Column: Growing pains are manageable

Think you know GW? Sure, you may know we were founded in 1821, that Colin Powell and Jackie Onassis are graduates or that a hippo is our unofficial mascot. What you probably don’t know is how much this University has changed in the past ten years.

Since 1994, the number of enrolled freshmen has increased by about 70 percent, from 1,568 10 years ago to 2,669 now. In the same time period, the number of applicants to GW has more than doubled, from 9,681 in 1994 to 20,159. The increase has caused the admittance rate to drop form nearly 60 percent 10 years ago to under 40 percent today.

Just as in the past 10 years the number of Colonials has grown, so too have the number of buildings for their use. In this time span GW built a new hospital, the School of Media and Public Affairs building, the Elliott School at 1957 E Street, Ivory Tower, New Hall, the Health and Wellness Center and is in the process of completing a new business school facility. The school purchased the Howard Johnson hotel across from the Watergate and turned it into HOVA. In addition to all of this, GW bought another campus up at Mount Vernon.

GW has been building hard over the past decade to improve the quality of the school. While the administration can say it does not pay attention to rankings like the one published by U.S. News and World Report, making GW more selective and building new facilities is a way to rise in the rankings. Not that these rankings make much sense anyway. It will take me four years to discover all that GW has to offer – good and bad. How anyone can look at a few statistics or talk to a few students and not only make a judgment about a school, then compare it to 300 other schools, is beyond me.

Without an increased enrollment, it would not have been possible to put up so many new buildings. Adding students allows GW to build more buildings, which allows it to add more students, which allow it to build more buildings, which … sometimes it’s hard to figure out where this process is going to end. This is certainly the feeling of many Foggy Bottom residents who’ve been here for all of this new development.

Though town-gown relations have been discussed at length, what we as a student body sometimes fail to realize is that GW’s growing size affects us as well. There are currently 200 or so students on a waitlist to get housing for next fall. As a result of construction on the new business school, there has been an increase in the number of Friday and 8 a.m. classes. Adding more students puts a strain on facilities. The more students we admit, the harder it is to find an open computer or treadmill. This dilemma is perhaps best illustrated by our Gelman Starbucks, which is right across the street from another Starbucks in the Marvin Center.

Growth, in and of itself, isn’t bad. The University and students have benefited greatly from many of the new additions to campus. The key in all of this is to make sure the growth in population is accompanied by a commensurate growth in classroom and dorm space.

What makes this issue difficult for students to think about and get involved in is that these decisions are made while they are still in high school. Consequently, decisions made for the future won’t have an impact on the students currently attending. This leads to an attitude of ‘who cares what they start to build – it won’t affect me.’

Last year, President Trachtenberg proposed having an added summer session to the school year. Even though his proposal would have affected no one currently enrolled, the student body and faculty pretty well panned the idea, and it was subsequently withdrawn. This example shows the student body can take action when it feels strongly enough about an issue. Unfortunately this is an exception rather than the rule.

The barren plot of land that was GW’s old hospital is the next spot for a new building. The University says it may be done by 2010, after any student reading this column has graduated. Though we won’t be around to use the old hospital site, some of our tuition is going to help pay for it. It’s nice to say that we owe it to future students to make sure GW is still a great place to learn. After all, we benefit from the buildings built before we arrived on campus. Beyond a sentimental reason to be concerned with what and how GW expands, the fact is that with our tuition money, we’ve made an investment in the school beyond the time we are physically on campus.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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