Column: Trimesters may be the only answer

We should all pray GW wins its case in D.C. court against the Board of Zoning Adjustment’s housing mandate. If the University loses, students may be forced to attend school in the hot and humid D.C. summer.

The problem is one of simple arithmetic. Combine GW’s growing student population with excessively strict BZA restrictions and you get a housing nightmare that really has only one answer – trimesters. There just will not be enough beds under the prevailing academic calendar for GW to house the required 70 percent of all undergraduates within campus boundaries, plus one bed for every student over 8,000 by 2006.

GW is growing faster than most realize. This year’s seniors entered GW with an undergraduate population of about 6,500 students and they are leaving with a population of nearly 9,000 students. Next year’s undergraduate student population will most likely reach 10,000.

Understand what this means to housing logistics under the BZA order. By 2006, assuming undergraduate population levels off at 10,000 students, GW will need to house 7,600 students within campus boundaries. The Aston, Hall on Virginia Avenue, Pennsylvania House and City Hall do not count as residence halls within campus boundaries under BZA restrictions and cannot be added to reach the required 7,600 on-campus beds. As of fall 2004, even after the Superdorm (now named Ivory Towers) is completed, GW will only have 6,085 “on-campus beds” – 1,515 beds short.

It is arguable GW put itself in this position. The campus plan agreed to limit GW to 8,000 undergraduate students, but administrators seem to find this meaningless and continue to admit large classes. Regardless of how the University got in this situation, a solution is needed. Administrators may have a master plan that includes implementing some sort of comprehensive summer session.

The administration only has a few options to confront this coming housing crisis.

1. Admit fewer freshmen and shrink the undergraduate population.

2. Build the necessary residence halls on campus.

3. Implement a trimester system that would spread the same amount of students over three terms – allowing for one-third fewer students on-campus at any time.

Of all the choices, as much as students may hate it, the third seems to be most likely, especially considering the efficient, business-like demeanor of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

The first option will not happen because GW cannot afford to have fewer tuition-paying students in this time of expansion. The University debt has doubled to over $600 million, and admitting fewer students will not help repaying this exorbitant figure. There is a valid argument, however, that admitting fewer students is the answer to many problems, including making GW more selective and thus moving GW up into U.S. News World & Report’s top 50.

Nonetheless, the administration has shown no intentions of accepting fewer students. Administrators are predicting a freshman class of 2,400 next year, which would be the second largest class ever.

The option of building to comply with the order seems unlikely as well. To build the necessary 1,500 beds, GW would need to use nearly every open lot on campus for residence halls. This is not in the best interest of the University as an academic institution – it will limit other needed construction projects. GW has contingency plans, however, if they have to build. The administration is exploring the possibility of future residence halls in the parking lot behind Francis Scott Key Hall and on top of the F Street tennis courts.

The trimester option seems the most likely considering this administration and the situation they are in, but it is definitely not the most popular solution. A trimester system will allow for much greater University financial efficiency. Buildings once nearly vacant over the summer will be filled with tuition and rent-paying students. The system will ideally have two-thirds of the 10,000 undergraduate students attending any term, ingeniously allowing the University to both fulfill the BZA mandate and reap the financial rewards of a more efficient business, although students may still aspire for a better University.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is Hatchet opinions editor.

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