While nothing is official, it is likely that next year’s crop of drunken freshmen will have the opportunity to shout or throw eggs at the University president’s house on their way back to Thurston if a plan for incoming-president Steven Knapp to move into Alumni House moves forward. At its most basic level, Knapp’s potential move to Foggy Bottom is a positive change for the presidency. The choice of Alumni House, however, presents some unique challenges that Knapp personally, and the University administration in a broader sense, must overcome.
Moving the presidential residence onto the Foggy Bottom campus is certainly an improvement over its current location far off campus. In fact, President Steven Joel Trachtenberg’s University-owned, $3 million Kalorama estate helped fuel the perception that the administration was often out of touch with what students on campus really want and need. Thus, Knapp deserves praise for considering a move to Foggy Bottom, but occupying Alumni House will bring its own hazards.
Alumni House is a highly sought-after venue for student group events, precisely because it is wholly different from the Marvin Center and the academic buildings that comprise the other venue choices for student functions. Alumni House is an elegant, closed area where groups can house upscale events for free. If Knapp occupies the building, students will lose this important venue and it does not appear that other buildings or venues on the Foggy Bottom campus provide a suitable replacement. Marvin Center Ballrooms do not provide the intimacy and d?cor of the Alumni House, and the University Club, which does provide similar ambience, is cost-prohibitive for most student groups.
Knapp and the administration must know now that should he choose to live in Alumni House, the public relations fall-out among student groups will be significant. Given the choice between a president living on campus and access to desperately needed space for student functions, most students would choose the latter.
If Knapp takes up residence on-campus, University officials must provide a replacement for Alumni House. While no other buildings like it exist on campus, it’s possible that greater access to some of the nicer areas of 1959 E Street or Duqu?s Hall might suffice. Alternatively, a University-owned townhouse somewhere on campus, such as the houses used for student or Greek-letter housing, while not as big as Alumni House, could be converted for student group use.
On a more personal level, Knapp’s potential abode is located next to one of the nation’s most notorious freshman residence halls – Thurston. It’s almost certain that intoxicated students will harass Knapp in his living quarters, whether it’s just loud, late-night groups of students returning from a night of partying or deliberate vandalism through pranks or drunken idiocy. For Knapp to even get a good night’s sleep on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, Alumni House will most likely require an iron fence around its perimeter and almost constant supervision by University Police.
A potential move from the luxury of Kalorama to the corner of 20th and F streets could help GW’s incoming president connect better with students and campus life, but it certainly raises a slew of issues that the administration must address and mitigate before moving forward.