Johns Hopkins University Leadership Summit

Remarks by President Ronald J. Daniels
Johns Hopkins University Leadership Summit
Grand Ballroom, Four Seasons, Baltimore

As prepared

It’s wonderful to be here with you and to have everyone here today.

I know that this will be a productive and stimulating day for all of us and I am grateful to each of you for your willingness to invest your time and thought, not only in the present of our University, but its future.
Defining Innovation at Hopkins

Innovation is the word of the moment.

If you Google “innovation” you get over 100 million results.

BuzzFeed devotes a whole page to Innovation and it includes, remarkably, not one list about inventive cats.

On Twitter, the innovation hashtag reached 2.8 million people through over 1500 tweets – this week.

That’s why I’m delighted that Johns Hopkins was 138 years ahead of the curve.

Innovation is quite literally in our institutional DNA.

A bold act of innovation launched this experiment in Baltimore, creating the American research university now emulated around the world.

And like so many creative disruptions it was a collaborative effort. Ignited by Johns Hopkins’ unprecedented philanthropy, the University and Hospital were given life by this remarkable gift that came with no blueprint, just aspirations. Johns Hopkins laid out a vision that others, in consultation and even in conflict, fleshed out over years.

Those visionaries were the citizens of Baltimore who served as our first trustees, who turned Johns Hopkins hopes and dreams into a thriving institution.

They were the founding four doctors, who brought cutting-edge ideas, technologies, and techniques to their practice, and who reimagined medical education, uniting research, patient care, and teaching.

They were our great supporters and visionary philanthropists, like Mary Elizabeth Garrett and her colleagues in the Women’s Medical School Fund, who innovated once again, insisting that we lead in opening medical education to women.

They were the early professoriate, which launched new disciplines, and with their wide-ranging curiosity transcended the boundaries of the disciplines they helped create.

In some sense, we carry a weighty legacy with us – one that might seem daunting to live up to.

Yet, 138 years from that early act of creation, we are, on a daily basis, affirming and requiting that legacy.

Across our University, we are harnessing the same restless energy to meet our most pressing challenges.

And as we look ahead to meeting our aspirations for the next decade outlined in the Ten by Twenty and embedded in the Rising to the Challenge campaign, we are doing the hard work of innovating to meet them.
The University Today – Challenges

Of course, as we strive to keep the compact of serving our world, we recognize that our aims are unfolding against a landscape of serious challenges for institutions of higher education.

Here, I’d like to step back a bit to set the stage and consider the impact of universities and higher education writ large.

I know I speak to the choir in this room. You are here because you believe in Johns Hopkins and, more broadly, in the mission of research, education, service, and patient care that we exemplify.

You know the arguments about the University as our core social institution, one that fuels the human capital economy and an indisputable driver of discovery.

Practically everywhere in the world, there has been a positive correlation between rising income and enrollment in post-secondary education.

One study shows that an additional year of average university level education in a country raises national output by a remarkable 19%, while the United States’ National Center for Education Statistics reports that young adults with a bachelor’s degree consistently had higher median earnings than those with less education.

And there is no question that the American research university has been an extraordinary force in discovery and technological advancement in the United States and, indeed, around the globe. As Jonathan Cole, former provost at Columbia University and a scholar of the research University described it, “perhaps as many as 80% of new industries are derived from discoveries at American universities.”

Yet despite the compelling evidence of benefits accrued to individuals and society through higher education, the pressures on universities have intensified.

Our governments have been dis-investing in this sector.

We’re seeing this manifest in a number of ways – retrenchment in state funding for higher education, public universities are suffering mightily due to pressures on Pell Grants – but for a place like Johns Hopkins University, we see this most starkly in the steady retreat from the funding of our research regime. NIH funding contracted over 20% in real terms over the past decade. And the impact of these cuts in research funding is particularly acute for young scientists – those under 36 – who are looking to launch their research careers, but increasingly cannot land their first NIH grants.

And all this is occurring against the backdrop of serious concerns about rising tuition. For context, median family income rose 147 percent from 1982 to 2007, while tuition and fees rose 439 percent. At Hopkins, we can tell a different story. Over the past five years, we have increased tuition and fees by 20%, while the undergraduate financial aid budget has increased by nearly 50% over the same time frame.

The answer to diminishing resources in one arena cannot be solely to raise tuition. And we know that in order to continue to attract the best students we have to offer them an attainable and affordable education.

Meanwhile, we are experiencing seismic shifts in the higher education landscape.

We are witnessing the transformative impact of digital technologies on University teaching and research.

We are facing the imperative of cross-disciplinary collaboration as we look to address complex global problems – from water security and safety to economic destabilization – that defy single-pronged solutions.

And, as an anchor institution in an urban center, we are, like so many of our peers, playing an increasingly engaged and, I believe, imaginative role as convener, supporter and agitator for change in our cities.

So the questions are: In a setting where higher education has been involved in such great change, how do we respond? Does lasting change occur because it is spurred from the top down or generated from bottom up?

And the answer is, of course, it’s both.
Leading through Change

Here is where I return to Johns Hopkins great legacy.

The great strength of our University is our spirit of entrepreneurialism.

This spirit is allowing us to lead through change.

It is fueling our work together – as university and volunteer leaders, administrators and faculty, staff and students, – to reduce barriers and increase support for innovative thinking on the one hand, and, on the other, to inspire and ignite new approaches to challenges we are rising to meet.

This is taking shape in myriad ways across our University. This morning, allow me to touch on but a few. Of course, there are hundreds more examples.
The Work Underway

Transformations in education – undergraduate and graduate education advancement

Consider first education at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. As part of the 10×20, we made a commitment to answering the needs of our students to be truly competitive in the 21st Century. To do so, requires a willingness to reimagine some of the basic tenets of our approaches in terms of pedagogy and outcomes.

And we are doing just that through our Gateway Sciences Initiative.

Even at a place like Johns Hopkins, renowned for producing future generations of talented scientists and clinicians, we were losing the war of attrition in our foundational science courses. So we took a probing look at the changes required to revamp curriculum that was increasingly inflexible and out of sync with the way our students want, and need, to learn.

With seed funding provided from the center (and again, thanks to a philanthropic commitments), our faculty and staff launched pilot programs that are transforming pedagogy in our core science courses.

Statistics courses have turned from relying on theoretical textbooks to a real-world case study approach.

Our students are learning Physics in flipped classrooms, where they watch lecture segments for homework and use the class time to engage collaboratively on the really big questions of the universe.

Our freshmen are isolating and characterizing bacteriophages – or bacterial viruses – and publishing the sequenced genomes.

In essence, our students are being drawn into the messy, serendipitous thrill of scientific experimentation from the moment they set foot on our campuses.

And this same sort of innovation is occurring at the graduate level. While the body of knowledge our PhDs are expected to absorb has changed radically in the last 50 years, the approach to pedagogy has remained fundamentally the same. At the same time, whether graduate students in the humanities or the biomedical sciences, our PhDs are increasingly aware that the academic job market is limited.

The answer, however, cannot to linger in a PhD program, waiting for the PhD market to correct itself. This is a bad strategy.

We are tackling these concerns as one university: through our university-wide PhD board that unites all our PhD granting divisions in one body and through our PhD innovation initiative that is launching pilot programs.

You see the trend here. Change is hard and it is hard at most of our peer institutions. Rather than mandating big policy changes, we are seizing opportunities by the faculty, letting them lead change and enlist others to the cause. This is the magic of Johns Hopkins. This is an institution like no other that responds to evidence of success.

These pilot programs range from our new Teaching Academy that prepares our budding scholars to be world class teachers, giving them valuable, practical experience before they enter the job market; to our Biomedical Careers Initiative that exposes PhDs in the sciences to internships and training programs that open avenues to a wide-range of careers, taking students to industry and community organizations.

And, we are looking at more formal ways to transform our curricula. At Medicine, for instance, we are exploring the potential of reimagining our PhD curriculum to move toward a competency-based approach that harnesses the power of technology, embraces the notion of diverse career goals for our students, and has the potential to substantially reduce the time to degree, moving our students into productive careers earlier.


We are seeing a similar dynamic in building our institutional capacity in the arena of innovation and translational research.

Increasingly, we find that our faculty, students and staff are viewing research as a continuum from basic to applied and they want to be able to travel back and forth across that spectrum.

These are students like the extraordinary team of undergraduates whose company Aezon is in the running for the $10 Million QUALCOMM Tricorder XPRIZE. I had a chance recently to sit down with these students and their enthusiasm for their idea was palpable and, of course, infectious.

As I looked around the table at these exceptional young people I could not help but see them as the living embodiment of the Hopkins legacy: brilliant, creative, entrepreneurial people deeply committed to humanity. And their average age is about 20.

Just imagine where they are headed.

Early next year, we will be launching a new innovation hub embedded in our medical campus.

As many of you know, this effort emerged from a faculty-led initiative, launched in response to a resounding call from our faculty, staff and students to do more to support their efforts to bring research discoveries to the world in the form of novel technologies, devices and therapeutics.

And the hub is but one of the elements of our efforts to knit together a more robust innovation ecosystem across our university. With this we are building on proof-of-concept successes from across our campuses, from investing in our Social Innovation Lab to expanding our FastForward business accelerator that is currently supporting nearly 30 projects, all of which are based on Hopkins intellectual property or headed by Hopkins talent.

Through the combined vision of faculty, leadership and friends, we are creating the structures and supports that will allow our people to chart their research courses anew and have the kind of impact they want to have.

Fostering faculty-led interdisciplinary collaboration

I see a similar energy in the momentum gathering around our Bloomberg Distinguished Professors program. Launched with Mike Bloomberg’s landmark $250 million gift, this program has truly blossomed – with two cohorts already named, a third on the horizon and 20 searches underway.

But what is even more exciting to me – apart from the talent we are able to support and attract – is the catalytic effect it is having across the University. Though the germ of the idea came from collaboration with a visionary donor and university leadership, it has been given life through the creative partnerships across schools and divisions. Disciplines and departments are dreaming up ways to work together that will allow them to conquer new research problems and most importantly create the mechanisms to do so. With this, they are doing nothing short of reimagining the way a University is structured, from creating new rules for tenure that recognize key achievements at the nexus of disciplines to sparking plans for new areas of undergraduate and graduate study.

This does not mean that every research endeavor demands multi-disciplinary work. What it does mean is for those who want to, these opportunities can take shape more easily. And our faculty, and students are turning this dream into a reality bolstered by visionary support from our partners.
Commitment to our communities

Finally, there is perhaps no better example of our entrepreneurial spirit than our commitment to partnering with our communities. We have talked before in this setting and in others about EBDI, our landmark revitalization effort underway in East Baltimore. This is the 88-acre project underway just north of our medical campus, which is slowly but surely yielding results. One is the Henderson-Hopkins school, which is fueled by creative partnerships across our university and across our city.

But today, I want to highlight a different effort underway around our Homewood Campus.

The Homewood Community Partners Initiative is a consultative, collaborative, grassroots initiative that encompasses 10 neighborhoods and one commercial district around the Homewood campus.

These are neighborhoods that, all together, had real strengths – household income higher than the city’s, a higher percentage of college degrees than the city as a whole. But they also suffer from serious challenges – the aggregate crime rate in the HCPI footprint was higher than the city’s, the public schools were underperforming and there were stark disparities even block by block.

HCPI took shape over more than six months of consultation and discussions with community groups and interested parties across these neighborhoods. Despite the diverse groups and varied interests, what emerged was a consensus around five key issues – quality of life, blight elimination, commercial and retail development, and local hiring and purchasing.

Together, we developed a report that is serving as a common playbook for plans to target these issues.

Here Hopkins has played the role not simply of financial investor, but as convener, partner, and agitator for substantive change.

And things are happening – since 2012, led by Andy Frank, my senior advisor for economic development, we have leveraged our initial investment of 10 million to attract $14 million from public, private, and philanthropic sectors to move the needle in these neighborhoods for the common benefit of our neighbors and our students, our communities and our institution, and our city.

I offer these snapshots as examples of the way Hopkins entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive.

This philosophy is rooted in our culture.

It is a great asset for this institution at this time in this world.

But to be successful, we must be able to amplify its effects. Without resources, without partners, without visionary thinkers and doers who will dream alongside us, the loftiest of dreams remain just that: dreams.

In this room, we have convened a group that represents every corner of our University. You are the visionary thinkers and supporters, whose commitment to this institution will help harness the extraordinary entrepreneurial spirit of this place to better serve our world.

Thank you for the work you do to ensure that Hopkins remains a leader at the horizon of education and that we are ready to meet any challenge with excellence and ingenuity.

Thank you.