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March 6, 2013

Students press Zimmer on social justice issues at globalization forum

President Zimmer spoke to students about globalization and answered questions at “A Leadership Conversation with President Zimmer,” a renamed, rebranded version of the quarterly forum “Coffee and Donuts with President Zimmer,” last night. Some students left the event frustrated with the format of the event and the answers they received. Dean of the College John Boyer and Dali Yang, the founding faculty director of the UChicago Center in Beijing, co-panelled the event.

For half of the hour-long session, Zimmer, Boyer, and Yang discussed the University’s changing global role. They identified the expansion of study abroad options and opportunities for internships and other programs, particularly in Beijing, as examples of how the University is adapting to increased globalization.

Before transitioning into the question-and-answer portion of the forum, Zimmer addressed the issue of clean energy and the high demand for electricity globally. He said that solving issues associated with providing clean energy requires “some sort of global solution if it’s going to get anywhere.”

During the question and answer session with Zimmer, fourth-year and UChicago Students for a Socially Responsible Investment Committee member Julia Sizek responded to Zimmer's statement on clean energy by asking about institutional investment in Arch Coal, a coal mining and processing company. In response, Zimmer said the University “purposefully keeps the investment of its endowment as a separate issue from what the University is doing in an ongoing way.”

Sizek said to the Maroon after the event that she was surprised Zimmer spoke about clean energy in terms of the Kalven Report, which stipulates that the University will maintain ideological neutrality.

“In establishing an Office of Sustainability on campus, it is taking a political stance,” she said, suggesting that the existence of the Office might contradict the provisions of the Kalven Report.

Also on the topic of sustainability, fourth-year Carolina Paul asked about improving the environmental soundness of transportation and facilities on campus. In response, Zimmer directed her to Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean in the College Eleanor Daugherty, who subsequently redirected her to the Office of Sustainability.

“I was a SAGE ambassador last year and I was on the Earth Week committee, and it just didn’t seem like the Sustainability Office was a priority for the University,” Paul said in an interview with the Maroon.

Second-year Brendan Leonard, a member of Southside Solidarity Network, UChicago Climate Action Network, and the UChicago branch of Stop Funding Climate Change asked about the external review for the police infiltration in the February 23 trauma center protest. He asked President Zimmer to commit to meeting with social justice-minded student groups.

Zimmer responded, “Part of the effort in doing this [event] as part of a series was in fact to create an environment around concrete issues with the hope that more people would be engaged and that there would be more opportunities for discourse...with a broad array of people, of leaders across the University.”

He continued by arguing that he’s not necessarily the right person to address this issue.

“The president of the university does not sit there and make all decisions about all things. We have ten deans, twelve vice presidents. Every one of them has a significant office consisting of people making important decisions every day. There are things that I’m simply the wrong person to talk to [about].”

When Leonard asked again about Zimmer committing to the meeting, Zimmer said that he needed to move on to another question.

Leonard was frustrated by the answer he received at the event.

“It’s not just having [administration] here, it’s once you have them here, talking about accountability mechanisms that can exist,” Leonard told the Maroon after the event.

Other administrators in attendance included Associate Dean of Students in the University for Student Affairs Belinda Vasquez, Assistant Vice President for Campus Life and Assistant Dean in the College Katie Callow-Wright, and Vice President for Communications Julie Peterson. The event was sponsored by the Office of Campus and Student Life and SG.

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