Letter to the Editor: 11/25/12

By Letter to the Editor

To the Editor,

This is in regard to a recent news story about the changing ideology within the University Honors College.

“I interpret [the phrase ‘academic attainment’] to mean students (and faculty) who strive to actually accomplish something, as opposed to idle thought, however deep and clever it may be,” Stricker said in an email.

I was one of the many students who had the privilege to study under the tutelage of Doc and his UHC. He always used to proudly boast that he would never support the research of “calculating the bejazzer parameter to the 100th decimal place.” That is to say, he would never support research that was merely “accomplishing something.” The UHC was a place for the kind of research that you couldn’t do elsewhere: Research that only promised rigorous hard work and an intellectually stimulating community — not necessarily “results.” After all, new ideas are always idle at first.

Doc recognized that the trick isn’t to teach students to walk into a well-known space — already fit with goals and metrics — and crank until they get results. That’s machine training. The trick is to teach students how to carve out their own spaces, to define the results they are looking for and recognize how the shapes of their problems map onto and touch those of their peers. See, computers are ever-more efficient at filling up our problem spaces. But we are still the unique architects of these realms. This was the mission of the UHC: to train students — ravenous for idle, deep thought — to become architects of worlds unknown. It’s no coincidence that Doc’s own research started by taking the science-fiction book, “Flatland,” about a planar universe and asking “What happens to physics in a two-dimensional world?”

I can only hope that the UHC corrects course before a tremendous and unique institution is dismantled.

Erik Hinton

New York Times web developer

Former Managing Editor of The Pitt News

Pitt graduate, 2010