Fall 2009 Welcome and Update

The following is the text of an e-mail that was sent to faculty, students, and staff on September 29, 2009.

To: University of Chicago faculty, students, and staff

From: Robert J. Zimmer

I am pleased to welcome you back to campus, and to offer a special welcome to those joining our community for the first time.

The beginning of the academic year is a time of anticipation. We look forward to the ongoing renewal of the distinctive academic culture of the University of Chicago--a culture of fully engaged, mutually challenging, rigorous inquiry--that has been at the core of the University since its inception. I hope we will all take great satisfaction and pride in our individual and collective roles as we participate in, benefit from, and renew this distinctive environment through our work every day.

The past twelve months have been challenging, with the economic downturn affecting virtually every individual and organization. Universities were no exception. Last year, in a process led by the deans and vice-presidents and coordinated by the provost, we responded to the economic crisis by making significant budget reductions. This effort, which involved direct participation by many leaders from across the University, resulted in immediate reductions for many administrative areas. However, for many academic areas it is only with the beginning of this academic year that some of these cutbacks will have a visible effect. While necessary, these reductions were difficult, and I am appreciative of the entire University community for the manner in which we collectively came to difficult decisions. As most are aware, we were not the only university to take this sort of action--major reductions were instituted at all of our peer institutions, with some planning yet further budget reductions over the course of the coming year.

Due in part to the decisions made last year, we anticipate that the University of Chicago will return this year to planning for essential investments in the faculty and students who carry out our academic work. While the national economic environment remains uncertain and demands prudence, we are making several commitments this year.

First, we will institute a program for the gradual expansion of the faculty. Organized by the deans and provost and led by the faculty, we will seek out special opportunities and address key needs through a selected expansion over the next five years. Nothing is more essential to the University, to the evolution of our research and education programs at all levels, and to fostering our distinctive academic culture than the renewal of our faculty. This will be the first time in many years that the University has undertaken a systematic expansion of the faculty, and you will be hearing more from the deans and provost about the organization of this effort.

Second, we remain absolutely committed to improvements we have made in recent years in financial support for our students at all levels. As you may know, in the College and in many areas of graduate and professional education, our financial support for individual students has increased significantly. These were essential steps to ensure that we continue to enable students to attend the University who can most benefit from and contribute to our academic environment, independent of their financial situation. This academic year, we have increased stipends and teaching remuneration for graduate students, and have responded to the changing family circumstances of many of our undergraduates with increased need-based aid. We are committed to maintaining these improvements and will seek opportunities for further improvements as finances permit.

Third, we do not anticipate seeking any further budget reductions by the deans this year. This means that in addition to the leadership they will bring to the considerations above, the deans will regain flexibility for investment in education and scholarly programs. For example, this will enable the deans to work with the faculty to evaluate the number of entering doctoral students in programs that reduced these cohorts for the current entering class. Robust graduate programs, in particular doctoral programs, are essential to the nature of the University. We must remain vigilant in our support for these programs.

These commitments are contingent on there being no major unexpected downturns in the national economy that significantly alter our financial capacity. We are fortunate to have a Board of Trustees that has confidence in the University, a great appreciation of what the University stands for, and is supportive of our moving forward with these investments in economically uncertain times.

As we enter the new academic year, we must, as always, keep before us the enduring values and distinctive nature of the University of Chicago, as our work together will define the University’s present and future. The deans, vice-presidents, provost, and I will seek your help in navigating these challenging times. We do so with a sense of optimism and commitment to advancing this extraordinary institution of which we are all so fortunate to be a part.