May 29, 2003 – Vol. 22 No. 17

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    MacLane, Sinaiko awarded for outstanding contributions to students' lives on campus

    Saunders MacLane
    Named for Professor Norman Maclean (Ph.D., '40), who taught English Language & Literature at Chicago for 40 years, the Norman Maclean Faculty Awards were established by the Alumni Association in 1997.

    Their purpose is to recognize emeritus or very senior faculty members who have made outstanding contributions to teaching and to the experience of student life on campus.

    This year's awards will be given to Saunders MacLane (A.M., '31), the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Mathematics, and Herman Sinaiko (A.B., '47, Ph.D., '61), Professor in the Division of the Humanities and the College.

    MacLane has been an active mathematician and teacher for more than six decades–five of them at Chicago. Considered a founder of both homological algebra and categorical theory, MacLane has played a major role in several areas of mathematical research, and his textbooks on abstract algebra, homological algebra and categorical theory have influenced a host of graduate and undergraduate students, both at Chicago and worldwide. He co-authored A Survey of Modern Algebra, the textbook that made it possible to teach undergraduate courses on abstract algebra.

    In addition to his mathematical research, he led several professional organizations and also chaired the University's Department of Mathematics from 1952 to 1958. In retirement he continued to help organize, attend and present at mathematical conferences until just a few years ago. In 1989 MacLane was awarded the National Medal of Science.

    Amid his demanding research and professional duties, MacLane always had time for students. Former students recalled the joy he took in teaching. One wrote, "It was evident that he would become thrilled as he saw a student begin to understand a difficult concept." Another wrote, "MacLane was unsurpassed in his ability to engage the student in dialogue about the concepts under discussion. He did not teach mathematics so much as lead the process of discovering it. He especially impressed upon the student the beauty, elegance and profundity of the subject. MacLane brought to the modern student the legacy of his own rigorous and deep classical training and helped make the student part of the continuum of centuries of mathematical progress."

    Herman Sinaiko
    He was an inspiring mentor and advisor and supported the academic achievements of women students at a time when this was not the norm. He also was known for his delightful sense of humor and his openness to unconventional or challenging ideas. One of his former doctoral students echoed the sentiments of all who wrote on his behalf, "To this day, I view my association with him as the highlight of my education and academic career and consider it a great privilege to have been his student."

    Former Chair of the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities, Sinaiko has taught at the University for 49 years and won both the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching in 1963 and the Amoco Foundation Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Teaching in 1994. He has published essays on his teaching methods, numerous articles on classical and modern themes, and two books, Love, Knowledge, and Discourse in Plato: Dialogue and Dialectic in the Phaedrus, Republic, and Parmenides, and Reclaiming the Canon: Essays on History, Philosophy, and Poetry. From 1982 to 1986 he served as Dean of Students in the College.

    Sinaiko's students, from graduates of past decades to those of the past year, all extolled his ability to kindle the excitement of close reading and inspire them to believe in their intellectual capacities. One former student, now a professor in New York, wrote: "He was a master at encouraging us to believe that our insights were valid, not just for the moment but as elements in a deeper search for meaning. He drew us all into the discussion and emboldened us to aspire for the best thinking we were capable of. I see him now in the corner of my eye as I stand before my students."

    Another former student and professor wrote, "Herman Sinaiko inspired me, and many others, to engage with texts as living things, in the Socratic tradition that his teaching style so well reflected." Outside the classroom Sinaiko continued his pedagogical mission. "As both an advisor and professor, he was always available to counsel me and my peers about the trials and tribulations of being a University student in the '60s as well as about intellectual matters," recalled a former student. "During turbulent times, he stood as a person of great integrity, both principled and compassionate, and neither arrogant nor patronizing." He also has been instrumental to the growth of University Theater and recently helped bring the Festival of the Arts back to campus.