By David J. Wong

With apologies to the latest crop of student government reformers and Catholic identity enthusiasts, the most intriguing issue left on Georgetown’s plate from last May is the university’s policy toward public disclosure of serious student conduct violations.

This discussion was spurred in large part by the comments of Deborah Shick, whose son David, then a junior business major, died in February 2000 after an altercation with other Georgetown students. Shick has been disappointed with the university’s insistence that she consent to a confidentiality agreement before it reveals its verdict on the case, an agreement that would absurdly prohibit Shick from sharing the details of David’s death with his own siblings.

What is particularly compelling about the university’s disclosure policy is the relatively little significance it attaches to personal accountability. It sends the message: “We are responsible for our mistakes as long as we don’t have to recognize them publicly.”

The absence of public accountability in the university’s policies has led to a general disregard for accountability in our community’s attitudes. When an intoxicated student toppled a menorah in Red Square two years ago, and again when alcohol was deemed to have been consumed by one or more persons in the scuffle that preceded David Shick’s death, student leaders and school officials quickly proclaimed the need to address the prominent place alcohol has in the social lives of Georgetown students.

Efforts were directed at developing non-drinking social mediums as an alternative to the M St. bar scene and campus party circuit. A sickeningly simplistic sound byte evolved to encapsulate this ailment – Georgetown’s “Culture of Alcohol.”

These efforts were all fine and well. But they didn’t begin to approach the crux of the problem. Alcohol didn’t topple a menorah or spark a fight that caused the death of a student. People did. And they should be held accountable for their behavior.

By the end of their freshman year, most Georgetown students will have reached the age of 18. Old enough to vote and to drive, to fight a war and to get married, to be sentenced to life imprisonment or even executed. By nearly every formal measure, we are adults. Those who would disagree have been coddled too much.

A university community that fails to instill personal accountability in its students fails in its mission to better them as people. This blame-the-beer-not-the-person approach is not only foolish, but irresponsible and detrimental to Georgetown’s educational mission.

We all have our indiscretions, lapses of judgment facilitated by circumstances, but they remain lapses of our own judgment nonetheless. We – individuals, not circumstances – have ultimately determined the course of our action and we are responsible for the consequences.

So why the secrecy?     

Deborah Shick is not likely to believe that a pool table on campus or more Friday night poetry readings would have prevented her son’s death. Canceling the annual Block Party will not likely bring her closure. But the knowledge that the parties responsible for her son’s death have been appropriately punished, that they have been held accountable for their actions, just might help.

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