Alec Hill: Georgetown – Two Years Later

Last month, as Mary and I sat teary-eyed watching our oldest daughter graduate from Georgetown University, I reflected back on a much different set of emotions just two years ago.

In August, 2006, six evangelical ministries – including InterVarsity – were summarily disaffiliated from campus life. While Georgetown continued to affiliate other outside religious groups, such as the Muslim Student Association, the Knights of Columbus, and the Jewish Student Association, our three-decade relationship with the university was apparently over. This was harsh news not only for our 80+ students, but also for the thousands of our Georgetown alumni over the past three decades.

Looking back, I am so proud of our student leaders. Avoiding the extremes of belligerence, on the one hand, or passivity, on the other, they collected signatures, rallied student government to their cause, and met with key administrators. Likewise, our campus staff were also superb, dealing deftly with the media, counseling students to exercise patient persistence and not burning any bridges with Georgetown officials.

At the national level, a number of InterVarsity’s friends intervened on our behalf. The presidents of Gonzaga and Wake Forest made key phone calls. Evangelical leaders ranging from Chuck Colson to Ron Sider got involved. We even had a U.S. Congressman and a Vice President for the university’s investment firm chime in.

The good new is that in May of 2007 – ten months after our removal – Georgetown announced sweeping changes in the way that outside Protestant campus groups would heretofore interact with the university. And, InterVarsity was welcomed back as a full member of the campus community.

Of all the people responsible for this remarkable turn-around, I credit two individuals the most. First, Georgetown Vice President Phil Boroughs appointed a task force to assess Protestant campus ministries. The group – which met for the entire academic year – included the Protestant Chaplain, faculty members, and representatives from various outside campus ministries. Dr. Boroughs managed the process masterfully.

The second person is Kevin Offner, our graduate student staff member at Georgetown (and four other DC universities). Not only did Kevin serve on the year-long task force, but also he now chairs a newly constituted ongoing committee that will oversee all Protestant campus ministries. A very surprising outcome.

What is the significance of this reversal? On a basic level, we are now on sound long-term footing with one of our nation’s leading academic institutions. However, the impact of our reinstatement goes much further than that. All 26 American Jesuit institutions now know that we are a good campus citizen. And, our reputation will no longer be in doubt at the 220 other U.S. Catholic colleges and universities.

As I’ve said many times, InterVarsity not only loves the fish (students and faculty), but we care for the pond (the university) as well. It is part of our vision to pray for its renewal. Two years ago, my reaction to our disaffiliation was one of confusion and hurt. Last month, at my daughter’s commencement, my response was vastly different. Thanks both to His providence and courageous human leadership, things have vastly changed. As I drove away from the Georgetown campus, I felt a deep sense of thankfulness and blessing.

For more background information regarding our status at Georgetown, go here.

Photo: Georgetown University