September 25, 2014

O-Issue 2014: The Heads of Power--a who’s-who guide of campus administrators.

The gargoyles on the sides of Cobb Gate are said to represent the admissions officers who guard access to the University of Chicago, as well as the ascending first-, second-, third-, and fourth-years at the peak who tower over the gate’s entrance. That may or may not just be a cute fiction imagined by a wired admissions counselor. But, yes, the hard fact of the matter is that real power at the University of Chicago is not wielded by knowledge itself, but by the administration. Shed a tear, then educate yo’ self:

At the top reigns is President Robert Zimmer, in office since 2006 and pledged to stay until at least 2019. The former math professor and department chairperson has been at the helm during a tremendous growth spurt for the University. Under his watch, the University has seen the addition of two new dorms, it’s first-ever engineering program, extended community development and engagement, the opening of two (soon to be three) new study abroad centers, and the reorganization of the higher-ups in his administration. Should you pass by the President’s House at the corner of 59th and University one morning on your way to your 9:30 class, there’s a good chance you’ll spot crews packing up furniture and tents from a fundraising celebration the Zimmers hosted the night before--fundraising is one of the principal responsibilities for the university president, especially since the launch of the $4.5 billion Inquiry and Impact fundraising campaign this past May.

Next on the gate comes Provost Eric Isaacs, acclaimed physicist and former director of Argonne National Laboratory, whose responsibilities now revolve around all things academic at the University. The deans of the University’s academic divisions, from the Law School to the Divinity School to the College, report to him, as do the heads of campus institutes such as the Smart Museum and the Urban Education Institute.

There is, however, a step that lies between the deans and the provost on the administrative tiers: the vice presidents of the University. One of the most prominent VPs to students is Karen Warren Coleman, in charge of Campus and Student Life and Student Services since 2009. Her stated duties range from UChicago Dining to the Spiritual Life Office, as well as the Student Counseling Services, but she was also the point person last year when several students protested the University’s lack of a trauma center by holding a sit-in at a University construction site. Warren Coleman also played a significant role in the University’s decision to abandon the swimming test for incoming students in 2012.

Currently vacant in this tier is that of Chief Financial Officer. Its previous occupant, Nim Chinniah, left UChicago this summer to become the Chief Operating Officer at Northwestern University. The search to replace him is ongoing.

Last but not least on the totem pole of gargoyles come the deans, a grouping of administrators so broad and vast that they deserve two levels on Cobb Gate.

By far the most visible dean is  Dean of the College John Boyer, the unofficial historian of the University, longest-serving in his role as dean and bike aficionado—not to mention a part-time Prancerciser, thanks to a certain item on  last year’s Scav list. Boyer continues to study and share the history of the University and beyond as the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History and has frequently taught parts of the Civilizations study abroad program in Austria.

Twenty-one years behind Boyer in her tenure, Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen joined up last year in the newly-created position. Rasmussen is quickly making her presence known on campus, however, holding lectures on lemurs (one of her areas of expertise) and other events with students, including a Leadership Conversation organized by Student Government last spring, that quickly turned to the discussion of the trauma center activism. Eye witness accounts report that she has also participated in yoga  during last year’s Kuvia winter festival.

But the even fresher babe is John “Jay” Ellison, the Harvard administration transplant who joined UChicago on July 1 to replace Dean of Students in the College Susan Art. News of Art’s departure broke in the Maroon last spring, coming after a year of embroilment in federal and local student allegations of mishandling cases of sexual assault and leaves of absences. Art maintained that her decision to retire was unrelated.

Ellison told the Maroon in April that one of his goals is to be as approachable as possible for students, faculty and staff. His primary obligation lies in maintaining the student advising system.