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Continuing the Conversations in Chicago

April 22, 2010

Dear members of the Northwestern community,

I enjoyed the recent "Conversations with the President" in Evanston sponsored by the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council and I'm looking forward to the upcoming events on the Chicago campus. The conversations in Chicago will be April 27 at 2 p.m. in Wieboldt Hall Room 147 with a focus on staff and April 28 at 9:30 a.m. in Thorne Auditorium and webcast live. I hope you can make it to one of them.

Prior to the Evanston events, I sent out a statement with some topics of conversation. As I've been thinking about our meetings in Chicago, here are some additional issues that have been on my mind:

Healthcare reform and its effect on medical education

Certainly one of the biggest issues facing Northwestern and other academic medical centers will be the impact of the recently passed healthcare reform legislation. We're still assessing how this will affect the finances of our hospital partners, what it might mean for medical education, and how all of us will be involved in this significant change in American healthcare.

Research impact

We've done extraordinarily well at receiving research awards under the federal stimulus bill - more than $113 million to date, which is a tribute to the importance of the research being done at Northwestern. Not only does this research have a tremendous economic impact on the Chicago area, but it also is addressing some of the most significant health, energy and other issues facing the world today. Research is a key part of our mission, so it's important that we continue to provide the necessary support in order to ensure compliance and to allow our research enterprise to flourish.

Changes in legal education

At a Board of Trustees meeting earlier this year, Law School Dean David Van Zandt provided a very thoughtful analysis of the economic challenges law firms are facing and what that means for law schools. We've been at the forefront of innovative changes in legal education, but even if the economy picks up, the changes in the legal profession are likely to continue to be felt in our world.

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Also, in case you didn't get a chance to see my earlier note, here are some of the things that I think are important to all of our campuses:

Listening and learning

I've been spending a lot of time since September 1 learning about Northwestern. I think I'm getting a good feel for the key issues but I expect that my learning curve will continue for at least a while longer. I plan to continue to meet with people on all three campuses and I hope that you'll help me continue to learn about Northwestern. More information about the strategic planning process is available at www.stratplan.northwestern.edu.

Strategic plan

Work is under way on crafting a new strategic plan for the University. We have seven working groups with more than 100 students, faculty and staff on those groups. We plan to move very quickly on this, hoping to have it completed by the end of this calendar year, but we also want to make sure we have opportunities to get feedback on the plan. It needs to be specific, but flexible - what we don't want is a plan that sits on the shelf. It needs to be actionable, compelling and credible so it can guide us for the next decade.


Northwestern is in relatively good shape financially, particularly compared to some of our peer institutions that depend much more heavily on funding from the endowment. But we're still in a tight financial position and we expect that to continue for the next two years. Realistically, that means that salary increases will likely remain lower than we wish. But unlike almost all of our peer institutions, and much of private industry, we do not anticipate the need for wide-scale layoffs, furloughs, salary reductions or deep operating budget cuts. I realize that this "not as a bad as it could be or is elsewhere" message may not be as comforting or hopeful as you might like, but I feel it's important to be straightforward about where the University stands financially. We're going to have to continue to manage our finances carefully. That's what has enabled us to weather the current storm as well as we have.

Growth opportunities

While the financial difficulties are causing stress everywhere, they also create some opportunities for movement and to make transforming hires for Northwestern. We will continue our efforts to attract and retain top faculty and staff in those areas that are important to us strategically.


I've been meeting with a special task force on diversity and inclusion for the past month or so. There's no question that we want to attract more students, faculty and staff members from underrepresented groups and make them feel welcome and included at Northwestern. I believe strongly that we need to make the necessary institutional commitment to this and develop specific action steps to make it happen.

Having done two of these meetings, I know there undoubtedly will be other topics that will come up, and I look forward to discussing them. All supervisors and managers encourage staff in their area to attend. If you’d like to send your questions in advance of the forums, you may do so by e-mailing them to conversations2010@northwestern.edu. I hope to see you at the upcoming conversations in Chicago.

Morty Schapiro
President and Professor

    Topics: University News