Students react to 4×4

After the Faculty Senate voted last month not to recommend the latest four-by-four proposal to GW’s nine schools, many faculty members are saying that students need more information about the plan that would change GW’s credit structure.

At the meeting, faculty members expressed doubt about the extent to which there needs to be an overhaul of academics at GW and were skeptical of data that shows low academic engagement and challenge.

The four-by-four plan would change the curricular structure from five three-credit classes a semester to four four-credit classes a semester.

“We ought to have an ongoing and serious debate with our students to find out what they think of our education,” said law professor Miriam Galston at the last Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month.

Despite the uncertainties of student perception of academics at GW, students have largely been absent from the four-by-four debate. Three students were members of the task force that initially discussed and then crafted the four-by-four plan that was released in October, but that task force is no longer meeting.

In December, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman met with Student Association members to give a presentation on the four-by-four and to answer questions. Timothy Little, the SA’s vice president of academic affairs, said it is difficult to talk about the four-by-four with students.

“It’s very hard to inform students about this abstract idea without more specifics,” said Little, a sophomore.

Student Association senators were critical of a plan that tries to dictate how teachers teach and how students learn, but also supportive of the general idea of improving academics at the University. GW administrators who have proposed the plan say it would make classes more rigorous.

“How can you tell teachers to makes classes harder? How can you regulate it? If you’re going to make them harder, how does it affect students who intern?” questioned SA Senator Daniel Bernstein (CCAS-U), a junior.

Robert Platt (CCAS-U) said he thinks students would like to see long-term changes made to academics at the school, especially changes that would boost the school’s U.S. News and World Report annual ranking. GW is currently ranked 52nd by the publication.

“Most people here want to know that when they leave the school their diploma is going to appreciate in value,” said Platt, a junior.

Despite uncertainty among both faculty and students, Lehman remains committed to the importance of substituting depth for breadth and moving to a four-by-four model. He said in an economy that is becoming increasingly knowledge- and service-oriented, long-term, adaptable skills will be the most important products of a college education.

“It’s not going to be the little factoids that you pick up in a given class that will be critical,” he said. “The depth wins out because of how the economy is changing.”

The business school was set to vote on the four-by-four at a faculty-wide meeting in February, but Dean Susan Phillips decided to withdraw the vote from the agenda. Faculty instead chose to take a straw vote.

No other school has had a vote on the proposal as of yet.

Philip Wirtz, a professor in the business school, said most people either abstained from voting or said they opposed adopting the four-by-four at this point but that they would like more information before they came to a final conclusion. Wirtz said no one who voted said they supported the four-by-four at the time.

He called the vote “a reflection of the fact that the faculty didn’t feel sufficiently informed.”

“We should be talking about what we should be teaching our students, and structure will come out of that,” said business professor Ernest Englander.

The four-by-four plan can be viewed under the academic affairs section of the University’s Web site.

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