(Evanston, IL) On June 2nd, Michael Schill was inaugurated as the 17th president of Northwestern University.

Schill noted his commitment to a variety of initiatives, including a desire to lead “in the biosciences, positioning the University to create new treatments, cures and health delivery systems… NU will also focus on decarbonization, renewable energy and sustainability,” (Markus, 2023).

“Little else matters if we cannot ensure a future for our students,” said Schill.

A highlight of the address was Schill’s interest in courageous conversations. As he puts it, “engagement across difference.”

Northwestern’s new leader celebrated the idea that we should be able to have conversations with people from “various backgrounds, abilities, perspectives, life experiences, and yes, racial and ethnic backgrounds. Northwestern will also lead in what I call engagement across difference. While we have made considerable progress in recent years in increasing our diversity, we are not, in my opinion, Maximizing the benefits of this progress.”

The following is a transcription from President Schill’s address.

“Remember that with diversity comes difference. Students at Northwestern, frankly, students everywhere across the United States, increasingly lack the ability to talk across difference. In that way- they’re much like our country, but as I’ve said before, this ability to engage across difference is core to a university’s mission.

“One cannot have true and authentic engagement by either the faculty or students without a commitment to free speech and to academic freedom.

“Indeed, as part of this week’s inaugural event, we had a great panel hosted by Provost Haggerty on just this topic yesterday, and when I praise as I do fearless debate, I do not mean to condone people using their words to hurt others… just because one has a right, which I will defend to say something does not necessarily mean that they should say it.

“There is nothing, nothing inconsistent between engaging in vigorous debate and paying attention to the effects that one’s words have on members of the community. 

“There is nothing, nothing inconsistent between engaging in vigorous debate and paying attention to the effects that one’s words have on members of the community.” Engagement Across Difference with NU President Michael Schill.

“Our nation is threatened today by the politics of identity and persistent cleavages based upon region, class, and educational attainment. Many people live and only modestly intersecting social and informational universes with each other. And for some, there’s no intersection whatsoever. We get our news from different outlets.

“Our friends, physical and virtual are more likely than ever to share our own viewpoints. In short, we lack the capacity to understand each other and to empathize with people who seem not to be like us. That is what a great residential university should be about. And our Northwestern community is well equipped to create models of engagement across difference… we intend to create an academic center to foster this goal.

“Our unique contribution will be to pair teaching our students how to engage with each other across different. With data-driven research on what works and what doesn’t work, and I’m excited that faculty at our extraordinary, our extraordinary Kellogg School of Management will lead this university-wide effort that should be important, not just for our entire university, but for the nation as a whole.”

This approach, he believes has to potential to “make a greater impact on the global democratic experiment.” Truly, changing the world. Or least the way we talk about it.

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