Niketa Brar: Planning an academic future

At first, I thought I was just lazy.

Somewhere after a rather compulsive freshman year, I stopped believing in work ethic. I put off papers until the early morning hours a day or two before the due date and don’t read until the week before an exam.

Recently, the disintegration of my previously immutable work habits has been a significant cause of concern. Moving into upper-level courses, I decided to recommit myself to get my act together – and quick.

But as I began restructuring my work efforts, I realized that my equation for successful studying is missing one key ingredient: a library. That’s right – while GW has constructed a half dozen buildings in the last 20 years, the University still lacks a modern library large enough to accommodate Foggy Bottom’s growing population.

No, I’m not blind. I do see that dated brown brick building in the center of campus that is more distracting than the National Zoo. For some reason, I’m not particularly compelled to work there. Instead, Gelman is the place I go when I want to run into old friends unexpectedly, get a cup of coffee, check my e-mail or check out the new season’s hottest trends. With its prime location and aisles full of gossip, it is the place to be.

And that’s exactly why I cannot, for the life of me, get anything done there.

I’m not sure who, if anyone, is at fault for the lax atmosphere and casual conversations floating around the floors of Gelman. With only three floors open all night and over 10,000 students to accommodate, it is not surprising that Club G-Spot is the hottest place to be on an average weeknight. And when Starbucks reinstates its 24-hour service, any ounce of civility that exists in the pre-exam season will officially be lost.

The fact is, Gelman Library has been the primary study center for students since it first opened its doors in 1973. And while the student population has grown exponentially and the University has swept through Foggy Bottom, only one cramped library is available to all undergraduates studying on this campus.

In University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg’s tenure, academics played second fiddle to building an enterprise. As the University bought up land left and right, the administration leased it out as offices buildings and food venues. And when the University did use space for students, it seemed most concerned with continually owning the rankings of best dormitories in the country. Just last year, the University broke ground on a $75 million dormitory that will house another 474 students.

But it seems as if the administration has forgotten what exactly students come to Foggy Bottom to do. Don’t let the sleek suits and glossy BlackBerries fool you. The point of going to school at GW is, in fact, to get an education.

It’s been almost a year since the announcement that University President Steven Knapp would be taking the reins. When word of his selection initially got out, many of us students shared a belief that this quiet man from Johns Hopkins would take GW from a business to a true university. Over the last few months, Knapp has certainly listened and acknowledged student concerns as he has attended town hall meetings about food problems and set forth a plan for making GW more affordable.

But as a University leader, we look to him to make changes that will not just affect our stomachs and wallets, but the value of our diplomas. This cannot happen without challenging our academic status quo. It cannot happen without the University redirecting its efforts to increase our educational resources. We can keep extending hours in buildings across campus, but this won’t silence the need for more study space. What we really need to extend are not just hours, but space itself. We need a new library.

GW has sat at the feet of the top 50 universities in the nation for years now. We’re counting on Knapp to use his educational expertise and institutional knowledge to convert GW into the type of institution worthy of being in that privileged top 50. It’s time to change focus and reprioritize. Take the first step by building us a shiny new library, preferably with a color scheme that will match our BlackBerries.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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