June 10, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 18

current issue
archive / search

    [president hugo sonnenschein] by lloyd degrane
    President Sonnenschein, who has served since 1993 as the University’s 11th Chief Executive, has announced he will serve a seventh and final year, completing his service on June 30, 2000. In the tradition of several past University presidents, he will then return to teaching and research, in the University’s Department of Economics.

    Sonnenschein will serve seventh and final year

    President Sonnenschein, who has served since 1993 as the University’s 11th Chief Executive, has announced he will serve a seventh and final year, completing his service on June 30, 2000. In the tradition of several past University presidents, he will then return to teaching and research, in the University’s Department of Economics.

    He has asked the University’s Board of Trustees to assemble the search committee that will choose his successor. That committee will be appointed by Chairman of the Board of Trustees Edgar Jannotta, who at the June 4 annual Trustees meeting was elected to succeed Howard Krane, who has served since 1992. The Trustees will work with a faculty committee specially elected by the Council of the Senate out of a pool of nominations sent to the Council. Faculty members are encouraged to submit nominations to any member of the Council.

    Krane called Sonnenschein “a dedicated and innovative leader. It has been a privilege to work with him, and we look forward to continuing this work during the coming year and to seeing the benefit of his initiatives for many decades to come.”

    Sonnenschein initiated substantial enhancements of the University’s financial health, its facilities and its public profile, especially among prospective students. He established and launched a plan to gradually increase the size of the undergraduate College at the same time the faculty revised its curriculum, and he instituted the first campus master-planning process in 30 years.

    “The University of Chicago is a precious asset, and it has been a distinct privilege for me to lead it over the past six years,” Sonnenschein said. “Early in my presidency, I determined that the time was right to renew––dramatically––our capacity to support excellence, now and in the very long term. I have made this the focus of my presidency. By the end of next year, the key initiatives will be well underway and the time will be right for new leadership to usher in a new era.”

    Krane said Sonnenschein “initiated many changes to strengthen the University both academically and financially, and we deeply appreciate his commitment and his leadership.” Krane added that the Board “continues to support unequivocally President Sonnenschein’s initiatives to increase the size of the College over a 10-year period while preserving the quality of undergraduate education and the excellence of our students.”

    Sonnenschein became President of the University on July 1, 1993, after having served as provost of Princeton University and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. An economist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Sonnenschein was described at his inauguration by J. Paul Hunter, the faculty chair of the search committee:

    “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,” Hunter said. “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.”

    Those characteristics were in evidence as Sonnenschein raised sharply the expectations for fundraising from the University’s alumni and friends; substantially reinforced the recruitment of the nation’s best students; developed a strategic plan to continue the expansion of the undergraduate College begun under previous presidents; and devoted substantially greater resources to the construction of new facilities and to improving the quality of campus life.

    In the third year of Sonnenschein’s presidency, the University completed its five-year “Campaign for the Next Century,” raising $676 million dollars––the most in the University’s history––to support student aid, research and facilities.

    Over the last five years, the University’s fundraising has increased at nearly twice the rate at other elite universities, bringing the University’s endowment growth for the first time in decades to parity with that of its competitors. During Sonnenschein’s tenure, the University’s endowment has increased in real terms by 79 percent.

    At the time of the campaign’s completion in 1996, Sonnenschein said, “Our alumni and friends have brought us to a new era in which they insist that Chicago have the resources to do the very best, most important and most necessary work. The remarkable growth in their support is what is needed to maintain a university of such exceptional quality. It is also a foundation on which we intend to build still greater achievements in teaching and discovery.”

    Among those achievements are the continuing excellence of the faculty, as evidenced by recent recruiting of new faculty in the Law School and the Mathematics Department that has been called among the best of the decade at any university, and a continuing string of awards over the last four years, including two Nobel prizes, a Pulitzer Prize and the National Medal of Science.

    “As a faculty member privileged to work with Hugo Sonnenschein for the past six years, I think that every member of the University of Chicago is in his debt for the lasting structural contributions he has made to the well-being of the University,” said Richard Epstein, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in the Law School. “Sonnenschein has always respected the traditions of intellectual excellence and independence that have long marked the University. And he sought to create a durable infrastructure to match its strong internal culture. The articulation of a coherent Master Plan should enable the University to proceed with an orderly development of much-needed new facilities indispensable for preserving its preeminence in research and teaching, as well as improving the conditions of student and faculty life on campus,” Epstein said.

    Chicago’s students also continue to be recognized as among the very best in the nation; College students won three Rhodes scholarships this year alone. At the graduate level, a recent study of Ph.D. recipients in the social sciences and humanities appointed to full-time, junior-level faculty appointments at universities around the country placed Chicago students first in the nation in 14 of 21 fields studied and second in six of the seven remaining fields. While maintaining the strength of the University’s renowned graduate programs, Sonnenschein initiated a program to substantially improve the attractiveness of the undergraduate College to the most intellectually serious students.

    “President Sonnenschein understood that a special type of intellectually passionate student is attracted to the University, but that too many such students choose other undergraduate schools,” said Lorna Strauss, Professor in the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division.

    “Through his promotion of efforts to reach out to more of the most thoughtful students and encourage them to select the College of the University, he has made an important and lasting contribution,” she said. “And through the improvements in facilities and the neighborhood, he has made a lasting contribution both to the work we can do and to the quality of life in our community.” The work done to improve facilities and programs and to better tell “Chicago’s story” to prospective students began to pay off this spring with acceptance of an incoming class even more selective than its predecessors.

    “His presidency will have a lasting, and in my judgment, very positive impact on the future history of the University,” said John Boyer, Dean of the College. “Above all else, he kept the long-term welfare of the University as a whole in mind in thinking about the possible futures of each of its constituent parts.”

    Many of the facilities improvements initiated by Sonnenschein fall under the aegis of the Campus Master Plan, only the fourth in the University’s 108-year history. That plan will guide the construction of the new Gerald Ratner Athletics Center––the first new athletic facility in more than 50 years. It will add a brand new campus for the Graduate School of Business and increased capacity for the University’s library. It is bringing improved facilities for the Research Institutes and an entirely new Institute for Biophysical Dynamics to study scientific problems at the boundary between the biological and physical sciences. Two new undergraduate dormitories will be built beginning in the next year, and new facilities for the University Press and the arts are also being designed.

    “It’s vital that we value and build upon the important accomplishments of Hugo’s tenure,” said Richard Saller, Dean of the Division of Social Sciences. “These include provision of outstanding laboratory facilities, library space and acquisitions, and amenities for campus life. These require substantial resources of the kind that Hugo made it his mission to provide, and very successfully.”

    Other facilities improvements include the 1997 designation of the University campus as an official botanic garden, a renovation of the Reynolds Club to create a student center, greatly improved career counseling services and greater resources for the campus’s many student organizations. In the next year, a permanent ice skating rink will be installed on the Midway Plaisance that bisects the campus.

    Curricular developments include the faculty revision of the curriculum, which provides substantially greater opportunities for learning foreign languages and studying abroad.

    This spring, Sonnenschein dedicated The Richard and Barbara Franke Institute for the Humanities, which brings together the best current ideas on humanities topics for examination and dissemination to a broader audience. Later this year, the University and Argonne National Laboratory will establish a Computation Institute to connect developments in advanced computation with those in the biological, physical and social sciences as well as in the humanities and the arts.