Amaral: Northwestern is great. Why can’t we have more of it?

Luis Amaral, Op-Ed Contributor

Northwestern is a world-class university. Our faculty are internationally recognized for their teaching and research. Our alumni go on to take leadership positions in academia, education, entertainment, entrepreneurship, finance, industry, journalism, law, medicine, policy and technology. Over 93% of the students we admit graduate within six years (1.5 times the national rate) while completing internships and gaining research experience. The extraordinary impact of NU is clear. This impact, however, is limited by our size. 

We only enroll about 8,300 undergraduate students and 13,500 graduate and professional students. Imagine what NU’s impact would be if those numbers increased by a third, a half or even more? Imagine an NU where our student body is even more diverse, where we can change the lives of even more first-generation college students and where a greater number of alumni children can enroll. 

Imagine an NU where we hired additional faculty to teach more students and used the opportunity to address long standing imbalances in the representation levels of female, Black, Indigenous and other professors of color. Imagine an NU where these new faculty and their graduate students addressed the monumental societal challenges we face.

On the face of it, these changes may appear as nothing more than a pipe dream. The Evanston Campus lacks space for new construction. Adding any additional buildings would destroy the character of the campus and rob new students of important aspects of the NU experience. Adding an additional, distant satellite campus would rob the new faculty of the opportunity to collaborate and learn from their colleagues.

Strangely enough, the solution to this problem may lie in Chicago’s lakeshore. The Ryan family made a $480 million donation to the school — the largest in NU’s history. A portion of that gift is meant to improve the experience of NU’s football team fans. The thinking seems to be that renovating Ryan Field is the best way to achieve this goal. There is, however, an alternative. 

The Chicago Bears indicated they will soon vacate Soldier Field, leaving the Chicago Park District without a tenant for the stadium. Soldier Field would be a great venue for NU football. The stadium has the sophistication, high-tech features and unique location one associates with NU’s image. It also features all the amenities NU Athletics administrators are discussing for Ryan Field’s upgrade. At $6.5 million per year, Soldier Field would be a bargain for NU Athletics compared to the maintenance and renovation costs of Ryan Field.

More importantly, the block where Ryan Field stands could be used to expand NU’s Evanston Campus in a natural manner while improving town-gown relations. The area could potentially accommodate a building with a footprint twice as large as that of the Technological Institute. 

Visualize the Ryan Family Grand Challenges Hub on Central Street. Visualize the thousands of additional undergraduate and graduate students that would benefit from the NU experience. Visualize the hundreds of millions of dollars in annual research funding made possible by the new faculty and the new collaborations. Visualize the new breakthroughs in medicine, in technology, and in the behavioral, chemical, life, physical and social sciences. Visualize it.

Luis Amaral is a professor of chemical and biological engineering. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.