University Officials Highlight Accomplishments, Aspirations in Spring Quarter Update

President Paul Alivisatos, Provost Ka Yee Lee, and other University officials introduced new staff members, upcoming international conferences uniting science and business, and safety initiatives that target the root causes of gun violence.


By Kayla Rubenstein

University administrators convened on Zoom on Wednesday, April 6, for the Spring Quarter Update. Moderated by Vice President of Communications Paul M. Rand, the talk covered topics ranging from incoming faculty to South Side–University partnerships for gun violence prevention.

President Paul Alivisatos kicked off the webinar by sharing reflections from his first seven months in office. Then, Rand proceeded to mention recent accomplishments like the reopening of the London campus and U.S. News & World Report’s listing the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice; Harris School of Public Policy; University of Chicago Law School; and Booth School of Business among the top three best graduate schools in their respective fields.

 “Those rankings reflect what we know internally to be the amazing reality of this university, and so I'm glad to see it recognized in those ways,” Alivisatos said. “But we also have our internal compass, and we're constantly making every part of the university stronger.”

Included in these improvements is the introduction of UChicago Medicine’s plan for a new comprehensive cancer center. In addition to cancer treatment, the center will tackle larger concerns like health-care disparities in Chicago.

“It will be an anchor point for us in addressing health inequity issues on the South Side of Chicago, and it will be a place where our biological discovery and work in biotechnology fields will advance the quality of care,” Alivisatos said.

Rand then introduced Provost Ka Yee Lee, who discussed the ways the University supports those impacted by the war in Ukraine. Lee detailed the resources available on campus, such as the assistance and scholarships offered to students directly impacted by the conflict, UChicago Student Wellness’s appointment options, and Rockefeller Memorial Chapel’s quiet reflection and meditation space.

Lee also provided an update on the independent council dedicated to analyzing UChicago’s historical, contemporary, and future community relations. After months of discussion, the group met in person for the first time this week, with Alivisatos and Lee in attendance.

Among other University initiatives, Lee shared how a collaboration among UChicagoGRAD, Graduate Council, and the Office of International Affairs resulted in the creation of the International Graduate Student Advisory Board, which focuses on the personal, professional, and academic experiences of international graduate students. After recommendations from the Graduate Grievance Policies and Process Committee, UChicagoGRAD created a role dedicated to analyzing grievance policies, emphasizing education and training.

Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Eric Heath spoke on the recent developments in and goals of the department. Lieutenant Colonel Kyle Bowman assumed the mantle of chief of police of the University of Chicago Police Department April 4.

“In considering leadership, we were all impressed by his ability to build policing strategies around community needs and his interest in engaging with diverse perspectives on issues of public safety,” Heath said, adding that there would be opportunities to meet Bowman in the future.

Heath touched on the safety ambassador program’s expansion, including the increased hours and locations of security officers on campus. The University has increased the service hours of the UGo NightRide shuttle service and improved wait times on the South route. He also mentioned the expansion of the Lyft Ride Smart program before inviting Derek Douglas, vice president of the Office of Civic Engagement, to speak.

Douglas built on Heath’s discussion of safety. “One side of the equation is the things we just heard from Eric Heath, with the number of the public safety measures being implemented,” Douglas said. “But the other side of the equation is equally important, and that’s getting at the root causes, seeing what we can be doing as an institution, working with our partners to try and address the issues so violence doesn’t occur in the first place.”

Douglas referenced the virtual roundtable discussion in January that underscored the existing University and community partnerships and examined how the University could do more. One idea that arose was a violence prevention fund, which would expand the scale of the University’s work to root out causes of gun violence. Douglas shared topics that came up when administrators and South Side stakeholders were discussing the fund.

“As a collective community, we were reminded about the pain [gun violence] causes. It was made clear to us that additional investment is needed in a bidirectional, mutually beneficial way to create partnerships between university and community that build trust and that try to address this challenge,” Douglas said. “It was also clear this issue is incredibly complex, and to make progress, it’s going to take a coordinated effort of many partners coming together.”

Alivisatos narrowed in on the University’s diversity and inclusion efforts, noting newly hired administrators that will prioritize them. Waldo Johnson Jr.—former associate professor and former deputy dean for curriculum at the Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice—joined the UChicago administration as vice provost in the winter and transitioned to a full-time role at the beginning of spring quarter. MaryFrances McCourt will assume the role of chief financial officer on April 18; she advocated equity, inclusion, and belonging in her most recent position as treasurer and vice president for finance at the University of Pennsylvania.

Joining the new administrators is Torsten Reimer, who will become the new University librarian and dean of the University library on April 22 having last worked at the British Library. “It’s just really invigorating to see the range of the scholarship represented by them,” Lee said about the newly tenured faculty.

Executive Vice President for Science, Innovation, National Laboratories, and Global Initiatives Juan de Pablo underscored the ways in which his department values business and entrepreneurship and its efforts in developing start-ups, nonprofit organizations, and companies that “really bring our discoveries to practice.”

De Pablo presented a new partnership with the Clean Tech Economy Coalition, joining 18 other groups of governmental agencies, companies, and universities focused on developing clean energy technologies. Regarding the laboratories under his department, De Pablo announced that Fermilab will have its first female director: Lia Merminga, who begins her tenure April 18.

On an international scale, De Pablo shared two workshops, one in Paris and one in London, that will bring together national labs, corporate innovation and research, and innovation. Entrepreneurs from North Africa and Europe—especially those with a focus on quantum information science, data science, material forces sustainability, and artificial intelligence—will convene to “identify areas for collaboration, create opportunities for the students to do internships, and attract start-up companies in Hyde Park,” De Pablo explained.

The talk concluded with a Q&A during which the panelists discussed the importance of the University’s global presence and study abroad, Alivisatos’s experience engaging with the UChicago community, safety features such as increased security cars with bright green lights, and the updated masking policy.

“I just hope that all those who are listening are feeling that we’re off to a wonderful start to the spring quarter, that it’s a period when the University is opening back up again, as we were just discussing,” Alivisatos said. “[It’s] very special because it’s coming together after two years and very special because there are so many new beginnings that are going on that speak to a wonderful future.”