The Final Word
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 29, 2012 23:04
The prevailing themes of the last eight months illustrate a year of contradictions. On the one hand, arbitration of the campus plan and student activism were troublingly passive. In contrast, GUSA elections and the university’s attitude toward its endowment experienced marked changes. Here now is our final word on the eventful 2011-2012 school year.
Catholic Identity Crisis
The status of Georgetown’s Catholic and Jesuit identities has fueled a contentious debate throughout this year.
Although extensive, these deliberations were not excessive. Rather, they are an example of exactly the kind of constant self-reflection our university needs.
In February, a government professor, Patrick Deneen listed Georgetown’s transition from a liberal arts college invested in student development to a specialized, research-driven institution among his reasons for accepting a job at Notre Dame. Deneen’s comments created controversy over whether Georgetown was transitioning from a Jesuit university to a trade school.
President Obama’s birth control mandate in March was also seen by some as a challenge to Georgetown’s Catholic roots, prompting further campus discussion.
These conversations were valuable for Georgetown, but we believe that Georgetown’s fundamental values are not in jeopardy, as Deneen and others have suggested. Georgetown has not departed from its traditions — its Jesuit ideals are simply being adapted to the 21st century. If anything, the passage of service funding in Student Activities Fee Endowment reform, the election of Georgetown University Student Association executives who emphasized service and Catholic charity, and the strong Catholic-themed faculty response to Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) visit yesterday signal that Jesuit values are still a core aspect of life on campus.
Georgetown’s emergence as a global research university — and ensuing debates about purpose and politics — should not be seen as a threat, but rather as an opportunity to uphold the Jesuit ideal of contemplation.
Students Sit Out Protests
When Time Magazine named The Protester its 2011 Person of the Year, it almost certainly did not have Georgetown students in mind.
As Occupy protests swept through college campuses across the country, the Hilltop remained noticeably tranquil. When Occupy D.C. was gaining momentum in October, many students from D.C. colleges participated. Few students, however, were from Georgetown.
More recently, there has been disappointingly little activity concerning the racially infused death of Trayvon Martin last February. Although various campus groups have taken initiative on this issue, discussion should have gone beyond race-focused organizations.
We are not suggesting that the Georgetown community should have taken a particular stance on these matters. We are disappointed, however, that the campus generally appears to have sat out these debates. Students have a responsibility as D.C. residents to engage with issues that concern both the nation and the international community during our four years on the Hilltop.
While Georgetown remained markedly absent from local protests, students and alumni abroad have done a better job of making their voices heard amid international conflicts. In early November, Matthew VanDyke (GRD ’04) returned from Libya after spending eight turbulent months between prison and the battlefield. Later that month, Derrik Sweeney (COL ’13) was arrested after joining protesters in Cairo and emerged from the experience with remarkable resilience.
We recognize VanDyke and Sweeney’s courage in involving themselves in international issues, even if their discretion can be called into question. Their activism exemplifies the conscientiousness Georgetown should show toward others, both at home and abroad.
Capital Campaign Launches
“We’re very proud of the fact that we use our dollars well,” Provost James O’Donnell said last September when asked about Georgetown’s relatively small endowment. “We like to say that we punch above our weight.”
The university, however, made an about-face on that position in October, launching a historic capital campaign designed to raise $1.5 billion for the school’s endowment over 10 years.
Georgetown’s endowment is one of the smallest among U.S. News and World Report’s top 25 colleges. The campaign launched after Georgetown slipped one spot to 22nd in those rankings.
The university correctly recognizes that contemporary universities need a healthy endowment, and the focus on “generations to come” is admirable. But some of the collection methods being used, including soliciting donations from recent alumni and the families of current students, are insensitive to both the current economic situation and the 3.5 percent tuition hike announced in February.
Georgetown has already raised $840 million in this campaign, an admirable achievement. We are rooting for the university to reach its goal and thrive in the future, but we urge the school to remain sensitive in its pursuit of monetary gifts.
Paradigm Shift for GUSA