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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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"The Great Ideas," Round Table transcript, June 11, 1950

"The Great Ideas," Round Table transcript, June 11, 1950. Transcripts were prepared for each Round Table broadcast. At the height of the program's popularity, more than 20,000 subscribers received weekly copies.

Bringing the University to the City

Extension and Great Books
Within three years, a citywide Great Books program had been established in Chicago and a number of other cities. A manual for discussion leaders was prepared so that even participants untrained in scholarly criticism could lead lively, informed discussions. In 1946, Hutchins, who had made frequent personal and radio appearances on behalf of the program, established the independent Great Books Foundation with a $132,000 loan from the University.

Great Books continued to grow and thrive. In Chicago, the first major city to embrace the program, public schools have offered Great Books for twenty-five years in over 250 local schools. Today 30,000 adults take part in discussion groups, and nearly one million children are introduced to at least some of its content through public schools and libraries. For its part, the University offers the Basic Program of Liberal Education, a series of continuing education courses centered on reading the classic texts of the Western tradition.

The University on the Air
0n February 4, 1931, three University of Chicago professors sat around an already antiquated microphone in Mitchell Tower for an unrehearsed discussion of a new government report on prohibition. It was one of the earliest informal, "round table" discussions of a public issue ever heard on radio. To broadcast the program, Chicago station WMAQ had to waive its standing rule against ad-libbing on the air.

That first experiment led to the long-running "University of Chicago Round Table" radio program. In the mid-1930s, WMAQ's parent network, NBC, picked up the program for broadcast nationally on Sunday afternoons. Much of the program's success was due to William Benton, co-founder of the Benton and Bowles advertising agency, a trustee and vice-president of the University, who saw early the power mass media could have in presenting the University to the public.


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