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President Schapiro: University on the Move

NUSAC-sponsored events draw crowds on Evanston and Chicago campuses

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April 10, 2012 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel
Produced by Matt Paolelli

Listen to the complete Evanston conversation

Listen to the complete Chicago conversation

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Interest in Northwestern University is at an all-time high, and plans for making a great university even better are well under way, President Morton Schapiro told Evanston and Chicago campus audiences during his first conversations this year with the Northwestern community.

Sponsored by the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC), two “Conversation with the President” events took place -- the first on Tuesday, April 10, on the Chicago campus in the Hughes Auditorium in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center and the second on Thursday, April 12, on the Evanston campus in the McCormick Tribune Building Forum. Both “Conversations” were webcast live.

About 135 people attended the Evanston event, which included a half hour of remarks followed by an hour-long question-and-answer session. In his comments President Schapiro underscored the importance of Northwestern’s commitments to:

  • Increasing diversity and inclusion among faculty, staff and students, noting it was a priority in the new Strategic Plan.
  • Improving and adding to the green spaces on the Evanston campus, as parking is pushed more to the periphery.
  • Working to enhance sustainability efforts across the University, emphasizing that while it may cost more at times, “It is the right thing to do.”
  • Making the safety of students “our highest priority” as a University, including preparing for emergencies and supporting activities like “Take Back the Night.”

Earlier in the week, about 200 people attended the event on the Chicago campus and the audience included two new deans -- the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Eric Neilson and Northwestern Law’s Daniel Rodriguez -- who both were recognized by the president.

President Schapiro addressed a variety of issues in his remarks on both campuses and in his responses to faculty and staff questions -- as well as to questions submitted by others online, including alumni.

They included the University’s continuing healthy, but complicated, finances, its stellar NIH ranking for research dollars, its path-breaking research that is changing people’s lives and leading to real-world innovations, its plan to significantly increase financial aid and the record-breaking increases in applications that have resulted in more diverse and academically stronger classes.  

The president said Northwestern is making steady and significant progress moving up in several national rankings, including the amount of research funding awarded by the National Institutes of Health. The new strategic plan positions the University strongly to continue that progress, along with plans for improving infrastructure and resources to do cutting-edge research, he said.

But it’s not just about rankings or “a ratings game,” he added. “It’s about people’s lives. And one of the most gratifying things that ever happens to me when I’m out there constantly talking to alumni and friends all over the world is the number of people who come up to me and mention some of the medical and engineering and broadly defined scientific breakthroughs that have come from Northwestern researchers, faculty and staff.”

He added, “It’s always important to step back and think about, it’s not just passing the next school, it’s about saving people’s lives and improving the quality of their life. And that’s really heady stuff.”

President Schapiro also detailed key elements of the University’s strategic plan, unveiled in November. The plan maps several priority areas that will be the focus of Northwestern’s energies in the coming years.

Diversity and inclusion are at the top of that list and fall under Connect Our Community, one of the main pillars of the plan, called NorthWEstern Will. Work is well under way, the president said, to close the gap between intentions and outcomes to connect individuals from widely diverse backgrounds and life experiences to a truly inclusive community.

“The challenge, of course, is not to write a report that’s on a shelf,” President Schapiro said. “There are a lot of diversity reports that get written all the time. The question is: Is it going to transform an institution or is it basically going to waste people’s time?” At Northwestern, he said, the new diversity initiatives that are being put into place should go a long way to make sure that it is the former.

President Schapiro noted that the University is focusing new resources, in particular, on the next fundraising campaign and on increasing undergraduate financial aid.

He stressed that the increasing popularity and quality of Northwestern’s undergraduate education significantly affects the University’s overall reputation. For the ninth consecutive year, applications to Northwestern have reached new highs – with a record 32,065 applications this year.

“Everyone wants to be part of a winner,” he said. “The halo effect of a great university comes mightily from the quality and the perception of the undergraduate program. So whether you have anything to do with the undergrads or not, now that we’re one of the most selective institutions in the world for undergraduate admissions, that reflects positively on everything we do.”

Questions also were submitted online and read by Tim Gordon, NUSAC chair. President Schapiro expressed gratitude to Gordon and other members of NUSAC for all they do to make the annual conversations with him successful. He stressed that a big reason that Northwestern stands apart is related to its “spectacular staff.”

He paid homage to his predecessors at the conclusion of his remarks. “There have been a series of presidents and provosts and deans and vice presidents — and of course faculty and staff and students — who have made this place what it is now,” he said. “And I think with your help we’re going to turn over something in a couple decades that we can’t even envision now -- just like they couldn’t envision how great we are right now. That’s going to be our legacy, and I want to thank you for helping us achieve it.”

Afterward, several staffers came up to greet him, including a new one -- Juan Rivera, a former client of Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. Largely because of the center’s work, he walked out of Stateville Correctional Center Jan. 6, freed after a unanimous Illinois Appellate Court decision threw out his conviction for the 1992 murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker in Waukegan.

Now an animal care technician at Northwestern, Rivera said he was impressed with President Schapiro’s plans for the future of the University.

“It’s a blessing to hear President Schapiro speak about how he wants to make the facilities better and to make the University even better,” said Rivera, noting he hopes to better himself and to study business management one day at Northwestern.