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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


image: Features
Richard A. Posner, chief judge of the federal appeals court based in Chicago and a senior lecturer at the Law School, told the Times that Levi's original pairing of an economist--Aaron Director--and a lawyer was followed by a statistician and lawyer team, and then a sociology-law match. The approach, Posner said, "was a major development, not only in the law and economics sphere but in creating interdisciplinary studies in general at law schools."

image: Edward H. Levi
As editor-in-chief of the Gargoyle staff, Levi sits in front with a copy of the yearbook on his lap.

In 1958, Levi founded the school's Journal of Law and Economics, a vehicle that helped Chicago remain preeminent in the field. He also created one of the nation's first law school-run legal-assistance programs, now the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic. As dean, Levi worked with architect Eero Saarinen on the planning and execution of the landmark Laird Bell Quadrangle (1959). With the attention to detail for which he was known, Levi and his wife walked along the Midway every evening to inspect the building's progress. Levi moved in on schedule, even though the building wasn't completely finished. Soon after the move, a secretary complained about the plaster dust on her desk; that evening the dean and his wife mopped the office.

When Edward Levi was inaugurated as president at the November 14, 1968, convocation in Rockefeller Chapel, the event was attended by three of his predecessors: Robert Maynard Hutchins, Lawrence A. Kimpton, and the retiring George Beadle. Levi had served under all three. He used his inaugural address for a consideration of the institution's primary mission, calling for a reaffirmation of "our commitment to the way of reason, without which a University becomes a menace and a caricature."

As "custodians not only of the many cultures of man, but of the rational process itself," Levi continued, "[u]niversities are not neutral," but "exist for the propagation of a special point of view; namely the worthwhileness of the intellectual pursuit of truth." This view, he added, "does not remove universities from the problems of society."

Indeed, as Levi spoke from the Rockefeller pulpit, 100 students stood outside the chapel, protesting the war in Vietnam; other protesters showed up outside the dinner held in his honor that night at a downtown hotel. Two months later, the subject of student protests centered not on national but on University policy.

On January 30, 1969, students forcibly took over the Administration Building to protest the non-renewal of a faculty member's contract. Levi's response differed from that of many college and university administrators in those years: rather than call in outside authorities, he enforced the University's internal disciplinary process. When, two weeks after it began, the sit-in ended, he issued a statement to the campus community, making clear his bedrock values:

"The University has sought throughout this period, however imperfectly, to exemplify the values for which it stands. It has encouraged discussion through faculty and student groups. It has sought to institutionalize a process for wider participation. In a world of considerable violence, and one in which violence begets violence, it has emphasized the persuasive power of ideas. It has sought--and the unique response of faculty and students has made this possible--to handle its own affairs in a way consistent with its ideals."

Admitting that "[a]s I write these lines, I cannot help but wonder what our success has been and whether the choice we made remains viable," Levi continued: "These consequences to the University will be felt for a considerable period of time and will be disappointing to many. We must make the best of them."

Edward Levi's accomplishments were not limited to the University. In 1950, as counsel to the Subcommittee on Monopoly Power of the United States House Judiciary Committee, he conducted hearings on the steel and newsprint industries. During the 1960s, he served on the White House Central Group on Domestic Affairs, the White House Task Force on Education, and the President's Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education.

After leaving the Ford administration, he spent the 1977-78 academic year as the Herman Pfleger visiting professor at Stanford University Law School before returning to teach in the Law School and the College. His research interests included jurisprudence, constitutional law, bankruptcy and reorganization, federal procedure, antitrust law, law and economics, and legal education. He often spoke on higher education, and many of his speeches were collected in Point of View: Talks on Education.

A founding trustee of the MacArthur Foundation, he was a trustee of the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, the Institute of International Education, the Institute for Psychoanalysis, the International Legal Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Urban Institute, and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

A former chairman of the Council on Legal Education for Professional Responsibility, Levi had been president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a vice president of the American Philosophical Society, a member of the Council of the American Law Institute, and a fellow of the American Bar Association. Among his many other honors were L.H.D. degrees from seven institutions, including the University of Chicago; L.L.D. degrees from 18 institutions; and the French government's Legion of Honor.

Perhaps the best illustration of the interwoven threads of Levi's personal, intellectual, and public life can be seen in the list of speakers scheduled to speak at the April 6 memorial service in Rockefeller Chapel. His brother-in-law, Bernard D. Meltzer, AB'35, JD'37, the Edward H. Levi distinguished service professor emeritus, and President Hugo Sonnenschein were to be joined by former U.S. President Ford and Justice Scalia, as well as Stanford president Casper; Washington Post publisher and University life trustee Katharine Graham, AB'38; and Chicago Tribune publisher and U of C trustee Jack Fuller.

It is easy to imagine a common thread running through each eulogy: Edward Hirsch Levi was a man who believed above all in the power of ideas. "I remember he was asked if he was going to write his memoirs," Bard College president Leon Botstein, AB'67, a former student of Levi's, told the Times the day after Levi's death. "And he replied, 'If I were to write a book, it would be about ideas, not about myself.'"

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  APRIL 2000
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