555 Penn Dedication Day: Tension between JHU and SAIS

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The Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center Dedication Ceremony took place on the front steps of 555 Pennsylvania Avenue on a sunny Thursday morning in mid-October.

The day’s activities started with a procession in front of the building played in by live musicians. This was followed by a series of dedication speeches by Board of Trustees Chari Louis J. Forster, President Ron Daniels, and DC Mayor Muriel Bowser. A pre-recorded video featured building namesake philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, who reportedly commented on his remote appearance at the eponymous Center’s dedication by noting that “Covid finally got to me.”

President Daniels commented on the building’s architecture, describing it as “a voluminated gathering and performing spaces that will catalyze countless convening conversations and serendipitous encounters.” Mayor Bloomberg described his vision for a center that would bring all of Johns Hopkins schools under one roof, comparing his fellow Mayor Muriel Bowser’s cooperation to that of JFK in the 1960s, who had also supported a similar project aimed at “bringing new life to Pennsylvania Avenue.” Mr. Bloomberg continued that “this building represents the future of education. It’s designed to promote interdisciplinary education and bring people together with different perspectives.” 

The event was followed by a reception and a schedule of arts events. These included a choral rendition of Aaron Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. The day’s events were attended by high-profile guests from various fields, including Mayor Bowser, anchorman and SAIS alumnus Wolf Blitzer, and actor and comedian Jane Krasinski. 

SAIS students, whose Thursday classes were canceled so that the event could take place, witnessed preparations taking place in the building throughout the week leading up to Dedication Day. 

On Monday, October 16, students received an email from SAIS Senior Associate Dean for Finance and Administration, Mark Bailey, indicating a list of building closures and other disruptions which he stated the Bloomberg Center Term had provided just that same day in a letter from Schuyler Asman, the Senior Director of Finance & Administration for the Bloomberg Center.  As the email hit their inboxes, SAIS students said they witnessed interpretative dancers lining the atrium balconies, rehearsing to the beat of drums next to the library where many were studying for their midterms. In the SAIS Signal group chat, students expressed growing confusion. 

While Mr. Asman stated  in the letter that “we are excited to welcome hundreds of members of our faculty, staff, and students from across the globe,” SAIS students noticed that they were conspicuously not invited to attend the day’s events. Students who emailed the events team, including your correspondent, were invited to watch it via livestream. 

On Tuesday, October 17, Dean Steinberg sent another email describing a meeting between he,  SGA and Vice Provost Lainie Rutkow regarding the dedication week communication problems. He described several additional, previously unmentioned disruptions that students could expect, including a choir rehearsal in the lobby. The email mentioned that SAIS students were welcome to attend the Open House from 12pm-3pm and gave students a 24-hour window to register.  

One SAIS student observed that “it could have been an opportunity to bring the community together and show gratitude to the trustees. But instead it highlighted the divide between the Johns Hopkins administration and its students.” Kosi Ogbuli, second year and president of the SGA, reflected that it was “too little communication, too loud of a disruption, and too late in terms of any accountability.”

Pursuant to his invitation to students to reach out to him directly, Mr. Asman was asked by email for comment on SAIS students’ initial non-invitation. J.B. Bird, Assistant Vice President for Media Relations & News, commented on the university’s behalf, stating that “We were excited to have SAIS students, faculty, staff, and alumni participate throughout the day in the dedication events for the Hopkins Bloomberg Center, alongside participants from all of the university’s divisions. We are working on a variety of channels to ensure that students are aware of events happening at the Hopkins Bloomberg Center”. At the time of writing, there was no response when pressed for comment on the decision not to invite SAIS students, nor on the nature of the communication channels they are preparing for future events.

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