Honoring political scientist’s five decades spent making the world ‘more just and democratic’

Dick Simpson, professor of political science and honoree, with steering committee members
(From left) David Orr, former Cook County clerk and founder of Good Government Illinois; Roberta Rakove, senior vice president external affairs, Mount Sinai; Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs; Arlene Norsym, former associate chancellor of alumni relations; Dick Simpson, professor of political science and honoree; Carol Moseley Braun, former U.S. senator and U.S. ambassador; UIC Chancellor Michael D. Amiridis; Barbara Risman, department head and professor of sociology; Mary Ann Ahern, NBC 5 Chicago political reporter; Astrida Orle Tantillo, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Evan McKenzie, department head and professor of political science.

Dick Simpson’s distinguished and influential career has spanned five decades and uniquely combined higher education and local government.

He also has been a favorite among media members who seek out his expertise on various local government matters, such as political corruption, elections, legislators’ voting patterns, budgeting, and neighborhood empowerment.

“Sometimes, you just need the straight story. You need someone who will raise those questions and say, ‘Yeah, they might be telling you this, but here is what is really going on,’” Mary Ann Ahern, NBC 5 political reporter said in reference to Simpson. “That resource has been incredible to me. I think telling it straight has been an amazing quality in a city and a state that is just so one party.”

Whether as a college professor, Chicago’s 44th ward alderman, media pundit or private citizen, Simpson has been at the center of the political struggles to make Chicago, America and the world “more just and democratic.”

“UIC has afforded me a home, a place from which to stand to make that effort more effectively,” said Simpson, who’s been at the university since 1967. 

More than 100 friends, colleagues and former students gathered Nov. 19 at the Union League Club of Chicago for an invitation-only event to honor and celebrate his dedication to UIC and public service.

Hosted by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the occasion also marked the public launch of an endowment established by Simpson for the benefit of the department of political science that will fund annual lectures or research related to the “Future of Chicago.” The event raised over $26,000 in support of the fund.

Since 1976, civic leaders have accepted an invitation to Simpson’s classroom to examine issues of civic and political importance with students and the community as part of the annual “Future of Chicago” lecture series.

“And the permanent fund we have created this night guarantees that conversation will continue,” he said. “I have been called many things by friends and enemies, and one of those names is ‘reformer.’  I want us to continue to study, think and act to reform our world.”

Simpson estimates that more than 30,000 students have taken his classes at UIC, where he has received four of the highest awards for teaching, including the UIC Silver Circle Award and the Teaching Recognition Program Award.

“I remember how great it was as a young undergraduate to hear from a lot of different perspectives in the Chicago political scene. It shaped my early knowledge of what Chicago was, where we had come from as a place politically and where we should go,” said attorney Ken Thomas, a 2013 UIC graduate and member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ Board of Visitors.

“So many of the students and my faculty cohort have been idealists. We have jointly created a university that is dedicated to civic engagement and betterment. We create knowledge taught around the world,” Simpson said.

Former U.S. Senator and U.S. Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun reflected on her former professor’s impact.

“Dick Simpson can rest easy in the knowledge that his life’s work has made a difference for good and an entire community,” said Moseley Braun, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from UIC in 1969. “Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, the United States, the world is better because of his vision and his work.”

Fitting with the title of his 2017 memoir, “The Good Fight: Life Lessons from a Chicago Progressive,” Simpson doesn’t intend to slow down.

“I want you to know that I will continue to write, teach, and campaign for democracy and justice,” he said.

To make a gift for the UIC Dick W. Simpson Political Science Fund for the Future of Chicago, visit https://give.las.uic.edu/units/las/ or call Linda Macias at 312-413-3281.

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