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Educator without a department

I was delighted to see professional education as represented by Barbara T. Bowman, AM’52, 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 inner-city education.

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, PhD’27, 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 ending.

David R. Krathwohl, SB’43, AM’47, PhD’53
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

Here’s what I know happened, because I read it in a faculty committee report:

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.

Here’s 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 else’s 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 don’t, as I say, really know what’s happening [on campus], but I can’t imagine any administrator seriously thinks that de-emphasizing the University’s academic excellence is either necessary or sufficient to solving its enrollment problems.
What I can imagine is that the administration’s efforts make an easy target for those faculty members who would prefer not to take responsibility for the University’s 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 don’t think it’s the administration that’s abandoned it.

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 University’s intellectual life—damage 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 don’t get us—they 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 couldn’t 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 today’s students and those in the larger classes to come, provided that the University continues to “make us”—to educate undergraduates as if doing so is part of the business of growing knowledge from more to more. That doesn’t require any particular arrangement of the Common Core, and it certainly doesn’t require an absence of athletic facilities; but it does require an honest conversation about the choices that now face the University.

Kelly Kleiman, AB’75, JD’79

Lasting education

Though I’ve 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 [AB’86]’s letter in the February/99 issue.

The College of the University of Chicago—small, tough, hard-working—was 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 others.

Thomas Franklin said, “Changing the core means tinkering with the brand. It means risking the reputation. It means, quite possibly, squandering the University’s 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 there’s 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, AB’51, AM’54
Arlington, Virginia

College issues

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 College’s 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, AB’95
Cambridge, Massachusetts

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 don’t “send” your children anywhere. They can be pointed to certain directions, but they make their own choices.

If the premise remains that the College’s 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 father’s 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 didn’t 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 College.

Jordy Bell, AB’65
Croton-on-Hudson, New York

What’s 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 today’s 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 can’t. If the discovery of a text’s 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. Bartsch’s 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, AM’82
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 legs—I 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 didn’t 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 ahead—hardly 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 one’s spine. A very serious issue for architects and designers to consider.

Virginia W. Beauchamp, PhD’55
Greenbelt, Maryland

Severn on the Hudson

I thought you might be interested in a New York City follow-up to James Lessly [PhB’50]’s February/99 letter on the late great comic actor Severn Darden, X’50. 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, PhB’47, AM’50
New York

Up with (individual) people

I would like to thank you for printing the quote from Carol Moseley Braun, JD’72 (“Chicago Journal,” February/99). Ms. Braun’s 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, SB’93
Homewood, Illinois

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: I’ll wager a pitcher at Jimmy’s that faculty contracts require these exchanges as a condition of employment. So, do they?

Chuck Pollack, X’86
Hartsdale, New York

Laura Gruen, AB’67, AM’68, the Alumni Association’s 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 alumni—for free. Indeed, faculty thank me for the opportunity to speak to alumni—their perfect audience.

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, X’49
New York

“The Myth of Tiananmen—and the Price of a Passive Press,” by Jay Mathews, appears in the September/October 1998 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review.—Ed.

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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