September 23, 2013

O-Issue 2013: Trustees

Painting the broad strokes of the University’s mission is the Board of Trustees: the uppermost echelon of University governance. This 55-member group includes University President Robert Zimmer as well as prominent alums and industry leaders, who stand several steps away from the day-to-day handlings of the University and its students. Its main charge is to navigate the long-term direction of the University, and to foster a wider nexus of support for the University beyond campus confines.

In addition to selecting the University president, provosts, vice presidents, and other trustees, the Board oversees the UChicago budget and raises funds for large capital projects. Big-ticket items such as the building of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts and the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society have been largely enabled by multimillion-dollar gifts from different trustees.

The current chairman Andrew Alper (A.B. ’80, M.B.A. ’81) led one such campaign, “The Chicago Initiative,” which pooled $2.38 billion in gifts from 117,700 individuals, families, and organizations between 2000 and 2008—the largest capital campaign in the University’s history. The campaign greatly altered the physical landscape of the University both on campus (think Max Palevsky, Ratner, and Mansueto) and beyond (Urban Education Institute and UChicago Center in Paris). Alper, who comes from a finance background at Goldman Sachs, is the fourth alumnus of the College to serve as chairman of the board.

Connecting the board with the student body at large are the Graduate Liaison and Undergraduate Liaison to the Board of Trustees, elected each spring by the student body. While these students do not have voting powers—a fact that is hotly contended and was a major tenet of third-year and Undergraduate Liaison Brendan Leonard’s campaign platform—they do advocate for different student perspectives directly with trustees. Additionally, a few luncheons are held each year to provide select students a chance to speak with selected trustees one-on-one.

In addition to the debate over student voting powers, the board has also had to address ongoing calls for greater transparency. The board is split into 11 standing committees ranging from Campus and Student Life to Financial Planning, but the composure of each committee is not made publicly available, nor their meeting records. In 2007, Zimmer appointed a Harvard administrator to the position of Secretary of the University, in part to address said transparency concerns, and nascent SG representatives often aim to ameliorate the perceived disconnect between the Board and students.