As the class of 2007 prepares to don their caps and gowns, they and the rest of the GW community can look back on the past year as a typical mix of big-name speakers, new initiatives, program cuts and plenty of complaints. The following is a wrap-up of some of the major issues that occurred this year.
The fall semester began with GW again failing to break the top 50 in university rankings, coming in at 52 in the U.S. News and World Report standings. Students expressed typical complaints over the lack of improvement, and University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg discounted the ratings. While the rankings are somewhat trivial, students remained frustrated over rising costs and no apparent returns.
The administration irked students at the beginning of the semester by announcing the end of free newspapers in residence halls and the Colonials Invasion pep rally. In the spring, the University announced that it would attempt to reinstate these programs next year; however, continued program cuts have hurt perceptions of GW, especially at a time of rising costs.
In December, The Hatchet broke the story that Steven Knapp would take over as president of GW for the next school year. In a rare occurrence for GW, the search committee made a decision ahead of schedule, allowing more time for transition during the spring semester. Knapp, an academic, has kept out of the limelight for most of the past few months, a stark contrast to GW’s outspoken current president. Nonetheless, Knapp is expected to refocus on fundraising and academics, two areas in which the University is lacking.
That same month, the administration conceded defeat in the part-time faculty unionization case, giving up a lawsuit alleging an invalid unionization vote. The University ultimately wasted far too much time and money pushing a questionable argument in an apparent attempt to stall a legitimate unionization attempt.
In February, GW’s endowment broke $1 billion. This news was overshadowed by the announcement that next year’s freshman class would pay $50,000 in tuition and fees, making GW the most expensive school in the country. University officials attempted to hide behind a fixed tuition plan and increased money for financial aid; however, a plethora of negative media attention ensued nonetheless.
March saw complaints over iHousing, a revamped dorm selection process, due to a number of students being placed on the non-guaranteed waiting list. Such concerns persist each year, however, despite the University’s annual attempts to please all students seeking housing.
The announcement of President Trachtenberg as the Commencement keynote speaker drew ire from seniors and dominated much of the end of the spring semester. The Commencement speaker should represent an outside voice, and while Trachtenberg did step down from his role, he did not do so gracefully. By tying his decision to the Virginia Tech tragedy, the president used the shootings to deflect the focus away from both legitimate and non-legitimate student criticism.
Perhaps the most persistent issue during the year has been the proposal for a four-credit, four-class curricular structure. A number of departments and faculty members are frustrated about the University not providing more specifics for the program, and the Faculty Senate rejected the proposal outright. Unless administrators provide a more specific plan and publicize more compelling benefits aside from monetary savings, this plan will surely fail.
Throughout the year, the administration made headway on broad planning initiatives, with approval of the 20-year campus plan and a development proposal for Square 54, the old hospital site. Hopefully, administrators will now focus on academic improvement and set construction issues on autopilot for the next decade or more.
A focus on increasing cost and diminishing services will likely dominate student and public perceptions in the near future. The past school year has also paved the way for broad changes next year, and the spring semester has been an especially busy one for GW. In light of all the new changes, complaints and concerns that occurred over the past eight months, there is little doubt that next year will bring more of the same.