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University Presidents Discuss Impact on D.C. in Policy Forum
March 07, 2012
GW President Steven Knapp, along with four other area university presidents, detailed a number of programs that benefit the District in a panel discussion on Wednesday.
George Washington University President Steven Knapp joined four of his D.C. counterparts Wednesday to discuss their institutions’ role in the District and how they can work together to continue to benefit the city.
The panel discussion, moderated by D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, featured Dr. Knapp along with Jerry Ice, president and CEO of Graduate School USA; Sidney Ribeau, president of Howard University; Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University; and Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia. The D.C. Chamber of Commerce hosted the two-hour event at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
Opening the discussion, Mayor Gray gave each president the chance to respond to those who believe that universities should be taxed by the city. Such a prospect, the panelists agreed, would threaten their institution’s ability to create programs and initiatives that benefit the city as much as or more than tax revenue would.
Dr. Knapp detailed a number of relationships the university has with city schools, like School Without Walls and Duke Ellington School of the Arts. GW centers, like the Institute of Public Policy, have contributed research to the city, such as how its economic situation would change if it became a state. And students contribute an estimated 150,000 hours of service per year—a value of about $5 million to the city, Dr. Knapp said.
Other presidents also called attention to their efforts to benefit the city. Seeing a need for nurses in the District, Trinity created a nursing program, said Ms. McGuire. Howard University continues to offer free health care, and served 150,000 residents in 2010. Although it’s uncompensated, “it’s something we’re proud of,” said Dr. Ribeau.
University presidents also emphasized the importance of being good neighbors—particularly to those in their immediate campus area. Dr. Knapp said developments in Foggy Bottom, like The Avenue, benefit not only the GW community but area residents, as well.
And when developing programs, Dr. Knapp said, “We deliberately and consciously think about the needs of the District.” Cancer research is a good example, he added. GW offers certain screenings for free, and contributes research to breast, colon and prostate cancers because they most significantly affect District residents.
“I think there may be a perception of ‘ivory towers’ that are much more concerned about issues elsewhere than they are right here at home,” Dr. Knapp said. “This is not the reality of our universities.”
Mayor Gray also challenged university presidents by asking them to propose new partnerships they could forge with the city. Dr. Knapp said he’d like to see an alignment between the city’s and university’s long-term plans.
“If we have a strategic alignment all along the sectors of education from pre-K all the way through higher education … and we were consciously thinking of those programs in alignment with the economic opportunities that we see developing in the District, I think it would have a tremendous impact on the future opportunities,” he said.
Continuing to bridge the gap between theory and practice, Dr. Knapp said, is crucial for GW to make contributions to the city.
The recent sustainability pledge signed by Dr. Knapp and eight other D.C. university presidents is an example of a tangible contribution, he noted. The pledge—the first of its kind in the nation—is a partnership between the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area and D.C. to reduce energy use promote greener college campuses.
Closing the discussion, the presidents discussed future contributions that D.C. universities can team up to make in technology and health care.