Robert J. Zimmer elected to serve as next president of the University of Chicago
The Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago has officially elected Robert J. Zimmer to be the 13th President of the University of Chicago. Zimmer, who has been serving as provost of Brown University, was nominated by the Presidential Search Committee earlier this week.
The nomination was approved at a special meeting of the Board on Friday, March 10. Zimmer will assume the office on July 1.
Zimmer, 58, will succeed Don Michael Randel, who has served as President of the University since 2000. Randel will become President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation this summer.
Zimmer is a mathematician who was a faculty member at the University of Chicago for more than two decades before leaving in 2002 to become Brown’s provost.
“The search committee was seeking an accomplished scholar with proven managerial skills.” said James Crown, Chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees. “At the same time, we were looking for a leader who could understand and appreciate the unique role that the University of Chicago plays among the great research institutions of the world. In Bob Zimmer, we found someone who excels on all fronts. We are thrilled to welcome him back to campus.”
“The University of Chicago has always been distinctive because of its singular commitment to inquiry on important scientific, cultural, and societal issues, and a belief that education in that context prepares students to make extraordinary contributions in whatever path they pursue,” said Zimmer. “I am honored to have this opportunity to work with the entire University community – trustees, faculty, students, administrators, alumni, and friends – to advance the University in the framework of its enduring values, and to enhance the partnerships that enable the University to contribute in important ways to the communities in which we live.”
As provost at Brown, Zimmer is the chief academic officer and the institution’s leading officer after the president. While there, he has helped Brown to increase its investments and stature in faculty distinction and academic programs across the full scope of the university. He has played a key role in strengthening Brown’s research programs, recruiting outstanding faculty, and enhancing its graduate school and medical school. He also led an effort to enhance substantially Brown’s network of academic affiliations with such institutions as the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, Mass.; the Rhode Island School of Design; the Trinity Repertory Theater Company; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and the hospitals affiliated with the Brown Medical School.
After his appointment as provost at Brown, Zimmer talked about the importance of developing “ambitious multidisciplinary academic programs” and said, “The ultimate test for any academic administrator is being able to bring the values of excellence in research and education to the fore in every single decision that is made on campus. That is something I’ve always tried to do and certainly intend to keep doing.”
Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, said, “Bob Zimmer is a distinguished scholar and administrator who, during his time at Brown, made enduring contributions that have strengthened research and teaching. His commitment to multidisciplinary endeavors, forging meaningful partnerships and collaborations, and adhering to the highest of academic standards will continue to serve him well in his new role as President. The Brown community is grateful for Bob’s outstanding leadership, and wishes him and his family every success at the University of Chicago.”
Zimmer is the fourth consecutive former provost of another university to be chosen to lead the University of Chicago, and the first to have been a faculty member at Chicago since Hanna H. Gray, who served as President from 1978 to 1993. Gray is still a member of Chicago’s faculty today.
“In Bob Zimmer the University is fortunate to have someone who knows the culture and institution well and who also represents wonderfully its highest academic standards,” said Randel. “Given in addition his extensive administrative experience both here and at Brown University, he is admirably equipped to lead this great university forward.”
Professor Robert Pippin, who chaired the faculty advisory committee to the search committee, said, “All of us on the search committee came to appreciate what an important and exciting period lies ahead for the University of Chicago. We know that we shall require an extraordinary level of leadership, wisdom and experience in a president, and we are all thrilled to have found such a person in Bob Zimmer. His long familiarity with the University and his impressive record of achievement here and at Brown bode very well for our future, and we are very grateful indeed that he has agreed to take on this challenge.”
In addition to his teaching and research work in the mathematical fields of geometry, group theory and analysis, Zimmer served in many administrative capacities at the University of Chicago before accepting his appointment at Brown. These included chairman of the mathematics department, deputy provost, and finally, Vice President for Research and for Argonne National Laboratory. With his January 2001 appointment as Vice President for Research and for Argonne, Zimmer helped begin a reinvigoration of the University’s stewardship of Argonne. He helped to usher in an era of greater collaboration between scientists at the University and Argonne National Laboratory, which the University has operated for the U.S. Department of Energy since the laboratory’s inception in 1946.
“Argonne is a major national presence across a broad domain of science, and I feel privileged to participate in the University’s stewardship of the laboratory,” Zimmer said at the time. “We have an opportunity to reconceptualize this stewardship and develop a much richer engagement of the University and the laboratory that will significantly enhance science at both institutions.”
A specialist in geometry, particularly ergodic theory, Lie groups, and differential geometry, Zimmer is the author of two books, Ergodic Theory and Semisimple Groups (1984) and Essential Results of Functional Analysis (1990), and more than 80 mathematical research articles. The recipient of an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellowship, he served on the Board of Mathematical Sciences of the National Research Council from 1992 to 1995, and was on the executive committee from 1993 to 1995. Zimmer held the title of Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor in Mathematics at Chicago before leaving for Brown, where he has been the Ford Foundation Professor of Mathematics in addition to being provost.
He earned his A.B., summa cum laude, from Brandeis University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1975 from Harvard University. He joined the Chicago faculty as an L.E. Dickson Instructor of Mathematics in 1977. He was also on the faculty at the U.S. Naval Academy from 1975 to 1977, and at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1981 to 1983. He has held visiting positions at Harvard University and at institutions in Israel, France, Australia, Switzerland, and Italy.
Zimmer will return to Chicago with his wife Terese S. Zimmer, and their youngest son Alex. They have two other sons, David and Benjamin, who live in Cambridge, Mass.