Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 21, 2022

President Daniels outlines future plans for Hopkins

By Peter Sicher | February 24, 2010

This is the second part of an interview The News-Letter held with University President Ronald Daniels

Talking Tough Issues

News-Letter(N-L): In the past there has been pressure from students for the University to officially divest its endowment from Sudan. Do you have any plans to reconsider divestment?

Ron Daniels (RD): I have not had the discussion with anyone on divestment plans . . . That's not something at the current time I've engaged.

N-L: Do you support the Amethyst Initiative [a consortium of University administrators who support rethinking the drinking age] which President William Brody signed on to shortly before he left?

RD: I think this is something — and I believe this was President Brody's position — where it is important to have debate and discussion on the laws that regulate alcohol use.
What was really important was the event that we had this past fall where we had the opportunity to discuss the issue of alcohol use on campus and the ways in which we can effectively control it.
If the purpose of signing on to the Initiative was to provoke a debate, it has succeeded. 

N-L: Do you have any specific plans to improve undergraduate life on campus?

RD: When I think about focusing on the individual's experience at Johns Hopkins, I can't help but be sensitive to undergraduate life and some of the challenges and opportunities we have.

A number of the building projects that are underway or are being proposed for the Homewood Campus are going to have a very significant impact on the undergraduate experience.

The reopening of Gilman, with the quite magnificent spaces that have been created for students, is going to be an important achievement . . .

We're not resting there. The plans that are underway [will] build the Brody Learning Commons, which will have quite exciting spaces for students groups to meet. It will be a place where students from the Homewood Campus can have casual conversations and interactions . . . That is a great project that will contribute to undergraduate life.

This past week a committee of the Board of Trustees approved plans proposed by [School of Arts and Sciences] Dean Falk for a new development that will focus on undergraduate laboratory space. This an opportunity to renew those spaces and to think about different ways of supporting the gateway courses in the sciences and promote innovation there.

These building projects will all contribute materially to the quality of the undergraduate experience but there are also other things that we are anxious to look at.
Several years ago President Brody gave a mandate to the Council for Undergraduate Education to look broadly and holistically at the undergraduate experience at Hopkins and to identify [ways] to improve that experience.

Most of those have been met over the last several years. It's probably time to go through that process again.

I am planning in the spring to establish a second council on undergraduate education. I'll give them a mandate to take stock of where we are and what we have achieved over the last decade in terms of the undergraduate experience and then to identify ways in which we can continue to strengthen our program.

N-L: What are you doing to reduce the carbon footprint and the environmental impact of an institution as large as Hopkins?

RD: Last year I received a very thoughtful and comprehensive report on sustainability. The report was engendered by a number of student leaders who felt that the University should and could do more to reduce its carbon footprint. They also considered other ways in which the University could play a leadership role in sustainability.

The task force that was charged with looking at this issue reported to me in the spring of last year. It has set out a very stirring set of recommendations.

The Deans and senior members of my administration have been working on a comprehensive response to that report and I am hoping to share our response with the community in the next couple of weeks.

Without giving away too much I think it is fair to say we will be very faithful to the recommendation of the report, which were ambitious, but I think wholly feasible with appropriate and committed leadership.

Homewood and Beyond

N-L: How seriously has Hopkins been affected by the recession?

RD: I think the recession has had a significant impact on all institutions of higher education, including Hopkins.

We see it in terms of the amount of philanthropy we are receiving, we see it changes in the demand for financial aid, we see it in the losses in endowment performance . . . All of this affects our program. We are not immune.

We also have been really blessed, however. We have a great leadership team in place. A number of critical decisions were made last year to strip costs from the budget in order to mitigate the impact of revenue losses. The University has done that in a very thoughtful and effective manner.

At the same time, we have profited enormously from the ramp up in investment that the federal government made in National Institute of Health funding under the stimulus package. Hopkins was a very significant beneficiary of those funds.

The fact that we received $160 million from NIH on top of what we normally receive underscores the role Hopkins plays in research.

Compared to other institutions that had much more serious losses or were much more dependent on endowment income, I think Hopkins has been blessed. We have been able to keep our academic mission alive during very difficult circumstances.

N-L: Hopkins is known around the world for its hospital, its medical school and its pre-med program. With that in mind, what is your take on the current debate over health care reform?

RD: Health care reform is a real priority. It is something that the leadership of Johns Hopkins Medicine has publicly committed to, and they have been very active in advising political leaders at the state and federal levels about the appropriate priorities for health care reform.

As a Canadian, I still find it hard to reconcile myself to the lack of universal health care coverage in this country. I think the level of wealth in this country — and the fact that virtually every other industrialized democracy has been able to figure out a way to provide universal and comprehensive health care coverage — suggests that we should be able to do the same here.

If the loss of the Democrats' super-majority in the Senate means the loss of this opportunity to achieve demonstrable changes in health care delivery and to crack the daunting issue of universal coverage, it will be nothing less than tragic.

Daniels in Transition

N-L: You have lost several deans and senior administrators in the last year. Has it been difficult to fill all of those positions at once?

RD: It's challenging. There are a number of important vacancies . . . I feel fortunate that Jim McGill, the senior vice president of finance and administration, who was going to retire about a year ago, agreed to give me a year and help me get acclimated to the University with [support from] his formidable expertise and background.

As challenging as it is to have to deal with all these transitions, I have been really impressed by the various high-quality candidates interested in coming to Hopkins. I think that's a real testament to the strength of the University. There is no shortage of great people who want to be here.

I'm looking forward to recruiting those people and building a strong leadership team so we can continue to build on the great foundation that has been bequeathed to us.

N-L: Do you have any plans to teach while you are here?

RD: During my first year I've focused on getting a sense of the University, understanding its complexity and working on recruiting my senior leadership team. However, I love teaching. I love being in a classroom. So I'm hoping that in the years to come I might be able to contribute to the teaching program.

I've told various colleagues from political science that if there is an opportunity where I might be able to give a guest lecture, I'd welcome the opportunity. I really do hope that I am able to get back in a classroom on some basis.

N-L: Because your background is in law, do you have any long-term plans to add a law school at Hopkins?

RD: That's not on the horizon. We are working on supporting two new schools, the School of Education and the Carey Business School, which is a lot for any institution.
Right now I want to make sure that we make good decisions for those schools and provide the guidance and support they need. I'm not looking to establish yet another school.

N-L: What do you think of Baltimore after living here for about a year now?

RD: I love Baltimore. I'm looking forward to having my wife and daughter join me in the summer and to be able to be able to explore the city with them.

I've really taken to the city and feel very comfortable here. My only regret is that because I am still commuting back and forth on many weekends to Philadelphia to be with my three kids and my wife, we haven't been able to explore the city as a family. That will come.

N-L: Is your family eventually moving to Baltimore on a permanent basis?

RD: I have three kids that are still at home. Two of my children, who are twins, are seniors in high school this year. They were understandably reluctant to move to Baltimore in their senior year, so we are commuting back and forth this year. Once they go off to college, however, my daughter and wife will join me in Nichols House.

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