Up for discussion
President Don M. Randel details
14 filled—and fulfilling—days in November.
What does the president actually do all
day, every day? The short answer is meet with lots of different
people about lots of different things. In a large, complex
organization where lines of authority are not always clear,
simply spending time with a range of people is essential.
Luckily, it is also what gives the greatest pleasure in
this job. Chicago, by its nature, is made up of interesting
people, and there is much to be learned from them and much
high-class fun to be had with them in daily life.
I am frequently asked how much I travel.
Writing this on November 22, I have been out of town 13
days since October 1. That average is probably about right
in general, though much of this was rather tightly packed
into October. Most of this travel would go under the heading
of development and alumni relations, but there also were
trips to the Argonne National Laboratory's site in Idaho
and to a biannual meeting of the presidents of the Association
of American Universities. By design, I am on campus much
more than off.
About a day and a half each week is taken
up with standing meetings, including a meeting of the executive
staff—the provost and all of the vice presidents (listed,
along with other officers, on the University Web site at
Particularly important are meetings with the provost and
the vice president for administration and chief financial
officer, but I meet privately with each member of this group
at least every other week. Setting aside these meetings,
let me report on some of my activities in the past two weeks.
The Executive Budget Committee (president,
provost, vice president for administration and C.F.O., and
budget director) met and agreed on the guidelines to be
distributed to deans for their use in preparing budgets
for the 2003-2004 academic year.
The Capital Projects Committee (president,
provost, vice president for administration and C.F.O., budget
director, associate vice president for facilities services,
vice president for development and alumni relations, and
vice president for community and government affairs) met
to hear a presentation of the Law School's master plan for
facilities and approved proceeding with the first stage
The Committee of the Council of the Faculty
Senate (essentially the elected executive committee of the
faculty, presided over by the president and attended always
by the provost) met to discuss, among other things, the
current draft of procedures to deal with charges of harassment.
The Council of the Faculty Senate (also
presided over by the president and attended always by the
provost) met to discuss the creation of a Ph.D. program
in medical physics. There was also further discussion of
the campus climate in relation to the Middle East and in
particular of the utterly reprehensible harassment of some
faculty members in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations.
At the council's previous meeting I had made a statement
on the University's policies on free speech and intellectual
discourse (which has since been published in the University
Record and on the Web site at www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/02/021023.randel.shtml).
I met with the leaders of Student Government,
as I do every month or so (the vice president and dean of
students also attends). This time the topics revolved around
Chicago's finances in the context of recent press reports
on retrenchments at other universities. The students are
quite naturally concerned about how they and their parents
will manage to pay for their education in the face of rising
costs and shrinking resources.
Following this meeting came the quarterly
brown-bag lunch in the Reynolds Club for any and all students,
including representatives of the student press. The attendance
varies and is never very large, which makes possible a real
exchange. A part of the discussion this time concerned prospects
for war in Iraq. As with the Student Government leaders,
it was the kind of conversation that civilized grownups
have about serious matters.
Another engaging group of students comprises
the members of the Women's Athletic Association and of the
Order of the C—the oldest such groups in the nation. I had
dessert (or, rather, they had dessert, since they burn it
off much better) and conversation with them about their
lives at the University and the role of athletics. These
are people of whom we can be very proud for the discipline
they display in competing in athletics while maintaining
better-than-average grade-point averages in what we know
is a demanding academic program. It turns out that smart
is good in sports too. We should be similarly proud of the
participation of our students in music, theater, and a host
of other activities that form part of their education and
help to make the campus such a rich environment.
A day-long symposium was held to mark
Milton Friedman's 90th birthday, and I allowed myself the
luxury of attending all of it, soaking up the stimulation
of astonishingly accomplished thinkers with powerful ideas.
A similar pleasure was the symposium associated with the
ground-breaking for the great Interdivisional Research Building—extraordinary
members of our faculty coming together across disciplines
to invent a new world of science.
The list of activities of these two weeks
is much longer still, with most evenings out or entertaining
in. It adds up to a life filled to overflowing with the
best kind of excitement, in service to the best of institutions.
One could perhaps feel sorry for the presidents of some
universities—but not for me.