Incidents on 57th Street
Every bleeding heart has his day, and we can only hope his day is as short as possible. On April 21st, the tallies of student government elections were released, giving two victories to the growing caucus for "socially responsible investment." A resolution urging the creation of a Socially Responsible Investment Committee passed overwhelmingly while third-year Nakul Singh was elected Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees on the platform of "socially responsible investment." These are only fleeting victories. A plebiscite is not binding and the student body has no authority over the University's endowment. It is merely a barometer of the self-righteous mood gripping the campus left and fellow travelers. We predict no future for the cause, but the University has surprised us before. To those who wish for such a body, we say that now is not the time to abandon the Kalven Report that has helped the University to mostly survive as a model of free-inquiry in eras of campus politicization. A Socially Responsible Investment Committee will cause every element of the endowment to be put to scrutiny, emboldening student activists as inquisitors. Some groups will push to divest from fossil fuels, others from sweatshop employers, still more from Israeli companies. Such measures would have little to no actual affect on the business practices or policies of the investments in question (if it is a profitable investment, another investor will merely take the University's place), but it will breed self-satisfaction among the rabble-rousers. The administration's policy should be clear: to provide the best education possible by maximizing its endowment. Whatever business practices students want to ban or countries they wish to sanction, they can pursue those ends as citizens of a self-governing nation. Activism must remain an extracurricular.
The reality of being in a major recession is finally starting to show its effects on campus. Recently, the University of Chicago Medical Center, after many months of deliberation, decided to close down its Trauma Center as a cost-cutting measure, choosing instead to redirect those funds towards "pediatric, neonatal, and advanced specialty care." While eliminating this service seems rather cold and uncaring, the fact of the matter is that no South Side trauma center has been able to stay above water financially for any sizable length of time, and unless the state of Illinois or the city of Chicago are willing to bear the costs of it—something we sincerely doubt given our tremendous statewide deficit—then it cannot be the responsibility of the university to maintain a charity service. The fact of the matter is our endowment—what we need to maintain research at our university—shrank by over one billion dollars between 2007 and 2010, even though the school is admitting more students than ever before at one of the highest tuition rates in the nation. Economic realities, sadly, must mean cost-cutting. Perhaps those clamoring for the trauma center to remain open might suggest other means of revenue enhancement, and not silly things like cutting administrative salary, but serious things like raising tuition or eliminating the Uncommon Fund and other useless boondoggles. We won't hold our breath.
One should not be surprised that college students will exploit an occasion to throw a party. So when an operation of Navy Seals shot and killed Osama Bin Laden in Abottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity organized a celebratory party entitled "America, F*** Yeah!" for the next night. Such celebrations may minimize the harrowing sacrifice of American soldiers and their families that has brought us to this symbolic victory. They may also neglect the sober fact of the evil that Bin Laden represents—an evil that remains despite his death. We do not take pleasure in this nation's graveresponsibility to do justice in a dangerous world. But put us on record as asserting that the vanquishing of a villain deserves good cheer. That the reach of American power now, as evident from this mission, is almost as great as our creed is cause for pride and jubilation. Perhaps juvenile, we find the simple patriotism of Sigma Phi Epsilon more decent than the rejoinder from some on campus who could not identify Bin Laden's death as a clear good and the American military as an arm of justice. Exuberance is not to be condemned, moral confusion is. Equally intended for architects and statesmen, Edmund Burke advised that an addition should be "as nearly as possible in the style of the building." The landscape of our campus for many years maintained this sense of place—when Cobb Hall was renovated, the façade was unchanged, even as a four-story building gained a fifth—but our view has suffered as expansion committees give in to fashions, many of which seem absurd today. While the cause of gothic architecture beyond the main quadrangle is today a pipe-dream, we can meekly suggest that new additions not be so given to trend, so loud. So we register our dissent at the new Mansueto Library, set to open this spring on the former sight of the tennis courts wedged between garish Max Palevsky Commons and the Joseph Regenstein Library which itselt looks more like the offices of the Stasi than the traffic hub of campus. The Mansueto Library is supposed to be a biosphere for bibliophiles; to our tender eyes, it is a giant cyst on campus' rear end.
The banality of campus sex may be a fact we cannot avoid, but we need not be proud of it. The problem with the undergraduate entrepreneurs behind uchicagohookups.com (now eduhookups.com) is that they seem proud of, or, at the very least, unbothered by the listless venture from lust to lust they now make available in a site hosting anonymous sex ads. It is, frankly, embarrassing that the champions of grim polygamy would come from our school. Is this because one can now elude the Symposium or Shakespeare's sonnets in the revised Core? Still, this is not a simple victory for the cause of sexual amorality. A heavy majority of the ads (as one would expect) are men seeking women. Perhaps women still need to be wooed, courted, even. It may now be impolite to speak of morals, but that does not mean we no longer act on them. In fact, recent studies have suggested that our generation is more monogamous than our closest predecessors. Love, to quote the Bard, is an "ever-fixed mark," anonymous sex ads cannot make that star opaque.
On April 22nd and 23rd, The Leo Strauss Center sponsored a conference celebrating the uploading and digitizing of the recordings of Mr. Strauss' courses at the University of Chicago as well as Claremont Men's College and St. John's College from 1958 until his death in 1973. In addition to being one of the most original and important philosophers associated with the University of Chicago, Mr. Strauss was a gifted teacher, earning praise as an instructor from students ranging from Allan Bloom, A.B. '49, A.M. '53, Ph.D. '55, to Susan Sontag, A.B. '51. The audio files and transcripts, while an aid to those interested in Leo Strauss' view of the history of political philosophy, are mostly a gift to the students of political philosophy generally. Recorded are enticing investigations into books of philosophers from Thucydides to Nietzsche. Some of us find ourselves wishing we attended a University of Chicago of a different era; a wish based less on thoughtless nostalgia than an intuition that other ages have better met the University's promise. The Leo Strauss Center has given the contemporary student a resource for that promise.
Barack Obama is actually not the first president to have lived in Chicago's Hyde Park. Ronald Reagan lived for a time during his childhood in a six story flat on the northeast corner of Maryland and 57th. The University of Chicago, as part of its hospital expansion is likely to knock down the structure in the years to come. While some may oppose this being done to the former home of an important historical figure, the right way to honor Reagan's Hyde Park legacy is to accede to his bedrock belief in the importance of creative destruction. There is already a Reagan home and museum 120 miles west in Tampico and the 40th President does not need another one in Hyde Park. Rather, the University should commission a statue on that very corner where the Gipper once lived. The statue should be of Reagan sitting at a table, listening to an important informal advisor: Milton Friedman.