Paul Alivisatos elected University President

To: Members of the University Community
From: Joseph Neubauer, Chair of the Board of Trustees
Subject: Paul Alivisatos elected University President
Date: February 26, 2021

I am very pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees has elected Paul Alivisatos as the 14th President of the University of Chicago.

An accomplished leader in higher education and a world-renowned scientist, Paul is currently Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also a Professor and the Samsung Distinguished Chair in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology Research in the Department of Chemistry and the former Director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Following an extensive international search, Paul was elected President at a meeting of the University’s Board of Trustees on February 25 and will assume his role on September 1. The Board acted on the unanimous recommendation of the 12-member Trustee Search Committee, which has worked closely with the 10-member Faculty Advisory Committee over the last six months.

Paul will succeed Robert J. Zimmer, who has served as President since 2006. Bob will transition into a new role as Chancellor of the University on September 1.

A native of Chicago, Paul is also a proud University of Chicago alumnus, having received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1981.

Throughout his distinguished academic career, Paul has demonstrated the skills and imagination needed to be an inspirational leader, confront the challenges of our time, and guide the University of Chicago during a period of enormous opportunity. He has the vision to further elevate the University’s eminence, uphold its rich traditions and enduring values, and make an impact on higher education and the lives of University students, faculty, and staff, as well as enrich the South Side community.

As Berkeley’s Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Paul has been responsible for the planning, development, implementation, and improvement of campus academic programs and policies. Since taking the role in 2017, he has supported new initiatives to increase diversity in the undergraduate and graduate student body and achieve greater faculty and leadership diversity. He also has been deeply engaged in issues of free speech and social justice.

Paul also spearheaded efforts to transform undergraduate education—leading a campus-wide initiative that created immersive learning projects and discovery experiences for students, while starting a series of forums that promoted mentoring between faculty and graduate students. During his tenure, Berkeley also launched a new division focused on data science, creating opportunities for students in the humanities and the social sciences to join the fast-growing field.

Paul oversees a significant development portfolio as Provost. Annual giving to Berkeley exceeded $1 billion in 2020, with Paul stewarding more than $450 million in gifts from 2016 to 2020. As Director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory from 2009 to 2016, Paul guided the U.S. Department of Energy lab through a period of transformational change, creating new programs in biosciences, renewable energy, and entrepreneurship. From 2016 to 2017, he served as Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for research, fostering greater interdisciplinary faculty research and strengthening opportunities for undergraduate research.

A preeminent scientist and entrepreneur, Paul has made pioneering research breakthroughs in nanomaterials. His inventions are widely used in biomedicine and QLED TV displays, and his scientific advances have yielded more than 50 patents. He also founded two prominent nanotechnology companies: Nanosys, Inc. and Quantum Dot Corp. (now part of Thermo Fisher).

Among his more than 25 awards and honors, Paul has received the National Medal of Science, the Wolf Prize in Chemistry, and the Priestley Medal. It also was announced this week that Paul will share the prestigious international BBVA Frontiers of Knowledge Award. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, Paul earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1986. Paul joined the Berkeley faculty in 1988 as Assistant Professor, was appointed Associate Professor in 1993 and Professor in 1995.

Paul will work closely with Bob in his new role as Chancellor, in which Bob will focus on high-level strategic initiatives, stewardship and development of key relationships, and guiding high-level fundraising. In his nearly 15-year tenure as President, Bob increased the University’s eminence and helped raise its status among the world’s top research universities. I look forward to Bob continuing his essential contributions to the life of the University as Chancellor, and his partnership with the incoming President.

The Trustee Search Committee and Faculty Advisory Committee received recommendations and feedback from the University community and friends of the University, which was an important part of the search process. I want to thank the members of the Trustee Search Committee and the Faculty Advisory Committee, who worked tirelessly over the past six months to conduct a broad international search for the new president.

The Faculty Advisory Committee played an important role in the initial candidate development effort. In addition to vetting the many nominations received from the University community and from the Trustee Search Committee, they independently reviewed the names of presidents, provosts, deans, and other leaders of many top institutions, including select international institutions. Their review of these individuals generated an additional list of possible candidates for consideration.

Prospective candidates approached included a diverse group of individuals, including presidents, provosts, and deans of private and public institutions. Candidates included a broad range of disciplines, backgrounds, and demographics. 

The Faculty Advisory Committee also conducted dozens of listening sessions with members of the University community, including faculty, students, alumni, staff, and former University presidents. Members of the Trustee Search Committee participated in several of these meetings, in which our community shared their insights on the opportunities and challenges facing the University.

In the coming months, Paul will be meeting with faculty across the University and working closely with Provost Ka Yee C. Lee, deans, and vice presidents as he begins his transition to this new role.

Please join me in welcoming Paul and his wife Nicole to the University of Chicago community.