In an eventful year for the university, Washington, D.C., and nation, topics from the protection of free speech to ensuring affordability to the basketball program to the university’s role in the current political landscape predominated campus dialogue. As the editorial board reflects on these issues, one thing is clear: It is imperative for student voices to be heard and, more importantly, to be taken into account.
Defending Free Expression
This year, Georgetown made commendable strides toward defending free speech on campus. In March, administrators announced that the Free Speech and Expression Policy would be officially extended to faculty and would be included in the faculty handbook, making it easily available online.
However, the university still has a long way to go in protecting free speech. The most obvious examples are its limitations on student groups such as H*yas for Choice and Greek life organizations which are intended to discourage their on campus presence.
More importantly, however, the university’s free speech policy is vague and unclear to the student body. A range of contentious speakers this year — from Nonie Darwish, a noted critic of Islam and director of Former Muslims United, to Sebastian Gorka, a member of Hungarian neo-Nazi group Vitézi Rend — have also called into question the limits of the free speech policy.
In addition, the confusing free speech policy often creates incidents in which expression is muzzled without justification. For example, last year, students at the Georgetown University Law Center were prevented from campaigning for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on campus; the university cited its tax-exempt status, saying that it could not engage in partisan political campaign activities. Incidents such as this, caused by the complexity of the policy, even earned Georgetown a spot on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of the 10 worst colleges for free speech.
Both students and administrators must work to protect free speech by creating and adhering to a clear policy. Further, they must also ensure that free speech is not used to justify hate, but rather to promote constructive dialogue.
Next year, tuition will for the first time exceed $50,000 — a 3.5 percent increase from 2016-17. Accounting for room, board and D.C.’s high living costs, the total annual cost for Georgetown now exceeds $70,000 for the average student.
The urgency of affordability is clear from this year’s Georgetown University Student Association presidential election, in which all tickets named affordability as the most pressing issue on campus. In polling by The Hoya, 33 percent of likely voters said that affordability was the most important topic of that race.
As the university raises tuition, it must be mindful of how this will discourage applicants from lower socioeconomic brackets. This impediment is particularly important given a report published in The New York Times in January, which revealed that 20.8 percent of Georgetown students come from families in the top 1 percent of the income scale.
Rising tuition most significantly disadvantages middle-class families, who can neither fully afford a Georgetown education nor qualify for full financial aid. The tuition hikes also hurt international students, who are allocated minimal financial aid as they are ineligible for federal funding.
Commendably, the university has taken strides toward greater tuition transparency this year. Due to efforts by the administration of former GUSA President Enushe Khan (MSB ’17) and Vice President Chris Fisk (COL ’17), administration devoted a town hall-style Hoya Roundtable specifically to the issue of tuition transparency.
However, transparency is insufficient. The administration must rein in tuition rates, as well as living costs, to make attendance more affordable.
Administrative efforts at transparency must also be accompanied by strides toward accountability. Students — the university’s most important stakeholders — should be included in discussions regarding tuition increases. As such, GUSA President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) must advocate for student involvement in these discussions, as the Khan-Fisk administration did. Progress in cost-cutting spearheaded by Khan and Fisk this year, such as the inclusion of the price of 24 loads of laundry in room and board costs, demonstrates the potential of GUSA initiatives to achieve substantive change.
Going forward, the university should continue hosting Hoya Roundtables on tuition transparency. It must clarify the role of the Student Advisory Committee for the Provost — the central mechanism for student participation in the tuition-setting process — and ensure that the committee’s work is also transparent. Finally, administrators should work with the Mack-Andino administration to prioritize controlling the cost of Georgetown tuition. Only in this way can the university work toward affordability.
Rebuilding the Hoyas’ Prominence
In particular, this year was marked by upheaval within Georgetown’s basketball program. Ending the 2016-17 season with a 14-18 record, the Hoyas saw a drastic change when, after months of student frustration, the university fired Head Coach John Thompson III on March 23. On April 3, the university hired former Georgetown star player Patrick Ewing, who led the Hoyas to their only championship in 1984.
Though this personnel change is a step forward, the university must ensure it is accompanied by systemic shift. Ewing should assert his position as coach to create real change, despite his close relationship with former coach John Thompson Jr., who remains heavily, though unofficially, involved in the program.
Thompson Jr. — a legend of Georgetown basketball — is unlikely to cease involvement with the program anytime soon, nor should he; he is an important resource and mentor for Ewing.
Yet, to achieve meaningful change, Ewing must be the undisputed leader of his team. As such, he must seek to distance himself from the cultural issues — including the secrecy and the censorship of fans — that emerged during the tenure of Thompson III. Such change is needed to ensure Ewing does not repeat his predecessor’s mistakes.
Reaffirming Our National Role
Amid a year of national divisiveness, the university must operate in an entirely new context, one in which an action by President Donald Trump — whether it is the travel ban or the uncertain future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — can drastically affect the daily lives of Georgetown students.
Nevertheless, the role of the university remains the same: to protect its students and to foster an environment in which all students feel comfortable and can learn effectively. In the era of Trump, that will particularly include support for international student and students without documentation, who are most directly affected by the administration’s policies. The university has lived up to its obligation thus far, with President John J. DeGioia’s signing onto the amicus brief that condemned Trump’s travel ban; it must continue to do so.
As Georgetown students, we devote our time, efforts and money to this institution; in return we are promised not only an education, but also an ally within the school. The university must remember this obligation, and prioritize students’ safety, well-being and sense of security on their own campus.
Georgetown, for the most part, upholds its side of this promise. Yet, these are new times for everyone: Students and administrators all face the same uncertainty of this political moment. Together, we must reaffirm our role in support of each other and in our solidarity within the broader international context.