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President Schapiro: the state of the University is very strong

Conversations With the President event in Chicago recognizes professional schools

  • Provost Daniel Linzer, Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah join the president
  • Schapiro: Northwestern improving town-gown relations with Chicago, Evanston
  • Two unprecedented donations of $100 million helped fuel Campaign for Northwestern
  • President praises NUSAC and Northwestern staff for their dedication as educators

CHICAGO, Ill. --- Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro recognized the exceptional work of the professional schools on the University’s Chicago campus Thursday (April 23) and declared enthusiastically that Feinberg School of Medicine is just “weeks away from breaking ground” on a transformative new biomedical research building.

In his sixth annual “Conversations With President Schapiro” discussion -- this one following the first 2015 Conversation on the Evanston campus April 16 -- the president declared that Northwestern is growing stronger financially, improving town-gown relations with Chicago and Evanston and recruiting or retaining exemplary faculty and staff.

President Schapiro was joined this year at the Conversations for the first time by Provost Daniel Linzer and Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah. The three participated in a panel discussion at both events on a wide range of issues about the University, taking questions from staff members in attendance and via the Web.

The president recognized the deans, faculty and students at Feinberg and Northwestern Medicine as well as those at the School of Professional Studies, the Northwestern School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management.

Sitting at the front of Hughes Auditorium with Linzer and Chinniah in the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, President Schapiro also discussed other campus initiatives ranging from success in the fundraising campaign to progress on diversity and inclusion issues and efforts by the University to expand research, scholarships and global programs.

Conversations, sponsored by the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council (NUSAC) and the Office of the President, are held every year on the Evanston and Chicago campuses and are webcast live to the University community.

President Schapiro underscored the important work of the School of Professional Studies, singling out Dean Thomas Gibbons for his leadership. “Of the 12 schools at Northwestern University, this is probably the one where you need to be the most entrepreneurial, the most nimble.” Among SPS’ many accomplishments, the school has provided innovation, technology and support to the teaching of online programs, including the new MOOCs (massive open online courses).

Focusing on the School of Law, the president spoke of Dean Daniel Rodriguez as “a great, visionary leader” and observed that despite recent declines in applications to law schools in general, Northwestern has adjusted to the trend and continues to be a success story. “If you want to work for one of the world’s great law firms,” the president said, “you come here.”

Turning to the Kellogg School, which is building a new global hub on the Evanston campus, President Schapiro talked about Kellogg’s strong presence on the Chicago campus and singled out the Russell Fellows Program, providing an M.S. in Management Studies, as a great example of Kellogg’s wide reach. The program provides opportunities for college graduates in different disciplines to get a Kellogg degree in one year.

President Schapiro also commented on the success of Northwestern Medicine, formed in 2013 as a partnership between the University and Northwestern Memorial HealthCare. He praised the transformative realignment and collaborative relationship that Feinberg and its physicians and researchers have with the hospital and Dean Harrison, president and CEO of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare.

"It has been a great change," he said. "Northwestern Medicine is so well positioned, regardless of what happens with the Affordable Care Act, to move on boldly into the future. It really provides a revenue stream not just for clinical care but, very importantly, for medical research."

The University will break ground May 8 on the new Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center. The state-of-the-art building will be located in the heart of Northwestern’s academic medical campus, and President Schapiro promised the space will surpass expectations.  

"We are going to build a medical research tower beyond your dreams," he said. "It is going to be transformative, and the scientists and staff will be doing incredible work."

The president also provided an update on the extraordinary progress being made by We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, which has already surpassed the $2 billion mark on its way to a goal of $3.75 billion. Noting the campaign launched March 14, 2014, he singled out two recent gifts of $100 million each from separate donors as being particularly impactful, along with 20 other significant gifts of between $15 million and $40 million apiece.

The president used the occasion Thursday to talk about the increasing ties and good town-gown relations between the University and the city of Chicago. Schapiro said one of the projects he is most excited about is the Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

The academy, which started last year, is a multi-year college preparation and enrichment program for academically talented and motivated CPS students from Chicago public high schools. The program is run by Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy and offered through its Center for Talent Development.

“We felt our obligation was to help those kids who are at those neighborhood schools and trying the best they can” but without the same resources as those who go to the magnet schools, Schapiro said. The students will receive assistance similar to what they would have received at a CPS magnet school.

Northwestern Academy is supported by Northwestern University as an extension of its Good Neighbor, Great University initiative to expand college access. The academy is offered at no cost to students and will be funded through donations.

President Schapiro noted that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is very excited about this program, which has gone extremely well, and he said he promised parents that if they work with their children and these students do what’s expected of them, “We will want them at Northwestern.”

“We have the wealth to do this, and we have the will to do this,” Schapiro said.

In last week’s 2015 Conversation in Evanston, President Schapiro said he always tells incoming undergraduate students and other students about how fortunate Northwestern is to be based in the “wonderful” city of Evanston, calling it “a locational advantage” and noting its proximity to Chicago.

“I’m so proud to be a member of this incredible faculty,” President Schapiro said. “Not only do we take our scholarship and research very seriously, but we care about teaching -- and not just teaching for business, law and medicine, not just 1,000 postdocs, not just 3,000 Ph.D. students, not just the other masters students in the Graduate School, but the undergraduates, too.”

“There aren’t many schools, as you know, that are of our caliber in research,” he added. “We had $600 million last year in sponsored research alone, most of that from the federal government and most of that from the National Institutes of Health -- and to have that kind of excellence in research and still care so much about undergrads, makes us different. And I think we are doing a better job.”

President Schapiro also made it a point to single out NUSAC and noted that he has been impressed that so many Northwestern staff members also see themselves as educators. “It makes me proud as a faculty member (and) a staff member,” he added, that graduating students have such “fond stories” about staff members who impacted their lives -- from career services and library employees to student affairs and security officials.

During the Q&A session, NUSAC Chair Susan Corwith asked the three panelists questions that had been submitted previously on a variety of topics, among them the recent announcement that Northwestern will donate $1 million annually to the city of Evanston’s for the city’s Good Neighbor Fund each of the next five years.

“What was the impetus for designating a specific dollar amount and what do you hope to see as a result of the initiative?” Corwith asked.

The panelists spoke of steady improvement in the relationship in recent years and of how the University works closely with the mayor’s office, the city manager, local politicians and area school districts and officials in a supportive and collaborative partnership. The annual gift is a major example of that effort.

Executive Vice President Chinniah observed, “The connection between Evanston and Northwestern, it’s an inextricable link. There are moments in time when we do it well and moments when we don’t. This particular issue came up in our conversations with the mayor. What we thought was important was that the University and the city would be in partnership in deciding what types of projects (to spend the money on). We would collaborate and pick priorities.”

He added that, “It really is about making sure the community in which we are located remains strong, because without that, the University won’t be strong.”

Citing the Good Neighbor Fund gift, President Schapiro called the initiative “an important new approach to improving town-gown relations.”

The president also said, “I’ve really spent a lot of time and effort with a number of people to improve that. I always talk about how lucky, how blessed we are to be in the city of Evanston. I think increasingly I hear from townspeople, they feel the same way. That’s really important. We have a role, especially now, with what might happen (cutbacks) with the budget, the school budget and other budgets in this great city of Evanston. We have to step forward. We have a lot of resources. We are not the only game in town. There are hospitals and other things. But we are the biggest game in town.”

Addressing a question about staff retention, Chinniah underscored the importance of staff development and engaging the staff, noting that the University intends to start a staff engagement survey in the near future.

“We are doing a great job of retaining our talent,” he said. “It’s one of the things I was struck by coming here. Usually universities tend to be places where people come and stay a long time. They tend not to be jobs or even careers, but really a lifetime of commitment and engagement. Our retention rate for staff is somewhere between 80 to 90 percent, which is great.

“The real issue is how we prepare people for the duration of their engagement with the University in terms of career development, coaching and performance feedback, because not only do we want people to stay, we want them to be happy, engaged, productive and see progression in their careers, both at Northwestern and then, if needed, at other places. Another way the Northwestern brand continues to grow is if people we have trained and developed go on to do great things at other places. The entire higher education market gets strengthened. This is a journey, not a destination, so I don’t think you are ever done with this process.”

Addressing efforts by the University to improve the climate on campus for diversity and inclusion, the president and the provost underscored a variety of initiatives, including the fact that Northwestern is in the process of recruiting an associate provost for diversity and inclusion. Moreover, Linzer noted that the last two selections for One Book One Northwestern books in successive years focus on these issues.

Linzer also unveiled a new interactive timeline for the first time Thursday, designed to provide additional information. Prominently featured on the Diversity and Inclusion website, the timeline illustrates some of the wide-reaching programs and initiatives Northwestern has launched over the last two decades.

“This is a nation struggling with inclusion, and we’re not immune from that,” said President Schapiro. “We’re still fighting the struggle and trying to be better and better.”


President: “The best things that happened this year”

The president spoke about two personal highlights of the year: President Barack Obama’s visit to campus last fall and honoring Roberta Buffett Elliott when she came to campus in January.

“It was really fun when President Obama showed up on campus,” President Schapiro observed. “That was a great day. It shined a spotlight on us. He gave a speech -- a Northwestern speech, where he said -- which may not be good for the Democrats -- but he said ‘Well, I’m not on the ballot but my policies are.’ And that was used in attack ads for weeks after that -- you still hear reference to the ‘Northwestern’ speech. So whether it was good for America or not, it certainly (was good for the University) for name recognition. He also gave a one-hour economics talk, and as an economist I thought that was really interesting – and, of course, we keep using those snippets for all kinds of advertising, where he says, ‘Go ’Cats!’ ”

The president said his other “favorite day for me” was when alumna Roberta Buffett Elliott, WCAS ’54, visited campus with her brother, famed financier Warren Buffett, and was honored for her gift to Northwestern exceeding $100 million -- creating the Buffett Institute for Global Studies and marking a transformative moment for global studies at the University. President Schapiro moderated a panel of faculty and one student talking about globalization.

“That was fun. A couple of you in the audience got to go to my house for the dinner and Warren, Bertie’s beloved older brother,” President Schapiro recalled, “spoke at my house and told stories about his sister. That was just wonderful. And a part of me was like. ‘Wow, that’s really cool: Warren Buffett’s talking here in my house. That’s like an Obama event, but in addition to that, it was love between a brother and sister -- it was real beautiful and very, very moving.”

We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern

In addition to the Roberta Buffett Elliott gift of $101 million, unprecedented in the history of Northwestern, the president talked about another gift of a similar magnitude that came soon after.

The first week in March, the president heard from donors Lou Simpson and Kimberly Querrey, who had pledged $25 million to support regenerative medicine, involving some “brilliant faculty members” -- among them, Sam Stupp, a professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine, McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.

“When I met with Lou and Kimberly just a couple years ago, before we went public with the campaign,” the president recalled, the couple had promised first $10 million, then $15 million, then $25 million to do the Simpson Querrey institute that Stupp and other faculty members were planning in Evanston and in Streeterville in downtown Chicago.

Then President Schapiro mentioned the planned new biomedical research building to be built in Streeterville. He noted that groundbreaking will be May 8. “I said it will be transformative and regenerative medicine and Simpson Querry could have a floor of that,” President Schapiro added. “I said we are looking for a lead gift on that, a $75 million, naming gift. They got back to me after a week or two and said, ‘We want to put our name on it.’ ”

After further discussions, the couple told the president they wanted to give $100 million and the University should use that money to foster interdisciplinary work and relations to bring more chemists and biologists to really bridge any remaining gaps. In the end, their commitment was more than $117 million, a grateful President Schapiro said.

University Efforts on Diversity and Inclusion

In response to questions about Northwestern’s efforts to improve inclusion and diversity on campus, Provost Linzer said the University has made significant strides. Efforts cited include:

  • Northwestern is in the process of recruiting an associate provost for diversity and inclusion. Discussing the selection process, Linzer noted, “We haven’t selected candidates yet, but we’ve never seen this large of a response. Northwestern is well known around the country for efforts in this area as well as excellence overall.”
  • The latest diversity report, significantly heftier and more comprehensive than the last version, is undergoing final changes and will be available on the provost’s website within a week.
  • The One Book, One Northwestern program has selected “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America” as the campus read for the coming academic year. The selection was driven, in part, by Northwestern’s ongoing Native American inclusion efforts. In response to a report from the John Evans Study committee, the University’s Native American Outreach and Inclusion Task Force recently recommended that the One Book One Northwestern program choose a reading on a Native American topic. “The Inconvenient Indian” is a provocative look at the disastrous relationship between whites and Native Americans. 
  • Linzer pointed to the student-facilitated “Sustained Dialogue” program as an example of an effective and growing initiative. Launched two years ago, the program encourages weekly, 90-minute conversations between students with different backgrounds. “You have to be able to get in the same room, sit down and talk to people to have that transformation happen,” said Linzer. 

New Buildings on Campus and the Arts Green

Asked about the reaction to the new buildings and construction on the Evanston campus, notably the Visitors Center, the President said, “The reaction to the new Visitors Center has been great. We took a hit in trying to build it, and a lot of people were upset. The architectural critic for the Chicago Tribune said he loved it. We took out a hideous open air parking lot and made it part of the Arts Green. It is a beautiful building.

“We had our biggest day ever on (April 3). We had 1,027 visitors who registered for that one day for six information sessions, and I went on a couple of tours and to one of the sessions myself,” he added. “Also it is the entrance to the Arts Green, and we are extremely excited about that. We have the Sailing Center, which I got to dedicate. Before long we will be dedicating the new Music and School of Communication Building. That Arts Green has been unbelievable for us, and now it is a real gateway to Chicago, so we are very excited about that.

“It also makes a statement, frankly -- with a lot of people so obsessed with the STEM field (who) don’t care about the performing arts and the humanities -- that Northwestern is a little different.” 

President Schapiro referenced op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof’s article (headlined “Starving for Wisdom”) in Thursday’s (April 16) New York Times about the value of not just the logic of the left side of the brain but the creativity of the right side of the brain. 

"It was beautifully said, and that is what we are trying to live. Of all the projects, I cannot wait to have the Kellogg building done and a lot of the other projects done, but I am particularly excited about Kresge,” he noted. “We have a brilliant humanities faculty in a 1950s high school (building), basically. Now they are going to have the same kind of beautiful work environment that the chemists have at Silverman and the historians have at Harris, and they deserve it. This is a University that doesn’t say it is only STEM, nor does it say it is only performing arts. It is actually really good enough in a wide range of things. That Visitors Center is a gateway into our campus now, and it couldn’t have come out better.” 

Added Linzer, “We have over 50,000 visitors a year -- prospective students and their families. This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase Northwestern University to people who, in the past, have seen it from the vantage point of a stuffy, second floor small room off of Hinman.”

Global Initiatives at Northwestern

When asked about Northwestern’s vision for global expansion and involvement, President Schapiro said globalization was one of the important parts of the 2011 Strategic Plan, adding that one of the things that intrigued Roberta Buffett Elliott was the University increasing its global footprint.

“Stayed tuned,” said President Schapiro. “I think we’re going to make some really exciting moves over the next decade in terms of increasing our global identity.”

Linzer reminded the audience that in the early 2000s, the University made a strategic decision to invest in Middle East studies, expanding the number of faculty positions, expanding library holdings in that area and offering more language courses in Arabic. The founding of Northwestern University in Qatar also took place during that time period. 

“NU-Q has grown not only to be a school where we’re incredibly proud of the teaching and success of our students, but it also has become a platform for broader engagement in the Middle East,” Linzer noted.

“Our Law School is going over as advisors to help Qatar set up its own law school. It’s not Northwestern Law School, but without the expertise that we can provide, they wouldn’t know how to build a curriculum, how to teach law or how to recruit faculty. So building that relationship allows us to deepen our engagement in the Middle East.” 

Going forward many of the University’s global initiatives will center around the expansion of what was the Buffett Center into the Buffett Institute for Global Studies and embedding in that institute the resources that the Buffett gift allows the University to allocate, for example, to faculty, graduate school support and new research projects. 

Linzer said the Buffett Institute gift allows the University to think strategically about where they want to allocate resources and decide areas of emphasis. 

Fundamental to all of this is knowing that we can’t be a great research university of the future unless you have a global presence and footprint -- faculty, staff, students who come here will look for that in their choices,” observed Chinniah. 

“But what does that really mean?” he asked. “We have to come up with what works for Northwestern as we think about: Do we have a physical presence in certain regions of the world or do we do it through a partnership? So there are a lot of issues for us to think about.”  

Initiatives to Raise Awareness on Consent and Sexual Assault Prevention

When asked what Northwestern can do to be a leader in confronting campus rape culture, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin highlighted several things the University is doing:

  • On April 3, the Northwestern community received an emailed summary outlining a number of initiatives that have taken place over the years regarding this issue.
  • The CARE program (Center for Advocacy Response and Education), with the help of two grants, has been able to staff the office with people who are well equipped to work with victims who have experienced sexual assault. 
  • A campus climate survey, which may go out as early as this month, will be conducted. Once data is analyzed, the hope is that the survey will inform ways in which the University can improve on this issue. 
  • Recent policies having to do with consensual relationships have been implemented between students and faculty and students and staff. 
  • Required programming for first-year students about sexual assault and consent. 

Telles-Irvin said the University has worked very hard on its sexual misconduct policy.

“The Sexual Harassment Prevention Office with Student Affairs, as well as the Title IX deputy coordinators, looked at that policy, and worked with students, faculty and staff, and I think we have one of the best policies in the country. In fact, many of my colleagues have actually borrowed it,” said Telles-Irvin, “because it starts out with the very important concept of consent.”

In addition, she said the University would be working to raise awareness of this issue next fall, which includes the training of staff members. 

“We can serve the community by mitigating some of these issues if we’re more familiar with how to handle it,” she said.