As one undergraduate student among more than 10,000, it is pretty easy to think your voice does not matter. After all, one vote does not decide a major election and one fan screaming cannot change the outcome of a sporting event. However, when we talk to friends or roommates and exchange ideas, the voice of one can quickly become the voice of many. The power that comes with passing ideas from person to person until they become relevant to the larger community has been evident this fall at GW, as the voices of students dissatisfied with the GW administration have become a bit stronger.
The University – led by President Steven Knapp and Board of Trustees Chairman W. Russell Ramsey – has launched a campus-wide campaign, including powerful op-eds in The Hatchet, to promote its vision for the University’s future. The combined message of President Knapp and Chairman Ramsey was clear: We are listening. The GW community should be proud that our University is willing to listen to the voices of its students. Still, we as a GW community cannot stop at simply acknowledging our problems. We must instead take a proactive stance and be deeply involved in their respective solutions.
Most importantly, the changes proposed by both President Knapp and Chairman Ramsey must include increased access to the University for students. In their columns, Knapp and Ramsey both emphasized the need to transform GW into a “world-class research university.” Although the criteria for judging universities has shifted to emphasizing research – making this transformation necessary – it is imperative that research conducted at GW includes student contributions. As such, the University should require that each department post the areas faculty are currently researching on an online forum accessible to students, as well as whether each faculty member has student research assistant positions available. This allows students to understand where each professor’s interests lie and would actively engage the student body in high-level research, thus improving student learning while assisting faculty by increasing their productivity. Opportunities like these will draw stronger applicants to GW and allow the University to realize President Knapp’s goal of becoming even more selective.
One of the key points Chairman Ramsey and President Knapp addressed in their messages to students was the creation of an Innovation Task Force that will determine how GW should improve and spend money more efficiently. This desire to improve inspires hope for GW’s future, but a task force composed of the people who were responsible for the problems GW is facing will yield more of the same administrative issues that have plagued this school. While the task force should not be altogether thrown out, it is necessary for it to have a strong student presence that amounts to something more than Internet polls. The task force should include a panel of 25 students, chosen through an application process. This will bring diverse insight into GW’s problems and can help more efficiently allocate the University budget. The problem of spending exorbitant amounts of money on programs that have questionable effectiveness and are under-utilized by students cannot be solved by the same people who initially approved them. Instead, the University needs to find alternative ways to ask the beneficiaries of these programs for advice.
We should feel proud to have an administration willing to work hard to acquiesce to student requests, and I agree with Chairman Ramsey that it is an incredible time to be at GW. However, throwing an additional $60 million per year at our shortcomings does not ensure success. To build the loyalty and sense of community desired here in Foggy Bottom, each of these new programs, and the realignment of University funding, must be guided by the underlying principle of ‘How does the University provide even more for students.’ Hosting great events for cabinet secretaries and alumni are powerful tools to improve GW’s visibility, but ensuring student access to influential people and institutions by cultivating internships in the halls of power throughout Washington is the sort of improvement we need. Effective outreach like that will launch GW further into the educational elite in this country, and attract the level of students the University wants and deserves.
The writer is a sophomore majoring in political science.
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