GW filed suit in U.S. District Court Wednesday to counteract the order issued by the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment implementing the campus plan with the restrictions the BZA attached as a condition of the plan’s approval. GW alleges that the BZA overstepped its authority infringing upon the University’s rights and those of GW students. Provisions of the plan are sound public policy and would benefit Foggy Bottom residents and students, but the BZA, as a government authority, does not have the right to dictate the internal workings of the University.
The most contentious parts of the BZA order and the lawsuit are the provisions capping GW’s undergraduate enrollment and mandating that the University house 70 percent of its students on campus. GW alleges in its complaint that the BZA effectively takes away its property without just compensation and without due process under the Fifth Amendment. GW says the BZA violates students’ right to “equal protection under the laws by treating them less favorably than similarly situated persons.” The University further alleges that the BZA violated GW’s right to “academic freedom protected by the First Amendment and (the University’s) federal charter.”
An undergraduate enrollment cap and adequate housing for all students at GW would benefit the University community. Many students feel that current facilities cannot continue to accommodate an increasing student population. Slowing the rate of growth and ensuring that each student has ample living and classroom space can only enhance the quality of a GW education. Still, the government has no place mandating how administrators should run the University. GW is a private institution and must be addressed as such. Students dissatisfied with the current state of the University should make that displeasure known. So far, they have not. But it is not the government’s role to do so.
D.C.’s Human Rights Act, also violated according to GW’s court filings, protects against discrimination on the basis of a person’s status as a student among other provisions. In light of this and the constitutional issues involved, D.C. cannot mandate where students may live or how many or what type of students are allowed in a certain area. Rather, students should encourage GW to implement the provisions originally agreed to in the campus plan as a means of ameliorating the concerns of everyone involved.