Letter to the Editor: Northwestern should renovate Fisk Hall for Medill’s centennial

I’m glad Northwestern has lifted its freeze on new construction after the budget deficit ended. But why does it focus on vacant buildings like the Donald P. Jacobs and James Allen Centers? Why not renovate an occupied building — Fisk Hall — in time for Medill to celebrate its centennial in 2021? Speaking to The Daily Northwestern, Dean Charles Whitaker said the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications should be in the forefront of charting bold new courses in the fields of journalism and marketing. But how can Medill do this when its students are housed in a 121-year-old structure that sorely needs an overhaul?

Fisk was built in 1899, at least two decades before Chicago’s “Front Page” era of journalism. It became Medill’s home in 1954, 33 years after the school opened. The McCormick Foundation Center has housed Medill’s broadcast & multimedia facilities since it opened in 2002. But Fisk remains frozen in time, while newer Medill campuses in Chicago, San Francisco and Doha, Qatar, benefit from state-of-the-art technology. 

In my view, Northwestern’s failure to upgrade Fisk Hall reflects a set of perverse priorities. The University spent roughly $500 million on new buildings over the past decade, including the Ryan Field House and Walter Athletics Center. If Northwestern can invest $270 million in a brand new building for student athletes, why can’t it spend much less to renovate an old building for student journalists? Does athletics outweigh academics in Northwestern’s value system?

In a January 7 piece, Daily sports columnist Peter Warren proposed Northwestern to invest in new sports facilities to bolster the Wildcats athletics status as a “national brand,” such as upgrading Ryan Field in time for its 100th anniversary in 2026. Medill is a global brand and a launch pad for the careers of many prominent journalists. That counts much more, in my view, than fielding a football team that feeds players to the NFL.

I realize some wealthy Northwestern alumni like to have their names emblazoned on stadiums and field houses. But Medill has many successful alumni who might want to help their alma mater mark its centennial in a facility worthy of the Medill name. The University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Media and Journalism benefited from such generosity in 2018, when it received a $10 million grant to build a state-of-the-art facility, donated by alum Don Curtis, CEO of the Curtis Media Group, which owns 62 radio stations. Why can’t the Wildcats’ journalism alumni match the Tar Heels’ largesse? 2021 is fast approaching. Open your checkbooks and aid the school that launched your careers.

— Richard Reif, MSJ 1964