Sam Salkin: Embracing the corporatism so many detest

I suppose that being a columnist means that essentially, I get to complain to a large audience every two weeks. Some people probably read The Hatchet every issue just to see what people are complaining about this time around.

With this great power of complaining at my disposal, I have decided to play my card this week. In Monday’s Hatchet, contributing opinions editor Diana Kugel explained how GW often goes out of its way to make itself look better than it actually is (“Unmasking GW,” Apr. 9, p. 4). Kugel criticizes GW for planting flowers for springtime and presenting itself in an enthusiastic way during orientation. For me, it seems as if the column all but avoids using the “b” word to describe good old G-dub.

The “b” word is none other than business. You’ve probably heard the complaint before that accuses GW of being run like a corporation. Our logo, larger-than-life administration and copious acronyms all point to a Fortune 500 company rather than a college campus. Yet, through all of these perceived flaws, I’ve come to terms with a simple fact: GW is run like a business because it is one.

Some look at this simple fact and shake their heads. Aren’t we here to be students rather than shareholders, some may ask. Others wonder how we can come to terms with the confusing and numerous titles of administrators. However, when you come in second place to the federal government in terms of both owned land in D.C. and employees in the District, you can’t run the show like a small liberal arts college in a rural college town.

Perhaps the most frequent complaint levied against GW is how much we pay in annual tuition. Don’t get me wrong – the fact that the class of 2011 is paying upwards of $50,000 is unreal. However, administrators wouldn’t charge that much money if they didn’t think people would pay it, just as Apple wouldn’t charge $300 for an iPod if they didn’t think people would pay it. The difference between these two organizations, however, is that one actually offers abundant financial assistance to partake in its product.

Part of being a successful business involves marketing, and GW has certainly mastered this skill. Starting with the murals on the walls of the visitor center and following through with the grand admissions packet we all received informing us of our acceptance, GW has worked hard to get and maintain our attention. Does GW play up some of its strengths and ignore some of its flaws? Absolutely! What kind of business makes a point of boasting about its inadequacies?

Imagine if GW representatives told high school seniors, “GW is D.C. and D.C. is GW, but stay away from the Marvin Center basement for the next few months.” It would be a horrible business plan. Is a laser light show at orientation a little gimmicky? Maybe, but what it really boils down to is brand loyalty. The Washington Nationals are giving out free beer can coolers to the first 25,000 fans at their game on May 11. It’s surely gimmicky, but you can bet people will be there to take advantage of the promotion.

Perhaps the single greatest advantage and the single greatest detriment GW faces, as a business, is our need to be dynamic. No business can survive without the willingness to make changes and respond to the marketplace. Sometimes this yields tremendous results. For instance, GW has decided that in order to be competitive with other schools, we must build a world-class science center to attract top-notch students and more funding for research. On the flip side, GW has decided it needs to emulate other schools to be able to compete and is offering a flawed four-class, four-credit system to both improve academics and cut costs.

Just as other universities have followed this business mindset, GW needs to play the game to stay competitive in the market. The “b” word isn’t as horrible as everyone keeps cracking it up to be. All businesses have flaws. Some pollute rivers, others use slave labor in developing countries. GW is expensive and at times inefficient, but would you really want to spend your tuition on such a large enterprise that was being run like something other than a business?

-The writer, a junior majoring in geography, is a Hatchet columnist.

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