We were taken aback by Tim Murphy’s display of arrogance in his latest article “The $40,000 Questions” (12/2/2008). It is not Murphy’s characterization of the application process for the Uncommon Fund that we take umbrage with, but rather his mocking of the initiatives themselves. As one of the grant recipients of the first fund, we feel pity for Murphy and some degree of dissatisfaction toward ourselves.
If Murphy had taken the time to do some modicum of research for his article, he might have come across the blog that was kept during the construction of the Uncommon Turbine. On it, he could have read about the purpose of the effort, which was “to raise awareness of sustainability issues [at the University of Chicago] among students, faculty, and the administration.” This was a response to a noticeable and growing break between the University of Chicago and its rivals, who were taking progressive steps to institutionalize sustainability. As far as our accomplishment in this endeavor, we have clearly failed Murphy, who is under the impression that our intent was to make “a dent in the University’s approach to alternative energy.” While we are not sure what constitutes an “approach” to alternative energy, we have certainly succeeded as part of a larger effort to institutionalize sustainability. The establishment of the native-plants garden was another admirable step forward in a years-long struggle toward this goal, not merely “a nice place to take a date.” It is disappointing that the author shows no understanding of the administration’s great about-face in its treatment of sustainability. During Murphy’s ineffectual three-and-one-third-year tarry at the University of Chicago, “sustainability” went from grassroots to institutional, not just at this and other universities, but in the world as well. A less apathetic student might have noticed this local and global shift. At the local level, this is evidenced by the establishment of the sustainability council in 2004 and the recent hiring of Ilsa Flanagan as Sustainability Coordinator two weeks ago. Major changes in the principles of business and government (see: Wal-Mart, Duke Energy, and the establishment of Renewable Portfolio Standards in 28 states) illustrate the latter. Indeed, Murphy should expect to have the opportunity to take dates all over campus as native plants replace financially and environmentally costly landscapes.
We’d like to note that the turbine project has also succeeded in a domain beyond the quads. An e-mail received through the blog has led to a project in a rural town in Haiti, where one of the Uncommon Turbine members is leading an effort to provide clean, appropriate energy technologies with microloans.
Murphy’s callow dismissal of these initiatives is an insult to students who generously volunteered their time for no other reason than to fulfill their notion of improved student life. We urge Murphy to henceforth choose his words more wisely, and perhaps pick up a subscription to The Economist to keep better informed about the world in which he lives.
Daniel Schnitzer, class of 2007
Matthew Malinowski, class of 2009
Robert Berry, class of 2007