With all the deans, vice presidents, associate deans, and other seemingly unnecessarily long titles, the University administration can be a confusing structure to navigate. Luckily, there are a few basics that can make the bureaucratic web a little more comprehensible.
Generally speaking, the 55-member Board of Trustees is in charge of broad, long-term issues, while the president, vice presidents, and deans are the ones in charge of the day-to-day operations. They have a lot of power—your professor can’t expel you, while administrators can through a formal process—but also have to put students first. For example, if you’re taken to the E.R. for alcohol poisoning, Dean of Students Susan Art might let you off with a stern warning but with no further action.
President Robert Zimmer is right under the Board of Trustees, but for all intents and purposes is at the top of the food chain. After more than 20 years of service to the University as a mathematics professor and administrator, he was inaugurated in 2006 as the University’s 13th president. Since then, Zimmer has overseen continuous growth, from the Institute of Politics headed by David Axelrod (A.B. ’76) to the sky-high Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. During his tenure, financial aid programs and a host of other services for local students under the umbrella of UChicago Promise launched last fall.
But the scope of his vision is greater than the confines of the UChicago campus. The past years have witnessed the creation of a new study abroad center in Beijing, the relocation of the Asia M.B.A. program from Singapore to Hong Kong, and, closer to home, the implementation of Planned Development 43 (a city zoning document guiding how the University can use its land), which has sparked mixed reactions among Hyde Park natives who want to preserve the community. The construction of Harper Court, which has brought Five Guys, a 24-hour Clarke’s diner, Akira, Harper Theater, Kilwins, to the area and promises restaurants like Chipotle, Native Foods, Ja’ Grill, Park Tavern, and a boutique Hyatt in the near future, has forged ahead under Zimmer as well.
Provost Thomas Rosenbaum is broadly in charge of academic programs including the College, graduate and undergraduate schools and divisions, the library, Urban Education Institute, Smart Museum, and Oriental Institute. All deans on campus ultimately report to Rosenbaum—whether it be Dean of the Pritzker School of Medicine Kenneth Polonsky or Dean of the Humanities Division Martha Roth—and his office is also tasked with efforts to increase diversity and improve campus child care.
One of the administrators reporting directly to Rosenbaum is also arguably the most visible to undergraduates, Dean of the College John Boyer (A.M. ’69, Ph.D. ’75). Always recognizable by his cropped mustache and infectious appreciation for the University of Chicago, he can be spotted leading annual bike tours of Chicago or walking through the quads in a dapper suit. A pillar and unofficial historian of the U of C scene, he helps the Core live up to its reputation and gives occasional “fireside chats” at campus gatherings. He’s also responsible for study abroad programs, which have recently undergone significant changes, including the shuttering of the Cape Town Civilizations program and the addition of a study abroad program in Istanbul. Boyer is the longest-serving dean of the College, holding that position longer than most first-years have been alive (since 1992), and is also the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor in History. If you’re interested in UChicago history, read one of Boyer’s monographs—he’s written 17 of them.
As for student well-being, the two top administrators closest to students’ everyday lives are newly appointed Vice President for Campus Life Karen Warren Coleman, responsible for dining, housing, and other extracurricular concerns, and Art, who is responsible for general health and happiness of students and also plays a role in disciplining students who break University rules. Warren Coleman was appointed to her position in June 2012, replacing Kimberly Goff-Crews. Warren Coleman, who had been Associate Vice President for Campus Life since 2009, took over Goff-Crews’s vice presidential title, while former Bryn Mawr dean Michele Rasmussen took over the Dean of Students role, starting in July. Art works closely with Warren Coleman and Boyer, and is in charge of the academic advising program.
Although every student has his or her own opinion about the receptiveness of the administration, you get back what you put into it, just as in any other facet of life at the College. If you want your voice to be heard, don’t pass up the opportunity to attend regular coffee and doughnut meetings with President Zimmer or forums with members of the Board of Trustees. After all, the staff of the Maroon can only badger them so much.