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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

2011 Fall Faculty Town Hall

September 22, 2011
Georgetown University

Welcome. It’s a great pleasure, as always, to have the opportunity to speak with you towards the beginning of the academic year. 

In the life of our community, every autumn brings a fresh start. But this fall, as we reflect on the challenging events that have been part of our new beginning – an earthquake and a hurricane… the ten-year anniversary of 9/11/2001… continued economic uncertainty within the U.S. – we’re also presented with a specific opportunity: this is a moment to not only assess our external context, but also to reflect more deeply on our internal character – who we are, who we’re striving to become– as a Georgetown University community.

This work asks us to come together in new ways. As members of the academy, our task is the imagining and reimaging of intellectual tradition… the shaping of knowledge, its transmission, its dissemination. As members of this community, our work follows in the same way: the tradition of education that has characterized our community is not stagnant, but requires the deep engagement of each one of us if it is to come alive today and everyday, for this generation and for generations to come. Those last three words are words you will hear a few times today, and I will speak more about that in a moment. For us to assert what we aspire to be, we must know and be our best right here, within this community, first.

We must always be assessing our progress against the background of a mission upon which this University was built to fulfill 222 years ago, a mission that is as relevant today as it was in 1789: a mission that has us challenged to create and communicate knowledge, to provide a place where our young people can realize their fullest potential, and to work to make a disproportionate difference in the world, and for the betterment of humankind.

So I would like to frame my remarks today, which I hope will provide an update of our progress, with this backdrop in mind, as a way to speak to the present moment in time for Georgetown, and to give us a common language to address the profound sense of possibility we each can hold for our future here.

To Create and Communicate Knowledge


There is a direct relationship between the individual members who become part of our Georgetown community and the capacity we have to create and communicate knowledge. Since we met last spring, we have had the privilege to welcome several new leaders to our Georgetown, and to congratulate others on new posts within the University.

We are fortunate to have three new deans joining us this year:

  • Dr. David Thomas, dean of the McDonough School of Business;
  • Dr. Martin Iguchi, dean of our School of Nursing and Health Studies; and 
  • Dr. Gerd Nonneman, dean of our School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

I am deeply grateful to Provost Jim O’Donnell, Dean Carol Lancaster, and Dr. Howard Federoff, as well as the members of each of our three search committees, and their Chairs – Bardia Kamrad, Jim Welch, and David Edelstein –  for their extraordinary service to the University in leading us in these efforts.

I am also very grateful to Gerry Mara, who will serve a two-year term as Dean of the Graduate School, during which time we will lead a formal search for a longer-term successor to Dean Timothy Barbari. I would like to thank both Gerry and Tim for their leadership and service to our Graduate School.

We also welcome a new Chief Investment Officer to our community, Michael Barry. Mike comes to Georgetown from the University System of Maryland Foundation, where he had been Chief Investment Officer since 2005. I wish to thank Chris Augostini for his work throughout the search process.

In terms the University’s internal transitions, we have used the past several months as an opportunity to assess our progress on an administrative level to ensure continued success in the areas of research, operations, and public affairs. As part of this assessment, Spiros Dimolitsas recently took on the newly created role of Senior Vice President for Research and Chief Technology Officer, and Chris Augostini has transitioned to become our Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. I am deeply grateful to Spiros and Chris for their leadership and look forward to continuing our close work together in their new roles.

Erik Smulson took on the new role as Vice President for Public Affairs, and I would also like to recognize Fr. Kevin O’Brien, who has accepted a new role as Vice President of Mission and Ministry after serving as Executive Director of Campus Ministry since 2008. He has made a significant contribution since that time, and I look forward to his ongoing commitment to Georgetown.

Georgetown also has benefited from the profound contribution of Dr. Jim O’Donnell as Executive Vice President and Provost of the University.   After ten years in this role, Jim will complete his service at the end of this academic year and will assume the full-time role of Professor in our Classics Department. We currently are organizing a formal search process for Jim’s successor. I look forward to being together with many of you to celebrate and thank Jim for his many contributions to Georgetown in the months ahead, and to reaffirming Georgetown’s commitment to academic excellence and innovative approaches to education throughout the search process for the next University Provost.


Another aspect of Georgetown’s ability to fulfill our continued pursuit of the creation and communication of knowledge is our current work to complete formal evaluation processes. The most significant of these includes Georgetown’s reaccreditation with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Similar self-assessments also have taken place at the School of Medicine and the Law School, and an effort to study our Athletics program as part of the NCAA Division I athletics certification program.

The current Middle States self-study focuses on four key standards of reassessment, planning, institutional assessment, general education and assessment of student learning.  A draft of the self-study report is near completion, and we will welcome our Middle States examiners to campus for their first visit in November to begin their assessment process. I would like to thank Associate Provost Marjory Blumenthal, Randy Bass, Executive Director of CNDLS and Associate Provost for Teaching and Learning Initiatives, the Middle States steering committee, and all members of the five Middle States working groups for their self-study efforts. For those of you who have been a part of these in the past, you know what kind of service this demands; for those of you who haven’t, the University has to go through this kind of reaccreditation process every ten years – this is our time. We’ve been well underway for more than a year now; and as I said we’ll be welcoming our reaccreditation team for their first visit in November, and then their second visit later on in the Spring. The second visit will be the effort to bring closure to this process.

As I mentioned, similar processes also took place at the School of Medicine and the Law Center last spring. The School of Medicine has been fully reaccredited, and the Law Center awaits the decision of the American Bar Association committee, which will arrive shortly.  I would like to thank the leaders of both of these processes, Howard Federoff and Ray Mitchell for their leadership of the reaccreditation process for the Medical Center, as well as Bill Treanor at the Law Center, for their efforts.

Our NCAA self-study efforts, which take place every ten years, also resulted in successful recertification. I am grateful to Jane Genster, the steering committee, and each of our subcommittees for leading this successful self-study endeavor.

Providing a Place Where People Can Realize Their Fullest Potential


One of the most significant indicators of Georgetown’s ability to provide a place where each of us is able to do our very best work is the University’s continued success in attracting the most talented students in the nation.

The students who joined us earlier this month represent some of the most rigorously selected students in our history. Our undergraduate class is drawn from all 50 states and 48 countries, with an acceptance rate of 18%. This includes 77 students at our Doha campus in our seventh entry class there.

Of those accepted in our undergraduate programs, 93% were ranked within the top 10% of their high school graduating classes. Thirty-nine percent were ranked number one. We also were excited to experience the largest and most diverse applicant pool in our history for the second year in a row. I am grateful to Charlie Deacon and the Admissions Office for a truly extraordinary year.  

We also welcomed extremely talented classes to our graduate schools. For our medical school, we received just under 11,600 applications for 196 places—a slight increase in the number of applications over last year for the same number of spaces. Our acceptance rate was once again just about 3%, which makes us one of the top three or four most selective medical schools in the country.  At Georgetown Law, while the number of applications was down compared to last year’s historic number of applicants – and they were down much further throughout the nation – yet this year’s student body represents the most talented in history, with the highest ever LSAT median and GPA. Of the strongest applicants nationwide, more than two out of three applied to Georgetown, which once again received more applications than any other law school in the country.

Each of these measures is telling, as they allow us to chart our continued ability to create a mutually reinforcing environment, where the high caliber of students raises the bar for academic excellence across the student body, and in our own standards of excellence in the classroom.

Capital Projects

Georgetown’s commitment to creating an environment where each of us is able to achieve our potential also can be measured by the completion of significant capital projects.

We continue to make progress on our new science center, which remains on schedule to open for the fall semester, 2012. As we begin to see the exterior character of the building take shape, we look forward to the ways in which this new space will enhance our academic and research pursuits in the sciences.  I am very grateful to the many faculty and staff members who have demonstrated a longstanding commitment to this project.

We continued our renovation work on our buildings – with Nevils dormitory over the summer, and restorations beginning this semester on Dahlgren Chapel, starting with a minimally disruptive effort to stabilize the foundation, followed by more extensive renovations in the months to come.

Campus Plan

The University’s engagement with our neighbors and the wider Washington, DC community also is a significant part of our mission and identity. As many of you know, Georgetown filed our 2010-2020 Campus Plan with the District’s Zoning Commission last December, a requirement for the University every ten years. It is a plan for modest, targeted growth designed to advance our strategic needs over the next decade, and includes deliberate efforts to respond to concerns about enrollment growth, student housing, traffic and quality of life issues in surrounding neighborhoods. Last spring, the Zoning Commission held five hearings to review our plan. As I know you are aware, we have met with significant opposition. We have responded by continuing to deepen our efforts to creatively address the concerns that have been expressed in ways that are supportive and consistent with the needs of our students, our faculty and our programs.

I firmly believe that the University has been appropriately responsive, and that our modest plan is a fair and reasonable one. As our next hearing approaches on November 17, we continue to move forward knowing that the approval of the campus plan is critical to the University’s future direction, and to our continued, vital impact within the community that has been our home for the past 222 years.

Making a Disproportionate Difference in the World 

At the center of Georgetown’s commitment to making a disproportionate difference in our world is the University’s ability to provide a strong and stable financial framework that supports the very best work of every member of this community. Last spring, I outlined the ways in which Georgetown’s response to the financial crisis has allowed the University to make significant progress on our two highest priorities for this Campus: strengthening our support for financial aid and developing a new faculty salary plan. 

Our ability to move forward in both of these areas has been imperative to maintaining Georgetown’s standards of educational excellence for our faculty, staff and students. 

Over the past months, we have entered another period of economic volatility for the nation, reflected in stock market swings, flat job growth, the debate over our national debt ceiling, and a whole range of other indicators. We have seen a decline in federal grant monies and in federal financial aid programs. The needs of our families are at their highest levels ever, making it imperative to ensure a very modest growth rate in tuition costs and to commit even more firmly to sustaining and enhancing our policy of need-blind admissions and meeting the full financial need for all undergraduates: a policy that ensures the academic competitiveness of our undergraduate program.  

The University’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 was not built on an assumption of returning economic stability for our country or the members of our community. Instead, we are guided by an understanding of the fundamental shift of our economic context towards heightened uncertainty. We understood then, as we do now, that in order to maintain Georgetown’s standards of excellence, we must develop responses that place the University in a position of financial strength for the long term.

Based on this context, I am pleased to report that even in this period of volatility, the University’s finances continue to stay aligned with the needs of our community. Georgetown’s endowment has grown to $1.1 billion and we closed fiscal year 2011 in better-than-budgeted shape. Moody’s has recently delivered a positive outlook on our credit ratings.  We continue to move forward with strategic priorities such as the financing and construction of our new Science Center. 

We also are deeply aware that in light of this multi-year period of economic uncertainty, and in order to maintain the standard of academic excellence that defines our community, the success of our next capital campaign – which will launch publicly this October and aims to raise $1.5 billion by 2016 – is more important than ever. 

Since we last spoke, we have nearly reached the halfway point our fundraising efforts, and our team in advancement has worked tirelessly to ensure that the University is positioned to reach the full level of success required. 

The “Four Pillars” of the campaign have been defined to reflect the University’s most urgent priorities: The first pillar, scholarship support for both undergraduate and graduate students through the 1789 Scholarship Imperative and other scholarship initiatives; the second pillar, faculty and academic excellence especially through endowed chairs – for which there are already over 30 commitments – and support of current faculty research endeavors and other initiatives; the third pillar is seeking improvements to student life and community experience; and the fourth is careful investment, where we have the opportunity, to advance some of the work that is already taking place in our community, and taking this to the next level. I’m thinking about areas like public policy, engaged ethics, environmental studies, human development, global health, neurologic disease and stroke research, personalized cancer treatment, and business, law and governance, which cross a number of our schools.

Each of these priorities is being pursued in strong connection with Georgetown’s founding ethos and characteristic spirit, which continues to provide us all with a background against which to evaluate these priorities, these pillars.

To put it in perspective, with a goal of $1.5 billion, pillar one – which supports scholarships – is a $500 million target. The second target is for faculty excellence: there, too, a $500 million goal. The third pillar, or infrastructure developments, has a goal of $200 million; and our last pillar, which we call “transformative opportunities”, has a goal of $300 million. 

A commitment to our founding values, and a recognition that these priorities have a deep resonance with our character as a university community, has led us to name our campaign: “For Generations to Come: The Campaign for Georgetown.” The priorities we have established, the pillars of this campaign, are embedded within this idea.  When the campaign has succeeded, all of us who are part of the Georgetown community will have felt its impact in a direct way. And all of us will know that our contribution to Georgetown – right here at home, through our commitment to academic excellence, our commitment to preparing young people for service in our world  – is the foundation on which our future will be built.

I simply want to close by expressing my gratitude to you all. It’s been a terrific start to the year -- a little more challenging than usual, but there is a fantastic spirit in our community and it is a privilege to be with you today and to offer these perspectives.

Now I’d be happy to take your questions on any issues of the day.

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