Few on the campus are aware that, as of Tuesday, Georgetown University essentially placed a gag order for any groups on campus campaigning on behalf of the two presidential nominees – predominantly, Georgetown Students for McCain-Palin and GU for Barack Obama – due to historical precedent set by the university in the 2004 election season. The Student Activities Commission called for a meeting between the College Democrats and Republicans while leaving out representatives from the candidate groups.

While I am most flabbergasted that the university has chosen to do so during – as has been often repeated – “the most historic election to date,” I have chosen to direct my anger and frustration at the College Democrats and College Republicans respectively. When attempting to reach the College Democrats and College Republicans for comment, they were unhelpful. They were unable to give me a straight answer as to what the university had officially said, with the Democrats declining to comment altogether and Ellen Dargie (COL ’10), GUCR’s chairwoman, offering that “students ought to do all they can to endorse their respective choices within the guidelines set by university and federal officials.” Due to the murky circumstances of what is going on, the specifics of the university’s policy are, as of yet, unknown.

Perhaps a bit of background is necessary to understand the university’s position. The university maintains that university funding (via SAC) cannot go toward endorsing any candidate. Furthermore, the university stipulated that meetings of these student groups cannot occur in any university facility, residence hall common rooms included. Candidate groups are only allowed to exist within these parameters as agenda items during partisan groups’ meetings. From what the groups were told, the university’s legal experts decided that if the groups were to meet independently, the university would run the risk of losing its tax-exempt status. For Georgetown’s part, taking precautions is understandable, but only within reason and when keeping moderation in mind.

Among other things, I am contemptuous that they would issue a mandate ordering an across-the-board halt of endorsement of candidates within groups. Did they not realize that these groups would be partisan in their very nature; that at some point or another, they would have to conform to and endorse their parties’ respective nominees? College Republicans and College Democrats not endorsing a candidate would be patently absurd. That aside, however, wouldn’t it be possible to ask that all SAC funding for political groups be diverted exclusively toward non-partisan causes? Is it too difficult to mandate that these groups finance campaign activities without university aid? I suppose the university’s argument would make a great deal more sense if one candidate was represented, while the other was not. Given the circumstances, however, both candidates are aptly represented, and as such, the university should understand that funding the two groups does not warrant “endorsing one candidate.” If anything, I suppose the university would legally be “endorsing” both candidates.

That aside, these two groups have done little – if anything at all – to make this censorship known to the student population. This alone is enough to warrant my vehement disapproval, but within their respective ranks, the groups have done little to organize dissent or express their general disapproval with the university’s ruling. Have these groups been tabling in Red Square to fight for their First Amendment rights guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly that have been grossly violated? No. Have they organized a protest – even outside the main gates so as to avoid unwanted backlash with the administration? Nope. Hell, they wouldn’t even answer questions about it when asked point blank. They don’t just avoid broaching the subject – they dance around the whole issue.

Inform us about the changes that each of the presidential candidates propose and fight for a proper forum in which to do so! Better yet, the candidate groups ought to function autonomously due to the need for each candidate to attract swing voters. They should not be an agenda item on the next College Democrats or Republicans meeting; they should be able to have their own meetings in order to more closely detail and account for changes in candidates’ positions. Fight the university for autonomy, and keep us in the loop as to what is keeping you from doing so.

It would seem to me that we need a bipartisan solution to this problem. The College Democrats and the College Republicans should work together in order to allow these groups to exist as more than agenda items. They should work together to express their disapproval of the administration’s policy, not just for us, but for Georgetown students during the 2012 presidential election and beyond. It is ridiculous to think that at a school as politically charged as Georgetown, with a student population as informed and enthusiastic located within the nation’s capital, they will not allow students to endorse, support and campaign for their respective choices for the highest political office. Each candidate offers a multifaceted position as to where to take the country for the next four years. The university, and more importantly the College Republicans and Democrats, are doing the entire Georgetown population a disservice by not allowing these groups to expound upon each candidates’ nuanced position. They are not living up to their civic duty of informing the students and faculty of their choices or fighting for the civil liberties permitting them to do so.

D.J McLaughlin is a junior in the School of Foreign Service.

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