University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg surprised the GW community by announcing the administration’s withdrawal of its proposal for a mandatory summer session and a four-by-four class structure as a means to increase University revenue. Students and faculty have expressed staunch opposition to the proposition; they can now rest easy that trimesters are nowhere in GW’s near future. This decision represents a significant departure from the University’s strategic plan and will serve as a launching point for an entirely new set of concerns.
President Trachtenberg repeatedly downplayed the “tactics” involved in implementation as less important than understanding the philosophy behind the proposal. He argued that the minor details could all be worked out in time and should not deter support from the plan. It is now clear that administrative ambivalence toward the “tactics” caused the downfall of the proposal. The Faculty Senate and University schools cited those tactics as reason for dissent.
The administration failed in its public relations efforts – it did not sufficiently sell the proposal to the University community. The premature Nov. 1 deadline for feedback made students and faculty feel as though they needed to validate the proposal in its entirety by this early date – without the benefit of all the facts. This resulted in much of the University community’s opposition to the proposal; people by nature are opposed to dramatic change. By naming its follow-up committee the “implementation committee,” the administration gave the impression that change was inevitable, which robbed the community of the chance to sufficiently evaluate the positives of the forward-thinking proposal.
These blunders do not discount the fact that a mandatory summer session was an outside-the-box solution to a pressing issue. GW still does not have the funds to support an institution of its ambition. Without more revenue, GW cannot construct desperately needed science facilities, hire new professors or pursue other expensive initiatives. While a serious infusion of cash will be necessary to pursue larger goals, GW should now focus on the small steps to improve overall education within its current means.
In the long term, however, GW must implement a solution that generates a consistent and significant source of revenue if it wishes to enter the top tier of universities. The trimester plan would have generated at least $10 million in perpetuity, equal to the revenue created by $200 million in additional endowment funds. Faculty and students are quick to write off Trachtenberg’s proposal as detrimental to the University, but the lack of a new revenue source will hamstring the administration’s ability to satisfy improvement requests of those very same faculty and students.
It is clear that the mandatory summer session was conceived in response to the serious problem GW faces, even though it might not be the best fit for this University. While understanding that faculty and students had legitimate concerns about the plan, GW should not support the perpetuation of the status quo if it wants to improve. The administration must continue to formulate innovative ideas necessary to push GW into a new level of academic excellence.