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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 10:37, June 19, 2006
Georgetown Alumnus Is Coaching Yao Ming: Interview
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Photo:Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia
Interview with Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia by Yong Tang, People's Daily correspondent based in Washington DC.

Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university in America. Located in Georgetown, a neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Georgetown University has become a major research university whose strength of academic programs is globally recognized.

Bill Clinton and many other heads of states are alumni of the university. For the two of the fifteen most powerful women in the world as rated by Forbes magazine in 2005, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the President of the Philippines, and Patricia Russo, the Chair of Lucent Technologies are alumnae of Georgetown. Recently Yong Tang, People's Daily Washington-based correspondent did an exclusive interview with Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia in his office.

Yong Tang: I know Georgetown University is the nation's oldest Catholic university. All Georgetown students are required to take two courses in Philosophy and Theology. There are also a lot of priests on the campus. I just want to know how is this Catholic and Jesuit tradition survived and maintained today?

DeGioia: It is a great question. Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit university founded in 1789 by father John Carroll who later became the first American archbishop. He found Georgetown with a clear and explicit commitment that Georgetown will open to students of every religious profession. Those are founding documents of the institution. We have always sustained our commitment to the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Georgetown. It gets manifested in lots of different ways here in Georgetown from the commitment that we have to ensure dialogue to commitment to social justice to commitment to ensure our students have access to a wide variety of ways of exploring their faith.

Within the university community there is a great deal of diversity. The University's Campus Ministry program includes Roman Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Orthodox Christian and Protestant worship opportunities, and pastoral care for students, faculty and staff. Campus Ministry reaches out to the Georgetown Community in many ways. Georgetown was the first Catholic school to bring a rabbi, Rabbi Harold White, onto its full-time campus ministry staff in 1968. And, Georgetown was the first American University to hire a full-time Muslim chaplain, Imam Yahya Hendi, in 1999.

It is 217 years into this work and one of the things we are trying to do is to ensure that while we provide an acknowledged American educational experience here there is a clear commitment to sustaining the underlined tradition that has supported this institution and differentiate Georgetown for two centuries. The academic requirements are part of our general education requirements which include courses in sciences, social sciences and humanities, usually foreign languages. Usually part of our general education courses include courses in Philosophy and Theology.

Yong Tang: Do you have any preferential policies in admitting students with Catholic and Jesuit background?

DeGioia: We don't differentiate students on basis of religion in admitting students. We actually have every religion covered here.

Yong Tang: If I don't believe in any religions, could I be admitted?

DeGioia: We have plenty of students and people who are not believers.

Yong Tang: Someone said religion might stand in the way for scientific discovery like stem cell research. Do you think religion sometimes can be an obstacle for scientific advancement?

DeGioia:No, we don't think so. We proudly conduct our research in a manner that is consistent with Catholic teaching, and we don't view that tradition as limiting. Quite the opposite. The Catholic moral tradition places great emphasis on the life-enhancing and life-saving promise of advanced research. I believe that the moral foundation helps shape the engagement of the institution in its research and activities. I believe we are able to keep a good balance here.

Yong Tang: I know School of Foreign Service and School of Law at Georgetown are among the strongest in this country. How do you maintain this level of excellence?

DeGioia: By ensuring we have the very best faculty, the students could make the most from their talents and abilities, by ensuring we support them to pursue the most important ideas that are stake in the world today.

Photo:Yong Tang (R), People's Daily correspondent based in Washington DC and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia.
Yong Tang (R), People's Daily correspondent based in Washington DC and Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia.
Yong Tang: What kind of benefit can you get from being located in Washington, DC?

DeGioia: The benefit is incalculable. Our students and faculty have access to many of the leading scholars and policy makers in the world. It would be hard to overstate how significant this is to the very identity of the university. We would not be Georgetown if we were not in Washington DC.

Yong Tang: Georgetown is home to many important political leaders such as former President of the United States Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and current Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

DeGioia: Madeleine Albright was a full time faculty member here. Then she went to government service and when she went out of government service she joined our faculty again. She is a brilliant teacher. She teaches international relations in Government in School of Foreign Service.

Yong Tang: What is your personal impression on her?

DeGioia: She is an outstanding member of our community. It is important to know that I have been a part of Georgetown University for 31 years. So I have the privilege of knowing Secretary Albright before she went to government service and she served in the government and she returned. She has been an extraordinary colleague and a wonderful member of this community for as long as I can remember.

Yong Tang: How about Bill Clinton? Do you have any personal contact with him?

DeGioia: He has been very very generous with his time to support the cause of Georgetown over the course of many many years. When he was running for President, he delivered three foundational addresses that established the framework for his Presidency right here at Georgetown campus. He had been here on campus many many times during his years in the White House. Since he completed his Presidency he has been here on a number of occasions. Just in this April he was a part of the major university celebration John Carrol Weekend, offering very inspiring remarks about his current work Clinton Global Initiative.

Yong Tang: How about Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?

DeGioia: She visited here after she went into service as the President. I had an opportunity to visit with her in January 2005.

Yong Tang: Since you have a lot of influential faculty members, do you find it difficult to manage them?

DeGioia: This is an extraordinary faculty and we have been working very closely together. They have been incredibly supportive of me as we try to grapple with some of the most important challenges that define this moment in higher education.

Yong Tang: It is rumored that Georgetown has very strict dressing code. All the male students here are required to dress with formal Western-style clothes on the campus. They are also required to wear ties. All the female students are not allowed to wear short miniskirts on the campus. Is that true?

DeGioia: That was true until late 1960s. Since after 1960s you could wear blue jeans and T-shirts like today. This was discontinued all across America. There were a number of changes. Our countries had experienced significant transformation in 1960s. That also include Georgetown, not only change in dress code but also change in curriculum, we also opened up universities for women so we became a fully co-educational school.

Yong Tang: Someone said Georgetown is a cradle for NBA superstars. To name just a few, Georgetown alumni Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo are famous NBA Basketball players. What role can sports play in higher education?

DeGioia: We have a very strong athletic program. We offer 27 sports here at Georgetown. They range from football and soccer to track and field, baseball, golf and tennis, basketball and volleyball.

10% of our student body participates in intercollegiate athletics. That means 700 of 6000 plus students are engaged in intercollegiate athletics. We believe it is a wonderful way of complementing the core undergraduate experience. What we hope we can provide is an opportunity for our students who have been engaged in sports to continue that through their college years, as a way of continuing their development, particularly in terms of leadership development. We find that students who have been actively engaged in sports generally go on to very successful careers.

Our most significant team has been the men's basketball team. There is an interesting link to your country. Patrick Ewing is probably the greatest player Georgetown has educated. He has completed his long career in National Basketball Association, and is now an assistant head-coach for the Huston Rockets. So he is personally responsible for coaching the development of Yao Ming.

Yong Tang: You earned a bachelor's degree in English from Georgetown University in 1979. You earned your PhD in Philosophy from the University in 1995. Then you became a Professorial Lecturer in the Department of Philosophy. Prior to your appointment as president, you held a variety of senior administrative positions at Georgetown, including senior vice president and dean of student affairs. So you have been here for a long long time?

DeGioia: Yes, I have been here for 31 years.

Yong Tang: It is a long time! It must be quite unusual for you. I know many university presidents here in America are not alumni of the universities they currently govern.

DeGioia: Yes, it is unusual for me and that has surprised anybody.

Yong Tang: What is the benefit of staying here for so long?

DeGioia: I know the place from a number of different angels and perspectives. I have been a student here so I have some sense of what it is like to be an undergraduate student and graduate student here. I started in administration at a very young age. I was a graduate student when I became the assistant to the President then I became a Dean. Then I became a Vice President. At every step I thought this would be my last opportunity at Georgetown so I am trying to make the most of it. New challenges made each opportunity a very different experience for me, almost a very different Georgetown. It brings a lot of history but I think there are five or six kinds of different universities for me because of the way the university has evolved over the years. We are very different today than we were when I came here 31 years ago. We are coping with fundamentally new challenges today. It is very thrilling to be a part of it.

Yong Tang: What are the disadvantages of staying for so long?

DeGioia: Disadvantages? I don't know of one yet for me. I suppose you may wonder do I have enough experience of how other universities are run and how they focus their strategies and their organizations? I have been very privileged to be beneficiary of the generosity of so many colleagues from other universities over the years. That I have spent time on many other campuses have really enabled me to learn from my colleagues. The only disadvantage of staying at Georgetown for this long is that I didn't have more time on some of those campuses. But I certainly I have learnt a great deal from my colleagues in other places.

Yong Tang: What is the biggest challenge for Georgetown today?

DeGioia: The biggest challenge for Georgetown is trying to ensure in the future we are able to provide the opportunities for faculty and students to make the most of their promised potential. We know what we do today is very effective and very much appreciated by the faculty and students. But we want to ensure that decades from now that is still the case. We can't stand still. We have to look for different ways of strengthening our experience here.

One of the most significant challenges we are wrestling with is implication of globalization. How is the changing nature of our world impacting the quality and experience that we need to be able to provide here?

Yong Tang: What have you done and what are you going to do to globalize Georgetown University?

DeGioia: We have always been an international university. We have students from 138 countries here at Georgetown and more than half of our students will study abroad during their undergraduate years. Our faculty is engaging research in 44 countries. But we are still looking for new opportunities. We have opened a new campus outside the United States in Doha, Qatar. It is a school of foreign service where we are teaching students from that region and our curriculum is international relations.

In this May I visited China again and I met with a number of colleagues from leading universities there and officials from the Ministry of Education. We signed an agreement with Chinese side for Chinese post-doctoral students to come here to study. I hope in the future we will have more students from China to come to Georgetown. We will have more and more students and faculty to go to China and engaging opportunity. It is important to know that 70% of our students in America who study abroad do so in Europe. A decade from now that will change significantly and more and more will be in China and other parts of Asia. I am privileged to sign some agreements with other institutions in China that will hopefully open up such opportunities.

Yong Tang: Can you name a few famous alumni from Mainland China?

DeGioia: Sun Chao, a District Mayor of Shanghai and a Professor of Law, and Gong Baihua, also a Professor of Law and the Chief Officer of the Information division of the Shanghai WTO Affairs Consultation Center. Each studied law here at Georgetown.

Yong Tang: What is your impression on Chinese higher education?

DeGioia: I have been to China twice this year. On my first trip I met with Peking University President. We have a number of students who are studying there. On my second trip I spent a good part of my day in Renmin University of China. I had a lunch with their President. We also signed agreement with Fudan University for more formal framework for engagement between our two universities. I also went down to Nanning and signed agreement with Guangxi University and I spent two days there. That was a fascinating trip.

I would like to say how much appreciation I have for their willingness to engage with us. There is a wonderful spirit of cooperation. I am looking forward to developing these relations in the years ahead. It is important for Georgetown that we establish next generation relations with China that engage us with a kind of intercultural exchange that will enable students from both China and America to have the best education possible.

by Yong Tang, People's Daily correspondent based in Washington DC.

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