Fall 2012 Welcome and Update

 

To:   University of Chicago Faculty, Students, and Staff
From:   Robert J. Zimmer, President
Date:   October 1, 2012

As faculty, students, and staff come together at the beginning of the fall quarter, we mark 120 years since the University of Chicago opened for classes.  As has been the case since the fall of 1892, for each of us today – whether as faculty, student, or staff – the beginning of the academic year is a moment of renewed commitment to the excellence of our individual work and our collective efforts to sustain and enhance the fabric of the University.  The commitment to open and rigorous inquiry, an education embedded in that culture, and the impact of our research and education are enduring values of the University.  They capture the historical meaning of our extraordinary institution and provide guidance for our future.

At the same time, it is essential that we all be ambitious and imaginative about the ways, perhaps new ways, in which these values are realized.  We confront an array of opportunities as well as challenges for realizing ambition and imagination not only in our individual work, but also in coming together in groups, student organizations, departments, schools and divisions, centers and institutes, administrative areas, and as an institution as a whole for creating the most intellectually exciting, open, and challenging environment for our work and the impact it can have.  The responsibility and authority for developing these opportunities and confronting these challenges are distributed across our community.  Hence the responsibility for creating such an exciting and meaningful environment, as well as laying the foundations for its future, rests on us all, each in our own way and role.

A hallmark of the University’s approach to its academic programs is the distinctiveness of its intellectual agendas.  Examples of innovations over the years abound – the Core curriculum in the College, the graduate workshops, the organization of our physical sciences through multidisciplinary institutes, the pioneering and discipline defining work in sociology, leadership in cancer research, and so many more across the breadth of the University.  I want to highlight some recent and some ongoing developments that have continued this distinctive approach to our collective mission.

This fall will see the launch of the Neubauer Family Collegium for Culture and Society, an ambitious endeavor to catalyze collaborative research, long term projects, and global engagement in humanistic and humanistic social science inquiry.  The Neubauer Collegium will foster the connection of these modes of inquiry with others in imaginative ways around fundamental societal problems, and likewise engage a global perspective and visitors from around the world.  David Nirenberg, Professor in History and Social Thought, will be the inaugural director of the Neubauer Collegium.  The former Meadville-Lombard Seminary building at 57th Street and Woodlawn Avenue will house the Neubauer Collegium, and planning for its renovation is underway.  This initiative has been under development by the faculty of the divisions of the Humanities and Social Sciences for a number of years, and is made possible by yet another extraordinary gift from Joe and Jeanette Neubauer.

This fall will also see the formal opening and first full year of operation of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.  This dramatic facility that rises over the south side of the Midway will facilitate faculty and student work in the integration of performance and production with critical analysis in the arts, will provide a venue for emerging multi-disciplinary collaboration in artistic performance and production, and will enhance our interaction with the City of Chicago and its communities in artistic endeavors.  Formal ceremonies to celebrate the opening, as well as the generosity of David and Reva Logan and family which made the building possible, will take place later this month.  While the Logan Center is a physical representation of our approach and commitment to the arts, this year will also see the evolution and growth of other key new activities in the arts.  The Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry will bring distinguished visiting artists and scholars to campus for experimental collaborations with faculty and students.  Led by David Levin, Professor in Germanic Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, the Gray Center will be housed in the Midway Studios, next to the Logan Center.  The new Arts and Public Life Initiative, with Theaster Gates as the director, will deepen the University’s engagement with the South Side communities.  One of the Initiative's key elements will be a new arts incubator, located on Garfield Boulevard. 

This past year we celebrated the opening of the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, recommitting the University to the model of the research library.  This beautiful and technically advanced library simultaneously realizes the goals of many faculty whose recommendation led to its construction and provides outstanding space for our students and new space for preservation of library materials.

One of our most important science initiatives, the Institute for Molecular Engineering (IME), the University’s first formal program in engineering and led by Pritzker Director Matt Tirrell, was successful this spring in recruiting three outstanding faculty who will bring their research groups with them.  Active recruiting will continue this year, with a goal of reaching a total of 25 faculty within the next decade.  This innovative program is designed to be a discipline-defining effort built around the capacity to manipulate and design at molecular scale and to explore the ramifications for both science and technology development.  In the near future, with the recruitment of the next round of faculty, IME will be in a position to establish educational programs in molecular engineering at both graduate and undergraduate levels.  The Institute for Molecular Engineering is a joint effort with Argonne National Laboratory, and we have received crucial support even at this early stage from Tom Pritzker and the Pritzker family, John and Serena Liew, Brady Dougan, and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Institute for Molecular Engineering and the University’s programs in astrophysics, cosmology, and theoretical high energy physics will be housed in the new William Eckhardt Research Center, which is under construction on Ellis Avenue on the site of the now demolished Research Institutes building directly across the street from the Mansueto Library.  The Eckhardt Center will open in spring 2015.

This coming year will be an important one for our efforts in neuroscience.  A search is underway for the Director of the Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior, which will have a broad focus on neuroscience and genomics and the understanding they provide about function, disease, and behavior.  This will involve a number of areas of basic biology, neuroscience, psychology, comparative human development, and computation, and is supported by a gift from Sanford Grossman.

In the area of clinical care, the new University hospital on 57th Street is nearing completion and will be open for patients in February 2013.  This will dramatically increase our capacity for treatment of complex diseases and advanced surgery.  This past year saw the establishment of the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, devoted to the human interaction involved in clinical care, and aiming to re-establish its importance within all levels of medical education and care delivery.  This distinctive effort, made possible by a gift from the Bucksbaum Family Foundation, is being led by Dr. Mark Siegler.

With respect to our global engagement beyond the myriad of individual connections of our faculty, this year marks the completion of the second year of the Center in Beijing.  Reflecting a distinctive approach to the relationship of universities and globalization, the Center in Beijing programs in just the last year involved over 3,000 individuals from institutions around the world including many participants from China.  This has been accompanied by an increase of faculty around the University interested in one aspect or another of China, as well as an increased focus of a number of schools, for example the Law School and the School of Social Service Administration, on how their own programs are related to issues beyond national ones.  We have been working to establish a similar center in Delhi, although this has taken longer than hoped because of significant regulatory issues in India.  Nevertheless, we remain committed to expanding our traditional strength in matters connected to South Asia.  The Booth School of Business has been examining its own global approach reflecting the recognition of the evolving opportunities and growing importance of this area.  The College’s Civilization Abroad program, in which our own faculty travel abroad with students for a quarter for an intensive approach to the College’s civilization requirement, has grown from 9 to 17 programs in 11 cities around the globe in the past five years.

The Urban Education Institute (UEI) and the Committee on Education continue our distinctive approach to research and practice in early childhood through secondary education.  In addition to the research within the Committee and UEI and the operation of four campuses of a charter school on the South Side, the newly established UChicago Impact within UEI has been distributing nationwide the tools for school improvement that have been developed out of this research.  Schools in 19 states and 33 cities nationwide including Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and New York are currently utilizing UChicago Impact tools and services.

Over the course of the coming year, our faculty will be analyzing a number of programmatic issues.  The provost will appoint committees to examine how we should approach the development of technology for education on campus, as well as to evaluate what is appropriate for the University with respect to posting courses online.  A number of deans and faculty will be examining how to enhance our approach to various aspects of study and engagement with the urban environment.  The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship at the Booth School will be working with our science and engineering deans and faculty as well as with the College to provide enhanced support and opportunities for faculty and students interested in innovation and entrepreneurship.

Likewise, a number of other major construction projects connected to important programmatic developments are underway or in advanced planning.  The Lab Schools’ Earl Shapiro Hall, which will house the early childhood program for children in nursery school through second grade, is going up on Stony Island Avenue and will open in fall 2013.  This is part of the expansion of the Lab Schools to provide increased access to the Schools for the University, South Side, and greater Chicago communities.  The Seminary Co-op Bookstore, an important signature and reflection of the University, will be moving during the winter to the building directly north of Robie House on Woodlawn Avenue in space that will be renovated for them this fall.  A café will also be opening in the same building.  We are developing a plan for new residence halls for our College students, as well as for beginning renovation of 5757 University Avenue for the Economics Department and the Becker-Friedman Institute for Research in Economics.  In support of parents in our community, two childcare centers are under construction, one on Stony Island Avenue and one near the new hospital.

Underlying all these projects, whether programmatic or building, are three key initiatives, one involving our faculty, one involving students, and one involving staff.

In recent years, we have undertaken the first systematic University-wide expansion of the faculty in four decades.  This is essential for sustaining and enhancing the large number of outstanding programs throughout the University that have been the basis for the University’s eminence over the years.  This effort has brought us many outstanding faculty, both senior and junior.  As examples, we have recruited four University Professors: Ken Pomeranz in History, Haun Saussy in Comparative Literature, Dam Thanh Son in Physics, and Augusta Read Thomas in Music.

New faculty add to the already extraordinarily rich intellectual environment.  At the same time, we need to be highly attentive to the fundamental issue of access, for our students and potential students, to the education that this environment affords.  Increasing financial support for our students across the University remains a fundamental priority.  Since 2006, our financial aid for College students has increased 88%, debt expectations have been eliminated for students from families with incomes under $75,000 and debt expectations significantly reduced for incomes under $90,000.  The percentage of College students graduating with debt has dropped from 54% in 2006 to 34% currently.  The Graduate Aid Initiative in Humanities, Social Sciences, and Divinity has greatly increased support for our doctoral students, both in stipends and medical insurance.  Similarly, financial support for students in the Pritzker School of Medicine and the Law School has increased very significantly. 

The reason we are able to provide this level of support, and hope to further improve this support in the coming years, is the commitment of the University’s alumni and friends.  From the anonymous donor “Homer” who launched the Odyssey scholarship program, to David Rubenstein whose commitment enabled the Law School to significantly increase its financial support, from our many Trustees who created a matching program for donors, to thousands of alumni around the world, our alumni and friends have recognized the importance of financial support for our students to the lives of individuals, the trajectory of families, and the values of the University.  Without this level of commitment, we simply would not have been able to make the progress we have.  Yet much more remains to be done.

The work of our faculty and students is supported by a deeply committed staff.  Just as the ambition and imagination of our faculty and students continuously renew our educational and research efforts, so too administrators throughout the University need to be creative in their own positions to improve the operating of the University, our efficient and effective use of resources, and the expression of our values.  Our institutional capacity to support the work of faculty and students has significantly increased, and in some cases been transformed, by these efforts of dedicated and creative staff.  While there are too many examples to survey, I mention only one as an example.  About three years ago we undertook a major effort to increase the number of minority and women owned firms who were providing professional services to the University.  Led by Nadia Quarles in the office of Vice President for Administration Nim Chinniah, we created a distinctive and highly effective approach to this issue that has become a nationally recognized creative model.

A final topic of importance to us all is the relationship of the University to the City of Chicago and its communities.  The key to the approach we have taken is that of engaged partnership – with the Mayor’s office, community leaders, city agencies, aldermen, developers, and local businesses.  On 53rd Street, partnership with the City, community leaders, the alderman, and developers has enabled us to help catalyze economic development.  Our partnership with Chicago Public Schools has facilitated the operating of our four campuses of a charter school, now with over 1600 students from the South Side communities.  We have been working in ongoing partnership with leaders in Woodlawn on the development of the entire school system there, and with the alderman in Washington Park to establish the arts incubator.  Mayor Emanuel has been an enthusiastic supporter of our activities which have a valuable impact on Chicago.  Under the leadership of Vice President for Civic Engagement Derek Douglas, we expect to see these relationships expanded and enriched in many directions in the coming years.

Thank you for all that you have done, and continue to do, to contribute to these achievements.  I wish you all an exciting and gratifying year, filled with creativity, ambition, and accomplishment.