Carrying On: Administrative error

November 4, 2010

Georgetown is a great university—in spite of its administration. I know I will look back happily on my time here long after I’ve graduated—in spite of its administration.
Every year, we learn about something stupid the administration has done and it aggravates students whose disappointment with the University usually lays dormant. This semester alone, the discovery of the “noose” that supposedly hung in one of Georgetown’s tunnels and administrators’ bungled responses to the drug-related arrests in Harbin Hall betrayed the stunning lack of leadership and competency, which, sadly, we’ve become accustomed to.
When the administration thought that someone had placed “a possible noose” along with some racist graffiti in the tunnels beneath Healy, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson and Vice President for Public Safety Rocco DelMonaco immediately issued a rote campus broadcast email. Calling the “acts” “disturbing,” they accused the hypothetical perpetrator of “undermin[ing] the values of our community.” Hours later, the administration realized that the noose was in fact climbing equipment and the graffiti was years old. We don’t know how the University came to believe it was a noose, or how they realized they were wrong. But we do know that no responsibility has been assigned publicly, and the entire incident has just become another joke about the idiotic administration.
Incidents like this show why it is difficult to take seriously any email that decries an attack on the Jesuit values of our community, especially when it doesn’t come from University President John DeGioia. If the leader of the University doesn’t take it seriously, why should we? During the troubling DMT episode, DeGioia was again completely absent.
Although it was news of drug manufacturing in Harbin that was scandalous enough to distract us from studying for midterms, the fact that Harbin’s fire alarms failed to sound when officers tried to use them to evacuate the building was the most important revelation of the day. The University feebly excused itself by explaining that multiple redundancies were built into the system.
“Although the audible portion of the fire safety evacuation system did not sound the redundancies built into our emergency evacuation system worked,” Olson wrote in the email to the campus community on Oct. 25.
These redundancies included having police officers “make personal visits” to dorm rooms. In reality this meant that Metropolitan Police Department and Department of Public Safety officers ran down hallways and hurriedly pounded on students’ doors.
Georgetown is stubbornly not admitting the fire alarm failure was a mistake. Even if it was not any individual administrator’s fault, the fire alarms are the administration’s responsibility. The University claims the alarms would have sounded if an actual fire had occurred. But the idea that only a fire necessitates a quick and orderly evacuation is laughable. If there had been a credible threat to the building that required immediate evacuation—like an actual methamphetamine lab—and the “audible portion” of the evacuation system didn’t work, heads would have rolled before the day was out.
In both the noose and DMT incidents, the University has refused to take responsibility for its failures. This amounts to a failure of leadership. A leader assigns responsibility to someone when something goes wrong or takes blame upon him or herself. Our community doesn’t have such a person. We have a frequently absent figurehead, DeGioia, and the manager of the University’s affairs, Olson, but neither is a leader.
Throughout the Harbin episode, we received several campus-wide emails, but none of them came from DeGioia. Fire alarms did not go off in a freshman dorm when they were pulled during an emergency, and Georgetown students had been arrested on several drug charges, yet these instances did not merit any message from the president of the University.
What better time than now for our campus to have a real leader, to take some responsibility and have an open and honest discussion about the mistakes that were made and how the University plans to avoid such mistakes in the future. Instead, we got vague and misleading emails from the Vice President for Student Affairs, and deafening silence from the President of the University.
During an interview in September, a Voice reporter asked DeGioia to respond to criticism that he is not as involved in student affairs as the presidents of other schools. “I was pretty available all weekend,” he said. He went on to explain that his job was just too difficult to make time for us. “The hardest challenge in the job is the expectations of multiple constituencies, particularly when the requirements for representing the University, both in a philanthropic context and a public way require a considerable amount of travel.”
While DeGioia has been trying to build a campus in India, the school’s main campus has broken. Many students feel disenfranchised by the way their school is run, and any faith that many of them had in the administration has disappeared, at least for the time being. DeGioia has acted more like a Vice President for External Affairs, an ambassador for Georgetown to the outside world, than the leader of our community. Georgetown does need someone to represent the University around the world—but we need a president more.

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Comments 2

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    Preach Brother Perry!

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    True that. Dr. Porterfield for President!