John J. DeGioia’s selection as Georgetown’s next president has elicited a multitude of responses concerning his ability to uphold Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit ideals. But lost amid the concern over his Jesuit credentials is a central question: What is DeGioia’s academic vision?

A disturbing number of students believe that their intellectual journey at Georgetown arrived stillborn the moment they stepped on campus as freshmen. Professors are not stimulating student interest in exploring ideas, and this is reflected in the paucity of Georgetown students who go on to pursue their doctorates, relative to the number of students who do so from our peer institutions.

It is not troubling that many students decide not to pursue a Ph.D. and instead attend law school or go straight into the workforce after they graduate. What is troubling is that it seems like most students have not even seriously considered graduate education in an academic discipline, and this is a sign that most professors have failed to excite students to learn and to appreciate ideas.

A serious educational institution ought to stimulate student interest in pursuing a Ph.D. but leave it up to students to decide if a Ph.D. is right for them. Georgetown has failed to do this. Georgetown builds on, but does not fundamentally reconfigure, the intellectual understanding of the knowledge that students developed in high school.

Students want more than a degree that says they’ve been college educated. They actually want a college education, one that changes the way they view the world, not just a more expensive version of high school that exposes them to a wide body of information that will be forgotten five years after graduation.

What will DeGioia do to hold Georgetown accountable to its mission statement, which boldly proclaims that Georgetown educates students to be “reflective lifelong learners?” What will DeGioia do to raise the standards of teaching at Georgetown so that professors convey to students the same excitement in learning that convinced them to pursue an academic career in the first place?

This pessimistic view of academics at Georgetown could be wrong, but no one knows because Georgetown has never systematically collected sound data on student educational outcomes to determine if Georgetown is actually educating its students and adding to their human capital. Are we making progress in educating our students? Are we meeting our educational objectives?

No administrator I’ve talked to has been able to answer those questions definitively, and that’s disturbing for an institution that receives millions in tuition revenue from students who want a world-class education. Georgetown graduates succeed, but how much of their success can be attributed to the analytical skills they developed at Georgetown, and how much of it should actually be attributed to their own drive and ambition – traits that they had before they came to Georgetown?

Just as CEOs can’t make sound business decisions unless they have cost and revenue information, academic administrators can’t make smart decisions if they lack information about the performance of academic programs.

Most students and faculty don’t realize that the confidential Critical Indicators Report – a document administrators rely on to assess Georgetown’s academic and financial position – actually contains little useful data on our academic programs. It does not tell us if Georgetown is successfully educating students. Because of this, educational progress at Georgetown occurs haphazardly and not deliberately.

Administrators are in the same position as someone who has to walk blindfolded from Healy Gates to the White House: If he reaches his goal, it’s by luck. No educational institution can be run this way.

Will DeGioia seriously work on establishing a system of outcomes assessment at Georgetown, so we can finally know if Georgetown is succeeding or failing to educate students? Or will he, like our previous presidents, make academic decisions blindly, based on intuition and personal impressions instead of the facts?

Political inhibitions can prevent high-ranking officials from thoughtfully commenting on difficult issues. But for DeGioia to convince me – and other students and faculty concerned with Georgetown’s academic environment – that his selection was “inspired” and “a slice of genius,” as some campus leaders have claimed, he will have to articulate a clear plan for revitalizing intellectual life at Georgetown.

I would hope that in his 20 years at Georgetown, DeGioia has already developed some ideas to improve our academic programs. Simply making a verbal commitment to enhance Georgetown’s academic reputation is not enough. He is our president-elect, and it is his duty to present us with a vision of how he will make sure that Georgetown finally fulfills its promise of providing a world-class education to students.

Paul Chen is a junior in the College.

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