” shows, the revisions of the curriculum adopted by the faculty are modest and justified.

The recent press attention given to these two issues and the spirited debate among alumni gives friends of the College much to cheer about in my view. I am looking forward to waving the flag for old Chicago in the next century.

Jeffrey S. Rasley, AB’75

Core giving

As a poor graduate student, I was planning on saving my money for mundane necessities. However, upon reading multiple letters on the recent changes to be made to the Common Core, I decided to reconsider.

As I understand it, those who oppose these changes do so mainly because these changes would lead to less common ground among undergraduates and a diminished sense of the distinction the College enjoys as one uniquely committed to the tradition, in the words of Dean Boyer, of a generalist teaching ethos. As an alumnus, I obviously share their desire to prevent the College from becoming a watered-down version of the truly intellectual community I experienced. And my first instinct was to write a letter in defense of keeping the Common Core intact and leave it at that. However, after having read the documentation on the history and debate surrounding these changes, it has become obvious that curriculum improvement is not the only impetus for this reform. I realize that alumni support is crucial in allowing the College to continue to uphold its tradition as an excellent liberal arts college with small class size and an emphasis on a comprehensive Common Core.

So, I pledge my hard-earned money to the College in the hope that it will help, albeit in a small way, to encourage the College to look increasingly to the alumni as a source of revenue instead of carrying out tactics which compromise the academic rigor of the College.

Eunpa Chae, AB’97
New York City

Jimmy’s and the life of the mind

While I was at the University (1950–1952), Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap was a focus for me and many of my graduate friends. In the back room at Jimmy’s, we participated in seminars, often led by University professors, on topics that knew no discipline, that were not politically correct, sometimes not socially acceptable, and there were some on topics not suited for the classroom. It was those seminars in the back room at Jimmy’s that caused this country boy to realize there were different ways of thinking about a given topic. I have great regard for the University of Chicago, and even though Jimmy is no longer with us, I will always consider Jimmy’s to be an integral part of the University.

John M. Ball, SM’52
Decatur, Georgia

The University, which is the building’s landlord, is working with former employees of Jimmy’s on a plan for needed physical renovations and believes that the Tap will reopen in the fall.—Ed.

So when did Clinton get tenure?

I had been led to believe that convocation addresses at the University of Chicago were given only by members of the faculty. I always liked that idea. Convocation would be a special celebration led by Chicago faculty, and it would be yet another opportunity to mark the importance of shared intellectual inquiry. Further, the celebratory commemoration would not be distracted by overtly political posturing or the fatuous ramblings of some famous yahoo. Now I worry that I was misled—or (perhaps worse) that the newer, sunnier University of Chicago is also more keen on politics and fame for its convocations. Perhaps you could tell me why President Clinton was addressing the College graduates this June.

Eric Brown, AB’91, AM’93, PhD’97

Bill Clinton did not give the convocation address; that honor went as usual to a University professor. See “Chicago Journal.” —Ed.

Bring back the campus concierge?

The February/99 Magazine has a letter from Thomas K. Franklin, AB’86, on marketing the College. Mr. Franklin writes, “Is the amazing city of Chicago and all that it offers truly available to the University of Chicago student? In a city of innumerable options do students feel that their school is helping them to take full advantage of what the city offers?” I gather from him that the University is now not very helpful in this regard. But once it was.

When I came to the College in 1945, the building at the northwest corner of Ellis and 58th, across from what is now the Administration Building (but was then an empty space) housed the Bursar’s Office on the first floor. Also in that room was a desk presided over by a man named Hans Hoeppner, and his job, which he did very well, was to do exactly what Mr. Franklin suggests needs doing. He was an effervescent man, and when you approached him he boomed out, “MAY I HELP YOU?!”

He had information on what was playing at the theaters, Orchestra Hall, and anything else around town. And when you told him you’d like two tickets for the Erlanger for a week from Saturday, he would tell you what was available at what price, and he’d get them for you. He was enormously helpful. I don’t know if he was a U of C employee or an independent broker, but I was very impressed that the University provided such services. My best recollection, though I am not certain, is that he died and was not replaced.
I understand that the maid service we had in Burton-Judson is long gone and probably not on anyone’s revival agenda. But perhaps this position of guide to the city can and should be revived.

Gerald Handel, AB’47, AM’51, PhD’62
Scarsdale, New York

The politics of food consumption

I appreciate Paul Rozin’s explanations for the psychology of disgust (“Arbiter of Taste,” April/99). However, his condemnation of Americans’ food fears results from fuzzy thinking, careless overgeneralization, and a surprising lack of interest in how politics shapes the information people receive.

He blames “Americans” for “spoiling eating” by “thinking of their blood cholesterol.” The blame is not theirs. Federal officials who propound our country’s official dietary wisdom always speak of reducing fat and cholesterol and choosing more fruits and vegetables. These dicta require that each individual first play amateur nutritionist and analyze his or her own “baseline” diet, then make the appropriate adjustments. Because each person’s baseline diet is different, it is easier for people to use the good/bad heuristic Rozin describes and simply ban certain foods.

The blame for food panic should lie primarily with the powerful meat, poultry and dairy industries and their supporters in the Federal government. These industries promulgated the old Four Food Groups, ended Senator McGovern’s career when he stood up for better nutrition advice, and fought against the new Food Pyramid. Federal officials could eliminate this fear of eating, where it exists, with a simple and easy-to-follow positive message: “a low-saturated-fat vegetarian diet is healthier than the standard American meat-based diet.”

The American Dietetic Association, no fringe organization, holds that a well-balanced vegetarian diet is compatible with excellent health. Culpable to some extent is marketers’ exploitation of the media’s focus on the gee-whiz science of individual dietary components. Consumers have been told there’s some virtue in oat bran, and red wine, and walnuts, and should be forgiven for accepting marketers’ image of these foods as medicinal rather than as sources of pleasure in their own right.

This nonsystematic and medicalized method of presenting nutrition science to the public benefits large corporations like those Rozin advises. They promote their products as part of a “sensible” diet: that is, a diet whose “guilty exceptions” are reserved for their products. Given each individual’s constantly adjusted baseline and the absence of a clearly defined, healthy “target” diet, it’s no wonder many people view indulgence in high-calories foods such as chocolate as “falling off the wagon.”

All these components—wimpy government officials, meat and dairy industry, food marketers and shallow science reporting—do not explain the cultural component to the food fears of some Americans. In general, Americans value self-improvement over pleasure. We value the new over the old, the scientifically validated diet over the traditional diet. It’s unrealistic to expect us to think about food the way the French do. What could change this cultural predisposition to medicalize diet?

Certainly not admonishments like Rozin’s, which only succeed in making people resent their self-deprivation in not eating high-fat, high-calorie foods. The lighter California-style diet is becoming more common nationwide, and if a habit provides pleasure with less guilt. The Slow Food movement espouses pleasure in eating and locally grown, high-quality products, but in this country it’s a movement for the elite. Poorer people won’t spend extra money on food unless it’s really good. Expanding Farmers’ Markets and markets for locally grown products would help poor people choose better-tasting food, as would added research funding for organic farming.

Finally, Americans will never be able to eat for pleasure like the French or Italians simply because most of us know we won’t burn it off except by special efforts to exercise. There’s no fun in that.

Danila Oder, AB’82
Los Angeles

It’s a dorm, get a life

I object strongly to the use of (so you keep telling us) limited resources to personally inform Woodward Court alumni about the impending change of use. [At the end of March, former residents of the residence hall received a letter from Dean of Students Edward Turkington, outlining plans to tear down the outmoded building.—Ed.] I am also embarrassed to be part of a group that would, after umpteen years, have strong emotional attachments to what is, aside from being quite ugly, no more than cinder blocks and cement.

Get real guys! Let’s save our emotional attachments for family and friends, save our concerns for those less fortunate than ourselves, and save our donations for improving the University!

Benjamin L. Nathan, AB’78
Pinner, United Kingdom

Slipping standards everywhere

I will try to believe that the College—my College, 1941–1942, 1950–1960, and 1992—is not going to Hell in a handbasket. But what of the Magazine itself? One can understand your decision to let stand as her own authentic voice an alumna’s statement that “I am still one of those lawyers who want to be a writer” (“Class News,” April/99), but why highlight it and thus cruelly expose the gap between her aspiration and her capacity?

And how could the problematic math of the 1931 New Plan (“Another Chapter in the Life of the College,” April/99) escape your keen editorial eye? “[F]our year-long survey courses in each division” adds up to sixteen, a mind-boggling curriculum to be encompassed along with “free electives” in the first two years.
But then there were giants in those days. (You can take the English teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the red pencil out of his hand.)

Homer B. Goldberg, AB’47, AM’48, PhD’61
Setauket, New York

The editors plead guilty—but not quite as charged. On the first count, the alumna had her grammar right; we changed it in an attempt to “correct” it. On the second count, the sixteen courses that the “Another Chapter in the Life of the College” timeline seems to suggest, we were trying to say that there were year-long survey courses in each of the four divisions, plus a year-long course devoted to English composition and writing. With three quarters in a typical academic year, that adds up to fifteen general-education courses.—Ed.

Eat less, drive more

On several recent trips to Europe—mainly the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and pasta-loving Italy—I have observed less obesity, on the average, than one sees among Americans. As a participant in a travel convention to France of 250 tour agents from all over the world, the American contingent of 50 contained the only “fatties” in the lot! French cuisine is rich, but portions are smaller, they take longer to dine and usually have wine, but only with meals. Also if our gas cost $5 to $6 per gallon, we’d likely walk more, as Europeans tend to do, which has got to help the weight situation.

Charles W. Sexton, AB’56, AB’57, MBA’57
Richmond, Virginia

His French connection

It was with much pleasure and celebration that I read about the College’s expanding dedication to its study abroad program (“All the World’s A School,” April/99). I was one of the first students to study away from the quads (The first foray for Chicago in Europe was in Paris in 1983 and was conducted in conjunction with Sarah Lawrence), and the College has indeed come along way since those days. However, there is one unsung hero in your article who needs mention: [Professor in Romance languages & literature] Robert Morrissey, our liaison to Mr. Sinaiko. Without his assistance, my life in Paris would have been considerably more difficult.

Phillip M. Semrau, AB’85, AM’85

The case of the missing The

What has happened to the definite article that used to precede the name of my alma mater: The University of Chicago? In the latest Magazine I find it present in some places and absent elsewhere. Present: page 4 in ad for the Graham School, page5 in ad for Associates Capital Bank, page 17 in the 1958 viewbook, page 40 in the ad for a book, page 44 in the subtitle of the piece and on back cover twice near the bottom. Absent: front cover, pages 6 and 7 in ads for Wooded Isle and Montgomery Place, page 18 in 1970s viewbook and 1985 viewbook, page 36 in dating-service ad (interesting concept), and on the back cover—twice.

I always thought the “The” sounded elitist, coming from a university that did not append the article to its name. Maybe there is a Magazine story here about the rise and fall of the The. By the way, my 14 June 1974 diploma has the article firmly in place.

Michael D. Sublett, PhD’74
Normal, Illinois

Although the University’s legal name is “The University of Chicago,” the Magazine follows Chicago Manual of Style style and leaves the definite article uncapitalized. We do not, however, require that our advertisers (or other publications) do the same.—Ed.

Football players, call home

Saturday, October 16, is Homecoming at the U of C. This year we’ll celebrate the 30th anniversary of football’s return to the Midway, and the Department of Physical Education and Athletics is inviting all former football players to return for a pre-game picnic and to be introduced during halftime festivities.

So, football players—particularly those in the Class of 1969—don’t hesitate to send me your current address to ensure that you and your families receive an invitation to this great event. Please contact me at; at the Department of Physical Education and Athletics, 5640 S. University Avenue, Chicago, IL 60637; or at 773/702-7684.

Tom Weingartner
Director of Athletics

The stories you can tell

I am working on an oral history of Hyde Park and the University, and am interested in talking with alumni—from all years, schools, and divisions—about their experiences here.

I plan on using this information for my master’s project at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If you’re interested in participating, please contact me by e-mail at, or drop me a note at 5457 S. Blackstone Avenue, #1-B, Chicago, IL 60615.

Max Grinnell, AB’98

A memory runs through it

I am writing a biography of Norman Maclean, PhD’40, and would like to hear from his former students, colleagues, friends, and neighbors—anyone in the U of C community with memories of him to share. You can reach me at; at 538 Castalia Avenue, Athens, GA 30606; or at 706/613-8710.

Rebecca Roberts McCarthy
Athens, Georgia

As others see us

Excerpt from Far Afield, by Susanna Kaysen (Vintage Books, 1994): When the hero, Jonathan Brand, discovers he is not the only anthropologist currently on the Faroe Islands, his thoughts about his rival are as follows: “He was bound to be a live wire from the University of Chicago, tough, self-sufficient, inured to the rigors of fieldwork from undergraduate stints in jungles with his mentors.”

I highly recommend the book even without a reference to the U of C.

Josephine Shafir Young, AB’50
Gardena, California

The Magazine 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:

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