Georgetown’s SAC funds pro-choice panel hosted by “Plan A Hoyas”

In a close vote, members of Georgetown’s Student Activities Commission approved funding for what may be an unprecedented of event at Georgetown University, if it takes place—a University-funded panel of three speakers, all pro-choice, holding a discussion of men’s roles in the pro-choice movement.

The event, which is being organized for the controversial “Plan A Hoyas” campaign, is the first event organized by “Plan A” that SAC has funded. It was subject to much debate about whether it violated the University’s mission and speech and expression policy before SAC approved it. Challenged on whether the event went against Georgetown’s mission, a representative of UF said that it did not, according to SAC meeting minutes.

“Our constitutional mission statement is to promote equality for women, and since women are the sole bearers of children, it is within our mission to advance the equality for health services for women,” she said. “Our mission is to promote dialogue about these issues, not limit ourselves to one point of view.”

During the discussion period of the meeting following the presentation, SAC Faculty Adviser Bill McCoy doubted that the event would encourage debate, since its panel was one-sided. Commissioner Scott Stirrett (SFS ’13) countered that the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life could be construed as similarly one-sided. Ultimately, the locus of their discussion became whether or not the panel constituted advocacy or dialogue, and whether it was in violation of the University’s policies or not.

“This is a forum for dialogue. By attending the event, you’re not stripped of your Catholic identity,” Junior Senyo Abotsi said.

Sophomore Andy Koenig disagreed.

“The event isn’t the roles men can take, but it will speak to why men should be pro-choice, which is activism,” he said, adding to doubts he had expressed earlier in the discussion: “Despite my personal allegiances to this cause, I don’t see how the University will allow this to go forward.”

Ruiyong Chen responded that she was optimistic that the event could “foster a dialogue” that doesn’t currently exist on campus.

SAC voted 4 to 4, with two commissioners abstaining, to give United Feminists $175 to bring three male speakers from the pro-choice movement to speak at Georgetown after a motion to table the request indefinitely narrowly failed. SAC Chair Ethel Amponsah (NHS ’11) broke the tie in favor of funding UF, which is cosponsoring the event with H*yas for Choice, the other main group that comprises “Plan A Hoyas.”

Stirrett suggested that UF request Department of Public Safety presence for the event due to its controversial nature.

“It’s not all that surprising to us that SAC approved it,” Marion Cory (COL ’10), a board member of United Feminists who is involved in the “Plan A Hoyas” campaign, said. “[The event will be] essentially an exchange of ideas.”

Voice News will have more on “Plan A Hoyas” in tomorrow’s issue.

32 Comments on “Georgetown’s SAC funds pro-choice panel hosted by “Plan A Hoyas”

  1. Georgetown’s Catholic identity has finally gone to shit.

  2. “Voice News”

    yea, right. this paper makes no distinction between its “news” and “editorial/opinion” sections. please.

  3. @ It’s finally happened:

    And we should care, why?

  4. It’s a blog, and though there has certainly been some editorializing in articles that were ostensibly news in the past, I’m not really seeing it here.

  5. This is good news. I’m not particularly invested in the specific debate over reproductive choice, but I do think that it’s important that the university not censor its students, whether formally or with the power of the purse. Allowing the free exchange of opinions, even on controversial issues and ones that are contrary to Catholic doctrine, is an important part of what makes a university a university. Non-Catholic religious groups are allowed freedom of expression even though some of their views are certainly incompatible with Catholic religious doctrine, and I see no reason why that standard of free expression ought not apply in this case. This is one of the few times I think SAC has done something important to advance student interests on campus.

  6. It’s time for McCoy to stop using SAC as a puppet to advance his agenda. This is a big mistake that wouldn’t have happened if he wouldn’t take such an active role in shaping SAC policy. He needs to go.

  7. From what I understand, the coalition that comprises Plan A is in fact larger than just UF-HFC, but someone more involved would have to speak to this point.

    On the whole, though, I applaud SAC for stepping up and allowing for the fair dialogue that is so often ignored on this campus to come to the fore. Certainly, a majority of the student body shares a desire to have this conversation as well. The fact that SAC approved the event minimizes my disappointment with some (looking at you Mr. Koenig: is fear of University intervention one of the factors that determines how SAC commissioners are to vote? To be fair, this is a legitimate question, I do not know.)

  8. I see nothing wrong with the university helping spur dialogue, even if it disagrees with it.

    We can disagree about abortion, but at least agree that each side has the right to speak.

  9. @gc83 There is a difference between a right to speak and funding.

    @Bill McCoy WINS AGAIN! – After sitting in on SAC meetings for GUSA, I cannot agree more. He is a waste of space and uses SAC as his pawns. This just reiterates why SAC/Funding Reform is so important.

  10. *Shrug* The university has paid honoraria to speakers who hold some very different views than the Catholic Church. Heck, John Bolton was here last week, and his views on war, torture, etc. are so far removed from the Church’s concept of just war that he could easily be considered as “pro-death” (from a purely Catholic perspective), if not moreso, than any pro-choice advocate.

    The line that should be followed here is discussion vs. advocacy. University money can’t and probably shouldn’t go toward explicit advocacy of causes or stances that are fundamentally opposed to the church’s teachings. Bringing people with different views than the Church to a discussion happens on a daily basis. As was noted in the article, advocacy vs. dialogue is the key point of demarcation.

    If and when this event does take place, I do wonder whether Dean Reardon-Anderson will support the “free speech rights” of KoC’s and Catholic Daughters to crash the event and start reading aloud statistics concerning aborted fetuses. Gotta be consistent, you know…

  11. There is no commissioner by the name of Bill Kim. There is a William Kim, but he was not present at the meeting. You are referring to Bill McCoy, SAC’s CSP adviser.

  12. I commend the two present freshman SAC Commissioners (Ruiyong and Scott) for making certain an event aimed at fostering much-needed dialogue is here at Georgetown. I also (a rarity) commend Chairwoman Ethel Amponsah for breaking the tie and making sure that students do have a voice whether they are founded in university doctrine (I mean policy) or not.

  13. I agree with funding this event, but I also agree that Bill McCoy is terrible. Bring back Martha Swanson!

  14. This is particularly exciting news considering that you in fact opposed to the idea of Plan A. I’m glad you are a fan of Voltaire as well.

  15. Re: “There is a difference between a right to speak and funding.”

    While it’s true that there is that difference, using the power of the purse to censor students from discussing opinions, especially one’s held by a lot of reasonable people, is not something that a university should be doing. It’s contrary to its mission as a university to promote a diverse and substantive dialogue on a host of challenging issues. Even if the university disagrees with the position(s) taken in or by a particular event, it should not prohibit students from spending student money (i.e.: the student activities fee) on that event. I fail to see why Georgetown taking that position – i.e.: one as close to neutrality as possible on student groups and events – is at all contrary to being a Catholic university. The university funds a Muslim student group and certainly what they believe isn’t entirely consistent with Catholicism… why should this be any different? Further, even if Bill McCoy is an asshole (he is) and even if SAC is generally really screwed up (it is), that doesn’t mean that their decision to fund this particular event is wrong.

  16. What “Good” said. You all can go on and on about the fact that abortion is anathema to the Church’s teachings, but it’s not as if this money is coming out of the university’s budget. It’s money students have given for such business, and I’m pretty sure plenty of them here fully support this event – more than enough to cover these costs.

    The end of the world is not nigh.

  17. Only a small portion of SAC’s money comes from the Student Activity fee. Nevertheless, it is money students chose to give to the University, knowing the University’s principles and policies, to distribute for student activities.

  18. This is an issue for both supporters and detractors of the decision to rally around — that of the closed nature of the vote.

    From what the blog description gives, the vote was 5-4 to fund this. That is, 5 people got to decide that this event complied with the university’s access to benefits policy, was worthy of funding, etc. If the other side had gotten just one more vote, the event would ‘not’ have complied with university policy.

    Who’s to say this wasn’t a political decision — on either side? We just don’t know, and we can’t know, because SAC Commissioners votes are anonymous. In this case it’s (some) Catholics who are offended; if it had gone the other way it would’ve been pro-choice Hoyas who were offended.

    A2B hardly seems like such an iron-clad position as SAC has made it out to be — obviously, if it was a 4-4 opinion with two abstentions that had to be decided by the chair, there’s some healthy debate. So why shouldn’t we subject the SAC members to put their name behind their votes, like almost every other funding board has to?

  19. Also:

    “Sophomore Andy Koenig disagreed. “The event isn’t the roles men can take, but it will speak to why men should be pro-choice, which is activism,” he said, adding to doubts he had expressed earlier in the discussion.”

    Isn’t almost every speaker, then, an ‘activist’? Every speaker advocates an idea. Otherwise, he or she would not be speaking. As someone noted above, we invited John Bolton. We’ve had Larry Flint come and speak. We’ve had Christopher Hitchens. Hell, we even had Moammar Qaddafi!

    Shouldn’t we instead follow what our nation’s only Catholic President had to say on the issue?

    “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.” – J.F.K.

  20. Um, I wouldn’t be quoting Kennedy as an exampe of Catholic understanding.

  21. This is what happens when you let people who were rioting at colleges in the 60’s run them in the 10’s.

  22. @Joe C. Re: “Nevertheless, it is money students chose to give to the University, knowing the University’s principles and policies, to distribute for student activities.”

    Perhaps you should read the “principles and policies” of the university before using them to oppose this decision (as it seems that you do). The CSP policies concerning speech and expression are here: http://csp.georgetown.edu/policies.html#speechexpression and I particularly recommend the introduction by Rev. James Walsh, S.J., especially the following:

    “…the exchange of ideas will lead to clarity, mutual understanding, the tempering of harsh and extreme positions, the softening of hardened positions and ultimately the attainment of truth. Some ideas, simply by being expressed, sink without a trace; others cry out for the intervention of reflection, contrary evidence, probing questions. None of that happens when one cuts off discourse. John Henry Newman’s formulation applies here: ‘flagrant evils cure themselves by being flagrant.’ The remedy for silly or extreme or offensive ideas is not less free speech but more.”

    That’s right: even when dealing with offensive and wrong ideas, one that might express certain forms of evil (as many consider abortion), it’s better to have more discussion rather than less. And more discussion is enabled by a neutral policy concerning the speech that takes place in events and clear policies that stipulate that funding cannot be withheld from events on the basis of that speech. That’s the sort of university that we should have and that’s why I think this decision was the right one.

  23. @jacob:

    I’m sure that you think you’re rather clever for your anti-1960s jab, but the ideas of free speech and expression are just a little bit older than, say, the Berkeley protests. But, really, which people, precisely, are you referring to? I can’t think of anyone directly involved in this decision that was rioting in the ’60s…

  24. I’d be selective when quoting Kennedys:

    “While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized – the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” Senator Ted Kennedy, RIP.

  25. @ @Matt:

    To say that any Kennedy would be against the free flow of ideas would be ridiculous. I’m not taking a position on pro-choice or pro-life (indeed, my earlier post referenced why SAC’s closed-door policy is bad for both groups). But I agree completely and unreservedly with ‘Good’ above:

    “More discussion is enabled by a neutral policy concerning the speech that takes place in events and clear policies that stipulate that funding cannot be withheld from events on the basis of that speech.”

    Speech is different from activism. Giving UF, Hoyas for Choice, etc. money to buy condoms, pamphlets, host trainings to train abortion-clinic volunteers, etc. — sure, that’s activism. Getting a speaker on campus to speak on a particular viewpoint? Hardly. If we only allow “approved” speakers to hold events on campus, we’re saying we’re afraid of the content we disagree with.

    It reflects Georgetown’s lack of confidence in itself that it cannot win the battle of ideas in a fair fight, but needs to ham-string its opponents.

  26. @ @Matt –

    Ted Kennedy also supported the Freedom of Choice Act which would codify Roe v. Wade in federal law. He voted in favor of expanding the number of embryonic stem cell lines, and when he passed, he had a 100% rating from NARAL: Pro-Choice America.

    As a legislator, he was consistently pro-choice.

  27. Thank you, Captain Obvious. That quote was from 1971. Ted Kennedy changed his position on abortion right before he ran for president…politically convenient.

  28. Tim,

    While I agree that Bill McCoy represents one of the major problems with the student-administrator relationship and CSP in general, which is the domination and stifling of student initiative by overbearing administrator involvement, I wouldn’t call for Martha to be put back in charge.

    First, she was just as over-involved and stifling when she was “in charge” of SAC. Second, she is arguably the person most responsible for setting up the current system whereby administrators have direct control over the advisory boards. Bill merely succeeded her in this role. And third, she had a significant history herself of stifling debate on campus issues, especially governance issues, such as the existence of the advisory boards’ reserve funds, which she went out of her way to hush up.

    The solution is to limit the influence of all administrators in inherently student affairs such as the operation of clubs with student money (i.e. go back to an authentic advisory relationship) and increase the accountability of the boards to students.

  29. Pingback: Vox Populi » Plan A Hoyas kick off Choice Week with likely the first all pro-choice panel funded by Georgetown

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