Giving and the Weinberg experience
An up-close look at Northwestern's largest academic unit with Dean Mangelsdorf.
We sat down with Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf to discuss the importance of philanthropy―and coming changes within the college.
NULC: In addition to being Northwestern’s largest academic division, Weinberg offers the most diverse curriculum. Generally speaking, how critical are the contributions of alumni and friends to maintaining the school’s robust programming?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: Gift money really allows us to do some special things that make this place different from other places. For instance, we have the Brady Scholars Program in Ethics and Civic Life and the Kaplan Humanities Scholars Program. These are great programs and things you simply could not afford to do without gifts from alumni and friends.
NULC: How critical is the flexibility that Annual Fund gifts provide?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: Unrestricted funds are incredibly important to a dean. They enable me to hire new faculty, retain faculty who are being recruited elsewhere, add money to our undergraduate research fund, sponsor conferences, and so forth. What they’re used for might vary from year to year depending on what the areas of greatest need are. Gifts with specific intent are wonderful, but if that was the only kind of giving we had, it wouldn’t help me in those other areas. For anything special that people come and ask the dean’s office for, it comes out of the Annual Fund.
NULC: How big a difference has leadership giving made to the Weinberg experience?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: Having come from a public university that didn’t have as many generous donors as Northwestern, it’s wonderful. We have very loyal alumni who are leadership givers in The Wilson Society, and because of them I can fund some of the things that make University life exciting and interesting.
When I was dean at the University of Illinois, I had to say no to most requests for funding, even if people had really good ideas. I couldn’t fund undergraduate summer research opportunities out of college funds ― we just didn’t have the resources to do that sort of thing. It’s great to have alums who are consistent donors. That’s not to say we can’t have more of them; in fact, compared to some of our private peers our alumni giving is a little low. But compared to the publics, it’s quite good.
NULC: You mentioned retaining and recruiting the best faculty as a top priority. How fierce is the competition for top instructors and how important a role does giving play in these efforts?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: It’s still very, very fierce. Given the economy, you’d think there would be fewer academic jobs out there, and to some extent that is true, but for the top faculty there is still fierce competition. When you’re going after the best people, the start-ups that we offer have to be competitive nationally with our peers. You can’t just say, ‘I don’t care what Stanford and Penn are offering, this is what we’re offering.’ It just doesn’t work that way.
NULC: In the big picture of giving to Weinberg, how high a priority do you place on encouraging gifts to scholarships and financial aid?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: I place a very high priority on that. We’ve seen in the most recent economic downturn that some of our current students who hadn’t needed aid suddenly did, or those who had needed aid suddenly needed more aid. To continue to be able to recruit students from a broad range of backgrounds, you have to be able to provide competitive financial aid packages―it’s just like competing for the best faculty.
President Schapiro has described our financial aid as a barbell: there are some students whose families are in true economic hardship who get pretty much a free ride as they should. Then there are students from affluent families who are paying full sticker price. But where we haven’t been providing quite enough support is for middle-class families. It costs a lot of money to go here, and imagine if you have two college age kids at the same time; it would be impossible for most middle-class families to afford that.
NULC: Are there any departments, programs, or initiatives at Weinberg that you foresee requiring increased support in the coming years?
Sarah Mangelsdorf: Two things: One very high priority for me, Dean Ottino at McCormick, and the University as a whole is placing an emphasis on environmental science and environmental studies―issues of sustainability, environmental impact, and environmental policy. We need more faculty who study these issues. It’s very clear that these are pressing societal issues and ones in which students are very interested. We have to grow in this area and do some additional hiring. Our students will definitely tell you that.
Global change has created the need for restructuring in another area as well. Currently we have departments of Spanish and Portuguese, French and Italian, German Language and Literature, and Slavic Languages and Literature. Then we have a program of African and Asian Languages―not a department, a program―that teaches the languages spoken in the rest of the world. I think if you look at the enrollment over the years in languages like Chinese or Arabic, the students are telling us that they know that these are important areas of the world and that our current model is not a contemporary model. We need to convert that program to a department and hire some tenured faculty who focus on the literature in Asia and Africa in addition to the wonderful lecturers that we already have.