During his fourteen year tenure, President Robert Zimmer and his administration have transformed the University of Chicago.
The College has grown from 4,000 to 6,500 students, and has soared in coveted U.S. News rankings—from 15th place nationally the year Zimmer took office to top-six today. Fundraising has almost tripled during his tenure, according to the Financial Times. Zimmer has overseen the opening of new residential complexes, study-abroad programs, and a school of molecular engineering. A soon-to-open conference center, the Rubenstein Forum, is expected to save the University $4 million a year—dollars previously spent renting hotel space for conferences in downtown Chicago, the President told faculty. Some say these changes are long overdue: Zimmer has brought economic efficiency worthy of the Chicago School to the notoriously shambolic U of C.
In public campaigns, Zimmer has also boosted the University’s traditional values, advertising Chicago’s academic intensity, fostering of free speech, and its faculty-led governance structure. Good presidents, Zimmer told the Financial Times, find ambitious faculty and “give them a lot of capacity and authority.”
“There is so much distributed authority, but that should not deter you from being imaginative,” he said.
Faculty see things differently. Many professors say the ‘distributed authority’ that made the school distinctive has eroded during the Zimmer years. In conversations with The Chicago Maroon, and in minutes of the faculty senate, professors express concerns ranging from the proliferation of donor-funded research institutes to the way the President and Provost have sought to reshape the humanities and social sciences.
The recent announcement that the University will dramatically shrink the size of UChicago’s Ph.D. programs—long regarded as the heart of Chicago’s scholasticism—drew especially strong backlash. To many, it seemed like the latest example of faculty being the last to know about changes in the University that are vitally relevant to their work.
Outgoing Provost Daniel Diermeier, too, has had an outsize effect on the University. Intensely interested in the University’s standing compared with peer institutions, the Provost, in meetings with the Council, has stressed the urgency of raising the University’s national profile.
Still, he is optimistic. “In terms of the ratio between eminence and resources,” Diermeier told faculty at one meeting, the University is “punching above its weight.”
This series examines the way an increasingly centralized administration responds to faculty input, shares information, and manages the challenges of governing the increasingly complex modern private university.