In the nearly three years since I came to GW, our University has made incredible strides in improving the quality of academics, especially for undergraduates like myself. Now, in order to sustain this upward momentum and manage our quick expansion, the University needs to find innovative ways to fund its future success. It is this dilemma that last year prompted the administration to call for a campus-wide conversation on how the University could become more efficient by altering the academic calendar by which we currently operate.
We strongly believe that all members of our community, especially students, should be a part of this conversation. That is why the Student Association has brought forward several new alternatives for investigation and discussion, the most notable being the January term we proposed in our November report on the administration proposals. This term would allow students to either take an intensive class during most of January or use the month as an extended winter break.
Last week I was pleased to hear that the administration also sees merit in the proposal and that a committee may soon be convened to investigate the pros and cons for student life, faculty and academic quality, as well as the effects on the University’s cash flow. We can’t prejudge the success of a J-term, but the range of opportunities available to students makes the debate worthwhile.
The J-term is offered at many schools across the country. Its value lies in the variety of options it presents to students, who can use the extra session to take an interesting course outside their major, concentrate on taking a challenging requirement off their list without the distraction of other courses or even graduate a semester early. Students could utilize an extended winter break to relax after a hard first semester, or work to pay for high tuition fees. Schools such as Johns Hopkins have also highlighted the opportunities for undergraduate and faculty research during their extended January break.
However, the concept also carries with it some drawbacks, such as a delayed commencement and a shorter summer. There may be many more negative aspects; what is most important is that any committee charged with investigating the term’s feasibility should approach it with an open mind. We must consider the effects it will have on student life and student finances, and where issues arise we should look for ways in which the University might naturally adjust or conform. If the proposal does not seem to better GW in the long run, we should move on to consider other options and put this one to rest.
One obvious question that must be answered is whether or not the proposal would raise more revenue or not. During deliberations last year on options such as the junior summer and four-by-four system, those arguing for further investigation held that it would increase revenue while those arguing against consideration held that it would not. This time, the question should be answered early on in an objective study in which administrators, faculty and students all have a say.
University life is about granting more choices to students as they grow; we need to think collectively about how we can best foster the most intellectually and personally stimulating community. I hope everyone will become a part of the process. We in the Student Association look forward to taking part in all future evaluations and urge all members of the University community to involve themselves in the conversation that has been taking place, especially students. The open and vibrant exchange of ideas on a university campus is just as important when the subject is affairs of campus as when the subject is affairs of the world.
-The writer is Student Association president.