The “millennial” academic year we are just beginning promises to be one of the most remarkable in the long history of The George Washington University. We will close out a century with pride and begin a new one moving swiftly toward fulfillment of bold and exciting dreams. These are dreams for the place we call home, the people we call family, and the role we envision for our University in the decades ahead.
We begin the year with the finest student body in the University’s history. In the past 10 years, applications for admission to the undergraduate program have grown from 6,765 to 13,086. This burgeoning student interest has enabled us to become increasingly selective, reflected in a rise in the number of admitted freshmen who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class from 22 percent in 1988 to 41 percent in 1998. The GW faculty includes many of the nation’s most respected scholars in their disciplines and is well prepared to stimulate the intellects of these exceptional students.
The most visible changes this year will be to the face of our campus in Foggy Bottom. Construction of the Mid-Campus Quad is nearing completion. Enclosed by Professors’ Gate, Trustees’ Gate, and America’s Gate, the Quad will provide an outdoor living room for the campus and a beautiful new feature of our city. Two major new facilities are under construction – the Health and Wellness Center and the Media and Public Affairs Building. Extensive renovations in the Marvin Center have been ongoing and will continue throughout this year, culminating in a significant expansion of the building. Our new University Club has opened and the former F Street Club will provide a new headquarters for the GW Alumni Association. Plans are well along for improved facilities to support the Law School, the School of Business and Public Management, and the Elliott School of International Affairs. We are continuing to enhance the Mount Vernon campus, with particular emphasis on creating a special environment for women. In sum, we are redefining the standard for an urban university campus in the 21st century.
Some say we are in the midst of a revolution as profound as the transition from an agricultural to an industrial society more than a century ago. GW is fully engaged in this revolution. Indeed, some of the most exciting elements of the new facilities I discussed above lie within their walls in the form of cutting-edge communication technology. Soon GW will be one of the most “connected” universities in the nation.
But, the real significance of the technological revolution will be a transformation of teaching and learning. GW intends to play a leading role in defining a new educational paradigm. For example, this year we established a new Center for Distance and Mediated Learning. This Center will support faculty throughout the University in developing courses that integrate the use of emerging media, enhancing the learning process for students on our campuses and extending the reach of GW’s programs throughout the country and the world.
It is no secret to anyone who follows the daily news that academic medical centers across the country are facing significant financial pressures. Many university medical centers have announced staggering financial losses, some have merged, and others have been threatened with closure. The continuing decline in reimbursements from government and private health insurance has been especially harsh for institutions which, in addition to providing health care to the most seriously ill, also have responsibility for educating the next generation of physicians and conducting advanced medical research. There is reason for all citizens to be concerned about the future of health care unless this growing crisis is soon addressed on a national basis.
Fortunately, while GW has not been immune to these national pressures, we have been able to take the actions necessary to respond. Our hospital partnership with Universal Health Services has proven to be a sound decision. This past spring our Board of Trustees approved a financial plan to assure stability and secure the strength of our schools of medicine and of public health. We anticipate breaking ground soon for a replacement George Washington University Hospital. This new, state-of-the-art facility on Washington Circle will further demonstrate our commitment to GW’s continued leadership in medicine, as a vital resource of both local and national importance.
Fulfillment of our bold dreams will, of course, require additional resources. Under the leadership of Trustee Charles T. Manatt, our Centuries Campaign is moving steadily toward its goal of raising $500 million by 2003. We now have crossed the 60 percent mark, with gift commitments exceeding $300 million. In the past academic year, new commitments to the Campaign surged by more than $64 million and annual gift receipts surpassed $43 million, setting a new record.
Major gifts are, of course, essential to meeting the Campaign’s capital objectives, but it is especially encouraging to observe a growing base of annual giving from the University’s alumni. In the past year, almost 30 percent of undergraduate alumni contributed. This is an increase from 16 percent just five years ago and exceeds the rate at many other national universities to which GW is compared. Growing alumni commitment and pride also is evident by their increasing involvement in recruiting and advising students. This year we launched the “GW Alumni Online Community,” enabling our graduates to participate in ongoing conversation with us and with each other.
Continuous change can be exciting, but at times unsettling. We must balance our ambitions with a solid connection to our historic strengths. This is an institution dedicated to excellence and it will accept nothing less. GW students and faculty are the very best and brightest. They are drawn here by the unique opportunities of study at a national university in the world’s most important city. They are people of distinction, possessed of confidence and ambition, and eager to compete in an international marketplace of ideas. But, this is also an institution distinguished by its commitment to opportunity, to fairness, to civility, and to respect for the diversity of both people and their views. As we pursue our bold dreams, we must remain rooted in these principles and stand for them – as a university and as individual members of its family. As we begin a new century and participate in the revolution of the information age, these enduring values can be our anchor and our guide.
As I begin my 12th year as your president, I thank you once again for the privilege of serving. The progress GW has achieved we have achieved together. Its future is in our hands and each of us has an essential role to play. May your academic year 2000 be pleasant and rewarding.
-The writer is president of The George Washington Universityand professor of public administration.
This article appeared in the August 23, 1999 issue of the Hatchet.