Staff Editorial: Focus 4×4 on academic rigor

Faculty Senate representatives recently released a report to the four-by-four task force charging that GW will not benefit academically if the University implements proposals for a four-by-four curriculum. The proposed setup, according to the Faculty Senate, would only increase University profits without significantly improving academics.

A negative response to major academic modifications is almost expected from the Faculty Senate. Despite their concerns, however, a four-by-four system could improve the academic quality of GW if implemented as a means for academic excellence, rather than for-profit motives.

The proposed system is by no means a new one – plans for a four-class, four-credit program were axed along with a mandatory summer semester two years ago. The four-by-four concept was resurrected last spring, and research has continued for more than a year. A task force investigating the issue is preparing for a May 6 vote, during which it will decide whether to recommend the plan.

A four-by-four system can offer an opportunity for academic growth. Requiring four classes worth four credits each might allow a student to specialize in a specific discipline, doing in-depth study in his or her area of interest in the classroom. In addition, the University offers many classes whose topics of study overlap, such as a number of sections on similar issues in history or international affairs. In-depth, four-credit classes would allow these areas of study to be consolidated into fewer comprehensive classes.

It is understandable why Faculty Senate members would conclude that a four-by-four system would not provide academic benefits. The proposed structure would probably decrease the necessary number of professors. Even with a presumed inherent bias in the Faculty Senate report, the concerns raised about the plan being profitable, but not academically beneficial, are valid.

In adopting this system, GW would not only cut operating costs by reducing the number of sections that need to be taught, but also open more funds for campus construction – a leading priority over the next few years – helping to alleviate campus space constraints. The desire of administrators to improve GW’s financial situation is understandable, but this should not be the main motive behind a radically new academic system.

The primary concerns of administrators in considering the four-by-four structure should be improving GW’s academic prestige and rigor. Cost-cutting measures, though they may come as an added bonus, should take the back seat to academic concerns. Fears of faculty downsizing also should not serve as the driving force on a four-by-four debate.

With all the pre-professional programs here, rigorous academics are not always the focus of a GW education. The Faculty Senate report suggests that GW should focus on linking academics with the city’s resources. International Affairs 005, an introductory course, should serve as a model for this sort of growth. In that class, students are required to visit another nation’s embassy and gain field experience – this is the sort of in-depth participation that can be integrated into a four-credit class.

An innovative class system would allow GW to join top-tier academic institutions. This is only possible, however, if the administrators are sincere about making classes more rigorous and comprehensive. The architects of any new curriculum must not succumb to the pitfalls outlined by the Faculty Senate report.

There are stakeholders on both sides of this issue, but in the end, it is the students in the middle who should be the main consideration. Ultimately, a four-by-four system must only be adopted for the improvement of the learning experience. Any other purpose would detract from the University’s academic quality, saving a few dollars but costing significantly more in terms of prestige.

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