University of Chicago president a champion of free speech

Robert Zimmer, 1947-2023



May 25, 2023 - 4:07 PM

In 2019, University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer took issue with President Donald Trump’s contention that an executive order is necessary to promote free speech on college campuses. Photo by (Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Robert Zimmer, a mathematician who served 15 years as president of the University of Chicago, died Tuesday at age 75. In announcing his death, the university said his presidency will be remembered as “one of the longest and most impactful in the University’s 133-year history.”

That’s an understatement. Zimmer kept Chicago as a leading school of higher education. But his largest contribution was his public support for free expression on campus in a disputatious era when too many schools are willing to cancel controversial speakers, especially on the political right. In 2014 Zimmer appointed a Committee on Freedom of Expression, which drafted what became known as the Chicago Principles expressing the university’s abiding commitment to free speech.

Chicago’s Principles have since been adopted by dozens of other colleges and universities. The spirit of the Chicago Principles was perhaps most vividly expressed in a welcome letter sent to the incoming class of 2020 signed by the dean of students.

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