Justin Guiffré: What does the SEC mean for GW?

I have an experiment for you.

Ask some of your friends what they think about the Science and Engineering Complex, the estimated $275 million behemoth expansion project that was approved by the Board of Trustees last Friday. I guarantee you will find two distinct philosophies on the subject.

Some students will live and die by the idea that specialization is key. Do what you do best. At GW, this usually means politics, business and law.

Others will argue that you must invest in the underprivileged. Why should the science program rot away in Corcoran Hall while the School of Business gets fancy stock trading software?

GW has just made one of the most monumental shifts in philosophy we’ve seen since the end of the rip-roaring Trachtenberg era. The SEC represents one of the largest changes in direction on GW’s campus in years, if not decades. And even more importantly, it was done without enough input from some of the largest stakeholders in the GW community: students.

Let’s think about both sides of this argument.

GW has seen significant investment in its areas of specialty. The Elliott School of International Affairs has some of the best facilities and faculty in the field. Not a week goes by without an accomplished diplomat sitting down with students to discuss contemporary topics. Of course it seems social sciences, like international affairs, are the most worthy investment at a university located, and integral to, a city that revolves around the interplay of power and politics.

On the other hand, there is incredible promise for the sciences at a school like GW. Lest we forget, the Hall of Government – ironically, now home to many political science classes – was the location of Niels Bohr’s announcement that he split the atom more than 70 years ago. With the opportunity to direct federal funds, and explain the social promise of such investments, does it not make sense that a university in the heart of D.C. would have a vested interest in continuing that dream?

This past week, the Board of Trustees agreed with the latter, with little fanfare and debate.

The SEC will reshape the academic landscape of our University. It will radically change how we think about future investments at GW. As exemplified by the board’s decision, the belief is no longer that we should simply specialize in things that we are already good at, but rather, we should actively invest in the weakest parts of our school.

This begs a serious and perennial question regarding GW’s manner of determining its philosophical underpinnings: Where do students come into play?

The Board of Trustees lacks a student representative. For the vast majority of students, this statement seems abstract. It shouldn’t. Given the track record of the Student Association, it isn’t surprising that GW hasn’t seen fit to make student representation more ingrained. But for a $275 million investment, isn’t it disconcerting that students didn’t figure more heavily into the decision-making? It’s time for GW to put a student voice at the highest level. The University could at least develop a way for students to play a larger role in major decisions.

I don’t suspect the SEC will end up being a bad decision by the Board of Trustees. But ask your friends, and watch the dialogue unfold. Without a student vote, none of those opinions were part of the board’s final decision. Too bad we are only now thinking about what the SEC will mean. Sorry to say, it’s too late.

The writer, a senior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet senior columnist.

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