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Music man Don Randel chosen as University’s 12th president

link to: Chicago Journal"My own journey to Chicago has been rather long,” began the silver-haired man at the podium. Don Michael Randel, the provost of Cornell University, had been elected to the presidency of the University of Chicago only minutes before. Now he had to introduce himself to the University and the city via his first U of C news conference. “I thought the Odyssey was supposed to end in Ithaca,” he quipped, drawing chuckles from his audience. “It turns out I was mistaken about that. After a mere delay of 32 years, I have found my way at last.”

Randel was greeted with smiles as broad as his own on December 13, the day the U of C’s Board of Trustees ratified his nomination as Chicago’s 12th president. Taking office on July 1, he succeeds Hugo F. Sonnenschein. This past June, Sonnenschein, who has served as president since 1993, announced his decision to return to full-time teaching and research as a member of the University’s economics department. Following Sonnenschein’s announcement, the trustee presidential search committee worked closely with a faculty advisory committee to find presidential candidates, recommending Randel on December 9--the same day he celebrated his 59th birthday.

“Don was an early favorite of our committee, and he maintained that position even as we considered hundreds of candidates,” said Edgar D. Jannotta, chairman of the board and chair of the search committee. “He impressed us enormously, both personally and professionally. He is a distinguished scholar with an appreciation for research across disciplines, and he understands the University’s intellectual environment.”

Randel, the Given Foundation professor of musicology at Cornell, joined its faculty in 1968, and he has served as the school’s provost since 1995. “It is not easy for me to leave Cornell, and I could only leave it for another institution that is in its own way equally unique,” he told the Cornell Chronicle, a faculty and staff newspaper. “The University of Chicago is such an institution, and one whose particular devotion to intellectual ideals without compromise or apology I share.”

A specialist in Renaissance and medieval music who plays jazz piano and trumpet, Randel has edited the New Harvard Dictionary of Music (1986), the Harvard Biographical Dictionary of Music (1996), and the Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1999). He grew up in Panama, where his father owned a small business. Though his favorite high-school teacher, Donald Musselman, AM’50, encouraged him to go to Chicago, Randel chose to attend Princeton, where he received his B.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D. in music. He wrote his dissertation on the chant of the Mozarabic rite--liturgical music and text used by the Roman Catholic church in Spain before and during the 11th century. An honorary Woodrow Wilson fellow, Danforth graduate fellow, and Fulbright award winner, Randel was editor in chief of the Journal of the American Musicological Society from 1972 to 1974 and the society’s vice president from 1977 to 1978. At Cornell, Randel has served in a number of administrative posts, including department chair, vice provost, associate dean of the college of arts and sciences, and Harold Tanner dean of the college of arts and sciences.

On the morning of Randel’s election, Sonnenschein began the 11 a.m. news conference, held in the Ida Noyes library, with tributes to the University and its next president. “It is a glorious day for the University, for it will go forward with the confidence it has selected outstanding new leadership,” he announced. “And it is a glorious day for Don Randel, because he will have the honor and the enormous satisfaction to care for and to lead the university that sets the standards for so much of what is best in higher education.”

Next, geophysical scientist Frank Richter, SM’71, PhD’72, who chaired the search’s faculty advisory committee, explained what that committee had been looking for in a candidate--and found in Randel: “The task that was given to the advisory committee, very simply put, was to find an outstanding scholar whom we would be proud to have on our faculty. He should also be a person who not only believes that the University of Chicago is one of the truly outstanding institutions of the world, but also understands the values and traditions that make it so. We were seeking a person with a powerful and persuasive voice, so he could remind us--and also explain to those who do not yet know us well--why it’s so important that there has been a University of Chicago for over 100 years, and why it’s so important to continue. And beyond all of that, we need somebody to take a role of leadership in an institution that Don himself has already characterized as ungovernable.”

The audience laughed at the reference--the December 9 Chicago Tribune had quoted Randel calling universities “ungovernable” because “you’re running a billion-dollar-a-year business and yet there is no one to whom you can give a direct personal order.” Richter concluded, “We have found the president for the University of Chicago who really exceeded what we had the right to expect when we started this process.”

Randel himself seemed equally honored. Taking the podium in a navy pinstriped suit and paisley tie, he said, “The University of Chicago is a one-of-a-kind institution. It represents the best of the values that I cherish the most....It’s an institution that the United States and the world need more now than ever.”

Maintaining those values, he said, is the biggest challenge facing the University. “Trollope describes one of his characters as someone who had arrogance of thought unsustained by first-rate abilities. One knows people like that, and one can even think of an institution or two whose arrogance outran their abilities,” he said with a wry grin. “At Chicago, we must never become the object of such a claim. We must pursue, as we have always in our history--without compromise, without apology--the principles that underlie the pursuit of understanding in all fields of scholarship and in the arts.”

Randel noted that not only was he looking forward to being a part of Chicago’s music department, but also to finding out about everybody’s work, “students and faculty alike.” He and his wife, Carol, are equally excited, he said, about moving to the city of Chicago and taking advantage of its cultural institutions. The couple has four grown daughters: Amy Constable Keating, Julia Randel, Emily Constable Pershing, and Sally Randel Eggert. Like his predecessors, Randel will live in the president’s house at 59th Street and University Avenue. “The city and the University have done much productive work together,” he said, “and I look forward to advancing that from the neighborhood of Hyde Park, where I expect to be a citizen and expect to be seen walking on the streets regularly.”

During the Q & A session that followed, Randel was asked about his plans for the University. Noting that a “biological revolution” is taking place in the sciences, and the U of C needs to keep pace with those advances, Randel also said the University has a head start on another education trend, an increasing tendency toward interdisciplinary work in the humanities and the social sciences.

Asked what he had learned and achieved as Cornell’s provost, Randel replied, “The only good ideas come from the faculty.” He added, “It’s been my job simply to try to get behind them, to resolve the inevitable differences about them, and see us move ahead where we had an important need to move ahead.” At Cornell, Randel has commissioned a task force on the biological sciences; helped develop a program to recruit the brightest undergraduates through special research opportunities and financial support; led the development of procedures to respond to sexual harassment complaints; and helped draft a campus housing policy designed to improve undergraduate life.

Said Cornell’s president, Hunter R. Rawlings III, “Cornell has benefited enormously from his intelligence, integrity, energy, powers of persuasion, and commitment to students....Don Randel’s leadership will be felt not only at Chicago, but throughout the nation.”--K.S.

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