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Bruce Layton retiring after two decades leading Northwestern government relations

Longtime administrator increased collaborations with and support from government entities, resulting in extraordinary gains for Northwestern’s mission

Bruce C. Layton, special assistant to the president, will retire Dec. 31 after nearly two decades leading Northwestern’s government relations programs, President Morton Schapiro announced today, Sept. 2.

Layton’s time at Northwestern has been marked by dramatic growth in the level of support from government agencies for the University’s mission.

“Northwestern’s spectacular growth since the turn of the century can’t be separated from the extraordinary impact of Bruce Layton,” Schapiro said. “He has strengthened the University’s government partnerships at every level, to boost our teaching, research and public service efforts and to spur broad economic and human development. Along the way, he has been a compassionate advocate for our students and faculty and a colleague of the highest character.” 

bruce layton
Bruce Layton

Schapiro credited Layton with securing more than $250 million in direct state and federal appropriations for research projects and infrastructure. This has included funding for such crucial projects on the Evanston and Chicago campuses as the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, Ryan Hall, Pancoe Pavilion, Silverman Hall, the Ford Motor Company Engineering Building, Tech Infills and most recently, a new technology accelerator to be located at 1801 Maple Ave. in Evanston.

Former Northwestern president Henry Bienen and special assistant to the president C. Grier Davis recruited Layton to Northwestern in 2000 to serve as director of government and community relations.  Layton succeeded Davis as special assistant in 2002. 

As the head of Northwestern’s Government Relations office, Layton has been responsible for advocating for the interests of Northwestern as an institution and for research universities and higher education more broadly. Layton and his staff serve as liaisons between the Northwestern community and elected and appointed officials in federal, state and local governments. They also collaborate with external organizations and alliances to increase federal and state funding for research and education and to improve access to college to students from underrepresented backgrounds.  

“All at Northwestern owe Bruce great debts,” Bienen said. “He has worked extraordinarily well for Northwestern and through us for health and welfare of the wider communities.” 

Layton was instrumental in obtaining equipment support for state-of-the-art Northwestern research ventures such as the International Institute of Nanotechnology and the Simpson Querrey Institute. He also worked to secure legislatively directed research support for many of Northwestern’s leading researchers, including Sam Stupp, Chad Mirkin, Sir Fraser Stoddart and Mike Jewett.

To bolster Northwestern’s presence in the nation’s capital and expand its outreach to Congress and federal research agencies, Layton opened the University’s first Washington, D.C., office in 2012. The Washington office has two full time employees on Capitol Hill. 

After assuming responsibility for Chicago and Cook County relations in 2013, he opened a government relations office in Chicago and executed memoranda of understanding with the city that encompass a variety of collaborations. The office has strengthened ties with community groups, institutions and aldermen in the Streeterville neighborhood and also has worked to enhance educational opportunities for students in Chicago Public Schools. 

Layton has been active in higher education associations, especially the Association for American Universities, and has served on the board and executive committee of the Federation of Independent Illinois Colleges and Universities.

“For two decades, Bruce Layton has been a trusted colleague and steady influence on higher education policy in Springfield and has been especially effective as an advocate for student aid and state capital funding support,” said David W. Tretter, president of the Federation. 

Layton previously distinguished himself in government and academic-government relations in New York city and state. He established the first government relations office at New York University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He was later named director of policy within Columbia University’s Office of Government Relations/Community Affairs and then served as senior manager for the New York State Science and Technology Foundation for 11 years before arriving at Northwestern. 

Schapiro said that, after Dec. 31, Layton will move to an advisory role through the end of the 2022 fiscal year. Jennifer Kunde, executive director of government relations, has agreed to serve as special assistant on an interim basis while a search is conducted for Layton’s successor.

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