New President Announced

Paul Alivisatos, currently Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost at the University of California, Berkeley

Makes sense - he and Provost Lee can work on beefing up the rep of the Bio Sciences division. He’s also an alum of the College.

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Here’s the Chicago announcement: Paul Alivisatos named next president of the University of Chicago | University of Chicago News

And here’s the Berkeley announcement: Paul Alivisatos named president of University of Chicago | Berkeley News

Alumnus of The College. Distinguished STEM professor. Provost of a world class research university.

He certainly checks all the boxes we expect from the next President.

Native Chicagoan but also possesses kind of foreign student experience:

Paul Alivisatos was born in Chicago, Illinois, where he lived until the age of 10, when his family moved to Athens, Greece. Alivisatos has said of his years in Greece that it was a great experience for him because he had to learn the Greek language and culture then catch up with the more advanced students. “When I found something very interesting it was sometimes a struggle for me to understand it the very best that I could,” he has said of that experience. “That need to work harder became an important motivator for me.” Alivisatos returned to the United States to attend the University of Chicago in the late seventies

He will choose his own provost fairly soon after taking office.

Why? Provost Lee has been doing a good job in navigating a difficult path between pandemics and social unrest. And Zimmer, presumably Lee’s mentor, will still be chancellor in the near future. I find it hard to believe Alivisatos will just walk in and dismantle the existing power structure at the very top right away.

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It wouldn’t be very politic of him to do that, and I too like what I see of Provost Lee so don’t think she would deserve that fate. However, a concern I have about Alivisatos is that he seems a little too much given to the opposite instinct - of wanting to please, of being a little lacking in steel in the spine. Admittedly, this observation is based on nothing more than impressions of his manner and body english in a youtube presentation alongside the Berkeley Chancellor. However, he certainly has the academic credentials and that will give him credibility with the faculty. Being an alumnus of the College will help him relate to undergrads. And he has lots of experience in administration at Berkeley. Could he be just a little too deep-dyed in the Berkeley ethos and a little too removed from that of Chicago? Possibly.

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Will he uphold the university’s commitment to free speech? Or will the safe spaces and trigger warnings common at Cal now make their way to UChicago? Will he have the courage to stand up and defend a professor like Dorian Abbot? I sure hope so, but time will tell.

Alivisatos will be bracketed by Zimmer and Lee for at least 12 to 24 months. I don’t think he will make any drastic change in the near term.

He is an extremely smart guy (even being named on a short list for possible Nobel Laureate in Chemistry). I doubt that he will accept the U of C offer and then proceed to destroy U of C unique atmosphere. He won’t be a transformative President but rather a continuation and an enhancement of Zimmer’s presidency.

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Leadership 101. Put your own team in place. Just a matter of time. (Some of you thought Lee would be chosen; fortunately the board didn’t agree.)

Previously Alivisatos turned down Harvard, saying he wouldn’t leave Berkeley.

Not necessarily. But you are correct that does happen.

But what does the English and History department faculty think of this hire that does not check a single diversity and/or inclusion box? :heart_eyes::grinning_face_with_smiling_eyes:


lol. He was my advisor…now my kid is going to have him as well. Can’t seem to get run away from him.


60 years ago hiring a Greek-American who spent much of his formative years growing up in Greece would be seen as a sign of progress and the availability of upward mobility in America. Now he is just another white male that perpetuates the patriarchy and stands in the way of hiring a genuine person of color.


Why not promote a current University of Chicago administrator?

For provost? He could. He can also bring one in from the outside. It’s not unusual for presidents to do that. Or he could keep Prov. Lee in place. They might even know each other as colleagues in the field of chemistry. And/or as fellow provosts at top R1’s.

Why not promote a current administrator to president?

Maybe the secret sauce here is the twenty-odd patents he apparently holds: He can fund-raise from his own royalty stream. Pity poor William Rainey Harper, a mere bible scholar, who had to go begging to John D.

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I mean I’m not sure it’s just a matter of him being independently wealthy… rather it seems to make sense to bring in high-profile leaders from other institutions to serve as president. It’s a common trend across most top institutions; while internal promotions are also common, the likelier path seems to be hiring someone from the outside. In the announcement email they said that the search committees “independently reviewed the names of presidents, provosts, deans, and other leaders of many top institutions, including select international institutions” – they wouldn’t have put in so much work if it were the same thing getting an internal hire.

Some reasons that come to mind:

  • being the president of a university is the top position in academia, so you could attract literally the top scholars/administrators who wouldn’t otherwise move. We know that Alivisatos turned down an academic position at Harvard; he wasn’t willing to move just like that, but for the position of President he was. So presumably UChicago wouldn’t have been able to hire someone that high-profile just like that, but for president they would. So it makes sense to use the opportunity of a president vacancy to hire someone big from the outside, rather than promote someone who’s already there anyway. Alivisatos is more prolific than most faculty anywhere and he wouldn’t have been easy to attract except through a high-level position of this sort. For a president position, you can really get the best of the best from anywhere in the world, and not just be limited by what’s in your institution – people would be willing to move for that position.

  • external hires bring in outside experience that can be quite valuable. Yes, there are distinctive features of UChicago (just like every other university) which need to be preserved, and the search committees check for that. But beyond that, having experience in another university system can help inspire new directions and get over stagnation. Someone like Alivisatos has experience running a university much bigger than UChicago, as well as experience running a national lab beyond just being a great scientist. All that contributes to bringing in fresh perspectives that are helpful for the university’s long term progress

  • from a practical perspective, who would they promote from within? most people don’t have the experience to run a university. The provost, sure, that might be one possibility, but sometimes provosts are quite new, and even if they’re not, then the above two reasons provide strong incentive to mount an International search for such a unique opportunity

All in all, I think they made a great choice, and something that goes along with what I was expecting for a position as prominent as the UChicago presidency.

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Well, that was speculated as a possibility. Most of the university’s presidents have had some affiliation (past or current). In a few cases, complete outsiders have been chosen. See this comment for the tally, and note that Alivisatos makes nine with prior affiliation: New President Search -- any updates or rumors? - #14 by JBStillFlying

The natural position for internal promotion would be provost, but Lee has only been on the job for a year. Had she been chosen, that meteoric rise would have probably been second only to that of the wunderkind himself, Robert Maynard Hutchins. The prior provost is now running Vandy. The last provost before him is now running Cal Tech! So perhaps they just felt it was time to reach out to those who have an affiliation with the university - and hopefully a clear understanding of its particular intellectual culture.

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