Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
June 4, 2023

President Daniels defends University policies

By KELSEY KO and ROLLIN HU | November 10, 2016


FILE PHOTO President Daniels has served in his role at the University since 2009.

In an interview with The News-Letter on Friday, University President Ronald J. Daniels addressed student concerns surrounding mental health, diversity and race, the University’s role in Baltimore and the ongoing Humanities Center conflict.

Mental Health 

Daniels offered a two-pronged approach to address mental health at Hopkins that begins with maintaining a functional Counseling Center. He noted that over the past year, the vacant positions in the Center have been filled in an effort to reduce the wait time for first appointments.

“Having a strong, responsive and effective counseling service is critical, and having students be aware of the presence and availability of those services is very important,” Daniels said. “It is important that there is no sense of stigma or embarrassment on the part of our students in accessing those services.”

Also, Daniels hopes to create a less stressful environment at Hopkins. He described the progressive efforts of the Task Force for Mental Health and Well-Being, created last spring to research the status of mental health on campus and offer policy recommendations.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing their recommendations as an opportunity to stand back and think about ways we can provide counseling support to students so that it’s not just through the prism of the Counseling Center,” Daniels said. “Rather, you’re doing things on campus to reduce anxiety, create a stronger sense of health and wellbeing and increase student resilience to the pressures, expectations and anxieties.”

Daniels will have the final decision on whether to enforce the recommendations provided by the Task Force.

“I will look very closely at them, take them seriously, and where it’s appropriate to implement the recommendations, where I feel that’s the right thing to do, we will do so,” Daniels said. “Some of the recommendations may have funding issues. It’s going to take some time to ultimately to fully implement them. But from my perspective, striking a task force of this character comes with a presumption of action.”

Diversity & Race

The University released its updated version of the Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion, last Friday. Daniels stressed that the document addresses student concerns comprehensively.

“What we thought was really important was to take the time and care to have a fulsome deliberative process and really be able to see all of the aspects of these issues of race and diversity at Hopkins,” Daniels said.

A major criticism of the previous Roadmap released last spring was the lack of University accountability for its outlined goals.

Daniels responded to these critiques by pointing to the new Roadmap’s appendix, where there is a timeline that outlines how the University’s diversity programs have progressed.

He specifically referred to the Report on Faculty Composition released earlier this fall. The report surveyed the proportion of underrepresented minorities and women faculty across the nine departmental divisions of the University. He stated that this report will be released every two years to track the changes in faculty diversity.

“If we are not making progress, it won’t take 15 years to determine that progress has not yet been made,” Daniels said. “It’ll be apparent in two years’ time and I think that our commitment to regular reporting transparency and accountability is part of the environment that we believe will be most conducive to continuing change and progress.”

He stressed that University’s Board of Trustees, the school’s highest governing body, reviewed the Roadmap on multiple occasions and endorsed its initiatives. Daniels said this increased the document’s validity and shows the University’s accountability.

Students criticized the initial Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion by pointing out that it failed to use the word “racism” when describing any of the University’s policies.

In response, Daniels acknowledged that there may indeed be some school practices, such as faculty recruitment, that are unintentionally racist.

“I think we have to be open to the possibility that there are things that we are doing that systematically impact different racial groups disproportionately,” Daniels said. “There are things that we are doing that inadvertently perpetuate disadvantage.”

Daniels added that the new Roadmap works to address these policies.

“The role of the Roadmap has been to look in a comprehensive way, [at the] things that we are doing, dealing with a number of different stakeholder groups from faculty, staff, students and ultimately the City of which we are a part and saying, ‘How can we do better in our interactions with those groups?’” Daniels said.

Students have also criticized the University’s failure to enforce a cultural competency distribution requirement, which would require students to take classes on gender, inequality and racism. This requirement was one of the Black Student Union (BSU)’s demands during their confrontation with Daniels in Nov. 2015.

While a class requirement has not yet been implemented, Daniels explained how the entire freshman class are required to attend newly designed cultural competency sessions. The Council of Undergraduate Education will look over the proposed class requirement.

“We don’t just want to look at this issue in isolation from other parts of the curriculum. This should be done in a thoughtful way, maybe in a sense that there’s other distribution requirements that should be rethought,” Daniels said. “We want to make sure that commitment dovetails with other things that we are thinking about doing with the undergraduate experience.”

The new Roadmap cites a figure reporting that approximately 60 percent of students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences (KSAS) and 25 percents of students in the Whiting School of Engineering (WSE) have taken a class that explores gender, sexuality, religion and race.

“I think the observation that there are currently a number of students taking these courses was not meant to say that this is sufficient,” Daniels said. “It’s only a way of demonstrating that we start from a foundation where there are a lot of students taking courses in these areas.”

Hopkins in Baltimore

Over the past decade, Daniels said that the University has supported the East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) in revitalizing 88 acres of East Baltimore neighborhoods fraught with vacancies, violence and unemployment. Daniels elaborated on the role of EBDI in the University’s commitment to Baltimore.

“The decision was made with the city, the state, the Annie E. Casey foundation and ultimately Johns Hopkins — to say that this is a community, that if we should think about these 88 acres holistically and try to create a rejuvenated East Baltimore community,” Daniels said.

Critics argue that EBDI has displaced previous residents from their homes in the neighborhood without providing adequate resources.

Daniels acknowledged that such relocations can be difficult and that Hopkins has considered the impacts on the families in the neighborhood. As a result, EBDI and its partners, including the University, have held 300 community meetings, provided counseling and advisory services for relocation and paid three times the value of homes to homeowners.

“EBDI did its best to do the relocation... Relocation is traumatic, even though the community had several major challenges in terms of the vacancies, the crime levels and the poverty rates,” Daniels said. “This was home for a lot of people, and so one has to be respectful of how difficult that move was, even with the substantial financial subsidies and the supports that were provided. I think this is something that we have to acknowledge as a city. These are difficult traumatic moments and decisions you don’t want to make frequently.”

The Humanities Center

The Humanities Center (HC), which is facing potential closure in the wake of its third review, has been a point of contention between the administration, the department and the student body.

Daniels defended the University’s position and stressed that the number of tenured faculty in the humanities has increased from 90 to 110 over the past several years. He separated the general study of the humanities from the HC itself and explained that the Center’s review was necessary, considering the changing times.

“It’s not about the humanities at large — it is about the fate of a distinct department that is undergoing significant intergenerational change,” Daniels said. “We just had two major retirements from that department, and it’s in that context that the Dean has thought it appropriate to stand back and ask the question of whether the department should continue to function as a department or as a center.”

Daniels defended Dean of KSAS Beverly Wendland’s efforts to re-evaluate the department.

“I am entirely comfortable with the questions that are being asked [about the HC] and I, like the Dean, have no particular commitment to any outcome that the advisory committee will come back with,” Daniels said. “I only want to see that the process runs its course and that we get back good, principled and pragmatic advice.”

Administration and Structure

Many students criticize the University’s “administrative bloat,” which they say increases tuition.

In response, Daniels agreed that University administration has grown over the years, but that much of this growth can be ascribed to an increase in student-requested services, such as more hires in the Career Center or the Office of Academic Advising.

Additionally, he pointed to the increased accountability measures that Universities face today, like Title IX requirements.

“When we say administrative growth, we’ve got to unpack it and see what is being grown,” Daniels said. “Often these are services that are, at one level, being requested by students. And these are legitimate requests that students are making, and we’re doing our best to respond to these requests. At the same time, there’s just a host of mandated compliance responsibilities that we now face that are taking up more and more of our time and energy, and that too, is reflected in the growth of administration.”

Another criticism of the University’s administration has been a trend toward centralization at the cost of departmental autonomy. Daniels responded that Hopkins still emphasizes interdepartmental communication and teamwork.

“The University is organized into schools and departments for very good reason, and one wants to be respectful of those boundaries,” Daniels said. “Having said that, I am convinced that the great universities are ones in which students and faculty can easily find their way in connecting different disciplines and perspectives.”

Daniels argued that the Bloomberg Distinguished Professorship Program is an example of how departments exercise their autonomy in selecting faculty.

“That’s not centralization — that’s a decision that only comes from faculty, from the ground up, working together to recruit someone and then ensuring we have the resources to support them. These are initiated by faculty within departments, with broad stakeholder advice, and that is linking up the University together,” Daniels said. “That doesn’t speak in any way to centralization, of a command of top down decision making. This is by definition bottom up.”

From the decision to revoke covered grades, to the potential closure of the Humanities Center, the University has often been criticized for making the argument that it is striving to be like “peer institutions.”

However, Daniels separated Hopkins from its peer institutions by arguing that the University has a comparatively smaller endowment than competing schools, which forces it to do things differently.

“You have to innovate to excellence. And that is an over hackneyed phrase but it’s really true here. You can’t just use the standard techniques or strategies of institutions that are far better endowed than we are,” he said. “In order to catapult yourself to a level of preeminence, you have to do things differently to build on our distinctive strengths and capabilities.”

Daniels pointed to the HEART and SOUL seminar-style courses as an innovation in undergraduate education that is indicative of the opportunities the University is creating to support interdisciplinary collaboration.

In one of the points in his Ten by Twenty Plan, Daniels strives to have the University’s undergraduate experience stand as one of the top 10 in the nation.

“For me, it was very important to set an aspiration for excellence — that [Hopkins] not just aim to be a good undergraduate program, but a preeminent undergraduate program, a top 10 undergraduate program,” Daniels said.

Daniels clarified that students should not take the U.S. News & World Report as the benchmark for measuring whether Hopkins is a top 10 school. He offered alternative ways in which the University has measured its “top 10” status.

“There’s a number of ways in which you can look at proxies for the University’s performance. Look at the demand for your program, look at the diversity of your class, look at the quality of the entering body, look at the rate of innovation of new courses, look at the views that students have while they’re at the University and upon graduation how they assess this experience,” Daniels said. “And of course constantly thinking about how you benchmark against peer institutions: Are you doing things differently, more imaginatively than your peers and do the students appear to appreciate that?”

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Correction: This article originally stated that the University held 300 community meetings, provided counseling and advisory services for relocation and paid three times the value of homes to homeowners. However, the University, EBDI and a number of its partners hosted these meetings.

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