February 28, 2011

The future of research universities

The founding of The Johns Hopkins University in 1876 ushered in the era of the modern research university in the United States. Johns Hopkins represented an entirely new educational enterprise whose aim was not only to advance its students’ knowledge but to advance human knowledge through discovery and scholarship. This dual emphasis on learning and research revolutionized U.S. higher education.

JHU was the first, but clearly not the last.

Since 1876, the research-university field has become crowded as other institutions adopted the JHU model, and, more recently, Johns Hopkins and its peers are facing competition from other nations around the globe who see the value that research universities bring. In 2009, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia opened with a $10 billion endowment, a figure that tops that of all but three U.S. universities. China has also recently tossed its hat into the ring.

Research universities create a critical competitive edge for future prosperity, and more and more countries are willing to spend freely for those benefits.

To help foster a dialogue on how Johns Hopkins and other U.S. research universities will maintain a leadership position in higher education, Lloyd Minor, the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, will offer insights into what lies ahead in a presentation titled “At What Cost? Charting the Future of the American Research University.”

The event will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, at the university’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, located at 1740 Massachusetts Ave. NW in Washington, D.C.

Minor, a widely respected surgeon and scientist who became provost in 2009, will address concerns such as the effects of a spending-constrained U.S. economy on higher education but will argue that the cost of not maintaining pre-eminence is too high for our society to bear. The talk also will be a broad discussion about American higher education: what has made us so great, the legacy of scientific and medical advances, and whether we can expect to maintain this pinnacle position.

“We are now in a moment of national reconsideration in which everything is on the table,” Minor said in advance of his talk. “For those of us in higher education, we have to remember that past success does not guarantee future performance. It’s important we start a national conversation about how America’s research universities will best serve our country’s needs going forward, and about which core academic values have been—and must continue to be—the foundation of all we do.”

Minor said that Johns Hopkins and other institutions of its kind must maintain a commitment to research, reinvest in core competencies and make changes where necessary to adapt to a changing global landscape.

Minor’s talk will be followed by a Q&A session in which SAIS Dean Jessica P. Einhorn will also participate. A reception will follow.

The university has invited JHU faculty, staff and alumni in the D.C. area to the event, which is open to the public. Also expected to attend are representatives of colleges and universities in the D.C. area, and leadership of higher education associations and education consuls. Members of Congress, congressional committees with jurisdiction over higher education, and representatives from the Department of Education have also been invited.

The speech will be available via live webcast on SAIS’ homepage at www.sais-jhu