Yesterday evening, President Jack DeGioia and Vice President of Student Affairs Todd Olson sat down with campus media to answer any questions they have at the start of the 2011-2012 academic year. We would like to thank all of our commenters who responded to our call for suggestions. Be forewarned, they had a lot to say:
DeGioia: Let me say some key things that shape the way I think about things at the start of this year. First it’s [been] an extraordinary opening to this year. Just a week ago the walls were shaking here in Healy Hall, which was a first experience [for me]. My immediate reaction was, “Who was rehearsing upstairs in Gaston?” We recognize that we experienced something unprecedented. Then we anticipated the arrival of Hurricane Irene, and I felt so pleased with the way in which our whole university responded—from our emergency response team to the residence hall staff to the families who were all affected in one way or another. As you know we had to move our convocation from Sunday to Tuesday and make other adjustments along the way. But it was inspiring to watch the way in which everybody responded.
I have the chance to teach an Ignatius seminar in the College this fall, and had a chance to start this morning. I think we’re fully launched for the start of the year.
I’m welcoming a bunch of new leaders to the university at this time. I had a chance yesterday at the Mass of the Holy Spirit to welcome four of them. There’s Fr. Kevin O’Brien, who has served at the university for the last three years. He took over as Vice President for Mission and Ministry and I’m really pleased about that. Kevin’s an alum of ours. He came here during his undergraduate days so I feel we’re in very good hands in Campus Ministry with Kevin’s leadership. Fr. Joe Lingan joined us as the new head of the Georgetown Jesuit Community, and he came to us this past year from a high school from right across town where he was the principal. Fr. Lingan is a wonderful addition to our Georgetown community. Rachel Gartner joins us as our new rabbi, and she just came to campus in the last two weeks. And then there’s somebody who has been with us for a while but took on a new role as head of our Protestant ministry and that’s Rev. Bryant Oskvig.
There are others that I would like to mention. We were able to bring David Thomas as the Dean of the McDonough School of Business, and David started during the summer. Martin Iguchi, who came to us from UCLA, is the new dean of Nursing and Health Studies, and he also started this summer. Gerd Nonneman is our new dean in Doha, and he has been part of some of our campus work over the summer. He spent some time here getting to know the place and getting to know Georgetown, spending a good deal of time with Dean Lancaster in the School of Foreign Service. I think David Thomas and Martin Iguchi are very impressive leaders, and I’m just thrilled they joined our community.
We continue with the campus development. The science building continues at pace and in a year at this time, when we’re doing this interview, we could be doing it inside the new science building because it should be up by then. We finished getting wireless programming in most of our public spaces and certainly in all of our living places, and that was exciting. We continue this work of building the campus up.
This is probably a good segue to a couple of things that I think will be rather significant as we think about the coming year. Two things I would mention: One is the launch of the public phase of our Capital Campaign. We’ve been in the quiet phase for five years and we’ll be going public in October, last weekend of October, in a rather big public launch. It will be a 1.5 billion dollar campaign. We’ve done very well these first five years, so we’re pretty confident in that goal with the meeting of our board directors. The board approved the target of 1.5 billion dollars. What is particularly important are the priorities that have been established. A third of the priority for the campaign–500 million dollars–is for financial aid. Another 500 million is for faculty development and supporting and securing the resources for our faculty. Two hundred million is for infrastructure development, like the student spaces we are looking to develop. Dr. Olsen will go into much more detail about that in terms of the New South space that we hope to be able to secure the funding for. We have already secured the funding for some sacred spaces. [We have fully fundraised for] the new contemplative center; the renovation of Dalgren Chapel, we fully fundraised [as well]. Both of those projects will be able to move forward. We also have been able to create some new space for both our Jewish and Muslim communities, and hopefully we’ll be able to continue the development of spaces for them for the next year or two.
In June, our campus plan process was extended from June to November. Our next public hearing will be on November 17 and that gives us some more time this fall to address some of the issues and concerns that emerged last spring as we were going through that process. I think you’ve heard me testify and I have reported on it on a number of occasions. I believe we have carried ourselves very responsibly throughout this process, working closely for more than two years with our neighbors. [We thought the plan we came up with] was very modest in its expectations, so we have been disappointed in how it was received. We keep working on it. I think you know some of the adjustments we committed to making last April and May, but the bottom the line is we have to continue working very hard with our neighbors and with the appropriate regulatory agencies to try to ensure that we come up with a plan that will enables us to continue with our development while being respectful to the needs and concerns of our neighbors.
These are some key themes that are organizing me as we get ready for the start of this school year.
The Georgetown Voice: How will the opening of the new science center affect the sciences at Georgetown, and what steps will the university be taking to develop the science research program over the next few years?
DeGioia: The new science building was designed over the course of the past decade by our colleagues in the science [departments]. It is intended to enable us to move everybody out of Reiss and to create a state-of-the-art laboratory space and teaching space for campus science. We made a decision over the past decade that one of the goals we would have was to significantly expand the number of science faculty over the course of this next generation. If you look at [the size of our] Georgetown science faculty, relative to our peers, we are smaller. We are much larger relative to our peers in the social sciences. It’s not as if the [overall] size of our faculty is smaller than our peers’, but if you look at how we’ve distributed [the size among the different disciplines], it is different.
We recognize we don’t offer a breadth of science opportunity for our community. We also recognize that not all of our students are participating in science in the same way as others. For example, business and Foreign Service students don’t have science requirements, and part of what we’ve been wrestling with is what reasonable expectations we could have for the curriculum in those two schools. The conclusion of all of this is that we know we need to advance our work in certain areas in the sciences and we need to build the base faculty as we go forward. We’ve been trying to determine how best to manage that dual goal of ensuring that we can focus on some areas of real strategic import, and of building the basic foundations of our science program.
We’re trying some ideas right now. For example, [after] working with a number of colleagues in the sciences across the disciplines, we’ve been looking at an interdisciplinary program in environmental studies. [This may] enable us to make a contribution to issues in environmental studies while also enabling us to strengthen biology, physics, chemistry, computer science, and mathematics.
The building is needed because we need a new state-of-the-art facility. That alone is a good that we will achieve when we move everybody out of Reiss. Then we’ll come up with a plan for going in and bringing Reiss up to speed. That will be important because we’ll need that space for the ultimate expansion of our faculty.
We’re working on it right now in terms of interdisciplinary areas of potential development, which will enable us to strengthen our core disciplines. So environmental studies would be an interdisciplinary program but you’d hire biologists, chemists, and physicists to be able to [conduct those studies], so it has the dual effect of being able to strengthen both those departments.
Voice: Are there any ideas on the table for the requirements for business school students, and SFS students?
DeGioia: Well, those have been on the table. But we’re not in a position to execute on that because we don’t have capacity for it yet. It is a question that I know the schools are wrestling with.
The Hoya: An issue that has been on the minds of a lot people is our China trip with the basketball team—a sort of a diplomatic mission if you will. I guess the first question is asking for comments on the brawl, and I know you gave a beautiful address on that and I was very much impressed by that, but how do you feel that has affected how the trip was seen in the world’s eyes? How does that affect Georgetown’s relationship with China and our work over there? And if you think the trip was a success, do you think there would be something like that in the future as well?
DeGioia: I’m very, very pleased with what unfolded over the course of our visit there. I was very proud of our team. I thought they carried themselves with honor and dignity, and represented Georgetown in the best possible way. I have commented on the event: my remarks at the Consulate capture, I think, the best how I would respond to that formally. I was very pleased with how our young men responded under the circumstances they faced. I think the depth of our engagement in China is not likely to be impacted in any way. [Our relationship] goes very deep, with very strong ties to the great universities in China, as well as providing lots of training and development opportunities for senior Chinese leadership that come here to campus quite frequently. I don’t see any diminishment in that at all.
I think while the event was regrettable, I believe the way in which our young men conducted themselves brought great credit to them and to the university. If you took the whole visit into perspective, Vice President Biden came to our first game, we had difficulty in the second game, we went down and we had really good competition in games three and four, we had a group of alumni who were able to be a part of it, and our young men had a chance to have an experience of lifetime.
The NCAA allows you to take an international trip once every four years so the idea is that you stay four years, that [trip] would be a possibility. We hadn’t taken one for awhile. We haven’t taken one under Coach Thompson and I don’t remember before that. The last one I can remember was in the early 1990s. It’s been awhile. It was such a great experience for the team so I hope that we will, while working within the framework of the NCAA, fundraise to provide that opportunity for future teams. I think if you talk to the young men who went, it was quite an experience. I think they’re still trying to get used to the time difference! I was really proud of them, really proud.
Voice: I have a question about China as well. I think that this incident did bring to mind for a lot of people the oppressive nature of the Chinese government. How do you balance on one hand the university’s interest in being internationally focused and in working with Chinese universities, and on the other hand the moral values that the university was founded on?
DeGioia: If you’re going to engage in the world, you have to be willing to acknowledge that the values that you hold will not always be shared in the same way in the places that you go. You can never deny who you are, but you have to be willing to engage and understand what some of those differences are, and determine where your comfort zone is, [as well as] your ability to be there and to work under those circumstances. If we didn’t have comfort level in dealing with those differences, we probably wouldn’t be in very many places. We try to determine what is the appropriate framework for us to be engaged.
In the case of China, we’ve been working very, very closely with some great universities. Now, one of those universities is Fudan University, which is one of the top nine [universities in China]. We’ve had offices there for five years and we’ve had lots of student exchanges and lots of faculty exchanges. One of our faculty members here regularly teaches [at Fudan].
This is a university you would recognize. You would also notice some differences in terms of access to information, for example. But you would recognize the classroom, the kind of classroom experience, you recognize some of the ideas that you engage in there. I’ve the opportunity to lecture at Tsinghua University, where we also have a formal partnership. I was recently at Tsinghua in April for their 100th anniversary celebration and they invited a group of presidents from around the world to be part of it. One of my colleagues was the president of UC Berkeley. He said, “You know, for most of the last two generations, the number one provider of undergraduates into US Ph.D. programs was UC Berkeley. Now, the number one and number two providers of undergraduates to US Ph.D. programs in math, science, and engineering are Tsinghua and Peking University.” Now I haven’t validated that [laughs], but that struck me. It’s a really powerful issue. Here, coming into our country in the largest numbers of any university at the Ph.D. level are graduates of two Chinese universities. So my feeling is this is going to be part of many of our futures and we want to be engaged. We need to do it in a way that works within [the framework of] our most deeply held values. What we have found to date is that by engaging with universities and engaging with exchanges where we can share our ideas and our values, and engage with theirs, too, when we bring people over here (which we do quite frequently), we’re sharing the insights of what we’ve learned from our perspective as they wrestle with the challenges of their perspective.
Hoya: I want to touch a little more on the campus plan proceedings and town-gown relations. We’re all pretty familiar with the developments, but I wanted to get your opinion on what is the next step we are going to take. Is there a next step, and do you foresee that this is going to end in a courtroom like the last proceedings?
DeGioia: Well, as I said, we believe we’ve been very responsible and very modest in our expectations. We are very disappointed in the way we have been received in this process. We’ve already indicated some of the things that we are willing to consider beyond what we originally presented in March, or were included and we hadn’t discussed in such a public forum as we did in April and May. Among those include being able to secure off-campus space for continuing education and a good deal of the growth we were projecting was going to be continuing education.
Well, we don’t need to do that on the Hilltop. In fact it might be preferred for some of our students who are pursuing continuing studies to do it with access with the Metro subway. We’ve indicated a willingness to do that. That’s an expense for us to go and find that. This is not an insignificant investment on our part.
We think we can get about 250 to 350 beds in the Leavey Center. Now, again, this is not without a big expense to us. And we also use the Leavey Center as a hotel for our community right now so we’re going to have to come up with an adaptation for the families that would stay there on the weekends. But we do think we can get a residence hall up there. I will tell you that that would not have been our first thought, but when we began hearing some of the pressure we were hearing in April and May, we said, “Let’s go with that idea.” We’ve [come up with] some interesting approaches to it that we think would be valuable for us as a university community that we can make work, but it’s clearly under the context of a set of pressures that we certainly are feeling at this point.
I think one thing will be important: we do look to all of our community to engage responsibly in the community this fall. Georgetown is a university and Georgetown is a neighborhood. And as it relates to being a neighborhood, we have responsibilities as citizens to do our very best to sustain the quality of life in that neighborhood. I believe we perform very well in terms of our responsibility in the neighborhood, and we need to sustain that. This fall would be a good time to sustain that, and I hope we can because I think that will help us come November, when we go back in for a public hearing to demonstrate the seriousness with which our students understand and accept that responsibility.
Hoya: Do you see any path for town-gown relations to improve, or is it all downhill from here?
We’ve been here for 220 years, we’re going to be here for another 220 years. We need to be able to sustain the achievements we’re built upon and what we’ve built upon over this last decade is rather significant, and it is very important. It should not be underestimated. And I think it’s important to understand, too, that with the Georgetown that I came to as an undergraduate, we didn’t house nearly as many [people]. We housed 40 percent of what we house today. So we had less than 2,000 beds when I was an undergraduate—we had lots [of students] living in the neighborhood. But the neighborhood has changed, too. This neighborhood is that much better today than it has ever been in our history. That’s part of what we’re responding to: the expectations of that neighborhood. We’ve done a great deal of work during the last decade and we need to sustain that and build upon it and I think we can.
Voice: Last September, you and Provost O’Donnell wrote a letter to the University detailing the recommendations made by diversity initiative working groups and the proposals the University was working on addressing. What progress has been made?
DeGioia: How are we doing? I think we are doing extraordinarily well on some fronts and we still have some work to do [on others]. There are three big categories at work: admissions, student life, and academic life, and I think we’re doing exceptional work in the first two. If we look at undergraduate admissions just as an example, we had 107 African Americans in the entering class three years ago, 138 last year, and 147 this year in the entering class. [This is the result of] conscious effort, focused on what it would take for us to be that much more competitive. We’ve always been among the best among great American universities. The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education have ranked us in the top ten for best places to be an African American student and only two traditional research universities are in that top ten: Georgetown and Stanford. So I feel very good about what we’re building on, but that’s a significant increase, 107 to 147. That’s 40 out of 107–that’s almost a 40% growth over two years. And that is a conscious effort. We’ve always had very good pools. We were admitting, we had lots of students who wanted to be here, we weren’t yielding at the same level. So we were very selective as we are with everybody, we had deep pools, we had the deepest among our peer group but we weren’t yielding. Part of the reason we weren’t yielding is [that] we weren’t able to provide the kind of financial aid support commensurate with our peers, and we’ve stepped up on that. So that’s enabled us to really address the challenges around admissions. We’ve got some other things we’ve worked on as we’ve moved forward, but we’ve built on a great foundation. Todd’s done some exceptional work in student life. Would you like to say a few words about that?
Todd Olson: I would say that a couple of the major initiatives are still moving forward and gathering steam. Number one is A Different Dialogue, the intergroup dialogue that started a year and half ago and are up and are ready to roll again this fall. It has been very popular with students. We’ve done them on a variety of identity issues and topics this fall. The three groups that are already getting stronger student interest in terms of numbers that we had last year are on nationalities (US and international), race and ethnicity issues, and social class. And those have been very well received. We’ve also had diversity fellows in several offices on campus, including the Women’s Center, CMEA, and Campus Ministry. This program is where students work with offices on campus to enhance diversity programming opportunities and for students to present and be in world conferences. It’s growing from five [fellows] last year to seven this year and we’re really trying to weave these themes into opportunities for throughout our student life program.
DeGioia: The area in which we are still a work in progress is the work on academic life and the issues that were raised there. Provost O’Donnell has been overseeing a process whereby we’re exploring a range of issues including the diversity requirement [and] flagging courses. And what I would say is this: it’s moved slower than the other two categories have. That is not unusual. When we start working on curricular issues, the time horizon is much longer, because it does require such a depth of engagement of our faculty. It doesn’t lend itself to administrative intervention; it really does require deep, deep engagement of the faculty. So I think some very good people are working on some very important questions. I’d also say that in the last twelve months, we’ve added three deans in Montgomery Public Policy Institute, Dave Thomas of the business school, Iguchi in Nursing and Health Studies, all of whom will bring a different kind of perspective coming out of their own lives to these questions of diversity. I’m looking forward to the kinds of contributions they’re going to make, too.
Voice: Has there been any progress on developing an African American studies program at this point?
DeGioia: Yes, in fact we authorized the search last year for the African American studies program, and somebody has joined us. And we have three new faculty members this fall: one in English, one in history, and one in computer science that are helping us strengthen the diversity here.
Hoya: Touching on academics, are we making efforts to decrease our use of adjunct professors? There has been concern amongst students and faculty about the use of adjunct professors.
DeGioia: There are two different ways in which we use adjunct. There’s a good way and there’s a way that is resonant with your concern. The good way is … for practitioners to come in and complement our curriculum. And this is often the case in SFS and in our business school. You don’t hear too many concerns abut adjuncts because they bring such interesting perspectives. The concern is where you have adjuncts teaching course that are at the heart of our core curriculum and our general education requirements. And this I something that’s at the heart of the work that Provost O’Donnell has been engaged in over the last two years, in trying to reexamine some of the underlying fundamentals of the core curriculum. I think we share the concern of the excessive use of adjuncts in areas where you would expect our traditional faculty to be engaged. I think we’re in a place that works right now but that is something that requires constant and continuous scrutiny.
Voice: What are your thoughts on the proposals for building Healy Pub? Have you talked to any of the students or alumni who are in support of it?
DeGioia: Todd has been at the front lines of this discussion. I have not. I’ll answer it this way and I’ll ask Todd to [expand]. We have a clear recognition of the importance of enhancing student space in the university. And it’s for that reason that it’s got such a priority in the campaign where we designate a certain amount for infrastructure, and that infrastructure is really devoted to student space. The most important piece of that student space is the New South project. In terms of renovating existing space we also have a project for intercollegiate athletics, we have the contemplative center, the renovations in Dahlgren—but we recognize how crucial it is for us to deal with student space. There’s a terrific report that student leaders put together on student space, [giving] some guidance in establishing the priorities for this campaign.
We have not demonstrated in this changed environment that we can manage a pub on campus in the way that the Healy Pub characterized this campus from 1974 to 1988. I was a student from 1975 to 1979, as an undergraduate. The pub began the year before I arrived. I certainly can attest to the enjoyment that facility gave to my generation … the Healy basement was the center of campus life from 1974 to 1988. The alumni who have been enthusiastic about this project forget that in 1985 to 1986, the laws changed. When we built Leavey, we built it with a pub in mind. We put a pub in there. It just didn’t work. It didn’t work from a programming perspective and we couldn’t manage it—we couldn’t ensure we were monitoring the proper age for drinking. I recognize from our alumni community the nostalgia they have for this extraordinary experience, but I don’t think they appreciate that they were the last ones to have that experience. [A campus pub] hasn’t been the case since 1988 and that’s before most of our students were born. And I just don’t think that the Healy Pub is part of the picture for addressing student space at Georgetown.
Olson: I would just add that we very much recognize students want to gather and have fun together. The idea of gathering space where there’s food, where there may be some context of serving alcohol at some times, or there may not be, is part of what we’re talking about in New South. And clearly what’s going to be in there is not going to be the same as what the Healy Pub was, but I think it can be and very much wants to be an equally appealing place for students to gather and have fun together, and will be open late at night.
DeGioia: I think the notion of trying to catch the Healy Pub—I think this is a blast from the past, but this is not relevant, it doesn’t really fit the current context.
Olson: I think we take seriously the need to improve student gathering space and we want our students to feel welcome on campus. That’s why New South is a big priority for us and that is where we want to focus our energy and efforts.
DeGioia: The students who worked with Todd over the last two years in helping figure how best to use New South have been very attentive to the recognition that we need some flexibility to be able to do some things there that we don’t have right now. We’ll try to accommodate that but I think it’d a bridge too far to get to the Healy Pub.
Hoya: How do you feel about student life on campus right now? There are a number of student leaders who are dissatisfied with the club funding system and with the difficulties of funding within the university. I was just wondering if you were aware of it, thinking about it, and if there are steps to make it better.
Olson: I think that certainly I’ve heard some concerns about some of the SAC policies and procedures on timelines, etc. I’d also say that SAC student leaders and the staff for the Center for Student Programs have worked in a couple of ways over the last two years to streamline procedures to help create a little more flexibility. Some of those efforts to go to block funding have not been perfect, but I still think they’re a big step in the right direction. I also think that the change in the student activity fee that will generate more funds for student groups will be helpful. At the same time what I know I would say, and what I know Erika Cohen Derr would say as well, is I’m committed to continue to listen and to work through those issues. Also I have a clear sense there has been a lot of listening and a significant adjustments in how those funding mechanisms work that was aimed as addressing [previous] concerns. That’s what we’ve working on.
Voice: The issue of scholarships in the Patriot League remains unresolved with Fordham’s continued presence in the conference. Where do you stand on the issue of football scholarships, and how do you see this issue affecting the football team and other athletic teams?
DeGioia: We compete in football in the Patriot League, and we joined the Patriot League because it was consistent with the way in which we want to conduct the football program, which is a non-scholarship program. There are three tiers of football. We’re non scholarship, the next tier is the Football Championship Series, 63 scholarships from my recollection, and then I think it’s 82, and 82 is the Bowl Championship Series. We’re the least-cost program that you can offer, and this has been an ongoing issue within the Patriot League. To date, we have sustained the commitment to non-scholarship, and Fordham has gone scholarship, but they’re not eligible for the championship within the Patriot League because they’re playing by a different set of assumptions. The Patriot League has worked for us in terms of providing a very good context for our football program. It’s been very competitive and it’s required the highest level of competition that we have ever played since the 1950s, and I’m very proud of the way our young men have represented us on our football field. I am not supportive of moving to a scholarship program. I don’t believe that fits the ethos and the culture of Georgetown, and I believe the way that the Patriot League is conducted is exactly the right place for us to be, and I’m hopeful that it will continue to be the best place for us to be, but I’m not supportive of moving to a scholarship program and I’m not supportive that Georgetown would follow the move that Fordham did and go to 63 scholarships. It’s just very expensive and I don’t think it’s commensurate in who we are and in our aspirations for our athletic program.
Hoya: Over the past year and over the past summer, we’ve had an increase in crime on campus, with the number of thefts [and] with the blocks of thefts in Southwest Quad. Is the university moving to address this?
DeGioia: Every day, every day. And we’re trying to work diligently to respond to issues that have emerged here over the summer. I have great confidence in the great leadership we have responsible for public safety. We’ll work very closely with [the Metro Police Department] and we’ll expand the presence of MPD with us this fall. We started about a year and a half ago with engaging some MPD officers as part of our coverage for the university for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. We’re going to expand that this fall to seven [nights]. We did it out of a concern for safety and security and it’s worked well. Because it’s worked well, we can expand it. And I think the police officers have appreciated being part of a closer working relationship with us and we really appreciate being able to work more closely with them. We’re hopeful that the combination of the steps that our VP for Public Safety Chief Rocco DelMonaco and that our colleagues at MPD are taking, we have significantly strengthened the framework for safety. I think you saw last spring we took some steps in Village A to try to strengthen our overall commitment. Every day this is on our mind.
Photo by Julianne Deno.