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Year Two: President Talks with Community

President leads first 2011 conversation about state of the University

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January 11, 2011 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Video produced by Matt Paolelli

Listen to President Schapiro's Conversation on the Chicago Campus

EVANSTON, Ill. --- President Morton Schapiro once again reached out to the Northwestern University community in the first of this year’s “Conversations with the President,” designed to both provoke questions from the audience and to share what is on his mind in an informal state of the University. 

The first discussion was held at 3 p.m. today, Jan. 11, on the Chicago campus and was webcast live. The second conversation will be held May 25 on the Evanston campus. The talks follow the four conversations the President initiated and led last year. 

A glimpse of what President Schapiro talked about follows.

• Strategic plan: After countless meetings, the strategic plan is taking shape and includes leveraging “the gift” of Northwestern’s location in Chicago. “Nobody can replicate what we have in Chicago,” President Schapiro said. Northwestern has reached out to Chicago in the past, “but not as much as we will in the next decade.”     

• Staff: Plans are under way to work toward better integration of staff with Northwestern’s educational mission. “We are blessed with an extraordinarily talented staff,” he said. “We can think of them more as integral elements in the educational process than we now do.” 

• Research: President Schapiro stressed the University's scientific breakthroughs and medical research, such as tests for early prostate cancer and for early detection of AIDS. “Northwestern research makes real contributions to humankind,” President Schapiro said. “We are a private institution, but we are held in the public trust.”  What makes Northwestern distinctive on the world stage, he said, is its research. At the same time, Northwestern excels at teaching, he stressed. 

• Admissions: The University received 30,529 applications for next fall’s entering class, a 10.5 percent increase from last year and almost double the number received only six years ago. They include approximately 2,200 early decision applications, up more than 25 percent for the class of 2015, following increases in the previous two years. The early decision pool was both strong intellectually and reflected the University’s commitment to diversity. “A large share of those 715 [early decision admits] are kids who had such high ACTs, such high SATs, such great recommendations, such great essays, such great extracurricular [activities], and probably, most importantly, such great GPAs and APs that they could’ve gotten into any number of Ivies, but they only wanted to go to Northwestern University.”

• Good Neighbor, Great University: The admissions policy provides financial aid advantages to any graduate of Evanston schools or Chicago Public Schools accepted to Northwestern. Freshmen who graduate from high schools in Evanston and Chicago receive scholarships that include up to full tuition, depending on the student’s level of need. “If you want people to love you and solve town-gown relations, you take their kids, grandkids and neighbors,” he said. The policy has resulted in a 25 percent increase in applications this year from Chicago Public School students, making for a more diverse and intellectually engaged student body. 

• Undergraduate education: The University is taking a serious look at how to improve educational opportunities - particularly how to better take advantage of the calendar to fully utilize the quarter system, President Schapiro said. Over the course of a year, Northwestern students take more classroom credits than students on a traditional semester schedule. Since we have the flexibility, the University could better engage students in experiential education and other non-traditional forms of learning.

• Creating traditions: The University is working to create an atmosphere in which students identify as much with Northwestern as a whole as they do with individual schools. To that end, Northwestern recently led its second annual March through the Arch, in which freshmen ceremoniously parade through the Arch, led by the Northwestern University Wildcat Marching Band. A new fall concert recently was initiated, and Willie the Wildcat was among the skaters who christened the brand new skating rink on the Evanston campus. “These are the kinds of things that that can build incredible loyalty,” he said. 

• Leadership in Northwestern University School of Law and the Feinberg School of Medicine: President Schapiro stressed that during the search for new law school and medical school deans, the interim leadership has been great. “We are going to have worthy successors to two fabulous deans,” he said. “And we have to make sure that our next two leaders are as visionary and as nimble as the last two deans.” 

• What the President said he perhaps could have done better: He wished that he met with more staff members earlier to learn how to better use their talents effectively.

• What the President said that he probably got right: He said he continually meets with students, including attending numerous fireside talks, which include dinners with students. 

• Finances: The University is in good fiscal shape, with the improved financial markets. 

The “Conversations with the President” are a collaboration of the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council, the Faculty Senate and the Office of the President. 

Topics: Campus Life, University