GW sets limits on alumni audit

The Office of Alumni Relations’ course audit program gives alumni and Foggy Bottom residents the chance to take designated University courses for a reduced price.

But while the program provides an opportunity for alumni and community members to keep learning long after graduation, restrictions are placed on classes available.

Some departments, including anthropology, museum studies, and speech and hearing put limits on the courses available to alumni.

The classics department restricts some courses to keep a more balanced dynamic, said Elizabeth Fisher, chair of the classics department.

“Alumni are a wonderful addition and bring wonderful experiences to class,” Fisher said. “However, in small classes we like to keep a ratio of alumni in balance with students who have to do graded work.”

The Columbian School of Arts and Sciences restricts alumni from most language instruction courses.

“Language learning is intensively contact-oriented,” said Richard Robin, chairman of German and Slavic languages and literature department. “We place a cap of 20 people in language classes in fairness to those learning. When language classes are undersubscribed we allow alumni to attend.”

Fisher added, however, course availability is at the discretion of each department chair or professor.

Ilan Waldman, a recent GW graduate, was able to audit a Chinese course not listed in the alumni program through special departmental permission.

“It seems silly that not all courses are open. If there is a seat, you should be able to sit in,” Waldman said.

Muriel McClanahan, a Foggy Bottom resident and former GW English professor, earned an art history degree from GW after retirement. She now audits classes in religion, history and music.

“It is wonderful to go and be with young people. It is always stimulating,” McClanahan said.

And faculty members recognize the benefits alumni provide in the classroom.

For example, the German and Slavic languages and literature department offers courses in Czech which draw only five or six students. Alumni are encouraged to audit those classes, Robin said.

“It’s in our interest to please our alumni. We like to see them come in. It often motivates other students,” Robin said.

“They often bring an interesting perspective,” said statistics department Chair Robert Smythe, whose department allows alumni to audit any course.

Paul Duff, chair of the religion department, said he once had an alumna take his introductory religion course three times.

“She tells me she always learns something new,” Duff said.

Many professors said alumni often liven up a class or bring new perspectives.

“We encourage class discussion. The different ages of alumni and different perceptions they bring enrich this discussion,” Duff said.

“Alumni are there because they want to be,” said George Stevens, chair of the geology department. “They bring their own experiences. Some traveled around the world. It always adds to the dimension of the class.”

Classes cost $100 for general alumni and $50 for Foggy Bottom residents and alumni older than 60.

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