A series of contentious decisions made by the university administration this summer have received criticism for excluding students from the deliberation process.
Plans for the Northeast Triangle residence hall were initially presented in what appeared to be a finished form to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E and the Old Georgetown Board with minimal student or alumni input. A ban on cars for undergraduates that was a component of the 2010 Campus Plan agreement was implemented without any discussion with students in July. And Georgetown’s decision to remove former mascot-in-training Jack Jr. from campus was made without input from students, alumni or J.J.’s caretaker, Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J.
“This summer there were a few missteps,” Georgetown University Student Association President NateTisa (SFS ’14) said. “I think that the announcements that were made this summer demonstrated the importance of communicating with students often early on in the process.”
Administrators have since responded to criticism of an opaque, internal decision-making process at the university.
“On the parking policy, it would have been better to be more transparent and more active in communicating that earlier,” Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson said about the vehicle ban. “I certainly take responsibility that it would have been ideal to publicize it more broadly earlier on.”
Regarding the new dormitory proposal, Olson added, “What we’ve all acknowledged since then is it certainly would have been ideal to have broader student discussions and publicity before [the presentation at the ANC meeting].”
Vice President for Facilities and Planning Robin Morey, who leads the university’s master planning and is a key player in the dorm design, directed all requests for comment to the Office of Communications.
“We tried to communicate as much information as we could as soon as we could,” Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh said.
Throughout the summer, students and faculty reacted to the unclear decision-making processes behind university announcements.
“If this is what the campus plan is going to be like for the next few years, that’s not good.” Tisa said to The Hoya about the vehicle ban in July.
After the decision to remove J.J. from campus, Steck authored an op-ed in The Hoya calling for a transparent process moving forward.
“The university is at its best when it is a place of candid and transparent dialogue,” Steck wrote. “If the mascot is to be an adequate symbol of Georgetown, decisions about him should reflect its rich,dialogical life.”
Criticism of Northeast Triangle prompted the university to hold forums for discussion of designs over the next few months, and Morey responded to backlash by emphasizing this commitment to dialogue.
“The recent criticism has made it clear to us that we need to redouble our efforts to communicate broadly and transparently regarding our planning work,” he wrote in July.
Some university decisions involved student representatives in GUSA and other bodies but were not communicated to the general student body. For example, GUSA leaders and student members of a design committee saw designs of Northeast Triangle before the ANC 2E meeting.
“I think it’s very appropriate for us to work with elected student leaders as sort of a key connecting point and also with them to reach out and provide opportunities to the overall student body,” Olson said.
GUSA is working with administrators to establish office hours, increase the number of Hoya Roundtables and establish more student forums to improve transparency this semester.
“We are working to get the university to a place where consulting with students is not viewed as something that happens in special situations but is just something that’s assumed because of its effectiveness,” Tisa said. “Talking to students makes every decision that much better.”
Tisa acknowledged that students need to stay involved over the summer because the administration works year-round.
“There is an understanding that when students aren’t here over the summer, they are less likely to be active, they are less likely to be aware of what’s going on and that’s why it’s so important and so crucial for students to be engaged and to stay engaged,” Tisa said.