Readers sound off

Your takes on freedom of expression, overflowing appreciation of Barbara Schubert, EX’79, and more.

Booth reflections

Thank you for your interview with the dean of Chicago Booth (formerly the Graduate School of Business) (“Booth Values,” Fall/23). One of my biggest disappointments with my college years at the U of C was the inability to take any classes in the business school. While I was well educated at Chicago, a few business classes would have been an asset during my early years as a lawyer. I have always wondered why the University had denied its College students the interdisciplinary benefits of taking business classes to round out their education.

Edward Comer, AB’71
Washington, DC

Booth Dean Madhav Rajan’s interest in increasing the number of joint programs prompts me to write. In 1963 I chose to attend what was then the nation’s top-ranked school of education to pursue a PhD in educational administration. While at the University I initiated my own joint degree program by also pursuing an MBA. At the time the business school was of middling rank. Nonetheless I received an excellent business education that has served me well. Following military service, I returned to the University’s Graduate School of Education as assistant professor and assistant dean and then associate professor and associate dean. Following my brief four-year tenure, I left to join the federal government, motivated, in part, by the University’s increasing disinvestment in the School of Education. After more years of disinvestment, the University eliminated the school. Meanwhile, the business school began to receive the significant investments that propelled it to its current top rank.

Education alumni never received a satisfactory rationale for the decision. Chicago had been a leader of American education since the days of its founding with John Dewey. The consequence has been that American education has been deprived of Chicago-style intellectual leadership. That America’s schools could benefit from such leadership is indisputable.

The success of business and the demise of education may have been a case of “follow the money.” Or it may have been a reflection of a society that values short-term economic growth over long-term growth powered by a better-educated citizenry. I would have expected more of the University.

Arthur E. Wise, MBA’65, PhD’67
Potomac, Maryland

UChicago continues to take a leadership role in education through the Urban Education Institute and its four units. Learn more at uei.uchicago.edu.—Ed.

Freely expressed

I read with interest and growing concern “Free Expression at the Fore” (Fall/23). The three representatives you specifically mentioned—ACLU, American Library Association, and PEN America—are notoriously anti–free speech. They espouse the “woke” dogma of intolerance, racism, and entitled victimhood. I notice the discussion turned almost entirely on the diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda that promotes not only division and hatred but censorship and cancel culture. I presume this is not what President Paul Alivisatos, AB’81, believes he is launching.

Should this forum fail to include conservative, religious, international, and disruptive voices, thus creating an atmosphere without true intellectual diversity, then it will fail in its objectives. If this is a harbinger of what we can expect from a once great university, I fear for my beloved U of C.

Meredith Spencer Ellsworth, AM’78, AM’81
Longboat Key, Florida

The launch event covered many topics related to free expression. Among those, we chose to emphasize issues of diversity and inclusion in our story. To learn more about the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression and its initiatives and events, visit thechicagoforum.uchicago.edu.—Ed.

Thank you for the excellent article on the Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression. I’ve always felt strongly that the free exchange of ideas was the forte of the University of Chicago and the reason why young minds eager to learn are attracted to such an institution. This is why I found the letter to the editor from Elizabeth “Betsy” O’Halloran, AB’91, in the very same issue so ironic (“Speaking v. Seeking,” Letters, Fall/23). Just because someone disagrees with you on the subject of climate doesn’t mean he/she doesn’t deserve to be heard. I suspect that attitudes like hers are what give progressives a bad name these days. If we’re afraid of the free exchange of ideas, we’ve already lost the battle. And after all, hasn’t freely exchanging ideas always been one of the enduring triumphs of Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap?

Robert Heckmann, AM’80
Canton, South Dakota

Pride in UChicago

Why I love the U of C (and the University of Chicago Magazine, of course). At 101 I still devour each issue, and I’m often rewarded with reasons for pride. Two items from the Fall/23 issue: (1) two more Nobelists added to the list (“Top Honors”); (2) the last small paragraph on page 24 about the U of C Library’s work on providing access to banned books (“For the Record”).

Harold Lieberman, AM’49
St. Cloud, Minnesota


I enrolled in the Law School in fall 1969 and was excited about the return of varsity football to the U of C (“End Zone Play,” Snapshots, Fall/23). I attended virtually all of the games for the next three years as it was perfect entertainment on the usually balmy Saturday afternoons. While the quality of play wasn’t the greatest, the enthusiasm was—and the stands were reasonably filled with students.

I usually sat near the sports announcers as listening to them directly was more fun than listening to the radio broadcast on a handheld transistor radio farther away. I was also able to listen to the lighthearted jousting and conversations of the three or four members of the radio team during breaks in the reporting. Once an announcer commented on air as another opened a bottle of whiskey and passed it among them: “Oh, I see that Jack Daniels has just joined us in the stadium today.”

Since the school had no band, audience members were invited to come onto the field at halftime to perform in the World’s Largest Kazoo Marching Band. (Kazoos were available for sale and about 30 or 40 people created the band.) There was even a 10-foot-long kazoo that was carried onto the field and paraded around. At one game, as the band meandered around the field with no real organizers, the radio announcers quipped: “Now the band is forming a bust of Mayor Richard J. Daley. And now the band is forming a bust of President Edward Levi [LAB’28, PhB’32, JD’35]. And now the band is forming the bust by the police of a U of C student’s apartment looking for marijuana.”

Thanks for a great magazine and the opportunity to reflect back on some good memories.

J. Kenneth Mangum, JD’72
Maricopa, Arizona

Schubert salutations

I was happy to see Barbara Schubert, EX’79, mentioned in the Fall/23 UChicago Magazine (“Laser Focus,” Snapshots). I am also happy to supply a “symphonic story.”

I played bass in the University Symphony in 1980–84 (on a University-supplied bass, thank you!). After playing our first concert at Lexington Hall for Halloween 1980, with Barbara decked out in her witch’s costume, we opened the newly restored Mandel Hall with an all-Beethoven program featuring the Egmont Overture, the Mass in C, and the Fifth Symphony. The third movement of the Fifth opens with a cello and bass C-minor chord progression, and the bass section (or me, specifically) sometimes didn’t quite hit the high E-flat in rehearsals. At the performance Barbara faced the lower strings to start conducting the third movement, looked directly at the bass section, and mouthed the word “please.” Happy to say we accommodated and hit that high note.

I’ve played the Fifth at least three times with other orchestras since then, but every time I see Barbara mouthing “please” at the start of that movement.

Richard Solomon, AB’84
Pleasantville, New York

I first met Barbara as a first-year graduate student playing in the University Symphony Orchestra in the fall of 1994 and found her to be a driven and thorough conductor. This is evident in the detailed effort she puts into every concert: the oftentimes exhaustive rehearsals “until it’s right,” the costumes and grand concert entrances, and the thoughtful program notes.

Twenty-nine years later, I rejoined Barbara playing in the DuPage Symphony Orchestra, and it’s been a great reunion. Having played under a number of conductors who have an unenjoyable, micromanaging style, Barbara’s conducting maintains an overarching goal to make music end to end as much as possible, versus stopping frequently to correct every perceived technical problem. Playing with Barbara allows the music to take flight, and you find yourself engrossed in the magic of the moment, which is exactly where you want to be.

Luke Hollis, MPP’96
Elmhurst, Illinois

I played in the University Symphony Orchestra under Barbara Schubert for four years and felt only the greatest admiration and respect for her. She wrangled two Satinskys—my brother Andrew Satinsky, AB’85, MD’89, and myself—through symphonies, a tour of Eastern Europe, and my senior concert playing the Samuel Barber Violin Concerto. We played an impressively difficult repertoire for a university orchestra without a performance major. I remember one concert playing a piece by Carl Ruggles (whose music is “characterized by highly dissonant, nonmetric melodies” according to Britannica.com). The orchestra got about two minutes in when it became apparent that certain sections, which will remain nameless, had become irremediably lost. Unfazed, Barbara brought us to a halt, started the piece over, and led us to a successful conclusion and thunderous applause. I may have played in orchestras with more uniform skill levels among the players, but never with a more dedicated or skilled conductor.

Deborah Satinsky Cafiero, AB’89
Burlington, Vermont

Full-stomached defense

There was a before and after to my dissertation defense (“Cheers to Greer,” Snapshots, Fall/23). After: much drinking with pals from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and my director, Patrick J. O’Connor, at Jimmy’s (my first visit there) followed by a blurry dinner at some Italian place across from the Museum of Science and Industry.

Before, however, remains clearer in my mind, and not just because of the drinking: a big latte and several biscotti at Classics Café, at the urging of my stalwart husband, Henry. According to him, I hadn’t had anything to eat since the day before, except a few cortaditos, bien cargados.

To this day, that lack of appetite remains a mystery to me. I am, as the meme would have it, the sort of person who plans her day around her meals. But then, Hyde Park is a land of wonders and unexpected vistas.

Olga Vilella-Janeiro, PhD’01
Downers Grove, Illinois

Renewal’s costs

The topic of urban renewal in Hyde Park/Woodlawn decades ago is not particularly well-served by the sidebar “John W. Boyer [AM’69, PhD’75] on Hyde Park Urban Renewal” (“Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap: An Oral History,” Summer/23). The massive demolition-and-replacement activities summarized there have been the subject of many books and articles and could be the subject of many more. Yet the brief piece seems a bit of a whitewash. First, the statistical comparisons chosen may minimize the disparate impact. For example, while “about 58 percent of the total” of 4,371 families whose homes were demolished were African American, what about comparative family sizes? If one group tended to have more children, the total number of persons displaced would tend to be more skewed.

And where did the undefined number of people in the 4,371 dislocated families relocate? What proportion were able to afford to remain in the Hyde Park/Woodlawn area, and were there variances in return rates by race? Yet again (the possible questions are endless), were the demolished units concentrated in particular subareas?

Finally, the relation between intent and effect presents vexing questions here. Undoubtedly the University and its allies sought “to avoid being cast in a racially exclusivist portrait,” but was race discussed behind closed doors—and if so, how? Perhaps a public exhibit of the Southeast Chicago Commission’s notes and related materials could be arranged at the Reg.

I don’t mean to suggest anything wholly nefarious about either Boyer’s short article or the planning and urban renewal activities that are its subject. I grew up in Hyde Park in the 1960s and ’70s and took advantage of its stably integrated public schools. I would likely not have attended the U of C if it had relocated to California. I also heard lore about how my immigrant grandmother had to quickly sell her income property at 62nd and Greenwood, which she had finally bought with the proceeds of decades of piecework, when the neighborhood “changed” in the early ’50s. The demographic forces involved were huge, rapid, and unpredictable. Still, given the complexity and sensitivity of the topic, perhaps an entire issue of the Magazine rather than a compact blurb would have been more appropriate.

Andrew Mine, AB’81

For a fuller discussion of Hyde Park urban renewal by Boyer, see his 2015 book The University of Chicago: A History (University of Chicago Press), pages 343–54.—Ed.

Woodlawn Tap wisdom

During the 1960s, when Jimmy’s was my evening living room, there was no table service. The beer of choice was bottled Heileman’s Special Export (brewed in La Crosse, Wisconsin). This was a step up from the Schlitz on tap served in ill-washed pitchers to which we’d add a bottle of Guinness to kill the bad taste. After a few hours of drinking, the table would be covered with a sea of empty bottles, becoming a work of performance art. Sometimes, without warning, one of the help would come by and collect the empties, leaving the table denizens stunned. All that effort for naught! Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the mountain, we’d begin again to cover the table.

In later years I drew a different lesson from the table clearing. The community where I now live periodically invites Tibetan monks to visit. One of their activities is to construct a mandala out of colored sand. After several days of meticulous work, the completed mandala is destroyed in a formal ceremony. This act of destruction is a reminder that everything in the world is impermanent and that we should not attach ourselves to anything too strongly. It was at Jimmy’s where I first learned this lesson.

Roger Taft, SB’65, SM’68
Laguna Beach, California

The oral history of Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap brought back memories from the early ’80s, one a more conventional UChicago experience, another less so. Divinity School students used to meet at tables in the window of the west room on Friday afternoons. The gathering was modestly dubbed the “Brains Trust,” if I recall correctly. It was more or less by invitation only. After a fortunate seminar presentation in my second year, I got the call and joined my fellows in often heated but always jovial, well-lubricated discussions. I learned as much in those discussions as I did in the classes that spawned them.

My second recollection is more unusual. A graduate student from England via Canada, I was well used to whiling away hours in pubs over a book with a beer or three. In England pub snacks include packets of crisps—chips to your North American readers. After emptying a bag you might well blow air into it, twist the neck to seal it, then smash it between your palms to make a loud pop. I did so once at Jimmy’s. A couple of patrons and at least one bar staffer dropped to the floor. I was swiftly identified as the bag popper and only escaped ejection from Jimmy’s because my English accent seemed proof positive of strange foreign ways. The staffer explained to me, with admirably restrained exasperation, that he and the others who fell to the deck thought they had heard a gunshot. Herein lay another kind of learning experience: rural English pubs exist in a very different environment from urban bars in the good old US of A.

Jamie S. Scott, PhD’90

Frivolous focus

I’m confused and put off by the fashion focus in “Three-Minute Eggheads,” an article about a competition for abbreviated doctoral theses (Summer/23).

When describing a cancer biologist’s talk, it’s irrelevant to declare that “[her] black sleeveless dress and a turquoise scarf would win the best-dressed award if there were one,” or to highlight that an astrophysicist discussed her work on exoplanets while “wearing slim jeans with blown-out knees and Vans.”

Unless an individual’s wardrobe choices are clearly relevant—e.g., if the article had been about a fashion show rather than a doctoral thesis contest—including this information is unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. Academia, like many other fields, has a terrible history of detracting from women’s accomplishments by focusing on their physical appearance. Every scholar deserves a chance to have their work considered on its merits, without additional commentary on their clothing.

I would prefer to have more information about groundbreaking scientific research and fewer of a Magazine staffer’s musings on who has the best outfit.

Steven Cohen, AB’08
Washington, DC

Bertha’s back

Here are my memories from 1957 about “Big Bertha”—the star of the “Some Drum” article in the Spring/23 issue.

In my years as an undergraduate at the U of C, I worked very hard to achieve the title of editor in chief of the Chicago Maroon. In digging into its archives, I discovered the story of the “world’s largest drum” and traced her history from her birth in 1922, as a gift from Carl D. Greenleaf, SB 1899, who was the head of the Conn instrument company in Elkhart, Indiana. She was part of a gift of 100 musical instruments to the U of C in the hope that the instruments would create a marching band that would be the “best in the country” and rekindle interest in football. (A band of 80 men was formed but did not last long because of a decline in football participation and a lack of interest in a marching band.)

When the band folded, Bertha was sent into exile under the west stands of Stagg Field—the very place where Enrico Fermi conducted the world’s first controlled, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. She was later presented to a “grand jury consisting of the health division of Argonne National Laboratory,” where she passed a Geiger counter test that pronounced her free of radioactivity.

Snooping around the Maroon’s archives, I found her story and traced her whereabouts to Texas. The Maroon staff then raised enough money to send four students, by car and trailer, to Austin to “borrow” her for a forthcoming rally to promote the return of the U of C to football.

Driving her back to Chicago on a trailer, we met many potential obstacles—all related to her eight-foot-plus size barely squeezing through underpasses.

Safely back at the U of C, we published the May 7, 1957, issue of the Maroon with a screaming inch-and-a-half headline: “‘BIG BERTHA’ BACK HOME!”

With a return-to-football rally scheduled, we put her on a trailer, and I hauled the lady drum and the intrepid crew who had brought her from Texas (me driving a brand-new Mercury convertible, graciously supplied by a Hyde Park dealership).

The next Maroon issue had the headline: “Big Bertha Greeted with Cheers, Hoots” (both pro- and anti-football groups out in force for the parade).

I have no recollection of the reaction at the University of Texas regarding the drum’s brief return to the U of C. But I do recall that the authorities in Texas were very cooperative about loaning her back.

Thence returned to the University of Texas, where she remains, happily ever after!

Ron Grossman, EX’57
Garrison, New York

Art reunion

“Happiness is an all-night vigil in a queue of art lovers at Ida Noyes Hall.” So reported this magazine back in 1968, when participants in the Art to Live With program waited overnight, with books and blankets, for the chance to take home a Picasso, Chagall, Miró, or Goya. Half a century later, a new generation has taken to camping outside the Smart Museum of Art each fall, in tents and sleeping bags—studying, of course, but also filling the night by streaming movies and singing karaoke. Some of the very same artworks were still among the 140 distributed this year, though the collection pool is actively expanding to new areas and eras with the help of students themselves.

The collection will be returned to the Smart in time for Alumni Weekend, and we thought it would be the perfect opportunity to host an Art to Live With reunion, a chance for you to reconnect with your artwork after all these years. What do you recall about waiting in line for art? About living with an especially beloved (or bemoaned) artwork? Come share your memories or send us a note at smart-museum@uchicago.edu. We’d love to hear from you!

Walker Byrd, Class of 2024
Smart Museum Student Advisory Committee Member

Correcting the record

In “Out of the Woods” (Fall/23) we should have said that Fazel Ahadi traveled to the US consulate in Frankfurt to collect the family’s visas, not the US embassy. 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, civility, and style. To provide a range of views and voices, we ask 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.