Parsons: GW needs to reconsider expensive new center

Donald Parsons, professor of economics and a member of the Faculty Senate special committee on financial and operational planning for the Science and Engineering Complex, discusses how GW should evaluate the costliness of the new building and what is means for GW’s strategic planning.

Though few have read it, including apparently some top administrators, the University’s “Strategic Plan for Academic Excellence” is often held to be a guiding star for all University activity. If one regularly reads the output of Rice Hall, one might imagine that no leaf falls in Foggy Bottom that was not preordained by the Strategic Plan. That makes an actual reading of the Strategic Plan a bit of a disappointment, which in turn may explain why so few have done so.

Somewhat unfairly, I once derided the Strategic Plan in these pages as “innocent of content.” That is not quite the case. A critical reading of the Strategic Plan from a planning perspective reveals one principle: that the University is committed to building on strength, or “selective excellence” as the plan labels it. Of course, such an approach hardly provides the intellectual focus needed to lead a university to greatness, and I gave the framers of the plan correspondingly little credit.

As often happens in life, however, one begins to appreciate the little things when they are taken away. To appreciate even the simplest decision – like building on strength – one only has to face the alternative. In this case GW’s administration, with the zealous encouragement of the Board of Trustees, has decided that the cruelly underfunded science and engineering programs are to be provided with a grand Science and Engineering Complex. The SEC will loom over Foggy Bottom, loudly proclaiming GW’s rebirth as a science university, indeed the only one six blocks from the White House.

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