Comparative Human Development celebrates 75th anniversary

One of the oldest living alumni of UChicago’s Department of Comparative Human Development still sees the influences of its founding faculty members on campus.

Visiting for the department’s 75th anniversary, Jeremy Sarchet discussed founding faculty member Robert Havighurst, self-insight and departmental lore during an interview with Richard Shweder, the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Human Development.

Their conversation came as part of a celebration on May 13-14 that included panels and a keynote address by Robert A. LeVine, who taught on UChicago’s Comparative Human Development faculty from 1960 to 1976.

Sarchet, who is 92 years old, said the original identity and mission of the department was summed up in Havighurst's statement that the world needs people who are intellectually autonomous, comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, scornful of simplistic solutions to problems, and who are generous toward their fellow humans.

“And from my observation and conversations on this two-day, 75th anniversary celebration, I believe it is still descriptive of CHD,” said Sarchet, AB'47, AM'49, PhD'51.

The anniversary weekend featured panels with current and former students and faculty and LeVine’s keynote address. In his remarks, LeVine speculated that UChicago’s success in marrying psychology and the social sciences stems in part from the University’s spirit of pluralism, openness and mutual tolerance.

“It's the longest-surviving, genuinely interdisciplinary, social science program in the United States,” said LeVine, “This is due to the mutual tolerance of disagreement among faculty specialists and their students. This is in contrast to efforts to integrate scholarship under a single theoretical position at other universities,” said LeVine, the Roy Edward Larsen Professor Emeritus of Education and Human Development at Harvard University.

Sarchet, whose career spans teaching, working as an industrial organizational psychologist and private clinical practice, observed that the department exemplifies a key teaching of its founders: lifelong learning.

“I came out of Human Development greatly amplified. I gained self-insight and personal health management for the rest of my life,” he said. And while Sarchet advised listeners to use their knowledge of human development to “heal thyself first,” he emphasized that one must continue to share that knowledge with increasingly larger circles of humanity.

“We are in a continuing process of discovery of these influences shaping what humans become and do,” said Sarchet. “We learn from past scientists of human development, and we add to that inherited wisdom through disciplined research and personal experience. And we pass that on to students, and we try to make life better for ourselves, those who are close to us, the community and sometimes even the wider world.”