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President: Northwestern 'Changing Lives'

In campus talks, President Morton Schapiro praises University research, impact

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April 23, 2014 | by Storer H. Rowley
Produced by Matt Paolelli

Listen to the complete Evanston conversation

Listen to the complete Chicago conversation


EVANSTON and CHICAGO, Ill. --- President Morton Schapiro declared in talks on both campuses that Northwestern University is excelling in its core mission as a major research university, making discoveries that are “changing people’s lives” and attracting more federal research dollars even in times of economic hardship and budget cuts.

He noted that in recent years Northwestern has advanced in the elite Association of American Universities (AAU) from the bottom third to the top third in terms of research dollars earned. He said Northwestern attracted $549.3 million in sponsored research funding last year -- and so far in the current year, funding is up about 11 percent over this time last year and is on track to break $600 million this year if the trend holds.

“The numbers are important, but you’ve got to keep remembering,” he said, “we’re keeping people alive longer, we’re keeping them healthier. It’s really amazing stuff that we’re doing. And that’s just in the STEM fields.

“I’m excited about that progress, excited to be one of the 26 great private research universities in this entire country and very proud that we’re in the top third of this unbelievably prestigious group (AAU).”

Now in his fifth year at Northwestern, Schapiro said he was excited to oversee a University whose stakeholders are engaging more with the world, renovating and building new facilities, expanding opportunities for an increasingly diverse student body and mounting an unprecedented $3.75 billion fundraising campaign to amplify Northwestern’s local and global impact.

The remarks came in Evanston as the president held the first of two “Conversations With President Schapiro,” an annual chance for him to take questions on a wide range of subjects of interest to students, faculty and staff who work at the University.

On Wednesday (April 23), President Schapiro held the second of the two “Conversations,” this one in Chicago, where he recognized the importance of the research mission of the University as well as the significant work of Northwestern’s professional schools -- such as the Feinberg School of Medicine, the School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management.

He underscored the critical importance of sponsored research and the fact it now accounts for an estimated 28 percent of the University’s annual operating revenues, outpacing even net tuition revenues, which, he said, are an estimated 27 percent of the $2 billion annual operating budget.

The president said he was inspired every day by Northwestern students, “who are very interested in learning and very interested in making the world a better place.” He said he has fun teaching them not just because of their intelligence but because of their values, including a characteristically Midwestern “humanity, humility and lack of entitlement.”

He also praised Northwestern’s 6,000 staff members and noted that the University has worked hard to improve their paths to career advancement. He said he has never worked with a staff “so eager to recognize themselves as educators.”

Asked by one questioner about the competitiveness of staff salaries and the quality of benefits for all employees, President Schapiro responded, “I think we do a pretty good job making sure that salary is comparable, and benefits tend to be much better here-–not only tuition benefits for your kids, but a whole range of different things.”

He said Northwestern is committed to fostering careers at the University and allowing people to thrive regardless of the challenges and opportunities employees may face in their personal lives.

President Schapiro also encouraged employees to suggest innovative approaches to benefits, pledging, “If there is any area where similar institutions are doing things and you think maybe we should strongly consider it, we’ll strongly consider it.”

“Conversations With President Schapiro” are co-sponsored by the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC), the Faculty Senate and the Office of the President.

The second 90-minute conversation took place in the Hughes Auditorium in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on the Chicago campus. Both events were webcast live for those unable to attend in person.

At the first session on April 17 in the McCormick Tribune Forum Center on the Evanston campus, President Schapiro touted the University’s recent alignment with Northwestern Medicine and the hospital group in Chicago that is gaining increasing national prestige for its research and clinical care.

The president singled out Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance who is stepping down this summer after 17 years at the University, as an invaluable player in making that alignment of the University, the Feinberg School of Medicine and the hospital group possible.

“It is a whole new beginning,” the president said. “I think the future revenue streams from associating and integrating and aligning us within the broader rubric of Northwestern Medicine will serve us really well.”

In Chicago, the president expanded on that topic, noting he is proud of the work being accomplished under the leadership of Eric Neilson, the vice president for medical affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean at Feinberg, particularly in regard to the creation of Northwestern Medicine.

“When I first came in five years ago, I heard: Wouldn’t it be nice to have some version of integration and alignment with the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation vis-a-vis the hospital and associated hospitals,” President Schapiro said. “We talked about it and talked about it, and we actually did it.”

He also pointed proudly to the latest U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of America’s Best Hospitals. “We were sixth, and I couldn’t really say ‘we’ until we signed the agreement, Eric, not that many months ago,” he said. “But now it’s ‘we.’ It’s incredible.”

With the enormous expansion of lab space expected over the next 10 years and the planned construction of a new biomedical research tower on the Chicago campus, President Schapiro said, “Being a partner in this whole broad rubric of Northwestern Medicine is truly extraordinary, and that makes me sleep much better at night.”

In his “Conversations” in both Evanston and Chicago, the president touched on a wide variety of other topics over 90 minutes. He spoke for about 45 minutes at each one and then took questions for another 45 minutes from the audience and from others submitted online to NUSAC.

RESEARCH FUNDING

The president underscored the University works hard to bring in more public funding, including trips to Springfield to seek state funding from Gov. Pat Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan, among other legislative leaders, at a time of economic crisis in Illinois.

On a recent trip in which he was seeking $5 million in public funding for equipment, the president made the case to the governor and lawmakers that “if they gave us $5 million we were going to leverage it.”

He gave some strong examples of how the University has already leveraged public funding, including:

  • Northwestern’s “crucial role” in helping Argonne National Laboratory get a $120 million battery storage hub. “That’s $120 million into Chicagoland institutions,” he said. “Our share actually wasn’t all that large, but it was our scientists who were instrumental in getting that enormous center.”
  • Northwestern’s effort to get $25 million to create a national center for materials research, which mainly involved University funding and scientists.
  • The University’s important role in helping secure a $70 million federal grant to create a national hub for digital manufacturing in Chicago.

“At the ceremony in the White House everyone talked about our incredible role,” the president observed, noting with a smile: “It helped that the president’s speech was written by Cody Keenan, from the (Northwestern) class of ‘02. It never hurts.” He was referring to President Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter, Cody Keenan, who is a Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences graduate and who was recently honored by the Northwestern Alumni Association with the 2014 Emerging Leader Award.

HUMANITIES

President Schapiro singled out the importance of the humanities for a well-rounded education and a major research university’s obligation to reach beyond the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- to prepare students in music, theatre and the fine arts, as well.

“As a quantitative economist, I think, ‘Well, I picked the right field.’ But as a father of a daughter who is going for a Ph.D., now in art history, and as someone who almost went for one himself for a Ph.D. in art history, and who loves music, theater, literature, language and philosophy and all those other things, there is a lot more to a great University than the quantitative social sciences, engineering, medicine and math and those kinds of fields and all the different science fields,” he added. “There is a lot more to it and it is one of the great strengths of Northwestern University.

“We have a great journalism school, an incredible theatre program and we are so good in the performing arts. We are so good in what some people call the humanistic social sciences,” he added.

“Never lose sight of the fact that the STEM fields keep us alive and healthy, but they don’t make life worth living. At least they don’t for me. For me, it is literature, music, art and performance -- it is all those things that enliven my life in a way that nothing else does, including my own field of economics.”

DIVERSITY

By a number of measures, President Schapiro said Northwestern has increased the ranks of underrepresented minorities, a key goal of the University’s 2011 Strategic Plan.

For example, the incoming freshman class in 2008 was 10.7 percent either African-American or Latino, he said, while today that figure for the incoming class stands at 21 percent, jumping Northwestern ahead of a number of its peers in the AAU.

President Schapiro singled out the University’s work with a number of programs to make that possible, including the Posse Foundation’s youth leadership program nationally and the Good Neighbor, Great University program locally. He called the latter responsible for “a remarkable transformation” in the University’s relationship with Evanston and Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

“Ten years ago we had 16 CPS graduates in our freshmen class,” he noted. “How many this year? 76. And I was at the White House twice in the last four months promising … the president and the first lady that we're going to bring that into triple figures. We're going to go from 16 to over 100 as soon as we possibly can.”

President Schapiro underscored the recent creation of the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools as another instrumental organization to help increase the number of CPS students who will get into Northwestern and other elite universities.

“The aim there is not just to increase our take of the top kids from CPS,” he said. “Now they can apply to Northwestern Academy, which will provide the same test skills and remediation and preparation on how to fill out applications and financial aid forms like those eight or nine magnet schools (in Chicago) do so brilliantly. So we're going to step in and do the right thing. If those kids (who go to Northwestern Academy) go to Urbana Champaign or Michigan or Yale, we'll still have done the right thing.”

The president also underscored the importance of inclusion -- not just diversity -- as a University priority, noting, “I've said before that diversity is important. Inclusion is really the most important thing, and there are a lot of people here who put their hearts and souls into creating as inclusive a campus as possible.

“The reality is that ... it's not easy to create an environment where people of different backgrounds can equally avail themselves of everything we offer,” he observed. “We do a better job of admitting students of color or low-income backgrounds or from international backgrounds than we do fully educating them the way we do more privileged kids from the U.S. We're struggling to do that, but we're making some real progress.”

In highlighting diversity, the president said, “We work hard to make sure our communities are reflective of the world -- otherwise, we’re failing our social responsibilities, but we’re also failing to educate our students when we send them out into that world.

“In terms of ethnic, racial, geographic diversity, we’re really doing a much, much better job,” he added, while hesitant to single out one person. But he did offer praise for a few, including Dwight McBride, dean of The Graduate School, for McBride’s efforts to help diversify the university’s pool of graduate students.

CAMPAIGN

The president also underscored the recently launched, multi-year $3.75 billion fundraising effort called We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern -- in which stakeholders and advocates will carry the message of the campaign and try to energize alumni and friends.

President Schapiro said he would help lead the way on two key goals: raising the largest amount of money in the University’s history and achieving a participation goal of some 141,000 donors. Such ambitious goals mean the University must raise an average of about $8 million a week in the coming years, he said.

“We’re trying not just to raise a tremendous amount of money to support the Strategic Plan, but we’re also trying to get it from more and more people,” the president said. He noted that includes both large donations and small gifts, such as the call on the graduating Class of ’14 to donate $20.14 each. Those small gifts matter, he said.

“It shows that you like us,” he noted. “It matters because a lot of relatively small gifts do add up to a large total.” Moreover, he said, it also matters because once people give gifts, studies have shown they are more inclined to keep giving. The president drew a hearty laugh in the Chicago auditorium when he added, “If you give a gift for three years in a row, you’re addicted, and we know where you are.”

CONSTRUCTION

President Schapiro asked faculty, staff and students to be patient during the ongoing construction, building and infrastructure improvements underway on all three Northwestern campuses in Evanston, Chicago and Doha, Qatar.

In Evanston, some of the projects include two new multipurpose structures with parking decks, new buildings for the Bienen School of Music and School of Communication, Kellogg School of Management and the economics department, and a gut renovation of Kresge Centennial Hall, one of the Northwestern’s largest classroom and academic office buildings.

In addition, the University is constructing a state-of-the-art biomedical research facility at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a new building to house Northwestern University in Qatar in Doha.

While he said he realizes the ongoing construction would create logistical issues for all members of the Northwestern community, including some parking headaches, he likened the projects to signs he used to see roadside in his native New Jersey: “Temporary inconvenience, permanent improvement.”

TOWN GOWN

Asked how the University’s relationship was going with the city of Evanston, President Schapiro replied, “I think it is going pretty well. … I am proud that over the past five years we have taken a decided leap to a new level.

“I think having a physical presence at ETHS (Evanston Township High School) made a difference. I think giving preferential financial aid packages as part of Good Neighbor, Great University for anyone who goes to high school and lives in Evanston, and putting more of a thumb on the scale for local kids to get into Northwestern as undergrads, has made a difference,” he added.

“I think the latest announcement that we did is (for workforce development) in our building projects -- we are going to give special preference to Evanston residents and a special training apprentice program -- we have worked really hard to improve relations.”

TEACHING

Asked why he teaches classes and what he thinks of students at the University, President Schapiro replied: “People ask why as president do I teach my classes? If you have the chance to teach Northwestern students and you don't do it, you should try another job, it seems to me.

“I love it. It is really great,” he added. “What I love the most about this community is that when people talk about Midwestern values and they talk about respect and civility and they talk about a lack of entitlement, it is real -- it really is, it is real.

“It is so much fun to teach students who are very interested in learning and very interested in making the world a better place, they are not just interested in grade grubbing and their jobs and the next thing once they leave here. They love it here. … They just inspire me every day.”

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