Zimmer talks China, Medical Center, and financial aid at forum

President Robert Zimmer fielded questions about a new University center in China, the U of C Medical Center review, the University’s Olympics policy, and the tuition hike announced for next year in a forum on Monday.

By Louise Lerner

At a sparsely attended open forum Monday, President Robert Zimmer fielded questions about a new University center in China, the U of C Medical Center review, the University’s Olympics policy, and the tuition hike announced for next year.

Fresh from a trip to China, Zimmer described negotiations with “quite a few universities” to liaison with the U of C to found a Beijing center for University research.

“We’re thinking it would be a potential locus for a civilization program, and a locus for workshops, faculty, and graduate students who are working there,” Zimmer told the 15 students in attendance. “The number of faculty who are interested in China—it really cuts across a wide swath of fields. It’s an exciting project.”

A committee recommended the proposal to the provost late last year, outlining a center in Beijing that would strengthen ties with Chinese academic institutions and aid student and staff recruitment.

Zimmer said the University planned to lease space in Beijing, but had not yet chosen a site. “We’re hoping to get it done in the next couple of years,” he said. “But that’s a hope, not a timetable.”

Moving on to other matters of international importance, Zimmer discussed the University’s possible role in the 2016 Olympics, saying that he had met with the Olympic national committee.

“The city did ask if we would allow our swimming pool and track to be used for warm-ups,” he said. “I think there’s great potential for developing transportation, parking, roads—it all depends on how it’s implemented.”

Closer to home, several students asked Zimmer to clarify his role in the ongoing review of U of C Medical Center policy. Recent complaints about emergency room procedures, including a patient who died in the E.R. after waiting hours without care, prompted an internal review led by Everett Vokes, the new chair of the Department of Medicine.

“This evaluation is happening within the Medical Center; they are ultimately responsible for the delivery of healthcare,” he said. “We agreed that at this point the best thing to do was to step back and have the new chair of medicine reevaluate, reassess, and come up with a plan.”

Zimmer played down his own role in the review. “Well, he’s the president and he’s in charge, so if something’s contentious, at the end of the day he should make the decision,” Zimmer said, imitating a typical response to the review. “But it’s not true—it’s a huge organization, and there are lots of decisions made every day .” Zimmer conceded the decision-making process was counter-intuitive.

“It’s helpful to know that Zimmer isn’t setting the issues,” said Beckett Sterner, a third year Ph.D. student in philosophy who attended the lecture. “It’s been fairly obscure from the outside who has been conducting the review and what the priorities are. Since it affects everyone in the community, it’d be helpful to know.”

Zimmer also responded to a student questioning the future of financial aid in the wake of the slumping economy and the tuition hike announced for next year.

“Our methodology for determining financial aid is still in place; we were prepared to deal with family financial situations deteriorating,” Zimmer said. “We have absolutely committed to this policy—there was never any consideration of shifting any kind of need-based aid.”

Likewise, he said, graduate students would not see changes. “No one’s being cut,” he said. “That’s a fixed point around which other policies revolve.”

At the request of Student Government president and fourth-year Matt Kennedy, Zimmer laid out his priorities for the future of the University.

“I do think that opportunities for an international component in one’s education should be expanded,” Zimmer said, citing the proposed Beijing center as an example.

Zimmer also commented on retail in Hyde Park.

“We want a commercial environment that comfortably supports the needs of the University,” Zimmer said. He pointed to the University’s involvement in bringing Treasure Island to Hyde Park last year as the first step in that process.Zimmer also named diversity, academic strength, and health and housing improvements as priorities.