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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Faculty Convocation -- Fall 2004

Georgetown University
November 9, 2004

(Opening and introduction by Provost O'Donnell)

Georgetown has the great privilege today to welcome and honor Nicholas Boyle, a distinguished scholar and Cambridge don. Professor Boyle is a cultural historian of the world shaped by Hegel and Kant and a preeminent authority on Goethe, but also an intellectual very much engaged in this day and age, with important observations about globalization and Christian humanism.

New Convocation Tradition

By recognizing Professor Boyle's academic distinction today, we depart from convocation tradition. Let me provide some context. In this, Georgetown's 216th year, we have assembled the finest faculty in our history; the energy of ideas on our campuses is attracting students of great promise in record numbers; and our role as a forum for ideas, where principles and power are in dialogue, has never been more fully realized.

Strengthened by such achievements, and defined by our unique intersection of mission, location, Catholic and Jesuit identity, and national and international perspective, we stand at the threshold of exciting new opportunities, which I will describe shortly. The moment is right to invite one of the most perceptive intellectuals of our time to enrich and broaden our perspective on the aims of education. I know that his message will inspire conversation about the future of Georgetown.

In his book, Who Are We Now?, Professor Boyle has written that universities "have a duty to their time and place...but at its heart is a duty of detachment." [1] He expands his premise by noting, "Universities do not exist to pass on and reinforce the prevailing attitudes of the world they belong to but to preserve its potential for becoming something different."[2] At Georgetown, this resonates with our obligation to both create and critique culture.

Georgetown has embraced this obligation through the scholarship of our faculty and in the work we do as an institution to complement that scholarship. This includes such initiatives as the two international summits on the future of Afghanistan and the Building Bridges conference, led by Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, that brought together Christian and Muslim scholars in this hall in the spring. Last fall, we welcomed a conference of faith-based organizations that were exploring an expanded role in HIV/AIDS care and treatment in African and Caribbean nations.

To fulfill our obligation to help the world to "become something different" and to advance Georgetown over the upcoming decades, the Board of Directors is laying the groundwork for our next fundraising campaign. To support this long-range effort, I have asked several faculty members to envision programs and initiatives that are in alignment with our mission and identity. They have sought input from others, creating a broad consultation process. I'd like to share with you some early thinking about three initiatives that your colleagues are developing in the areas of interreligious understanding and undergraduate education, and to strengthen our presence in the public arena and in public debate.

New Initiatives

The Board is focusing on these and a few other themes to accomplish at least three goals: to attract more direct funding in support of faculty and students; to further Georgetown's Jesuit tradition by making a difference in the community, nation and world; and just as importantly, to increase our strength, prestige and reputation as one of this nation's leading research universities. Because these programmatic areas are deeply intertwined in the learning experiences of undergraduates and graduate students alike, Georgetown can make a unique contribution not only to the work of scholars who are here now - but to the education of future generations of leaders and scholars as well.

Institute for Religion, Politics, and Peace

The most developed theme at present is intended to promote interreligious understanding at the University and throughout the region and world. Planning began in October 2003 under the leadership of Dean Jane McAuliffe and Professors Chester Gillis and Joshua Mitchell. The result of their work was a proposal to establish an "Institute for Religion, Politics, and Peace." In July 2004, I asked Professor Thomas Banchoff to lead the start-up of the new program, which we will continue to call an initiative until endowment funds are in hand. The initiative and the future Institute will advance interreligious understanding and promote world peace through (1) interdisciplinary inquiry; (2) collaboration across departments, schools and scholarly communities; and (3) the integration of academic work, other university efforts, and related activities in the city, the U.S., and the world.

We take an important early step in April 2005 when the University will host a major conference on The New Religious Pluralism and Democracy. The conference will bring leading US and European scholars from across several disciplines to campus to discuss religious pluralism on both sides of the Atlantic. Georgetown faculty and students will be active participants.

We believe the Institute will increase the strength of Georgetown as a global leader in an increasingly significant and highly visible field. Programs will advance inquiry and research through collaboration, define new fields of interdisciplinary scholarship, build stronger bonds between academia and policy worlds, and mobilize constituencies from students to alumni to scholars around urgent and compelling concerns. This investment, in turn, will make a bold and ambitious statement about Georgetown's intention to lead as a research university. Another aim is to meet pressing current needs. A portion of the start-up funds will provide direct support to current faculty.

Undergraduate Learning

The Board chose "Undergraduate Learning" as a primary theme of the second initiative because of its primacy in the life and history of the University, as well as the lives of students and future leaders. In January, Provost Jim O'Donnell and Professor Randy Bass began developing the plans for this initiative in collaboration with many faculty and groups. Next month they will present a proposal to the Board that will define new ways to extend the best ideas and practices of faculty, provide for continuous innovation, and sustain a strong undergraduate emphasis overall.

Some major and early themes of the initiative include strengthening the first year academic experience, creating a four-year support structure for undergraduate involvement in research, and deepening the ways that students might integrate their off-campus experiences (such as community-based learning or study abroad) into their academic learning. Initial investments will provide the necessary foundation for later stages of innovation as well. This initiative will continue Georgetown's tradition of teaching excellence and ensure our competitive position in the future.

Reflective Engagement in the Public Interest

To strengthen Georgetown's role in important debates that shape the region, the nation, and the world, our third initiative addresses the theme of "Reflective Engagement in the Public Interest." Dean Alex Aleinikoff of the Law Center is leading this effort, and in collaboration with a steering committee, conducted a workshop for the Board in early fall. They discussed prototype projects that ranged from a program on HIV/AIDS workplace intervention activities in Africa, a research initiative that would address underlying educational and employment problems for young minority men and women, a program aimed at reducing health disparities in the U.S. with genetic research, to a program on the issues surrounding workplace flexibility for employees. Participants considered how such projects could enhance the University's academic profile and how Georgetown leaders could ensure ongoing support for projects like those.

With the help of faculty driving these intellectual initiatives and the Board of Directors leading fundraising efforts, we feel confident that these steps will advance Georgetown's mission over the next decades.

(The University Charter and Honorary Degree Citation are read)

Professor Boyle, you have inspired us with your scholarship, your faith, and your insight into the challenges of the modern world. By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Congress of the United Sates and by the Board of Directors of Georgetown University, I officially confer upon Nicholas Boyle the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Now it is my great pleasure to introduce the distinguished scholar, biographer, and commentator on contemporary culture, Nicholas Boyle.

[1] N. Boyle, Who Are We Now: Christian Humanism and the Global Market from Hegel to Heaney, p. 63
[2] Ibid, p. 64


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