Faculty, students react to search committee for next University president

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Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, which houses the Bienen School of Music. The Presidential Search Committee, announced earlier this month, includes no faculty or students affiliated with Bienen, Medill, SESP or the School of Communications.

Maia Pandey, Assistant Campus Editor

Of the 36 members tasked with helping search for the next University president, none are currently working in the School of Education and Social Policy, the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, the Bienen School of Music and the School of Communication.

In fact, six of the nine faculty and students on the committee come from STEM backgrounds, and the remaining are current or former Board of Trustees members, alumni leadership or staff. And for some students and faculty, this breakdown is a point of concern. 

The Presidential Search Committee, announced earlier this month, will help advise the Board on candidate elections and solicit community input and nominations for the next president. While Northwestern community members nominated people to the committee, Board chair J. Landis Martin selected the final group, according to this month’s announcement.

History and Asian American Studies Prof. Ji Yeon Yuh said the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences is also “severely underrepresented.” 

Only one Weinberg faculty member in the humanities sits on the committee, despite almost every major requiring undergraduates to take some Weinberg classes, Yuh said.

“The point of a Northwestern degree is not to get graduates a six-figure job upon graduation,” she said. “The point of a Northwestern education is to prepare students to be upstanding and outstanding citizens…and that requires a humanities education, requires an understanding of issues of racial equity and social justice.”

Ideally, the new president would recognize the necessity of humanities in an NU education, Yuh said. Administrators, including the president, could better promote and fund these programs on campus, she added.

Yuh said the evolution of the Buffett Institute of Global Studies toward more policy- and economics-oriented projects in past years is indicative of a need for more humanities support on campus.

“Right now, in our society, the balance is such that the humanities are neglected,” Yuh said “It’s unfortunate that that kind of imbalance is reflected in the composition of the Presidential Search Committee.” 

Yu said she recognizes the search committee will primarily play an advisory role and the Board will make the final selection. Still, she hopes the committee members adopt a “transformative vision” for the University’s future.

Bienen and Weinberg freshman Thomas Filipiuk said while he does not feel a president impacts his day-to-day experience as a piano performance major, he hopes the next president would value the importance of arts to campus culture.

“I’ve met so many people who are doing dual degrees in music or film or theater or whatever,” Filipiuk said. “It is something that’s really valued on campus — we’re not just a STEM school.”

Medill Prof. Ava Greenwell, who was a faculty member when Henry Bienen was appointed president and when Morton Schapiro assumed the role, said there was very little community involvement in both searches.

One of the key ways a president affects the day-to-day University operations is by appointing deans of various schools, Greenwell said. While putting people of color in leadership roles is not the solution to eradicating structural issues, it is an important step, she said.

Similarly, Greenwell is less concerned about a new president’s academic background than their understanding of how to create a more inclusive campus, she added.

“We really need someone who understands what it means to have a history of marginalization for your identity,” Greenwell said. “When I was an undergraduate, there was almost no conversation about race, and as an African American woman, gender for that matter. I would love to see a woman of color president at Northwestern.” 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the school affiliations of the search committee members, as well as their departments of study. Three Weinberg faculty members sit on the committee, and only one is affiliated with the humanities. Two of the trustees are alums of the School of Communication and Medill. The Daily regrets the errors.

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