Through my last two years as vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association and in an assortment of other roles in offices across campus, I’ve gotten an inside look into how Georgetown functions both as a university and as a business.
I’ve seen Georgetown engage in capital campaigns, build new construction, negotiate with the neighborhood associations and craft a plan for the future. I’ve seen great professors come and go, and I’ve seen the progression in students from the insecure, immature freshman to the confident, immature senior.
After four years, I should be qualified to answer a simple reflective question posed to a graduating senior: Is Georgetown a great university? The answer is not as straightforward as it may initially seem. I love Georgetown, and most students and alumni do — but it is difficult to pinpoint where that love stems from. As a result, my answer to this question is that Georgetown can be great, but it is not there yet.
We have the foundation. Rooted in Jesuit ideals, an undergraduate experience is enriched by Georgetown’s care for educating the “whole person.” Knowledge exploration, creation and formation are enhanced by the interaction between faith and reason. Students leave as men and women for others.
But despite these unique advantages, Georgetown has its limitations. It’s no secret — we have outdated and inefficient buildings and spaces all over the Hilltop, we have a code of conduct that declares us guilty until proven innocent and we are constantly adding red tape to an already overbearing bureaucracy. These specific shortcomings, however, can be addressed and improved if Georgetown commits to an organizational change in its culture.
Georgetown needs to be open to reform. A byproduct of the overbearing bureaucracy is the fact that it is very hard to make improvements on campus. The process has been incredibly slow due to Georgetown’s never-ending commitment to the status quo. It took years to convince the university to make its student activities funding structure more open, accountable and transparent to a change first formally suggested in the Report on Student Life written in 1999. It is taking years to give the students adequate space on campus, a cause stalled currently by an unwillingness to create space for undergraduates in Healy, the most historic and iconic building on campus.
Bureaucratic obstacles do nothing to encourage on-campus innovation but do everything to push such investments of time to off-campus pursuits and perhaps into less productive or visible ends. Georgetown needs to empower students to take ownership of their programs and to be proud of their accomplishments. This cannot be achieved in a paternalistic or inflexible environment. A perceived stranglehold on student activism, opinion and thought risks the creation of an unfriendly atmosphere that weakens, not deepens, a feeling of connection between students and their alma mater.
In effect, Georgetown must trust its students. Currently, undergraduates maintain a unique emotional connection to the school that isn’t paralleled by many other institutions. This is a given, and it is a great base to build on. Georgetown, though, must truly become a student-centered university; its greatness depends on it.
Jason Kluger is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. He served as vice president of the Georgetown University Student Association for two years.
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