February 24, 2004

Give Hutchins his due

In 1929 the Board of Trustees selected Robert Maynard Hutchins to be the president of the University of Chicago. At 30, he was the youngest president of a major American university. But his age did little to stop him from fundamentally shaping the U of C into the great institution it is today. How is it then that nothing on campus bears his name? (And no, the Hutchinson of Hutchinson Commons is not Hutchins.)

Few presidents of the University have done as much as Hutchins managed to do with his 21 years. He reorganized the University into four graduate divisions (biological sciences, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences), created a separate College for all undergraduates, reorganized undergraduate education to allow students to start at 16, abolished football and gave up our space in the Big Ten, brought the Manhattan Project to Hyde Park, and with Mortimer Adler developed the highly influential "Great Books" approach to education. This list doesn't even begin to describe the influence that Hutchins had on our school.

The naming of a University building is a complicated issue—most bear the names of influential donors like Max Palevsky and John Rockefeller. Others are named after people who, like architect Henry Ives Cobb, played vital roles in the creation of the modern University. And the names Mason, Burton, Judson, and Harper—all past U of C presidents—are ingrained in the minds of students at least as building names, if not as men.

The Administration Building, the brutal eyesore built in 1948 that lies in the center of our campus, has no name attached to it. Robert Maynard Hutchins's contributions to the school helped define the University's personality, yet he has no building to show for it. Both of these problems can be easily rectified—with the Robert Maynard Hutchins Administration Building.