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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Farewell Dinner for Jim O’Donnell

Riggs Library
HEaly Hall
May 15, 2012

Good evening. It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you tonight to celebrate our colleague and friend, Jim O’Donnell, and to recognize his many contributions to our community as Provost.

I wish to welcome you to Riggs Library, especially those who have worked with Jim in the Office of the Provost, and to recognize your most recent efforts to organize and support our Middle States reaccreditation process. The review committee received our presentation and self-study report with enthusiasm, and we are deeply grateful for all of your work. Thank you.

I’d also like to take a moment to remember our longtime colleague, Professor Barbara Stowasser, who, as many of you know, passed away earlier this week. Barbara had been with us here at Georgetown since 1966. As Jim eloquently described in a note to our community, she was a “scholar, teacher, and leader”, and it is “hard to describe just how much we are losing with her passing.” I know she will be missed here on the Hilltop, and I am grateful to Jim for the words he shared with us to remember a dear friend.

Over the past ten years, Jim has strengthened our standards of academic excellence, and he has enhanced our ability to provide a context in which our students and our faculty can do their very best work. His leadership, characterized by a tireless commitment to our community, and a deep sense of integrity, has enabled us to advance our position as a leading research university in our nation and our world.

One of the world’s great scholars of St. Augustine, Jim became Provost a decade ago and has served our community with distinction.

He also continued to make significant academic contributions during his time as Provost, publishing two books, Augustine: A New Biography [2005] and The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History [2008].

Within the context of Jim’s scholarship, I wish to share a passage from St. Augustine, which resonates deeply with the type of leader Jim is, and the nature of his contributions to Georgetown.

In St. Augustine’s words:

“How great so ever a mass of building one may wish and design to place above… the greater the building is to be, the deeper does he dig his foundation[1].”

Jim is one who has spent his time as Provost ensuring that our foundation would be strong and deep enough to support our greatest aspirations as a university community, working with all of us to fulfill Georgetown’s promise and potential.

Jim, we are here tonight to celebrate your leadership, your service, and your willingness, always, to do what is best for our students and our faculty… for our entire community. In doing so, you have helped us to lay the strongest possible foundation for our future.

I would like to discuss three areas of Jim’s achievements and contributions to Georgetown, enabling us to dig our foundation deeper so that we can build ever greater: his leadership in developing our global presence, his work in strengthening our ability to provide a context for our students to pursue their very best work, and his efforts to enhance faculty and academic excellence.

Global Georgetown
Jim joined our community as Provost at a moment in time when we were deeply engaged in determining new ways of building meaningful and enduring global ties.

Jim’s leadership in this area has enabled us to define more clearly our role and responsibilities as a global university, and to better prepare our students to live, work, and serve in our increasingly interconnected world.

Jim has forged many new international agreements that have helped facilitate our ability to support the nearly 500 international scholars and the more than 2,000 international students who come to Georgetown every year. He also has forged new connections with partners in China and India through our Liaison Office in Shanghai and the Engaging India Grants program.

His leadership was especially critical in helping us to imagine and actualize our School of Foreign Service in Qatar, a transformational moment for Georgetown, in our efforts to better understand the nature of our engagement as a global university.

A century from now, I suspect that members of our community will look back and see this moment in time as one that has set a new standard of excellence for Georgetown as a national and global leader in higher education, and Jim’s leadership and commitment have been essential to laying this important foundation.

Providing a Context for Students to Do Their Best Work
At the same time that Jim was working to create new connections for Georgetown across the world, he also was leading significant efforts to deepen our capacity to provide a context in which our young women and men can do their very best work, and realize their full promise and potential.

A decade ago, Jim came to a University with renowned and rigorous academic programs, yet he saw the opportunity for Georgetown to offer more to our students and to our faculty.

There was work to do, for example, to give the members of our community a deeper performing arts curriculum and a state-of-the-art performance venue, a new home for our McDonough School of Business community, and facilities to advance the highest levels of excellence in the sciences.

As new capital projects like the Davis Performing Arts Center, the Hariri Building, and Regents Hall were in their planning and design phases, Jim worked to ensure that these new spaces not only would meet the needs he saw within the academic life of our community at the time, but that they also would allow us to enhance it new ways, enabling further excellence and growth.

This ambition also has been reflected in Jim’s leadership in creating new opportunities for research and learning.

Since 2002, we have added 7 new doctoral programs –including 5 Ph.D. programs, a doctorate in Liberal Studies, and a doctorate of Nursing Practice – 19 new Masters programs, and more than a dozen new majors and minors for our undergraduates.

It is these investments and these improvements that have helped our community to see continued growth across all of our schools, as more and more of the very best students want to study at Georgetown.

Jim’s work has been critical to furthering the virtuous cycle we seek to maintain at Georgetown – where our ability to attract the very best students attracts the very best faculty; and where the very best students continue to want to work with the very best faculty.

Faculty and Academic Excellence
We have experienced the benefits of this virtuous cycle over the course of Jim’s tenure. Over the past decade, we have recruited 221 full-time, tenure-track faculty to our main campus, who are thought leaders and innovators in their fields.

We were in a position to make these recruitments because of the context for teaching and learning that Jim has helped us establish throughout our community. He has led us in developing ever deeper academic experiences for our students and our faculty, especially through the integration of new approaches into the classroom.

Jim’s work in collaboration with Associate Provost, Randy Bass, through the Center for New Designs in Learning & Scholarship provides numerous examples of this work.

Initiatives like the Provost’s Seminars on Teaching and Learning, the Bottlenecks and Thresholds Initiative, the Doyle Engaging Difference Program, and the Englehard Project have allowed our community to actively advance pedagogical innovation. Our faculty have found new ways of addressing barriers to learning; of enabling our students to appreciate more deeply the diversity and richness of our community, and of integrating health and wellness into the classroom in novel ways as a result of the initiatives Jim has supported and led.

We also have been able to advance approaches to learning that help us to shape our role as a global university. As just one example, our Global Classroom has enabled us to use telepresence to connect our community here with our students and faculty at SFS-Q, allowing our classroom learning to reflect the interconnectedness that characterizes our global society.

The level of excellence embodied by our faculty, and the curricular innovations they have initiated, have sustained and amplified our virtuous cycle of excellence, and our admissions data over the past decade reflect this trend. When Jim became Provost in 2002, Georgetown set a record for the largest applicant pool in our history, with 15,495 young women and men wanting to study here.

A few years later, in 2008, we surpassed that record when 18,500 students applied to be part of the Class of 2012. We will be celebrating those who were among the only 3,300 we admitted - an 18% admittance rate – during our commencement exercises later this week.

Since then, we have continued to see growth in our applicant pool, and the Class of 2016, who will start in the fall, will be Georgetown’s most selective ever, reflecting more than 20,000 applicants and an acceptance rate of 16.5 percent.

Our commitment throughout this period to maintaining our need-blind, meet-full-need admissions policy, which Jim has supported and strengthened as Provost, has ensured the competitiveness of our undergraduate program, and raised the level of excellence that characterizes our community.

Jim, thank you for all that you have done for Georgetown – to strengthen our foundation, to help create a new standard of excellence – all in pursuit of our community’s greatest ambitions.

We are deeply grateful for your work and for your leadership, which has been characterized by your integrity and your tireless efforts to strengthen scholarship and excellence within our Georgetown community.

While your service as Provost is concluding, it is a pleasure to know that you will remain a member of our Georgetown family and continue to share your scholarship with our community.

I look forward to the contributions you will make as a member of our Classics Department.

I wish to take a moment to share with everyone a letter from the Chair of our Board of Directors, Paul Tagliabue, who could not be with us this evening. It is a wonderful summary of Jim’s leadership within our community:

Dear Jim: I am unable to join you, Jack, and your many colleagues and friends to celebrate your exceptional service as Provost. But I wish to thank you very much for your years of deep and thoughtful contributions to the best interests of Georgetown and the many members of its community.

During your decade, you brought to your service as Provost, distinctive experience, a polished intellect and a sharp focus on both Georgetown’s values and the needs of students and faculty. All of this has contributed significantly to Georgetown’s standing as a leading research university.

You also supported well the governance activities of the Board, and its Committees, including Faculty Relations and Main Campus Affairs, and I have benefitted from and enjoyed my collaboration with you as a Board member and more recently as Board Chair.

I know that you will have a long and distinguished continuing career as a faculty member after a well-deserved respite.

You move to the next stage of your Georgetown career with my deep thanks for your service to date, and I know that our paths will continue to cross. Sincerely, Paul Tagliabue.

I think Paul’s words capture all of our thoughts. Thank you, Jim, for the depth of your leadership and contribution to our community. It is my pleasure to welcome you up to the podium. 

[1] From St. Augustine’s 19th Sermon on the New Testament on the words of the Gospel of Matthew (19:28)

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