Dear Members of the Brown Community,
It is with deep sadness that we write to inform you of the passing of Robert Zimmer, an accomplished scholar of mathematics, a fierce proponent of free expression and a distinguished leader in higher education who served as Brown University’s ninth provost from 2002 to 2006 before becoming president of the University of Chicago.
His impact and legacy at Brown is seen through his efforts to strengthen the foundation of research and teaching. Bob’s leadership was integral to efforts to expand the faculty and strengthen multidisciplinary programs in areas from environmental science to computational molecular biology and the humanities. He expanded research opportunities for students through key partnerships, including Brown’s relationship with the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) at Woods Hole, and he oversaw the development of new agreements between the Warren Alpert Medical School and affiliated teaching hospitals. Bob remained keenly interested in and supportive of Brown’s progress, even after he returned to the University of Chicago.
Those who knew Bob personally valued his integrity, generosity and dedication to fulfilling the highest ideals of higher education. Bob was a prominent advocate for freedom of expression and diversity of thought on college campuses, and he strongly believed that the free exchange of ideas is essential. His influence in this area can be seen across higher education as colleges and universities around the country adopted principles of free expression that were developed under Bob’s leadership at the University of Chicago.
During his 15 years as president of the University of Chicago, he elevated the university’s global presence, established the first engineering program and strengthened activities in entrepreneurship, innovation, the arts, computer science and data science. He also prioritized the expansion of educational access for first-generation and lower-income students and expanded civic engagement initiatives.
Prior to serving as Brown’s provost, Bob was a University of Chicago faculty member and administrator for more than two decades specializing in the mathematical fields of geometry, particularly ergodic theory, Lie groups, and differential geometry. As a University of Chicago administrator, Bob served as chairman of the mathematics department, deputy provost, and vice president for research and for Argonne National Laboratory. Bob returned to Chicago in 2006 to become president of the University of Chicago.
Bob was the author of two books, Ergodic Theory and Semisimple Groups (1984) and Essential Results of Functional Analysis (1990), and more than 80 mathematical research articles. He served on the Board of Mathematical Sciences of the National Research Council from 1992 to 1995, and was on the executive committee from 1993 to 1995. He held the title of Max Mason Distinguished Service Professor of Mathematics at Chicago before leaving for Brown.
He earned his A.B., summa cum laude, from Brandeis University in 1968 and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University in 1975. He joined the Chicago faculty as an L.E. Dickson Instructor of Mathematics in 1977. He was also on the faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy from 1975 to 1977 and held visiting positions at Harvard University and at institutions in Israel, France, Australia, Switzerland and Italy.
At this difficult time, please join us in conveying sincere condolences to the Zimmer family, especially Bob’s wife and his three sons. Our hearts also go out to the University of Chicago community.
Christina H. Paxson