Letter to the Editor: Alum says ‘I Won’t’ to Northwestern’s ‘We Will’ campaign

Dick Reif, Medill '64

I was invited to join Northwestern’s $3.75 billion fund-raising drive called “We Will.” My reply — I Won’t. A school once called  “The Harvard of the Midwest” has morphed into a misguided muddle on Lake Michigan. Let’s start with a Medill junior’s federal lawsuit charging a professor with sexual assault. Other assault victims have since spoken out via e-mail. Just like the military, NU punishes victims, not violators. An investigation led by the director of NU’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Office supports the Medill student’s charges. Her assailant then only loses a year’s pay raise and an endowed professor’s chair. That’s not even a slap on the wrist. It’s a tap on the shoulder.  Assault victims get harsher treatment. Those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are told they are “liabilities” who must take a medical leave of absence and return after treatment, according to some posts on Medill’s e-mail list. NU’s message: What happened is your fault, not ours. Go home,  get over it, stop whining.

Stress has passed the breaking point, reflected by four suicides in two years, plus threats or attempts. NU’s student orientation program includes suicide prevention tips and alerts. Those seeking help face an overwhelmed and underfunded Counseling and Psychological Services program. Yet somehow, NU finds the money to build a $200 million athletic center and to pay its football coach $1.8 million a year and its president $1.2 million a year. At least coach Pat Fitzgerald spends time on campus, unlike Morty Schapiro, who’s often at 35,000 feet or thousands of miles away.  He made 21 trips to 11 countries — a total of seven months overseas  — during his first four years in office. Does he come home just to do his laundry? Other administrators and faculty members hop on planes almost as frequently as their students ride the CTA.

Every generation of students faces stress from academic and social pressures. But today’s students face a third pressure — financial stress.  NU’s tuition fees have soared by 150 percent since 1970 — five times the rate of inflation. Did the quality of education rise equally? Do new grads’ starting salaries enable them to pay off staggering student loans? NU’s reputation as a rich kid’s school will remain if only one percenters and a fortunate few receiving financial aid can attend. There’s any easy fix. NU can do the same as 75 other private universities have done by using its huge endowment to convert student loans to paid grants. If Princeton’s Tigers can do this, why can’t Northwestern’s Wildcats? That’s more sane than wasting funds on an Edifice Complex, on bloated bureaucracy or on out-of-control travel budgets.

It’s clear that NU’s top priorities are its bottom line and public image. Recent events damaged the latter.  It’s time to hit the former with a potent weapon — alumni donations. I will withhold mine until NU’s clueless leaders change course. I hope others do the same. Our message to our alma mater must be: SHAPE UP OR LOSE OUT.

Dick Reif
Medill ’64