GW sends students packing

By the

September 6, 2001

Last Thursday The George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg announced that GW will force nearly 5,400 students to leave their Foggy Bottom residence halls in expectation of massive protests for the five-day period surrounding the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this month.

This kind of university action is unprecedented. GW did not shut down during any of the massive civil rights marches on Washington, D.C., nor did it shut down during the Vietnam anti-war protests. The Vietnam protests, furthermore, repeatedly turned violent.

The timing of the decision leaves many students with few options and little time to make travel plans or find an alternative place to stay. Having known about the planned IMF/World Bank protests and the possibility that GW might shut down for at least five weeks, University officials should have informed students much earlier that they might have to evacuate their residence halls.

Students should legitimately question this order. According to the GW Residence Hall License Agreement, hall closures are only allowed for the “University vacation period between the fall and spring semesters, and at the end of the academic year.” Because the University is not compensating its students, GW is clearly violating its contractual agreement. The decision also unduly disrupts those students studying for the Law School Admissions Test in October because students are being evicted from their rooms during their last weekend to study before the law-school entrance exam.

Trachtenberg has stressed that GW is taking a neutral stance toward the IMF/World Bank meetings. Clearly it is not. By encouraging all students, even those living off campus, to leave the Foggy Bottom area and, if possible, return home, the administration is urging students to avoid participating in the protests.

Strangely GW has also banned guests from housing at their Mount Vernon campus during the shut-down days as well. The University is also allowing police to use their Smith Center as a command post and their J Street properties to serve meals to the more than 3000 out-of-town cops who will bolster the District’s 3600-member force.

But in another way, GW is sending a different and more disturbing message. The legal rights of its students are not as important as the rights of protestors. Protestors might have valid arguments against the IMF and World Bank and might feel their arguments are worth taking to the streets, but their rights do not supersede the legal rights of students.

Students have paid for a semester’s worth of housing. Cancelling classes might be justified, but kicking students off campus steps well over the lines of legality and basic decency.

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