Protests, record gifts marked ’06-’07

By Sara Jerome

In the 2006–2007 school year, students were galvanized by a soft drink, the University pocketed landmark donations, and everyone had their eyes on the Obamas. The Maroon chronicles some of the top campus and community issues that filled its pages over the past nine months.

Two Goodbyes and a Welcome:

This school year, the University said goodbye to some high-profile community members: Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. passed in April and Milton Friedman passed in November. “Milton Friedman represents the best of what the University is and what it aspires to every day,” said Robert J. Zimmer at a memorial service for the Nobel laureate, addressing an audience that had seen him inaugurated as the 13th University president only two weeks before Friedman’s death.

Zimmer assumed office touting a commitment to “inquiry” and the sciences, but he met criticism from undergraduates right away. With his arrival coinciding with an announced switch to the Common Application, some students complained that that they felt left out of the decision-making process.

As Zimmer rounds out his first year at the helm, student opinion remains mixed. Preparing to depart, some graduating fourth-years are disappointed with the direction Zimmer is leading the University.

“Zimmer should stop trying to turn the U of C into Brown,” said fourth-year Chris Lee, citing what he saw as Zimmer’s prioritization of U.S. News & World Report rankings.

Fourth-year Katy Manaster noted Zimmer’s emphasis on fundraising, calling this week’s historic $100-million University donation “impressive.” But she tempered this with criticism: “Zimmer really needs to accept that we are elite because we’re weird,” she said.

Other students have welcomed changes incurred in the newly established Zimmer-era. “I laud him for being ambitious and attempting to improve the University. I don’t think ambition is a bad trait,” said third-year Bruce Arthur. “We can have our cake and eat it, too.”

Many, though, were apathetic about how administrative changes might affect their own lives. “I love cake,” said first-year William Dix in response to Arthur’s analysis. “Can I go on the record as in favor of cake?”

Year of Activism:

Students got riled up over Darfur, Coca-Cola, and the Common Application this year, and their protest efforts spawned petitions and Facebook groups galore. None of these protests achieved everything they demanded, but all turned heads.

Fourth-year Donny Copeland said that at a recent town-hall meeting about whether to kick Coke off campus, he saw a student wearing a T-shirt that said, “The U of C: Where activism comes to die.”

“ should have to get rid of that shirt now,” said Copeland, who called the Darfur activists the “loudest activists on campus” this year.

For third-year Elliott Brannon, it was the Coke protesters that made the most waves. Why? Because the pro-Coke people brought free Coca-Cola products, Brannon said.

Year of Candidacies:

The University watched former law school lecturer and Illinois senator Barack Obama kick off his presidential campaign, propelling the former Chicago community organizer to the national stage and elevating the “Wait, which house does he live in exactly?” discussion to a staple among Hyde Park conversation pieces.

“He’s the hometown hero,” said second-year Danny Riemer. “I feel like I have to vote for him.”

Obama was front and center when another, unrelated, candidacy was announced: Chicago became the U.S. nomination for the 2016 Olympics, which could bring Olympic athletes to a proposed stadium in nearby Washington Park and even directly to Ratner. In the next few years, Chicago, and specifically the South Side, will see developmental changes as the city faces international competitors to become an Olympic city in a contest whose winner will be determined in 2009. Some are excited, including Zimmer and other University administrators who supported the bid, but some locals and organizers foresee gentrification and community displacement.

Tragedy in the Spring:

Overshadowing the rest of spring quarter was the shooting at Virginia Tech, which shook college campuses across the country. Sympathizers mourned friends and strangers in a national grieving process unified by the Internet, where students expressed their sorrow on Facebook and blogs. The massacre, in which a student shooter claimed the lives of 32 students and teachers, made college students question their own surroundings.

“It definitely affected me,” said second-year MarLa Duncan. “The incident changed my perception of safety. In some respects, you can think of safety really as an illusion. Events like Virginia and 9/11 demonstrate that safety is not a guarantee—not something we can take for granted.”