Oct. 12, 2009
Ceremonies marking Morton Owen Schapiro's installation as the 16th president of Northwestern University are scheduled for today. A lifelong sports' enthusiast, he discusses his passion with NUsports.com Special Contributor Skip Myslenski. . .
On The Record...With Morton Schapiro
Did I dream of being a successful athlete? Yeah, of course. Playing center field for the Mets. I wanted to be a receiver for the Jets. Don Maynard. George Sauer (both receivers). Yeah. (Outfielders) Tommie Agee. Cleon Jones. Ron Swoboda had a little trouble in right field in the World Series against the Orioles.
Yeah. Sixty-nine was just extraordinary. The '69 season was just amazing. It began with the New York Jets (and Joe Namath) in the Super Bowl against the Colts (whom they defeated in a huge upset) and continued with the Mets (who defeated the Orioles in the World Series). It was a special year, as you could imagine.
I lived in New Jersey, so I didn't go to a lot of Met games. The Jet games, we had season tickets. We got season tickets in '67. My sister still has season tickets. So, yeah, I've always been attending.
I'm still a very big Mets' fans. I switched my allegiance from the Jets to the New England Patriots for a whole bunch of reasons, one of which is I love the Kraft family (which owns them). We're very close and you can't root for the Pats and the Jets together. So I gave up my lifelong allegiance to the Jets.
I think a lot of people gravitate to things they're really good at. That's never been something I did. I didn't have that long a list. I had to do other things. But I enjoy it. I work out a lot. I try to stay fit. I watch my weight constantly.
I love athletics. Unfortunately, I'm just an unbelievably bad athlete myself. For how much golf I play, it's amazing how bad I am. I'm also a really, really bad skier. But throughout my athletic career, I've been bad at a whole bunch of sports. It's never dissuaded me from playing them. I love athletics. My kids play sports.
They're an important part of my life.
I love the camaraderie of sports. Even in skiing, I have a very close friend, we go on the lift together, ski right next to each other, it's real fun. I play golf, I don't play golf with donors or trustees, I don't do that kind of golf. I play golf with my friends.
I just like being outside. I walk. I carry my bag. It's a little exercise. It's a lot of fun being out there.
I don't spend a lot of time in the woods other than on a golf course. My entire golf experience is in the woods. I've never seen a fairway in my entire life.
I went away to summer camp as a little kid. One of the things they subjected you to was canoeing. I actually liked that. This summer we were at a lake and I really like kayaking.
When I was at SC (Southern Cal) and again at Williams, I went to every event I possibly could. Part of it is I love it. Part of it is it's part of my job to support the student-athlete.
Even if you don't really understand the nuances of why they blow the whistle in field hockey, you go anyway.
I've been in communities and colleges where athletics bring together the student body in a really wonderful way. The key that I've learned over my career is you just want to make sure that your athletics' program demonstrates the finest values of your institution. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter how much you win.
I really think it's important that people be allowed to pursue excellence. We pursue it in the classroom. We pursue it on the playing fields as well. But both in the classroom and on the playing fields, you have to reflect the finest values of your institution. I think it's easy to lose sight of that with the strong pressure to win.
If you win and you win right, there's nothing better in the world. But if you win wrong, you shouldn't have been doing it.
A sense of fairness. You want your student-athletes to represent the other students back in the dorms and library, to be reflective of them in terms of academic talent and inclination. One of the things I'm most proud of at Northwestern is we have very, very high standards for our athletes.
I was just at an event with Coach (Pat) Fitz(Gerald) and he talked beautifully of that. He talked of the (team's) GPA (grade point average). He talked of the (team's) extraordinarily high graduation rate compared to almost any other school.
|A Knowledgeable President|
There is certainly little that Morton Schapiro doesn't know about Williams College, where he served as president before coming to Northwestern. But near the end of our discussion I mentioned to him that I had been surprised to learn that Ephraim Williams, the school's namesake, had a verse devoted to him in "Yankee Doodle Dandy," a satirical song written in 1755 by a British army surgeon that mocked the disheveled, unprofessional appearance of the colonial militia.
He was surprised to learn that as well and asked to hear the verse, which goes:
"Brother Ephraim sold his cow
To buy him a commission
And then he went to Canada
To fight for the nation.
But when Ephraim he came home
He proved an arrant coward,
He wouldn't fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devoured."
"He should sue," Shapiro immediately said. "Ephraim Williams was killed at the very beginning of the Battle of Lake George." Williams, a colonel in the Massachusetts militia, did indeed die a hero in that battle and left his land and property to the founding of a school, which was eventually named after him.
One of the nice things about (last year's) Alamo Bowl (which he attended) was how much we were celebrated in the national press. We're an institution (playing) at a high level and making a major bowl game after a great season, but, again, making sure we didn't sacrifice any of the principles we hold so dear. Our values.
The students and the faculty and the staff at a university can all take great pride in everything they do. You win a Nobel Prize, everybody's out there. You get an enormous grant for the sciences, everybody's out there. A student wins a Rhodes Scholarship. There's a lot of things to celebrate.
One of them that is very visible, often more visible than the other things, (that is) no more important, but important, (is) athletic success. It's a good way to unify for the common good. As long you're doing it the right way and succeeding, it's just a great feeling all around.
I've seen that throughout my career whether it's a small school, Division III, or the athletic power in the nation. Everybody was proud of it including a lot of faculty, staff and students who themselves weren't very athletic. They liked to cheer on their fellow students, cheer them on to excellence.
Division I is a whole other ball game. The temptations, you can get into a whole lot of troubles.
Northwestern is obviously, there are 10 publics and one private, we're small, very high academic standards although a number of the other Big Ten schools also have very high academic standards.
I think one of the more amazing things about the Big Ten is how good those schools are, all 11, academically.
That said, we're the private, we're small, we have certain kinds of constraints that other school's don't have. But I don't see that, I won't take that as an excuse.
I wouldn't say we should do things some other schools might be able to do. I don't think we should.
I don't think we should use anything as an excuse. Northwestern is one of the more prestigious institutions in the entire world, much less the Big Ten. Students are dying to get in here and so are top athletes.
If you're talking about football and the chance to be on that team and be part of a program that's just getting better and better and better under Fitz, you're kind of crazy not to do it.
You know we have 19 athletic teams and most of them do really well. I think they play with pride and give us pride.
The proper place for athletics in an academic institution is dependent on the academic institution. Some schools, they're so large the only way to bring people together is on a Saturday. At some other schools, it's just one of many things that competes against the theater program.
I don't know enough yet about Northwestern to know exactly where sports might properly play a role. But I've been at different institutions where it's played a very different role.
It's very different at Penn. That said, I was on the faculty there in 1979 when the Penn Quakers went to the Final Four and unfortunately came up against Michigan State, an extraordinary Michigan State team (with Magic Johnson, which won the national title). But I'll tell you how exciting it was as a former student and, at that time, a faculty member to go to the Final Four. It was one of the most-exciting things I've ever been a part of.
When you're at SC, you get to see some pretty good sports as well. And nobody does it better than Williams at the level of Division III. Williams, every year of my presidency, won the Director's Cup (emblematic of the best all-around athletic program in Division III).
The thing I remember most about the Rose Bowl in 1996 (when he was on the faculty of SC) was, when we came out of the locker room and went through the tunnel of the Rose Bowl and we saw all the purple. I certainly wasn't prepared for that. We're 15 miles from our campus. We expected it to be a home game, but it was decidedly not a home game.
I was shocked to see all that purple.
Fitz didn't play. Pat didn't play. I think that made a real difference. But it was very hard to cover Keyshawn Johnson in that game. They could have done different coverages, obviously, if they had the best linebacker in the country healthy. But those d-backs couldn't get near Keyshawn.
That's an empirical question. Does athletic success effect future admissions? Does it effect fund raising? I'm an empirical economist. . .and it's hard to link it. There're a lot of other things going on. Usually you have a big bounce in applicants. My understanding is, after the Rose Bowl here, there was a spike in applications.
I don't think you do it for that. You want to bring the student body together. I don't think you do it because people are going to write a bigger check. If the only reason they'll write a big check is because you win a football game, that's not my problem, that's theirs.
I think there are people for whom sport isn't such an important part of their lives. That's fine. There are a lot of things, I for one am very interested in music and even more interested in art. I love sport too. But some of my friends who are obsessed with art and music don't enjoy watching the Mets the way I do, or watching the Wildcats the way I do. That's fine. A lot of my friends are rea-a-a-ly into sports. That's fine too.
One of the things I really love about sports is I feel I have that in common with almost anyone. In a world, in this country with increased stratification, it's "How 'bout those Cubs?" It's something I can talk about at great length with a certain amount of knowledge.
I find that a way to break down barriers that people would otherwise have.
I've made a lot of friends through sports. People I played with, played against, coached against. It's been great. I was a Little League coach for six years and that was one of my best experiences.
We won (a championship) one year, but that wasn't the memorable one. The memorable one was the one we lost (from) bad coaching.
We were winning and thought the game was over, and then we started to have some bad stuff happen and I didn't bring the infield in. I still think about that, oh, only about every day.
But, you know, it's fairly recent. It happened only 12 years ago. So I'll get over it soon.