Last summer, when I mustered the inner courage required to view my first tuition bill without swooning or breaking something, I noticed a $50 library donation that I didn’t remember making. Being naive however, my initial reaction was not, “Where did this extra charge some from?” Rather it was, “Cool, does this mean I get my name on the inside cover of a book?”
I was disappointed enough to learn that I had to give a little bit more than $50 a semester to get my name on something in Gelman. However, I was even more disenchanted by the existence of the Voluntary Library Gift program. How can this be necessary at a University as large and prestigious at GW? Why does the library of a university that is self-described in its mission statement “as a center for intellectual inquiry and research” have to beg for more money on top of an already rather steep tuition? To me such a program gave the impression that the library had been removed as a cornerstone of academia. If that is the case, I didn’t get the memo.
I have always had the impression that a substantial portion of college life revolves around the library – a building packed with books on every conceivable subject and sprinkled with students learning in peaceful solitude. It is a destination location and a home away from home. It seems natural that a college would support its library with its full faith and credit because the library is its backbone of academic pursuit and knowledge. The library and academics are the bread and butter and should be taken care of before the fluff.
Apparently I was wrong.
It was not until I actually arrived on campus and saw how money was spent that I began to see that my worldview was skewed. For the fiscal years 2009-2012 the University’s Capital Budget accounts for $175 million for student life, housing and recreation and a paltry sum of $18 million for academic and support spending. To add insult to injury, there is not even evidence that Gelman will receive any renovations or any capital investments from that meager $18 million.
The disparity between academic and comfort spending figures is indefensible. I recognize that everyone likes and wants nice residence halls and I understand the need to appeal to prospective students with fun things like en-suite bathrooms and University-funded funtivities. But such aspirations should be funded only after the basic infrastructure of academia is firmly cemented in place. I should have a stellar library before I have an awesome washer/dryer on my floor, or better yet, in my room. For a University that masquerades as a real estate investment trust, it should recognize that it needs a solid base in academia before it can move on to discretionary spending.
I am not positing that GW has lost its credibility (well, maybe the medical school has); the pursuit of higher learning admirably soldiers on despite a lack of power outlets and study space in the library. However, just because every other college in America has a library does not mean that GW should let our own become a backwater in favor of some other marketable attribute.
The writer is a freshman majoring in international affairs.
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