For several weeks this summer, the Homewood campus swarmed with millions of cicadas that had been underground for the past 17 years.
Surfacing just as we sent the Class of 2021 into the world, the cicadas seemed less like a sci-fi invasion and more like a sign of a world coming back to life.
The cicadas are gone, but our campuses are hardly silent. As the majority of students, faculty, and staff emerge from remote learning and working, Johns Hopkins is once again humming with the intellectual energy that has defined and enriched our university since its founding.
And as we safely and deliberately return to in-person activities, mindful of the pandemic's ongoing challenges, I believe we have an opportunity to further strengthen our core commitments to the communities of which we are a part. This extends from our campuses to our cities and even to our nation at a moment when our democracy is under profound strain.
As signs of democratic backsliding started to mount several years ago, I began pursuing a long-term research project—soon to be a book, What Universities Owe Democracy, out this fall—about the vital ways in which universities like ours can support democracy, including their obligation to educate democratic citizens. It is a call that feels particularly relevant to this moment of return and renewal on our campuses, especially now, when dissatisfaction with democracy is growing at an alarming rate.
We are well-equipped to deliver an education in democracy. Our campuses are replete with faculty and staff who possess deep expertise in history, policy, social movements, and the values and skills of rigorous inquiry and debate that undergird citizenship. This year, we created a new opportunity to engage our entering classes in core questions of democratic life and to introduce them to opportunities for a democratic education from the moment they arrive on campus: a day during new student orientation devoted to examining democracy.
Spearheaded by the SNF Agora Institute and the Center for Social Concern, Democracy Day began with a series of frank and fascinating talks by faculty luminaries addressing what they see as the most serious problems facing democracy. In tandem, our students learned about service opportunities from our local civic organizations and even participated in a mock election.
Democracy Day is only one piece of our efforts to kindle the democratic capacities of our students and deepen the civic potential of our university. Yet, kicking off this year by thoughtfully and deliberately working to make a better society for all people was a thrilling way to welcome our students and faculty back to campus. Indeed, the sounds of a campus alive with ideas and dialogue put the buzz of the cicadas to shame.
Ronald J. Daniels