Academic collaborations energize proposal to bring Obama Presidential Library to South Side

Jeremy Manier
Executive Director of News and Public AffairsUniversity Communications

Reflecting the breadth of collaboration in the effort to bring the Obama Presidential Library to Chicago’s South Side, numerous universities are working with the University of Chicago on creative ideas for collaborations with the library, including Northwestern University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago State University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology.

Collaborators from these institutions hope to develop programs involving research, teaching and outreach in a variety of fields, including health care, education, violence prevention, climate change, human rights, urban journalism, college access, early childhood development and international law. The broad interest in collaboration also includes the City Colleges of Chicago and the 17 Chicago-area institutions that form the America’s Urban Campus consortium. The University of Chicago also is open to collaborations with additional institutions.

These academic collaborations are one facet of the enthusiastic response to the proposal to bring the Obama Presidential Library to the South Side. In addition, the University of Chicago has received more than 40 program proposals from non-profit organizations, and hundreds of letters and other expressions of support from individuals on the South Side and elsewhere. Beyond universities, Chicago-area organizations that have worked with the University of Chicago on ideas for collaboration include the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the Chicago Botanic Garden, the KLEO Community Family Life Center in Washington Park, the Museum of Science and Industry, the DuSable Museum of African American History, the XS Tennis and Education Foundation and the Network of Woodlawn.

“Collaboration is at the core of our proposal. That means bringing together community groups that are tackling big social issues, and assembling scholars who will add their own creativity and intellectual energy,” said Susan Sher, senior advisor to President Robert J. Zimmer. “The South Side and the University of Chicago have unique strengths that can help make this a presidential library like no other—deeply engaged in policy and civic leadership, with the global reach of an ambitious research enterprise.”

The effort led by the University of Chicago is one of four finalists that the Barack Obama Foundation selected in September. The University will respond to the foundation’s Request for Proposals by the Dec. 11 deadline.

“After more than 200 meetings with stakeholders at all levels, we are excited and honored to be leading a proposal that is capturing the imagination of people on the South Side and beyond,” said Derek Douglas, vice president for civic engagement at the University of Chicago. “The breadth of academic collaborations shows the immense potential of this library to inspire and be a proving ground for solutions to some of our society’s biggest challenges. We’re starting to see what the library could mean to people around the world.”

Community voices have expressed deep enthusiasm for the library proposal, including music videos featuring supporters from across the South Side, second-grade students at Shoesmith Elementary, thousands of supporters on social media, and respected South Side historian and educator Timuel Black, who recently wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “We want this library on the South Side because it would be a symbol of the possible.” A study commissioned by the University of Chicago estimated that locating the library in a community near the University would create 1,900 permanent new jobs, bring $220 million in economic impact and attract 800,000 annual visitors to the South Side.

An urban home with global impact

The proposed academic collaborations would connect with the presidential library in many ways—as a center for education and experiential learning, a hub for academic programs to work with community groups, and an intellectual destination where scholars, policymakers and policy practitioners would come together. University of Chicago representatives have spoken with additional institutions about possibilities for collaboration, including the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Hawaii, both of which are also finalists in the presidential library competition.

Scholars from Chicago-area universities are proposing collaborations on a broad array of subjects, including:

Northwestern University: A team of Northwestern collaborators proposes developing the presidential library as a “newsroom” location for graduate students in Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, who could spend an entire quarter studying at the library and reporting on nearby South Side communities. Northwestern faculty members also hope to work with the library on STEM education, links between education and health outcomes, and introducing students to effective community building strategies.

DePaul University: Faculty members and university leaders at DePaul University are interested in working with the presidential library on issues of homelessness, health care, access to higher education and provision of outlets for victims of youth violence to amplify their voices.

Illinois Institute of Technology: IIT researchers hope to work with the library on the use of technology to explore and explain policy decisions, the creation of culture in a digital age, and the impact of social media on communication and relationships.

Chicago State University: CSU has identified four areas for collaboration to support the mission of the presidential library: urban agriculture and aquaponics, STEM, community and civic engagement, and the recruitment, retention and support of African American males in higher education.

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Leaders at SAIC are interested in helping the presidential library become an “urban aggregator” to produce creative solutions in fields such as sustainability and urban agriculture, and partnering on a service incubator offering art students creative avenues for serving communities. SAIC could help create on-site exhibitions, performances and collaborations, and help expand the library’s digital footprint throughout Chicago. SAIC also hopes to work with the library on efforts to help prepare high school students for college.

Loyola University Chicago: Loyola researchers envision joint efforts to advance the rights of children, to examine the science and policy implications of young adults who engage in criminal activity but have not reached full developmental maturity, and to help prepare students for careers that advance environmental sustainability.

University of Chicago: Numerous faculty members from the University of Chicago have offered ideas for collaborations involving the presidential library. These include advancing violence prevention and urban education research; expanding research and outreach on political attitudes among young people of color; developing educational tools about climate change, pollution and access to electricity in the developing world; building more accurate maps of South Side community assets to guide health care providers, policymakers and researchers; developing interventions that can enrich language environments, maximizing early cognitive development and close the “achievement gap”; research on the history and outcomes of the Affordable Care Act; and research and educational events focusing on issues of global justice and human rights.