Northwestern mounts ad campaign against preserving Prentice Women’s Hospital

Driving home yesterday, I heard a curious radio ad: Northwestern University wants to build a new research facility and this involves rallying people against the Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Chicago has an opportunity to become a global leader in medical research and lead the way in finding tomorrow’s cures by allowing Northwestern University to build a new state-of-the-art research center on the site of the old Prentice Women’s Hospital. The geographical positioning of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine near world-class partners – industrial, commercial, entrepreneurial and academic – provides rare opportunities for discovery that few universities can even consider.

With the new research facility, the University would attract an additional $150 million a year of new medical research dollars, create 2,000 new full-time jobs and generate an additional $390 million a year in economic activity in Chicago. The new center would attract the world’s best medical researchers and go a long way in helping a world-class city find tomorrow’s cures…

Make your voice heard! Click to submit our form to tell the Chair of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks that you oppose the proposal to landmark old Prentice Women’s Hospital and that you support Northwestern’s new medical research center…

Beyond furthering research on cures, a new facility will create more than 2,000 jobs for scientists and technicians and bring in an extra $1.5 billion in federal medical research dollars over the next decade. Learn more about why this project is vital.

Northwestern is apparently going public in their campaign to use the Prentice Women’s Hospital site. As has been reported in the local media for months, there are a number of people interested in saving the hospital designed by Bernard Goldberg. Northwestern is fighting a monied group:

Less obvious is the primary source of funding for the preservationists: the Washington-based National Trust for Historic Preservation, which put old Prentice on its list of America’s 11 most-endangered sites in 2011 and has named it one of its “national treasures.”

Christina Morris, a senior field officer in the preservation trust’s Chicago office, declined to disclose how much the trust is spending on its campaign to save Prentice.

IRS records show that the trust held about $230 million in assets at the end of 2010. That amount still paints Northwestern as a goliath. But the trust’s participation would seem to deny preservationists the label “David.”…

The preservationists — Morris, Bonnie McDonald of Landmarks Illinois, architect Gunny Harboe and Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago — hired Eric Herman, managing director of issue- and corporate-advocacy firm ASGK. He’s also a Northwestern alumnus and former Chicago Sun-Times reporter. The team has worked to poke holes in a university poll conducted via telephone, which found — not surprisingly — that nearly three-quarters of those surveyed supported putting a new medical research center on the old Prentice site.

I know there is a big decision looming but I wonder about the need to take the fight public: as the poll cited above shows, how many Chicagoans really care? How many even know what the Prentice site is, notwithstanding the Bernard Goldberg retrospective hosted last year by the Art Institute?

Sociology experiment: mixing strong academics and athletics at Northwestern

Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh suggested yesterday that Northwestern University is facing a sociology experiment by wanting strong academics and athletics:

So continued America’s fascinating sports sociology experiment in Evanston: Can a major-college sports program thrive in an environment in which winning clearly isn’t the No. 1 determinant of success? As Final Four week begins, it would behoove every basketball campus to reconsider its definitions of thrive, winning and success…

So I reached a different conclusion about Carmody but loved the way Phillips defended his. I loved the idea of a Big Ten school espousing ideals more typically found in Division III programs, of an AD taking an unpopular route by taking a stand for something noble. I can applaud a decision I wouldn’t have made because of what it symbolizes.

On one hand, Northwestern shows it recognizes the Big Ten basketball arms race by working on plans for $250 million worth of necessary facility upgrades. On the other, it stayed true to an underlying mission colleges usually ignore by keeping a coach who does things the right way…

Roll your eyes and look up Pollyannaish if you wish. But ultimately Phillips’ decision embodied the mandate for college sports programs Secretary of Education Arne Duncan outlined in a news conference on the eve of the NCAA tournament intended to remind schools of their priorities. Theoretically, Northwestern’s stance also reflected the emphasis more Big Ten and BCS-conference universities must consider in light of the NCAA linking academic progress rate with tournament eligibility beginning in 2013.

Haugh defends Northwestern’s actions in trying to do both: have high academic standards and have competitive sports programs. A few thoughts about this:

1. I’ve heard a lot of this argument at both Notre Dame and Northwestern. The situations are slightly different (Northwestern doesn’t have the past football glory of Notre Dame) but the argument generally go like this: the schools need to lower their academic standards in football and basketball if they really hope to compete for national championships. Perhaps this is right – neither school is the kind of powerhouse that brings athletes in and spits them out. But, as Haugh suggests, the schools have some different priorities.

2. These different priorities are not just tertiary concerns: Northwestern is a serious academic school (as is Notre Dame). According to the US News and World Report rankings, Northwestern is the #12 undergraduate school (Notre Dame is #19), #4 among business graduate schools, and #9 among education graduate schools (among other high rankings). So this isn’t quite a high-ranking Division III school; Northwestern is a strong academic university where there are many things going on besides athletics.

3. In other sports, Northwestern and Notre Dame can do just fine. Let’s be honest here: what is really driving these arguments is football (and maybe a little basketball). Interestingly, both Northwestern and Notre Dame are not bad at these sports but also not great. Northwestern football has been improved since the mid 1990s but they are not going to compete for a national championship. Northwestern basketball just missed the NCAA tournament but they played in perhaps the toughest conference this year and had a number of chances to make their season really memorable.

3a. If you look at the Director’s Cup rankings which account for all sports, some more academic schools do just fine. For example, look at the most recent March 22 rankings: Stanford is #1, Duke is #28, Notre Dame is #34, and Northwestern is #63. Granted, the big public schools seem to do well in these rankings across the sports but it’s not like academic schools can’t compete in other sports. For example, Northwestern has been known in recent years for two other sports: fencing and women’s lacrosse. While these are not high profile, the athletes have proven can be champions as well as high-performing athletes.

3b. I wonder at times if Northwestern isn’t lucky on this front to be located in Chicago. Since Chicago doesn’t care much about college sports, schools like Northwestern and the University of Chicago (who used to be in the Big 10 but now competes at the Division III level) don’t have to go the athletic route.

In the end, I think Northwestern will be just fine. This is a sociology experiment that doesn’t have to happen – not all colleges need to be athletic powerhouses.