UChicago mourns loss of former President Hugo Sonnenschein

University’s 11th president made profound impact as leader, mentor and scholar

Editor’s note: The following message was sent July 15 to members of the University of Chicago community from President Robert J. Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee C. Lee.

With great sadness, we are writing to inform the University community of the death of former University of Chicago President Hugo Sonnenschein at the age of 80.

Hugo’s profound impact on the University went well beyond his service as its 11th president from 1993 to 2000. A member of the University community for nearly three decades, he 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.

As president, Hugo provided visionary leadership during a transformational period for the University. He helped strengthen the recruitment of faculty and students and made tremendous strides in fundraising.  Very importantly, he initiated a vital expansion of the College.  This was controversial at the time, but has proven to be a critical component of the evolution of the College and its capacity to reinforce and expand upon the enduring values and approach to education of the College and University. He devoted substantial energy to much-needed improvements in the quality of campus life, working closely with Dean of the College John W. Boyer. 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. He was a leader of foresight whose achievements will be remembered with deep respect.

During Hugo’s tenure, the University completed an important capital campaign—the largest in its history at the time. He also instituted the first campus master-planning process in 30 years, which led to the eventual construction of the Gerald Ratner Athletics Center, the Harper Center of what is now the Booth School of Business, and the Max Palevsky Residential Commons for College students. Some of Hugo’s proposals led to spirited debate on campus, including plans to enlarge the size of the College, expand study abroad opportunities, and update the Core curriculum while retaining its vital place in undergraduate life. Hugo knew that some of these initiatives could be challenging for the University community, but time has proven that they greatly benefitted the University over the long term.

Hugo received a Ph.D. in economics from Purdue University in 1964, and served in the economics faculties of the University of Minnesota, the University of Massachusetts, Northwestern University, and Princeton University. He was a faculty member and dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania from 1988 to 1991, and provost of Princeton from 1991 to 1993. He was an honorary trustee of the University of Chicago and a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Rochester. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association.

Hugo is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Gunn Sonnenschein, their three daughters, and five grandchildren.

We will share further information in the near future on a memorial service and other plans to celebrate Hugo’s life. Please join us in sharing our sympathy for his family, and for his many colleagues and friends at the University of Chicago and around the world.