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Ten Issues we can't Afford to Ignore header graphic

As an art historian, an educator, and, most recently, as the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School, Daniel Weiss MA '82, PhD '92 has long been deeply committed to the concept of a liberal education and believes strongly in its value to a productive and free society. As Weiss closes his chapter as dean of the university's core institution of arts and sciences and prepares to assume the presidency of one of the nation's top liberal arts colleges, Lafayette College (see Dean's Letter), he pauses to reflect with Arts and Sciences Magazine on the most critical issues and challenges facing higher education and institutions of liberal arts, the Krieger School in particular.

Over the last few years, many of us in higher education have spent a great deal of time thinking and talking about the state of liberal arts, and those of us here have reflected time and again on the place that the Krieger School holds in higher education today.

We ponder not as an academic exercise, but because this is a time of great change: More than ever, the cost of higher education is under scrutiny, and, more than ever, the role and value of a liberal arts education is under scrutiny. At the same time, an educated populace and the contributions of institutions such as ours are essential to confront widespread social and economic development issues the world is facing.

I'm happy to have this opportunity to share with you my thoughts on the most important issues for the Krieger School in the coming years. I've organized them as a list of 10; some of them are perennial challenges, others are new or have increased importance in today's world, and some are things we're already doing well but ought to improve upon or be vigilant about continuing. We are not alone in facing these issues; indeed, we share many of them with our colleagues in most institutions of higher learning, particularly schools of arts and sciences.

The fundamental missions of the Krieger School and Johns Hopkins are the right ones: to choose carefully what is worth pursuing and to do so without compromise, to instill in students the highest standards of intellectual achievement and an abiding commitment to self-initiated learning and discovery. This list is about what it will take to realize that mission in the years ahead.

 

1. Sustain a Healthy Balance of Resources

graphicIt is the school's responsibility to make sure that all participants, beneficiaries, and stakeholders contribute their fair share so that it 1) has a wide base of support, and 2) isn't overly dependent on any one source.

The University of Maryland system has spent the past two years overcoming an $81-million deficit after painful cuts in its large state-funded portion of the budget. Major tuition increases, deep spending reductions, and layoffs followed back-to-back cuts from the state. Similar stories abound at other state university systems.

At research universities such as Johns Hopkins, dependence on state money can also be important, but we rely even more heavily on support from the federal government and its funding agencies for our research. We must continue to work to ensure that all of those with an interest in our success-city, state, and federal governments, the private sector, individual donors, foundations, alumni, and students-contribute fairly.

 

2. Cultivate Selective Excellence

graphicWe have always done this, and will continue to. It's about looking at opportunities to be excellent, synergies within the school and across the university, and the value of a particular area of work to the students and the wider community. It's about not trying to be all things, instead homing in on topics of essential importance to a given field and areas in which we believe the most solid, original, and productive scholars are to be found.

That means, for example, that the History of Art Department has traditionally concentrated its resources on medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, and modern art, and the Biophysics Department stands as a leader in both experimental and theoretical studies of protein and RNA folding.

Selective excellence is both a greater opportunity and challenge for the Krieger School than for our larger peer institutions. Yet, as the explosion of knowledge has forced everyone to answer these questions, other schools are increasingly following our example.

 

3. Manage the Economics of Big Science

graphicAdvances in scientific knowledge are increasingly beholden to investments in expensive equipment. Again, because of the school's small size, it doesn't have the vast resources of others. What it does have is an exceptionally talented, entrepreneurial faculty and a collaborative environment within which to create partnerships. The future will be even more collaborative, with projects like the Krieger School's new NMR center, which operates several multi-million dollar imaging machines and is funded by grants to faculty in Arts and Sciences, the School of Medicine, and the Whiting School of Engineering.

A few years ago, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor Jonathan Bagger co-chaired a team of leading physicists who developed a strategic plan for the next 20 years of particle physics. The group's top priority-adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy-was to build a high-energy, high-luminosity linear collider (preferably in the United States). The collider, which would be 19 miles long, is a multi-billion dollar project by any measure that will require the commitment of an international community of scientists, institutions, and governments.

 

4. Create Equal Access

graphicAn institution dedicated to academic excellence must ensure that the best students are able to come, regardless of their ability to pay. In addition, the quality of a learning environment depends fundamentally on the learners, and the more diverse this community, the richer the environment. These commitments to excellence and diversity are not at all opposing principles.

A significant step toward achieving equal access is the Baltimore Scholars Program, which will bring some of Baltimore's brightest young minds to Homewood this fall. The program, launched last summer, provides full-tuition scholarships to graduates of Baltimore public schools who gain acceptance to Hopkins' undergraduate programs. The program is designed to establish closer ties to the city and its schools, and to ensure that many of the most talented students in Baltimore have access to a Hopkins education, without any financial barriers.

Ryan Harrison, Jasmine Jones, Tam Nguyen, and Kim Smith are among the program's first scholarship recipients, all seniors at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who applied early decision to Hopkins. They comprise an exceptional group with diverse interests and talents, and we are thrilled they will be among our freshman class.

 

5. Ensure Affordability

graphicFor virtually all private colleges and universities, the cost of higher education continues to increase at rates in excess of the cost of living. The Krieger School's education model-built on close interaction with the best faculty and investments in outstanding facilities and state-of-the-art technology-does not lend itself to economies of scale, nor does it track with the rate of inflation.

But this explanation isn't sufficient. The challenge over the next decade will be to find new ways to manage costs and fund programs or, alternatively, to communicate more effectively why such an education is both so costly and an exceptional value. Either way, higher education is in danger of being out of step with the American people.

 

6. Manage Competitive Pressure Without Being Dominated By It

graphicIncreasingly, consumers of higher education know more and expect more. We have and must continue to respond to that healthy competitive pressure, which challenges us to do more with less and to think more carefully about the needs of students. But, as former Harvard University President Derek Bok cautions in his book, Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education, competition in higher education can go too far and drive us off our mission.

We have taken important steps to improve the undergraduate experience, including building a superb recreation center (complete with a climbing wall) and an art center, revamping our dining facilities, strengthening our library collections and investments in technology, and providing more and better student housing. These and other changes are significantly enhancing undergraduates' time here, bringing their overall experience more in line with the academic experience.

What we won't do is succumb to competitive pressures that distract us from our core educational mission. We will not be adding once unimaginable amenities now found at some other institutions: giant Jacuzzis, room-sized golf simulators, water parks, and artificial frozen ponds for ice skating.

 

7. Foster the Purposes of a Liberal Education

graphicAt the core of our mission is the conviction that education-particularly a liberal one that draws from the humanities, social sciences, natural and physical sciences, and engineering-fosters the capacity for independent reasoning and thought.

We serve students and the community best when we help students develop this capacity, when they can do what Thomas Jefferson told his nephew, Peter Carr, to do in 1787: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.... Lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because other persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but for the uprightness of the decision."

 

8. Invest Greater Attention to Supporting a Diverse Faculty

graphicResearch universities have come to rely increasingly on-and to benefit from-a wide variety of faculty, from part-time instructors to emeriti full professors. A university needs the flexibility to invest or redirect resources for new initiatives, for instance, and it can't do so if it has a monolithic faculty or limited access to new talent.

Therefore, the school must continue to reach out to faculty at all levels, supporting various career tracks and expecting the best of every faculty member.

 

9. Sustain Alternative Education Models

graphicThe resources of the Krieger School are and should be available to a community wider than full-time students at Homewood. Continuing to broaden access to the opportunities the school provides strengthens our core mission, brings an important financial benefit, and better serves the community.

It was 1992 when Advanced Academic Programs (then known as Part-Time Graduate Programs) opened its doors in Washington in space shared with Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). Since then, AAP's offerings have expanded tremendously in Baltimore, Montgomery County, and in Washington, where the school has opened the Bernstein-Offit Building at 1776 Massachusetts Avenue, now AAP's headquarters.

The division now offers master's degrees in 10 programs on all three campuses.

 

10. Discard the Notion of an Ivory Tower

graphicJohns Hopkins and other research universities have flourished not as ivory towers, but as vital centers. The Krieger School is thriving, in part, because it has structured partnerships with other divisions of the university, because it has built international programs overseas, and because it enjoys productive relationships with other institutions, including the government and the community.

We have scores of partnerships between faculty in the Krieger School and the schools of Medicine and Public Health, furthering cancer research and efforts to prevent disease and disability, for instance, and we either run programs or are affiliated with programs that send students to study in Bologna, Rome, Florence, Madrid, Paris, and Nanjing, among others. Partnerships between the university and the local community abound, too, and that interconnectedness sustains us, makes us relevant to the larger community, and vice versa.

The late Bart Giamatti, the former Yale University president and commissioner of Major League Baseball, said it this way in 1981: "A private education must be in some form directed to the public good, and nothing is gained from assuming that private universities and colleges do not want to, or cannot, fulfill that purpose.... Private universities must be nourished in order that they may continue to be tributaries to the great stream of American culture and not forced to become sanctuaries from it." <empty>

 

 

SPRING/SUMMER 2005
Features
Conquistadors of Cotopaxi
Child on the Wing
Ten Issues We Can't
Afford to Ignore

 

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