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President Morton Schapiro announces his 2022 departure

After more than a decade of a transformative presidency, Schapiro to conclude tenure in August 2022
Morton Schapiro
Morton Schapiro took office in September 2009. Photo by Peter Barreras

Editor’s note: On July 11, 2022, Rebecca Blank announced that she has been diagnosed with cancer and will be unable to fulfill her role as president of Northwestern. Morton Schapiro will continue to serve as president until fall. On August 11, Northwestern announced that Michael Schill will become the 17th president and begin his term this fall.

President Morton Schapiro, who has led Northwestern University through one of its most transformative and sustained periods of academic growth, announced today (March 4) that he will conclude his tenure on Aug. 31, 2022.

Since Schapiro took office in September 2009 as the 16th president in Northwestern’s 170-year history, the University has elevated its status as a premier university for research and teaching.

“During President Schapiro’s tenure, Northwestern has further established itself as one of the world’s very finest academic institutions,” said J. Landis Martin, chairman of the Northwestern Board of Trustees. “Since he took office, the University has improved by every relevant measure. We will celebrate what we have achieved and continue to achieve under President Schapiro’s leadership. And, in the coming weeks, the Board of Trustees will announce steps toward identifying his successor, including the formation of a search committee that will represent Northwestern’s many constituencies.”

President Schapiro made the announcement this afternoon in a message to the Northwestern community

“It has been my great honor to work alongside our illustrious faculty, staff, students, trustees and alumni during my time here,” he wrote. “You have inspired me with your passion, dedication and resilience, especially during these most challenging times for our campus, our country and the world. I know that, together, we can continue building on our many strengths over the next year and a half.”

Milestones during the Schapiro era

  • Undergraduate applications have nearly doubled during his tenure, while the acceptance rate has dropped from 27% to 7%. Representation from underrepresented student groups also has doubled.
  • Annual funding for sponsored research activity has risen 86%, from $476.9 million in 2009 to $887.3 million in 2020.
  • The number of faculty with major national academy memberships has increased roughly 73%, from 95 in 2009 to 164 today.
  • Bolstered by one of the most successful fundraising campaigns in higher education history, which has raised $5.3 billion to date, the University has more than doubled its endowment from $5.8 billion to $12.2 billion.
  • Its campuses have been transformed by nearly 50 major construction projects that have provided 3.5 million square feet in new or renovated physical spaces.
  • The University began an era of active civic engagement, committing considerable scholarly and financial resources to its community through programs such as Northwestern Academy and the Good Neighbor Fund.
  • Northwestern has risen to a position among the top 10 universities in the country, with record-high rankings for many of its individual schools and departments.

President Schapiro expressed a commitment to continuing to address key initiatives going forward: “In the next 18 months, we have the opportunity to build our momentum as we prepare for the next chapter in Northwestern’s history.”

Related: Visit the website celebrating President Schapiro’s tenure

Schapiro came to Northwestern after serving nine years as president of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Originally committed to a five-year term, he agreed to a second five-year term; in 2014, the Board of Trustees extended his contract another three years, through the end of the 2022 fiscal year. 

Schapiro has modeled an active teaching and scholarly career that is rare for a president of a large research university today. He has delivered lectures at every Northwestern school, from the Pritzker School of Law to the Bienen School of Music; penned some 50 op-eds and essays in popular media; collaborated regularly alongside School of Education and Social Policy Dean David Figlio, with whom he published last month a new study detailing several years of their findings on effective teaching; and co-authored three books with Professor Gary Saul Morson, including “Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us,” to be released this month by Princeton University Press. 

“While I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved together to increase Northwestern’s national and international standing, I’d have to say teaching — and learning from — our students as well as our faculty and alumni, may be the highlight of my time here,” Schapiro said. “After all, that’s what a university is at its core, and a president should never lose sight of that while making decisions and gathering and allocating resources.” 

During President Schapiro’s tenure, Northwestern has progressed significantly in several key areas:

Applications, diversity on the rise

While applications for seats in the first-year undergraduate class increased from roughly 25,000 in 2009 to 39,263 in 2020, the University also worked actively to increase diversity across the board: Compared to when Schapiro joined Northwestern, the percentage of Black students in the class of 2024 has risen from 6% to 10%; Latinx students, from 7% to 16%; first-generation college students, from 9% to 13%; Pell Grant-eligible students, from 12% to 21%; and Chicago Public School students, from 3% to 6%.

Extraordinary student achievement

In the past decade, Northwestern students and recent graduates have been honored with 10 Marshall Scholarships, 1 Rhodes Scholarship, 5 Winston Churchill Scholarships, 15 Goldwater Scholarships, 3 Truman Scholarships, 245 Fulbright Awards and 168 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

Improving the student experience

Schapiro is credited with a number of initiatives to improve the student experience, including the establishment of new traditions such as the March Through the Arch and Ryan Field Wildcat Welcome Dash for first-year and transfer students. He also created the Distinguished Secondary School Teacher Award Program, now in its 11th year, which invites graduating seniors to nominate high school teachers who made a difference in their lives. Each year, five awardees are invited to campus and honored at commencement by their student nominators. 

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, Schapiro and his wife, Mimi, hosted some 20,000 Northwestern guests, many of them students, at their home near the Evanston campus. Schapiro has also been a frequent presence at student events ranging from the Dance Marathon to the Dillo Day music festival.

Accolades for distinguished faculty

In 2009 Northwestern had a total of 95 members in the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts of Sciences. That figure has risen to 164 today. A number of faculty members have also received top honors in the past decade, including the Nobel Prize, Yidan Prize and MacArthur Fellowship. 

Fundraising and endowment success

We Will. The Campaign for Northwestern, announced publicly in 2014, surpassed its $3.75 billion goal nearly two years ahead of schedule and was extended with a new target of $5 billion by the time the Campaign concludes. That new goal, which has already been exceeded, has helped establish 502 new endowed scholarships and fellowships; 84 endowed professorships; more than 30 new research centers and institutes, including the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs; and hundreds of additional grants. The University’s endowment stands at $12.2 billion, up from $5.8 billion in 2009.

Research funding explodes, sights set on $1 billion

As annual sponsored research funding has increased from $476.9 million in 2009 to $887.3 million in 2020, the University has risen in that time from 27 in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding to 15. Schapiro has set a goal for Northwestern to draw $1 billion annually in total research and reach the top 10 in NIH funding, in order to maximize its faculty’s opportunities to be at the forefront of new academic frontiers.

Strengthening our local communities

In 2013 Schapiro launched the acclaimed Northwestern Academy, which has helped hundreds of students from underserved communities attend competitive colleges and universities. In 2015, he established a Good Neighbor Fund that committed $1 million annually, for a five-year period, to the City of Evanston. That fund was expanded into a $1.5 million effort to address racial equity in Chicago and Evanston. 

Transformational upgrades across campus

During Schapiro’s tenure, the University has invested $2 billion to construct and renovate buildings on its campuses, including noteworthy campus upgrades for the sciences, arts and athletics and recreation. The rapid increase in research funding in particular necessitated new science facilities on the Evanston and Chicago campuses. This involved a transformation of the north campus in Evanston, as parking lots were rebuilt into new academic space. Expansions of the Technological Institute added more than 200,000 square feet of new space. 

New, state-of-the-art facilities include the Kellogg Global Hub, Louis A. Simpson and Kimberly K. Querrey Biomedical Research Center, Segal Visitors Center, Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, Welsh-Ryan Arena, Ryan Fieldhouse and the Walter Athletics Center. Major renovations have included the Seeley G. Mudd Building, a number of residence halls and the Evanston campus’ historic Black House.

In the near future, Northwestern’s Board of Trustees will offer more detail regarding the preparations for and process of selecting a new president.

Schapiro closed his message to the community on a personal note: “Mimi and I hope that when the ‘new normal’ finally arrives, we can thank many of you in person for all that you have done for Northwestern and for us,” he wrote.

Tributes to President Morton Schapiro

Several Northwestern community members reflected on what President Schapiro has meant to the University.

“During his leadership, President Schapiro has advocated for the spiritual growth and development of our students and staff. In particular President Schapiro has dedicated efforts towards those who may not identify in the dominant narrative or often feel marginalized. He has invested his time to meet with different affinity groups and advocated for their specific needs. Under his advocacy, Northwestern has been at the forefront of several initiatives including the launch of the first Interfaith Strategic Plan at a secular university, the hire of the first full-time female Muslim Chaplain at a private secular university and the continued efforts of establishment of a Multi-Belief Space for students of all backgrounds. Personally, Morty has been an inspiration for me during my own struggles and I look up to him for his incredible leadership.”

- Tahera Ahmad, associate chaplain and director of interfaith engagement

“In more than a decade, I was always amazed by Morty’s immense enthusiasm and commitment to Northwestern’s advancement and his tireless efforts toward it. I witnessed, in person, as early as his first year, his decisiveness and the impact it can bring when he envisioned his Good Neighbor, Great University program. Since then, his impact broadened across the whole university. It has been a pleasure to partner with him when opportunities arose, and I wish him all the best at his next phase.”

- Professor Vicky Kalogera

“The growth and development of Northwestern under Morty’s leadership have been extraordinary. The programs started, faculty recruited, buildings built and commitment to making Northwestern a more diverse and welcoming place all will be a part of his lasting legacy. His remarkable energy, commitment and good humor helped guide Northwestern through both good and sometimes turbulent times.”

- Professor Chad Mirkin

“Morty signs his messages ‘President and Professor’ because he never forgets that education is, above all, an interaction of teacher and student. As someone who has co-taught a course with him for 10 years, I can say that not only is Morty the most charismatic teacher I ever encountered, he also genuinely listens to student reactions, so we can adapt the course every year. The same readiness to change characterizes his work as a scholar. I have never learned so much as I did writing books with him — not only about economics, his expertise, but more importantly, about how to seek out and benefit from ideas challenging cherished convictions. There is nothing fake about Morty. As a person of faith, he genuinely cares about larger issues, and he helps others in ways that no one but his closest friends know about. He is the real thing. Teacher, scholar, president, human being: Morty is the model educator.”

- Professor Gary Saul Morson

“In the close to 45 years that I have been a part of the Northwestern community — as a student, faculty member and, now, dean — I have never encountered a president who cared more about or worked harder to improve the quality of the undergraduate student experience. Under Morty’s guidance, Northwestern’s enrollment of low-income and first-generation students has gone from single digits to 20%. By almost any measure, we are a better institution thanks to Morty’s transformational leadership.”

- Medill dean and professor Charles Whitaker

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