Lessons from Sonnenschein: Don’t Alert Faculty to Your Plans

By Marshall Sahlins

Robert Zimmer, who was a deputy provost during the ill-fated Hugo Sonnenschein regime—the first in the modern era to draw widespread faculty criticism—always believed that Sonnenschein’s problem was that he told the faculty in advance what he was going to do.

Zimmer has made sure that would not happen during his tenure. Instead, the faculty has been presented with a series of major academic changes in the form of faits accomplis. The longterm effect has been a radical reduction in faculty governance by means of clandestine administrative action, coupled with public propaganda about the University as a bastion of academic freedom.

Your series has documented many of the deleterious changes in the structure and educational values of the University. What they amount to is the decimation of graduate study and research in favor of a swollen undergraduate cohort as well as terminal masters students in the Humanities and Social Sciences that far outnumber bona fide Ph.D. students—all fundamentally motivated by money, including the false coin of academic glory doled out by the US News and World Report.

The Zimmer regime has completed the process begun in Hugo Sonnenschein’s tenure—and continued by a succession of Alter-Hugos—of dismantling the University of Chicago as a graduate research institution of distinction and worldwide reputation. Instead we have degenerated into a good university.

Marshall Sahlins is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology Emeritus