Q&A: President-elect Michael Schill talks transition to Northwestern, previous experiences


Photo courtesy of Northwestern Now

Michael Schill. The Daily sat down with Northwestern’s president-elect to discuss his transition to the University.

Jacob Fulton, Editor in Chief

Northwestern’s 17th University President will be Michael Schill, NU announced Thursday. Previously president of the University of Oregon, Schill has held administrative positions at multiple other universities — including at the University of Chicago Law School. Hours after NU announced his appointment, The Daily sat down with Schill to discuss his takeaways from previous leadership roles, his plans for the University and his thoughts on joining the NU community. 

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. 

The Daily: As University President, you will fill a unique role directly serving students. What are you prioritizing as you plan to integrate yourself into NU and build connections with community members? 

Schill: The reason we exist is the students, so they are always the highest priority in the sense of making myself available and engaging. I teach — I won’t be teaching this year, because I’m making the move, and you’ve already done your registration — but I will at some point teach. 

There’s no one way, but I want to be accessible. I want students to know that what I want, and what I aspire to, is that students don’t think I am an isolated leader. What I want to do is make them know that I’m there, and I’m there for them.

The Daily: You’ve spent time as a high-level administrator at multiple other institutions. What did you learn at each of them that you plan to bring to NU? 

Schill: One of the things I learned is the value of collaboration and that you come to the best decisions when you bring people of diverse viewpoints together. And also, you empower them to fight back with you, or you empower them to, if they don’t agree with you, let you know, and you should debate it. I learned that at UCLA. 

I learned, at the University of Chicago, how to be a dean in a private school, a smaller school, a school which was less amenable initially to some more programmatic areas. The University of Chicago was extraordinarily strong in law and economics, but we branched out to make connections to the business school in leadership programs and finance programs, and so that working among the schools was something that I did there, and that was a valuable tool. 

And then when I went to the University of Oregon, I learned a lot of things. The University of Oregon is about 18,000, 19,000 undergraduates and about 3,000 graduate students. So you’re really focused very much on the undergraduate experience. I’m going to take that with me here — the concern for undergraduates. 

And what I also learned at the University of Oregon, which I intend to bring here, is the importance of inclusion. Students will do better, students will be happier, if they feel they belong in an institution. So you need to focus on that in the student experience. 

The Daily: Each president leaves their own mark on the University. As you prepare to arrive, where are you hoping to take NU under your tenure? 

Schill: I’m going to not come in with a 10-point plan about where we’re going. I need to learn, I need to engage with the students, I need to engage with the faculty and staff and share governance, and then I will come up with, collaboratively, plans to move Northwestern further and faster. 

There’s some aspects which I know that we will be focusing on, and one is research. Northwestern is doing world-class, groundbreaking research, and we need to always enhance that. 

Diversity, that is going to be a priority. And inclusion is a necessary sort of adjunct to diversity. I don’t think you can have one without the other. I want to work collaboratively with the students in shared governance and I want to develop trust. 

And then, Northwestern already is a hub of innovation. It can play an extraordinarily important role in the city of Chicago. I want to foster innovation. I want to foster new ideas, new treatments, new approaches, new inventions, bringing them to market and other types of activities to enhance the human condition. 

The Daily: You spent time in Chicago during your tenure as the dean of the University of Chicago Law School. What’s it been like, knowing you’re coming back?

Schill: From the time I was at the University of Chicago, I always looked north and I sort of said, ‘Well, you know, if that position of president were to ever come available, that would be the best job in the world.’ And I feel humbled that the Board of Trustees has the faith in me, and the search committee had the faith in me, to come to Northwestern as your next leader.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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