Looking back on the Randel presidency

This year the close of spring quarter has a special significance: It marks the end of an era.

University President Don Randel will officially step down on July 1 to become president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York City.

Randel has served as president for six years, during which time he has overseen the design, development, and culmination of a plethora of projects. The Chicago Initiative, the $2 billion capital campaign that has generated $1.5 billion since it began in the spring of 2002, may constitute his most important contribution.

In addition to fund-raising, Randel has managed a major expansion of the University’s student body and campus. Several buildings have been completed during his presidency, most notably Max Palevsky Residential Commons and the Gordon Center for Integrative Sciences.

He has also been an integral player in the planning stages of many projects that will bear his stamp when they conclude in the next few years. The University recently released plans for a new 900-bed residence hall on East 61st Street and South Ellis Avenue. The dorm, which is expected to cost more than $100 million, will replace Shoreland Hall when it opens in 2008.

A music scholar, Randel has been a major supporter of the Center for Creative and Performing Arts, which is expected to be completed around 2010.

Provost Richard Saller said Randel quelled the controversies stemming from his predecessor Hugo Sonnenschein, who frequently proposed significant but unpopular changes.

“After the controversies over curriculum and other matters, President Randel restored a sense of the orientation of the University,” Saller said. “He was able to articulate the special qualities of the place that attract faculty and students.”

Dean of the College John Boyer said Randel was an eager advocate of undergraduate life.

“He has been very supportive of the College and our efforts through a number of programs to strengthen student life, like foreign study, human rights internships, the Paris Center, and the Metcalf program,” Boyer said. “He has helped raise money to initiate and sustain these efforts and has been a friend of the College.”

Randel especially distinguished himself by following through on initiatives intended to involve the University in the surrounding community.

“He made a real effort to engage the community, meet with community leaders, and create a strong sense of partnership and support between the South Side and the University,” Boyer said. “Previous presidents tried this, but he made it a special mission of his presidency. He will be remembered for his strong sense of civic responsibility.”

Randel’s interest in the community did not go unrewarded. In the spring of 2005 he won $500,000 from the Carnegie Corporation of New York in recognition of his “Academic Leadership.”

The foundation praised Randel’s promotion of University-run charter schools as well as his support for undergraduate research opportunities.

At a recent brownbag luncheon, Randel again advocated community involvement and stressed the need to improve the diversity of the student body.

“It’s everyone’s job to think about diversity,” Randel said. “This place should be the best place in the country for an African-American or a Latino or other minority groups because of the fact that we’re in this amazing city with its rich culture of diversity.”

Boyer, a devoted scholar of University history, said Randel will be remembered as a successful president who improved the institution during his six years at the helm.

“Each president comes to the job with what he or she wants to make an impact,” Boyer said. “You want to leave the place a little better off than you found it. There should always be progress. He left the place better off than he found it, and that is a great tribute.”

Prior to taking the presidential post in Chicago, Randel spent 32 years at Cornell University, where he rose through the ranks from assistant professor to provost.

Robert Zimmer, Brown University provost and a long-time member of the University of Chicago Math Department, will succeed Randel as the University’s 13th president. The University’s Board of Trustees has selected Friday, October 27, 2006, for the date of Zimmer’s inauguration.