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Arts by George

Posted: September 29, 2014 at 1:06 pm

FullSizeRenderCongratulations to the entire College of Visual and Performing Arts faculty and staff, board members, volunteers, sponsors and friends who, under Dean Bill Reeder’s leadership, gave us an extraordinary and unforgettable Arts by George festival last saturday.

Most importantly, congratulations and thank you to our students, who beautifully showed to our community the best Mason can offer.

Thank you finally to Broadway star Patti Lupone for graciously sharing the spotlight with our students and letting them have a true “evening like no other”!

A central mission of our university is to enrich the cultural life of our community. This was a perfect display of what that means in practice.


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A King salutes the important role of scholar exchanges

Posted: September 24, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 3.32.55 PMMy op-ed in El País, Auténtica marca España | Opinión | EL PAÍS (True Spanish Brand, in Spanish) celebrates King Felipe’s decision to visit with Spanish academics as his very first official act as King in the U.S., two days before his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

The visit, which I had the honor to help organize, took place in the New York offices of the Institute of International Education (the organization that manages the Fulbright Program) and was hosted by IIE’s president (and the King’s graduate school mentor a few years ago) Allan Goodman.  In attendance, in addition to the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Spain’s Ambassador in the U.S. and other officials from Spain and the U.S., a great number of current and past Spanish and American Fulbright Scholars (whose energy made me want to apply for another Fulbright!).

Following the public presentation, a small private discussion with a group of Spanish professors of economics, business, literature, science and political science in leading American universities on how to best engage the community of Spanish scholars in the U.S..

A symbolic but important message only a king can send: the recognition of the silent but very effective public diplomacy work that academics play every day by engaging in research and education with colleagues around the world.20140922_Fullbright_08


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Business School Ethics

Posted: September 23, 2014 at 6:54 pm

My views on ethics in business schools, this week on BBC World Service – Business Daily. Meaningful steps in the right direction have been taken but much more remains to be done. (By the way, Mason’s School of Business is a signatory of the Principles of Responsible Management Education and it just adopted a new model of ethics and sustainability into the MBA and Masters in Accounting)

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The value of a college degree has more than tripled in 30 years

Posted: September 12, 2014 at 5:10 pm

By Ángel Cabrera and Kirk Heffelmire

Don’t let the critics fool you: the economic value of a college degree is not declining but growing–even as tuition continues to rise.

The higher-ed doomsday genre is alive and well (the most recent example, Academically Adrift).  And yet, while questions persist about the value of a college experience, employer demand for what colleges and universities produce is on the rise.  It goes without saying that employment outcomes do not capture all the value a college degree is intended to deliver.  But they are an important element.  And since tuition is expressed in dollar terms, we owe it to everyone to show that a college degree is a good investment in economic terms.

Recent research from economists at the New York Federal Reserve add to the overwhelming body of data showing that a bachelor’s degree is a pretty safe and wise investment. In fact, the return on the investment on a bachelor’s degree is at a 30-year high.  The net preset value of a bachelor’s degree is more than $270,000 vs. $80,000 in 1980 (expressed in 2013 dollars).  These figures are calculated by considering tuition expenses, the wages foregone by studying instead of working, and the income premium earned across a working career with a college degree as opposed to only a high school diploma, all discounted to today’s value. (By the way, the researchers note that the value has gone up despite the increases in tuition, not so much because college graduates are doing better but because those without a college degree are doing worse).

Like any investment, higher ed too carries its risks.  Perhaps admissions brochures should include clear disclaimers detailing the major factors that can increase risk and reduce return.

For example, the value of a degree declines substantially the longer a student stays in school beyond four years.  In addition to the obvious additional tuition payments and foregone wages, the delay in gaining early career experience puts you on a disadvantaged wage trajectory over the duration of your working life.  Researchers have found that every additional year you stay in college beyond the customary four will cost you $65,000 in net present value.  Graduate in six or seven years and the value of your investment will erode very fast.

These are not certain outcomes but statistical estimates.  The actual value of a degree for each individual will vary.  For example, the the cited research estimates that up to 25% of college graduates may not see a monetary return on their investment whatsoever.  A bachelor’s degree is not a zero-risk investment. It is entirely possible for a high school graduate to out earn a college graduate, even if the odds are against them.

An economic recession like the one we just experienced hurts everyone’s employment, college graduate or not. However, the researchers illustrate that, even then, the statistical value of a degree is undisputed. The unemployment rate for recent college graduates has fallen since the recession and is less than half the rate for comparable workers without a degree. There is evidence that many college graduates are underemployed, meaning they have jobs that may not require their full qualifications. However, among the underemployed college graduates most have found relatively high-paying jobs.

So here’s our advice.  If you have the potential and can find the way to finance it, research your options, look at the data, choose a solid college with good outcomes, go to college and graduate as soon as possible. The returns on this investment are by no means guaranteed.  But this will be one of the surest, safest investments you will make in your lifetime.

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Higher ed on the global agenda

Posted: September 10, 2014 at 11:04 am

It’s comforting to see higher ed every once in a while make it to the global agenda.  That’s what happened in Spain last week at the U.S.-Spain Council, the annual summit of business and government leaders from both sides of the Atlantic.  Thanks to Senator Tim Kaine, who chairs the Council, I was invited to discuss what universities can do to drive competitiveness and how international academic engagement can help universities deliver on their mission.

With the help of Mason doctoral student Kirk Heffelmire we pulled the most recent data and re-ran the regression analysis between the number of top research universities nations have on a per-capita basis and their competitiveness (as we have done here before).  Competitiveness data come from World Economic Forum and research university rankings, from Shanghai Jiao Tong’s Academic Ranking of World Universities.

As you can see, the outcome has remained the same.   The number of research universities a country has among the top 300 in the world, when divided by its population, predicts 47% of the variance in national competitiveness. The United States, though still the leader in terms of absolute number of top research universities, is surpassed by Switzerland, Sweden and other 12 developed countries on a per capita basis.  Spain, meanwhile, continues to perform relatively poorly both in absolute numbers (only one university in the top 200 and four in the top 300) and per capita.

Slide04Economic competitiveness is determined by a number of factors: from macroeconomic stability to infrastructure and institutional strength, from market size and efficiency to basic education and health.  Increasingly though, competitiveness is linked to innovation and productivity, that is, to the ability to generate new ideas, new products and services, or new ways to doing more with less.  And that’s where universities come in.

As I’ve argued before, research universities excel at attracting and developing innovative talent. In fact, no other institution does a better job at it. The Silicon Valley wouldn’t exist without Stanford, and Cambridge would not be what it is without Harvard and MIT.  Talent breeds talent and talent attracts talent.

One of the ways in which universities can accelerate their research output is by cultivating personal relationships with world-class research organizations.  So it was great that Spain’s brand new King Felipe VI, an Honorary Fulbright Scholar himself during his time at Georgetown, mentioned Fulbright as an initiative that has contributed to strengthen Spain-U.S. ties as well as to elevate the research capabilities of many Spanish universities (and a program that will receive the Prince of Asturias award for International Cooperation this year). A number of Fulbright alumni were in attendance, so we marked the occasion with a semi-selfie with His Majesty and Senator Kaine!


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Philanthropy and academic integrity

Posted: September 5, 2014 at 8:00 am

Every once in a while I receive questions about gifts the university has received, about the intentions and motivations of our donors, their ideology, their backgrounds, and even their citizenship.

Our donors, just like our faculty, students and staff, come from all over the world; they have different backgrounds and experiences, different faiths and ideologies, different personal stories and views of the world.  Some care about access and fund scholarships for students of certain characteristics that matter to them: low-income, high-potential, certain geographic origin, etc.  Others focus on research and dedicate their contributions to supporting the work of our faculty, whether in game design, biomedical research, Islamic studies, climate change, values-based leadership, law, civil engineering or economics.  Others support our athletics program, or they help us build new facilities.  Some make contributions to be used at the discretion of a dean or even the president (which is much appreciated!).

The notion of diversity and inclusion that is so central to our mission applies to our donors, too.

Philanthropy has become an important resource for our university and is bound to become even more so in the future.  Quite bluntly, as public funding of universities continues to decline, we would not be able to deliver on our mission of excellence and access without the support of individuals and organizations who believe in us and bet on us.  Many of our students would not be studying at Mason, or perhaps anywhere else. Many of our best faculty would not be working at Mason or would see their productivity diminished. And many of our modern facilities would only exist in the imagination of our deans.

Since I arrived at Mason, fundraising has occupied a big part of my time and the time of many of my colleagues.  Fortunately, our new vision and plans for the future have so far resonated with our community. Our donors have responded with two years of record donations. Our endowment has grown by almost 30 percent.  I can only hope that we can sustain these trends in the future!

Can the growing importance of private philanthropy compromise our academic independence?  The answer is that our donors, no matter how generous, are not allowed to choose the student who receives the scholarship, the professor who is hired, or the scholarship a faculty member produces.  They know that these rules are an essential part of our academic integrity.  If these rules are not acceptable, we simply don’t accept the gift. Academic freedom is never for sale. Period.

We do not ask donors to disclose their ideology nor do we judge their personal motivations. We thank them and let them know that they are helping to expand and preserve the academic freedom of our vibrant university.

We would not jeopardize the integrity of our academic programs or forfeit our ability to make our own decisions. That would only hinder our mission, not enhance it. The one promise we make to all donors is to be careful stewards of their gifts and spend their money wisely and according to our agreement.

Support for George Mason is an investment in academic freedom. And that is a gift not only to this university, but to us all.


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Update on the Virginia State Budget

Posted: September 2, 2014 at 8:45 am

A letter to the Mason community, Sep. 2, 2014

Dear Patriot,

Recently, the Commonwealth of Virginia announced a tax revenue shortfall for the 2014-16 biennium of $2.4 billion and asked state agency heads to produce budget savings plans for fiscal year 2015 (which started July 1, 2014) equal to 5 percent of the institution’s adjusted legislative general fund appropriation and 7 percent for fiscal 2016.

Last week the state confirmed that colleges and universities need to respond and produce similar plans by September 19. In devising the plans, we have been asked to emphasize recurring rather than one-time savings. The only exemption to these cuts in higher education will be state financial aid. The state also discouraged colleges and universities from submitting reduction strategies that include mid-year tuition increases.

In order to meet these challenges, I have asked deans and unit leaders to produce budget savings proposals of at least 2.5 percent of their E&G budget and that each central unit produce proposals of at least 3 percent. The proposals are to be completed and submitted to the Provost and Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration no later than September 11.

In producing these plans it is important that we protect the core academic mission and that we think of creative ways to increase efficiency while emphasizing the core priorities in the university’s strategic plan.

Beyond the immediate budget challenge, this reduction in state support further highlights the need for state universities to reconsider elements of their traditional financial models. George Mason University is no exception. In the years ahead we will need to become even more self-sufficient and find creative ways to deliver on our mission with less public support.

The budget model redesign that we initiated last year takes on a new level of urgency, as do our efforts to revamp enrollment processes throughout the university, generate incremental revenue through new programs, public-private partnerships, increased fund-raising, and better use of our current assets.

Provost David Wu and Senior Vice President J.J. Davis will hold a budget forum town hall at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, September 4, in Dewberry Hall North in the Johnson Center. During the forum both David and J.J. will be prepared to provide additional information and answer any questions you may have. The budget forum will also be accessible as follows:

    •    Prince William—Bull  Run 254

    •    Arlington—Founders Hall B119

    •    Front Royal—Academic  219

    •    Loudoun—Signal Hill 101

While I recognize that this process will generate its share of challenges, ultimately the actions outlined above will help us build a stronger, more vibrant, more successful George Mason for the future.

Ángel Cabrera


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Highlights from Opening Convocation

Posted: August 27, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Kudos to Professor Wendi Manuel-Scott for an inspiring, energizing, thought-provoking and profound lecture during New Student Convocation. If you haven’t heard it already, these may well be the best 14 minutes you will spend today:

My remarks once again focused on the university’s namesake, George Mason—who he was, why he matters and his influence on the university today. You can read last year’s version here.

Then I offered my Top 10 recommendations for new students:

  • Keep an open mind. Learning happens not when we prove to others that we’re right but when we realize that we may not be.
  • Pick the brains of our outstanding faculty. Don’t assume they are too busy to care about you. You are their first priority.
  • Study abroad if you can.
  • Don’t wait until your senior year to start looking for a job. Find ways to engage with employers and organizations beginning today.
  • Join at least two initiatives on campus. There are 300 clubs and organizations from which to choose. Pick at least one you may not think you’re interested in.
  • Every once in a while, take the Metro to Washington, D.C., — recently crowned as America’s coolest city, in case you haven’t heard.
  • Take care of your body. Don’t overeat. Don’t overdrink. Don’t do drugs (it’s really stupid). Get plenty of exercise.
  • Do not abuse anyone or tolerate anyone who does. Sexual assault on college campuses happens to perhaps one in five women. About 90 percent of those attacks involve acquaintances, not strangers. Alcohol plays a part in more than half of the incidents. And perpetrators are almost always repeat offenders. If you are aware of an abuse and don’t report it, you just became part of the problem. We should all be part of the solution.
  • Study a lot.
  • Have fun!
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    A year in (brief) review

    Posted: July 1, 2014 at 6:18 am

    It’s been a productive year at George Mason University on many counts.

    This academic year we welcomed the largest freshman class in our history, as well as the largest transfer class. In fall 2013, 3,011 first-time freshmen arrived on campus, with 2,390 being from the Commonwealth and 621 coming from out of state. The 2,659 degree-seeking, undergraduate transfer students was almost as large a group as the freshman cohort; and when spring 2014 transfers are included, the number of new transfers reached 3,931.

    And we’re not just becoming larger; we’re also becoming more effective. Our 6-year graduation rate has steadily increased from 64 percent in 2009 to about 67 percent in 2013 (and at 72 percent and 71 percent, respectively, women and Hispanics are the first two groups to have surpassed the 70 percent mark). Add to that high employment outcomes of our graduates, as reported by SCHEV, and low student loan default rates, as reported by the Federal Government, and we can safely and proudly claim that we are serving more students and serving them better.

    These numbers in fact put us firmly on track to achieve our goal of 100,000 graduates over the next 10 years, a strategic objective that ranks among our most ambitious. Here’s our point of departure.  In 2012-13, we awarded 8,410 degrees and 549 certificates. Of those degrees, 59 percent (4,920) were undergraduate, and one-third (2,756) were in the humanities and social sciences, with an additional 40 percent (3,331) pretty evenly distributed among education, business and engineering. Our graduates also earned 261 law degrees, 249 PhDs, and 2,980 Masters. No other four-year institution in the Commonwealth awarded more degrees. We anticipate similar numbers this year, and gradual overall increases thereafter.

    Here are several other highlights (a more exhaustive list and data will be available this Fall as part of my president’s report–here’s a link to last year’s):

    • We produced a university-wide strategic plan, and developed unit-specific plans for each of the colleges under that framework. We created a unified brand profile that is effective July 1. A campus master plan and a campaign plan are under way.
    • We recruited a new provost, David Wu, who begins July 1. David completes a new leadership team with robust and diverse backgrounds.
    • We established a partnership with INTO that will greatly increase our international student population.
    • We agreed to merge the School of Public Policy and the Department of Public and International Affairs into a new School of Policy, Government and International Affairs that will stand out in breadth, depth and quality.
    • The Mason-Korea campus in Incheon welcomed its first class in March. Initial enrollment totaled 40 students, including six undergraduates from Fairfax.
    • We raised more than $51 million, which makes fiscal year 2014, once again, a record fund-raising year.
    • We transformed the Mason Inn into the Mason Global Center, that will add much needed educational and residential space while ending years of operating losses.
    • We consolidated and moved administrative offices, including the provost and president’s offices, into Alan and Sally Merten Hall (formerly, University Hall), a move that created an additional 25,000 square feet of renovated academic space, without requiring new construction.
    • We launched five new fully online programs this year: MEd, Education Leadership;MS, Applied Information Technology; MS, Biodefense; Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management and Homeland Security; and, Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence. All will offer their first set of online cohorts this fall.  We also are launching a fully online asynchronous MS program in Systems Engineering.
    • We opened the Simulation and Computational Gaming Institute in March, and last month we announced the creation of the Sustainable Earth Institute.
    • We helped incubate a new Education Design Lab (an initiative with former member of the Board of Visitors and benefactor Kathleen DeLaski), dedicated to designing new solutions in higher education, and launched two pilot projects—one on apprenticeships and one on 21st century skills.
    • We joined the Atlantic 10 conference and won four conference championships on our inaugural season—men’s soccer, baseball and women’s indoor and outdoor track and field. Our results in men’s basketball were disappointing, but the national television exposure and as the six bids to the NCAA tournament reaffirmed the value of our decision. Tom O’Connor retired, and we hired Brad Edwards as our new Athletic Director.

    Much, much more was accomplished throughout the university.  And much more is under way.  Thank you to each and every member of the Mason community–students and families, faculty and staff, alumni, volunteers, board members, friends, elected officials, donors and partners–for all you do to move this university forward.  Looking forward to an equally productive 2014-15!

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    Top workplace 2014

    Posted: June 22, 2014 at 7:00 am

    I’ve always felt that George Mason University is not just a great place to go to school, but also a great place to go to work. I’m delighted that the word is spreadinh!

    The Washington Post has selected George Mason as a Top Workplace in the National Capital Region (and the only university in the top 20!). This recognition belongs to every faculty and staff member of our community because it is each of them who every day makes our university a special place for every one else to work, grow and have an impact.

    Why is Mason a great place to work? Last year we spent time diving into our culture, asking what makes this university successful.  The result was a set of seven beliefs or values.  I am pretty sure these seven values are also the big reason why we are considered a great place to work:

    Our Students Come First
    We take great pride in serving our students and helping them grow as individuals, scholars and professionals. A shared sense of purpose is a hallmark of any great organization, and we definitely have it.

    Diversity Is Our Strength
    We include and embrace a multitude of people and ideas in everything we do, not because of a sense of moral obligation, but because of a genuine belief that diversity makes us better at what we do. Because we embrace diversity, everyone, no matter their background, can make of Mason their successful professional home.

    Innovation Is Our Tradition
    We are a young university that prides itself of not following someone else’s path, but blazing its own.  Whether by creating new programs and learning experiences for our students or by engaging in new research journeys with great impact, we strive to find new and better ways to deliver on our mission and know very well that great ideas can come from everyone.

    We Honor Freedom of Thought and Expression
    Innovative learning and scholarship requires thinkers and leaders who are free to pursue their ideas and conduct research that makes our university and our world a better place. That’s why we zealously protect the freedom of all members of our community to seek truth and express their views.

    We are Careful Stewards
    The university where we work is an invaluable asset that has been built by many to serve generations to come. We use precious resources from tax payers, families, and a myriad of organizations to do what we do. We owe it to everyone to use these resources responsibly and sustainably. 

    We Act with Integrity
    We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards as educators, scholars, students and professionals.

    We Thrive Together
    At Mason we try to nurture a positive and collaborative environment that contributes to the well-being and success of every member. We try to offer programs that support our employees: from tuition waivers, to flexible work options, professional and leadership development, executive coaching, or volunteer service leave.  But most importantly, we recognize that our success is shared and it is our responsibility to help one another succeed.

    Big thanks to the Washington Post for this recognition.  And thanks to each one of my colleagues for their commitment to our university.  Our rewarding and enriching environment is created and sustained by each of you.  Congratulations on a job well done!



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