Last week, President DeGioia sat down for his annual interview with members of the student press. (The Voice‘s Emma Forster not only participated, but then transcribed the entire thing, just for you!)
The Voice: In January 2010, you said, in reference to ongoing discussion about the 2010 Campus Plan, that “it’s always a very difficult balancing act to try to recognize and understand the needs of the community with what it will take for us to be able to be successful in our mission.”
Do you think the dialogue with neighbors has deteriorated since that time? How will the University respond to further challenges from neighbors?
DeGioia: Well, it remains challenging. I’d say I’m still very hopeful and I feel very confident about the position of the University as we wrestle with these challenges. We’re engaged in very serious conversations with the leaders of our neighborhoods and we’re going to continue those in the weeks ahead. Over the course of these last few years we’ve done some really important things to strengthen the support of our students in the community and also trying to address the needs of the neighbors in the community. I mean, for our students, we’ve just tried to go as hard as we could in trying to strengthen the overall framework for safety, so you see us with the reimbursable detail with MPD that we’ve added to the mix, and that’s about safety. We’ve got the SNAP cars, which are about safety and also trying to recognize the balance in there of trying to ensure that the presence of Georgetown in the neighborhood will send signals regarding appropriate behavior that will be picked up by the rest of our student community. We’ve got two full-time folks living in the neighborhood working on our behalf trying to help establish this balancing act and mediate the differences that we have. It is a challenge; we’re not unique. The issues of the relationship of the University and its surrounding community are a challenge for all institutions. We’ve been wrestling with it for a long time. I think we bring to that the most serious purpose and intention. We take it very, very seriously. We engage it with the most care and deliberate way that we can. We recognize this balancing act between the needs for our community and our students and legitimate concerns of our neighbors and we’re just going to keep at it.
V: But in terms of the campus plan especially, are you frustrated by the manner in which community organizations like CAG and the BCA seem to have mischaracterized certain aspects of the plan?
D: I wish that seriousness of purpose would be appropriately represented in all of our conversations. But I’m also confident in how seriously we take this and how significant the leadership of Georgetown, how deeply we are engaged—folks like Dr. Olson and Jeanne Lord and Linda Greenman and our team that works with Snap and the folks that live in the neighborhood. I believe we’ll be rewarded for the seriousness with which we have taken it.
The Indy: Actually my first question was going to be about the science building; I just want to hear more about the plans and the progress.
D: Sure, sure. Well the key thing on the science building, the most important sort of catalyst, for us being able to go forward with our decision last February was receiving the grant from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology. That was for a “shovel ready” project with the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act on the Surplus Bill. Whenever anybody criticizes the Surplus Bill, just think about our Science Building. So we’re very pleased that that grant really catalyzed years of work that we’ve done. When we were facing that grant—should we accept it or not—we realized we were so close to being able to address the unresolved questions that we could really organize ourselves to get through all of those questions—we made the decision in February to go and we went right to work and we have worked through all those questions. We’re still engaged in philanthropic work to get more resources, but even if we’re not successful there, we have the capacity to build and run that building.
The biggest challenge in new construction is not always the cost for construction but the cost for operation once the building is up, so that was the work that the main campus was deeply engaged in over the course of the past couple of years—they weren’t sure they’d have the capacity to absorb those operating costs. The great news is that they are and so anything that we’re able to do in terms of increased philanthropy in terms of that project will only strengthen the financial framework in which we’re going to be operating. But that project is underway and we expect to move in two years.
The Hoya: How is Georgetown strengthening its international ties? I read that recently there was instituted a grant program implemented to strengthen ties in India; are there any other programs such as that being implemented?
D: Sure, sure. I had a couple very powerful experiences this summer that might be that might be relevant to the question. First, I had the privilege to deliver the inaugural lecture at St. Deiniol’s, which is the Gladstone Library, and I also had an opportunity to speak at the Li Kwan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, just about two weeks ago today, actually. In both cases the request was to talk about globalization at the University. I used those as an opportunity to offer my reflections about globalization, but in that context I’ve had rich experiences with my peers and colleagues to talk about some of the things we’re working on.
A couple sort of key categories: the first is our work in Doha—we’ll be moving into our new building. We now have had two graduating classes—we’re in the sixth year of the project—we have four students from Doha here studying abroad as juniors and we’re very pleased with the way in which that program has evolved. We’ll be moving into our new home there and that’s very, very exciting. We’re looking to see how our presence there can enable us to achieve even more as a global university.
We’re working very intensely in China and our office in Shanghai at Fudan University is a bridge for our faculty and students who are going to be in Shanghai. We have a very longstanding relationship with Fudan University, which is one of their top universities and we expect to continue deepening those ties with universities in China.
I’ve been invited to deliver a lecture—an important lecture—in November in New Delhi, and so I’ll use that as an opportunity to explore ongoing conversations that we’ve had with the higher education community in India regarding a potential roll that we might be able to play there and to strengthen opportunities for our students and our faculty.
Our law center continues its excellent work in establishing a new field of law in our Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London.
The most significant thing that I can say is—the driving question for us is how do we use this international character, this location, the tradition and identity of the University in ways that enable us to create ever better opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in work that, but for this global character of the institution, we wouldn’t be able to provide and to ensure that we’re also able to make the best possible contribution we can as a university to the betterment of humankind. That’s what I think ultimately globalization means for a university—enhance our ability to enhance the betterment of humankind.
I: Could you talk more about the wireless? Why did you decide to go to it now?
D: We had wanted to do it sooner; it was just a matter of resources. Remember we’re trying to do a lot of things these last few years—trying to strengthen our financial aid program, trying to strengthen our support for faculty—we’re trying to build out capital infrastructure, and we also recognize the need to enhance our technology. We just try to get these things done in the best way that we could. I think clarity regarding the science building was really important for us—that was our highest priority from a capital expense perspective. But the need for wireless was not lost on us over these last two years—I understood very clearly the importance that had for our students and so we really tried to work with as much creativity as we could—how could we meet that goal and establish that as a priority as we went forward, and I’m very pleased that we were able to do that. So we’ll be getting that done this year—that was an important check for us.
V: Speaking of priorities, considering that we have some of the most expensive on-campus housing costs of U.S. Universities—more expensive than Harvard, Yale, GWU— are you concerned decrepit state of a lot of that housing?
D: Yes. Next question. No, really though, it’s crucial. We are a residential campus… We among the most expensive schools, we recognize that and we try to allocate our resources in the most careful way possible, so we make sure that we deliver on our mission … We have been through a rather expensive renovation of some of our facilities—that doesn’t mean that we are done. We’ve done more capital expense in this decade than any decade in our history. We’re just trying to get the balance right. Again, we were working with a nearly 45-year old science building—that had a high priority for us. We had a business school located in six different locations—that was a priority for us. We needed to build new residence halls—that was a priority for us. We recognize we need to ensure the appropriate renovation of the existing residence halls—that’s a priority for us. We’re just trying to get the balance right with limited resources. The challenge for us on the cost of education is, if you saw recently, that we ranked pretty high among American universities. Our endowment is 68th. We ranked 21st, our endowment is 68th. There’s not a lot of margin for error … We attend to safety and security issues first and foremost. That’s always our first priority and then we try to wrestle with the first step. We recognize that some of our residence halls need to move up on the priority list and that’s where we’re going to spend our time next.
What the endowment reference essentially reflects, though, is that we don’t have the financial resources of our peers and that’s the challenge that we’ve always wrestled with. That means this prioritization issue is really acute here. We really have to be very careful and very precise about the choices that we’re making.
Hoya: Speaking of buildings on campus, there’s obviously a lot of unutilized space—for instance in New South, the Community Room isn’t used.
D: Yeah, that’s in need of renovation, so that’s on our project list to secure philanthropic support to renovate the building, and that will be an important project for use. We have some space which could be renovated—right now the constraint on that is cost. It’s not that we don’t view it to be important. I don’t think Dr. Olson has a more important priority right now than to secure more student space—I share that priority—I say that because he’s sitting here (chuckles). It’s a question of figuring out the financing for it—that’s the challenge.
V: Last spring, when representatives from Georgetown, Divest! met with members of the Investment Office, they were told by Chief Investment Officer Larry Kochard that there is no ethical oversight of the investments made by fund managers. This might appear to conflict with Georgetown’s core Jesuit identity. Is there in fact no system in place to ensure the University’s investments are socially responsible? And if not, should there be?
D: I believe there is. I’m not certain what Larry might have been referring to in that conversation. Lamarr Billups, a member of our team, also was in direct conversation with the folks in Divest Now last spring. Over the course of the years we’ve been pretty careful about reviewing our investment portfolio from a socially responsible perspective. We have an investment committee of our board, which is essentially responsible for our investment decisions. That’s pretty routine, so I’m not certain what you would be referring to regarding the quote that you read to me from Larry but I will say that I think the University has been pretty careful over the years regarding our investment portfolio.
Hoya: Last year there was a big outcry when the Vice President for Advancement resigned; how’s the search for a new Vice President?
D: Yes, we have an interim leader who has been in place since January and he’s been doing an outstanding job. We’ve been deeply engaged in taking our campaign forward; we’ve been in the quiet phase of the campaign. These have been challenging times at the University for anyone raising money because the global financial crisis has made philanthropy a little bit more challenging for institutions, but we’ve been moving forward with our campaign. I did I think eight or nine town hall meetings across the country this year … There we’ve held very large town meetings with alumni where the driver has been our 1789 Scholarship imperative, which is the one piece of our campaign that we’re very public about right now which is to seek additional support for financial aid scholarship; to sustain our ongoing commitment to need-blind admission and to full-need scholarship at the undergraduate level. The architect of that program before I asked him to be interim VP was Bart Moore—Bart’s just done a terrific job and I’m very comfortable right now with where we are and with the leadership he’s providing so we’re going to continue with that approach.
H: So there’s no search for a new person?
D: No, not at the present time
H: And how is the alumni response to this 1789 Scholarship?
D: Very good. We’re raised more money in the last year, last two years, for financial aid that any years in our history. We’re very pleased with the reception that we have received as relates to the 1789 Scholarship imperative. Folks recognize that this 32-year commitment—we began this program in 1978—and the commitment is that we will make our decisions about admissions without any knowledge of your financial aid requirements or what your financial aid capacity is to be able to meet the cost of your education, and then once we admit you, we work with you and your family to try and make sure the full cost can be met, and there are certain things we expect of you and your family that your parents are able to meet the maximum that the financial aid form indicates that you should be able to pay, or you could borrow the maximum under the Federal Student Loan program, and that’s generally a total of $25,000 over four years. We ask that you work on the college work study program and then during the summer we subtract the difference from the cost of education and for a little under 40% of our student body that averages out to about $25,000. We spent $70,000,000 this year on that program and the 1789 Scholarship imperative is to try to engage our philanthropic community in support of this mission, that’s how valuable it is to us. From a policy perspective, I would argue it’s the most significant policy decision we’ve ever made as a University and we’re one of a small group of institutions called the 568 Group—the “568” makes reference to an obscure federal regulation—the school’s committed to this approach to financial aid. I chair that group and remain very committed to trying to ensure that program
H: Regarding the Campus Plan, is there a clear timeline yes for the approval process?
D: The first step is that we have to submit it—we’ll submit later this fall is my expectation. By fal, I mean later fall semester—I guess fall goes to December 21st—I mean the fall; we’ll submit later this fall. We’ve got some conversations, which are yet to be had with leadership in the neighborhood. We’ve got some work to do before we submit. We’re going into these conversations with—we’re going to listen very hard to the questions that are raised. We tend to bring these back to our community and continue the conversation in the deepest way possible and if we need to make adjustments based on what we’ve learned we’ll be prepared to do so. But that would be premature for me to say [what changes we will make before submitting the plan] at this point in time.
V: You mentioned the US News and World Report rankings and our recent shift up the list. Do you still think that mostly had to do with an increased endowment or now that it’s happened do you see other factors at play?
D: I wish I could say that it had to do with our endowment—no our endowment didn’t go up enough for that to happen. The real reason for it was the weight given to the perspective of high school counselors. High school counselors ranked Georgetown sixth—which we think is the way you should go … What’s interesting is that Charles Deacon, our Dean of Admissions, has always said that he felt the rankings were unfair because people buy U.S. News and World Report because they want to make decisions regarding where they should apply for college. Well if that’s the case, then you should take into account the kinds of considerations that matter to people applying to college. And the positions of high school counselors and where they recommend students to go should be given a lot of attention. This year that was given more attention and that explains why we moved up in the rankings. We’re very pleased about it—we think that’s important to do and we’re honored we’ve gotten that increase. But I will say, and you’ll hear this from all of my peers, that it’s very hard to come up with commensurable rankings where you can take an institution like the University of California at Los Angeles and Georgetown and Penn or Harvard and put us all in the same sort of categories because we’re all so different! Different histories, different cultures, different resource bases. So, in this regard, the rankings are always a bit of a challenge. That being said, we’re very pleased that the U.S. World and News Report regarded us as 21st.
H: A complaint that many students have is the lack of transparency of the administration; for instance that the Board of Directors doesn’t publish its meeting notes online, such as GW and Penn do, or that it’s difficult to access department budgets and so on. Is that a concern that you feel is valid and if so are there any measurements that the University is taking to increase transparency?
D: Yeah, you know our financial reports are all available. You know … what I’ve experienced over the years is that we offer ways in which the community can engage in our shared project of shared governance. Universities are committed to shared governance and so, for example, the key to the sort of planning body on the main campus which impacts undergraduates is the Campus Planning Committee. That has always enjoyed pretty wide representation of the community and there really are no secrets in there—everything’s sort of lain out—I think if there’s an interest in understanding those issues at a deeper level, we can respond to that and so we have structures to do it. We certainly, I think we have a pretty strong track record of providing that kind of information to those who are engaged in the work. So my sense is we provide the structures, provide the resources for those who participate in the structures, but it’s something worth thinking more about.
H: Do you think just not enough students know about these structures? I, for instance, don’t many people who’ve heard of the campus plan committee. Do you think it’s just something that needs to be popularized more?
D: Well it’s certainly, it’s a very important part of the main campus governance and our student government and the like and we have a lot of structures for participation and maybe we can make them that much more known to everybody.
There’re also students who sit in. For instance the Student Body President always sits in on board meetings. So yeah, I think we provide the structures but I think it’s worth thinking more about. We do make a lot sort of available, maybe we can figure out how to do it in a way that’s clearer.
V: What would you say your management style is as the President of a major University? Some people have criticized you for not being as directly involved with students as other colleges and universities—so why do you think that your approach is more effective?
D: Well it always pains me when I’m described that way because I do believe that I spend an awful lot of time engaged in the student community. I could sort of turn it to one side I’d say, given what I know, how much time I spend, if it appears that I’m not spending enough time, then maybe I should consider it an honor that people would want more time. I also recognize that it may not be being offered in that way—it’s offered as a criticism. So I’m trying to understand how best to respond to that criticism knowing how much I am engaged in here.
I taught my first class of this semester this morning. I was pretty available all weekend—I got a schedule of events with students all the way through the fall. The hardest challenge in the job is the expectations of multiple constituencies, particularly when the requirements for representing the University, both in a philanthropic context and a public way require a considerable amount of travel. It’s also the case that we are a complex research university and I have responsibilities that are beyond just our undergraduate community. But I grew up in this place—for seven years I was privileged to be in the roll that Dr. [Todd] Olson is in—and I loved every minute of that. I love that level of engagement, but I guess I would describe my leadership style as one in which I try to subordinate myself to the core problems … that are blocking the success and development of the University, even if those take me to places that I’m not all that thrilled about spending my time—I know that it’s what I need to be doing for the University. If I had a choice, I’d be spending limitless amounts of time engaged in the day to day life of the community, but that wouldn’t be addressing the significant issues that are blocking some of the significant issues that you’ve asked me about, so it’s that balancing act again about trying to make sure that I focus on the most significant issues and make sure I do the things I really want to do. If I had a choice it would be a little bit different in terms of how I would be allocating my time—I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do more as we work through some of these challenges that we face, that perhaps I’ll be freed up to spend more and more time with the community…and hopefully I’ll be able to respond to some of the expectations.
H: Next year will mark the 10th year of your tenure as president.
D: I started my tenth! July one was the start of my tenth. Finished nine, I’m in my 10th.
H: Okay, so how do you evaluate your tenure so far? What have been the highlights and the lowlights?
D: That’s a long question. Let me think about it for a second. Well, I think I can only answer this question in a way very similar to the way that I answered the last question. I think what I’m pleased about over these first nine years is that I’ve been able to build a leadership team here, and I’ve been able to work with a leadership team—faculty leaders, student leaders, administrative leaders—but been able to build a leadership team that has enabled the University to address the most significant challenges that we face at this time. Those have ranged from financial challenges as a result of the global financial crisis where we’ve come out very well, to capital infrastructure needs where we’ve been able to engage in the most significant capital development of the University’s history over the last decade, these last nine years. I think we’ve raised more money in these nine years than any nine years in the University’s history. So I think what I’m proudest of is that we’ve been able to bring together the University community in a way that we focused on our most significant challenge. What’s been disappointing for me about that is focusing on those challenges in that I haven’t been able to do some of the things that I would like to do. I wasn’t able to teach every semester; I was able to engage in as many student events as I would like to. I’ve averaged 220 speeches a year for the last nine years—about that. And that’s a lot of talking—I’ve been talking to this community! So when I get the criticism that I haven’t been available, you know. But I regret that I haven’t been able to spend the time in exactly the ways that I would have preferred to in exchange for focusing on the things that I thought really required our attention. I’m going to keep working at it, hopefully get the right balance. I’m working at it right now. But that’s been probably my strongest disappointment. Thank you, you guys, welcome back.
Photo: Jackson Perry