I am one of the longest surviving Georgetown graduates serving on the faculty today. The differences between the Georgetown University of the 1960s and the university we see today could not be more striking, and the changes have all been for the best. In so many ways, Georgetown has gone from being a good university to a great one.
First of all, it now has a coed and diverse student body.
When I was a student in the School of Foreign Service during the first half of the 1960s, Georgetown was a largely male university with few females, minorities or foreign students. The SFS admitted only 25 women per year to a class of 400, and the College did not admit women at all. We were told that the Jesuits wanted to eliminate women altogether, while the lay faculty wanted to increase their number. As a result, the number of women was stuck at 25 year after year.
SFS women always thought they were smarter than the men since they had to jump a higher hurdle to be admitted. I am still not sure if this was true. What I do remember is that being part of a small minority provided no social advantage.
The men mostly looked outside of the SFS for their social lives — and there were lots of options. The idea that Georgetown would be completely coed and that men and women would live in the same dorms was utterly inconceivable — indeed, there were no dorms for women then. (Women had to find rooms or apartments off campus.)
Things have surely changed for the better in this regard.
When I was a student, there was a very strong sense of identity and distinctiveness among SFS students — they thought of themselves as the smart ones, while in the College, well, maybe they had better parties. College students did not attend SFS classes and vice-versa. Here, too, the university has made a significant improvement.
Now students are seldom excluded from classes based on which school they are registered in (except at the graduate level), and it’s hard to see any differences among the various schools, either in perceived stereotypes or reality. Students in the SFS and the College are both very smart, and, as far as I can tell, both spend plenty of time partying.
Georgetown was also much more formal back in the ’60s. The men had to wear coats and ties and shoes to class, while jeans, shorts and flip flops were prohibited.
Most observed the dress code, but from time to time, some men seemed to believe that by just wearing a coat and tie with no shirt (well, maybe a T-shirt) and shoes without socks, they were abiding by the rules. While I don’t remember what the Jesuits did to curb that behavior, I recall that they were fairly strict. There were also a lot more Jesuits then. They all dressed like priests and, unlike the students, maintained their dress code.
The profs at Georgetown in the 1960s were not, as far as I can recall, among the top scholars in their fields. Some were pretty poor teachers, too. I remember one political philosopher spent all of his lectures looking at the legs of the women in the front row.
Another had a tendency to drink before class exams and once fell asleep during a test. Still, there were some awfully good lecturers, too. One whom many students of that period remember (including former president Clinton, who has mentioned the professor in his speeches) was Carroll Quigley — a man who was famous for bringing history alive in large lecture classes.
The campus is crowded with events these days; it seems everyone who has something to say comes to Georgetown to speak. (In fact, if you choose your events right, you may never have to buy lunch or dinner during the semester). I cannot remember prominent scholars or practitioners giving lectures at Georgetown during the 1960s.
Not until later were there any student activists to speak of, despite the growing opposition to the war in Vietnam on other U.S. campuses and an increasingly active and violent civil rights movement outside of Healy gates.
Finally, there wasn’t much of a basketball team to cheer for. I suppose there were lots of sports teams, but they were not taken as seriously by most students I knew. We’ve certainly come a long way there.
Georgetown today is a different world from the place I knew in the 1960s. It had a good reputation then and was aspiring to greater things, but it was still a pretty laidback place academically.
One of my greatest pleasures is seeing how the university has changed. It is so much more dynamic today, with the sharpest of students (women as well as men), lots of diversity, world-famous faculty members, calendars packed with interesting events and even a great basketball team.
Apart from a larger endowment and lower tuition, what more could you want?
Carol Lancaster is an associate professor of politics and the director of the Mortara Center for International Studies. Behind the Podium appears regularly every other Tuesday.