Robert J. Zimmer, Who Promoted Free Speech on Campus, Dies at 75


Robert J. Zimmer, a mathematician who as president of the College of Chicago championed variety not solely quantitatively, within the recruitment of scholars and school, but additionally by defending free expression on campus with a protocol that was later embraced by dozens of faculties throughout the nation, died on Tuesday at his house in Chicago. He was 75.

His spouse, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, a classics professor on the college, mentioned the trigger was glioblastoma multiforme, a virulent type of mind most cancers.

Mr. Zimmer, who presided over the college from 2006 to 2021, was instrumental in shepherding what turned generally known as the Chicago Principles, a set of tips really useful by the Committee on Free Expression, a college group he appointed in 2014.

These tips have turn out to be a bulwark towards what critics understand because the stifling of educational freedom by faculties the place college students are capable of insulate themselves towards discomforting viewpoints — practices which might be typically lumped collectively as “cancel tradition.”

“Issues about civility and mutual respect can by no means be used as a justification for closing off dialogue of concepts, nevertheless offensive or unpleasant these concepts could also be to some members of our group,” the school committee concluded.

In August 2016, throughout Mr. Zimmer’s presidency, the college informed incoming freshmen: “We don’t help so-called set off warnings, we don’t cancel invited audio system as a result of their subjects would possibly show controversial, and we don’t condone the creation of mental protected areas the place people can retreat from concepts and views at odds with their very own.”

Some campus critics urged that Mr. Zimmer was motivated by complaints from conservative alumni. However, he instructed The Wall Street Journal, in responding to a nationwide pattern, he was upholding the college’s conventional values.

“What you’re seeing is a sort of drift of discourse,” he mentioned. “You see actions by lots of people which appear to point that they really feel that they will, in truth, legitimately stifle the expression of others whose views they basically disagree with.”

Daniel Diermeier, who was the college’s provost when Mr. Zimmer was its president and is now the chancellor of Vanderbilt College, mentioned in an e-mail: “Whether or not controversies over audio system, insurance policies on disruptive conduct or his refusal to make use of the endowment for political functions, the College of Chicago, beneath his management, remained dedicated to its ideas throughout unstable occasions and a job mannequin on free expression around the globe.”

Mr. Zimmer was a prodigious fund-raiser. Throughout his tenure as president, the college acquired six presents of $100 million or extra. He oversaw a rise in monetary support for undergraduates and the elimination of loans, as a strategy to allow college students to graduate with out debt.

He additionally initiated an engineering program; invested in graduate research in humanities, social sciences and the humanities; established the City Training Institute, which operates a public faculty in Chicago and conducts analysis on instruction; and opened satellite tv for pc campuses in Beijing, Hong Kong and Delhi, India.

Purposes to the undergraduate faculty greater than tripled, to greater than 32,000 in 2018 from fewer than 10,000 in 2006.

Robert Jeffrey Zimmer was born on Nov. 5, 1947, in Manhattan to Dr. Max Zimmer, a household practitioner within the West Village, and Harriet (Brokaw) Zimmer, who managed her husband’s medical workplace.

Rising up in a various neighborhood, he realized the worth of tolerance. Having been raised within the McCarthy period, his son Benjamin mentioned, “when there was one type of cultural suppression, when he noticed a manifestation of that from one other course, he thought it was one thing he ought to rise up for, notably at a college the place it was a part of its foundational ethos.”

After graduating from Stuyvesant Excessive Faculty in Manhattan, Mr. Zimmer earned a bachelor’s diploma in arithmetic from Brandeis College in 1968 and grasp’s and doctorate levels, each additionally in arithmetic, from Harvard College in 1971 and 1975.

“I really began faculty as a physics main,” Mr. Zimmer as soon as confessed. “I switched to arithmetic after I tried unsuccessfully for 45 minutes to get an oscilloscope to indicate a sine wave.”

As a mathematician and the creator of books like “Important Outcomes of Practical Evaluation,” he specialised in “ergodic idea, Lie teams and differential geometry,” based on a college biography.

He taught at the USA Naval Academy from 1975 to 1977 and started educating on the College of Chicago in 1977. He was named a full professor in 1980. He additionally taught for 2 years on the College of California, Berkeley.

At Chicago, he served because the chairman of the mathematics division, the deputy provost for analysis and the vp for analysis of the Division of Power’s Argonne Nationwide Laboratory in Lemont, Sick., which the college oversees. From 2002 to 2006, he was a math professor and provost at Brown College. He then returned to the College of Chicago as its thirteenth president.

His marriage in 1974 to Terese Schwartzman, the previous director of strategic initiatives for the City Training Institute, led to divorce. Along with his spouse, Professor Bartsch-Zimmer, who’s the director of the college’s Institute on the Formation of Data and whom he married in 2011, and his son Benjamin, the chief government of a biotechnology agency, Mr. Zimmer is survived by two different sons from his first marriage: David, a lawyer, and Alex, a filmmaker. He’s additionally survived by a brother, Richard B. Zimmer; his mom, Harriet (who’s 104 and nonetheless lives within the West Village house the place Mr. Zimmer was raised); and two grandchildren.

On the finish of the 2021 tutorial 12 months, whereas recovering from mind surgical procedure, Mr. Zimmer stepped down as president to turn out to be chancellor. He retired and was named chancellor emeritus in July 2022.

As a personal establishment, the College of Chicago was beneath no obligation to abide by the First Modification’s assure of free speech. However, Bret Stephens wrote in a New York Instances opinion essay in 2017, the true crux of Mr. Zimmer’s case without spending a dime speech, offensive or not, was that it was “our salvation from mental mediocrity and social ossification.”

In line with Mr. Stephens, Mr. Zimmer balked on the notion that unfettered free speech would jeopardize the reason for inclusion as a result of it’d upset, amongst others, a number of the individuals who had been in search of to be included.

“Inclusion into what?” Mr. Zimmer had questioned in a speech that 12 months. “An inferior and fewer difficult training? One which fails to organize college students for the problem of various concepts and the analysis of their very own assumptions? A world wherein their emotions take priority over different issues that should be confronted?”

For Mr. Zimmer, the mathematician, that sort of training wouldn’t rely.


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