Paris Bienert: Sorry Obama, but we’ve got class

Last October, when President Barack Obama held a town hall meeting in the Marvin Center, I was one of the many students who flocked to the 2100 block of H Street hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama in action.

Merely a month into my freshman year, the president of the United States was hosting a nationwide broadcast from my college campus. Needless to say, I thought it was pretty cool.

Obama has been on campus three times in my three semesters at GW, including last Thursday for a ONE campaign event. By now, the novelty of the president being on campus has begun to wear off for me, and I’ve started to wonder how students are benefiting from these presidential visits.

Paris Bienert

The University needs to reassess its decisions to host high-profile speakers at critical times for student productivity on campus, taking into account whether these visits are actually in the best interest of the student body as a whole.

Are we really getting anything out of it other than bragging rights and yet another opportunity to tweet #onlyatgw? Without the opportunity to attend, students do not gain any concrete benefits from these events taking place on campus.

Hearing the president speak in person would be an incredible learning opportunity for any student who is lucky enough to attend. Unfortunately though, students rarely have the option of attending these on-campus events.

For last October’s town hall meeting, the GW students who were offered tickets were pre-selected by the Guide to Personal Success Program and the political science department. There were only 20 student tickets in total.

Last April, when Obama spoke at the Jack Morton Auditorium, he jokingly addressed our students, saying, “I wanted to make sure you had one more excuse to skip class.” The White House set aside a small pool of student tickets that the University distributed to individual schools.

Last Thursday’s event only offered tickets to the executive board of the GW ONE Campus Challenge and other select students.

The University, of course, benefits from hosting such events, as being able to say, “President Obama did something important at The George Washington University” surely helps the University’s public image.

While it is true that attending a high-profile university does benefit students, it’s impossible to weigh the potential help in the future against the inconveniences students are faced with in the present.

Seven classes had to be rescheduled or relocated to accommodate for last Thursday’s event, and despite the e-mail students received the night before, there was still confusion about where and when campus access would be restricted.

These inconveniences were imposed at a time when students are stressing about rapidly approaching finals and classes wrapping up.

Can the University really justify cancelling classes leading up to finals, even for a speaker like this? I’m not sure.

I’m not saying the University should reject every offer for a presidential visit – it is indeed an exciting event to host. But it is worth noting that these events are coming at a time when student success should be the focus. Hosting high-profile speakers on campus will get GW’s name out there, but the students whom the name represents should be able to say that they got something out the event, too.

GW should be an institution for academia and learning – not promoting publicity and image. The students’ interests and needs should be put above improving image – particularly at this critical time in the year.

The University should put efforts toward making Obama’s appearances on campus more beneficial for students. The cool factor alone may not be sustainable if these events continue to inconvenience students without providing any concrete benefits.

Paris Bienert, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is Hatchet columnist.

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