An article on the incoming president of Northwestern University, published on North by Northwestern in January 2009.
One of the first things that Morton Schapiro said to the packed audience at the Pick-Staiger Auditorium on Tuesday was that he agreed to become Northwestern’s president because of school colors.
“My wardrobe is purple, because Williams College has the same purple that Northwestern has, which restricted my job search considerably,” the former Williams College president said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
The speech, along with an open reception and a fireside with students of Shepard Residential College, was one of several Tuesday events meant to introduce Schapiro to the Northwestern community. He will appear at similar events on Wednesday at Northwestern’s Chicago campus.
Throughout these events, Schapiro, 55, presented his goals for his presidency. As an economics professor who said that he intends to teach while president, the current state of the economy was a prominent topic.
“Access and affordability are something I want to focus on,” Schapiro said. “We’re supposed to be a meritocracy, we’re supposed to recognize hidden talents, especially the most prestigious institutions are supposed to be agents of mobility.”
But the way Schapiro sees it, the current economic crisis could also be a source of opportunity.
“The current economic turmoil is nothing anybody wanted, and as an economist, not something that many of us expected,” he said. “But I really do believe that this economic crisis is a terrible thing to waste. It’s much harder to focus a community on key priorities when you have all the money in the world.”
Schapiro emphasized the importance of environmental issues, citing the need “to act as stewards for the future generations.”
He also addressed during both his speech and his fireside the issue of diversity, which came up often in questions from students. As the chairman of the 568 Presidents Group, Schapiro is at the origin of Northwestern’s need-blind admission policy, and he affirmed the need to upkeep the policy in difficult financial times.
But for him, increasing minority admission was not the hardest step.
“The tougher stuff is to create one community where everyone at Northwestern has the same experience and everyone’s educated for a world that’s going to be so much more global, so much more diverse than anyone my age could ever have envisioned when we were growing up,” he said.
Schapiro displayed his gregarious personality through frequent jokes about rural Williamstown, student a cappella groups and anecdotes about his close relationship with his students at Williams College. Schapiro drew large crowds to all of the events, and dozens of people lined up at the post-speech reception to speak with him personally.
“He sounds like a really nice guy,” Communication junior Matthew Fischler said after talking with Schapiro. “I actually have a couple of friends at Williams, and he invites students for dinner. They say he’s really open to talking with students and interacting with them, so I’m actually very, very optimistic about his presidency.”
Todd Leasia, the director of the Office for Research Safety at NU, was also eager to meet Schapiro.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” Leasia said. “In his remarks he certainly showed that he recognizes the importance of [research at Northwestern].”
In the final words of his speech, Schapiro summed up his determination to do his best at Northwestern by quoting a past Indiana University president.
“He was asked what was needed in a great university president. He said, ‘First, this president must have the strength of an athlete. In addition to that, the president needs to have the wisdom of Solomon, the cunning of Machiavelli, the courage of a lion and the stomach of a goat,” he said.
“I have the stomach,” Schapiro added, “and I hope to prove to you that I have the rest as well.”