John W. Boyer reappointed to fifth term as dean of the College

John W. Boyer has been appointed to an unprecedented fifth term as dean of the undergraduate College at the University of Chicago. During Boyer’s tenure as dean, the focus of the College community—students, faculty and alumni—has been on the enduring value of liberal arts education, both as a learning enterprise undertaken in the classroom and the laboratory, and as strong preparation for a thoughtful and rewarding life.

Boyer’s 20-year tenure has been distinguished by academic innovation, especially in the Core curriculum and in international education; significant new investment in financial aid; enhancements to faculty teaching and student community life; and the creation of substantial programs that help students plan for careers after graduation. All of these have accompanied an increase in the size of the College and greatly increased applications to the College, leading to and benefiting from a strong community of students, faculty and alumni.


“John Boyer has been an historic dean for the College,” said President Robert J. Zimmer. “The advances in the education and experience we are able to offer our students have been remarkable across a broad set of domains. I could not be more pleased that John will continue to provide exemplary leadership for the College in the coming years.”

Under Boyer’s leadership the College faculty revised the Core curriculum while preserving the Core’s signature of intensive discussion of original texts and rigorous experience with methods of inquiry across all the disciplines. 

The Core enjoys enormous teaching support from the tenured and tenure-track faculty of the College. In the Humanities and the Social Sciences, the College has established the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts, which brings young scholars to Chicago to experience Core teaching and learn both from the challenge of engaging with UChicago students and from the mentorship of the tenured and tenure-track faculty of the College. The Society has grown from 14 to 36 members during Boyer’s deanship, as a collaborative effort to sustain the strong teaching culture of the College into the next generation.

With the crucial aid of an anonymous donor, Boyer also has dramatically increased the resources available to College students through the Odyssey Scholarships. These scholarships have made it possible for the College to eliminate loan requirements for students from low-income families. More generally, the support of donations from many sources has helped increase financial aid fourfold over the last 20 years. This has led to a student body that is more diverse, with greater accomplishment in a variety of fields than ever before.

A strong advocate of international education, Boyer founded the College’s ambitious campaign to create distinctive, faculty-led programs in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, where College students can fulfill Core and major requirements in the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural and physical sciences. The College and its alumni also have invested in summer grants for more than 100 College students each year, to undertake intensive language study and to pursue research for their BA papers abroad.

Prof. Jean Comaroff said her work with Boyer on the Civilization program in Cape Town, South Africa demonstrated his “enlightened leadership” focused on scholarly excellence.  

“Unlike many other U.S. colleges, whose study-abroad programs tend to trade exotic locales for intellectual content, University of Chicago programs manage to offer both, and allow each to enhance the other,” said Comaroff, the Bernard E. and Ellen C. Sunny Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology. “By designing each program around the passions and serious research commitments of core faculty, these programs have enabled exciting, new pedagogic developments that give students first-hand experience of the interplay between scholarship and locale.”

The College also is characterized by engaged local communities. The Max Palevsky Residential Commons, the Bartlett Dining Commons, and the South Campus Residence Hall and Dining Commons are attractive new centers of student life in the heart of campus. In addition, increases in the resources available to students for community service, social organizations, and individual academic and artistic projects have dramatically increased student entrepreneurship in all fields.

All of these investments bear fruit in the achievements of the College’s students. For example, since Dean Boyer’s tenure began in 1992, Chicago students have won an increasing number of Rhodes, Marshall, Fulbright and Truman scholarships, placing the College among the top five institutions whose students have earned these awards. At the same time, the Peace Corps and Teach For America have recognized the College as a leading source of student participants. 

In close collaboration with alumni, with a Career Advising and Planning Services office that has become a national leader in the field, and with the University’s professional schools, the College supported the creation of the Jeff Metcalf Fellows Program for student internships. The collaboration also produced eight new initiatives known as the “Chicago Careers In” programs, which help students plan for careers in the arts, law, business, the health professions, public and social service, higher education, science and technology, and journalism.

Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum noted that many of Boyer’s initiatives, such as the growth of study-abroad opportunities, have benefited students and faculty, while energizing University alumni around the world.

“Dean Boyer has always encouraged students in the College to take full advantage of this complex research university while they pursue a world-class liberal arts education,” Rosenbaum said.

“I am honored to be entrusted with the Deanship of the College,” Boyer said. “This is an intellectually fearless community, one that enjoys enormous respect around the world.

“At Chicago we take the view that what you did yesterday doesn’t count, and there’s always a need for improvement and hard work,” he said. “I look forward to continuing to serve the College and working hard to secure the achievements of our community for the next generation.”

Boyer added that his goals for his next term include: a deep, systemic engagement to strengthen the teaching of undergraduates; continuing to build the capacity for financial aid to students; substantial investment in key student life initiatives and in the “Chicago Careers In” programs; a more strongly residential character for the College through investment in new residence halls; further development of the College’s international education programs; and a richer and deeper network of opportunities for students to engage with the institutions and the communities of the City of Chicago. 

“I am particularly pleased with the prospects afforded our by students by the new Institute of Politics, to be directed by College alumnus David Axelrod,” Boyer said.

In addition to his accomplishments as dean, Boyer has become an expert on the history of the College and the University, and has published 17 monographs on subjects ranging from early battles over College curricula to the place of student housing in the College’s academic mission. But the subject did not come naturally at first for Boyer, the Martin A. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of History. Prior to becoming dean, his main specialty had been the history of the Habsburg Empire and Central Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“When I took this job 20 years ago, I didn’t know much about the history of the University,” Boyer said. “Since then I have learned so much about the ideals of the people who founded this place. To read William Rainey Harper is to be reminded of the University’s enormous ambitions.

“I’ve been quite influenced by Harper’s idea of the university as a crucible of democracy,” Boyer said. “The idea was that we would be educating leaders in many fields, and the quality of their education would empower them to become leaders. That is also the case today.” According to Boyer, “There is no contradiction between intellectual intensity and professional success.”