May 12, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 16

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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/.

    Eric Oliver, Associate Professor in Political Science and the College, was photographed and interviewed for an article that appeared in the Friday, April 29 New York Times, which reported on the continuing crusade against obesity. Although a recently published study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control reported that people who are overweight, though not considered obese, have a lower risk of death than normal-size and thin people, fighting obesity remains a top public health priority. Oliver, who is writing a book on the politics of obesity, said that obesity and the idea of it as a threat that should be prevented, appeals to both sides of the political spectrum. “Obesity works across the board—that’s a big part of it, and that’s what’s fascinating about it. If you are on the political right, obesity is indicative of moral failure. If you are on the left, it means rampaging global capitalism.” Oliver, who attended the annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, said, “An association dedicated to the study of obesity presumes that obesity is a problem. Wherever possible, data were interpreted to portray obesity as a major problem no matter how weak the actual findings were.”

    Derek Neal, Professor in Economics, was quoted in a Thursday, April 28 Chicago Sun-Times story about his recent research that shows an achievement gap between blacks and whites has persisted since 1990, and it shows no signs of improving. By 2000, for example, about half of the black males between 26 and 35 who dropped out of high school were not working, and a quarter were institutionalized, usually in prison. Neal, whose study will be published in the Handbook of Economics of Education, said: “There are all kinds of things that could happen in the coming decades that could get us back on course, but if we extrapolate the current trends, things look really bleak.”

    Jean Bethke Elshtain, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor in the Divinity School, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Wednesday, April 27 Chicago Tribune. Elshtain wrote about the recently released Bible Literacy Report, which showed that 98 percent of high school English teachers believe public school students should know the Bible. In contrast, only 8 percent of public schools teach an elective course on the Bible. Elshtain wrote that knowledge of the Bible enhances students’ studies of many subjects, such as politics and law. “Abraham Lincoln’s speeches are laced through and through with biblical references and prophetic passages,” she wrote. “He understood slavery as a great sin and placed it within a theological context as well as a political one.”

    A native of Egypt, Farouk Mustafa, the Ibn Rushd Professorial Lecturer in Modern Arabic Language in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations and the College, was quoted in a Wednesday, May 4 Chicago Tribune story about Cairo’s best-selling author Alla Al-Aswany, whose book The Yacoubian Building is debuting in American bookstores in an English-language edition. Mustafa explained why he believes the book has been so successful, saying that it “reflects what Egyptians feel about themselves these days, which is a sense of hopelessness, low self-esteem and malaise. Also because it deals very directly with a homosexual relationship.”

    Edward Snyder, Dean of the Graduate School of Business and the George Pratt Shultz Professor of Economics in the GSB, was interviewed for a story published in the Monday, May 2 Financial Times. The article reported on the necessary leadership skills that deans should possess to operate a business school in today’s competitive market. “The role of a dean is that we try to practice what we preach,” said Snyder. “There are two elements: how does this organization work? because you must understand it to influence it. And the competition—you must keep your eye on it and address your own weaknesses and exploit your strengths.”

    Geoffrey Stone, the Harry Kalven Jr. Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School and the College, argued in an op-ed published in the Sunday, May 1 Chicago Tribune that the move of the Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, toward changing the Senate’s filibuster rules is a dangerous option. Being referred to as the “nuclear option,” the rule change involves the elimination of the traditional supermajority requirement (60 votes) for cloture against a filibuster, which would push through confirmations of the president’s Supreme Court nominees and end any debate over them. “Whatever the merits or deficiencies of the filibuster, they have nothing to do with Frist’s nuclear option,” wrote Stone. “This is about raw power. It is about power exercised in a manipulative manner, purely for the sake of partisan advantage.”

    Andrew Davis, a Senior Scientist in the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University, was quoted in a Tuesday, May 3 Washington Post article. The story reported on the mission of the space capsule Genesis, which crashed into Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground in 2004, when a midair helicopter recovery had failed. The Genesis—now housed in a repository at NASA’s Johnson Space Center where crews are removing contaminants from the crash—had collected elements and isotopes from the solar wind. Scientists who study the chemistry of the solar system are waiting to investigate the samples Genesis collected. “An important thing to understand is that even independent of the crash,” said Davis, “this is really difficult analytical chemistry.” Davis, who chairs the NASA oversight committee that monitors the care of the samples and evaluates researchers’ requests, added: “Most of the people with serious interest have been thinking about it for years.”