March 16, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 12

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    In Memoriam: Edward Hirsch Levi, President Emeritus

    Known for the force of his personality, the strength of his commitment to the University, and his love of teaching, Edward Hirsch Levi[edward levi] was a dignified presence on the Chicago campus––always fastidiously dressed with a signature bow tie and often smoking a cigar.

    Levi, who died last week at the age of 88, was President Emeritus of the University and the Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Law School and the College. In 1975, President Gerald Ford asked him to serve as attorney general after the credibility of the Justice Department was eroded by the Watergate scandal.

    For more than 50 years, Levi, who served the University in many roles, inspired generations of law and undergraduate students as a teacher at the University, the role in which he took greatest pride. Levi served as Dean of the University of Chicago Law School from 1950 to 1962, Provost of the University from 1962 to 1968 and President from 1968 to 1975.

    He attracted world-renowned scholars to the faculty and nurtured such celebrated programs as the Committee on Social Thought. While Provost, Levi also served as acting Dean of the College, reorganizing it into five divisions with a common core program for the first two years. He also played a key role in what was at that time the largest fund-raising endeavor of any university.

    “Throughout his life, and especially during his years as Dean of the Law School, Provost and President, Edward Levi demonstrated a passionate commitment to the ideals of the University,” said President Sonnenschein. “He had an unwavering dedication to the highest standards of research and scholarship. He understood the intimate connection between teaching at advanced levels and research. He was an intellectual, and he deeply valued the intellectual life that is at the center of this great University.

    “It is perhaps not so surprising that Edward understood the University so well. Educated at the Laboratory Schools, the College and the Law School, he breathed deep the air that Robert Maynard Hutchins [with whom he taught a Great Books course] described as ‘electric,’ and the University’s sensibilities helped to shape the man he became. His keen intelligence, acute judgment and unwavering integrity informed every aspect of his leadership at the University and his service to the nation. We are proud to have called him our own.”

    Former President Ford said, “Ed Levi was a superb attorney general. In the early 1970s, the Nixon Department of Justice was in great difficulty because of Watergate and the tragedy of the Vietnam War. The American people and the Congress had lost respect because of ineffective and inappropriate leadership. When I assumed the presidency in August 1974, it was essential that a new attorney general be appointed who would restore integrity and competence to the Department of Justice.

    “Ed Levi, with his outstanding academic and administrative record at the University of Chicago, was a perfect choice. In his several years as attorney general, Ed Levi was non-partisan and highly qualified as the highest-ranking lawyer in the federal government.

    “In Ford cabinet meetings, Ed Levi gave wise counsel to me and [memorial]others on the most important issues and controversies involving U.S. government in domestic and foreign affairs.

    “In retrospect, as president, I am proud to say Ed Levi was one of my finest cabinet members. I thank him for his outstanding service as attorney general at a very critical time in America’s history.”

    As Law School Dean, Levi worked closely with architect Eero Saarinen on the planning and execution of the landmark law school building erected in 1959. As University Provost and President, Levi presided over the construction of major campus buildings, including the Joseph Regenstein Library, the Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences, the Cummings Life Science Center and the Surgery Brain Research Institutes. He fostered the development of what is now the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. He also helped establish the professional repertory theater that grew into Court Theatre. He promoted investment in the University’s Hyde Park neighborhood and initiated new enrichment programs in nearby public schools.

    His tenure as President coincided with some of the most turbulent years on America’s college campuses, and his balanced handling of the forcible takeover of the University’s administration building in 1969 came to be seen as a model for a measured response to student anti-war protests.

    “The way of citizenship is through the rights of citizens and constitutional government,” Levi wrote at the time. “It is not through violence, which is self-defeating, which will cause much suffering and which makes effective action more difficult. Within the University, I hope the respect for personal integrity and diversity, essential to the freedom of the institution, hard won through many crises of the past, will be continued and strengthened by the way we meet the tests of today.”

    Former University President Hanna Gray, who has returned to teaching at the University, praised Levi’s leadership. “Edward Levi was a great, indeed exemplary, President of the University. He was fiercely devoted to the University, deeply committed to its special character and traditions, single-mindedly intent on strengthening and enlarging its best purposes. As Provost and President, he was essentially responsible for the refounding of the University, for renewing its energy and confidence and for bringing it to a new level of intellectual quality and achievement. In the hardest times of controversy and dissent, Edward never lost sight of the mission and principles of academic freedom that required thoughtful understanding, steadfast defense and active realization. He would not compromise these all-important goals nor fail to maintain the collegial process that helped secure their shaping power for this University community. That extraordinary exercise of leadership must have come at some cost to a man who had hoped to give still more of his time to the educational and scholarly initiatives of his presidency, but his was a service of profound consequence to this University and to higher education as a whole. Our University bears the stamp of Edward Levi’s accomplishments and of his character, and it will be measured always by the high standards and demanding ideals that he insistently, and unforgettably, placed before us.”

    As Dean of Chicago’s Law School, Levi was instrumental in bringing all of the social sciences to bear on the study of the law and its interplay with social institutions. He and economist Aaron Director developed the field now known as “Law and Economics,” which uses the insights of economists and other social scientists to illuminate the understanding of legal doctrine. Levi also created one of the first law school legal aid clinics in the United States.

    Daniel Fischel, Dean of the Law School, praised Levi as “one of the great leaders of the Law School and the University, who set exceptionally high standards for American education that are a continuing inspiration to those of us who follow in his footsteps.”

    Levi was born June 26, 1911, in Chicago, the son and grandson of rabbis. Levi’s grandfather, Emil Hirsch, was appointed to the original University faculty in 1892 and was a close friend of the first University President, William Rainey Harper.

    Levi graduated from the University’s Laboratory Schools and received his Ph.B. degree in 1932 and his J.D. degree in 1935 from the University. In 1935, he was a Sterling Fellow at Yale University, where he received his J.S.D. degree in 1938. In 1936, he joined the Chicago faculty as an Assistant Professor in Law.

    During World War II, he served as a special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle and as first assistant in the Antitrust Division under Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold. In 1945, he returned to the University as Professor in Law and was appointed Dean of the Law School in 1950. He held that post until 1962, when he was named Provost of the University. Six years later he was named President, becoming the first Jewish leader of a major U.S. university.

    After leaving the presidency, Levi returned to teaching at Chicago’s Law School and College. He also was the Herman Pfleger Visiting Professor at Stanford University Law School from 1977 to 1978.

    In 1985, honoring his many achievements, the University established the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professorship. Professor of Law Bernard Meltzer was the first to hold the chair, followed by Professor of Law Walter Blum. Professor of Law David Currie currently holds the chair.

    “Wisdom, wit, a quiet grace and a tireless willingness to strive for excellence have seldom been combined in such measure in one individual,” said U.S. Justice John Paul Stevens, a colleague of Levi on the Chicago faculty. “I would add that his contributions to the nation during his service as its attorney general, when recovery from the trauma of Watergate required a firm hand and sound judgment at the top of the legal profession, were of the same matchless quality and perhaps of even greater importance in restoring trust in our government.

    “Even before he asked me to join the Chicago Law faculty on a part-time basis in the early 1950s, I had regarded Edward Levi as both friend and hero. The intervening years have only enhanced my profound regard for him. Those of us who consider ourselves part of the University community are well aware of the enormous contributions that this extraordinarily gifted man made to that great institution.”

    Levi’s scholarly interests included jurisprudence, constitutional law, bankruptcy and reorganization, federal procedure, antitrust, law and economics and legal education. His classic work, An Introduction to Legal Reasoning (1949), argued that legal institutions develop a logic of their own, which is accessible and consistent but capable of adapting to changing conditions and convictions in society. Levi often spoke on higher education and many of his speeches were collected in Point of View: Talks on Education.

    The University was both his academic home and his model of a great university, as is reflected in a 1965 speech to the University’s Board of Trustees.

    “Almost the entire education process is here represented. Our facilities range far and wide. We are, to a considerable extent, the complete university. We have not been afraid to take on projects, which remade the world. Yet we are of small size. The dialogue among us is real. We can know what we are doing, and we can talk to each other. The greatest dangers to us are in our prior successes . . . the insidious and reasonable thought that mediocrity also has its uses.”

    In addition to his lifelong contributions to the University, Levi was a prominent public leader. He was an early and effective advocate for civilian control of atomic energy. In 1945, he acted as counsel for the Federation of Atomic Scientists on the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which created the Atomic Energy Commission. In 1950, he became counsel to the Subcommittee on Monopoly Power of the United States House Judiciary Committee, and he conducted its hearings on the steel and newsprint industries.

    He was a member of the White House Central Group on Domestic Affairs (1964), the White House Task Force on Education (1966 to 1967), and the President’s Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education (1969 to 1970).

    Levi was a University Trustee and a founding trustee of the MacArthur Foundation. He was also a trustee of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, the Institute of International Education, the Institute for Psychoanalysis, the International Legal Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Urban Institute and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. He also was chairman and a member of the Council on Legal Education for Professional Responsibility.

    In 1986, Levi was elected president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was named the 1970 Chicagoan of the Year in Education by the Chicago Junior Association of Commerce and Industry and received the 1970 Distinguished Service Medal from the Phi Beta Kappa Association of Chicago. He also was decorated by the French government with the Legion of Honor.

    Levi was a vice president of the American Philosophical Society. He also was a member of the Council of the American Law Institute and the Social Science Research Council. He was a Chubb Fellow at Yale University and a fellow of the American Bar Association.

    Levi received honorary L.H.D. degrees from Bard College, Beloit College, De Paul University, Hebrew Union College, Kenyon College, Loyola University and the University of Chicago. He received honorary L.L.D. degrees from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Boston College, Brandeis University, Columbia University School of Law, Denison University, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Lake Forest College, Notre Dame University, the University of California at Santa Cruz, the University of Iowa, the University of Miami, the University of Michigan, the University of Nebraska Law School, the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, the University of Rochester, the University of Toronto, Yale University and Yeshiva University. He received a Certificate of Honor from the University of California at Berkeley.

    Justice Stevens said, “He was truly an eminent Chicagoan and a national treasure.”

    Levi is survived by his wife, Kate Sulzberger Hecht, whom he married in 1946; three sons: John, a partner in the Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin; David, a U.S. District Judge in Sacramento, Calif.; and Michael, a high-energy physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and seven grandchildren. He is the brother of Harry J. Levi, a Chicago Law School graduate and now a retired Chicago real-estate attorney, and the late Julian Levi, who was the architect of urban renewal in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood and a former University Professor.