The number of complaints we’ve heard about Counseling and Psychiatric Services is unacceptable. With mental health at the forefront of national dialogue, it is no wonder that students have penned op-ed after op-ed after op-ed decrying what they perceive as CAPS’ failure to provide adequate treatment.
While we urgently need to improve CAPS (and student government is trying), administrators have repeatedly told us that the funding simply isn’t there. Our endowment is small. Resources are limited. “Find us the money,” they say.
Despite these dire fiscal restraints, Georgetown has conveniently found the funds to create a new, high-ranking administrative position: vice president for government relations and community engagement. Offering what is undoubtedly an impressive salary and benefits package, Georgetown has once again demonstrated its willingness to respond immediately and decisively to community wants before seriously addressing student needs.
When the Office of Community Engagement was founded in 2012, relations between the university and the neighborhood were relatively uncivil. After three years of trust building cooperation between the university and the surrounding community, administrators and neighborhood leaders consistently say that relations have “never been better” than they are today.
Despite these unprecedented positive relations, we continue to allocate more resources toward community engagement and away from fundamental student needs. Even before the funding that will go toward this new position itself, the university had hired a consultant to explore community engagement whose findings ultimately led to this decision. Additionally, while the former head of the Office of Community Engagement left her position in early June, she has since been hired by the university as a consultant on community engagement matters — more resources, more positions, none of which address the perilous state of unaddressed student needs.
Students regularly suffer under the financial weight of community coddling. We study at a university where we students are forced to pay $53,000 for our club sports athletic trainer’s salary out of our student activities fees because the university “cannot find the money” to pay for it. We study at a university with an understaffed, underfunded Academic Resource Center that has been crammed into a wheelchair-inaccessible closet. We study at a university where finding the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to address deferred maintenance, some of which is decades overdue, is a pipe dream — and yet funding for “community engagement” is readily available.
Administrators will argue that resources “invested” in community engagement and resources that could potentially be invested in addressing critical student needs come from separate, inflexible budgets. While Student Affairs funding (Academic Resource Center, CAPS, club sports, etc.) comes from the provost’s budget, funding for administrative hires comes from the university services budget.
However, both budgets are financed by our tuition. If the provost’s budget is so constrained that critical student needs cannot be met while the university services budget is bloated enough to accommodate yet another high-level administrative position, then Georgetown has failed to prioritize properly and budget accordingly. As students without access to the university’s financial records, we can only surmise that the university is guilty of severe budgetary mismanagement, resulting from frequently impractical spending decisions.
If the university wants to change the overwhelming opinion that it prioritizes neighborhood interests and community engagement over the wellbeing of its students, then student needs must be addressed. Thankfully, the community has been receptive to this; the Georgetown Community Partnership has recently taken the laudable step of adding two more student representatives to its steering committee, a major step forward for student self-advocacy and student-neighborhood relations. In taking this step, students and the community can find greater common ground and work together toward the mutual goal of building a campus environment that is responsive to the student body’s needs. Perhaps now, with the students and the community working closer together than ever before, student concerns will finally be addressed by the university courtesy of neighborhood pressure.
Hiding behind bureaucratic funding silos and student-bought-and-paid-for consultants to mask a flawed system of prioritization is bad for Georgetown. If we cannot find the funding to adequately address critical issues such as mental health, accessibility and athletic safety, then we certainly should not be able to find funding for community engagement.
Students should be outraged by this misallocation; considering the opaqueness of the institution, the extent to which funds are regularly poured into imprudent matters in the face of unaddressed student needs is unknown. While we do not doubt the sincerity of administrators who state that they care about student needs, university finances ultimately speak louder than words.
If we truly want change, we cannot depend solely on student leaders and administrators to inevitably come to a solution to these problems. If you are one of the many students advocating for a better Georgetown and sensible budgeting, if you believe that student needs are not being met and that the funding does, in fact, exist (which it does), then make noise. Write op-eds, contact administrators, make demands.
Until then, the best way to effect change on campus may be to stop paying tuition, buy a house in the surrounding neighborhood and contact a community engagement representative.
Joe Luther and Connor Rohan are rising seniors in the College. They are the president and vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association, respectively.