Oct. 28, 1993
Vol. 13, No. 5

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    Sonnenschein inaugurated as University's 11th president

    Hugo F. Sonnenschein was inaugurated as the University's 11th president in a special convocation on Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

    The ceremony was attended by more than 1,400 invited guests from learned societies and universities, including the presidents of most of the nation's other leading research universities.

    The inauguration marked the formal installation of Sonnenschein as the University's chief executive. He assumed the presidency on July 1, when Hanna H. Gray retired after 15 years as president.

    The ceremony began with an invocation by the Rev. Bernard Brown, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel, followed by opening remarks by J. Paul Hunter, the Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities. Hunter chaired the advisory committee of 10 faculty members that worked closely with a search committee of 10 University trustees in making a unanimous decision to elect Sonnenschein president.

    "One of the reasons Hugo Sonnenschein impressed so much those involved with the search was that he was so thoughtful, and unflappable, about what lay ahead," said Hunter. "He does not pretend to be a seer or a prophet, but he can spot challenges miles away and he faces them with intelligence, boldness and confidence. We felt as if his leadership qualities kept saying, 'We will meet the future, and it is us.' "

    Howard Krane, Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the University, designated Sonnenschein as president on behalf of the trustees. "The induction of a president of the University of Chicago is not a complicated event," Krane said. "There is no elaborate ceremony, there are no oaths of office. Rather, we gather at a convocation that reaffirms our history and enables us to rejoice and celebrate as we move forward with a new leader."

    Noting that "the most important thing that trustees of a university are asked to do is hire a president," Krane said that the search committee's goal was "to find a leader who would continue our tradition of strong leadership, who would understand our university and who would guide it wisely in its continued pursuit of its mission. We are confident that we have found that leader."

    Krane concluded that Sonnenschein's "commitment to excellence, to quality, to teaching and to research is at one with the University's; his goals are to guide the University in a way to help make it even better than it is today; he is devoted to all that defines and distinguishes this university."

    In beginning his inaugural address, Sonnenschein said, "I understand my responsibilities in caring for this extraordinary institution, and I pledge to you that I will nurture those qualities and values that make Chicago special."

    Sonnenschein said that at Chicago "we are committed above all to ideas -- to their discovery and expression, to testing their power." But this commitment, he added, is "only part of the essence of this university. What also truly defines us is our belief in the importance of intellectual community and in what we can achieve as a community of scholars."

    A community of scholars, he said, offers the support of colleagues, "scholarship across disciplines and the unexpected insights that can occur when different disciplines share a common intellectual space," and the "incredibly invigorating" way that sharing ideas and criticism enriches scholarship.

    "All of this makes the University a bubbling -- sometimes seething -- cauldron of intellectual stew," Sonnenschein said. "But ideas have a way of coming together at this temperature, and ideas that can withstand this communal scrutiny have more staying power than ideas we propound only to ourselves."

    Praising the "legacy of the outstanding leadership" of Edward Levi and Gray, Sonnenschein said, "I have spoken at such length about Chicago's values -- our commitment to ideas and to a community of scholars -- because I believe so strongly that they are among our most precious assets. They are also the trail markers that we need to follow as we make our way through the intellectual, economic and social thickets that lie before us."

    The challenges for the future, Sonnenschein said, include maintaining academic excellence in the face of rising costs; employing technology to enhance scholarship and research; creating an environment of trust among a diverse student body, faculty and staff; avoiding being suffocated by "political correctness"; and maintaining the value of scholarship.

    "As we face all these opportunities and challenges then, the basic values that have built and sustained this remarkable institution -- the primacy of ideas and intellectual community -- will remain our best guide," Sonnenschein concluded. "Let us come together with our characteristic intensity. Let us come together bravely, willing to question and challenge all that we do. May the work accomplished here significantly push forward the boundaries of knowledge. May it add to the record of outstanding scholarship and learning at the University of Chicago."

    After his address, Sonnenschein awarded honorary degrees to eight scholars from around the world. Degrees were presented to Ihsan Abbas, professor emeritus at the American University of Beirut; Francis Allen, professor of law and the Hubert C. Hurst Eminent Scholar at the University of Florida; Yves Coppens, who holds the Chaire de Paleoanthropologie et Prehistoire at the College de France; Richard Holm, the Higgins Professor of Chemistry at Harvard; Leonid Hurwicz, the Regents' Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Minnesota; Bruno Nettl, professor of music and anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; I.M. Singer, Institute Professor at MIT; and Romila Thapar, professor of ancient Indian history at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

    The ceremony ended with the performance of the alma mater by the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel Choir, under the direction of Bruce Tammen.

    President Sonnenschein then led the academic procession up University Avenue and through the quadrangles.

    A luncheon in Hutchinson Commons that followed the procession included remarks by honorary degree recipient Leonid Hurwicz and by William Bowen, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and former president of Princeton.

    Bowen said, "Having recruited Hugo Sonnenschein to join the Princeton faculty in 1976, having followed his career closely since then, having even warned him of the perils of academic administration, and having seen how he thinks, what matters to him, and how he cares for academic institutions and the people who inhabit them, I want to say again that Howard Krane and the other members of the Chicago search committee deserve all the plaudits that can be heaped upon them."

    After the luncheon, five symposia led by University faculty members were held on campus. In the evening, an all-University party and fireworks display concluded the festivities.

    Inauguration activities began on Tuesday evening, Oct. 19, at a black-tie reception and dinner at the Chicago Hilton and Towers given by the University trustees for the University's donors and friends in honor of Sonnenschein. The dinner was attended by more than 1,500 invited guests, including numerous Chicago civic and business leaders. Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, one of the most respected literary figures of his time and a friend of Sonnenschein's, read a poem, "There Are No Years," dedicated to Sonnenschein.

    The Rev. Arthur Brazier of the Apostolic Church of God, one of the evening's speakers, voiced his support for the selection of Sonnenschein as president. Brazier, who is a leader in community-based redevelopment efforts in Woodlawn and North Kenwood/Oakland, said he looked forward to an era of continuing and strengthened interaction between the University and the surrounding community.

    Sonnenschein, in his comments, said that Brazier had spoken to him about "a partnership that's being forged among community residents, business leaders and the city government to resurrect neighborhoods without displacing people. My university is proud to be a part of this effort," Sonnenschein said.

    "The founding of our university was made possible by a partnership with the people of Chicago . . . The University and the city have helped each other thrive," Sonnenschein said. "Neither will remain great if the other fails to prosper."

    Inauguration activities closed with a community reception on Monday, Oct. 25, at the president's home that was attended by community business and civic leaders and members of the University community.