Georgetown community calls for accountability criteria for Trump administration staffers

January 17, 2021

Illustration by Deborah Han

Recent employment under the president of the United States is commonly regarded as a prestigious addition to any resume. Hundreds of Georgetown community members, however, view the thought of former Trump administration staffers joining their campus as a betrayal of university values. Undergraduate students, master’s students, and faculty have united through an online petition that calls for an accountability criteria for Georgetown’s relationship with Trump administration officials and staffers following the end of their term. 

 The Georgetown petition does not advocate for a general ban of Trump administration officials, but instead emphasizes that the university must “develop, in consultation with faculty and students, a set of transparent accountability criteria that specify how Georgetown will engage with former members of this Administration, particularly those who held political appointments.” Published on Nov. 23, the petition had 264 signatures at the time of publication.

The petition comes amidst President Trump’s continued insistence he won the Nov. 3 presidential election and his refusal to cooperate with the Biden transition team. While the letter maintains Georgetown’s commitment to free speech on campus, it argues that the university’s commitment to the truth should be preserved.

“We are observing a defeated Administration cling to power, threatening to use any means necessary to overturn the valid results of the November election,” the petition states. “Respect for truth, facts, and the foundational norms and procedures that underpin our democratic order is being undermined on a daily basis, and not just by President Trump, but by many — indeed, the vast majority — of those who serve him.” 

The petition directly refers to professionals associated with  President Donald Trump, as many Georgetown faculty members have held positions under past administrations. Georgetown Vice President and General Counsel Lisa Brown served as co-director of agency review for the Obama-Biden transition, according to the university’s website. Brown later became White House assistant to the president and staff secretary under President Barack Obama. Ten other Georgetown University faculty members have also already been named advisors to President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team.

Georgetown students and professors are not the only one attempting to prevent the hire of Trump administration staffers. Collegiate and professional institutions nationwide are debating whether those who worked under the administration are trustworthy or deserving of weighty career advances. 

The Georgetown petition is modeled after a similar initiative underway at Harvard, which demands the university set up clear guidelines for the hiring of any former Trump officials. The open letter to Harvard’s president and administration requests that standards of truth, common good, and justice are preserved when inviting former government officials to campus for speaking or lecturing engagements.

Another response has been proposed by a group calling itself the Trump Accountability Project, which argues that those working under the Trump administration should not be offered any of the typical subsequent employment opportunities.  

“Remember what they did,” the group’s website declares in reference to the harmful rhetoric, discriminatory actions, and exclusionary worldviews of the Trump administration. “We should not allow the following groups of people to profit from their experience: those who elected him. Those who staffed his government. Those who funded him.”

A public-relations recruiter informed Insider that their company recently took on only 6 of 15 interested White House staffers looking for new employment following Jan. 20, but were unable to find interviews for any of them due to the reputation of the Trump administration.

Unlike those of past controversial administrations, former staffers almost always find themselves not meeting Trump’s high standards for loyalty. Those not fired face a potentially greater consequence– permanently attaching themselves to perhaps the most divisive president in the history of the country. 

Despite demands that some Trump officials be prevented from future career opportunities, many former staffers felt they were called to serve the president, regardless of who held office. “The vast majority of people who worked in the White House were decent people who were doing the best they could to serve the nation,” said John Kelly, the second and longest-serving of Trump’s four White House chiefs of staff, in an interview with The Atlantic. “They’ve unfortunately paid quite a price for that in reputation and future employment. They don’t deserve that. They deserve better than that, because they kept the train from careening off the tracks.”

As Inauguration Day nears, the future of Trump administration staffers remains uncertain and in the hands of institutions like Georgetown. 

“The urgent need for reflection by senior University administrators, who ultimately have the power to approve visiting appointments as well as high-profile public speakers, about how our firmly established and revered Georgetown values will inform the manner in which we as a University interact with officials who served in this Administration,” the petition concludes. 

Sophie Tafazzoli
Sophie is an assistant news editor and a sophomore in the College studying Government and pursuing a minor in Journalism. She is currently living in Los Angeles and loves a good icebreaker.

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