Change in focus seen for Hopkins

Penn provost could put more emphasis on arts, sciences

November 12, 2008|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,stephen.kiehl@baltsun.com

When Ronald J. Daniels began to sense that he was a serious candidate for the Johns Hopkins University presidency, he drove to Baltimore by himself to check the place out.

Daniels had never been to Hopkins before. His meetings with the presidential search committee had all been in New York. So one day this summer, he walked around Hopkins' leafy Homewood campus and admired the colonial architecture. He explored the medical campus in East Baltimore and then picked up crab cakes to take home to his family in Philadelphia.

The "stealth visit," as he called it, helped convince Daniels, a Canadian-born legal scholar who only three years earlier had become provost of the University of Pennsylvania, that he and Hopkins were the right fit. Yesterday, the university's board of trustees voted unanimously to make Daniels, 49, Hopkins' 14th president.

For a dozen years the institution has been under the leadership of President William R. Brody, a medical doctor, and several students and faculty members said yesterday they hope Daniels brings greater focus on arts and sciences, undergraduate education, and financial aid for needy students.

"We're hoping for a progressive person, a person who is open-minded," said Katrina Bell McDonald, an associate professor of sociology, who said arts and sciences have not received the attention they deserve. "He's coming from a different world, which may really work to our favor, and if we can turn that leaf over, I think that would be great."

Daniels, who starts March 2, will have an appointment as a professor in the political science department.

Yesterday he gave little hint as to his priorities, saying his first job was to learn the university, but his track record shows a concern for undergraduates and financial aid.

At Penn, Daniels created programs in which undergraduates work closely with faculty on research projects, community service and social advocacy. He also helped implement a new financial aid program that eliminated loans, instead giving grants to students in need so they could graduate debt-free.

Daniels said he hopes to enhance need-based aid at Hopkins. The school does not have need-blind admissions, meaning that students who have less ability to pay could be at a disadvantage in admissions decisions. He also said he would be a "champion" for undergraduate education.

"We are a tremendously potent tool for social mobility," said Daniels, whose father emigrated from Poland to Canada at the age of 7 and was among the first in his family to attend college. "I am one generation removed from that transformative experience, but I have never lost sight of its impact."

An international search that began in April with nearly 300 candidates produced about 20 finalists. They were interviewed in New York, to protect their privacy, and Daniels stood out for his leadership style, accomplishments, communication and fundraising abilities, and scholarship, search committee members said.

He's also, they added, rather charming.

"He's a very engaging person. He's a person that you like," said M. Diane Griffin, a search committee member and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.

She said the committee was impressed when Daniels told them, "One of the things you have to learn is the soul of a place."

He will help get that sense by living with his wife and children in Nichols House, Hopkins' on-campus presidential residence.

Daniels' wife, Joanne D. Rosen, is a human rights lawyer who teaches at Penn. They have four children: Roberta, 17; Drew and Ryan, 16-year-old twins; and Alexandra, 14. Rosen said she and the children will be moving to Baltimore in July 2010, after Drew and Ryan complete high school in Philadelphia.

Daniels joked that the children have agreed to trade cheesesteaks for crab cakes.

Daniels spent the day on a whirlwind tour of Hopkins' campuses, meeting students and faculty at Homewood, the Peabody Institute, the East Baltimore medical campus and the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.

This morning, he will be at Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He marveled at Peabody's rare-books library and its original cast iron circular staircase from 1865.

He said he looked forward to attending concerts and other events at Peabody - a good sign to those who hope he shifts some focus away from Hopkins' medical side.

"Hopkins has a huge strength in the health sciences, and you can't ignore that," said Griffin, of the search committee. "But it has the opportunity to be even better in the arts and sciences and other aspects of the university, and to be a great university, not just a great medical center. And we're not just that, but there is an opportunity to capitalize even more on the undergraduate campus and the school of arts and sciences."

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