Alumni write in about UChicago football, the glories of Hebrew, Woolworth’s, a sticky situation, and more.
In your Spring/22 issue, Maureen Searcy describes a recent article published in Health Affairs (“First, Do No Harm,” Quick Study). While Searcy’s summary of the article is accurate, the article itself seems deeply flawed, perhaps reflecting a poor peer review process. The core finding is that Black patients displayed markedly more negative descriptors in their medical records. This result is used to claim objective evidence of “unconscious bias.” Surely the data admit to more than one interpretation. To list just one example, it could be that their sample was angrier (possibly for good reason). I don’t understand why that would reflect unconscious bias on the part of the health care provider.
Richard Weinberg, AB’72
Durham, North Carolina
A good yarn
As an undergrad I bought enough Red Heart wool yarn in brown from Woolworth’s in the Hyde Park Shopping Center to knit an afghan (“Closing Time,” Alumni News Snapshots, Spring/22). It took months to complete. When I was adding the fringe on the ends, my then boyfriend Ram Dayal Munda, AM’69, PhD’75, who was earning his PhD in linguistics, taught me how to ply the fringe yarns into a more attractive and durable fringe in the manner practiced in his homeland of Chota Nagpur, Jharkhand, India. RDM and I later married, but he has since passed away. In the meantime, the afghan is still going strong, with the help of decorative repairs where the yarn is beginning to weaken.
Hazel Lutz, AB’71 (Class of 1970)
My Woolworth’s memory is of picketing the downtown Chicago Woolworth’s in 1960 when I was 11. At that time Woolworth’s stores in the South had segregated lunch counters. The NAACP supported boycotts of Woolworth’s up North in solidarity with the sit-ins. I joined the picket line with members of my father’s United Auto Workers’ Union local. In July of that year, in response to public pressure, Woolworth’s desegregated all of their lunch counters nationwide.
Jim Rebhan, AB’70
El Cerrito, California
The cover for the Spring/22 University of Chicago Magazine was a highlight. On that account, you might be interested in Jeff Goldberg’s comments in the July/August 2022 issue of the Atlantic, where he told of successfully negotiating the change of that magazine’s mailing label to one that could be easily removed to obtain a full view of the cover art. A studious effort was required to achieve the “full monty” of the UChicago cover.
Neal H. Scherberg
Associate Director, UChicago Medicine Adult Endocrinology Labs
Thank you! We have long campaigned for more easily removable mailing labels, very much appreciate Scherberg’s suggestion, and will continue our quest.—Ed.
The photo on page 41 of the Spring/22 issue (“Space-Age Pupils,” Alumni News Snapshots) brought back memories of a particularly favorite spot in Harper Library, although I don’t seem to remember much serious studying at the time. My then fiancé (later husband) and I would claim a study carrel right near the larger-than-life floating sculpture of Walt Whitman’s head, which allowed one of us to stand inside the head with only our legs showing. When I googled the sculpture, I realized that we weren’t the only students who were emotionally attached to this lighthearted work of art. We actually referred to the sculpture as “Herodotus’s Head” since it seemed more “U of C,” but stand corrected and share the same level of respect for Mr. Whitman.
Anna Lam Pilloton, AB’75
Not so grand?
David Sumner’s new book about Amos Alonzo Stagg profiled in the Winter/22 Magazine (“He’s a Grand Old Stagg …”) doesn’t quite live up to its billing as “one for the Stagg completist.” Stagg was the legendary University of Chicago football coach who, Sumner implies, walked on water as well as on his namesake Stagg Field during his 41 years at UChicago.
During Stagg’s early glory years of 1901–05, he was locked in a titanic battle with rival University of Michigan coach Fielding Yost. Both coaches used underhanded means of recruiting gifted athletes with little talent or inclination for academics as they vied for the Western Conference (Big Ten) title as well as the national championship. In addition, both coaches influenced professors and administrators to retain unqualified star footballers.
The most egregious example was Stagg’s top player, Walter Eckersall, EX 1907, a three-time All-American who led Stagg’s Maroons to their first win over Yost’s Wolverines in 1905 after four straight losses. The victory ended Michigan’s 56-game unbeaten streak and garnered for Stagg both the Western Conference and national football titles.
But Eckersall’s gridiron heroics hid the fact that he was essentially a paid ringer. He spent his freshman year enrolled solely in remedial courses in order to qualify for college academics. In four years he earned just 14 credit hours, 22 shy of a degree. To exasperated professors he might not have been the “Galloping Ghost” on the gridiron, but he sure was the galloping ghost on class attendance sheets.
Yet if there was one thing Stagg was as good at as coaching, it was hiding his and Eckersall’s shenanigans in order to achieve the pinnacle of football glory. Eckersall’s sorrowful academic record remained safely buried behind Stagg’s pious pronouncements of collegiate football purity, free from the corrupting influence of money, gratuities offered to gifted athletes notwithstanding. Even when ethical reforms were implemented for the 1906 season to combat rampant chicanery by Stagg, Yost, and others, Stagg’s reputation remained pure as Ivory soap.
As a now 55-year alum of the University, I still remember attending a “scrimmage” against North Central College on November 8, 1963. I went to Stagg Field to watch the rebirth of football at UChicago, 24 years after President Robert Maynard Hutchins abolished the sport to keep academics supreme. Two hundred of my classmates showed up to clog the field, stopping the game to protest the mere idea of football returning to the University of Chicago. The delayed game finally was played, but only after four students, including one of my dorm mates, were arrested.
Maybe those protesters were a bit of poetic justice for Stagg’s lust for football glory using tainted ethics 60 years earlier.
Walt Zlotow, AB’67
Glen Ellyn, Illinois
In praise of Hebrew
Our son attends the University of Chicago, which is why we receive copies of the University of Chicago Magazine. When the Winter/22 edition arrived, I read the magazine from cover to cover as usual. Only this time, I found some of the material unacceptable.
The article was titled “He’s a Grand Old Stagg …” Given our current environment of racism, antisemitism, and general anger at everyone who does not look, sound, or act like you, I found it very distasteful to find the following sentence without any context or explanation: “Stagg detested Hebrew—‘the deadest and most uninteresting language which developed out of the tower of Babel.’”
Would you have published an article that expressed similar sentiment regarding Hindi or Mandarin?
Please take the time to consider what appears within your magazine, especially in our current political and social environment.
Richard M. Siegel
Parent, College Class of 2022
Highlands Ranch, Colorado
It was disturbing to read the one-sided University of Chicago Magazine article emphasizing that U of C athletics director Amos Alonzo Stagg (1862–1965) detested the Hebrew language and called it “the deadest and most uninteresting language which developed out of the tower of Babel.”
To be fair, the Magazine could have mentioned how wrong Stagg was. The miraculous revival of Hebrew as a spoken language is unique in world history. This process began before Stagg was born and accelerated early in Stagg’s lifetime. Already in about the 1830s, Jews spoke a version of Hebrew in Jerusalem markets. In 1881 the author of the first modern Hebrew dictionary, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, and his friends agreed to speak only Hebrew. The language itself is linguistically fascinating: multiple words spring from three-letter roots. Many students of the language delight in uncovering the interconnected meanings of Hebrew words. Moreover, Hebrew—also called Lashon HaKodesh (“the Holy Language”)—has been the beautiful, sacred language of soulful prayers, songs, and literature for millennia.
Elizabeth (Liz) Berney, JD’78
Great Neck, New York
We appreciate the letters from Siegel and Berney and realize we would have done well to provide more context for the quote from Amos Alonzo Stagg. We selected the anecdote to illuminate Stagg’s path away from scholarship and to illustrate his admiration for his teacher and, later, employer William Rainey Harper—despite Stagg’s struggles in Harper’s field of expertise. We should have been more sensitive to these connotations of the quote and anecdote.—Ed.
I was sorry to hear of Eugene Parker’s death (Short List, March 22, 2022; see also Deaths). Parker was the last one living of the original occupants of the four corner offices in the Laboratory for Astrophysics and Space Research (LASR). After each of the others passed—John Simpson, Peter Meyer, and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar—Parker wrote a bibliographic memoir for the National Academy of Sciences.
Before LASR was built, Parker’s office was in the Enrico Fermi Institute. Across the hall was the lab room where Edward Stone, SM’59, PhD’64, one of Simpson’s doctoral students, worked. At lunchtime Gene would bring his brown bag over and visit with Ed. Simpson had given me a part-time job as a first-year student helping Ed. (Marty Israel, SB’62, introduced me to Simpson.) The lunch conversation ranged widely. Neither Gene nor Ed had gone to the College, and I was left to defend its concepts of general education. One day Ed asked for Gene’s help in interpreting the results he was analyzing, which were to become his thesis. Gene thought, thought some more, and was stumped. Ed went on to become a director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
In the classroom Parker was a demanding instructor. He was a master of the mathematics of physics but always insisted: do the physics first. He would announce the topic of the lesson. Next he would write one of Newton’s laws, manipulate it some, then turn to the class and ask: What do I do now? Before the class learned not to take the bait, someone would make a suggestion. Parker would proceed to fill the blackboards with equations in his marvelous script that looked like calligraphy. Finally, he would come to an absurd conclusion, point back to an early step, and harrumph: you failed to do the physics first.
Roger Taft, SB’65, SM’68
Laguna Beach, California
I have never found two more interesting articles with overlapping themes than in the May 31, 2022, issue of Short List. One pins down the importance of food for heart health (“Heal Thyself,” Jan–Feb/15), and the other recounts the journey into precisely the kinds of food that make a difference (“Recipe for Success,” Spring/22).
I tend my little collection of sprouting seeds, one of the best foods to keep an aging body/mind healthy. With the right foods, my emerging art practice takes on a new meaning. Eat right, stay well, say the cardiologist and the lawyer chef showing the way. Good choices for this edition!
Monty Brown, AB’59, MBA’60
Matters of style
I always read the Magazine and enjoy it immensely. I have a comment for the editing team, however. In the last issue, in the story on cochlear implants and early childhood language learning (“Family Doctor,” Spring/22), you used the term “White” with a capital W. I respectfully ask that you instead use the term “white” with a lowercase letter, as using the uppercase relates to white nationalism and suggests the idea that all white people share the same lived experience.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Meryl Zwanger, AB’92
With our Summer/20 issue, we began capitalizing both Black and White when referring to race. This was a decision that was made after much discussion and guided by The Chicago Manual of Style, the National Association of Black Journalists, and an extensive review of literature from linguists, journalists, and scholars of race. We recognize that there are compelling arguments against this stylistic decision; to address some of those concerns, we lowercase references to white nationalism and similar phrases in accordance with Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary. We thank Zwanger for raising this important issue.—Ed.
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