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Northwestern president faces calls for resignation as students push to abolish campus police

Students have held protests since Oct.12 demanding the school disband its police. In response, Northwestern president Morton Schapiro accused students of anti-Semitism.

Northwestern protesters have demanded the school abolish the campus police department.
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Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro faced additional condemnation Friday amid calls for his resignation after he criticized student protesters and accused them of anti-Semitism after demonstrations demanding the disbandment of the school’s police force.

The calls began earlier in the week after Schapiro, Northwestern’s leader since 2009, wrote a letter saying protesters should be “ashamed” of using an anti-Semitic trope by calling him “piggy Morty.” In the letter, he called protesters “disgraceful” and said the school had “absolutely no intention” of abolishing its police force.

In response, undergraduate and graduate student activists, the African-American Studies department and a coalition of Jewish faculty and alumni each said Schapiro’s letter used “coded” racist language and made false accusations of anti-Semitism. #ResignMorty trended on Twitter. Faculty in the political science, Asian studies and Latina and Latino studies departments also criticized the president in letters Friday.

At a university “Community Dialogue” over Zoom on Tuesday, Schapiro responded to calls for his resignation and letters accusing him of racism. “It’s disgusting, it’s disgraceful. I absolutely stand by exactly what I said,” he said.

A Northwestern student group, Community Not Cops, began a campaign more than six months ago to disband the campus police, cut ties with Evanston police and invest in “institutions that serve Black students’ wellbeing.” An accompanying petition has more than 8,000 signatures. Students say the school has not adequately responded to their demands.

Organizers cite an analysis by two undergraduate students of data released by Northwestern police between 2016 and 2019 that found that Black students are four times as likely to be stopped by the school police than whites. Organizers also say there have been many times when Evanston police used excessive force against Black Northwestern students.

Students say the roughly $1 million police budget could be used to improve emotional and physical security for Black students through other support services, while administrators question how “law and order” would be enforced without school police.

Since June, the group has held dozens of protests, culminating in daily marches featuring hundreds of students beginning Oct. 12. During the protests, phrases such as “abolish Northwestern,” “abolish police,” and “ F- - - you Morty” have been spray-painted on sidewalks, buildings and across Schapiro’s sidewalk.

“President Schapiro is weaponizing his authority to wrongfully depict Black and Brown students as violent,” the student group wrote in a statement to the Sun-Times. “It is disheartening but unsurprising that after weeks, months, and even years of Black student activism, it was graffiti and disrupted sleep that broke Morty’s silence.”

Student activists apologized to Jewish community members who might have been harmed by their language, but added that “pig” was used colloquially to refer to police.

“You have made it clear that you will only use the power of your office to ‘shame’ and thereby control dissent,” wrote members of the African-American Studies department, who condemned Schapiro’s leadership.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro is seen in this 2014 file photo.
Sun-Times Media Joe Cyganowski|

In the Zoom meeting, Schapiro said students and faculty didn’t understand his letter and mischaracterized him as a person and leader.

He said top school officials have “have held numerous discussions with concerned students, faculty and staff,” but he believes the protests have gone too far.

“When students and other participants are vandalizing property, lighting fires and spray-painting phrases such as ‘kill the pigs,’ we have moved well past legitimate forms of free speech,” he wrote in his letter. “ ... I remain as open and willing as ever to speak to any member of the Northwestern family who has concerns about the safety of this campus and everyone who is part of it. But I refuse to engage with individuals who continue to use the tactics of intimidation and violence.”

Northwestern’s administration declined to respond to the demands that Schapiro resign.

Protesters returned this week to Schapiro’s home after last weekend’s protest, marched on campus and also demonstrated outside Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty’s home — all without incident. Students say they won’t stop marching until the university commits to abolishing campus police.

Northwestern student-athletes joined in by releasing a video titled “If you cheer us, hear us,” calling on the school to listen to Black students.