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September 25, 2014

O-Issue 2014: While you were out

It’s one thing to know the University of Chicago by the broad strokes of its reputation and brochures, quite another to know it as a community member experiencing the penciled-in fluctuations of each year, the ones not yet inked into the history books. But it turns out that the history of this University is written by the accumulation of that nitty-gritty. In order to know where this University is going, it helps to know from whence we came. So, for your benefit, what follows is a summary of 20132014’s major events and dialogues; a year in the life at the University of Chicago.

One full calendar cycle ago last September, the University Community Service Center (UCSC)  found itself at the center of student controversy after restructuring some of its staff and institutional missions. The real kicker, however, was the abrupt dismissal of Trudi Langendorf, the Center’s beloved and award-winning assistant director. Student protesters alleged that the  wind of changes unduly took place behind closed doors, and questioned the Center’s ongoing commitment to its founding aim: social justice. Salt was added to the wound when changes to the UCSC’s social justice internship program Summer Links were announced in January. The revamped internship program included the addition of for-profit internship sites. Alumni of the program penned a petition to protest, which gained over 1,000 signatures.

Students, though, had something to celebrate come October, when University of Chicago economics professors Eugene Fama and Lars Peter Hansen, along with Robert Shiller of Yale University, received the Nobel Prize in Economics.

More than a month before the first day of winter, a chill ran through campus when Freenters, a popular free on-campus printing service, was hacked by a group calling themselves the UChicago Electronic Army, compromising the personal information of the service’s student users.

And then winter arrived, bringing with it a polar vortex (or two, as it’s wont to do) and also delivering the University’s first snow day since the Snowpocalypse of 2011.

In February, the University community mourned the passing of third-year Nicholas Barnes, who was found dead from alcohol poisoning in I-House.

That same month, the University came under the investigation of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for its handling of sexual misconduct cases. Three months later, the University announced the creation of a new associate dean of students position to specifically address cases of sexual assault. In addition, the University formed a University-wide disciplinary committee to hear complaints, and clarified its sexual assault policies. The University also held its first Sexual Assault Awareness Week in May. For the upcoming year, SG has allotted $10,000 for resources pertaining to sexual assault.

Last year the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) transitioned to a “full-service” police force, with additional duties and increased autonomy from the Chicago Police Department (CPD). In March, over 750 students and community members called for the UCPD to exercise not only greater powers, but also greater responsibilities in a petition for increased transparency regarding policing practices, police records, and a simplified process for filing complaints. The UCPD also faced allegations of racial profiling from the Coalition for Equitable Policing (CEP), though Chief of UCPD Marlon Lynch has asserted that the department does not engage in the practice. As of this spring, the UCPD is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, Inc. (CALEA), meaning that the police service has been certified as meeting the standards of an internationally recognized agency, both limiting liability and, student activists hope, increasing accountability.

And then came spring quarter, with its tendency of leading students to feel freshened, although perhaps not any more fabulous. The announcement that Fabrice “Fabulous Fab” Tourre, a Goldman Sachs trader found liable for fraud in the financial crisis of 2008 and a University of Chicago economics Ph.D. student, would be serving as the teacher of an undergraduate economics course led to controversy both within and outside the University. Tourre was removed from the undergraduate teaching position shortly afterward, and will fulfill his program’s teaching requirement at the graduate level.

In May, 108 faculty signed a petition calling for the Council of the Faculty Senate to vote on discontinuing the existence of the Confucius Institute (CI) at the University of Chicago. The CI supports the University’s East Asian studies department and falls under Chinese law because of its connections with the Chinese government. Petition signers voiced concerns that the institute does not align with the University’s values of free and open inquiry, but also pointed to the Institute as a symptom of a shift in powers from professors to administrators. After two meetings of the Faculty Senate, though, the Governing Board of the CI at the University of Chicago—comprised of University of Chicago professors and Chinese government officials—issued a recommendation that the University’s five-year contract with the CI be renewed. The University is likely to follow the recommendation.

Later in May, the Trauma Center Coalition—an umbrella term for multiple groups advocating for the establishment of a Level I trauma center on the South Side—staged a Week of Action, kicked off by a group of protestors who chained themselves to the University of Chicago Medical Center parking garage construction site and effectively halted work. The debate surrounding the trauma center has been colored by the University’s ironclad handling of the protests, such as the controversial treatment of protesters during the trauma center protest in the winter of 2013. The UCMC continues to maintain that supporting a Level I trauma center is not financially feasible.

And in June, as the school year began to close, the Institute of Politics (IOP) hosted a talk featuring Dan Savage, a gay relationship and sex advice columnist. Both Savage and IOP fellow Ana Marie Cox, a political columnist for *The Guardian*, used a transphobic slur at the event. The word was not directed at any specific student but offended some of the audience, an offense that culminated in more than 1,000 signatures demanding both that Savage officially apologize and that the IOP ban the slur from future IOP events. The IOP did not agree to the requests of the petition, but released a statement on their “Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion.”

Lastly, the University launched a new interdisciplinary Center for the Economics of Human Development (CEHD). The Center aims to focus on research concerned with social disadvantage and promoting equal opportunity.

It seems fitting that this recounting of last year’s happenings concludes with a nod toward the road ahead. Keep an eye out for the William Eckhardt Research Center (not to be confused with Eckhart Hall of the math department), scheduled to open in fall 2015. One of the institutes it will house, the Institute of Molecular Engineering (IME), will offer its first undergraduate engineering course in fall 2014. The IME has already announced an engineering minor degree program, the first of its kind at the University of Chicago, and plans to introduce a major degree program during the 20142015 school year. Accordingly, do anticipate the “are we preprofessional” existential crises to bare its teeth.

Another scenic construction site has opened with the beginning of the construction of Campus North, the new residence and dining hall scheduled to open September 2016. Campus North plays a significant role in the University’s public aim to boost the percentage of students residing on campus, from around half the student body up to a bold 70 percent. MAC Property Management, the landlord for most students living in off-campus housing, is keeping rather quiet on the matter.

And, while we’re on the topic of new buildings, how about that presidential library? The University has now submitted its response to the Barack Obama Foundation’s Request for Qualifications, requesting that the Obama presidential library be located on the South Side, but not on campus, and would seek to provide educational programming for South Side youth. The foundation will select finalists and request proposals from them to be completed by the end of September.

Arguably the largest of these physical expansion projects, Harper Court and related developments on 53rd Street, is in full spring. Over the past few years, the University has taken the lead in curating the real estate landscape of the street, with more than a few bumps in the—well, road. Not without its successes—the new Chipotle opened there is popular among both students and residents, and the new Hyatt Place Hotel has brought increased business to the area. But other local businesses have less favorable stories to tell, including the strong-armed departure of some native mom-and-pop businesses and revenue decline due to relocation or obstructions caused by construction. In what struck many as a rather dramatic plot twist, the University sold its brainchild Harper Court in August. But the development office maintains that 53rd Street is one of the major arenas of University engagement with the surrounding Hyde Park community, and that it will still be heavily involved in bringing new businesses into the area.  Conversations to listen for: neo-gentrification, à la the town versus the gown.

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