Northwestern hosts intergenerational justice summit with university presidents


Courtesy of Northwestern Now

Northwestern hosted the U7+ Alliance Presidential Summit Tuesday, with leadership from 48 universities across 17 countries engaging in discussions around intergenerational justice.

Emily Sakai, Assistant Campus Editor

University President Morton Schapiro said his “faith in this current generation of young people” gives him hope during a Tuesday summit with university presidents across the globe.

“They need to learn to listen better and learn a little bit more humility,” Schapiro said. “But I think they are going to go down in history as one of the most transformative generations ever.”

Northwestern hosted this year’s second annual U7+ Alliance of World Universities Presidential Summit over three days, Nov. 22 to Nov. 24. About 100 members of university leadership teams from 17 countries registered for the virtual summit, which focused on the theme of intergenerational justice.

The team responsible for planning the event was led by the Buffett Institute for Global Affairs. Annelise Riles, executive director of the Institute, was the moderator for Tuesday’s discussions. She said after conversations with students and university vice presidents, higher education leaders wanted to prioritize intergenerational justice.

“For every university all over the world, this question of youth and their future is a critical one,” Riles told The Daily. “The question of how we protect our youth, how we prepare them to be global leaders, and how we invest in our society’s future is something all universities feel very, very passionate about.”

The U7+ Alliance is the first international coalition of its type and provides a network for university leaders to work together to coordinate action and accomplish global goals. The Alliance is associated with the G7 group of countries, though the U7+ includes members beyond that group. The Presidential Summit, Riles said, allows universities to combine forces and recognize that together, they are a “powerful global actor.”

Ahead of Tuesday’s discussion, the university leaders unanimously agreed to a new set of commitments centered around intergenerational justice. They agreed to “take the interests and rights of youth and future generations into account” when making decisions.

The public portion of the summit opened with a speech by Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, who also emphasized the importance of young people and their interests.

“The most distinguished universities around the world are an example of the incredible things that are possible when all generations make decisions jointly and transparently,” Wickramanayake said.

The summit then entered a “fireside chat” segment with panelists from several universities, before opening up the conversation to the broader group of members. University presidents brought up climate change, polarization within society, COVID-19 and many more.

During the fireside, Schapiro said fostering intergenerational justice starts with “what we’re doing at our own universities.” When asked how he hopes to prepare the next generation of global citizens, he emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary learning, and giving students the tools they need to “educate themselves for a lifetime.”

“We have to make sure our students learn to listen, not just speak, to discuss and not just shout, and to engage in meaningful dialogue, truly open to other views,” Schapiro said during the summit.

The statements come after Schapiro has been criticized and supported by many following his response to student protests against University Police, where he condemned protesters for using what he called “violence” and “intimidation.” Some faculty called Schapiro’s response antithetical to a university president’s role in listening to student demands with the respect they deserve.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @em_sakai

Related Stories:
U7+ Summit postponed due to coronavirus concerns
Schapiro writes on NU community’s “resilience and empathy” during COVID-19 pandemic in Tribune column
“Greatest Gen 2.0”: Schapiro writes on Gen Z’s resilience, burdens in opinion piece