March 5, 2004

The Chicago Initiative: your questions answered

Editor's note: This article was submitted on behalf of the Student Steering Committee for the Chicago Initiative.

What is the Chicago Initiative?

It's a fundraising campaign for the University of Chicago.

How much is the University trying to raise?

$2 billion.

Wow. That's a lot of money. What's it going to be used for?

Well, without getting into all the details, we need the money for scholarship funds, faculty salaries, scientific equipment, research programs, and new buildings and classrooms. The actual breakdown can be found on the website:


It's not clear to me why the University is suddenly trying to raise all this money. Doesn't Chicago already have money specifically for all that stuff?

Not really, but before answering that question, it's important to clarify that this campaign is not a recent undertaking. It was publicly launched in the spring of 2001. Since then, the Board of Trustees, along with the Office of Development, has been working hard to bring attention to this campaign. Now, regarding your question about the University already having money for these ends, it's important to recognize that what money Chicago had prior to the launch of the campaign was not enough.

"Enough" is such a relative term. How is it determined what's enough?

It's used with respect to the University's ability to offer an unparalleled educational experience and to compete with the resources of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and our other peer institutions.

Why is competing with these other institutions an issue?

That question can be answered with respect to the past, present, and future. Historically, the University has been included among the ranks of these schools, an honor that was possible in part because Chicago had financial and academic resources comparable to these other institutions. Currently, however, there is a widening gap in the financial resources that support the University, and this has impacted our ability to attract and retain the best and brightest faculty and student scholars, as well as our ranking among the top national universities. As a result, the University has decided that in order to address these issues as well as regain a competitive edge with these schools, a capital campaign was in order. Moreover, it's believed that the return from these investments of time and money will carry the University into the future on solid footing.

One question that current students may have is, "Why should I even care about these fundraising efforts if I'm going to be long gone by the time the money raised is actually used for the purposes mentioned? I won't be here to enjoy the new buildings, the new classrooms, the larger scholarship funds, the research programs, etc. Why should the Chicago Initiative be important to me?"

First of all, many students are already benefiting from the campaign today. The Ratner Athletics Center and Palevsky Residential Commons were all made possible by alumni and friends who have made generous gifts to the campaign. Also, when the Chicago Initiative is successful in meeting its goal, your degree from the University will be that much more valuable.

What does that mean?

The value of your degree depends on, among other things, the reputation of the granting institution, and that reputation is partially a function of the caliber of students and faculty associated with the university. One way that the University can optimize its ability to attract the best and brightest students and faculty is by offering scholarship awards, research programs, and state of the art facilities and equipment that are comparable to, if not better than, our peer institutions'. And yet, meeting these goals requires money. A lot of money, in fact. Hence, by taking an interest in and supporting the Chicago Initiative, current students are doing their part to ensure that the value of their degree will not diminish over time.

So, it seems like what you're saying is that students should care about the Chicago Initiative because the goals of the campaign will directly and ultimately impact the professional future of every graduate from every division of the university.

Yes, that's correct.

If students are interested in becoming involved in the Chicago Initiative, what might be expected of them and whom might they contact?

There are many ways to become involved. One way is to talk with members of the Student Campaign Steering Committee. Another is to work for the annual fund's telemarketing campaign. Alternatively, you can volunteer to help out at special events for alumni and friends. It really is up to you. For more information on how to volunteer for any of these activities you can contact the Student Campaign Steering Committee by sending an e-mail to studcommittee@development.uchicago.edu.