Staff Editorial: Semester in Review: Building GW for today, not just tomorrow

This is the second of a two-part editorial board series reviewing GW’s fall semester.

With every passing day, new progress is made on the “superdorm,” the Science and Engineering Hall and the public health building, all of which are slated for completion within a few years.

These new buildings – and the academic programs and student services located inside them – will look to increase the value of a GW degree. But students paying their way through GW’s hefty tuition bills are right to question whether or not the long-term gain is worth the short-term pain of a University that sometimes appears stretched too thin.

Before administrators get too excited about constructing a brighter future, they’ll need to focus on building a better GW here and now. Here’s where they should put their focus:

Students feel left out of major decision

Administrators can’t make choices that please everyone. But they have the duty to bring students into the decision-making process, especially on issues that affect their wallets.

In July, before most students arrived on campus, administrators announced juniors will be required to live on campus starting with the Class of 2017 – a surprising move that takes money from students and puts more than $2 million in the University’s coffers each year. The University could have avoided the backlash if they consulted students.

To earn trust back, administrators must work to make students feel like a central part of University planning, not just bystanders on GW’s mission to become a bigger and better university.

But students and alumni care about the small things, too. Take, for example, the program that awarded each graduating senior with a name-engraved brick to be placed somewhere on campus. This parting gift made students feel part of a broader institution, and it’s a shame that it was abruptly discontinued without student or alumni input.

Granted, administrators should get credit where credit is due. They have worked to keep the community updated after the Office of Admissions came clean about GW’s need-aware status. It was reassuring to see GW’s enrollment manager apologize and meet with student leaders to assuage their concerns, even though more top administrators should have apologized for the lie.

But efforts like this to be honest should be the norm, not the exception – and they shouldn’t come about as a result of a scandal or mishap that wouldn’t have happened if leaders had been truthful in the first place.

A lesson learned by a former dean

But missteps can teach people lessons. At least, that was the case for former GW School of Business dean Doug Guthrie, who was fired in August after overspending his budget by $13 million.

Last month, he penned a poignant op-ed for Forbes that detailed his regret for making decisions that shut out faculty.

“I realize today that I was ultimately expelled for the most personal of reasons: I was inexperienced and too impatient to suffer academic minutiae and delicate egos,” he wrote. “I did a terrible job of managing up.”

It’s unlikely that you’ll see many candid personal reflections from current administrators, who are limited by a tight media relations strategy.

But in the past two weeks, we have seen one instance of administrators admitting mistakes. Though it was disturbing to see University and Metro police botching responses to two gun-related reports on campus, Senior Associate Vice President for Safety and Security Darrell Darnell at least owned up to a “breakdown in procedure.”

When it comes to student safety, the stakes are high. But we applaud Darnell for displaying humility. More administrators should follow that lead when they make mistakes.

No progress from the Board of Trustees

When Nelson Carbonell was sworn in as chair of the Board of Trustees in May, he promised to forge a deeper connection with the student body. This is an admirable goal – though we haven’t seen much progress of this transparency. And with the current makeup of the board, it will be tough to build closer bonds with students.

There should be more younger trustees who are more in touch with current student needs. New York University, for example, has 10 “Young Alumni Trustees,” labeled on their website, the vast majority of whom graduated college in the last 15 years.

Judging by the large number of younger alumni on NYU’s board, it is clearly a priority in ways that it is not at GW.

Granted, schools function as businesses. And with these important financial decisions comes a need for financially savvy leaders.

But how can a group of people be expected to approve annual tuition increases, for example, if they don’t have a good enough awareness of how these hikes might deter some students from applying? How can members of the board approve budgets if they don’t have classroom experience to understand how this money will be spent?

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