Former Chicago mayor to return to U-M as visiting professor, joining past NYC leader in residence

July 11, 2024

Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is joining the University of Michigan as a visiting professor, adding more mayoral expertise to the faculty in an effort to encourage and equip students for careers in public service and policy.

Lightfoot will join the Ford School of Public Policy faculty in the fall as a Harry A. and Margaret D. Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence.

Lightfoot, a 1984 U-M graduate, will co-teach a strategic public policy consulting class with Jeffrey Morenoff. The course will pair graduate students with social impact not-for-profit organizations in Chicago and Michigan to solve challenges those groups are facing in the delivery of services in their respective communities. 

"I have started a not-for-profit whose goal is to support community based organizations to build the internal infrastructure they need to remain viable for their communities," she said. "These organizations are in many instances critical assets in these neighborhoods and are essential for neighborhood vibrancy.

"To make this vision a reality, however, we need a large cadre of consultants who share this view about the importance of community-based organizations, and are willing to work at tables set by the community to share their time and talents in furtherance of building capacity and solving problems."

Lightfoot adds she's looking forward to collaborating with Morenoff and believes their work can help "address community-defined needs, build capacity in the organizations who are our clients and reinforce the importance of policy intersecting with practice."

Lightfoot served as Chicago's mayor from 2019 to 2023 as the second woman, first Black female and first openly gay person in that role. In February 2024, she engaged in a "fireside chat" moderated by Ford School Dean Celeste Watkins-Hayes about her background and preparation for public service, the challenges she faced as mayor and lessons about leading during crises.

"We are delighted to welcome U-M alum Mayor Lori Lightfoot back to her alma mater," Watkins-Hayes said. "With her extensive experience as a public servant, Mayor Lightfoot will offer her insightful and multifaceted perspective to our students and inspire our future leaders to grapple with the opportunities and the deep complexities of leadership."

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will return this fall in the same capacity after coming aboard this past winter. De Blasio, mayor of New York City from 2014 to 2021, will reprise his role teaching a course, "When policy met politics: How real change is made."

"Last semester, I experienced the dynamic, focused nature of Ford School students," he said. "I have never taught a more engaged and devoted group of students. I’m coming back this semester to help develop another great cohort of future American leaders."

Lightfoot and de Blasio served their respective cities during some of the most challenging times in recent history and forged an enduring friendship. They look forward to sharing their unique perspectives with the Ford School communities.

Watkins-Hayes says she's "thrilled to have two mayors visiting the Ford School at the same time."

"As former heads of two of America's largest cities, Lori Lightfoot and Bill de Blasio will offer our students a front-row seat into how local leaders influence important conversations happening at the local, state and national levels," she said.

The Towsley Foundation Policymaker in Residence Program was established at the Ford School in 2002 to bring individuals with significant national and international policymaking experience to campus to interact with students and faculty. The program enhances the curriculum and strengthens ties to the policy community.