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  Written by
  John Easton

  Imaging by
  Dan Dry


  > >
Hyde Park revisited
  > >
Hugo Sonnenschein
  > >
Pan-Asian persuasion


image: Features

Was it a surprise to you that change was so painful?

In the abstract, no. But it's very hard to really understand the feelings until you see them. Despite the pain, I believe that the institutional self-examination and the changes that resulted were necessary. I believed, and I still do, that as the university that offers the very best liberal education, Chicago has the opportunity--and the responsibility--to demonstrate the value of such an education and to attract the most talented and committed students. When students who could attend any college or university choose the place that is known for providing the best liberal education, then it is a victory for the cause of liberal education.

image: Reunion 1998
Let the Sonnenschein in

We've made great progress towards being in the position that we should be. Our faculty has become even stronger. We've garnered financial support, and we're using that support to build new and needed facilities that allow us to expand and enhance academic programs and campus life. These successes reveal a university that is confident and that holds great promise. It is stronger to say, "We are a special place with remarkable values; we are doing everything possible to support those values and to ensure their continuation in the very long term," than to say, "We're a special place; it's very tough; we're doing the best we can."

Is there anything that you wish you had done differently in getting the University to this stage?

There are, of course, lots and lots of things that you do wrong, because there are so many things to do. You miss writing a letter of thanks. You aren't there at a time when you're especially needed. You don't realize that there's a particular group of people who are deeply concerned about an action, and you do not explain the action well enough. You make wrong judgments.

But when I think about regrets in the larger sense, I see them as the flip sides of the accomplishments. I think often about whether we could have accomplished as much as we have accomplished with less pain and with less fear.

If doing these things more slowly would have meant less pressure, it also would have meant a much longer period of activity that is essentially very hard for the community. Ultimately, this is work that had to be done for our University to remain as strong as it's been, to continue to play the leadership role that we have always played in higher education. And remember, because of our special values, this is important for all of higher education.

In short, we have moved with deliberate speed, and this has had costs and benefits.

Was there a part of being Chicago's president that you found more enjoyable than you'd expected?

Beth and I enjoyed playing host more than either of us would have anticipated. It is extraordinary the number of people you wind up hosting for the University in your home. Some of these people are people whom we'd met before, but as president you meet them in a most personal and wonderful way. Our guests ranged from former members of the faculty, such as Saul Bellow, George Schultz, and Milton Friedman, to other notables, such as Catherine Malfitano, Toni Morrison, Kay Graham, Prime Minister Obuchi, Robert Redford, Daniel Barenboim, and Jim Watson. It's wonderful to be in a position where you could invite anybody in the world to dinner and there's a fairly good chance that they will say yes. Hosting Presidents Ford and Clinton, and Vice President Gore, was also an honor.

It's great fun and it's a great opportunity to share with your community--with students, with faculty, with trustees, with staff, and with alumni and friends of the University. It was perhaps not so much a surprise that we did so much hosting; the real surprise was how much fun it was.

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  JUNE 2000
  > > Volume 92, Number 5

  > > Class News

  > > Books
  > > Deaths

  > > Chicago Journal

  > > College Report

  > > Investigations

  > > Editor's Notes

  > > Letters
  > > Coursework
  > > Chicagophile



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