Second Report on Student Life Offers Administrators Advice Worth Considering

By Tom Johnson For What It’s Worth

Jonathan Swift once remarked in a typically caustic bit of verse:

So, naturalists observe, a flea Has smaller fleas that on him prey; And these have smaller still to bite ’em; And so proceed ad infinitum.

These words could well apply to the often confusing hierarchy of Georgetown administrators, whose many layers of deans, assistant deans and associate deans have proved stumbling blocks to student leaders seeking to plan events. Luckily, a dedicated handful of students, in preparing the second annual Report on Student Life, have provided us in plain form with a most effective flea swatter.

The Report, far from a pie-in-the-sky collection of misfired complaints from hapless students, is a clear expression of the state of student life on campus at the beginning of the 21st century. It also explores the potential of that life if fostered by a genuine cooperation between students and administrators. The first pages, which discuss this year’s student activities budget, is sound proof of the prudence that students exhibit when entrusted with important decisions – in this case, the use of $144,000 in additional club money. Among other things, these funds reduced dues for members of Student Activities Commission groups (which in some cases exceeded $10) and allowed the Georgetown Program Board to hold free weekly films (where previously there was a $2 entrance fee).

Unfortunately, these funds are insufficient to provide adequate assistance to less broad based but quickly expanding activities, such as those that comprise the Performing Arts Advisory Council, Volunteer and Public Services, and the Media Board. PAAC used most of its additional money to purchase new instruments, lighting equipment, costumes and curtains that were sorely needed. The Media Board drained its budget to under $1,000 due to increased interest and participation in organizations like GUTV and campus publications. The continued fiscal support of the administration is imperative if such organizations are going to continue to provide viable extracurricular opportunities for students and plan events that provide alternatives to alcohol-centered activities.

Some of the most intriguing of the writers’ proposals will also prove the most difficult, such as transforming Sellinger Lounge into a student entertainment center and using parts of the Southwest Quadrangle and new library – once built – for student activities and performing arts space. The logic behind these recommendations, however, is most practical: more money, more options. Other proposals are the merest truisms: having a student on the board of regents subcommittee on student life and using areas on campus that lay idle, like Center Grill and Darnall dining hall, during off hours, for practice space.

The writers of the Report realize, however, that there is no “quick-fix” solution to the problem of activities funding. A student activities fee is problematic because it places a financial strain on parents, “passes the buck” from the university to families and raises the question of paying money to support clubs whose ideologies differ from one’s own. The money must come from fundraising and current tuition dollars, and these steps must be taken to secure each.

1) Alumni donors should be able to designate annual fund dollars directly to student activities budgets. There currently is no specific category for such donations, apart from “other” and “community service.”

2) The administration and budget of the Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Student Programs should be continually evaluated and streamlined to ensure that students are getting the most out of those departments created expressly for them.

This latter suggestion is treated in depth in the section of the Report entitled “bureaucracy.” As noted there, the senior associate dean of students position, eliminated earlier this year, provided much of the additional money made available to students. Further decisions of this kind could produce similar results.

The cover letter to the Report asks, “If we are taught that meager resources and unnecessary bureaucracy are the norm, how can we expect to revolutionize or even serve the community in which we live, where a lack of adequate resources all too often provides the justification for stagnation rather than progress, mediocrity rather than excellence?”

This is not a question posed by some campus extremist but by some of the most involved and thoughtful members of the community, including former GPB Chair Mike Boyle (MSB ’00), GUSA President-elect Tawan Davis (COL ’01) and SAC Chair Sacasha Brown (MSB ’00). They are students who love Georgetown and realizing that it is not perfect, wish to take steps to make it a little more so. The administrators who also love Georgetown will seriously consider what they have to say.

For What It’s Worth appears every other Friday in The Hoya.

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