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A Question of Substance |

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A Question of Substance


Usually it’s the Supreme Court justices who get to ask the tough questions. But every so often, prominent public figures come to Georgetown, and undergraduates glean the rare opportunity to ask questions in return.

Last Wednesday, those who attended Associate Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s lecture received an index card where they could write one question for Sotomayor to answer during the standard post-lecture question-and-answer session — a Gaston Hall standard that usually fosters a candid discussion and enriches university programming. In Wednesday’s case, however, the questions were screened and posed by a university official, rather than the student or event attendee who originally wanted an answer.

Sotomayor received a multitude of questions about her status as a female and Hispanic leader but hardly anything else. While these represent points of legitimate and important inquiry, the purpose of a question-and-answer session is to open the direction of the conversation to the audience. It seems highly unlikely that no one in the audience had a question for Sotomayor about her judicial decisions, yet no questions on this topic were asked of the justice.

It is disconcerting that university administrators felt the need to screen student questions. We understand that Sotomayor might have been unable or unwilling to answer questions of substantive policy, but an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court surely does not need the help of a Georgetown administrator when fielding questions from students.

Georgetown lauds its credentials when it comes to fostering dialogue. In the future, the university ought to be able to tout this commitment when it comes to events featuring high-profile speakers.

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