It’s the secondary education Catch-22: does one go to school to receive an education or go to school to find a job? Unlike the utopian ideal of the collegiate academic experience where days are spent scouring library stacks, debating political theory with friends and professors living and breathing their subject matter with their students, GW students get the experience of how to network, how to get an internship and how to graduate with a job. There are more part-time professors than full-time, only one undergraduate library on the main campus, and students usually spend more time on “the Hill” than with their research papers. These phenomena beg the question about what is lost in comparison to a traditional, theoretical education. GW decided to make the ethos of a college education more about the experiential benefits of living in Washington, D.C., rather than the pursuit of higher level academics in a traditional University setting.
According to the Office of Institutional Research, as of 2003 there were 807 full-time faculty members and 1,115 part-time faculty members (which include adjuncts). From these figures one can guess that more professors spend their time working on other things than their lecture for the next day. Students feel two ways about the amount of adjunct and part-time faculty. On one side is the argument that they are useful for connecting with the real world and staying up to date on subject material, especially in majors in international relations, political science and media. The other side is that they don’t have enough time for office hours, they don’t have time to grade papers and offer commentary as much as students would like, and that it’s hard to get in contact with them or they are never in class because they have to look for other jobs to make a living wage. Where you stand on this issue depends on personal experience and your major, but in framing a discussion about the GW educational experience, it is certainly a contributing factor in how one feels post-graduation.
Another angle of this conversation is the fact that unlike more renowned academic institutions, such as Brown or Yale, where a tour guide can boast about the 10 or 15 libraries on campus, here at GW undergraduates really only have one. Sure, there is Eckles up at Mount Vernon, but you might as well travel to Georgetown University to get a book if you can’t find it at Gelman. In a recent discussion with a friend, he relayed the frustrating experience of being an international affairs major doing research for papers that require six to 10 non-Internet sources and then not being able to find any of the materials he needs in Foggy Bottom. While the option of getting it from one of our affiliate universities is available, he said that he’d often rather just go buy the book at Borders than go through the guessing game of finding appropriate materials at other locations. Also, the fact that Gelman Library was built in the 1970s, when this school was about half the size, compounds the problems faced by students engaging in academic research.
The opportunity to intern at many different venues, such as the Capitol, lobbying firms, magazines and law firms is something that many students come to GW for. It is the defining factor in their college choice and undoubtedly a meaningful experience. The problem comes when GW rests its reputation too much on its location and in turn drags its feet in making sure the academic experience is up to par. Surely, many parents and former students are grateful for the opportunity to build a resume that helps them get into the professional world. If these four years, however, are the last time we spend reading a textbook, hearing a professor lecture or writing a research paper, perhaps it would be beneficial to spend more time on our theoretical education before the anvil of practicality comes crashing down once we receive our diplomas. One thing that GW has accomplished in its offering of a stereotypical educational experience is that there is a always Starbucks close enough to get a hot latte, sit down and read the entirety of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” once and for all.
-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.