Letter slot

(Photography by Samantha Chapnick [CC BY-ND 2.0])

Readers sound off

Alumni write about unforeseen opportunities; the Divinity School coffee shop; Sam Greenlee, EX’57; Willie Davis, MBA’68; and more.

Greener greens and pastures

In typical Chicago fashion, John A. List’s article “Optimal Quitting” (Winter/22) led to personal reflections on my own career. It began with an opportunity afforded by a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and a letter from Norman Maclean, PhD’40, encouraging me to come to Chicago. When I began teaching in 1968 I didn’t exactly “quit” anything, but I made a major change of direction. I decided not to write about late 19th-century American novels. Instead I applied the humanities approaches I had developed to the study of popular commercial television fiction. There was little analysis of TV from this perspective, so I took the opening, and my work led to a very successful academic career, most of it spent at the University of Texas at Austin.

In 2001 I moved to the University of Georgia and retired 12 years later as director of the George Foster Peabody Awards. At UGA I experienced another feature of Professor List’s elegant essay. On my 66th birthday a card from my daughter in Austin contained a handwritten note: “You have six lessons at the University of Georgia golf course.” Again, I seized an opportunity. Retired in Austin, I play twice a week with friends. I’m the oldest. Most of them began golfing as preteens and regularly score in the 70s or 80s. My scores average around 100. But I know I’m maximizing the benefits of my time. On days when my score is 105, I do have, as List says, the “heartbreak” of investing time in something that isn’t working out. (It’s a hard game.) But on days when I manage a 93 or 94, the joy means I won’t be quitting. My change of direction certainly “scaled up,” and I have one hole in one to go with it.

Horace Newcomb, AM’65, PhD’69
Austin, Texas

Unaccounted for

Eswar Prasad, PhD’92, leaves out perhaps the most important (and devastating) consequence of the move away from cash (“Cash Out,” Winter/22). The FDIC noted that in 2019, 5.4 percent of US households (about 7.1 million) were “unbanked”; that is, no one in the household had any bank accounts. The most cited reason for being unbanked was “don’t have enough money to meet minimum balance requirements.” Morning Consult found that unbanked individuals were more likely to be younger and poorer, and less likely to identify as White. And the Federal Reserve found that 21 percent of Americans did not have a credit or debit card. So if cash goes away, how will these individuals pay for things? The article states that “most of us are already accustomed to banking from our laptops or paying the babysitter via Venmo.” But “most of us” isn’t all of us, and millions of people who don’t have bank accounts—let alone laptops—will be left out of this “digital revolution.”

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

If Eswar Prasad is right that money will go digital, how will that work for low-income people who work off the books? The case seems to embed a class assumption.

Richard Hoehn, AM’68, PhD’72
Adelphi, Maryland

As mentioned in the story, Prasad believes a post-cash future includes systems to ensure the unbanked and those with low incomes can participate. He elaborated in a recent MIT Technology Review article: “This shift may look like a potential driver of inequality: if cash disappears, one imagines, that could disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, and others at a technological disadvantage. In practice, though, cell phones are nearly at saturation in many countries. And digital money, if implemented correctly, could be a big force of financial inclusion for households with little access to formal banking systems.”Ed.

A living art

I liked the profile of Jeri Lynne Johnson, AM’05, and her Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra (“Orchestrating Change,” Winter/22). Such programs as hers will help keep classical music alive and open to more people. The article mentioned that she received the Taki Alsop Conducting Fellowship, which was founded by Marin Alsop. Ms. Alsop was the conductor for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music for 25 years here in Santa Cruz, California. Those of us living here were fortunate to see her conduct and to be exposed to lots of new music. Similarly, Johnson and her chamber orchestra are offering gifts to those who can hear them perform.

Nick Royal, MAT’69
Santa Cruz, California

Campus safety

President Paul Alivisatos and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee write in the latest Magazine (“A Message on Safety,” On the Agenda, Winter/22): “We must do more to support the social and economic health of the communities surrounding the University to address the root causes of violence.” The University has been hand-wringing like this since I was growing up and getting mugged in Hyde Park in the 1960s and 1970s. Worry less about root causes and more about the social justice policies like slap-on-the-wrist probations and no-cash or low-cash bail that put criminals back on the street. It is commendable that the University and city are increasing foot patrols for now. But stop and frisk should be in every beat cop’s tool kit. Armed robbers would be less likely to cruise Hyde Park looking for defenseless victims if they risked getting caught with an illegal firearm in their pants. Let’s spend less time studying crime and more of it seeing that criminals are put where they belong: in jail.

Benj Pollock, LAB’73

I read with great interest the material on campus safety. The safety measures are impressive. It reminded me that we actually had a problem with violence on the campus during my undergraduate years (1955–58). We had two measures. First the Chicago Police Department developed what were called “flying squadrons.” These were teams of two officers on motorcycles driving around the campus looking for suspicious activity. If you were running across the Midway, you were likely to get stopped and asked why. A second measure was that the fraternities developed small groups of members who, along with large dogs like shepherds and Dobermans, walked the campus looking for gangbangers. Most of the problems were caused by gang members. Physical assaults and muggings were the main problems, not shootings. But it is worth remembering that trouble on the campus is not new, and that the University has always worked hard to minimize it.

Robert B. Bloom, SB’58
Highland Park, Illinois

The twisting path

I recently read my alumni magazine and was captivated by the Core story about labyrinths (“How to Make a Labyrinth,” Winter/22). Thank you for sharing this interesting community tradition and profiling the person behind it. Although I don’t recall seeing any labyrinths on the quads as an undergrad, the article provided ample fodder for me to imagine what it might look like.

Shola Farber, AB’12
East Hampton, New York

Charm offensive

Where in the world did you get the quirky, charming stories in the Winter/22 issue of the Core? Although I probably have not read much of the magazine since its inception, I did love reading about the baby namer (“The Baby Namer”), the ice cream entrepreneurs (“Frönen by the Numbers”), and the adventurous trip from the Amazon (“Young Man and the Sea”). Congratulations on the Winter issue.

Diane Currano, AB’69

On Core editor Carrie Golus’s (AB’91, AM’93) behalf, thanks for the kind words! For readers who are unfamiliar with the quirks and charms of the Core, it is the Magazine’s biannual supplement focusing on the undergraduate College and is mailed to College alumni and parents. The Core is available for all to read at mag.uchicago.edu/thecore.—Ed.

Core connections

As I read the Summer/21 issue of the Core cover to cover in one sitting, it brought back memories—triggered by not just one but multiple articles. I was a contemporary of Carl Sagan, AB’54, SB’55, SM’56, PhD’60, a fellow member of the Ryerson Astronomical Society (of which he was president). I was already an avid reader of science fiction and suspect Sagan was one also, particularly because of his novel Contact (1985), written a number of years later and made into a movie starring Jodie Foster. I do not, however, recall him being a member of another UChicago-sponsored club devoted to science fiction (but not fantasy), which included many adult writers of the genre who were most kind to me, a mere 15-year-old undergraduate.

In reading the article about Professor Roy Mackal (“Roy Mackal’s Wild Speculation”), I was shocked that many of his fellow faculty members ostracized him because of his pursuit of supposedly extinct species (even though he employed strict scientific controls rather than just speculation fueled by a desire to make it so). Carl obviously believed that intelligent life could evolve on planets outside our solar system, but I wonder if his colleagues studying planetary systems at Cornell University agreed with him—although Donald Keyhoe had already published The Flying Saucers Are Real (1950) and Erich von Däniken his book Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past (1969).

I noticed other interlocking themes in that same issue. Would some readers of the Core, had it omitted photographs, believe that Nestor the Midway Cat was a figment of imagination akin to Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster? Would students in Leila Brammer’s Parrhesia Program for Public Discourse be comfortable debating the pros and cons of Mackal’s lifelong pursuit? Would Rep. Andy Kim’s (AB’04) admonition to find middle ground through listening remind people to listen to speakers espousing an opposing viewpoint?

Peter Clauss, AB’55
Newtown Square, Pennsylvania

The fast track

Andrew Peart’s (AM’16, PhD’18) article “Undercover Man” (Fall/21) was not only a fascinating piece about a unique Hyde Park/U of C character, the late Sam Greenlee, EX’57; it also filled in a gap in my memory about the early-to-mid-1950s. I had often wondered if the author of The Spook Who Sat By the Door (1969) was the same Sam Greenlee whom I knew as a fellow member of Edward “Ted” Haydon’s (LAB’29, PhB’33, AM’54) U of C Track Club. The article verified that they were one and the same.

I knew Sam as a superb half-miler. One other Ted Haydon/U of C Track Club memory: along with other members, I enjoyed an evening with Dick Gregory in the early days of his rise as an iconic figure of the civil rights movement. Gregory had been a club member with Ted, who introduced him that night as a rising local comedian. Such an exciting time, and what a yeasty place was Hyde Park in the 1950s! I only regret that my acquaintance with Sam ended as we took somewhat different paths. I’ll make up for that loss in part by tracking down and enjoying his videos and written works. Thanks to Peart and the Magazine for reminding me of how privileged I was to have been in Hyde Park during those exciting years.

Alan D. Wade, PhD’60
Sacramento, California

Divine beans, and beings

Your utterly unexpected picture of the Divinity School coffee shop in full swing brought me the keenest recollections (“Where God Drinks Coffee,” Snapshots, Fall/21).

In case you don’t know, that picture was almost certainly taken in 1983. The man behind the counter on the left is Rick Rosengarten, AM’88, PhD’94. On the right is Glenn Hewitt, PhD’86, who by then was probably the manager of the coffee shop. Both were students in the Divinity School at the time, and both went on to have noteworthy academic careers—Rick at the Divinity School, where he is currently associate professor of religion and literature, and Glenn at Maryville College for a tragically short time.

At that time, everybody who worked in the coffee shop was a student in the Divinity School with one exception: me. I was a student in the College, but Joe Price, AM’79, PhD’82, the resident head of my house (Bishop House, fourth floor of Shoreland) and the manager before Glenn, needed an extra pair of hands one quarter and I was available. Once I started at the coffee shop, I never wanted to leave. I was taken into the Swift community without reservation, and I loved them back.

And then there were the customers—professors, Div School students, undergrads, the Plant Department guys, the U of C Press graphics people, clergy of every denomination. You never knew who would come through the door, or what they would be talking about as they arrived. You just knew that every day would be an adventure.

I sometimes think that my most important educational experience at the U of C was to go through the daily rhythm of life for a few years in the company of a bunch of people who were individually and collectively committed to a rigorous search for transcendent meaning, and who saw that as entirely compatible with making sure the floor was swept, keeping the shelves stocked, and brewing a decent cup of coffee.

My one regret is not having thanked all of my coworkers—and especially Glenn, while he was still with us—for the world that they shared with me. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and thank you to the Magazine for giving me a chance to do something about that.

Jacob Thiessen, AB’85
Williamsburg, Virginia

A generous mentor

I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Professor Walter Kaegi this spring. A giant in the field of Byzantine history, Professor Kaegi was not only a remarkable scholar but also a devoted mentor to his students.

UChicago News’s obituary highlighted Professor Kaegi’s dedication to and impact on his doctoral students. But as one of the last undergraduate students to have the honor of having Kaegi as my thesis adviser, I will remember him for the time and lessons he was willing to share with younger students.

While I took five scheduled courses on Byzantine history with Kaegi, the most impactful course was an individual study during my third year on the role of the Armenian minority inside the Byzantine Empire, a topic that would ultimately become the subject of my undergraduate thesis. Kaegi dedicated an hour or more each week to discuss the subject, and we continued to have these weekly conversations throughout my final year, up until I submitted my thesis. His dedication to teaching and willingness to share his time and knowledge were remarkable.

Outside the classroom, he clearly enjoyed life at the University, sharing stories about how his Russian fur hat had once been a Scav item and attending the annual Sophie Day at Breckinridge House, where I was an RA. He also shared his insights on how the University had changed over his tenure in an interview we published in the Chicago Journal of History.

My last time seeing Professor Kaegi in person was as he was packing up his office for retirement and I was leaving Chicago to start law school. I will continue to remember, and attempt to emulate, his passion for teaching and readiness to share his knowledge and experience with others.

Michael Goodyear, AB’16
Long Island City, New York

Grace and greatness

In 1967–68, I was in the MBA program at the old location on East Delaware Place. I was working as a programmer in the early days of computers, in high demand working 50–60 hours per week, married with two kids, and stretching to make ends meet. I still had student loans from undergraduate and graduate school. We lived in Rogers Park, and we didn’t own a car, so I got around via public transportation such as buses and the “L.”

My closest “L” stop was several blocks away, and on late blustery winter nights after class, the walk was uncomfortable at best. A fellow student, whom I had gotten to know through several classes together, was Willie Davis, MBA’68 (Deaths, Spring/20). Willie was a defensive end for the Green Bay Packers. He was a ferocious football player who would be voted into the Hall of Fame, among other accolades. I remember the contrast between the gouges out of his knuckles and his mild nature. Off the field, he was one of the nicest men I ever met: calm, collected, even gracious. He was about 10 years older than me and seemed to have brotherly kindness toward me.

On those cold winter nights, when I was tired and anxious to get home, he would drive me to my “L” stop. He told me he and his wife had gotten big, beautiful Lincoln Continentals for his doing a commercial. I thought that was so cool. When we graduated, I think he bought a Budweiser franchise in California (great timing, no doubt), while I went on to build large global computer systems (pre-internet). I never got a chance to thank him after we parted ways, but I will always consider it an honor to have known him, ever so briefly, through our discussions during those short car trips to my “L” stop.

Charles D. Patton, MBA’68
Orlando, Florida


The obituary for Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, AB’60, PhD’65, in the Winter/22 issue misstated where he was born and his early history. Csikszentmihalyi was the son of a Hungarian diplomat and was born in Italy. To escape the rise of communism in Hungary, his family returned to Italy in 1947. While on vacation in Switzerland, Csikszentmihalyi heard a lecture by Carl Jung and decided to study psychology in the United States. We regret the errors and have updated the notice online.

The University of Chicago Magazinewelcomes 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, Chicago, IL 60615. Or email: uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu.