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Staff and Faculty Preparation for Fall 2020

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In reaction to the spread of COVID-19, universities throughout the world are grappling with delivering their educational mission, while keeping faculty, staff, and students safe. Across the United States, there is a vast mix of fully remote learning, a variety of hybrid designs, and traditional in-person teaching. Further, because of the uncertainty in the course of the pandemic, many institutions have had to change their plans initially made in late Spring or early Summer. Some of these changes were announced before the start of the fall term (as we at Georgetown did). Some of these changes were moves from in-person instruction to remote instruction because of outbreaks of COVID-19 positive cases after the term began. (Obviously, the latter are quite costly to all involved.)

In preparation for this term of uncertainty, faculty have been asked to prepare for different scenarios, often not knowing which pedagogical tack they would be asked to take. They are quiet heroes in this moment, displaying needed flexibility.

There is a Georgetown advantage here, which was the result of some years of support for innovation in educational delivery. The Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) has been developing both R&D initiatives that lead to improved learning outcomes, but also hands-on staff support for faculty in the nuts and bolts of different pedagogical approaches. They became the secret sauce of Georgetown’s adaptation to the crisis.

In an effort that exceeds that of any university we have studied, CNDLS mounted a large series of virtual workshops, seminars, and help sessions. These actually began in the Spring, with rapid strike forces to help faculty move from in-person to remote delivery.

The efforts of CNDLS in this regard is remarkable. Many extra hours by staff were required to design the efforts and more to execute them.

Equally remarkable and important was the Georgetown faculty response to these efforts. Indeed, without participants, these workshops would not achieve their goals. The faculty used their summer time to learn new techniques, conquer new software tools, and evaluate how pedagogical approaches might fit their courses.

There were three initiatives as part of Georgetown’s preparation for the fall. All of them acknowledged that we were uncertain about how best to conduct fall semester activities. Hence, the target was to plan courses to be hybrid that might have both online/remote features and in-person features. In this way, faculty might more smoothly change mode of delivery if so demanded by the course of the pandemic.

The first of these was the annual Teaching, Learning, and Innovation Summer Institute (TLISI). This occurred immediately after the end of the spring semester, on May 19-20. TLISI included 23 webinars over 2 days, and introduced faculty to approaches and tools to begin planning their fall courses. This year’s version attracted over 900 instructional participants – one of the largest on record. It, thus, became instantly clear that the experiences of the spring semester with remote learning generated real interest about how to use new technology for the benefit of learning outcomes.

Next were Course Design Institutes which ran throughout the summer (May 11-Aug 14). These were intensive week-long, cohort-based seminars designed to help faculty plan and implement a signature Georgetown academic experience for our students in a flexible or remote learning environment. These took on different features for different schools. In some schools, separate departments asked CNDLS to deliver their own Design Institute, to help the entire curriculum of the department reap the benefits of preparation for hybrid instruction. An added benefit of this was faculty hearing each other’s questions and ideas, for the benefit of the integrated curriculum within a program. Some Design Institutes supplemented these seminars with one-on-one consultations. There were over 1,100 faculty participants in these Design Institutes!

Finally, there were Digital Learning Days, held at the end of the Summer, August 18-20. Through a series of 22 interactive workshops over 3 days, these provided opportunities for faculty to practice using GU-supported applications. These attracted nearly 300 faculty participants.

Many faculty throughout the University attended multiple of these events. In total, about 1900 different participants voluntarily took advantage of the opportunity to learn new skills tailored to remote learning and hybrid pedagogy. When we had to make the decision to move to full virtual learning for the start of the Fall, these faculty were ready to alter their plans.

If anyone had any doubt about Georgetown’s ability to support new pedagogy or about the devotion of Georgetown faculty to use available technology to its full advantage, the Summer of 2020 should dispel those doubts. Well done, Georgetown!

Universities, Communities, Using the COVID-19 Pandemic to Strengthen Communities

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COVID-19 has shocked the normal flow of activities within universities throughout the world.

As more and more US universities turn to using virtual learning tools as a means of reducing physical densities on campus and thus limit viral transmission, the work of the universities necessarily changes.

Some activities radically increase in their volume. For example, support of course design changes to move them from face-to-face instruction to internet assisted instruction increases. Faculty and staff workshops aimed at helping prepare fall courses exploded in number. Work preparing physical facilities to support online instruction jumps up. Advising and student affairs activities shift to virtual support and increase in intensity, based on increased student needs. All the staff career counseling and guidance formerly designed for in person delivery need to develop online analogs. Course advising increases, as matching online choices to student situations throughout the world becomes more important. IT support for remote students and faculty becomes dominant; on campus support, less crucial.

Some work, however, is greatly reduced. Personal and group training in fitness centers and sports teams largely disappears. Receptions surrounding speakers and convenings’ use of auditoria and activities of other venues disappear. Cleaning and maintenance of buildings are reduced. Laboratory staff cannot work in their physical lab spaces. The performing arts based on nondigital media are reduced or eliminated. Outreach activities where the university meets the general public are reduced. In short, all the work that supports people working in proximity to one another is diminished.

At the same time, the financial condition of universities is threatened by loss of revenue from dormitory fees, from reduced food service, and other auxiliary services. Simultaneously, increased costs are incurred for purchase of personal protective equipment, testing services, and related public health needs.

The need for new work to be done; the reduction of some traditional work; limited financial capabilities. The universities that can navigate these three events well will thrive in the future.

The one way forward is to seize this moment to strengthen the bonds of the community. Those universities will succeed whose communities realize that the only way forward is to use existing staff to perform tasks growing in volume. Those who are forced to hire new staff to perform the new work will be forced to reduce the staff whose work has diminished. It is that simple.

For that reason, Redeploy Georgetown is a new program vital to our success as a community as we cope with the changes in needed work activities at Georgetown due to COVID-19.  Redeploy Georgetown allows each employee to offer their help for these new work needs, filling much-needed temporary positions that are critical to the University’s operation, offering employment to individuals who may not currently be fully employed during the COVID-19 pandemic operational restrictions. No change in salary or benefits will be incurred during the assignment.

Departments in need of additional people to perform specialized work resulting from the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, or as a result of the hiring pause, will work with the Department of Human Resources (HR) to create redeployment assignments.  HR will coordinate with targeted departments and managers to identify employees and pair them with appropriate redeployment assignments.

The Redeploy Georgetown program benefits both staff and the university as a whole.  Staff benefit by gaining new skills and working in new areas, developing valuable professional experience and assisting the University in the time of need.  The University benefits by fully employing each individual and saving the need to hire new staff for critical areas at this challenging time.  Avoiding hiring new staff and using current staff enhances their job security.

There might never be a more important time for the University to come together and support one another.  This program is truly an expression of our culture and values.  I encourage every supervisor, unit head, hiring manager, and all staff members to consider how we might assist individual staff members and the University community at this time by participating in the Redeploy Georgetown program.

Innovation in Teaching

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Georgetown faculty are renowned for their devotion to the learning and formation of their students. This is a virtuous cycle. Students are attracted to such professors; professors gained deep personal rewards from nurturing their students’ success.

The Provost’s Innovation in Teaching Award recognizes a faculty member or faculty team who has used exceptional creativity in the use of innovative approaches to promote student-centered learning. This annual award is based on the demonstrated success of the innovation, as well as evidence of impact on students, colleagues, and the potential for wider adoption.

The award is open to all Main Campus full-time faculty in any discipline who teach undergraduate and/or graduate students in face-to-face courses as well as blended and online learning formats at Georgetown University. The innovations may have been used throughout a course, in special assignments, or in other learning activities. They may employ the innovative use of learning technologies and/or pedagogical methods.

The Provost’s Innovation in Teaching Awards are supported by the Bill (B ‘92) and Karen Sonneborn Innovation Fund. Created in Spring 2019, the fund supports activities that advance Georgetown’s leadership in innovation and equitable educational approaches.

This year there are three winners.

Margaret Debelius, Matthew Pavesich, and Sherry Linkon worked as a team within the Georgetown’s Master’s Program in English to develop an alternative to the thesis: a digital and/or public humanities capstone project. They worked together to hone a studio-based pedagogy that combines scholarly research, design thinking, and digital rhetoric. Substantive critique from peers, faculty, and experts from outside of the course helps students develop a clear intellectual foundation for their projects, design engaging and innovative projects, and move from envisioning to constructing high-quality finished products. The initiative serves as a laboratory for digital humanities, engaging students in new ways of both developing and communicating humanities research. It models integrative learning by combining literary research with research on digital forms, adaptation of rhetorical concepts to digital humanities, and hands-on work building complex, challenging, multifaceted projects that make expert knowledge useable and engaging. It adapts to the humanities teaching methods from studio-oriented fields, such as architecture and product design. It has succeeded with now over 30 successful projects completed and documented on the web.

James Sandefur in the Department of Mathematics received an Innovation in Teaching Award for decades of a single-minded focus to make learning mathematics more accessible to larger numbers of students. This has included students from grade school age children to university students. He has enlarged the breadth of his impact by disseminating the methods to grade schools and high school teachers. One of the approaches directly enhances mathematics understanding is to present practical problems that need a solution — theory motivated by application. His stature in this domain led to his membership in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ revision of guidance for the teaching of mathematics in K-12 classrooms. At the university level, he successfully renovated how the logic of proofs of theorems is taught. This work involved short videos, think-aloud techniques, and flipped classrooms.

Marc Howard in the Department of Government is the founder of three important initiatives. First, the Prison Reform Project, a 500-level course, performs original investigations into suspected wrongful conviction. The class works directly with the incarcerated individual. This is an innovative blending of life-experience and research-based learning. Marc also founded the Prisons and Justice Initiative, running programs within jails and prisons and organizing important events on campus. Finally, Marc was central in the launch of the Pivot Program, homed in the McDonough School of Business, which provides to returning citizens post-incarceration, courses in entrepreneurism, job skills, and internships. Professor Howard was given the award for his unique blend of effective communications about problems in US jails and prisons, constructing life-changing learning experiences for students, and providing real advances in social justice through his teaching.

Please join me in congratulating our colleagues.

Once in a Hundred Years

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My vote for phrase of the year is “once-in-a-hundred years’” as a modifier to some noun. A quick search of the internet shows common usage of “one-in-a-hundred years” in reference to the pandemic, fiscal crisis, floods, forest fires, rain storms, hurricanes/typhoons, crop loss, and drought. But also, “once-in-a-hundred-year” transformation of the automobile industry, new Lamborghini model, appearance of agave flowers, and sightings of bamboo blossoms.

Of some note is the quotation of a resident of Australia, subjected to repeated floods, one after another: “It’s once in a hundred years … four weeks later we’re back.”

I’m a little worried that attached to the “one in a hundred years” moniker are some risks for all of us. It breeds either explicit or implicit excuses for inaction. “Don’t blame me, I couldn’t have predicted it.” “It would have been imprudent to prepare for this, the odds of it happening were so low.” “It won’t happen again for another 100 years; we don’t have to prepare for another event like this.” “We just need to get through this, then things will go back to normal.”

Bayesian statistical thinking allows one to utilize in a formal way all prior information about a phenomenon in order to integrate new data about it. It has value when there is a deep set of prior data speaking to the statistical question at hand. But it’s also a way of thinking about our current knowledge and deserved confidence about it. When a new finding is made, our confidence in it is a stronger if it is in agreement with prior discoveries. If a very unusual finding is obtained, it garners more skepticism. All this makes common and statistical sense.

So, how does Bayesian thinking apply to what we’re all experiencing? What are our prior data on the phenomena we’re all observing? We know that many of the phenomena have very rarely occurred. For that reason, we view these events as rare events. Our prior beliefs are shaped by the infrequency of the events.

This thinking needs a higher level of sophistication to protect us. If none of the causes of the phenomena in question have changed, using our prior knowledge is wise. If the causes of the phenomena have changed, it may be dangerous. In short, what if the causes of these rare events have radically altered the frequency of their consequences.

I’ve commented on potential causes of the “once-in-a-hundred-year” phenomena above: the encroachment of humans into more and more areas formerly inhabited only by nonhuman species, the warming of the globe due to human-induced activity, the instability of weather patterns, the harmful effects of globalization on inequality in many countries of the world.

It may well be unwise to think that the devastation of a global pandemic as a once-in-a-hundred-event based only on our experience without global warming, without radically increased human-nonhuman interaction, without the inequalities that limit equal access to health services. It might be better to say events like that “used to be” or were “formerly” once-in-a-hundred-year events.

With this reminder to ourselves, we may be more focused on how to make decisions of more lasting worth to humankind and the planet in general.

Virtual Mentoring

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Georgetown announced today that classes will begin in about three weeks using an online format. First-year students, previously welcomed to residence halls on the Hilltop campus, learned that they, too, will experience Georgetown in a virtual mode along with sophomores, juniors and seniors. The programs of the School of Continuing Studies had moved to online earlier. Other graduate students, who were invited back into a hybrid mode with in-person components, were informed that they will begin their studies online and, if they choose, to continue online through the academic year. The university pledged to monitor the public health environment, especially testing turnaround time, to guide the timing of safe moves to hybrid mode that includes some in-person instruction.

There is a strong consensus among faculty and students that they do their best work when they are together. Such joint work nurtures empathy on both sides. The empathy is the portal into formation of the young student. It seems clear, now, that “being together” needs a new definition in this era of COVID-19.

The evidence is very strong on the importance of faculty and student bonds to improve educational outcomes. Surveys among graduates repeatedly show that the post-graduate assessment of their undergraduate experience is faculty-centric. Those who have more favorable assessment tend to have deeper connections to individual faculty members. Some of these came through year-long projects which required frequent tutorial experiences that spawned liking and respect between faculty and the student.

Further, in meetings with students over the years, it has become clear to me that when faculty display their passion for their scholarly pursuits, the students immediately become interested. In contrast to lectures that simply convey content, student interest can be enhanced with the faculty’s personal view of a field.

So, what are we to do, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with heavily technology-assisted instruction and learning? Well, it seems clear. If universities are to serve students in this new environment, we all need to invent new ways to create bonds between students and faculty.

Thinking of student behavior, we need to nurture more student proactivity, seeking out opportunities to meet and talk with faculty. It would include asking questions that go one level below the lecture and reading, digging deeper. It would be a student’s ongoing discernment of one’s own essential interests and strengths. Such discernment efforts nurture efforts to synthesize information from several courses and creative thinking. With such thinking by the student, it becomes clear how talking with someone with greater experience can be valuable.

Thinking of faculty behavior in this new world of internet assisted education, we need to create new ways of connecting to individual students. Students report that zoom office hours worked pretty well in the spring semester. I suspect much of the value in those meetings emerged from their informality. In them, students can reveal their concerns in the class and ask synthesizing questions. Faculty can set the stage for deeper conversations by starting with a question about the student’s welfare, giving him/her permission to raise other issues. These sessions are no doubt most important for those students who have been quiet in class, who might be intimidated by the faculty member, whose internet connections are unstable, who live multiple time zones away, or who feel uncertain about their abilities. Student respect for faculty guidance is a function of the faculty member’s perceived concerns for the student’s welfare. These meetings don’t have to be one on one to have value; small groups of students, particularly when they share some interests can become wonderfully rich discussions, that increase bonds among students as well.

Faculty can also work into the class discussions, details of their own work, when relevant to the goals of the class. This gives insight into the question of how the faculty member has chosen to devote their whole life to a set of intriguing questions; it reveals the approach of identifying unsolved problems and thus the critical thinking that is part of the field. The asynchronous video material faculty prepare could be a good tool for this.

Faculty can create course exercises that prompt opportunities for the faculty to interact with students, through electronic means (blogs, texts, other social media) and video links.

The value of these faculty efforts to reach out to students does not just belong to the students. These uses of electronic media can reward the faculty with renewed sense of their own purpose. It will indeed be different than long informal discussions between students and faculty in-person. But I’m convinced the steps above have merit.

Same goals; different means.

Time, Systems, and Subsystems

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Over the past few years, a global integration of people, production, products, and services has evolved. This is a very tightly coordinated system that allowed work to move across space more frictionlessly than ever before. It relied on people moving across countries. It built sectors that relied on one another, driven by market forces.

One of the truly interesting things is that it permitted integration of subsystems that move very slowly to be served and be served by sectors that move much more quickly. So, slow-moving institutions, like universities, could provide graduates to the technology sector that permitted its rapid development. Even though it takes four years to produce a new computer science graduate with a bachelor’s degree, the interface between slow moving university curricula and technology companies coped. Tech companies provided instruction in the Microsoft way, the Amazon way, or the Google way, that permitted ingestion of talent into fast changing companies. The linkages between the academic sector and the technology sector thrived.

From the other side, the technology sector helped import digital operations to governments. Slow-moving institutions and fast-moving institutions found a way to stay integrated and co-dependent.

One mental image of this is a set of gears that interlock but move at very different revolutions per minute. They are codependent; they help one another and need one another.

Enter SARS-CoV-2 that produces COVID-19.

Many have noted that within a matter of days and weeks the connections among the subsystems broke down. When locales closed down activities or when the epidemic hit a business with a fury, the people supplying materials and services to another sector stayed home; linkages among sectors were broken. We saw farmers destroy crops and milk products because they had no transportation to market. We saw hospitals without protective gear because international factories and international shipping were curtailed. The speed of the effects on connections among subsystems was astonishing.

Of interest in this view of sectors that are slow moving but connected to ones that are fast moving is that the sectors with slow moving environments seemed to suffer most. With COVID-19, a fast-moving disrupter was introduced that affect all persons in all sectors. But fast moving sectors have a built-in advantage in those situations because they tend to have more advanced adaptive characteristics. Slow-moving sectors struggled.

I’m told that in some biological systems, a subsystem linked to another that becomes hostile attempts to isolate itself, in order to assure its survival. One interpretation of the rise of nationalism across the globe might be linked to a similar tendency in human-directed systems, the nation state whose populace views interdependencies as hostile to its welfare attempts to isolate and become more self-sufficient.

Of course, one cannot overnight move to self-sufficient isolates after years of developing a globally interdependent design, production, supply, dissemination, and consumption system. Fast-moving social movements or global epidemics, once launched, interact with slow-moving systems that have difficulty changing quickly. Friction in the system of gears mentioned above occurs. Such friction can harm interconnections but also break individual gears.

Given the penetration of globalization, the slow-moving subsystems can little afford to isolate. Change, occurring more rapidly than their designs anticipated, will occur. However, when leaders in slow-moving subsystem recognize the heightened pace of change, they can prompt adaptation without delinking from other systems. When they can do so, they can achieve the continued fruits of interdependence.

Ingredients of Social Behavior Change

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From time to time, societies and the cultures they contain, exhibit large scale changes in behavior of their members. The process is often rather lengthy. It sometimes begins with scientific or academic findings of ill effects of current behaviors. For example, evidence linking smoking of tobacco to lung cancer probabilities began to converge in the 1950’s. The utility of seat belts to reduce automobile accident deaths was demonstrated in the 1940’s. The cause of HIV was discovered in 1983-4 and the link between bodily fluids and its transmission demonstrated.

From these initial studies came discoveries of linkages of human behaviors and harmful outcomes. Behaviors changed only slowly. Despite the 1950’s discoveries, tobacco use started declining in the US only in the 1970’s. The findings of seat belt utility in the 1950’s led to a national law mandating belts in cars only in 1966. The scientific discovery of the transmission of the HIV virus in the mid-1980’s has only incomplete effects on risky sexual and drug use behaviors in the US.

We are living in a period in which science is discovering how SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, is transmitted. The science suggests prevention methods, not unlike the experiences with smoking, seat belts, and HIV. However, the scientific findings have the complication that the SARS-CoV-2 virus doesn’t manifest symptoms of COVID-19 immediately. There is growing evidence of shedding the virus by asymptomatic people, spreading it to their immediate physical environment. Hence, face coverings and frequent hand cleansing guidelines are promoted.

In the US, wearing face coverings in public was never part of many of its subcultures. Washing one’s hands many times a day is practiced routinely only among health care deliverers. However, the impact of the virus is fast, broad, and deep, threatening to halt all major societal subsystems. With COVID-19, taking several decades to produce behavior change is imprudent. Fast moving threats can overtake slow moving social change.

But there is some science informing behavior change. Since prevention of the virus spread is inherently a social event, social science is relevant. What influences people to change their behavior in social groups?

There is a set of social and cognitive psychological literatures that inform that question. They have been incorporated into work by behavioral economists and marketing researchers. Work by Robert Cialdini (Georgetown honorary degree, 2017) informs much of it.

“Reciprocity” is the notion that acts of kindness, support, empathy by another person tend to generate similar acts on our part. Such reciprocity norms seem to exist in all cultures. Making salient that others are protecting me by their health-related behaviors may stimulate me to do the same for them. How do we make that salient?

“Consistency and commitment” together note that we tend to behave in ways that have commonalities over time – habits are real. Conscious acts often make salient a decision to behave in a certain way (e.g., signing a petition, supporting a pledge to behave in a certain way). Those acts appear to be catalysts for consistent behavior. The signing of the Georgetown University Community Compact (agreeing to follow a set of health behaviors) is likely to have an independent effect on compliance with the public health guidelines versus an oral agreement.

The notion of “social proof” seems especially powerful in behaviors relevant to the common good, like those we’re now facing. One way we decide what we ourselves should do is to observe what others “like us” are doing. The key is “like us.” Hence, making salient that others like you were not smoking made it easier to never smoke or quit smoking. In contrast, making more salient violators of the new social norm (e.g., highlighting those who defy the face covering guideline) threatens overestimates of noncompliance and hence social proof that the desired behavior is not being practiced. This is particularly challenging because news media tend to cover the bad news less than the good news. How can we communicate the vast levels of cooperation the Georgetown community is exhibiting?

A particularly strong form of social proof is when one fully identifies with a particular group (e.g., “I am an xxx” where “xxx” could be a race, gender, sexual identity, political identity, socioeconomic group) and observes that the group is committed to behaving in a specific way. To the extent the identity is a central self-image, the social proof principle is powerful. “If I’m really an “xxx,” and most all “xxx”’s are behaving in the new way, then I must also.” How do we communicate to different subgroups their own group’s cooperation with health guidelines?

“Liking” as a construct means that an other who is attractive to us has greater chance of influencing our behavior. This is illustrated by modern social media influencers greatly. Their followers admire them and thus more readily accept their behavioral guidance. We’ve recently seen public figures announcing their support for face covering usage, as an example of this. Should we identify popular Hoya alumni to communicate their encouragement to the Georgetown community to protect one another?

The wonderful observation about these principles is that we individually can utilize them to help the whole community protect its health. We have large scale social behavioral changes to promote over the coming weeks. There is scientific evidence we can use to guide us.

The Global Research University

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The title of this blog has inherent redundancies – the words “global” and “research” might be read as implying there is another option, something that might be called the “nonglobal research university.” Such an institution no longer exists.

Over the past few decades, with special acceleration from the use of the internet, scholars around the world have formed groupings of those with similar intellectual interests. It is very common for a faculty member in a department or unit to have closer ties with a scholar in another country with regard to research interests than with colleagues right down the hallway from their office. The evolution of knowledge has defined deeper and narrower specialties nurturing such global networks.

The above focuses on the research lives of faculty, but global research universities also achieve their impact through education. Both undergraduate and graduate education, when led by faculty at cutting edges of their fields, influences the ways of approaching phenomena in their field. They build “schools of thought.” The students are imprinted with that way of thinking, making the influence of life long value.

The United States has been the beneficiary of a virtuous cycle in this regard. Because of the historical larger levels of research support and a culture supporting creativity and innovation, the country built one of the strongest ecosystems of institutions of higher education. It consists of community colleges, small liberal arts private colleges, state colleges, and large private and state research universities. They collectively have become magnets for the brightest minds in the world. They come to the US to receive formative education; some of them stay to work and contribute to the next generation of knowledge production within the US.

There are some data to document how important is the global attraction of US education. Over the past 15 years for the social and behavioral sciences, natural sciences, and engineering, there is a large growth in numbers of international graduate students in US universities as well as a growth in the percentage of all graduate students in those fields from outside the US. In 2000, about 40% of all graduate students were neither US citizens nor permanent residents; by 2015 the percentage was 50%. The US universities training in the engineering sciences were dominantly non US citizens (69%). (It is notable that the growth trend rather dramatic reversed itself between 2016 and 2017 (see the National Science Board report.)

Such numbers affect the workforce of science and engineering which has become increasingly foreign-born as the chart below illustrates

Percentage of All Science and Engineering Workers Who are Foreign-Born


The growing prevalence of international students is not just a phenomenon of the sciences. The stacked bar chart below shows in the top grey sections the percentage of doctoral recipients in 2015 who are temporary residents of the US. One can easily see how engineering, and the natural sciences have much higher percentages of international students. What is also surprising, however, is the percentage of “Fine and performing arts.” Not all international students are coming for science and engineering.

Racial/Ethnic Distribution of 2015 Doctoral Degree Recipients, Selected Academic Fields

That produces, however, a more diverse faculty body. About 6% of US faculty are nonresident aliens. Most of these were also trained in US graduate programs. Many of their foreign-born colleagues have become permanent residents or citizens.

We should lament the falling percentage of US citizens investing in their graduate educations. Our country is leaving behind many talented US students, especially those in economically disadvantaged situations. In the meantime, however, the case is strong that the US profits from the talented young minds who come to our universities for education (with the very best staying here) from around the world.

Any global research university would be greatly diminished if it evolved to a nonglobal university. The United States strength in innovation and creativity has clearly rested on its attractiveness to international students. The country needs them.

The Foundational Contributions of Staff at Universities

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I’ve written recently about the challenges to the roles of students and faculty during the COVID-19. This is a companion post.

In mid-March, 2020, Georgetown students left their dormitories for home or sheltered in place in their apartments in DC. The campus was emptied of student presence. At the same time, faculty went to their homes and began virtual education using Canvas, Zoom, and a variety of other tools to continue their jobs as instructors of students.

At the same time, few of the jobs of the Georgetown staff really stopped but many found themselves doing their jobs differently.

Some staff jobs needed physical presence. The buildings of the university still needed protection. Utilities need to keep operating; the campus needs to be cared for; buildings’ infrastructure, especially in our older spaces, needs to be watched. Students remaining in dormitories and staff need food support. Construction crews, taking advantage of empty buildings, need to do their work on site. Police need to remain vigilant to protect persons and property. Computing infrastructure needs its usual care and feeding. Indeed, the vast increase in Zoom and other computer-assistive communication tools increased the workload on some segments of the University Information Services staff.

It is an eerie feeling working on a university campus when few others are present. Even though you may be performing the same job, you do it without the colleagues who support you. It’s easy to feel removed from those you are serving and, most unfortunately, unthanked.

Many of these staff colleagues who continued to work on campus had home situations similar to others – no day care, schools closed down, support services for household members suspended. Yet they continued their duties out of home to support the university.

Other staff continued to work from home while balancing family care and homeschooling, often requiring modified or extended work hours in challenging environments (working space, technology). They rushed to create and support an infrastructure for remote higher education. They continued to support faculty and students remotely, which included modified or extended work hours to accommodate those in time zones far removed from DC. Staff managed and implemented all of the administrative and operational impacts of COVID-19 including student move-outs, student appeals, refunds and emergency funds, virtual graduation activities, new academic and administrative policies and procedures, research continuity and temporary shut downs.

Later, when the financial situation of the university began clearer, some staff took voluntary furloughs or pay cuts to help the University financially.

The Georgetown community is an interlocking web of talent. It, like all universities, produces graduates of educational programs and knowledge from faculty research. While the faculty and the students are most easily identified as central to these products, each group is crippled in its work without the work of university staff. The commitment displayed by staff over the past weeks has made more evident the dependence of the whole institution on the talents of its staff. We are indeed fortunate.

Not Just the Students but Faculty Too

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I’ve written about important lessons learned at universities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some thoughts noted the homogenizing features of university campuses for students. All students on a residential campus, regardless of their home environments, have the same dormitories, the same food, the same study spaces, the same library access, the same internet infrastructure, the same access to faculty. We all now appreciate this much more deeply than before March, 2020.

In mid-March, 2020, a diverse set of Georgetown students returned to their homes to complete their courses in a virtual mode. Across the group, they experienced very different environments. Some returned to cramped housing where they had no bed. Some had very shaky internet connections. Some returned to their work in the family’s business, while attempting to complete their courses. Some assumed the care of family members. Others returned to their old room in their large home with high-speed internet and a set of parents who provided for all their needs. They had a quiet place to do their work. Their only job was completing their courses.

Less commonly observed is a parallel story for faculty.

In mid-March, 2020, most faculty in the country also returned to their homes. For many faculty in urban universities, who live in the distant suburbs, there was an immediate attraction of avoiding long commutes into campus. For some, whose courses easily transferred to a virtual mode, the new teaching platform was sufficient. Others used pedagogical approaches not well suited to an online environment, and the transition was more painful. These differences were not surprising.

Major differences across faculty arose, however, for reasons outside of a university’s control. When COVID-19 shifted universities from in-person educational institutions to online ones, local K-12 schools also closed, day care facilities closed, babysitting services were constrained, in-home eldercare and care for special needs people were curtailed. Suddenly, every household became isolated, stripped of its usual external support services, and forced to become self-sufficient. These external factors affected faculty very differently given their life situation.

Single parents of young children who’ve chosen the academic life succeed when they can rely on carefully assembled, external support systems. Without them, as vividly learned after the March, 2020, transition, their lives become much more difficult. Their transition was much more challenging than that of faculty who live by themselves or those dual-career couples with no children in the home. Faculty who are parents had to provide 24-hour care for babies and young children; they became home schoolers for school-age children. They provided at-home medical care after telemed visits. They invented entertainment strategies for the children. And, then, on top of all that, they also provided world-class university teaching to students spread throughout the world.

Universities thrive when their faculty thrive. This is a necessary ingredient for students thriving.
However, universities were designed to support faculty on campuses. There, ideally, faculty have quiet offices to prepare their classes, classrooms to deliver their teaching, facilities to meet and mentor students, support staff to assist all their work. This works well when other support systems work to provide care for others in their family unit.

Universities cannot create external support networks when a pandemic closes them down. Universities, however, need to take seriously differences in the life situations of their faculty.
They can try to invent new flexibilities to acknowledge large differences across faculty in the work challenges they face. They can also encourage collegial support so that colleagues with fewer burdens can help those with more burdens in this extraordinary shock that the pandemic has delivered to the world.

I am proud of the support that the Main Campus Executive Faculty group offered in highlighting the issues above in a recent town hall. I am also hopeful that the work of our new Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs, Chandan Vaidya, will find a way forward from sets of focus groups and from a faculty task force on these issues. This will no doubt require creative solutions from the university administration as well as new forms of cooperation across faculty within departments and programs.

Office of the ProvostBox 571014 650 ICC37th and O Streets, N.W., Washington D.C. 20057Phone: (202) 687.6400Fax: (202)

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