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September 2005 Archives

September 2, 2005

Better than hell


“Everyone has heard of hell,” quips a T-shirt comparing hell favorably to the University. Like many jests, it contains a grain of truth. “We know from multiple studies that we are relatively unknown,” Vice President for University Relations and Dean of College Enrollment Michael Behnke said at Wednesday’s town-hall meeting, “Telling the University’s Story: How We Attract Students and Educate the Public.” For instance, a McKinsey survey of top SAT-scoring high-school seniors found that while half were “knowledgeable” about Yale—meaning that they knew “a lot” or “a fair amount” about the school—and two percent had never heard of it, only 22 percent felt knowledgeable about Chicago. 14 percent were unaware of its existence.

Why is Chicago—with its plethora of Nobel laureates, prestigious programs, and a seventh-in-the-nation ranking for producing science and engineering PhDs—so little recognized? Its location in the Midwest, a “fly-over zone” for people on the coasts, and its name—long, not catchy, in its full form mistaken for the University of Illinois at Chicago and, when shortened to the U of C, confused with the Universities of Connecticut and California—may be partly to blame, along with its not being a Big Ten or Division I school. “We’re also unapologetically intellectual in an anti-intellectual country,” Behnke said, and “don’t cater to the rich and famous.” The lack of news coverage, he added, doesn’t help. A 2004 study of 20 major U.S. publications, conducted by Chicago PR firm Lipman Hearne, found 76 Chicago mentions, trailing Harvard at 302, Michigan at 160, and Yale at 111; moreover, 81 percent of University news coverage was in the Midwest. Behnke hopes to combat this lack of coverage by developing the University’s communications and long-range plans in four key areas: the re-bid for Argonne National Laboratory; urban education; the arts; and diversity.

Since 1997 Chicago—with Behnke leading the charge—has striven to attract more, high-quality applicants to the College via aggressive outreach and recruiting efforts, such as direct mailings to high-schoolers and the Collegiate Scholars Program. The results have been striking. Between 1998 and 2005, applications shot up 64 percent, with early-action applications increasing by 43 percent, and the average SAT score rose from 1349 to 1428. African American and Latino enrollment numbers remain low—54 and 94 for the incoming class, respectively—but increasing and retaining minority enrollees, Behnke emphasized, are a top priority.

Hana Yoo, ’07

Photos: Behnke and his survey results.

September 7, 2005

Chicago wonders


The University has faced many competitors over the years, but this summer it may have met its toughest rival yet: the Chicago hot dog. The source of the contest? A reader-selected list of Chicago’s seven wonders, currently in the works by the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune received thousands of suggestions for Chicago’s seven wonders between August 11 and 16, culled the results for the top 14, and began publishing them Monday, August 22, in its Tempo section, unveiling a new candidate each weekday. The only restrictions were that the nominee not be a person, that it be in the Chicago metropolitan area, and that it currently exist. Besides the famous hot dog and the University, other contenders include Millenium Park, the Sears Tower, and the Chicago theater scene. The last nominee will appear on the Thursday Tempo’s front page, and voting will open to the public. The final list will be revealed September 15.

So get ready to vote Maroon—or mustard.

Hana Yoo, ’07

Photos: Hot dogs or life of the mind?

September 9, 2005

Cartoon vision

Nothing about the Columbia College Chicago’s brand-new A+D Gallery or its first exhibit, The Cartoonist’s Eye, looks rushed. The eclectic collection of comics—including works by artists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”), Art Spiegelman (“Maus”), Dan Clowes (“Ghost World”), and the curator himself, Ivan Brunetti, AB’89, who created the exhibit as a preview of his Anthology of Graphic Fiction, due out in September 2006 by Yale University Press—neatly lines the white walls or lies atop white blocks scattered throughout the gallery.

Yet the paint had been drying for only five hours by the time the gallery kicked off last night’s free opening reception. “The dry walls were sanded today and constructed just two days ago,” said gallery director Jennifer Murray, stopping briefly to talk as she threaded her way through the bustling crowd, meeting and greeting patrons. The gallery, affiliated with Columbia College’s Department of Art and Design, relocated to 619 South Wabash Avenue from 72 East 11th Street at July’s end. When Murray and her team arrived, the gallery office lacked a phone, an Internet connection, and furniture. Moving in and preparing an exhibit at the same time, especially an exhibit that had “not a lot of framed work,” Murray said, proved a challenge.

As curator, Brunetti selected the art, said Columbia College senior and photography major Sara Pooley, restocking the refreshments. The gallery team helped out with “errands” like hanging pictures and getting the glass for the frames cut. “It was a very small team for a lot of work,” she said, “but it all came together in the end.” At 6:30 the team got a break, as the crowd moved next door for “Brief Stories about Cartooning,” a lecture by cartoonist Seth—a.k.a. Gregory Gallant.

Hana Yoo, '07

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Photos (left to right): Outside the gallery; An Art Spiegelman work; A Peanuts sample.

September 12, 2005

Nichols’ nickelodeon

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From a makeshift stage in Nichols Park, Kathy Cowan’s soprano echoed down 53rd Street Sunday evening. The traditional Irish love songs she sang, accompanied by friend David Richards on keyboard, lured about 40 Hyde Parkers to the final concert in the “4th on 53rd Sunday Concert series,” hosted by the Nichols Park Advisory Council and WHPK, the University of Chicago’s radio station. Young families chasing after children, students picnicking, and several adults drinking beer out of bottles wrapped in plastic bags dotted the lawn.

Sprinklers watering the grass to her left, Cowan encouraged her audience “on this not-as-hot-as-we-thought-it-was-going-to-be day” to sing along with the chorus. “The only tricky part is you have to have a good short-term memory,” she forewarned. Though few voices rose to the challenge, Cowan’s melody did inspire two tykes to march in lockstep near the stage.

Named for its starting date—the Sunday after July 4—the series this year hosted a variety of genres, including blues, rock, reggae, and traditional Celtic tunes, as well as a performance of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream by GroundUp Theater.

Meredith Meyer, ’06

Photo: Cowan and Richards (top). Crowd members listen (bottom).

September 14, 2005

The OI is watching you

Unbeknownst to them, visitors to the Oriental Institute exhibition Empires of the Fertile Crescent: Ancient Assyria, Anatolia, and Israel, which opened in the museum’s east wing this past January, were being followed—and carefully watched. That’s because the OI hired an exhibit evaluator to trail visitors and make note of where they stopped to give displays a closer look. “The single thing that everybody seemed to see and stop and notice,” said OI Museum Director Geoff Emberling during yesterday’s lecture- and tour-filled Day of Discovery, was a text panel discussing the Israelites’ true origins. Because the controversial topic drew such interest, Emberling said, “we have been thinking that we want to, whenever possible, present areas of active debate within the field.” The evaluator also encouraged the museum to make the labels, which often include scholarly references, more general-reader friendly.

The evaluation is just one part of the museum’s initiative to critique its attempts at public accessibility. Since James Henry Breasted founded the Oriental Institute in 1919, “the museum has had an evolving role with the institute,” Emberling said, originating as “a tool for scholars.” Though the museum was open to the public in those early days, it was far from welcoming, lacking docents or helpful labels to explain the artifacts’ context. Now the museum hands out surveys and holds focus groups. “We’re really very interested in your comments,” Emberling told the Breasted Hall audience.

Yesterday’s Day of Discovery, planned in conjunction with the Boston-based, educational and travel-oriented nonprofit Elderhostel, also included a tour of the gallery, lunch at the Quadrangle Club, and a lecture on the Dead Sea Scrolls by Norman Golb, the University’s Ludwig Rosenberger professor of Jewish history. Another Day of Discovery is planned for Friday. Because of space constraints at the Quad Club, both events were limited to 90 people, and both days “filled up very quickly,” said Museum Education Program Director Carole Krucoff. “There was a waiting list, in fact.”

Hana Yoo, ’07

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Photos (left to right): The controversial panel, Emberling, and Krucoff.

September 16, 2005

Scaling Jacob's ladder


“There are at least seven problems and ambiguities in the first paragraph alone,” pointed out James Robinson, assistant professor of the history of Judaism in the Divinity School, at last night’s quarterly Conversations in Divinity series. Fortunately for Robinson’s audience of 40, these comments described not a half-baked term paper but the biblical text of the Jacob’s ladder story. Tucked away on the fifth floor of the Chicago Cultural Center, the crowd of faculty members, graduate students, and other curious attendees listened attentively as Robinson explained how medieval philosophers used the ambiguities of the ladder motif to investigate and expound their own worldviews. Take, for example, Jacob’s vision of the “angels of God ascending and descending” [Genesis 28:12] the ladder. Between 1191 and 1492, the Jewish Middle Ages, Robinson said, this passage raised intense debate about why divine beings would return to earth after ascending to heaven. Some scholars interpreted the angels’ descent as a political lesson in social responsibility—having known God, one should return to earth to impart a newfound wisdom. Others said the angels were symbols of the human mind returning from heaven to introduce God’s grace to the world.

Unlike many contemporary English translations that aim to eliminate such discrepancies, medieval philosophers, noted Robinson, “considered textual ambiguities an opportunity, not a problem.” By grounding themselves in a single biblical text, he explained, they could “create a common language” to frame their arguments. Particularly influential in the debate was philosopher Moses Maimonides, whose Guide of the Perplexed gave a detailed exegesis of the story, and, as Robinson explained, helped set up the ladder motif as a “strategic research site” for scholars to explore new ideas.

One of the most interesting aspects of these interpretations, he noted, is that each philosopher tended to read the motif in accordance with his known ideological background. Such an approach, Robinson emphasized, differs greatly from modern biblical studies, where scientifically minded thinkers aim to eliminate any trace of personal bias from their interpretations. Do they really accomplish this, he asked, or do scholars inadvertently read their own contemporary viewpoints into the text? A historian at heart, he declined to give a definitive answer. After all, Robinson concluded, “we won’t be able to answer this question for a good two or three hundred years.”


Photo: James Robinson.

September 19, 2005

Putting the I in O-Week


Nina Chihambakwe, ’07, still remembers her own Chicago orientation. She scheduled her 27-hour flight from Zimbabwe, with stops at Amsterdam, Capetown, and Detroit, to arrive on Saturday, the first day of O-Week. Because of bad weather, she missed a connecting flight and arrived on campus a day late, missing registration for placement tests. To top it off, “all my luggage got lost,” she recalls. “I didn’t get [my bags] for another week and a half.” Disoriented and homesick, “I was jetlagged all of O-Week,” she says. “I didn’t take anything in.”

That’s why Chihambakwe opted to help with the College’s first international student pre-orientation, an optional $140 program that took place last Wednesday through Friday. The program included events such as a bus tour of Hyde Park; a lecture on plagiarism by political-science professor Charles Lipson from his book, Doing Honest Work in College; dinner and an ImprovOlympic performance downtown; and a shopping excursion to Target. The students also received a goody bag and an international student directory. Two paid graduate student assistants, four undergraduate volunteers, and 42 of this year’s 91 international students stayed in the Stony Island residence hall for three days before they moved into their permanent residence halls on Saturday. “I haven’t studied in the U.S. before,” says Frances Tong of Hong Kong, who spent 16 hours on a plane to get to Chicago. “I thought [the program] would help me to know a bit more about education in the United States, to know what social life is like.”

“We got a great response, and we’re really delighted,” says College adviser Barbara Miner, who conceived the program “based on focus groups we’ve held for the last two years with international students.” Miner hopes to continue the program with quarterly events: possibilities include coffee hours with faculty and staff or “American” outings to a baseball game, dinner, the theater, or a bowling alley. As for the pre-orientation, she says, “it’s going to be a really important part of orientation” from now on.

—Hana Yoo, ’07

Photos: A welcome sign greets international students (top). Taking time to pose for the photographer (bottom).

September 21, 2005

One way to conquer writer’s block


After 9/11, Jane Smiley developed a serious case of writer’s block. “I found myself unable,” the 1992 Pulitzer-Prize winner said at last night’s Seminary Co-op book talk, “to go on writing my dry little novel about deregulation.” She retreated to her room and the solace of reading books as distant as possible in time and place from the contemporary horrors. But instead of finding the escape from reality she had hoped for, Smiley said, “I began to see that these books, as old as they were, were relevant” to today’s world.

Beginning with The Tale of Genji, Smiley eventually read 100 fictional works, including Icelandic sagas, Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, and turned the project into her 12th and latest novel, Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel (Knopf). In the meantime she finished Good Faith (Knopf, 2003), the book she’d left in the lurch. All that reading “charged me up,” Smiley said. “It made me want to read more and more. I came away thinking, what can I read now?” It also made her realize that “there’s no greatest novel,” she said. “There are no greater novels. There are only novels that you like or don’t like, novels that you feel a kinship with” or don’t. Her experiences sparked a desire to try new things with her writing, such as “lingering” more on descriptions of people and scenes. “I won’t always feel the plot nudging me from behind, saying, ‘Move, move, move,’” she said, adding that the true test of what she’s learned will be her next novel.

After the Q&A session, which Smiley called her “favorite part” of a book talk, urging the audience to help her “more fully bake” the “half-baked” ideas in Thirteen Ways, she finished with an excerpt. “It’s worth knowing that serious thoughts are being thought, and also that serious fun is being made of fools everywhere,” Smiley read. “It’s also worth knowing, in dangerous times, that dangers have come and gone and we still have these books.”

Hana Yoo, '07

Photo: Jane Smiley

September 23, 2005

Dancing with Beckett


“Hamza, could we get some fans in here?” a woman in a sheer black top, with a black bra underneath, asked the Renaissance Society curator, Hamza Walker, AB’88. Murmurs of agreement echoed through Cobb Hall’s film studies theater, packed with art connoisseurs and students fresh from viewing the museum’s newly opened exhibit, Failure is an Option.

The exhibit—a five-screen video installation and related drawings—features the videography of Berlin-based artist Peter Welz, who filmed the actions of choreographer William Forsythe. Welz, who considers himself primarily a figure sculptor, outfitted Forsythe with cameras at various angles to trace his movement from different perspectives. Welz titled the piece whenever on on nohow on, a line from Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Ho and reference to the artists’ shared appreciation for the writer.

Welz, with rolled-up sleeves and cuffed jeans, emphasized his interest in “reduction” and “figures moving in space.” For Walker, however, Welz’s work was an occasion to intellectualize about modernity, “the dead horse I just love beating,” he said, laughing. Walker asked, “At what point does modernity begin to take shape?” He noted that modernity is often considered “a distinct historical epic,” so that modern dance “is spoken of as a break from ballet.” Yet for Forsythe, modern dance includes ballet because ballet provides a “framework for movement.”

As Walker and Welz discussed their differing perspectives, an audience member called out to Walker, “I think you’re overintellectualizing it.” To which he responded, “That’s what I’m paid to do.”

The exhibit runs through October 30, and the museum will host “a barrage of concerts”—five remaining—for its duration.

—Meredith Meyer, ’06

Photo: Artist Peter Welz listens as his work is interpreted.

September 26, 2005

O-Week excursion


Tuesday afternoon, as part of Orientation Week, five first-years and their O-Week aide trekked downtown to take advantage of the Art Institute of Chicago’s free-admission day. The plan was to give the first-years a break from their adviser appointments, Chicago Life Meetings, and placement tests, and to teach them how to use the city’s public transportation to explore neighborhoods beyond Hyde Park. That last goal was made more complete by a 25-minute wait for the 55 bus outside Pierce Tower.

When the students arrived at the Art Institute via the Green Line, they split up to see different exhibitions. Those who didn’t have to return to campus for another meeting later found one another in the lower-level photography galleries, observing A View with a Room: Abelardo Morell’s Camera Obscura Photographs. The premise of the exhibit is that any room can be used as a camera obscura (Latin for “dark room”), or any light-tight chamber with a small hole, through which external light can enter. Photographer Abelardo Morell converts rooms into camera obscuras by darkening the windows and creating a small hole in one. The scene outside becomes inversely projected in the interior, across whatever is inside the room. Thus viewers can see upside-down images of the Empire State Building, for example, made curvy by upholstery or bedsheet wrinkles—an effect captivating enough to charge the first-years’ El-ride conversation all the way back to Hyde Park.

Elizabeth Goetz, ’08

Photo: In front of the Art Institute.

September 28, 2005

Fairly organized


It looked as if a small refugee camp had sprung up in Henry Crown Fieldhouse by 3 p.m. Sunday. Forced inside by the rain, the annual Registered Student Organizations Fair—normally held on North Field—set up in the gymnasium, where rows of tables representing more than 250 clubs filled the space under the glare of orange lights and basketball hoops.

As students promenaded through the maze of tables, grabbing free T-shirts, mugs, and candy from the clubs in their path, club members attempted to sell their organizations, tucking fluorescent flyers into students’ already laden arms and goading them to add their e-mail addresses to sign-up sheets.

One first-year girl, bedecked in a Class of 2009 T-shirt and dizzy with the assortment of activities, including the Squash Club, Russian choir, Society for Creative Anachronism, and University Ballet, remarked, “I’ve been here for 20 minutes and I’ve already signed up for about a billion listhosts.”

Meredith Meyer, ’06

Photos: So many RSOs, so little time...

September 30, 2005

Chicago mourned


In the second memorial service for Saul Bellow, X’39, who died April 5, friends, family members, colleagues, students, and admirers gathered Tuesday afternoon in the city he had made his own, at the University’s Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Eight speakers recalled Bellow’s life and work, alternating with Lyric Opera musicians who captivated the crowd with some of Bellow’s favorite pieces.

Some speakers focused on Bellow the man. Chanting the 23rd Psalm in the traditional Hebrew, Rabbi William Hamilton began the service, he said, “in the simple manner Saul would have wanted.” Son Gregory Bellow, AB’66, AM’68, discussed his father’s tenures at the University, as both student and teacher, “engaged with fine minds” and confronting “tough questions.” Friend Eugene Kennedy, an author and professor emeritus of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago, recalled Bellow’s irrepressible sense of humor. One New Year’s Eve Bellow came home to find his wife had left him. She had marked all of their belongings with round stickers—a blue dot on his possessions, a yellow one on hers. Bellow told Kennedy, “I guess she just went dotty.”

Others highlighted Bellow’s professional triumphs: professor emeritus in the Committee on Social Thought, he had won the Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, three National Book Awards, and a Presidential medal. In 1989, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley said, Bellow “stole the show at my first inauguration.” The man who began The Adventures of Augie March “I am an American, Chicago born,” Daley said, “understood Chicago like no one else.” Neither friend nor family member, Jeffrey Eugenides, who won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Middlesex, noted his connection to Bellow as “the only person here who moved to Chicago entirely because of Saul Bellow. I came because of Herzog and Augie March and Humboldt’s Gift.”

And Richard Stern, Bellow’s friend and the Helen A. Regenstein professor emeritus of English and American Language and Literature, recalled that after reading a draft of Humboldt’s Gift, he had lunch with Bellow and told him, “I can hardly believe you wrote this.” What he meant, he said Tuesday, was “I could hardly believe such a wonderful creation could come from someone with whom I was having a hamburger.”


Photos: As Rabbi Hamilton speaks, Mayor Daley, Gregory Bellow, Jeff Eugenides, Richard Stern, former student James Cohn, and Eugene Kennedy wait their turns (top). The audience listens as Lyric Opera soprano Susanna Phillips, accompanied by Alan Darling on piano, performs. (bottom).

Photos by Dan Dry.

Photos of the Week: September 2005 (Postcards from the Quads)

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About September 2005

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in September 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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