Update on University Leadership

To: Members of the University Community
From: Robert J. Zimmer
Subject: Update on University Leadership
Date: August 13, 2020

The academic year 2020-21 that we are now entering will be my 15th year as president of the University. I have been discussing with the University Board of Trustees leadership the nature and timing of a transition from my role as president and this question has taken on increased salience given certain health issues I have recently experienced. We have agreed on the following plan.

At the conclusion of this academic year, on July 1, 2021, I will segue from the position of president to a position of Chancellor of the University. In that role I will focus on the following issues: i) continuation and evolution of strategic initiatives of the University; ii) re-enforcing the enduring values of the University and our distinctive approach to research, education, and impact; iii) continuing key relationships of the University – with trustees, friends, donors, alumni, and parents; federal, state, county, and city officials; local community leaders and partners; global partners; and leaders and supporters of our key institutional partners – University of Chicago Medical Center, Argonne, Fermilab, and the Marine Biological Laboratory; iv) high level fundraising; and v) working with my successor as president to assist them to better contribute in these directions. As Chancellor, I will also serve as a Trustee of the University. This plan is meant to address the current situation and is not reflective of a permanent change in the structure of University leadership and governance. It is a way for me to help assure an effective transition to my successor and for me to continue to serve the University while doing so. 

During this academic year, the Board of Trustees will launch a search for my successor as president and you will soon hear from the Chair of the Board, Joe Neubauer, about this and related matters.

The past 14 years as president of the University have been deeply rewarding for me. On one hand, this was due to the opportunity for enhancing the work of the University and our faculty, students, and staff, reaffirming our enduring values and consequent approach to research, education, and impact, and building new partnerships including our global efforts and a deeper engagement with the communities of the South Side of Chicago. On the other hand, the rewarding nature of the work I have been engaged in over these years is also due to the personal relationships that have developed with the many individuals with whom I have worked closely over that time. This includes University leadership (present and previous deans and officers), the Board of Trustees of the University and other related Boards and Advisory Councils, city and community leaders (both elected and community based), local, state, and federal officials. Importantly, this includes alumni, friends, parents, patients, and donors from around the world whose support of the University, whose belief in its capacity to change students’ lives and the trajectory of their families, and whose belief in the ideas of our faculty and alumni to change perspectives and have an impact, whether on the scholarship and science within the academy or more generally on society as a whole, has led to support of the University that has been key to our ability to fulfill our highest aspirations. And crucially, it includes work with the faculty of the University, of which I have been a member for all but four years since coming to the University in 1977 as a Dickson Instructor in the Mathematics Department. Collaborative work with individuals in all of these categories has itself been deeply rewarding.

As I move forward with this work with increased focus as Chancellor following this coming year, I look forward to continuing to work with these and other individuals in support of the distinctive University that we are all connected to, and the meaning that this University has, on its own terms and in the fabric of higher education not only in this nation but globally.

Thank you for your partnership in advancing the University and what it stands for, and thank you in advance for our continued work together in the future.