Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

University Should Be Marketplace For All Ideas

Student association reform stalled this year because of administration policies restricting student speech and association rights. The administration wanted what Yard leaders could not give, to exclude fellow students from the student association table, a table for which all have paid.

The effort flushed out a few lies that Georgetown is living. One is that there are no fraternities and sororities. In fact, over 16 exist, many ethnic-based, almost all without university support, and ranging from the Chimes to the Sodality of Our Lady. Another is that Georgetown has an unswerving commitment to free speech. The boldness of this self-deception was seen as administrators ordered GUSA’s Constitutional Review Committee to exclude student voices that a stale ideology does not favor, and even one it may, H*yas for Choice.

It is no wonder that student leaders talk of censorship with the role models that surround them. Georgetown has every right to determine what it will and will not fund. But administration interference in student association reform was censorship pure and simple.

Despite the palimpsest of virtues that passes for a speech code, the administration fails to understand the link between speech and association, or the cultural diversity that associational liberty represents. An association is an idea writ large. When administrators exclude associations they limit ideas, academic freedom, and speech, based on no Catholic reason.

The Student Handbook states that club funding “does not indicate university recognition or endorsement of the merits of any activity or objective.” That’s nice, but it too is a deception. The university denies funding to groups that do not conform their bylaws and memberships, the essence of associational freedom, to a particular ideology.

The Supreme Court created the freedom of association in 1958 based on free speech. In other words, like expression through voting, the freedom of association is considered speech in the America outside Healy gates, protecting voices as diverse as the NAACP, Communists, labor unions and the Moose Lodge. It is a right “which our system honors,” said Justice Thurgood arshall, that encourages “all-white, all-black, all-brown, all-yellow clubs, as well as all-Catholic, all-Jewish as well as all-agnostic clubs to be established.”

At first, the right related to “expressive association” when one associates to express unpopular views, or where the group’s mere existence “speaks” uniquely. In 1972, the Court extended the right to student groups representing unpopular views, allowing them freely to advance their beliefs, and ruled that a public university could not exclude organizations due to students’ philosophy unless organized for an unlawful or disruptive purpose. In 1998, Congress extended this to private universities with limited effect.

In the 1980s, the Court recognized the right of “intimate association” distinct from “expressive association” in addressing single-gender clubs. Such intimate association, said Justice Brennan, must be protected “as a fundamental element of personal liberty,” and “choices to enter into and maintain certain intimate human relationships must be secured against undue intrusion … because of the role of such relationships in safeguarding the individual freedom central to our constitutional scheme.”

Such associations, said the liberal patriarch, “involve deep attachments and commitments to the necessarily few other individuals with whom one shares not only a special community of thoughts, experiences and beliefs but also distinctly personal aspects of one’s life.” Brennan declared, “certain kinds of personal bonds have played a critical role in the culture or traditions of the nation by cultivating and transmitting shared ideals and beliefs they thereby foster diversity and act as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the state.”

Brennan went on to describe the attributes of such intimate associations as “relative smallness … a high degree of selectivity in decisions to begin and maintain the affiliation, and seclusion from others in critical aspects of the relationship.” This complements perfectly John Henry Newman’s idea that a university’s key components are small, self-organized student gatherings.”

Georgetown University is not untouched by freedoms beyond the gates. For eight years, gay students waged a court battle to receive “recognition” as a student club – then the key to benefits. They lost, but they won the right to equal access to activity funds without forcing the university to recognize them. Administrators happily adopted the concept of “access to benefits” originally to avoid having to recognize groups considered inconsistent with Catholic identity.

University policy, however, continues to invite legal challenge for curtailing associational rights and academic freedom, and Church scrutiny since “access to benefits” is being duplicitously treated as “recognition.”

Students and alumni must be vigilant that our university’s marketplace of ideas does not become a bargain basement for just some people’s ideas. Students should defend the colorful mosaic of free expression and association that makes up the university. With respect owed to Catholic identity, every student must be welcomed to shape the university, manifested in speech and associations. Students must be careful that those who should make them better citizens do not, in fact, teach them ideological intolerances to be practiced here and on an unsuspecting world.

Manuel A. Miranda is a 1982 graduate of the School of Foreign Service.

Donate to The Hoya

Your donation will support the student journalists of Georgetown University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hoya