Obama Library: University of Chicago Doesn’t Want to Seem Snobby

The esteemed South Side institution proposes partnerships with local colleges and community groups.

University of Chicago Campus p1

I don't know about you, but when I think about the University of Chicago, several simple word-associations come to mind: Math! Thinktanks! Atom Bomb!

Given its reputation as a cloistered brain magnet, the esteemed private Hyde Park institution (tuition: $48,253 per year) wants to cast off the so-called snob label in its promising bid to win President Obama's library and museum. The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet reports that its official submission for the library includes proposed partnerships with more than a dozen local universities like Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola, Chicago State, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Illinois Institute of Technology. A goal, she writes, is "to downplay its elitist image." 

The University of Illinois at Chicago did not make the cut, as the West Side-based school vies to snag the future tourist trap. Competitors such as  New York's Columbia University and the University of Hawaii were also left off the roster.

In a statement Monday, U. of C said it was also speaking with nonprofits including the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, the DuSable Museum of African-American History and the Museum of Science and Industry.

"Collaboration is at the core of our proposal," said university exec Susan Sher. "That means bringing together community groups that are tackling big social issues, and assembling scholars who will add their own creativity and intellectual energy."

Pitches involve an embedded "newsroom" at the library for students at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism who'd spend spend part of the academic year reporting on surrounding South Side neighborhoods. Chicago State, which lost its library bid earlier this year, wants to partner up on STEM education, urban agriculture and aquaponics and fostering diversity in academia.

Bidders have until Thursday to submit their comprehensive visions for the site. The Barack Obama Foundation, chaired by Chicago businessman Marty Nesbitt, will make recommendations early next year to the president and first lady Michelle Obama and they will make the final decision. The foundation specifically asked for details on partnerships with other groups within the community.

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