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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Faculty Convocation, Fall 2008

Gaston Hall
Georgetown University
October 14, 2008

These are unusual times. Over the past months, indeed, over the past four weeks, we have now lived through the most unique set of financial changes in our lifetimes. You would have to have been alive in 1929 to have experienced anything comparable, and even these circumstances defy any easy comparison. Just three weeks ago I spoke with you in a town hall meeting along with our Chief Financial Officer, Chris Augostini. We shared our perspectives and a framework of how Georgetown is responding to these unprecedented financial changes. Since then, we have now experienced even more changes that impact all of us, but I don't believe these latest changes fundamentally alter the approach we articulated at that time.

The key issues we are concerned about—sustaining our commitment to financial aid; ensuring access to loans; ensuring we can provide for a competitive framework for faculty compensation; continuing our efforts for improving performance of our Medical Center; sustaining our success in philanthropy — remain at the core of our approach to responding to the financial challenges. These key issues all have a common, underlying concern for strengthening liquidity — which means ensuring we always have sufficient cash in an environment where it is not easy to access credit.

I think we have all heard that there has been nothing quite like this moment. There were five investments banks when we began the year; now there are none. One collapsed—Lehman; two were sold—Merrill Lynch to Bank of America and Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase; and two transformed into commercial banks—Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. The mightiest insurer, AIG, is being dismantled, and the two largest local financial organizations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are now part of the government. And what began as ripples across the globe have now become seismic. Just the headlines after the close of last week—on Saturday, the front page of the Financial Times proclaimed: “Market crash shakes world.”

Any one of these changes would have been monumental. That all would hit at the same time means that we are now in a process in which our global financial system is becoming a new order. What does this moment demand of us?

This is not the first time this decade we have had to ask this question. It was just seven years ago, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, that we came together and asked, how does a university community respond in such a new environment? It is part of our role in society to consider the academic response to the unfolding events of contemporary history, and to do so while facing the challenge to be relevant when social needs are great, and with the need to defend the ideal of scholarship in times of crisis. In weighing both demands and opportunities, I often think of the words of C.S. Lewis, from a sermon delivered in 1939 in Oxford: “I think it is important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective.” Referring to the war, the defining set of circumstances during his time, he said, “[it] creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”

Since that moment seven years ago, we have focused with a discipline and a constancy on becoming a university that is equal to the challenge of our day. We chose to become more engaged and to wrestle with the new dynamics of globalization…

…We have, under the leadership of Bob Gallucci and Jim Reardon-Anderson, opened a campus in the Gulf, educating 146 students from 26 countries, including El Salvador, France, Kenya, Macedonia, Russia, and India…

…We have under the leadership of McDonough School of Business Dean George Day, launched a new Global Executive MBA, in partnership with Esade, one of the leading business schools in Europe…

…We have, under the leadership of MSB Professor Ricardo Ernst, developed a partnership with Universia, a network of universities throughout Spain, Portugal, Latin America, linking 1,070 institutions and 10.1 million students…

…We have, under the leadership of our Provost, Jim O'Donnell, opened an office in Shanghai, through our relationship with Fudan University…

…Also in China, we have established relationships with the State Administration for Religious Affairs and the Central Party School…

…Under the leadership of Executive Vice President and Law Center Dean Alex Aleinikoff, we will inaugurate our new Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London, which began operations just a few weeks ago, with ten law schools—faculty and students from throughout the world, together pursuing issues that can only be understood when we work together...

…We are working in Africa and India, to share resources and talents we sometimes take for granted, in seeking to make a contribution in addressing the scourge of HIV/AIDS, still taking nearly 6,000 lives every day.

We have also recognized a differentiating strength—our capacity to foster interreligious understanding. Through the work of Jane McAuliffe and Chet Gillis, we launched a PhD program in religious pluralism… With John Esposito and his sixteen years of outstanding leadership, we were able to secure an endowment gift of $20 million to name our Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding after a new benefactor, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. In his work at Georgetown, with the UN's Alliance for Civilization, and with Oxford University Press and the Gallup organization, John has made a deep commitment to fostering understanding and engagement with the Muslim world. Tom Banchoff has enabled us to develop the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs…And through the exceptional work of Bob Lieber and Harold White, our young program in the Study of Jewish Civilization is positioned to become a full Center. The presence of such institutional structures has enabled us to bring to Georgetown extraordinary intellectual leaders such as Peter Phan, Jacques Berlinerblau, Daniel Madigan, Jose Casanova, Leo Lefebure, John Borelli, and Michael Oren.

In the days that followed 9-11, we made the commitment to respond, as a university, to the needs of a world shaped by such an experience. This is a work in progress, but it is a work of which this university can be very proud.

Now we are confronted with a new defining moment. What does the unfolding fiscal crisis demand of us? How should we respond to this at this moment in time?

At one level, right here in our community, we need to remind ourselves of our deepest values and recognize that we need to begin preparing now for changes that may unfold over time. For example, in the last recession, in 1992, we experienced an increase of nearly 10% in the demonstrated need of undergraduate students for financial aid. If we face such a need next year, the cost will be in the range of $6 million. Fortunately, we know the nature of this kind of challenge, and so we can begin preparing now for that kind of scenario. Similarly, we can prepare for negative impacts in fundraising, or for problems with students having access to loans, or for questions faculty and staff have about retirement plans, or for lower performance of the endowment. These are all crucial areas of work that we are undertaking now. All are internal to the university.

At the same time, there are areas of need external to the university to which we must also respond—as an intellectual community—just as we responded to the new needs occasioned by 9-11. Here I am thinking about the needs of the most vulnerable people and communities—the families that don’t have any income security, any safety net, or any way to prevent catastrophic personal impacts of financial changes beyond their control. Half the world lives on two dollars a day. A billion live on less than a dollar a day. Every day, 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes—one child every five seconds. Even in our country:

• more than a half million people are hungry;

• at least 1.3 million children are at some point homeless;

• 47 million Americans are without health insurance; and,

• Only 25 of 100 18 year-olds will earn a college degree.

The question we face is, as a community with such extraordinary talent and gifts, how do we understand of our responsibilities to those who do not share in these resources?

The tradition upon which this University was built provides a framework through which to understand this responsibility. Among the key themes of Catholic social thought, two in particular have a deep resonance at this moment. The first, is that we are all children of the same God, with equal dignity before that God, and thus we all have a responsibility to care for one another and promote human flourishing. Those who are poorest and most vulnerable must have a special place in our hearts, minds, in our decisions and actions, and in our choices. We have a duty not simply to be empathetic bystanders but rather to be active agents of change.

A second key theme of the moral tradition upon which Georgetown is built is a commitment to solidarity. In his encyclical, Solitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II identified the “interdependence” that exists among all of us in the contemporary world, with our interlocking and intersecting economic, cultural, political, and religious elements. In such a context he identifies as a “virtue,” solidarity, understood “not” as “a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all....” (#38)

There is no one in global higher education today who can better address the challenge of this moment than the man we honor this evening. Rafael Rangel, President of Mexico’s Tec de Monterrey. No one has done more to position a university to respond to the opportunities and challenges of this moment than President Rangel. Tec de Monterrey has ensured a global footprint for itself unlike any university in the world. It has 33 campuses throughout Mexico, a Virtual University that extends its reach throughout Latin America, and a global presence that includes 21 liaison offices—seven in North America, six in South America, five in Europe, and three in China.

Of special importance is President Rangel’s recognition of the need to address the challenge of human development through the appropriate deployment of the unique assets and resources of the research university. Just a few years ago, the Institute for Sustainable Social Development was created to administer “community and service and, with the support from Tec de Monterrey faculty and volunteers, channel it towards...programs aimed at raising educational levels in the communities, developing entrepreneurial abilities, and improving living conditions in a sustainable manner, through centers located in rural and...urban communities....” In the past year, close to 150,000 people benefited from the programs offered through this Institute.

Each year now, for several years, we have invited leaders in the academy to offer their reflections on the meaning of our work. Such distinguished guests as Jill Ker Conway, Shirley Anne Jackson, Nicholas Boyle and Edward Hirsch have shared their thoughts and perspectives. This evening, we are fortunate to have with us one of the great leaders of the academy, who embodies both a commitment to excellence, to the very core identity of a university, teaching and research… and to the moral demands of our institutions in this moment of uncertainty and transformation. Ladies and gentlemen, to deliver our 2008 Aims of Education address, please join me in welcoming our newest alumnus, Dr. Rafael Rangel Sostmann.

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