In your June 11 editorial entitled “Admitting too much,” you cite the projected increase in the number of freshmen students this fall and assert that in making admissions decisions GW administrators could not have been “blindsided” by the Board of Zoning Adjustment “enrollment cap” imposed in the Campus Plan Order dated March 29.
Unfortunately, your editorial reflects a misunderstanding of both the admissions process and the significance of the legal issues at stake in GW’s lawsuit challenging the BZA order.
First, the enrollment cap to which you refer is not a cap at all but a retroactive freeze on full-time undergraduate enrollment. GW has worked within a cap on total student enrollment for more than 15 years which affords the University some flexibility in admissions decisions. The BZA order places an unworkable freeze on part of that enrollment, for no valid reason, which would put the University in violation if even one student over the freeze were to enroll.
The University has raised several Constitutional arguments challenging the harsh conditions imposed by the BZA as arbitrary and capricious. On June 15, Judge Louis Oberdorfer – the U.S. District Court judge presiding over the University’s federal lawsuit – agreed that the freeze was unworkable and issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits its enforcement.
Second, Judge Oberdorfer addressed your argument, one that the District of Columbia lawyers made in court, that the irreparable harm the University faced was essentially self-created. The freeze was initially announced at the BZA’s meeting on February 13 but was not made final until the written order was issued March 29. The University, however, had begun its admissions process effectively during the preceding fall and had already made offers for early admissions even before the February 13 meeting.
While the enrollment process continued during the spring, as Judge Oberdorfer stated, “it was unreasonable to derail a lengthy and complex admissions process that was well underway” when the BZA order was issued.
Finally, while the University must clearly take the necessary steps to provide the needed services for students it admits, what is at stake in the BZA litigation are fundamental issues of fairness, academic freedom and the equal protection rights of the University and its students. GW has raised in court the important issue of how far the government can go in making essentially academic decisions for an institution of higher education.
We have questioned the right of the District to impose conditions restricting where students live. Why should undergraduate students be treated differently from graduate students? Why should students who live in D.C. be treated differently from students living in Maryland or Virginia? Why should GW students be treated differently from students of other colleges and universities, and indeed differently from other young people who are not students? GW is pressing these issues not only for itself and today’s students but for students who would be governed by the Campus Plan for the next 10 years and conceivably beyond.
GW must wrestle with the question of how many and what types of students should be admitted, and the University must be prepared to address the needs of the students it admits. These decisions, however, should be made by the University community free from unreasonable government interference.
– Charles K. Barber
GW senior counsel