Heidi Heitkamp named director of UChicago’s Institute of Politics

Former U.S. senator has deep connections to IOP as fellow, board member

Former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, whose decades of service have been marked by thoughtful efforts to bridge political divides, has been named director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, effective Jan. 3, 2023. She succeeds David Axelrod, who announced in February his plans to step down from the role.

Heitkamp has been deeply involved with the Institute of Politics as a Pritzker Fellow and a member of the IOP’s senior advisory board. In those roles, she has mentored students and led critical discussions on a range of topics—from the future of government institutions and the threat of hyper-polarization in American politics, to the growing gulf between urban and rural communities.

Since its founding in 2013, the non-partisan Institute of Politics has established itself as a vital center for civic engagement, civil discourse and free expression, where students can find opportunities to explore pathways to public service and engage in rich and varied discussions on the most pressing issues of our time.

“Throughout her decades-long career in government, Heidi Heitkamp has distinguished herself as a leading public servant,” said University of Chicago President Paul Alivisatos. “She brings to the Institute of Politics her remarkable skill for advancing dialogue among individuals with varied perspectives and positions in institutions and communities. I am pleased to welcome her as its new director.”

In 2012, Heitkamp became the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in North Dakota’s history, serving until 2019. During her tenure, Heitkamp was a leading advocate for affordable housing, including reform of the nation’s housing finance system, and she sponsored initiatives aimed at addressing the health and safety of Native American tribal communities and indigenous peoples.

After leaving the Senate, Heitkamp helped found the One Country Project, an organization focused on addressing the needs and concerns of rural communities. She currently serves on the boards of the McCain Institute, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Renew Democracy Initiative and the German Marshall Fund. She is also an on-air contributor on politics and public affairs for ABC News and CNBC. 

"The Institute of Politics is a special place. Each time I’ve been on campus, I’ve come away energized by UChicago students and their passion for engaging in public service and their drive to shape the world around them,” Heitkamp said. “I am excited to join this thoughtful and insightful community of bright, young minds.”

Heitkamp completed her bachelor’s degree in political science and history at the University of North Dakota and her J.D. at Lewis & Clark Law School. Following law school, Heitkamp worked as an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency before winning election as North Dakota’s state tax commissioner in 1986. She was elected attorney general in 1992 and served in that position for two terms.

Heitkamp joins the Institute of Politics following a national search conducted by the University of Chicago’s Office of the President. She succeeds Axelrod, who has served as the founding director of the Institute since 2013. Axelrod announced in February he would transition into a new role as a distinguished fellow at the IOP and the Harris School of Public Policy and as chair of the Institute of Politics’ board of advisors.

“Democracy is not a self-renewing gift; it’s an ongoing commitment,” Axelrod said. “Now more than ever, its success—indeed, its survival—requires our engagement as citizens. Heidi Heitkamp has devoted her life to that mission. An accomplished leader, Heidi’s a consensus-builder, who has never shied away from the challenging conversations that progress in a large, diverse democracy demands. She has the experience, the passion and collaborative spirit to take the IOP forward.”

Later this quarter, Heitkamp will be on campus for a public program and reception to welcome her to her new role.