For the first and only time in nearly every current student's tenure at the U of C, there will be a changing of the guard. Robert Zimmer will formally take over for Don Randel on October 27th as Chicago's thirteenth president. Zimmer will certainly have big shoes to fill. Randel, while uncontroversial, had an excellent relationship with the University. He also oversaw the engineering of the Chicago Initiative, which, as of August 11, 2006, has yielded over $1.5 billion of an ultimate $2 billion in new capital for the University.
But with drastic changes already underway to facilities and student housing and the University still talking about the changes to the Core, no one expects Zimmer to shake up the administration. Still, someone with Zimmer's talents was certainly not brought in to be a glad-handing, empty suit.
First and foremost, Zimmer has to continue the innovative fundraising techniques that Randel brought to Chicago. The Chicago Initiative's $1.5 billion has been a huge success.
On top of that, the end of Randel's tenure brought about what seemed like a new mega-gift to the University every week. But all these successes have avoided the biggest financial problem the U of C has: Every year some of the brightest students in the world come here, yet our alumni giving rates aren't even close to those of its peer institutions. In order for the U of C to catch up, if not just keep up, with the financial successes of its peer institutions, rectifying this disparity is critical.
In doing so, Zimmer can ensure that the U of C's tradition of producing academic excellence and facilitating cutting-edge research is maintained, if not improved. Recent admissions trends show that each year Chicago grows more and more selective, as it should, considering all the amenities that have been added to an otherwise top-tier university. But recent success shouldn't inspire misplaced confidence.
Every year top faculty members are poached from just a few big name schools. We can't be the farm team for Harvard forever. It is time to keep the scholars we nurture.
Improving University facilities, aggressively locking down promising junior faculty, and doing more to make the Hyde Park neighborhood a hospitable intellectual oasis are all critical for the U of C to achieve that goal.
The Maroon hopes Zimmer not only fills Randel's shoes, but also finds ways to deal with the problems Randel never had the chance to tackle. When Zimmer was nominated as our next president, the Maroon declared that we "got a genius," and it's time for Zimmer to put that ingenuity to work.