By Elise Harmon, news editor
In an event that drew student and adjunct faculty protest, the 2015 State of the University, while full of praise for Northeastern University (NU), expertly-shot videos and fundraising goals, was empty of constructive discussion about what the school can do to improve.
President Joseph E. Aoun’s annual speech about the status of NU filled the folding chairs and bleachers in the Cabot Center’s Solomon Court on Wednesday with hundreds of attendees.
As people waited in line to enter the building, they were greeted by about 20 protesters carrying signs that read “No Fossil Fuel Investments,” “Exxon Mobil Has a Seat on NU’s Board of Trustees” and “What is the State of the University?”
“Students representing different political interests are coming together to highlight things that Northeastern does that they find oppressive,” Alix Alto, a junior psychology and international affairs major who protested, said.
Students from DivestNU, the Husky Environment Action Team (HEAT), Socialist Alternative and Strong Women Strong Girls were among those protesting. Most held signs decrying the university’s investment in fossil fuels.
“Exactly one year ago [at the previous State of the University], Aoun announced the creation of the Social Impact Council,” Austin Williams, a junior environmental studies and political science student, said. “We still don’t have anything to show for it because of the administration’s lack of focus on the council and lack of resources given to the council.
In previous years, groups held a “Real State of Northeastern” event where they voiced their complaints, but the event was not organized this year.
Protesters sang “People Gonna Rise Like Water” and handed out fliers about DivestNU to attendees.
Once inside, the crowd passed adjunct faculty members handing out sheets with five questions for Aoun: Does Northeastern respect their adjuncts? Why won’t you value your adjuncts? Aoun makes $1 million a year, but what about adjuncts? Why have three groups of employees felt the need to unionize under Aoun’s tenure? Do you care about instruction at Northeastern?
A series of student, staff and faculty portraits from the “Faces of Northeastern” blog were projected on two giant screens inside of Solomon Court.
Among others, it quoted Feng Chang, a Ph.D. candidate graduating in 2018. “[Northeastern] is just a great place to be, especially since it’s in Boston.”
Aoun, Provost James C. Bean, Senate Agenda Committee Chair Carmen Sceppa, Student Government Association President Eric Tyler and Senior Vice President for University Advancement Diane MacGillivray all spoke at the event.
The president opened, speaking about the university’s initiative to create a new academic plan and goals to expand experiential education and become a world leader in research.
He mentioned the two Global Officers chosen at last year’s State of the University, reporting they had connected with students, alumni and researchers all over the globe. New Global Officers were not chosen this year.
“This year, we will create new venues for global engagement,” Aoun said. “So stay tuned.”
He talked about Northeastern’s plan to expand research capabilities by 2025 in all areas, and to develop experiential online learning, Ph.D. and liberal arts programs.
He then introduced Bean, who spoke about plans to create a new 10-year academic plan and a long-range plan for the future of Northeastern. The academic plan, he said, will examine what the academic model will look like in 2025. The long-range plan will detail the specific steps the university needs to take to get there.
This process will include amending the school’s mission statement, coming up with “Essences” – a series of declarative statements about what makes Northeastern special – and getting input from faculty, staff, parents, community members and students. Students can submit essence statements on Northeastern’s website.
Tyler spoke about the numerous opportunities available at Northeastern, including co-op, dialogues and research. He was the only speaker to allude to the protests outside.
“If you see a need for change or feel upset about something, attend a Town Hall meeting and speak up,” he said.
MacGillivray, the final speaker, announced that the goal of Empower, Northeastern’s fundraising campaign, would change from raising $1 billion by 2017 to $1.25 billion.
Aoun ended the event by reiterating Northeastern’s strengths.
“Character is destiny, and I believe this is true about people and about institutions,” he said. “Northeastern is unique because we alone are global, experiential and entrepreneurial. We have a unique destiny.”
As speakers, staff, faculty and students attendees filed out, they were greeted, once again, by protesters.
Photos by Scotty Schenck