Daniels reflects on how to improve campus culture

By RUDY MALCOM and WILL EDMONDS | December 5, 2019

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FILE PHOTO Daniels pushed for more student involvement in preventing sexual violence.

In an interview with The News-Letter on Tuesday, University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed the future Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD); the University’s response to sexual violence; the University’s fossil fuel holdings; and campus culture.

A private police force

This April, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan approved the Community Strengthening Act, a bill that will allow Hopkins to establish a private police force over a multiyear process. The month-long occupation of Garland Hall in protest of the JHPD’s creation ended on May 8  with the arrests of seven people, including four students.

According to the Community Strengthening Act, the JHPD must formalize a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) prior to its launch. The MOU will set out the terms of the JHPD’s jurisdictional and operational constraints. 

This past spring, Daniels told The News-Letter that the University expected to publicly share a full draft of the MOU for community review this fall. Daniels explained in this interview that because the University has not yet finalized the new vice president for security, a search which began following the departure of former VP for Security Melissa Hyatt in June, the MOU drafting process has been stalled.

“We think it’s important that the MOU negotiating team on the part of the University be headed by the person who ultimately is going to have the responsibility for delivering the obligations that are contemplated by the MOU,” Daniels said. “For that reason...there’s simply no activity taking place right now with respect to the MOU.”

Daniels clarified that, if the delay persists much longer, the University will seek to retain an outside consultant to aid in the MOU-drafting process.

Daniels explained that the draft of the MOU will be made public, something he argued is a step towards transparency that will set it apart from most other university police departments. 

“Most other institutions that have an MOU with their city or with their city police force don’t put those on the public record,” he said. 

Daniels stated his belief that students and community members had a right to be made aware of the intricacies of the new policing framework in Baltimore.  

“These are totally legitimate things for members of the community on and off the campus to know about, and we are anxious to specify them in some detail and then put that document out for public discussion,” Daniels said.

Under parameters set in the legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly last spring, the MOU allows JHPD to respond to calls within its jurisdiction, but BPD will maintain responsibility for most investigational work and serious crimes.

The University is currently in the process of creating the Police Accountability Board, which is intended to serve as a way for community members to share their opinions about the JHPD and its establishment directly with the University. The board is required by the Community Safety and Strengthening Act and will be comprised of five community members unaffiliated with the University and 10 Hopkins students, faculty members and staff. 

Daniels expressed a desire for the new police force to strive for transparency and equity in policing. He described the meetings that the University has held with various stakeholder groups, noting that there had been over 125. 

“A key theme that came out of those meetings was a sense of post-Black Lives Matter,” Daniels said. “People wanted to have confidence in the accountability of a proposed police force, and the traditional mechanisms of accountability that had been used in the past would not suffice in this moment, in this country.” 

Sexual Misconduct

On Oct. 15, the University released the results of its third Campus Climate Survey, which incorporated responses from 4,084 undergraduate and graduate students. For the first time, the University participated in the Association of American Universities (AAU) survey about sexual misconduct, allowing data collected at Hopkins to be compared with those of 32 other universities.

Daniels described on-campus sexual violence as a nationwide issue.

“The survey results this year indicate some modest improvement in several different areas with regards to the University’s performance, but fundamentally it’s not at the pace and it’s not at the level that we’re satisfied with,” he said. “Our performance is roughly in line with a number of institutional peers. That’s not for a moment to say that that’s acceptable.”

Forty-three percent of Climate Survey respondents believed that campus officials would conduct fair investigations, marking a decrease from last year’s 63 percent. The number is eight percent lower than this year’s AAU average.

In addition, less than 30 percent of respondents felt “very/knowledgeable” about how the University defines sexual violence, how to reach out for help or how to file a report. 

Daniels mentioned that the University has improved its counseling services and increased communications about resources such as the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE), as well as implemented required trainings, which 73 percent of faculty and 87 percent of staff have completed as of Nov. 7.

According to OIE’s second annual report, which was released the same day, 2018 saw 765 reports to OIE, an increase from the 502 reports in 2017. Daniels noted that the median time for OIE to complete a formal sexual misconduct investigation dropped from 256 days in 2017 to 148 days in the second half of 2018.

Daniels encouraged students in athletics, Greek life and student government to collaborate with University leadership in order to create a climate where sexual violence is less prevalent. 

“There has to be a firm sense that it is student leadership saying that this is not an acceptable level of misconduct and that they are as committed to reducing the level of sexual misconduct and sexual assault on campus as the University administration is,” he said.

Last December, the Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution calling for the University to reform OIE and reduce the average duration of an investigation. During the past two years, Daniels said, the University has responded to student feedback in order to improve OIE’s efficiency and practices. According to Daniels, OIE’s budget and staff have both more than doubled since 2015.

He added that the Provost’s Sexual Violence Advisory Committee (SVAC) is reviewing the results of the 2019 data. 

“We’ve asked SVAC to say, ‘In light of our progress here, what more should we be doing and what should we be doing differently?’ We welcome and indeed desperately need their guidance on how we move forward here,” Daniels said.

Based on the results of the 2018 Campus Climate survey, SVAC plans to expand bystander intervention training, which is currently mandatory for all undergraduate first-year students, to graduate students and to develop a communications campaign.

Daniels emphasized the role of students in promoting consent culture.

“Ultimately, the norms that inform and guide behavior within the University community aren’t just set by University administration alone,” he said. “It very much is a shared responsibility of all the stakeholders at the University, including student leadership.”

Divestment

Daniels mentioned that University leadership would be meeting with Refuel Our Future, an environmental activist group on campus, on Wednesday. The group held its first Fossil Fuel Friday demonstration on Nov. 15. Members stated that they would continue holding weekly demonstrations until the University fully divests from its holdings in fossil fuels. 

In December 2017, the Board of Trustees voted to divest its endowment from thermal coal three months after the Public Interest Investment Advisory Committee (PIIAC) recommended that the University divest from fossil fuels. PIIAC, a group of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff from across the University’s divisions, released these recommendations after six years of campaigning from Refuel Our Future. 

When asked whether the University would seriously consider fossil fuel divestment, Daniels explained that the Board’s decision two years ago followed a multi-year process of review, discussion and analysis. 

“This is something that commanded a fair amount of time and attention a few years ago, but to the extent that there’s a significant set of new arguments or new data that should cause a rethinking of that position, we’re listening,” he said. “But it’s going to be a high bar just given how much time that was spent on the issue a few years ago.”

Daniels emphasized the University’s plans to buy 253,000 megawatt hours of solar power per year starting in 2021 as part of its plan to reduce carbon emissions by 51 percent across all divisions by 2025. The change, announced in April, is meant to allow the University to switch to 100-percent solar power.

He also referred to the Sustainability Leadership Council, which brings together students, staff and faculty from all nine divisions to advise Provost Sunil Kumar on matters of sustainability.

Campus Culture

In the AAU 2019 Campus Climate Survey, 29.6 percent of students at institutions surveyed reported feeling “very” or “extremely” connected to campus culture. By comparison, at Hopkins specifically, only 18 percent of students feel this way. 

Daniels argued that it was misleading to compare the Hopkins data to that which is gathered at the average AAU institution due to the University’s disproportionately large number of graduate students. 

Daniels, however, agreed that more could be done to make the Hopkins community more cohesive for undergraduate and graduate students alike.

“There’s real opportunities here to strengthen the experience... and not just focus on the undergraduate campus experience but the experience of multiple student groups across multiple campuses,“ he said.

Daniels cited the Second Commission on Undergraduate Education (CUE2) and its mission to develop a new educational model for undergraduate students at Hopkins. CUE2 was convened in 2017 and co-chaired by Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Dean Beverly Wendland and Whiting School of Engineering Dean Ed Schlesinger.

Daniels explained that CUE2 has been looking into ways to reduce stress at the University for undergraduate students.

“The Commission on Undergraduate Education has been meeting for two new years now... looking at the extent to which there’s a need for some fundamental rethinking about aspects of the undergraduate curriculum and looking in particular at ways in which there are anxieties or stress levels that have been increased by virtue of the nature of the way in which we deliver the curriculum,“ he said

Some of these improvements include the development of the Student Center and the renovation of the Recreation Center, both of which will include new spaces to foster connections between students. Daniels stated that the CUE2 preliminary recommendations also called for the creation of “capstone projects” and the development of new ways for students to connect with communities outside the University.

Students in visual and performing arts groups have raised concerns about the impending destruction of the Mattin Center to make way for the Student Center. The Mattin Center currently serves as a home for the visual and performing arts on campus and hosts the Swirnow Theater. 

Daniels addressed providing resources for visual and performing arts groups following Mattin’s destruction.

“In terms of what’s being conceived for the Student Center, there’s no lack of interest in supporting arts and cultural programming. We see that as one of the important activities to nurture and celebrate on the campus,” he said. “Where anything falls, any of the activities from the various affinity groups to cultural and arts groups, where exactly they are going to land in these new projects is as of yet unclear, but the question of ‘Will they be properly supported and continued to be anchored in the community?’ — there’s no doubt they will be.”

Daniels also mentioned that the administration is considering new programs to help acclimate first-generation and low-income (FLI) students to Hopkins. 

“As the percentage of students from more financially disadvantaged backgrounds increases on campus, then we’re going to have to think about the ways that we ensure that they’re connected to the campus,” he said.

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