Faculty Senate hears from Chair of the Board Peter Barris, passes legislation to reduce bird collisions


Daily file photo by Victoria Benefield

Scott Hall. Peter Barris, chair of the Northwestern Board of Trustees, spoke to the Faculty Senate over Zoom at Wednesday’s meeting

Talia Winiarsky, Reporter

Peter Barris, chair of the Northwestern Board of Trustees, outlined his goals of supporting University President Michael Schill and improving the scale of research during Faculty Senate on Wednesday. Barris, who lives in Virginia, attended the meeting over Zoom. 

Barris, who became the Board’s chair in September, said he wants to make NU an “iconic institution.” He said the Board’s first priority is to support the leadership of Schill, who will be inaugurated in June.

In March, Schill presented a preliminary list of priorities to the Board, which have not yet been released to the public, Barris said. 

“It will be the Board’s job to discuss these areas with him, understand them and ultimately support the implementation from visioning to funding to execution,” Barris said. 

The Board has multiple items on its agenda, he said, including capital projects such as the Mudd Hall renovation, which will be completed in the fall, and Rebuild Ryan Field. The Board is also concerned about declining student mental health, as well as a potential Supreme Court ruling that could ban affirmative action, Barris said. 

The University seeks to improve in several areas, including the level of research, which the Board will discuss in June, he added. 

“We’re now in a category, if you will, in that top-10 ranking, and given the peers that we now have … it’s difficult to even maintain our position, much less improve it,” Barris said. “But we’re committed to doing both.”

After Barris spoke to the Senate, he answered questions from faculty. Senator Luis Amaral raised several questions of the Board and expressed concerns about transparency, citing the fact that the names of those on Board committees are not available online. He also questioned why the Board includes a large number of trustees. 

“We have close to 140 trustees listed on our webpage, and there is no other institution that is even remotely close to that,” Amaral said.

Barris wasn’t aware membership of the board committees was not public information, he said.

At the meeting, Schill added that a member of the Board — either himself, Barris or someone else — could present the Board’s activities to the Faculty Senate for increased transparency. According to Barris, the Board is undergoing its decennial internal review and plans to present its results to the Faculty Senate when they finish. 

The Governance Committee will discuss the merit of some of Amaral’s questions about NU’s large number of Board members in comparison to other universities. 

Senator Fred Turek thanked Barris for his openness with the Faculty Senate. 

“I think you’ve been very transparent,” Turek said. “I’ve really learned a lot from your comments today.”

After Barris spoke, several Senators presented new business. Senator Celia O’Brien introduced a resolution to prevent bird deaths on campus.

Although the University has installed measures to prevent bird collisions on several buildings, Mudd Hall and the James L. Allen Center have not received modifications yet. 

“Evanston and Northwestern are situated in a very important flyway migration area for migrating birds, and there’s been a lot of talk about the impact that buildings along Lake Michigan in particular have on bird deaths,” O’Brien said. 

The Senate passed O’Brien’s resolution, which will install bird-friendly measures on these buildings. 

Barris, who also spoke with the Senate’s Executive Committee earlier Wednesday evening, thanked the faculty for their participation in the Senate. 

“I certainly admire the work of the Senate and in particular, the good work being done in each of your committees,” Barris said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @winiarskyT 

Related Stories:

Community Safety Advisory Board gives updates on safety protocols at Faculty Senate

Northwestern presents 2022-2023 budget report to Faculty Senate, discusses University employment policies

Faculty Senate passes resolution to support transfer students, discusses academic integrity concerns with ChatGPT