Urban Renewal Hyde Park home. History and Preservation home. University and Community home.

Urban Renewal in Hyde Park and surrounding communities and
"Urban Universities: Their Responsibilities,"
a 1968 Roundtable radio interview on WFMT, Chicago

Thanks to University of Chicago Department of Visual Arts "Looks Like Freedom... around 1968"(2008) for distributing transcript for a discussion held in conjunction with the exhibit.

Rev. Arthur Brazier, president of The Woodlawn Organization
Julian Levi, director of the South East Chicago Commission and Professor of Urban Studies
Professor Jack Meltzer, director of the University of Chicago's center for Urban Studies and in the Div. of Social Sciences.
Moderator: Professor Kenneth Northcott


Kenneth Northcott: I think what we want to talk about this evening is the question of the relationship of the University to the immediate neighborhood surrounding it. What should the relationship be, what can the University do for the neighborhood, what are they doing, and what more can be done and I'd like to ask Rev. Brazier if he might like to start off and tel us a little about what he thinks about this very serious problem.

Rev. Brazier: Well, I think tha the-- primarily we have to go back sort of on a historical basis and view universities as universities have viewed themselves. And tha is as sort of islands of academia where only the learning process is to take place. And I think that universities historically have disassociated themselves from surrounding communities and at the same time were performing very useful functions in areas far removed from the community. Now, what I'm saying probably does not apply to universities that may be in some pastoral setting. But universities that find themselves in the heart of the inner city I think have a real obligation to bring to bear their tremendous resources, their tremendous technical know-how - bring this to bear on some of the great problems within the communities.

Northcott: Julian, what do you think about this?

Julian Levi: Well, I wouldn't go quite that far in this sense: that it's true that universities have resources - I'm conscious of the fact that these resources are really not adequate for them to do the job that they now have to do. And I'm also conscious of one other thing and that is that the seat of all civic virtue is not located (laughter from someone else) squarely between the ears of faculty members or--

Jack Meltzer -- present company excepted! (laughter)

Levi:-- or even students (muttering...) And yet when universities approach communities that surround them on the basis that they're the knights on white horses they're apt to be greeted with the comment that "who in the devil sent for your?" and I think there's a good deal of sense in that, by the way.

Northcott: I think this is a very important point and I'm sure we will come to that - and Jack I wonder whether you would like to say something about this from the point of view of someone who's very concerned with urban studies.

Meltzer: Now, I think that we can pick up a comment that Rev. Brazier made as well as Mr. Levi's that you know one part- one problem is universities being aware that they have ome responsibilities to their surrounding community, to really their communities - as much a part of their communities as they are neighbors to those communities - but also the problem that arises from being involved with the community. And I think that one of the important principles that we have learned and really learned from people like Rev. Brazier is that there's a danger in the involvement if it simply means replacing one tyranny with another tyranny. By that I mean the tyranny of public agencies being involved with a strong service orientation, the notion that they're providing a series of goods to a community and having that replaced by a university taking somewhat the same position. So then I think that the nature of that involvement becomes crucial and it become something more than simply responding to what it is that the community asks be done, and it is a more fundamental kind of change that's required which goes to even the question of how professions organize themselves and respond not simply to surrounding communities but generally to the needs of those who seek to have certain kinds of professional services provided them. so this in a sense is what the exciting opportunity is for the academic part of the university - it's almost to reexamine and reorganize themselves - transform themselves in the process of hopefully working with and being supported of the citizens in these areas.

Rev. Brazier: I don't think that the universities as a rule fully realize this. I think that there are some universities in there in this country who want to work with community groups but don't know how, really. And are sort of falling into what one might call a paternalistic bag, so to speak and sort of treat the local community as a patient and the university as a doctor, and they come in with their idea that, well we are expressing what's best for you. If they are going to do anything at all in the path universities have been notoriously lax in doing anything with adjacent communities.

Northcott: Yeah except insofar as they may have used them for a sort of field study or

Unknown: laughter, well yeah

Rev. Brazier -- some sort of a guinea pig operation where certain kinds of - certain kinds of professors come in and study the community and then went off and wrote books about 'em - but here again the wasn't helping the community at all, and it was just sort of a research study - and one really can question as to the value of that kind of research anyway.

Northcott: Julian, is this a fair criticism?

Levi: Well, I think that it goes further. I think it's a fair criticism, but I don't think it's nearly deep enough. The fact is that universities have vastly oversold themselves to the American public. I think this is the result of World War II, that if I've heard one I've heard millions of times the comment that if you were bright enough to make the atom bomb then you oughta be bright enough to solve the problem of the American City. And the fact of the matter is that social science in many places is a kind of an arid model-making process that really doesn't contribute and beyond that that it's not the business of a university to try to run communities or to try to run people's lives.

Rev. Brazier: No, I don't think it's the business of universities to try to run people's lives. I think that universities sometimes are so structured, and the peopled who run universities to a large degree are so far removed from what's really happening in the world that it's extremely difficult for them to work with people. I think that we have seen some great breakthroughs at the University of Chicago who have been working with the Woodlawn Organization and the Woodlawn community for a number of years now and I think that we have showing the way in many areas where universities and communities can work together. But there are so many people who are operating out of an almost completely different frame of reference.

Unknown: mmhmm

Rev. Brazier -- and people in ghetto communities and black communities it's very difficult for some of these scholars, some of theses educators to get the - quote - "those people" syndrome - close quote - out of focus, and recognize them as not "those people" but people. And although many of them may not have had academic backgrounds, they really are very astute in assessing what it is they don't want.

unknown yea, mmmhmm

Rev. Brazier: -- now they may not be experts at drawing all the lines and getting everything down in a pattern and I think here is where university personnel in faculty functioning together with the people you see --

Northcott: Yeah

Brazier: -- to put down you know things on paper but too often after listening to people universities will go off an hire some high-powered guy who has certain kinds of credentials but who himself - and he may be black - may not be fully aware of what's going on in the community.

Meltzer. There are two kinds of insights it seems to me that these last few years have provided in working with and for the Woodlawn residents, and they're not thoroughly though through by me, but they relate building on what Rev. Brazier has just said that in a sense part of the problem a university faces, which is you know- which is an industry and that industry theoretically is knowledge, theoretically (laughs) because I agree (someone else laughs) with some of Julian's comments, obviously. But how do you even make it operative? And I think one of the ways one does it is the ways in which we've been discussing, which is to work on a theory that it's not a knowledge that's extended on a one-one basis, you know in terms of well, we've now determined that X area is where we're gonna bd working and suddenly we're gonna open that faucet and the knowledge flows - but it's by a more circuitous route, that the key is really reinforcing the community's and the citizen's own aspirations (someone: yes, okay) to create total community - but how did that knowledge is then ground into that process and that secondly, that in the - during the course of the involvement that what one is after is not simply extending the service that's associated with a series of professional activity, but actually directed to the community's own aspirations to achieve systematic change, to achieve institutional change rather than simply to call into play a series of unrelated activity.

Northcott: Yeah.

Brazier: You know what that means, though. That means that the rate- that the university then - and when I say "the university" I'm not talking about the University of Chicago I'm speaking now in terms of... then begins, then must recognize that there's a power base in the local community in which they're working. And I find that too often people in the farther ends of these universities are rather fighting other people. They really don't know how they're gonna react, they're not willing to really recognize that there is a power base in the community - so therefore one university I'm thinking about sort of fragments its efforts and it does a little [in all sides?], everybody trying to be all th ings to all people, and does, you know, a little over in one community and does a little over in another... and then when we find that the communities adjacent to the universality is still crying out for certain kinds of support an help, is completely dissatisfied, the question then is coming back on the old question - "what do you want?" - you know, we've been doing all -- Look at all we've been doing! But you've been doing it in such a half hazard and scattered way that it's ineffective, and the reason it's ineffective is that people are sitting on boards who have no relationship tot he people, often fill ? people.

Northcott: Yeah, I think this is true for both sides. I think this comes back to a point which Julian made very early on that the univ- just as the university may not have an understanding of the black areas surrounding it, so I think that the people in the black areas see the university as an organization with a fifty million budget - why shouldn't they be doing much more? I think this is a problem.

Levi: Well, you see there's another think that enters this. And I think these are the things we've learned in our experience. First of all, the fact that you have an adjoining community which has problems does not - by itself - make that community a convenient laboratory for anybody to go poking into . You're dealing in these fields with people's lives and you come in when you're asked to come in. And the second thing is - and at this point I don't have any problem because I look at this relationship as a lawyer-client relationship As a lawyer, I may represent somebody who doesn't have as much education as I have, who may as a matter of fact not have as much experience as I have. I advise him, but then I know that he has the complete right to disregard my advice, he has the right to fire me if he wants to (others right mmmm) And I feel that if the university wants to work in a community they have to work in the community on the basis that it is not going to make the policy decisions. The policy decision have to be made by the people who are affected legally.

Meltzer: Year, and given the example that Rev. Brazier recited and Julian was then adding onto, is that what it is Rev. Brazier has described is the pattern among many universities in a sense is the same kind of pattern yu find all to frequently in the ways in which even cities , even public groups (Brazier-yeah) respond. You know which is a theory that you begin to feel righteous, that you are - quote- "helping" a group of citizens - unquote - by extending your involvement by an increase in the number of health clinics or an increase in the number of schools or an increase in the number of a whole series of other activities - but doing so on this kind of detached basis, as if you were simply responding to a personal conviction without any sense of the perception of that community -- (Unknown)- yeah, it becomes kind of a charity --
Meltzer: --recognizing that it is a response to what it is that the community is creating. Not simply receiving but creating.

Northcott: I'd like to come perhaps to a few specific... We've talked about Woodlawn, and perhaps we should explain that Woodlawn is an area immediately to the south of the University of Chicago which is a ninety nine percent black area . Ad Rev. Brazier, you've been very closely connected with the Woodlawn Organization. What sort of things dose the Woodlawn Organization want from the University, what does it expect from the University, and have their expectations been met in any way?

Brazier: Well, when you think in terms of Woodlawn, I think we need to think in terns of a community that has quite a number of people and who responds to the University in many different ways. I think it's only fair to say that if we're talking in terms of specifics, that the Woodlawn Organization and the University of Chicago have found a way in which they could work together to achieve their own self-interest - and at the same time these self-interests are not based on some kind of selfish deliterious motives, but it's a self-interest that enhances the community, and enhances not only the University by all of the surrounding area. In my mind I feel that the University's approach to Woodlawn is based on their self interest, and not a selfish self interst but a self-interest that promotes the University's needs but also promotes the programs of the surrounding community.

Northcott: Yeah, mmmm

Brazier: Now, all the people don't see- view the University in that light. I think it's roughly fair to say that in past years I will say very long and bitter stuggle between the University of Chicago andthe Woodlawn Orgnization. The animosity that was generated over the period of years has not completely died out in the minds of all the people. There are still a number of people who feel that the University intends to acquire all of the land in Woodlawn up to 67th Street. I've often said that it's up to the University to [inaudible] that themselves if they disagree with people on that particular notion. No one can arue that point and say "this is not what they want todo" - it's up to the University to do so. To show people this is not what they want to do. But I think that specifically the University has responded to the Woodlawn community desire to become involved in trying to correct the abysmal education system that we find in the community. That's why we've been abale to work with the University in seting up the Woodlawn Experimental Schools project, in helping them develop the Model Cities program. And I just- I know we don't have time on this progam to go into all of the facets of how we set up a working relationship with the University to assist the Woodlawn Organization in drawing up a Model Cities plan. And it was done so beautifully thast a lot of people will say, "The University drew up that plan for TWO" which is absolutely untrue- not true at all (others talking over, agreeing) -- But we worked out a method and we didn't just pop this- this notion didn't just jump out of our minds, it had to be worked out over a period of time, with trial and error - but we came up with a situation whereby the community was able to say, "these are the kinds of things we don't want, these are the kinds of things we want," and the University faculty and students were able to put certain kinds of things out on paper, adn put on opitin one, optin twp, option three, option four, option five - and the people would have a chance to go out and say "elll look, that's what we like, tha't what we don't like". And along that line we've been able to really forward a relationship - although tenuous in the minds of some people - still a relationship that is functioning, and functioning well.

Northcott: I'd like to take up the point which Rev. Brazier made, which I think is very important, not only for ourselves but for other people perhaps - to see this in terms of t he University's self interest. How do you respond to that?

Levi: Well the University has three kinds of self interest which are very clear. First of all, these are our neighbors. Unhappiness, misery, violence - will [a]ffect us. Second of all, if we are gong to be decent people, in accordance with our own lights - this is not on the basis that anybody has to say thank you to you, but you've simply got to be prepared to live with yourself. You've go to behave thoughtfully and decently to a neighbor. And third - and to me this is the most challenging part of it - the fact is we do not know how to make many governments work in this country. Hers wea are with all of theses great imporvements in medical treatment and the rest and the fact is that we hve a shameful morbidity rate for children in Woodlawn - the medical profession today rally doesn't know how to package and deliver services. We have a welfare program in this country which is a disaster. We go through the whole catalog. Now the fact is it is the business of the university - in the search for knowledge, selfishly, - to try to find out what the systems are, how you make them responsive, how you achieve results. I think Jack would say to you that the result ofthe experience that we've had is not that we've developoed so many earthshaking discoveries, but the fact is that this is probably one of the key places in the country where effort of this kind is proceeding. For instance, we know that seven out of ten youngsters who come into the Woodlawn schools are not going to make a satisfactory adjustment to school unless something happens - working jointly with the community. And these people that TWO has trained - we find that we can reduce that sevn out of ten ot four out of ten. Now, this is an important, worthwhile thing that a University department of psychiatry, for example, ought to be interested in - and is interested in. Now, you know --

Meltzer: The rigorous tests - the rigorous tests that citizens put to the professionals who are involved in their community, whether coming from a university or not, are in a sense much more demanding than the tests which profesional placed upon themselves. The need to somehow respond, not only in terms of your own prfesiona defciencies but to somehow relate the whople network of professional activity in the perception and terms of the citizens themselves demands a kind of a disciplineand a kind of response which unfortuately we've not found - until we come to be involved with community -
Northcott: Year, mmm
-- because they view temselves quite differently than professionals have traditionally viewed them. And this is true of all human beings, not simply of humans who happen to be in areas we call inner city communities. It hapopens to be more sharply felt in comunities that don't have economic and other kinds of resources - but it's [an] across the board problem.

Levi: -- You see to this you add one other thing. Anyone at the University who has the expectation that anyone is goona say thank you to them completely misunderstands the relationship. The university is not popular in Woodlawn. Therse are a lot of reasons why it isn't popular. And frankly, I don't think it ever will be popular. That's not the important thing. The important thing is whether, as a matter of substance, using the particular skills that our poeple have - we can find the answers to some things. And we can only find them only under community direction.

Brazier: I think that the idea of popularity or the idea of affection is really not relevant. It's results that we really have to make. So many people say, you know, you can't legislate love or the University doesn't love Woodlawn, or Woodlawn doesn't love the University - I don't think that has any place in what we're trying to do. All we're trying to do is get results for the people of our community. Now, it's one thing as it relates to the kids adjusting to the school system. It may well be that this adjustment length can be cut down. but I think that one of the things that the community, certainly, as we move along - maybe in the Woodlawn Experimental Schools project, or maybe outside of that frame of reference - will be a question that I think the community is certainly going to raise - and is raising- and that is, should the children relly bed expected to adjust to the educational system as it is now functioning and operating?

Northcott: This becomes an important point for an education department --

Brazier: But one of the things that we're saying here - we are not educators in the community. But we do know that a system that says everybody that comes into the system in a lockstep. You come in at the same age, and everybody prgresses at thesame rate of speed, and by the time you get to your third year, evry person is supposed to be rading atthe same rate, at the third grade level. Everything is done as if everybody progresses at thesame rate of speed - it is a fantasy.

Meltzer: Yea, and this is where that systemic change - the means that you're judging that educational system, not by the way educators assess their own activities, which are lassrgely by self-serving criteria - whether there's been an increase in the number of teacers, and increase in the number of classrooms - what you're judging in terms of the criteria that are established by residents of that community. And in the comunity it may be totally different. (Others - yeah)

Brazier: And the community is not questioning this. This is where the word "community control" comes in. It's a very incendiary word at this point...