University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg fielded questions from 80 Mount Vernon students in front of a construction paper fireplace for a “Fireside Chat with President Trachtenberg” Tuesday night. The event was organized by Somers Hall residents.
During the hour and a half dialogue, students asked Trachtenberg questions ranging from course offerings to housing to fees and tuition.
Freshman Amanda Montez said as a political communications major she is required to pay a $1,000 School of Media and Public Affairs fee each year to cover the use of equipment that is not used for her major.
“I am charged for materials I will never touch, that I will never see,” Montez said.
“That’s actually a fair complaint. I will look into that,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s an interesting question for which I have no answer.”
One student asked how important was it for GW to be in the top 50 universities ranked by U.S. News and World Report. Trachtenberg said, “It is important because perception is a form of reality.”
He said GW has become a more exclusive school since he has become president, with 6,000 applicants and 2,000 admits in his first year compared to 17,000 to 18,000 applicants and an expected class of 2,200 this year.
“It’s clear that whatever has been going on with U.S. News and World Report, GW’s academic reputation has been growing,” Trachtenberg said. “We are seeing in the freshman class where for more and more people GW was their first choice.”
Trachtenberg said recent GW additions like securing CNN’s “Crossfire” will make the University even more nationally recognized.
“We’re very optimistic about (“Crossfire”). I think it’s going to make coming the campus” even more appealing, he said. “There won’t be another university in the country who will be able to touch us.”
Freshman Andrea Peterson asked about housing options, saying “I’ve been talking to a lot of people after the housing selection, and for sophomores, it seems like they were picking the least compromising of housing.”
Trachtenberg responded, “GW has some of the best housing in the whole country, especially the Northeast. We also have some crummy buildings.”
Some buildings, like the West End, he said, are in use all year, making it difficult to renovate them. But he said improvements are being made.
“You see us doing stuff all the time. You don’t see GW sitting on its hands,” he said.
Mount Vernon Executive Dean Grae Baxter, who attended the event, said she was pleased with the visit.
“We are so fortune that President Trachtenberg was so generous with his time,” Baxter said. “I think it’s an important sign of how important this campus is that President Trachtenberg wanted to come out and engage in this kind of dialogue.”
Students said they enjoyed Trachtenberg’s appearance.
“I thought it was really nice. It focused on certain things that had never been brought up before and focusing on Mount Vernon was nice since we have many competitive academic programs here,” freshman Elle May said.
“People were excited about it. Everyone was talking about it last night,” freshman Mary Mai said.
Student Association President Roger Kapoor said the event showed how important Mount Vernon students are to the University.
“I think it’s great to see President Trachtenberg make the personal outreach and show he cares and that the University cares about the Mount Vernon campus and students’ lives,” he said
Some students said there were too many students asking questions about problems with the University. Near the end of the session, Trachtenberg asked, “Anybody got any good news for me?” drawing laughs.
“I was kind of put off by the complaints,” freshman Zach Blattner said. “I wanted to hear (Trachtenberg) speak because I think he’s a smart man, and constant complaints just got in the way of that.”
“It seemed like everybody came here tonight to complain. That bothered me,” Peterson said. “I felt that he had to defend himself the entire time.”