A special committee proposed a four-class, four-credit curricular structure earlier this year with promises of simultaneous financial savings and a supposed boost to GW academics. This week, that plan hit another hurdle, highlighting the multiple issues that the committee’s recommendations failed to address.
Last Friday, the Faculty Senate unanimously voted to delay final consideration of the plan from an original January deadline to April. Faculty members are arguing that the plan lacks specific details. In response, administrators claim that they should finalize the logistical specifics only after the plan is approved. Administrators, however, should not expect any reasonable faculty member to vote for this skeleton of a proposal. It is incumbent upon the proponents of four-by-four to formulate a detailed plan that will at least serve as a starting point for a campus consensus.
In the past, the page argued in favor of a properly implemented four-by-four plan, because theoretically, the proposed system has the potential to bolster academics. But radically changing GW’s educational structure also has the potential to simply reshuffle classes and reduce instructional time without seeing major academic gains. The choice to delay a vote on four-by-four clearly indicates that the administration is failing to build a consensus on this substantial issue.
There are several potentially serious ramifications of a lack of faculty-wide consensus on the four-by-four plan. While faculty-wide discontent may cause the plan to stall altogether, school-specific issues may lead to one college at the University adopting four-by-four while another does not. Such a scenario will detract from the University-wide consensus that is needed to transform the academic culture at GW.
The four-by-four task force’s report outlined some of the challenges, but was sparse on specific details. The main explicit benefit outlined in the plan is the potential for GW to save money by opening up class space and utilizing fewer professors.
When it comes to four-by-four, professors need more than just a cost estimate and a vague set of academic principles on which to base their decision. One Elliott School dean acknowledged there is a general perception that the plan is focused on saving money, and argued that academics is indeed the key focus. The move to force a quick vote without providing detailed specifics about implementation only serves to further this perception of four-by-four as a financial, rather than academic decision.
With a proposal heavily based on a cost-saving philosophy, faculty and staff should not be expected to hand over a blank check to the University to develop four-by-four without knowing its specifics. With no operational framework on how the new structure will work, professors may worry that the University may adopt a radically different plan than the one originally discussed. Additionally, it will be difficult for students and other members of the GW community to buy into a plan with so few specifics.
The faculty at GW is often in contention with administrators over a slew of issues. A vague vision for four-by-four along with administrators’ expectance that the plan will be finalized after it is approved makes it highly likely that plans to redefine GW’s course structure may falter once again. The architects and proponents of four-by-four must work to hammer out a specific plan and give the faculty the time they need to get the essential answers they desire. Failure to do so may result in four-by-four’s demise or an unfavorable future for academics at GW.