In an interview with The News-Letter on Thursday, April 26, University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed his views on the proposed campus police force; the University’s response to sexual violence; resources for low-income students; and mental health.
A private police force
On March 5, the University announced its intention to create its own private police force. Shortly after, Maryland legislators began debating a bill that would authorize the University to do so.
Following the proposal, the University received backlash from students who felt that they did not have sufficient input in the decision-making process.
Some community members oppose any form of increased policing on and around campus, but Daniels challenged this view.
“Ultimately that’s something which I don’t agree with,” he said. “I think we have a serious set of security issues within the City that have to be addressed.”
On March 30, Maryland legislators decided that they would not support the bill in its current form. However, the University plans to conduct an interim study in order to update the bill to be voted on during the next legislative session.
Daniels reaffirmed his support for a private police force in the future and said that the interim study will allow for more community input. He added that the University would ensure that the private police force is well-trained and constitutional.
“We’re confident that at the end of the process, that we’ll be able to get a better framework in place that will address the concerns of the broad community with enhanced safety and security,” Daniels said.
He also stated that he was surprised by the fact that some students and community members felt that their voices were not taken into consideration when the University proposed the bill. He believes that students had significant impact on the proposed legislation.
“Although the time period was compressed, students, as well as other community members, had a very significant voice in shaping how we approached this issue,” Daniels said.
He noted that while 2018 began with a drop in violent crime in Baltimore, crime rates noticeably increased again in April.
“The calls have started up again from parents, from faculty and from students who are saying where is that? Where is the legislation? And what are you going to do in wake of the delay in consideration of the legislation until next year?” he said.
Addressing sexual violence on campus
Last week, The News-Letter published an article in which eight students shared their experiences of reporting sexual misconduct to the University’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Daniels said that while the University is working to enforce the guidelines it created in 2015, there is still room for improvement.
“We are not where we need to be. This is a work in progress,” he said.
Since 2015, Daniels said that the staff of the Office has approximately doubled, and spending increased by 60 percent. He added from 2016 to 2017, the number of filed complaints increased by 92 percent and that the University is committed to providing more investigative resources.
Daniels stressed that though the majority of cases are resolved within a 60-day window, there are some cases that extend beyond that general time frame.
“We’re anxious to reduce that time,” he said. “But we’re also insisting that this be done in a way that is going to be rigorous, fair and defensible to the University community.”
Though he believes it is important for open investigations to be resolved in a timely manner, Daniels also underscored the importance of doing so thoroughly.
“The most important thing is that we do our best to avoid mistakes or errors in the handling of these complaints, particularly with an organization that is under such intense scrutiny from the University community,” he said.
Daniels said that he is committed to working to better the process of reporting sexual misconduct to the University and that he takes the issue seriously.
“It’s not that OIE is callous or disinterested, and it’s not that we, as a University, are indifferent to the concerns about sexual assault. These are very serious concerns that we obviously take very seriously,” he said.
Accessibility for low-income students
In late March, The News-Letter published an article in which Residential Advisors (RAs) on financial aid reported that their out-of-pocket (OOP) costs, including tuition and room and board, have not decreased since they accepted their position. On the other hand, RAs who do not receive financial aid have seen a dramatic decrease in their overall OOP costs.
Daniels said that according to Vice Provost for Admissions and Financial Aid David Phillips, there is a review underway to address concerns about inequitable compensation for RAs.
He went on to talk about the American Talent Initiative (ATI), which the University joined in 2016. The ATI consists of various private and public institutions working to increase educational opportunities for students of lower socioeconomic background.
Daniels said that the ATI is a significant initiative and noted that Hopkins was one of the earlier signatories. He also explained that the ATI does not determine how each individual institution provides more opportunities to low-income students.
“The ATI sets broad goals, but ultimately it falls to the institutions that are members of the ATI to actually undertake policies and changes in practice that will allow that University to achieve the goals it has set out for itself,” he said.
Daniels also said that there has been a significant increase in financial aid at Hopkins.
“We have set a goal of increasing the number of students who are on PELL grants,” he said. “In the last year, for instance, we have moved from 13 percent to 15 percent of JHU’s 2018 freshman being eligible for PELL grant funding.”
According to Daniels, 20 percent of the students in the Class of 2022 come from families whose income is under $60,000 per year.
He also noted that the University has seen a record high in that 52 percent of the current freshman class receives a University grant. Daniels said that the average grant covers 60 percent of the total cost of attending Hopkins.
However, he added that Hopkins has more to do to assist low-income students.
“We’ve got to be more imaginative in how we reach out to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and to deal with the so-called undermatching problem,” he said. “Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds don’t tend to make their way to universities of the stature of Johns Hopkins. You have to find easier pathways to bring them to the University.”
In March 2016, Daniels convened the Task Force on Student Mental Health and Well-being, a group comprised of students, faculty and staff across the nine divisions of the University. The Task Force’s job was to look into the mental health resources available to students, review research and make recommendations on how Hopkins can improve its services.
In March 2018, the Task Force released an official report outlining challenges that students face and detailing ways that the University can improve mental health on campus.
For Daniels, the report showed that there are many issues to address and that there is no singular solution.
“The problems, as we saw from the Task Force report, are very complex and not solved by a simple fix,” he said.
He explained that increasing the mental health resources on campus requires a multifaceted approach. For example, Daniels said that Director of Athletics and Recreation Alanna Shanahan will be leading a new task force to address the physical wellness of the student body, since that is also tied to mental health. Daniels believes that a comprehensive university response entails multiple aspects.
“It requires increased awareness of mental health issues, reduced stigmatization, better services to students and, of course, better training for those people who are on the front lines with students experiencing mental health issues,” he said.