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DeGioia undeserving of “brave thinker” title
In The Atlantic’s November “Brave Thinkers 2012” issue, Georgetown University President John DeGioia was lauded as one of 21 “brave thinkers” for promoting civilized discourse between Catholic and nontraditional voices at a Jesuit university. However, DeGioia has not so much demonstrated extraordinary courage as vocal advocacy of the status quo and neutral civil discourse.
The Atlantic believes DeGioia courageously advocates for the free exchange of ideas. In a March 2012 letter sent to the University community, DeGioia criticized the ad hominem name-calling leveled against reproductive rights activist and Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke (LAW ‘12). After Fluke’s Congressional testimony in favor of improved access to contraception for students, Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut.” In voicing his support for more “civil discourse,” DeGioia never gave his own opinion on Georgetown’s reproductive healthcare policy. This was not a moment of bravery, but rather of condemning childlike behavior which few respected in the first place.
Even while promoting the exchange of ideas in a public forum, DeGioia has done virtually nothing to remove Georgetown’s stringent freedom of speech regulations. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a non-profit focused on civil liberties in academia, gave Georgetown a “red light” label, meaning that University policy “clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
The designation of a free-speech zone in Red Square for student protests implies that other on-campus areas are open to University censorship. As a private institution, Georgetown is not legally obligated to allow free speech or protest on campus, but as a university, it should promote this type of speech as a way to give voice to minority viewpoints excluded from other types of discussion. To call DeGioia a “brave thinker” ignores these easily reversible restrictions on speech.
Georgetown refuses to recognize student groups that deviate from the Jesuit norm. Georgetown’s Access to Benefits Policy disqualifies the pro-choice H*yas for Choice from receiving University funding or renting space on campus. Denying recognition to groups which defy the school’s ideological platform is neither conducive to civil discourse nor emblematic of free thought.
As Georgetown’s first lay president, DeGioia’s appointment was initially met with apprehension about how he woud balance Georgetown’s dual identity as an academic and religious institution. In some cases, such as the 2008 founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center, he has faced a hard decision. He did well to capituate to GU Pride’s demands during Out for Change campaign, itself a response to a series of egregious hate crimes. But with regard to reproductive rights and free speech, DeGioia has been anything but brave.