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Message from President Schill to Senior Leadership

Following is a message that President Michael Schill wrote to Northwestern University senior leadership on Wednesday, Oct. 11.

Dear colleagues,

Some of you have asked either me or the provost about whether the University would be issuing a statement on the current conflict in Israel and Gaza. I also know many of you are receiving similar requests from your own leadership, staff and communities. I am not planning to put out a statement officially stating a University position. I thought I would write to give you a bit of insight into why.

Let me start by saying that I am deeply repulsed, sickened and disappointed by what Hamas has done. Kidnapping, beheading, murdering people — children and adults, civilians and people in the armed forces — is horrific and inhuman, pure and simple. This sort of behavior is entirely unacceptable regardless of one’s political convictions or grievances. Period. No moral equivalencies needed.

That is the view of Mike Schill, citizen, Jew and human being. I didn’t give up those parts of me when I assumed the presidency of Northwestern.

However, I understand that when I put out an official statement on a political matter, an atrocity, a catastrophe, people read it not as the views of Mike Schill, but as President Michael Schill speaking for the University. As such, the decision to exercise speech takes on different meaning. We are a University which celebrates free expression, diversity of people and diversity of viewpoints. This is essential to our role in society. The University does not speak for our faculty, students and staff on these matters — they have their own voices, and I would venture to say, there are no doubt differences among our students and faculty on what Hamas did and how Israel is responding. For me to speak for them displaces their own freedom to speak.

Some of you who have followed recent discussions about free expression may see strong influence of the Chicago Principles, and you would not be mistaken. Regardless of what the University has done in the past, I do not foresee that I will be issuing statements on political, geopolitical or social issues that do not directly impact the core mission of our University, the education and futures of our students, or higher education. This reticence to speak out publicly as President Michael Schill will sometimes please and often infuriate members of our community. But I believe it is the right approach.

Just to be clear, as individuals in a democracy, we do not give up our rights to have and express our personal political and social viewpoints. We just need to make clear we are speaking for ourselves and not for all our students, faculty, staff and trustees. So, on Monday night when I stood with our students at a Vigil for Israel in Deering Meadow, I did that as Mike Schill. And I will continue to personally support, when my conscience demands it, issues that I care deeply about, always making the distinction in roles as clear as possible.

I will end by expressing my concern, my prayers and my hopes for a peaceful resolution of the current violence. We all have an obligation at a moment like this to care for one another … and most particularly our students and members of our community who have loved ones whose lives have been taken, who are held hostage or who are engaged in combat. If you wish to relay my views to your respective communities, I ask that you stress that our community has resources available to help. Please contact Vice President for Student Affairs Susan Davis if you would like to inquire more about resources for students. Lorraine Goffe and Sumit Dhar can address resources for our staff and faculty.