Faculty praise goals, warn of ambitious agenda

A week after seeing the University’s strategic plan for the first time, faculty are pointing out that changing GW’s admissions structure and encouraging cross-school collaboration will prove difficult.

Even when professors praised the plan widely considered ambitious and far-reaching, their acclaim was often cautious. Several said that the University would need to better define how to turn ideas into action in the next four months before the final plan goes before the Board of Trustees.

The plan lays out about $300 million worth of investments in academics, research and student life over the next 10 years. Ideas include more cross-disciplinary research centers, strengthening of career services, up to 100 new faculty positions and a doubling of the international undergraduate population.

Neal Chalofsky, associate professor of human and organizational learning, said it will be tough to encourage GW-wide collaboration at a university that has stressed school-by-school fundraising, planning and budgeting, adding that administrators would have to continue to “put their money where their mouth is.”

“A plan is only as good as its execution,” he said, “And it will be interesting to see how the University will change the entrenched culture from one of rewarding individual faculty performance to rewarding collaboration across disciplines.”

He said the interdisciplinary approach would fundamentally change operations at a school where programs with similar disciplines don’t know about each other and even if they do, they rarely swap ideas.

Some professors said the plan could prompt staff across GW’s schools to start dual academic degrees or forge research connections.

Engineering professor Charles Garris said he is optimistic about the plan’s draft, and will help tweak the tactics GW will use to implement its big ideas.

“On the surface the plan sounds good, but how it shapes up might be difficult,” he said.

A new process that would allow students to apply to the University as a whole rather than applying to specific college has captured the most attention from faculty so far. Faculty have praised the idea for creating more academic flexibility for students, but some also cautioned that it could put schools’ identities at risk.

Philip Wirtz, a professor of decision sciences and psychology, stressed that administrators must put it into action carefully so it does not drown out the attractiveness of schools – like the prestigious Elliott School of International Affairs – for undergraduate applicants.

“We have a small number of schools within the University which have attained a high stature and visibility, and which provide particularly stellar positive contributions to the GW brand,” Wirtz said. “We have to be careful not to dilute the extraordinary value that these schools bring to the GW branding.”

David Dolling, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said he was unconcerned with how the admissions model would impact his school. While it would be nearly impossible for engineering students to double major because of the curriculum standards imposed by accreditation agencies, he said the school could open up elective courses to expose students outside the engineering school to the basics of 21st century technology.

Those courses could be part of a core curriculum across the University for freshmen and sophomores, which members of the Faculty Senate will put together this year. Faculty Senate committees, ranging from research to fiscal planning, also will examine portions of the strategic plan over the next four months.

Only two professors asked Lerman direct questions about the plan’s content during Friday’s meeting of the Faculty Senate.

The plan’s funding stream will flow partly from money generated by the Innovation Task Force, a group of faculty and staff that formed in 2010. The group aims to save money across the University by increasing efficiency and generating revenue to put back into academics and research.

The Division of Development and Alumni Relations will also try to raise $300 to $400 million as part of its comprehensive capital campaign, which will get off the ground in 2014.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.