Where we stand
President Zimmer outlines a University agenda of continuity and change.
Alumni, parents, and friends gathered in eight cities this spring for conversations with President Robert J. Zimmer about how Chicago’s founding impetus—William Rainey Harper’s vision of a great university whose work would benefit its city and the world—will inform the University’s agenda for the next decade and beyond. Reporting on the University’s strategic initiatives—the outgrowth of a planning and priority-setting process that began soon after he was named president in 2006—Zimmer often began with the University’s “resonant” history, talking about what hasn’t changed since the 1890s. Chicago’s “enduring emphasis on rigorous inquiry” has made the University, through the contributions of its faculty and alumni, “an important institution to the world.” Speaking to a Chicago-area audience on April 4, Zimmer then asked and answered the question, why change? Evolutions in academic fields, the nature of world problems, and student needs all prompt institutions to change, he said.So does the need to avoid the dangers of complacency: “Awareness about what it is you’re doing well and what it is where you might need to make some major improvements is also a reason that universities need to change.” In each city Zimmer focused on recent “major departures” that illustrate “the nature of change and why it is so important to what we do,” creating new knowledge with the potential for real-world impact. In Chicago, he described the Institute for Molecular Engineering, spurred by blurring boundaries between science and engineering; College efforts—such as the Chicago Careers program—to offer more ways to connect what students learn in the classroom to their future; and partnerships, like the Urban Education Institute, that stem from the question, “How does a great research institution, located in a great city, best interact with that city?” Besides Chicago, the series took the president to Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.