Johns Hopkins Magazine - April 1995 Issue

Johns Hopkins in the 21st Century

Design the Johns Hopkins University of the future: That was what the Committee for the 21st Century set out to do in the fall of 1992. Comprised of 16 senior faculty members from all nine divisions, the committee was charged by President William C. Richardson and Provost Joseph Cooper to think "radically," along "fundamentally new lines."

Eighteen months, eight subcom-mittees, and many hundreds of meetings later, the C-21 committee issued its final report: 23 recommendations designed to strengthen Hopkins's academic quality and leadership, enhance the way the university is organized and run, and decrease its financial dependence on external funding sources.

Many of these recommendations call for fundamental changes in the way things are done at Hopkins--and have been done for years--and plans for implementation will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers. But that's inevitable, says current committee co-chair Martha Hill, associate professor of nursing. "We need to be clearer with ourselves that in order to maintain academic excellence, increase efficiency, and stay current with what the rest of the world is doing, we will need to re-examine some of our traditional ways of doing things," she says.

Underpinning the entire report, in fact, is a call for greater collaboration--among Hopkins divisions, faculty, students... even other universities. Sounds relatively benign, right? Except for the fact that it strikes at the heart of Hopkins's near-sacred tradition of decentralization--a tradition, many believe, that has given each field the freedom to flourish. On the downside, decentralization has made it very difficult to execute projects centrally.

Perhaps nowhere is the downside seen more acutely than in Hopkins's lagging information infrastructure. Though some divisions have topnotch facilities, the university as a whole is behind its peers in building the technological connections necessary to link all researchers with each other and their colleagues around the world. The C-21 committee points to this as a key area to address immediately, since many of its recommendations hinge on it.

On the pages that follow, we bring you these and other highlights of the committee's final report. For a complete listing of the recommendations, see page 63.

Breaking down divisional barriers There are two factors driving the push for greater collaboration at Hopkins. First, there's the financial impetus. At a time when universities across the nation are being asked to provide more-- services, courses, research oppor- tunities--while holding the budget line steady, internal collaboration makes pecuniary sense. By pooling resources and alleviating duplication, the reasoning goes, Hopkins can increase its offerings with limited resources.

More fundamental, though, is the fact that the boundaries between disciplines have begun to dissolve. "For decades, decentralization worked extremely well for us here at Hopkins. Many would say it still does," says C-21 co-chair Hill, who holds appointments in Medicine and Public Health. "However, our divisions were established around areas of science, or professions, that made sense at the time--biology, engineering, medicine. The reality is that today the boundaries among these traditional disciplines have blurred."

Solving society's problems will increasingly require multi- disciplinary efforts. Take medicine, for instance. Hill notes that in today's managed care setting, physicians, nurses, and public health specialists work in teams to come up with cost- effective plans for patient care. Yet under Hopkins's current structure, students from these various disciplines rarely take classes together.

"In East Baltimore, each of the professional schools teaches some of the very same courses: ethics, research design, biostatistics, legal issues of patient care. The duplication is stunning," Hill says. Why not combine courses and bring together the students and faculty from Nursing, Medicine, and Public Health to learn from one another? she asks. In fact, the committee calls specifically for the formation of a task force to "examine the integration of professional education programs" in East Baltimore.

For that matter, why not move toward a university philosophy of "one faculty," so that professors at Medicine, the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, and Public Health, for instance, could be called upon to teach undergraduates? That was one plan considered by several of the C-21 strategic study groups, including the one on interdivisional collaboration and restructuring that Hill chaired. The advantages are numerous: under- graduates benefit from having smaller classes and more diverse course offerings, while Hopkins saves money by not hiring additional faculty or mounting new programs.

There are stumbling blocks, however, not the least of which is the lack of a unified academic calendar. Home- wood has a two- semester system, Public Health four quarters, Medicine a four- quarter system with "blocks" of six-week rotations--it's easy to see why cross-listing courses has been, for all practical purposes, impossible. The C-21 report calls for a common calendar and course schedule to be adopted by 1997. The preliminary idea calls for a semester system, with a summer term that could be equivalent to a third semester. Sounds straightforward, but Hopkins veterans who've seen similar proposals go down in flames throughout the years predict that this recommendation may meet more resistance than any other. "It's been a very politically charged issue for a long time, although less now," acknowledges Hill.

Scheduling problems aside, there are other barriers. Many faculty members have little fiscal incentive to teach outside their own division, Hill says. Each Hopkins division operates its own budget, and "the deans all have different formulas. Some say, 'I'm not going to pay to have you teach for another division,' while others will pay twice the amount. There is no method of standardization.

"If you're expected to bring in 80 percent of your salary in research grants, and then you're asked to teach in another division for free, you can see why your dean might say No."

And while it is advantageous when faculty from different divisions collaborate on research projects, people find it cumbersome to apply for collaborative grants, in part because of complications that arise in allocating the resulting indirect costs among divisional budgets.

There's also the issue of professional advancement. Hill says that many of the senior faculty members who serve on promotion and tenure committees have spent their entire professional lives working in purely defined disciplines. Some question the value of having their colleagues devote time and energy to "outside" disciplines.

These barriers to collaboration need to be cleared away, concluded the C-21 committee. "We think for this university to remain on the cutting edge, and to be successful in competing for outstanding students and faculty and the resources they'll need, we need to make interdivisional programs the norm rather than the exception," says Hill.

Toward that end, the C-21 committee recommends establishing a University Faculty Advisory Council that would be comprised of representatives of every division. In effect, this council would be a standing C-21 committee that would focus on long-range planning, look broadly at interdivisional activities, and keep the schools gently moving toward greater collaboration. It would not replace the current academic councils at each of the schools, the report's authors were quick to point out: Issues of curriculum, appointments and promotions, and academic policies would still be decided at the divisional level.

The need for greater collaboration doesn't end at Hopkins's borders, according to the C-21 report, which recommended that the university start exploring "formal partnerships" with peer institutions across the country--a savvy strategy in these times of fiscal constraint.

"Say we felt one of our departments was too small to sufficiently cover its subdisciplines. One could imagine sharing an appointment with Penn, for instance," says Paula Burger, vice provost for academic programs and coordinator of the C-21 committee. Or perhaps a graduate student in art history needs training in a little-known language in order to do her summer fieldwork. She might spend a semester doing the necessary coursework at Stanford or Columbia, while her counterparts at those schools might come to Hopkins to take some of its unique offerings in public health.

While the idea of forming partnerships with other universities is not new (Hopkins and nearby Goucher College have had a reciprocal arrangement for years), "in almost all cases so far these partnerships have been bound by geographical constraints," Burger notes. With ongoing advances in information technology, that will change. "With the proper linkages," she says, "we'll be able to interact with other major research universities across a wide range of academic areas. Our students who are French majors, for instance, could audit courses at the Sorbonne electronically."

Already, Hopkins's SAIS offers a joint program in international business with the Wharton School at the University of Pennylvania; the School of Public Health has also teamed up with Penn's Annenberg School to offer a joint program in health communications. The provost has asked deans at each of Hopkins's schools to look for other potential alliances. "We're not naive about how difficult it will be," says Burger. "After all, it requires a shift in paradigm, because schools will no longer be competing for the same students. On the other hand, the possibilities are unlimited. And in the face of resource constraints, it's an important way for universities like Hopkins to maintain academic excellence."

Going the distance

The Information Age is upon us, and information technology "is one area in which great universities will be determined in the next century, because it will have profound impacts on research and teaching," says Provost Cooper.

Unfortunately, Hopkins has lagged behind its peer institutions in developing a coordinated technological infrastructure. Some researchers have yet to be linked to the Internet, and even between the various Hopkins campuses, the committee found, electronic communication is spotty, with users experiencing an uneven range of access and services. The main reason? Given that budget and planning processes are not centralized, each division moved ahead on its own--or not-- depending on what money it could make available.

Now, top priority will be given to putting a coordinated information infrastructure into place, says Cooper, who calls it "the linchpin of the whole report."

To do that, the C-21 committee concluded, the university will first have to hire a Chief Information Officer--someone with university-wide vision, who would be responsible for developing, operating, and directing the interdivisional information system.

"This is certainly the first thing we have to move forward," says Cooper. "Getting the university in the right position organizationally and with its infrastructure is really critical to our future." He and President Richardson have begun meeting with Hopkins's various deans to decide how best to structure the new position.

Why is electronic communication so important? Because, thanks to advances in electronic networks, "what was once remote, is no longer remote," says Cooper. These days, engineers living in Mystic, Connecticut, can earn a master's degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University; they simply flip on their personal computers and logon to an interactive network, he notes.

Continued rapid advances in "distance learning," and its growing popularity, mean that high-quality students will find it increasingly possible to earn degrees from world-class institutions no matter where they are located, says Candice Dalrymple, co-chair of the C-21 strategic group on non- traditional education.

"We had better get ourselves going or we're going to find other universities offering courses right in our backyard," she says. Recognizing this, the C-21 committee made distance learning a priority throughout its report.

Distance learning's convenience factor makes it a natural for students who attend Hopkins part time, either through the School of Continuing Studies or through part-time programs offered by Engineering, Arts & Sciences, and Public Health, notes Dalrymple, who is associate dean for external programs at the School of Engineering.

Last year Engineering surveyed part-time students at Hopkins's Montgomery County Center to see how receptive they would be to taking some courses electronically. "Eighty-five percent said they would be in favor," says Dalrymple. Those surveyed were given an array of options: a two-way interactive system, in which students at the center and a professor at Homewood, say, could "see" each other and interact via television set; an audio interactive system, in which students could see the instructor, but the instructor could hear and respond only to their voices; or videotape, with access to the instructor via e- mail.

To Dalrymple's surprise, she says, "They preferred the videotape option by a wide margin." The thinking seemed to be that, after a long day at work, why fight the rush-hour commute to get to class? Especially when you can go home and take the same course once the kids are in bed?

Over the last 10 years, the university has maintained a closed-circuit microwave link that connects classrooms at APL, the Medical Institutions, and Homewood. Establishing a two-way interactive system--with the necessary high bandwidth, compressed video--will be considerably more expensive. Like other universities, Hopkins will be looking for corporate sponsorship to fund start-up costs.

Already, Bell Atlantic of Maryland has stepped in to provide the university with the electronic equipment necessary to establish three distance learning classrooms: one at Homewood, another at the Montgomery County Center, and a third at East Baltimore. The Hopkins classrooms will be part of a 270-site network that links sites at public high schools, public community colleges, public universities, and other sites across Maryland via broadband, two-way interactive video. On the network, participants at up to four different sites can be linked during a single class via television monitor. Thus, a Hopkins professor could lecture, respond to questions by, and also observe the actions of students in three other classrooms on the network simultaneously. Bell Atlantic has committed to spending $30 million over a four-year period to get the network up and running.

The possibilities sound exciting, and it's clear that there are fiscal advantages to being able to reach wider audiences, but what about quality? Can students really get as much out of watching a videotape or interacting via television monitor as they can by taking a course in person?

"We do need to develop a whole new set of criteria when it comes to judging quality," acknowledges Judith Broida, co-chair of the C-21 subcommittee on non-traditional education and an associate dean at the School of Continuing Studies. "There are so many issues that need to be looked at," she says, tossing off a few: "What is the limit as to the number of students an instructor can interact with at one time? How will students in distance learning classes be evaluated? How is teaching load determined? Does it count as a full or partial teaching load, for instance, if a professor reaches four different classrooms of students through a single broadcast?" These issues will have to be addressed at Hopkins and elsewhere--and soon, says Broida.

In fact, the issue of quality assurance will have to be addressed throughout all Hopkins's part-time and non-traditional programs, according to the C-21 committee. Today, more part-time students than ever are enrolling at Hopkins, generating crucial revenues for the divisions. For the first time last May, in fact, the university graduated more part-time than full-time students-- a trend that's sure to continue as people must re-train to keep up in an ever-changing job market.

"We know this is an area of great expansion, yet in most areas we've never grappled in detail with it," says the provost. "We need to do some hard thinking about the character of our part-time programs to ensure that they maintain the same high quality as our traditional programs."

But the yardsticks for assessing quality are quite different from those for undergraduate and full-time graduate programs, Cooper notes. For one thing, non-traditional programs tend to emerge as a result of market demand rather than faculty strength or interest. For another, the faculty are different. Many come from outside the university and are chosen (and evaluated) on the basis of their professional experience in the working world--not on how many papers they've published, or how much research they've done. Then there's the non-traditional student, who is often admitted according to his or her "real world" experiences, rather than on the basis of academic record and test scores.

Clearly, the university will have to come up with a different set of criteria by which to measure and ensure the quality of its part-time programs, concludes the C-21 committee. Cooper envisions a faculty-led examination that would include input from students and administrators involved in both traditional and non-traditional programs.

Building a stronger undergraduate experience Undergraduates, particularly those who are "self-starters," have unparalleled opportunities to do advanced research at Hopkins, the C-21 committee noted. But it also found shortfalls in the undergraduate program.

"What does not always exist at Hopkins is uniformly good advising and teaching, enough small classes, and adequate student support mechanisms," the report concluded. For years, promotion and tenure decisions at Hopkins and other top research universities have stressed research accomplishments. The report calls for a fundamental change in Hopkins's reward structure, so that faculty who demonstrate excellence in teaching and advising receive some kind of "professional recognition." That could include anything from salary increases, to additional research space, to new computers--"something that fits into the Hopkins culture," says Nick Jones, associate professor of civil engineering and chair of the strategic study group on undergraduate programs.

American universities have not traditionally trained professors to teach. Instead, would-be faculty have frequently been thrown in to learn by doing, often starting as teaching assistants. "I went through a fairly traditional program. So my natural instinct is to stand up in front of my class and lecture," says Jones. "After all, it worked for me as a student. But perhaps there are better ways. We need to be able to draw on people who know about teaching techniques and pedagogies, and about alternative learning experiences."

Toward that end, the C-21 committee recommends establishing a Center for Educational Resources at Hopkins. The center would be staffed with education specialists who could instruct faculty and TAs in teaching methodologies and help students improve their learning skills.

Particular attention would be paid to computer-assisted learning. With ongoing advances in electronic technology, says Cooper, "the character of teaching is something that is going to have to be re-invented, and we'll need to help faculty translate this new technology into the classroom." CD-ROM and video will allow for more interaction between professor and student and less dependence on the traditional lecture, Cooper believes. "We'll be able to customize learning, rather than routinize it," he says.

In addition, the C-21 committee has called for implementation of a "post-tenure review process." This recommendation, which would affect teaching, will undoubtedly be controversial. Tenure has long been held sacrosanct among American academics, and any attempt to interfere with it is sure to draw some fire.

In general, the undergraduate program at Hopkins needs to be more flexible, the committee concluded, and to include more opportunities for "experiential learning"--internships, summer research projects, directed research with Hopkins professors, independent study. "It is our view that a big part of the educational process is providing students with a context for their educations. It's a way to synthesize what they're learning in the classroom," Jones says. Where will the faculty come from to make these small group interactions possible? After all, the School of Arts & Sciences has been forced to keep new faculty hires to a minimum, even in the face of climbing student enrollments. The report suggests drawing on faculty from Medicine, Public Health, SAIS--researchers who normally work only with graduate students.

Jones's study group would also like to see these faculty members get involved in student advising. Currently, many Engineering and Arts & Sciences faculty members have dozens of student advisees, says Jones, which often allows barely enough time to make sure that students are getting the necessary courses and credits--"but not to talk about what they want to do with their lives, their goals, their aspirations." Broadening the pool of faculty advisors would allow more time for mentoring, and would expose undergraduates to a wider range of career options, Jones believes. Reactions to this idea from East Baltimore faculty have been mixed, Jones says. Under constant pressure to bring in the research dollars that pay much of their salaries, many wonder where they'd find the time.

To better foster a sense of community among undergraduates, the C-21 report suggested establishing several "defining experiences," such as a common freshman experience and a senior year "capstone" experience. The idea, again, is to foster collaboration among students of different disciplines, so that Engineering students, for example, don't spend four years sequestered with their fellow engineers. "We can't isolate ourselves away in little disciplinary groups anymore," Jones says. "By immersing students with those of other disciplines, perhaps they'll develop a tolerance and understanding of people who approach complex problems in different ways."

Taking a closer look at graduate education

Hopkins has been known since its founding for the great strength of its graduate programs. But the committee found a number of "troubling signs" that could weaken the future of graduate education at the university. Consider the report's findings:

"We need to do a thorough review of the health of graduate programs throughout the university," says Roger Westgate, associate dean of Engineering and chair of the C-21 strategic study group on diversity. Until now, graduate figures on admissions, retention, graduation, etc., have been kept only on a departmental or divisional basis. Thus, says Westgate, "there are a lot of unknowns."

The C-21 report calls for a comprehensive study of these and other issues (for instance, What is the proper role of graduate students in the instruction of undergraduates? How should the appropriate size of graduate programs be determined?) that would be coordinated by the newly devised University Faculty Advisory Council.

Toward an international community of scholars

Judging by Hopkins's sizable number of foreign students and faculty, its campuses in locales like Nanjing and Bologna, and its extensive network of research collaborations throughout the world (more than 300 at last count), few would argue with its status as an international university.

"It's the nature of our business--we've become an international community of scholars," says Scott Zeger, senior associate dean of academic affairs at the School of Public Health. "The questions Hopkins must face now are: How can we best take advantage of that for the education of our students? And how can we promote continued and more successful international contacts among our faculty?" says Zeger, who chaired C-21's strategic study group on international dimensions.

Here again, establishing a technological infrastructure will prove crucial. As a first step, all Hopkins faculty need to be connected to the Internet so that they can be linked to colleagues across the world, the report concludes. "As the quality of communications improves over the Internet, many of us who currently travel frequently may be able to scale back," says Zeger. What's more, improved communications will make it easier for Hopkins researchers who do travel to project sites in Africa and Asia to keep up with their responsibilities (teaching, advising) back in Baltimore, he says.

At the undergraduate level, courses across the disciplines-- from engineering to English--need to be inculcated with international perspectives, the C-21 committee concluded. In addition, says Zeger, "we need to continue to strengthen offerings related to Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

"If you look at undergraduate offerings, they're very rich in European affairs," Zeger says. "But we're not educating our students as much about the emerging Asian influence, which is reflective of the shift in economic power throughout the world." He points to a recent survey of Arts & Sciences faculty, in which 41 identified Western Europe as a geographic area of interest; just three listed Asia.

Language instruction is another area that will need support. Toward that end, the committee recommends broadening the reach of the Language Teaching Center at Homewood and of SAIS's language programs to help students across Hopkins's many campuses share classes electronically. Similarly, by forming partnerships with other universities both here and abroad, Hopkins would be able to offer a wider variety of languages via distance learning-- languages that the university couldn't afford to offer on its own. "Suppose you had a PhD student who needed to do her thesis work in a remote area of Africa where the language is only spoken locally," Zeger says. "If only the University of Michigan offers that language, you could connect her to their course electronically through our Language Teaching Center."

The best way to learn about the culture of any foreign land is to spend time there. At Hopkins, however, comparatively few undergraduates have pursued the study-abroad option. "Some universities have a quarter of their undergraduates studying abroad. Last year we had about 60," Zeger says. The problem appears to be scheduling. At Hopkins, where roughly one-third of all undergraduates are premeds and many more plan to go on to other professional schools, students have traditionally found it difficult to complete all their necessary coursework, prepare for their boards, interview--and find time to study abroad, Zeger's group found.

One solution lies in creating "uniquely Hopkins" programs that would allow students to complete their necessary coursework while they're abroad, Zeger says. Take the example of an international health program in Nepal. Hopkins premeds might spend their mornings taking premed classes from Public Health faculty who are on site doing research, and their afternoons working at a rural health center or doing research. "A program like this fits in with their course requirements, and may improve their chances of admission to medical school," Zeger says. "It also gets them exposed to different cultures."

Similar programs might enable engineering students to study Japanese manufacturing technology, or Peabody students to study and concertize throughout Europe, Zeger says.

What now?

The C-21 initiative was indeed a daunting project for all those involved--the first time in many years that faculty from across all Hopkins divisions have joined together to map the university's strategic future.

Committee members had to walk a fine line between coming up with recommendations that were too general (and thus not implementable) and too specific (which, by stepping on divisional toes, would have the same effect). Cooper believes the final report strikes that balance beautifully. "It's concrete enough to be acted upon, without prescribing every detail for implementation," he says.

So what happens now? Moving ahead with the recommendations will require leadership from the very top. President Richardson says he is broadly supportive of the report and its recommendations. "There are some things that will be done in modified form, others that will be done as described, and one or two that will require further discussion," he says.

But what happens after Richardson leaves Hopkins this summer? Is there a chance that his successor might come in and scuttle the C-21 efforts? Cooper is convinced that won't happen. Although a new leader might set different priorities for implementation, he says he is confident that "any new president will recognize the wisdom and relevance of the broad thrust of the report."

For a copy of the C-21 committee's final report, contact the Provost's Office at (410) 516-8070, or access the report on the Internet through JHuniverse at

Click here for a listing of The Recommendations of the Final Report of the C-21 Committee.

Sue De Pasquale is the magazine's editor.

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