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  Written by
  John Easton

  Imaging by
  Dan Dry


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Hyde Park revisited
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Hugo Sonnenschein
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Pan-Asian persuasion


image: Features

Is there a U of C story that you tell, something that sums up the University for you?

There are experiences that happen over and over again that I connect with the unique sound of Chicago. They could only happen here. They were most stunning when I first started to experience them, but they keep going on.

In my first week, Beth and I ordered a pizza from the Medici. I gave my name as Sunshine, which is a thing that my father did--easier to spell. When I went to pick it up, the young woman who gave it to me said, "Sunshine. Oh, you're Mr. Sonnenschein. You're the new president!"

She told me that she was a second-year in the College, and I asked, "What's your concentration?" She said, "Art history," and I asked, "How do you find it?"

Then she looked at me very keenly, put her face almost in mine, and said, "Brutal!" I jumped back, and as I did, she smiled and said, "Exactly as it should be."

It was wonderful. That interchange was pure University of Chicago.

Most recently, I experienced a very different kind of Chicago story, one that is telling in a different way. Just a few weeks ago, I attended the memorial service for Edward Levi. It was a wonderful commemoration of an important life--most of which was spent right here in Hyde Park. Edward was a graduate of the Lab Schools, the College, and the Law School; he was a faculty member, a dean of the Law School, our provost, and president. Edward was also known outside the University for his integrity, his brilliance, and his unerring good judgment-so much so that President Gerald Ford asked him, at a most troubled time in our nation's history, to serve as Attorney General.

During the memorial service, many speakers came to honor and remember Edward. They consistently spoke about his integrity, his intellect, and his love for his family and for our University. But the words that struck me most, amid all of these wonderful stories, were words that the rabbi quoted from Edward's sons. They said that their father was not only their very own professor, but that he was also their very own faculty.

image: October 1993
October 1993 Minutes before the inaugural procession, Sonnenschein's hooded.

I have replayed these words in my mind since the memorial, recalling how committed Edward was to education as a noble, moral, and aesthetic enterprise, and remembering how firmly he believed that liberal learning was relevant to life and its myriad choices, including the choices of citizens and leaders. For me, and especially for those who knew him well, these words capture an important part of what made Edward Levi so delightful, as a father, colleague, and teacher. But for the University, these words demonstrate something else as well. They demonstrate for us, quite vividly, what is so powerful about a Chicago education. They remind us of what becomes possible when a person of great intellectual gifts and high ideals undertakes a rigorous liberal education.

Edward Levi was the ideal University of Chicago graduate. He had read so widely and thought so deeply about so many matters that to his own sons--and to his students and his colleagues as well, I am sure--he was not a professor but a faculty. Indeed, Edward was a faculty to his colleagues at the Justice Department, and to the entire nation. What a wonderful testament to the enduring power of a great liberal education, experienced fully in youth and revisited across a lifetime.

On a lighter note, four or five years ago, I found myself asked to speak to the football team before a game. Now you think of the presidents at other universities going in and saying, "Okay, guys, do a great job!" Instead, I read from Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt. What's appropriate is different.

So my Chicago stories are really "only at Chicago" stories. The ones that are most delicious, the ones that seem to represent what we are at our best, are the ones that both recognize this as a deep and serious place and are proudly joyful in that recognition.

What advice would you give Don Randel as he assumes the University's presidency?

Don brings many outstanding qualities to the University--he has both depth and breadth of experience, and he understands very well the institution's values and ideals. He has a temperament that balances idealism and pragmatism. As for advice, I will advise when asked, and be silent otherwise.

What are the major issues facing higher education in general and the University of Chicago in particular?

Since what the University of Chicago does is to provide the best example of what great universities should be, for us the need--and the opportunity--to provide leadership is exceptionally important.

We're about solving classic problems, solving them in new ways, discovering new problems, and preparing young people for a life of thinking, sometimes of scholarship. Universities don't make good finishing schools or social clubs. Nor are they institutions of social action. They don't serve when they swerve from their most serious purpose.

Universities need to concentrate on what they should be about and to help the public understand their mission and their purpose. I think that, for us, holding onto our core values, reinforcing them, and resisting the forces that are pushing us to compromise them--these are the major issues. At the same time, we must continue to represent excellence in all that we do. I am confident that we will do very well.

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  JUNE 2000
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