In an interview with The News-Letter on May 11, University President Ronald J. Daniels discussed the development of the Ten for One strategic plan, the role of affirmative action at Hopkins, the University’s new campus in D.C. and the institution’s commitment to data science and artificial intelligence research.
The News-Letter: The Ten for One plan aims to develop new partnerships and programs to support the community and generate economic opportunity. How has Hopkins contributed to the Baltimore community in the past few years, and what does the University have planned for the future?
President Ronald J. Daniels: In the Ten by Twenty document, we identify the importance of developing deeper ties to the city of Baltimore. It’s been something that I consistently have felt has been really important for the University: to really underscore the extent to which ‘so goes Baltimore, so goes the University’. As a key stakeholder in the city, you want to be thinking in virtually every dimension of your activity: How can you do well for the University and simultaneously build and strengthen the city of which we’re part? At one level, a lot of what we've been doing has been around placemaking.
Over a number of years in East Baltimore, the University has built a stronger community there through the creation of open space and new amenities like a hotel and restaurants. I am really incredibly proud of the Henderson Hopkins School, the first new school that's been built in East Baltimore in about 25 years. That school, which started off with some challenges, now is regarded as a school with a lot of momentum and has a fabulous principal. With the population that attends the school, it's been really effective at making very substantial enhancements in the quality of performance of the kids who are there. There are also the partnerships with 10 community organizations that we have been working with for a number of years under the Homewood Community Partners Initiative to build better schools, better green spaces and other types of investments that would enhance the quality of life around this campus.
Those are all in the sort of physical space area, but on top of that, and this is something that goes back to 2015, was the decision to create HopkinsLocal. We’re the largest employer and the largest private employer in the city and state. We asked the question: What if we became more intentional [and] more thoughtful about trying to figure out how to use that spend strategically to enhance the welfare of each of the individuals and organizations associated with those activities? That led to the HopkinsLocal program, which specified clear targets around how we would spend more on procurement in Baltimore, how we would direct more of our construction spend to Baltimore-based businesses, and in particular, how we would be more intentional about recruiting people into entry-level jobs by focusing on the most distressed neighborhoods in the city with a particular opening up to the possibility of substantial recruitment of people who previously had been incarcerated. It’s 3,000 people who we've hired through that program. About $880 million of that is procurement spend, and about $300 million [of the $880 million] around construction activity was directed to Baltimore-based businesses. It didn't require anyone to spend more money than they normally would. It just required more intentionality and sensitivity to Baltimore and really trying to build that into the natural rhythms of life in the institution.
Going forward, there's more opportunity for the University to work with our partners within the city in an array of different ways. There's an increasing interest on the part of faculty and a host of different community organizations in collaborating together. We're in the process of recruiting someone who will work within the [Office of the Provost], who will look at all the ways in which we're currently doing Baltimore-based research at the University, and then take a look at whether we should consolidate the outreach of Hopkins into one office where it's easier to connect with the faculty and the groups and individuals who are interested in collaborating with us on a host of different issues in public health, education, social services and so forth to make it easier for people to take advantage of the research capabilities at the University. It's really reciprocal. It's not that one does research and one is the subject but rather together we're thinking through with the help of these partners how we do impactful community-based research.
N-L: Diversity is identified as a key value in the Ten for One draft. How is the University committed to ensuring the student body is diverse, especially in light of the upcoming [Supreme Court of the United States] decision on affirmative action?
RD: The positions that we've taken publicly are in support of the continuation of our current holistic admissions program, which considers race and ethnicity as one of a multiplicity of factors that go into our admissions decision. Over the last 10 years, the change in the fabric of our student body in terms of socioeconomic status and underrepresented minority populations is stunning, almost a doubling of percentages from where we were. We stand now so near [...] to the top of our peer group in terms of our racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. I feel really good about the way in which we've been able to construct and operate this program, and I think that the University has benefited enormously in a number of different dimensions. It's clear that if the litigation that is essentially seeking to reverse the scope of affirmative action is successful, it will have a very significant effect on our capacity to prosecute the kind of program that we have supported over the last several decades at Hopkins. I'm so proud of the levels of diversity we've been able to achieve. We have one of the most academically selective classes in the country. There's been no trade-off here between excellence and diversity. They have very clearly been aligned in a powerful way here.
We're recognizing the threat that the litigation poses to our program. We're spending a lot of time right now in various planning groups, taking a look at our admissions program and considering what we would do in a number of different scenarios. First and foremost, we're going to have to comply with the view of the Supreme Court. But as we have seen from states in various parts of the country, where essentially the scope for affirmative action has been reduced, if not completely negated, there are other ways in which one can think about developing a program that strains to bring a diverse population to the University. We stand firm in our conviction that the rich diversity of perspective, experience and background that we’ve brought to the university is a tremendous asset. We’ll obviously have to adhere to the strictures of the decision of the Supreme Court, but within the confines of that program, we will do our best to vindicate our vision of what is an appropriate and rich student body.
N-L: How will the University’s expansion into D.C. contribute to its goal of becoming a preeminent source of academic expertise for evidence-based policymaking?
RD: As we thought about the distinctive strengths of the University, Baltimore is less than an hour[’s] train ride away to [D.C.], and we're incredibly proud of our location in Baltimore. But we're also a part of the National Capital Region. We're thinking about this increasingly as a broad region. This means multiple opportunities to influence public policy formation given our proximity to the nation's capital.
First and foremost, we're excited by the School of Advanced International Studies moving into our new premises on July 1 at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. But we're also excited by all the opportunities that we have to bring other parts of the Baltimore campus to 555, so we become part of this broader region, as this broader enterprise of influencing national and international policy formulation.
We're imagining that the [Stavros Niarchos Foundation Agora Institute] will have space in the new building, and there'll be activities there that will be research-based but also opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to participate on the premises. Similarly, the [Department of Health Policy and Management] of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, which has a strong public policy orientation, will take space there.
There's a major initiative underway to focus on technology policy. We'll house faculty there as well, that will come from Baltimore, and will be located there. In each of these areas, what we're excited about is research coming into the building and being able to offer educational programs to students throughout the University. We're imagining that once we have the faculty there, there will be more opportunities for immersive experiences. I know [the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences] is thinking about intensive terms being offered in [D.C.] that will concentrate [on] a single policy area where students can be in residence for a semester in [D.C.] and take advantage of the opportunity to work with faculty who will be resident in the building, but also internships in a number of federal and not-for-profit organizations.
N-L: What informed the University’s commitment to data science and artificial intelligence (AI) research? How will the University ensure that its contributions to the field are ethical?
RD: First and foremost, the fact that we are seeing this amount of attention, particularly over the last several months once we saw ChatGPT and its capability, just underscores how important it is to study something that is this consequential for society. We have to be enhancing our capabilities here. I think there's a general sense that if, and it’s a big if, well regulated, if properly disciplined, this can constitute an important enhancement of societal capability in a number of different domains. We also know that it has to be thought through carefully. What are the ground rules? How do you actually discipline this to ensure alignment with the public interest? The focus on data science and AI was informed by a sense that this is clearly an important technology and a set of capabilities that have profound consequences and really have the ability to better the human condition. In that respect, we've got to increase the capacity we have to contribute to that kind of exploration. Our students should be able on graduation to have the capability so that they can pursue the careers that build on these avenues.
Simultaneously, given the very significant concerns that have been raised about the misuse of the technology and the risks that society faces as a consequence of the rapid development of these technologies, it's really important for the University to step up its capacity to look at precisely the ethical, the responsible, the moral exploitation, of these capabilities and how you ensure that they are congruent with the public interest. We do have people who worry about these issues currently in the University, but we need more of them because even people who have been some of the most important contributors to the development of AI, like Geoffrey Hinton, are now calling out questions about whether we've really got the guardrails in place to ensure that this is actually going to serve rather than severely compromise the public interest. For people [of] his stature to be worried about the existential character of this technology means by definition that the University has to step up its role in understanding, exploring, opining on how we actually put effective guardrails in place.