Honors program eyes Vern space

The University Honors Program is considering moving its first-year courses and housing to the Mount Vernon Campus, despite vocal opposition from honors students at two town halls over the past week.

Upper-level classes in the honors program would remain primarily on Foggy Bottom, while the program’s 130 freshmen would take both of their required honors courses on the Vern.

Students at the town halls criticized the potential plan to move the optional honors housing to West Hall on the Vern. About 75 percent of freshmen in the honors program currently reside in optional honors-only housing in Thurston Hall.

When Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Planning Forrest Maltzman, who is spearheading the move, asked the capacity crowd of 50 students if they opposed the potential housing option Thursday, almost every hand shot up.

“Moving the honors program out there would be well-intentioned segregation,” sophomore Liza Floyd said at the nearly two-hour meeting. “It takes away the social environment, the vibrancy and everything we’ve been saying that we love about the honors program here today.”

Maltzman said he sought input from the honors advisory board, honors faculty, staff and students as well as the Student Association, the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Admissions. An online forum for honors students to voice their concerns will be launched this week.

“I am not sure students are of one mind on the dual campus model,” he said in an e-mail after the town hall Thursday. “What I saw today is that many students who are primarily living in Thurston and are part of the honors program tend to be opposed to the dual campus model. A few students today had different views.”

University Provost Steven Lerman is expected to approve the new housing and academic options for the honors program, which enrolls approximately 400 students, this month.

Maltzman said the plan needs to be finalized before incoming freshmen apply to the program. The Early Decision I deadline is Nov. 10.

A survey of current freshmen in the honors program conducted in summer 2011 showed that nearly 70 percent of students would likely still join the program if honors housing were offered on the Vern.

The move advances the University’s effort to make the Mount Vernon Campus a home for freshman academics. All University Writing classes, which are required for freshmen, will be held on the Vern starting this spring.

The January opening of Ames Hall – which will feature five floors of academic space, faculty offices and student lounges – has University officials scrambling to use the space effectively. In April, philosophy professors rallied against relocating their department to the Vern, forcing the University to rethink its plans for the campus.

Several faculty in the honors program declined to comment on the still uncertain dual campus model.

Senior Jonathan Robinson, who is a mentor for freshman honors students, supports the move, citing the additional space in Ames Hall as an asset for the program.

“There’s a space to offer a better academic community,” Robinson said. “I understand that people are uneasy because the Vern is not seen in the most popular light, but I think it could help students.”

But Maria Frawley, the executive director for the honors program, stressed the need for the program to maintain a strong presence on Foggy Bottom if it moves to the Vern.

She added that the program could become a role model for other dual campus initiatives across the University and “show that it’s not one or the other.”

“You’re not banished from GW when you’re at Mount Vernon,” Frawley said.

Frawley has advocated for the program to keep its townhouse on 21st street, which is home to honors advisers and some classes. University officials agreed after the first town hall that the honors program would keep its townhouse.

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