Editorial: Four-by-four can work

Last year University administrators first floated the idea of a four-credit, four class system to replace the current three-credit, five-class structure. The plan was scrapped, along with the plan for a mandatory summer session.

At a Faculty Senate meeting on April 8, Executive Vice President Donald Lehman resurrected the four-by-four plan – this time independent of any academic calendar changes. Initially, this page reacted with the same skepticism it approached the issue with last year. A properly implemented four-by-four plan, however, could improve academics at GW while simultaneously aiding its financial standing.

Last year, students and faculty reacted negatively to the four-by-four plan partially due to the fact that it was anchored to the more drastic and highly unpopular change to the academic calendar. This year, no longer beholden to the implementation of the summer session, administrators reintroduced the plan under the pretext to more optimally utilize University resources.

At first glance, this proposal – and the manner in which administrators are framing it – appears to be a University effort toward offering fewer services for the same tuition price. The plan may restrict students to taking fewer classes and learning from fewer professors. This reality would enable the University to cut costs in an effort to help finance its further expansion.

Despite this serious perception issue, the University could convince students and faculty of the utility of such a system with a comprehensive overhaul of the curriculum and its approach to educating students. Such an effort would require easing general curriculum requirements and committing to ensuring that additional credit would translate into meaningful classroom time and experience.

While discussing the plan, administrators have noted that each four-credit class would be more “in-depth” than its three-credit counterpart. It is unclear at this point what this definition entails. The amount of total class time would not increase, since that would negate the advantages of freeing up classroom space. Instead, professors might be tempted to increase the amount of outside readings and assignments to cover more material. Students – already constituting a large presence at District institutions – have enjoyed extra-curricular participation in and around the District. A shift in the credit system could also have a negative impact by affecting this aspect of GW’s unique student culture.

A great example of a four-credit class that is not only in-depth but also caters to student participation in District culture is International Affairs 005. This introductory class, a requirement for Elliott School students, meets three times a week. At one point in the semester, students are required to write a paper dealing with the policies of a foreign nation. In researching for the paper, students must visit the embassy of or interview a foreign official from their chosen country. This class is a great model for future four-credit classes. Modifying classes to utilize the vast resources of the city would make them both more in-depth and in-tune with GW’s claim that the city is just an extension of the classroom.

In considering the implementation of the plan, GW must consider the impact of requiring liberal arts students to take more in-depth versions of biology and chemistry to fulfill requirements. One potential solution would be to offer two-credit versions of these classes. This system would still expose students to a wide variety of topics, while ensuring they are able to fully explore their interests under this new system.

The University’s need for more classroom space and money could be aided by switching to a four-by-four credit system. However, this change cannot be implemented simply to cut costs. It must be accompanied by a real investment in the improvement of academics by modifying both the curriculum of individual classes and course requirements for majors.

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