Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels was a guest Monday on Dan Rodricks' Roughly Speaking podcast, during which he spoke in depth about the university's response to the April unrest in Baltimore and the subsequent steps Hopkins has taken to strengthen its ties with the city.
Rodricks, a longtime Baltimore Sun columnist and former host of WYPR's "Midday" program, asked if the protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray sparked questions within the Hopkins community: "What are we doing? Are we doing enough for our community in which we exist?"
Daniels responded: "This isn't a new question for Hopkins, and it wasn't a question that we asked only at that moment. It's something that I believe Hopkins has been wrestling with for, I think in truth, as long as it's been in existence—trying to understand and negotiate its relationship with the city.
"Almost from the moment I came here, I really felt that this relationship between Hopkins and Baltimore was fundamental, and that we had to be more intentional in our efforts to think about how we affected the city of which we are a part. From that perspective, a lot of the things that we've been working on over the last five or six years are very much in that frame, thinking about how we strengthen Hopkins, and how we correspondingly strengthen the city.
"For me, and I think for many of us at Hopkins, that view reflects our clear understanding that Hopkins' fate, Hopkins' performance, Hopkins' success is tied inextricably to the success, to the performance of Baltimore as a whole. And so the frame was there. I think what changed in the wake of the unrest of April was standing back and saying 'How do we accelerate, how do we amplify the efforts that are under way?' And to go back and think about, 'how do we double and redouble our efforts to effect in a positive way the trajectory of the city?'"
Daniels recalled planning his May 2015 commencement address with these same questions in mind.
"You've hit a moment when you're at a tipping point," he said, "when there's just an opportunity for people to think anew about where we're at and to create a sense of urgency and momentum about a different agenda." Daniels called it a "critical juncture."
Part of the university's response, Daniels said, was fast-tracking the HopkinsLocal initiative, which had been in the works for two years before its launch in September. The initiative aims to increase design and construction contracts with local minority- and women-owned businesses, expand the number of new hires that come from city neighborhoods where employment opportunities are needed, and build relationships with more city-based vendors.
"What this program represents is a fundamental commitment to the belief that, of all the things that we could do to heal the city, getting jobs to our most distressed communities is the top priority," Daniels said. "And there we felt Hopkins could play a catalytic role in making that happen."