Hopkins' choice called visionary

Colleagues of next president praise his intellect, energy, leadership style

November 12, 2008|By Liz Bowie and Scott Calvert | Liz Bowie and Scott Calvert,liz.bowie@baltsun.com and scott.calvert@baltsun.com

As dean of the University of Toronto law school, Ronald J. Daniels was at first criticized for having goals that were too elitist and ambitious, in essence for acting too much like an American law dean. So perhaps it is not surprising that he eventually migrated south, first to the University of Pennsylvania and now to Baltimore as the next president of the Johns Hopkins University.

Working at a public university in Canada, Daniels had to persuade the legislature to raise tuition so that he could attract faculty that would raise the caliber of the Toronto law school, said George Triantis, a professor of law at Harvard University and a friend. But that tuition increase was unpopular with students, so he patiently sat and talked to them, convincing them that he would also increase financial aid to those who could not afford the tuition.

"This is not a hyperbole. I think he transformed the law school more than any dean in North America," Triantis said. "The law schools in Canada were critical. ... Six years later they are doing the same thing."

Academicians and friends described Daniels as an extraordinary leader, a visionary who manages also to have the managerial and communication skills to accomplish his goals.

The Johns Hopkins University board of trustees voted yesterday to name the 49-year-old Canadian-born law professor the next president of the university. He will take over March 2.

A man who possesses an endless supply of energy and needs little sleep, his colleagues uniformly describe him as having a brilliant mind that is drawn to a wide variety of fields and interests. He loves listening to jazz and watching movies. He runs every day and enjoys good food.

Mayo Moran, dean of the University of Toronto law school, said Daniels is lively, with a quick mind and a good sense of humor. "He is interested in everything. He will be amazing at this role. He has a such an intellectual curiosity."

Soon after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Daniels helped lead an effort by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania and other universities to distill lessons from the devastation in New Orleans for future disasters. The pace was furious: The findings were presented at a conference in Washington 100 days after the storm struck. A month later came the book, On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Members of Congress used the findings to prepare for hearings on Capitol Hill, said Penn political science professor Don Kettl.

The project is "an important sign" of Daniels' leadership style, said Kettl, who co-edited the book with the provost. "It's a leadership that begins with a vision of the connection between the university's intellectual resources and society's big problems."

The book also is an example of Daniels' drive and energy. Triantis, at Harvard, said Daniels is known for being demanding. "He doesn't rest. There is an excitement that borders on impatience. ... If you are part of his team, it is kind of exhausting," he said, adding that Daniels' enthusiasm for his work is also contagious.

Moran said that while Daniels worked to raise the academic level of the law school in Toronto, he also pushed hard and was successful in attracting a much more diverse faculty.

Daniels, who is thin with dark hair and a quick stride, gave no information about what his priorities will be or which direction he intends to take the university when he made remarks at a news conference yesterday. But he did say he believes in universities as transformative institutions.

"We are a tremendously important tool in social mobility," he said.

Daniels' family emigrated from Poland to Canada, where his father was a first-generation college graduate. Daniels was born in Toronto, attended public schools there and went to the University of Toronto, where he earned his bachelor's and law degrees. He went on to get a master of laws at Yale University, before joining the law faculty at Toronto. He was the dean of the Toronto law school for a decade until he moved in 2005 to the University of Pennsylvania to become the provost.

While he has spent much of his career in administrative positions, he is still known for taking time to talk to students.

"In my work in student government, he's been a great resource," said Wilson Tong, a Penn senior who chairs the student government Undergraduate Assembly. "He's very willing to listen and hear what students have to say and to ensure that he can play a role in enhancing student life as much as he can."

Tong said initiatives Daniels undertook as provost included new mentoring programs, funding for undergraduate summer research and a "civics scholars" program aimed at promoting public service. He also helped provide critical matching funds to distribute 650 copies of The New York Times free to students daily, and he encouraged greater political dialogue among Penn students.

J. Robert Prichard, the former president of the University of Toronto, who worked closely with Daniels for years, said he believes that Hopkins' new president will take the university to another level so that it stops being known primarily for its great strengths in medicine and the health sciences and "will rank literally with the very best in the world ... side by side with Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Stanford."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.