Readers weigh in on the Aspen Institute; the global views of Bret Stephens, AB’95; the University’s political leanings; the multiple choice question twins face when heading to college; the propriety of publishing a racial epithet; Alma Lach’s (EX’38) legacy; Robert Maynard Hutchins’s views about World War II veterans and the GI Bill; feline friends; and more.
Besides the Aspen Institute (“Elevated Discourse,” July–Aug/14), the University also had an Aspen presence in a summer session of Humanities I, the first course in the humanities sequence of the old College. I was privileged to be a student in the course in 1956, just after graduating high school. Joshua Taylor led a very young and enthusiastic group of students in discussions that continued after class and into our free afternoons in town or in the mountains. More than 50 years later I can appreciate Taylor’s patience and skill in guiding us in the course and in suffering our pranks and excursions.
Another item in the same issue notes the death of Willard Visek, MD’57, who was assistant professor of pharmacology at UChicago. My first lab experience was gained working for him. After a career in the lab I appreciate his patience and care dealing with an absolute, and somewhat clumsy, beginner.
Michael Edidin, SB’60 Baltimore, Maryland
I enjoyed reading about the Aspen Institute (July–Aug/14). Names such as Mortimer Adler and Robert Maynard Hutchins rang a bell, since I was a UChicago graduate student from 1948 to 1952. However, I noticed what I believe to be a flaw in the program of the institute: it doesn’t address some of the nonsocial problems facing the United States. For example, although we are a major technological nation, we are among the very few nations left that are not on the metric system, the other two being Liberia and Myanmar. In contrast, our neighbor to the north, Canada, made the switch more than two decades ago. Thus the nation of the American Revolution is less revolutionary than its one-time Tory neighbor, despite all that reading of the Declaration of Independence at the institute. How come? Another issue: every year this country suffers substantial and tragic losses due to tornadoes. Shouldn’t there be a discussion about funding antitornado research so we can better address this problem? Ditto about wildfires. While I am sure the Aspen Institute makes a contribution to the intellectual and cultural attitudes of the participants, it does not make the contribution to the nation that it could be making if it looked at a wider range of problems facing our nation today.
Frank R. Tangherlini, SM’52 San Diego
Regarding the interview with Bret Stephens, AB’95 (Glimpses, July–Aug/14), what blows my mind is that this extraordinary individual was first attracted to UChicago and after graduation maintains the intellectual values of the University in his work. Regular readers of his column will note that it not only is like participating in a graduate world affairs seminar but, with its frequent casual illuminating literary references, reassures the reader that his/her intelligence is being respected.
Herbert Caplan, AB’52, JD’57 Chicago
In the Magazine’s puff piece lauding Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens we learn that he considers the Iraq War “still worth supporting” and that he believes “in the idea of America as a world policeman” lest we “get … chaos and anarchy” like in “the 1920s and ’30s.”
Perhaps in the future Stephens will use the journalistic skills that earned him the U of C’s Professional Achievement Award for distinguished alumni to describe just what years of American intervention have brought to Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen.
John K. Taylor, AB’68 New York City
A funny thing has happened to the University of Chicago and its graduates. When I was an undergraduate it was decidedly unpopular to support the government and the Vietnam War, not because anyone argued that the war made no sense, but possibly because my peers were themselves disinclined to put their lives on the line or, like Dick Cheney, they had “other priorities.” Today, however, I note that my antiwar classmates are completely invisible as the United States curtails civil liberties while fighting self-destructive wars in places where our nation has no genuine interests.
I also note that the U of C culture itself appears to have changed for the worse, with the institution uncritically promoting statist viewpoints that it would almost certainly have eschewed in the 1960s. I recall that Straussian future Pentagon enablers of war with Iraq Paul Wolfowitz, PhD’72, and Abram Shulsky, AM’66, PhD’72, were U of C products, but they and their viewpoints were not discernible on campus. Today neoconservatives appear to have established a foothold, at least if one judges by the pages of the alumni magazine. Law professor and unitary executive booster Eric Posner, LAB’84, pops up regularly, and the most recent issue featured alumni award recipient Bret Stephens, whose war-without-end journalistic credentials include the Jerusalem Post, Commentary, and the Wall Street Journal.
The May–June/14 issue included a story about a panel defending government secrecy (“Disclosures,” Marketplace of Ideas). Going back a few years, David Brooks, AB’83, a Canadian-born neocon, also received a distinguished alumni award, and I recall that Bill Kristol has spoken on campus. I am not for a second suggesting that neoconservatives or government spokesmen should in any way be banned from campus, but I am disturbed to note that there doesn’t seem to be much open criticism of the national security state at the University if one goes by what is reported in the Magazine.
Philip M. Giraldi, AB’68 Purcellville, Virginia
During my graduate years at the University, 1965 to 1970, I became aware of Gary Becker’s (AM’53, PhD’55) paper on economic incentives as determinate in choice of mate (“Human Capitalist,” July–Aug/14).
At the time, I lifted a skeptical eyebrow, as a psychologist, wondering what he had left out of his theory. Today the New Yorker (July 21, 2014) quotes the new Fed chair Janet Yellen on her husband’s, the Nobel laureate Robert Akerlof, current interest in “identity economics.” The writer, Nicholas Lemann, explains, “this is the study of how people’s conceptions of who they are, including race, gender, and ethnicity, can shape their lives and decisions more than standard economic incentives.” This, too, is my experience.
If this is a straw in the wind, I welcome it. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of dark Hobbesian economic explanations. Helen E. Hughes, PhD’70 Belfast, Maine
My twin and I are AB’86 and I think we were the only multiples for the four and a half years we attended the College. Reading Anne Ford’s (AM’99)story (“Multiple Choice,” the Core, Summer 2014) made me so happy for all of the twins and trips who are attending the U of C, as well as any other postsecondary choice multiples are making who choose to stay together.
The thought of being away from Mary for college never crossed my mind. We lived across the hall from each other on Tufts in Pierce (a moment of silence, please), and then we shared an apartment together off campus until we graduated. We are high school special education teachers in neighboring suburban school districts outside of Chicago and have always lived within 15 miles of each other.
Thanks for writing this story!
Kate Tax Choldin, AB’86 Morton Grove, Illinois Mary Tax Choldin, AB’86 Evanston, Illinois
I just read the great piece on multiples in the Core. People often ask me if twins should go to college together or what the frequency of joint attendance is. No one knows. It is a study that should be done and perhaps I will do it someday. I do advise twins not to sit together in class, however. I have been an expert witness in a number of cases involving accusations by professors of twins cheating because they turn in similar work. I always support the twins.
By the way, finding 16 sets is not surprising given the rise in twin births—mostly fraternal, however, due to moms having kids later and the availability of assisted reproductive technologies.
Nancy L. Segal, AM’74, PhD’82 Fullerton, California Segal is the author of Someone Else’s Twin: The True Story of Babies Switched at Birth (Prometheus, 2011) and Born Together—Reared Apart: The Landmark Minnesota Twin Study (Harvard University Press, 2012). Read the Magazine’s Mar–Apr/12 profile of her, ‟Twin Studies.”
I was pleased to see the profile of Carl Van Vechten, PhB 1903; I was unaware that he was a graduate of the College (“Bon Viveur,” the Core, Summer 2014). No doubt many readers were mystified by the very oblique reference to Van Vechten’s best-known work, Nigger Heaven (Knopf, 1926). Your journal is aimed at the broad University of Chicago community, whose members ought to be able to place the use of an offensive racial epithet within the context of its time. The spirit of free intellectual inquiry would seem to dictate against suppressing the book’s title.
Robert W. Blythe, EX’72 Chicago
Alma Lach, EX’38, changed my life (“Food Life,” the Core, Summer 2014).
I was a freshman living in the Shoreland dorm. The Lachs were resident masters. My roommate and I attended an event in the Lachs’ apartment where the author Richard Stern spoke, and we had a chance to meet and talk with the Lachs. I must have made some kind of impression, because to my surprise, I subsequently received a phone call from Mrs. Lach (she was always Mrs. Lach to me, even after I graduated; it took a long time to bring myself to call her Alma) asking if I would like to assist her with future such events. I was delighted to accept.
She always did the cooking, but she taught me how to set a table, how to load a dishwasher, and, yes, how to make a gin and tonic.At some point it became apparent to me that I was going to have to leave school because I could not afford the whopping $5,000 annual tuition plus room and board. I mentioned this to her once and, again to my surprise, some time later I received a call from her husband. He needed a research assistant and asked if I would be interested in the job. His chair would fund my tuition for the remainder of my time in the College. While a junior, I met my future wife and introduced her to the Lachs; after I graduated, she continued as Donald’s (PhD’41) research assistant.
We continued to stay involved with their social events throughout our College years and met so many interesting people. After graduation we kept in touch, and when we last saw her, she seemed as vital as she did all those years ago when we were College students. She shared with us many of her Photoshop creations, featuring pictures of our children that we had sent her.
Without Mrs. Lach, there would have been two fewer College graduates. This year Sondra, AB’86, AM’87, and I established the Donald and Alma Lach Resident Masters Fund at the College to support resident masters’ programming that maybe can change the lives of future students, as Alma changed mine all those years ago.
Stuart Feldstein, AB’84, JD’87 Bondurant, Iowa
It is truly dispiriting to read that a nonfaculty staff member of the Oriental Institute has described Egyptian human and animal remains as mere “spare parts” in an insensitive interview (“Mummy Figures,” Fig. 1, UChicago Journal, July–Aug/14). The peculiarly lowbrow tone continues with reference to Egyptians as “these guys” and the institute’s artifacts as “this stuff.” For the record, our preserved “monkey’s paw” is not “straight out of Edgar Allan Poe”; it is straight out of W. W. Jacobs. Robert K. Ritner, PhD’87 Professor of Egyptology Oriental Institute, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, and the College Chicago
What Hutchins meant
I was disappointed to see Frederick Lehrer’s (MBA’64) letter in the July–Aug/14 issue, in which he propounds the myth that Robert Maynard Hutchins opposed the GI Bill in 1944 out of elitism. I find that people who bash Hutchins for his criticism of the GI Bill—invariably using the single quote that Lehrer takes out of context—have usually not read his article in the December 30, 1944, issue of Collier’s. (It may be read online.)
To quote the article, “As for the higher levels of education, they remain the preserve of the relatively rich. Before the war only 14 per cent of young people of college age were in college. Repeated studies have shown that these students were not the best; they were the richest. The factor determining the educational opportunities of the young American is the money he can afford to spend on them. ... The G.I. Bill of Rights recognizes this fact and incorporates into our national policy the principle that there must be no relation between the education of a citizen and the income of his parents. It would be a tragedy if this principle were discredited, because the rest of the educational provisions of the act are unworkable. As the act stands, it threatens to demoralize education and defraud the veterans.” He goes on to suggest that many veterans would use the GI Bill only in order to get training for jobs, and that many of those enrolling for vocational training would in effect be defrauded, just as “in the depression year of 1934, 150,000 students finished their schooling in bookkeeping, and 36,000 new bookkeepers were hired.” And “other agencies, in other ways, must tackle and solve the problem of mass unemployment.”
Clearly Hutchins was not espousing an elitist viewpoint; indeed he was emphatically advocating universal access to higher education, a consistent theme throughout his life. At the same time, though, he was concerned that there could be a depression following the second World War, as one had followed the first World War, and that returning GIs who used their educational benefits for vocational training would be left without a job, while colleges and universities would have cynically taken the GI Bill money.
Bob Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73 Evanston, Illinois
As a student in the College, 1945–47, and a veteran badly wounded in WW II in the liberation of France from the Nazis, I found the University totally welcoming to veterans, President Hutchins genial and courteous. I believe that Hutchins’s fear about the future of education in 1944 was that scientific, technological, and career-oriented interests would overwhelm the classical, humanistic great books programs in which he so strongly believed. In the long run, his fear has been justified. Humanities and classical education are dominated now by career-oriented programs at so many universities and colleges. Computer science is a central theme.
Moreover, Hutchins gave the University in those postwar years sterling leadership in the search for a just and peaceful world. He called for a national conference on the meaning and impact of the atomic bomb. Important national leaders attended. Out of that conference came a proposal for a world government, the kind of bold thinking scarcely recognized or understood today. The University in those years was a wonderful place for creative efforts. Radical speakers were heard, Paul Robeson for one. The liberal veterans’ group the American Veterans Committee had a chapter there. There were stirrings for racial equality.
My understanding of the world today, the books I have written, the articles published, all seeking some grasp of war and peace, violence and compassion in America, are rooted in those great years in the College and an education that Hutchins gave me. Today, at 89, I return again and again to the readings I had then: Sophocles, Plato, Dostoyevsky. It is those readings that have helped give me the strength and understanding to survive these 70 years of turmoil and struggle since my wounding in 1944. As a veteran of that war, I am forever in gratitude to President Robert Maynard Hutchins.
Edward W. Wood Jr., PhB’47 Denver
Pamela Cook, AM’05, relates that on the day after President Bush was reelected, an “obviously angry professor” devoted a whole class period to “ranting about the evils of the Republican Party” (Letters, July–Aug/14). When Ms. Cook objected to the partisan lecture she was insulted by fellow students with the professor’s tacit approval.
In defense of the University, it can be noted that these and other alleged incidents occurred in the School of Social Service Administration. Social work classes are not typical of graduate programs. The field has always had a left-liberal outlook but seems to have taken a further turn toward political activism after President Clinton’s “end of welfare as we know it.” The National Association of Social Workers has demanded since 1996 that social workers promote social justice “from local to global levels,” and their idea of social justice would of course differ from Milton Friedman’s (AM’33). If one Googles “The Scandal of Social Work Education,” one will find accounts of courses devoted to “the global interconnections of oppression,” “strategies of empowerment practice,” “oppressive structures,” and “political advocacy as a form of mobilization.”
But the current course descriptions on SSA’s website are about helping individual clients, with no postmodernist jargon. The only exception is a course on the impact of torture on people “marginalized by the larger (privileged) society because of their gender, race and age.” Ms. Cook would probably have had a worse experience in most other social work programs. Full disclosure: my late mother was a social work student at the U of C before I was born. She fondly remembered a formidable dean whose first name was Sophonisba.
Malcolm Sherman, SB’60, SM’60 Albany, New York Sophonisba Breckinridge, PhM 1897, PhD 1901, JD 1904 ,was dean of the Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy from 1909 to 1920, when it merged with UChicago to form SSA, and was Samuel Deutsch Professor of Public Welfare Administration at SSA.—Ed.
The July–Aug/14 issue makes note of the University’s recent affiliation with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts (“Going Public,” UChicago Journal). Readers should have an interest in a much older link, albeit less formal, now more than a century past. Woods Hole was the training ground and vital resource for some of Chicago’s earliest stars in the biological sciences.
Before me as I write this is C. Judson Herrick’s George Ellett Coghill: Naturalist and Philosopher (University of Chicago Press, 1949). An autobiography of the author and biography of his mentor, both members of Chicago’s pioneering faculty in biology, the work is a much neglected contribution to understanding the incubator role of facilities like Woods Hole.
We should be especially proud of this affiliation. Only the Marine Biological Laboratory in Naples, Italy, is its equal, now and a century ago. Read The Tragic Sense of Life (University of Chicago Press, 2008) by Robert J. Richards, PhD’78, the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Science and Medicine at UChicago. While the book is focused on the life of the German Darwin, Ernst Haeckel, interspersed is an account of the Italian laboratory’s role in social struggles that shaped Darwinian theory, to which should be added the modern toxic waste controversies over the Lancet-labeled Triangle of Death near the Bay of Naples. (My personal title for both strands of time: Parrots in a Cage and the Identity of Fact.)
FYI: this is being written four-tacks-to-the-wind (on a good day) from the pier of another great institution, the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.
Sheldon W. Samuels, AB’51 Solomons Island, Maryland For more on the MBL affiliation, see “Natural Connection.”—Ed.
Room for debate
I was rather surprised that the Magazine devoted several pages to a discussion between national security experts Tweedledee and Tweedledum (“Disclosures,” May–June/14) and placed this under the heading Marketplace of Ideas. Tweedledee, also known as George Little, was a spokesman for the CIA from 2007 to 2011, and then for the Department of Defense until last year. Tweedledum, also known as Tommy Vietor, was a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
Little breaks the news that openness and secrecy are inevitably in tension when it comes to reporting governmental conduct and avers that “I have a bias toward openness.” Yet immediately afterward he insists that “there are some things that need to be secret and remain secret.” His twin also has a bias toward openness: he was glad about the “conversation” that Edward Snowden’s revelations initiated and believes that “trust is just not a sufficient answer.” Yet he brands Snowden’s revelations as “unconscionable” and rules out clemency. Since these Tweedles are capable of finishing each other’s sentences, the first one immediately chimes in, “I think the Snowden disclosures have done incredible damage.” Might Marketplace of Ideas imply something other than having two men trying to sell exactly the same product? Would Daniel Ellsberg ever be invited by the insider-politico Institute of Politics to be interviewed about limits to violating the Fourth Amendment and international amity?
Robert E. Lerner, AB’60 Evanston, Illinois
I’m responding to “Non-crazy Cat Lady” (the Core, Winter 2014). Living a mobile lifestyle historically meant for us no pets ... until we visited Seattle’s humane society in 2009. With the rise of the Internet and the ability to show photos of cats waiting to be homed, the staff promoted fostering, a concept new to us. My husband, Tod, and I jumped at the opportunity, and Fiona came into our life. We felt like cat whisperers, cooing and petting until frightened Fiona learned to trust us and became “home-able.” Watching her in the arms of two autistic boys whose family adopted her was a peak moment! Now living in London, we foster through the Cat Protection League. Cats stay with us from a few days to several months. We’ll take two at a time. It can be heartbreaking when someone moving into a flat has to say good-bye to a well-loved cat, or when we receive an abused cat, but it’s always fabulous to watch them transform into loving and lovable felines (we’ve had only two who resisted rehabilitation) and melt the hearts of their next owners when they meet. Lately we’ve been reading up on dog fostering. Who knows what the future will hold.
Ana Gobledale (née Dale), AM’77 London
There were a number of problems with the UChicago Journal story in the July–Aug/14 issue of the Magazine on the work of Wendy Doniger, the Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions in the Divinity School. The story was not up to our usual editorial standards, had an inappropriate headline, and was published without the knowledge of the individuals participating in the event on which it reported. The story incorrectly reported the status of Doniger’s 2013 book On Hinduism, whose Indian publisher, Aleph Book Company, received a demand to cease publishing from Dinanath Batra, similar to what he had sent to Penguin India regarding Doniger’s 2010 book The Hindus: An Alternative History. On Hinduism was never withdrawn in India; it was reprinted this spring, unchanged, and is available.
The Magazine apologizes for publishing the story and for any misperceptions it may have created, and has taken steps to prevent such mistakes in the future.
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