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June 2007 Archives

June 1, 2007

Ad astra

On the fourth Tuesday in May, the staff at Yerkes Observatory observed its noontime ritual: a stand-up meeting on the building’s ground floor—just down the hall from the machine shop. Announcements are typically quick and to the point: who’ll be where when, a mid-afternoon birthday break, and reminders of upcoming events—including a June meeting when residents of the Williams Bay, Wisconsin, community will get a progress report from the Yerkes Study Group.

The study group has been meeting since early this year. Convened after locals vetoed a University proposal to sell 45 acres of the observatory’s land to a New York developer, its nine members are charged with figuring out the best way to transform the 110-year-old observatory into a regional center for science education and outreach.

Although its glory days as an astronomical-research leader are over, the new use seems to fit. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could walk through its wedding cake of an entrance rotunda, up the marble stairs, and into the dome that houses what was once the world’s largest telescope without getting starstruck—and without envying the researchers, engineers, machinists, and administrators for whom a day at Yerkes is still just another day at work.


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Photos (left to right): The grounds of Yerkes Observatory, seen from the south lawn, were landscaped by the Olmstead Brothers; Jim Gee, MBA’81, director of the University’s Engineering Center and Yerkes’s manager, leads the noontime meeting; research engineer Jessie Wirth adds liquid hydrogen to an imagining camera, being built for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

Yerkes director Kyle Cudworth has used the 40-inch refracting telescope to compare recent celestial photos to those taken with the same instrument 100 years ago; Vivian L. Hoette organizes education and outreach programs at the observatory; Jim Gee’s office has a distinguished lineage: it was Nobel laureate Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar’s office when he was based at Yerkes during the 1940s.

Photos by Dan Dry.

June 4, 2007

Arts fall into place


Guests at Alumni Weekend had a chance to hear a panel discuss the arts on campus Friday—the same day the University announced it had picked an architect for the Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts. To be designed by Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, the center will open in 2011, housing performance and gallery space plus parts of the visual arts, theater & performance, music, and cinema & media studies programs. At Friday's panel discussion Larry Norman, Romance languages & literatures professor and deputy dean in the Humanities for the arts center, noted that the new building will help fulfill President Zimmer's priorities for arts on campus: convergences between the creative process and academic analysis, between the different arts programs, and between campus and community.

While Chicago has a storied arts history—the Haskell and Walker museums, Loredo Taft, the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago Presents, Court Theatre, the Compass Players, Philip Glass, AB'56, Philip Roth, AM'55—in 2001 a faculty committee recommended that the University strengthen its arts curricula and facilities, noted David Thompson, PhD'97, associate dean in the Humanities. The Logan Arts Center, said Associate Provost Mary Harvey, PhD'87, is one result of that report (others include the Arts Planning Council, the Art Speaks program, and the Hyde Park Cultural Leaders Group). "Arts here has been at the margins," said Visual Arts Chair Laura Letinsky. "This center represents a huge shift" for the University, "a recognition of art as firmly embedded in the culture."

After watching two videos—one on the architectural design contest and one on Williams and Tsien—the audience got to ask questions. "What do you know about Acrotheatre?" asked Leah Yee, AB'56. The panel, it turned out, didn't know anything about the group, which combined dance, gymnastics, and theater, and in the 1950s "performed a single web over Mandel Hall." Acrotheatre, Yee said, helped keep her at the University when she wasn't happy there. Realizing it was part of Chicago's arts history that current administrators had overlooked, Thompson told Yee, "We'll talk later."


Photo: Associate Provost Mary Harvey tells Alumni Weekend-goers how around 2000 the Provost's Office began a committee to reconsider the arts on campus.

Photo by Dan Dry.

June 6, 2007

Secondhand tomes


"You don't have much of an arts selection," complained a man in a button-down shirt to Romulus Stefanut, AM'06, a Div School PhD student working at the library this summer. "We used to," he answered. On the second day of the Reg's duplicate-book sale, the arts and cinema section already was down to a half-dozen volumes. If the customer had been looking for religion or psychology books, he'd have been in luck: those sections took up an aisle each.

The library still had some gems in stock for its $2-hardcover, $1-paperback sale. John Updike's Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit Redux, as well as the 1978–79 volume of Critical Inquiry, remained in the literature section, and several editions of Sweet's English Grammar, one from 1892, sat on the linguistics shelf.

Most books had frayed pages and ripping bindings, and customers flipped through them gingerly. Stefanut, meanwhile, continues to stock the shelves this week and next, as librarians wheel in two or three hand trucks a day. Sale hours this week are 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 1:30–4:30 p.m. Next week's hours are mornings only.


Photo: A customer scans library finds while Stefanut stocks the shelves.

Behind every cuckold, there’s a ....

Going to a Tom Stoppard play is akin to taking a refresher course in Western Civ—with punch lines thrown in. Big ideas and literary tag lines, scientific theories and metaphysical musings fly past at the speed of lightning.

Lightning, it turns out, is also the name of the box turtle (nee Plautus) who provides a clue to the literary mystery that fuels the plot of Arcadia, Stoppard’s award-winning 1993 comedy. As the action jumps between 1809 and the present, the turtle—along with love letters, notebooks of algorithms, garden plans, game records, and miniature dahlias—gets called into play as the present-day characters try to prove or disprove that Lord Byron cuckolded and killed a minor poet he’d possibly met at Sibley Park.

The final production of Court Theatre’s 2006-07 season, Arcadia, directed by Court artistic director Charles Newell, is both illuminating and luminous. Stoppard’s elaborate, iterating, and intersecting wordplay takes place in the library of a 19th-century English country estate, designed by Matthew York with classic simplicity: a circular parquetry floor patterned with its own arcs and intersections, a Chippendale library table and bookshelf, two halos of crown molding overhead. The characters pose, cavort, accuse, argue, and waltz against a black backdrop that suggests the play’s themes of entropy and death. ...Et in Arcadia ego.

Arcadia, in an extended run, can be seen at Court through June 17.


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Photos (left to right): Precocious pupil Thomasina Coverly (Bethany Caputo) listens to tutor Septimus Hodge (Grant Goodman)—a schoolmate of Lord Byron who shares the poet’s rakish ways; two rakes and a cuckold: Septimus and Captain Brice (Keith D. Gallagher, left) both know the wife of would-be poet Ezra Chater (Raymond Fox); fast-forward to the present: writer Hannah Jarvis (Mary Beth Fisher) and Valentine Coverly (Erik Hellman) present literary sleuth Bernard Nightingale (Kevin McKillip, center) with proof that he’s taken a wrong turn.

Photos by Michael Brosilow.

June 11, 2007

Name that graduate

"What's in a name?" asked outgoing Humanities Dean Danielle Allen at Friday morning's graduation—the first of four Chicago convocations held this weekend. She was glad the wind had died down and the threatening storms had passed, she noted, because otherwise her address—about the University's unique ceremony where each graduate's name is still read aloud—would have seemed moot: bad weather would have forced the students (in this session Law School, Harris School, and SSA) to graduate en masse.

Yet with the sun peeking out and gusts calmer after the previous day's 40 mph, her talk remained relevant. Pronouncing each name, she said, "makes plain the fact of human equality." Our last names "sing tales of human conflict and collaboration" and "hold us accountable to tradition," while our first names are "given by someone only slightly older than us" who hopes we'll lead a full life. Despite the students' different intellectual abilities and GPAs, "everyone crosses that stage as equal participants in the drama of life." Arguing that "an acceptance of the proposition of human equality is fully compatible with a love of excellence," she ended, "But I've talked long enough. Let's listen to your names."

After a choral piece and awards announcements, all the students—including one whose mortarboard read "Will work for social change"—crossed the stage as their names were called.


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Photos (left to right): Danielle Allen discusses the equalizing effect of reading each graduate's name; One student shares her post-SSA mission; New grads admire their own names on their diplomas.

Photos by Dan Dry.

June 13, 2007

Love in the time of Van Booy


"If anyone speaks Italian, please leave," Simon Van Booy warned the small group gathered at 57th Street Books on Monday night. "I have to pronounce some Italian words." Dressed in a brown polo shirt and pristine white sneakers that made him feel "like an escaped mental patient," Van Booy—a professor at New York's School of Visual Arts and Long Island University—read from his collection of short stories The Secret Lives of People in Love (Turtle Point Press, 2007). Over the course of his U.S. promotional tour this spring, Van Booy learned "the power of suspense"; at the start of his trip, he said, he would read full stories, but then people would walk out satisfied. Now he reads only half a tale to leave people "wanting more."

Sharing selections from three stories set in New York, Paris, and Italy, Van Booy explained, in a quiet British drawl, his real-life inspirations for each piece. He paints settings in minute detail, down to the "Versace sunglasses" worn by a small-town man in "The Still but Falling World," and writes only about places to which he's traveled. Starting his reading of "Little Bird" with a paraphrased quotation from George Eliot's Silas Marner ("Sometimes a man…is led away from the path of destruction by a child"), Van Booy said that the story's main character Michel, an ex-con living in Paris, is "one of my favorite people." Even though the character doesn't really exist, he said, he has met many "Michels" around the world: men who are "rough around the edges" but then change after finding love. In "As Much Below as Up Above," he molded the narrator—a Russian ex-sailor in Queens—from two distinct images: the tragic sinking of a Russian nuclear submarine in 2000 and a neighborhood in Brighton Beach, NY, where "it could be 50 degrees and Russians are on the beach in Speedos, drinking vodka." The tale shifts between the man's past in Russia and the present, his life with his beautiful American girlfriend Mina.

Ruthie Kott

Photo: Van Booy shares his Secret Lives of People in Love.

June 15, 2007

Modernist escape

Against the backdrop of urbanization, industrialization, the catastrophe of World War I and the harsh reconstruction that followed, many early 20th-century German and Austrian artists turned for comfort and inspiration to Utopian visions. A Smart Museum exhibit titled Living Modern: German and Austrian Art and Design, 1890-1933, examines how these visions played out across disparate arts such as painting, sculpture, and furniture design. The pieces include a postwar vase by Hilda Jesser that, squared off like a Japanese paper lantern and painted to resemble a fine silk, conjures the ideals of Asian design. The disembodied gears, numbers, and rotating flywheels in Robert Michel's 1919 woodcut "MEZ (Central Europe Time)" alludes not only to his fascination with machinery, but also to the crosscurrents in German society between political intolerance and artistic exploration. Felix Nussbaum's "Masquerade," painted in 1937, shows grimacing revelers outside a gray, desolate-looking city. A German Jew, Nussbaum expresses the statelessness of fellow Jewish refugees during the late 1930s and the demise of German modernism under the reign of the Nazis.

The exhibit will be on view through September 16.


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Robert Michel's "MEZ"; Wassily Kandinksy's "Sounds: Great Resurrection"; Otto Dix's "The War: Lens is Destroyed by Bombing."

June 18, 2007

Magazine on the move

Last week the University of Chicago Magazine's offices glowed orange, as stacks of Rent-A-Crates lined the office hallways. The crates were for the Magazine staff, along with other members of the Development and Alumni Relations department, to pack up and move to new office space. No longer in the campus Administration Building, the teams moved Monday to 401 N. Michigan Avenue—right next to the business school's Gleacher Center. While the Magazine staff still plans to spend plenty of time on campus reporting stories and blogs, we'll now also be able to cover more U of C events downtown.


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Photos (left to right): Donor Relations staffer Carmen Creel fills one of the endless orange crates; David Duncil, on the Creative Services team, gets in some work while the packing continues; Josh Levine of Donor Relations happily packs books.

June 20, 2007

Building the pyramids (again)


Wandering around the work site outside Cairo, Egypt, Mark Lehner looks like a cross between Larry David and Indiana Jones. Despite the heat and his faltering building project, Lehner, a former researcher at the Oriental Institute (OI) who now directs the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based Ancient Egypt Research Associates, seems assured that his pyramid will be completed.

Part of the museum’s Sunday Film Series, Lehner’s story unfolded on a screen in the OI’s Breasted Hall. This week’s film was This Old Pyramid, a 1992 NOVA documentary about Lehner and stonemason Roger Hopkins’s attempt to reconstruct a pyramid using ancient Egyptian building methods and materials. They hope to explain how the pyramids, especially the most famous ones at Giza, were built, evaluating whether archaeological theory works in practice. As the narrator intones,“What better test than to build one’s own pyramid?”

The film plays on the tension between Lehner’s historical, theoretical approach and Hopkins’s pragmatic, hands-on style. Lehner insists that stones be placed precisely and without the help of modern machinery, while the burly, bearded Hopkins rolls his eyes when Lehner’s demands complicate his task. Theorists interviewed in the film contend that the Egyptians moved scores of two-and-a-half-ton blocks by levering them up the pyramid or by pouring them—laying a limestone mix into blocks that harden—but Lehner and Hopkins’s experiment challenges their ideas. Levering proves too unwieldy to be the Egyptians’ sole method, and pouring proves too inexact. In the end, the modern-day builders pull the blocks up ramps over the course of three weeks, completing a project 1/27th the size of the Great Pyramid, which was composed of more than two million blocks. The Egyptians’ original task appears less inexplicable, though their achievement seems, if anything, a greater one.

The project left some questions untouched. “What motivated them to do that?” Lehner asks, reflecting on his and Hopkins’s discoveries. “That’s the real mystery.”

Seth Mayer, ’08

Photos: Lehner talks with Hopkins at the work site; the pyramids hold tombs and other relics.

June 22, 2007

Movie magic at the U of C


The University campus turned into Syracuse University Monday for the filming of Universal Studios’ The Express. The movie stars Rob Brown as Syracuse running back Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. Dennis Quaid costars as Syracuse’s legendary coach, Ben Schwartzalder.

Jones and Kent Laboratories served as a backdrop for an outdoor evening scene between Davis and his romantic interest, Sarah Ward, played by Nicole Behaire Brown. Across campus, production staff transformed Ida Noyes Hall’s dark-wood lobby into a Syracuse trophy room. The director placed a photo of Jay Berwanger, AB’36, the first Heisman Trophy winner, among the “Syracuse” memorabilia for the scene after learning about the U of C’s football glory.

Nick Rafferty, X’03, who said he “fell into the [film] industry” after interning for the 2004 production of Proof, helped scout the location. The University is “a gorgeous space,” Rafferty said, able “to portray the history and grandeur” of Syracuse athletics.

The Express paid the University a $24,000 location fee, which will support student filmmaking and performance through groups such as Fire Escape Films and University Theater, said University assistant vice president for student life, Bill Michel, AB’92.

The film was shot across Chicagoland this spring. Other locations include area high schools and Northwestern University’s Ryan Field, which provided the setting for a racially motivated brawl between the Syracuse and University of Texas teams during the 1960 Cotton Bowl. Filming for The Express will conclude filming at Syracuse next week.

The Express is based on Robert Gallagher’s 1999 biography, Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express, the Story of a Heisman Trophy Winner. Shortly after being the top pick in the 1962 draft, Davis was diagnosed with leukemia and died the following year at age 23. He never played a professional game.

The film will be released in October 2008.

Ethan Frenchman, ’08

Photos: Trailers lined both sides of 59th Street between University and Kimbark Avenues; Universal Studios film equipment sits outside Ida Noyes.

June 25, 2007

Collegiate scholars aim higher


The Collegiate Scholars Program, cosponsored by the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools (CPS), held its annual boot camp this past week. The 48 high-school seniors in the three-year program arrived at International House on Monday for college workshops, public-speaking practice, and career advice. The four-day program ended Thursday with a field trip to Notre Dame.

On Wednesday afternoon the students, some of CPS’s best, attended two workshops in Stuart 101. In a presentation by the University’s Career Advising and Planning Services, assistant director Max Brooks, AM’05, noted that, although career plans are important, students should “think about going to a school with a strong liberal-arts core curriculum.” Yet at least two students remained committed to their career tracks. Christian Daniels of Kenwood Academy said he was interested in the U of C for its academics and proximity, but his career goal was clear: aerospace engineering; while Jalisa Huckabee said she was determined to attend whichever school would best help her realize her “childhood dream of becoming a baby doctor, an OB/GYN.”

The first member of her family to seriously consider attending college, Huckabee said, “The program taught me to do more research about colleges and to look for lesser known colleges that may have something that interests me.”

An Office of Minority Student Affairs–sponsored panel of four U of C undergrads discussed race issues with the scholars. Angel Ochoa, ’08, noted that the University is making gains in meeting the needs of students of color. “Although elite universities are slow to change, there are a lot of exciting things happening now with a new diversity center being built on campus.”

Sofia Narváez-Gete, AB’07, said that although she had not experienced racism on campus, she had encountered ignorance and intolerance. Ochoa reminded the students, “Sometimes I am ignorant, too. The great thing about coming here is all the things that you learn.”

Ethan Frenchman, ’08

Photos: During a career workshop, Collegiate Scholars brainstorm sports-related jobs besides athlete; Students listen to CAPS speaker Max Brooks, AM'05, discuss how they should follow their career choices without limiting their options.

June 27, 2007

Religion without borders


Both the audience and the projection system at McCormick Theological Seminary provided multiple perspectives for Suzanne Hoeferkamp Segovia's lecture, “A Divine-Human Encounter at the Cross Road of Creation,” last Wednesday. When the main projector refused to function, the staff set up two more on its left and right, projecting slides from different angles. The result fit well with a talk that criticized Western art for shutting out other viewpoints.

Segovia, an independent theologian, discussed how religion and art expressed colonialism's tortured history in the Americas. Western art places more value on the product, she asserted, while other cultures see the process itself as equally worthy. Westerners underestimate the creative process of art that she thinks is “inherently religious.” For Segovia, human creativity participates in divine creation itself.

The colonists did not see the worth of the Americas' religious art and creativity. Christopher Columbus, she argued, felt that Europeans had the right to subjugate indigenous peoples. Westerners understood themselves as objective and correct; in what Segovia termed a “war of images,” colonists called Amerindian religious art “idolatry,” denying its religious power.

Indigenous peoples, Segovia explained, did not deify their own viewpoint; instead they used myth to depict a world beyond the reality of the senses. Using their fragmentary culture's images and ideas, indigenous artists strove "to receive the holy" found in "the commonplace." The shrine of Señor de la Conquista in Mexico, a local portrayal of Christ as dark-skinned, blends native and colonial perspectives. It is "necessary to tolerate ambiguity," she explained, "necessary to be open to a new reality. Dare to cross borders.”

Seth Mayer, '08

Photos: Suzanne Hoeferkamp Segovia lectures at McCormick Theological Seminary; Professor José David Rodriguez asks Segovia to elaborate on the relation between theology and art.

June 29, 2007

ORCSA's recipe for summer

Few things are sadder than a rained-out barbecue, but a venue change and a couple of signs promising free food, music, and Frisbees in Hutch Commons allowed ORCSA to prevent calamity. Concerned about the predicted rain, organizers moved the Summer Kick-Off Barbeque from its original Bartlett Quad location. Instead, cooks grilled in Hutch Court and brought food into Hutch Commons.

The downpour never came, but ORCSA’s campus activities coordinator, Dana Bozeman, explained that event planners wanted to avoid seeing “700 people dash inside.” Bozeman didn't mistakenly expect 700 indoor barbeque attendants; soon after the tables were set up students began to congregate and form lines, eyeing the grilled fare. “We’re starting at 12 o’clock,” an ORCSA employee reminded the early arrivers. A college tour came through, and the prospective students seemed more entranced by the trays of hamburgers than by the portraits of former University presidents lining the walls. After the barbeque began, the line for food snaked almost to Mandel Hall's entrance. Guests steadily flowed in for nearly an hour before the rush slowed.

Though the event mainly focused on informing summer students about ORCSA events—a schedule listing film screenings, music, pub nights, and a baseball game was printed on free Frisbees—the crowd that showed up was diverse. Police, maintenance workers, U of C students and employees of all ages, and the occasional bouncing elementary schooler all made their way into Hutch. A DJ nodded along to the beat as he treated the crowd to a set featuring pop, rap, and dance music. The occasional soft Frisbee flew by as plates, and finally tables, emptied throughout the room.

Seth Mayer, '08

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Photos (left to right): ORCSA moved the grills to Hutch Court; crowds flock to the food; a DJ scratches a record in Hutch Commons.

About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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