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U. of C. Obama library bid: Alliances with other schools

WASHINGTON — The University of Chicago’s bid for the Obama Presidential library and museum, due Thursday, will include proposals for a variety of collaborations with Chicago area universities and community groups as the school seeks to downplay its elitist image.

The U. of Chicago has been in talks with 17 Chicago area schools, including Northwestern University, DePaul University, Loyola University Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Illinois Institute of Technology, the City Colleges of Chicago and Chicago State University, an unsuccessful library bidder cut in the first round.

The list of potential academic alliances included in a statement the University of Chicago released on Monday does not include any pacts with the three other rival finalists: the University of Illinois at Chicago, Columbia University in New York and the University of Hawaii.

I reported last March that the U. of C. was discussing partnerships with Hawaii and UIC; my guess is U of C did not publically comment about its rivals for fear of looking presumptuous.

Putting together deals with academic and community partners is an explicit requirement for all four bidders from the Barack Obama Foundation, headquartered in Chicago.

Bidders must submit information about “any formal or community-based partnerships with the university that are relevant to the project.”

The foundation request for proposal – the document detailing what the bidders must do to win the facility – asks each potential host for extensive information about “partnerships with other organizations to share ideas, resources and audience” as well as ideas for facilitating “scholarly research as well as Informal learning.”

“Collaboration is at the core of our proposal. That means bringing together community groups that are tackling big social issues, and assembling scholars who will add their own creativity and intellectual energy,” said Susan Sher, the former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama who is the University of Chicago executive overseeing the bid.

U. of C did not disclose how these collaborations would be financed.

While the University of Chicago, one of the nation’s leading higher education institutions, has a lot going for it – extensive ties to the Obama family and the wealth to help make the library and museum a reality – the school is elite, private and expensive – as is chief rival Columbia.

Releasing information about collaborations with a range of other educational institutions in Chicago could help temper that image — and blunt a main UIC argument, that it is public, inclusive and transparent.

The UIC will publically release its bid. The University of Chicago and Columbia will not. The foundation will not be making the bids public.

Some of the concepts the U. of C. is advancing: Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism would run a “newsroom” out of the library; DePaul scholars would study youth violence; IIT would ponder digital policies; CSU would focus on African-American males; the Art Institute would explore urban agriculture, and Loyola would help prepare for environmental sustainability careers.

The U. of Chicago would, among other projects, conduct research on violence prevention; South Side health care providers and the history and impact of Obamacare.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle are expected to make a decision early next year.