Mailboxes in the Social Sciences Research Building. (Photography by Joy Olivia Miller)
Readers sound off

Readers weigh in on World War I art; a rare honor for Robert Morrissey, PhD’82; the problems that have befallen Gary, Indiana; the effect of immigration enforcement on children arriving from Central America; the benefits of online education; a UChicago championship ski team; and more.

Wartime romance

The World War I theme illustrations you featured from extinct French publications were properly serious, noble, and dark (“Battle Lines,” Nov–Dec/14). However, not all were such.

An illustration hangs on the walls of the smart Lowenthal Gallery, found on the upstairs hallway, office, and master bedroom of our Florida manse.

Clipped from an early 20th-century periodical, Fantasio, it features a very French corpsman (“On the Front”) expressing his undying love for a modest, pretty jeune femme. She reminds him of what he is really fighting for. Also, her hand smells really good.

Many sharp-eyed alums would recognize the signature of the artist, Louis Icart, who managed to find light in the dark days of war.

Larry Lowenthal, AB’64 (Class of ’63) Cooper City, Florida Louis Icart is also represented in the En Guerre exhibition and catalog. Due to rights restrictions we were not able to include his work in the story, nor the image Larry Lowenthal kindly sent to us here.—Ed.

There at the beginning

I find it amazing that a full 10 years have transpired since the Magazine first covered news of the Center in Paris in the inaugural issue of the Core. Now information reaches a broader base of alumni with your “Paris at 10” article (Nov–Dec/14).

To see the center flourish and expand is great news indeed, but your article lamentably only gives a passing note to the one individual not recognized enough at the beginning of the Paris dream, chiefly Robert Morrissey, PhD’82, who alongside Herman Sinaiko, AB’47, PhD’61, first envisioned a Chicago Paris. We were three that first year in 1983, a full 20 years before the existence of our center there, and I was proud to be one of those chosen, but my participation would not have been possible without the mentorship of Robert.

Fresh after the Common Core and the second quarter and now declaring a French literature concentration (after initially thinking that I was destined to become a UChicago chemist), I took my first courses with Robert and I remember vividly studying Flaubert with him. Robert proved to be quite the energetic Flaubertian scholar, engaging and challenging me in the best UChicago spirit. He further initiated me into the deep mysteries of the synecdoche and litote (all the way from Corneille to Baudelaire and beyond), thus enriching my understanding of the now not so simple metaphor. He finally closely monitored my work in the language lab, working periodically with the monitor there. All seemed at that time to be following a fairly predictable trajectory until one day I was approached by Robert to determine if I would be interested in studying abroad in Paris. In hindsight that question really didn’t need asking, and of course I said yes.

I owe an amazing life and academic experience in the City of Lights to Robert, who saw in me the potential to thrive in Paris. Even when I had initial jitters Robert was always there to encourage me. And so I now come to the crux of this letter where I read in your article and to which I take offense: “And in a related development, Morrissey, who once stood ankle-deep in the mud, was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2003.” I must defer to the writer of this article but take issue with the slight reference “in a related development,” as though the granting of the Legion of Honor was a minimal, nay, passing achievement. I have to state here that it is not just “a related development” but something quite tremendous. It is a high privilege to be granted the Legion of Honor and to be a non-Frenchman designated for such consideration is even more amazing, such is the rarity of those who are not French to receive such recognition.

Robert was a guiding and formidable force in an area UChicago had yet to explore, and now it is such a part of the College experience, it is hard to imagine a time when study abroad did not exist. We are now also in China and India, but it all began as a dream in 1983 with three College students and an arrangement with Sarah Lawrence College.

So I say to the UChicago community kudos to 10 years in Paris, and to Robert, my mentor, I end, quite simply, with these three words: à Robert, félicitations!

Phillip M. Semrau, AB’85, AM’85 Walnut Creek, California

Mistaken identity

Thank you for printing my letter in the Nov–Dec/14 issue. I am writing again because I must admit to an error that was gently pointed out to me by fellow alum Robert K. Burkhardt, AB’72. He quite rightly reminded me that the course on Islamic civilization was taught by Reuben Smith of the Social Sciences Division. He confirmed his information by consulting a copy of the time schedules booklet for that period. (Obviously, he is more of a pack rat than I and probably has a better memory.) I hope that you will print this correction. I wish I could satisfactorily explain my confusion, but I believe that I can only put it down to the conflation of memories over time. My apologies to both Professor Smiths—you were both outstanding teachers.

Jill P. Strachan, AB’71, AM’72 Washington, DC

Another view on Gary

I was disturbed that your article on Gary, Indiana (“City Limits,” July–Aug/14), could raise a Republican/conservative rant with no basis in reality (Letters, Nov–Dec/14).

My fellow alumnus lauds Gary’s citizens as being well educated and family oriented but then states that poor schools and the decline of the family were factors in the town’s problems. The Gary educational system was one of the best in the world. A young man who went to school and did his homework could even follow his sister to the University of Chicago. Did I just write that?

He claims that it was a hub of economic activity, when the steel mills were the only major employers in the area. Their decline is the problem. Management, which he says “invested heavily in technology and expansion capital,” made some wrong decisions. Just like Spain sucked gold out of the new world to buy English linen, Gary’s gold from steel was sent elsewhere. I guess unions made sure management invested those profits elsewhere. In the 1960s, a union mill rat, as we referred to ourselves, could maintain a household, barely, on one salary. Try doing that with a present-day right-to-work state, nonunion minimum wage. No workers in Gary complained about high taxes then, and no one earns enough to pay taxes now, so where does that come from? Crime and corruption? I thought those are the present problems.

I hope that Stephen J. Breckley’s (MBA’68) hometown of Chandler, Arizona, never has to face the problems Gary has. And just to make sure everyone understands my own hypocrisy, I do not live in Gary, but I pray for those who do.

Roberto Guadiana, AB’77 (Gary West Side High, 1973) San Antonio, Texas

Border crossings

Informed only by your interview with Maria Woltjen (“Immigrant Children,” Sept–Oct/14), one would think that the influx across our Southwestern border of “unaccompanied children” arose because of chaos in Central America. But that’s not new, so why the sudden surge?

In reality, the surge results from several years’ systematic refusal by the administration to enforce our immigration laws plus the flagrantly illegal DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], the de facto amnesty for illegal-alien “DREAMers” it imposed by fiat in 2012. As the summer’s illegal arrivals told Border Patrol officers, they were encouraged by this record to assume they’d be granted “permisos” to stay here instead of being deported.

Woltjen implies that these illegal-alien children are by no means home- free, that deportation proceedings are in their futures. But such proceedings are years away, by which time it will be considered unspeakably cruel to deport them. And history suggests that few of them will show up for their scheduled hearings, anyway.

At one point, Woltjen cites the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, but these children aren’t being trafficked for nefarious purposes, they’re just traveling to join their parents already here (often illegally too), so the 2008 act doesn’t apply.

Woltjen also says her organization in the Law School “looks to international law, specifically the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” neglecting to mention that the United States has never ratified this treaty.

It’s surprising that Woltjen is off about so many material points within her realm of presumed expertise, unless she’s simply a fabulist. Either way, the lack of pushback against her in this interview illustrates how little Joe Q. Citizen (in this case, your interviewer) knows about contemporary immigration realities.

Paul Nachman, PhD’78 Bozeman, Montana

Maria Woltjen, lecturer in law and director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, responds: This is admittedly a complex issue. Certainly some children are coming to reunify with their parents, and some children and families have made the journey believing they will be allowed to stay. But most are fleeing because of violence. A Border Patrol report acknowledges the increase in violence in Central America and states that the murder rate in Honduras increased from 60 per 100,000 in 2008 to 80 per 100,000 in 2013.

In our work at the Young Center, children tell us, “They killed my family and tried to kill me,” “I was beaten and raped,” “I am afraid to go to the police.” This is consistent with recent reports. In March 2014, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued Children on the Run, a report finding that 58 percent of the children are fleeing violence and abuse.Other countries—Costa Rica, Belize, Panama—have also seen dramatic increases in the number of children and families seeking safety.

Contrary to the writer’s statement, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act applies to child trafficking victims “and other vulnerable unaccompanied alien children.” With respect to the length of deportation proceedings, in August 2014 the Department of Justice prioritized children’s cases for adjudication. Children are now required to appear in court within 21 days of release. When they don’t appear, they are ordered removed. Our government’s own data demonstrates that when children have attorneys, many are able to establish their eligibility for relief from removal.

The writer is correct that the United States is one of only two countries that have failed to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (the other is Somalia). Yet the US Supreme Court, in its decision in Roper v. Simmons, recognized the significance of the convention given its near universal ratification.

Racing to the top

An article in the Wall Street Journal on November 22, 2014, regarding the MIT football team’s humble beginnings in 1978 reminded me of a similar experience while I was a Class of 1977 undergraduate at UChicago.

In 1975 the University of Chicago had no ski team. There was a group of undergrad men and women who informally became aware that we all had some ski racing experience.

I posted flyers around campus for upcoming trips, and we had a few races and some good results. I distinctly remember some racers from other Midwestern colleges asking us where our textbooks were as we were getting into the starting gate prior to a race. Their comments were quickly silenced as we would usually defeat them.

I remember my mother calling me one day stating that the dean of the College had called her to tell her that her son was posting flyers around campus, looking for people with an interest in skiing, that were not approved by the University. As a credit to my mother, she said she was serious while on the phone with the dean, but when she hung up she started laughing. She said that only at the University of Chicago would something like starting an athletic club cause a dean to call a parent.

Since we had good results that first year, the following year the University actually funded us, a major ski company provided us with skis, and a UChicago MBA student who was formerly on the Japanese national ski team agreed to coach us. We trained on local hills about two hours from campus on Tuesday nights, and then we would drive to nearby ski races on Wednesday nights. On winter weekends we would log about 1,000 miles round-trip in our cars for ski races in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan.

In the 1977 season we were the Midwest Collegian Ski Association champions, having successfully competed against Big Ten and other Midwestern schools. This would be equivalent to Division III today. To my knowledge since that time there has been no University of Chicago ski team that has achieved such prominence. At the time there were few, if any, University of Chicago sports teams that were top-tier in Division III.

Perhaps this should rank up there with Jay Berwanger’s (AB’36) accomplishment as the first Heisman Trophy winner.

J. V. Prunskis, AB’77 Barrington, Illinois

You can go back again

Forty-three years after my U of C graduation and now a retired prof far from the campus, I’ve just taken an edX massive online open course (MOOC) with Paul E. Peterson, AM’64, PhD’67. My dissertation supervisor is still going strong (though at Harvard). Every week I could relish seeing him again in brilliant action with the substance, originality, verve, range, and clarity that first drew me to his/our field of study. Should they ever have a similar chance, other Chicago grads also might profit by seizing a decades-later chance via MOOC to learn once more from their University of Chicago mentors.

Richard G. Townsend, PhD’71 Toronto

A call for papers

Many years ago my hands encircled some short publications of Robert K. Burns, PhD’42. The publications, about communication, included “The Listening Technique,” “The Questioning Technique,” and several others that slip my memory. My copies were on a computer that was stolen, and I have searched to replace them ever since.

The mists lifted slightly when your publication mentioned his name in Letters, May–June/12. Some of the respondents seem to have served at UChicago with Burns back in 1950 or thereabouts. If someone out there has copies of his papers, please email me at George W. Gayle Rockford, Illinois


In Alumni News, Nov–Dec/14, we incorrectly identified Nicholas Rudall as the founding director of Court Theatre. Rudall was Court’s founding artistic director. We regret the error.

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: Updated 02.23.2015 to correct the murder rate in Honduras.