Editorials

DeGioia disconnected from students

Where in the world is President John DeGioia? A quick Google search shows Georgetown’s president popping up worldwide—in China, or in Davos, Switzerland. Very rarely, though, will a student spot Georgetown’s president roaming the campus that he’s in charge of.

The vast majority of Georgetown students will see DeGioia only a handful of times during their four-year undergraduate tenure. They’re guaranteed to see him twice: first, in the stuffy confines of McDonough Gymnasium, while listening to a convocation speech that barely changes each year, and second, when he hands out diplomas at Commencement. Other appearances with students are rare—during emergencies, DeGioia may come out to calm the masses, as in the aftermath of 2007’s hate crimes.

While seeing DeGioia at Convocation and Commencement nicely bookends a student’s time at Georgetown, it does not make DeGioia seem overly concerned with the day-to-day needs of students. DeGioia’s absence at all but a few, hand-picked events means that most students would be forgiven for believing that DeGioia has forgotten about us.

No one expects DeGioia, pressed as he is with building Georgetown’s reputation as a global university, to practice with Georgetown’s swim team every morning, as President Brian Casey does at DePauw University. Casey, in just over a year on the job, has revolutionized the role of a university president. He regularly invites students over to his home for dinner and attends the vast majority of student events on campus.

Georgetown has almost 4,700 more students than DePauw, so DeGioia cannot be expected to match Casey’s availability. DeGioia might be better off emulating former Harvard president Larry Summers, who presided over an undergraduate body almost the size of Georgetown’s. While president, Summers regularly met with students in their dormitory common rooms.

If DeGioia doesn’t like to swim, or is too busy overseeing three campuses, including one thousands of miles away in Qatar, he could just hold open office hours for students like Swarthmore College president Rebecca Chopp. Every month, Chopp makes herself available to students to sit down and discuss whatever is on their minds. Most of us will never understand the pressures on DeGioia’s schedule, but surely he could spare a few hours once a month.

President DeGioia has done a remarkable job building Georgetown’s academic profile nationally and abroad, all while preserving Georgetown’s Catholic heritage as the University’s first lay president. With these goals accomplished, DeGioia should pay more attention to another core part of Georgetown: its students.

10/28/2009

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