topSkip to main content

Menu, Secondary

Menu Trigger


Michael Schill: Here’s why I reached an agreement with Northwestern protesters

By Northwestern University President Michael Schill:

University presidents are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to the wave of protests and tent encampments on our campuses.

Bring in police, and we risk the physical safety of our students, staff, faculty and police for a result that is often unsustainable. Meet with students to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement, and we are accused of capitulating to the “mob.” Here are the reasons why I chose to reach an agreement with Northwestern University protesters.

Right upfront, let me be honest about my biases. I am a proud Jew who practices many of our rituals. Being Jewish is core to my identity, and I grew up with a love for Israel, which remains today. My family has experienced antisemitism, and so claims by some that I have collaborated with antisemitic people feel like personal affronts.

One of the things I love about being Jewish is our culture of rationality and tolerance. This fits with the core value of universities to engage in dialogue and seek to bridge differences peacefully. When a tent encampment popped up on Deering Meadow on April 25, I immediately met with senior administrators to establish a set of principles. First and foremost, we needed to protect the health and safety of our entire community, including our Jewish students. Second, we believe in free expression, but that most assuredly does not include antisemitic or anti-Muslim harassment or intimidation. Third, any protest needed to be in substantial compliance with our demonstration policy, which prohibits tents.

With the help of a handful of exceptional faculty members, we began meeting with student protesters. They asked for several changes to university policy including divestment from Israel and the end of an academic program that focused on Israeli innovation. We said a flat no to both. But we did say we understood their isolation and alienation and wanted to work with them to improve life at Northwestern for Muslim students and students from the Middle East and North Africa.

Read the rest of the article in the Chicago Tribune.