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Morton O. Schapiro Named Northwestern President

Video: Meet Northwestern's New President — Morton Owen Schapiro, president of Williams College and one of the country's leading experts in the economics of higher education, will become Northwestern's 16th president, effective Sept. 1. See more videos from Northwestern News.

Morton Owen Schapiro, president of Williams College and one of the country's leading experts in the economics of higher education, was named Northwestern's president in mid-December.

Schapiro, 55, will become the University's 16th president, effective Sept. 1.

President Henry S. Bienen will step down after a successful 14-year presidency.

"I am excited by the opportunity to serve as Northwestern University's president," Schapiro said. "Northwestern has a long tradition of excellence, and I look forward to building on the successes that the University has achieved under the leadership of President Bienen.

"It will be difficult to leave Williams, but this is a tremendous opportunity to go to one of the best major research universities in the country. I very much look forward to being there and getting to know the Northwestern community."

Schapiro has been president of Williams, located in Williamstown, Mass., since 2000. For six years prior to that, he was the dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California, where he previously had been professor and chair of the economics department. During his last two years as dean, he also served as USC's vice president for planning. He previously was on the faculty of Williams from 1980 to 1991 as professor of economics and assistant provost.

Among the initiatives implemented during his presidency at Williams have been a substantial reduction in average class size, a tripling of the number of courses offered in the college's signature tutorial program and the completion of a number of major building projects, including a center for theater and dance, a student center and new faculty office and classroom buildings.

"President Schapiro is unusual in having deep experience in research universities and at one of the best liberal arts colleges in the country," said William G. Bowen, former president of both Princeton University and the Mellon Foundation. "He has demonstrated accomplishments as a great teacher and an outstanding leader."

Schapiro has a strong commitment to undergraduate education, and he has continued to teach while president. His courses included introductory microeconomics, a tutorial on the economics of higher education and two interdisciplinary seminars, one on the economics and philosophy of education, and the other on disease, culture and society.

"I liked the fact that President Schapiro has always considered himself a member of the faculty, first and foremost, continuing his research and teaching while serving as president," said Daniel Diermeier, IBM Professor of Regulation and Competitive Practice at the Kellogg School of Management and a member of the presidential search committee.

Schapiro is among the nation's premier authorities on the economics of higher education, with particular expertise in the area of college financing and affordability and on trends in educational costs and student financial aid.

"Northwestern is one of very few schools out there in American higher education that has the resources and the will to be need-blind, and that's really the key," Schapiro said. "You want to meet full need, and you want the gift of a Northwestern education to be available to the most talented students, regardless of circumstances.

"Universities and colleges operate in the public interest, so you really have to deliver and act in the public interest and make sure you're available to the most talented students, regardless of family circumstances. Our institutions have to be agents toward mobility, not toward stratification."

Schapiro has testified before U.S. Senate and House committees on economic and educational issues and is often quoted in the national media. He has written more than 100 articles and five books, and has edited two others, most with his longtime co-author Michael McPherson.

Schapiro has received research grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the World Bank, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the College Board, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and other groups to study the economics of higher education and related topics.

Schapiro's selection followed a nine-month search by a committee that included trustees, faculty, students, staff and alumni. The committee was chaired by William Osborn (WCAS69, KSM73), chair of the Board of Trustees budget committee and chair of the Northern Trust Corp. in Chicago.

"The search committee received numerous excellent nominations for the position, and President Schapiro was the unanimous choice," Osborn said. "His grasp of the issues facing higher education and the complexities of a research university, his impressive record of academic achievement and leadership and his instant rapport with all the members of the committee made it clear that he was a perfect fit for Northwestern."

Schapiro came to both the Evanston and Chicago campuses in early January to meet the University community (see video below). In his remarks, Schapiro expressed his enthusiasm about the opportunity to lead Northwestern.

"I have this terrible feeling that my presidency has just peaked," he said after a long round of applause at his introduction. He went on to discuss his ideas, especially in terms of access to and affordability of higher education, and answered audience questions and dined with students.

"President Schapiro brings a lot of energy and new ideas to the table," said Marianne Wanamaker, a graduate student in economics and member of the search committee. "I'm excited in terms of his outlook — he's a real optimist and go-getter. I also think he'll relate to students very well and will make interacting with students a priority."

Schapiro also made the trip to San Antonio to watch the Wildcats face Missouri in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He certainly knows about leading an institution with a successful athletics program. Williams, named the best Division III institution in the country by Sports Illustrated in 2002, has won 10 consecutive and 12 of the last 13 Division III Directors' Cups.

He also remembers his first experience with Northwestern on the gridiron.

"When we [USC fans] came out of the tunnel at the [1996] Rose Bowl, and we saw all that purple ... I remember thinking, 'That's a special place.' They came from all over the world, and they all came down there to Pasadena to cheer on the Wildcats. I never thought back then — 13 years ago — that I'd ever have the great honor of helping lead Northwestern forward.

"I'm very excited about the excellence that pervades the institution," Schapiro said of Northwestern. "To be a part of that is a great honor. That's one reason you like to be at a place like Northwestern, because excellence permeates everything it does."

Morton Owen Schapiro
Northwestern's 16th President


Williams College, president and professor of economics


University of Southern California, dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences


University of Southern California, chair of the Department of Economics


Williams College, professor of economics and assistant provost


Hofstra University, bachelor's degree in economics, 1975

University of Pennsylvania, master's degree in economics, 1976

University of Pennsylvania, doctorate in economics, 1979

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Morton Owen Schapiro, an expert in the economics of higher education, will become Northwestern's 16th president when he takes office Sept. 1.Photo by Peter Barreras
Schapiro and wife
Morton Schapiro and his wife, Mimi, have three children, Matt, Alissa and Rachel.Photo by Peter Barreras