Valerie Jarrett, chair of Medical Center Board, appointed White House advisor

University trustee Valerie Jarrett will be leaving Chicago to serve as senior advisor in the White House, President-elect Barack Obama announced Saturday.

By Louise Lerner

University trustee Valerie Jarrett will be leaving Chicago to serve as senior advisor in the White House, President-elect Barack Obama announced Saturday.

Vice chair of the University Board of Trustees and chair of the Medical Center’s Board, Jarrett will be joining the likes of Karl Rove and Rahm Emanuel, who served as senior advisors to Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, respectively.

After much speculation that Jarrett would gain a top-tier position in the Obama administration, Jarrett has been slated to focus on managing intergovernmental relations for the president.

Washington is new terrain for Jarrett, who has extensive Chicago roots. In addition to her work at the U of C, she served as chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Authority, former chief of staff for Mayor Richard Daley, and member of Chicago’s 2016 Olympic committee.

Jarrett is reputed both for her skill with conflict resolution as well as her ability to hold her ground under pressure. She came under fire from local resident advocacy groups when she served as CEO of Habitat Company, which managed one of the largest subsidized apartment projects in Illinois.

Jarrett met the Obamas in the ’80s when she hired Michelle Obama, then Michelle Robinson, for a job at City Hall. This year she took an active role in Barack Obama’s campaign, serving as an advisor to the candidate and then as co-chair of his transition team.

Jarrett, who grew up in Hyde Park, is part of a family that includes some giants of Chicago’s past. Jarrett’s grandfather Robert Taylor headed the Chicago Housing Authority during the first Daley administration; the high-rise Robert Taylor Homes were named for him. Jarrett’s father, James Bowman, was the first tenured black professor in the U of C Biological Sciences Division; her mother Barbara Bowman taught at the Laboratory Schools while earning her masters degree in education at the University in 1952.

Jarrett briefly left Chicago, returning after earning her law degree from the University of Michigan to become one of the city’s most prominent political names.

She and her parents still live on the South Side. Her daughter Laura graduated from the Laboratory Schools and is now attending Harvard Law School.

Director of the Lab Schools David Magill said Jarrett’s success reflects on the University of Chicago.

“We’re extremely proud of her,” he said.