A chat with University President Robert Zimmer

By Kat Glass

Newly inaugurated President Robert Zimmer took some time to chat with the Maroon in an e-mail interview about the progress of the University, his first few months back on campus after serving as provost at Brown University, and town-gown relations.

Chicago Maroon: You’ve returned to Chicago after four years away. Have you found any major changes at the University that you’ve had to deal with as president?

President Robert Zimmer: The University is fundamentally in very good shape overall. There have been several noticeable changes: the College is flourishing more than any time I can remember; the Graduate School of Business is in a wonderful new building and is likewise flourishing in both research and student achievement; the improvements and energy in biomedical science are remarkable; the discussion of the place of the arts on campus and within the curriculum is dynamic and evolving; and the relationship with Argonne, something I have personally been concerned about for many years, has advanced a great deal and is at a moment of yet greater opportunity. And there is more.

CM: What have been some other challenges in your first few months as president?

RZ: I have spent a great deal of time asking questions, listening, and asking yet more questions. The aim has been to get a clear view of the strategic opportunities and challenges the University faces for the coming years, particularly with respect to the question of what we need to do to ensure that Chicago is the most exciting intellectual environment and thereby attracts the most exciting, original, and agenda-setting faculty, and the outstanding students who will most benefit from and contribute to this environment.

CM: One of the major themes during President Randel’s term was maintaining good relations with Hyde Park, especially with our neighbors to the south. What are some ways that you hope to create positive town-gown relations?

RZ: This has been an important step for the University. A key has been listening to our neighbors, and being partners with them in improving the community of which we are all citizens. We intend to keep doing both.

CM: City Hall has been moving forward on Chicago’s plans for an Olympic bid. Would you like to see an Olympics close to campus?

RZ: The potential benefit to the University is that the Olympics would hopefully provide a catalyst for further economic development of the South Side. Such improvement in the economy of the South Side is something we are very eager to see.

CM: One of the things you’ve highlighted in past speeches about the U of C is your support for the Core curriculum. Has there been pressure to amend the College’s Core requirements?

RZ: No pressure at all. The faculty reevaluate various aspects of our educational offerings, not just the Core, periodically, and they will of course continue to do that—but this is simply regular attention that faculty give to these matters. In general, I think the broad University community is very proud of and very supportive of the principles that underlie the Core curriculum.

CM: You and other administrators told student activists yesterday that they could move forward with talks with the Board of Trustees to divest from Darfur. Did Brown University’s divestment shape your decision?

RZ: More precisely, I informed them that we would set up a meeting for them with the board chair and with me to discuss these matters further. This decision was based on the serious and unusual nature of the issues involved and the care with which they have presented arguments. This in no sense should be interpreted as moving towards a decision to divest. This is simply a decision to have a further conversation in order to have a fuller airing of the issues with parties that have something to say about a complex issue. Brown is a different university, with a different place in the academic landscape and a different tradition. I do not view Brown’s actions as of relevance to Chicago.