As many as 1,000 copies of The Georgetown Academy, a privately funded conservative campus newsmagazine, were stolen from the Village C West residence hall Sunday afternoon, inciting a controversy concerning free speech on Georgetown’s campus. The issues were anonymously returned to the Office of Student Programs Wednesday with a note requesting greater administrative involvement in monitoring irresponsible use of free expression.

Based on “witnesses and sources,” The Academy alleged, that the theft was orchestrated by Alex Sanjenis (COL ’03) and several freshman members of the Knights of Columbus. The publication requested that the university administration take disciplinary action and reprimand any suppression of free speech on campus.

Sanjenis said he was “shocked” at the allegations. “I was never contacted by anyone identifying themselves with The Academy, but I did call an attorney because I heard they [The Academy] would press federal charges . I can’t say anything on advice of my attorney,” he said.

A letter, composed by Academy Executive Editor Cindy Searcy (COL ’04) in consultation with her editorial staff, named certain resident assistants, senior members of Delta Phi Epsilon and members of the Knights of Columbus as the parties responsible for the theft. They sent the letter to University President John J. DeGioia and Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez.

The university responded to The Academy’s letter by assembling the Free Speech and Expression Committee and then meeting with The Academy’s editors and an investigating officer from the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday morning. The Free Speech Committee, composed of four faculty members and four undergraduate students, plans to submit a formal letter of advice to Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who said he intends to make a formal statement concerning free speech on campus as early as next week, emphasized two facets of the incident as paramount. “One, we as a university take any theft very seriously, and two, we take efforts to suppress speech and expression as a serious concern not to be taken lightly,” he said.

“It is my impression that they [the thieves] assert that individuals identified in the publication could be individually harmed and therefore asked the university to intercede in its dissemination,” Gonzalez said.

Following the meeting Wednesday morning, the missing publications appeared in the Office of Student Programs Wednesday afternoon with a note addressed to Director of Student Organizations Martha Swanson. It stated that “the enclosed [newspapers] were sequestered in order to enable the university to determine if pages four and five violated the University Free Expression Policy.”

Those specific pages include the “Attics Salts” and “Cellar Sweets,” sections respectively berating and admiring campus organizations, events and figures. Both the Knights of Columbus and Sanjenis were directly insulted in the articles, along with other campus figures.

The Academy also sent out a press release with the contact information for all of the organizations and individuals allegedly involved. Sanjenis’s ethnicity, home address, e-mail address, cell phone number and Instant Messenger screen name were all included without his permission, he said.

“We felt that was necessary simply because we wanted to bring as much pressure to bear on him as possible if he was responsible,” Searcy said. “We’re willing to do anything to stop the thefts.”

Editors of The Academy said they have yet to formally press charges but have consulted the publication’s lawyer and plan to press criminal charges if not satisfied with the university’s response.

“I’m not intimidated, and if we have to go after someone legally to continue to have the right to print, that’s what we’ll do,” Grimes said. “That doesn’t bother me.”

The editors said, however, they would prefer to deal with the issue out of court.

“We’re not advocating any particular sanction for a group or person, but the issue is with the theft stopping,” Searcy said. “We’re keeping all of our options open but definitely want some retribution.”

The issue of The Academy in question, which concentrates on extremism and fundamentalism at Georgetown and abroad, originally came out last May. The Academy’s executive board decided to re-distribute the extra copies to freshman in anticipation of this year’s first issue, Grimes said.

An anonymous source claims that a friend informed him that a group of students was confiscating the paper at approximately noon on Sunday.

The Knights of Columbus executive board denies that it endorsed any such activities, and it encouraged any individuals who may have been involved to reconcile the situation.

“While I regret learning of the accusations against some of our members, I emphasize that these allegations were not authorized by the leadership or trustees of the Knights of Columbus, nor are they in any way representative of the mission of our organization to faithfully serve our community and our Church,” Grand Knight Kirk Symes (MSB ’04) said.

Delta Phi Epsilon also denied any responsibility for the theft.

“There was absolutely no one from the fraternity involved in the incident, whatsoever,” Delta Phi Epsilon President Chris Henderson (SFS ’03) said.

Despite controversy, editors of The Academy said they reserve the right to express themselves however they choose.

“We’re frustrated and angry and really don’t see why a small group of people would want to steal our work,” Searcy said. “If this person disagrees with the content, there are other forums in which we can have rational discourse.”

Others said they believe The Academy is abusing the right to free expression and is not making a positive contribution to the Georgetown community.

“Historically there is about as much truth in The Academy as there is in an issue of the Onion – I do believe anyone who wants to put money to paper has the right to express views, but it is not conducive to public discourse to insult students, priests, nuns, professors and administrators,” Sanjenis said. “If you’re insulted in The Academy, you know you’ve done something good for Georgetown.”

Georgetown’s official policy on free speech includes the right “to express points of view on the widest range of public and private concerns and to engage in the robust expression of ideas.” It goes on to say, however, “expression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation is inappropriate in a university community and the university will act as it deems appropriate to educate students violating this principle.”

This is the second time in the past five years that a large number of The Academy’s press run was stolen; a large number of copies were also stolen in 1998. On the advice of legal counsel, a price disclaimer is now put on each issue stating that after the first two complimentary copies, each additional copy costs $1. This allows The Academy to press criminal charges of theft.

“The cost is expressively to prohibit theft,” Grimes said. “We’re not interested in limiting distribution.”

The Academy’s current legal counsel, Manuel Miranda (SFS ’82), has been in touch with the D.C. District Attorney’s office and the Student Press Law Center, Searcy said.

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