O U R R E A D E R S W R I T E
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Props to Mr. Watkins
Thanks so much for the beautiful article on the Digital Hammurabi Project in your September issue ["Clay, Paper, Code"]. Even though I am uncomfortable being the main focus in the article (the rest of the team is so impressive), I find it, otherwise, refreshingly accurate and accessible for such an inherently technical subject.
There is, however, one major addendum. There is no mention and no photograph of Lee Watkins Jr.
Lee, as director of research and instructional technologies
at JHU, was the very first Hopkins administrator who
understood the value of the project, gave it financial and
institutional support through thick and thin, and, as
assistant dean and director of the Center for Scholarly
Resources of the Sheridan Libraries, legitimized it at the
institutional level. He is co-principal investigator on our
$1.65 million National Science Foundation grant. He is
director of the Hammurabi project. Lee's involvement
extends into our massive digital library effort (a data
center 100 times larger than the data center of the Library
of Congress!). Without Lee's innumerable and invaluable
contributions, I am convinced we would not be where we are
I read with interest the spate of letters [regarding "Not-So-Great Expectations," June] criticizing the loneliness and indifference and limited advising of today's Hopkins scene. The same things could have been said, and often were said, in the early 1960s.
As for the lack of close relations with the faculty, large classes, and Spartan accommodations, nothing appears to have changed. And as for grade deflation, in the early (pre-Vietnam) 1960s, any grade deflation would have flunked out half the school. Despite these "hardships," the last two years of my Hopkins experience remain among the happiest of my life. There were friends, interesting courses, and members of the opposite sex if you cared to meet them. There are such people and courses now, and no, you don't have to belong to a fraternity. Vincent House could be a lot of fun. Hell, even ROTC was fun.
The gentleman who advised prospective students that his JHU
experience was a waste of the four best years of his life
really was a victim of inflated expectations. Hopkins was
then, is now, and always will be, what you make it.
The decision to send our daughter to JHU took a lot of time and consideration. The students are committed to working hard, learning, and gaining the college experience that they're hoping for.
Students are not going to be excited about professors with prestigious research if those professors do not teach, inspire, or connect with their students.
Some of the students might be misinterpreted as not caring when they don't come to see their professors. There are various reasons for this. Some have given up, or some are so busy with their work. The burden to improve lies on the school and the professors.
Please take the steps to improve before blaming the
students. These students feel frustrated and embarrassed
because going to JHU is expensive, and most of all, because
students want the experience you so enthused us about
during those pre-admission meetings.
I am uniquely qualified to comment on education at Hopkins because I studied education there and went on to complete two master's degrees in education.
It is not that Hopkins ignores undergraduates; it is that Hopkins follows the graduate school model of education. This is essentially an apprentice system that allows graduate students to work closely with the best people in their fields of study. Hopkins allows undergraduates to become involved in this process and obtain direct contact with the fine graduate faculty. This is a great system for mature students who have defined goals.
Unfortunately, many undergraduates will not form
relationships with the graduate faculty because of
differing interests. But this does not mean that the
students need to be babied and coddled. The students at
Hopkins who stumble [mostly] need support from facilitators
who can develop their study skills and independent
thinking. One would hope that the deans and undergraduate
advisers could take on this challenge. If not, there should
be special counselors that could facilitate this. But the
contact with the graduate faculty should be preserved.
I'm dismayed to read some letters in the September issue.
Now nearing my mid-70s, a professor emeritus of mathematical sciences and engineering, I reflect on my Johns Hopkins years as seminal ones.
There I found values in the Honor Code and the University Ode that have been a part of me for over 50 years. I was affected by a realization that scholarship and learning were not only for teenagers but older people as well.
I was given a key to Rowland Hall. [My work there] helped form associations with graduate students and faculty, aside from those with classmates, that expanded the world of ideas.
Having spent my adult life on a university campus, I've seen the abundance of opportunities for less useful uses of time. I feel a certain satisfaction that the Hopkins I attended provided somewhat fewer distractions while affording no particular lack of recreation.
What is puzzling is why these disaffected students didn't transfer. I did! My freshman year at another university, while acceptable, didn't seem quite enough. My transfer to Hopkins was a superb choice.
I visit the campus on occasion — a return to roots of
sorts. I see undergraduates and think, "You can't imagine
how lucky you are to be here!" I'm confident I'm right.
The letters in response to your article "Not-So-Great Expectations" brought to mind my enrollment in "The Hopkins" as it was called then. I entered in February 1945 as an Arts and Sciences student majoring in business. It soon became apparent to me that unless you were a premed or engineering candidate, you were a second-class citizen.
My adviser was Malcolm Moos, a man I came to like, but who, at that time seemed not to know what to do with me. He put me in freshman English, history, economics, and political science. The last two seemed to be upperclass courses. Especially poli-sci. I didn't know the bourgeoisie from the proletariat.
I found a home, eventually, in the creation of the Writing Seminars under Elliott Coleman. He gave us free rein to write what we wanted, albeit with gentle nudges in the right direction. The class was small — there were about six of us, including author Robert Kotlowitz and Russell Baker, who made a name for himself as the editor of The Hopkins News-Letter, among other things. (I became the jazz critic.)
I left Hopkins in my junior year to work in our family's
international forwarding business, but often returned to
take one course or another — but never for credit.
Someday I might even finish up. I wonder whether, with more
attention from the school at the outset, my story would
have been different. Probably not.
I just got around to reading your article about improving
undergraduate education at Hopkins. It would be an
understatement to say that I was quite amused. This summer
I had the pleasure of taking a Hopkins-sponsored trip to
Tuscany and met two fellow '60 graduates whom I had never
met. We had a great time together, mostly commiserating
about the woefully bad time we had as undergraduates. In
fact, it was a strange relief for me to hear that my
nightmares (still) are shared by some of my fellow alumni.
Where was this Commission on Undergraduate Education back
I was surprised to read several letters in the September issue that exposed the very common, but rarely expressed, bitter memories of many Hopkins alumni. I don't remember ever seeing that ill will in writing before.
I have been a member of many athletic teams, military units, business school classes, medical school classes, and residency programs. Hopkins stands alone in my memory as the coldest, most unforgiving environment of my life.
I never expected Hopkins to be a rose garden, but I was unprepared for an undergraduate school that was and is a grudging afterthought to Hopkins graduate schools. Like it or not, one becomes an 18-year-old graduate student as a Hopkins freshman. As a 19-year-old sophomore, one used to compete, in fact, with Hopkins grad students in some courses.
I have seen my daughters as students at Harvard, Cornell,
and Stanford. I could not relate their college experience
to mine. Read the alumni letters to the magazines of those
schools, then read the letters of Hopkins alumni. Why the
President William R. Brody responds: Dr. Harrington's description of Johns Hopkins as a harsh, unforgiving environment is not surprising, but the purpose of my writing is not to apologize for the sins of the past. Goodness knows, we have enough shortcomings presently that occupy my time and attention. Rather, I did want to highlight one of the major goals of my presidency and to provide an update on many changes that are occurring at Johns Hopkins.
First, although my background is medicine and engineering and I was formerly associated with our medical school, when I became president of the university in 1996 I undertook to improve the undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins — both inside and outside the classroom. I am pleased to report we have made significant progress, though I believe we still have a long way to go.
Some of the changes that have occurred in the past few years (and, in the spirit of full disclosure, many things were begun by my predecessors):
enlarged the size of the undergraduate student enrollment on the Homewood campus to about 4,000 students
provided on-campus housing for all freshmen and sophomores
reduced our commuter population and, in fact, increased our geographic reach, both nationally and internationally
emphasized broadening the undergraduate class with more humanities and social science majors
introduced new majors/minors — e.g., in public health, business/entrepreneurship
transformed the Homewood campus over the past seven years:
revamped the dining services and student services to make them more "student friendly"
established the CUE Commission (Committee on Undergraduate Education), which issued a sobering report that was reported in the Hopkins Magazine last spring — outlining some of the issues that we are continuing to tackle, particularly getting more faculty to place an emphasis on undergraduate teaching. We are slowly overcoming 100 years of history as a predominantly graduate-level institution, and the changes are very exciting to see.
Hopkins is a very different place than it was in 1961, as we are working to make the undergraduate experience more in line with that at schools mentioned in Dr. Harrington's letter. Although we have many challenges yet to overcome, the Homewood campus exudes a vibrancy and excitement that were not there two decades ago. And the word is getting out about the "new" Hopkins undergraduate program:
This year we had more than 10,000 applicants, and our selectivity is the highest it has ever been.
We have outstanding athletic programs (all are Division III, non scholarship except lacrosse). Swimming, water polo, football, baseball, basketball, soccer — to name a few — have done well in both conference and post-conference D-III competition, and we are recruiting outstanding scholars who are also talented athletes. Our men's lacrosse team, which lost the national championship last year, had a B average overall. Our coaches are the best anywhere — supportive, nurturing, and understanding of the types of unique stresses that our students experience in a challenging academic environment.
We have had Rhodes, Marshall, and Fulbright scholars among our recent graduates.
I am glad that Dr. Harrington copied me on his letter as I
am interested in hearing the thoughts of our alumni. While
I cannot undo the past, I can help create the future for
Johns Hopkins. I think we are on a path that I hope Dr.
Harrington and all our alumni would applaud and
As an engineer and an adjunct faculty member of a junior college, I've always been proud of the fact that engineering curricula were exempt from the "politically correct" ideals that have eroded the level of education in many other fields of study. Why do educators continually insist that all members of our society are equally talented in all fields of study, and therefore there is a problem if one field is dominated by a particular segment of our society ["Curriculum Changes Are Key to Diversity in Engineering Education," June]? Actually, they don't. The only fields of study that are labeled as "lacking diversity" are the ones dominated by white males.
Anyone who is a practicing engineer realizes why there are "weed-out" courses in any engineering curriculum. [Former Dean Ilene] Busch-Vishniac said herself that "engineering is often defined as technical problem solving for the benefit of humankind." Moreover, there are several fields of engineering that directly affect the health and safety of our society. Do we really want to water down the intensity and difficulty of the engineering curriculum in order to be more "inclusive"?
I received my undergraduate engineering education at a large public university and my graduate engineering education at Johns Hopkins, and I have taught engineering courses at a local junior college. I have worked for local government agencies, small family-owned firms, and one of the largest consulting engineering firms in the world. I have never witnessed, nor do I believe, that there is a hostile environment in the engineering community toward women and minorities.
Why can't our society accept that some people, and segments
of our society in general, have different sets of skills? I
will stop any contributions to the engineering program and
cancel my alumni membership if the curriculum is changed to
be more "inclusive."
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