May 1, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 15

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    The Chronicle’s biweekly column In the News offers a digest of commentary and quotations by a few of the University faculty members, students and alumni who have been headlining the news in recent weeks. Chicago faculty members are some of the most frequently quoted experts, so space allows publishing references to only selected examples. To read many of the full newspaper articles mentioned in this column, visit the In the News column at the University News Office Web site: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/.

    Once the story of looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad was published in the Sunday, April 13 Chicago Tribune, it began to appear nationally in print from The New York Times to Time magazine, and on the airwaves, from National Public Radio to CNN. Many of the voices heard in interviews and comments read in newspapers came from Oriental Institute faculty and research associates who specialize in antiquities from modern-day Iraq and the Middle East region. McGuire Gibson, Professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, had been in the news for weeks prior to the looting, discussing his talks with military officials in the Department of Defense that urged them to protect the ancient artifacts during the bombing in Iraq. “We wanted to make them aware of the importance of Mesopotamia and familiarize them with important sites,” said Gibson in the Monday, April 28 issue of Time. In the Chicago Tribune article, which broke the story of the museum looting and the American troops who did not intervene to stop it, Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, stated: “Mesopotamia is the world’s first civilization. It’s the first place to develop cities, the first place where writing was invented. And the artifacts from the excavations from there are the patrimony for our entire civilization and absolutely irreplaceable.” Other faculty members and research associates in the Oriental Institute who were interviewed for the articles and news broadcasts are: Clemens Reichel, Research Associate; Matthew Stolper, the John A. Wilson Professor in the Oriental Institute, Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College; and Tony Wilkinson, Associate Professor.

    Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, both Professors in the Law School, co-authored an op-ed about transitional justice in Iraq, which appeared in the Friday, April 11 Wall Street Journal. As the regime of Saddam Hussein wanes and rebuilding in Iraq begins, Posner and Vermeule point out that postwar controversies over transitional justice will arise regarding which approaches–trials, truth commissions, purges of the bureaucracy and reparations for Hussein’s victims–will be most successful in creating a new democratic nation. The two law professors write that, “a mix of transitional-justice tools and approaches is best; rights of protection against retroactive punishment should be respected only to the extent that respecting them helps to legitimize and stabilize the new regime; transitional justice is as imperfect as ordinary justice, and every bit as full of compromises; and international participation is important, but should be limited–transitional justice will work best if it is desired and carried out by Iraqis.”

    Don Lamb, the Louis Block Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics and the College, discussed a gamma-ray burst that occurred two billion light years from Earth on Saturday, March 29, on a WBBM-AM newscast, which aired Thursday, April 10. Lamb said the event was rare because gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful in the universe and do not typically explode so “close” to Earth. Lamb is the Mission Scientist for the NASA satellite that discovered the burst.

    Art historian Barbara Stafford, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor, was a recent guest on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s All in the Mind program. Stafford discussed the topic of fluid dynamics of association, memory and imagination as the ancestor of post-connectivist cognitive science. The discussion focused on “animal spirits and the mind-brain continuum,” prompting further discussion of “distributed cognition” and the notion of “extended thought” in relation to early studies of the effects of nervous fluids. Nervous fluids were once believed to be “fleeting animal spirits, which, from Aristotle to Mesmer, were believed to circulate through the body and the brain. They were thought of as the medium of memory and passions, and were derived from blood,” said Stafford.

    Mark Courtney, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration and Director of the Chapin Hall Center for Children, was quoted in a Monday, April 21 New York Times article that reported on transitional housing for children who are “aging out” of the foster care system. According to the article, the federal government gives states $140 million to help with the transition from foster care to independence, 30 percent of which can be used toward housing until age 21. But the degree to which states develop housing services and support varies greatly. “You divide that amount by the number of kids ‘aging out’ every year (an estimated 25,000) and it’s not a lot of money. There are many counties in this country that have no transitional housing whatsoever,” said Courtney.

    Susan Lambert, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, was quoted in a Wednesday, April 23 Chicago Tribune story that reported on the current labor market and how it is impacting women. According to the article, the service sector has been hit hard in the U.S. economic downturn, and many women hold jobs in that sector. Lambert, who has studied how corporations structure jobs in hospitality, retail, banking and package delivery services, said: “Employers pass variations in consumer demand onto lower-level workers to absorb it. There are full-time and part-time jobs, but how they play out, especially in retail, is that full-time workers are regularly shorted hours. You’re just not guaranteed you’re going to have a particular income,” she added.

    The 401(k) retirement plan research that Richard Thaler, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Behavioral Science & Economics in the Graduate School of Business, has conducted was featured in a U.S. News & World Report article in the Monday, April 21 issue. Thaler’s SMarT 401(k) is getting “increasing attention,” the article reported, because it encourages workers to participate in the plan, and to agree in advance to automatically increase their savings rate on a routine basis often timed with pay raises.

    John Woods, Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, who has consulted civilian affairs officers charged with helping to keep Iraqi institutions operating before an interim authority will be moved in, was interviewed for a Friday, April 11 Chicago Sun-Times story. The article said Woods believes identifying community leaders in Iraq will be central to rebuilding the country. “You need the traditional societal leaders to be on your side,” he stated.

    Ted O’Neill, Dean of College Admissions, was quoted and photographed for a special section, Education Today, published in the Chicago Tribune Sunday, April 13. The story in the section was a guide to college admissions for high school students contemplating the next step in their education. The story described the University’s essay questions, which are part of its highly selective admissions process, as “the most philosophical in the country.” O’Neill said of the selection process: “We’re looking for people who like to talk about ideas.”

    Rashid Khalidi, Professor in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College, was interviewed for a story carried by the Associated Press newswires Thursday, April 10. The story reported on Iraq’s Baath party, describing it as one that likely will have an influence on Iraqi politics long after Saddam Hussein has left the country. Khalidi shared this caveat: “If the United States stays in Iraq, which will make it unpopular, the Baath may have a future. Over time these parties reinvigorate themselves, shed their old image and come to represent something else,” he said.