Gabriel Okolski: Working hard, or hardly working?

Liberal arts majors have it easy. Throughout my three and a half years as a political science major at this esteemed institution, I have been able to achieve a surprising number of A’s in my major classes with relative ease. Judging from what my Bachelor of Arts-oriented friends have to say, I am not the only such case.

The kick in the face came last semester when I took an upper-level geology class that had mental rigor akin to the physical exertion of paramilitary training. Thanks to hard work, an excellent professor and a little luck, I performed well in the class, but it was somewhat of a shock compared to the amount of work I had been doing in my liberal arts classes.

Such a grading disparity exists all over GW – students are burning the midnight oil in Gelman Library to manage a B in microbiology while wannabe politicos merely read The Washington Post to achieve perfect grades. While this condition exists at so many schools throughout the country, there are steps that GW can take to make things more equitable for all students.

For one, I am amazed at the variety of requirements that different professors expect from students. We’ve all heard an acquaintance say, “Take professor Smith because his class is a joke,” and we’ve all probably kicked ourselves for not listening to such advice. Not only is a hodgepodge of requirements among different professors unfair to hard-working students, it also creates an uneven base of knowledge across various majors at the time of graduation.

While it may be great to be able to coast through a joke class during college, it may hurt in the long run when your future employer actually asks you to use that regression analysis stuff you were supposed to have drilled into your brain in statistics.

Over the summer perhaps, each department could conduct a thorough evaluation of student experiences with a number of classes. From such fact-finding, the department heads could establish more stringent curricular standards that may help bridge the gap between the slackers and hard workers. While such guidelines may already be in place, they don’t seem to be working too well in certain departments.

Intra-department grading rigor issues are certainly overshadowed by differences in curricular difficulty across the University. Ask both a physics major and a history major how he or she feels about graduating with a 3.4 grade point average, and you’ll probably get very different responses.

While certain disciplines will always be more difficult than others, the gap can be diminished somewhat. A good litmus test for who is working hardest is how many hours of studying students are doing each week. Granted, a question probing this appears on virtually every course evaluation, however it is highly likely that students misreport these numbers.

At the risk of being hated by an even larger proportion of the student body, the Student Association should consider holding some panels to get a real sense of how much work different students are doing. After looking at not only the amount of time put in by our young brains but the intensity and difficulty of the material being reviewed, the SA could report to administrators and suggest which fields of study need to become more stringent.

Whether or not all Colonials agree that the joke classes that inflate student grades should be overhauled, there is a major reason why our University’s leadership should be concerned with this issue. Weeding out the disproportionately easy classes helps to build a strong academic reputation, which our school badly needs to complement the beautiful buildings that have sprung up in Foggy Bottom.

The bottom line is that having a more rigorous curriculum in which social science majors work as hard as their hard science counterparts would be a strong advertising point for GW. This, in turn, will help build the endowment, attract a higher quality student body and do all those other wonderful things we want to happen so that our degrees are worth more than a top GW administrator’s salary.

So to the future scientist who has given up Thursday night beer pong to maintain a strong GPA: don’t worry, things don’t have to be this way. And to the future Senator who is known by name at McFadden’s: enjoy it while it lasts.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political science and minoring in geoscience, is Hatchet opinions editor.

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