March 7, 2006

Past presidents could shed light on Randel’s successor

The announcement of the 13th president of the University of Chicago may be around the corner, prompting theories about who could make the short list.

The 11 members of the Board of Trustees and the seven faculty members who form the search committee have been in their “silent phase” since fall, meaning that they will not release information about the status of the search.

But seven months have passed since the Presidential Search Committee was assembled. This is the same amount of time between the announcements of Hugo Sonnenschein’s resignation in May 1999 and Don Randel’s succession in December that year.

The search committee that will appoint Randel’s successor was assembled two months later in the calendar year than the committee that followed Sonnenschien’s resignation. That would make March a possible month for an announcement, if the current search committee follows a similar timetable.

While no information about candidates has been released, the list of past presidents provides clues to the types of people the committee may be considering.

The 11 men and one woman who have led this University since 1892 have spanned the academic spectrum.

Not since George W. Beadle, a biologist, served as president from 1961 to 1968, has the University had a scientist at the helm. Since Beadle, presidents have come from law, psychology, history, economics, and music. This might imply that the next president will come from the sciences.

The last three presidents, including Randel, who had been provost at Cornell University, have come from outside the University, while the five before them came up from the U of C’s administration.

Three logical in-house presidential candidates from the sciences are James L. Madara, dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine; Robert Fefferman, dean of the physical science division; and Thomas F. Rosenbaum, vice president for research and Argonne National Laboratory.

Madara stands out among these names due to the ongoing expansion of the University of Chicago Hospitals (UCH)—spurred on by the recent Comer and Knapp gifts—and because the Biological Sciences Division has the largest budget of any University division. A president with experience in the sciences would be well suited to oversee the execution of the UCH expansion and to help secure funding for research that the new buildings will house.

Fundraising is increasingly the major role of university presidents. In a survey of university presidents released this past October, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that 53 percent of the presidents picked fundraising as their daily priority.

Another striking trend visible in the list of the University’s previous leaders is that the past five presidents, including Randel, have come from the position of provost, generally the number-two academic officer in a university. The Chronicle echoed this idea, noting that a majority of presidents had previously been provosts.

From in-house, Provost Richard P. Saller would make sense for a search committee wishing to directly extend the policies of President Randel’s tenure. Saller has appointments in the departments of History and Classical Languages and Literature, and is also a former dean of the Social Science Division.

Law professor Geoffrey Stone, who served as University provost before Saller, could also be a logical choice. Before the position of provost, Stone was dean of the Law School.

If the committee were to look in-house but outside the sciences, other possible candidates would be leaders from the University’s professional schools and academic divisions.

This list includes John W. Boyer, dean of the College; Saul Levmore, dean of the Law School; Geoffrey Stone, law professor and former provost; John M. Hansen, dean of the Social Sciences Division; and Danielle Allen, dean of the Humanities Division.