University President Morton Schapiro discusses COVID-19 response, athletics and fundraising in Faculty Assembly meeting


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

University President Morton Schapiro said Northwestern is on track to raise more than $1 billion this year.

Maia Pandey, Campus Editor

University President Morton Schapiro spoke about Northwestern’s COVID-19 response, athletic programs and fundraising initiatives in Tuesday’s Faculty Assembly meeting.

Faculty Senate President Robert Holmgren asked Schapiro presubmitted and live questions from faculty through the hourlong webinar. In response to a question about why NU has not reimplemented a mask mandate, Schapiro said he recommended returning to a campus mask mandate more than a week ago but was outvoted.

The decision was made to stay in alignment with current public health guidelines at the city and state level for NU’s Evanston and Chicago campuses, he said. The University last week reported a COVID-19 positivity rate of 7.61%  — one of the highest throughout the pandemic. 

“It kind of drives me crazy, but … we’re gonna abide by the rules of the county (and) the two cities we’re located in,” Schapiro said of the lack of a mask mandate.

Schapiro, who tested positive for COVID-19 in May, said 135 students are currently in Quarantine & Isolation Housing. He said he observed few community members wearing masks at Dillo Day and other recent campus events he has attended.

Schapiro also discussed the athletics program’s role in larger University operations. He said it is a “myth” that a large portion of the $6 billion raised by NU’s “We Will” campaign went toward athletics. 

A small percentage of the campaign’s earnings supported athletics, he said, but it has also led to establishing 90 new endowed chairs. Patrick Ryan (Kellogg ’59) and Shirley Ryan (Weinberg ’61) made a $480 million donation to the campaign in fall that contributed to rebuilding Ryan Field.

NU is one of only a few schools in the country whose athletics program pays for itself and is not subsidized by academics, Schapiro said. Publicity from sporting events and Big Ten games also helps the University market itself globally, he added.

Unlike other universities, NU also does not make any concessions or exceptions in admissions for athletics, Schapiro said. 

“With this world of the transfer portal and name image and likeness, educational benefits … there’s a real threat to the amateur model,” he said. “This is an amateur place, and anybody who wears the purple and represents us should be a great student just like everybody else in the dorms.”

Holmgren said Schapiro has worked to ensure faculty have a say in University governance during his tenure. This has included quarterly meetings between the Senate’s executive committee and administrators and annual luncheons with the entire Senate and Board of Trustees where faculty chose the topic of discussion.

Faculty also had a significant voice in the search for President-elect Rebecca Blank, Holmgren added.

“Senators have been included as members of important administrative planning committees,” Holmgren said. “This allows the faculty to have input into the decision making process of the University and for the University to hear the faculty’s voice early in the process.”

Schapiro cited the 2018 budget deficit as one of his biggest regrets during his tenure, caused in part by increased investments in new buildings.

A sizable endowment and surpluses help make the University more accessible and affordable — which will be one of the ongoing challenges for his successor, Schapiro said. He added the University has fundraised $933 million so far this year, surpassing last year’s total of $754 million.

“We’re going to sail through a billion,” he said. “It’s going to be one of the best fundraising years a university or college has ever had in history.”

In response to questions about points of improvement for the Board of Trustees, Schapiro said he respects the Board’s commitment to protecting faculty freedoms. Board members have never questioned faculty or their right to teach what they wish, he added.

The board does, however, allocate the University’s endowment through investments, Schapiro said. Student groups have long advocated for NU to divest from organizations linked to fossil fuels and militarism.

“You might have a disagreement about whether you invest in certain areas for greatest return if they’re inconsistent with your underlying institutional values … I’m not a philosopher, but that’s an interesting debate,” Schapiro said. “We don’t have that debate because the Board runs the endowment.”

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