Zimmer elected 13th President of University
The University’s Board of Trustees had voted unanimously last Friday morning, March 10, to elect Robert Zimmer the 13th President of the University, and within an hour, he already was expressing admiration for the institution that had influenced his values of education and that he now would lead.
“Having spent 25 years here, the values of this University have stayed with me and have informed everything that I have done,” Zimmer said at a press conference following the board meeting. “I went to Brown with a belief in scholarly education. I return to Chicago to an environment that I feel very comfortable in. This is a University whose values I share very profoundly.”
After greeting members of the board, faculty, student body, staff and local reporters, Zimmer received a warm welcome back to campus, as he met with members of the University community throughout the day and evening.
On Friday, June 30, President Randel will end his five-year tenure at the University to lead -the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Zimmer, who has been serving as provost of Brown University since 2002, will step up to the challenge of leading Chicago forward.
James Crown, Chairman of Board of Trustees, noted the qualities he and the other committee members were looking for in the presidential search. “The search committee was seeking an accomplished scholar with proven managerial skills. At the same time, we were looking for a leader who could understand and appreciate the unique role that the University of Chicago plays among the great research institutions of the world. In Bob Zimmer, we found someone who excels on all fronts. We are thrilled to welcome him back to campus,” said Crown.
“The University of Chicago has always been distinctive because of its singular commitment to inquiry on important scientific, cultural and societal issues, and a belief that education in that context prepares students to make extraordinary contributions in whatever path they pursue,” said Zimmer. “I am honored to have this opportunity to work with the entire University community—trustees, faculty, students, administrators, alumni, and friends —to advance the University in the framework of its enduring values, and to enhance the partnerships that enable the University to contribute in important ways to the communities in which we live.”
Zimmer was the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics at Chicago before joining Brown, where he has been the Ford Foundation professor of mathematics in addition to being provost.
As provost of Brown University, Zimmer is the chief academic officer and the institution’s leading officer after the president. While there, he has helped Brown to increase its investments and stature in faculty distinction and academic programs across the full scope of the university. He has played a key role in strengthening Brown’s research programs, recruiting outstanding faculty, and enhancing its graduate school and medical school. He also led an effort to substantially enhance Brown’s network of academic affiliations with such institutions as the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass.; the Rhode Island School of Design; the Trinity Repertory Theater Company; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the hospitals affiliated with the Brown Medical School.
After his appointment at Brown, Zimmer talked about the importance of developing “ambitious multidisciplinary academic programs” and said, “The ultimate test for any academic administrator is being able to bring the values of excellence in research and education to the fore in every single decision that is made on campus. That is something I’ve always tried to do and certainly intend to keep doing.”
Randel said, “In Bob Zimmer the University is fortunate to have someone who knows the culture and institution well and who also represents wonderfully its highest academic standards. Given in addition his extensive administrative experience both here and at Brown University, he is admirably equipped to lead this great university forward.”
Robert Pippin, the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in Social Thought and the College, who chaired the faculty advisory committee to the search committee, commented on the search process: “All of us on the search committee came to appreciate what an important and exciting period lies ahead for the University of Chicago. We know that we shall require an extraordinary level of leadership, wisdom and experience in a president, and we are all thrilled to have found such a person in Bob Zimmer. His long familiarity with the University and his impressive record of achievement here and at Brown bode very well for our future, and we are very grateful indeed that he has agreed to take on this challenge.”
In addition to his teaching and research work in the mathematical fields of geometry, group theory and analysis, Zimmer served in many administrative capacities at Chicago before accepting his appointment at Brown. These included Chairman of the Mathematics Department, Deputy Provost, and finally, Vice President for Research and for Argonne National Laboratory, to which he was appointed in January 2001.
In that capacity, Zimmer helped begin a reinvigoration of the University’s stewardship of Argonne. He helped to usher in an era of greater collaboration between University and Argonne scientists. The University has operated Argonne for the U.S. Department of Energy since the laboratory’s inception in 1946.
A specialist in geometry, particularly ergodic theory, Lie groups and differential geometry, Zimmer is the author of two books, Ergodic Theory and Semisimple Groups (1984) and Essential Results of Functional Analysis (1990), and more than 80 mathematical research articles. The recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation fellowship, he also served on the Board of Mathematical Sciences of the National Research Council from 1992 to 1995, and was on the executive committee from 1993 to 1995.
He earned his A.B., summa cum laude, from Brandeis University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1975 from Harvard University. He joined the Chicago faculty as an L.E. Dickson Instructor of Mathematics in 1977. He also served on the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1975 to 1977, and at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1981 to 1983. He also has held visiting positions at Harvard University and at institutions in Israel, France, Australia, Switzerland, and Italy.
Zimmer will return to Chicago with his wife Terese Zimmer, and their youngest son Alex. They have two other sons, David and Benjamin, who live in Cambridge, Mass.