Installation Address of President Ron Daniels
The Johns Hopkins University
September 8, 2009
Chairwoman Flaherty, Members of the Board of Trustees: Thank you.
Thank you for the trust and confidence that you have invested in me by inviting me to serve as the President of this magnificent University. I can think of no greater honor or privilege than to lead Johns Hopkins. On this day, I commit to you, without equivocation, that I will draw on every ounce of my being to champion our mission of education, discovery and service.
Presidents Muller, Richardson and Brody, recognizing the strengths of the foundations laid by your predecessors, you continued to build this great edifice of Johns Hopkins, demonstrating wisdom and vision as you worked. I proudly stand here as a grateful and humble beneficiary of the wonderful legacy you have bequeathed to Johns Hopkins.
To the many delegates, friends, and family in Shriver Hall, you grace us with your presence today and I am touched to see so many of you here.
Almost ten months ago to this day, the trustees of this great university elected me their 14th president.
At that time, I acknowledged that I had a lot to learn about our university –, its governance, its research, educational and clinical activities, and its organizational structure and finances. And I committed to learning the institution in all of these dimensions.
But, at the time, I also committed to something more – I committed to learning our university’s common values and history. I committed to learning our collective yearnings and dreams.
I committed to learning its soul.
Over the last several months, the soul of our university has manifested itself to me, slowly, steadily, in swatches small and large, and then, finally, in a rich and vivid tapestry that shimmers with optimism and imagination.
I have seen the soul of Johns Hopkins in the gleam of so many different colleagues’ eyes as they describe their passionate pursuit.
I have felt it in the palpable excitement that emanates from a cluster of students who have just been exposed to some new insight, some new idea in our seminar rooms, our laboratories, our clinics, and our rehearsal studios.
I have seen it in the expressions of gratitude that come so often and so movingly from patients and their families whose futures, whose very lives, have been dramatically, almost miraculously, improved through the work of our physicians and nurses.
And, I have most definitely experienced it reverberating through Homewood Field when the Blue Jays have, once again, unceremoniously dispatched a rival.
The soul of our University was defined at its creation. It is not, I believe, merely coincidental that our University, America’s first research university, was born on the eve of the young nation’s Centennial. That means that from its inception, the University was inexorably linked to the extraordinary experiment that was and is America.
Like the country of which it is part, our University was inspired by the European experience, particularly that of the University of Berlin. But it is also true that our University’s first president, Daniel Coit Gilman, and the University’s first trustees did not transplant European roots into the soil of Baltimore and simply leave them to flourish like some exotic plant.
Rather, they grafted onto them values that were distinctly American: “can-do” pragmatism, boundless optimism, lofty ambition, and brave daring.
The result was a new and robust model for higher education. Even Harvard’s President Charles Eliot acknowledged that his own university “did not thrive, until the example of Johns Hopkins…” and he said that was, “true of every other university in the land.”
Our history shows that our commitment to bold experimentation did not pass with our founding. It is at the core of who we are.
Just look at a snippet of our record.
It is at our university that the modern era of medical education and patient care was introduced under the leadership of Dean William Henry Welch and that great Canadian William Osler (you knew, I had to get that in).
It is at our university that the world’s first school of public health was conceived and given magnificent expression.
It is at our university that the seminar was introduced in this country, bringing the rigor of original research and peer evaluation to the humanities and social sciences.
It is at our university that the earliest academic programs in biomedical engineering were forged across two sponsoring schools.
And, it is at our university that the proximity fuze was perfected –an innovation that helped turned the tide of World War II in the allies’ favor.
Proud as we are of our magnificent past, our best days are yet to come.
When President Gilman delivered his inaugural address on that glorious day 133 years ago, he spoke about Johns Hopkins’ gift – at the time, the largest philanthropic bequest in U.S. history. He addressed the expectations people would naturally have of the university. He said: “It should make the authorities cautious in offering, and the public cautious in demanding a completed scheme for the establishment of a university in Baltimore.”
He thus stated the obvious—a recognition that the University was not yet complete, the University was not yet perfect.
Even 133 years later, that is still the case. This is not an admission of vulnerability or of failure.
Rather it is an expression of our bond to each other and to the world beyond that we will, we must, progress.
This progress must spring from a foundation of sustained self-assessment to see if we are succeeding in those areas that matter most. If we are not, to determine what we need to do. Otherwise we resign ourselves to the tyranny of complacency that is the insidious foe of excellence.
Can we do better? Can we be better?
Daily, in one form or another, we ask these questions — of ourselves and of each other.
We ask this of our faculty who seek to strengthen our research and teaching programs.
We ask this of our deans, directors and chairs who labor to discern our most compelling priorities, and then, in concert with others, give them full expression.
We ask this of our staff who provide critical, professional support to all dimensions of our mission.
We ask this of our students, undergraduate, graduate and professional as they work to master their chosen disciplines.
We ask it of our friends and alumni whom we hope to enlist in our mission.
And so, it is only fair that, today, you ask of me: where and how will I work with you to make our university better ?
The second part is easier than the first.
The President’s role at Johns Hopkins is not to supply pat solutions to our most demanding challenges. Rather it is to convene the conversation that allows us to shape our destiny in a way that manifests appreciation of our most sacred ideals: mutual respect, openness, and devotion to rigorous debate and analysis. And once this conversation has taken place, to ensure that we act responsibly, respectfully and vigorously on the conclusions we draw.
This is the “how”.
As for the question of “where“ we ought to focus in moving forward, I unabashedly confess that I do not offer a detailed blueprint . Instead, what I offer are three areas that I believe are worthy of our community’s earnest engagement:
First, our effectiveness in nurturing an environment that supports and celebrates individual achievement;Second, the strength of our identity as one coherent university; andThird, our commitment to the communities of which we are part.
Let me start with the simple idea: at the core of our community stands the individual.
It is our duty to create an environment that attracts the most talented faculty, students and staff. Once they are here, we must ensure that they can fully realize their promise.
For our faculty, this means an open and supportive climate in which it is clear that Johns Hopkins is simply the best place in the world to pursue discovery — not just at the start of a career, but throughout. It also means that we should expect our faculty not just to contribute to the great contemporary debates, but to define them.
For our staff, this means a workplace that respects and recognizes their achievements and contributions, and provides meaningful opportunities for professional development and growth.
And for our students, this means unparalleled opportunities for intellectual growth and achievement.
This last issue has special resonance for me. I am the son of an immigrant father. Without the transformative opportunities that higher education afforded him and his siblings, my future, and the future of my siblings and cousins, would have been starkly different.
Under each and every one of my predecessors, Johns Hopkins has expanded the depth and breadth of its financial aid resources. And, most recently, under the inspired leadership of President Emeritus Brody, we broke new ground with the Baltimore Scholars Program, which provides full tuition scholarships to students from the Baltimore City school system.
But as hard as we have worked, there is still much more for us all to do before we can be confident that the promise of equal opportunity for students of equal merit is fully realized in our community.
In the near future, I hope to be able to honor the ideals that lie at the heart of our university by being able to declare that Johns Hopkins will join the pantheon of great universities whose undergraduate programs are need blind, not need aware .
While we think about the role of each and every individual, so, too, we must consider the status of our university as a whole.
This university has been built on a foundation of great schools. Our decentralized system of governance rightly encourages each of our schools to pursue academic priorities that are tailored to local needs and interests.
This has served us well. Without the dynamism and creativity that decentralization affords, I doubt that our university would have accomplished a fraction of what it has.
But while acknowledging this record of sterling achievement, there is no denying that our identity as a university, as one university, has not received the same encouragement and succor. We must knit together a university identity, a shared vision of Johns Hopkins, that both draws upon and enriches the identity of each of our schools, the Peabody Institute and the Applied Physics Laboratory.
As academic leaders, we must respond to the deeply felt need on the part of our faculty, researchers and students to foster the collaborations that respect the discipline of the disciplines, but nevertheless allow our colleagues easier access to the ideas and energies that are distributed across our multiple campuses in the United States and abroad.
Finally, in discharging all of our various roles, we must not lose sight of the multiple communities of which we are part.
Johns Hopkins is not only at Baltimore or in Baltimore, but, we are truly and proudly of Baltimore.
This commitment to our community is manifest in so many different and profound ways — In the role that our faculty, students and staff play in our public school system. In the many contributions that our schools and health system have made to address the pressing public health needs of our city. In the energy and financial resources we have invested in the very ambitious and worthy project that is aimed at restoring our city’s east side as a safe, prosperous and vibrant community.
But there is more we can and we must do. We are an island of earned privilege in a sea of pressing need. Our ideas, our energies, our passion and optimism can contribute so much to the community of which we are part. How we galvanize our intellectual and moral strengths for the betterment of our community, and for the betterment of ourselves, stands as yet another compelling challenge that we must address.
And in rising to this challenge, let us not forget that we are not only of one community, but of many. While others have only recently awakened to the wrenching disparities of health, education, civil and political liberties that mark the developed from the developing world, our university has long understood these challenges, and has worked tirelessly and imaginatively to address them throughout the world.
There is still so much more to do.
Recall President Gilman’s evocative words: Cautious in offering. Cautious in demanding. But our university has never been cautious about doing. About learning. About innovating. About sharing. About healing.
And that, my friends, is the soul of our University.