March 16, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 12

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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/. If you are aware of news articles that feature the University or its faculty, students and/or alumni, feel free to bring them to the attention of the Chronicle editor to be considered for In the News. News clips may be sent to ldavis@uchicago.edu.

    Bernard Harcourt, Professor in the Law School, and his colleague, Jens Ludwig, associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University, have published a paper that will appear in the winter issue of the Chicago Law Review in which they argue that the “broken windows” theory of crime prevention has no convincing evidence of being successful. The theory—cracking down on misdemeanor crimes and other minor offenses, such as public drinking, graffiti and other property damage, helps lower felony crime—has been used in New York, Los Angeles and now is being implemented in Denver. “From a public policy perspective, the faith that many policymakers place in the efficacy of broken windows is in the end just faith, rather than the result of convincing empirical evidence,” said Harcourt in a Tuesday, March 7 article published in the Denver Post. When Harcourt reviewed a federal initiative in which nearly 5,000 low-income families living in high-crime neighborhoods were moved to less disadvantaged and less disorderly communities, he found the arrest rate of individuals who moved to the better neighborhoods was not lower than that of residents who stayed in the high-crime areas. “That is fascinating,” he said. “That goes to the larger question, ‘does disorder cause crime?’”

    Roman Weil, the V. Duane Rath Professor of Accounting in the Graduate School of Business, was quoted in a Saturday, March 4 Chicago Tribune front-page story. The article described the charges against Enron’s former chairman and chief executive Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, their trial now underway in Houston, and Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer at the energy company. Appearing in court last week, Fastow is considered the key witness whose testimony would either help or harm Lay and Skilling, who are charged with a variety of criminal counts, including conspiracy and fraud. Weil commented on the off-balance sheet partnerships that Fastow managed and from which he also took profits. According to the article, Enron had hidden $25 billion in debts through these partnerships, which violated federal accounting laws. “Being the boss of the entity is not in itself illegal,” said Weil, “but not disclosing that is. On matters such as conflicts of interest, what these entities did do stretched the limits.”

    Christopher Fichtner, Associate Professor in Psychiatry, wrote an op-ed that was published in the Saturday, Feb. 25 Chicago Sun-Times. Fichtner praised the Illinois Senate Health and Human Services Committee for recently voting to pass the Illinois Medical Cannabis Act, which would allow medically ill patients to obtain cannabis for medicinal use with a physician’s recommendation. Fichtner wrote that opponents of the medical use of cannabis argue that laws allowing it send the wrong message to young people and potentially contribute to teen use. “Illinois adults and teens know that compassionate treatment of sick people and health care that respects consumer choice and the doctor-patient relationship are not ‘the wrong message.’ They recognize that criminalizing patients for their health-care choices is wrong.” The illegal drug has been used to stimulate appetite in cancer and AIDS patients; to relieve nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy; to alleviate chronic pain and muscle spasms in people suffering from multiple sclerosis; and for other medical conditions, such as glaucoma.

    Martha McClintock, the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and the College, was featured in a Monday, Feb. 27 Chicago Tribune story about a study she and her co-author Gretchen Hermes, a Fellow in Ophthalmology & Visual Science, conducted on rodents’ ability to handle and survive stress. The researchers used 120 rats, documenting the long-lasting effect of three months of isolation followed by a 30-minute episode of acute physical stress. They measured the body’s initial reaction to bacteria and viruses, the inflammatory response of the immune system, after injecting the rats with a foreign body. The female rats were “staggeringly stronger,” the study authors reported. “The study reinforces a growing body of evidence on health disparities between men and women and may shed light on why socially isolated men are more vulnerable to disease and death than isolated women,” said Hermes. Added McClintock, “Showing the effects of social isolation on the fundamental immune process has a lot of clinical implications,” because the inflammatory response is connected to many diseases. McClintock also was a guest on WBBM-AM Newsradio 780 Monday, Feb. 27, discussing the study results.

    Austan Goolsbee, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Economics in the GSB, wrote an op-ed that appeared in the Sunday, March 5 Chicago Sun-Times, arguing a case for better ways to conduct experiments to study the effects television has on children and supporting a study his colleague Matthew Gentzkow, Assistant Professor of Economics in the GSB, conducted with Jesse Shapiro, Research Associate in the GSB. Gentzkow and Shapiro looked at test score outcomes of children born in different states in which television became available in households at different times. Comparing the scores—taken from a total of 300,000 children—the researchers looked for evidence that children who began watching TV at much younger ages than their counterparts in other states had lower test scores, but found no such evidence. Goolsbee wrote: “If anything, the data revealed a small positive up tick in test scores for kids who got to watch more television when they were young. For kids living in households in which English was a second language, or with a mother who had less than a high school education, the study found that TV had a more sizable positive impact on test scores in reading and general knowledge. Evidently, Bozo the Clown was better than we remember.”

    Four married couples, who are graduates or current students of the University’s Graduate School of Business, were featured and photographed in a Crain’s Chicago Business article in the Monday, Feb. 27 issue. The story reported on how MBA graduates or soon-to-be graduates negotiate career decisions and balance them with their relationships, marriages and raising families. Couples find that their commitments and their priorities will require sacrifices. “We knew we wanted to have kids, so we wanted to make sure he was in a job first because we figured I’d have to go part time or not work for a while,” said Lena Jessen (MBA ’01). However, GSB graduate Karen Slimmon (MBA ’91) said compromise was not an option for her or her husband Andrew. “If we couldn’t figure it out professionally, I don’t think we’d be together. If either of us had to compromise, I think it would have been a strain on the relationship. It really would have hurt us.”

    Amit Sharma, a fourth-year in the College, was among the young Indian-Americans interviewed for an article published in the Monday, March 6 Newsweek. Sharma who has studied biology at the University, has accepted a position at JP Morgan as an investment banker, much to the disappointment of his parents who groomed him to become a doctor. Sharma said, “I grew up in a town where every Indian was a doctor or a professor. There is so much more out there.”

    John Heaton, the James H. Lorie Professor of Finance in the GSB, was quoted in a New York Times story reporting on stocks versus bonds and how economists and investors explain the gap in returns. One factor is the equity risk premium, the extra return stocks pay over less risky government bonds, though it does not explain the entire gap between the two types of securities. Heaton noted that diversification of assets is part of a dramatic change in the financial markets. “Investors have become just more comfortable with the stock market. Part of that is education. The other thing is sort of a classic finance effect, which is that the level of diversification that investors have available to them has increased.” Diversification makes investors more likely to take bigger risks. “It makes wealthier people more comfortable holding positions in the stock market.”