While the emergence of Karl Hobbs’ hot hoopsters this season might be changing things, traditionally GW has only really had one activity that brings its diverse student body, faculty and staff together: complaining about GW.
Day in and day out, from behind the doors of its dorm rooms, classrooms and offices, GW and its administrators are, almost as a matter of sport, subject to the protestations, second-guessing and general ire of their constituents.
This, however, is not to say that The Hatchet editorial page, my past few columns or I myself (as my friends will attest) are innocent of taking pot shots at the University. While I try my best to give GW and its administrators the benefit of the doubt in eyebrow-raising situations, it’s hard not to leap to the canned “I-paid-$40,000-for-this?” rant when something really goes wrong.
Nor do I mean to say that the actions of the University and its administrators do not often warrant or sometimes need this biting criticism. Indeed, GW administrators often seem to make simply boneheaded or malevolently ignorant decisions that fail to consider the interests of present and/or future students, faculty and staff – choices that are obviously bad for the University and for which they must be held accountable.
Those important caveats aside, far too many of the complaints – particularly those made by students – lobbed at the University and its administrators are insightful but either make unfair generalizations about what’s wrong at GW or could be easily corrected by making better use of generally underutilized, available resources.
An excellent example of such a complaint can be found on the editorial page of last Thursday’s Hatchet, where senior Jaclyn Schiff astutely criticized the missing academic rigor in GW’s classrooms and resulting depressing lack of intellectual curiosity among the University’s student body (“The George Washington Hotel,” Feb. 15, p. 4). While acknowledging that GW’s “ambitious, motivated and smart” students ultimately make the decision to place employer and internship responsibilities ahead of academics, Ms. Schiff ultimately puts this point aside, pointing to the administration’s implicit support of GW’s overwhelming pre-professional atmosphere and professorial caving-in to student demands for “less work, more As” as the root causes of the University’s underwhelming academic experience.
While Ms. Schiff correctly identifies what I also think is a very real problem facing the University and seems to be in tune with the spirit of my underlying point, by inevitably turning her finger toward administrators and professors, she makes the same mistake many of us do when we complain about how the University is bumbling this or mishandling that: she refrains from directly admonishing students for failing to see the opportunities and resources that abound at GW.
Although GW is no Harvard or Yale, with their seemingly limitless endowments and comparatively small undergraduate student bodies, there are plenty of richly fulfilling academic opportunities at GW available for students who are willing to spend the time organizing an independent study with a professor, filling out the applications necessary to secure University fellowships and grants, or simply doing all the reading for the seminar they’re taking with their other secretly intellectually curious colleagues. Tremendous assets, such as the University’s exceptional Center for Undergraduate Fellowships and Resources, await students who are genuine in their desire to use their time at GW for serious scholarship or future academic development; they simply need to make the conscious decision to make those goals a priority.
While some matters, such as how Square 54 will be used or how TAs and adjuncts are compensated, will require that students and alumni make demands and hold administrators’ feet to the fire, other problems require that students look into themselves and decide whether they are willing to make the personal changes necessary to ensure GWs continued success. At least in terms of academic quality, the University and its administrators have already provided many of the material resources necessary to change the culture. We, as students, now must decide whether we are willing to answer some of our own complaints.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.
This article appeared in the February 23, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.