University to rename Special Collections Research Center in honor of Hanna Holborn Gray

Announcement part of Nov. 9 event on higher education celebrating her 90th birthday

The University of Chicago will rename the Special Collections Research Center—the principal steward of the Library’s rare books, manuscripts and the University Archives—in honor of Hanna Holborn Gray, the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of History and President Emeritus of the University.

President Robert J. Zimmer made the announcement Nov. 9 at the conclusion of a daylong University event, held in recognition of Gray’s 90th birthday, which included conversations about higher education among university presidents, faculty, and others involved in academics and public service.

Zimmer said the naming of the Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center—a critical resource for researchers and the campus community—recognizes Gray’s “achievements, her contributions to scholarship, her special place in this University’s history and her own personal deep commitment to see our libraries flourish.” Gray served as University president from 1978 to 1993 and has been part of the University community for nearly 60 years.

“My happiest hours of scholarly investigation have been spent in the archives and the rare book and manuscript reading rooms of great libraries,” Gray said. “It is an enormous honor to have my name linked to our library’s Special Collections Research Center and the exceptional treasures it makes accessible to scholars throughout the world. I could not be more grateful.”

Zimmer opened the virtual event by acknowledging Gray’s “profound impact” on generations of students, scholars and administrators as well as her far-reaching contributions to the University, the arts and humanities, and the Academy.

“She has remained a prominent and vocal advocate for the core mission of universities themselves, as institutions dedicated to deep intellectual inquiry and analysis, homes to the clash of ideas and the questioning and scrutiny of long-held assumptions, and the freedom of inquiry and discourse that such work demands, and indeed are necessary for new ideas to flourish,” Zimmer said.

The event included a series of discussions examining perspectives from across higher education with speakers who were inspired by Gray’s life and career:

  • University Trustee David M. Rubenstein, JD’73, Co-Executive Chairman of the Carlyle Group, moderated a panel of university leaders including Lawrence Bacow, President of Harvard University; Carol T. Christ, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and President Zimmer;
  • Prof. Jonathan Lear, the Roman Family Director of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and the John U. Nef Distinguished Service Professor at the Committee on Social Thought and in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago, led a panel examining faculty perspectives, which included Jonathan Cole, the John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University and Provost and Dean of Faculties, Emeritus at Columbia University; Louis Menand, the Lee Simpkins Family Professor of Arts and Sciences and the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of English at Harvard University; and Laura Niklason, the Nicholas Greene Professor of Anesthesiology and Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Yale University;
  • Bret Stephens, AB’95, columnist at The New York Times, moderated a panel on academic and public service, which included Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., President of Purdue University; Michael Ignatieff, President and Rector at Central European University; Diane P. Wood, Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School; and Walter Massey, President Emeritus of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Former President of Morehouse College;
  • Sian Beilock, President of Barnard College, spoke in conversation with Alison Richard, Senior Research Scientist in Anthropology and Former Provost of Yale University, and Former Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cambridge.

In his remarks, Rubenstein said that Gray’s life and career—that of a German-born immigrant who became the first woman to hold the full presidency of a major university in the U.S.—has been an inspiration to many. “Hanna has shown that, with incredible intellect and ability, you can rise up to anything you want to be in this country,” he said.

“I want to thank her for showing that women can be leaders, and great leaders of major research universities,” Rubenstein added. “Had it not been for Hanna Gray, they might not have had that position.”

The event was supposed to be one of the first held in the new Rubenstein Forum, which Zimmer described as a place “dedicated to the convening of thinkers from around the world and the power of open discourse and intellectual exchange.” Speaking from the City View Room overlooking the Midway Plaisance and the Chicago skyline, Zimmer said the Rubenstein Forum “represents the best traditions of this University as an intellectual destination.”