April 29, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 15

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    [david bevington, blair kamin, richard lacayo,  and barbara stafford] by lloyd degrane
    David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Professor in the Humanities (left to right); Blair Kamin, Pulitzer-Prize-winning architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune; Richard Lacayo, senior writer for Time magazine; and Barbara Stafford, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Art History, discuss some of the topics being covered in the Journalists and Scholars Project.

    Franke humanities institute matches scholars with journalists to take new look at visual literacy, other topics

    By Theresa Carson
    News Office

    Millions of people read their words, and to expand their knowledge and broaden their perspectives as “the eyes and ears of their readers,” three print journalists have joined three University professors to study, discuss and learn in the new Journalists and Scholars Project at The Franke Institute for the Humanities.

    As Regents Park Fellows, the journalists––David Dunlap, real estate reporter for the New York Times; Blair Kamin, architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune and recent Pulitzer Prize winner; and Richard Lacayo, senior writer for Time magazine––are working with scholars Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor in History; W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and Art History; and Barbara Stafford, the William B. Ogden Distinguished Service Professor in Art History.

    Established by Paul Hunter, Director of The Franke Institute for The Humanities and the Barbara E. and Richard J. Franke Professor in English Language & Literature, the program brings these writers to campus for the Spring Quarter, providing them with offices and residential quarters. The project is sponsored by Regents Park at Hyde Park.

    Just as these journalists share similar interests in their writing careers, the professors involved in the program all specialize in areas of study that support the focus of the program. This year, the first year of the program, the focus is on visual literacy.

    Hunter described the pilot program as a work in progress, which will allow it to evolve as ideas of the first six participants cast its mold. Each week, the group meets for two hours to talk about a common reading, which may or may not come from an academic text. “We let whoever will be leading the discussion for that week pick the readings,” said Hunter. “We wanted something where faculty and journalists interacted in a systematic way on a common topic, not randomness,” Hunter added.

    Harris expounded upon the journalists’ contributions to the discussions, “As intelligent commentators on the contemporary scene, they have a sharpness of focus and of questioning that is refreshing and enhances our own sense of larger problems.”

    The journalists also have benefited from the professors’ perspectives.

    The program’s loose structure allows participating journalists to enroll in courses or sit in on lectures.

    “There are all sorts of unexpected intersections,” said Kamin about the ways academic learning contributes to his work. To illustrate his comment, Kamin gave an example of a connection he made in an introductory music course he is taking. “An architect, like a composer, creates a blueprint, and someone else carries out the plan. Frank Lloyd Wright once called music ‘an edifice of sound.’”

    Time magazine’s Lacayo, who covers the national beat and reviews photography exhibits, anticipates writing articles about city development and school vouchers. Dropping in on classes to hear lectures will help increase his knowledge of urban planning and education, he said.

    His visits to campus classrooms also have sharpened his skills as a critical reviewer. Lacayo said he now asks more questions about the installation process of photo exhibits. “I need to be the eyes and ears of the readers––their most alert consciousness.”

    Dunlap of the New York Times, who grew up on Chicago’s North Side, writes about architecture, landmarks, city planning, and urban and neighborhood history. “One of the best things about this fellowship, along with the academic rigor, is learning about and exploring neighborhoods I really never knew.”

    Dunlap is planning to write about the revitalization of Chicago’s Pullman district. He said his involvement in the Journalists and Scholars Project is helping him think of different ways to frame his articles. He said the Pullman story could focus on a variety of issues, such as transportation, civil rights, city planning or organized labor.

    All three Regents Park Fellows agree the new program has given them the chance to step away from the daily pressures of deadlines and look at the bigger picture.

    In addition to class participation and discussions, the participants may take field trips. “In the John Dewey mode, we’ll use the city as a laboratory,” Kamin said. The group has talked about going to the North Bridge Project, a commercial real estate development between the Ontario and Ohio corridor near Michigan Avenue.

    They also have discussed visiting the River North area along Ontario and Ohio streets, between the Kennedy Expressway and Navy Pier’s giant Ferris wheel. Kamin said the group is very interested in this ‘new Midway’ for the city.

    “It’s a special thing to have a conversation with people who care passionately about their fields,” Kamin added.