November 10, 2008
Vol. 28 No. 4

current issue
archive / search
Chronicle RSS Feed

    A historic victory: Obama win generates more buzz on campus

    Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

    The playful cheers of “Obama!” and music pumping across the quads have since faded, but the University and Hyde Park communities remain abuzz about Tuesday’s historic election of Barack Obama as president.

    Ties run deep to the former Senior Lecturer in the Law School and his family, who live in the Kenwood neighborhood. Michelle Obama, a vice president of the Medical Center, is the former head of the University Community Service Center, while Obama’s daughters are Lab School students.

    “We are proud that a family with close ties to the University will occupy the White House,” said President Zimmer. “The Obamas have made lasting contributions to the University and to Chicago’s South Side, and we are eager to offer our assistance as the President-elect begins to craft his policy agenda.”

    The prospect of a fast-moving transition from election to administration has many thinking about new links that might be forged between the University and the President-elect.

    Valerie Jarrett, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 2001 and Vice-Chair of the Medical Center Board since 2002, has been named one of three co-chairs to Obama’s transition team.

    Other members of the University faculty also served as advisers during Obama’s presidential campaign.

    Photo by Dan Dry

    President-elect Barack Obama waves to the thousands gathered in Chicagoís Grant Park on the night of his presidential election victory rally.

    Many faculty members had a stake in the election, and some found themselves besieged in recent months and days by reporters who were looking for first-hand recollections of the President-elect.

    “What I remember most about him is that he was an excellent listener,” said Douglas Baird, the Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law, and the Dean who recruited Obama to the Law School. “It’s nice to have someone in the White House who is going to listen and think critically.”

    “It’s very exciting to have somebody from the University of Chicago, from the University of Chicago Law School, become president of the United States,” said Dennis J. Hutchinson, Senior Lecturer in Law and the William Rainey Harper Professor in the College. “We talk so much about public policy issues, about how law can affect real people and real life. And to have someone who has been here for years, arguing with us, teaching with us, now having the responsibility to make something happen—it’s quite remarkable.”

    On Tuesday night, hundreds of people filled Hutchinson Commons to watch Obama speak his first words as President-elect. Holding onto one another—wrapping their arms around a moment that belonged to America, Chicago, and the University—students, faculty and staff, some with faces glistening with emotion, pressed forward.


    On a giant screen, they saw the flag-waving crowds that surrounded the Obamas in Grant Park, several miles to the north—a throng liberally salted with members of the University of Chicago community who had managed to secure tickets, some through long service to the Obama campaign.

    Gil Jordan of the Reynolds Club staff said, “I have never seen such enthusiasm and energy on campus in the 20 years I’ve worked here.”

    The mood carried to the Regenstein Library, where John Mark Hansen, Dean of the Social Sciences and Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor in Political Science, led students in a discussion of the election results; to a party of avid watchers at the Law School; and to countless dorm rooms and student lounges around campus.

    Mostly it was jubilance. But there was also a gravity, a sense of all that had led to this moment. James McKinney, a second-year in the College and an African American, said, “I just talked with family in Mississippi, and I hope my month-old niece there will grow up in a world where this kind of thing will not be such a monumental event.”

    Like many, Tian Tian Cai, a third-year student in the College, worked hard on the Obama campaign, even though she is from China and cannot vote. “I hope Missouri [still undecided at that point] goes for Obama because I called many people there, asking them to vote for change,” she said.

    Students multi-tasked their way through the evening. Many kept one eye on a television screen while flipping through Web sites that covered the election. A favorite was fivethirtyeight.com, the product of alumnus Nate Silver, which aggregates polls and surveys using techniques developed for analyzing baseball statistics.

    Photo by Dan Dry

    Alison Zarnke (directly above) votes at Shoreland Hall. Friends and fellow students gathered to watch the election results on Tuesday, Nov. 4, in different locations throughout the Reynolds Club, including Hutchinson Commons. Tears of joy and enthusiastic cries filled the room as the voting results rolled in via large-screen televisions tuned into CNN.
    Photo by Lloyd DeGrane

    “I’ve been addicted for quite a while,” said Jeremy Brightbill, a first-year Ph.D student in the Classics, “and took great comfort in knowing that before the polls opened, they gave Barack a 98.9 percent chance of winning.”

    Lucia Pattuloo, a second-year in the College, was quadra-tasking: watching a television, checking The New York Times Web site, eating a Greek salad, and working on chemistry homework. “I had a paper due at midnight in neuroscience, but, fortunately the professor extended the deadline because of the election,” she said.

    Even those who watched their electoral hopes plummet Tuesday seemed ready to look forward. Joseph “Tex” Dozier, a third-year in the College and director of campus operations for College Republicans, said, “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine. I’ll be upset tonight, but I’ll be over my grieving by morning.”

    And with a note of gracious acceptance that Sen. John McCain would echo a few minutes later, Dozier acknowledged that he, too, would have a job to do on Wednesday: “I respect the people’s vote. I promised [my roommate] I’d put up an Obama poster if he won.”

    The University community and alumni are encouraged to contribute their reflections and election photos and read election-related news at http://www.uchicago.edu/features/20081105_election.shtml.