McCourt School of Public Policy Foundation Exercises

Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Dahlgren Quadrangle
Georgetown University
October 8, 2013

This is an extraordinary moment for a university community. It is not often we determine that in order to be true to our mission we need to take the step of establishing a new School. The need to deepen our commitment to Public Policy has been felt in our community for many years. We realize this vision with this step today.

And so, we begin in gratitude – I wish, first, to express our appreciation to our faculty – those who have built Georgetown Public Policy over the course of these past years to the point that we can now establish the McCourt School. It is your scholarship, your contributions to the national discourse, your excellence in teaching that set the foundation on which we stand today.

I wish to express our appreciation to the members of our Board of Directors, our Chairman, our senior administration and Deans, for your presence here today and your continued vision of what we can all accomplish together, as members of this Georgetown community.

And gratitude to an individual – for his singular generosity – to enable Georgetown to take that "step" to realize a vision of the university we are called to be…and to a family, a three-generation legacy, beginning 80 years ago with the arrival of Frank’s father.

It is an honor for us to welcome the McCourt family, and a special honor to welcome Frank’s mother, Kay McCourt. For as long as there is a Georgetown, your name will be associated with our efforts to bring the resources of the Academy to bear on improving the human condition. We offer our deepest gratitude to Frank McCourt for making this moment possible.

Pursuing Truth and Sharing Knowledge

As a university, we pursue the truth wherever it leads. The disinterested pursuit of truth is the unique activity and contribution of the university. This is a role that we are asked to play, a role expected of us in our society. Our societies are weaker if we fail to honor this responsibility.

But for a university the pursuit of truth also demands the construction of knowledge, the critique of knowledge, and the sharing of knowledge.

The pursuit of truth is not uniquely something that happens with isolated individuals engaging in solitary work. Rather, though it may begin at one’s desk, insights are soon shared, in rigorous and civil discourse, reflecting the pattern of engagement of the university.

This pattern – a commitment to genuine dialogue…to the exchange of ideas, especially with those different than our own…to the idea that we arrive closer to the truth when we presume the best of one another, even with those with whom we disagree – this pattern has never been more needed.

We engage in a search for truth through dialogue and debate, through the presentation of evidence, from multiple perspectives. And then, discoveries…insights…scholarship…are shared among fellow scholars, within the faculty and beyond any particular university community. But of course, this effort crucially extends to students. "Formation," the work of teaching and ensuring learning, is a principal element – and responsibility – of sharing.

As a university, we support the formation of our students, the work of discovery – the scholarship of our faculty, and a responsibility for the public good. Every university plays a role in contributing to the commonweal.

Such an aspiration requires us to acknowledge the urgency – particularly given a world whose boundaries are rapidly shrinking – of the need to connect the work of our community ever more deeply with that being done throughout our world. As we wrestle with the challenges of access to education and health care, of the importance of the dignity of work and the need to ensure our economies can provide for the needs of all of our people, we need to engage the voices from other parts of the world – scholars and practitioners whose engagement with similar challenges are producing powerful new ideas that can provide creative, imaginative, innovative solutions for our societies.

Our discourse is now global. We need to bring new voices, from throughout our world to the table. The pursuit of truth and the commitment to sharing that characterizes our life here together must extend beyond our campus, beyond this city, and reach throughout our world.

The Commitment to the Common Good

A deep influence on the tradition that animates our university is particularly relevant to the reason for our presence here today. John O’Malley identifies Cicero’s De Officiis as a foundational influence on Ignatius and the first Jesuits. Cicero was a favorite author – the early Jesuits knew his work by heart. De Officiis is often translated as On Public Responsibility. Father O’Malley identifies this passage of Cicero as having foundational resonance within our tradition:

We are not born for ourselves alone...Everything that the earth produces is created for our use, and we, too, as human beings are born for the sake of other human beings that we might be able mutually to help one another; we ought therefore to…contribute to the common good of humankind by reciprocal acts of kindness, by giving and receiving from one another, and thus by our skill, our industry and our talents work to bring human society together in peace and harmony.1

Father O’Malley calls this the foundation of a civic spirituality. In the tradition upon which this university is built, we acknowledge that we have a civic commitment to seek the common good. At this moment in our history, we acknowledge our public responsibility with the establishment of this School.

A commitment to the common good changes everything. It acknowledges that there is truth to be discovered and good to be realized when we engage in this work, together. This discovery, this realization occurs in dialogue, with one another, and especially with those with whom we disagree.

If we begin with a commitment to the common good, we might see the challenges of our time differently

If we begin with a commitment to the common good, we might look at the challenges of poverty here in our nation, as the great fault line of our Republic. Our proxy for containing this fault line, since 1965, has been the War on Poverty. In 1965, 30 million Americans were living below the poverty line2. Today, 47 million Americans are living in poverty3. Two-thirds are living paycheck-to-paycheck, unable to meet a rental or mortgage payment beyond one month4. We have the highest percentage of children living in poverty among all developed countries5.

We are animated by the understanding that “as human beings” we “are born for the sake of [each] other….” And our institutions and systems and structures – our policies for taking care of one another – must reflect our most deeply held values: a respect for human dignity, a commitment that we will strive for conditions that enable each one of us to be our most authentic selves, capable of achieving our full promise, and understanding that we truly are all in this together – that there is a good we can achieve together that we could never achieve alone.

Conclusion

Georgetown was founded just months before the ratification of the Constitution. We have grown together with this city, and with this nation. From our earliest days, we have sought to advance knowledge and prepare students for the responsibilities of citizenship. Throughout our history we have responded to the pressing needs of the day. This is a moment that demands the very best of us. The generosity we honor today places a new burden of responsibility on our University.

This is a responsibility we are honored to accept.


[1] John O'Malley, The Jesuits II: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773 (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press Incorporated, 2006), xxxii.

[2] U.S. Bureau of the Census. “The Extent of Poverty in the United States: 1959 to 1966,” Current Population Reports, Series P-20, No. 54, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1968, http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/povertmy/publications/p60-54.pdf.

[3] Hope Yen, “U.S. poverty on track to rise to highest level since 1960s,” Associated Press, July 22, 2012.

[4] "New Survey: One in Three Americans Would Be Unable to Make Housing Payment after Job Loss," Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and The U.S. Conference of Mayors press release, September 28, 2011, on the PR Newswire website, http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/new-survey-one-in-three-americans-would-be-unable-to-make-housing-payment-after-job-loss-130706533.html.

[5] UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, “Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries,” (Florence, Italy: UNICEF, May 2012), 3.