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June 2008 Archives

June 2, 2008

A seat at the table

The Saturday afternoon conference, Teaching the Humanities in Difficult Times, was running a few minutes late, giving the 50-some people waiting in the pews at the Hyde Park Union Church time to notice that the four chairs at the maroon-clothed table didn't match with the eight advertised speakers.

The conference—coordinated by the Humanities Division's Civic Knowledge Project and cosponsored by, among others, the Illinois Humanities Council and the University's Darfur Action and Education Fund—focused on an educational project that had been hard to orchestrate: a Clemente Course in the Humanities being run in Darfur/Sudan for people who have been displaced by the conflict there. But it turned out that making it to the conference proved equally difficult.

Socratic seminars bringing literature, philosophy, and art to the poor, prisoners, and other distressed people in the hopes of transforming how they view the world and their role in it, the Clemente Course program was founded in 1995 by author Earl Shorris. The 110-hour courses are offered in Canada, Mexico, South America, Asia, Australia, and—since February 2008—for men and women in refugee displacement camps in Khartoum.

Shorris began his remarks by explaining that Cairo's U.S. Embassy had denied or delayed visas for some key people involved in the project, including Ismat Mahmoud Ahmed, a member of Khartoum University's philosophy faculty: "So we have a problem."

Denied a visa because, he was told, his English wasn't good enough, Ahmed wrote a letter about the philosophy course he taught, which Civic Knowledge Project director Bart Schultz read aloud. In his letter Ahmed outlined the curriculum (readings that began with Plato and ended with Islamic texts that "urge dialogue and call for openness").

"At first," Ahmed wrote, "I was much afraid to depend only on the Socratic method." In explaining how he would teach to his students, many of whom were used to rote instruction, he compared his role to ta traffic manager, theirs to the drivers, but confessed: "Mainly I was concerned that there would be no cars in the streets." Instead, he found, "there was a traffic jam."


June 4, 2008

Career advice for would-be profs


Inside a second-floor Ida Noyes meeting room, Lesley Lundeen urged an audience of about 20 graduate students in baseball caps and blue jeans to do a little soul-searching. "Who are you?" she asked. "Where do you fit in?" An assistant director for the University's Career Advising & Planning Services, Lundeen led an hour-long information session Tuesday afternoon to help would-be future professors prepare for the academic job market. The presentation and others like it are part of several services CAPS offers to graduate students looking for jobs both inside and outside academia.

Applicants should start the process, Lundeen said, with some deliberation. At what kind of institution would they be happiest? In what type of city? Do students consider themselves researchers who teach, citizen scholars with an activist bent, or teachers who also do research? "It's all about the match," she said. "Often an applicant who looks like a shoo-in on paper doesn't end up getting the job, and almost always that's because the fit wasn't right."

Dispensing handouts and recommending guidebooks, Lundeen also offered immediate advice. First, she said, make sure your dissertation is nearly finished before embarking on applications—which can consume considerable hours over potentially a year. A good curriculum vitae, she said, is the "cornerstone" of the application, often the first thing selection committees read. Proofread carefully, she added, and don't pad: better to leave off academic-journal articles still "under review." In the cover letter—simultaneously a writing sample, personal statement, and critical argument—"any jargon has to go. If you didn't know a term before you got here, think about whether somebody else would either." The same goes for research statements. "Give it to someone completely outside your field," Lundeen said, "and then ask them to tell you what your research is about."

Finally, Lundeen reminded graduate students to stay abreast of their online presence. "Google yourself and Facebook yourself" to see what information turns up, she said. "If you keep a research blog, make sure it's honest, critical, that it's kept current, and not gossipy. ... Everything you do, even in the early stages of your application, is making an impression."


Photos: Despite taking place at the end of a workday during the spring quarter's final week, an information session on the academic job market drew a sizeable crowd of graduate students.

June 6, 2008

Benched for the season


Where the "leaning tree" (removed in 2005) once stood on a patch of grass between the Oriental Institute and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel—its low-lying bough providing a natural perch—now there is a sitting area with several benches, lampposts, and greenery. The benches form a circle at 58th and Woodlawn and also line up toward the OI and south along Woodlawn.

"It's nice to have a place out here to sit down and relax that's outside the main quads," said Tom James, the OI Museum's curatorial assistant, having a mid-morning snack on one of the benches Thursday. He noticed the new amenities, which had been surrounded by work fences for several months, early this week. He especially appreciates the added lighting. "Last night I was here until 9:30, and afterward I came out and sat for a while."


Photos: Tom James enjoys the new benches near the OI; two students sit in the circular area.

June 9, 2008

In the neighborhood


"Is that Jimmy's?" asked Leong Tan, MD'58, as he looked out the tour-bus window at the more-than-50-year-old Hyde Park watering hole. Now there's a Starbucks next door, noted Tan's classmate Robert Weiler, MD'58, who sat with his wife across the aisle. Driving through the streets of Hyde Park, the 12 or so alumni on the Alumni Weekend UnCommon Tour (part of the UnCommon Core program organized by the University's Alumni Association) remembered those days when "the Tiki" sat at 53rd and Cornell (it closed in 2000) and were relieved that Harold's Chicken and Orly's were still up and running.

Amid nostalgic sighs, the group also observed the neighborhood's change. Sonya Malunda, assistant VP and director of community affairs, narrated the tour through Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods of Kenwood and Woodlawn. Having lived in the shadow of the campus since 1984, Malunda has experienced its ups and downs and seen a lot of changes.

As the tour headed west, she pointed out the area just beyond Ellis, where over the last 20 years the University has expanded its "medical and science enterprise." And where the Ida B. Wells public-housing project once stood at 37th and Vincennes, she told the tour-goers, there now are mixed-income condos. "Years ago," said Malunda, this was a "haven for all sorts of negativity," but in recent years that community has become safer.

The entire South Side is in a period of rebirth, Malunda said, partly thanks to the University of Chicago's "civic involvement," which includes four University-run charter schools. The University of Chicago, she said, is of Chicago, not just of Hyde Park. With that title, she explained, "comes obligation to be of the city."


Photo: Assistant VP and Director of Community Affairs Sonya Malunda narrates a tour around campus and its neighboring communities.

Photo by Dan Dry.

June 11, 2008

The ringing, ringing, ringing of the bells, bells, bells

Some dressed in suits and ties, others in shorts and flip-flops, hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni packed Rockefeller Memorial Chapel this past Saturday for a concert to rededicate the chapel's E. M. Skinner pipe organ and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller carillon. Listeners, many of them children, stood pressed against the building's walls or sat, legs folded, on the stone floor. More than one audience member remarked that they'd "never seen the chapel so full."

The weekend performance constituted a coming-out party for the two instruments, following a three-year, $3 million restoration project that gave each a more powerful, more nuanced sound. Calling the event "a celebration of two University gems," Vice President and Dean of Students Kim Goff-Crews welcomed several special guests, among them former Rockefeller dean Alison Boden and former University president (and musicologist) Don Randel, who helped spearhead the restoration.

Kicking off at 4:40 p.m., the concert stretched past nightfall. Four University choirs accompanied organist Thomas Weisflog, SM'69, and carillonneur Wylie Crawford, MAT'70, and the program included organ pieces commissioned for the event from William Bolcom and Chicago music professor Marta Ptaszynska. Audience members had planned to assemble on the lawn after the organ performance to hear the carillon, but just after 7 p.m., as the final notes of "I was Glad When They Said Unto Me" faded from the organ's pipes, rain began to fall. When the downpour let up 15 minutes later, the bravest listeners made their way outdoors as Crawford warmed up the carillon and dusk began to fall.

Listen to the restored organ.

Laurie Jorgensen and Lydialyle Gibson

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Photos (left to right): Carillonneur Wylie Crawford crouches beneath one of the carillon's restored bells; Crawford and organist Thomas Weisflog smile in front of the organ, which now includes 8,565 pipes; after the rain stops, listeners gather outside to hear the carillon.

Left and center photos by Dan Dry; right photo by Laurie Jorgensen.

June 13, 2008

A woman of substance

At last Saturday's alumni convocation, Alumni Medal-winner Mildred Dresselhaus, PhD'58, noted that it was 50 years ago this month that she defended her physics thesis at Chicago. Now she was back—after a career at MIT conducting groundbreaking research in condensed-matter physics, encouraging more women to enter science and engineering, and directing the federal Office of Science under President Bill Clinton—to receive the University of Chicago Alumni Association's highest honor.

Speaking on "my University of Chicago roots," she told the audience gathered in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel—including other award winners and Alumni Weekend visitors—that her education had been broad. Physics professor Enrico Fermi believed graduate students "should learn the fundamentals of all subfields of physics," she said, "so when they decided somewhere during their graduate studies to pursue one type or another of physics, they would be able to do that." That breadth came in handy as she moved to new research topics, directed a lab "where I had responsibilities for many different areas," served on company boards where "I was the only scientist," and in the Clinton Administration was "able to ask people in other fields specific questions."

Another valuable lesson she learned at Chicago: "get up early in the morning and get my work done before everybody else arrived." Otherwise you spend your day in meetings or on things other than your own work. "Even when I was working in the government I used to arrive before any of the staff so I would have everything ready when they arrived."

Hard work was also a theme later in the ceremony, as professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics Peter Vandervoort, AB'54, SB'55, SM'56, PhD'60, shared some personal anecdotes about the medalist. As his teaching assistant, Dresselhaus "scolded me for neglecting to work as many physics problems as she knew I should," he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. As President Robert J. Zimmer placed the medal over Dresselhaus's head, the chapel audience applauded.


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Photos (left to right): Dresselhaus tells the group what she learned at the University; the Rockefeller crowd listens to her speak; President Zimmer awards her the Alumni Medal.

Photos by Dan Dry.

June 16, 2008

How to get from MBA to CEO


Storm clouds threatened, but rain never fell on the GSB's convocation Sunday afternoon. Umbrellas at the ready, families and friends of soon-to-be graduates began lining up outside Harper Quad more than an hour before the ceremony's start time, hoping to snag a good seat when the gates opened.

After the U of C pipe band led a cap-and-gown procession of more than 700 graduates and faculty to their seats, Steven Kaplan, the GSB's Neubauer Family professor of entrepreneurship and finance, offered what he called a "PEP talk." Pressing one last lesson on the graduating class, Kaplan explained that PEP was an acronym he used for "persistent, efficient, and proactive," the three qualities that, according to his research, make for the most successful CEOs. Almost all of those with PEP succeed, compared to fewer than half of those without it.

Kaplan also offered graduates a brief pep talk: "You are not the first class to graduate in an economically unsettled time," he said. The GSB classes of 1989 and 2001 found themselves in similar straits. Yet no matter how the economy fluctuates, he assured them, "your abilities and talents are constants."

After the ceremony ended, the newly minted alumni headed to Ida Noyes to pick up their diplomas, which University officials were keeping safe and dry indoors. As they had walked across the stage, President Robert J. Zimmer had handed them empty diploma covers.


Photo: Professor Steven Kaplan addressed GSB graduates at Sunday's convocation.

June 18, 2008

Shedding light on dark matters


Bucktown's Map Room bar was unusually crowded for a Monday evening, with people crammed into every table and leaning against the map-covered walls. The attractions weren't only organic pizza and international beers but also a discussion with astronomy & astrophysics professor Michael Turner, focusing on dark energy and dark matter. The event, part of the Cafe Scientifique series, drew both U of C and unaffiliated listeners, who turned their ears to hear Turner's baritone voice—even with a microphone he was sometimes faint amid other patrons' conversations across the bar.

We're in "the golden age of cosmology," Turner said, on the verge of answering "questions that Einstein and Newton couldn't answer." Cosmologists are close to sorting the puzzle of dark matter, which makes up 25 percent of the universe and holds it all together—"universal glue," he called it. "We think it's just particles," he said. Dark matter's particles are lighter than neutrinos and are called neutralinos. While he'd like to produce a neutralino at Fermilab, the particle accelerator there probably isn't strong enough, so later this summer he and other scientists will travel to Switzerland to use the machine at CERN.

Next up is figuring out dark energy, which makes up 71 percent of the universe (the other 4 percent is atoms) and has been battling the dark-matter glue by driving the universe's expansion. ("Who came up with the term dark energy? That's dumb," he joked before raising his hand and laughing: "That's me." Turner coined it in 1998.) Unlike dark matter—and everything else—dark energy doesn't seem to be made up of particles. It's more like "a sheet that's so elastic it can't be pulled apart." While Turner discussed dark energy, the microphone blew out, leaving some listeners in the dark. Then the mic came back. "OK," he said, "we're talking about the fate of the universe."

He looked to the far future: billions of years from now the universe might "stop expanding and fall back on itself," or, according to string theory, it could "collapse and then start over again." After audience questions about black holes, government science funding, and the big bang, the event was over. But many people waited for a chance to talk with Turner one-on-one, hoping to get more answers about the cosmos.


Photos: An SRO crowd listens to Michael Turner at the Map Room; when the microphone went out, Turner stood on a table so the group could hear.

June 20, 2008

The rest is history


The year is 1976: Jimmy Carter defeats Gerald Ford in the presidential election, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak develop the Apple Computer Company—and at the U of C, British-history PhD candidate Mark Horowitz prepares for his oral exam.

"To say I was nervous is an understatement," Horowitz wrote in a Winter 1976 Magazine article, "Fear of Failing." "It was soon determined that on February 6, from 1 to 3 p.m., the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse' would join the head of British history for my Exam. I had been taking the Orals in my head nightly since December; by January I was reciting it. [My wife] Barbi couldn't even fix a skirt without a comment from her hebephrenic husband ('Did you know that worsteds like that skirt didn't really get going commercially until the sixteenth century? Why, in the West Riding of Yorkshire...!')"

He passed his orals but never completed his degree—the need to support his family pushed his studies aside, so he began a marketing and consulting career in Chicago. But on April 29, 32 years after taking his exam, Horowitz defended his 276-page dissertation, "Law, Order, and Finance: The Development of Statecraft in the Reign of Henry VII," in front of professors Adrian Johns, Steven Pincus, and John A. Guy. Last Friday, under the pretense of giving a history talk on campus, he surprised his family by inviting them to Hyde Park, where they watched him (finally) receive his PhD at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.


Photo: According to a 2007 study by the Council of Graduate Schools, fewer than 50 percent of history PhD candidates finish within ten years.

Photo courtesy the Chronicle of Higher Education.

June 23, 2008

Taking it to the street


In the early 20th century, urban photographers such as Walker Evans and Paul Strand used only a camera and modernist techniques (like abstraction and fragmentation) to capture daily city life in New York City, Chicago, Paris, Havana, and Moscow, among others. With "an aesthetic unique to the camera," argues the Smart Museum's exhibit Street Level: Modern Photography from the Smart Museum Collection, their work "demarcate[d] a space for photography as an art form in its own right." The one-room show mirrors the theme presented by the Smart's six-gallery special exhibit, Seeing the City: Sloan's New York, which features artist John Sloan's early 20th century paintings and drawings of street scenes and cityscapes.

Curated by Rachel Furnari, AM'02, a PhD candidate in art history, Street Level is divided into three sections. Furnari starts with "On the Street," images of working-class immigrants next to shop windows: evidence, she writes in the exhibit notes, of "a new acceptance of camera's accurate, narrative scenes and abstract, aestheticized versions of 20th-century urbanity." The next stop is "Above," where the photographer's angle is "only made possible by modern technology like airplanes and skyscrapers." In one picture, Flying in Red Square, photojournalist Georgy Zelma shoots Moscow's Red Square from above through scaffolding, fragmenting the crowds of people gathered below. Finally, Furnari takes us "Below," back to the "more intimate scale encountered in 'On the Street,'" but this time, the subjects are "pressed in by tall buildings, elevated train tracks, and long, high bridges."

Street Level runs through September 7.


Photos: Top: Nathan Lerner, Cigar Store, 1934, gelatin silver print; bottom: Ben Shahn, Untitled (New York City), 1932-1935 [c.?], gelatin silver print mounted on heavy paper, vintage impression .

Photos courtesy the Smart Museum.

June 25, 2008

Art will move mountains


The smell of raw lumber greets pedestrians strolling down Cornell Avenue outside the Hyde Park Art Center. Inside the building’s open doorways, two 16-foot-tall wooden skeletal mountains sit on a divided stage, linked to one another by ropes attached to pulleys. The piece, ‘Olympus Manger,’ Scene II, is “an investigation of scale, landscape, the built environment, and its relationship to the body,” according to artist Kelly Kaczynski’s exhibit notes. The piece allows viewers to remain a “spectator,” or assume an “actor” role by climbing on stage and partaking in a tug-of-war with the ropes dangling off the towers. Pulling the ropes results in a slow joining, and eventual collapse, of the towers.

Kaczynski calculated that the two stages’ collision should last the duration of the exhibition’s 13-week run, according to notes by Allison Peters, director of the art center's exhibits, thereby mimicking the slow pace of natural phenomena like plate tectonics. But just as earthquakes can suddenly rattle or volcanoes can erupt, Olympus Manger is prone to bursts of activity, based on the number of visitors to the gallery who choose to participate. Eventually the two stages will be fused together and the structural debris from the two mountains will transform into a single mass.

The exhibit runs through July 6.


Photo: Kelly Kaczynski, 'Olympus Manger,' Scene II, 2008, wood, dry wall, rope and glue.

Photo courtesy the Hyde Park Art Center.

June 27, 2008

Crash introduction


Future MBAs from around the globe descended on the Gleacher Center this week for the 2008 start of the GSB's Executive MBA program. Wearing jeans and polo shirts (a few in slacks and Oxford shirts), nearly 300 new enrollees hauled rolling bags and laptotp cases through the building's lobby on Thursday, making their way to and from the day's lectures, group-study sessions, and a lunchtime talk by GSB professor Ron Burt, PhD'77, a social psychologist who studies social capital and competitive advantage.

By next week, two-thirds of the students will head home—the Executive MBA program draws students from roughly 50 countries—where they'll be based at the GSB campuses in either London or Singapore. (The rest study in Chicago.) During the program's 21-month curriculum, designed for working executives with at least ten years of professional experience, classmates from all three campuses gather and study together for four weeklong sessions. "Kick-Off Week is a chance for them to get to know each other and get their feet wet, and for the faculty to get them started in classes," said Deb Fallahay, associate program director. Some courses begin and end during Kick-Off Week; others continue when students return to their far-flung campuses.

Professor Linda Ginzel's Essentials of Effective Management is one of those all-in-a-week classes. On the agenda for Thursday afternoon's three-hour session, Ginzel announced as students filed into their seats and put up cardboard nameplates bearing appellations like Sergey, Chee Han, Yetunde, Stefan, and Vijay, was "group process and team decision-making." But before diving into the lesson plan, she offered what she called an "editorial" on working with others: "There are two ways to rise in this world," she said: step on other people, or lift them up and rise with them. The latter is much harder, Ginzel said, but "you should always leave people with the same dignity and sense of self that they had when you began the interaction. You will do better in life." And with that, she directed the class to a teamwork exercise involving a hypothetical plane crash in the Canadian subarctic and a list of survival items to rank in order of importance: among them, a flashlight, a compass, matches, snowshoes, sleeping bags, a shaving kit (with mirror), water-purification tablets, and a fifth of rum. Said Ginzel, looking at the clock at the back of the room, "You have 15 minutes."


Photo: This week the Gleacher Center hosted Kick-Off Week for the Executive MBA program.

Photo by Dan Dry.

June 30, 2008

Rhythm and rhymes

Hip hop filled the usually staid living room at I-House, creating the expectation of a party instead of a book reading. A hundred folding chairs, seating an audience of white-haired professors and public-housing residents, replaced the usual pianos and soft-toned sofas. Grandmaster Flash—the legendary musician and deejay who, in 2007, became one of the first hip-hop artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—arrived at I-House at 6 p.m. last Wednesday to promote his new autobiography, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats (Broadway Books).

“My chronic achievement,” began Grandmaster Flash, who was born Joseph Saddler and also goes by GMF, “is being the first deejay to make turntables an instrument.”

He grew up with music in the Bronx. His father had an extensive jazz collection that he wasn’t allowed anywhere near. But when he heard the “click of the key and the bang of the door” signaling that his father had left for work, he would sneak into the living room and play music. When his father found out that his records had been touched, he began beating the young GMF, sometimes sending him to the hospital. But it didn’t quell his curiosity. “For me," he said, the question was “how does music live inside those little black tunnels?”

He discovered not only how the "tunnels" held music, but also how to manipulate them to create new sounds. Credited with inventing "cutting," an early form of scratching, GMF described himself as a scientist. He was the first to violate the rules of the previous generation's deejays, who “treated records like a child” and cleaned them with velvet cloths. GMF used his hands on the records for complete control of the sound. He would mark them with crayon to know when to turn them counterclockwise, prolonging the parts of the song he preferred. He replaced the rubber mat on his turntable with a piece of felt that he spray-starched on his mother’s ironing board when her back was turned.

During the Q-and-A that followed the talk, a Cabrini-Green resident stood to explain that he was recently released from “the penitentiary” and had started a record label. “I’ve got a track,” he said. Anywhere else, a famous musician might have been annoyed at an opportunistic fan trying to get his track heard. But the I-House living room's audience, collectively holding its breath for a moment, seemed to perceive an implied bond between the two.

“I seen that,” said GMF. “I seen the projects. And I’m gonna play that track on my radio show.”

Shira Tevah, '09

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Photos (left to right): Grandmaster Flash performs briefly during his talk; afterward, he signs a copy of his autobiography and poses for a photograph with a fan.

Photos by Dan Dry.

About June 2008

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in June 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2008 is the previous archive.

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