With all the anger, partisanship and misrepresentation that has sprung from the national debate on contraception coverage, students and alumni should be proud that University President John J.DeGioia added a voice of reason to the polarized din.
DeGioia’s email to the campus community, which he sent just before spring break, put him in a controversial position in a complicated debate, and his words quickly began to receive attention in the national media. We commend him for walking the tightrope between defending Sandra Fluke (LAW ’12) against slander and upholding the university’s Jesuit heritage.
DeGioia must be given credit for standing up for educated discourse amid the ad hominem attacks that have characterized the contraception debate. Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Fluke and Georgetown women can only be characterized as misogynistic; they did not engage the public in thoughtful dialogue and drew attention only for their shock value. While standing up for Fluke and her right to voice her opinions, DeGioia simultaneously shamed Limbaugh for his immature tactics.
By focusing on civil discourse rather than contraception itself, DeGioia stayed well within Catholic doctrine while addressing the Limbaugh incident. Without taking a stance on whether birth control should be offered or covered by health care providers, he was able to uphold our Jesuit values of civility and thoughtfulness.
Any student should expect such high-profile administrators as university presidents to defend them publicly in a situation like Fluke’s. Among the most important responsibilities of a university president is to represent his or her institution to the public, and it would have been unacceptable for DeGioia to let the controversy slide without a response. The law school also released a statement on the issue, signed by more than 100 faculty members and about 50 representatives of other law schools, adding its perspective to DeGioia’s in criticizing Limbaugh’s attacks.
While we can and should commend DeGioia for issuing an eloquent response, we also must acknowledge that doing so fulfilled his responsibilities to the university. Through his public response, he defended both a Georgetown student and the values that define our institution.