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Zimmer [Apr. 3rd, 2007|09:54 pm]
University of Chicago


[mood |aggravatedaggravated]

I'm an alumna (AB'03) currently in grad school at the U of Washington, and active in alumni groups because I miss the nerdiness otherwise.

President Zimmer (see icon) is taking his show on the road to Seattle, and as a result of my involvement with the alumni group here, I've just been invited to go to a small dinner following his reception.

Obviously, I expect to learn more about his dastardly "fun" plans for the University of Chicago at his reception, but right now I do not feel adequately up-to-date on his policies (I've been entrenched in my thesis). To rectify this lack of ammunition, please opine freely in comments, or link me to some articles. I'd love to do what I can to convince President Zimmer that unhanding our school's rigorous reputation is in the best interests of current students, alumni, and future nerds who will someday be seeking an enclave.

Seriously, I thought we were so done with the heavy-handed attempts to sell the college as something it isn't with Sonnenschein... but no. Please help!

[User Picture]From: tiye
2007-04-04 01:31 pm (UTC)
Well, one particularly spectacular move on his part is to give all incoming grad students in the Humanities and Social Sciences full tuition, a $19,000 stipend, health insurance, a chance to compete for a summer stipend, and a teaching obligation. Current grad students in Humanities and Social Sciences get . . . basic health insurance. Oh, and they finally relented and allowed us to compete for that summer stipend, too (I think it's $3000). As you can imagine, this is going over especially well with brand new students (some of whom don't even have tuition coverage yet) and those of us with tiny or non-existent stipends.
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[User Picture]From: dwarmstr
2007-04-05 02:59 pm (UTC)
Ah-I've figured out something for you. I've discovered Zimmer is changing things, mostly without discussion, changing the way the University works.

When a few things occurred to friends of mine (Darfur decision and some timing details of a memorial service), I chalked it up to bad luck or bad timing. But then, something he did personally affected me, and should affect you and your relationship with the University (because of your previous RSO involvement).

In January the RAS saw some new lights on one of the quad buildings. They had replaced 25W compact fluorescents with 175W metal halide lights. Worse yet, they just randomly aimed them, with light going everywhere, glaring people walking around corners and entranceways. We asked Facilities several times to talk to us and got no response. Repeated askings got a vague response. We asked them to hold on it until we could talk with them about what these lights would do to the observatory. No response. More repeated askings. Then, they lit Ryerson and Eckhart with these lights! There are now 21 175W lights on the main quads, with some 50% of the light missing the buildings. The buildings are brighter than the walkways, making everyone a silhouette. The lights hit the turret on Ryerson, light up the office at night--despite being 5 and 6 stories above the ground. That's how wasteful these things are. Facilities has shown, again, that they have no lighting design skills at all. And, a former president of the RAS has been working with a campus lighting committee, attending meetings, talking with people, and yet this sudden lighting change occurred without the whole committee's knowledge (certain members knew, but they were complicit in wanting to floodlight everything).

Eventually, after much repeated requests, we got a "memo" from the head of Facilities stating Zimmer had declared he wanted more lights, and that was the way it was going to be. Our spirited attempts at discussion have failed with Facilities--they simply won't talk to us. (They claimed we only use the observatory twice a week ever, for instance, without talking with us).

I'll put some photos at http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/~dean/lights/; the only ones there are raw images and don't demonstrate much without explanatory text.

We haven't yet talked with Zimmer--I'm not sure what sort of response we will get, if we get one at all. It's being handled by Steven L., hopefully soon.

For the attitude exhibited by Facilities, and the lack of communication and negotation, I've decided my only recourse is to declare an end to donating money. I gave at graduation, and gave afterwards a few times, but I will not ever more. That's how Zimmer has affected me, and hopefully you as well.

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[User Picture]From: dwarmstr
2007-04-05 04:31 pm (UTC)
Re: my message. I confused you for your wife. She'll know about the issue.
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[User Picture]From: lucubratrix
2007-04-05 11:16 pm (UTC)
Stephanie and I will *both* be at the Zimmer event and schmoozy dinner afterwards... and besides, I care about light pollution, too!

No worries whatsoever. That's appalling - I'm really sorry for RAS... that's such an appalling state of administrative response, and it's shocking that the light pollution has gotten worse than what it was four years ago when they were floodlighting the buildings!

Nice to run into you on LJ! How are you doing? What are you up to these days?
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[User Picture]From: galaxyrabbit
2007-04-10 04:50 am (UTC)
Hi, Dean! Stephanie here. I'm sure Jenny remembers my griping about lights back when I thought we actually made some progress on this issue, but now it looks like it's worse than before. I will definitely bring this up at the Zimmer dinner - maybe he'll actually pay attention if it's a direct conversation and not going through "official channels".

How are things with you? I discovered your blog today through a comment on Cosmic Variance from a while ago (I started reading because of Sean Carroll, and now my adviser blogs there too - she's Julianne), and then Jenny said she found you here as well.
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[User Picture]From: dwarmstr
2007-04-10 07:46 pm (UTC)
Cool. I hope the camera failure on Hubble didn't affect your work too much. I exist, as I have been, post graduation in my IT position. I applied to a few places for planetary science grad school a few years ago but didn't get in anywhere.

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[User Picture]From: galaxyrabbit
2007-04-11 06:41 pm (UTC)
ACS failure was a pretty big bummer for me, actually - my group was about 1/3 of the way into a massive ACS Nearby Galaxy Survey Treasury project (the too-aptly named ANGST) when ACS went belly-up. My piece of it is the big sprial galaxies, which took an especially hard hit. But I will still have enough data to do a thesis, fortunately, and we'll be getting some more data with WFPC2 - not as nice, but better than nothing.
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[User Picture]From: galaxyrabbit
2007-04-13 12:23 am (UTC)
So Zimmer didn't actually go to the dinner - it was "in his honor" rather than "in his company." Good luck with the lights.
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[User Picture]From: maedhros5851
2007-04-05 04:42 pm (UTC)
I'm actually a cautious supporter of Zimmer so far - the only misstep I see is that while the 200K to studying Darfur is right and important, divestment would not have been particularly costly to the U of C and certainly couldn't hurt the overall situation.

Having talked with him on two occasions, I can say that Zimmer is either fantastic at snowjobs and dissimulation, or actually a pretty well-reasoned guy with the University's interests at heart. He's been spun a certain way by the Maroon and the fact that he's not Don Randel (O, how we miss thee!), but I'd say to keep an open mind.

Remember, he taught here for many years - you can see his old pictures in Eckhart. He's a mathematician (a geometer, actually), with 80 articles to his name... he's not a professional politician, and he hasn't been in the business of ruining colleges for the last few decades. That said, I've also heard that he was a real tool back when he was on the faculty, and that as an individual he still is.

I'm probably coming out more strongly in favor of him than I might normally, only because he doesn't seem very popular in this community. But my two takeaways are 1) As president, he's not responsible for as much as people think he is. The Board of Trustees and individuals under him making their own decisions (e.g. the lights) should be given both more credit and more blame than they currently receive. 2) I got the personal impression of an excellent problem solver who is adjusting to different boundary conditions (i.e. here vs. Brown) - he seemed genuinely chagrined at his poor student reception and talked a lot about what he could learn from it.
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[User Picture]From: lord_belmont
2007-04-05 08:18 pm (UTC)
The only major thing that has changed has been the decision to start accepting the Common Application. The CommonApp to Chicago will still require you to fill out a supplemental section that contains the infamous UChicago style essays.

Most of the worrying about Zimmer is based on speculation about what future actions he might take, which are mostly based on a bunch of comments he's made about wanting to make the University more inviting to applying high schoolers. The most notable of these is probably his statement that students should stop wearing those "Where fun comes to die" hoodies because they might send the wrong message about what its like to be a student here, which even I find to be a bizarre thing to say.
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[User Picture]From: astute_a
2007-04-09 01:45 pm (UTC)
I don't think that unhanding our school's rigorous reputation is in the best interests of everyone. We try too hard to put ourselves across as being nerdy and anti social. I am neither a nerd, nor anti-social and I don't believe that anyone has the right to tell me that Chicago isn't the place for me. Perhaps some alumni have memories of a nerd enclave that you attended, but I wish people were more comfortable with change rather than imposing a characteristic on this university.
I'm really fine with Zimmer. I'm even fine with them not backing out of Darfur investments. I detest community members who think they can claim to be "the" type of person that makes Chicago, Chicago.
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[User Picture]From: doublestuffed
2007-04-09 11:20 pm (UTC)
I for one have stopped donating money, in small amounts now and (I'd like to think) larger amounts in the future. I do not like the direction in which the University has the college headed. The acceptance of the Common application bothers me most, but I really do not like the image being changed to be more "fun". I greatly appreciated being treated like an adult during my time as an undergraduate, not being told that I was not "fun" because I did not like parties and most official events but instead liked reading dry histories and having long discussions into the night about why Hegel is an idiot, obscure pop culture, and then discussing personal philsophies on the after life.

I remember the day I saw people playing hacky-sack and fribee on the main quad while an offical photographer snapped pictures a few years ago; I clenched my fists initially but soon let out a defeated sigh. I know the University will change into something more "positive", "fun", and "attractive", but that does not mean I have to be happy about the university losing the character I loved so much in my time there. I do not want the college to become just another Ivy League clone of priveleged superficial play. It will never be exactly like that, but the administration seems to increasingly want to take the college in such a direction if not the university as a whole.
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[User Picture]From: rakehell
2007-04-11 09:35 am (UTC)
"I greatly appreciated being treated like an adult during my time as an undergraduate..."

So well put. I often told people that I want to go to a "serious" school, or one with an "intellectual atmosphere," but that really expresses my true sentiment.
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