David Axelrod to step down as director of UChicago’s Institute of Politics in 2023

IOP leader since its 2013 founding has made Institute integral part of campus life

David Axelrod, who has served as director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics since its founding, intends to step down from his role in January 2023 to become a senior fellow at the Institute and chair of its advisory board.

A highly respected political strategist and former senior advisor to President Barack Obama, Axelrod, AB’76, led the effort to establish the Institute in 2013—returning to his roots at the University and Hyde Park following the 2012 election to inspire the next generation of leaders and help students engage in the work of our democracy.

The Institute has become an integral part of campus life over the last decade. Through its renowned speaker series, the IOP has brought to campus world leaders, scholars and experts from across the political spectrum—including former presidents Obama and Carter, the late Senator John McCain, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada—to engage with the University community in a forum of free and open discourse. It also has supported College students in myriad ways, providing more than 2,500 paid internships and career advice for students hoping to work in politics and public service; engaging students through the quarterly Pritzker Fellows program that includes elected officials, policymakers, organizers, activists and journalists; and offering civic engagement programs like UChiVotes—a student-led, voter engagement initiative on campus—that helps students develop as leaders.

University leaders said the Institute’s important role on campus will continue, and they are committed to building upon the IOP’s great success.

“David was the ideal person to launch the Institute, given his boundless energy, his sharp intellect and his deep connection to the University as an alumnus of the College,” President Paul Alivisatos said. “David’s leadership of the IOP has driven its incredible growth and success over the past decade, and has been pivotal to cultivating interest in, and engagement with, local, national and global politics as a central tenet of student life at the University, particularly in the College.”

Under Axelrod’s leadership, the Institute has worked with the University community and local partners to develop programs and initiatives aimed at overcoming political, ideological, and geographical divides and inspiring an interest in civic engagement and public service. One example is a program that Axelrod developed following the 2016 election, called Bridging the Divide, which brings together students from UChicago and Illinois universities and colleges to break down barriers between rural and urban communities.

Axelrod will work with Alivisatos in the coming months in the search for the Institute’s next director.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me. I’m so very proud of what we’ve built over the last decade,” Axelrod wrote in a message to students and stakeholders. “I am thankful to the University for their faith and support and especially grateful for all the students who have passed through our doors eager to engage in the open exchange of ideas and explore the many ways they can serve. Whatever we have provided them, they have provided me with something even more—hope for the future. What an extraordinary gift!”