Years on the Hilltop Provide Best Asset For New President

If Georgetown ever had a hometown boy, University President-Elect John J. “Jack” DeGioia would be it.

DeGioia graduated from the College of Arts and Science in 1979 and since that time has been involved in the inner workings of the university. He has served as an assistant to the university president, dean of student affairs, associate vice president and senior vice president. Since earning a doctorate in philosophy from Georgetown in 1995, he has been a professor and lecturer.

In less than five months, he will complete a long journey to the top of the university administration when he takes office on July 1, 2001.

DeGioia’s tenure, however, has not been filled with unblemished success. In his years as dean of student affairs, DeGioia was a major figure on campus in many major and controversial decisions that directly affected students.

In November 1986, then-Dean of Student Affairs DeGioia spearheaded the creation of the funding boards that distribute money to student groups. Before his plan was enacted, the GUSA system had created a single Student Activities Commission that was solely responsible for funding. DeGioia proposed to split the responsibilities of that board into the system in existence today.

This created a system of four boards: SAC, the Performing Arts Advisory Council, the Media Board and the Volunteer and Public Service Board. The last Dean of Students, James A. Donahue, instituted the fifth, the Advisory Board for Club Sports, just before his departure last year. The move cut almost 50 percent from the SAC budget and assigned it to the other funding boards.

Media organizations on campus had been lobbying for the creation of a separate funding board solely for campus newspapers in an effort to create an “independent student press,” Mark Landler (SFS ’87), a former editor in chief of The Hoya , said (Nov. 14, 1986, p.1). Both arts groups and VPS groups had advocated the change, as well.

With the upcoming changes in the funding of student clubs, and the possibility of the creation of a new student government, the Yard, DeGioia’s experience and intricate knowledge of the current funding system could prove invaluable to his tenure and relation with students and student issues.

The most controversial of all of the issues DeGioia dealt with during his tenure as Dean of Student Affairs was the yearlong controversy over university funding and recognition of an on-campus group advocating abortion rights. Called at one point GU Choice, the new university president – Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., – and then-Dean of Student Affairs DeGioia agreed to fund the group in February 1991, to encourage discussion about abortion. Almost immediately the decision was criticized by Washington Archbishop James Cardinal Hickey who called the decision “inconsistent with the aims of a Catholic university.”

It was the Georgetown Ignitian Society, a group formed to oppose the funding of GU Choice, who filed a canon lawsuit with Hickey in September 1991, challenging the status of the Jesuit-run univeristy. The suit, which eventually failed, threatened to remove the Roman Catholic Church’s recognition of Georgetown, effectively disallowing the university from using the term “Catholic” to describe itself.

For a while the uproar died down, but controversy re-ignited in November 1991, when DeGioia rejected the publication of a GU Choice pamphlet describing contraceptives, their use, statistical information and opinions about the effectiveness of the contraceptives.

“GU Choice was granted access to benefits for the purpose of fostering the maximum exchange of ideas on issues related to the abortion issue,” DeGioia said announcing his disapproval. “The pamphlet was outside of the appropriate purview of activities for GU Choice” (“Dean Rejects Birth Control Pamphlet,” The Hoya, Nov. 15, 1991, p. 1).

When Hickey refused to rule on the canon lawsuit, O’Donovan announced his support for DeGioia’s decision to fund the group saying that the group’s funding was not a threat to the Catholic nature of the university.

Eventually Georgetown denied funding to the group. After the removal of support the group could not legally use the term “Hoya” in their name and it became the group know today as H*yas for Choice.

In the years after DeGioia’s tenure as dean of student affairs he worked as an associate and senior vice president with planning and strategic decisions of the university. His positions and decisions, however, have been largely undetectable to students and far less public than those he made as dean of student affairs.

Most important in his term as vice president was his work to aid the financially failing Georgetown University Medical Center.

As associate vice president, DeGioia oversaw the entire Main Campus budget of over $200 million and the entire operations of the ain Campus. Under his direction the university has tried to reduce a deficit of nearly $203 million over the past three years caused by losses incurred through the Med Center. Debt from the years of loss was not absolved by the sale, however.

Fundraising, though, may prove to be the most important issue in DeGioia’s tenure.

O’Donovan’s legacy at Georgetown will clearly reflect the massive amount of fundraising he accomplished during his years leading the university. The Third Century Campaign, a continuing capital effort, has alone garnered nearly $1 billion, thus far. It was the late University President Timothy S. Healy, S.J., who emphasized fundraising to build the university’s endowment during the 1980s.

With over 20 years of experience at Georgetown, DeGioia, the first lay president of a Jesuit university, has seen Georgetown’s fiscal policy concentrate more on building its funding base, but will have a large pair of shoes to fill when it comes to fundraising.

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