Former Trib editor Lipinski named community liasion

Ann Marie Lipinski, editor of the Chicago Tribune until she left the newspaper in July, will become the University’s vice president for civic engagement, President Robert Zimmer announced September 8.

By Adrian Florido

[img id=”80736″ align=”alignleft”] Ann Marie Lipinski, editor of the Chicago Tribune until she left the newspaper in July, will become the University’s vice president for civic engagement, President Robert Zimmer announced September 8.

In the newly created position—which replaces the vice president for community and government affairs post vacated by Hank Webber in February—Lipinski will be charged with fostering the University’s relationship with the surrounding community by overseeing its education, economic development, policing, and outreach efforts. Lipinski will assume the job October 1.

In an e-mail to the University, Zimmer cited Lipinski’s “strong track record leading one of Chicago’s great institutions” and called her “the right person to advance the University’s mission as a neighbor, citizen, and civic leader.”

Lipinski’s appointment comes less than two months after she stepped down as editor of the Tribune, a position she held for seven years but which she left amid growing trouble at one of the nation’s largest newspaper publishers. Budget cuts had forced significant reductions in employees and print space. At the time of her resignation, Lipinski told the Tribune that she was no longer a good fit for the job and that she did not know what her next step would be.

Although she had been approached by University administrators about applying for the job before she decided to leave the Tribune, Lipinski did not consider it a likely possibility at the time, she said in an interview with the MAROON.

“The first conversation came at a time when I wasn’t really thinking of leaving the paper. It was pretty certain I was thinking about the [presidential] election, which was the big story in Chicago, and the Tribune was really focused on that,” she said.

According to Lipinski, she did not seriously consider joining the U of C until after she resigned from the Tribune. “I was very focused on wanting to, when I made the decision to leave the paper…to close that door before I seriously contemplated what I would do next…and not have it contingent on what I was going to do next, if anything,” she said.

In early June, despite having selected and interviewed four finalists for the position, administrators expanded their search for candidates, extending the hiring process beyond the end of spring quarter. President Zimmer had indicated in earlier interviews that the University had expected to fill the position before graduation. It was clear then that the U of C was considering four candidates each of whose backgrounds differed substantially and would have implied distinct administration priorities for the future of the position.

The change of the position’s title from vice president for community and government affairs to vice president for civic engagement suggests that the University is seeking to recast the office as a locus for greater University-community interaction and collaboration, a perception it has sought to achieve but struggled with in the past.

A University press release said Lipinski would “create a new model for a major urban university acting in partnership with its city.”

The search has been closely watched by University and community members because of the prominent role the vice president plays in representing the University’s interests in the surrounding community and in the city of Chicago at large.

As vice president for community and government affairs, Hank Webber at times faced vocal criticism from area constituencies unhappy over the University’s actions in enacting building and redevelopment projects which community residents perceived as insensitive to their concerns and inconsiderate of their input. His office often had to forge a delicate balance between promoting the interests of the University in local economic and housing development and addressing fears over gentrification that activists and residents felt would result.

His final significant project came in late 2007, when the University negotiated the conditions for the closure of the Hyde Park Co-op grocery store, which had served Hyde Park since the Great Depression but which had deteriorated in quality and service in recent years. The store had become financially unstable and assumed a hefty debt following a series of missteps made by the store’s board of directors. The store closed in January, and the University’s role was both hailed and decried by proponents on both sides of the debate.

At a time when the University appears to be making a push toward physical expansion unprecedented in recent years, Lipinski will be responsible for developing a positive working relationship with those constituencies that have often been wary and at times outright critical of the U of C.

The University has continued buying up properties across the neighborhood and plans to develop a hotel, a retail corridor, and several University research buildings. This summer, it was reported that the University has begun purchasing land parcels west of campus, along 55th Street beyond Washington Park. Some have speculated that the moves are being made in anticipation of the city’s bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

Aside from her efforts to continue developing the University’s education, outreach, and community service programs, Lipinski will spearhead the U of C’s participation in Chicago’s Olympics bid. Plans call for the construction of the main stadium just west of campus in Washington Park.

Lipinski, who has lived in Chicago for 30 years and in Kenwood, north of Hyde Park, for the past 5, said she feels well qualified for the position, although she recognizes she has much to learn about the dynamics of the University’s relationship with its neighbors.

“I’ve been in conversation with the people of the city for 30 years…and have represented a big institution that has not always been beloved for the decisions it makes,” she said. “And I’ve been a part of decisions representing a big institution that are embraced by some and criticized by others. But I would say that throughout I’ve been a pretty good listener and that that defines the way I’ve done my work for my entire career but doesn’t mean that listening always gets you to agreement and consensus, and consensus can be an elusive goal,” she said.

“I think I’m good at understanding, I think I’m good at interpreting big institutions to people outside of them, and I’m not shy about that conversation,” she said. “I realize it can be difficult, but I also think it can be exhilarating. I hope people find me a patient participant.”

In addition to her new administrative position, Lipinski, who serves on the board of the University of Chicago Lab Schools, will be appointed a senior lecturer in the College, where she will teach courses on policy and journalism. In January, she will become chair of the board of the University of Chicago Charter School, whose several campuses her office oversees as part of the University’s efforts to provide high-quality public education to neighborhood children.

Lipinski earned her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Michigan and first arrived at the Tribune as a summer intern. She has served as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism and serves on the board of the Pulitzer Prize, an award that she herself won for her investigative reporting in 1988.