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Readers sound off

Readers weigh in on the specialness of Special Collections, medical care models, what ails our democracy, and more.

Special recollections

I was delighted by “The Secrets of UChicago’s Special Collections” (Spring/19). As a student in the Graduate Library School, I had the privilege of working with Bob Rosenthal, AM’55, for a couple of years when Regenstein was the new library. Along with general cataloging and editing, I served as exhibits coordinator. I had the chance to work with a number of experts at the University to organize and exhibit their specialties through books, manuscripts, and artifacts. I also put together a catalog for each exhibit. It was a really fun job. I am eternally grateful for the experience of working with Rosenthal.

Sadly, the University closed its library school many years ago. I never understood why. In the late 1960s, the Library School was well ahead of its time in recognizing the impact that computers were to have on the way libraries (and now the rest of us) operate. I have benefitted in later adventures from having been introduced to the basic mysteries of computer programming (running punch cards through the computer at midnight when time was available). My library degree put me through law school a few years later.

My position at Special Collections at the Regenstein is one of my most special life experiences.

Carolyn Whitmore Baldwin, AM’71
Concord, New Hampshire

Democracy dims

The article by Jason Kelly on Tom Ginsburg and Aziz Huq’s book How to Save a Constitutional Democracy (University of Chicago Press, 2018; “Can Democracy Survive?,” Spring/19) leaves out at least two factors that are chipping away at democracy in the United States. I don’t know whether this is the fault of the book or the article.

The factors that are mentioned all line up to criticize Donald Trump. While I’m no fan of his, the article appears one-sided. One factor negatively impacting democracy in the United States has been the role of the courts in vastly expanding their power and curtailing that of voters and even elected officials. This has led to a lot of frustration and in fact fueled populism.

Another factor is the “deep state”—or, more appropriately, a lack of neutrality on the part of the government bureaucracy. Ginsburg and Huq think “bureaucratic rule of law” and a nonpartisan civil service are a pillar of democracy. I agree yet believe that these have been weakened a great deal in the United States due to partisanship. This is not mentioned in the article probably because it doesn’t line up to get the bad guy.

In light of actions by the IRS and FBI and the publicly expressed political opinions of officials in those agencies, nonpartisanship has been eroded and yet is not mentioned in the article. It is hard to imagine that IRS employees, who through their union contribute close to 90 percent to one party, are nonpartisan.

I hope the book explores the role of courts and partisan governmental bureaucracy in weakening democracy. After all, the “populist” movement itself, at least in the United States, has been spurred by a perceived weakening of democracy. The reasons for this should also be examined.

Tom Schroder, AB’67, AM’69
Ave Maria, Florida

Comprehensive care

I read with interest “The Value of Primary Care” (Spring/19). When I graduated from the Pritzker School of Medicine in 1972 and established a solo family practice, it was glaringly obvious that I saved Medicare money on hospital patients. It happened every day. I was deeply involved with my patients’ hospital care and shared Ram Krishnamoorthi’s frustration with trying to get the attention of the narrowly focused specialists, but it was worth it because I often was able to correct their false understandings about the patients’ medical conditions. It was frustrating, though, because no one other than the patients valued the work I did. Not the specialists; not the hospitals, who complained that I kept the patients in the hospital too long; and certainly not the insurance companies.

Knowledge of their medicine dosages, tolerances, and allergies often averted adverse medical outcomes while in the hospital. And patients were often loath to take new medicines without approval of the family doctor. In my experience, unless you’re there when they leave the hospital, patients simply don’t get those new meds filled.

Finally, I’ll comment on the economics of practice. I had a panel of over 2,000 patients, not the 200 described in your article, and I had no social workers, although my staff was adept at mobilizing community resources. Seeing hospital patients is quite time intensive and often is not reimbursed by Medicare. I simply could not continue to devote time to hospital patients and neglect those others, who were my bread and butter. I don’t see how it could ever be so without radical restructuring of the payment system.

Hospitalists helped my bottom line, although I sincerely regret that I gave up my hospital patients to them.

Louis L. Constan, SB’68, MD’72
Saginaw, Michigan

David Meltzer seized the opportunity to study the impact of continuity of care on outcomes for high-risk Medicare patients. His hypothesis is that continuity improves satisfaction and quality of care and decreases cost.

In 1951 the University of Chicago School of Medicine curriculum included a quarter of research in the freshman year. When I began clinical medicine as a third-year student in 1953, each of my patients was my patient day and night. I was to be called “doctor,” even though I had not yet earned that degree, and I would be the first doctor my patients would see. Continuity was a theme.

During surgical residency, my rotations were six to 12 months long, compared to much shorter rotations in residencies elsewhere. When I became the chief resident and instructor in surgery, I was on call and available every day and every night of the year, except for the three-day weekend during which I excused myself to wed my South Side Chicago bride. So continuity was a fundamental feature of my education. In none of the three medical schools I served thereafter did I find continuity like that at the U of C.

Now we have what I call shift medicine, with duration-of-work restrictions for residents, routine changing of the guard, and a continuous eye on the clock in virtually all settings. Physicians are distracted from patients by the need to type into computerized medical records. Teaching physicians are hampered in delegating responsibility for patient care to their residents by needing to prove that they are present. Medical education has suffered, and continuity is not a theme.

How about the future? I predict that Meltzer will conclusively prove the value of continuity of care for patients and physicians. I think they will find cost-of-care savings as a byproduct of continuity. If so, the application of the Meltzer model to the medical world at large will be challenging, at least in part because primary care physicians are not focused specialists.

My 43 years as a focused specialist in thoracic surgery involved care for many patients who suffered because definitive care was delayed. Earlier consultation could have led to better outcomes. So, David Meltzer, I applaud your work and wish you well. I encourage you to give special emphasis to teaching primary care physicians that ego and cost considerations should not impair early consultation with a specialist. There should be pride, and no shame, in asking for timely help on behalf of patients.

John R. Benfield, MD’55
Los Angeles

Ratty T-shirts wanted

Having been a Reg Rat back in my school days, I quite loved the Reg Rat T-shirt on the cover of the latest issue (Spring/19). Any ideas on where I might purchase or procure such a shirt? I would wear one proudly.

Kenneth C. Baron, AB’87
New York City

Baron’s was one of several such queries we received. The Alumni Association is seeking out the artist for permission to reproduce the T-shirt. To learn more, visit mag.uchicago.edu/reg-rat.—Ed.

One goal among many

How far should one go in seeking diversity? In “Creating a More Diverse and Inclusive UChicago” (On the Agenda, Spring/19), University vice provost Melissa Gilliam tells us that the quest for diversity requires that we “allow our individual assumptions and biases to be challenged, our points of view to evolve and change, and ourselves to be held accountable for the environment we create.” We are admonished that this can be difficult.

The quoted words sound nice, but what exactly do they mean? What assumptions and biases must be challenged to achieve diversity? I hope they don’t include the assumption that a great university should select the intellectually strongest, even at the cost of some diversity.

Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Lise Meitner, Thurgood Marshall, Richard Wright, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Sandra Day O’Connor: there is a natural diversity in great talent, and it does not have to be forced. If one believes otherwise, it is proof that one does not really believe that merit and diversity are compatible. And, to the extent that they may not be fully compatible at a given point in time, great universities like the University of Chicago should opt for intellect. The fundamental purposes of universities are the advancement of knowledge and the development of educated citizens, and these are best achieved by selecting those of greatest intellect, especially among the faculty.

Perhaps there are some counterarguments. In certain fields, such as black studies, diversity is seen as a necessary predicate to effective teaching, learning, and understanding. In those circumstances, diversity is not a goal in and of itself; it is a qualification for the education of students and for the advancement of knowledge. It is also true that intellectual merit can be difficult to assess fairly, and that in the past racial and ethnic minorities have been judged unfairly. But going forward an honest and best judgment of intellectual merit should come first.

Outstanding research universities should put the advancement of knowledge above all else, and ordinarily this requires that intellectual merit be at the forefront of all criteria, especially for faculty and research personnel. I feel sure Gilliam does not mean to challenge this foundational assumption of what a university should be. But I am troubled that the extent of this and many universities’ focus on diversity could end up compromising the most basic reasons for their existence.

Robert S. Venning, AM’66
Oakland, California

A university’s purpose

I am not sure what is more disappointing or embarrassing: the letter that Michael Sanders, MBA’74, wrote or that the Magazine chose to publish it (Letters, Spring/19). I am not a big Milton Friedman, AM’33, fan, but I respect Sanders’s right to express his opinion and believe that a strong academic institution thrives when there is a diversity of opinion. I took my daughter to see Grinnell College as part of our college tours. I always ask the tour guide, “What is one thing you would change about the school?” The Grinnell guide’s answer: “I wish we had more conservative viewpoints on campus, not because I’m a conservative, but because I believe we need a diversity of opinion.” I still send money even though the University saw fit to establish the Becker Friedman Institute, because I am grateful for the education I received. I hope Sanders can gain a better understanding of the true purpose of a university.

Victor S. Sloan, AB’80
Flemington, New Jersey

Great adaptation

I was delighted and impressed with Susie Allen’s (AB’09) account of the brilliant architectural transformation of the former Royal Hong Kong Police Force’s Special Branch detention center on Mt. Davis into a new UChicago campus (“The View from the Tree House of Knowledge,” Winter/19).

In fall 1965 I stayed in a friend’s government flat overlooking the site for three weeks while preparing for postdoc research on urban and cultural change in Tsuen Wan, New Territories. I never could have imagined that this isolated, windswept repository for political “troublemakers” would one day be a beautifully situated UChicago intellectual and social center.

My doctoral thesis, Ocean Shipping in the Evolution of Hong Kong, was published as a Department of Geography research paper.

Baruch Boxer, AM’57, PhD’61
Palo Alto, California

A picture worth 1,000 memories

On page 77 of the Fall/18 Magazine (Alumni News), there is a charming picture of a lovely young lady reading and listening to poetry. Perhaps you’d like to know that she is Nancy Cushwa, AB’53, AM’62. She was a dear friend of my wife, Petra Herd Rosenberg, EX’53, as was Ruth Curd, AB’52, later Dickinson.

David Rosenberg, PhB’48, SB’50, MD’54
Highland Park, Illinois

Info, please

Researching family history, I came across a 2017 Magazine article regarding the Chicago Pile (“Core Stories,” Fall/17). I had a great grand aunt, Rose Watt, who lived in Cook County, Illinois. According to a family story, Mrs. Watt had a certificate for her contribution to the Manhattan Project.

Born in Wigan, Lancashire, England, in 1895, Mrs. Watt emigrated to Chicago in 1927 with her Scottish husband, Sydney Watt, and three children. When they were naturalized in 1942, they lived on Ashland Avenue.

I would like to know if the story is true. I have had no luck speaking to the US Department of Energy, and I doubt Rose would have served in the Armed Forces. Could she have participated in some way at the Chicago Pile? If any of your readers know, I would be grateful to hear from them.

John Murphy
Cheshire, England

Responses to Murphy’s query may be sent via the Magazine. Email uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.—Ed.

Who’s that bluesman?

I believe one of the acts at the 1997 Blues and Ribs (Alumni News, Spring/19) was tenor sax front man Jesse Scinto, AB’94. At the time, Jesse Scinto and the Dignitaries were in rotation at blues clubs around Chicago. I still have and listen to a demo tape from the group. Jesse went on to record an album with blues legend Big Jay McNeely in 2003, The Clutch.

Noel T. Southall, AB’97, SM’97
Potomac, Maryland

Great Lakes mistake

The Secrets of UChicago’s Special Collections” (Spring/19) pulsed the Chicago drumbeat of studying primary sources, in particular regarding Dr. William Beaumont at Mackinac Island. I look forward to discovering more for a future book.

I suppose it appropriate for a geography major to point out Fort Mackinac is between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, not Lake Superior.

Paul A. Markun, AB’78
Mill Valley, California

We regret the error and thank Markun for the correction.—Ed.

Behind the book

An addendum to your piece about Claire Hartfield’s (JD’82) books (“History Matters,” Spring/19): I acquired and edited Hartfield’s A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919. It was published by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which has been my professional home for the last 30 years.

Dinah Solomon Stevenson, AB’63, AM’66
Hoboken, New Jersey


Scare tactic

May I suggest that the Magazine’s habit of adding in quotation marks the common shortening of one’s formal first name following the name itself (e.g., William “Bill” Wordsworth; Robert “Bob” Oppenheimer) is at best unnecessary and silly, and at worst pretentious and still silly. If you are following some uniform style code developed within the bowels of the University, its teachings do not seem to be followed by such literary contemporaries as the New York “Times” or the Wall Street “Journal.” If they were U of C alums, would you be writing in your pages about Donald “Don” J. Trump or Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra? I suggest you go with one or the other, but not both, and lose the “air quotes.”

George “Georgie Porgie” Vernon, JD’75, CER’08
Monroe, Wisconsin


We agree with Vernon that the Magazine has been a bit generous with quotation marks of late and thank him for raising the point. Beginning in the Fall/19 issue, we’ll reserve the use of quotes for nicknames that are not common shortened forms of given names.—Ed.

The University of Chicago Magazine welcomes letters about its contents or about the life of the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space, clarity, and civility. To provide a range of views and voices, we encourage letter writers to limit themselves to 300 words or fewer. Write: Editor, The University of Chicago Magazine, 5235 South Harper Court, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60615. Or email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.