Henry Bienen gave his final ‘State of the Union’ address as university president on March 18.
Updated March 18, 2:30 p.m. In his final ‘State of the University’ address, Northwestern President Henry Bienen reassured community members of the university’s economic situation.”The economy obviously continues to be on all of our minds,” he said, highlighting the university’s 3 percent cut in operating expenses and restriction of funds from the endowment. “We believe these measures will enable us to make it through the rest of our fiscal year and next fiscal year in relatively good shape,” he said. “I must caution, however, that this is a moving target, if the economy remains in the doldrums and the market fall again, the cushion that we’ve tried to create for next fiscal year will disappear.” The annual event, which is cosponsored by the Office of the President and the Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council, was held in a packed McCormick Tribune Forum on Wednesday morning. The speech was also available via webcast for students at NU’s Chicago campus. The economic conditions faced by universities are very different now than they were when Bienen first became president, Bienen said. During his first State of the University address in 1995, Bienen said NU was “in good financial state,” but building a larger endowment was a top priority. Even today, NU is in a better financial shape that many peer institutions with larger endowments.”We are in good shape relatively speaking, and I believe that’s because we’ve had strong prudent fiscal management,” Bienen said. During his half-hour long speech, Bienen also discussed the university’s accomplishments in the past year, including the opening of a campus in Qatar, a surge in undergraduate and graduate applications, an increase in research projects and the football team’s invitation to play at the Alamo Bowl. He also discussed several of NU’s ongoing initiatives, such as the construction of Silverman Hall, Searle Student Health Center and the new Bienen School of Music building, as well as the continued expansion of several academic programs.”The economic downturn has had a significant impact on our capital program going forward,” he said. “We’ve deferred $90 million of projects including renovations of the Admissions office in Evanston and animal care facilities in Chicago.” Bienen also highlighted and named the awards and achievements of many NU staff members, faculty and students.”He’s very good and takes good care of recognizing other people as part of his address, he did a nice job this year particularly so,” said NU spokesman Al Cubbage. “He’s obviously looking back a little bit in his speech because this is his last one, but President Bienen doesn’t do that a lot. It’s not his personality.”Following the speech, administrators including Provost Dan Linzer, Senior Vice President of Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine and Associate Vice President of Facilities Management Ron Nayler joined Bienen in a panel to answer questions from audience members. The panel was a new addition to the event this year.”It’s important for President Bienen to have a chance to talk to the community directly, but one of the best things about the State of the University is giving the community a chance to ask questions of the president as well,” said NUSAC chairwoman Deborah Cundiff, adding that NUSAC received several questions in advance through e-mail. Bienen, who has served for nearly 15 years as university president, will step down in August. “It has been for me a remarkable experience and one that I have enjoyed immensely,” he said. When asked of his greatest accomplishment at NU, Bienen said he could not point to just one example. “Anybody holding the job of the president at any time has built on the past, looks at the future and is always asking for help and support of an innumerable number of people,” he said. “As I look back, I’m proud in a general way of what I think has been the increased quality of the university, its stature…. Much more of that is a progression over time and with the best yet to come. I think the university will go from strength to strength in the future.” [email protected]