To the editors:
Middle-aged men who have attained what they believe to be a certain degree of success in business frequently get the urge to contribute their time and “talent” to community affairs. Having engaged in the business of making big bucks, they are now overcome by feelings of altruism and are obliged–as responsible citizens–to give the citizenry the benefit of their wisdom.
Such a one is Ronald Gidwitz, the newcomer to the City Colleges of Chicago scene, appointed by Richard M. Daley to that handpicked board of trustees, which immediately anointed him chairman. According to news reports, the mayor wanted Gidwitz to turn the College into a vocational training institute to provide workers for the city’s factories. As if any educational institution could do that well and efficiently.
But in spite of his being a successful businessman, in spite of his personal wealth, in spite of his lack of involvement with public education as a student or in any other capacity, until now, Ronald Gidwitz could conceivably be of use to this 82-year-old system of higher education. If he had the good sense to know what he does not know and if he had a modicum of good will.
Except of course that his ignorance of the system and of any of the elements and processes connected with it are accompanied by a vast, sweeping, sneering arrogance, the combination of which will prove the undoing of public higher education as Chicago has known it since 1911, particularly for those qualified students who also happen to be poor and/or members of minorities.
The telling comment in Florence Hamlish Levinsohn’s essay “City College Showdown” in the April 2 Reader, was this: speaking about the multimissions of the College, Levinsohn asks Gidwitz, “‘Where do you see the colleges going in the next ten years?’
“‘Wherever the money is,’ he replied.”
Oscar Wilde’s definition of a cynic is more than appropriate to the point of view espoused by Gidwitz: “A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
In effect–and this is always the trouble with the businessman turned civic activist–he assumes that the goal of business, which is profit, is also the goal of education, which is learning. The differences between the two are measured in light years. But the fact that Gidwitz and people like him cannot understand these obvious distinctions leads to much mischief and, ultimately, disaster. He’ll shortly walk away from the College when he’s bored by the assignment or is given another by the mayor or goes off to sun himself by the sea at Antibes. However, the rest of the College community will be left to experience the results of his thoughtless, irresponsible actions.
Another comment Gidwitz makes in response to Levinsohn’s questioning also clearly defines him. Speaking of the College faculty’s union, and complaining about the fact that their contract is “too good,” he says, “I think they’re concerned that I’m not the kind of patsy they’ve negotiated with the last bunch of times.”
To frame the issue in those terms–“patsy” contrasted with, presumably, “tough guy”–is to assume that there is an inherent, underlying adversarial relationship between faculty and administration or faculty and board.
During the years I worked as a special assistant to then College Chancellor Salvatore Rotella, there was peace and harmony to a large extent and, consequently, contract negotiations always went quite smoothly. Rotella, having been a faculty member for many years, was interested in academic matters and respected his faculty colleagues (aside from the incompetents one finds at any institution in any field). And as he indicated to me on many occasions he wanted the faculty to commit to and take responsibility for their professional activities.
By contrast, what we have now is adolescent posturing by the board chairman, challenging the other guy to see whose is bigger, and all under the guise of highly touted economic reform. But ego seems precisely to be the issue.