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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Faculty Convocation Spring 2009

Gaston Hall
Georgetown University
March 3, 2009

Thank you very much, Jim. Good afternoon, everyone. It is a privilege for me to be with you here today. We gather together like this every year, in a ceremony that I am sure to some might seem a little old-fashioned, perhaps even anachronistic. For someone coming to this annual ceremony for the first time, seeing us dressed in our medieval finery—gowns that have their origins in the earlier days of the university in the 12th and 13th centuries—we can’t be surprised that they might find all of this just a little hard to comprehend.

We have with us today many guests. But these aren’t just any guests. With us today are those who, despite their questions and confusion about what we might be doing here today; or who, in fact, might wonder about what it is we actually do here in our teaching and scholarship—these are the people who care most deeply about us and our work. These are our husbands and wives, our partners, our friends, our children and grandchildren, here to celebrate today, the vocations of our Vicennialists.

And with us today are three of our most supportive benefactors: women and men who have seen something in us; in our mission and our purpose; in the depth of your engagement in preparing our students for lives of service—to become women and men for others; and in the imagination and creativity you bring to your research. We induct six individuals today; three are with us. And I have had the privilege of knowing Ron and Arleigh Tysoe for many years and am grateful for the continuing support that you have provided to Georgetown, especially to our McDonough School of Business. It is deeply appreciate. And I count George Crowley among my closest friends. The first Crowley—Jeremiah Jerome Crowley—graduated from Georgetown in 1864. Since then, three additional generations of Crowleys have come to Georgetown. And today’s honoree, George, graduated from the College in 1973, and from the Law School in 1976, and has been deeply engaged here, at the University, throughout his life. The University is deeply blessed to have such extraordinary members of the community, like Ron and Arleigh Tysoe and George Crowley, and it’s an honor for me to have this opportunity to express our gratitude to them for everything they mean to us.

Four generations of one family. Our Vicennialists. Their families. All of us again, here together for our Spring Convocation. We will be hearing in a moment from one of our most esteemed and beloved colleagues, a man who first arrived as a freshman nearly 50 years ago…These medieval gowns…in this Hall that captures centuries of images and iconography of the Western intellectual tradition…

I attended my first Faculty Convocation in 1983. With one every fall, and another every spring, I think I have now been to more than 50. I listened to Father Healy and Father O’Donovan offer perspectives on the urgent issues and immediate challenges facing our university.

Through it all, there is a timeless quality to this ceremony. If I close my eyes, the years blur together. I can hear the voice of Don Freeze, who served as Provost for twelve years here; and I can see dear colleagues walking across this stage – from Dorothy Brown to David Newsom to Paul Betz to Roland Flint to George Houston to Estelle Ramey and Monica Helwig. It can’t be that all of you are celebrating twenty years of service. I remember when one of you graduated—you were my classmate. And I also remember when some of you first joined our faculty. It just can’t be that twenty years has passed.

But it is in moments like this that it is important—indeed invaluable—for us to come together and recall the timeless character of our work together. Regardless of what may be going on in the world, we provide a place where a certain kind of work can be done. We prepare young people for their place in the world, for lives of intellectual and civic engagement, lives in which they will respond to the needs of the poor and the marginalized among us. We provide a place where our faculty—where all of you—can pursue your ideas and question and critique the frameworks in which we are situated. This work requires time, but often we never know when the breakthrough will occur, when the insight will happen, when a moment of metanoia will present itself, either in our students or in ourselves. In these ways, there is a timeless character to our work, and it is that timeless character that we honor today.

Of course, for any community that has seen several members recruited to serve in the administration of our new President; for any university located in the heart of the most powerful city in the world; for any community that has seen so many of its sons and daughters asked to serve their countries—we are never far from the immediate realization of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. So while we honor the timeless character of our lives together, there is much that calls us to an awareness of the demands of this very moment.

Over the past several months we have met together in Town Hall settings and I have written, providing my perspective on the financial crisis. There is nothing timeless about this crisis. It is rooted in the immediacy of this very moment. And it is very challenging. For us this crisis began last January, when we experienced the first indications that the credit markets were not working smoothly. Like everyone else, we began to see the credit markets cease to function in an optimal way. And as I have shared with you on other occasions, this led us to focus first on the student loan markets; and from January to June of last year, we sought to ensure our students would continue to have access to the borrowing necessary for their education. This is especially important for our graduate and professional students, who borrow the bulk of the cost of education.

It’s in this context that we also took steps to become a “direct lender.” Student participation in this federal program allows them to access federal dollars through Georgetown at no risk to the University—a valuable alternative in the event that student loan companies cease to provide these loans.

By August, it was becoming clearer, as we learned a few months later, that our nation was in a recession. We began to respond to this challenge. I am grateful to so many of you for the spirit of cooperation and collaboration that has defined this work over the past months. All of you have played a part. Of special note, I would like to thank the Faculty Budget Committee: Wayne Davis, Richard Bates, Robert Cumby, and Ed Soule, who have worked so closely with Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Christopher Augostini, and with our campus leaders, in seeking to strike just the right balance in developing our budget for the coming Fiscal Year, which begins on July 1.

These are very challenging times, and they are demanding the very best of everyone here at Georgetown. No one knows how deep this recession will go, nor how long it will last, nor how we will ultimately turn it around. With every day, the headlines continue to provide reminders of the serious state of our economy. When we met in September, I outlined some of the indicators of the crisis. When I wrote in November, I provided indications of worsening conditions. When we met in January, I outlined the further deterioration of the national and global economy. Even yesterday, as I was preparing to have a Town Hall meeting last night with students, the Dow fell another 300 points, below 7000. Unemployment is at the highest rate since 1992.

I have a new letter you will be receiving by email this evening. And I hope it will provide you with our clearest thinking about how we are responding to the unfolding economic turmoil. Our major priorities are to protect Georgetown's academic excellence, to respond well to the needs of members of our community, and to ensure that we build the durable financial platform necessary for our continued upward trajectory as a world-renowned university. I hope my letter shows that we are responding to this crisis in the most careful manner possible; and I know that everyone is taking part in this prudential response—and I want to thank you. We must bring a vigilance and an unrelenting attention to our response to this crisis, and we must recognize that we are in for a long haul. This work will take time and it will be difficult. But our presence here today is a reminder of why I am so confident in our ability to work our way through this crisis. I said to the students last evening: “Over the years, I have seen this community at its best; and it can be breathtaking. This is another such moment that demands our best, and I am very pleased that we have each other in these challenging times.”

We gather today—as we do every spring—to remind ourselves of what enables and allows Georgetown to be the university we care about so deeply. We know that it’s not the number of our buildings or programs...the size of our campus or endowment. The reasons we are the university we are today are because of the women and men who choose to make their lives here...who choose to pursue truth on the Hilltop...who choose to commit themselves to making this university everything it can possibly be. These are women and men who seek to fulfill not only their own promise, but also the promise of those around them—and the promise of this university. And women and men who enable us to maintain a heritage and sustain a tradition of which we are heirs...and for which we are now responsible.

We gather like this, regardless of what crises are swirling around us, and honor those who make this community what it is and what it has been for 220 years. During these two centuries, we gathered when smoke was billowing from the White House, and later, much later, when smoke was rising from the Pentagon. We gathered like this after the Civil War, a war that divided our campus—North and South—to put the University and the country back together again. We gathered like this when a young president spoke of a “New Frontier,” and now with another young president whose inauguration makes true the promise of this Republic: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal....” We gathered during the Great Depression, and we gather now, in a new time that demands the very best of every one of us.

We gather to remind ourselves of the strength of this community. We remind ourselves of this strength when we acknowledge the generosity of Ron and Arleigh Tysoe and George Crowley. We remind ourselves when we celebrate the enduring commitment of our Vicennialists. And we remind ourselves with the presence of the member of our faculty who will deliver this year’s “Life of Learning Lecture,” Professor Joseph Neale.

Joe is the Paduano Distinguished Professor in Biology...the Director of the Georgetown–Hughes Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, which he founded...the Director of Undergraduate Studies in Biology...and the Associate Director of the Undergraduate Major in Neurobiology.

He has served as a member of the Department of Biology as a professor at Georgetown for 32 years—his entire career, in fact, except for seven years—and he received both his BS and his PhD from Georgetown. Many of us claim long careers at Georgetown, but it would be hard to top Joe, because in fact, he was born here, in Georgetown Hospital.

During his long and distinguished career, he has served as Chairman of our Biology Department for a decade...was named Washington D.C.’s “Professor of the Year” by the Carnegie Foundation of the Advancement of Teaching...and he received the very first College Dean’s award for Teaching Excellence.

As a researcher, he has focused on the neurobiology of pain perception and schizophrenia. His group has pioneered research over the past three decades that has demonstrated that "NAAG" is the third most prevalent transmitter in the nervous system. And working with colleagues, this group has made significant progress in the development of completely novel drug therapies for inflammatory pain and schizophrenia. His neurobiology research program has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1978.

With all of his achievements, Joe treasures most the opportunity to teach "Introductory Biology I" to science majors and premedical students; and his directorship of the Hughes Undergraduate Research Scholars program, through which Joe seeks to increase student engagement in biomedical research at Georgetown.

For more than three decades, Joe has been a teacher, colleague, mentor, and friend to countless individuals on the Hilltop. And there are few people I have met who care more deeply about the timeless character of Georgetown, nor who are more immersed in making every day, every moment matter here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, to deliver this year's "Life of Learning Lecture," it’s now my privilege to introduce the Paduano Distinguished Professor in Biology, Joseph H. Neale.
 

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