Scripps-Howard News Service 5.07.02
"The George Washington University celebrates 90 years in
Foggy Bottom" - we read on the cover of a beautifully produced,
glossy, 8½X11, 24-page color booklet my wife and I received
in the mail. "Common Ground" is the title, and we were
sent separate copies. Very thoughtful, perhaps a bit extravagant.
A "pictorial essay," it is called. And, yes, it is full
of pictures. And, as we know, a picture is worth - how many? A thousand
Ah, the pictures.
For openers, we do get to see the Marquis de Lafayette, and General
"Billy" Mitchell, Class of 1899, early champion of the
need for U.S. air power. But then the book begins to tell the real
Next to Lafayette, we see a pair of coeds, vintage 1948, surveying
the landscape from the roof of Strong Hall. Strong Hall? Turn the
page. Hattie M. Strong's picture is there, as the person for whom
the first women's dormitory was named in 1934. On the opposite page,
we see Mabel Nelson Thurston, the first female undergraduate admitted
in 1888. To the left of Hattie Strong, we observe students selling
war stamps - naturally all female - and WW II-era nurses.
Turn the page to see First Daughter Margaret Truman.
Turn the page again to see Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
You have just seen the bridge between Common Ground's common themes:
women and Democrats.
To the right of a girl giving a 'flu shot to another girl, we encounter
Arkansas Democrat, Senator J. William Fulbright. The page "Campus
Culture" features a very pretty girl, obviously dancing. To
be fair, the half face visible at the end of her outstretched arm
does seem to belong to a person of the male persuasion. But on the
opposite page, it is, naturally, again "female students"
who "relax and take in some sun on the roof garden."
On to sports. A group photo of the seven members of the original
(1917) GW women's basket ball team (how did they put it together
without Title IX?) leads the page. Underneath, we meet the greatly
enlarged women's basketball team of 2000-2001.
I know for a fact that young men, too, attend GW, because I see
them amble across red lights, as frustrated motorists helplessly
watch their green turn to yellow. Some photographic evidence of
male existence is presented on the page opposite the basketball
teams, showing students who "kick back in the Student Union
Annex." True, all the young women face the camera, and we see
only the backs of the young men, but their attire and hair style
(the picture's date is 1955) leaves no doubt.
The next spread is dominated by a large portrait of President John
F. Kennedy, though - to be fair - there is an archival insert of
President Calvin Coolidge, a Republican. And then, the mother load.
As we turn the page, a picture of the Dalai Lama leads to Mikhail
Gorbachev, then to Hillary Rodham Clinton, then to Archbishop Desmond
Tutu, then to Dan Rather of CBS-TV. Underneath, smiling broadly,
we gaze upon a good-sized William Jefferson Clinton. Below, on a
giant screen, Wolf Blitzer of CNN addresses a town meeting.
The only appearance by a Republican president of more recent vintage
is a small photograph showing Ronald Reagan in a bathrobe. The occasion:
he was admitted to George Washington University Hospital after being
And speaking of that hospital - as well as of the clinic associated
with it - even in its antiquated facility, it is a jewel of Washington,
D.C., where men and women of excellence and devotion work day and
night. Knowing what I know of the care they provide, it bothers
me seriously that I find myself writing such a vitriolic piece about
the mother institution.
But it simply won't do for a university in the nation's capital,
named for the father of our country, to be so blatantly political
and partisan and, adding insult to injury, call it "common
ground." It is impossible to know whether those responsible
actually think this way, or try to appear something they are not
in order to score points. Which is worse? I was seriously offended
upon arriving at the exact center of the issue. There, a full-page
picture shows the university president in top hat, "visiting
with local children." I could just hear the designers saying,
"what we need here is some cute black kids to show outreach."
We owe the definition of "American" to George Washington.
No one could have been, no one has been, more committed to our union.
And no place is as much under the natural obligation to serve and
accommodate all as a university. Significantly absent from the commemorative
publication are reminders of the man whose name it bears, references
to the purpose of a university, and any allusion to teaching and
learning. In 90 years, they have accomplished nothing as a school?
Unless there is some urgent rectification of this atrocity, the
institution in question no longer qualifies to carry George Washington's
name. They need to find an alternative - something appropriate to
The name that comes to mind combines girlhood and heavy involvement
with a president representing the Democratic Party. The name that
comes to mind is Monica Lewinsky. She lived for some time in close
proximity to the campus, and naming one for her is about the only
compensation she has yet to receive for all she had to swallow over