The Power of Ideas

Message from the President

Over the past year—my first as president of the University of Chicago—I have been engaged in conversations with faculty, deans, trustees, students, staff, alumni, and others about the future of the University. As we look ahead to how the University will define its agenda in the coming decades, several themes consistently have emerged. In this report you will find some early examples of how we are acting to realize our aspirations and how we are continuing to work to set the direction for the University.

The University’s culture of rigorous, unrelenting inquiry, in which bold ideas are constantly proposed and tested, creates an intellectual environment that is exciting and enriching for students and faculty alike. This distinctive culture empowers our faculty and alumni to challenge conventional wisdom, define new disciplines, and make creative contributions to almost every domain of human endeavor.

Support for Faculty and Students

Our ability to sustain this culture requires us to seek the most original, agenda-setting faculty and students who have the capacity to most benefit from and contribute to our distinctive academic environment. To that end, we have focused our attention on support for faculty and students, and two new programs launched this past year merit particular mention.

The Odyssey Scholarship Program, initially funded by a $100-million gift from an anonymous alumnus of the College, will enable the most talented undergraduate students, no matter their economic circumstances, to participate more fully in the uniquely rigorous and powerful education provided in the College. We have been challenged to raise an additional $200 million to fully endow the program, which goes into effect in fall 2008. Because of the importance of continuing to enhance our financial aid programs, we have committed further to raise $100 million, bringing our fund-raising commitment for undergraduate financial aid to $400 million.

The University also committed an additional $50 million over six years to ensure that incoming doctoral students in the humanities and social sciences will be among the most generously supported in all of higher education. The Graduate Aid Initiative will allow us to continue to attract emerging scholars who have the potential to shape their academic fields.

Evolution of Academic Programs

Of course, the University is more than simply a collection of very talented individuals. We must foster our research and educational environment to allow us to lead and to respond to paradigm shifts in a wide range of academic fields and to capitalize on and enhance our culture of porous disciplinary boundaries.

An area that exemplifies swiftly changing academic boundaries is computation and applied mathematics. The University is making significant new investments in these fields, enhancing the growing capacity of the University’s Computation Institute. These investments position us to play a leadership role in the reconceptualization of questions and modes of analysis in several fields due to the technological advances in the capacity to manage massive data sets and immense amounts of information. Complex structural problems ranging from climate change and energy policy, to human disease and its relation to the human genome, to economic and sociopolitical interactions are examples of areas that we expect to advance.

The construction of the Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts, to be completed in 2011, is a major event in the evolution of our arts programs. By bringing multiple forms of artistic expression and inquiry together under one roof, it will foster connections of critical thought with performance and production in our curriculum and research, and allow us to pioneer new ideas and art forms.

Engagement Beyond the Campus

Our ongoing dialogue also has raised possibilities for further engagement beyond the University’s Chicago campus. We have a long history of pioneering work in Chicago, particularly in the South Side communities, and we expect our work in social service, education, the arts, and health care to deepen and grow. We also are exploring how to increase our presence and visibility across the globe, building on the strengths of our Graduate School of Business programs in Europe and Asia and the distinctive foreign study programs of the College.

Attaining these successes and our many additional priorities requires the generous assistance of our many supporters. The University’s alumni and friends met the challenge in fiscal year 2007, making more than $346 million in gifts to the University, by far our largest fund-raising total ever. Our fund-raising will continue through the end of the Chicago Initiative campaign in June 2008 and beyond in order to realize our aspirations as stewards of this great University.

It has been an exciting year at Chicago, but it is also clear that there is much more that we will have to do to support our faculty and students at the highest level, to continue leveraging the opportunities of evolving disciplines, and to engage our communities, both locally and around the world.

Robert J. Zimmer, President