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University of Chicago

University of Chicago

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The University of Chicago (U of C, UChicago, or Chicago) is an academic powerhouse par excellence. The University was founded with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890. William Rainey Harper became the university's first president, in 1891, and the first classes were held in 1892. As a private research university, UChicago consists of the College, various graduate programs and interdisciplinary committees organized into four divisions, six professional schools, and a school of continuing education. The University enrolls approximately 5,000 students in the College and about 15,000 students overall.

UChicago espouses a research-heavy ethos. For example, in 2008, the University received (largely from the federal government) and spent $423.7 million on scientific research. University of Chicago scholars have played a role in the development of various academic disciplines, including: the Chicago school of economics, the Chicago school of sociology, the law and economics movement in legal analysis, the Chicago school of literary criticism, the Chicago school of religion, the school of political science known as behavioralism, and in the physics leading to the world's first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear reaction. The University is also home to the University of Chicago Press, the largest university press in the United States.

Many great minds have been part of the University of Chicago community. The University is affiliated with 87 Nobel Laureates, 49 Rhodes Scholars and 9 Fields Medalists.

Honors: An Intellectual Powerhouse

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The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy has a new home to match its growing ambitions.

The Keller Center, which opened on Jan. 7, is the transformation of a mid-20th century building designed by Edward Durell Stone into a structure that cultivates the active exchange of ideas and fosters deeper engagement in Chicago and around the world. The center includes a community forum, named in honor of King Harris, made from reclaimed wood milled at a South Side facility established by artist Theaster Gates, a member of the University faculty.

“The Keller Center provides an intellectual hub for the leading scholarship and distinct education of the Harris School of Public Policy, growing and advancing its rigorous, evidence-based approach to confront pressing challenges at home and around the world. As the center opens, we recognize Dennis and Connie Keller and King Harris for their generous philanthropic support of the research, education and impact of Harris,” said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago.

The opening of the Keller Center comes as Harris Public Policy experiences rapid growth. This year, the school welcomed its largest incoming class—more than doubling its student population over the past five years. Sixteen new faculty members have joined Harris since 2015, reflecting an increased focus on fields such as global conflict and international development, energy and environment, and data science.

The center is the most striking of recent milestones in the evolution of Harris Public Policy. The school last year welcomed the first cohort of Obama Foundation Scholars, a joint program with the Obama Foundation for rising leaders from around the world. As the school has grown, it has emerged as a hub for wider array of policy-relevant initiatives across campus. This year, Harris became the academic home for the University of Chicago’s Urban Labs, which work to address challenges across key dimensions of urban life including crime, education, energy and environment, health and poverty; and the home of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy, a program for emerging government and non-profit leaders in the Chicago area. Harris has launched new part-time degree options, including an evening master’s degree program and a double executive master’s in health policy offered jointly with the London School of Economics designed for working professionals. Finally, the school is also now home to the undergraduate public policy studies major, one of the fastest growing in the College.

These developments come as Harris is attracting a generation of students with a commitment to social engagement and a desire to address pressing policy challenges. Rising applications reflect the value placed on the Harris approach with its focus on finding evidence-based policy solutions, rather than relying on partisanship or ideology.

“The Keller Center will serve as a leading destination for innovative policy thinking, where students, scholars, civic leaders and policymakers can come together to formulate and test new policy ideas and catalyze them into action,” said Katherine Baicker, dean and the Emmett Dedmon Professor at Harris Public Policy. “Our new home enhances our ability to deliver both transformative educational experiences to our students and projects that change our city and the world for the better.”

From dream to reality

For most of its existence since becoming a professional school in 1988, Harris has been housed at 1155 E. 60th St.—a former office space of the American Bar Association. Although improvements and additions were made over the years, the building was characterized by long hallways and few spaces for informal gatherings.

As the school and its ambitions grew, Harris leaders began planning a new home to accommodate the school’s future needs. The idea of the Keller Center site grew from a tour of a former graduate student residence hall by University Trustee King Harris, whose late uncle Irving B. Harris provided the original endowment for the school. King Harris worked with school officials to develop ideas for the site, and he and his family agreed to donate $10 million toward the new center and an additional 2.5 million toward the school’s 2x20 fund campaign designed to enable future growth.

Critical to making the project a reality was Dennis Keller, co-founder and retired chairman and CEO, co-founder of Adtalem Global Education. A University of Chicago trustee and Chicago Booth alumnus, Keller saw the Harris School as an “underburnished jewel.” He and his wife Connie gave $20 million to support the building project, which was formally announced in late 2014. The building is named the Keller Center in recognition of their generosity.

The result is the transformation of Stone’s tour-de-force design into the Keller Center. The original three-story building had a monumental feel, along with signature features of the New Formalism style. It includes slender columns, a perforated canopy and decorative tracings on its limestone façade.

Doug Farr’s Chicago-based architecture and urban planning practice, Farr Associates, retained those elements but remade the structure in a way that draws attention upward and brings sunlight in. A central feature of the reconstructed building is a four-story wood atrium, named the Harris Family Foundation King Harris Forum. Ascending terraces act as collaborative workspaces and double as platforms for amphitheater seating.

The base of the atrium has a sun-splashed café, and the space is lit in large part by a skylight. The Keller Center has two other major skylights as well as a fourth-floor “sky suite” with spectacular views of the iconic Chicago skyline.

Gabriel Wilcox, the lead architect from Farr Associates on the project, said a major design goal was to preserve the stately aspects of Stone’s building while removing its “compressed” feeling: raising the ceilings and opening up the building. The Harris Family Foundation King Harris Forum is where all those elements come together, complemented by flooring, walls and decorative ceiling elements made of reclaimed ash tree lumber.

“This is the soul of the building,” Wilcox said. “What was important was to create a space of warmth and gathering.”

‘The building enables the future’

Harris leaders worked with Wilcox and his Farr Associates colleagues to create a structure that minimizes the environmental footprint of this 125,000-square-foot building. The University is pursuing LEED Platinum certification for the Keller Center. It is among the first higher education facilities to seek the Living Building Challenge Petal certification, the world’s most rigorous performance standard for buildings.

Among the Keller Center’s eco-friendly features is a rainwater-capture system that diverts more than 500,000 gallons of water annually. The building has a green roof and solar panels that generate 150 kWh annually—enough energy to power 15 average homes a year.

The wood making up much of the atrium is reclaimed from ash trees that city officials cut down amid the Emerald Ash Borer beetle infestation several years ago. Those trees were transformed into lumber at the mill set up by Gates, who collaborated on the forum space.

One of the planned uses of the Harris Family Foundation King Harris Forum will be events and meetings that include residents from the local community. When you combine the policy knowledge and resources of Harris with the passion of neighborhood leaders, Gates said, “you have the potential for an even more vibrant community.”

Prof. Ethan Bueno de Mesquita, who also serves as a deputy dean at Harris, spent several years on the steering committee for the Keller Center. To him, all the patience, planning and generous donations have already begun to pay dividends—a facility that reflects the way Harris is emerging as a leading institution for tackling the world’s toughest problems.

“You walk into the new space, and it’s going to be commensurate with the school’s ambitions for itself and its students,” said Bueno de Mesquita, an authority on cybersecurity, terrorism and rebellion. “That visitors have arrived somewhere where greatness is expected.”

To Baicker, the new building further deepens the school’s vital role at the University of Chicago. “The work we are doing at Harris is a key part of so many of the University’s goals, in terms of external engagement, connection to the city and moving from academic abstraction to real-world impact.”

“The building enables the future,” she added. “Going into the Keller Center, it reflects the fact that you’re entering a place where people are doing important things.”

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

University of Chicago mathematician Gregory Lawler has been awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize for pioneering research that helped expand the field of probability into new disciplines.

Awarded by the Israeli Wolf Foundation, the annual prize honors the greatest achievements in the fields of agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, physics, medicine and the arts. It’s the second straight year UChicago scholars earned the top math honor, which was established in 1978 and carries a $100,000 prize.

Lawler, the George Wells Beadle Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics and Statistics, shares the 2019 award with Prof. Jean-François Le Gall of Paris-Sud University in Orsay. In its award citation, the foundation noted the two mathematicians’ work “became the stepping stone for many consequent breakthroughs.”

“In many ways I see this award as a recognition not just of our work, but of the general progress and vitality of the field of probability in the last 40 years,” said Lawler, a UChicago faculty member since 2006. “These advances have made probability more accessible to many fields that had hard questions that needed mathematical rigor and understanding.”

For example, Lawler said, when physicists are attempting to model a particular phenomenon, there may be so many variables involved that it’s nearly impossible to solve all of the equations involved. One approach is to use random models, and Lawler’s groundbreaking work has led to rigorous analysis of such problems.

“Professor Lawler’s contributions to the field of probability theory are inspiring,” said Angela V. Olinto, dean of the Physical Sciences Division. “We are thrilled that the Wolf Foundation has recognized him with this prestigious prize.”

Lawler’s recognition comes a year after UChicago scholars Alexander Beilinson and Vladimir Drinfeld shared the Wolf Prize in mathematics for their groundbreaking work in algebraic geometry.

One of the concepts Lawler studies is a “random walk,” which describes an object that moves in a series of random steps in any direction. Random walks are useful in models ranging from an atom in a cloud of gas to the spread of an epidemic; they are used in biology, meteorology, chemistry and economics, among other fields.

“I also teach in the financial math program, because the same math is used in pricing stock options as is used in physics,” Lawler said. “When you abstract something, you can use the same arguments and techniques in many different areas. That’s the power of mathematics.”

Lawler is the author or co-author of six books: Intersections of Random Walks (1991) Introduction to Stochastic Processes (1995, 2006); Lectures on Contemporary Probability (1999) Conformally Invariant Processes in the Plane (2005); Random Walk: A Modern Introduction (2010); and Random Walk and the Heat Equation (2010).

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Mathematical Society, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and a co-recipient of the George Pólya Prize from the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.

He served as editor-in-chief of the Annals of Probability from 2006 to 2008 and was an editor of the Journal of the American Mathematical Society from 2009 to 2013. He co-founded the Electronic Journal of Probability in 1995 and served as its co-editor until 1999.

The Wolf Prize ceremony will be held in May in Israel.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

When nearly a quarter-million students walked out of Chicago Public Schools on Oct. 22, 1963 to protest segregation, University of Chicago student Gordon Quinn knew he had a chance to document history.

A half-century later, the original 16mm footage Quinn captured as 21-year-old has new life, providing the foundation of his documentary ’63 Boycott.

The 30-minute film weaves the black-and-white scenes with archival materials, new interviews and shots of modern-day protests—connecting those historic Freedom Day demonstrations to contemporary issues of race, education and youth activism.

Recently shortlisted for an Academy Award, ’63 Boycott also represents the latest example of Quinn’s filmmaking philosophy, an activist bent honed by his transformative undergraduate experience at UChicago. The heady mix of literature and philosophy in the classroom inspired an artistic commitment to impacting the world outside it.

“You have to make people feel something if they’re going to see the world from a different perspective,” said Quinn, AB’65, whose non-profit Kartemquin Films produced the award-winning Hoop Dreams and The Trials of Muhammad Ali. “If they’re going to empathize with somebody, you have to stir them in that emotional way. I saw that documentaries had the capacity to do that.”

At UChicago, Quinn and his friends belonged to the student film society Doc Films and were also active in the Civil Rights Movement. Local activists told them a massive march was approaching, one that would be worth preserving on camera. To follow the protestors, Quinn set out early that morning with a group that included eventual Kartemquin co-founders Gerald Temaner, AB’57, and Stan Karter, X’66.

In addition to the crew’s handheld cameras, Quinn set an 80-pound device up on a wooden tripod to shoot from inside a Volkswagen minibus. After demonstrators from across the city marched downtown, Quinn returned to his Hyde Park apartment near 54th Street and University Avenue, where he cut a short to use at meetings with activist Al Raby.

The rest of Quinn’s footage, which he believes is the only surviving film of the march, fell by the wayside.

“It was there, always nagging at me,” he said. “We didn’t have any money for it. It was not an easy film to raise money for.”

Piecing together old, new stories

About seven years ago, Quinn decided to work on the film again in earnest, hoping to have a final product for the protest’s 50th anniversary. He began screening a version in 2013; that year, protests against Chicago school closures provided a new way to frame the narrative.

The Chicago History Museum helped with early production, paying to digitize part of the footage to use in an exhibition. In 2016, the film got another boost thanks to Sen. Bernie Sanders. Footage Temaner had shot of another protest in August 1963 appeared to show Sanders getting arrested. Kartemquin posted the clip online asking for public confirmation; eventually, Sanders’ presidential campaign licensed it for an ad.

That buzz helped the filmmakers gain access to even more archives, including those of the Chicago Tribune.

While Quinn is the film’s director, the documentary wouldn’t exist in its current state without producers Tracye Matthews—a historian who leads UChicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture—and Rachel Dickson, an independent filmmaker who began working on ’63 Boycott as a Kartemquin intern.

To identify documentary subjects, Kartemquin built a website with a photo gallery, asking the public to point out faces they recognized. The filmmakers also asked local activists for leads.

“It was kind of word of mouth,” Dickson said. “It was piecing together all the different people in the story, interviewing them, and then finding all the archival footage in order to flesh out the story and tell the context.”

Quinn conceived the documentary as a way to show how the boycott shaped the lives of student protestors such as Sandra Murray, now a professor of cell biology at the University of Pittsburgh. But Matthews wanted to also highlight the organizers, shedding light on the logistics behind such an enormous demonstration.

“We’d been told by teachers and organizers that it was very useful in that way,” said Matthews, who has curated museum exhibitions and developed other documentary projects. “It conveys the idea that everyday people can do extraordinary things. A lot of groundwork and organizing happens to make these events happen, and the struggle is ongoing.”

Responsibility to educate today’s youth

One prominent face in the documentary is Rosie Simpson, a longtime Chicago activist who coined the term “Willis wagons.” Those were the aluminum trailers that then-CPS Superintendent Benjamin C. Willis placed near overcrowded black schools—his alternative to integrating students into nearby white schools.

Last month, Simpson attended a screening of ’63 Boycott at Lenart Elementary Regional Gifted Center on Chicago’s South Side. Afterward, she and Dickson took questions for over an hour.

One student asked Simpson how it felt to have paved a path for integrated schools like Lenart, a high-performing school where black students, who make up nearly 60 percent of the student body, can learn alongside their white, Asian and Hispanic peers.

“I felt it was my responsibility,” Simpson said. “At some point, our lives are going to meet. Our kids’ lives are going to meet with yours. Not knowing anything about each other or each others’ culture—that’s why we have the disagreements we have now, and the fear of one another.”

Kartemquin is now building a school curriculum around ’63 Boycott, developing it in conjunction with the non-profit Mikva Challenge. The program was co-founded by Abner Mikva, JD'51, who served on the UChicago Law School faculty.

The filmmakers hope to inspire students to do their own research, and to help them understand how modern inequality is rooted not only in personal enmity but in a legacy of systemic oppression.

“People often claim not to know how we ended up where we are,” Matthews said. “But there are concrete policies and political decisions that continue to affect public schools in Chicago and across the country.”

The inequalities in Chicago’s public school system persist today. Last May, the UChicago Consortium on School Research released a study on the city’s closing of 50 schools in 2013—closures that disproportionately affected black neighborhoods. The report found that 11,000 students who were forced to switch schools saw a decline in math scores, a decrease that still existed four years later. The closings also created a “period of mourning” in those communities, especially at schools that had been open for decades.

But Quinn sees reason for hope. He highlighted the National Teachers Academy, a high-performing grade school in Chicago’s South Loop with a mostly black student body. In 2017, CPS announced plans to convert the campus into a high school serving new neighborhood boundaries, stretched to include parts of Bridgeport, Bronzeville and Chinatown.

Arguing that the closure of the elementary school discriminated against low-income black students, NTA parents sued—and won.

“It’s incredibly discouraging that we’ve made so little progress,” Quinn said. “On the other hand, it’s incredibly encouraging to see that people are out there in the streets. They’re going to fight these battles until there’s some kind of real equity in education.”

Upcoming film screenings:

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

For the nearly four decades that Prof. Arūnas Leonardas Liulevičius taught mathematics to undergraduates at the University of Chicago, he was regularly approached by former students telling him he had inspired them to pursue majors or careers in the field after taking his classes.

Liulevičius, PhD’60, who died Dec. 21 at age 84, is remembered as a distinguished teacher who had a lasting impact on the lives of his students.

“The thing about teaching undergraduate math is that people who are talented at explaining mathematics, but don’t also care about students, will not be successful,” said Robert Fefferman, the Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics and Liulevičius’ colleague for more than 30 years. “You must decide it is important to you, to be dedicated, to be available, and that is what Arūnas was.”

Liulevičius joined the University faculty in 1963 as a specialist in the burgeoning field of algebraic topology, a branch of mathematics that uses algebra to describe topological structures—objects as they are twisted or deformed. His first work, overseen by his adviser, eminent mathematician Saunders MacLane, solved a variant of a problem whose solution was considered one of the starting points of modern algebraic topology.

Liulevičius wrote two sets of lecture notes on the subject, Characteristic Classes and Cobordism and On Characteristic Classes, which colleagues noted for their “crystal clarity” and quirky, understated humor. Its reviewer wrote: “These lecture notes are unusual in combining rigour and precision with a delightfully informal style…[the reader] will finish the notes feeling extremely friendly to the author.”

Liulevičius also remains one of only a handful of professors ever to twice win the University’s Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

“To say he was a distinguished teacher is a tremendous understatement,” Fefferman said. Students remembered his consideration, his generous office hours and “ever-ready” box of Le Petit Ecolier dark chocolate cookies.

Born Nov. 6, 1934 in Sakiai, Lithuania, Liulevičius fled the country with his family as World War II raged; they stayed in Displaced Person camps until emigrating to the U.S. in 1949. Liulevičius was active in the Lithuanian-American community in Chicago, especially as Lithuania strove to regain its independence. After the 1991 Soviet crackdown in Vilnius that resulted in the deaths of unarmed protestors, he co-edited a book called The Gift of Vilnius: A Photographic Document in Defense of Freedom to spread awareness.

Even after retirement, Liulevičius continued to work with and organize the Young Scholars Program, which brings high school students to the University for summer camps in mathematics.

“He loved teaching, and he loved students,” said J. Peter May, professor of mathematics and fellow algebraic topologist who joined the UChicago faculty four years after Liulevičius. “He had an infectious enthusiasm for mathematics; moreover, he was unfailingly kind and friendly to everyone. He made me feel at home here from day one, and I'll always be grateful.”

Liulevičius is survived by his wife, Ausrele Skirmuntas; sons Vejas and Gytis; grandchildren Paul, Helen and Laima; sister Saule Palubinskas and her family, and the family of his late sister, Aukse Kaufmann.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

Fifty years ago, the University of Chicago became one of the first universities in the nation to partner with the federal government on a suite of programs to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve academic success.

UChicago and its Office of Civic Engagement recently celebrated the far-reaching impact of two groundbreaking efforts to help low-income, high-potential Chicago students gain admission to, pay for and thrive in college: the Office of Special Programs-College Prep program, which since 1968 has helped more than 3,000 South Side students prepare and apply for college; and the Collegiate Scholars Program, which in the past 15 years has helped 100 percent of its more than 500 alumni enroll in four-year colleges.

“Ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access and the opportunity to succeed in higher education is a vital priority for the University,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The Office of Special Programs is especially focused on providing a system of support and enrichment for young people in the University’s neighboring communities; such programs help first-generation students succeed while strengthening the colleges and universities they choose to attend.”

One College Prep program alum, UChicago second-year Naa Ashitey, knew she would go to college—but she wasn’t sure how she would get there, or how she would afford it. Her father, a taxi driver, works seven days a week; her mother has always cobbled together multiple jobs to help provide for the family.

As a high school student living in the Woodlawn neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Ashitey was eligible for the OSP Upward Bound program, which offers year-round academic support, along with help navigating college admissions and financial aid, to students from four communities and four high schools near campus.

The program, which serves more than 100 students each year, helped connect Ashitey with a full-ride QuestBridge scholarship; she’s now on a pre-med academic track and aspires to earn both an MD and a PhD. “I needed to get into college not only to achieve my dream of being a doctor,” she said, “but also to be able to go back and help my family just like they helped me growing up.”

In addition to academic and admissions help, Office of Special Programs activities include annual nationwide college tours and weeklong live-in programs on campus, as well as field trips to cultural events and research institutions. The program also emphasizes the involvement of parents and guardians in students’ journey to college.

Cultivating the potential of Collegiate Scholars

The Collegiate Scholars Program launched after the UChicago Consortium on School Research found that high-performing Chicago Public Schools students were under-reaching in their college application choices. During the academic year, Collegiate Scholars participate in enrichment activities geared toward college readiness, leadership development, cultural awareness and civic engagement. And during the summer months, they experience life on campus while taking humanities, social science, math and science courses taught by University of Chicago faculty and PhD candidates.

Ninety-three percent of program alumni earn bachelor’s degrees within six years; by comparison, 18 percent of Chicago Public Schools graduates earn a bachelor’s degree within a decade of entering high school.

Collegiate Scholar Raven Galloway, a straight-A graduate of Daniel Hale Williams Prep in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, who’s now a first-year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, was accepted to ten colleges and received financial aid offers and scholarships totaling more than $1.3 million. “One of the most important things that CSP gave me was an understanding of how college works,” she said. “It felt like we were high school students and college students at the same time—so I got to Rhodes already knowing how to look at my syllabi, how to handle due dates, how to get to know my professors and ask for help when I need it. All of us in CSP matured during the program and were more prepared for college because of it.”

Both programs are part of UChicago Promise, the University’s multipronged initiative offering college resources and scholarships for Chicago high school students; CSP is endowed through the Odyssey Scholarship Program, UChicago’s comprehensive model for dismantling obstacles to education and careers for talented, hardworking students with financial need.

“The enduring partnership between the University of Chicago and Chicago Public Schools has helped thousands of students prepare for and succeed in college,” said Janice K. Jackson, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “We look forward to building upon our lasting partnership to help students reach their full potential for generations to come.”

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the Civic Engagement website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

Free speech has been an experiment from the start—or at least that’s what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes suggested nearly a century ago in his dissent in Abrams v. United States, one of the first decisions to interpret and shape the doctrine that would come to occupy a nearly sacred place in America’s national identity.

Since then, First Amendment jurisprudence has stirred America in novel ways, forcing deep introspection about democracy, society and human nature and sometimes straddling the political divide in unexpected fashion. In the past 100 years, free speech protections have ebbed and flowed alongside America’s fears and progress, adapting to changing norms but ultimately growing in reach.

And now, this piece of the American experiment faces a new set of challenges presented by the ever-expanding influence of technology as well as sharp debates over the government’s role in shaping the public forum.

That’s why Geoffrey R. Stone, the Edward Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, two of the country’s leading First Amendment scholars, brought together some of the nation’s most influential legal scholars in a new book to explore the evolution—and the future—of First Amendment doctrine in America. 

The Free Speech Century (Oxford University Press) is a collection of 16 essays by Floyd Abrams, the legendary First Amendment lawyer; David Strauss, the University of Chicago’s Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law; Albie Sachs, former justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; Tom Ginsburg, the University of Chicago’s Leo Spitz Professor of International Law; Laura Weinrib, a University of Chicago Professor of Law; Cass Sunstein, a professor at Harvard Law School; and others.

“Lee and I were law clerks together at the Supreme Court during the 1972 term,” Stone said. “I was with Justice Brennan and Lee was with Chief Justice Burger. We have both been writing, speaking and teaching about the First Amendment now for 45 years. This was a good time, we decided, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s first decision on the First Amendment with a volume that examines four basic themes: The Nature of First Amendment Jurisprudence, Major Critiques and Controversies over Current Doctrine, The International Impact of our First Amendment Jurisprudence, and the Future of Free Speech in a World of Ever-Changing Technology. Our hope is that this volume will enlighten, inspire and challenge readers to think about the role of free speech in a free and democratic society.”

Stone, JD’71, has spent much of his career examining free speech—a topic he first became passionate about as a University of Law School student.

The University has a long tradition of upholding freedom of expression. UChicago’s influential 2015 report by the Committee on Freedom of Expression, which Stone chaired, became a model for colleges and universities across the country.

The collection takes on pressing issues, such as free expression on university campuses, hate speech, the regulation of political speech and the boundaries of free speech on social media, unpacking the ways in which these issues are shaping the norms of free expression.

One essay, for instance, explores how digital behemoths like Facebook, Twitter and Google became “gatekeepers of free expression”—a shift that contributor Emily Bell, a Columbia University journalism professor, writes “leaves us at a dangerous point in democracy and freedom of the press.” Her article examines foreign interference in the 2016 election and explores some of the questions that have emerged since, such as how to balance traditional ideas of a free press with the rights of citizens to hear accurate information in an information landscape that is now dominated by social media.

Technology, the editors write, has presented some of the most significant questions that courts, legal scholars, and the American public will face in the coming decades.

“While vastly expanding the opportunities to participate in public discourse, contemporary means of communication have also arguably contributed to political polarization, foreign influence in our democracy, and the proliferation of ‘fake’ news,” Stone writes in the introduction. “To what extent do these concerns pose new threats to our understanding of ‘the freedom of speech, and of the press’? To what extent do they call for serious reconsideration of some central doctrines and principles on which our current First Amendment jurisprudence is based?”

In another essay, Strauss, an expert in constitutional law, examines the principles established in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States. The landmark ruling blocked an attempt at prior restraint by the Nixon administration, allowing the New York Times and Washington Post to publish a classified report that reporters had obtained about America’s role in Vietnam. The threat to national security wasn’t sufficiently immediate or specific to warrant infringing on the papers’ right to publish, the Court said at the time.

But today’s world is different, Strauss argues. It is easier to leak large amounts of sensitive information—and publication is no longer limited to a handful of media companies with strict ethical guidelines. What’s more, the ease with which information can be shared—digitally as opposed to carefully sneaking papers in batches from locked cabinets to a photocopier, as military analyst Daniel Ellsberg did when leaking the Pentagon Papers—means that a larger number of people can act as leakers. That can include those who don’t fully understand the information they are sharing, which many have argued was the case when former IT contractor Edward Snowden allegedly leaked millions of documents from the National Security Agency in 2013.

“[T]he stakes are great on both sides,” Strauss writes, “and the world has changed in ways that make it important to rethink the way we deal with the problem.”

Ultimately, the health of the First Amendment will depend on two things, Bollinger writes: a continued understanding that free speech plays a critical role in democratic society—and a recognition that the judicial branch doesn’t claim sole responsibility for achieving that vision. The legislative and executive branches can support free speech as well.

What’s more, modern-day challenges do not have to result in an erosion of protections, Bollinger argues.

“[O]ur most memorable and consequential decisions under the First Amendment have emerged in times of national crises, when passions are at their peak and when human behavior is on full display at its worst and at its best, in times of war and when momentous social movements are on the rise,” he writes. “Freedom of speech and the press taps into the most essential elements of life—how we think, speak, communicate, and live within the polity. It is no wonder that we are drawn again and again into its world.”

—Adapted from an article that first appeared on the University of Chicago Law School website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

New research shows that healthy infants have intestinal bacteria that prevent the development of food allergies, findings that could impact the treatment of a disease that now affects 15 million Americans.

Researchers from the University of Chicago, Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Naples Federico II in Italy discovered that when gut microbes from healthy human infants were transplanted into germ-free mice, the animals were protected from an allergic reaction when exposed to cow’s milk.

Gut microbes from infants allergic to milk did not offer the same protection; mice receiving these bacteria suffered an allergic reaction when given cow’s milk. Cow’s milk allergy is the most common food allergy affecting children.

The study, published this week in Nature Medicine, also identifies a specific bacterial species that protects against allergic responses to food. “This study allows us to define a causal relationship and shows that the microbiota itself can dictate whether or not you get an allergic response,” said Cathryn Nagler, the Bunning Food Allergy Professor at UChicago and senior author of the study.

Nagler has been researching the physiological origins of tolerance to dietary antigens for more than 30 years. She is the co-founder and president of ClostraBio, an innovative startup company that is working to develop microbiome-based treatments for food allergies.

This latest research, funded in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is the result of a long collaboration between Nagler and Roberto Berni Canani, chief of the Pediatric Allergy Program and CEINGE Advanced Biotechnologies at the University Federico II of Naples, Italy. In 2015, the two worked together on a project that found significant differences in the gut microbiomes of healthy infants and those with cow’s milk allergy. That eventually led them to ask if those differences somehow contributed to the development of the allergy.

The researchers transplanted gut microbes from each of eight infant donors—four healthy and four with cow’s milk allergy—into groups of mice via fecal samples. The mice had been raised in a completely sterile, germ-free environment, meaning they had no bacteria of their own. The mice were fed the same formula as the infants to help the bacteria colonize properly by providing the same sources of nutrients.

Mice that received bacteria from allergic infants suffered from anaphylaxis, a life-threatening allergic reaction, when exposed to cow’s milk for the first time. Germ-free control mice that were not given any bacteria also experienced this severe reaction. Those that received healthy bacteria appeared to be completely protected, however, and did not suffer an allergic reaction.

“These findings demonstrate the critical role of the gut microbiota in the development of food allergy and strongly suggest that modulating bacterial communities is relevant to stopping the food allergy disease burden,” Canani said. “These data are paving the way for innovative interventions for the prevention and treatment of food allergy that are under evaluation at our centers.”

The researchers also studied the composition of microbes in the intestinal tract of the mice and analyzed differences in gene expression between the healthy and allergic groups. This allowed them to pinpoint a particular species, Anaerostipes caccae, that appears to protect against allergic reactions when it is present in the gut.

A.caccae is part of a class of bacteria, Clostridia, that Nagler and her colleagues identified in a 2014 study that protects against nut allergies. These bacteria produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that previous research has shown is a crucial nutrient for establishing a healthy microbial community in the gut. This suggests that this class of butyrate-producing bacteria provides more general protection against other common food allergies as well. These bacteria or their metabolites could be used as part of biotherapeutic drugs to prevent or reverse other common food allergies.

“What we see with this work is how, in the context of all of the different types of microorganisms inhabiting the gastrointestinal tract, one single organism can have such a profound effect on how the host is affected by dietary components,” said Asst. Prof. Dionysios Antonopoulos, a microbial systems biologist at Argonne and a co-author of the study. “We also get a new appreciation for the distinct roles that each of these members play beyond the generalization that the ‘microbiome’ is involved.”

Citation: “Healthy infants harbor intestinal bacteria that protect against food allergy,” Nature Medicine Jan. 14, 2019. Doi: 10.1038/s41591-018-0324-z

Funding: Sunshine Charitable Foundation, the University of Chicago Institute for Translational Medicine, the National Institutes of Health and the Italian Ministry of Health

—Article originally appeared on The Forefront

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

You may think you are being prudent in taking the time to gather as much information as possible before making up your mind, but a new study finds that people consume far less information than expected before making judgments and decisions.

Whether buying a new car, hiring a job candidate or getting married, people assume they can and will use more information to make their decisions than they actually end up using, according to research from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

“Sometimes people need a lot of information to get an accurate reading, and sometimes people don't need much information at all to get an accurate reading,” said Assoc. Prof. Ed O’Brien of Chicago Booth. “The key insight revealed by our research is that it is hard to understand in advance which is which—people generally think that more information will be better, even when more information simply goes unused.”

In the era of Google and Facebook, people may believe that exchanging ever-more information will foster better-informed opinions and perspectives when the reality is people are making snap judgments without even begin aware of it, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. O’Brien co-authored the paper with Nadav Klein, who is a postdoctoral scholar at the Harris School of Public Policy.

In a series of seven studies, participants overvalued long-term product trials, overpaid for longer access to information, and overworked to impress others, failing to realize that extra information wouldn’t actually inform anyone’s judgment.

“In our studies, participants thought they would withhold judgment and await a lot of evidence before making up their minds, but in reality, they cast judgment right when the evidence came in,” said O’Brien, whose research examines how people perceive and experience change.

In one study, researchers asked all participants to drink one 0.5-ounce sample cup of a novel vegetable drink. Then they randomly assigned some of those participants to predict how many cups they would need to drink to decide whether they liked or disliked the drink. The others were instructed to keep drinking the cups until they decided.

The participants over predicted: They thought they would need more sample cups than they actually needed to make a decision. The discrepancy held true whether participants ended up liking or disliking the drink.

In another study, the researchers asked MBA students to apply for a hypothetical management position and write the exact number of essays they thought a hiring manager would need to read to make a decision. Participants were informed that a real hiring manager would read the essays, and that too many or too few essays would cost them the job.

The researchers found applicants wrote more essays than the hiring managers read to make their decisions. Essentially, the students “overworked to impress,” the authors wrote, adding, “Those looking to impress might be wiser spending their time fine-tuning some information rather than fine-tuning all information.”

The data also suggest a gap between information seekers and information providers. For example, people who go online to research a topic or take part in a debate may only access a small fraction of what is available before making a decision, while providers of that information may assume the seekers are taking in all the information and “hear them loud and clear,” the researchers wrote.

“Broadly speaking, we think this discrepancy is especially important in today's information age, with more access to more information than ever before,” O’Brien said. “People may think that so much accessible information will be useful for informing opinions and changing each other's minds, without realizing that minds will be made up nearly right away.”

—Story first appeared on the Chicago Booth website.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

When Danya Taymor was hired by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company to direct the new comedy, Familiar, she knew that she had to get the cultural elements exactly right. The play, which focuses on a Zimbabwean-American family preparing for the wedding of their eldest daughter, hinges on the conflict between Shona culture of Zimbabwe and American society.

In need of expert help, Taymor sought out Kathryn Takabvirwa, a member of the anthropology faculty at the University of Chicago. Takabvirwa grew up in Zimbabwe, and her research focuses on citizenship, culture and society in Southern Africa. Her background and work made her the ideal consultant for the production.

But Takabvirwa wasn’t so sure. “I didn’t know anything about the theater,” she said.

Taymor assured Takabvirwa experience in the preforming arts wasn’t required. What the production needed was a scholar who understood the complexities of the Shona culture.

“Kathryn was amazing,” Taymor said. “She brought so much authenticity to this play.”

A social and cultural anthropologist, Takabvirwa is teaching this winter in the African Civilizations sequence of UChicago’s distinctive Core Curriculum. In Takabvirwa’s class, students will discuss Zimbabwean culture, marriage and migrant diasporic life. She sees a strong connection between the play and anthropologic studies, planning to bring her work on Familiar into the classroom.

“It’s about communicating cultural norms and rituals of a Zim family to other people,” said Takabvirwa, who has been a Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UChicago since 2018 and will become an assistant professor starting in 2020. “It was wonderful to be a part of that process.”

At Steppenwolf, Takabvirwa spent her first week on the project listening to the actors read through the play written by Danai Gurira, a Zimbabwean-American actress and playwright known for her roles in the film Black Panther and TV show The Walking Dead.

Takabvirwa talked with the actors about the context of the story, and why seemingly modest elements of the dialogue and direction were so important. From acknowledging the relevance of ancestral connections that extend relations beyond that of parents and their children, to understanding the appropriate ways of sitting, clapping and greeting an elder, Takabvirwa brought vital insights to the story, and in some cases, helped Taymor avoid making unintentional missteps.

Taymor recalls one scene in which the father and daughter are watching football together, and when the team scored a touchdown, she had them celebrate with a chest bump. “I didn’t think twice about the interaction, it was just a moment of celebration,” Taymor said.

But Takabvirwa demurred. She explained that a man in Zimbabwe would never thump chests with his daughter, and that the scene had to be altered or would interrupt the realism of the interaction. “It was a small moment but it had so much impact,” Taymor said, noting that she changed the direction to a fist bump. “I didn’t have the knowledge to pick up on that, but she did.”

Takabvirwa also helped Taymor rework positioning to ensure younger characters always showed respect to their elders. In Shona culture, a younger person would never stand and talk to an older person who was sitting down or choose a position higher up.

“It seems like a small thing, but the way you sit matters,” Takabvirwa said. 

Taymor used that knowledge in one scene where Maggie, one of the aunts, remains standing while her two elder sisters are seated. “It is a deliberate way of reminding the audience that she has been out of Zimbabwe for a long time,” Takabvirwa said.

Familiar, which has been called an “exceptionally insightful…layered, compelling depiction of the unescapable pull of family and history,” is playing at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater through January 13.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969

A pair of prominent civil rights advocates will be the keynote speakers at the University of Chicago’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration, as the UChicago community celebrates Dr. King’s life and legacy.

The Jan. 15 event at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel will feature the Rev. William J. Barber II, president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach; and Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. They will provide remarks then join Cathy Cohen, the David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at UChicago, for a moderated conversation.

This year’s public event, which will begin at 6 p.m., continues a tradition that the University started in 1990. A number of prominent leaders have served as keynote speakers of the UChicago MLK commemoration, including Barack Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and educator/activist Angela Davis. Dr. King himself spoke at Rockefeller Chapel twice as his profile as a civil rights leader rose rapidly—first in April 1956, just months after the Montgomery Bus Boycott; and again in October 1959.

“The University community is incredibly excited to host Rev. William Barber and Sherrilyn Ifill as the 2019 keynote speakers. Both not only embody the values espoused by Dr. King, but they have spent their professional lives serving as drum majors for justice in the fight for civil and equal rights,” said Regina Dixon-Reeves, assistant provost at the University of Chicago. “Their passion and commitment to inspiring young people to careers in service to others makes them a formidable pair for this year’s commemoration celebration.”

A 2018 MacArthur fellow, Barber is a social justice advocate who is working to confront racial and economic inequalities in America. He has worked to expand voting rights, health care, living wages, immigrant rights, public education and LGBTQ rights in North Carolina. That has included beginning a series of “Moral Monday” rallies outside of the statehouse to protest state laws that suppressed voter turnout, cut funding for public education and health care, and disenfranchised poor communities. Those efforts and associated nonviolent acts of civil disobedience grew to involve tens of thousands of participants across North Carolina and spread to other states.

Ifill is president and director-counsel of the LDF, the nation’s premier civil rights legal organization, and has emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices in the struggle for racial justice and equality. She litigated voting rights cases for the LDF before leaving to teach law at the University of Maryland. She is also the critically acclaimed author of the 2007 book, On the Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the 21st Century.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will also feature music from the Chicago Children’s Choir. A community reception will follow in Ida Noyes Hall.

The MLK commemoration is one in a series of events during January in which the UChicago community will honor the life and legacy of Dr. King.

The University Community Service Center will partner with the Laboratory Schools and UChicago Charter School for the annual Day of Service on Jan. 19. UChicago students, staff, faculty, alumni and family members are invited to volunteer for on-campus service projects, including organizing and cleaning spaces, tutoring, crafting and painting. There also will be an off-campus activity to package meals in partnership with the nonprofit Rise Against Hunger and Kraft’s Micronutrient Campaign.

Civil rights leader Timuel Black, AM’54, will lead a bus tour around the South Side discussing his work with Dr. King. A lifelong resident of the South Side, the 100-year-old Black recently completed his memoir, Sacred Ground, which he will discuss at a 4 p.m. event Jan. 19 at the Seminary Co-op bookstore in Hyde Park. Although the tour is sold out, find more information about the book discussion here.

Wed, 31 Dec 1969