“I have talked about escaping from the agrarian calendar that gives the summer off for harvesting and actually using the campus for instruction 12 months of the year, minus a little time for vacations.”
-University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in June 20 address to Board of Trustees
And so the planning and development of a radical new academic calendar based on higher education philosophy but strongly grounded in economic need reaches its next stage. The future of academics at GW, based in no small part on an ever-tightening budget, will most likely switch to a financially advantageous, more efficient trimester-like schedule. The new academic calendar could include a four-by-four credit system (four classes at four credits apiece instead of the traditional five class, three credit system), and a mandatory summer session for rising juniors. The question is whether this change will bring improvements to academics and student life, and is not simply a solution to the University’s monetary dilemmas.
The recently released report from the Study Group on an Alternative Academic Calendar is an excellent and comprehensive evaluation of the possible changes. Sources say that the University will likely implement the mandatory summer session for rising juniors and the change to the four-by-four system. There were other options noted in the report, but this one is by far the front-runner with the administration.
The report notes that GW can bring in an extra $12.8 million a year, and enroll more than 1,000 additional students after the scheduling change. But the plans have students wondering whether the alternative calendar is in any way intended to improve life for them at GW, as opposed to replacing the money lost in the lagging endowment. The report examines the pros and cons of the possible changes, but does not provide many convincing pros regarding the academic and student life benefits for those footing the growing price tag- except that the University will have more money to provide better professors, facilities and services after the change.
Trachtenberg’s idea is not warped and is an interesting vision of the future of higher education. But we worry the process is moving along too quickly without proper student and parent feedback. While GW has made strides to begin an open discussion on the matter by releasing the report to the public and making it available online, students, distracted during the summer with work and vacation plans, do not have the time to read the 100+ page report. The administration should make a proactive effort to reach out to students and parents by holding town hall-type meetings and open forum discussions at the start of the year. It is also incumbent upon students to educate themselves about what could be a landmark change at GW. Students need to voice their concerns to an administration that will only seriously take suggestions from informed students.
The Hatchet has yet to come to our own conclusion regarding the drastic changes as many questions linger, many centering student life. How will student groups stay strong with one-third of their leadership missing at a given time? How will Colonial Inauguration work? How will Greek-letter life and athletics be affected? How will the University compensate students who may be unable to earn a minor degree if the four-by-four system is implemented? There might be credo in the mandatory summer session, implemented successfully at Dartmouth College, and the four-by-four system, currently in place at Tufts University, but can both changes be implemented in tandem at GW? It is vital the issue be debated and discussed because of the major ramifications it has for the University and possibly national higher education.