Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Fundraising Hampers Science Center

Charles Nailen/The Hoya Science facilities at Georgetown are far behind those at most other schools across the country according to science professors at Georgetown. The university is still $18 million away from their goal.

While the university begins to move forward with concrete plans for an $82 million McDonough School of Business building this summer, a planned science center has remained only in preliminary development stages since its initial proposal 15 years ago.

The center is hindered by a lack of fundraising despite a strong science department and university support. The funding for the science center has lagged at $12 million of the $30 million needed in order to begin the construction process.

“The funding of [the science center] is turning out to be a bit more difficult than expected,” University President John J. DeGioia said at a January interview with campus media. “These are the most expensive buildings you can make, and fundraising $100 million-plus dollars is going to be very, very challenging.”

The proposed building would house the main campus chemistry and biology departments, and about one-third of it would be devoted to joint programs between Medical Center professors and undergraduate professors, according to David Lightfoot, dean of the School of Graduate Arts and Sciences. Lightfoot has been devoting time to the science center plans since coming to Georgetown three years ago.

“Science is a part of what undergraduates want to know about, including undergraduates who are specializing in political science – scientific issues are often at the heart of policy matters,” he said.

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According to members of the science departments, the new science center’s construction is long overdue.

“Many students and I have seen high school biology teaching labs that are much better than many of our science teaching labs,” biology professor Edward Barrows said. According to Barrows, a group of facilities workers once told him that his lab building should be condemned.

Ellen Henderson, chair of the biology department, claims that Reiss is “falling apart.”

“This building wasn’t built for what we’re doing now,” Henderson said. Constructed in 1962, Reiss was not created to be a research space.

“I came to Georgetown the year this building opened and it was designed to be a teaching science building,” Chemistry Department Chair Michael Pope said.

Many science professors at Georgetown feel that the current facilities are holding Georgetown back both in science standings and rankings for the entire university. As the focus in science departments nationwide has become centered on research, many professors agree that Georgetown has fallen behind.

In order to remain competitive in the rankings, Georgetown must pursue the same kinds of academic research as neighboring competitive universities. To do this, however, outstanding faculty and staff must be recruited.

“It’s getting harder to recruit faculty with a straight face,” Pope said.

Some professors said that hopes for a new center were what attracted some of the newer faculty members.

“Many professors came here with the understanding that a science center would be built,” Henderson said. “We’ve been told we’re the number one priority and we’ve watched the Southwest Quadrangle, the performing arts center and now the business school. It’s demoralizing.”

In spite of this, Henderson said that anyone who goes to the College Dean’s office will see many plaques and awards that science professors at Georgetown have won over the years.

“It’s important to recognize that Georgetown’s science faculty are doing a tremendous job with very limited resources,” Julie Green Bataille, assistant vice president for communications, said. “Our faculty continue to do exciting research and mentor students who successfully go on the pursue careers in the sciences.”

Yet professors said that research has become increasingly more difficult in an aging facility, and professors say that the science departments are unable to obtain research grants because of their inability to hire new staff due to space constraints.

“Over the years, Georgetown has converted hall space into research space in Reiss,” Barrows said. “Biology presently has a postdoctoral fellow whose office is a converted closet in Reiss.”

In addition, according to Physics Department Chair Amy Liu, the science departments at Georgetown have received inquiries from both the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and the MSB about setting up a science requirement.

This lack of faculty, however, has not allowed the science departments to offer any additional courses.

“The SFS and MSB are coming to realize not having a science requirement is a weakness in their programs in the 21st century,” Liu said.

Sciences have not received as much attention at Georgetown as other areas of the academic curriculum have, according to the department heads. The science departments recognize that Georgetown’s strengths are in government, international relations and political science, but argue that the sciences should not be ignored.

“We need better facilities to maintain our program,” Liu said. “We don’t have a grand design to become an IT.”

While the science center would help students majoring in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics, professors added that it would also support non-majors.

“More than half of our students are non-majors and we’re not supporting those students because we don’t have the facilities,” Computer Science Department Chair Richard Squier said.

University officials, however, said that Georgetown simply does not have the resources to build the facility at this time even though they realize its importance.

“The fundraising for the science center is simply not in hand yet,” Spiros Dimolitsas, senior vice president and chief administrative officer said. While the business school has raised the requisite amount for each step of the construction process and the money is expected to be in hand for the multi-sport athletic facility in 2005, the donations are not coming quite fast enough for the science center.

“We’re not sure the development office is focusing on the right fundraising,” Mathematics Department Chair Andrew Vogt said. The chairs believe that part of the problem in coming up with the funds is an anti-science mentality that pervaded at Georgetown in past years.

“Donors are looking for something exciting to give to,” Squier said. The sciences have hoped for a large donor to come forward, but have also encountered problems in getting donations because they cannot provide a specific groundbreaking date.

“Science centers are not built by philanthropy,” Henderson said. At other universities, only approximately 20 percent of the money comes from donations, she added.

While Georgetown has financed construction for many of its buildings in the past by using debt, Georgetown has reached its $700 million debt ceiling. According to Bataille, Georgetown will likely have to foster external partnerships in addition to the donations to build “the kind of facility we want to have.”

“Given the university’s financial situation, we must be prudent in these planning efforts in order to ensure that we are able to fund building and operational costs for any new facility,” she said.

Nonetheless, the science departments hope that someone will be brought into the development office who has experience in science fundraising. The science faculty is also willing to go out and talk to specific donors.

The science departments feel support from other facets of the main campus, which they said gives them some hope.

“The College Dean is working day and night to raise funds and Provost James O’Donnell has created multi-disciplinary initiatives in science,” Henderson said. “There is awareness across campus,” said Henderson.

According to Bataille, the recently completed $1 billion Third Century Campaign raised funds to support new chairs and professorships in the sciences.

“[It] is one way we’ve been able to strengthen our programs,” she said.

While the department chairs boast that they have wonderful students and an excellent faculty, they remain wary that faculty will move elsewhere and are constantly aware of how difficult conducting scientific research at Georgetown is becoming.

“We’re just going to keep a positive attitude among sciences and keep watching for an angel,” Vogt said.

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