Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Advertisement
Email Newsletter

Sign up to receive our email newsletter in your inbox.



Advertisement

Advertisement

Editorial: Covert deliberations to blame for backlash over Lagoon building

Northwestern administrators deserve the firestorm of protest and outrage they have received this week over their decision to fill in four acres of the Lagoon. Harsh criticism has poured in from all those who have a stake in the university – students, parents, alumni, staff and Evanston residents – over the administrators’ plan and the secretive process through which they developed it. The utter dearth of input from anyone outside the highest reaches of the central administration and the startling insensitivity to the concerns of the community have rightly spurred indignation and anger.

Most notably, more than 6,000 people, many of them alumni, have signed a petition expressing outrage and protesting “the paving of the Lakefill and filling of the Lagoon.” The sheer number of signatories is itself astounding and a testament to the passion surrounding this issue. But more remarkable is that the petition is inaccurate. NU’s plan calls for filling in only four acres of the Lagoon and leaves the Lakefill untouched.

That more than 6,000 people, including staff members, signed on to a wildly inaccurate and melodramatic petition is the surest sign yet that University President Henry Bienen and his administration failed to communicate with the community about their plans. They made no effort to educate the people whose lives the Lagoon project will impact or to seek their opinions. Now those people are lashing out in the only way available to them. Bienen should take this as a lesson in how not to run a university.

If it weren’t so upsetting, the administration’s conduct would be almost laughable. Kathy Lewton, who graduated from Medill in 1977 and is a former president of the Public Relations Society of America, observed that “they could have gotten any Medill undergraduate to write a better public relations campaign than this.”

And perhaps the woeful state of their public image has dawned on them; administrators belatedly sent an explanatory e-mail Friday in an attempt to placate the petitioners and quiet the chorus of criticism. They made no apologies for the secret decision-making process, but they did “hasten to add that by ‘pedestrian mall,’ we mean a long, grassy landscaped area – some people who apparently haven’t seen the university news release seem to think it means an area with stores on it. That’s not the case.”

But Bienen and his advisors have no one to blame for the swirling misinformation but themselves. Perhaps if the community had been involved in the process from the start, people wouldn’t conclude that administrators were building a shopping mall on the Lagoon or paving over the Lakefill.

If Evanston’s aldermen treated their constituents the way Bienen and his administrators treat students and alumni, they would surely be voted out of office. And although this plea will surely fall on deaf ears, Bienen should consider looking to city leaders for an example in community participation in government. Faced with a daunting deficit of nearly $4 million, they have the unenviable task of shredding popular programs and social services. But rather than deliberate in secret like some sort of military junta, the aldermen have held weekly budget workshops with citizen comment periods. The process has been transparent and reasonably responsive to the concerns of the community.

That kind of process might have forestalled the shock, outrage and misinformation that have swept the campus since NU announced the Lagoon project.

But as they chose not to follow such an example, administrators must now reap what they have sown. Student groups are mobilizing to continue protesting. Associated Student Government, which already has condemned the Lagoon plan, has considered holding a referendum on the project. Signatures continue to pile up on the inaccurate petition. And alumni continue to hurl threats of withheld donations and lost allegiances.

We expect the unrest to continue, and perhaps intensify, as the first day of construction nears. Hopefully, administrators will learn from this debacle and make future controversial decisions with more transparency and humility.

More to Discover
Activate Search
Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Editorial: Covert deliberations to blame for backlash over Lagoon building