Robert J. Zimmer
(Photography by Jason Smith)
Robert J. Zimmer | 1947–2023

The 13th president exemplified leadership and forged a stronger University of Chicago.

OfficeThe inaugural president of the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, was a singular leader. In forming a university founded upon the dual principles of rigorous inquiry and open discourse, he sought to create a distinctive institution of higher learning. To this day, the culture that emerged from his fundamental vision suffuses all aspects of University life and continues to underpin every great effort and success of the University.

While the University has undergone many periods of transformation, each president since Harper has taken up the vital work of stewarding that culture, giving it new life and meaning for the successive generations that have followed.

From the earliest days of Robert J. Zimmer’s presidency, he identified a number of critical areas where the University could leverage its considerable strengths and thus elevate the institution’s eminence—and he worked tirelessly toward realizing success.

Thanks to his efforts, the University saw remarkable growth in the College, which included a deepening of the quality of its offerings and an expansion of its accessibility; the establishment of the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering; and the strengthening of ties with the South Side and the world beyond—among many other important achievements that have honored and built upon our founding mandate.

Through his lasting contributions to the University, he shaped its intellectual life for the better. Like Harper, his vision was animated by his unwavering dedication to advancing free expression and inquiry, and he was widely recognized for his ardent championship of both. As an exemplar, he leaves indelible marks on not only the University but also the greater higher education landscape.

Throughout his time at the helm, Zimmer exemplified the notion that a university should never rest on its laurels, and that it should dedicate itself toward constantly pushing boundaries and embracing change for the betterment of the institution. The University was deeply fortunate to benefit from his leadership, and his legacy will resonate for generations to come.

To read more about Robert J. Zimmer and his presidency, visit