Administrators outnumber students at community dialogue


Courtney Morrison/The Daily Northwestern

Philip Harris, Northwestern’s vice president and general counsel, talks about the naming of spaces on campus during the third community dialogue held in Norris University Center. The event was part of a four-part series of discussions aimed at making NU a more inclusive community.

Kelli Nguyen, Assistant Campus Editor

Administrators more than doubled students at an open community dialogue at Norris University Center on Monday night, setting off a conversation about how to improve communication between students and administrators.

The third installment of the community dialogue series focused on University operations and was attended by 10 students and more than 20 University administrators.

Students and administrators sat side-by-side to discuss the details behind a new socially responsible investment committee to advise University President Morton Schapiro and Chief Investment Officer Will McLean on NU’s investments. The group also talked about transparency with University Police, how NU names buildings and the renewing of Sodexo employee contracts.

Following the discussion, the group discussed how to increase student participation in events such as the dialogue. Students said announcements for the dialogue were lost in the shuffle — buried in mass listserv emails.

“I hear students saying the administration isn’t reaching out, and then I go and look for it (and) it’s staring me straight in the face — it is there,” SESP senior Chris Harlow said. “I’m just frustrated over and over with hearing those sort of things and feeling like all of us aren’t listening to each other.”

Student attendance was similarly low at the second community dialogue, which was held in March. Of the 50 people who attended the event at Sargent Dining Hall, most were administrators or faculty.

Kelly Schaefer, assistant vice president for student engagement, said administrators are working to overcome the communication gap between them and students.

“We’re in institutional, administrative spaces and students are on social media, word-of-mouth types of spaces,” Schaefer said. “If you’ve got ideas for how we can coexist in spaces together … we are definitely interested in the balance with that.”

Medill junior Scott Brown, a former Daily staffer, said administrators can seem unapproachable at times to the average student.

“When I saw the email I thought it would be (Executive) Vice President (Nim) Chinniah,” Brown said. “I walked in this room and there’s every administrator, and President (Morton) Schapiro is over there, and I think that my gut reaction in general at Northwestern to high-level administrators is intimidation.”

Chinniah said administrators are eager to engage with students and events like these let students see who runs their University.

“We’re all open to engage with you,” Chinniah said. “One of the ways for us to overcome that intimidation factor is to continue to be in dialogue with each other, so find us, track us down. We are hopeful that this is not the end of a conversation, but it’s the beginning of a conversation and a dialogue where we continue to talk about the issues that are important to you.”

Monday’s dialogue also addressed recent divestment efforts related to the University’s endowment.

Schapiro said he believes investments should reflect institutional values and emphasized the importance of finding passionate people to make a strong case for divestment. Although there are no guarantees with the new committee, it offers a chance for community members to influence the Board of Trustees’ decision on the issue, he said.

“If the committee makes a compelling case and they really like you and they get all their fact together, I think there’s a chance,” Schapiro said. “That’s not a guarantee but there’s a chance. There’s no chance if it’s just signs and protesting, they’re not going to be intimidated, in fact my fear is if you try to intimidate them it’s going to have a backfiring effect.”

In addition, Patricia Telles-Irvin, vice president for student affairs, explained the University’s stance on Sodexo’s contract-renewals. She said although the University supports Sodexo employees, the University is not involved in the negotiations because they are between Sodexo and the unions.

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