When Ronald J. Daniels began to sense that he was a serious candidate for the Johns Hopkins University presidency, he drove to Baltimore by himself to check the place out.
Daniels had never been to Hopkins before. His meetings with the presidential search committee had all been in New York. So one day this summer, he walked around Hopkins' leafy Homewood campus and admired the colonial architecture. He explored the medical campus in East Baltimore and then picked up crab cakes to take home to his family in Philadelphia.
The "stealth visit," as he called it, helped convince Daniels, a Canadian-born legal scholar who only three years earlier had become provost of the University of Pennsylvania, that he andHopkins were the right fit. Yesterday, the university's board of trustees voted unanimously to make Daniels, 49, Hopkins' 14th president.
For a dozen years the institution has been under the leadership of President William R. Brody, a medical doctor, and several students and faculty members said yesterday they hope Daniels brings greater focus on arts and sciences, undergraduate education, and financial aid for needy students.
"We're hoping for a progressive person, a person who is open-minded," said Katrina Bell McDonald, an associate professor of sociology, who said arts and sciences have not received the attention they deserve. "He's coming from a different world, which may really work to our favor, and if we can turn that leaf over, I think that would be great."
Daniels, who starts March 2, will have an appointment as a professor in the political science department.
Yesterday he gave little hint as to his priorities, saying his first job was to learn the university, but his track record shows a concern for undergraduates and financial aid.
At Penn, Daniels created programs in which undergraduates work closely with faculty on research projects, community service and social advocacy. He also helped implement a new financial aid program that eliminated loans, instead giving grants to students in need so they could graduate debt-free.
Daniels said he hopes to enhance need-based aid at Hopkins. The school does not have need-blind admissions, meaning that students who have less ability to pay could be at a disadvantage in admissions decisions. He also said he would be a "champion" for undergraduate education.
"We are a tremendously potent tool for social mobility," said Daniels, whose father emigrated from Poland to Canada at the age of 7 and was among the first in his family to attend college. "I am one generation removed from that transformative experience, but I have never lost sight of its impact."
An international search that began in April with nearly 300 candidates produced about 20 finalists. They were interviewed in New York, to protect their privacy, and Daniels stood out for his leadership style, accomplishments, communication and fundraising abilities, and scholarship, search committee members said.
He's also, they added, rather charming.
"He's a very engaging person. He's a person that you like," said M. Diane Griffin, a search committee member and professor of molecular microbiology and immunology.
She said the committee was impressed when Daniels told them, "One of the things you have to learn is the soul of a place."
He will help get that sense by living with his wife and children in Nichols House, Hopkins' on-campus presidential residence.
Daniels' wife, Joanne D. Rosen, is a human rights lawyer who teaches at Penn. They have four children: Roberta, 17; Drew and Ryan, 16-year-old twins; and Alexandra, 14. Rosen said she and the children will be moving to Baltimore in July 2010, after Drew and Ryan complete high school in Philadelphia.
Daniels joked that the children have agreed to trade cheesesteaks for crab cakes.
Daniels spent the day on a whirlwind tour of Hopkins' campuses, meeting students and faculty at Homewood, the Peabody Institute, the East Baltimore medical campus and the Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel.
This morning, he will be at Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. He marveled at Peabody's rare-books library and its original cast iron circular staircase from 1865.
He said he looked forward to attending concerts and other events at Peabody - a good sign to those who hope he shifts some focus away from Hopkins' medical side.
"Hopkins has a huge strength in the health sciences, and you can't ignore that," said Griffin, of the search committee. "But it has the opportunity to be even better in the arts and sciences and other aspects of the university, and to be a great university, not just a great medical center. And we're not just that, but there is an opportunity to capitalize even more on the undergraduate campus and the school of arts and sciences."
Benjamin Ginsberg, the Bernstein professor of political science at Hopkins, said, "I think it's time for the university to move forward, particularly in the realm of arts and sciences, which was allowed to, shall we say, languish in the last decade. I think it's time to invest heavily in arts and sciences, which is the core of any great university."
But at the medical campus, some members of the staff and faculty have no doubt that Daniels will emphasize the institution's medical nature and do not fear a shift in priorities.
"It would be a historical change," said David Madder, a practicing internist. "I can't imagine Hopkins being anything but incredibily focused on advancing health care and medicine in this country as well as internationally."
Investing heavily in anything may come as a challenge to Daniels, who will take over in a time of economic crisis as endowments contract with the stock market and donors give less.
An e-mail to the Hopkins community from Brody last week outlined the financial challenges to the university from shrinking state support, constricted federal research funding and less income from the endowment. But Daniels said yesterday that he loves fundraising and will attack it vigorously.
When he turned a corner into a reception room at Peabody yesterday, he was greeted with loud applause and whistles from about 50 staff, faculty and students. Students and faculty interviewed yesterday said they knew little about Daniels but had heard good things and had high hopes.
"From the student perspective, at least, there has always been a heavy emphasis on science, engineering and medicine, and not enough of a focus on the humanities," said student government president Prasanna Chandrasekhar, a senior from Boston. "I think it's really interesting that he has a law background rather than medical. I think he'll bring a different approach, a different focus."
Hopkins has about 4,700 undergraduates and 14,000 graduate students. All told, the Johns Hopkins Institutions has 38,000 employees, making it by far the largest private employer in the state. As president, Daniels will lead all aspects of Hopkins.
Asked if he found the task daunting, Daniels said it was that and many other things.
"It's inspiring, it's exhilarating, it's challenging and yes, it's daunting," he said. "I feel very privileged to be standing here today."
Baltimore Sun Reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.