Readers sound off

Readers remember the cultural influence of historian Henry Steele Commager, PhB’23, AM’24, PhD’28; recall a flu-ridden arrival on campus; weigh in on language instruction; and more.

Inauspicious beginnings

Somehow, during my reading of the Spring/17 issue of the Magazine, it occurred to me that this September will be the 60th anniversary of my arrival on campus. This moment was largely unremarkable except that I was immediately diagnosed with the Hong Kong flu. If memory serves, I was the first person on campus and also in Chicago to be so diagnosed, a big deal at the time.

I was confined to Billings Hospital and later in my dorm room at Burton-Judson, eventually being released to campus, where I mostly avoided communicable diseases, going on to get a couple of degrees, before having a wonderful career at the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has its own kind of affliction at the moment.

Howard Zar, SB’61, SM’66

Spring ahead

Thanks a lot for the Spring/17 Magazine. I enjoyed it. It is well organized and full of information of high quality covering people of different cultures. I wrote a letter to congratulate Ed Navakas, AB’68, PhD’72, for his essay, “The Lost Quartet.” Please continue in this vein.

Jean-Paul Chautemps, MBA’73
Morges, Switzerland

Pop quiz

Magazine readers might like to know that long before the Department of Homeland Security patrolled the borders of the United States, Henry Steele Commager, PhB’23, AM’24, PhD’28, quietly stalked the northern border preventing undesirable Canadians from entering the country (“All American,” Spring/17). About 40 years ago I and a political science colleague traveled by car to the American Political Science Association meetings in Washington, DC. As we approached the border crossing point at Buffalo, New York, we were greeted by a friendly border official who asked us the usual questions as to the purpose of our trip and how long we planned to stay. I, the driver, told the customs officer that we were on our way to the annual APSA meetings and we chatted pleasantly for a minute or two. Then, just before he waved us safely on our way, the officer leaned down and said pointedly to me: “Henry Steele Commager.” I replied instantly: “Historian, Columbia University.” The officer straightened up, smiled, and replied: “Correct. Have a nice stay.”

As we proceeded on our way, my friend looked at me in puzzlement and asked: “Who the devil is Henry Steele Commager?” He, being a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, was immediately treated to a five-minute discourse on the towering prestige of one of UChicago’s most distinguished alumni. It was like a mini skit out of Fawlty Towers complete with my own “Manuel!”

Frederick Vaughan, AM’64, PhD’67
Hubbards, Nova Scotia

A culpa of forgetful editors

What did they forget? Ms. Miller and Ms. Demanski (“What Do You Call a Group of ...,” Spring/17) should have included the proper name for collective nouns (“terms of venery”), and they especially should have referred people to the classic book on the subject, An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton.

Bob Michaelson, SB’66, AM’73
Evanston, Illinois

Language matters

The teaching of spoken language so one can order a cup of coffee when visiting a country and actually be understood is a great idea (“Lingua Franca,” Spring/17). I wish the article had dealt with Asian languages more, including those, such as Chinese, with multiple dialects.

Arabic is a good example of dialects, as well as an example of a language with a separate literary form. There is an unfortunate omission in the list of countries where Levantine Arabic is spoken. This dialect is also spoken in Israel. It is one of the two official languages in Israel.

There are also many Jews of North African origin who speak the Maghrebi dialect.

Joel Bigman, SM’81
Haifa, Israel

A singular education

In the University’s Spring 2017 Building for the Future newsletter, Julius Warren Few, MD’92, clinical professor of plastic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, spoke of his experiences as a graduate from the medical school. He stressed his experience with innovation and his education in technology and art. “Technology needs great minds in aesthetics to grow and be successful,” he said.

His statement exemplifies the goals of a UChicago education. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia spoke of how he developed his legal concepts of originalism and textualism as a law professor at the University, and was also quoted as saying it was one of two or three schools that were intellectually challenging. Are these some of the reasons that the College has risen to third in U.S. News and World Reportrankings?

Perhaps in the afterlife I will have a chat with Justice Scalia as to the best schools of the American dream and of the freedom of conscience enshrined in the First Amendment in our Bill of Rights.

Leonard Friedman, AB’56
Middleton, Massachusetts

Pehrson remembered

I am the curator of anthropology at the Milwaukee Public Museum. I am working on our major fall exhibition, Weapons: Beyond the Blade, which will include an item from the Khyber Pass obtained by a University of Chicago student, Robert Pehrson, PhB’48, AM’53, PhD’55.

Pehrson died in 1955 during his graduate fieldwork in Pakistan, and his doctorate was awarded posthumously a few months later. One of his professors, Robert Redfield, LAB 1915, PhB 1920, JD 1921, PhD 1928, wrote a moving biography of this young man that was very helpful in my work. I plan to include part of Pehrson’s life story in the exhibit and wanted your readers to know about it. The exhibit will run from October 7 through January 1.

Dawn Scher Thomae


In Letters, Spring/17, we mistakenly called the 1968 UChicago football team the first team after football was reinstated as a varsity sport. The 1969 team was the first varsity team after reinstatement. We regret the error.

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