Seniors expressed annoyance and ambivalence Tuesday to the announcement that Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley will speak at their graduation.
The mayor will receive an honorary doctor of law degree at the university’s 150th commencement on June 20 at Ryan Field. Lorraine Morton, Evanston’s mayor and a Northwestern alum, will also receive an honorary degree.
Citing speeches by presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama at recent Northwestern commencements, some students said they were disappointed that the university didn’t choose a more internationally well-known figure.
“Maybe at another Chicago area university, like UIC, where there are a lot of Chicago residents, people would feel some sort of affiliation with him, but here people are mostly from out of state,” Weinberg senior Gathi Abraham said.
But “Mayor Daley is someone who has been very supportive of Northwestern’s importance to the Metropolitan area,” Vice President for University Relations Al Cubbage said. In particular,Daley “provided the backing of the Chicago City government” when the university built the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center on its Chicago campus, which was dedicated in 2005.
On that project, “he had been supportive both in terms of helping things get done with the city, and then also just in terms of public support as well,” Cubbage said.
University President Henry Bienen said in a statement that he was pleased with the choice.
“He has served the City of Chicago with great distinction,” Bienen said, adding that “Mr. Daley is mayor of the city where Northwestern’s founders met to make plans to establish a great institution of higher learning.”
In a statement, Daley said he was “deeply honored to address the Class of 2008.”
“Northwestern is a very important part of Chicago’s history and I look forward to sharing a few ideas on how students can make an impact in their communities no matter where their careers might take them.”
Daley has seen sustained popularity throughout his 19-year tenure. He won his fifth and most recent re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote in 2007. He pioneered the construction of Chicago’s Lakefront Millennium Park, and led projects to improve the city’s public school system,housing projects and O’Hare international airport. He has also launched a bid to make Chicago the host of the 2016 Olympics.
But members of his administration has been accused – and in some cases, convicted – of corruption. In 2006, Daley’s patronage chief Robert Sorich was convicted of “scheming to reward political workers with city jobs,” according to a Chicago Tribune from the time.Crime and poverty persist in the city, and scandal has plagued its police force, particularly regarding the torture of crime suspects.
In naming him one of the nation’s best big-city mayors, TIME magazine cited his popularity and authority, saying in 2005, “He wields near imperial power, and most of Chicago would have it no other way.”
Cubbage also mentioned a personal bond between the Mayor and Northwestern officials; Daley is “someone who is good friends with both President Bienen and the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Patrick Ryan,” he said.