*Name has been changed to preserve anonymity.
One Wednesday evening, anthropology professor Jessica Winegar was composing an email to Northwestern University cheerleaders when she saw a new message pop up in her group chat with five other female faculty members. The message read “We did it!” with a link to a Chicago Tribune article about Northwestern athletic director Mike Polisky’s resignation.
Winegar, along with five other female faculty members, wrote an open letter to Northwestern Provost Kathleen Hagerty on May 5, expressing their concern over Polisky’s hiring. Nine days later, Polisky resigned following criticism from the NU community and a protest organized by faculty members.
“I was… relieved that Northwestern finally did the right thing, and relieved for the students who have been so worried and traumatized, and just extremely upset over [Polisky’s hiring],” Winegar says.
This past January, Polisky was named as one of the defendants in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Northwestern cheerleader Hayden Richardson, who is suing Northwestern for delaying an investigation after she told former cheer coach Pamela Bonnevier that she had been groped and harassed by fans. The Daily Northwestern published an article Feb. 4. detailing allegations by the Northwestern cheer team, going back to at least 2016, claiming that university employees have demeaned team members with racist and sexist policies. For example, team members were not allowed to wear ethnically Black hairstyles like braids.
Winegar says she was not surprised when she first heard about the cheer team incidents, because she saw “the kind of culture that is created around the athletic program, as well as the ongoing sexism and racism that members of our community experienced,” but she was “outraged” that these incidents could occur in recent years.
“How could black women be policed for their hair at this point in our history? Not that it was ever okay. How could female students be asked to hobnob with drunken men at tailgate parties? It's just so over-the-top outrageous,” Winegar says.
Disagreements between Northwestern faculty and administration have become more prominent as the University responded to the pandemic as well as student and faculty protests, with the recent allegations of racist and sexist practices on the Northwestern cheer team an example of faculty dissent.
“I am hoping to have a university that walks the walk and doesn't just talk the talk.”Anthropology professor Jessica Winegar
Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, political science professor and Crown Chair in Middle East studies, says her initial response after hearing about the sexist and racist incidents was “utter disbelief.” Hurd, one of the six female faculty members who wrote the open letter along with Winegar, has worked at Northwestern since 2002.
“I was just appalled that this could be going on at a place like Northwestern, I think that we're better than this,” Hurd says. “It's just so upsetting as a long-term member of this community.”
Since many faculty at Northwestern teach about race and gender while such incidents occur on campus, Hurd says this conflicts with everything that Northwestern stands for and that she does not feel the University has taken the steps to ensure a safe environment. When she first heard about Polisky’s hiring, her immediate reaction was feeling “the shock and the embarrassment” of the situation.
“I felt that, as a university, we were making a statement: ‘We don't believe these young women, we don't care about them. What we care about is big money, big athletics, and a certain branding strategy for the University,’” Hurd says.
Hurd also says Northwestern has made strong commitments to diversity, equality and anti-racism on paper, but she would like to see actions from the administration to match. Recently, there have been many changes in the administration. On Sep. 1, Hagerty became Northwestern's provost, and on March 4, Schapiro announced that he will be leaving his post as Northwestern’s president in August 2022, with many questions unanswered. Winegard and other female professors say they remain optimistic about the future of the University.
“I am hoping to have a university that walks the walk and doesn't just talk the talk,” Winegar says. “And I'm hopeful that with this new provost and eventually a new president, we will be able to move to a better place.”
Obliviousness to Racial Injustice
Open letters from faculty members have become an increasingly common response to Northwestern administration’s decisions. Since the fall, faculty have publicly criticized the administration’s denouncement of student protests led by Northwestern University Community Not Cops (NUCNC) and lack of structural change to address racial injustice.
On Oct. 19, Schapiro sent an email to the Northwestern community criticizing the vandalism and disturbance he observed in Northwestern student protests against campus police. In the email, Schapiro wrote he was “disgusted by those who chose to disgrace this University in such a fashion.”
This email sparked fierce responses from not only students but also faculty. On Oct. 20, the African American Studies department released a letter condemning Schapiro’s apparent obliviousness to social injustices and absence at the University.
“Perhaps we are saddest given that this denunciation is the most full-throated expression of ‘disgust’ or call for ‘accountability’ that we have heard from you or your office over the last 6 months,” a portion of the letter reads. “As President, it is your responsibility to reverse the historical refusal of Northwestern to institute structural anti-racist change, policies, practices, and programs.”
Mary Pattillo, a sociology and African American studies professor and chair of the African American studies department, wrote in an email to NBN that the department felt a need to respond to Schapiro’s letter after seeing the president's communication as “lacking in restraint and deliberation.”
This letter from the African American Studies department was met with little to no response. Neither Schapiro nor Hagerty has publicly responded to the letter, and Pattillo wrote that although the department has had some conversations with Weinberg Dean Adrian Randolph, they would like to see more public commitments to making amends for the pain inflicted by the University on Black students.
“The African American Studies Department has long advocated for the increase in the numbers of Black students on campus and the increase in the numbers of Black faculty on campus,” Pattillo says. “Over the years, various administrators have supported these efforts, but there is room for a much more concerted and aggressive effort in these regards.”
Hagerty says the administration has read the letter carefully, and that the administration has done several things to make the University “a more inclusive and diverse place.” According to Hagerty, Northwestern named Robin Coleman chief diversity officer in November 2020 and introduced anti-racism training last summer as a way to initiate change in the community.
A Strained Relationship
Some faculty are also unhappy with the amount of faculty input in administration decisions on budget cuts and changes to grading policies during the pandemic, among other decisions.
In December, the Northwestern chapter of the American Association of University Professors (NU-AAUP) sent a report to the Faculty Senate, Schapiro and Hagerty highlighting current Northwestern policies that undermine the “core mission of education.” The report specifically referenced budgetary decisions, such as staff furloughs, and changes to grading policies, like students' option to take up to one third of classes with Credit/No Credit grading for the 2020-21 school year — all of which the report claims were made with little to no faculty input.
“It negatively impacts the core mission of education when you don't consult a broad enough number of constituencies and you don't have them involved in decision making,” says Jorge Coronado, Spanish and Portuguese professor and president of NU-AAUP. This association advocates for faculty rights such as the right to participate in the governance of the University, in tandem with the administration, on academic-related issues.
According to Coronado, Schapiro and Hagerty have not responded to any of the report’s findings, but the Faculty Senate reviewed and discussed the report during a meeting this January.
“The Faculty Senate responded to our chapter’s report by stressing that the Faculty Senate needs to be more transparent in how it is working, presumably in order to indicate that it is in fact involved in faculty governance,” Coronado says. “However, they declined to take up any of the violations of AAUP principles of academic freedom and shared governance that we documented.”
There is an internal divide amongst those involved in the Faculty Senate, a legislative body within the University consisting of elected representatives from different departments, and the NU-AAUP, an organization more independent from the University. While the NU-AAUP report alleged there is little to no faculty input in recent budget cuts and changes to grading policies, members of the Faculty Senate say that claim is inaccurate.
Therese McGuire, Kellogg professor of strategy and president of the Faculty Senate, says the Faculty Senate feels that the NU-AAUP report is “overly critical of the relationship, of the shared governance that currently is at Northwestern.”
McGuire says the administration did consult the leadership of the Faculty Senate throughout decisions about grading policies and budget allocation. The leadership of the Faculty Senate meets with Northwestern administration twice a month, and many people from the administration come to Faculty Senate meetings for open conversations about different issues, she says.
“We feel that the Senate is at the table and giving input to administrators in the decisions that they have to make,” McGuire says.
Even so, according to McGuire, the Faculty Senate agrees that there should still be more transparency and collaboration between faculty and administration.
Hagerty says the administration always gets faculty input when making decisions, but that the decision of Winter Quarter 2020 final assessments becoming optional had less faculty input because it was a quick decision, as COVID-19 broke out around that time.
Credit and Budget Cuts
According to the NU-AAUP report, the University has made many changes in grading policies without discussing with faculty since March 2020. Aside from former Provost Jonathan Holloway’s Winter 2020 announcement that students would receive final grades based on work completed to date and that final assessments would become optional, the University also employed a Pass/No Pass grading system for classes during Spring 2020. More recently, Hagerty set forth in Fall 2020 that students could choose “Credit” in place of a letter grade for as many as one third of their courses in this academic year.
Coronado says that the important part of the new Credit policy is that students can choose “Credit” and pass the course without having to complete the work for the courses.
“That effectively took away the authority, the academic freedom in this case, of professors to offer the grades… to assess the students,” Coronado says.
Coronado adds it would be important for students to know if they have met the requirements and objectives of the class, and although faculty members are sympathetic toward students during this difficult time, such grading policy decisions made without faculty consultation should not be accepted.
Budget cuts — up to 40% in some departments — were another element of decisions made without faculty consultation, according to the report. Coronado says it is important to have faculty members at those decision-making tables because they might have a better understanding of the needs within each department compared to the administration.
“Northwestern’s mission is supposed to be education. And instead of prioritizing education, they're prioritizing all sorts of other kinds of projects that have to do with jobs, with enhancing the endowment, with furthering networks for the people who run the University.”Jacqueline Stevens, political science professor and secretary of NU-AAUP
Many of these budget cuts are related to cutting staff members, some of whom Coronado says are essential to the quality of classes. On Aug. 7 2020, Northwestern University Information Technology (NUIT) fired both student workers and several staff members shortly after Schapiro predicted a $90 million deficit for the fiscal year, and Coronado noted that NUIT is especially important during a time when professors rely on IT to learn virtual platform tools.
Aside from budget cuts, budget allocation poses significant roadblocks to faculty. Jacqueline Stevens, a political science professor and secretary of NU-AAUP, says that because of recent actions by the administration during the pandemic, she feels her ability to work as an educator has been undermined, leaving her unsupported.
“Northwestern’s mission is supposed to be education,” Stevens says. “And instead of prioritizing education, they're prioritizing all sorts of other kinds of projects that have to do with jobs, with enhancing the endowment, with furthering networks for the people who run the University.”
Emma Blakes*, a faculty member of NU-AAUP, says the budget cuts have resulted in less time for research, low morale and will probably lead to problems with faculty retention and recruitment. The decision to implement furloughs and terminations has created a budget surplus of $83.4 million for 2020, she wrote in an email to NBN. This is in direct contrast to the $90 million deficit Schapiro predicted in May of that year.
“Not filling critical [job] positions weakens Northwestern’s ability to maintain the highest level of research and to attract and retain the strongest scholars, who are the University’s most important asset,” she says.