The Johns Hopkins University seeks the inaugural Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins University, a joint effort between SNF and Johns Hopkins to forge new ways to address the deterioration of civic engagement in democracies worldwide and facilitate the restoration of open and inclusive discourse that is the cornerstone of healthy democracies. Established with a seminal $150 million gift from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and housed in the University’s Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the SNF Agora Institute at JHU will serve as a leading academic and public forum bringing together experts from a range of fields—including but not limited to political science, sociology, history, neuroscience, psychology, philosophy, and ethics—to examine the dynamics of civic strife and design and test mechanisms for improving dialogue, social engagement, and democratic governance.
The Institute’s inaugural Director will have an extraordinary opportunity to build and shape this new locus for analysis, experimentation, and dialogue around civic discourse at the very moment when these efforts are urgently needed in our country and around the globe: ideological gaps are wider today than at any point in recent history, and changes in our modes of learning and relating are hampering our ability to bridge them. Under the Director’s leadership, the SNF Agora Institute at JHU will examine these divisive trends from a variety of critical perspectives and develop innovative, impactful reforms to stem and even reverse them, sharing lessons learned to elevate open discussion and debate on critical issues of our time.
About the SNF Agora Institute at JHU
The SNF Agora Institute at JHU is an interdisciplinary institute that will study civic discourse in the United States and around the world and seek to restore the engaged, open, and inclusive discussion that is the cornerstone of healthy democracies.
The Institute draws its inspiration from the ancient Athenian agora, a central space in the life of the city that was originally a marketplace and grew, as Athens grew, to become a place of conversation and debate for citizens – and thus to function as the heart of democratic governance. Because of the robust exchange of ideas it encouraged, the agora remains an enduring symbol of the promise of engaged and productive discourse.
Leveraging the unique strengths of Johns Hopkins University, including its world-class faculty, its interdisciplinary focus, and its dedication to bold experimentation, the SNF Agora Institute at JHU will seek to reinvigorate the ethos of that ancient space for modern times. The Institute’s Director and core faculty will perform research at the crossroads of multiple disciplines to advance a rigorous exploration of political and civic dialogue in modern democracies, in collaboration with visiting faculty and students as described below. They will investigate, test, and build innovative and workable solutions to create the conditions for open discourse and decision-making. The Institute, in turn, will serve as a place for debate and discussion on challenging issues and a clearinghouse of best practices for promoting civic dialogue to interested parties around the world.
In its mission, its ambition, and its space, the SNF Agora Institute at JHU is expected to have a measurable impact on the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and on the social sciences more broadly.
The Institute will consist of three parts: the Academic Locus, the Agora Lab, and the Agora Conversation.
The Academic Locus
Under the leadership of its Director, and in close collaboration with colleagues in departments throughout the university, the Institute will assemble at Johns Hopkins University a core group of 10 extraordinary academic scholars who will hold tenured and endowed positions. These faculty will be affiliated with the Institute but their appointments will be formally lodged in the University’s departments. In joining the Institute, these individuals will commit to a unique interdisciplinary project that will focus on reviving the spirit of the agora in current civic discourse.
The Institute will insist on diverse scholarly expertise spanning multiple fields, ranging from political science to behavioral and social psychology, cognitive neuroscience to history, communications to ethics, and more. Through the intense engagement among the core faculty, across disciplines, the Institute will model the proposition that a spectrum of perspectives is fundamental to discovery and to discourse – that diversity of thought need not undermine robust deliberation but is indeed a necessary condition for it.
The faculty of the Institute will be integrated fully into the University, responsible for contributing to their respective academic departments and cultivating the next generation of scholars. Part of this integration will occur through joint appointments: though the Institute will be located in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, it will radiate out to other parts of the University. The faculty will also be encouraged to leverage the many strengths of the University outside the Institute itself. For instance, they may wish to tap the leading-edge data-science capabilities at the Institute for Data Intensive Engineering and Science or the groundbreaking work of the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs, or the rich scholarship at the Bloomberg School’s Berman Institute on Bioethics and the School of Advanced International Studies. Within the Institute, there will be opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students to work alongside the faculty and support their research.
Finally, the Institute will be an open and permeable academic hub – based at Johns Hopkins but networked with academics and other experts from across the nation and the globe. The Director will, following the solicitation of advice and counsel, invite ten Distinguished Scholars from a diverse array of fields to join the Institute each year from outside of Johns Hopkins to participate in activities related to the Institute’s core mission. These specialists will lend expertise on particular issues that may be informed by the work and lessons of the Institute and will in turn inform them. Other scholars and organizations will also be able to affiliate with the Institute in order to exchange research and discovery that may advance democratic values around the world.
The Agora Lab
The Institute will seek not only to understand the problems in civic discourse but also to develop and test practical solutions to address the gaps that exist. The inaugural Director, working with the Institute’s core faculty, will establish the Agora Lab, an initiative to undertake carefully controlled research studies, where appropriate in the “real” world, and will collaborate with governments, policy leaders and technical experts to develop and test strategies to improve discourse around challenging issues facing democracies.
As just one example, research at the intersection of neuroscience, social psychology, political science, and behavioral economics is challenging preconceptions about how citizens’ political views are developed, affirmed, and reinforced by showing that moral and political judgments are substantially emotive and cultural, and not primarily the product of rational self-interest shaped by available information. This research helps to explain why attempts to correct what appear to be factual misperceptions can cause individuals to adhere to their existing views even more strongly. The Lab can enable further inquiry into such challenges to prevailing theories of civic engagement – and of course into a wide array of other theories that can be tested in real-world experiments.
The Agora Conversation
Finally, the Institute will be a forum for open and productive discussion, deliberation, and education, as well as a resource for policy makers and the broader public.
Through the Agora Conversation, the Institute’s Director and core faculty will share findings with other scholars and the public through symposia, workshops, special lectures, and educational outreach, including curricular development. They also will host several public events each year, with at least one in Athens and another in Baltimore.
Each year, the Distinguished Scholars will convene an annual event focused on one of the most challenging policy issues of the day, an issue for which policy solutions appear wholly conflicting or mutually exclusive. The Scholars will be representative of the ideological spectrum on the issue and will be asked to forge an outcome that could allow forward progress even in the midst of disagreement. That outcome will then be distributed widely and, depending on the issue, to national, state, or local leaders, to organizations of all kinds, and to citizen groups, activists, and others.
Governance, Support and Space
The inaugural Director will have the unique opportunity to build out a new Institute from its literal foundation, forming its team and participating in developing its physical space. In this work the Director will report to the Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and be informed by an international advisory board consisting of a cohort of carefully selected individuals whose background and expertise will further its mission. With input from the Dean and from the President and Provost of the University, the Director will appoint the members of this advisory board and will convene its meetings. It is anticipated that the Director will have her/his primary academic appointment in an Arts and Sciences department and will be a tenured member of the Krieger faculty. Depending on the Director’s background, secondary appointments in other departments within Krieger or in other divisions of the University such as the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the School of Advanced International Studies are possible and indeed would be emblematic of the Institute’s trans-disciplinary intent.
It is expected that measurable progress towards, and even execution of, these core responsibilities will occur over the Director’s first five years in the role. To effectively carry out the ambitions of the Institute, the Director will be supported by a high-level administrator who can coordinate marketing, networking, programming, and other external-facing activities.
To house the Institute’s scholars, research, and programs, the University will create a brand-new space on its Homewood campus. Early-stage planning for Agora’s facility has begun, but advanced planning awaits the Director. Early visions of the Institute anticipate that it will be deliberately accessible and open, a place designed to promote dialogue and exchange. The structure housing the Institute will comprise multi-use space, complete with open venues, offices, and state-of-the-art seminar and conference rooms. Most importantly, the space will have a character similar to that of its namesake, the ancient agora, where the inclusion of members of the public will be encouraged and the free exchange of ideas from all viewpoints will be emphasized.
Expectations of the Director
The inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute at JHU must be an outstanding scholar and leader with a record of engagement with competing viewpoints and a proven ability to forge interdisciplinary pathways for research and education. S/he must be appointable as a tenured member of the faculty in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at the rank of Full Professor. S/he must bring the vision and drive to fulfill the potential inherent in the idea of Agora.
In order to create the conditions for success at the Institute, the Director will be expected to:
Articulate, shape and sustain a visionary purpose.
The Director will be the first to articulate the visionary purpose of the SNF Agora Institute at JHU to the academy and the public, and therefore must have the skills to build an academic program that establishes the Institute, both at Johns Hopkins and in the public consciousness, as a major center for learning, scholarly research, applied experimentation, and dissemination of knowledge. The Institute will be entering a landscape already dotted with initiatives that explore aspects of its mission, so the Director must craft a trajectory for the Institute that is sufficiently compelling to attract public attention and inspire public engagement. In carrying out this work, the Director must also exemplify the spirit the Institute seeks to cultivate, demonstrating deep engagement with the issues underlying current political and social divides, openness to and indeed excitement about multiple perspectives and approaches, and of course passion for improved civic discourse.
Recruit and retain a strong and diverse faculty.
The heart of the SNF Agora Institute at JHU will be its faculty. Working closely with academic leadership in the University’s schools and departments, the Director will lead the effort to recruit the Institute’s first 10 faculty members, a group that through its diversity of thought, scholarship, and experience will model the ethos of the agora and spark the interdisciplinary research and teaching programs that will define the Institute. The Director must seek out faculty who are not only top scholars in their own right but committed collaborators who will enjoy working with a wide array of colleagues in the Krieger School and departments across the University to identify new ways of tackling the issues before them. As noted above, all Agora faculty will be appointed into departments of the University, and the Director will work with these departments and divisions to conceive and complete these recruitments. The Director will be expected to recruit ten faculty members over the Institute’s first five years. Over these five years the Director will also be expected to invite the first 10 Distinguished Scholars, who will join the Institute from outside the University for visiting terms.
Encourage and support interdisciplinary scholarship and research.
The inaugural Director of the Institute will inspire, guide, and be informed by the Institute’s research program. With the Director’s leadership, the Institute’s faculty will consistently produce innovative and impactful scholarship on issues affecting discourse and decision-making, bringing together the most relevant disciplines in social sciences, arts and humanities, public policy, law, international relations, public health, and other fields.
Weave the Institute into the fabric of the University.
The Institute cannot operate as an academic island; its mission after all involves reducing the isolating strains in civil society. The inaugural Director will be expected to integrate the Institute’s academic program into the life of Johns Hopkins and its many schools, in particular the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Outstanding research and thinking related to the Institute’s mission is already underway at the Krieger School, and the Director will highlight that work and invite collaborations among current Krieger faculty and the Institute’s new faculty members. The Director will also be expected to make the Institute’s work accessible to the Krieger School’s undergraduates and graduates students, fostering thought-provoking campus dialogue.
Establish the Institute’s public presence and impact.
To truly succeed in its aim to repair the civic discourse and decision-making necessary for healthy democracies, the Institute’s research and proposed reforms must be taken up by individuals, governments, and other institutions around the world. The Director therefore must be able to build an Institute that will become a destination for not just fellow scholars but also policy leaders, government officials, and journalists. Doing so will ensure that the Institute’s work not only reaches the public square but does so in ways that can meaningfully shape public debates and democratic processes.
Effectively oversee and manage the Institute.
The Director will be the chief academic and chief operating officer of the Institute, and as such will need to be a wise and engaged leader, confident in guiding and developing a well-regarded and accomplished group of faculty, staff, and students. The Director must work diligently to guarantee that internal systems run smoothly. Success will require hands-on management skills and a human touch, coupled with the ability to critically evaluate the work of the Institute in the implementation of its long-term strategic goals. The Director will be supported in this work by appropriate administrative staff and resources.
Lead the Institute’s development program.
The Institute’s inaugural Director will build on the strong foundation provided by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation gift to develop an enterprise that fuels discovery and dialogue for generations to come. Working with University leadership and the Institute’s international advisory board, the Director will extend the Institute’s sustaining financial contributions to include other individuals and foundations with a passion for its mission. The Director will work closely with and receive expert support from the University’s Development Council. The President will also remain engaged in the relationship with SNF.
Professional Experience, Qualifications, and Preferred Characteristics
The ideal inaugural Director of the SNF Agora Institute at JHU will have the following professional qualifications and personal characteristics:
Highly regarded as an outstanding scholar, with distinguished accomplishments in both published research and teaching. The preferred candidate will be viewed as at the top of her/his field, with the stature and experience to attract new faculty and to lead the development of new research and curricula for the Institute. The preferred candidate also will have strong skills as a teacher to undergraduates and a supervisor to graduate students. S/he will have a doctorate in a field relevant to the Institute and to the appointing department(s).
Proven ability to conceive, implement, and foster a shared academic vision. The preferred candidate will have a record of leadership in her/his discipline and institution and will command the respect of an outstanding faculty. S/he will have managed a significant budget and supervised fellow scholars. The Director should have experience leading and/or participating in the recruitment of senior-level faculty.
Well known outside the academy for her/his scholarly work and thinking on issues central to the Institute. The preferred candidate should be regarded as a thought leader in her/his field and should have demonstrated the ability to engage effectively with popular audiences as well as academic ones, particularly on issues relevant to the Institute’s mission.
Demonstrated affinity for and commitment to interdisciplinary research and academic collaboration. The preferred candidate will have a history of undertaking research in partnership with scholars in other disciplines to address issues central to the Institute’s mission. Engagement with scholars with competing perspectives on an issue, through jointly undertaken research or other collaboration, will be particularly welcomed, as will experience working on collaborative initiatives outside the academy.
Ability to advance the Institute’s mission in both American and international contexts. The preferred candidate will have shown a capacity to take a comparative look at issues and trends under investigation and a strong desire to find commonalities and contrasts in research from multiple countries.
Commitment to enhancing diversity and inclusion
A track record of acting on these core values, and the experience or willingness to address issues of institutional equity such as unconscious or implicit bias.
Dedication to dialogue
Mature understanding of the potential and limits of dialogue, and skill with navigating opposing viewpoints among academics, students, policymakers, government officials, and members of the media and broader publics. The Institute will take on issues, such as ideological polarization, that can be resistant to civil discussion, and the preferred candidate will have shown a deft touch in negotiating contested terrain and a commitment to finding space for common understanding. The preferred candidate also will have skill as a convener of constructive dialogue across ideological divides.
Experience in or the inclination to engage in fundraising, and to engage others in development and stewardship efforts. The preferred candidate will be skillful in conveying the importance of the Institute to donors and creative in identifying opportunities for the Institute to elevate its public profile.
About the Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins was founded as the nation’s first research university on the principle that pursuing big ideas and sharing knowledge makes the world a better place. The University has approximately 6,500 faculty, 6,200 undergraduate students, and 17,600 graduate students arrayed across 230 degree programs at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels. Perennially ranked as the nation’s leader in annual research expenditures, the University has consistently achieved this standard through excellent academic leadership, committed faculty and students, innovative international programs, high levels of collegiality, and exceptional interdisciplinary collaboration. In the past five years, federal research awards and expenditures have grown from $2.6 billion to $2.9 billion. The University’s endowment is approximately $3.3 billion.
Ronald J. Daniels is the 14th president of Johns Hopkins University and is a professor in the Department of Political Science. Prior to his appointment he was provost at the University of Pennsylvania, and before that, Dean and James M. Tory Professor of Law at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Since taking office in 2009, President Daniels has focused his leadership on three overarching themes — enhanced interdisciplinary collaboration, individual excellence, and community engagement. These themes are the backbone of Ten by Twenty, the University’s strategic vision through 2020, and underscore the priorities of Rising to the Challenge, Johns Hopkins’ largest-ever fundraising campaign, a $5 billion effort set to conclude in June 2018.
About the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
The Zanvyl Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, established at the University’s founding in 1876, is the core institution of Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood campus. Comprising 22 departments and 33 centers, programs, and institutes, the Krieger School is home to students interested in the arts, humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences. The mission of the Krieger School is discovery—the creation of knowledge through scholarship and research, and the education of our students, undergraduate, and graduate alike. It is home to over 300 full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty, roughly 3,600 undergraduates, and over 900 full-time graduate students, as well as dozens of postbacs and over 3,000 Advanced Academic Programs students. The Krieger School’s unique character derives from its commitment to choose carefully what is worth pursuing and to do so without compromise. The School’s academic programs in the humanities, natural sciences, and social sciences are renowned for their excellence and intensity, and notable for the range of interdisciplinary opportunities they provide.
Dean Beverly Wendland, PhD, has led the Krieger School since 2015. A Johns Hopkins faculty member since 1998, Dr. Wendland became chair of the Department of Biology in 2009, leading faculty, staff, and students during a period of renewal. She also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Biophysics. Throughout her tenure at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Wendland has supported graduate and undergraduate students, serving as their mentor and a collaborator. An advocate for training future scientists to engage the power of interdisciplinary research, she was a member of the lab advisory committee during the construction of the new Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories, designed to foster collaboration across Homewood’s scientific community. Dr. Wendland is also dedicated to strengthening diversity at Johns Hopkins, and was a member of the Krieger School’s advisory committee on the status of women.
About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. Since 1996, and taking into consideration SNF’s intention to further support the Health sector in Greece with a series of infrastructure and education projects of approximately $240 million, the Foundation has committed in total more than $2.4 billion, through almost 4,000 grants to nonprofit organizations in 113 nations around the world.
The SNF funds organizations and projects that are expected to achieve a broad, lasting and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. The Foundation also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare.
Johns Hopkins University has retained Opus Partners to support the search for the Institute’s Director. The search will continue until the Director is appointed, but in order to receive the most thorough consideration, candidates should submit their materials (c.v. and cover letter as separate PDF files) before December 1, 2017. The University intends to make this appointment effective no later than July 1, 2018.
The Johns Hopkins University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to recruiting, supporting, and fostering a diverse community of outstanding faculty, staff, and students. All applicants who share this goal are encouraged to apply.