A recent episode involving the philosophy department and Peg Barratt, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, has me concerned – and even a bit embarrassed – about the future of the Mount Vernon Campus.
Residents of the Vern have often complained about the non-satellite (but really, sort-of-satellite) campus. Yes, it is located miles away from Foggy Bottom, meaning students must take a shuttle between the two sites. Students who have even just one class there complain about the trek. It is also very quiet, and it just doesn’t provide the city-living experience other freshmen have. After all, residents of the Vern have to say, “I’m just four blocks, and a 15 minute ride from the White House.” These are not atypical complaints, as distance and perceived isolation consistently mar the Vern’s reputation.
But just recently, philosophy professors kicked, screamed and petitioned – garnering 117 signatures from GW faculty – until Barratt reversed her original decision to move their department to the Vern. These professors would have had offices in the newly constructed Ames Academic Hall, but they weren’t having it.
GW did not consult with the professors when choosing who would move to the Vern, and yes, CCAS administrators should have spoken with representatives of the department when they first considered the switch.
However, this situation is extremely disappointing. If members of our own University faculty don’t want to move to the Vern because of its reputation among students and in general, how can the student body ever overcome the feelings it has about our other campus??
Even as a rising senior, I am a staunch defender of the Mount Vernon Campus. I had a wonderful freshman year living in Somers Hall, I met many of my closest friends there and I was able to fully enjoy my GW experience. Shocking, right? Naturally, I also made friends who lived on the Foggy Bottom Campus, but I still maintain that the third floor of Somers was actually one of the best places to host parties during my freshman year.
Notably, I’m only one resident, and my words against the hundreds of others who complain about the distance, the fact that it’s not in D.C. and the stigma associated with being a “Vernie” do not stand a chance. The University seems to have taken notice of the campus’ bad public relations campaign, and it has taken steps to add a beautiful dining hall, state-of-the-art recording studios and most recently, University Writing classes. With this change, all freshmen will be required to take a trip to the Vern for their introductory writing courses, and hopefully, the move will bring about a better sense of inclusion for the campus.
These steps are promising, but I think the University could do more. Provost Steve Lerman’s laudable proposal to set up a strategic planning group that will develop a stronger identity for the campus is key to diminishing Vern-life stigma.
Unfortunately, the outrage from the philosophy department just drastically set back the progress of any integration plans. If the University can’t persuade a relatively small department to move to a gorgeous new facility on a campus located a shuttle ride away, I worry about its ability to keep incoming freshmen there.
GW has already consumed the majority of Foggy Bottom. Our school can no longer build out; it needs to build up. As such, moving more departments and classes to the Mount Vernon campus, utilizing the new spaces and hosting more events there will be as fundamental to campus growth as a whole as it is to improving Mount Vernon’s reputation. We can’t have a major issue every time a department is, hopefully in the future, asked to move there.
For those students who did not hate their experiences living on the Vern, share your suggestions with Lerman’s committee. Better integration of the campus also means improvement of its flaws, and that requires input from former and current residents.
But if the only flaw with the Vern is that it is not Foggy Bottom, the entire community, including administration, faculty and students, needs to realize that characteristic simply will never be fixed. And, as such, people will never be able to accept the other campus, and GW’s efforts to improve the Vern’s reputation will remain futile. Here’s hoping academic departments stop looking at the Vern as a reason to throw a tantrum.
Lyndsey Wajert, a junior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet senior columnist.