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  Written by
  Mary Ruth Yoe


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Good guys finish first
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Edward Hirsch Levi
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The prophetic art


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Chosen by the University's trustees as president designate in September 1967, Levi succeeded Nobel laureate George Beadle upon Beadle's retirement in 1968. The first Jewish president of a major American university, Levi was also the first alumnus to lead Chicago. His presidential tenure coincided with some of the most turbulent years on America's college campuses, and his handling of the forcible takeover of the University's administration building in 1969 came to be seen as a model for a measured response to student anti-war protests. Overseeing the construction of such major campus buildings as the Joseph Regenstein Library, he also promoted investment in the Hyde Park neighborhood, especially initiatives with the neighborhood schools. A voracious reader (his speed was legendary), Levi often would prepare for a meeting with a prospective faculty member by reading everything the scholar had written, as well as works by other writers in the field--a practice that helped him attract world-renowned scholars to the University.

image: Edward H. Levi
Edward H. Levi delivers his inaugural address.

After his term as attorney general, he returned to campus, teaching in the Law School and the College. When he retired in 1985, the University established the Edward H. Levi distinguished service professorship in his honor, a chair now held by law professor David P. Currie, AB'57.

Levi is survived by his wife, Kate Sulzberger Hecht, whom he married in 1946; their three sons--John, a partner in the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin; David, a U.S. district judge in Sacramento, California; and Michael, a high-energy physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory--and a brother, Harry J. Levi, AB'40, LLB'42. A memorial service was planned for April 6 in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.

Born in Chicago on June 26, 1911, Edward Hirsch Levi was the son and grandson of rabbis. His grandfather, Emil Hirsch, was a close friend of William Rainey Harper, who appointed Hirsch to the original University of Chicago faculty as professor of Oriental languages & literature. His father, Rabbi Gerson Levi, led Hyde Park's Temple Isaiah Israel from 1924, when the temple was completed, until his death in 1939.

Like his two brothers--Harry, a retired Chicago real-estate attorney, and the late Julian Levi, PhB'29, JD'31, who was the architect of urban renewal in the Hyde Park neighborhood and a former U of C professor--Levi graduated from the Laboratory Schools, which he entered as a kindergartner. Continuing at Chicago, he received his Ph.B. degree in English literature in 1932 and his J.D. in 1935. He spent the 1935-36 academic year as a Sterling fellow at Yale University, earning his J.S.D. degree in 1938 and joining Chicago's faculty as an assistant professor of law in 1936.

After World War II, when he was a special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle and first assistant in the antitrust division under Assistant Attorney General Thurman Arnold, he returned to campus as a professor of law. An early advocate for civilian control of atomic energy, in 1945 he acted as counsel for the Federation of Atomic Scientists on the Atomic Energy Act of 1946, which created the Atomic Energy Commission.

From the beginning, Levi stood out. In Chicago Revisited (University of Chicago Press, 1967), journalist John Gunther, PhB'22, described him as "aristocratic, brilliant of mind," with "the interesting trait of being able to probe without arousing antagonism. His touch, his attitudes, his slight figure and flashing eyes, the mobility of his good looks, all indicate sophisticated refinement, but his record--he is an old Hutchins man--is that of a Young Turk."

As a Young Turk, Levi changed both the intellectual and physical landscape of the Law School. In An Introduction to Legal Reasoning, he argued that legal institutions develop a logic of their own, which is accessible and consistent but capable of adapting to changing conditions and convictions in society. His interest in law's relation to the social sciences had lasting effects. Stanford University president Gerhard Casper--who like Levi, served as Law School dean and provost at Chicago--traces one of the school's most influential developments to Levi's decision to co-teach his course in antitrust law with economist Aaron Director. From Levi's innovation, Casper told the New York Times, came a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of law: "This was the beginning of the law and economics school of thought for which Chicago would become famous."

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