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On the record with Georgetown President John DeGioia
On Wednesday evening, President John DeGioia sat down for his biannual interview with representatives of the student press. Interview conducted and transcribed by Emma Forster.
Voice: In January 2010, you said, in reference to ongoing discussion about the 2010 Campus Plan, that “it’s always a very difficult balancing act to try to recognize and understand the needs of the community with what it will take for us to be able to be successful in our mission.” Do you think the dialogue with neighbors has deteriorated since that time? How will the University respond to further challenges from neighbors?
DeGioia: We’re engaged in very serious conversations with the leaders of our neighborhoods and we’re going to continue those in the weeks ahead. Over the course of these last few years we’ve done some really important things to strengthen the support of our students in the community and … address the needs of the neighbors in the community. We have tried to … strengthen the overall framework for safety—you can see the reimbursable detail with MPD that we’ve added to the mix.
It is a challenge. We’re not unique. The issues of the relationship of the University and its surrounding community are a challenge for all urban institutions. We recognize this is a balancing act between the needs for our community and our students as well as the legitimate concerns of our neighbors.
Voice: Last spring, when representatives from Georgetown, Divest! met with members of the Investment Office, Chief Investment Officer Larry Kochard told them that there is no ethical oversight of the investments made by fund managers. This might appear to conflict with Georgetown’s core Jesuit identity. Is there in fact no system in place to ensure the University’s investments are socially responsible? And if not, should there be?
DeGioia: I believe there is. I’m not certain what Larry might have been referring to in that conversation. … Over the course of the years we’ve been pretty careful about reviewing our investment portfolio from a socially responsible perspective. We have an investment committee of our board, which is essentially responsible for our investment decisions. That’s pretty routine, so I’m not certain what you would be referring to regarding the quote that you read to me from Larry, but I will say that I think the University has been pretty careful over the years regarding our investment portfolio.
Voice: Considering that we have some of the most expensive on-campus housing costs of U.S. universities, are you concerned about the decrepit state of a lot of that housing?
DeGioia: We have been through a rather expensive renovation of some of our facilities—that doesn’t mean that we are done. We’ve done more capital expense in this decade than any decade in our history. … We were working with a nearly 45-year-old science building—that had a high priority for us. We had a business school located in six different locations—that was a priority for us. We needed to build new residence halls—that was a priority for us. …
The challenge for us is that we ranked 21st [in the U.S. News and World Report but]—our endowment is ranked 68th. There’s not a lot of margin for error.…We recognize that some of our residence halls need to move up on the priority list and that’s where we’re going to spend our time next. … We really have to be very careful and very precise about the choices that we’re making.
Voice: Do you still think the shift up in the U.S. News and World Report had to do with an increased endowment or do you see other factors as important?
DeGioia: I wish I could say that it had to do with our endowment. … The real reason was the weight given to the perspective of high school counselors. High school counselors ranked Georgetown sixth. … The positions of high school counselors and where they recommend students to go should be given a lot of attention. This year that was given more attention and that explains why we moved up in the rankings. We’re very pleased about it—we think that’s important to do and we’re honored we’ve gotten that increase.
Voice: How would you describe your management style as the president of a major University? Some people have criticized your lack of direct involvement with students as other colleges and universities—so why do you think that your approach is more effective?
DeGioia: It always pains me when I’m described that way because I do believe that I spend a lot of time engaged in the student community. … I taught my first class of the semester this morning. I was pretty available all weekend. … The hardest challenge in the job is the expectations of multiple constituencies, particularly when the requirements for representing the University requires a considerable amount of travel.
I would describe my leadership style as one in which I try to subordinate myself to the core problems. … If I had a choice, I’d be spending limitless amounts of time engaged in the day to day life of the community, but that wouldn’t be addressing the significant issues that you’ve asked me about. … If I had a choice it would be a little bit different—I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to do more as we work through some of these problems that we face.