“I love chick flicks,” University President Morton Schapiro told about 30 students and Northwestern community members in the Norris first floor lounge — and those watching at home on their computers. Schapiro said his favorite is Love Actually, which he jokingly said he hadn’t watched in at least a week.
A sense of humor characterized Schapiro’s responses in a 30-minute question and answer session organized by the Northwestern Class Alliance and Associated Student Government. The talk built on his reputation as an approachable president who places high importance on connecting with students on a personal level.
The “LiveWired Conversation” had about 30 in-person attendees next to Starbucks in Norris along with online audience members who streamed video and submitted questions electronically. It was the first of several events of Schapiro’s inauguration and covered issues ranging from campus sustainability to financial aid and diversity. The committee charged with planning the inauguration came up with the idea for the event, but Schapiro has communicated on his own a desire to be close to students.
“This is the first time anything like this has ever happened in [a college in] the U.S. and probably in the world,” said Andrea Rosenkranz, one of the two student moderators and Northwestern University Class Alliance’s president in a phone interview before the event. “President Schapiro has made it clear that it’s very important to him that he gets to know the students and that the students get to know him.”
Weinberg senior Sam Eckland said he thinks Schapiro was successful in reaching out to the student body.
“[He] seems genuinely interested in student life,” said Eckland, who said he has seen Schapiro a few times this year at different events.
Schapiro supplemented the cost of the A&O-sponsored John Legend concert on Friday, Oct. 9 with money originally intended for his inaugural black-tie dinner. Schapiro said he hopes the concert will remind students that the inaugural weekend is a special one, even if they don’t attend the ceremony itself.
Schapiro said he did not know who Legend was before students mentioned him as a potential performer. But since hearing the music his daughters sent him, he said he is now “psyched” for the concert.
“I think he’s brilliant,” he said.
In addition, he said inviting his good friend Thomas Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and columnist for The New York Times, to speak at the inauguration was “not a coincidence” and was another way to try to increase student interest.
Schapiro also discussed his attachment to the cause of sustainability and his Jewish faith — he is on the international board of Hillel. But he was perhaps most effusive about financial aid, his own area of expertise. “I can’t wait to get my arms around the loan package,” he said. He has been working on improvements and has already made financial plans “much more generous” to lighten loan debts for students, he said.
As happy as Schapiro is with Northwestern, calling its students “intellectually engaged,” “unpretentious” and “interesting,” students seem equally excited about their new president.
“I was honestly really impressed,” Eckland said. “I could identify with him in a lot of ways.”
Correction appended: The original version of this article stated Schapiro would join the board of Northwestern Hillel. He already serves on the international board of Hillel. Thanks to commenter Ben for the correction.