The establishment of a Washington, DC, lobbying office and the construction of a new hospital were among the many University initiatives that President Robert Zimmer identified as his office’s top priorities in a letter sent to the campus community last week.
The proposals, which include efforts to enhance scientific research and academic programs, faculty and student support, and community engagement, were identified after extensive discussion with University members and departments over several months, the president’s letter said.
The president presented the letter as an update on efforts to determine “how best to identify and address strategic opportunities and challenges in the years ahead,” and included several previously unannounced building projects and improvements to University departments.
The move to establish the Washington, D.C. lobbying office comes amid increased congressional activity that could have serious implications for universities across the country and the University of Chicago in particular.
Earlier this year, the Senate sent letters to the nation’s wealthiest universities, including the U of C, seeking information about endowment spending as part of its examination of rising college costs. Federal funding cuts for Argonne National Laboratory and Fermilab, both operated by the University, have forced the labs to draw back operations and lay off employees.
The office’s creation is intended to “much more successfully enable us to have a voice in Washington,” Zimmer said in an interview with the Maroon.
“There is an enormous number of issues that come up in Washington that are relevant to universities in general, and a lot of them we have tended to handle through consortia of universities,” which represent university interests more generally, he said.
Although the University will continue to participate in the efforts of those consortia, “we really feel that there are large numbers of issues in which the federal government is becoming more interested, more involved, and we just feel that as an institution of our stature its important to have a voice around these issues,” Zimmer said.
Although the office is “not meant to be restricted to science research issues at all,” among the most important, the president said, is funding for both Argonne and Fermilab.
In February, Zimmer joined other university presidents on Capitol Hill to testify in support of continued federal funding for science research.
“Most of our peer universities do have them [Washington offices]. We’ve not had one…and I think it’s really a combination of having our contract with Argonne renewed; being inaugurated with the URA (Universities Research Association); Fermilab. We think we have a certain responsibility with these labs,” Zimmer said.
The University is in the process of hiring a director for the new office and will seek out a Washington location soon after, he said.
Other projects in the works include a new University hospital, a science complex on South Ellis Avenue and East 57th Street, and the expansion of physical infrastructure at the University’s overseas campuses.
In addressing the University’s efforts at community engagement, Zimmer announced efforts to coordinate with municipal departments to plan infrastructural improvements in anticipation of Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, as well as general outreach efforts involving surrounding communities.
A replacement for Hank Webber—the former vice president for community and government affairs, who left the U of C in February—is expected to be in place by the end of spring quarter, Zimmer said.