University president Morton Schapiro talks free speech rhetoric, diversity and inclusion


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

University president Morton Schapiro. Schapiro discussed Trump administration policies towards colleges and universities in an interview with The Daily.

Gabby Birenbaum, Campus Editor

On April 19, three members of The Daily’s editorial board sat down with University president Morton Schapiro. Jeri Ward, vice president for global marketing and communications also sat in on the meeting. Schapiro talked about educating students for the current economy, the Trump administration’s attacks on college campuses and diversity and inclusion. His answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: How do you go about educating students in the current economy?

Schapiro: I think flexibility. I am a labor economist. I’ve written on protecting members of this generation from outsourcing to India and China and other countries, their jobs, as well as being replaced by automation and artificial intelligence.

Having a mixture of skills is the best preparation not to be outsourced or replaced by artificial intelligence. It used to be that you had one occupation, three employers. Now you have three occupations. So you might do law, you might do finance, you might do teaching, you might do journalism. How do you train people to have that flexibility? I think it’s broader training. Everybody knows you have to be adept quantitatively. It’s nice if you could code a little bit, be comfortable with numbers, but emotional intelligence is more important now than it’s ever been. You didn’t really need it when the workforce was dominated by people of a certain demographic. If you don’t have emotional intelligence now, and you don’t have a real respect and appreciation for diverse voices, you’re not gonna succeed.

The Daily: Do you see recent executive orders and rhetoric from the Trump administration and conservatives about free speech on college campuses to be a political attack?

Schapiro: Who knows what motivates people. I mean the endowment tax, somebody called it ‘Take that, Harvard’ tax. That’s what they called it, which clearly it is. It doesn’t raise any money, it’s just a “Let’s take the liberal, heavily-endowed private colleges and universities and stick it to ‘em.” As an economist, it’s just ludicrous. It had nothing to do with, I believe, economics. It’s just punitive.

There are legitimate questions about freedom of speech — are we open enough? Do we welcome all voices? So, you know, the fact that politicians are concerned about it — we’re all concerned about that. At least that’s an issue that one should argue through. But, you know, it’s easy to take a potshot at a school.

The Daily: Many students of marginalized backgrounds say they feel the University is emphasizing diversity without following through with inclusion. How do you respond to that?

Schapiro: Well, we’ve been emphasizing it for my ten years here. Student Enrichment Services and a whole bunch of things we do, but, as I readily say, when you look at senior survey results, you see differences in satisfaction levels by race and by income and by any number of different measures.

I said ten years ago in my induction speech that this isn’t the most diverse community for undergrads. It will be much more diverse. As we get more selective, it’s gonna be easier for us to have a much higher representation of groups that are presently underrepresented. I then said, ‘that’s the easy part.’ Inclusion’s the hard part. But you have to be honest with yourself about that and keep working towards it.

So, am I surprised that people from different sorts of backgrounds have different experiences here? No. I look at the data — what’s the probability of going on study abroad, probability of writing an honors thesis, probability of being Greek, probability of being in a cappella? You see all these different measures, you look at these measures, and we keep working and working and working to have the same great experiences.

You want to bring up the experience of the ones who are having a worse time. And that’s what we keep trying to do. But, anybody who’s ever thought that’s easy to accomplish has never tried to do it. And I have.

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