January 23, 2007

Zimmer projects major reforms at faculty meeting

University President Robert Zimmer held a town hall meeting for faculty and staff last Wednesday to discuss University planning and strategic opportunities.

During the meeting, aimed at informing the University community on planned administrative initiatives, Zimmer outlined 11 key areas he said the University could best improve upon. These areas ranged from graduate school education to potential funding sources.

Throughout the discussion, Zimmer emphasized that the University must consider substantial administrative changes in order to compete with peer institutions. Each of his major talking points included possible methods of attaining academic and administrative programs that top those of peer institutions such as Harvard and Yale.

Zimmer defended his approach to reform as beneficial. “Competition with other top schools undoubtedly benefits any university,” he said. “It helps attract top students and national attention.”

In his improvement strategy, Zimmer mentioned serious concerns about academic programs and student life in the College.

“The U of C certainly has a unique academic program, but the life of a student in the College is not so excellent,” he said.

He reinforced his earlier decision to implement the Common Application, citing the potential for greater diversity and higher applicant numbers. He also expressed the concern that the current Uncommon Application establishes the College as a work-intensive environment.

“The environment is not set up for students to want to come here,” Zimmer said.

Asserting that the academic environment inversely affects application numbers, he asked, “Is it okay that we have half the number of applicants as some of our east coast competitors?”

Zimmer also discussed the University’s role in basic science and breakthrough research. He maintained that overarching changes must be made to the University’s academic initiatives in order to compete with other top research institutions.

“We have the opportunity to remain a major research university,” he said, “but we must ask ourselves whether we want to be a significant player or a boutique institution.”

He said the University might consider adding engineering programs or improving synergy between graduate programs in the humanities and social sciences to generate cutting-edge research.

Zimmer did not mention any specific plans that have been made to reach the 11 proposed goals, but he assured audience members that the administration is currently debating potential courses of action.

After presenting his goals, Zimmer opened the floor to questions. Although he reminded attendees that question time was not “a forum for personal issues,” many asked questions that directly reflected their personal situations.

One assistant professor complained about the unequal rate increases for Lab School tuition and staff salaries.

Members of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), the student group pressing the University to divest from the Sudan, questioned the University Board of Trustee’s lack of action on the issue.

Zimmer reiterated the importance of the Kalven Report, the University’s long-standing guidelines that prevent the official advocacy of political positions in favor of a climate of intellectual neutrality.