Schapiro tackles diversity pressure, touts town-gown relations

Patrick Svitek, Managing Editor

University President Morton Schapiro suggested Thursday that Northwestern may need a new leader if he cannot make it a more diverse institution.

“If those numbers don’t continue to improve, then we have to take a different course, maybe with a different president, to be honest with you,” Schapiro said during the second of two annual forums known as “Conversations with the President.” “That’s how important it is.”

After a year that saw the creation of several new administrators and committees to deal with diversity issues, Schapiro admitted NU still has a “long way to go” to become the inclusive community it advertises to prospective students.

Speaking to mostly undergraduate students, faculty and administrators in a packed McCormick Tribune Center Forum, Schapiro touched on several other topics, including mental health services and NU’s relationship with Evanston.

“We’ve invested long and hard in town-gown relations,” Schapiro said. He noted that commitment extends not only to Evanston, but also to Chicago, where the University has battled local preservationists to tear down the old Prentice Women’s Hospital and build a biomedical research facility.

Schapiro pointed out NU is no longer on the Princeton Review’s annual ranking of 10 schools with the worst town-gown relations. Still, he cautioned that is no reason to celebrate.

“They also have a list called best town-gown relations, and that’s the list I want to be on,” Schapiro said.

Ald. Jane Grover (7th), who attended the forum, told The Daily later Thursday that Schapiro’s reading of the city-University relationship was spot on. Since Schapiro arrived on campus four years ago, Evanston and NU have been more often “looking for reasons to celebrate each other,” Grover said.

“He got it right,” Grover said. “I would not change a word he said.”

Schapiro’s comments on diversity, however, were met with further inquiry from Medill Prof. Douglas Foster. Foster asked how NU plans to address diversity once students are on campus, not just as an admissions metric. An audience member shouted “yes” several times as Foster was posing his question.

Schapiro stressed he’s first and foremost concerned about quantitative data as an economics professor and understands the difficulty in measuring something like diversity. But the University is pushing forward with a new diversity emphasis in orientation programming and peer adviser training, Schapiro said.

After his talk, Schapiro told The Daily there is a “long list” of specific efforts to make NU a more diverse community over the past year. He pointed to the Bias Incident Response Team and three new positions meant to monitor diversity initiatives on campus.

Schapiro was sympathetic to occasional criticism the University is not doing enough — or taking the right steps — to foster a more inclusive community.

“They should be frustrated,” Schapiro said “I’m frustrated, too. If (students) know of any specific things we can do, let us know. We’ll strongly consider them.”

The final question asked Schapiro about the efficiency of Counseling and Psychological Services, which was in the spotlight Fall Quarter after Weinberg junior Alyssa Weaver committed suicide while studying abroad.

Schapiro replied the University will continue to be “guided by metrics” and pay close attention to wait times and student satisfaction. He promised money would never be an issue when weighing mental health services, saying there’s “no limit to how much we would spend to ensure the health and safety of our students.”