Editor’s note: The University held a memorial service for Hugo Sonnenschein on April 30, 2022. Learn more and watch the video here.
Hugo Sonnenschein, a renowned economist and longtime university administrator who led the University of Chicago through a transformational period as its 11th president, died July 15. He was 80 years old.
A member of the University community for nearly three decades, Sonnenschein most recently served as the Charles L. Hutchinson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics. He was a beloved mentor and scholar who continued to teach undergraduate and graduate courses, having made original contributions on questions of multimarket demand and supply functions in economics. His research helped establish the modern theory of aggregate demand.
As UChicago president from 1993 to 2000, Sonnenschein strengthened the recruitment of outstanding students and faculty, developed a strategic plan to expand the undergraduate College, and devoted greater resources to the construction of new facilities and to improving the quality of campus life.
“Hugo’s tireless work led to substantial improvements during his time as president, and set the stage for many of the advances the University has made in the decades since,” wrote President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee in a message to the University community. “He was a leader of foresight whose achievements will be remembered with deep respect.”
Sonnenschein became UChicago president on July 1, 1993, after having served as provost of Princeton University. In his inaugural address on campus that fall, Sonnenschein warned of “the intellectual, economic and social thickets” that the University would face in the future. “Let us come together bravely, willing to question and challenge all that we do,” he said.
Sonnenschein raised expectations for fundraising from the University’s alumni and friends; during his tenure, the University completed a $676 million capital campaign—the most in its history at the time. Sonnenschein also instituted the first campus master-planning process in 30 years, which led to the eventual construction of the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, a new campus for the Graduate School of Business (now Chicago Booth) and two new residence halls for undergraduate students.
While maintaining the strength of the University’s renowned graduate programs, Sonnenschein initiated a program to improve the College’s appeal to undergraduate students. At the same time, curricular developments, including the faculty revision of the renowned Core curriculum, led to greater student opportunities for studying abroad and learning foreign languages.
In spring 1996, Sonnenschein announced a plan to enlarge the size of the undergraduate College by 1,000 students over the course of a decade, while reducing the number of required courses in the Core—proposals that led to spirited debate among UChicago faculty members, students and alumni. John W. Boyer, who has served as dean of the College for 29 years, including Sonnenschein’s tenure as president, said Sonnenschein’s vision has stood the test of time.
“Hugo Sonnenschein was a remarkably strategic leader who made an enormous contribution to the welfare and future success of the University,” said Boyer. “He was a man of decisiveness and courage who helped set in motion patterns of deep structural renewal and transformation for the University that have endured into our times. His passing is an extraordinary loss for the spirit of the University. His foresight and leadership through a time of great challenge and controversy made possible many dynamic features of the University that we enjoy today.”