Guided by strategic plan, GW to cut 'bizarre' academic requirements

by Mary Ellen McIntire | Assistant News Editor

At Tuesday's Faculty Assembly, Provost Steven Lerman, far right, spoke out against regulations limiting students' abilities to take classes in disciplines outside of their majors.
Media Credit: Emily Benn | Hatchet Photographer
At Tuesday's Faculty Assembly, Provost Steven Lerman, far right, spoke out against regulations limiting students' abilities to take classes in disciplines outside of their majors.

Administrators will work this year to eliminate red tape that prevents undergraduates from taking classes outside their home colleges.

The move is a small first step in a University-wide, decade-long strategic plan worth up to $243 million dollars that was approved in May. Officials say lighter academic course regulations will encourage students to dip into multidisciplinary learning and get a glimpse at both literature and computer science, for instance.

“I think we say 'no' too often,” Forrest Maltzman, the senior vice provost for academic affairs and planning, said. “We say no through all sorts of rules, all sorts of regulations that sort of limit what students can do. Our goal is to get rid of as many of those as humanly possible.”

Provost Steven Lerman called the far-reaching requirements “bizarre” at the Faculty Assembly Tuesday.

For example, the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences does not permit students outside the school to major in fields like English and journalism. The GW School of Business limits the number of credits students can take in other colleges to 21.

“I want to make it clear that if a student comes to GW and they want to switch schools, they can do that without going back to the admissions office and reapplying,” Maltzman said. “We will go through the academic bulletin with our sledge hammer and try to clear out as many of these constraints.”

The University will start making other small changes to its undergraduate structure this year as part of the strategic plan.

Next year, the University will not admit freshmen directly to one of its five undergraduate colleges, a move administrators say will help students take non-major classes more easily. Maltzman said the change will be mostly unnoticeable, however, as students will still indicate a preferred major on their application and work with an adviser in that particular school.

“We’re going to admit students to the University, with an understanding that you plan to study in Elliott or you plan to study in Columbian. I think from a students’ perspective it will be largely invisible except for the day you want to actually switch,” Maltzman said.

That plan is a much narrower vision than what administrators initially pitched last year when they said all undergraduates should be admitted to GW as a whole instead of to specific colleges, igniting opposition from the Elliott School of International Affairs and School of Engineering and Applied Science.

With academic flexibility in mind, Maltzman said online course mapping software DegreeMAP will feature a “What If?” tool this year so students can see how scheduling choices might affect their path to degree completion.

Advisers will get extra training to know about programs outside of their specific school so they know which classes make the most sense for undergraduates who are deciding between two programs.

The strategic plan also calls for the creation of a new core curriculum for all undergraduates, who are now only required to take one GW-wide course: University Writing.

Maltzman said faculty leaders will start talking about a core curriculum next year, but that discussions will likely take a few years.

That committee could add more mandatory classes for all students, including a possible new course on citizenship and leadership.

“Faculty feel very, very possessive, for very good reason, of curriculum,” he said. “There is no single recipe of what is the best core ... I think everybody I’ve ever talked to thinks that the core should be a diverse set of courses.”

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