April 16, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 14

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    Chicago In the News

    The Chronicle’s biweekly column Chicago 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 University News Office Web site: http://news.uchicago.edu.

    Edward Snyder

    Dean sizes up business schools
    Edward Snyder, Dean of Chicago Booth, wrote an opinion piece in the Thursday, April 2 BusinessWeek, addressing the state of business schools in the country. Amid the changing global economy, Snyder wrote, “the very nature of competition will shift to a much greater emphasis on the strength of a school’s franchise in its relevant market.” Snyder suggested three principles to guide business schools, including avoiding “budget-driven decisions” in favor of “market-driven strategies;” “global strategies that have more narrow purposes” that build on regional strengths; and most important, “to stay focused on quality. Each school needs to understand its market and recognize that the competitive dynamic will force a shakeout wherein the losers will be those who cannot sustain quality.”

    Champions of charter schools
    Timothy Knowles, the Lewis-Sebring Director of the University’s Urban Education Institute, was quoted in the Friday, April 3 issue of Chicago Magazine on the growth of charter schools across the country. The City of Chicago has long been a champion of charter schools, with 67 such campuses after the Illinois legislature first authorized the creation of 45 in 1996. Knowles talked about the keys to success in the institute, which operates four charter schools in neighborhoods near the University: “Good working conditions for teachers are absolutely critical. Salary and benefits and vacation days are important, but you can’t neglect the actual day-to-day experience in the schoolhouse.” Knowles stressed the constant mentoring and collaboration of the system’s two-teacher model, which allows teachers to take on extra roles without giving up time in the classroom.

    Is time right for tax holiday?
    Harold Pollack, Associate Professor in the School of Social Service Administration, was quoted in a Tuesday, April 7 article in the Baltimore Sun about President Obama’s proposed payroll tax break. The Making Work Pay tax credit would provide a one-year tax savings of up to $400 per person or $800 per couple for those with adjusted gross incomes under $75,000. The article stated that although roughly two-thirds of Americans pay more in payroll than income taxes, few know how the system works. The payroll tax has two portions paid by employee and employer—the Old Age, Disability and Survivors Insurance portion (6.2 percent tax up to $102,000 in earnings) and the Medicare portion (1.45 percent flat tax). Pollack said that proposal is not without political risks to the popular Social Security program. “Although conservatives exaggerate the long-term fiscal challenge posed by Social Security, we do need to stay disciplined to maintain the program’s public legitimacy and to reduce the need for future tax increases if we face new fiscal challenges.”

    Study: Dark energy on decline
    Michael Turner, the Bruce V. and Diana M. Rauner Distinguished Service Professor in Astronomy & Astrophysics, commented on a recent analysis that indicates the universe might not be expanding as quickly as it was once, in a Wednesday, April 8 article in New Scientist. A team led by an University of Oxford scientist analyzed a newly released catalogue of supernova explosions and suggested that dark energy—the mysterious force that seems to be pushing the universe apart—may be losing strength. “The simplest question we can ask is ‘does the dark energy change with time?’” Turner asked. The evidence had once suggested that dark energy was constant, though its effect on the universe had become stronger as the universe expanded.

    Richard Thaler

    Nudging voters in right direction
    A Thursday, April 2 article in Time featured Barack Obama’s “behavioral dream team,” which includes Nudge author Richard Thaler. This group illuminated topics such as messaging, fundraising and voter mobilization during the presidential campaign. Thaler, the Ralph and Dorothy Keller Distinguished Service Professor at Chicago Booth, cited an Executive Order from Obama that called for greater bureaucratic transparency through new technology. “Instead of the 30 pages of unintelligible crap that comes with a mortgage, you can upload it with one click to a Web site that will explain it and help you shop for alternatives.” The article also mentioned Thaler’s Nudge co-author Cass Sunstein, the Harry Kalven Jr. Visiting Professor in the Law School, and Austan Goolsbee, the Robert P. Gwinn Professor in Economics at Booth. Sunstein and Goolsbee both serve in the Obama administration.

    Creating ‘cycle-proof’ regulation
    Raghuram Rajan, the Eric J. Gleacher Distinguished Service Professor in Finance at Chicago Booth, wrote an opinion piece on financial regulation in the Wednesday, April 8 edition of the Economist. Rajan pointed out that one of the greatest misconceptions is that regulation is most needed at the bottom, rather than the top of the financial cycle. “We need to acknowledge these differences and enact cycle-proof regulation,” Rajan wrote. He added that once the current economic crisis passes, there could be enormous political pressure to soften enforcement. Yet to become “cycle-proof,” new regulations should be “comprehensive, contingent and cost-effective,” Rajan argued. “Those that apply comprehensively to all leveraged financial firms are likely to discourage the drift from heavily regulated to lightly regulated institutions during the boom.”

    Argonne’s master glass blower
    Joe Gregar, a scientific glass blower at Argonne National Laboratory, was featured in a Wednesday, April 1 article in the Chicago Tribune. The 60-year-old Gregar has worked at Argonne for 29 years and is considered one of the nation’s elite. He is best known for his Gregar Extractor, a device that extracts chemicals from a solid and places them in a liquid. Yet his favorite piece is a “liquid helium cryostat,” a device that helps scientists study the behavior of material at very cold temperatures. Gregar, a fourth-generation scientific glass blower, believes the family craft may end when he retires. “I can’t imagine not melting and blowing glass,” he said. “Maybe I’ll become a beadmaker.” Joe Michael, a senior chemist at Argonne, also was quoted in the story.

    Teen depression screening debated
    Benjamin Van Voorhees, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Pediatrics and Psychiatry, led a study of a Web-based tool that helps teenagers who may be suffering from mental illness—a topic that was debated in a Wednesday, April 8 story in U.S. News & World Report. The article stated that each year, an estimated 2 million teens and preteens experience clinical depression, which could affect schoolwork, cause social isolation and increase risk of suicide and pregnancy. While a government-appointed panel of experts recently advised routine screenings for depression for patients 12 to 18, Van Voorhees conceded “it’s very hard for most teens to determine if they are clinically depressed.” Called “Project CATCH-IT,” the interactive Web tool he studied helped reduce depression symptoms in at-risk adolescents by discouraging pessimistic thoughts, discouraging procrastination while promoting doing enjoyable activities.

    Book explains Exodus stories
    Parting of the Sea, written by Barbara Sivertsen (A.M.,’74) of the Journals Division, University Press, suggests that phenomena that follow volcanic eruptions can explain the “supernatural” events of the biblical book of Exodus. A Wednesday, April 6 article in Haaretz details the book, in which Sivertsen claims that eruptions 3,600 years ago caused two separate events that were combined into one story. The first, in 1628 B.C., “raised an acidic ash cloud” that nearly wiped out Santorini in the Aegean Sea and precipitated the first exodus. Sivertsen claims that the growth of red weeds, a result of volcanic ash, was likely the bloody plague referenced in the story. She also writes that a volcanic event in 1450 B.C. in the Aegean, caused a series of tsunamis that parted the sea, drowning the pursuing Egyptian army. “You can not know for sure what really happened,” Sivertsen said, “but I’m convinced my hypothesis explains the events much better than others.”