A "reputation for doing big things."
When I saw that phrase in a Baltimore Sun article from 1916, I was delighted by this bit of full-throated praise for Johns Hopkins. But then I looked again and saw the line was actually "nothing to offer but its reputation for doing big things."
The topic at hand was our university's chances of winning the bid to receive landmark funding from the Rockefeller Foundation to launch the nation's first school of public health. And as the Sun pointed out, Johns Hopkins "could put up no buildings or purchase equipment and it had no money." As you might imagine, this last part may not have been our ideal of good press.
Yet our capacity to think big in our persistent quest for solutions to the world's most pressing problems persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation.
The timing, it turns out, could not have been better. When the School of Hygiene and Public Health officially opened its doors in 1918, Dr. William Henry Welch and his colleagues soon confronted a mysterious disease known as influenza. As the wards of Johns Hopkins Hospital filled up with seriously ill patients, the school's experts threw themselves into saving lives. Their work during the pandemic provided national leadership in managing the spread of the disease and laid the foundation for flu tracking still in use by health agencies today.
Fast forward a century, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health—now named for its visionary benefactor Michael Bloomberg, A&S '64—has reinforced this university's reputation for "doing big things." Time and again, its faculty and alumni have pursued lifesaving innovations, from the push for stronger seatbelt laws to the battle against scourges such as AIDS and Ebola.
In so many ways, their work stands as an exemplar of who we are at Johns Hopkins. As we mark another year in the life of this university, I see this same spirit imbued across Johns Hopkins in the ophthalmologists and educators bringing vision programs into city public schools, or the writers helping budding novelists give voice to the complexity of human experience, or the foreign policy scholars disciplining debate over the future of the Middle East.
Across this institution, our faculty and students have always been steadfast in their pursuit of big things. And in the process, they remind us of the vital role that universities play in building a just, vibrant, and decent society.
A century ago, Johns Hopkins gave birth to the new academic discipline of public health. This same bold commitment to excellence will propel our university forward in the next hundred years, as we continue to accomplish the big things that will benefit society for generations to come.
Ronald J. Daniels