University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, a visionary leader and staunch advocate for free speech, has passed away at the age of 75. Known for his transformative leadership and unwavering commitment to intellectual freedom, Zimmer leaves behind a legacy that has shaped the academic landscape and inspired countless individuals within and beyond the university community.
Robert J. Zimmer Death
Robert J. Zimmer, the former president of the University of Chicago, passed away on Tuesday, May 24, 202, at the age of 75. Zimmer was a pioneering mathematician who spent nearly four decades at the university as a faculty member and administrator.
He served as the university’s 13th president from 2006 to 2021, when he transitioned to the role of chancellor after surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. He became chancellor emeritus on July 1, 2022.
Zimmer was a champion of free speech on campus and led the expansion of financial support for students, established the university’s first engineering program, and expanded the university’s global presence through new centers in Beijing, Delhi, and Hong Kong.
Zimmer’s Commitment to Free Speech
Under Zimmer’s leadership, the University of Chicago became known for its commitment to free speech. In 2014, Zimmer appointed the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which declared a commitment to free expression that became known as the “Chicago Principles.”
They’ve been adopted by more than 80 colleges and universities around the country. Zimmer believed that the whole point of education is focused around ongoing intellectual challenge and open discourse.
He put students on notice in 2016 that the university did not support canceling speakers because their topics might prove controversial or condone intellectual “safe spaces” where students could retreat from ideas at odds with their own.
The ideals were tested in 2018 when a university business professor invited Steve Bannon, who served as an adviser to former President Donald Trump, to the campus to debate globalization and immigration. The university backed the professor amid protests, although Bannon ultimately backed out of the debate.
Zimmer’s Legacy at the University of Chicago
Under Zimmer’s leadership, the University of Chicago helped lead the successful effort to bring the Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side. Former President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, in a statement issued Tuesday, said Mr. Zimmer was one of the most influential university presidents in the country.
Zimmer also led the expansion of financial support for students, established the university’s first engineering program, and expanded the university’s global presence through new centers in Beijing, Delhi, and Hong Kong.
More than a half-dozen former administrators and deans who served under Mr. Zimmer have been appointed to lead universities and colleges such as Caltech, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and Vanderbilt, according to the university.
Zimmer’s Personal Life and Legacy
Zimmer grew up in New York City’s Greenwich Village, a diverse place during the 1950s and ’60s that made him feel “tolerance in a deep way.” He is survived by his wife, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, a faculty member at the University of Chicago, and his sons Alex, Benjamin, and David, from his previous marriage to Terese Schwartzman.
Zimmer’s legacy at the University of Chicago will be remembered for his commitment to free speech, financial support for students, and global expansion.
Zimmer’s Impact on Higher Education
Zimmer’s impact on higher education extends beyond the University of Chicago. He was a fierce advocate for free speech and intellectual challenge, and his commitment to these ideals has influenced universities across the country.
The “Chicago Principles” have been adopted by more than 80 colleges and universities, and Zimmer’s leadership has inspired a generation of administrators and deans who have gone on to lead institutions in higher education. Zimmer’s legacy will continue to shape the future of higher education for years to come.
Memorial Services for Zimmer
Memorial services for Zimmer are being planned. The University of Chicago community is mourning the loss of a beloved leader and champion of free speech. Zimmer’s impact on the university and higher education as a whole will be remembered for years to come.