Sherman Ave Interviews: Morty Schapiro
The Sherman Ave Editors (Evander Jones, Ross Packingham and Sir Edward Twattingworth III) sat down with Northwestern University President Morty Schapiro for an interview. Why he agreed to let us do this, we may never know, but we sure are happy he did.
Packingham: If you could make a drink called “The Morty,” what would it entail?
Morty: Oh man. Like an alcoholic drink?
Twattingworth: Wow, interesting that your mind went there.
Morty: Yeah... Well, you know when I drink, like last night--this is really exciting--but one-third orange juice, two-thirds Perrier.
Packingham: Perrier? Is that vodka? Or rum?
Morty: And they have to give me this much wine so I can hold it to pretend I’ll drink it, but I’m not a wine drinker. I like beer when I have Asian food. I like Thai beer, or Japanese beer or something.
Packingham: Like a Budweiser?
Morty: I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those. So I’m not big on like American brands, or European brands, but you know when I have Pad Thai--
Twattingworth: So as an economist, you’re saying ‘Don’t buy American.’ Right?
Morty: No one will listen to me as an economist. So why would you listen to me for that? Yeah, so I think the one-third orange juice, two-thirds Perrier, you’ve got to get the apportionment exact, otherwise it’s too much orange juice, or too little Perrier.
Twattingworth: You’ll get drunk so quick if you have too much orange juice.
Morty: It’s really tough, yeah. And three ice cubes shaken, not stirred.
Evander: So, what advice would you give to an incoming freshman?
Morty: Incoming freshman? You know, I mean the academics are really important, and especially when I teach my fall course... and I expect them to work really hard. But there’s a lot more to life than just being in the dorm room and being in the library. And when I do my regular firesides, which I do regularly, and I ask people, ‘When was the last time you were in Chicago? You know for a restaurant or a concert or athletic event, and some people were there yesterday and some people said, ‘Oh, where’s Chicago? I thought we were in Milwaukee.’ So there’s certain people, and they tend to be people who just focus so much-- and academics is important-- but what I tell them and the freshmen -- I’m not sure if I did it for you guys, probably did, is that it’s not just maximizing your GPA. You should care about learning, it’s a really important thing, but what happens outside the classroom is probably gonna have as large an impact on your life as what happens in the classroom. And there’s certain people from certain backgrounds that they don’t quite get that. So that’s what I’d tell them. They should have fun, they shouldn’t suffer for four years. That’s what grad school is for. And they should get out of their comfort zone and they should take advantage of the fact that there’s this great university town and we’re right next to one of the great cities in the world. We’ve got everything you want here. That’s what I’d tell them.
Twattingworth: As a follow-up on the Class of 2017, I know that our class isn’t as smart or diverse or funny or cool or-
Morty: Or good-looking.
Twattingworth: Yeah, but uh, um, do you still... like us?
Morty: Yeah, actually I tolerate you. The class that’s graduating now is my class, right? I stayed back, and I hope to stay back a number of years, but I shot a little video for the class gift. You’re supposed to give $20.13, and I made some joke that if you give it, I love you, and if you don’t give it, I love you but not as much. But I was joking, ok? These days, when presidents joke people don’t get it. But yeah, we just, we love the students here. We had the tour guides over last night, and I don’t know, have you guys ever been to the house for dinner? No? You guys are three losers, I mean we have a lot of people over. But so last night, we had the typical 60 over and we had so much fun. They were all telling sketchy stories about tours and stuff like that, and it just reminded me and my wife, who’s very outspoken about that, she loves the students, but that the students here aren’t very entitled. Some are, but most are not and they’re much more civil-- not everybody, but most are. I think the Midwestern values, that people talk about on the coasts almost sort of as a negative, kind of as ‘It’s too civil, it’s not exciting, it’s too sedated,’ it’s part of the students... even if you aren’t the smartest or the best.
Packingham: If you’re worried that your wife is too enamored with Northwestern students, we’d be happy to meet her for lunch sometime.
Morty: Yeah, that’ll get rid of that in a hurry. Yeah, put her somewhere in between the three of you and that’ll change.
Twattingworth: Shifting gears a little bit, I saw recently that you’re not going to be reading any more petitions. I don’t know if you saw but that was in the news a little, and I just wanted to know if that includes petitions to graduate? Because honestly that thing is like four pages long and I really don’t see myself filling it out.
Morty: Yeah, no, you’re not going anywhere. You think you’re a junior, and I don’t know if you’ve even been admitted. But I have this old friend who’s president of Lewis and Clark, a wonderful school in Portland, beautiful campus, great school. And he writes best-sellers, I write books that no one reads, but we’ve been friends for many, many years and over my career I’ve written many op-eds, but I hadn’t been writing recently. Mainly because once you’re president, you write op-eds and people get so angry. No one says they like it, everyone’s just yelling.
Twattingworth: Except this time, people loved this one.
Morty: They loved this one, especially The Daily, on the front page. But so Barry and I were together last summer and I said let’s start writing, so we’ve done four-- I’ve done five this year, four with him. Some of those other ones you might want to look at, we did one as a message to helicopter parents, which I thought was funny. That was in the LA Times. The one we did in the Washington Post was a good one, but so we’ve written a couple but the only one people seem to have noticed is the Wall Street Journal one about petitions. I don’t think they quite got past the headline, I mean the point was supposed to be pretty simple. It’s that if you really care about something, don’t just add your name to the 73rd page of a petition and think that you’ve checked that box. If you care about it, commit yourself to it. Raise money for it, lobby for it. That was the whole point, the whole point was that even though every day, a couple of times a week I get some petition and I would spend my whole life taking positions that were not necessarily relevant to Northwestern. And if there’s something I really care about, like immigration or gun control, I actually work on the subject. I don’t just add my name. So I get sometimes a little bit frustrated that some of my presidential colleagues say, ‘You gotta sign this, why won’t you sign it?’ and I say, ‘I’m actually working on it.’ And sometimes it’s something like immigration that I’ve worked on and been publishing on, or college affordability, which I’ve done my whole career on, so that was really the intent. But I think people lost that, and in retrospect I think we could have used a different example. People got particularly angry that we singled out the divestment thing.
Twattingworth: I know I signed like four anti-Kony petitions, and apparently they haven’t gotten him yet. What’s that about?
Morty: Yeah. You’d be amazed about that. Things are important to people, but that doesn’t make it particularly important to the institution. But people get really angry every day, and that’s a lot of my job. I got some really angry emails today about a range of different subjects, none of which I thought were all that, you know, important for Northwestern to take a position on.
Packingham: That’s surprising. In my experience it would be so unlike Northwestern students to get riled up about things unrelated to the institution.
Morty: I’ll tell you something. You know, most of the stuff I was dealing with this morning had nothing to do with Northwestern. It was outside people--Evanston people--they have a lot of things they want us to support.
Twattingworth: I’ve got a few things I’d like them to support.
Morty: Well, I think we’re going pretty... It’s moving forward pretty nicely. I got a nice card from the Mayor today, I opened it up and it’s playing “Hail to the Chief.” I thought it was pretty funny. It’s for some neighborhood initiative we were supporting this summer. I’ve been playing it all day. It’s driving people crazy.
Cubbage [LOL, did we not mention that NU spokesman Al Cubbage was there the whole time too?]: Every time you walk into a room.
Morty: I’m afraid I’m going to be breaking it. I’m planning on holding on to it for Father’s Day. I just hope I can keep that tune going. I just wrote to Liz, I said ‘Thanks, I’ve been playing it and playing it, I might break it, you might have to get me another one.’
Packingham: In your four years at Northwestern, which has been your favorite tuition hike?
Morty: [Laughter] Well, the most recent one was the smallest of them, 4.0. But people do get tricked by the sticker price. You know, I think we’re down to 40% of all our students who actually pay that sticker price. The increase in generosity in need-based aid, it was $79 million when I came, it’s $120 million now. And next year I think it’s going to be $130 million. So, I don’t know if you guys are eligible for need-based aid, if you turned down packages from Penn or a lot of other places with need-based aid that were more generous, but we’ve closed most of that gap. So if you want to go to West Philly, you want to Ithaca, you want to go to St. Louis, whatever it is--that’s fine. That’s your choice, good or bad that’s your choice. But it shouldn’t be based on price. Unless it’s Wash U doing merit aid, and we don’t do that stuff.
Packingham: Ugh, Wash U, right?
Twattingworth: What’s with them?
Morty: Wash U, boy, they have really good investments in infrastructure. I’m sure you’ve seen that campus. Man, the dorms. Oh man, the student center.
Evander: I’d like to think that we’ve been investing in better education.
Twattingworth: Yeah. Have you even noticed any construction on campus?
Cubbage: [sternly] Faculty. Better faculty.
Morty: Yeah, well, you know. The tour matters. But I think with the new visitors center coming along, we have a pretty good tour. But it does matter. You want people not to say ‘What? This is the students’ center?’ As opposed to, ‘Have you ever seen that one at Wash U?’
Packingham: I heard it has a two-story sports bar?
Morty: Is that true? What?
Packingham: They have a two-story sports bar in their student center.
Twattingworth: Somebody I know has a two-story sports bar coming. I don’t know who...
Packingham: I heard something about a student center with a two-story sports bar.
Morty: Well, in the plans for Norris we’re going to have a sports bar.
Morty: And it’s going to have a view of the lake. I don’t know if it’ll have as many stories as some of the other ones. But when I was president at Williams we built a new student center. Tore down the old one and built a new one. We did put in a pub, which I thought was important. We also put in a movie theater, which I thought was important. We put in a number of things that we went around and looked at a lot of the other ones and we tried to look at best practices. Since we haven’t done a new one in a long time there are a lot of best practices out there.
Evander: Switching gears again, to Northwestern athletics. If Coach Fitz were to launch a bloodless coup against you, would you stand on the sidelines and cheer him on?
Morty: Yeah...you think he wants to be president? Now if I could be football coach, though. The fact that I really don’t know anything about football has never stopped me before from trying to lead. Yeah, he’s a great guy. It’s funny, I feel a little funny sometimes because, I was at the Kings-Blackhawks game the other day with Rocky Wurtz and I asked him, “Do you ever go into the locker room?” and he said, “Only when I got the Stanley Cup, otherwise I don’t do it.” And I was thinking, because I’m always there, before the game, I’m at halftime, I’m at the end of the game, because Fitz lets me do it. And there’s a little space I carved out where I can stand without getting killed because I’m little, these guys are enormous, so I’m really good at hiding on the sidelines. And I was thinking with what Rocky said, like ‘Man, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it.’ But I’ve taught a number of players in my courses and I think coach doesn’t mind me and if he did I wouldn’t do it anymore. He’s always so gracious, and occasionally talks to me during the game and I’m like, ‘Focus!’ But he’s always so focused, he’s five plays ahead. You know, I love football but I never really played in any real way, in order to really know what a Cover-2 really is. I mean I can kind of, but, ya know what I’m saying? It’s fun. It’s really a fun part of my job, and it’s not just football. I do all 19 varsity sports and I’m always on the sideline and I always have a good time.
Twattingworth: Speaking of those other sports, the basketball team has never made the tournament since you became president. When will you be stepping down?
Morty: Well I’ll tell you, they made it so many times from ‘39 to 2009. I can tell you with complete confidence that this is the year we’re gonna finally make the dance. There’s the five of us who have never made it and there’s the curse of tearing down the original Patten Gymnasium to build Tech, where they had the Final Four. So I can guarantee that we’re gonna make the dance this year, and I guaranteed it the last four years too. And you’ve gotta remember I’m an economics professor, with a perfect forecasting record but I’m never right.
Packingham: I think you’ve got a broken model.
Twattingworth: Maybe we should hire Nate Silver instead.
Morty: Yeah, exactly. But I’m as convinced now as I’ve been in previous years. I’m very excited about Coach Collins, and I know we’re getting closer and closer to announcing our next recruiting class. I’m excited, do you guys go to the games?
Evander: Yeah, a lot of them.
Morty: Yeah, when we make the dance it’s gonna be great. I mean, it’s like winning the Gator Bowl. We hadn’t won a bowl game since ‘49, we’ve never made the dance, so it’s gonna be special and it’s gonna shine a big spotlight on us.
Packingham: We wanna talk town-gown relations for a sec. We actually have a joke that we want you to answer: So Mayor Tisdahl and Judy Fiske walk into a bar... How quickly do they shut it down?
Morty: [Uncomfortable laughter] Well The Keg finally did shut down, right? Cause it was shut down, and then it opened again, and then it finally shut down. Is there anything in there right now?
Morty: Is The Keg across from Pete Miller’s?
Cubbage: It’s right down the block on Grove, it’s right by Bar Louie.
Morty: Bar Louie, I was there. They have an outdoor thing at Bar Louie? Yeah I was there once for one of the reunion things.
Packingham: It’s not quite like The Keg.
Cubbage: A slightly different atmosphere.
Morty: I’m sorry to say, I don’t think I ever went there. I like Pete Miller’s, they’ve got great music.
Packingham: Oh, that one’s the same. Just like The Keg.
Morty: It’s hard to tell them apart, right? Good wine, it’s a nice restaurant. But no one’s opened up a new pub in there yet?
Cubbage: World of Beer is the new place that’s opened and had some success.
Morty: And that’s a different location? Where is that?
Cubbage: It’s right by Fountain Square.
Morty: And they have like millions of beers on tap?
Packingham: Literally, millions.
Morty: Billions, with a b. But there are lots of bars in town, right?
Twattingworth: Yeah, we’re still trying to figure out what’s gonna take The Keg’s place.
Morty: 'cause The Keg was like a gathering place on Thursday night’s or something?
Twattingworth: Monday night, The Deuce is Thursday night.
Cubbage: And they catered to the underage crowd.
Morty: But also Kellogg, cause I spend a lot of time at Kellogg and they’re always like, ‘Why’d you close The Keg?’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t think I closed it. Let me check back and see if I did.’
Twattingworth: Kellogg had a night there, too.
Morty: Oh so they had their own night?
Packingham: Yeah and that’s when everyone else stayed away from The Keg.
Evander: Except for Evanston students.
Packingham: I think The Keg closing hit them the hardest.
Morty: Is that right? So they had fake ID’s?
Cubbage: I was somewhat troubled by the fact that when The Keg closed, both of my sons wrote just painful remembrances of it on their online postings, and I’m like, ‘Geez guys, thanks a lot for that.’
Morty: So they went when they were at ETHS?
Cubbage: Oh yeah, both of them. It catered to ETHS kids.
Evander: So, you’re an expert as you said in the economics of higher education and-
Morty: I don’t think I ever said that. Did I say that?
Evander: We’re saying it now. And Alderman Judy Fiske is an expert in pet paraphernalia. How does that make you feel?
Morty: Well we had a beloved dog, who died, had to be put down after we were here for a year. And I’ll tell you something about Judy. People say a lot of things about Judy Fiske but all I can say is one time I met her and I told her about our dog and she came over with special food for our dog when he was dying, and it was really lovely. And when the dog died I saw her and she gave me a big hug and there were tears in her eyes, so that was really nice. So for all the things people say about her, I always think of her and that kindness. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dog that you’ve had for 12 years, but she was really... [To Cubbage] Do you even know that story? You probably don’t even know that one.
Cubbage: No, I did not.
Morty: It was really nice.
Twattingworth: Alright, so picture this: It’s five years from now. Northwestern has finally cracked the top 11 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. Our acceptance rate is in the single digits.
Morty: Zero, actually. We’re not accepting anyone. We’re too good for any students.
Twattingworth: Yeah, zero. So my question is at this point, just how far off campus has Greek life been kicked? Skokie? Des Plaines? Des Moines?
Morty: Well I mentioned Milwaukee. But you know it’s funny because I’m very pro-Greek life and now we’re up to I think 39% affiliated. I’d like to see that even higher. I hosted a dinner recently for the heads of fraternities and sororities at the house, which I don’t know how many presidents do that. But it is, you know, I gave a talk at one of the fraternities and they said they were on double-secret probation and everybody else is too. It is kind of hard to keep track. You know, I see people and they say all the time-- we just did an event in Boston and someone came up to me and said, ‘Oh, I’m a member of the fraternity that was just kicked off.’ And I said, ‘You’ve got to be more specific. Which of the 12?’ So it is amazing how they come and go, and it doesn’t seem like the sororities do, seems like they’re just perfect.
Evander: I was wondering how you would compare your first four years to President Bush’s first four years-- George W.
Morty: Man, I do economics not politics. I met President Bush, well I met his father too. But I met him once and there was nobody more friendly, but I think people know about that and I think people are very critical not just how he did in his first four years, but in all eight years, and they’ll conflate the person with the job that they think that he did. I would try to advance that theory a little bit, from where people would say terrible things about him as opposed to his presidency. People would be like, ‘Why are you defending him?’ and all I would say is that I don’t know about the first four years as opposed to all eight. I didn’t agree with a lot of the stuff that he did, but I felt privileged that I actually got to spend some time with him, and see that he is really an engaging and warm and generous person, which I find is not all that common in a politician.
Packingham: According to a poll of our readers-
Twattingworth: And this is true.
Packingham: Yeah, unlike everything else we’ve said. But we took a readers poll and the question was, ‘If you could spend one night of consequence-free, blissful pleasure with Morty, would you do it?’ 37.9% responded ‘yes’ while 52.69% responded ‘Am currently in the throes of a tumultuous love affair with the man.’ As an economist, how do you interpret that?
Morty: Oh man, I used to respect the students. That’s like remarkably bad taste. Oh my god, that’s too scary to respond to. But this is the kind of survey you guys are doing, this is getting you ready for politics.
Packingham: Just a very quick question. Who’s your favorite current Northwestern student?
Morty: Oh man. Favorite...
Packingham: You can only choose one. Unless it’s all three of us.
Morty: You guys are way down on the list.
Twattingworth: We’re on the list!
Morty: ...Seriously? Kendall Hackney. And you know why? Because she was in Waa-Mu, she was one of the stars of the women’s basketball team. She’s a great basketball player. And she played March Hare in Waa-Mu. And to see somebody get out there in front of everybody, show after show. She’s a fabulous athlete.
Cubbage: She was cool. That was really fun to see.
Morty: Corey Moss was also great in that. He’s a great kid and I love him. But I think, I like people who have a lot of talent--as somebody who doesn’t have a lot of talent athletically, musically, or anything--I see people who can be so good at so many things. Kristin Scharkey is another one, the center fielder on the softball team. Sometimes she sings the national anthem, and I’m like ‘Oh, spread the talent around.’ You know? There are people like that who are just so good at so many things. The other one is Patrick Ward. I mean, that guy can be good enough to get signed for the NFL, and graduate with a 3.94 in mechanical engineering. And he’s 6’7”, so 5’7”, 6’7”, 153, 312, 3.94 and then me. I’m thinking, can’t I be competitive with this kind in something? So I don’t know Patrick Ward very well. I know Kristin Scharkey, Scharkey I know because we did a dinner for the coaches, 19 varsity coaches and they each got to pick one varsity athlete to come to the house for dinner. And I sat next to Scharkey--she goes by her last name. And my wife and I were just like, ‘Oh my God how talented.’ And I just love Kendall. I’ve rooted for her for four years in basketball. You know, seeing her in the show, I couldn’t believe it. She’s so tall! There’s Corey and everybody else, and she’s looking down on them. It was a riot.
Evander: You’re renowned for your fundraising prowess on behalf of the university, so we wondering, what’s the most deplorable thing you’ve ever done to fundraise?
Morty: Oh man...
Packingham: We can go off-the-record...
Cubbage: NO SUCH THING.
Morty: I can’t even think of a funny answer. The only thing I can tell you stepping back is, when I first started doing fundraising, this was back at the University of Southern California in 1994 when I became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I quickly learned that there’s a side of fundraising that’s kind of ambulance-chasing, and there’s an ugliness to fundraising, but I don’t think I ever was part of it. I was a little taken aback at first, but I think after 20 years I’ve learned how to do it without feeling embarrassed. And fundraising when it goes right, you have the donor even happier than you are which is a good thing. I can’t think of anything funny, it’s a good question though. You have such funny questions [OMG HE LOVES US], I don’t have any funny answers.
Cubbage: A lot of what we’re doing to a great extent is asking people to do things they would like to help us do. By and large it’s a matter of, ‘We’d like to be partners, this is something you’re interested in, this is something the university would like to do,’ and how do we make it work together?
Morty: It’s also a fun thing to do, it’s a fun part of my job. Sometimes you hear presidents complain about it just because. You’re with interesting people, just because they’re rich doesn’t mean they’re boring, you know? People have this view, but I spend my time with really very interesting people. For the most part, there might be some who aren’t but that’s really rare, especially at Northwestern.
Twattingworth: Do you have a bucket list for your time at Northwestern?
Morty: It’d be nice if we were really in the top 10 in U.S. News. I don’t think that there are nine or 10 schools better than we are in undergraduate education, so that’d be nice. I’d love to go to the dance. I’m tired of it. I think people aren’t gonna talk about the bowl drought anymore, so when we win and go to the dance that’ll be nice. We have a lot of faculty who are on the shortlist I think to get a Nobel Prize. It was really great when Dale, who’s my colleague and a great guy and the ultimate purple guy-- his whole career has been here and he teaches here and his kids went here-- perfect Northwestern story. But we have at least a half a dozen other people, some in economics some in chemistry, who are rumored to be on the shortlist. So I’d like to get a whole bunch of Nobel Prizes. University of Chicago has made a killing.
Packingham: Yeah, but they’re just a bunch of nerds, right?
Morty: I don’t know if their faculty is any nerdier than ours. Maybe if you’re talking about their student body. But so I’d like to get a whole bunch of those. It was great that Dale got one, none of our faculty had gotten one since I think ‘97?
Cubbage: ‘98, John Pople.
Morty: ‘98, yeah. So that’d be good.
Twattingworth: As a follow-up on the bucket list, has a drunk student ever puked in that bucket on Dillo morning?
Morty: Well I don’t know if you heard the talk I gave, you guys were probably off... Well I’m not gonna ask what you were doing. But I pointed out in my brief remarks that we spend a whole year raising political capital in town-gown relations and doing the right things and getting people to hate us less and love us more, and I said I don’t want to throw it all away in one day. Maybe half, but not all. And I think, I heard from some neighbors who were pretty upset, but I heard from some other neighbors who said this was the most sedate. Now I don’t know if it was because of the rain, but we also put a lot of things into place. I go there before it opened, and I went through the beer garden which is a relatively new thing, and we used Lakeside Field for the first time and all that, we had a second venue. It seemed to go pretty well. Dillo Day is a great tradition. It’s funny because I mentioned that op-ed with Barry Glassner, and he graduated in ‘73 so he was there for the first one. And Saturday morning we were working on some new thing, and I said, ‘I have to go to Dillo Day.’ And he said, ‘Did I ever tell you about the first Dillo Day?’ And he was telling me about that and that was wild. It didn’t seem like the administration really knew that it was happening, but the students did. It was like, wild, but of course those were wild days.
Packingham: I wonder if they received an email from a very young Burgwell Howard.
Morty: [Uncontrollable laughter at Packingham’s hilarity] Yeah, but I was saying it’s been 43 years of this thing, and we’re looking forward to 44.
Evander: During your four years at Northwestern, there’s been a lot of controversy and protest regarding issues of race and ethnicity on campus. So we were wondering, do you think if we just stop teaching about institutional racism in classes all this nasty protesting business will go away?
Morty: What do you think? No, I think the reality is that--somebody made a video, and I thought it was very interesting. It was six students, all of color who were graduating and reflecting on their years, and they asked one of the women at the end, ‘Would you come again?’ And they were really critical, they were revisiting everything that happened under my presidency. And then they asked the woman at the end, ‘So I guess you’re wishing you hadn’t come here?’ And she said ‘No! I’m glad I came here! You know I learned in my classes, and I’ve learned in FMO,’ and it was kind of interesting.
So, the real answer to that is that... I don’t know whether it’s a selective audience, that’s why some people--myself included--actually think to have some broader diversity requirement like we did when I was at Williams would probably be a good idea. But, you know, I don’t think that the record here is particularly different than at Chicago, Wash U, or Penn. We’re not removed from the world, we’re always trying to do a better job of it. But I think we’re making some progress. I mean, if you went, if you watched the thing about, I did two State of the Universities, one in Chicago, one here. And the one here, some people were real angry, a lot of people talking ‘What are you actually doing?’ And I tried to listen, but people didn’t find that all that compelling. So I don’t know.
Twattingworth: I mean, just looking around the room here, I’m not sensing a lot of diversity. And I just want you to know that I’m telling.
Morty: You’re tall!
Cubbage, approximately 6 feet 3423598 inches tall: [dismissively] Not real tall.
Morty: I’ve got to say, I travel the world with this guy [Cubbage]. He’s a freak! We’re in China, ‘Yao Ming over here!’
Cubbage: You can find me pretty easily.
Morty: It’s always easy to find Al.
Cubbage: Tokyo? No problem.
Evander: Are you ever worried that when you’re out of town on official University business, that nobody’s around remaining to protect campus?
Morty: I think things work better when I’m on the road. You know, I do travel a lot. I’m leaving tomorrow morning for Seattle we’re doing events there Wednesday to Thursday. Then L.A. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. But I travel, I’m gone about 160 days a year--that’s a lot of days. But fortunately, I hope I’m kidding that things work better when I’m not in touch. But now with technology, I’m always in touch, so I can screw things up wherever I go. And I do.
Packingham: So, what’s your favorite book?
Morty: My favorite book... Fiction, nonfiction?
Packingham: Anything. Picture book?
Twattingworth: Coloring book?
Morty: You know I’m always reading a book. I’m reading some crime book today, usually fiction. Although I loved the book I finished a couple days ago, “The Cat’s Table” by a guy, I think he’s Sri Lankan, he wrote “The English Patient.” That was a good book.
Packingham: Oh yeah, it won an Oscar.
Morty: Yes, and the one I read the week before that-- it usually takes me about a week-- was “The Girl Who Fell To Earth.” It’s by the woman who spoke at NU-Q graduation, it was a wonderful book. So I can’t think of any that are sort of transformative, but I mainly read fiction and I’m always reading. And tomorrow I will finish on the plane to Seattle this book, I think I wanted a lighter read. It’s one of these best-sellers that I think I picked up in an airport, and it’s good. It takes place in Paris, and he’s an assassin sort of black ops for the CIA.
Packingham: That kind of resonated with you, huh?
Morty: [Laughter at Packingham’s hilarious joke] No. But you know, I think you develop this sort of-- I teach this course, you guys haven’t been in this course I teach, have you?
All of Sherman Ave: No.
Morty: There’s this great line, you know we’re spending a week on income inequality and income distributions and I was doing g-coefficients and transition matrices and all boring economic stuff that I like to do, that I found exciting, and Saul just said, ‘Ya know what? Let’s just read a couple of lines from Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, you’ll learn more about poverty and the obligation of privilege than Morty’ll ever tell you.’ And he’s right, so I read these books all the time and all of the sudden I’m 11 years old and I’m being transported from Ceylon to England to go to school and I’m sitting at the captain’s table, and it’s great. I’m this bedouin who’s dividing his life between Spokane, Washington and Doha, Qatar and so I’m constantly reading these books in different times and different situations, but I can’t think of any that I particularly loved more than any of the others, I just always seem to love the book I’m reading. Even this crime thing which is pretty mindless reading, it’s really good, there are a lot of people getting killed and it’s intrigue, it’s the CIA. So, sorry I don’t have one favorite.
Packingham: It’s alright, I don’t even know how to read.
Twattingworth: Have you ever been on top of Swift? The hall kind of by Annenberg.
Morty: Why? I know Annie May Swift. Is that Swift? Oh, Swift Hall!
Twattingworth: I’m glad even you get those two mixed up too.
Morty: Oh I know Swift. It’s no Annie Mae Swift. Which is beautiful. No, can you go on top?
Evander: You have to watch out for the cops though.
Twattingworth: Sometimes they’ll get you. But go for it sometime.
Morty: Do I have to watch out for the cops? But I hate heights though. I really hate heights. Good thing I’m short. So I don’t think I’d go on the roof of anything.
Cubbage: Why would you go on the roof of Swift? What’s there?
Evander: Great view.
Packingham: There’s also a carnival.
Twattingworth: It’s where they relocated the Keg.
Morty: Oh, is that where it is now?
Packingham: So what’s your spirit animal?
Morty: My spirit animal? What does that mean?
Twattingworth: It’s like an animal that embodies your spirit.
Packingham: Like a patronus.
Morty: I don’t know, what do you think it should be? I never really thought of that.
Packingham: Is there an animal that you feel just like really encapsulates how you think and behave? If you were to be re-incarnated as an animal, what animal would it be?
Morty: Well what exactly is a Wildcat?
Twattingworth: That was going to be our question if you said ‘Wildcat.’
Morty: I don’t actually know. I’m allergic to cats anyway.
Twattingworth: What about Wildkits? Are you allergic to those?
Morty: I’d be sneezing the whole time. So it probably wouldn’t be a Wildcat. Um... I don’t know. Maybe a bird. But not like a... raptor kind of bird. I’m not that violent. I’d be the one who tries to land on a rabbit, and the rabbit turns around and eats me.
Packingham: Do you identify with Birdman, the basketball player?
Morty: Oh, the guy with all the tattoos? Yeah, they won last night, didn’t they? What’s his name, Anderson? Yeah, Chris Anderson. He’s an interesting looking guy. No, I don’t identify with him. He might identify with me though. With a very dorky, old president. He might long for that. He’s longing for something. He’s also a heck of a player. Should be a good series against the Spurs.
Packingham: Can you sing us 15 to 20 seconds of your favorite show tune?
Morty: Ooooh... No. No. But I’m trying to think, do I like any show tunes?
Evander: I don’t.
Morty: I liked a lot of Stephen Sondheim. Big Stephen Sondheim fan. He actually graduated from where I was at Williams College. So I got to meet him a couple of times. He was class of 1950 at Williams so. If I could sing, I would probably sing one of the Sondheim things. Maybe something from Sweeney Todd. But that’s really dark.
Packingham: So you really identify with that character?
Morty: I think I identify with the victim.
Cubbage: At last my arm is complete again! As he holds his razor up.
Evander: Do you think that if we agree to stop riding our bikes on the sidewalk, Evanston would agree to let us tear down Plex?
Morty: You know you might want to put that forward. I think--it’s funny, one of the tour guides yesterday told a story about how, she was leaving going up Sheridan and some bike was coming down full-speed and everything, they avoided and he spilled out and everything... You don’t like Plex? People like the dining. This year it won best dining hall on campus.
Packingham: Was that Best of Evanston?
Morty: I think it’s the best food in the world. I think it was--we did a little bit above most Parisian four-stars, I think.
Evander: So if you were a freshman at Northwestern, where do you think you’d want to live?
Morty: [immediately] Elder. I like Allison too.
Twattingworth: I was going to say, you just turned that into a hotel.
Morty: I like--look. I would probably live in Willard, because Saul’s there, Saul Morson is there. I’ve always liked Shepard, for a variety of reasons. But I really like the job they did at Allison. And I like that dining hall. That dining hall I like more than the Elder dining hall, in terms of the flexibility of food that they serve. They have a kosher station, which is good for me, and they have that whole atrium, which is really nice. But I like Elder. I like the community thing going at Elder. And certainly if you’re taking stuff--if you’re in McCormick, that’s where you want to be. But if you’re schlepping up and down to Harris in the winter, that’s going to keep you in shape. Builds character, that’s what they say.
Twattingworth: I understand that you just earned an honorary degree from Notre Dame.
Morty: I don’t think I earned it. They gave me one.
Twattingworth: So who do you think you’ll be rooting for when we play them in 2014?
Morty: Well I’ll tell you when I spoke Saturday night, I gave a little talk and I talked about what an honor, what a fan I am, I told them my whole little spiel. And at the end I said, ‘But I want to caution everybody,’ and the athletic director was there of course, and the President, the board, and I said ‘I’m coming back on November 15th, 2014 and I’m bringing the boys.’ And that was the last line. So I’m looking forward to going there and having a big victory. We beat them last time we played them, and that was pretty recent--’95. Haven’t played them since. Fitz was on the team. So November 15, 2014, I can’t wait to go to South Bend.
Packingham: Just a follow up to that, we were wondering are you a Saint now? I mean, you have an honorary degree from Notre Dame, so... Is that how it works?
Morty: I don’t think so. The main speaker was Cardinal Dolan. But he was wearing red. I don’t have any red, because I wear purple. I don’t think Saints can wear purple.
Packingham: Maybe you can rebrand the Catholic Church? I hear they really like change.
Morty: We’ll see where this goes. It was actually a fun weekend, because I also got an honorary degree from Garrett, you know Garrett Theological Seminary. The Methodist seminary. And I also gave the commencement address there in their beautiful church. So it’s funny--you have an observant Jew getting an honorary degree from the Protestants on Friday and the Catholics on Sunday. So what’s that about?
Twattingworth: What do you think [former Ohio State President] Gordon Gee thinks about that?
Morty: I was with him, actually, on Sunday. He’s actually a very good friend of mine. You know, here’s the problem. You guys know that when you speak and speak and speak, you know it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to say something you’re going to regret. So I try to watch myself, because I’m always unscripted as you know and virtually never have anything in front of me. I’m giving two talks today, I think, and I’m just one stupid joke that nobody gets away from being the next president. Every day, it seems like somebody gets in trouble. And Gordon of course got in terrible trouble. But, you know, it’ll probably happen to me one day, but I try to be careful with what I say. Al’s usually cringing when I talk. You have to make the decision, either you’re going to read speeches that somebody else writes for you basically and you’re going to be so bland that you don’t have any character, or you’re going to be yourself. If you’re going to be yourself, you want people to not think you’re a schmuck.
Evander: You clearly have a pretty busy schedule. We were just wondering, have you ever had free time? And if so, what did you do with it?
Morty: You know, this is free time. This is fun. I know you guys are more edgy than I am--if I answer funny, I’m probably fired. We’re all conscious of it, and [Al] is here to make sure I don’t lose my job. But I always have fun. I had so much fun at the dinner [with NU tour guides] last night. You should have heard the stories. Sketchy dads hitting on tour guides, male and female, and this and that, getting hit by trucks, it was hysterical. We were laughing and laughing, and it was one horror story after another, because we were all laughing.
Packingham: Wait, did you say somebody got hit by a truck?!
Morty: You’re walking backwards... BOOM! Then you get up, ‘IT’S OKAY!’ and you’re bleeding--that was one of the stories.
Twattingworth: We have great health services here!
Morty: And Sunday night I go to the Blackhawks game and it was so much fun. I got to meet Tony Esposito. So, I just love my life. I really do. So I never think about off-time. Virtually everything I do I enjoy. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. Because when you’re president, you don’t have to have a couple thousand students over at your house. You only do it if you enjoy it. And we do. And you certainly don’t have to teach two courses a year, which I do because I love it. You know what I’m saying? So what I do is things that I really enjoy. I never think about ‘Oh, I’m off tonight.’ I’m always doing some NU thing. That’s why I love doing the firesides, people invite me and I always say yes. Sometimes people--I go to the brothels and people cook for me. And that’s fun too.
Twattingworth: I’m really glad that you call them that.
Morty: I mean, what are they? You know, some of them are pretty seedy and some of them are actually pretty nice. Which shows that there’s probably a reason to have some law, but maybe not that law.
Packingham: Just so we’re being clear, are you talking about like off-campus housing with three or more people that aren’t related, or are you literally talking about brothels? Because I hear they cook well.
Morty: It was very funny, because when I first heard the brothel thing I was on the plane, and I landed and I turned on the phone and I’m sitting in my seat and I see all these things with subjects “brothel,” “brothel,” “brothel.” And I had never heard that term, I didn’t know there was a brothel law. It was just my first year, a couple of months into it. And I was looking at it, and I go “Oh my God, they figured out that they found that one of the sororities was running a brothel.” And I go, “NOOOOOO!!!” It was a nightmare, you know? And I was reading it, and I say “Oh, it’s a law.” And I was so relieved. But I was thinking “Oh my God, maybe they found a brothel.” That would be a fun week for you, Al.
Twattingworth: What was the first word that came out of your mouth when the following things happened?
Morty: Okay, let me try this.
Twattingworth: We won the Gator Bowl. And don’t be worried if it’s profane, we’re very far from a family publication.
Morty: Yeah, when we won the Gator Bowl I don’t think I had any words. I was choked up. I literally was. I was on the field. I have this picture with Kain Colter hugging me, he was wearing his shoulder pads. They don’t realize, these guys hug me and like I’m a fragile old guy. Some of them are careful, like Mike Trumpy he’s always good, some of them just crush me though. So I don’t remember saying anything. When my wife came out of the stands, literally I had tears in my eyes. I usually don’t get that emotional, especially about athletics, but it was so great. When Fitz said “Hey everybody, let’s act like we’ve been here before... BUT WE’VE NEVER BEEN HERE BEFORE!” That was great.
Twattingworth: What about when there was this really great, I don’t know if you remember but it was like a demonstration in Tech? I think it was two or three years ago. What was your first reaction to that when you heard about it.
Morty: Ooooh. I think my first reaction was ‘It’s going to be a tough couple of months.’ And I was right. That was one of my few predictions I ever got right. Boy was that a tough couple of months.
Packingham: Just in a word, what’s your favorite Native American tribe?
Morty: [nervous laughter] What’s yours?
Packingham: Stop dodging the question here.
Morty: I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
Twattingworth: We tried that same question with John Evans, and he was just not having it.
Packingham: He was like ‘I’ve got a lot of least favorites.’
Evander: Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. You must really not Google search your name a whole lot.
Twattingworth: Yeah, please don’t do that.
Morty: Well, they warned me yesterday at the table with the tour guides. I said I had this interview, and somebody asked ‘Have you ever seen those music videos?’ I said they’re a riot, this is Sherman Avenue! They said they hoped I was still here on Wednesday. But most people are pretty easy with me. I don’t think they’re trying to get me fired. And if you were trying, I hope you failed.
Evander: So you’re really not serving us with a court summons for libel?
Morty: Yes. You are under arrest. NUPD is coming.
Cubbage: We’ll see you at the general counsel’s office.