A "Rock Star" Remembered

Students, family and colleagues gathered to share stories about Herman L. Sinaiko, a legendary humanities professor in the College.
A man of natural kindliness, integrity, and dignity, he was a moral and intellectual touchstone for thousands of students.

“First came the love, then came the knowledge, then came the discourse,” said Donald Levine, describing his longtime colleague Herman L. Sinaiko at a memorial service held on November 8.

It was this love that captivated Sinaiko’s students—from first-years in introductory classes to fourth-year Plato scholars. His love for student life in the College, both inside and outside the classroom, will be remembered by generations at the University.

Herman Sinaiko died at age 82 on Sunday, October 2 in Hyde Park after battling lung cancer. He taught in the College for 57 years, serving as Dean of Students in the College from 1982 to 1986. A major advocate for improving the life for undergraduates, he supported the investment in on-campus housing and the construction of the Max Palevsky and South Campus residence halls.

He also supported a number of arts initiatives, bolstering the University Theatre program and sponsoring the Fire Escape Films group—which held its inaugural meeting on the fire escape outside Sinaiko’s office.
Remembered by family: “A man who truly valued discourse”

“My father was a man who truly valued discourse,” said his son Jesse Sinaiko, speaking at the memorial service. “He respected other people’s views so long as they were presented thoughtfully, intelligently, and honestly.
“He missed the Occupy Wall Street stuff by a couple of weeks. I know for a fact that he would have loved the activism involved with that – he would have agreed with it,” said Jesse.
His son David Sinaiko remembered how Socrates was his father’s intellectual role model. “It was clear to me at a very young age that even though he had written his book on Plato, and was a devoted teacher of Aristotle, that Socrates was his guy," said David. “Socrates was the one who compelled him…Socrates wasn’t about documenting ideas – that was Plato’s bag, but about the face-to-face grappling with ideas in the agora.”
According to David, Sinaiko brought Socrates’ passion for open discourse to the classroom. “[Teaching] was about the moment of engagement with the problem, a question, or a thought, and the drawing out of solutions from that engagement. And I think that was the basis of his love for teaching here in the College, where the students are still so fresh, and curious, so ready to be opened up and drawn out, before they’ve specialized.”
Remembered by colleagues: “An intellectual storm center”
To his colleagues, Sinaiko was a man truly dedicated to creating an intellectually exciting atmosphere in the College. “Sinaiko had an incalculable influence on his students, colleagues, and friends. A man of natural kindliness, integrity, and dignity, he was a moral and intellectual touchstone for thousands of students,” said his longtime colleague Arthur Davenport.
His colleague Donald Levine agreed. Before the teaching, he said, Sinaiko brought compassion to the classroom. “First came the love, then came the knowledge, then came the discourse,” said Levine.
His importance in the College was undeniable, according to Dean of the College John Boyer. “Herman Sinaiko typifies the person the College needs to thrive. He was once described as an ‘intellectual storm center,’ and we must cherish this attribute dearly,” said Boyer.
Remembered by students: “A rock star”
Sinaiko’s dedication to teaching earned him the Quantrell Award for Undergraduate Teaching in 1963, the Amoco Award in 1994 and the Norman Maclean Faculty Award in 2003. Yet, it is the memories of his students, rather than his numerous awards that best represent Sinaiko’s presence in the classroom.
When Sinaiko was being considered for a promotion, former students were asked to submit statements in support of their former professor. The results, Davenport said, were overwhelming. Within a short time, over 200 letters poured into the College in support of Sinaiko.
Sinaiko’s passionate teaching style was very much in effect throughout his career. Aaron Halper ’11, wrote in a letter read by Davenport at the service, “As he talked, he would grow increasingly excited about the text and wave his hands about the room. I suspect this gesturing would have distracted me from his words, had not his eyes, which gleamed whenever he talked seriously, drawn me in so that I hung on his every word. But he never got so excited as when I would disagree with him.” Halper wrote, “From behind his large glasses, his eyes would light up all the more, and he would talk all the more exuberantly.”
One year, his students from a section of Greek Thought and Literature created t-shirts that read “Herman Sinaiko is a Rock Star.” The class also created a Facebook group by the same name with the description, “Because turtlenecks and cargo pants are always in style, and so is Plato…And no, you will never get past Book I of anything. But it will be worth it anyway.”
A fund to support undergraduate research has been established in Sinaiko’s honor. Donations to the Herman Sinaiko Research Fellowship Fund may be sent to the Office of the College Dean at 1116 E. 59th St., Chicago, IL 60637.

Tagged: memorial, Sinaiko