Located on the south of downtown Chicago, IL in the town of the Hyde Park, the University of Chicago’s (not to be confused with the Univerity of Illinois) campus is a green area filled with old gothic style buildings.  Simply walking around the 211-acre campus makes you feel smarter.  It’s only 15 minutes away from Chicago’s city center, allowing students to take advantage of the city’s attractions without having to live among them.

The American Baptist Education Society and John D. Rockefeller founded the University in 1980, while Marshall Field of department store fame donated the land in Hyde Park. The university first University of Chicago CrestCredit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Chicagoopened its doors in 1892 after luring scholars from other colleges across the country.  They were draw by the idea of a community of great scholars focused on research.  William Rainey Harper, the University’s first president, envisioned a school combining the undergraduate colleges of England and the graduate research colleges of Germany.

It was a success. The University of Chicago quickly became a leader in higher education and became known as place where scholars were unafraid to step into new territory and share their discoveries with the world. Part of this success can be contributed to Harper’s early charter.  It spoke of a commitment to gender equality for both undergraduates and graduates and established a nonsectarian atmosphere despite the school’s Baptist’s origins.

Harper also established several educational innovations, including year round classes to allow students to graduate at whatever time of year they completed their studies. University of ChicagoCredit: http://fairfieldinnakronohio.blogspot.com/2010/09/worlds-15-top-universities.htmlClasses also were not limited to weekdays. Later presidents, such as Robert Hutchins, continued to improve on education.  The curriculum was dedicated to interdisciplinary education, comprehensive examinations had a higher merit than course grades, and discussions rather than lectures were encouraged.  “No episode was more important in shaping the outlook and expectations of American higher education during those years than the founding of the University of Chicago, one of those events in American history that brought into focus the spirit of an age,” wrote Frederick Rudolph.

The University was also one of the founding members of the Big Ten Conference in 1896 and the first ever Heisman Trophy was awarded to senior Jay Berwanger in 1935. However, in 1940 the football team was abolished under the understanding that academics rather than athletics needed to be the school’s focus.  The school had been losing competitions against the other Big Ten schools for a while and withdrew from the conference in 1946.  The varsity football team had to wait until 1969 to be reinstated.

In the early 1950s, the area the University was in began to decline. It took matters into it’s own hands and became a major sponsor of the local urban renewal effort, affecting the neighborhood of Hyde Park’s architecture and layout to comply with university needs.  More campus buildings were added in the late 50s and early 60s, modern style constructions that differed from the Gothic architecture that the campus was, and still, contains. 

The first woman to serve as president of a major research university was Hanna Gray, who took the president’s role at the University of Chicago in 1978.

Today the school is still known for it’s small discussion sections to encourage an active participation in learning, and academia instead of athletics is what the school is famous for. It also has a world-class Medical Center and partnerships with Argonne and Fermi to delve into research.