Transition of College Leadership

January 24, 2022

To: Members of the University Community
From: Paul Alivisatos, President
Subject: Transition of College Leadership
Date: January 24, 2022

For nearly 30 years, John W. Boyer, Dean of the University of Chicago College, and the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History, has served as an esteemed University leader, extending his many contributions as a faculty member and colleague. It is with immense admiration and gratitude for his extraordinary career and contributions that I share that John will step down as Dean of the College at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Effective July 1, 2023, John has accepted an invitation from me to become Senior Advisor to the President, with responsibilities involving international development, global education, and the support of programs involving public discourse, academic freedom, and the history of higher education. He also will continue to teach in the College.

John transformed the College, which includes more than doubling the College’s enrollment from the start of his tenure, while remaining true to the enduring values on which the University was founded. After completing his masters here in 1969 and PhD in 1975, he held several administrative positions before being appointed in 1992 as Dean of the College, a role in which he has served for an unprecedented six terms – the longest tenure for a College dean in the University’s history.

Under John’s leadership, the College has experienced tremendous growth and innovation. As a result, today the University is considered to have one of the world’s foremost colleges. Examples of John’s many significant accomplishments include:

  • Updating the core curriculum and increasing programs of study to reflect evolving societal interests and areas of inquiry, such as new majors in Data Science, Astrophysics, and Media Arts and Design.
  • More than doubling the College’s enrollment from the start of his tenure, while continually strengthening academic quality and support services, and furthering access through an enhanced admissions process with increased financial aid and programming that enables more students to pursue higher education, regardless of background, geographic location, or ability to pay.
  • Raising more than $1.3 billion in philanthropy to further student access, financial aid, career programs and the vibrancy of campus. This includes establishing the Odyssey Scholarship Program and building the Campus North and Woodlawn residential and dining commons with facilities to integrate residential life and learning.
  • Developing the unique model of Civilization Abroad programs, establishing the Center in Paris in 2003 and launching construction of the Center’s new building that will open in 2024. Currently, nearly 60% of undergraduates study abroad at more than 20 sites globally.
  • Creating what today is recognized as one of the top career programs in higher education, inclusive of paid summer internships for each first-year College student.

As a resident historian, John’s passion for and study of the University’s founding and evolution informed his leadership. It also currently enables generations of faculty, staff, students, and alumni to know our origin and how present-day occurrences relate to it. A prolific author, his book, The University of Chicago: A History, is a staple for all who seek to appreciate why the University is considered one of the world’s most influential institutions of higher education. His white papers and South Side bike tour also provide important insights on the city of Chicago and Hyde Park community in which the University resides.

In addition, he has remained an active scholar of modern European history. His book Austria, 1867-1955 for the Oxford History of Modern Europe series will be published in late 2022 by Oxford University Press.

While these leadership and scholarly contributions are profound, one cannot honor John without acknowledging his fan following. Novelist Henry James once said: “It takes an endless amount of history to make even a little tradition.” In John’s case, the tradition of seeing him bicycling across campus, taking selfies on the Quad with students, and having his image on University apparel quickly became an integral and beloved part of the College experience.

We will begin the formal process for selecting the next dean of the University of Chicago College shortly by assembling a faculty committee to advise the president and provost. Events to honor John’s exceptional contributions to the University also will be planned and announced later this year.

For now, please join me in expressing the University’s deepest appreciation for Dean Boyer’s leadership of the College and continued partnership.