Peter Horan: Balancing programming on campus

There has been discussion within the academic community that universities overwhelm their students with programming. In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Too Many Events on Campus,” Gina Barreca, a literature professor, argues that quality is sacrificed for quantity in the programs that universities provide their students. In the article, she says she goes to events out of guilt for not maximizing her opportunities, rather than through a genuine desire. The discussion really comes down to two sides, I think: whether universities should organize groups and activities for the students, or if students should be left primarily to find their own paths in their student organizations.

As with many things, balance is the answer to this issue. As someone engrossed in multiple organizations, I believe that we maintain this balance at GW.

The debate concerning university versus student programming seems to arise from the increasing number of people attending college. More people in the market place means increased competition, and universities are no exception. A recent Hatchet article (“Acceptance rate hits historic high” April 5) about historic rates of rejection testifies to the rise in collegiate demand. In contrast to the sleepier, elite universities of the past, the influx of students presumably provides an influx of diverse interests on campus. University officials are cognizant of these conditions, and it gives them incentives to provide more and more activities to justify higher and higher tuitions. As Barreca puts it, “every school is invested in giving their kids a lot of bang for their buck.” She goes on to argue that this increase in supply decreases the quality of the programs provided: “there seems to be more of an emphasis on the noise and special effects nature of the event rather than the quality.”

At times, it seems that university programming and student programming are in conflict. With limited space, they both have the same needs. This forces the question: should the university have precedence or should student orgs come first in programming resources?

But there is a more important question: what shapes the culture of a campus: the students or the university? Obviously both, but the university provides only the foundation. The students make the substance of the culture that characterizes a university. To this rule, GW is no exception. In fact, with more talented applicants each year, our culture has everything to gain and nothing to lose. But it is the student body that is vital to the culture of the school, not the school itself. In this debate over programming, I side with those in favor of student organizations over university programs. Yet at GW, the University does an excellent job balancing the freedom of their students to achieve with providing them the services to do so.

I spent my freshman year getting a sense of what college actually is; sorting fact from the mythical aura it has in the minds of high school students. I realized that apart from the mindless parties in Thurston and elsewhere, I sensed the presence of an inner core of activities I was missing out on. As a sophomore, I worked to enter that inner core, which I found to consist of student organizations that worked with the blessings of the University. Just go to the Student Activities Center Web site: for every interest one may have, there are five clubs sharing their passion. This year, I joined multiple organizations to cover the width and breadth of my interests, and participate in that core of opportunity and activity. I feverishly crammed my schedule. At the peak of my participation, I enjoyed both student and University activities. Yet the fact that all these organizations exist and thrive at GW testifies to the fact that University programs and student orgs can thrive side by side. One does not unfairly drown the other out.

My only complaint that does hurt student organizations is the sometimes idiotic adherence to bureaucratic protocol on the part of the University. Whether it be getting funding or just making student voices heard, GW needs be less bureaucratic and more accessible. But while the bureaucracy is an inconvenience, it does not fatally hurt student organizations. GW does an admirable job fostering student organizations and blending them with University programs and services. These together constitute the GW I know and love.

The writer is a sophomore majoring in history.

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