And the real Peace Prize goes to…

Zimmer’s efforts to calm neighborhood tensions deserve recognition.

By Claire McNear

A lot of curious things come out of Norway: the letter “Ø,” for example, and the inventor of the paper clip. But not much comes close to Friday’s preemptive Nobel Peace Prize, which seems, for lack of explanation from the Norwegian Nobel Committee, to be a blue ribbon thanking Barack Obama both for future harmony and for not being anyone who interacts with Dick Cheney on a regular basis. While it’s true that anything that leaves far-right pundits even briefly speechless should probably be applauded, a different president should have won the prize: Robert Zimmer.

It’s possible that the Committee simply overlooked him. After all, though it seeks nominations from university officials, self-nominations are banned. And it’s also true that Zimmer was up against what might be the greatest marketing campaign of all time, facing a man who somehow branded himself as “Hope;” and that as a leader of something markedly smaller than the free world, he was at no minor disadvantage. But all the same, the Norwegian Nobel Committee ought to have awarded the prize to the other president of the South Side, a man currently engaged in the cooling of an ongoing civil war.

The term “civil war” is something of a misnomer: It would imply that both sides are fighting, when in truth it’s a few old-timey, preservation-obsessed villagers with pitchforks versus men and women who are largely just trying to incubate technologies and teenagers in the hopes of hatching a few more Nobel laureates (Peace or otherwise). The preservationists view the University the way many people once viewed the Soviet Union, and consequently try to thwart its every move with screeches and petitions and whole-hearted wishes to make sure that nice things don’t come to Hyde Park. They take for granted that it really is a civil war and that all other Hyde Parkers must surely be as anti-University as they are. It takes moments like the overwhelming community vote to close the desolate Co-Op supermarket, long a beloved landmark to preservationists, to show that their anti-progress paranoia is limited.

On Sunday, the blog Hyde Park Progress posted a simplification of the Hyde Park activism war: There are those who bitterly weep into their beers at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap about the past development missteps of the University—which, though mostly decades in the past, are very real—and the opposing majority, which “knows this old story, but doesn’t repeat it as an eternal prelude.”

For evidence of President Zimmer’s peacemaking mission, look no further than the Office for Civic Engagement. The office was founded at the beginning of the year; its stated mission is to serve as liaison between the U of C, the city at large, and the more immediate community. At its head is Ann Marie Lipinski, who operates more or less as President Zimmer’s secretary of state, though it’s substantially less likely that she’s harboring homicidal urges than is President Obama’s. Even as the Hyde Park Herald continues to paint the University as some kind of heritage-smashing robber baron and publishes editorials objecting to the University’s doings with poetry like, “We are a little piqued. Actually, we should really say we are very, very piqued” (“Searching for U. of C. cooperation,” 8/09), Lipinski’s office—and Zimmer’s administration—continue to take pains to present a vision of the neighborhood in which University and neighbors live as one. Which is not to say that there’s peace now, or that Zimmer is particularly yielding about the question of whether development is a good thing, but the vision is there, as are all the tools—which is more than can be said about Obama’s present situation.

President Obama must surely know that the Committee will be expecting his nomination next year, a duty now bequeathed to him not just as a sitting president but as a laureate in his own hopeful right. The deadline’s in February, Mr. President. Don’t forget about peace back home.

Claire McNear is a third-year in the College majoring in political science. She is the Maroon Viewpoints Editor.