University administrators have backed away from efforts to implement a mandatory summer session following staunch opposition from faculty and students. After more than a year of study, the University is indefinitely postponing further research of the alternative calendar as well as a four-class, four-credit course structure, officials said.
GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg proposed the mandatory summer session last November, saying it would increase revenue and allow the University to be more “efficient” by utilizing residence halls and academic facilities year-round.
. “Some ideas are ahead of their time,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s clear that we fell short in the persuasion department. But that doesn’t mean we’re not right.”
A task force of faculty and administrators then convened last winter to study the effects of a mandatory 10-week summer session for rising juniors. Students would have been required to take three or four classes during the summer before their junior year and then take a subsequent semester off. The task force, which also researched a change to a four-class, four-credit structure from the current five-class, three-credit system, released a report on the changes in June.
The University could have brought in an additional $12 million annually from a mandatory summer session for rising juniors and would have been able to enroll 1,000 additional undergraduate students.
The Faculty Senate unanimously opposed calendar and credit system changes in late October after reviewing the task force’s report. The Senate cited drawbacks including overworking small departments, forcing faculty to teach in the summer and lack of coordination with the GW graduate school schedule.
The Student Association and other student groups also cited a host of concerns with the plan, noting that the session would cause leadership issues in student groups, housing problems and possible separation from friends during different semesters off. The debate took over GW’s campus this fall, with a number of town hall forums and a frenzy by groups this October to meet the University’s Nov. 1 feedback deadline.
Trachtenberg said that without a mandatory summer session the University will be forced to find additional revenue through other means, but he declined to give specific ideas. It will be harder for the administration to meet the concerns and desires of students, faculty and staff, he said.
He said members of the GW community constantly approach him to ask for improvements.
“Every one of their notions has a dollar sign attached to it,” Trachtenberg said. “They want the University to be responsive to their dream. So do I. Everything that’s wonderful doesn’t get funded, but I would like to fund as many of them as possible. So I’m constantly looking for ways to increase resources.”
However Donald Lehman, executive vice president for Academic Affairs, emphasized that GW is “not in financial crisis.”
“The question is, how do we get the resources to move GW into the higher echelons of education?” he said. “We want this to be a first-tier school. And that leads to the question, where do we get the additional resources to invest?”
Lehman added that institutions of higher education are moving toward holding more classes year-round.
Professor William Griffith, chair of the Faculty Senate’s fiscal planning and budget committee, said the proposal did not show enough depth and foresight in explaining potential consequences of the plan.
“I think that the general character of the proposal was one that was worked out with relatively little effort to consult with the faculties involved and done by a task force set up with the president,” he said.
The four-by-four proposal would not have generated revenue but was intended to improve academics, Lehman said.
“There are up-front costs to (a four-by-four), but it is part of making GW a top-tier institution,” he said.
Lilien Robinson, chair of the Faculty Senate, said faculty members had reservations about proposed changes.
She said converting to a four-by-four system would have deprived students of “the ability to explore different areas of academics.” She said students need to be able to switch majors if they desire and said having fewer classes each semester would hurt students who change their mind about majors.
Robinson said the proposed changes would have hurt GW’s ability to attract top students, adding that many of her students said they would not have enrolled at GW if the University had a four-by-four system or mandatory summer session.
“This sort of thinking is inconsistent with the academic goals of the University,” she said.
Despite a current halt in calendar investigation and implementation, Trachtenberg said GW will reexamine possible changes in the future.
“These ideas or other ideas are inevitable, but there are issues of timing and issues of buy-in,” Trachtenberg said. “This was never meant to be a dictate; it was meant to be a participatory process.”
Robinson said she hopes the proposal under investigation this year will not “reappear under a different name” in the future.
“There are clouds on the horizon, which leads me to believe the University will have to find ways to work smart,” Trachtenberg said. “My job is to be kind of an outsider for GW and try to scan the horizon and try to anticipate issues which will potentially hurt the University.”