The human experience
Visiting committees can be found in almost every school and division at the University of Chicago. Strictly speaking, they are “visiting to” the University’s Board of Trustees. The goal of the Visiting Committee to the Division of the Humanities is to advocate for and support the humanities at UChicago. Financial support is only a part of it. Members need to know the division—its faculty and students, its programs, its ambitions and future plans—and to share their knowledge with others. With the five-year comprehensive fundraising effort of the University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact under way, four visiting committee members talk about why they love the humanities at UChicago.
“There was always a lot of practicing going on in our home when I was growing up,” says musician and lawyer David Rhind, who started with piano at age 7, then took up the trumpet—at first reluctantly—in eighth grade. Rhind’s father, James T. Rhind, was a University trustee. His mother, Laura, who was also a musician, served on the visiting committees to the Departments of Art History and Music. So the music department’s visiting committee was a natural way for him to get involved with UChicago. He joined the Music visiting committee in 2002, chaired it from 2006 to 2012, and now serves on the Humanities visiting committee.
Rhind has long admired the work of music historian Philip Gossett, the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Music, who specializes in nineteenth-century Italian opera. With some 350 Miles Davis albums in his collection, Rhind has also been pleased to see jazz and other musical genres added to the department’s strengths, to say nothing of the performance explosion since the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts opened in 2012.
Rhind, who ended up falling in love with the trumpet, hasn’t played the Logan Center yet, but with local cover band Dr. Bombay he performs regularly at prominent Chicago fundraisers. His family’s connection to the University remains strong: his two sons, now at U-High, have attended the Laboratory Schools since nursery school. Rhind remains vocal in his support for the division: “The study and application of the humanities is not a dry experience here,” he says. “Whether it’s an exhibit at the Smart Museum, a lecture, or a performance series, the humanities come alive at UChicago.”
Danette (Dani) Kauffman, AM’69, focuses much of her energy on today’s students. An alumna of the Department of English Language and Literature, she’s gratified that humanities graduates now have—and are encouraged to pursue—a wide range of career options after earning their degrees. “That kind of outlook starts with the dean,” she says. “Just because someone has earned a doctorate doesn’t mean that a university job is his or her only option. Today it’s okay to use your degree in all kinds of settings. Linguists get snapped up for code-breaking jobs and excel at their work.”
Building on the energy and encouragement of Dean Martha T. Roth, Kauffman wants current students to be aware of more opportunities to leverage their training and degrees and to consider a variety of career options. Kauffman and a task force of fellow visiting committee members are working with Graduate Student Affairs and the Humanities Dean of Students to develop more resources for humanities students looking beyond academic careers, as well as to help current students network with alumni both inside and outside of the scholarly professions. In addition, Kauffman cites the annual Humanities Day, coming this year on October 17, as “a wonderful event with alumni on campus and a perfect opportunity to engage more alumni and students for career networking.”
Brenda Shapiro appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. “It invites a sometimes uncomfortable bumping together of disciplines. It says it’s not only okay to collaborate, it is essential.”
The Brenda Mulmed Shapiro Fund in the Collegium supports innovative projects that, Shapiro says, encompass “subjects I care a great deal about: The environment. Art history. The media. And the influence of economics on all of them.” One such project was announced earlier this year: “Climate Change: Disciplinary Challenges to the Humanities and Social Sciences,” a yearlong collaboration between Benjamin Morgan, an associate professor of English Language and Literature, and UChicago historians Fredrik Albritton Jonsson and Emily Osborn.
Shapiro and her children—alumni of the Lab Schools and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business—give to areas across the University. In recognition of their April 2008 gift to jump-start Lab’s facilities campaign, Lab named its new early childhood center for paterfamilias Earl Shapiro, Lab’56, an honor that helped memorialize him upon his death the following month. Of her own dedication to UChicago, Brenda Shapiro says, “The thing about the atmosphere at this University that pleases me is it invites specialists—in the social sciences, the humanities, the physical sciences—to rejigger how they look at a problem. I love the clamor, I love the willingness to take the risks that the safety of the narrow focus rarely requires.”
How did University of Chicago Booth School of Business alumnus Jeffrey Skelton, MBA’77, PhD’80, get involved with the humanities and end up serving on the division’s visiting committee for a quarter century and counting?
“All of my schooling was technical, going back to undergrad. I felt like I’d missed a lot of things, important things,” even with three future Nobel laureates—Myron Scholes, MBA’64, PhD’70; Merton Miller; and Eugene Fama, MBA’63, PhD’64—on his dissertation committee. Serving on the Humanities visiting committee has helped him complete his education: “It’s been a thrill to get to know some of the great leaders in the humanities, to be inspired by their work, and understand what they do and why.” A great reader of Shakespeare—“The body of work is just mind-boggling”—Skelton has enjoyed getting to know David Bevington, the Phyllis Fay Horton Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in English Language and Literature and Comparative Literature, “a pillar,” Skelton says. He and his wife, Barbara Selbach, have hosted a dinner with Bevington in their San Francisco home, and Barbara has joined Bevington on an alumni study tour of Britain.
“In a difficult economy,” Skelton says, “it’s hard to make people see the long-term importance of the humanities. But it’s all about understanding the human experience. That’s more important than anything else.”