Tunnel Vision

One thing that has fascinated me about Paris’ massive public transit system is the underground tunnels that allow riders to make transfers. It’s easy to lose your way amid the seemingly endless paths. What makes things tricky is when the paths diverge without warning. If you’re not careful, you could walk down the wrong tunnel and end up on the wrong transit line.

My discovery of this underground labyrinth came when I spent probably a solid 10 minutes walking to transfer from the Metro to the RER at Chatelet-Les Halles. It’s the largest station on the Paris Metro. There, you can transfer between the RER A, B, C, and D trains, and the Metro lines 1, 4, 7, 11, and 14. Needless to say, the tunnels are extensive, and it’s a lot of walking. I try to avoid transferring there if I can.

But it got me thinking about how many people walk through those tunnels in a given day or week or month or year. Do they have interesting stories of getting lost in the tunnels? The tunnels would be a unique place to take shelter. Do homeless people live in the tunnels? What are their stories? What about underground societies? Do they hold secret meetings in the tunnels?

Or maybe what happens underground stays underground.

Tourre, former Goldman trader, will not teach undergrads, Univ. says

The Chicago Maroon - March 3, 2014

Economics Ph.D. student Fabrice Tourre, a former Goldman Sachs trader found liable for fraud, will no longer be teaching undergraduate economics this spring.

“As preparations continue for the spring quarter, Fabrice Tourre will no longer be assigned as an instructor for Honors Elements of Economic Analysis in the College. Instead he will be able to fulfill the teaching requirements for his Ph.D. program through opportunities in his department’s graduate-level curriculum,” University spokesperson Jeremy Manier said in an e-mail.

According to the economics department’s graduate program policy, “pedagogical training is a component of our doctoral education and for all students beginning in the autumn quarter of 2007 and later, the degree program requires compensated service equivalent to five appropriate teaching assistantships.”

Manier declined to comment on what prompted the decision or offer further details. On the courses website and on Time Schedules, Tourre’s name has been removed from the course listing, and the instructor is listed as “pending.”

Second-year Allan Zhang bid for the section and was disappointed that Tourre would no longer be teaching the honors section of the macroeconomics course.

“Macro, I feel, at the very least at the U of C, depends on who’s teaching it, so I was hoping that with Fabrice Tourre, it would be different than with other people in the past. I guess I was hoping that his experience in the private sector and [investment] banking would add something to the class,” he said.

Despite the change, Zhang still plans to enroll in the honors section.

“I guess it depends on who the econ department picks to fill the spot, to see if it’s a net gain or a net loss,” he said. “Having Fabrice Tourre is a plus, but honors econ is still honors econ.”

College applications down 9.5 percent

The Chicago Maroon - February 14, 2014

This year, 27,499 students applied to the College’s Class of 2018, a 9.5 percent decrease from last year’s record high of 30,369 applicants.

University spokesperson Jeremy Manier attributed the decrease to problems with the Common Application but noted that the number of applicants has steadily risen since 2006, when the College received 9,538 applications.

“Applications to the College remain at historically high levels, more than triple the numbers prior to 2006. Problems with the Common Application affected this year’s total, but highly qualified students who are passionate about the College continue to apply in extremely high numbers,” he said in an e-mail.

This year’s revamped Common Application was wrought with technical glitches that caused College Admissions to push back the regular admissions deadline to mid-January, instead of the usual January 3 deadline.

The decrease in applicants this year marks a departure from steady increases over the last 10 years. Last year’s 30,396 applicants comprised the College’s highest total yet and a 20 percent increase over the previous 25,271 applicants. Application numbers have markedly increased since the College adopted the Common Application in 2009 and hired Dean of Admissions Jim Nondorf in 2010.

Last year’s acceptance rate—8.8 percent—marked a record low for UChicago. As for this year, Manier said, “It’s unclear what the overall acceptance rate will be, but it should be roughly in the same range as last year.” While applications have decreased, he said that, given higher yield rates over the last few years, “the number of students admitted this year is likely to be lower.”

The University of Pennsylvania saw a sharp increase in applications for the class of 2018:  Its 35,788 applications marked a 14 percent jump from last year. Northwestern received 33,200 applications, a 1.3 percent increase from last year. Princeton received 26,607 applications this year, a 0.7 percent increase. Harvard and Columbia both saw slight decreases: Harvard received 34,295 applications, a two percent decrease from last year, and Columbia received 32,952 applications, a 1.5 percent decrease.

In recent years, the University has touted developments such as the Logan Center for the Arts, the Institute of Politics, the Institute of Molecular Engineering, and UChicago Promise as attractive to prospective students. This year’s applicants cited various reasons for applying.

Josh Nickelman, a high school senior from Kettering, Ohio, who was admitted during the Early Action round of admissions, visited campus in November as a prospective track athlete.

“[The track team is] a really close team and really tight-knit. That’s what I felt when I visited, and I really like that because as soon as you get there, you have a team, people you know can help you with whatever you need,” he said.

Noel Rubio, from Guam, who was also admitted, cited a variety of reasons for his interest in the College, one of which was the History and Philosophy of Science (HIPS) major.

“When I found out about the HIPS program, I was really excited because I’ve always wanted to go into a premed degree that blended some sort of humanities with the sciences,” he said.

While Nickelman plans to attend UChicago, Rubio will make a final decision after the regular admissions round.

UChicago received 11,143 Early Action applications this year, an all-time high. Those applicants received admissions decisions in December. All Class of 2018 applicants will receive admissions decisions by late March.

University wants to bring Obama presidential library to the South Side

The Chicago Maroon - January 31, 2014

University officials publicly pledged their support for establishing President Barack Obama’s presidential library on the South Side of Chicago, after the announced creation of the Barack H. Obama Foundation on Friday afternoon.

Led by Obama’s close friend and Hyde Park resident Martin Nesbitt (M.B.A. ’89), 2012 Obama re-election co-chair Julianna Smoot, and Wilmette businessman J. Kevin Poorman, the non-profit Foundation will be charged with planning the library’s logistics and raising money for its construction.

According to a statement from President Robert Zimmer, the University will collaborate with City of Chicago officials and other community leaders in bidding for the library.

“The University of Chicago is committed to working in partnership with the City of Chicago, our neighbors, civic leaders, and cultural and educational institutions to develop a plan that benefits the city and the nation,” he said.

Ultimately, the President and First Lady will decide where the library will be located. However, the University “has begun to explore a range of potential locations in neighborhoods across the South Side to help inform that choice,” according to a list of Obama presidential library FAQs from the University News Office.

In addition, the planning and bidding process will include the input of a community advisory board “composed of prominent South Side community leaders,” convened by University officials.

In an e-mail to faculty, students, and staff, Zimmer said that a faculty committee formed to investigate the possibility of a presidential library with the University’s involvement “concluded last year that it would be in the interest of the University to help bring such a project to the South Side.”

Susan Sher, Zimmer’s senior adviser and former chief of staff to Michelle Obama, will continue to lead the University’s efforts regarding the library, in tandem with city officials. The Board of Trustees, senior administrators, and faculty, some of whom served on last year’s committee, will also advise the planning on the University’s end.

Zimmer stressed the economic and cultural benefits of locating the library on the South Side, as well as the symbolic nature of the location, given the ties that the Obamas have to the South Side.

“I strongly believe this endeavor would be ideal for one of our neighboring communities on the South Side of Chicago. Such a location would reflect the personal and professional lives of the Obamas, as well as their commitments to society,” he said. “A presidential library would mark a watershed moment for the South Side, catalyzing significant and sustained economic opportunity in an area poised to make the most of such promise. It would bring cultural and programmatic opportunities for all of Chicago’s citizens and visitors.”

While he stressed the role the potential library could play in South Side communities, Zimmer noted that the resources of the library “would be of significant interest and value to our faculty and students.” The University envisions academic partnerships and programming geared toward students and faculty.

According to the Foundation’s website, the Foundation will send out a Request for Qualifications in February, followed by a Request for Proposals in May. The Foundation will make a final site announcement in early 2015.

Once constructed, the library will be administered by the National Archives and Records Administration, which manages all presidential libraries. Therefore, if the Obamas choose the South Side, the University would have no direct involvement in the library’s contents and operations.

In terms of politics, by law, the library must be nonpartisan, as its mission is to preserve the history of a presidential administration. Similarly, “the University’s involvement would be independent of politics or ideology,” according to the FAQs.

Law Professor Geoffrey Stone (J.D. ’71), who served on the initial faculty committee, told the Maroon last year that the library would most likely not be housed on campus.

“It’s not obvious that there’s a good location on campus that would make sense for it. And beyond that we think it’s important for it to be an asset to the larger community and therefore not to be tucked into the University directly.”

Brace yourself for an avalanche of Oscar contenders

The Chicago Maroon, December 3, 2013

As someone who enjoys following politics, I like that awards season reminds me of the presidential primaries. To sustain momentum throughout the season requires campaigning and trying to develop a compelling narrative to distinguish oneself from the pack. For politicians, this might involve framing oneself as the most experienced candidate or the one with the best platform; for movie studios, it’s framing their films as the most inspirational or the most critically acclaimed of the year. It is exciting to see who’s leading at any moment, and it frequently changes.

While awards season culminates with the Academy Awards (March 2), it typically begins all the way back in September at the Toronto and Venice International Film Festivals, where many of the awards contenders launch their campaigns in the form of glitzy world premieres. By December, the prominent film critic organizations, which influence Oscar voters, release their picks for best of the year. After that, there are “precursors,” such as the Golden Globes and the EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), which occur in January and February. As a result, films released earlier in the year have an inherent disadvantage because there’s a risk that voters and critics will forget about them as awards season drags on. This is why studios tend to dump their “Oscar bait” in December, so brace yourselves. Here’s what to see over winter break.

From Oscar-winning director Alexander Payne (SidewaysThe Descendants), Nebraska is already out in Chicago but slowly rolling into smaller cities. Veteran actor (and actress Laura Dern’s father) Bruce Dern is Woody Grant, a man determined to claim a $1 million prize that is actually an advertising scam. In addition to gorgeous views of the Great Plains and a story that is both funny and sad, the film features a pleasant surprise of a performance from Saturday Night Livealum Will Forte as Woody’s son. Dern is already considered a Best Actor favorite, having picked up the Palme d’Or for Best Actor when the film premiered at Cannes.

Like last year’s Best Picture winner ArgoAmerican Hustle portrays a covert operation in the 1970s, complete with the crazy hairstyles and fashion choices. Bringing together a British con man, an FBI agent, and a Mafia leader, the plot sounds highly dramatic and riveting. Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence lead the all-star cast and are all currently at the height of their careers. American Hustle opens December 18.

Joaquin Phoenix stars in Her, the first feature-length movie in four years from writer-director Spike Jonze (Being John MalkovichAdaptation). While the plot is futuristic—Phoenix is a man who falls in love with a computer operating system that can understand human emotions, voiced by Scarlett Johansson—it invokes feelings of loneliness and addiction to technology that definitely resonate today. Her opens in limited release on December 18.

Opening on Christmas, The Wolf of Wall Street may be the season’s biggest wild card because it almost wasn’t ready to be released this year due to editing delays and nearly being rated NC-17. Based on a true story, the movie chronicles the frenetic rise and fall of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street stockbroker brought down by his excessive greed. From the looks of it, it could be the film to beat: It’s both a morality tale and a fun caper. Plus, Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio in their fifth collaboration, and both are hard to count out any time they’re in the Oscar race.

Also opening on Christmas Day is August: Osage County, which has received mixed reviews but is worth checking out, if only to see Meryl Streep as Violet Weston, the powerful matriarch in Tracy Letts’s acclaimed play.