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Northwestern remembers President Emeritus Arnold Weber

Community and family celebrate the life of the University’s 14th president

Friends from around the country gathered virtually Thursday, Jan. 7, to remember President Emeritus Arnold Weber as an influential leader who helped elevate the University academically and financially.

Weber, who served as the 14th president of Northwestern from 1985 to 1994, died in August at age 90. Nearly 60 guests tuned in to listen to colleagues and family share stories about Weber, affectionately known as “Arnie.” “An Arnold Weber Retrospective” was hosted by the Northwestern Emeriti Organization

During the lively hour-long-plus retrospective, speakers — some planned and others spontaneous — painted a colorful picture of the past president, describing him as whip smart, funny, a great advice-giver and “the American dream come true.” Several former professors and administrators reminisced about Weber’s fondness for cigarettes, his legendary wit and his no-nonsense budgets. 

Roger Boye, associate professor emeritus-in-service and president of the Northwestern Emeriti Organization, opened the event by welcoming guests and introducing Marilyn McCoy, a close colleague and friend of the former president.

“When I came up with the idea for this program, I thought Marilyn would speak, followed by some retired faculty reminiscing,” Boye said. “But it turned out to be more than that, almost a virtual memorial service.”

McCoy, who serves as the University’s vice president of administration and planning, worked with Weber for five years when Weber was president of the University of Colorado before following him to Northwestern in the mid-80s. She praised the transformative role Weber played at Northwestern, including building the University into a research powerhouse. 

“He was so deeply experienced on so many levels that he was fully prepared to be the wise hand at the helm,” McCoy said of Weber’s presidency. “I can say this is a very different University today than it was before Arnold.”

Howard Trienens, who served as the chair of the University’s Board of Trustees during Weber’s presidency, remembered Weber not just for his financial prowess, but for the way he used to bike around campus.

“He was easy to be with because he pretty much did what he wanted,” Trienens said. “It was a very wonderful relationship, and we miss him very much.”

Weber was known best for putting the University on a solid financial footing, allowing him to improve faculty salaries, address deferred maintenance, slow tuition growth and improve financial aid. Even after leaving Northwestern he remained proud of his work here, said David Weber, one of Weber’s three sons.

“If you ran into him, he might’ve been wearing his Northwestern baseball cap,” David Weber said. “His work at Northwestern was his favorite thing.” 

Members of the University community walk through the “Arnold Weber Arch” on the Evanston campus where if they look closely on the right side of the Arch, they can find his name permanently etched from when the foundation was drying in 1994, one of the speakers said.

The session was recorded and will be saved for posterity in the NU Archives.