April 3, 2008
Vol. 27 No. 13

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    President outlines set of strategic initiatives in letter to community

    A set of strategic challenges and opportunities facing the University was addressed in a Friday, March 21 letter from President Zimmer to the University community. He noted that he began this process by posing a set of questions to faculty and staff, deans, students and trustees about what goals the University should meet now and work toward in the coming years.

    In his letter, Zimmer highlighted initiatives that have been launched and provided a glimpse of others in the early stages of discussion and planning. He also invited University community members to become active participants in this ongoing discussion.

    The University’s culture of “rigorous open inquiry and unrelenting analysis and questioning” and the faculty and students who benefit from and contribute to Chicago’s academic environment are at the core of each major step the institution takes toward the future, he noted.

    He pointed out that for the University to achieve its goals, it must be prepared to invest significantly in its programs, faculty, students and staff. At its March meeting in London, the University Board of Trustees endorsed the concept of strategic investments in University programs, as well as a financial framework to make this new level of investment possible.

    “I am grateful to the members of the board for their confidence in the University and their willingness to support your work at the highest levels,” wrote Zimmer.

    A number of initiatives at various stages of proposal, discussion or planning have emerged from faculty deliberations over the last several months.

    In the realm of Chicago science, many of the proposals share a common feature that can be characterized as “complex” or “systems level” science. For example, the University is exploring a major new initiative in molecular engineering that would allow for investigation and educational programs at this science-engineering interface. This initiative, recommended by a faculty committee, could take advantage of shifting paradigms in engineering and could take shape as a 25-faculty-member program or institute, covering three to four subfields.

    The University will address a long-standing facility need in the physical sciences with the construction of a new building to house Astronomy & Astrophysics and Computer Science, the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics, the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Computation Institute. Architect selection is currently under way for this project, which calls for developing a complex that would include a new facility, renovation of existing Research Institute space and the demolition of outdated facilities.

     The Medical Center’s key strategy for scientific growth and success lies in the biomedical sciences’ interdisciplinary fields, where their strengths and potential for excellence are evident. Among the fields targeted for growth are evolutionary biology, cancer biology, immunology, gastrointestinal disease, and imaging technology and applications.

     The Medical Center is developing a new capital plan to meet the need for modern facilities and technology. Its next key project under active planning and discussion is a new hospital.

    Among the University’s distinguished programs in the social sciences, humanities and professional schools, Zimmer posed two key questions. “First, are we adequately articulating and supporting a level of programmatic ambition to ensure that we continue to play a leadership role in utilizing rigorous fundamental research to illuminate the most important issues of our times? And second, are we providing the infrastructure and support to enable work both within and across schools and disciplines, the combination of which has been an important comparative advantage for us?”

    A number of proposals address these questions, including the creation of an institute that builds on the University’s leadership position and influence in economics research and on the valuable tradition of close collaboration of faculty in Economics, the Graduate School of Business and the Law School.

    Faculty from the Committee on Education and leaders of the Center for Urban School Improvement have proposed the development of the Urban Education Institute to provide a highly coordinated structure to support their efforts to understand and improve K-12 education.

    The Division of the Humanities is considering how to build upon the successes of the Franke Institute for the Humanities, while faculty members in the Divinity School and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations have proposed an expansion of the educational programs in Islamic Studies. Faculty in the GSB and the Computation Institute are developing a proposal for a center on energy policy and analysis.

    There are a number of facility and research infrastructure projects that also are in the planning stages, such as a major new library adjacent to Joseph Regenstein Library, a new building for the Harris School of Public Policy Studies and a research pavilion for the School of Social Service Administration.

    The University has taken steps to enhance its international activities in recent years, and the success of the Singapore, London and Paris centers have generated active discussions about whether the University should provide physical infrastructure or other means of support to enhance research, teaching and education in locations such as India, China and Latin America, Zimmer wrote.  

    Two efforts that clarify and amplify the important role of the arts in the University’s curriculum, scholarly profile and cultural life include The Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts and the appointment of a Deputy Provost for the Arts.

    Zimmer also noted other challenges that will require focus in the coming years, such as the size of the faculty, the need for additional undergraduate student housing and an assessment of housing for graduate students.

    “We need to continue investing in graduate students and graduate education across the University,” wrote Zimmer. “We must also assess more systematically the services and programs meant to facilitate graduate students’ progress.”

    He noted the University’s efforts to recruit and retain more women faculty by introducing a targeted postdoctoral program for scholars from underrepresented groups, summer research programs for underrepresented students to widen the faculty pipeline, and grant funding to support the recruitment and development of interdisciplinary women scientists.

    As the University moves forward in its efforts to build a more diverse faculty, it also continues to recruit diverse undergraduate classes and graduate cohorts through competitive financial aid packages, including the launch of the Odyssey Scholarship Program. And last month’s opening of a new student multicultural center at 5710 S. Woodlawn Ave. provides a more highly coordinated set of student resources.

    While assessing strategic opportunities in the academy, the University also must evaluate how best to direct resources to engage with, contribute to and raise its visibility with its external communities, locally and nationally, he wrote. “Education and health care are two areas where we have the expertise and capacity to dramatically improve the quality of life in our local community and do so in a way that comports with and enhances our fundamental missions of research and education,” he wrote. 

    “This is an important moment for the University, with the decisions we take now reverberating in the decades ahead. I welcome your thoughts (president@uchicago.edu) on the initiatives highlighted in this letter and on other opportunities and challenges facing the University,” Zimmer concluded.

    To read the full text of the President’s letter on University initiatives, please visit http://president.uchicago.edu/reports/letter_032108.shtml.