In Phillip Harris’ day, Northwestern was a very different place. A member of the Board of Trustees since 1990, Harris has seen the university undergo major changes since he was a student here in the late 70s. Some of the biggest issues facing the school then, however, have endured over the decades.
In the underground chamber of Hardin Hall Tuesday, Harris reminisced with 22 students about the school’s old shortcomings and the ones it has yet to address. The talk was the second installment of ASG’s Student Roundtables program, in which top faculty members are invited for informal discussions about issues facing Northwestern.
“Back then, our main challenges were having a good student center, improving diversity and race relations, having a good relationship with Evanston and serving quality food in the dining halls,” Harris said. As some of the students at the forum reminded him, nearly all of those challenges remain on the school’s radar.
“A new student center needs to be a major priority for all of us,” ASG president Austin Young said after the meeting. “It needs to be a place that’s a hub for everyone, a place that’s a central space and can draw students so they can hang out or study together.”
Building a student center that’s more centralized and convenient than Norris Center, Harris said, is “absolutely necessary” and near the top of the Board of Trustees’ to-do list.
“The best universities always have cool places to be, and they’re always centrally-located,” Harris said. “Since I was a student, the campus has totally changed in terms of where people hang out—back then, people were oriented closer to the lake.”
But the newly-announced construction of a music building on the Lakefront, Harris said, may be a factor that draws more students toward Norris.
“It’s always bothered me that when you drive up along Lakeshore and make that first turn toward the lake, the first thing you see is a parking structure,” Harris said. “When you’re building a university, the last thing you should have to worry about is parking.”
Another change Harris wants to see on campus, he continued, is the construction of more modern residential buildings.
“I honestly think a lot of this school’s facilities and dorms need improvement—they’re really putting us at a competitive disadvantage,” he said. “When my daughter and I visited Michigan and the University of Iowa, I was surprised to see that the quality of their dorms was better than ours.”
In the midst of all the challenges and problems facing the school, Harris repeatedly made one point clear: he wanted to hear more from students.
“Events like these are really important, because [trustees] often don’t feel like we’re meeting with students enough,” he said. “The more students are engaged with trustees, the better off we’ll all be. These kinds of meetings need to be substantive, not procedural.”
The next Student Roundtable will feature head coach Pat Fitzgerald on Feb. 28, and President Morton Schapiro is scheduled to come for the final installment on March 29.