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.”