Faculty Town Hall – Fall 2015

ICC Auditorium
Georgetown University
October 1, 2015

Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. It’s a pleasure to once again gather in this Town Hall setting to engage with you on matters of importance to our University, and to each one of you.

Over the course of many years, we’ve engaged in a series of conversations, in this forum, and in other places across our community, about the nature of our work, the challenges we are facing, and the efforts we are pursuing to build the strongest possible context for our community.

During this time, we’ve been deeply focused on a set of activities and initiatives that have strengthened the foundation for our work, and have enabled us to take advantage of the opportunities emerging in higher education.

In my comments today, I wish to speak about the commitments that we see as central to the life of our community—commitments that we must preserve and protect amidst the many demands and challenges present in this moment.  I will conclude my remarks with some reflections on how we are approaching this changing landscape, and then I look forward to taking your questions on any issues of the day.  

In Memory

I wish to begin, as has been our practice, by acknowledging members of our community who we have lost in the time since our last gathering—each of them forever a part of the fabric of our University.

We remember:

Dr. James Alatis, a long-time faculty member, who joined our community in 1966, and who served as Dean Emeritus of the School of Languages and Linguistics;

Father Jim Walsh, a professor in the Department of Theology for more than four decades;

Margo Gottesman, a beloved colleague for more than thirty years;

Rabbi Harold White; who joined our community in 1968 and had a transformative impact on our commitment to interfaith dialogue; and,  

Katherine McCarthy, a deeply respected member of our Law Center community and daughter of Dean David McCarthy who served there in the 1970s and 80s. We lost Katherine on Friday [September 25, 2015] and yesterday came together for a memorial service in her honor.                        

We are deeply grateful for James’ love of language…and the imagination that Jim inspired in each of us. We are honored by Margo’s dedicated service to our university… blessed by the joy that Rabbi brought to our community…and inspired by the warmth and care that Katherine showed to so many. 

They—along with all of the colleagues, friends, and family that we have lost this year—remain in our thoughts and prayers, and our institution is indebted to them and forever grateful for their contributions to the life of our community.

Leadership Transitions

We have also welcomed new members into our community since we last met:

Joel Hellman, Dean of the School of Foreign Service.

Dr. Hellman, an expert in governance and development, joined our community after 15 years of service to the World Bank. We look forward his leadership and to the work he is undertaking as our School of Foreign Service approaches its centennial in 2019.

Edward Healton, Executive Vice President for Health Sciences and Executive Dean of the School of Medicine.

Dr. Healton, who served for many years as Chair of the Department of Neurology, will serve in this capacity for a two-year term as we strengthen our position for future growth and establish a strong foundation for the recruitment of future leadership at the Medical Center.  

Ed took on this role earlier this year, following the departure of Dr. Howard Federoff. We’re deeply grateful to Howard for his service over the past eight years, and the contributions he has made to strengthening our academic, research, and clinical care missions.

Ed has done a tremendous job in these first few months of bringing our community together in a process of active reflection and deliberation on the future of the Medical Center. 

I wish to thank both Joel and Ed for the important work they have already begun since taking on these new roles within our community.


As I mentioned, in recent Town Halls and in other forums around the university, we have been engaged in a conversation about the current landscape of higher education—the opportunities, the challenges, and the transformations we are facing, as well as the enduring commitments that we affirm in this changing environment.

I need not remind you of the persistent and sometimes pernicious efforts—from outside, and even inside, the Academy—to question the value of education for our students and our society…to undermine the unique, interlocking, mutually reinforcing, and interconnected responsibilities of a university: formation, inquiry, and a commitment to the common good.

To respond to these challenges, since 2013 we have been engaged in a formal process of reflection and experimentation through the Designing the Future(s) of the University Initiative.  These responsibilities—which have shaped the very idea of the university throughout its history—are guideposts…measuring rods for the questions we are asking ourselves: what do we preserve and protect…what do we embrace?

Today, I would like to spend some time with you reflecting on certain characteristics which we believe hold a special place in our community…fundamental aspects of the modern Academy that play a unique role in enabling the work of formation, inquiry, and the common good.

Then, I’d like to share some reflections on how we are advancing our vision for Georgetown within today’s landscape of higher education.  Following my comments, I look forward to engaging with you on any questions of the day.  

First—our fundamentals.

I wish to talk today about three ideas…three concepts that remain essential to how we understand the work that takes place at a university: academic freedom, shared governance, and speech and expression.

These concepts have emerged—over the course of many decades—as bedrock principles of the Academy, providing security and continuity for our faculty in the work on inquiry, and ensuring the unrestrained expression of ideas within our communities…in essence, defining what it is to be a university, and to be part of a university community.

For 100 years, these ideas have been linked to a “Declaration of Principles” offered by the American Association of University Professors [in 1915], and a revised document, which the AAUP put forth in 1940. This later statement is a foundational source for our own Faculty Handbook and describes for us the essential link between the work of the faculty—its pursuit of inquiry, and the common good.

It reads: “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.”[1]

However, in recent years, these commitments have faced increasing pressure and scrutiny, in places such as the University of Wisconsin system and the University of Kansas—in questions about tenure and academic freedom—and around our nation, as colleges and universities grapple with declining federal funding and state support.

These are very real challenges to the long-term viability and character of our institutions. 

As we think deeply about what we must protect and preserve in this environment…and what we must embrace, it’s more important than ever that we understand the central role these concepts have in our university life.

Academic Freedom

Let me focus first on Academic Freedom.

As I’ve begun to describe, there is a long history of academic freedom in the United States, with concepts like tenure arising in the mid-part of the last century to ensure that appropriate structures would be in place to sustain this freedom.

For our community, the first University Committee on Rank, Tenure and Salary was officially organized in 1951.

There have been moments in American history when faculty members have been constrained in the pursuit of their scholarship—both in their research, and in the classroom—as a result of pressures exerted by outside forces.

At Georgetown, we have our own articulation of the definition of academic freedom, which is captured in our Faculty Handbook.

Our policy states, “Free inquiry and unconstrained publication of the results of inquiry are at the heart of a university. Our University commitment to academic freedom supports all faculty and professional librarians in research, teaching, and professional service in and beyond the University by protecting free inquiry and free expression…While all faculty enjoy academic freedom, this right is reinforced by the institution of tenure, whereby a select body of faculty are appointed without limit of term and under special conditions…and with a responsibility to participate in shared governance.”

This commitment defines an academic community—it remains the most fundamental commitment that we can make to ensure a context for the open-ended quest for understanding.

Academic Freedom in a Global Context

This is a dynamic time in higher education. We remain steadfast in our commitment to this longstanding principle which sustains and supports inquiry. We also recognize that our University mission requires that we remain attentive to the complexities that emerge through global engagement.

For our community, animated by our Catholic and Jesuit heritage, we have a particular responsibility to live out our mission “at the margins.” Our tradition encourages us to educate people at the frontiers around the world, often in circumstances very different from those at home.  In this work, we inevitably find ourselves working in places that hold values that are not identical to our own. 

As our community becomes more engaged around the world—as our faculty pursue work in different nations and cultures—we must address in a new way how to live out our principles when the laws and customs of those nations differ from our own. These circumstances can raise a variety of questions about what we should do when those values are in conflict.

This semester, we are establishing a new task force comprised of colleagues around the university to advance this important work. It will be charged with reflecting on how a global university should articulate principles of academic freedom. We need to ensure we respond to the challenges that arise as we continue to evolve as a global university.

Shared Governance

The preface to our Faculty Handbook articulates our commitment to shared governance:

“The faculty of Georgetown University stand among the world’s leaders in their domains of research, service, and teaching. To secure that stature and to fulfill the University’s mission, faculty must be guaranteed the academic freedom and the resources enabling them to shape the character and intellect of our students, to break new ground in research, and to render service of the greatest value to the public as well as the University. The Georgetown model of shared governance recognizes the special role of faculty and ensures that they will be consistently and appropriately involved in the formulation of University policies, especially but not only through the participation of the Faculty Senate and its leadership.”

Shared governance provides for processes and structures through which we can establish a shared understanding of our responsibilities for the moment in which we are privileged to serve.

Among the elements of shared governance include an appreciation for disciplinary expertise, the importance of peer review, and perhaps most importantly a recognition that we are part of a more than two centuries old project for which we share stewardship with our Board of Directors, an administration, a faculty, students and alumni, and in our case, a relationship to a four century old religious order.  

For our community, the idea of shared governance is reflected in the important and vital role of the Faculty Senate, the Main Campus Executive Faculty, Medical Center Caucus, and other faculty bodies, as well as our Board Committee on Faculty Relations, to ensure full faculty participation and a shared responsibility in university affairs.

I wish to express my deep gratitude to Wayne Davis, for his excellent leadership of our Faculty Senate, and the members of our community who participate in these valuable bodies.

We are at our very best, as a university, when we achieve the alignment of our leadership and governing bodies…ensuring that our Faculty leadership, Senior and Academic Leadership, and Board of Directors accept responsibilities for stewardship of our community.  We have seen—powerfully and profoundly—the possibilities that emerge for our community when we are working together and moving forward.

Speech and Expression

Like academic freedom, speech and expression has a very precise meaning for a university community.  Our commitment to freedom of speech and expression is a condition for our common life together as a community.

For more than 25 years, we have upheld a policy on speech and expression, and have convened a standing committee—comprised of students, faculty, and administrators—that continues to advise our community on matters relating to speech and expression.

This policy is part of the profound legacy that Father Walsh left our community. His rich preamble, which describes the guiding spirit of our policy, is worth recalling here.

He writes: “A University is many things, but central to its being is discourse, discussion, debate: the untrammeled expression of ideas and information. This discourse is carried on communally: we all speak, and we all listen. Ideally, discourse is open and candid, and also – ideally – is characterized by courtesy, mutual reverence, and even charity.”

It’s from these ideas that we derive our policies. Our formal policies do not prohibit speech based either on the person presenting, or on the content of the ideas expressed. 

Rather, we encourage the free exchange of ideas. 

As our policy states: “An individual member or group of members of the academic community may invite any person to address the community.”  In such a context – where there is a commitment to engaging a wide range of perspectives, and a clear and comprehensive framework for free speech and expression – our University remains a convening space.

There are always efforts that seek to limit speech and expression. We as a community seek the broadest possible range for speech and expression as a community.

Academic Freedom.

Shared Governance.

Speech and Expression.

For us—these three ideas, which have emerged as central to academic life over the past hundred years—are commitments that enable us to live out our tripartite mission of formation, inquiry, and the pursuit of the common good.

Finances and Endowment

We have understood, in a climate intensely focused on access and affordability, cost, and debt, we must maintain a financial model that is able to support in as full a way as possible these commitments. Our approach has been that if we continue to invest in the core elements that help to define and support our mission, we will create the best context from which we can engage moments of challenge and change. 

I’d like to take a few moments to update you an outlook on overall university performance. 

For the third straight year, we have ended our fiscal year “above the line.”

We have achieved our campaign goal of $1.5 billion dollars, with a year to go, and we are going to continue our hard work going forward.

We’ve exceeded our goals on faculty and academic excellence by more than $125 million and on student life and community experience by $10 million.

Our endowment is now more than $1.5 billion.

We have completed $1.3 billion in capital infrastructure.

During the most complex economic climate of our lifetimes, we have protected the commitments at the very heart of our mission—to need blind admissions and meeting full need, to maintaining our faculty salary plans over the course of the last 16 years, to sustaining our mission in academic medicine. We established our first new school in sixty years, established a campus in Doha, and launched efforts to respond to the forces of new technology and globalization.

Nevertheless, we realize that we still have much work to do.

We compete against peer institutions with significantly larger endowments.

Despite our position among our peers in terms of our endowment, we have competed at the highest levels. We are now prepared to design our next Main Campus Faculty Salary Plan. This work is now underway, led by Wayne Davis, Provost Groves, and a group of faculty leaders. Maintaining the competitiveness of our faculty salary plan is one of the necessary elements to sustain our trajectory.

This has been an intentional effort—going back to 1999, when we established the first long-range faculty salary plan for the Main Campus—and to this most recent plan.

We’ve recognized that in the first two plans we’ve been able to accomplish our goals for faculty at the assistant and associate levels, but we have work to do at the full professor level. In our current work, we intend to address this.

We have also taken steps over the past year that recognize the important role that full-time non-tenure-line faculty play on our Main campus, in the development of a new framework that provides stability and a structure for career progression, and significant inclusion in our shared governance structures. As part of this new framework, our Main Campus Faculty Salary Plan will now include non-tenure line faculty as well as tenure-line.

Update on the Georgetown University Medical Center

As I mentioned earlier in my comments, we have undergone a leadership transition at our Medical Center and have engaged a new process to strengthen the context for academic medicine.

Some of you may be familiar with the work that Ed Healton and our colleagues at the Medical Center have been engaged in over the course of the last few months.

Just yesterday, Ed shared an update with the GUMC community on the ongoing and consultative process that he launched since assuming his responsibilities in June. To date more than a hundred colleagues have been engaged. This process will inform the design of a planning process that will unfold later this fall to address some of the longstanding concerns and determine the future vision for the Medical Center.

Master Planning

As you all know, Georgetown’s “place”—on this Hilltop, and in our home in Washington, DC—plays a special role in who we are as an institution.  Over the past few years, we have engaged in a master planning process, focused on sustaining our mission of academic excellence as a student-centered, research university.

Our vision to create physical spaces which support future academic programs and a vibrant living and learning environment on the Main Campus is guided by a set of principals: expand and create high-quality green spaces; create a pedestrian-friendly campus; organize strategic growth around hubs of academic, social, and recreational activities; and improve transportation systems into campus.

Our academic needs have inspired the physical development of our historic main campus and are guiding how we expand and develop in other parts of the city as well.

As we execute our vision for this historic campus, we are working closely with our student leaders and neighbors, including MedStar to ensure we have alignment around the plans for a new hospital and other improvements on the north side of campus.

You’re beginning to see this vision come to life with the projects that are close to completion…

Let me share with you a video that describes for you the vision that has emerged, through the engagement of our community…

This is our vision for our home here on the Hilltop. We look forward to continuing to work with our faculty as this work continues.

We also acknowledge that there are other drivers of change—which relate to our physical campus, and also to the ways that we engage and deliver new knowledge.

These are all connected—this place, learning and technology, our global engagement.

I’d like to close by describing a few of the ways we have advanced our work to respond to the challenges facing higher education. On other occasions, we talked about many of these challenges—from maintaining competitiveness and access and affordability to engaging globally and addressing new technologies. And over the past three years, we have launched a series of activities to expand the opportunities that our university can take advantage of in this changing environment.

In 2012, we launched the Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning grant (ITEL) process, and began our partnership with edX.

In 2013, we inaugurated our effort on Designing the Future(s) of the University.

And, in January of this year, we launched the Global Futures Initiative.

These activities represent the set of ambitions we have for our University: to address access and success for our students; to invent new ways of learning and provide new contexts for interaction between faculty and students; and to engage in this work not only here on our campus, but around our world. 

Let me share with you a little more about how this work has progressed.

Initiative on Technology-Enhanced Learning

In late 2012, we launched ITEL, a multi-year $8 million investment in faculty grants, digital infrastructure and our partnership with edX.

In the three years since, more than 230 unique faculty have launched over 160 projects, with the goal of leveraging technology to enhance the student experience and learning outcomes.

Through this process we’ve learned a few things:

Through our GeorgetownX platform, since 2013, we have organized eight MOOCs, engaged 26 faculty, and reached 140,000 students from around the world. As part of this process we’ve been able to facilitate more collaboration across departments and schools and gain crucial insight into effective student learning through assessment on an unprecedented scale.

Designing the Future(s) of the University

I spoke of our Designing the Future(s) of the University effort just a few moments ago. This has been an effort over the course of the past two years in which we have engaged in a reflective process about what it means to be a university. Many leaders in higher education have come to talk with us—Susan Hockfield, Stephen Kosslyn, and Mimi Ito— and share their insights into the higher education landscape.

We have received more than $4 million in philanthropic contributions to fund this work and to accelerate progress on the next phase. Almost a dozen pilot proposals have been or are being submitted for consideration by school curriculum committees, and several more projects are in the development phase. Projects propose new ways of organizing credit-bearing work—including, fostering new approaches to mentored research and integrating first and second degrees.

We are examining how we teach, how students learn—while remaining invested in the core mission of the university: formation, inquiry and the pursuit of the common good. 

Global Futures

In January, we launched another effort: Global Futures, which seeks to understand the distinct responsibilities, and opportunities, that our University has, with our global identity, with our Catholic and Jesuit heritage, and our location here in Washington, D.C.

We began the academic year by hosting more than 400 scholars and students at a conference for the Human Development and Capabilities Association, by hosting our alumnus the King of Spain, and just yesterday welcomed Dr. Margaret Chan as part of our Global Futures lecture series—which focuses this semester on global governance.


All of these efforts—from Designing the Future(s) to Master Planning—capture a sense of what we’re doing to manage this moment of transition within higher education.  They are just a few examples of steps that enable us to explore opportunities for the future, while still sustaining our commitment to our fundamental priorities: academic freedom, shared governance, and speech and expression.

The talent that we have here in this room, represented in our faculty—and also in our students and our staff and administrators—will enable us to advance our mission, and to embrace the opportunities that are emerging in the landscape of higher education.

It’s a privilege to engage in this work with you…and I appreciate your time this afternoon.  I’ll now take any questions you have on any topic…and I look forward to our conversation…

[1] 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”