University President John J. DeGioia defended the university’s decision to allow a pro-Palestinian campus conference next month and addressed concerns about worker pay during his annual conversation with the student body yesterday.

DeGioia said that Georgetown’s policy on speech and expression makes it clear that the university’s decision to host the forum does not necessarily mean that it endorses the group’s message.

“We believe the best response to controversial, even offensive speech, is more speech,” DeGioia said. “The best approach is through dialogue, research and intellectual discovery.”

Richard Frankel (COL ’08) questioned the university’s decision to allow Georgetown’s Students for Justice for Palestine to host a February conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, a group that some have accused of being anti-Israel. The student said that the conference may reflect poorly on the university because of the message presented by the PSM.

Frankel told DeGioia that the university’s decision to host the conference, as well as its acceptance of a $20 million grant from Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, may create open hostility to Israeli and Jewish members of the campus community.

DeGioia responded by saying that the university is a large organization that tries “to stay consistent with the policies and procedures set in place.” As one of about 200 university-supported student groups, Students for Justice in Palestine has the ability to invite outside groups to organize such conferences, DeGioia said.

“These are the internal guidelines we have established,” he said. “We believe that the group that had received the opportunity to host a conference is in compliance with our rules.”

Responding to student concerns over alleged ties between Alwaleed and Middle Eastern terrorism, DeGioia denied accusations that Alwaleed advocates or participates in terrorism.

“Prince Alwaleed is an international businessman and philanthropist,” he said. “His gift is enabling us to continue work that is vital to this institution.”

Frankel said that he was not satisfied with DeGioia’s response to his concerns.

“If I were currently a high school senior, as a Jew I would feel greatly discouraged from attending Georgetown for the next four years,” Frankel said.

Students also questioned DeGioia about the university’s implementation of the Just Employment Policy, which was enacted last March and set standards concerning wages and benefits for subcontracted university employees.

Students requested that administrators disclose the breakdown of total compensation to ensure that the policy was being correctly and timely implemented.

“We believe that the existing bodies have not been effective because the living wage policy hasn’t been implemented, which we’ve seen from workers on the ground,” Zach Pesavento (SFS ’08) said.

“Unfortunately I don’t think we know what the next step will be,” Emily Napalo (COL ’06) said in an interview after the conversation with the DeGioia. “It should be full disclosure of the breakdown of total compensation to the Advisory Committee on Business Practices,” the committee that supervises the implementation of the new wage policy, she added.

DeGioia agreed that the university has a responsibility to implement the policy.

“The university made a commitment,” he added. “That commitment can’t be delegated to a business commitment we’ve made with someone else.”

Several students also expressed concern to DeGioia over the university’s policy of denying financial aid to international students.

DeGioia said that though this policy is not unusual for the nation’s top universities, Georgetown is looking for ways to provide the same sources of aid for all students.

“It’s increasingly a source of focus for us . that our policy may need to expand beyond American nationalism for financial aid,” he said.

DeGioia also responded to concerns about discrimination against conservative and minority students, saying that Georgetown is “typically among the most diverse” of the top universities in the country. He also pledged to continue to foster communication with groups pursuing diversity at the university

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