All University professors and members of the Faculty Senate will soon receive GW’s report on a four-class, four-credit semester system in preparation for a vote by late fall. Even with such a deadline looming, members of the task force investigating this plan indicated that many faculty members remain skeptical of the system and have unanswered questions. It is incumbent upon administrators to ensure that all members of the GW community – especially the faculty – become willing partners, not adversaries, in this fundamental retooling of GW’s academic system. Faculty doubts and uncertainties will only undermine the intended academic benefits from the switch.
The plan for a four-by-four semester will no doubt affect the very core of our school’s academic organization. The current five-class, three-credit system is the standard in higher education, and in departing from this, GW administrators are changing the structure, and, in many ways, the culture of the University. The proposed system would allow students to delve into subjects with more focus and obtain a more in-depth learning experience, but at the expense, perhaps, of experiential learning through internships and the ability to double major.
In past editorials, this page has continually supported a four-by-four system, under the condition that it is accompanied by a radical shift in the teaching methods of professors. This same opinion still holds true – for a new class system to work, professors must be on board to make their classes more demanding and focused on learning objectives. With reports about faculty uncertainty, it seems that administrators do not have willing partners in the transition to four-by-four.
Though GW is more than a year away from any University-wide four-by-four system, the University Honors Program will implement some sort of test program for fall 2007. With such a quickly-approaching initial deadline, it is important to remember that facilitating a fundamental shift in GW’s academic program will not come easily. Having a group of professors who are unsure of the program will only exacerbate these difficulties.
The comment of one Elliott School of International Affairs dean, who said he was “vaguely supportive” of the four-by-four model, underscores a mentality that has the potential to derail a potentially beneficial system. It is natural that some educators may have reservations about the merits of such a radical change. Keeping this in mind, it is incumbent on the higher-level administrators to provide a clear plan that will bring department heads and professors on board.
Indifferent faculty members and department leaders may very well vote for the four-by-four system; however, they may be less likely to mandate the classroom changes necessary to make the program a success. As such, it will be even more of an uphill battle for administrators as the University adopts such a crucial change.
A lack of widespread support will also threaten the vision for four-by-four that administrators set out to realize. With nagging, unanswered questions, professors and department staff may attempt to force changes that will dilute the original proposal and result in an academic model that is different from the well-developed plan.
As professors and the Faculty Senate receive the report on this alternative academic calendar, it is crucial that administrators treat this issue with the gravity it requires. Academic planners should build consensus and answer the fundamental questions that are keeping certain faculty from wholeheartedly supporting the four-by-four model. Doing so will prevent additional difficulties in employing a program that will no doubt take a great amount of effort for successful and effective implementation. If, however, administrators can not make a clear enough case for the advantages of four-by-four to the GW faculty, then it might be time to rethink such a speedy implementation of such a fundamental change.