A Canadian, Jhu President Cannot Lead Apl Research

September 09, 2009|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

He has to wait in longer lines at the airport. He couldn't vote in last year's historic presidential election. But until he took over as president of the Johns Hopkins University in March, Ronald Daniels had never been denied a professional privilege because he is Canadian.

As a Canadian citizen who just received his green card, Daniels cannot obtain security clearance to oversee classified research. And under Hopkins' enormous research umbrella sits the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel. The lab attracted $845 million in research money last year, about 70 percent of which came from the Department of Defense. Many of those defense contracts involve classified research.

Past Hopkins presidents have obtained a security clearance but have never involved themselves in the details of classified research, say the university and the lab. Nonetheless, university and defense officials spent several months earlier this year negotiating an agreement under which Daniels would have no contact with classified contracts.

The university has created a limited liability corporation to handle its classified research, and oversight has transferred from the president's office to Pamela Flaherty, who chairs the university's board of trustees. Richard T. Roca, director of the lab, is the manager of the LLC and reports to a panel of trustees appointed by Flaherty.

"It effectively creates a wall between the part of the university performing research with access to classified information and the rest of the university," said Hopkins spokesman Dennis O'Shea.

The arrangement has satisfied defense officials, and the government never considered pulling classified contracts from Hopkins, said Defense spokeswoman Kathleen Roberts. But the situation is unusual, she said.

"It is unusual for a university or company doing classified defense work to hire a non-U.S. citizen to fill a leading administrative position," Roberts said. "So this situation rarely occurs. It has not occurred previously in more than 60 years of Johns Hopkins or APL performing research and development for DOD."

The Canadian in question said he's comfortable ceding oversight of classified research to Flaherty.

"With the changes that have been made, I'm confident that the lab and the university will continue to benefit from a strong relationship," Daniels said. "And I look forward to the day when I will have my clearance."

He began working toward U.S. citizenship while serving as provost at the University of Pennsylvania and received his green card two weeks ago. That means Daniels is about five years from obtaining citizenship. In the meantime, he said, he will keep abreast of APL's nonclassified research, which includes high-profile contracts with NASA, and will nurture collaborations between APL researchers and Hopkins' schools of engineering and medicine.

"These are all areas where it's appropriate for me to be involved, and I intend to offer my support," he said.

Daniels said he and Hopkins officials were aware of the limitations posed by his Canadian citizenship while he was interviewing for the job.

Flaherty, the chairwoman of the board, noted that several lab representatives served on Hopkins' presidential search committee. When asked if anyone regarded Daniels' citizenship as an impediment to his hiring, she replied, "All I can say is that when we selected Ron Daniels, it was a unanimous choice."

Flaherty gained security clearance when she became chairwoman two years ago and said her transition to overseeing the lab has been easy. "It's really not that big of a change," she said.

Flaherty said she has no reason to dig into the details of classified contracts. She's more focused on keeping customers of the lab satisfied and on making sure the lab has the resources it needs to thrive.

Lab officials "have always managed the process," she said of classified research. "I'm not involved, technically."

APL spokeswoman Helen Worth also said the transition has been no big deal.

"It sounded like, 'Oh my gosh, is this going to be a problem?' " Worth said. "But it ended up being a simple transition. Most people at the lab never even noticed."

APL was founded in 1942 with the charge of developing defenses against enemy air attacks in World War II. The lab has since worked on everything from missile defense systems to mapping the ocean floor for the Navy to building "smart" replacement limbs for wounded soldiers. Though Hopkins has received criticism over the years for mixing academic and military research, the lab, which doesn't conduct classes, is the university's richest source of research money.

Operations haven't changed, Worth said, because the university's president has never taken a direct hand in classified research. For such involvement to be necessary, she said, "it would have to be an extremely unusual situation. I can't even imagine when it would be necessary."

Hopkins is not the first prominent U.S. university to install a Canadian at its top. Princeton and the University of California, Berkeley are also in the club. Though Daniels made his academic reputation as a law professor at the University of Toronto and speaks with an accent, he said he hasn't applied any particularly Canadian touches to Hopkins since arriving from Penn.

"In the academic world, the similarities between universities in each country are pretty striking," he said.

Daniels laughed when asked if, under his leadership, hockey would displace lacrosse as Hopkins' signature sport.

"This is an easy one for me," he said. "Lacrosse is one of our national sports as well."

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