Schapiro prepares College for his departure

After more than 20 years in the Purple Bubble, President Schapiro’s days at the helm of the Good Ship Williams are waning. On Monday, he took a break to reflect on the last months of his term and the years of his tenure with the Record. “I am continuing to work on the budget that is for next year and almost have a soft budget for the following year. We’re particularly working on the 2011-12 budget,” Schapiro said. “I think we’ve done a very good job under the leadership of [Provost] Bill Lenhart and have a fabulous group in the Ad Hoc Committee, so we’re preparing a really good budget. My successor might say, ‘Well, that’s interesting, but I want to start over,’ and maybe he or she is right. But I feel like if I were to leave without any budgets prepared for basically any imaginable contingency, I wouldn’t be serving this college I love so much.”
In the midst of economic uncertainty, Schapiro and the College are “planning for the worst, hoping for the best,” he said. He predicted that next year, and probably the year after, will still look similar to this year, even with budget cuts. Fewer lecture speakers will be brought in, but “we’ll still have fresh food, at least 65 tutorials and full commitment to financial aid,” he said. “But year three, if things don’t rebound, it’s going to be difficult, going to be more of a different Williams. We’ll have to make cuts; it’s going to be much tougher.”

He predicted that if the recession continues for several years, the College will reduce its budget in ways similar to other colleges, perhaps by eliminating a couple of the 32 varsity sports teams, forcing staff to take unpaid furloughs and reducing the amount of financial aid offered to international students. “If the recession ends, we’ll never see these things,” Schapiro said. “But if things don’t recover, there will be years of financial difficulty. We’re going to hold to our principles, but we’re going to sacrifice.”
Looking back on the last decade, Schapiro evaluated changes to campus programs and plans. “If I were to grade – and I’m a tough grader – I’d give housing a C minus; athletics, an A; the classroom experience, an A minus; the increase in diversity and intellectual vitality, an A; improvements in the drinking culture, a C,” he said.
“This decade we’ve done a number of things right,” Schapiro said. “I hope the [increase in] tutorials and writing intensive courses stays. The actual education we provide in the classroom is better than during my earlier years at Williams. The students are much more intellectually engaged, diverse.”

The athletic yet intellectual culture on campus is one aspect of the College that Schapiro loves and has taken pride in helping to create. “I’m really glad that our varsity sports are where they are and that the difference between those who are varsity athletes and those who are not, academically, is so much smaller than it was 10 years ago, and I think the faculty notice that, and the students probably notice that,” he said. “I’m proud of that. I like the niche we have that we attract some extraordinarily good athletes who are also intellectually engaged. I think if in the next 10 years, we either deemphasize athletics or [lower the academic standards for athletes], either one would be a disaster. We’ve worked really hard, and it’s been successful.”

Changing student housing is one initiative that Schapiro began but thinks still has a lot of room for improvement. “I’m glad we tried [to change the old system],” he said. “Certain things are better; certain things are not better. I hope they don’t just say, ‘Forget it, you can just live anywhere you want,’ so that one dorm is all members of a team, one is all students of color … that wouldn’t prepare our graduates for the world. You need uncomfortable learning in addition to comfortable learning. There are a lot of students who think we’d be better off with a free agency housing system, but they don’t understand this rationale.”

The implementation of the neighborhood system is one project that Schapiro feels can and should be improved. “The key in anything is to honestly assess what you’ve done – don’t be defensive about it,” he said. “If it’s all a complete disaster, start over. If some of it’s good and some of it’s bad, keep the stuff that’s good and fix the stuff that’s bad. I think there are some aspects of the neighborhood system we can salvage, and some we can’t.”

“I’m hoping that my successor has different interests but also understands the role of athletics here and supports the changes we’ve made,” Schapiro said. “I hope that he or she understands that the weekend is our business, even if I haven’t made all the best decisions about how to handle that, and continues to appreciate the fact that certain things like tutorials are important to differentiate ourselves from the Harvards and the Princetons of the world. I certainly expect that [the College’s] commitments to sustainability and diversity [will continue]. But my successor is going to have very different ideas, and good luck. I invested 20 years of my life in this place I love so much, so I only want the best for it. I’m hoping that the things I messed up, my successor is going to fix. And anything I got right, my successor is going to keep doing.”

Schapiro is known across campus for his personable nature, which he expresses through inviting students to dine at his house and come trick-or-treat at there on Halloween, coming to Entry Snacks and holding Yom Kippur break-the-fasts at his home. “I don’t think it’s that important to love the students as much as I do to do a good job, but maybe they’re correlated,” he said. “I love the students … seeing [a student] play Guitar Hero at Snacks, watching the men and women’s tennis [this weekend], that stuff just inspires the hell out of me. And I just hope my successor loves it as much as I do.”

Across campus, members of the community said Schapiro’s energetic presence will be missed. Some of the students, faculty and administrators who know him spoke to the Record to offer some farewell remarks to the President.

Peter Nurnberg ’09

“I will personally remember President Schapiro for his unbelievable candor and teaching. In my tutorial sessions and thesis meetings with him, he was always very forthright in his comments and constructive critiques of my work. When he had an opinion, he shared it in a direct and constructive way. He also made all of those classroom and thesis conversations interesting and engaging by sharing his unique and extensive experience. He is one of the great professors who enriches his students’ academic studies by combining academic material with real world experience. When he teaches, his students learn the course material, but they also learn how the course material intersects with the real world. I will long remember the way he made classwork feel significant and relevant by relating the class readings and discussions to decisions he made or was involved in during his academic and administrative career.”

Will Dudley, professor of
philosophy

“He reenergized the College. His energy was infectious and inspired alumni to contribute to support the place because they were so confident about his leadership. He is an extraordinary fundraiser; he can clearly articulate to alumni what we’re doing, why we’re excited about it.
“He loves teaching. I’m not aware of another college president who teaches. Being president is such a huge job without teaching, and even though there’s no obligation to, he’s done it every semester except one. I’ve co-taught classes with him, and you can just see that teaching is something he’s excited about and is not going to give up.”

Rachel Ko ’09

“I’ve gotten to know Morty and Mimi a bit over the past four years and have been constantly amazed by their dedication to students. Morty’s sense of humor is unforgettable. I’ll remember Morty in class, enthusiastically filling up the chalkboard with insights on educational policies and regression analysis; his quirky sense of humor and the raising of the eyebrow when he is thinking hard. I’ll remember Morty and Mimi opening their home to us for Seder, JA dinner, Chinese New Year dinners – all with Cha-Cha running around under the table. I’ll remember a friendship that allows me to dress up as an awkward economist to make fun of his profession and him to poke fun of my age and my English in class.”

Dean Dave Johnson

“My first contact with Morty was on the tennis side of things. I met him when the team flew out to the West coast, not long after he was named president. He wanted his kids to come to the summer tennis camp that I ran. The first Sunday of camp I saw him standing with his dog by a tree in Frosh Quad, checking things out. I think his kids came every week. He would come to the courts to watch the kids play tennis at lunchtime. It was fun to think that he was a family guy and that he’d take time for his family even that first summer when he must have been doing a lot of learning. He has a unique ability to leave whatever’s going on upstairs and interact with people.”

Steve Fix, professor of
English and former dean of the College

“He relates to the faculty. He leads it but is tremendously respectful of the faculty’s prerogatives. He leads the faculty, but is also of the faculty, and is a highly respected scholar and teacher with a passion for teaching, not just some distant administrator. When we talk to Morty about decisions, he is deeply informed by scholarly and pedagogical values.
“He is a very kind man, extremely considerate, attentive to other people’s needs. He always gives credit to other people, even when he can claim it himself. He’s always praising other people, thanking them, minimizing his own achievements. This is not only a nice human characteristic, but it really motivates people.”

Aroop Mukharji ’09

“Last year when I was abroad on the Oxford program, the Board of Trustees had their annual retreat in Oxford, which they do every several years to review the program. There was a big tea, where all the students got to sit down with the Board members and senior administrators and talk about student life over crust-free triangular cucumber sandwiches and heavily buttered scones. It was great – but the best part was two nights later, just before they all headed back to the States. As Morty was leaving the tea, he invited me and a few friends to watch the Patriots/Chargers playoff game at one of the local pubs with him, Mimi, the Board and senior administrators. I’m not sure how Morty convinced an old British pub to show an American football game over a soccer match that was airing at the same time, but he not only got them to show the game, he also got them to show it on their only big screen TV, with seats for every one of us.
“And that’s the first best thing about Morty: he makes it happen. I don’t remember much about the game, except that the Patriots won, but what I do remember is how that night captures everything I will miss about Morty. I’m not sure how many college presidents are down to hang with students at 11 p.m. on a Sunday night to catch a football game over a pint of local English brew, but it can’t be many.”

Peter Murphy, professor of
English and former dean of the College

“Mort is amazingly smart and fast on his feet. You don’t want to argue with him in front of other people. Presidents really need to be able to hold the attention and faith of the many rooms of people they address. Mort can do that. He is also totally honest. So you believe what he tells you; another thing crucial to any President’s success.”

Nancy Roseman, professor of biology and former dean of the College

“One of the hallmarks of his presidency is that he’s been unafraid to look at weaknesses. He set the tone early on that we’d make decisions based on data, not anecdotes. We looked very hard at pieces of institutional survey data, which drove some of what we did. He loves what he does despite the efforts of all kinds of people to make his job more difficult – despite criticism, despite vociferous e-mails, despite uninformed, sometimes really personal and cruel attacks, he steadfastly loves what he does.”

Jordan Hollander ’10

“This past year the men’s swimming and diving team had a rough year. We lost several swimmers due to injury or personal issues and lost a much larger senior class than the incoming freshman class. Since we were the underdogs at NESCACs for the first time in seven years, Morty drove down to Wesleyan and watched the entire meet and was definitely one of the loudest Williams supporters in the stands. Having taught some of us and worked with others on CC or in other areas, his love for his students was epitomized there for me. NESCACs was a three-day event and as we moved into the final day with a slight lead, Morty even came to our parents’ dinner at Wesleyan and gave a motivational speech to the team before the closing sessions. I know it meant a lot to me, and I think I can speak for my teammates in saying that it was a very motivational speech and definitely got us fired up to see that the president of the College took such a personal interest in our experience.”

Steve Birrell, vice president for Alumni Relations and
Development

“What alumni want above all else is skillful leadership and stewardship of the College they love, and Morty has been a truly exceptional leader. He has been fearless and appropriately impatient in moving the College forward, while remaining deeply knowledgeable and respectful of its history and tradition.”

Steve Klass, vice president for operations

“Morty makes himself remarkably available – to the point when you wonder if he’s been cloned. Whether it’s being present at every sporting event, every alumni event, administrative meetings, lectures, dinners, entry snacks, or any of the hundreds of events he hosts in his home, he’s there. And he’s not just physically in the room. When he’s with you, Morty engages with you as an individual and ensures that you’re comfortable and feel a part of what’s going on.
“While I think that Northwestern is a wonderful next step in his career as president and scholar and that they’re remarkably fortunate to have him as their 16th president, his leaving is a big personal loss for me.”

Additional reporting by Laura Corona, Yue-Yi Hwa, Amanda Korman and Jared Quinton, Record staff