In December 2010, Georgetown neighborhood organizations, including the Citizens Association of Georgetown, Burleith Citizens Association, Foxhall Community Citizens Association, and others, in anticipation of Georgetown’s 2011-2020 Campus Plan, began rallying support against Georgetown University’s growing presence in the neighborhood.
Yard signs with inflammatory signs littered the streets of Georgetown with messages that read, “OPPOSE GU’S CAMPUS PLAN. OUR HOMES. NOT GU’S DORMS.” The CAG released a special edition newsletter in December 2010, entitled “Georgetown University Campus Plan Threatens Neighborhood,” accusing students of unlimited growth and disorderly conduct.
In a lengthy diatribe against the university’s efforts to expand, the newsletter cited an increase in enrollment of 3,200 students since 2009, construction of mixed-use buildings in West Georgetown, and the addition of 700 parking spaces to accommodate traffic as strains on neighborhood life. The newsletter read, “GU can not continue to use the neighborhood for its residence halls.”
The newsletter turned students into the enemy, making them sound like uncontrollable barbarians who posed a threat to the university’s safety:
“Do you think that having dozens of individuals running (or even worse: driving) around the neighborhood under the influence of alcohol or drugs, knocking down stop signs, yanking metal railings, damaging private property, urinating in public … makes our neighborhood more or less safe?”
It came as no surprise that when the university filed an application for the proposed 2010 Campus Plan with the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, the Citizens Association of Georgetown, ANC 3D, which represents Foxhall, and the Foxhall Community Citizens Association opposed the proposal on the grounds that it did not include provisions to increase on-campus housing.
In fact, before the Zoning Commission ruled against Georgetown on Dec. 30, 2010, ANC 2E rejected the plan by a 6-1 vote. Jake Sticka (COL ‘13), the student representative to the ANC at the time, cast the lone vote in favor of the plan.
“The rest of the commission rejected [the first] plan, arguing that the university had not offered enough to satisfy their demands. At the time, neighborhood leaders argued vehemently that they would not settle for anything less than 100 percent of students on-campus,” Sticka wrote in an email to the Voice.
Due to the Zoning Commission’s legal requirement to grant “great weight,” according to a document regarding the campus plan in July 2012, to the recommendations and opinions of the ANC, the advisory bodies found the plan inadequate in addressing the neighborhood’s concerns. Neighbors made it very clear that they wanted students to acknowledge that living off campus should be considered a “privilege, not a right,” according to the same document. The university appealed to the Zoning Commission to overturn the decision, but it lost the petition.
What followed was two years of requests for more time to plan, negotiations with joint committees of neighborhood and university officials, and updates to the original document, until an amended plan was finally approved by the Zoning Commission and ANC for the period Jan. 1, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2017 as a short-term plan that would make up part of a longer-term, 20-year master campus plan which would begin in 2018.
“Following the negotiated plan … [it] sailed through the zoning process. If there had not been a negotiated plan, I have no doubt that there would have been years of litigation between the two sides,” Sticka wrote.
On the surface, the 2010 Campus Plan appears to be the product of relentless pressure from the neighborhood for the university to “mitigate the impacts of trash, noise, and student behavior.” Administrators, however, insist that the ANC and the university jointly agreed to house 90 percent of students on campus.
“One of the principles that the university identified when it went into an effort to resolve tensions with the neighborhood was move toward a model where we have a collaborative planning process,” said Associate Vice President of Community Engagement Lauralyn Lee. “We really felt that it was in the university’s interest to develop a more residential, more robust living and learning community to support the undergraduate and graduate experiences.” She also added that the administration had heard from students in the undergraduate community that they would prefer to live on campus.
As a result, the university agreed to remove the proposed block of new student housing from the plan. The university also agreed to add 385 extra beds beginning in the fall of 2015, with a possible addition of 244 extra beds being added if the the university decided to move forward with its goal to house 90 percent of students on-campus by 2020.
The construction of the Northeast Triangle Dorm, renovations on the Old Jesuit Residences, and the development of the Healey Family Student Center are all projects that were included in the 2010 Campus Plan.
With the relatively recent decision to move forward with so many projects in such a short amount of time, it remains unclear where the money and resources to fund these projects are coming from, and what impact the 2010 Campus Plan will have on the the university in the long run.
“While GUSA does not have access to specific financial information from the university in terms of main campus capital projects…it has become clear that there has been a freeze on some medium scale projects [including Henle renovations and Kehoe Field], leading us to believe that there is a connection between campus construction and costs in other areas of improvement to student life,” said Georgetown University Student Association President Trevor Tezel (SFS ‘15).
Robin Morey, vice president for planning and facilities management, however, claims that none of the construction projects are “running over budget” and that “strategic choices” have been made to see where resources ought to be allocated.
“It would not be appropriate to simply say that ‘x’ construction project was funded at the expense program ‘y.’ The university constantly makes decisions with respect to strategic investments,” wrote Morey in an email to the Voice.
“For instance the need-blind, full need [scholarship] is a strategic investment that defines the core of what Georgetown is and accordingly resources are allocated to support that investment. Similarly, our investments in building a living and learning community is a strategic investment and defines who we are.”
In the 2012-2015 Financial Plan, President John DeGioia called upon the university to “proceed cautiously and prudently with the growth assumptions in the financial plan for both revenues and expenses,” due to the “impact the recession has already had on the nation and on the university’s fiscal condition.”
DeGioia claimed that one of the goals of the university would be to break even on operating performance. Under the operating costs and investments portion of the 2012 fiscal plan, only $89.2 million in average operating cash balances are allocated for fiscal years 2011-2015. The plan warrants that the university must “continue to operate prudently through these challenging times,” with exceptions for critical investments in “science facilities, faculty salaries, information systems, and academic programs.”
The three major construction projects alone make up the majority of the Capital Financing Plan figures cited in the 2012 Fiscal Plan.
“The university’s capital plan includes the construction of a new science building, which is critical to advancing the university’s science education programs, and needed renovations to the university’s residence halls …The debt for these projects is the only additional borrowing contemplated over the course of the Financial Plan period. Of the $90 million in new money proceeds, $20 million will be used to reduce existing line of credit balances, bringing the net impact of this new borrowing to $70 million.”
According to Morey, the construction of the Northeast Triangle dormitory runs $46 million, the Thompson Athletic Center costs $61 million, and the Healey Family Student Center totals $26.3 million. Funding for all projects is broken down into three parts: $64.9 million from philanthropy, $61.9 million from debt borrowing, and $57.9 million from reserves.
DeGioia writes that revenue for fiscal year 2012 for the the Main Campus financial plan would come from a combination of tuition rate increases, revenues from increasing enrollments in selected graduate programs, new revenues from several new graduate programs, new revenues from the university’s Qatar campus, and increases in current use gifts for scholarships. Current use gifts are donations from alumni with no specific delegated purpose.
Submitted after the filing of the 2010 Campus Plan, the fiscal budget assumes an undergraduate tuition increase of 2.9 percent for the fiscal year 2012, and a 3.5 percent increase annually thereafter. Although the construction projects were agreed upon prior to the submission of the budget, there is no mention of them being accounted for by tuition increases.
One could infer that revenue from tuition increases would go toward funding of construction projects. In fact, one would have to, given the fact that construction project funding of $61.85 million is coming from debt, a figure that nearly meets the $70 million for total university borrowing, and because the university was under an obligation to begin construction in an expedited timeframe, as demanded by the neighborhood. This leaves very little room for borrowing to go to the rest of the university’s spending initiatives.
Morey insists that the priority of the university’s investments have not changed. “There are always competing priorities for university resources and typically requirements exceed resources. We view the current allocation of the resources to align with our strategic priorities,” wrote Morey.
Tezel explains that new budget costs could have an impact on some aspects of academic life, especially given how fast they are required to be completed.
A history department memo from Sept. 4, 2014 from Carol A. Benedict, Chair of the Department of History, reveals that minimum enrollments for undergraduate classes would be raised to eight students this academic year and 10 students by 2015. The document cites “cost cutting” as the primary reason for this increase in minimum enrollment, even though smaller classes offer students a better chance for deep engagement in a discipline.
There are a number of metrics that the university is aware of, according to Tezel, that it needs to maintain its competitive status among other top-tier universities or even rise in the rankings. These factors range from focusing more on science and math education, specifically the lack of an engineering program, to innovation on how we understand the academic experience, currently being examined by Vice Provost Robert Groves.
“With less flexibility in our finances, some of these innovations and financial improvements we need to make to maintain our competitive status will be more difficult to achieve. I do think that current obligations under the campus plan make that flexibility difficult,” said Tezel.
Rachel Pugh, director of communications, however, writes that the university is still investing a number of resources in improving academics.
“We continue to invest in our faculty and our academic programs. Through the Designing the Future(s) initiative, we are reimagining the Georgetown curriculum for the 21st century,” she wrote in an email. “Through faculty-led curricular experiments, we are exploring new ways to teach and quantify the skills our students will need in the 21st century and think of new academic programs to meet the challenges of our world.”
She also noted that cost-cutting has been a university-wide initiative with a goal of providing high-quality education in a sustainable way, and that departments have used their discretion to determine how best to slow spending.
Still, the question of neighborhood influence on university affairs in off-campus life remains problematic. The university and the ANC in the negotiated agreement created two institutions specifically designed to address neighborhood and off-campus life, as well as collaborate on developing a long-term campus plan that will be presented in 2018. The former Office of Off-Campus Student Life was transformed into the Office of Neighborhood Life, dedicated to “being a resource for all residents of the neighborhood, students and non-students,” according to Pugh.
Additionally, the Georgetown Community Partnership, a collaborative forum between the university and the neighborhood, was developed as the primary organization to go over and conduct master planning. Neighborhood officials, including Ron Lewis, the head of the ANC 2E, administrators, and a student representative on the Steering Committee, Tezel, oversee a number of working groups that discuss campus planning.
A great number of neighborhood political bodies, however—the CAG, BCA, and FCCA, the ANC 2E, and the ANC 3D—make up part of the Steering Committee, the main acting portion of the GCP. Moreover, the Office of Neighborhood Life invites community members to be privy to the office’s plans for off-campus improvements.
This fact suggests that the neighborhood still plays a large role in what the university plans in the future, which is troubling given the fact that university must submit another campus plan in 2018.
While moving students off campus seems like the best option for both parties, the reality is that off-campus life could actually get worse. According to statistics from the Washington Post, the median age of all residents within the Georgetown Neighborhood falls around 31 years, with 72 percent of residents claiming a single status, and 29 percent being married. With the median years in residence falling around 2.9, it could be inferred that a number of the homes that will become vacant post-campus plan will actually be more attractive to young professionals that would want to live in group housing.
“I don’t know how aware people were of just how many residents and renters off campus—talking about people living four or five to a townhouse—were non-Georgetown undergraduates or even graduate students,” said Craig Cassey (COL‘15), current ANC 2E commissioner. “There are a lot of young professionals that live here. The problem we see now, having tracked Georgetown undergraduate students, we’ve found that the homes that are more likely to have messy front yards, leave their trash out, and break what our rules are, are not actually Georgetown students. They’re young professionals.”
Unlike Georgetown students, young professionals that occupy residence houses are not subject to the same noise ordinances stipulated by the university that exist between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. These residents would not be reprimanded by university services like SNAP, which was expanded under the 2010 Campus Plan to have a 100 percent response rate, another area where the university will have to invest further resources. Rather, the Metropolitan Police Department would have to respond to noise complaints and other violations, meaning that response rate would probably not be as efficient due to the sheer distance of the MPD from Georgetown.
“They don’t have the same lessons about caring for their neighbors as every Georgetown student renter has to have. So it’s my opinion with Georgetown students not living in the neighborhood, you’re only going to see an increase [in violations]… the narrative is projected on the student body, not on the actual participants,” said Casey.
Throughout the discussion on the development of Georgetown’s campus, the general community’s interests have been prioritized above those of the students. With the July 2018 deadline just around the corner, the question of Georgetown’s status among other schools and the role of the neighborhood in the future of the university’s plans, given the reality of construction’s impact on the budget and student life, seriously needs to be addressed.
Of course, it’s still important to be engaged with the neighbors, at the very least, so the war can end, and we can finally tear down this Burleith wall.