As Dean Celenza leaves Georgetown, he reflects on his tenure

November 9, 2020

Dean Celenza. Photo courtesy of Georgetown University.

President John DeGioia announced Dean Christopher Celenza would be leaving Georgetown in an email to the university community on Oct. 22. Celenza, the dean of the College, will be joining the administration at Johns Hopkins University as the next dean of their Krieger School of Arts and Sciences in January. 

“For the past three years, he has provided invaluable leadership to our largest undergraduate school,” DeGioia wrote. “I remain deeply grateful to Dean Celenza for all that he has done for our University.” 

Celenza joined the Georgetown faculty as dean of the College in July of 2017, replacing Dean Chester Gillis who now serves as a professor in the theology department. Before that, Celenza knew the university through his wife, Anna Celenza, who is the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown. 

 “What I loved about Georgetown when I joined was understanding more about the Jesuit part of Georgetown,” Celenza said in an interview with the Voice. “I thought that those values of service were very important and this whole idea, I think maybe the biggest one once I learned about it, was seeing everybody as a whole person.”

During his time at Georgetown, Celenza has worked to expand research opportunities for undergraduate students and support the humanities through the Georgetown Humanities Initiative. By guiding the College through the launch of the Royden B. Davis Fellowships, Celenza has been able to push for more undergraduate access to experiential research experiences. “These are especially are designed for students who maybe otherwise would have had to work a job in the summer,” he said of the fellowship scholarships. 

Another project of his, the Humanities Initiative, aims to create a humanities center at Georgetown. Though it’s still in progress Celenza feels it’s in a good position to be passed on to his successor. 

I’ve always felt that that’s really what these roles are about. You’re working for the present obviously but you’re also working for your successors, for the future of the institution,” he said.

Celenza hopes he has strengthened the undergraduate culture at Georgetown through expanding research opportunities and faculty hiring. “We put a really big focus on both diversity in faculty hiring and faculty hiring in general,” he said. According to Celenza, they’ve hired roughly 50 tenure-line faculty members total during his tenure as dean. 

“I feel like that’s the future,” Celenza said of these hires. “These are the people who will shape the curriculum, their research will shape the kind of knowledge that Georgetown is known for, and they’re the primary points of contact for students.”

Celenza stressed the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Georgetown. “The more diverse our community becomes, number one, it’s clear the more excellent it’s going to become overall,” Celenza said. “Your institutions internally have to catch up because if people don’t feel like they belong, if they don’t feel included, and this is something President DeGioia cares a lot about, then they really won’t have the same experiences as everyone else has, and therefore they won’t have an equitable experience.”

Over the last few years and Celenza’s time as dean, there has been a notable amount of student activism on campus calling upon the university to enact institutional changes to support all its students equally, especially in terms of race. As a member of the administration, Celenza has been at the center of some of these criticisms and conversations, including from the Black Survivor Coalition during their sit-in at Healy Hall last spring. 

To Celenza, the work of student groups on campus has been crucial to pushing the university to change. “I think the student activism has been very important in focussing attention on this, has been making sure that our institutions catch up with our student population and meet them where they are,” he said.

 To realize the dream that Georgetown is a welcoming environment with equitable opportunities, the institution has to foster communities to make students feel like they belong, Celenza said.  

“Belonging really has to mean that it’s not just that you the individual feel that you belong in the institution, but in a very real way you feel that the institution belongs to you too, that you can have a voice,” Celenza said.

Along with working to strengthen the undergraduate experience, Celenza has tried to foster transparency between the administration to the students and the greater Georgetown community.

“Sometimes you can’t always meet instantaneously everything that everyone would like at any time, but the more we’re transparent about it also the better,” he said. To his successor, Celenza stressed the importance of this transparency, especially when making difficult choices while in the position. “Sometimes it might be that you need to make a decision that not everybody agrees with but if at least if you can kind of show your work and show well why did you make that decision then people feel like they understand it even if they don’t agree with it.”

Running the College with 500 faculty members, well over 3,000 students, 26 departments, 12 programs, and a variety of major and minor combinations, Celenza has had his work cut out for him. According to Celenza, at the end of the day what the job is really about is creating an environment where people succeed. “Our job as administrators is to just help people flourish,” he said. “It’s to help our students flourish and it’s to help our faculty flourish.” 

As he goes on to Johns Hopkins, Celenza expressed his appreciation for his time at the university. 

“The word bittersweet, it’s really true,” Celenza said. “I’m going to miss a lot about Georgetown. It’s a place I’m going to continue to admire and look to for real values-driven leadership as I leave.”

Annabella Hoge
Annabella was a student in the college, class of 2023, who enjoys watching Dodger games, talking about her disco thesis, and drawing angry creatures. She was also the Spring 2023 Editor-in-Chief.

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