Faculty Senate welcomes University President Michael Schill, votes on Organization of Women Faculty motion


Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

Rebecca Crown Center. University President Michael Schill discussed affirmative action, campus sustainability and Northwestern finances at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

Maia Pandey, Print Managing Editor

University President Michael Schill provided updates on his first month in office and the Organization of Women Faculty presented a motion pushing for pay equity across Northwestern during the Wednesday Faculty Senate meeting.

Schill’s presentation came after he and other senior administrators took faculty questions on the redesign of Ryan Field earlier in the meeting.

While he plans to spend several months soliciting community input before fully announcing his leadership priorities, Schill said he feels strongly about protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression.

“These values are under attack right now in our country, and we must guard them and we must protect them,” he said. “The important work of the University doesn’t happen in the Rebecca Crown Center — it happens in your classrooms and labs.”

A former law school dean, Schill said he anticipates the decisions on the Harvard University and University of North Carolina affirmative action cases to be among the first on which he voices his opinion as University president.

The case, which the U.S. Supreme Court will hear later this month, will decide whether affirmative action programs at the universities are constitutional. Schill said diversity should be a fundamental value in law, and the academic community has “a lot to lose” if the plaintiffs prevail.

“We need (to) have that tool in our arsenal, and I don’t believe it necessarily needs to lead to discrimination of others,” Schill said.

Art history Prof. Rebecca Zorach asked Schill how he plans to engage students in discussions on sustainability and climate change. 

Many environmental initiatives have been “top-down,” she said, not accounting for how climate change tangibly impacts young people. Many experience climate anxiety when reflecting on the planet’s future, she said.

“Climate change is a big component in the mental health issues facing our system,” Zorach said. “One of the big differences between us and (students) is they have more decades to hope to live on this planet.”

Schill said he is happy to engage with student activists, including those pushing for fossil fuel divestment. As the University of Oregon’s president, he said he regularly met with students advocating for a range of causes including sustainability and racial equity.

However, when the Oregon administration investigated potential opportunities for decarbonization by changing the campus heating system, it found the process would be too expensive, Schill said. With regard to campus improvements at large, Schill said choosing priorities within the University’s limited budget will be key.

The University’s position on college rankings has climbed in recent decades, placing it among a more selective group of universities — but Schill said these new peers often have larger endowments than NU. 

Still, he added, navigating finances at a private university is preferable to navigating them at a public one.

I was at the University of Oregon,” Schill said, “Go home tonight, (and) be happy because you’re not a public university in a state that doesn’t believe in higher education. This is a much better place to be.”

Faculty Senate also heard a piece of new business from political science Prof. Karen Alter, who presented a public letter from OWF advocating for increased investments in faculty and pay equity across the University. With more than 200 signatories, Alter said the letter represents about 25% of women faculty at NU.

Alter motioned for members of the Faculty Senate to sign on to the letter, after which another member proposed sending the letter to Senate committees for review. But Alter said OWF’s previous efforts have often stalled in committee.

The Senate is very procedurally slow,” she said. “We couldn’t have brought it to committees because they all dissolved in May, and we wanted to get this letter out when the new year started.”

Senators ultimately voted 31-20 to send the letter to committee, which will report any conclusions at next month’s meeting.

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