Schapiro addresses state of the University, town-gown relations in ‘Conversation with the President’

Jennifer Suh

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University President Morton Schapiro addressed a variety of issues including diversity, town-gown relations and a living wage at a 90-minute event, “Conversation with the President,” in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum onWednesday.

The Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council-sponsored event began with a 30-minute overview about the current status of the University, primarily focused on the upcoming University Strategic Plan. Schapiro repeatedly noted NU’s membership in the Association of American Universities and the surge in the number of undergraduate admission applications to confirm the University’s prominence.

“We are proud of what we’ve done,” Schapiro said. “By virtually any measure, we’re pretty happy where we are.”

During the introductory overview, Schapiro also suggested that students, faculty and the staff should recognize that Evanston is one of the greatest college towns in America.

“When I was on the west coast, people used to say, ‘Poor Northwestern, stuck in the Midwest … They are stuck in Chicago,'” Schapiro said. “I love being stuck in Chicago, folks. I would take Evanston, this wonderful town on the lake right outside of Chicago, over any of the schools I mentioned.”

During the question-and-answer session of the event, Schapiro was first asked to comment on the NU community’s diversity. He pointed out the Good Neighbor, Great University program and improved financial aid packages that helped NU admit by far the most diverse class with the Class of 2015. Moreover, he added that diversity and academic prowess are not correlated.

“It shows once again that this myth that somehow you have to sacrifice academic excellence to get a more diverse student body is just that: It’s a myth,” Schapiro said.

As the 2011 Living Wage Conference took place April 14 and 15 at NU, Paul Arntson, chairman of the Faculty Senate, suggested the administration form a University committee to study and implement a living wage campaign at NU.

“To have a committee that is going to implement it, it seems rather presumptuous because I never said we were going to implement it, and I don’t plan on implementing as you probably know for many reasons.” Schapiro said. “However, I definitely endorse the ending. The ending is to proactively state what exactly our interest is in negotiating with people and firms we contract with.”

He further shared his opinion on the living wage.

“I can talk about why I think the living wage is not a good idea as an economist,” Schapiro said. “The idea that you’re going to have the same number of people employed, if you had to pay $30,000 versus $20,000, not only goes against 200 years of neoclassical economics; it goes against common sense.”

In response to a question about branding NU as a more unified university, Schapiro said NU does not get its deserved credit for the Kellogg School of Management and Medill School of Journalism, which are some of leading academic institutions in the world. By referencing the difference in ranking that NU gets once the reputation of the institution is included as the evaluating criteria, Schapiro noted the importance of branding and marketing the University.

“Most underrated university in the world, Northwestern University,” Schapiro said.

Last, Susan Atkinson, director of special events, asked Schapiro to explain his stance on the town-gown relations between Evanston and NU.

“That juxtaposition of students who stay up all night like vampires and people trying to raise little kids, it’s a difficult combination,” Schapiro said. “We’re working to try to do our best, we’re trying to protect our rights, but we’re also trying to be really good citizens.”

As Schapiro started answering this question by saying, “I hope we survive Saturday, ” he also commented on the upcoming Dillo Day.

“This weekend is going to be a tough weekend,” Schapiro said. “I don’t know about you, but I made a lot of bad decisions when I was 18 to 22 years old. But fortunately, we didn’t have Facebook, so I’m still employable.”