$32.5 million in gifts to support Chicago Harris

Public policy school to move to new facility

Wen Huang
News Officer for Law, Policy and EconomicsUniversity Communications

Two major gifts to the University of Chicago will support the Harris School of Public Policy, enhancing the school’s research, education and impact on challenges facing society, and helping the school move to a new facility.

University Trustee Dennis J. Keller, MBA’68, co-founder and retired chairman and CEO of DeVry Education Group, has committed $20 million to Chicago Harris, marking the largest gift in the school’s history, and $5 million to the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. In recognition of Keller’s generosity, the building designed by Edward Durell Stone at 1307 E. 60th St., the future home of Chicago Harris overlooking the Midway Plaisance, will be named the Keller Center upon completion of a major renovation and adaptive reuse project. 

University Trustee King Harris, chairman of Harris Holdings, Inc. and board chair of AptarGroup, Inc., and his family, will give $12.5 million, adding to their longstanding support of Chicago Harris.

“As a university with faculty deeply engaged in public policy questions arising within our own city and around the globe, the University of Chicago brings a distinctive set of analytic strengths to public policy scholarship, education and innovation in policy practice,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “These generous gifts by Dennis Keller and the Harris family will add to the scope and impact of that scholarship and education, enhancing the Harris School of Public Policy’s roles as a center of rigorous policy analysis, education of the next generation of public policy leaders, and an intellectual destination for scholars and policymakers and practitioners from around the world.”

“Chicago Harris is a proven center for innovative, game-changing public policy work, and we are in an ideal position to extend our reach,” said Chicago Harris Dean Daniel Diermeier. “At this critical moment in the school’s development, these gifts will allow us to build a facility that will accommodate the ambitious work that our faculty and students are known for.”

Keller has deep ties with UChicago, where he was a Graduate School of Business fellow and obtained his MBA in 1968. His mother, Dorothy Alice Barckman Keller, was a student in the College and retained an abiding love for the University throughout her life. Two of Keller’s sons earned master’s degrees at Chicago Booth, while his other son earned a JD at the University of Chicago Law School.

His current contribution builds upon his previous $25 million donation to UChicago in 2000, when he co-chaired a fundraising campaign for Chicago Booth. He has served on the University’s Board of Trustees since 1998.

“It is my hope that my $25 million gift to the Harris School of Public Policy and the Booth School of Business will spur students and faculty from both schools to work together more collaboratively and will provide opportunities for students from each of those schools to extend their knowledge base beyond their individual disciplines,” Keller said.

Keller received his undergraduate degree in economics from Princeton University. A member of the Chicago Harris Visiting Committee, the Council on Chicago Booth, Smithsonian Institution’s national board of trustees and chairman of the Mpala Wildlife Foundation board of trustees, he also co-chairs Princeton’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Leadership Council.

King Harris currently heads Chicago Harris’ Visiting Committee and serves on its Dean’s International Council. He is a longtime board member of the Metropolitan Planning Council and previously spent 10 years as a senior executive of Chicago Metropolis 2020. He also currently serves as board chair of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and an executive committee member of the Chicago Community Trust.

Part of King Harris’s gift is a $2.5 million commitment that goes to the 2x20 Fund, a new Chicago Harris initiative designed to increase student enrollment, boost faculty research and implement more leadership development programs in urban science, energy, the environment and data analytics to serve governments, non-profits and businesses worldwide. It aims to double the school’s overall activity by the year 2020.

“I am strongly committed to the belief that societal tensions and problems can be alleviated through effective social policies,” Harris said. “Our support will help the school maintain its leadership role by attracting the very best and most accomplished students, and by providing a world-class facility that is consistent with the future needs of the school and its world-class reputation.”  

These landmark gifts add to the legacy of giving to Chicago Harris started by the late Irving B. Harris and his wife Joan. Twenty-five years ago their generosity launched the Graduate School of Public Policy Studies at the University and provided its core endowment. In 1990, the University renamed the school in Irving B. Harris’ honor.

The future home of Chicago Harris

The Keller Center, the future home of Chicago Harris, will be an adaptive reuse of the building designed by Edward Durell Stone, originally built in 1962. The building has served many functions over its history, most recently as a residence hall. While retaining and preserving the key features of its original construction, the redesign will incorporate new ideas and technology in sustainable development. 

The new facility, which will be much larger than the current Harris space, will serve the needs of the faculty, students and visiting scholars with a more appropriate space for teaching, research and events, and also will allow room for substantial growth in faculty and student enrollment.  

Over the past decade, Chicago Harris has expanded its enrollment while recruiting outstanding students to its increasingly diverse and international student body. Its enhanced curriculum, applied learning and research programs in urban policy, energy policy and data science have enabled students to keep pace with the fast-shifting policy landscape. 

The school also has created a new interdisciplinary master’s degree program in Computational Analysis and Public Policy and has a new academic partnership with Argonne National Laboratory for its master’s degree program in Environmental Science and Policy. Harris has several new research centers such as the Center for Policy Entrepreneurship and the Center for Municipal Finance. All of these initiatives further the school’s mission of preparing future policy leaders for the challenges they are likely to face in their careers.

At the same time, the school has built upon international partnerships that support scholarships, exchange programs and collaborative research projects.  

The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact

The gifts by Keller and the Harris family come as the University launches the public phase of its fundraising campaign, The University of Chicago Campaign: Inquiry and Impact.

The priorities of the $4.5 billion campaign include support for scholars who are shaping fields of inquiry, distinctive educational opportunities for students at all levels and innovative programs to enhance the University’s local and global impact.

The most ambitious in the University’s history, the campaign has already raised more than $2 billion in the quiet phase, representing some 182,000 gifts from alumni, parents and friends of the University. Broad support for UChicago’s academic priorities resulted in a record $511 million in new gifts and pledges in fiscal 2014. 

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