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Conversations in Chicago

President Morton Schapiro concludes discussions on state of the University

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April 28, 2010 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO --- President Morton Schapiro continued his conversations on the state of the University on the Chicago campus, and the Northwestern community continued to show up with plenty of questions for their new president.

Following two talks on the Evanston campus, the president spoke to crowds of 125 in his conversations in Chicago Tuesday, April 27, and Wednesday, April 28. He began the conversations with issues on his mind, including the impact of research, the effects of health-care reform on medical education, and increasing diversity and inclusion.

Most of the informal 90-minute forums were devoted to questions from faculty, staff and students. Comments and questions ranged from the need to improve technological communication support between the Chicago and Evanston campuses to the representation of women at higher levels at the University to future plans for the University's globalization.

President Schapiro frequently expressed his family's affection for Chicago. "We love the restaurants, we love the culture, we love the beauty of the lake," he said. "I wonder if people from Chicago try to keep the city a secret from the people on the coasts."

Campus Ties

Concerns were raised about the distance between the Evanston and Chicago campuses and problems that can't be fixed by the shuttle service. Frustrations were voiced about how differences in e-mail, calendar and computer systems stymie communication between the two campuses. President Schapiro agreed that the 12-mile distance between the two campuses can seem far away psychologically, and Provost Daniel Linzer then talked about efforts under way to better connect them. Faculty and staff are working on solutions, he said, and promised that an announcement regarding that analysis will be made soon.

Energy and Sustainability

President Schapiro noted that sustainability and concern for the environment were among his top priorities. "I try every year to look at how five things are doing: the world, your country, your town, your institution and yourself in terms of the environment," he said. "You can't control the world and the country so much, and for the town, you have some control, but I think we should all ask ourselves how is our institution doing, and how are we doing. Lots of higher education institutions talk it but don't walk it. We need to walk it." He announced that Northwestern is in the process of hiring a staff member who will coordinate the University's sustainability efforts.

Staff Loyalty and Concerns

President Schapiro stressed how surprised and delighted he was with the staff's loyalty to Northwestern. "There's remarkable loyalty as evidenced by the fact that quite a number of our staff have been here quite a long time, and quite a number of them think of themselves as important educators," he said. In concluding remarks, he effusively praised Northwestern staff, thanking them for their efforts and noting their importance to the University's overall missions of education and research. He talked about the staff's high level of competency, stressing that he sees the staff, a well as the faculty, as educators.

Globalization Plans

President Schapiro mentioned that he will be visiting the Northwestern Qatar campus Saturday and stressed the importance of globalization. During a recent visit to India, he continually thought about the types of educational opportunities the University could implement. He, Provost Linzer and others from the administrative team are thinking about the next global steps for the University. "I want to be sure that we can export the great education that we have in Chicago, Evanston and now Qatar if we're thinking about expanding internationally," President Schapiro said. "We want to do this right."

Northwestern Medicine

President Schapiro talked about how he embraces the challenges of working with the medical school with all of its complexities and enjoys working with Feinberg School of Medicine Dean J. Larry Jameson, whom he described as a great leader. He pointed to the good relationships with Dean Harrison, "this brilliant guy who runs NMH [Northwestern Memorial Hospital], and with our friends at NMFF [Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation]." NMH and NMFF are separately incorporated entities, with separate boards, he said. "Yet, the three of us have to work together, not just in funding, but also to promote this great medical enterprise that we're trying to build. It's already great, and it's getting better."

Representation of Women

President Schapiro responded to a question about women in the academic community tending to be represented disproportionately at the lower levels with less and less representation as levels increase. He expressed interest in looking at the numbers not only on gender but on race, ethnicity and nationality. "I believe in transparency...let's try to have goals for 2015."

Schools and Forward Thinking

President Schapiro noted that Law School Dean David Van Zandt is on the forefront of bold thinking about how legal education must change with the times. The exciting thing about Northwestern, he said, is "we are on the forefront of rethinking education, teaching and research in all 12 schools."

Diversity/Inclusion

President Schapiro acknowledged that the process to make everyone in a university community feel included is often difficult and takes time.

He noted that Northwestern was ahead of its time in graduating the first woman in a four-year undergraduate class in 1874, but the University also reflects the biases of the times.

"We are institutions that have been dominated by the majority class for most of our history," said President Schapiro. "We were ahead in gender, but not in race, not in class, not in ethnicity, not in religion, certainly not in nationality."

Diversity, President Schapiro assured a student who asked a related question, is one of his top priorities. "You asked how do you make this important? Well, there are certain things you make your highest priorities, and this is one of the highest priorities."

Almost from the moment he stepped foot on campus, President Schapiro has been adamant about his commitment to attracting more students, faculty and staff members from underrepresented groups and to making them truly feel welcome at Northwestern. He has been meeting with a special task force on diversity and inclusion in the last few months.

"I believe strongly that we need to make the necessary institutional commitment to this and develop specific action steps to make it happen," he said in an earlier talk.

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