Is Northwestern screwing us over by closing Searle?

    Searle Hall, the building that currently houses the pharmacy. Photo by Jared T. Miller / North by Northwestern.

    No one wants to get sick at college. I’ve been through the illness routine twice at Northwestern: after ignoring my symptoms for several days (or a week) the pain grows too strong to bear, so I shuffle a few blocks north to 633 Emerson St. There, kindly, doctors take my vitals and offer me helpful but depressing advice like “Don’t drink while taking this medication.” Then a prescription is written, I meander to the pharmacy and take my medicine home with me for a fun evening of lying in bed and watching 30 Rock on Hulu. Thanks to The Powers That Be, getting sick at Northwestern won’t be as fun next year.

    News of Searle’s pharmacy’s impending closure became public on April 3. The closing comes as a surprise after the university originally planned to expand the pharmacy during the Searle Hall renovations. Instead of building a larger pharmacy, the university decided to discontinue all pharmaceutical services indefinitely.

    Executive Director of University Health Services Donald Misch is disappointed with the university’s decision to close the pharmacy. “I think it will be a shame,” Misch said. “We’re losing something that provides a good service.” Closing the pharmacy — which Misch said provided “one-stop shopping” to busy college students — is the university thrusting its giant middle finger at the students, blatantly choosing their own finances over students’ health and safety.

    President Obama just signed a bill allowing university health centers to negotiate for significantly discounted birth control, making Searle’s closing ever more unfortunate. When Northwestern receives a discount on birth control prices solely by virtue of being a university, it’s a shame they deem to close students’ only outlet to these cheap and easy prescriptions. While students can certainly fill their prescriptions at CVS, Misch worries that the distance from North Campus will put off some students from getting medicine and keeping healthy. Similar birth control prices can be found at Planned Parenthood, but the closest office is in Rogers Park — 11 miles away.

    Northwestern has decided that their “full-service university” doesn’t need a pharmacy. Never mind the costly, ever-expanding Technological Institute. Never mind the cheap birth control. Never mind that Misch insists, “the harder you make [picking up a prescription], the less likely people are to do it.”

    Misch said Health Services doctors might mention cheaper alternatives for prescriptions, but “it depends on what’s close and what students can get to. It’s easy to say certain things are available, but so what if you can’t get there? A lot of students don’t have cars.”

    He fears even the use of everyday prescription drugs — penicillin, painkillers, antibiotics — will fall off once students are no longer able to pick up their prescription at Searle. Sure, we could blame students that are too lazy to walk to CVS to pick up a prescription for whatever health problems may befall them, but the fault should lie with Northwestern.

    “When you have convenience, people are more likely to follow medical recommendations. I expect that some compliance will drop,” Misch said. “It’s not just about making life easy, but it’s also about getting people to follow up with their help. The harder you make that, the less likely people are to do it.”

    The decision to close Searle was made on a financial basis, Misch said. The pharmacy was losing money, so the university closed it. But things are more complex than they seem: budgeting discussions that led to the pharmacy’s closing led to a “disagreement” about its profitability. Misch doesn’t agree that the pharmacy is in dire financial straits — and even if it were losing money, he said it should stay open.

    “I’d like to point out that a lot of things at NU lose money,” Misch said. “I would guess that the Department of Philosophy doesn’t make money. I would guess the English Department doesn’t make money. Why would you keep them? Because they’re part of a full-service university.”

    It’s not the first time (nor the last, I’m sure) that Northwestern has chosen its finances over its students. Budgetary woes have hampered the successful Saturday intercampus shuttle since its inception, and the university hasn’t offered to step in with aid. Fraternity members living in university housing are required to pay for a meal plan in a much-criticized move that will bring the school a financial windfall — but these funds will be lifted directly from fraternities’ pockets.

    We’ve already discussed how meal plans waste students’ money while providing a significant amount of income to the university. Nationwide, grocery stores and food retailers are dropping prices in response to the recession. Overall, food prices have dropped 5.5 percent in the first quarter of 2009. You might think you could get more bang for your buck with the meal plan — at the least you should be able to pick up a few more bread biscuits for your $8.50 Block D meal conversion. No such luck. When Northwestern has the opportunity to pass on its savings to students, it elects to keep the cash for itself.

    Running a functional university in tight economic times clearly comes with its fair share of budgetary issues, but Northwestern is shirking its responsibility to lessen students’ loads. Certainly the university has exerted some effort in an attempt to increase quality of life in the midst of a recession: Next year’s tuition increase (note: the tuition is still increasing) is the smallest percentage increase since 1967. Scholarship funds increased 10 percent. The financial aid office has undertaken the No-Loan Pledge, which may not be everything its name implies, but is certainly a step in the right direction.

    Northwestern spends significant chunks of money on “maintaining prestige,” dropping millions of dollars on attracting professors and giving out grants. Clearly the university listens to students on occasion: student/university budget meetings have led to the Norris renovations and the Saturday shuttle. But why spend money on these amenities while at the same time closing such a vital aid to campus health?

    However, when it comes to easing the everyday life of the 8,000-plus students that mill around campus each day, Northwestern is greedy with its money. The problems start with Searle’s closing and echo throughout the administration’s treatment of students. Need birth control? Now it’s difficult to get it cheaply and efficiently. As Misch says, a “full-service university” should offer easy prescriptions and pass along food discounts. But for some reason, Northwestern hesitates.


    blog comments powered by Disqus
    Please read our Comment Policy.