In an interview with The News-Letter on Wednesday, University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed progress on the University’s Roadmap on Diversity and Inclusion, the future of the private police force, plans for the spring and safety measures being implemented in anticipation of resuming in-person activities.
Progress on diversity and inclusion
The Roadmap to Diversity and Inclusion was drafted in early 2016 in response to demands from the Black Student Union following Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police. Last July the University announced the formation of its 2020 Task Force to review the 2016 Roadmap and develop goals for the next five years to find areas in need of improvement.
During the interview, Daniels emphasized that increasing the recruitment of underrepresented minorities was a priority of the 2020 Task Force. He stated that the University has seen a steady trend of increasing diversity among faculty and staff.
According to Daniels, in the last few years Hopkins recruited 33 faculty members through a targeted opportunity program and provided support for 37 postdoctoral fellows from underrepresented backgrounds.
“We also recognized that what we want to do is build the pool of underrepresented minorities so we can have as full a list of candidates — a list of possible people who are available not just to Hopkins but other institutions as well in feeding the next generation of faculty,” he said. “What we’re seeing is the creation of a new normal, where we are incessantly ensuring that the obligation to build and recruit from a diverse pool of candidates is becoming a well-entrenched practice.”
Black Student Union member Nene Okolo agreed that increasing faculty diversity is important to make students of color feel more represented on campus.
She recommended the 2020 Task Force to restructure the current Diversity and Inclusion workshops, which are mandatory for first-year students.
“I cannot remember much of how the workshop was run when I was a freshman, but I do not recall it being very impactful,” she said. “Having speakers come in and give personal anecdotes on their experiences with racism, as well as providing historical context to their claims, would help people understand the lasting impacts that systemic racism holds today.”
Okolo noted that she has not been made aware of any advancements made by the 2020 Task Force and suggested that the University be more proactive in communicating this information.
The future of the private police force
Daniels underscored the University’s commitment to pausing all activities related to the creation of the Johns Hopkins Police Department (JHPD), which was suspended for at least two years in June.
“This is very much formed by our belief that there is a lot happening both in the city and state in terms of a new mayoral administration coming in with public safety as a critical priority,” he said. “We expect new approaches and new ideas brought by Mayor Scott.”
He also explained that the University has no plans of reinstating the Police Accountability Board, which was created in February and suspended in August, in the near future in order to remain consistent with its goal of pausing all activities related to the JHPD.
He clarified that the University decided to pause its planning to allow time for leaders to have more clarity about information and legislation related to the JHPD.
However, Suzanne Doogan, a Baltimore resident speaking on behalf of the Coalition Against Policing by Hopkins (CAPH), attributed the University’s decision to an awareness that the JHPD lacked support from the Hopkins community. CAPH is an organization consisting of more than a dozen student and community groups.
“Admins were mindful of the summer’s energy around the Defund the Police movement, and all of the world’s recent uprisings in response to state sanctioned police violence and brutality towards Black and brown people,” she wrote. “JHU’s disconnect around positioning itself as ‘a good neighbor’ and simultaneously disavowing the community’s demands would have been readily evident.”
Following nationwide protests this summer and the announcement of the suspension, CAPH delivered a petition with more than 1,400 signatures calling for the complete dismantlement of the JHPD to Daniels’ door. As of the end of June, the petition, which Daniels has yet to publicly acknowledge, contains more than 6,000 signatures.
Doogan added that Hopkins should continue to implement the minority inclusion agreement created in 2002 that promised 8,000 new jobs and a community reinvestment fund in East Baltimore.
She called on University leaders to pay more attention to the demands of the Hopkins community.
“The University needs to listen to residents of the Middle East. The University needs to listen to students and faculty and community members who have been saying ‘no’ to the private police since even before the days of the powerful Garland Sit-In,” she wrote. “And we need to elevate Senator Jill Carter's bill that would remove JHPD and demand it be drafted.”
The Commission to Restore Trust in Policing was created in Maryland in 2018 to review the operations of the Gun Trace Task Force of the Baltimore Police Department. The Commission published its findings and recommendations on Dec. 2.
Daniels emphasized that the administration is waiting to see if Maryland will implement changes to its Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights, which governs police disciplinary processes, before deciding on the future of the JHPD.
“Because the proposed sworn force at Hopkins would be subject to that legislation and to respond to some of the concerns that critics had about the nature of the accountability, we think that it will be important in any decision that will cause us to resume the pursuit of the sworn force after the expiration of the pause period,” he said.
Plans for the spring
In early November, the University announced its plans to resume limited in-person operations in the spring while noting that the plans were subject to change until January.
Some students have voiced concern that the University will go back on its plans as it did prior to the fall semester, especially as COVID-19 cases reach new peaks in Maryland and across the country. Daniels, however, is hopeful that Hopkins will be able to reopen in the spring semester with a hybrid plan.
“We remain cautiously optimistic that we will be able to follow through on our announced plans for resumption in the spring,“ he said. “But we are also doing our best to assure the community that we are being attentive to public health trends and are of course putting the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff front and center.”
According to Daniels, the University Pandemic Academic Advisory Committee and Health Advisory Group will be reevaluating the nation’s public health situation “daily” following winter break to determine if a spring resumption of campus activities is safe and feasible.
Daniels recognized that students, faculty and staff have repeatedly called for increased communication from the administration regarding its planning. He stressed that the University will continue to email updates to its affiliates on a biweekly basis.
“We have tried to move to a much more frequent cadence of communication with as much transparency as possible about the decision that we are making and the decision-making process,” he said. “This fall we committed to communicating at least once every other week with the broader community about the spring planning process, and we have met or exceeded that schedule.”
When the student was moved completely online this fall, students received a 10% tuition reduction when the semester was moved completely online. Tuition will revert to the full amount for the spring semester.
According to Daniels, a similar tuition reduction would be likely in the case of an online-only spring semester.
“Our decision to go back to the previously-stated tuition level is predicated on the assumption that we are able to offer an on-campus experience for students,” he said. “In the worst-case scenario that we are forced to suspend the resumption of on-campus activity for the rest of the term, I feel confident in stating that the trustees would support our request to continue to keep the tuition discount in place for the remainder of the academic year.”
Should the spring semester remain hybrid, Daniels clarified that students who chose to stay home will not have a tuition reduction. However, he stated that the Office of Financial Aid will have pandemic-specific grants available for eligible students, as it did in the fall.
In an email to The News-Letter, junior Julia Burleson, who is currently living in India, wished that students had more clarity on the factors and trends that administrators evaluate while making their decisions. She described the difficulty of being in a different time zone, noting that she cannot decide whether she will return for the spring semester until the University finalizes its plans.
“If I don’t end up going back, I also need to try to find someone to sublet my room, and of course that gets harder as we get closer to the semester,” she said. “Hopkins has been great about telling us what services they plan to offer students next semester, but I wish they would be more transparent about what they are still waiting on.”
The University has been developing COVID-19 safety precautions for the spring semester with the assumption that limited in-person activities will resume. Notably, construction for the 9,000-square-foot social distancing tent on the Freshman Quad has begun, and according to Daniels, Hopkins has been expanding its capacity to administer more COVID-19 testing.
Daniels explained why the University did not provide asymptomatic testing to the many students were living off-campus in the fall semester. Regular asymptomatic testing was offered only to students living in residential buildings and a small cohort of students chosen to participate in an epidemiological surveillance monitoring the spread of COVID-19. In addition, testing was provided for students reporting COVID-19 symptoms.
“We recognize that as we move into a very different commitment and level of activity at the University, it requires us to step up the testing,” Daniels said. “Our stance in the fall was to 1) suspend our decision to resume on-campus activity and 2) to actively discourage people from coming back to Baltimore. Given that position, we thought at that time the responsible thing to do was to maintain this sample cohort and to do the formal asymptomatic, regular testing only for those students who were at residence on campus.”
Sophomore Melody Lei criticized this decision, arguing that Daniels should have been aware that many students had already planned to come back to Baltimore.
“Having to look around for somewhere to get tested and travelling to the site is not the safest,” she said. “I know so many people who have had to make up excuses to get tested. I was one of them.”
In anticipation of students returning home for winter break, Vice President of Student Health and Well-Being Kevin Shollenberger announced on Friday that limited asymptomatic testing will be available for those currently in Baltimore.
Students must register for a time slot for the testing, which will occur between Dec. 15 and Dec. 23 from 9 a.m to 4:30 p.m. outside Shriver Hall.
Corrections: The original article quoted Daniels as stating that Maryland, instead of Baltimore, has a new administration.
Another quote has been changed to reflect that, according to Daniels, the repeal of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights would be important but not determinative in whether the University decides to implement the JHPD after the two-year pause.
The News-Letter regrets these errors.