Professors Sign Letter in Support of Obama Center Benefits Agreement

Over 150 professors signed call to maintain park spaces, encourage local businesses, and reduce taxpayer costs.

By Camille Kirsch, News Editor

Over 150 University professors have signed an open letter raising concerns about the Obama Foundation’s plans for the Obama Center. 

The letter asks the Obama Foundation to sign a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) and expresses support for building the Obama Center on the South Side. However, it questions the decision to locate the center in Jackson Park. 

“Jackson Park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most important urban parks in the nation,” the letter reads. “At a time of increasing complexity and pressure in urban life, Chicago should be dedicated to preserving our public parks as open areas for relaxation and play for all its citizens.” 

The letter also expresses opposition to the proposal to build a parking lot on a section of Midway Plaisance, another park designed by Olmsted. The Obama Foundation announced Monday afternoon it no longer plans to do this. New plans call for an underground parking garage at the Obama Center site.  

In addition to concerns about diminishing parkland, the letter suggests that building the Obama Center at the Jackson Park site is unlikely to spark economic investment in the surrounding area, which already includes the Museum of Science of Industry and the University. 

Finally, the letter raises concerns about the Obama Center’s cost to taxpayers. According to the letter, infrastructure improvements related to the project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. “We are concerned that these are not the best ways to use public funds to invest in the future of Chicago,” the letter says. 

As of Monday evening, 155 University of Chicago faculty members had signed the open letter. They included deans and professors from the College, the Physical Sciences Division, Social Sciences Division, and Division of the Humanities, as well as professors from the Divinity School, the Harris School of Public Policy, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the School of Social Service Administration.