January 20, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 8

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    In the News

    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/.

    Gary Becker, the University Professor in Economics, Sociology and the Graduate School of Business, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Tuesday, Jan. 4 Wall Street Journal. Becker argued that the recovery from natural disasters, such as the tsunami that occurred in the Indian Ocean, would be more effective if poor nations invested more in education and developed disaster assistance programs, which would make payments to families in need of economic help, especially those who may have lost family members who had provided the household income. “Such programs could make sufficient payments to poor families that lost most of their property, to help put them on their economic feet, without causing much of a drain on the government budgets of even the poorer developing nations like Indonesia and Sri Lanka,” wrote Becker.

    Judge Richard Posner, Senior Lecturer in the Law School, wrote an op-ed that was published on the same editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as Gary Becker’s appeared. Also writing about the recent tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, Posner suggested that the risk of such a catastrophic event, and others like it, should encourage governments to spend the necessary funds to develop defensive measures, even if the chances of a particular disaster occurring are slim. “The fact that a catastrophe is very unlikely to occur is not a rational justification for ignoring the risk of its occurrence,” wrote Posner. “The risk may be slight, but if the consequences, should it materialize, are great enough, the expected cost of disaster may be sufficient to warrant defensive measures.” Becker and Posner also write about their views on many social, economic and legal issues on their new Web blog available at: http://www.becker-posner-blog.com.

    The results of a survey conducted in 2003 by the University’s National Opinion Research Center were cited in a journalist’s newspaper column about reaching adulthood. The survey found that “most Americans think adulthood begins at about age 26,” and not the ages of 18 or 21, which once were thought to be points of entry into American adulthood. The column appeared in the Thursday, Jan. 6 Wall Street Journal and the Monday, Jan. 10 Chicago Sun-Times.

    Dennis Hutchinson, the William Rainey Harper Professor in the College and Senior Lecturer in the Law School, was interviewed for a Boston Globe story that describes the lack of a system to monitor the health of Supreme Court justices, especially if their ability to perform or not perform their legal duties is in question. With his part-time return to the Court, Chief Justice William Rehnquist continues treatment for thyroid cancer, while legal experts speculate about his ability to do the job. Some in the field of law have argued that shortened terms, rather than the lifetime terms of justices, would serve the public better. “Unlike anyone else with political power, the judges don’t have to tell us when they are fit and how fit,” said Hutchinson. The only way justices leave the Court is impeachment, what Hutchinson called, “the 400 megaton solution.”

    Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Assistant Professor in Political Science and the College, wrote an op-ed that appeared in Newsday.com Friday, Jan. 7. Harris-Lacewell wrote about the House Democrats’ recent challenge to Ohio’s electoral vote and previous times in history when electoral votes had been challenged, in 1969 and 1877. Calling attention to what she described as “glaring disparities in our electoral system,” Harris-Lacewell wrote that while 31 House members voted to sustain the recent objection to the vote, only one member of the U.S. Senate, California Democrat Barbara Boxer, had supported it. “The issue at stake is simple,” Harris-Lacewell wrote. “On Nov. 2, voters cast ballots in 50 separate and unequal elections. Not only do voting procedures, machinery and oversight vary tremendously among the states, they also differ precinct to precinct. The evidence is clear. We live in a nation where it is systematically more difficult for some citizens to exercise their right to vote.”

    Professor Steven Levitt’s study on cheating that has occurred on standardized test scores in the Chicago Public Schools was cited in a Tuesday, Jan. 11 Christian Science Monitor article. The story reported on new allegations that have surfaced about test score cheating in the Houston Independent School District. After analyzing data from the Chicago Public Schools and discovering that serious cases of teacher or principal cheating occur in about 5 percent of elementary school classrooms, Levitt, the Alvin H. Baum Professor in Economics and the College, and a colleague created an algorithm for detecting teacher cheating. The Chicago Public Schools now use the formula every year as a monitor of the problem. “Once the outcome of these tests started to matter, was it any surprise that teachers began to cheat?” asked Levitt. “And I think the other side is that the risk reward looks fairly good. The chances of being caught are tiny.”

    David Levin, Associate Professor in Germanic Studies and the College, was a guest of WFMT-FM radio host Andrew Patner during a broadcast Monday, Jan. 10, of the program Critical Thinking with Andrew Patner. Levin, who recently worked on the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production The Wedding, discussed dramaturgy and the role of an opera dramaturge.

    Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School, was quoted in a Sunday, Jan. 9 New York Times article about a rise in religiosity in the world. Marty, who has co-authored a study on fundamentalism, believes that although Christianity is on the rise, it is not fundamentalism that is increasing. “If I were to buy stock in global Christianity, I would buy it in Pentecostalism,” said Marty. “I would not buy it in fundamentalism.” Fundamentalists are more prone to create separatist enclaves, whereas evangelicals, who make up the majority of today’s Christian right, engage the culture and share their faith. The story made reference to Marty’s definition of fundamentalism as essentially a backlash against secularism and modernity.