Norris director to retire

Sheila Burt

William Johnston, director of Norris University Center, will retire in August after nine years of service at Northwestern, officials said.

Johnston said he strived to turn Norris into a place where students can grow socially in a sometimes stressful academic environment.

“I believe in students, I really do,” Johnston told The Daily on Thursday. “I think our students are great. I think if given the right opportunities, they make great decisions.”

Administrators sent out more than 600 letters announcing the vacancy with hopes of naming a new director by the end of Spring Quarter, said William Banis, NU’s vice president for student affairs. He said he hopes the new director will start in August.

As Norris director, Johnston helps run the two bookstores on the Evanston and Chicago campuses and the food service provided by Norris. He also oversees the student operations at Norris, among other things.

Banis said improvements to student services, programs and facilities mark Johnston’s tenure.

“I think Bill has done that exceptionally well,” Banis said. “He has really strengthened and expanded student activities and moved into new directions, especially with student leadership development and community service programming.”

Johnston came to NU in 1995 after serving as assistant vice president for student affairs at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

During his nine years as Norris director, Johnston helped initiate the Norris Center Advisory Board and the Northwestern Class Alliance — two forums that allow student input in administrative decisions and strive to foster class unity.

“I think the advisory board is perhaps the best example of how Bill listens to what students have to say and how much he values their opinions,” said Jeffrey Fine, a member of the advisory board who served as co-chair for the group in past years.

Fine, an engineering graduate student who has known Johnston for four years, said he views Johnston as an advocate for students.

“I think of what Bill has done for students and student groups beyond the walls of Norris,” he said.

Johnston also helped bring national brands — such as Sbarro — back to Norris’ food selection. The final stage of a food service improvement plan included the recent opening of Norris’ convenience store.

Johnston said he plans to work on his manuscripts, spend time with his family and consult with other universities after he leaves NU.

“Retirement is a big word,” he said. “I’m not sure I’m going to go buy a rocking chair and sit down and watch the waves crash. There are a lot of other things I want to do with my life.”

He said he hopes the next director continues to search for a major donor to support the expansion of Norris.

Brant Ullery, a Weinberg senior who said he has known Johnston since he first walked on campus, said Johnston embodies NU and is an “ideal liaison” for students and administrators.

“Bill has always been the one students run to,” said Ullery, former president and co-founder of NCA. “He can sit on the picket fence and play for either team.”

Banis said a search committee will screen promising candidates and also will conduct preliminary interviews.

He said the committee will look for someone with experience in campus center management and someone who “understands the dynamics of the university.”

“We’re deeply in debt to him for his persistent and continuous effort on behalf of our students in the university,” Banis said.