Derek Douglas to join University as Vice President for Civic Engagement

Derek Douglas, who serves as President Obama’s senior adviser on urban policy, will join the University of Chicago as its next Vice President for Civic Engagement, beginning in January.

Since 2009, Douglas has served as a Special Assistant to the President for Urban Affairs, directing the Domestic Policy Council’s urban policy. In that role, he has been one of the chief architects of the White House’s agenda to strengthen the nation’s cities and metropolitan areas. A Yale-trained attorney, Douglas also has served important roles in the New York State governor’s office, the Center for American Progress and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

At the University, he will lead the institution’s continuing efforts to act in partnership with its city, region and the nation. In recent years, through initiatives such as the Urban Education Institute, the University has sought to engage issues of importance in ways that promise to enhance the quality of life for residents and enrich the work of University faculty and students through research, education and direct engagement.

“We have taken important steps to expand the University’s civic partnerships and create a broader intellectual and cultural engagement with the City of Chicago, as a model for understanding the potential for the relationship between a great urban research university and the city within which it is situated,” University President Robert J. Zimmer said. “Derek’s expertise, energy and vision will help us develop this potential, while expanding our ambitions for this work.”

At the White House, Douglas worked closely with senior leadership and cabinet secretaries to coordinate the work of 16 federal agencies on issues of importance to the nation’s cities and metropolitan areas, as well as partnering with mayors and governors across the nation. He spearheaded initiatives such as the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative and the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, and helped develop national policy on issues related to economic and community development, affordable housing, transportation, K-12 education, urban health, public safety, entrepreneurship, public-private partnerships and more.

Much of his work has taken place at the intersection of the public, private and philanthropic sectors. Douglas believes public-private partnerships are key to the future of cities and said a major university has a special role in that sphere.

“The renowned intellectual resources of the University of Chicago — together with its commitment to issues such as urban education, urban health, youth violence, and economic and community development — put it in a unique position to provide innovative leadership for its host community. As a major anchor institution, it also has a singular role in catalyzing economic growth and opportunity, as we have seen in projects such as the Harper Court redevelopment,” Douglas said.

“I am excited to join President Zimmer and his entire team to build upon the strong foundation of work already underway,” Douglas said. “I’ve spent my entire career working passionately on these issues. This is a tremendous opportunity and an honor for me.”

Douglas will oversee the Office of Civic Engagement, created in 2008 to bring under one umbrella community affairs, and local and state government relations while expanding the University’s intellectual and cultural engagement with the City.

He will work with University leadership on initiatives such as the efforts underway to catalyze retail development on 53rd Street and other key areas, overseeing the University’s many economic development partnerships.

Working with the faculty and local officials, he will help facilitate research connections between the University and the City and surrounding region. He will continue to build the University’s relationships with South Side communities and organizations. And he will work with faculty members and University officials to promote and project efforts already underway that bring analysis and application together on matters of broad interest to the community.

In recent years, the University has launched major initiatives that deepen its involvement with Chicago, in particular Hyde Park and neighboring communities. The Urban Education Institute brings together the University-operated charter school campuses, teacher training programs, and groundbreaking research in order to improve educational outcomes for students in Chicago and beyond. The University’s Medical Center is working in partnership with South Side health clinics, hospitals and physicians to strengthen the health care resources available to community members.

Faculty members in the School of Social Service Administration are collaborating with city officials to better understand and reduce youth gun violence. The University also announced this fall the creation of an “arts incubator,” located in the Washington Park community, which will bring together University and community artists.

The University has worked closely with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and its four local aldermen to align and promote development efforts on the City’s South Side. Those talks resulted in a Memorandum of Understanding, signed in September, that promises increased investment and a focus on economic opportunity for local residents.

Last month, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development cited the University’s participation when it awarded a $30.5 million Choice Neighborhoods grant for the redevelopment of the Grove Parc housing development. HUD also cited several other University initiatives in Woodlawn among their reasons for choosing Grove Parc from a national pool of 64 applicants.

The Office of Civic Engagement also has promoted dialogue among scholars, City leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and more, through its Future of the City symposiums and smaller community forums.

“I have had the great fortune to tour much of the country over the last two and a half years and hear the concerns and ideas of people throughout our cities and metropolitan areas. I look forward to diving deeper into that conversation at the University and with a wide variety of Chicagoans,” Douglas said. 

Douglas earned his BA in Economics from the University of Michigan, and a JD from Yale University. He was a law clerk for Judge Timothy Lewis at the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit before joining the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, where he litigated issues concerning educational equity, school choice and affirmative action.

He joined the Washington office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, where he worked with a number of government officials on issues ranging from legislative strategy to nomination hearings. From there he went to the Center for American Progress as Associate Director for Economic Policy and Director of the Economic Mobility Program. He then was appointed director of the Washington office of the Governor of New York, where, among other duties, he worked closely with the chancellor of the State University of New York on priorities in higher education.

Douglas grew up in southwest Michigan, about 90 miles from Chicago. His wife, Ellen Douglas, grew up in the City, with roots in Hyde Park and on the North Side. They will be moving to Chicago with their two young daughters.