U.S. Census Bureau director Robert Groves to be next Provost

Replacing outgoing Provost James O’Donnell, Professor Robert M. Groves has been named Georgetown’s next Provost and Executive Vice President, effective August 20. Groves has been the director of the U.S. Census Bureau since 2009, and prior to that he served as a professor at the University of Michigan for more than three decades.

His primary field of study, in contrast to O’Donnell’s classics background, is survey methodology. At Michigan, he was the direct of its Survey Research Center. Groves completed his master’s and doctoral work at Michigan after receiving a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth University.

“The depth and breadth of Bob’s experience and scholarship will make an extraordinary impact within our community,” President John J. DeGioia said in a statement. “We are excited to welcome his innovative leadership as we continue to strengthen our academic programs and fulfill our educational mission in Washington, D.C. and beyond.”

The choice highlights the priorities of the search process. At a town hall in January, the head of the search committee declared a commitment to Georgetown’s Jesuit identity as one of the committee’s three priorities in their considerations. Indeed, prior to Groves’ appointment, only one provost in University history was neither a Jesuit nor a Catholic. However, DeGioia’s email to the community making the announcement does not mention the University’s religious identity or Groves’ commitment to it. At the time of publication, Groves’ religious affiliation was not immediately known. The identities of the other two options the committee presented to DeGioia are unknown.

Earlier this semester, DeGioia targeted April for the completion of the search for a new provost. The August 20 start date is approximately fifty days after DeGioia’s expressed wish for the new provost to begin on July 1.

DeGioia’s complete email to the University community after the jump…

Dear Members of the Georgetown University Community:

It is with great pleasure that I announce the appointment of our new Executive Vice President and Provost, Robert M. Groves, effective August 20, 2012. Dr. Groves joins our community from the United States Census Bureau, where he has served as Director since 2009.

Dr. Groves has had a distinguished career in academia and in public service.  Prior to his nomination to the Census Bureau, Dr. Groves was a professor at the University of Michigan, where he began his service in 1975, and was director of its Survey Research Center.  He also served as research professor at the Joint Program in Survey Methodology at the University of Maryland.

In 2011, Dr. Groves was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  Dr. Groves has authored several books and numerous articles on survey methods and other topics, and his 1989 book, Survey Errors and Survey Costs, was named one of the 50 most influential books in survey research by the American Association of Public Opinion Research.

As Director of the U.S. Census Bureau he successfully led the 2010 Census, utilizing new research capabilities, technologies and overseeing a workforce of more than 700,000 to count more than 308 million Americans.

Dr. Groves earned his bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College.  He completed his master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Michigan.

I would like to express my gratitude to Wayne Davis, Professor of Philosophy and President of the Faculty Senate, all the members of the search committee for their hard work and diligence in conducting a comprehensive, nationwide search for the new leader of our Main Campus.  I would also like to once again thank James J. O’Donnell for his years of dedicated service as Provost.

Please join me in welcoming Dr. Groves to Georgetown.

You have my very best wishes.


John J. DeGioia

10 Comments on “U.S. Census Bureau director Robert Groves to be next Provost

  1. At the time of publication, Groves’ religious affiliation was not immediately known.

    The article linked below says that Groves went to New Orleans’ De La Salle High School, a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers, graduating in 1966; his wife graduated from another Catholic high school in the city, Mount Carmel Academy. Nothing is said about the religion affiliation of either, but Catholic education can be reflective of a Catholic upbringing.

    If the Voice gets a chance to interview Groves, perhaps he can be asked to say something about his religious background. It would also be interesting to hear his thoughts about Georgetown’s identity as a Jesuit university, given that he seems not to have previously attended or worked at any Jesuit institution.

  2. Cool. Exciting to have someone with a survey research background, hopefully it pays off in a more data-driven culture. Especially with Georgetown looking to expand its reach into the sciences, he might be able to speak the same language as a fellow quantitative guy. The background in government work also makes him a good bridge between the more quantitative disciplines, and some of the softer sciences. I’m happy.

    Hopefully the emails will be less…poetic…as well.

  3. I’m not sure why we should care at all about his religious background. If anything, Georgetown needs to focus less on religious initiatives and more on hard research and the sciences. It surprises me that Georgetown can afford constantly to endow new programs and professorships in religious studies, as well as build a new religious retreat center, but can only build an underwhelming new science center. Hopefully Mr. Groves will have more rational priorities, and perhaps even convince alumni to donate more toward the sciences and social sciences. -Alumn

  4. @K. R.:

    I am also an alumnus (C’ 01) and I am interested in what Dr. Groves has to say about Georgetown’s Jesuit identity. Particularly given the diminution in the number of Jesuits in positions of authority at the University – and on campus in general – I think it’s important that Georgetown seek lay administrators who understand and appreciate the heritage and mission of the University. I would also submit that the Jesuit ‘brand’ is a large part of what makes Georgetown distinctive as a university. Downplaying Georgetown’s religious identity in an attempt to be more like our perceived peer institutions is a losing proposition; dropping the Catholic piece won’t make Georgetown into another Harvard – at best, doing so would simply turn Georgetown into a generic research university without anything truly distinctive to motivate benefactors and draw prospective students in a competitive environment.

  5. Me thinks Joe is setting up a bit of a straw man with his Harvard reference. A school can maintain its Jesuit heritage while adequately investing in the sciences. A lay Georgetown may not be another Harvard, but an over-religious Georgetown that under-invests in core research and education certainly will be another second-rate Catholic university (which, with the exception of BC and ND, they all seem to be).

  6. @K. R.

    It surprises me that Georgetown can afford constantly to endow new programs and professorships in religious studies, as well as build a new religious retreat center, but can only build an underwhelming new science center.

    The key word there is “endow” – if the donors want their money to go to religious studies or a retreat center (which will not be used only for religious retreats, btw), then it’s not like that money can be re-purposed for something else. You’ll note, though, that the biggest gift thus far was specified for use on science and technology as well as religious/philosophical inquiry: http://explore.georgetown.edu/news/?ID=38485&PageTemplateID=288

    I’m curious, though – why are you underwhelmed by the science center?

  7. straw man:

    You misunderstood me if you somehow took my comment to oppose investment in the sciences. On the contrary, I strongly agree with you that Georgetown “can maintain its Jesuit heritage while adequately investing in the sciences.”

    The real ‘straw man’ here is the establishment of a false dichotomy between faith and academic excellence: anyone who thinks that a robust religious identity is incompatible with commitment to well-funded research in the sciences is quite mistaken. Indeed, in BC and ND you offered two fine examples of Catholic universities that do a fine job of combining a strong religious commitment with academic excellence.

    Georgetown needs leaders who are strongly committed both to the Jesuit identity and mission of the University as well as to providing more resources for faculty research and academic programs. I hope that Dr. Groves will prove to be that kind of leader.

  8. I don’t know that my post implies that it is okay to re-allocate alumni gifts away from specific projects. In fact, I believe I made the problem of alumni gift allocation clear when I said: “and perhaps [Groves can] even convince alumni to donate more toward the sciences and social sciences”.

    During my time at Georgetown, alumni and other funds produced: a statue of St. Ignatius in-front-of the admissions office; posters declaring abstract Jesuit values that were hung all over campus; a religious retreat center (which it is, regardless of who else can use it) far from campus. At the same time, the school built a theater that can hold only a small fraction of the student body, and announced construction of an under-funded science center. Look only down the street at GW’s new facility, which will cost over twice as much as Georgetown’s, to see why it is underwhelming (http://www.gwu.edu/give/givingopportunities/scienceengineeringhall).

    Remember, half of Georgetown is not Catholic. And among the half that is (myself included), many chose the university not for its explicit embrace of token Catholic symbols (statues, signs, retreat centers), but for its academic excellence and the priorities instilled by Georgetown’s Jesuit identity. These include actionable knowledge, intellectual openness, a dedication to social justice, and personal development. To be sure, many would have chosen CUA or Notre Dame if we wanted more than that.

    I fully agree that a school need not choose between its religious and academic responsibilities. However, a school with a small endowment and limited resources must carefully prioritization its investments. My position is that Georgetown has done an excellent job funding religious programs (both academic and spiritual), but a terrible job funding the sciences. Some may argue that, if one has a problem with Georgetown’s religious priorities, they should have gone elsewhere. I hold that Georgetown has achieved excellence because it has used its Jesuit identity to support its academic mission, rather than the other way around.


  9. Thank God, JOD is finally getting the boot! The end of a nightmare. That guy cause so much damage to Georgetown’s reputation it will take years to recover from. But at least the process has begun. Welcome, to Dr. Groves!

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