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'I am thrilled to join you on this journey'

Morton Schapiro inaugurated as president

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October 9, 2009 | by Marla Paul
Video produced by Matt Paolelli

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The all-day rain couldn't dampen the spirits of the students, colleagues, scholars and friends who turned out for the Oct. 9 inauguration of Morton Schapiro as the 16th president of Northwestern University.

A capacity crowd of approximately 2,000 filled the Henry Crown Sports Pavillion as the ceremony was moved inside because of the wet weather. Delegates of nearly 100 colleges, universities and learned societies from throughout the nation led the inaugural procession, their colorful robes reflecting traditions dating back many centuries.

The presentations of the symbols of office brought home the majesty of the moment. That was especially true when President Emeritus Henry S. Bienen officially passed the baton, presenting President Schapiro with the presidential chain of office, created by Tiffany & Co. in 1939. The presentations also included the University seal and the leather-bound charter with a hand-copied reproduction of the Act of Incorporation that granted legal status in 1851 to “The North Western University.”

Three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Thomas L. Friedman, a foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, gave a speech before the investiture, setting the stage for the remarks that everyone was waiting for from President Schapiro.

As President Schapiro, wearing the traditional rich purple doctoral gown of Northwestern, with the four black velvet chevrons on its sleeves, approached the podium, the audience rose in a standing ovation. Then, he spoke with great passion about matters that concerned him.

In particular, he talked about higher education and environmental sustainability, addressed earlier in the day in two inaugural symposiums. He moderated the symposium on the economics of higher education, a subject on which he is a leading authority. He also is known for his leadership on energy and sustainability. In 2007, as president of Williams College, he outlined an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction strategy for the college that Inside Higher Education dubbed “the gold standard of green standards.”

He emphasized the importance of including and embracing students from a wide range of backgrounds in higher education. “Religion, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation and class have until quite recently been criteria to exclude talented potential students from the economic and social benefits of an education at many of our institutions,” he said. “In a world where myriad forces push society toward stratification, higher education must always provide opportunity. … To do less, is to fail in our public mission.”

While successful efforts to attract students and faculty who might previously have been excluded from college campuses should be applauded, he said, much more must be done before institutions of higher education can be considered truly inclusive.  “Let’s not fool ourselves – once they arrive on campus, the hardest work begins,” he emphasized. “I’m not talking about tolerance.  People don’t want to be tolerated; they want to be full members of the community.”

President Schapiro also stressed the importance for Northwestern and other schools to take a leadership role in environmental issues. While he noted that Northwestern’s devotion to environmental issues “is astounding,” he said, ”this is an area where it’s impossible to do too much.”

In earlier remarks, President Schapiro gave the audience a laugh when he recalled how he felt upon hearing that President Emeritus Bienen was stepping down. He said at that time, “I pity the poor person who is going to try to fill his giant shoes.”

He also expressed his excitement about sharing the stage with Friedman whom he referred to as an inspiration and “a person of tremendous courage and vision.”  

It is no coincidence, he said, that Tom Friedman is here today and that new undergraduates were given his most recent book. “Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution -- and How It Can Renew America” was given to them to stimulate a common conversation across campus.

Friedman’s speech explored how the current economic crisis also is an environmental and educational crisis. He said the great recession was the moment when “both the market and mother nature hit a wall.” He noted that the university “is going to play a very big role in providing some of the cures.”  
 
President Schapiro’s opening remarks were filled with gratitude to his family, friends, mentors and colleagues. “I have been truly blessed,” he said, offering special thanks to his wife, Mimi, and their three children, Matt, Alissa and Rachel, who have kept him “well grounded.”  

He also thanked mentors, friends and colleagues, including Dick Easterlin, his thesis advisor 30 years ago and a “brilliantly innovative economist” who has since been a constant presence in his life. He mentioned William G. Bowen, president emeritus of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, who employed “transforming administrative skill“ while being “an amazingly productive and influential scholar in his ‘spare’ time.” He also singled out Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation,  “my long-time friend and co-author.”

The three of them “have set a standard that I can’t hope to achieve, but one to which I will always aspire,” President Schapiro said.

The mission of great colleges and universities such as Northwestern must be to promote the public good, he stressed. “Whether through providing opportunity, fostering global development, increasing environmental awareness or through our many scholarly and artistic achievements, we must be explicit in the tradeoffs we make and efficient in our use of resources,” he said.

In all Northwestern does, he said, “We are united in our core values of deep intellectual curiosity, commitment to achievement in teaching, research and service and, most of all, immutable integrity.”

“May Northwestern help lead the way in creating a safer, more just, more enlightened world -- one that we can pass along with pride to future generations,” he said. “I am absolutely thrilled to join you on this journey.”

Students in the audience enthusiastically responded to President Schapiro’s speech.
 
“It felt like a friend was casually talking to you,” said junior Kathy Duan, a journalism and economics major. “I am very excited about my next two years at Northwestern. I have heard some very, very good things about President Schapiro from my friend at Williams.”

“I think he’s great,” said Elisa Redish, a junior who is involved in an environmental student group. “He’s trying to be friendly and reach out to the students. He’s accessible.”

Trumpet performance major Eric Seligman, class of 2012, agreed. “Overall, I’m very excited to have him leading my university. He seems brilliant, witty and productive.”6

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