Winter Break Digest: While You Were Away

Catch up on developing news on campus and in Hyde Park.

By Katie Akin and Tyrone Lomax

Welcome back!

The GOP tax bill was signed into law on December 22, but the controversial graduate student tuition waiver tax was eliminated from the final bill. The bill does include a tax on net investment income on university endowments exceeding a value of $500,000 per student.  Data from the Office of the Registrar reports that the University had 15,302 students enrolled in August using the full-time equivalent metric and a $7.82 billion endowment, according to the University News Office. That makes the ratio $511,044, just above the cutoff, but these numbers are fluid. A 1.4 percent tax may seem insignificant, but if it had taken effect in fiscal year 2017, it would have cost the University about $10 million. In an e-mail to campus, President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Daniel Diermeier also noted that the bill may decrease charitable contributions to the University, due to an increase in the standard deduction.

The University’s Fiscal Year 2016 tax returns show multimillion-dollar salaries and first-class flights for top administrators. Zimmer made $3.2 million in compensation and benefits; Mark A. Schmid, the University’s Chief Investment Officer, was not far behind, making just under $3 million. The returns also show that five University officers were approved for first-class air travel using University funds. (Harvard, in the prior fiscal year, allowed two of its officers to travel first class.) They also show that several million dollars in management fees went to investment management and private equity firms founded and/or managed by several trustees.

Professor Richard Thaler met the King of Sweden during a commemoration ceremony in Stockholm last month, where he received his Nobel Prize in Economics. Thaler gave a lecture to other economists during the ceremony and was notably moved to tears when given the prize. The honor recognizes his work in behavioral economics, which countered the idea that human beings always act rationally. Instead, he suggests that human behavior is consistently irrational, allowing it to be modeled and applied to other fields.

Jonathan Z. Smith, a religious studies professor who taught at the University of Chicago for more than 40 years, died at age 79 on Saturday, December 30. According to his obituary, “He is survived by his loving wife, Elaine B. Smith, his daughter, Siobhan Smith, son, Jason Smith (Rachel Weaver), his granddaughter, Hazel van Wijk, and sister, Pamela Hanson.” In 2008, The Maroon published a two-hour interview with Smith.

The University Admissions office released decisions for Early Action and Early Decision I applicants on December 18. Early Decision II candidates will be notified of their acceptance in mid-February, and Regular Decision in late March.

Former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett joined the Law School as a distinguished senior fellow. Before beginning her white house career in 2009, Jarrett was the chairwoman of the Medical Center Board of Trustees and the vice chairwomen of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees.

The Obama Foundation hosted a private event to discuss with community groups where a two-story parking garage for the Obama Presidential Center would be built. The Foundation proposed to construct alongside the Midway’s east side, but community groups claimed doing so would infringe on protected park lands. In a later statement the Foundation said the site will remain unchanged, but its original proposal was slightly adjusted.

Gretchen Crosby Sims was announced as the new Institute of Politics (IOP) executive director on December 19. Before coming to the University, Sims worked at a London-based nonprofit consulting firm, which raised funds for social problems impacting the U.K. In an e-mail to The Maroon, IOP Director David Axelrod expressed confidence in Sims’s nomination, saying “Gretchen will bring great energy to the project of envisioning what the IOP can be.”

Eric Isaacs was named a National Academy of Inventors Fellow, an honor given to individuals with a commitment to supporting or creating innovations which improve society. Isaacs is the University Executive Vice President for Research, Innovation, and National Laboratories, overseeing projects that intersect school divisions and institutes.

The University of Chicago Medicine temporarily changed its visitor policies to be more restrictive due to a spike in severe cases of the flu. Now, children under the age of 12 and those with a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, or nasal congestion cannot visit hospital patients.