Searching for a Rabbi, students find their voice

By:
11/04/2010

Georgetown’s Rabbi Harold White has left a lasting legacy at this university. During his 42 years at Georgetown, White helped found the Program for Jewish Civilization, led services for High Holy Days, and always made himself available to students from many faiths and religious traditions. The community will be sad to see him go, but White’s departure may leave the community with one last gift. To select his replacement, the University is using a student-driven process—one that would serve as an excellent model for future hiring decisions.

Unlike most recent hiring committees, the group charged with finding White’s replacement is actively soliciting student input. The search committee includes two students, Andrew Levine (COL ’11) and Merav Levkowitz (SFS ’11), who are committed to communicating the student point of view to administrators. Just last Wednesday, Levine and Levkowitz hosted an open house to discuss with their peers what students need in a new rabbi.

Students won’t have any formal authority over the final hiring decision, but the University’s decision to work so closely with students during the initial phase of the selection process is a positive sign. Other recent hiring decisions that had a large impact on student life involved far less student input, if any. While the University is quick to accept student suggestions for hiring community leaders like Rabbi White or LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman, it is rarely as receptive when hiring administrators. For example, the appointment of Carol Lancaster as Dean of the School of Foreign Service involved little student input. Only one undergraduate student served on the selection committee, and active community forums were noticeably absent. Similarly, the hiring process for Jeffrey Van Slyke as Director of the Department of Public Safety included only one student participant and no discussion of his controversial use of student informants and assault rifles at other universities.

The University should invite more student input on important hiring decisions. Many administrators and staff have a direct impact on campus life for generations of Georgetown students. Successful administrators and educators are defined by their relationships with the students they serve, not just by the quality of their published research or the opinions of their administrative peers. Students must have more opportunities to voice their opinions in early stages of the selection process. Now that the University has shown us what a good model for hiring decisions looks like, it would take a lot of chutzpah to deny us similar opportunities in the future.

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