The Transformation of the College and the History of the University over the last 30 years

On the evening of September 25th, 2023, Prof. Boyer gave a talk on “The Transformation of the College and the History of the University over the last 30 years” at the University of Chicago Center in Beijing. 

After five long and eventful years, Prof. Boyer came back to the Beijing Center, offering some remarks about the recent history of the University and the College, updating on new developments to the UChicago community in China.

He began with the national context in which great private universities like Chicago find themselves. He then talked about the beginnings of the University of Chicago and its difficult times after 1945 until the 1980s.  Happily, the leaders of the University were able to reverse these negative trends and to initiate a massive rebuilding process that began with President Hanna Gray’s presidency in the 1980s and continued with her successors, most recently, President Robert J. Zimmer.

The rebuilding of the College, the emergence of distinguished and nationally impactful professional schools, and the internationalization of the University have marked the University’s recent history.

John Boyer

He said “The outcome of these positive interventions is that Chicago remains among the top 10 universities of the world in various international research rankings, such as the annual QS and Shanghai surveys.  In my view these surveys are much more accurate than US News in showing the formidable academic power of the University of Chicago, because they seek to measure the scholarly distinction of the faculty, which remains the heart and soul that defines the greatness of the major research universities.”

Prof. Boyer finally concluded the prospects for future saying that the old U of C failed in the 1880s because it defined itself only as a college and lacked civic support.  The new U of C founded in 1890 was a total university, based in part on the German model of a comprehensive research enterprise.

The new University’s distinctive identity came from its demography of highly talented students, the professional self-assurance and accomplishments of its research faculty, and the intellectual values of academic freedom, merit-based achievement, disciplined engagement in the academic enterprise, and the authority of scholarly-based learning that defined the campus more generally.

Competition among the top US research universities will remain a powerful force in American higher education, but the US research universities that will be most successful in the future are those who will be able to develop innovative scholarly partnerships and highly productive interdisciplinary collaborations, enabling them to use faculty resources more creatively and efficiently.  The leading US private universities are small in market share, but they have a great influence as models of high achievement—they defend the ideals of what a real university is and must remain.

We face a world in which the impact and prestige of the great US universities will also depend even more on key international collaborations.  Chicago’s international strategy of cross-cultural student learning and distributed and embedded scholarly collaborations is unusually powerful and efficacious.

The University of Chicago has unique set of values—a unified student/faculty culture, a strong commitment to open discourse, an intensely intellectual campus culture, a creative crossing of professional and liberal arts boundaries, a robust strategy of internationalism, a willingness to experiment in new curricular modes, and a strongly pragmatic view of the world and of the need to give our students vital career support in their engagement with the world.

The lecture was moderated by Ms. Lei Chen Wong, Director of International Advancement – Asia, at the University of Chicago Alumni Relations and Development.

There were more than 60 people joined the event, many of them asked meaningful questions and had friendly interaction and communication with Prof. Boyer.