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

Robert J. Zimmer, a mathematician who as president of the University of Chicago championed range 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 schools throughout the nation, died on Tuesday at his house in Chicago. He was 75.

His spouse, Shadi Bartsch-Zimmer, a classics professor at 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 grew to become often called the Chicago Principles, a set of pointers really helpful by the Committee on Free Expression, a college group he appointed in 2014.

Those pointers have change into a bulwark in opposition to what critics understand because the stifling of educational freedom by schools the place college students are capable of insulate themselves in opposition to discomforting viewpoints — practices which are typically lumped collectively as “cancel tradition.”

“Concerns 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 neighborhood,” the school committee concluded.

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

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

“What you are seeing is a form of drift of discourse,” he mentioned. “You see actions by lots of people which appear to point that they really feel that they’ll, 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 University, mentioned in an e mail: “Whether controversies over audio system, insurance policies on disruptive conduct or his refusal to make use of the endowment for political functions, the University of Chicago, below his management, remained dedicated to its rules throughout unstable instances and a task mannequin on free expression around the globe.”

Mr. Zimmer was a prodigious fund-raiser. During his tenure as president, the college obtained six items of $100 million or extra. He oversaw a rise in monetary support for undergraduates and the elimination of loans, as a method 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 Urban Education Institute, which operates a public college in Chicago and conducts analysis on instruction; and opened satellite tv for pc campuses in Beijing, Hong Kong and Delhi, India.

Applications 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.

Growing up in a various neighborhood, he discovered 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 path, 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 High School in Manhattan, Mr. Zimmer earned a bachelor’s diploma in arithmetic from Brandeis University in 1968 and grasp’s and doctorate levels, each additionally in arithmetic, from Harvard University 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 point out a sine wave.”

As a mathematician and an writer, he specialised in “ergodic concept, Lie teams and differential geometry,” in keeping with a college biography.

He taught at the United States (*75*) Academy from 1975 to 1977 and started instructing at the University of Chicago in 1977. He was named a full professor in 1980. He additionally taught for 2 years at the University of California, Berkeley.

At Chicago, he served because the chairman of the maths division, the deputy provost for analysis and the vp for analysis of the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill., which the college oversees. From 2002 to 2006, he was a math professor and provost at Brown University. He then returned to the University of Chicago as its thirteenth president.

His marriage in 1974 to Terese Schwartzman, the previous director of strategic initiatives for the Urban Education Institute, resulted in divorce. In addition to his spouse, Professor Bartsch-Zimmer, who’s the director of the college’s Institute on the Formation of Knowledge and whom he married in 2011, and his son Benjamin, the chief govt of a biotechnology agency, Mr. Zimmer is survived by two different sons from his first marriage: David, a lawyer, and Alex, a filmmaker. He can also be survived by a brother, Richard B. Zimmer; his mom, Harriet (who’s 104 and nonetheless lives within the West Village condo the place Mr. Zimmer was raised); and two grandchildren.

At the top of the 2021 educational yr, whereas recovering from mind surgical procedure, Mr. Zimmer stepped down as president to change into chancellor. He retired and was named chancellor emeritus in July 2022.

As a personal establishment, the University of Chicago was below no obligation to abide by the First Amendment’s assure of free speech. But, Bret Stephens wrote in a New York Times opinion essay in 2017, the true crux of Mr. Zimmer’s case without cost speech, offensive or not, was that it was “our salvation from mental mediocrity and social ossification.”

According to Mr. Stephens, Mr. Zimmer balked at the notion that unfettered free speech would jeopardize the reason for inclusion as a result of it would upset, amongst others, a few of the individuals who had been in search of to be included.

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

For Mr. Zimmer, the mathematician, that form of schooling would not depend.

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