On the record with John DeGioia: The extended edition
In today’s issue of the Voice, you’ll find excerpts from our Tuesday interview with University President John DeGioia. Due to space constraints, we couldn’t fit the entirety of our 40-minute conversation in the paper, but we’re happy to offer you the full transcript here on the blog!
Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson and Associate Vice President of Communication Julie Green Bataille were also at the meeting, so don’t be alarmed if you see them chiming in. For those who wish to skim, we’ve put some of the more interesting quotes in bold.
Voice: My first question is about the 2010 Campus Plan. Many students have expressed frustration about the new Dupont GUTS route that started in the spring, and they’ve said that they feel it’s an example of the University caving to pressure from residents. At the May 2010 Campus Plan meeting, some administrators expressed a desire to send almost all buses through the Canal Road entrance. Can you make a commitment to students to not further extend GUTS bus routes? And if not, what would you say to students who feel that the University is not defending their best interests?
DeGioia: Are we tweetering?
Voice: No, not right now, no…
DeGioia: Just kidding. I couldn’t make any commitment in the context of an interview with a newspaper, but I could say the issue of the 2010 plan is a very complex negotiation. We enter into it every decade and it usually take two or three years to get through the negotiation with our local neighbors and then with various regulatory authorities that we need to work with. And when we’re finished we have a document that guides the campus for the next decade.
The last one we did we felt enabled us to take some very important steps to develop the university community and we’ve been engaged in the most significant capital expansion in the University’s history over the last decade, so we feel very pleased about what we were able to do with the last plan.
We recognize some of the challenges with the bus routes. This has been the issue that the neighbors have made thus far the most significant issue, and we understand their concern and we’re trying to figure out how can we best accommodate… What’s the number of riders now on the GUTS program?
Todd Olson: Certainly hundreds of thousands.
DeGioia: Oh no, it’s over a million. I just wasn’t sure how many million. It’s over a million riders. And it’s an invaluable service to our community. We couldn’t be Georgetown without it. And both the Rosslyn run and the Dupont run are critical to our ability to get our community to the Metro system.
So, we recognize how important that is for us. We recognize how sensitive a topic this is for the neighbors, and we’re trying to figure out how can we come up with the most appropriate accommodation that enables us to acknowledge their legitimate concerns and our legitimate needs. And that’s what we’re wrestling with right now. It will be an ongoing conversation and discussion with our neighbors over the course of the coming months. It’s a tough one.
Hoya: How do you plan to break away from the continuous U.S. News ranking of 23rd best school in the nation, and how do you respond to being ranked lower than our institutional peers?
DeGioia: Yeah. Well, there’s one fundamental reason why we’re ranked 23 and we’re not ranked higher and that’s because, if you look at the metrics, we don’t have the financial resources of our peers. That’s not a new phenomenon, that’s history. The basic bottom line is Georgetown didn’t really begin serious philanthropic effort until the early 1980s. So while we’ve been growing at a pretty good rate relative to our peers and while we’re certainly competing at a much higher level than our peers, we recognize that improving our financial framework is a critical aspect of our future.
So in my first few years in this role we brought to closure a campaign we began at 500 million, we ended at a billion. And now we’re planning a larger campaign. More than likely, sometime in the next year we’ll go public with that campaign. That really is the means by which we have a chance to increase…
There’s two ways in which we can improve in U.S. News and World Report: They put greater value on things we think are more important. We think for example student selectivity, student interest, what counselors think, all of which we rank much, much higher, if those were given more prominence, we would be doing much better. Short of that, no change in the methodology, we have to have more funds. And so we’re seriously engaged in that philanthropic work.
The good news is this past year—the worst year in 70 in terms of the economic performance in our country—we had our greatest fundraising year in our history. We worked hard, but we weren’t sure that we would do that well. But we raised $186 million this past year and it was the greatest year in our history. Even if we take out the effects of what we’re able to count of one single gift, we still did better. It was really quite an extraordinary year. That’s the secret to cracking where we are in U.S. News & World Report.
That being said, we are in very good company at 23, so I don’t have any complaints. But, again, if you bring together some of the other criteria that could be given more prominence, we probably would be doing a little bit better.
Voice: I know progress on the Science Center stalled last year due to the credit crunch. With the economy starting to recover, do you have any new plans or new time lines?
DeGioia: Well the timeline is really driven by finance. The first thing is we’re doing everything within our capacity to move the project forward. So if you went over there, you’d see a whole and a mess. That’s the infrastructure work that’s needed. So, valuable work continues and the best indication that we are going to build that building is the fact that that work is going on, because we wouldn’t be doing that work if we weren’t going to be building that building.
There are really important steps that need to take place. Two things need to occur, and we have taken some steps to close our gap between what we’re capable of financing now and what we need to be able to do.
The first thing that we need to do is raise some more funds. So we had a certain target, we achieved our target, we now need to raise more funds … We just need to raise more money. We’re out talking with people and we’re hopeful that we’re going to be able to raise some more philanthropic dollars for the program.
We did submit a significant request through the stimulus bill. The stimulus bill made opportunities available for schools that have shovel-ready projects; we’re shovel-ready—the shovels are already working. we’re shovel-ready, so we submitted a proposal. If that goes through, that will be very helpful. A little more philanthropy, and we’re very close, i think, as it relates to having the equity we need to be able to move forward.
We do need to borrow, and the capital markets are still a little less stable than we would like. And we will need to borrow some. But the only constraint to this project right now is financing, and we can point to the exact issues that need to be resolved, if we’re able to move forward, and we want to move forward on this. It’s too important.
Hoya: Many students are frustrated by the lack facilities at Georgetown. What do you say to students who feel limited by the lack of wireless internet and the lack of housing for upperclassmen?
DeGioia: Yeah. Well I guess there are three issues embedded in what you said. One is general space, and i know that Dr. Olson is working with a group of students right now, looking at options for development. We have in our fundraising plan the New South renovation that we hope to be able to raise funds for. That will create significant students space in the old New South cafeteria.
We are trying to address issues related to recreation/athletic facilities and those also would likely play an important role in our next campaign. Completing the multi-sport facility, adding an athletic training facility, then giving us the ability to free up more space in Yates. There are a number of dominos that would address a first issue, which would be just general student space. We recognize we need more.
The wireless issue is a tough one, and that’s simply a question of prioritization of our IT needs. And again, if we had more financial resources, we would go deeper into our priorities. I think anyone who sat down with [Vice President of UIS] David Lambert and [Senior Vice President] Spiros Dimolitsas and went through the priorities, they usually come back saying, “Yeah, I guess if I were in their shoes, those would be my priorities, too.”
And they’ve tried to share those widely with colleagues and they’ve been advised by members of the University community, we’ve had outside folks come in and evaluate whether our priorities are the right ones. The bottom line is we just need more financial resources, and when we do, we’ll be able to close that gap.
Upper-class housing, that’s a new one, I think, only because we’re at 5,000 on-campus residential beds and I wasn’t aware that there was that much demand beyond what we currently have. So, we’ll have to get on that one… No, I’m just joking.
I have no doubt he [Todd Olson] is aware of it. But it’s not one that was as pressing as, say, the Science Building or athletic spaces and the like. When we build 780 new beds just five years ago, we kinda thought that was taking us pretty far. I wasn’t aware that there was a pressing need for more upperclass space.
We do require freshman and sophomore, that’s generally pretty well-received. Then, the option for juniors and seniors, the housing options, I think, are pretty attractive here. But I will say that in the Master Planning process we have looked at whether and when and how we might be able to handle another residential facility. So that’s part of the dynamic that we are exploring in the context of the Master Plan.
Voice: Could you just expand on what things are prioritized higher than wireless?
DeGioia: That I couldn’t. Spiros and David could help you with that. I will tell you, for example, this summer we moved our data center, which is sort of the heart and soul of the whole operation, we moved that to an off-site location, freeing up space in Poulton Hall. We just didn’t have the space to run it over there. It was an old hut in World War II and we were really worried about it. So we moved it to a new facility. And that I think was the highest priority.
I think there are issues related to our Banner system that guides grading, and your transcripts and all that kind of stuff. That’s in a sensitive place. Beyond that, I don’t know just what needs to be achieved for wireless to be achieved. The interest is certainly well-recognzied from the planning team.
Hoya: Many students are frightened by the string of crimes that have been linked to the “Georgetown Cuddler.” What is the University doing to increase security and to respond to students’ fears regarding the rise of crime.
DeGioia: Yeah, well that’s a great question. That’s a really important issue, and one that Todd and I have discussed twice today, at two separate engagements that we had. Let me say a few things, and I’d also ask Todd to add, because he’s really our point person in trying to work through these issues.
We’ve tried to work very closely with MPD, and we have colleagues meeting with them as we speak. The importance of close collaboration between DPS and Student Life with MPD couldn’t be more important than in the moment that we’re in. And it’s been a very cooperative and collaborative relationship and we’re very grateful to the seriousness with which MPD has taken the issues that we are concerned about.
Second, there’s a good deal of education that needs to take place. And Todd and his colleagues are working with [DPS Director] Jeff Van Slyke, [Vice President of University Safety] Rocky DelMonaco and Spiros Dimolitsas. They have been working very hard in trying to ensure appropriate levels of education regarding of safety and security.
Third, I would say that, and this is a role that Julie [Green Bataille, Associate Vice President of Communication] plays, we’re trying to do our best to ensure that we get out the information that we have as soon as we have it in a way that is sufficiently reliable from our perspective, get it out as fast as we can. So even today, we had a public service announcement, even today. So that’s from an event from today. So, that is a key element in terms of our commitment to ensuring that the community is aware of everything that we know.
And then there’s just the fact that this has been a persistent problem over the last year has been particularly problematic from our perspective. Again, much of it taking place off-campus, we’re working with MPD in that regard.
Olson: I think President DeGioia has covered the main points, I would just add that we are making a point to talk with folks from DPS, from Residence Life staff, other places today. And we’re asking for DPS officers, especially those assigned to different residential areas, to come to opening building meetings which are happening over the next two days in these upper-class areas. We have certainly emphasized points about safety in first-year buildings, in those meetings, and during NSO.
I’m going to speak to new students at the NSO Show later this afternoon, that’s one of the points I’m making there. We are continuing a campaign that was generated by student ideas a year ago, the “Bark Up” campaign, about saying something if you see suspicious activity. We believe that matters. We’re continuing that campaign.
We’re continue to make sure we have the best-organized and best-utilized late-night safety shuttles. There are hundreds of students riding those on a given weekend night. Those have been very effective, and we’re continuing that.
DPS has also ramped up its patrol presence, particularly around the edges of the campus, and they are looking at that seriously. As Doctor DeGioia said, we’re in close communication with MPD, pushing them, and they’re taking it seriously. But it is very frustrating to us that we don’t have this finally resolved. It’s very frustrating to everyone.
Bataille: I think [the PSAs] speak for themselves, in terms of getting the information to you. It’s really our main effort to get the information to the campus community as soon as we can once we’re made aware that an incident has taken place either on or off campus.
Voice: I have a related question. When there was a series of vandalism incidents during the spring semester, there was a very vocal response from the administration. There were several emails sent out condemning the actions, I believe you had a meeting with students about it. I was curious about why there hasn’t been a similar, vocal response from the administration about sexual assaults.
DeGioia: The response has been significant, as intense, as engaged. But here, the response is… They’re different categories of activity. The vandalism was specific to an individual’s ethnic/racial identity. The assaults are in a different category of behavior and require a different kind of response from us. So, we have had lots of education sessions and interventions on issues to personal safety, public safety, I think appropriate to that category of challenge. This was a different kind of challenge.
On other occasions the response to this category, I’ve gone on patrols with MPD, sort of high-profile ways of demonstrating a commitment. If that turns out to be an important way of demonstrating that commitment, we can do that. But right now the kinds of interventions that we have we think are proportionate to that kind of activity and this kind of concern.
Olson: I think that the strong traditions have been built with the R U Ready? program on sexual assault and sexual violence that has emerged over I think the last six years now and will continue again later this month is another piece of, you know, pretty clear evidence from my perspective that we organize around and make sure to educate students about that early on.
Again, the new student play in NSO touches on those themes and gives students some helpful information. The Take Back the Night program, which is supported not only by student groups, but also by our Women’s Center and other departments, is similarly focused. So I would argue that while they may not be in response to individual episodes, that the University’s voices on issues related to sexual assault have been out there and in some pretty consistent ways.
Hoya: Can you talk for a minute about Georgetown’s relationship to its neighborhood?
DeGioia: It’s fantastic, we love being in this neighborhood. But I suppose you would like to ask a more provocative question, which is it can be challenging, at times, being in this neighborhood. Back to your earlier questions regarding the Master Plan, the fact of the matter is it can be challenging to manage the relationships that exist between the University and the community because of the concerns neighbors have regarding student behavior and concerns students have regarding being singled out for disproportionate treatment.
I think the fact is that we actually do enjoy a very positive working relationship with the neighborhood. It is a constant work in progress and we have several folks who spend a good part of their lives committed to trying to ensure the best possible experience for our students living in the neighborhoods and walking through the neighborhoods and the neighbors for whom this is their home. It’s always a work in progress, it’s always challenging. But I don’t think it’s ever been better or stronger than it is right now, and that’s a great tribute to our students who truly have accepted the responsibility for citizenship in the neighborhood, to our senior colleagues, and to our neighbors who have really do engage us.
Voice: The Sustainable Endowment Institute gave us an F for Endowment Transparency this past year—
DeGioia: —they gave us some pretty good grades
Voice: They did, I think we had a B- overall. But just in terms of—
DeGioia: —I can’t comment on the F. I just think we are doing extraordinarily well in terms of our sustainability commitment. And I think you’ll see some things even this week that are new to that effort. Our website was launched, and that gives you a sense of many of the things that we’re doing. I think you’re going to see some pretty exciting events and experiences over the course of the next few months.
We have a working group here at the University and we also participate as a member of the Ivy Plus sustainability group. I participate in something that brings universities from around the world together and Spiros Dimolitsas attended this year’s meeting, it was in Switzerland in June, where we compare notes with one another regarding our commitment.
I can’t comment on that grade. All I think is we deserve better. I think if you go to the website and you spend some time with Spiros Dimolitsas and our colleagues who are responsible for the effort, I think you’d come away pretty impressed.
Voice: Yeah, I was just—
DeGioia: —The “Switch it Off” program that gets launched this week. “Switch it off and Power down.” The Science Building has been designed Silver LEED.
Voice: Yeah, I think my question is more about endowment transparency and if there are any plans to make the endowment more transparent.
DeGioia: I don’t know what that means in the context of sustainability. Our Chief Investment Officer Larry Kochard would be available to discuss the framework by which we manage. The endowment is managed by an office of the Chief Invesment Officer, Larry Kochard, and it is overseen by a committee of the Board of Directors, the Committee of Investments. And they’re responsible for ensuring the the most appropriate fiduciary responsibility to it. But I’ll have to find out what the F is all about.
Hoya: How do you feel about Dean Gillis’s plans for cross-minoring between schools?
DeGioia: I think it’s a terrific new initiative and it’s evidence of why we thought he would be such a terrific Dean of the College. I’ve heard over many years, students in the College hoping they can get access to some things that the structure didn’t provide for them. Given that virtually everyone studies in the College, the opportunity now for students in the College to be able to study across the schools I think is a terrific new development. Outstanding leadership on the part of Dean Gillis.
Voice: Some conservative Catholics have complained about Georgetown hosting figures like President Obama, Vice President Biden and more recently AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, in terms of it being a violation of the 2004 U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops “Catholics in Political Life” statement. What would your response to them be? And I know the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, which Georgetown is a member of, said they would like to see the U.S. Bishops revisit that statement. What are your feelings about that?
DeGioia: Sure. Well, What I would say is that first of all the visit of the President, I think everyone can understand the significance of having the President of the United States give an address on the economic challenge in the most difficult economic times. This is a place committed to the free exchange of ideas, and our policy on speech and expression doesn’t limit who can speak here, regardless of who the speaker is or the content or the view that they wish to express.
President Obama, Vice President Biden, if invited to this University community, we’ll protect the forum and ensure that they have the opportunity to speak here.
As far as the visit of John Sweeney, I’m honored that I’ll be able to give him an honorary degree. This is one of the great champions of working people everywhere. He’s an extraordinary labor leader, he’s at the end of his career, retiring, and I just think it’s an opportunity to recognize somebody for some extarordinary service. He’s a serious Catholic. I recognize I’m under some scrutiny for this, but my feeling is the values of this University and the values of this man are in alignment. This is a man who has championed the working class and working people for his entire career, spanning more than 50 years. I believe this is an appropriate way of recognizing that service.
Voice: And in terms of the 2004 “Catholics in Political Life” statement, do you have any feelings about it?
Hoya: How do you plan to cope with the University’s dwindling endowment, and in light of that how do you plan to draw an economically diverse student body when there’s more pressure on the Financial Aid Office and students are continually appealing?
DeGioia: We actually didn’t see a huge increase in the number of appeals. But the first thing, let me question first the premise: Dwindling? We’re up to 895! We’re not doing so bad. We’re only down 22 percent, and relative to many of our peers that’s actually very, very good. So, we’re at 895 and we’re counting on Larry Kochard helping us grow this endowment.
Now, that being said, the most significant thing we did in response to the financial crisis was to increase our financial aid budget to 18 percent this year, and a tuition growth that was the smallest in 37 years. So our 2.9 percent tuition growth and our 18 percent financial aid growth was intended to address just this concern that we thought we’d have.
The real concern we were expecting was that students who had already enrolled, who had already been at Georgetown, would present financial aid need for the first time. We are seeing some of that, just because families are being impacted in different ways. So we increased the budget rather substantially to be able to ensure access and affordability.
So we sustained our need-blind admissions policy and our need-blind financial aid policy and that, even in the face of “dwindling endowment,” even in the face of a lower endowment, we’ve been able to sustain our commitment to ensuring access and affordability. That is, ensuring access and affordability has been the driving issue in our response to the financial crisis, and, knock on wood, we’ve been pretty successful so far. That is the most important piece.
It’s important to note, too, that just because of its size, that the endowment only covers about six percent of our operating budget. We’re not quite as impacted as wealthier institutions for whom it covered a much bigger part of their operating budget.
Voice: Why do you think Georgetown was able to cope with economic downturn?
DeGioia: Outstanding leadership! … I think, truly, we identified very early, in fact in January of ’08, that we thought things were going to be difficult. There were just some early indicators in the credit markets and we just felt like we had to begin thinking very differently.
Everybody felt there was a little bit of recession, but no one knew it officially until December. But we just began earlier. We have truly in our Chief Financial Officer Chris Augostini one of the finest leaders in higher education, and he just began really wrestling with this. I think he just identified it sooner than most and began working very, very aggressively to try to ensure that we were constraining ourselves on the expense side, we were focused on the financial aid piece, we were wrestling with the implications of the credit markets and we recognized how serious this financial crisis could be.
We began working with our Board in that way in the summer of ’08. By September of ’08, our September meeting took place on the day the world ended. We were very serious about studying it, but very serious about actively engaging it in real time.
We brought together our colleagues from across the United States, well I guess not the entire U.S., but we brought together about 60 colleagues from other universities for a full-day meeting that we held jointly that I chaired, the Forum on the Future of Higher Education at the Brookings Institution. We were able to engage with a number of them in comparing notes in multiple settings, trying understand how we all would cope with this.
Chris, our Chairman of our Finance Committee of our Board, our Board leadership really engaged this very early on.
Now that being said, we don’t know where we are in this. We don’t know how long, how deep and how difficult this is going to be. So we just deal with it every day right now. We don’t consider this over yet, by any stretch.
Hoya: How do you feel about the Media Board’s sanctions of the Hoya, particularly with regard to the probation?
DeGioia: Yeah, I’m not all that familiar with the details about it. I actually read about, that wouldn’t be unusual, reports up through Todd [Olson]. I did get a briefing from Todd recently, just to understand where it would be. So I don’t actually have really a perspective on it yet. [To Olson:] Do you want to comment on it?
Olson: I would just say that, understand that these sanctions were a matter of serious concern to leaders of the Hoya. The issues that were brought to the Media Board to consider were also serious matters that the Media Board and the group that heard the appeal were very thoughtful about.
Those sanctions also appreciate the fact that the Hoya‘s leadership has been very thoughtful about suggesting some corrective actions on its own. In large part, what the Hoya was suggesting and the Media Board suggested were in alignment with each other.
Obviously the provision that delays the independence move was the exception to that. Again, that was carefully considered. We respect the decision that was reach and continue working with the Hoya in its current context for now and keep the door open for future conversations about independence, should that continue to be of interest.
Voice: There were, I believe, three working groups formed at the end of last year to address diversity issues. I believe you they would be doing work over the summer.
DeGioia: I did, I did.
Voice: I was wondering if you have any updates?
DeGioia: I haven’t got the report. I do have updates. There was some summer work done. I think everybody’s excited to be back and ready to go to work. I believe that work will continue very quickly and immediately.
I’m expecting an interim report from the three working groups by November. So I think we’ll all be following the work of these key groups over the course of the next few months. I am expecting an interim report from them.
Photo by the Voice‘s Lexie Herman.