David Ceasar: An open letter to President Steven Knapp

Dear President Knapp:

In the short time since we have been back from winter break, you have already held two forums for gaining insight on campus sustainability and the overall GW experience. Dubbed town halls or, even more to-the-point “listening sessions,” these events serve as a much-needed platform for seeking student opinion on a host of issues important to us.

Although there are admittedly many stakeholders at this University – faculty, staff, alumni, neighbors, etc. – we the students are most important to the school. We are the here and now. All too often, our perspective is usurped by what administrators think is best for us or what is best for the institution in the long-term.

So, for holding forums open to the community and specifically for students, I commend you.

But I’d like to hear just a tad bit more from you and little less from everyone else. I understand that a major objective of these sessions is to get up to speed on the problems ailing the student body and other members of the GW community. You’ve been on the job for less than six months, and at an institution as sprawling as this one, there’s a tremendous learning curve.

I applaud the initiative to go to the students and ask what change they want realized at the hands of your administration. Yet, I wanted to hear more from you last Tuesday evening at the town hall. What do you think about our University’s shortcomings, both large and small? What do you plan to do to resolve the issues raised at the town hall by the average student?

Hoping for more dialogue at the forum among you, the panel and the audience, I was a bit surprised by the lack of candor from those on stage. A University staff member told me afterward that it was never meant to be a back-and-forth discussion, so maybe I just misunderstood the term “town hall.” Instead of your opinions and plans being showcased, the students themselves were the ones who were asked questions. You did briefly respond to some of the complaints once the students’ time elapsed.

What you referred to as the issue you field the most complaints about is GW’s advising system. I agree that this is one of the major areas capable of tangible improvement at the University, but not worth unduly more attention than other problems. Some schools and departments have stellar advisers – whether coming from professional advisers, faculty members or simply students. Others, unfortunately, do not. The process of remedying the inconsistency of quality across academic advising programs should start soon.

Now, I wrote “tangible” improvement because there are negative aspects of GW that are a bit more nebulous. This is well-evidenced by the responses to the moderator’s question: “In 10 years, what do you hope your relationship will be to GW?” Several students said they would only donate to a specific department in the University or if a particular program was emphasized. Another would give back if there will be greater transparency about where our tuition dollars are going, given that we pay so much to be here.

That’s what it comes down to. Bang for your buck. People are looking for that intangible feeling, that you’ve gotten great value out of your four years and $200,000 put into the school.

While many students love a particular professor or their specialized major or their student organization, these same people simultaneously loathe other areas of the University – whether that be a lack of campus dining options, functioning science facilities or good advisers.

Looming over these specific concerns is perhaps the greatest threat to our school: not feeling a part of a greater community. Without that feeling, the value of a GW education is greatly diminished. I believe it was the last student to speak at the town hall who said that giving back to the University in the future relies on the University giving us that sense of community in the present. The growth of our endowment – translating into the reduction of the cost of attendance – hangs in the balance. Not to mention we’d all like to have a great experience in Foggy Bottom in the here and now.

I was hoping you can get back to all of us on how to get there.

The writer, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in political management, is The Hatchet’s senior editor.

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