Finances and Faculty Foibles

In podcast interview, Morton Schapiro -- Northwestern president and economist -- discusses the state of higher ed finance and two high-profile missteps by his university's professors.
April 27, 2011

There are no two ways about it, Morton Owen Schapiro says.

"It was just an incredible error in judgment that's going to haunt the university for a long, long time," Schapiro, president of Northwestern University, says of the highly publicized incident last month in which a psychology professor staged an after-class demonstration for a human sexuality course in which a woman was brought to orgasm with a colorfully named sex toy. "It was a real hit for us; to deny it would be wrong."

The incident was one of two this spring in which Schapiro and other administrators at the private university saw fit to intervene because of the behavior of faculty members -- the other involved the prominent head of the Medill School of Journalism's renowned Innocence Project.

In a podcast interview with the editors of Inside Higher Ed, Schapiro discussed how the incidents had stimulated conversations on the Northwestern campus about how "with tenure, you get rights but you also get attendant responsibilities," as he put it. "It has opened up a healthy debate and discussion on our campus about it," he said.

Click on the image to hear the podcast with Morton Owen Schapiro, Northwestern's president.

As painful and prominent as those controversies have been, they have not diminished Northwestern's ascendancy as a school of choice for many high-performing high school students, which Schapiro attributed to increased marketing, major upgrades of non-academic facilities, and an aggressive effort to make it clear (to the public and within Northwestern) that the university's well-known professional schools -- Medill for journalism, Kellogg for business, etc. -- are part of a larger whole.

For too long, Schapiro said, Northwestern's professional schools have largely circled in their own orbits, while peer institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania, have ridden the reputations of their business and law schools to greater prominence for the entire institution.

Notwithstanding his long career as a higher education administrator, which included a lengthy stint at the University of Southern California and the presidency of Williams College before Northwestern, Schapiro is perhaps best known in academe as an economist of higher education.

In the interview, he discusses the existence (or not) of a "higher education bubble," the dangers to major universities of likely cutbacks in federal spending on biomedical and other research, and the pros and cons of for-profit colleges.

Excerpts of the interview can be heard here.


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