Logan Dobson: Want to be a PAF? Devote your life to GW

The Presidential Administrative Fellowship is a good gig if you can get it. Students who receive the fellowship attend graduate school for free at GW, in addition to drawing a salary while working in one of our fine University’s myriad departments.

Apart from gold-name-badge production, it’s pretty hard to tell what we get from PAF. There certainly isn’t a large applicant base: Just 47 students applied this year – despite the application being open to all graduating seniors.

Even the GPA requirement doesn’t bar students from entrance, as the PAF committee can make exceptions to the required minimum.

Additionally, the fellowship does nothing but act as a placement program – PAFs do not all work together. They’re hired by departments.

What sets PAF apart from other University hiring is that PAF often seems to be a repository of the GW administration’s favorite undergrads. They’ve put in their time in the favored programs at GW; current PAFs have been on Colonial Cabinet, donned robes as SJS justices and been senators in the SA.

And above all, they’ve done one important thing: They’ve developed close relationships with administrators. When you sit through an SA meeting, you can always tell who the kids are who want to be PAFs – they always suggest that we consult with the administration, they always refrain from taking any controversial positions and they do their best not to act like normal students – normal students, after all, don’t get PAF.

This is what happens when you put some of the same administrators who these students work with as undergrads in charge of interviewing them for a highly desirable position. The program claims it attempts to hire from a diverse group of students, but anyone who has been involved in GW life can look at each year’s list of PAFs and find the names of many of the students who have been the most cooperative with the administration. Hell, they even have current PAFs interviewing prospective PAFs – just to make sure that our past lackeys approve of our future ones.

And it was just three years ago, after all, that former PAF Lamar Thorpe was allowed to continue serving as a Fellow despite being put on disciplinary probation for “lewd and indecent behavior” after a sophomore accused Thorpe of sexual assault. When asked, Senior Vice President Robert Chernak, whose department oversees PAF, was quoted in a 2007 Hatchet article as saying that being on disciplinary probation is “not in conflict with being a PAF.”

Yikes. What a sweet gig this is. You can be on disciplinary probation and still be a PAF? We normal students can barely order a pizza after the University puts us on disciplinary probation. You can’t study abroad when you’re on disciplinary probation. You can’t be a member of GW’s Housing Staff. You can’t be on Colonial Cabinet or serve in the Student Association. But you can, apparently, be a PAF.

And why does this program even need to exist? After all, the PAF program does nothing but place students in University departments. Why do we need to add another step to the hiring process?

If the need to hire graduating seniors is so great, GW should make that a school-wide emphasis, not rely on PAF to provide them their employees.

PAF creates a perverse incentive on campus. It tells students that gaining GW experience is more important than real work experience. And it tells students the best way to advance your career is to never, ever leave school.

The easiest thing to do would be to get rid of this silly program. Let departments hire their own staff if they need to. Start telling people the best way to bring new ideas to GW is to hire people who have experience working outside GW. Above all, prepare students for the eventual reality that we all must face: We can’t – and we shouldn’t – go to GW forever.

-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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