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Message from President Schapiro

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April 5, 2010
Dear members of the Northwestern University community,

The Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council is sponsoring several opportunities for me to talk with students, faculty and staff in the coming month. These “Conversations with the President” will give me a chance to update you on the state of the university more informally than might have been done in the past. And equally importantly, they also will give me a chance to listen and learn what’s on your mind.

So I hope you’ll be able to come to one of these opportunities for conversation. They will be held on the Evanston campus April 15 at 2 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Building Forum and April 16 at 9:30 a.m. in the Great Room, 600 Haven St. On the Chicago campus, the conversations will be April 27 at 2 p.m. in Wieboldt Hall Room 147 and April 28 at 9:30 a.m. in Thorne Auditorium. I hope you can make it to one of them.

In the meantime, in an effort to get the conversations going, here are some topics that have been on my mind.

Listening and learning. I’ve been spending a lot of time since September 1 learning about Northwestern. I think I’m getting a good feel for the key issues but I expect that my learning curve will continue for at least a while longer. I plan to continue to meet with people on all three campuses and I hope that you’ll help me continue to learn about Northwestern.

Strategic plan. Work is underway on crafting a new strategic plan for the University. We have seven working groups with more than 100 students, faculty and staff on those groups. We plan to move very quickly on this, hoping to have it completed by the end of this calendar year, but we also want to make sure we have opportunities to get feedback on the plan. It needs to be specific, but flexible – what we don’t want is a plan that sits on the shelf. It needs to be actionable, compelling and credible so it can guide us for the next decade.

Finances. Northwestern is in relatively good shape financially, particularly compared to some of our peer institutions that depend much more heavily on funding from the endowment. But we’re still in a tight financial position and we expect that to continue for the next two years. Realistically, that means that salary increases will likely remain lower than we wish. But unlike almost all of our peer institutions, and much of private industry, we do not anticipate the need for wide-scale layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions or deep operating budget cuts. I realize that this “not as a bad as it could be or is elsewhere” message may not be as comforting or hopeful as you might like, but I feel it’s important to be straightforward about where the University stands financially. We’re going to have to continue to manage our finances carefully. That’s what has enabled us to weather the current storm as well as we have. 

Growth opportunities. While the financial difficulties are causing stress everywhere, they also create some opportunities for movement and to make transforming hires for Northwestern. We will continue our efforts to attract and retain top faculty and staff in those areas that are important to us strategically.

Admissions and financial aid. We’re fortunate. A Northwestern degree continues to be an extremely sought-after credential. Applications for undergraduate admission topped 27,000 this year and applications for our graduate and professional schools continue to be very strong. I’m confident that we will enroll an exceptionally strong class of students at all levels next fall. However, we also anticipate that the need for financial aid for our students will increase significantly, given the current economic conditions. We want to provide more financial assistance in order to make Northwestern accessible to students from all income levels, so a key challenge will be how to do so given our financial constraints.

Diversity/inclusion. I’ve been meeting with a special task force on diversity and inclusion for the past month or so. There’s no question that we want to attract more students, faculty and staff members from underrepresented groups and make them feel welcome and included at Northwestern. I believe strongly that we need to make the necessary institutional commitment to this and develop specific action steps to make it happen.

Town-gown relations in Evanston. I think we’ve made progress in warming the relations between the University and the City of Evanston. There’s a new city council and new mayor, Elizabeth Tisdahl, with whom I’ve developed a very good working relationship. While there undoubtedly will be occasional friction points between Northwestern and Evanston, I think we are on the way to improved relations.

I’ll stop there, even though there are many other things that I’m eager to talk with you about. And I’m sure you have other topics that you’d like to raise as well.  If you’d like to send your questions in advance of the forums, you may do so by e-mailing them to conversations2010@northwestern.edu. I hope to see you at the upcoming conversations or on campus!

Morty Schapiro
President and Professor