Embrace Internet, Brody urges Hopkins School should take advantage of new technology, chief says

February 24, 1997|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

On the day he was formally inaugurated as president of the Johns Hopkins University during a two-hour ceremony, Dr. William Ralph Brody called for the university to reshape itself to acknowledge the changes in the way people will learn in the age of the Internet.

With 1,100 people looking on at Shriver Hall, Brody spoke yesterday of a virtual university inspired by its pioneering past and bounded only by the imagination of its professors and students.

"We have within our hands now the chance to build the new academy, founded on an underpinning of mature experience and flown on the pinions of youthful idealism," Brody said. "For

Hopkins, after all, is at heart a young institution, still brash in our second hundred years."

Garbed in academic cap and hood and a gown trimmed with Hopkins gold, Brody paid homage to those who came before him, such as Daniel Coit Gilman, the founding president who helped the university to offer the first graduate seminar and to confer among the first doctoral degrees in America. Brody also led a standing ovation for his four living predecessors: Lincoln Gordon, Steven Muller, William C. Richardson and Daniel Nathans.

The four men stood at Brody's side as Michael R. Bloomberg, the business news magnate and chairman of the board of trustees, placed the presidential chain of office, with the university seal and portraits of Brody's predecessors, over his head and on his shoulders.

Brody, 53, a physician and entrepreneur who served for seven years as the chief of radiology at the Hopkins medical school, arrived from the University of Minnesota to become president in August. Presidential inaugurations are usually held to coincide with the anniversary of the university's founding, which occurred 121 years ago Saturday.

"Bill Brody is a visionary, a man who is excited by ideas, who is always pushing the boundaries," Hopkins trustee George L. Bunting Jr. said in a tribute echoed by others.

Brody appeared at once moved and somewhat unnerved by the accolades. He responded to a standing ovation at the ceremony gesturing for people to sit and by looking down, somewhat abashed, at the floor when they would not stop applauding.

In his own talk, Brody offered serious and extensive reflections about the nature of knowledge and the future of the American university.

The change in technology offered by the Internet will offer an information revolution as profound as that offered by the first written book, the first mass-produced publication or the invention of the telephone, he said.

"What we really crave is better access to knowledge, not information," Brody said. "Knowledge is content that is assimilated, collated and interpreted to provide a unique perspective.

"Universities are in the knowledge business. That has been our stock in trade," Brody said.

The continued greatness of Hopkins, Brody suggested, will depend on the university's ability to transform the way the people who comprise it think of it. The university should build on its efforts of the past two decades to create centers for continuing education regionally and international scholarship in China and Italy, and offer continuing education for professionals worldwide, he said.

"It will be a university campus in which bits and bytes replace bricks and mortar, one in which scholars and students can communicate and collaborate electronically without the necessity of proximity," Brody said. "Such a network of scholars can preserve the essence of our Hopkins 'hand-tooled' education envisioned by Dr. Gilman, one in which the student is stimulated to learn by working closely with a faculty member."

The two-hour ceremony closely followed the pattern set for Gilman in 1876. Yesterday's ceremony was punctuated by classical music -- including a fanfare composed for the occasion by Robert Sirota, director of Hopkins' Peabody Institute -- and tributes from public leaders.

"Johns Hopkins is not an isolated, ivory-tower university," Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said. "Students, faculty and staff are encouraged to participate actively in the life of the community. Blessedly for our sake, they do."

Just before the ceremony began, about 25 students, employees and faculty members held banners and passed out leaflets outside Shriver Hall to protest wages paid to lower-income staff employed by the university and its contractors.

"Today, the senators of the state of Maryland are here. The governor of the state of Maryland is here. The trustees of the university are here," said Dana Wise, 33, a second-year graduate student in geography. "We are trying to educate them about the issue facing the workers of the university."

University officials did not attempt to halt the protest, which had been arranged, in a typical Hopkins fashion, with the promise of quiet opposition rather than the noisy antagonism that often characterizes campus demonstrations elsewhere.

"It's something that Brody and other administrators have discussed previously and will continue to discuss," said Hopkins spokesman Steve Libowitz.

Pub Date: 2/24/97

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