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The Presidents of
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The announcement of Levi's election as president, 1967

Fairfax M. Cone, Edward H. Levi, and George W. Beadle at the announcement of Levi's election as president, September 15, 1967.

 

 

 

 

Levi letter to students of the University, 1969

Edward H. Levi to his students at the University of Chicago, January 29, 1969.

 

Edward H. Levi

1911-

The University of Chicago exists for the life of the mind. Its primary purpose is intellectual. It exists to increase the intellectual understanding and powers of mankind. The commitment is to the powers of reason.

Edward H. Levi

 

Levi's role at the University expanded as he took over the provost's office under President Beadle. The Beadle/Levi years saw plans to expand facilities in every phase of the University, from scientific research labs to offices to libraries to a proposed "student village." While provost, Levi also served for a year as acting dean of the College, overseeing a complete revamping of the College curriculum and reorganizing the growing numbers of electives and tracks into a "Common Core" that reemphasized the role of general education, the hallmark of the College during the Hutchins administration. The College faculty was restructured into divisions which mirrored the graduate divisions--biological sciences, humanities, physical sciences, and social sciences--and a fifth "New Collegiate Division" which offered interdisciplinary programs.

Levi was thus the obvious choice to succeed George W. Beadle when Beadle retired in 1968. He represented the institution in a uniquely personal way. A press release characterized him as dressing "conservatively, usually in dark suits. He smokes a pipe and cigars, but not cigarettes. His drink is bourbon or a martini. He drives a battered old car to work from his grey, wooden-framed house in Hyde Park-Kenwood . . ." Journalist and alumnus John Gunther wrote that "his touch, his attitudes, his slight figure and flashing eyes, the mobility of his good looks, all indicate sophisticated refinement, but his record - he is an old Hutchins man - is that of a Young Turk."

As president, Levi became an eloquent spokesman for the University of Chicago and for the ideals of higher education. He fought against contemporary trends to make the university a "knowledge machine-a part of the education-industrial power complex." Its goals were not social or political, but intellectual:

The University of Chicago... does not exist to increase the earning power of its students. It does not exist to train the many technicians needed for our society, nor to develop inventions important for industry.

While it is and should be a good neighbor, it does not exist to be a redevelopment agency for the South Side of Chicago.

Its primary purpose is not to be a college where students can find themselves free of the pressure of the discipline of learning.

It does not exist to be a series of experimental political and social communities, nor is its institutional purpose to be found in the leadership by it of new liberal or conservative causes.

. . . while its faculty and students will individually respond to a variety of political and social commitments, the purpose of the University continues to be intellectual, not moral .

. . . Its greatest service is in its commitment to reason, in its search for basic knowledge, in its mission to preserve and to give continuity to the values of mankind's many cultures. In a time when the intellectual values are denigrated, this service was never more required.


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