Daniels' financial aid push was not entirely altruistic. Almost all of the university's competitors offer need-blind admissions, and that put Hopkins at a disadvantage in competing for the nation's best students. Daniels also hopes that a richer undergraduate experience will help Hopkins attract the best talent.
For that task, he recruited Princeton sociology professor Katherine Newman, a renowned scholar of poverty issues.
Daniels and Newman want to shrink class sizes in the sciences, get more undergraduates performing advanced research, nudge them into wider community service and make sure each student finds at least one close faculty mentor.
Newman says that will require more money to increase the faculty, but she also promises new programs that "no one has ever tried before in this country."
Focus on community
Nowhere has Daniels applied more focus than EBDI, the 88-acre, mixed-use development north of the university's medical campus in East Baltimore.
Daniels sits on the board of the development agency and checks in with Shea by phone every week and in person every month.
The recession slowed EBDI's plans to attract biotechnology companies and as many as 7,000 new residents to the neighborhood, which was cleared during a massive, and often unpopular, relocation effort. But Shea says Daniels played a major role in recruiting the Lieber Institute of Brain Development from New York and says he has led a renewed focus on amenities such as a grocery store, parks and, most importantly, a K-8 public school.
"I'm not aware of any other major university president who is this engaged in community outreach," Shea says. "I'm stunned by his level of involvement."
Daniels envisions a porous boundary between the medical campus and the development, with students and employees living, working and shopping in the EBDI zone. None of that can happen, he says, without a great community school to attract middle-class families. He's optimistic that three-quarters of the $40 million needed to break ground on a school will be in hand by the end of the summer.
It's early July and Daniels has recently returned from a two-week trip through Uganda, Ethiopia and Zambia with Klag and officials from the university's Malaria Research Institute.
He speaks with wonder of meeting the Hopkins epidemiologists who first noticed links between a new disease in Africa and the mysterious illness that was killing gay men in San Francisco in the early 1980s.
It's apparent from his tone that Daniels sees great romance in this story. "Just the persistence, the courage, the grim determination required to put all this together," he says.
He has another appointment, so he has to cut short his rhapsody. But Daniels stops for a moment, as if imagining all the wonderful combinations on his chess board. "I have the best job in higher education," he says.