It is difficult for a person to have the confidence to succeed in most endeavors while facing an identity crisis. Inherently, competing inclinations prevent such a person from utilizing their energy and talents toward a single purpose.
Such is the case with a University as well. At GW, dichotomous forces are simultaneously advocating a classic liberal arts model and a formula for a specialized school for future politicians, soon-to-be journalists and the like. It is ultimately the new administration under Steven Knapp that will have to reckon with this conflict and choose a direction for GW.
GW’s identity crisis is an abstract concept that is not immediately apparent. The University Bulletin touts a wide variety of classes in a broad spectrum of fields. Reviewing recent academic decisions over the past four years, however, reveals increased support for GW’s strong programs, such as international affairs, and decreased focus on its weaker areas, such as hard sciences.
A decision to commit to a specialty school model rather than a broader liberal arts education is not inherently poor. It is important, however, that Knapp and his staff decide on a course for the school, rather than let the current situation further deteriorate.
Failure to choose a direction and articulate a comprehensive policy in support of it would result in a weakening of both a broad-based curriculum and more specialized education. Perhaps the best indication of this failure can be seen in GW’s campus plan – the University will pour a substantial amount of money into the construction of a new science center while many hard science programs have been stripped down and consolidated. Without a sound understanding of a unified vision for GW, the administration will continue to throw money at various initiatives on an inconsistent basis, leading to the degradation of overall quality.
If Knapp is able to achieve a unity of purpose for GW, further harmonization within various departments and offices will likely follow. A common student observation is that similar offices in different departments – academic advising, for example – have huge disparities in terms of operation and quality of service. There also seems to be common confusion in the higher administrative offices about what goes on further down in the chain of command.
Setting an academic agenda and standard will help give departments guidance about their priorities and policies. While professors and staff may seem to be leaning toward a more classical liberal arts education, providing them with a clear course of action will help unite them in improving the University academically.
The tension between GW’s perception as a specialized school for wannabe-politicos and the inconsistent but strong urge among some in the administration to develop a strong liberal arts education is a pertinent issue for Knapp’s administration. A fresh start for GW’s next top administration is the perfect opportunity to articulate a unified vision and put an end to the competition over the academic nature of the University.