NU community pickets in front of Schapiro’s house, protest selection of Mike Polisky as AD


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Organizers posted signs around The Rock, advocating for increased representation of women within University leadership. Over 200 people marched from The Rock to University President Morton Schapiro’s residence.

Yunkyo Kim and Nick Francis

Over 200 Northwestern faculty, staff, students, alumni and Evanston community members marched Friday to protest the appointment of Mike Polisky as the University’s next athletic director. 

Faculty members, who organized the protest and signed a Wednesday letter, gave speeches at The Rock, before attendees walked up Sheridan Road to picket in front of University President Morton Schapiro’s house. 

The protest was the culmination of calls for the University to reconsider Polisky’s appointment and conduct an investigation into his time at NU. Polisky was named a defendant in a federal sexual harassment case filed by a member of the cheerleading team in January. Members of the cheerleading team also alleged that Polisky improperly addressed anti-Black racism in an investigation published by The Daily.

Organizers and attendees shouted, “Believe cheerleaders,” among other slogans advocating for equity and transparency. Mayor-elect Daniel Biss was among those who attended.

Throughout the march, at least five police vehicles, including one unmarked car, blocked off sections of the street so organizers could march unabridged. At least four officers were present. In front of the gates of Schapiro’s house, two people were stationed for security purposes. It was unclear whether Schapiro was home.

Speaking to protesters, former NU cheerleader Erika Carter (SESP ‘18) said the University has failed its Black and female athletes in selecting Polisky as athletic director.  Carter created a petition Thursday that has since received over 1,100 signatures as of Saturday evening.

“Polisky had a duty to protect and support Black athletes and female cheerleaders and he failed miserably,” Carter said in her speech. “This is the man that Northwestern has just elected to lead the athletic department.” 

As an alumna and multigenerational Evanston resident, Carter said she deeply struggled when she heard news of Polisky’s selection. She and various other students and alumni were affected by his leadership in the athletic department, she said. 

“Northwestern firmly supports vigorous debate and the free expression of ideas — abiding principles that are fundamental for our University,” University spokesperson Jon Yates said.

Biss, who was among protesters walking from The Rock to Schapiro’s house, said he attended the march because the relationship between Evanston and NU is important. That relationship includes shared values of accountability and racial equity, he said. 

“The decision to make this appointment was a mistake, and they should rescind it,” Biss told The Daily. 

NU and Evanston and “owe it to each other” to hold one another accountable, Biss said. A part of that, he added, is reversing the appointment. 

1st Ward Alderperson-elect Clare Kelly told The Daily she was glad to see turnout to support the calls for Polisky’s removal. 

“The disregarding of the cheerleaders’ complaints in the past is not part of the values of Evanston,” Kelly said. “As a city we need to stand up and say ‘we believe the cheerleaders.’”

She said the city needs to stand up for residents and students alike. As an incoming alderperson, Kelly’s ward encompasses a significant portion of the University, as well as some off-campus housing. If NU doesn’t act in its community’s best interest, Kelly said, the city needs to “step in” and address the problems they are voicing.

About 200 people marching north on Sheridan Road. They are facing away from the camera.
Protesters marching north on Sheridan Road, passing campus buildings like the Donald P. Jacobs Center and Elder Hall on their way to Schapiro’s residence. There, faculty gave speeches to the crowd. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

SESP junior and Associated Student Government President Christian Wade also attended the march. He said the decision to promote Polisky was in “complete disregard” of students’ safety. 

“I thought it was important to show up in support,” Wade said. “(At) this University, students hold the power.” 

Wade said the University should immediately renounce Polisky’s hiring, and officially issue a statement of apology. He added that he thinks NU should “reopen” the search committee to hire a new athletic director. 

Concluding the event, political science Prof. Elizabeth Shakman Hurd said she believed the turnout of the march was positive. 

“People obviously care a lot about Northwestern, and about the future of this University, and want us to move forward and not backward,” Hurd told The Daily.  

On the morning of the march, the faculty organizers behind the Wednesday letter released a new statement. 

“Until such an honest examination takes place, Northwestern will remain a place that claims to value diversity, equity and inclusion while undermining those same values through its real-world behavior,” the letter read. 

The letter responded to Schapiro’s Thursday message to the community, which said the University conducted an independent investigation to examine new or existing concerns. In the initial inquiry, Schapiro wrote there was no evidence to suggest policy breach. 

Furthermore, Schapiro said a former Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisory special agent and a former federal judge reviewed Polisky’s background. Schapiro maintained his certainty that Polisky was the best candidate. 

However, the faculty members’ response to the Thursday statement said the bar for University leadership should be higher. Their letter maintained opposition to Polisky’s selection and Schapiro’s response to public criticisms.

Faculty organizers of Friday’s event also called for the audience to support the movement, encouraging community members to reach out if they want to help with organization efforts. They said they want to include student input in the organizing process.

Erika Carter speaking to a crowd via megaphone. She is surrounded by professors and Mayor-elect Daniel Biss.
Carter delivered opening remarks to the crowd at The Rock Friday afternoon. After concluding opening speeches, the crowd marched toward The Arch and on to Schapiro’s residence. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

Carter, whose Thursday petition compared Schapiro’s public commitments for social justice with the allegations against Polisky’s, echoed the professors’ response to the appointment. 

She emphasized that the march wasn’t just about the athletic department. Instead, the concerns organizers shared should permeate the NU community as a whole. 

“This is not about me, it’s not solely about cheerleaders,” Carter said in her speech. “It’s about Black athletes, it’s about the future of Northwestern.” 

Email: [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: @YunkyoMoonK. @nick24francis

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