President Robert J. Zimmer to transition into role as chancellor in 2021

To: Members of the University Community
From: Joseph Neubauer, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Subject: President Robert J. Zimmer to transition into role as chancellor in 2021
Date: August 13, 2020

At yesterday’s University of Chicago Board of Trustees meeting, President Robert J. Zimmer shared his intention to accelerate his planned transition from the role of president at the end of the current academic year (June 2021), based on his tenure of 14 years as president and on the health issues he has recently experienced. Recognizing Bob’s ongoing interests and impact on the University, the Board has asked him to assume a new role: chancellor of the University. Bob has accepted and will become chancellor after completion of his current term.

As chancellor, Bob will focus on high-level strategic initiatives, advancement of enduring University values, sustenance of key relationships, high-level fundraising, and working with the new president in these areas.

The Board of Trustees will promptly establish a Trustee presidential search committee and launch an international search for the next president of the University of Chicago.

Many of you have seen firsthand the impact that Bob has had on the University and on those who are part of our distinctive community, and the Board is enormously grateful for the many significant contributions he has made during his tenure. During his presidency, the University has enhanced its eminence among the top-ranked research universities in the United States and the world and has strengthened its position as a preferred destination for many of the world’s leading scholars and students. The University has made substantial investments to fulfill the programmatic ambitions of the faculty, support the exceptional scholarship and education for which the University of Chicago is known, build partnerships with our surrounding neighborhoods, and increase its financial support for students.

Since 2006, Bob’s ambitious vision and inspired leadership—and his extensive work with faculty, other leaders of the University, and our extended community—have led to unprecedented levels of philanthropic engagement. At the end of 2019, The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact, an ambitious campaign which raised in excess of $5.43 billion, was closed. Through his devotion to the University’s core principles—with a particular focus on rigorous scholarly inquiry, academic freedom and free expression, as well as diversity and inclusion, Bob has reinforced the institution’s distinct culture and heritage, while helping the University evolve appropriately to the unique challenges of our time. 

While it is impractical to list in full the myriad accomplishments of the past 14 years, here are a few highlights of Bob’s tenure:

Student Access and Opportunity

  • The University notably accelerated its commitment to improving access and affordability, dramatically increasing financial aid for undergraduate students with programs such as the Odyssey Scholarship Program, as well as providing greatly increased support for graduate and professional students;
  • The eminence of the College has demonstrably increased, with more than 34,000 applications in 2020, an increase of nearly 300% since 2005; improvements in selectivity, currently at 7%; and admission yield rates of 80%, contributing to a student body that is even more intellectually ambitious;
  • With an elevated focus on diversity and inclusion, UChicago now has a student body that is more diverse, with programs aimed at developing the pipeline of underrepresented faculty and attracting early-career faculty from underrepresented groups. The Office of Business Diversity is a recognized leader in creating opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses in the professional services sector. 

Faculty and Academic Program Growth

  • A 24% growth in non-clinical tenured and tenure-track faculty has been driven in part by new or expanded academic programs and activities in areas such as molecular engineering, quantum information and technology, computer and data science, policy leadership, and neurobiology;
  • Through deeper engagement of our affiliated laboratories -- Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and the Marine Biological Laboratory—with the University, new opportunities have been created to drive field-defining research and increase opportunities for students and faculty;
  • A host of faculty-led institutes and centers have been established, including the University’s first engineering program, now known as the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, the Chicago Quantum Exchange, the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics, the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, the Coase-Sandor Institute for Law and Economics, The Duchossois Family Institute, the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago (EPIC), the Institute of Politics, the Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, the Mansueto Institute for Urban Innovation, the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Composition, The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, the Institute for Mathematical and Statistical Innovation, and more;
  • Innovation and entrepreneurship are being aggressively amplified and integrated across the University, including among others Chicago Booth, the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Argonne National Laboratory, and through the establishment of the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation;
  • Arts activities and engagement have been expanded with the opening of the Logan Center for the Arts, and the establishment of both the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry and the Arts and Public Life Initiative; and an increased commitment to community engagement in the arts through such programs in the Smart Museum, Court Theatre, The Green Line Performing Arts Center, and the Arts Block on East Garfield Boulevard.

Community, State and Global Impact

  • The University has established or strengthened partnerships with the City of Chicago and local organizations, with a clear commitment to developing capacity on the South Side through such efforts as the opening of a Level 1 adult trauma center at UChicago Medicine; the integration of the Urban Education Institute and the UChicago Charter School into the School of Social Service Administration; the collaboration between UChicago Urban Labs, non-profit groups, and government agencies to develop policies aimed at improving the quality of urban life; and education and training programs such as UChicago Local and the Civic Leadership Academy for local business operators, non-profits and government agencies. In addition, programs for all Chicago Public School students, parents, and counselors help prepare high school students to attend four-year colleges with financial support; and programs such as My Very Own Library have improved literacy and fostered a love of reading in K-7 students in Chicago and beyond;
  • A broadened global engagement strategy has driven a substantial increase in the number of international students (and increased financial support for those students), an expansion in student study abroad, the opening of the Center in Beijing, Center in Delhi, and the Francis and Rose Yuen Campus in Hong Kong, and plans for expansion of the Center in Paris, along with support for faculty and student work across the globe;
  • Physical integration of our campus and the execution of a capital development program has helped to meet the evolving infrastructure needs of the University’s faculty, students, and staff.

These achievements require a clear vision, a strong, disciplined team, and an ever-growing circle of partners and supporters. I would like to again extend my thanks to Bob for his ongoing commitment to this institution, for all that he has achieved so far, and for the successes that await the University community in the future. 

Please join me in reflecting on all that has been achieved during Bob’s tenure thus far, and in expressing deepest appreciation for his continued partnership and his leadership as President of the University of Chicago.