University Update

To: University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer
Date: April 15, 2010
Re: University Update

I am writing to update you on a number of significant developments across the University. As always, our guiding principles must be to support the work of our faculty and students, now and in the future, as well as to preserve and enhance the distinctive culture of inquiry in which this work takes place, a culture that has defined the University since its inception.

As I wrote in the fall, the discipline shown by the entire University community in response to the international financial crisis has enabled the University to make significant targeted investments in support of our scholarly community, and to plan for more in the coming years. This remains the case today. I will provide an update on some such initiatives below, although my discussion will be far from exhaustive.

At the same time, we continue to monitor carefully the University’s financial position, as well as the uncertainty created by the economy.

In spite of a significant rebound in the equity markets, our endowment remains $1 billion less than at the close of the academic year in summer 2008, and philanthropy remains more challenging as well. We will continue to seek ways to improve efficiency and reduce non-essential expenses. Nevertheless, if we continue to be disciplined as a community, we will maintain our ability to be active in enhancing many aspects of academic work.

Academic leadership

This year has been one of transition in our academic leadership. Two deans began their tenure during this year: Colm O'Muircheartaigh in the Harris School of Public Policy Studies, and Michael Schill in the Law School. The provost and I have announced the appointments of Margaret Mitchell as dean of the Divinity School, and Neil Guterman as dean of the School of Social Service Administration. Both will begin their terms July 1. Additionally, we have two searches ongoing for new deans to lead Chicago Booth and the Biological Sciences Division. Everett Vokes, serving as interim dean of the BSD and CEO of the Medical Center since October, has reorganized its leadership structure to increase the role of faculty leadership within the Division and the Medical Center, particularly with the appointment of Professor Conrad Gilliam as BSD Dean of Research and Graduate Education and Professor Jeff Matthews as BSD Dean for Clinical Affairs.

Programmatic developments

This year we have begun our first systematic faculty expansion in over forty years. This is taking multiple forms in the schools and divisions, involving both junior and senior faculty, including the intent to appoint new University Professors. This effort is being organized by the provost and the deans with some of these new positions being in response to competitively evaluated proposals from throughout the University.

Expanding the faculty, the core of the University, will be an ongoing, multi-year effort.

In response to the increasing interest of both faculty and students in international research and education opportunities and collaborations, we have a number of projects underway.

In September 2010, we will open the University of Chicago Center in Beijing, creating a permanent base for University of Chicago scholarship in China and supporting our faculty and students who wish to conduct research, pursue educational opportunities, and build collaborations with Chinese institutions and individuals. In addition to serving as home to the College’s Civilization Abroad program and relevant University language programs, the Center will span the University’s disciplines, with programming in three broad areas: business, economics, and policy; science, medicine, and public health; and culture, society, and the arts. Professor Dali Yang, who chaired the faculty committee that helped determine the nature of the University’s presence in China, has been appointed as the Center’s first faculty director. He will work closely with a faculty committee from across the University, appointed by the provost, to lead and foster the programs and institutional collaborations.

With the opening of the Beijing Center imminent, an ad-hoc faculty committee, chaired by Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty, submitted a report recommending the creation of a University facility in India, which would expand the scope of scholarship and education related to India and South Asia as well as our connections to South Asian scholars and students.

Following a similar process that led to the creation of the Beijing Center, the ad-hoc committee’s report will be vetted by various faculty bodies throughout spring quarter.

On February 23, the Council of the University Senate unanimously approved the establishment of an Institute for Molecular Engineering with faculty appointive powers. The proposal for the Institute was developed by a faculty committee led by Professor Steve Sibener, and was driven by the intellectual opportunities created by the breakdown of the boundary between science and engineering at a molecular level. Thus, the Institute is conceived as advancing the University’s tradition of interdisciplinary scientific research.

The University is working to secure the necessary funding for the Institute, and has begun a search for a director who will play an essential role in shaping the specific scientific directions of the Institute. That search will be aided by a generous $10 million gift from the Pritzker family to endow the directorship.

Over the past few years, we have undertaken a number of efforts to improve the financial aid and other support available for our students at all levels. We remained fully committed to these programs during the financial crisis and will be so in the future. The Odyssey scholarship program, established with an anonymous $100 million gift, has been particularly important for students from families with the greatest financial need. In the face of a challenging environment for philanthropy, combined with the need to increase financial aid, we have had a special fundraising focus on student financial aid, both for undergraduate students and graduate students. Beyond the original gift, we have raised more than $35 million for the Odyssey program to date.

These efforts and the ongoing work by Dean John Boyer and the College Admissions Office to communicate the educational opportunities available to students have led to the largest and most diverse applicant pool in the University’s history. As applications grew by 42 percent, the academic preparation of the students admitted for Fall 2010 is stronger than ever.

Applications also have increased across our graduate and professional programs, and we continue to expand our investments in graduate and professional student aid and teaching support. There are other issues related to graduate student success that require attention. The Provost’s Office is working with deans and departments on a number of efforts intended to support our graduate students in achieving their educational goals.

Investment in facilities

We will soon see the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library taking shape above ground at the corner of 57th and Ellis. The building is on schedule to open in the spring of 2011. Use of library research materials remains essential for scholarship in many fields, and the Mansueto Library will further advance the University as a leading location for research.

Groundbreaking for the Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts is scheduled for May 12. The Logan Center is an affirmation of our commitment to the arts and will be characterized by interaction of multiple arts disciplines. This physical manifestation of our commitment to the arts is in parallel to the faculty work on new programmatic initiatives on Arts and the Disciplines, a process being led by Professor and Deputy Provost Larry Norman.

The New Hospital Pavilion is proceeding slightly ahead of schedule and is expected to receive its first patients in early 2013. The NHP is essential for our ability to provide the highest level of care for complex disease. It also will provide new opportunities for educating students and residents, and will strengthen the linkages between research and patient care.

A new science building, the William Eckhardt Research Center, supported by a $20 million gift from Bill Eckhardt, will be built on the current site of the Research Institutes at 57th and Ellis. This building will house astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology, and theoretical high energy physics, as well as the new Institute for Molecular Engineering.

Architects are well advanced in work with faculty on design, and construction will begin with the demolition of the current Research Institutes building beginning in 2011.

Plans for long-needed renovation of the Laboratory Schools facilities are moving forward. As part of that planning, a new early childhood education facility on Stony Island Avenue is being explored for pre-kindergarten and early elementary programs. The University has convened a series of meetings with neighbors and community members to evaluate the proposed plans.

The University in the community

The Urban Education Institute demonstrates how the University both contributes its academic expertise to advance our city, and benefits from direct engagement in the community. The Institute – which runs four charter schools with students from grades pre-K to 12, conducts research through the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and provides an innovative urban teacher preparation program – is supported by a dedicated group of private donors, foundations, and the federal government. The high school will graduate its first class in June. The Consortium’s approach to research and close partnership with the Chicago Public Schools are being emulated in a growing number of cities across the country.

The groundwork laid through programs like UEI and through the work of the faculty in the Committee on Education has led to other fruitful partnerships. For example, members of the faculty, including Professor Charles Payne, are working in support of the Woodlawn Children’s Promise Zone application, a project led by Bishop Arthur Brazier. The program is an effort by the Woodlawn community to secure federal funding for a cradle-to-college comprehensive education system in the entire Woodlawn neighborhood, modeled on the success of such an effort in Harlem in New York City.

Faculty, staff, students, and community members have long been vocal advocates for more retail, restaurants, entertainment venues, and housing choices. Despite the extremely difficult environment for commercial development due to the financial crisis, the University and the City are negotiating together with a developer for work on the combined property of Harper Court (owned by the University) and the adjacent City-owned parking lot at 53rd Street and Lake Park. We will keep you informed of our ongoing efforts.

Looking to the future

The University community today – faculty, students, trustees, staff, alumni, and friends – are the collective stewards of the extraordinary legacy and promise of the University. While the times are challenging, they remain filled with opportunities. The Board of Trustees has the specific responsibility to work with the president and senior administration on programmatic, facilities, and financial investments for the long-term health of the University. We are fortunate to have a Board of Trustees that is ambitious for the University’s future, committed to its distinctive values, and confident in the strength of our community. It is this ambition, commitment, and confidence that is enabling us to proceed vigorously even in these challenging times. I look forward to the continued collective work of the entire University community in support of the enduring values of the University of Chicago.