GW: less for more

bookThe Commencement Committee Friday recommended keeping this year’s ceremonies on the Ellipse. Since cost estimates for the MCI Center still were unavailable to the committee, the Ellipse won by forfeit, not solely on the strength of student pleas.

While the Ellipse tradition was recommended, students’ victory is somewhat tainted because in order to keep the venue, the committee says it must develop new fees and cut Commencement-related costs. It seems GW has created a catchy new slogan: “Come to GW – where you will pay more and get less.”

In recent years, the University has absorbed beyond-budget expenses for Commencement weekend. But now, University bean-counters claim the $200,000 budget deficit is impossible to find. Really? Let’s look at some recent GW ins and outs:

 a bronze hippo (a gift from President Trachtenberg)

 Anniversary Park and Professors Gate

 taking over Mount Vernon College’s $6.5 million loan from Georgetown, plus picking up the tab for major renovations

 building a new residence hall: cost $21.8 million

 selling the PEPCO building for $88 million

 new surface for Academic Breezeway: cost $750,000

 GW’s Centuries Campaign plans to raise $300 million by the year 2000; it is two-thirds of the way there

 a 6.9 percent tuition hike

Of course, universities spend money and boost endowments and raise tuition everywhere – but in light of GW’s aggressive initiatives and the huge amount of money coming in, how can students understand the downsizing (and up-pricing) of Commencement festivities? If GW had the money for all of these projects, in addition to the millions of dollars spent on innumerable other projects, is it too hard to fathom that $200,000 could not have been found somewhere?

When one considers that the final bill for less than two students would cover the deficit, the bean-counters’ arguments seem silly.

Do administrators expect students to believe that in all of GW’s massive, secretive budget, a measly $200,000 cannot be found to cover the by now traditional budget deficit? That argument’s credibility ranks up with the dog-ate-my-homework excuse.

But now that students (might) have the Ellipse, what do we lose? The committee recommended the University no longer subsidize Monumental Celebration at Union Station, that students pay for their own regalia and that a new “graduation fee” as high as $115 be mandated to replace the current $50 “Commencement fee.” The new fee would be paid by everyone planning to graduate, unlike the current fee paid by those planning to attend the events.

The University subsidizes Monumental Celebration to the tune of $65,000 to keep ticket prices in the $30-35 range. But the University claims that since only about 11 percent of graduates attend, it can be cut rather painlessly. While it is true that more students could and should attend the Celebration (and probably would thanks to this year’s University-wide focus on Commencement), planners should make a greater effort to publicize the event. And as for students, if you looked forward to attending your Monumental Celebration, let the University know.

Similarly, the backup plan remains less than perfect – though better than nothing. While the current plan calls for graduates to pack the Smith Center with guests watching on TV elsewhere, it is far better than just using the individual school ceremonies. What should not be considered, as one member of the committee suggested, is getting rid of the backup plan altogether and putting the money saved toward something else. This is unrealistic and unacceptable.

So after weeks of passionate arguments in favor of the Ellipse, students should be elated, right? Not really. Yes the Ellipse was recommended, but at a high price. New fees were supported, less festivities urged and moneys that could resolve all these problems are supposedly impossible to find without even higher tuition. So did students really win? Far from it. GW gets more money from students and students get less services from GW. Not a bad deal for GW.

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