Engaging the Wrong Community

CommunityEngagementThe number of complaints we’ve heard about Counseling and Psychiatric Services is unacceptable. With mental health at the forefront of national dialogue, it is no wonder that students have penned op-ed after op-ed after op-ed decrying what they perceive as CAPS’ failure to provide adequate treatment.

While we urgently need to improve CAPS (and student government is trying), administrators have repeatedly told us that the funding simply isn’t there. Our endowment is small. Resources are limited. “Find us the money,” they say.

Despite these dire fiscal restraints, Georgetown has conveniently found the funds to create a new, high-ranking administrative position: vice president for government relations and community engagement. Offering what is undoubtedly an impressive salary and benefits package, Georgetown has once again demonstrated its willingness to respond immediately and decisively to community wants before seriously addressing student needs.

When the Office of Community Engagement was founded in 2012, relations between the university and the neighborhood were relatively uncivil. After three years of trust building cooperation between the university and the surrounding community, administrators and neighborhood leaders consistently say that relations have “never been better” than they are today.

Despite these unprecedented positive relations, we continue to allocate more resources toward community engagement and away from fundamental student needs. Even before the funding that will go toward this new position itself, the university had hired a consultant to explore community engagement whose findings ultimately led to this decision. Additionally, while the former head of the Office of Community Engagement left her position in early June, she has since been hired by the university as a consultant on community engagement matters — more resources, more positions, none of which address the perilous state of unaddressed student needs.

Students regularly suffer under the financial weight of community coddling. We study at a university where we students are forced to pay $53,000 for our club sports athletic trainer’s salary out of our student activities fees because the university “cannot find the money” to pay for it. We study at a university with an understaffed, underfunded Academic Resource Center that has been crammed into a wheelchair-inaccessible closet. We study at a university where finding the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to address deferred maintenance, some of which is decades overdue, is a pipe dream — and yet funding for “community engagement” is readily available.

Administrators will argue that resources “invested” in community engagement and resources that could potentially be invested in addressing critical student needs come from separate, inflexible budgets. While Student Affairs funding (Academic Resource Center, CAPS, club sports, etc.) comes from the provost’s budget, funding for administrative hires comes from the university services budget.

However, both budgets are financed by our tuition. If the provost’s budget is so constrained that critical student needs cannot be met while the university services budget is bloated enough to accommodate yet another high-level administrative position, then Georgetown has failed to prioritize properly and budget accordingly. As students without access to the university’s financial records, we can only surmise that the university is guilty of severe budgetary mismanagement, resulting from frequently impractical spending decisions.

If the university wants to change the overwhelming opinion that it prioritizes neighborhood interests and community engagement over the wellbeing of its students, then student needs must be addressed. Thankfully, the community has been receptive to this; the Georgetown Community Partnership has recently taken the laudable step of adding two more student representatives to its steering committee, a major step forward for student self-advocacy and student-neighborhood relations. In taking this step, students and the community can find greater common ground and work together toward the mutual goal of building a campus environment that is responsive to the student body’s needs. Perhaps now, with the students and the community working closer together than ever before, student concerns will finally be addressed by the university courtesy of neighborhood pressure.

Hiding behind bureaucratic funding silos and student-bought-and-paid-for consultants to mask a flawed system of prioritization is bad for Georgetown. If we cannot find the funding to adequately address critical issues such as mental health, accessibility and athletic safety, then we certainly should not be able to find funding for community engagement.

Students should be outraged by this misallocation; considering the opaqueness of the institution, the extent to which funds are regularly poured into imprudent matters in the face of unaddressed student needs is unknown. While we do not doubt the sincerity of administrators who state that they care about student needs, university finances ultimately speak louder than words.

If we truly want change, we cannot depend solely on student leaders and administrators to inevitably come to a solution to these problems. If you are one of the many students advocating for a better Georgetown and sensible budgeting, if you believe that student needs are not being met and that the funding does, in fact, exist (which it does), then make noise. Write op-eds, contact administrators, make demands.

Until then, the best way to effect change on campus may be to stop paying tuition, buy a house in the surrounding neighborhood and contact a community engagement representative.

Joe Luther and Connor Rohan are rising seniors in the College. They are the president and vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association, respectively.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.


  1. Hoya for reform says:

    Thanks for this article.

    I agree that students should definitely push back more to be sure that their egregiously high tuition payments are going towards a quality education and not getting squandered on other administrative priorities. Georgetown, as much as it complains about its ‘small’ endowment, is objectively one of the most expensive institutions to attend in human history. Every time I sit in a class room with one grossly underpaid associate professor and 150 peers who are paying upwards of $30,000/credit hour collectively to struggle to hear a lecture over the din of jackhammers outside, I have to wonder exactly what the university is prioritizing.

    For those of you who haven’t been eyeing your tuition bills closely – tuition hikes to the tune of 4.3% happened over the summer and more yearly hikes to the tune of 4% will continue to occur until everyone currentLY enrolled at the university graduates. It is my hope that the quality of education I receive will also be going up 4.3% next semester, but I have an inkling that it will remain unchanged or even worsen as the tendrils of campus-plan construction sink deeper into every aspect of student life.

    If you’re interested in exactly how much of your tuition is being burnt on administrative nonsense, excessive construction and, quote, “incremental housing revenues from new beds on campus,” take a gander at: https://georgetown.app.box.com/s/7jwy3zhy5yuunu5v8m3q

  2. Georgetown’s bureaucracy and fetishization of “neighborhood relations” have gotten out of control. Students, not administrators and certainly not neighbors, need to come first.

  3. Jacqueline says:

    Very well written and persuasive article. This highlight something that I believe must be changed.

    Perhaps if the administration allocated more resources to funding student welfare, alumni would be more willing to donate to the school and our endowment could grow. Then we would have enough money to make the community happy.

    Is it possible for GUSA to create a petition we could sign?

  4. Bravo. Well said

  5. Georgetown'18 says:

    Thank you for your efforts. I hope we are able to rehaul CAPS – it’s not that the staff aren’t capable mental health experts; the problem with CAPS has always been that they are understaffed for the work load they receive.

  6. As someone for whom CAPS was essential to my ability to stay at and graduate from Georgetown, I must reiterate what Georgetown ’18 said in a previous comment: the CAPS staff are incredibly capable, but understaffed and underfunded.

    Additionally, there are very few resources available for students who are living with individuals who may be severely depressed and suicidal. There is little offered to those students in the way of guidance and support, and that needs to change. We need a holistic approach and encourage greater communication between CAPS, the ARC, the deans’ office, chaplains, and community directors. Mental and emotional distress is not just treated on the couch in a therapist’s office: students need support from every angle.

  7. College '16 says:

    Really well done. Beyond the snappy prose, it’s a good thing to get people thinking about why Community Engagement even needs to exist as an office separate from Neigborhood Life. There is so much administrative overlap at this university that it doesn’t bear listing in a Hoya comments section, but as long as Georgetown remains committed to keeping Ron Lewis happier than its own students then nothing can change.

  8. Nervous student says:

    While I agree with the argument here, I can’t help but think we’re being a bit too demanding, too unrealistic. I think lots of things are wrong with the University, especially in regards to how funds are allocated among administration and staff (with no money or benefits going to the mass army of adjunct professors upon which many departments rely to produce full course lists each semester). But too often I get on my high horse about all the ways in which my school fails me. In reality, my school has given me literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in financial aid which were very much necessary in order for me to go to college here. I owe more to my school than it owes to me, I tend to think. If a friend lets you live with him for the summer for free, is it right to be righteously angry when your friend won’t give you enough space in the refrigerator? Or says you have to shower at night rather than in the morning? That’s sort of how I feel about Georgetown. I think we, especially we beneficiaries of financial aid, ought to proceed gently in the difficult demands we place on our University. We’re taught to stand up for our beliefs — we’re good at that. But we’re also challenged to be grateful and to see that our circumstance is not just the product of our own tireless work, but rather the product of that work mixed with the unsolicited kindness of others. Accepting that is harder than just standing up for our beliefs alone.

    • Fair point says:

      Fair point. However, for those of us who didn’t get so lucky in the financial aid process, Georgetown doesn’t seem quite so much the generous friend with a few shortcomings as the snakeoil salesman with a flashy song and dance. As I eat my way into more money in debt than my grandparents touched in their entire lifetime, I feel guilty for not holding Georgetown to its promise to be one of the best institutions in the world. The cost of me taking even one mediocre econ class could feed a family of four in the US for 38 weeks (or for nearly four years in Ecuador). To allow that amount of captial to go towards anything other than an education that empowers me to do more good than donating that same money to people in need would be morally reprehensible. Like many Georgetown students, there were no shortage of full ride scholarship offers available when I was picking schools. I chose to pay for Georgetown because they led me to believe that there was something extraordinary about this institution. The betrayal of trust I feel every time Georgetown fails to meet basic requirements for student health and course quality is enormous.

      When claiming that a diploma is worth more than most houses, but offering an education and quality of life worse than many institutions that cost a sixth of the price or less, Georgetown is doing more than being excusably imperfect – it is misleading students, exaggerating tuition costs to obtain more federal aid money, and sullying the reputation of a 200 year old academic endeavor to make a quick buck before they get caught. At $6,000 per 3 credit course, there should never be classes of over 150 students or associate professors struggling to pay rent.

      In short, a Georgetown diploma is a steal for $100,000, but for those of us stomaching $250,000+ in debt due to financial aid generalizations that don’t adequately recognize need – Georgetown needs to prove itself worthy in every possible way.

  9. “If the provost’s budget is so constrained that critical student needs cannot be met while the university services budget is bloated enough to accommodate yet another high-level administrative position, then Georgetown has failed to prioritize properly and budget accordingly.”

    Connor/Joe compare apples to oranges with the two budgets. Sure, they say the two budgets can be readjusted, but it’s not academics vs neighborhood relations. It’s neighborhood relations vs the rest of the admin budget, which includes the increase in sexual assault staff, funding to CAPS, student life staff, etc, all of which have been agitated for by GUSA.

    In terms of priorities, sure, Connor/Joe should advocate for reducing expenditures on neighborhood relations if they believe it’s being overspent on. But it’s a little blind to not see the irony in demanding greater admin expenditures in other areas and calling community relations expenditures a cut from academics.

    • Kinda silly says:

      Regardless of how the budgets are compartmentalized now, there’s no apple to oranges comparison here. Either way, It’s our tuition money that is being blown on community engagement rather than student well-being. If the community wants a liaison with he university, let them pay for it.

  10. Thoroughly Confused says:

    I don’t see any irony in arguing the university has the wrong priorities in the way it spends its money.

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