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One of my favorite lines from this year’s many Georgetown commencement ceremonies was given as part of the ROTC commissioning service, early one morning. It was delivered to the set of newly commissioned second lieutenants by a retired noncommissioned officer, a veteran of many battles, now devoting his life to a nonprofit helping other veterans. My memory of the moment was his looking directly at the new lieutenants and saying something like, “All of you will hold positions of leadership” and then after a dramatic pause, “but not all of you will be leaders.” An attention-getting sentence, in that moment.

He then elaborated on what leadership means in the military – complete devotion to those under your command, doing yourself everything you call on them to do, sometimes before you directly ask them to do it, sacrificing one’s own life for the lives of the team under your command. He said that some of them will leave the military because they will find themselves reporting to a bad leader. He urge them to consider the “serving” part of leadership rather than the “prestige” part of leadership.

While the message was most dramatically provided at that event, the theme seemed to be repeated in various ways throughout other ceremonies. Several speakers reflected on life lessons they’ve experienced. But the leadership message was implicit in many speeches.

Some speakers noted that they learned that no matter how many people reported to them, that if they didn’t understand the work that each was doing, they could not achieve legitimacy in their leadership position.

Some noted that successful startups require diverse teams containing complementary skills. Such teams share many hours together, late nights, and trials and tribulations as initial plans fail and adaptations must be created quickly. Respect for alternative perspectives becomes the glue that empowers the team to use its collective talent. Upon reflection, in one speaker’s view, the shared passion for finding a solution breeds a shared love among team members. Leadership that nurtures that love over the many hours yields success.

Others noted the need to take risks to advance a career. The risk-taking decisions require courage to imagine oneself in a position with more leadership responsibilities. So sometimes, in their view, leadership requires assertion that one is ready for leadership. Several speakers noted how they rely on others to help them make these risk-taking decisions. Sometimes the others are former bosses; other times they were peers in former organizations who knew them well. The lesson to the graduates was to be kind to others, both to be a good colleague but also to maintain the ability to seek their guidance in the future. Leaders always need advice.

Some noted that the most important question one should be asking is what relationships one is building through their life. Are they people of all stations in life? Are they people of good will? Are they people of integrity? Do they offer you diverse input from varied life experiences? Do they care for you? Do they have your best interests at heart; do you, theirs? Leaders are greatly assisted by those who themselves are honorable.

One described an encounter early in their career, during which they were kind to a person of lower status who was seeking assistance. Little did they know that the person they helped would pass the information about their kindness to those at the top of the institution. That little act of kindness led to their being recruited for higher and higher levels of leadership. The moral — kindness and empathy are not just good in themselves but are demonstrative of important leadership prerequisites.

Finally, there were several notes of the role of persistence, singular focus, and determination for successful leaders. The need to repeat over and over a vision to all the stakeholders, to take a stand and keep it. This appeared most salient when the goal of the leader seems distant to those who are enmeshed in the current processes and practices. Leadership, they said, requires the ability to communicate future changes especially when they seem remote to the current lives of the subordinates. The communication must be repeated over and over again.

So, there was much to hear over the commencement days about what makes for good leadership. But, while many spoke about characteristics of good leaders, only one delivered the shocking, attention-riveting phrase, “… not all of you will be leaders.” All of us can profit from that as a prompt to reflection about our own behaviors.

Musings re Commencement

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This is commencement week at Georgetown, during which there are scores of celebratory events. There are award sessions for graduates of individual programs, department-level gatherings of majors who have completed the programs, multicultural ceremonies, Lavender graduation for LGBTQ+ graduates, a ceremony (“DisCO”) for the disability community, and big commencement ceremonies with honorary degree speakers.

This week always reawakens memories of the scores of end of spring semester and commencement events I have witnessed.

It begins during examination period. A few flashbacks:

As the examination period transpires, roller-board suitcases pulled across campus, with increasing volume. Boxes packed up for residence halls, storage crews hauling them to facilities for the summer. Move-out is ongoing, with some parents loading up their student, who is still running on adrenalin from the week of final projects and exams. They’ll sleep for many hours over the next few days.

The last-minute updating of paint and garden beds by grounds crews, helping the campus look its best for graduates and their supporters. One gets the feeling that the lawns, gardens, flowers, and trees know what’s coming up. Time to get ready for a large set of visitors; got to look good.

Setting up the tents throughout the campus for receptions and group ceremonies. They’re respites from heat and rain. A large amount of food is scheduled for preparation, delivery, and consumption in these tents and buildings throughout campus over the next few days.

Time for the award and group ceremonies, more than different events, with most held between Tuesday and Sunday. A blur of setup, processions, speeches, and joyful noise. Less ritual, more emotion.

A multicultural ceremony, run primarily by students, filled with shouting of names of friends, jokes about shared memories of four years. The unmistakable feeling of being with a family, a community that supported one another through good times and bad, as each graduate made their way through an institution with few people who looked like them.

A tropaia event with a young alumnus delivering the message that the Georgetown lessons and values equipped them for their entry into the “real world.” They report that in their early days at Georgetown, they struggled and grappled with imposter-syndrome thoughts. But they succeeded. Now, they held on to a set of ways of thinking and ways of treating others and again, they are succeeding.

Time for the school-level big commencements, sometimes separate events for undergraduates and graduates, school by school, planned for Healy lawn.

Constant monitoring of the weather forecast. Two big enemies – rain (forcing quick use of a gym and multiplied but smaller commencement groups) and heat/humidity.

A view from the podium: A young BA graduate in black robes on a hot, sunny mid-day commencement, swaying back and forth in her seat, bouncing back and forth against her adjacent seat mates. She seems deeply tired, probably hung-over. At a certain point, she falls asleep on the shoulder of her seatmate, awakening only much later in the ceremony.

A PhD hooding ceremony. The PhD candidate mounts the stage with a young baby in their arms. The baby is adorned in a little black graduation robe and a little hand-made cap just like his Dad. The crowd goes wild.

The shouting and cheering of large families when their first-gen graduate’s name is called and they walk on stage to receive their diploma scroll. The sense that the graduate has uplifted the entire family by their singular accomplishment.

The president shaking thousands of hands over three days. A tall bachelor’s graduate, so happy on stage, hugging the president and lifting him into the air.

There are few times in work of the university as joyful as these days. It’s a treasure of our work that we can experience them.

Unintended Consequences of Order of Grading

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There is a fascinating article I recently encountered that addresses some implicit biases in university grading. Current learning management software platforms are a great assist to instructors. They allow a central electronic depository of all course materials. They are a platform for electronic interaction among class participants. They offer simple archiving of the submitted assignments. In addition, they offer a repository for instructors’ grades assigned to the participants.

One interesting feature of most learning management systems is support for the order of grading of assignments across students. The new article examined over 30 million records from about 400,000 different student course enrollments from the Canvas learning management system in a variety of disciplines at a large state research university.

The investigation examined whether there were systematically different grades assigned to the students early in the order of grading than to those graded later. The results were consistent. Those assignments graded early in the grading process tended to receive higher grades. The results were in the range of 3-4 points on a 100 point scale. However, the pattern was quite consistent. Those assignments graded toward the end of the grading tended to receive lower grades.

The order effects were corroborated with some qualitative data. The comments provided by instructors to the students were more negative and harsher for those toward the end of the grading. Correspondingly, there were more requests by students of grade changes among those graded toward the end of the grading.

The article posited a set of causal mechanisms for the findings which, unfortunately, could not be tested with data at hand. Instructors might become more fatigued over time and become less attentive. Alternatively, instructors might become more informed about the type of errors displayed by the students and thus more alert to them as the grading proceeded. Humans may become bored. There may be a tendency to implicitly regret being generous at the start of grading and become harsher as the sequence evolves. Truth may lie in some combination of these hypotheses.

Are there exceptions to the finding? It appears that assignments for which unambiguous right and wrong answers were extant are less subject to the order effect. Subjective judgments appear more subject to order effects.

The impressive part of the study, in my opinion, is how it sought counter evidence. One possibility for the result is that the last graded exercises are indeed less meritorious. The article examines three different orderings: alphabetical by last name, reverse alphabetical, and quasi-random. In general, the order effect exists in all three. Regardless of the order, assessments are lower toward the end of the grading.

What is the default ordering in most Canvas applications? Alphabetical by last name. (The instructor has to find a somewhat obscure switch to change this.) So what does it mean for students with last names toward the end of the alphabet?

We have a nonstudent example of this.

In most journal articles in economics, the order of authors is alphabetical by last name. In citations of articles by subsequent papers, it is common (as a compact form) to cite only the name of the first author (e.g., Smith et al.). An article in the early 2000’s studied a set of 35 US economics departments. It found that faculty with names late in the alphabet had lower likelihood of garnering tenure. They were less likely to become fellows of the Econometric Society, and somewhat less likely to receive the Nobel Prize. In short, systems of that highlight attention to those with initial letters of surnames early in the alphabet can affect human behaviors in multiple and potentially long-lasting ways.

What’s an instructor to do during grading? First, know this result. Don’t let the grading order be determined by the default alphabetization. Second, take breaks in grading; grade in smaller batches. Third, if possible, review the grading and feedback in a second pass of the assignments; check whether you see depressed assigned grades toward the end of your grading that doesn’t seem justified.

In Praise of Edge Organizations

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The Morrill Act of 1862 established the ecosystem of state land-grant colleges. Its purpose was principally to build a bridge between academia and farm operators.

This was a time, of course, when agriculture was a sector that involved large portions of the working population. Over time, the land-grant colleges’ agricultural experiment stations provided direct services to farmers to innovate in hybrid seeds’ use and crop rotation. These outreach efforts were a bridge between academia’s building of theory and the day-to-day lives of populations outside. In a real way, the stations were “edge organizations” — entities designed to be close to a user of knowledge, to be flexible to the needs of the user, and to translate new academic knowledge to serve users.

Georgetown, with its focus on using knowledge to build a better world, especially for the disadvantaged, has built many research units devoted to direct application of knowledge. Many of the Centers at the McCourt School of Public Policy fit that description; other Centers that are part of the Medical and Law Centers fit that bill, as well.

This is a blog about one such Center – the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. The Beeck Center recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, a feat that was not at all certain at its birth. It is a Georgetown story, in many ways. The mission is to invent new ways to serve others, to improve the world. Its approach is that common to entrepreneurs. Further, it emerged out of the Georgetown ethos, imagined by investment by the Beeck family, devoted to the common good.

An equally important feature was that the Center sought to take advantage of young minds at a university. That is, placing the Center at a university was a deliberate decision, both to have access to the energy and creativity of youth, but also to build cohorts of leaders with the skills of social innovation to have multiplicative impact on the world.

Finally, the Washington, DC, location of Georgetown offered attractive access to senior public servants leaving government service after directing innovative initiatives to improve performance of agencies. They had fought the battles of change inside large bureaucracies and were filled with knowledge and energy to seek the same ends from the outside. They became the Beeck fellows, leading individual projects.

Not unexpectedly, like all startups, the early days were spent trying out different initiatives, different ways of improving the lives of others. Throughout this period, the central questions were both whether the idea was effective but also whether it would ramp. Could the idea scale up to serve millions of people, even though it might start locally, with a small, well-defined population? Scores of different projects were launched. A few found traction.

Over the early years, it became clear that a revolution in serving the disadvantaged might be emerging, given the correct foresight. For maybe the first time, technological change seemed possible in small county and state agencies and nonprofits serving lower income groups. Further, some parts of the private sector were turning their attention to their own responsibilities to the society beyond financial profit.

Slowly, a consistent theme arose. “Civic tech” was emerging. For example, as state and local chief data officers were being appointed to guide evidence-based decision-making, the infrastructure gap in their agencies became obvious. Building networks of these isolated innovators could provide sharing of expertise, coordinated software development, attention to customer needs in interfaces to benefits, and social support during the challenges of innovation within formerly paper-based organizations. They needed a knowledgeable honest broker to guide decisions about contracting versus in-house development.

The impact through the innovation was extraordinary. At this point, depending on how one counts, millions of people’s lives have been impacted by the Beeck Center’s initiatives. Several ideas that were small at birth grew to change entire landscapes of design and implementation.

Software development approaches used by state and local agencies have been enhanced by the honest broker role that a university-based center has offered. Networks have been built improving the efficiency of delivery of benefits to those who qualify. Private foundations have become aware that the facilitating role of the Beeck Center accelerates the rate of innovation in public services. Ramping impact is facilitated through coalitions having shared interests. Further, scores of Georgetown students have had direct experience in Center projects, learning social innovation by doing social innovation.

The consistent focus on populations in need is the Beeck Center’s North Star; a devotion to building meritorious ideas to scale is a constant; nurturing self-sustaining networks of innovators within agencies has become a replicable success. The Georgetown base offers strong legitimacy. The Center has become an integral part of Georgetown, on the edge of development and impact. Those supporting the Morrill Act of 1862 would be proud of how it has enhanced our university.

Happy 10th birthday to the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation!

Creating versus Editing

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I have a colleague who, in the face of the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) platforms, feels the need to identify products unaffected by AI. She touts the phrase, “100% human made” as a label that we all might consider going forward.

It is, indeed, a time of rapid change in visions of the future, given generative AI platforms. The varieties of future being discussed range from the total elimination of humans to utopian imagines of leisure-filled times of plenty for them.

Increasingly, as more and more use Large Language Model (LLM) platforms for their work, there is a protocol emerging, with the LLMs used as a draft to text products. Enter a query to generate an essay. Adjacent to this use is LLMs as idea-generating devices for work to be done. Sometimes this involves asking LLMs to summarize the information from a set of written products, to extract key findings.

In university classrooms, some colleagues are having students use LLMs for first drafts of essays, which become the target of student revision and editing.

Similarly, scientific uses of AI received enormous boost when AlphaFold AI was able to produce accurate predictions of the structure of many proteins, following the learning data set of protein structures. But later scientific reviews note that “AlphaFold results need to be validated and should not be employed blindly.” So the scientist needs to use the AlphaFold results as a first draft of sorts, subject to revision based on human-directed investigation.

So, too, recent demonstrations of LLMs have displayed the writing of a children’s book about, say, a curious frog, complete with illustrations matched to the story. The product was impressive, but just a little less interesting that one might like. Clearly, a next step of human refinement was necessary.

These three examples suggest that human skills in editing will grow more important in our future. Great editing requires deep connection with the draft product. The connection is a prerequisite to critical review, searching for gaps and falsehoods, and adding new content to improve the product. In the sciences, this is what lab presentations used to facilitate — the revelation of initial findings and the seeking of peer contributions to improve the course of the research. In the humanities, this is the scholar’s regimen of revision after revision, of trashing everything and beginning again. It is also the commentary and sought-critique of peers and mentors, often in small reading groups sharing initial work for review by others.

From a viewpoint of higher education, changes that require more exercise of critical skills are desirable. With proper use, AI may offer university instructors that opportunity. This already appears to be the case for coding, in computer science; for writing, in the humanities.

But there is also clearly a downside here. If we look at LLMs only, the platforms have ingested as many as 13 trillion words, in the context that they appear in articles, books, blogs, texts, social media posts, etc. They use the patterns of words to predict the next word in a sequence based on the millions of patterns they have learned. In some sense, the creative act in writing is precisely the opposite of this goal – not using the typical phrase but a uniquely unexpected phrase, to incite attention, emotion, or reflection.

I recently heard a speculation about what would have occurred if humans had an LLM in the 1600s, prior to Galileo’s finding that the earth rotated about the sun, not vice versa. One could easily posit that all the learning data would have provided full reasons why the earth was the center of the universe. Using that information as the base, little suggestion of the opposite might arise. Specifically, the creativity based on careful observations that Galileo performed would probably not have been aided by such an the LLM. Having Galileo spending his time “editing” the information from the LLM versus making his discoveries seems (now that we know what we know) to be misplaced energy.

So, bringing these comments together, while critical thinking in universities might be enhanced with proper use of LLM output, there is a legitimate question about how to support the “100% human made” knowledge. Critical thinking and creativity sometimes seem like opposing “muscles” in humans – one reactive, the other, fully productive of novelty. However it is achieved, human creativity currently remains distinctive from the algorithms underlying LLMs, it seems. So, in addition, to using LLMs to producing first drafts, we should develop protocols to spur the invention of novel thoughts still the province of humans.

The Georgetown Magis Research Prize

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It gives me deep pleasure to announce a new faculty award made possible by generous donors — the Georgetown Magis Research Prize, to be awarded annually for the next four years.

The Magis Prize recognizes early-stage Associate Professors of exceptional creativity, who have the potential to make a deep impact in their field of scholarship. It shines a spotlight on outstanding Associate Professors who are notable for remarkable achievements in research.

The Magis Prize is an investment in the candidate’s potential to make future advances.
The Magis Prize aims to permit intensive focus on research and scholarship freed of other duties of the awarded faculty member. Further, it seeks to enhance student participation in advanced research collaborations with extraordinary faculty.

Who is Eligible for the Magis Prize?
Selected winners must be tenured within the last 3 years, have an outstanding scholarly record of significant accomplishments, and propose an unusually creative project to tackle a problem or challenge of importance to society today.

All Associate Professors in the College of Arts & Sciences, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the Walsh School of Foreign Service, the McDonough School of Business, the McCourt School of Public Policy, the Earth Commons Institute, the School of Nursing, and the School of Health, tenured within the last 3 years, are eligible for the Magis Prize.

In each of the four years, three Magis Prize winners will be announced in the summer and will reveal their research plans in a presentation for faculty, followed by a reception held in the following Fall semester.

Nature of the Award
The award consists of a $100,000 innovation fund for each awardee that can be used for any expense that will enhance the research and scholarship of the Georgetown faculty recipient, to be expended in a three year period, and a two-semester release from all teaching responsibilities to be taken during the three-year period. The awardee is expected to engage student research assistants to facilitate their research.

Responsibilities of the Magis Prize Recipient
In each of the three years of the Magis Prize, the awardee will present a progress report on the work funded by the prize. In the last years of the prize, the awardee will meet with Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) instructional design teams to consider how to incorporate the innovations created over the term of the prize into the Georgetown curriculum. When the research facilitated by the Magis Prize has reached an appropriate level of completion, the awardee will deliver a university-wide lecture reviewing the research products All publications resulting from the prize will cite the support of the Magis Prize for the research product

Details of the selection process will be forthcoming in the coming days. A webpage and formal announcement sent to faculty will launch the process.

The Magis Prize is another way that Georgetown is seeking to support faculty in creating new ideas, deepening human understanding, and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. It is yet another way to give students an opportunity to work with the most productive faculty at Georgetown.

Tech and Society Week 2024

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During the past ten years, more and more events occurred that demonstrated that people’s reactions to social media and other new technology were evolving as the technology evolved. Concerns about perceived violation of individual privacy increased. The perceptions were growing that algorithmic intrusions into day-to-day activities were undesirable. The increased efficiency of online shopping also had downsides. The promise of artificial intelligence spurred both aspirations of increased quality of life and fears of a diminished humanity.

Many of the issues appeared to be the indirect effect of technological changes occurring at a rate much faster than the society could absorb. Norms of behavior on the internet were slower to develop relative to how the platforms themselves were changing. Regulations from government were slow to develop, and there was a pervasive lack of understanding of the design and operations of large information platforms.

Georgetown is an institution with a very explicit mission of using research and scholarship in service to the betterment of the world. Its undergraduate and graduate programs rest on the conviction that a university can effect long term, permanent change by shaping the next generation of leaders.

The mismatch between the rate of change of norms, behaviors, regulations, and laws, on one hand, and the rate of change of technology, on the other, seem a perfect opportunity for Georgetown to help build a bridge between research and action.

It became clear that the impact Georgetown could have in this domain could be enhanced if the diverse faculty and programs studying the impacts of technology on society (and vice versa) could be gathered together. From this idea the Tech and Society emerged.

Tech and Society is a network of Centers and Institutes: Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, Center for Digital Ethics, Center for Security and Emerging Technology, Center on Privacy and Technology, Knight-Georgetown Institute, Institute for Technology Law and Policy, and Massive Data Institute. These are connected to educational units such as the Computer Science Department, Ethics Lab, and the Communication, Culture, and Technology Program.

This week is Tech and Society Week (hyperlink to the schedule) with an extravaganza of convenings, lectures, panels, and interactive sessions that bring together both Tech and Society students and faculty, others working in the field from other units, and the curious who want to learn more.

Every day of this week there are multiple events open to the Georgetown community and the larger public. Students can meet the faculty of our new Tech, Ethics, and Society interdisciplinary program. There are book talks from authors of new publications tackling issues of how human behavior can optimally use internet innovation and what regulatory frameworks are emerging over new technologies. There are many sessions on artificial intelligence, from discerning “deep fakes,” to how AI influences workplace surveillance, to how governments are coping with acquiring staff talent in AI, to how AI is affecting the nature of deceptive content on the internet, to how lawyers and university instructors might use AI in day-to-day practice. There will be meetings for the Women Coders group, a conference for the Fritz Fellow student group, with returning alumni of the fellowship. There is a celebratory panel for the 10th anniversary of the Beeck Center for Impact and Innovation.

All in all, it’s an opportunity to gather all in the Georgetown community to learn and discuss the all-encompassing impact of technology on all of our lives.

Endings and Beginnings: the In-Between Time

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For universities these few spring months are the in-between time.

The last class of many courses will occur at the end of April for most Georgetown programs. So, quite rapidly now, the hours spent studying, editing theses and dissertations, finalizing group projects, and reviewing weeks of content, are all increasing in volume. The rate of writing production is rising as final papers and projects are finalized. Everybody is burrowed into the final focus that is required to complete the semester. Increasingly, every study space on campus is occupied. The late hours of the libraries see higher occupancies. Bleary eyes seem more prevalent. Coffee consumption rises.

As the days of April pass, faculty, students, and staff are increasingly fatigued, but all see the end in sight. In about a month and a half, about 7,000 students will receive diplomas in various commencement ceremonies. Their labors will be justified with successful completion of their degree programs.

While all this effort is going on, however, while the focus of existing students is increasingly to finish their courses and degrees, while this frenetic pace of scholarship is occurring, there is a completely different set of activities happening on campus.

As some students are working to leave Georgetown, others are considering coming to replace them.

That is, this is also the time that admissions’ decisions are being made for both undergraduate and graduate applicants. To all admits, we invite a visit to campus to assist in their decision. Many take advantage of this offer to see the facilities and meet faculty and staff. But, maybe even more important, their visit is a chance to meet other students who were also newly admitted to a degree program.

For graduate students, the entering cohort of many programs often becomes a life-long professional network. The cohort can help each other navigate through their graduate program. Study groups form to share the learning challenges and take advantage of different life experiences in puzzling through the work of the program. After graduation, many cohorts get together at professional conferences. They become readers and editors of each other’s written products. They recommend each other for jobs over their careers. So, it matters whether the ambitions of other admits seem compatible with one’s own. Ideally, they will know something one doesn’t. They will have life experiences that complement one’s own.

For undergraduates, we offer three different Georgetown Admissions Ambassador Program (GAAP) weekends. GAAP is a volunteer, student-run organization dedicated to helping prospective and accepted students discover Georgetown. Newly admitted undergraduate prospects often come to GAAP weekends with their families. They hear from both students and administrators. They learn about student services, clubs, and the advising dean services they will enjoy. During the weekend, there are department open houses, student panels, residence hall tours, sporting events, and other opportunities to learn about Georgetown. They can get a feel of what living on the Hilltop might be for them. Some may even form quick friendships that turn into roommates or shared majors.

These visits at both the undergraduate and graduate level appear to increase the likelihood of accepting the admission offer Georgetown has extended. They give a more grounded basis of the choice life is giving the student. Of course, at Georgetown in April, it doesn’t hurt that the trees are budding, the flowers are blooming, and the campus is displaying its charms. The impressions of these new admits, albeit the product of a brief visit, are important to a university. I’m confident that the good aspects of the Georgetown community shine at this time. As we say farewell to graduates in the coming days, we welcome into our community new members and look forward to their enrichment of Georgetown University.

Announcing the 2024 Provost’s Distinguished Associate Professors!

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Each year since 2016, deans, departments, and similar units nominate deserving colleagues as Provost Distinguished Associate Professors. A committee of distinguished senior faculty (chaired by Chandan Vaidya, Vice Provost for Faculty) reviews the applicants.

Georgetown uses the designation to honor Associate Professors who are performing at extraordinary high levels. These designations are term-limited with a maximum duration of five years, or until promotion to full professor. As indicated below, their work exemplifies what makes Georgetown strong – faculty thoroughly engaged in pushing the envelope of knowledge in their field, and transmitting their passion for such work to their students and the general public.

The Provost Office is pleased to announce the 2024 Distinguished Associate Professors:

Ian Bourland is Associate Professor in the Department of Art & Art History in the College of Arts & Sciences. He holds a PhD in History of Art from the University of Chicago and served on the faculty at the Maryland Institute College of Art before joining Georgetown as an Associate Professor in 2018.

Dr. Bourland’s area of scholarship is contemporary art history and criticism focusing on postwar African diaspora in multiple cultural strategies such as photography, film, music, and news media. His 2019 monograph on Rotimi Fani-Kayode, a renowned black artist who studied at Georgetown in the 1970s, Bloodflowers by Duke University Press, a finalist for a Lamba Literary Award, is considered pathbreaking for its focus on culture practice of Black Africa and its diasporas and lens-based media. He also published Massive Attack: Blue Lines by Bloomsbury in 2019 and an edited book FAILE: Works on Wood by Gestalten. His forthcoming book, Black/Gold merges histories of abstraction and theories of the Anthropocene, drawing from Black and diaspora studies to retheorize western aesthetic traditions through colonial encounters regarding gold mining. Dr. Bourland is prolific in publishing in refereed journals as well as non-refereed outlets such as museum catalogues and trade periodicals such as Artforum and Frieze. Dr. Bourland is the recipient of the 2020 American Academy of Rome Visiting Fellowship and a 2018 Mellon Foundation grant.

Dr. Bourland teaches undergraduate courses in Black Atlantic art, diaspora studies, and Critical Theory for Visual Art. He serves as Director for Undergraduate Studies for his department.

Francesco D’Acunto is Associate Professor in the McDonough School of Business, in the Finance Area. He has a PhD in Business Administration with a concentration in Finance from the University of California at Berkeley. He held faculty positions at the University of Maryland at College Park and Boston College before joining Georgetown as Associate Professor in 2022.

Dr. D’Acunto’s research bridges finance and economics, with a focus on how biases and beliefs of consumers and firms shape financial decision making, and how private (e.g., robo-advising) and public (e.g., economic policy) interventions can manage those biases and beliefs. He investigates the role of the financial sector in fostering sustainable economic growth as well as growing inequalities. Dr. D’Acunto’s work is published in the leading journals in finance and economics, as well as general audience journals such as Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His articles have been recognized with multiple best paper awards, most recently as Editor’s Choice, Review of Financial Studies, 2022. He currently holds two grants from the National Science Foundation, and an award from the Alfred Sloan Foundation. He was elected Research Fellow by the Center for Economic Policy. Dr. D’Acunto serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of Banking and Finance.

Dr. D’Acunto teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on Finance and Private Equity and also teaches in the Master of Science in Global Real Assets.

Marko Klasnja is Associate Professor in the Walsh School of Foreign Service and the Department of Government in the College of Arts & Sciences. He holds a PhD in Political Science from New York University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship at Princeton University before joining Georgetown as Assistant Professor in 2015.

Dr. Klasnja works in the area of political economy, with a focus on democratic accountability and the inequalities in political representation. He uses quantitative methods to study the effects of political corruption on democratic advancement and the political impacts of income inequality, such as the causes and consequences of politician’s wealth and political attitudes of wealthy individuals. He publishes in top journals in political sciences and economics and has garnered numerous awards including Best Paper awards in 2018 and 2021 from the American Political Science Association, the 2019 Elsie Hillman Prize from the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics and the Carrie Chapman Catt Prize for Research on Women and Politics. He currently holds two grants from the National Science Foundation, and an award from the Global Integrity-Anticorruption Research Programme. Dr. Klasjna serves on the editorial board of Journal of Politics and was a Guest Editor of the 2021 special issue of Data & Policy on Data Analytics for Anticorruption in Public Administration.

Dr. Klasnja teaches undergraduate courses on International Political Economy and graduate courses on quantitative methods and econometrics and is sought after as a Capstone advisor and doctoral dissertation committee member.

Eva Rosen is Associate Professor in the McCourt School of Public Policy and also affiliated with the Department of Sociology in the College of Arts & Sciences. She holds a PhD in Sociology and Social Policy from Harvard University and has completed post-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University and Johns Hopkins University, before joining Georgetown as Assistant Professor in 2017.

Dr. Rosen’s research examines the creation, experience, and persistence of urban poverty. In particular, she focuses on housing policy and racial segregation, with the use of mixed methods including ethnographic, qualitative, quantitative, and geographic mapping data. Her contributions have been recognized beyond the field of Sociology for their policy impact, winning a prestigious early career award, the 40 for 40 Fellowship from the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management. Her 2020 sole authored book, Voucher Promise, won multiple book awards, including the 2021 Paul Davidoff Award from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the 2022 Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility Outstanding Book Award from the American Sociological Association. She has a 2023 co-edited volume, The Sociology of Housing: How Homes Shape Our Social Lives, University of Chicago Press, and a forthcoming book with Princeton University Press. Dr. Rosen was awarded a fellowship by the Russell Sage Foundation last year. Her prolific scholarship extends to journal articles as well, with her 2021 article counted as among the most cited in three years by the American Sociological Review. She serves on numerous local and national advisory boards relevant to housing policy.

Dr. Rosen teaches courses on public policy and qualitative methods and mentors capstone and thesis projects at the McCourt School.

Please join me in congratulating these excellent colleagues!

Musings on Bots

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In the 1930’s, in the midst of the depression, the US did not know how many unemployed persons existed in the country. There were stories, spotty counts, and speculations, but any policy formulation was basically uninformed about the true size of the problem.

In 1934, a revolutionary article emerged from the UK proved the value of measuring a small sample of a large human population to get unbiased estimates of the full population with known error tolerances. It required giving everyone in the population a known, nonzero chance of selection into the small sample and then measuring each of them in a consistent manner.

This led to rapid innovation in statistics of governments around the world, the growth of the empirical social sciences based on sample surveys, and the increasing influence of market research.

However, over time, participation in surveys declined, violating principles of the theory requiring full measurement of the sample. This indirectly led to greatly inflated costs, to track down sample persons who were very busy and to persuade the reluctant to reconsider. Hence, cheaper methods for measurement were sought – moving from face to face interviewing common in the mid-20th century, to mail questionnaires, to telephone surveys, to web-based surveys.

Unfortunately, current practices violate most of the original underlying theory.

Many surveys now use an “opt-in” method, whereby internet sites recruit people willing to agree to be respondents. Anyone can respond about their willingness to do so. Sometimes there are cash or other incentives to promote repeated response behavior.

But on the current internet, with the ease of building software agents, bots as they are called, there is a new problem. For those who run opt-in surveys, it has become a second job to detect whether a set of responses were even made by a real human. It is routine to check for illogical patterns of responses in an attempt to detect both bot responses and careless, thoughtless human respondents, doing the task just for the money.

I have a new favorite example of this, from a serious attempt to detect the extent of such behavior in data from an opt-in survey. A question was asked with a known percentage of US humans answering “yes”. The question asked whether the respondent possessed a license to pilot an Ohio Class Cruise Missile Submarine (“Are you licensed to operate a class SSGN submarine?”) About 12% of the opt-in respondents answered that they possessed such a license! The true percentage of the US adult population is near zero. There many other examples of this phenomena. Opt-in surveys display systematic biases.

There appears to be some evidence that bots answer many questions “yes” because this increases the likelihood of being identified a member of a rare respondent type, and thus eligible for more surveys in the future, maximizing the benefits offered by the opt-in survey company.

It is unfortunate that such surveys’ results are reported as if they were meaningful indicators of population characteristics, right alongside those using rigorous methods consistent with statistical theories.

What do we do as consumers of survey estimates? Be suspicious. If you find a statistics of interest, try to identify the methodology of the survey. Do this especially when the statistic is surprising based on your prior knowledge. If you can’t find documentation on the survey methods, it’s likely that quite questionable methods are being used. Don’t trust the results; tell others not to trust the results. If the methodology is an opt-in volunteer method, disregard it.

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