More than 40 Northwestern faculty call for withdrawal of Karl Eikenberry’s appointment as Buffett Institute executive director


Lauren Duquette/Daily Senior Staffer

The Buffett Institute, which will be under the leadership of former ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry starting September. Faculty are protesting Eikenberry’s appointment, calling on the University to withdraw the offer for his position.

David Fishman, Reporter

Forty-six Northwestern faculty members called on University administrators to withdraw their appointment of Karl Eikenberry as executive director of the Buffett Institute due to his incompatibility with the center’s “core mission of independent research.”

In a letter to The Daily, organized by political science and legal studies Prof. Jacqueline Stevens and Spanish and Portuguese Prof. Jorge Coronado, the faculty outlined a number of reasons for why Eikenberry should not have been selected for the position, including what they said was an opaque search process by the University and concern about using the humanities and social sciences to advance U.S. soft power. Undersigned faculty concluded the letter by requesting a new search process chaired by “an independent faculty member” from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences or a committee appointed by the president of the Faculty Senate.

“All important administrative positions in the University — deans, the provost, the president — these are scholars who are engaged in the primary mission of research and teaching,” Coronado told The Daily. “And so we have deep concerns about what it means for someone who doesn’t come from that background to lead an institute which has been so central to non-qualitative social sciences and humanities research.”

University President emeritus Henry Bienen, who chaired the search committee that hired Eikenberry, refuted the faculty’s accusations, and said he couldn’t recall anyone voicing dissatisfaction until the letter. Although he acknowledged Eikenberry’s non-academic background, Bienen said the appointment was “sensational” and expressed full confidence in the former ambassador’s leadership ability.

Stevens countered Bienen’s claim, saying she sent Bienen an email on September 30 outlining concerns from NU faculty about Eikenberry’s appointment.

“I find the letter more than disappointing,” Bienen told The Daily. “I actually find it uninformed, narrow-minded and extremely foolish.”

University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer acknowledged the concerns expressed by some faculty, but said they “strongly disagree” in a separate letter to The Daily published Wednesday night. Eikenberry, they wrote, “will broaden access to people and information for faculty and students” and said faculty that met with Eikenberry expressed “quite a different set of comments.”

Eikenberry currently works at Stanford University, where he is affiliated with four centers at the university’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Prior to that, he spent 35 years in the U.S. Army working his way up to lieutenant general before retiring in 2009 to become President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Afghanistan. Eikenberry is slated to become the Buffett Institute’s first executive director in September.

“I look forward to working collaboratively with the outstanding group of leaders, faculty, and fellows at the Institute and across the University — including those who are currently skeptical — to help increase opportunities for high quality research and studies across the academic disciplines,” Eikenberry wrote to The Daily in an email.

But Coronado and Stevens said Eikenberry, who comes from a non-academic and military background, wasn’t the right fit for directing a research institute.

“There’s this clubby network of people who are tied into the Northwestern board and to the military industrial complex who made a decision to appoint somebody who is not a scholar, and who has no experience running academic institutions to lead the premiere research institute of global studies at Northwestern,” Stevens told The Daily.

Bienen told The Daily in January he recommended Eikenberry for his unorthodox background after meeting him five years ago at a conference in New York. He said a diverse group of humanists, administrators and social scientists narrowed down a list of candidates to three, and then Schapiro and Linzer made the final decision.

Nevertheless, Stevens said the process did not include enough faculty input and ultimately failed at picking a suitable executive director. Stevens said she and Coronado met with Jay Walsh, the University’s vice president for research, Wednesday morning and had a “very productive” meeting, which she left feeling “heard and respected.”

Following the administration’s letter, however, Stevens and Coronado said the two messages seemed inconsistent.

“The recent letter by Schapiro and Linzer trots out the same platitudes that upset faculty,” Stevens said. “Putting this kind of spin on Eikenberry’s background is corrosive and misleading. …. These kinds of affiliations are being manipulated to convey an inaccurate characterization of Eikenberry’s qualifications.”

Schapiro and Linzer expressed no plans to open a new search process and called on faculty to draw their own conclusions based on direct interaction.

“It is to be expected that a range of opinions will be found across the faculty; it is also to be expected that members of our academic community will engage new colleagues and opportunities with open minds, and will reach conclusions based on their own, direct interactions,” they wrote in their letter.

A previous version of this story misstated Eikenberry’s affiliations at Stanford University. He is affiliated with four centers at Stanford. The Daily regrets the error.

This article was updated March 2 at 12:12 a.m. to include information that Stevens had sent Bienen an email outlining faculty concerns about Eikenberry’s appointment. 

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