With merger details still in the air, Corcoran students hope to keep classes small

As students from the Corcoran College of Art + Design talk about the planned GW merger, many speak excitedly about a wider range of courses, a better academic reputation and more campus diversity.

But one concern stands out as the students work with the University to finalize details of the multi-million dollar merger: keeping class sizes small.

Michael Schiffer, who attended a meeting between the Corcoran student council and GW’s Student Association on Thursday, said his biggest fear is losing the close-knit community sheltered by small class sizes. He said classes are mostly capped at about 30 students, even in introductory-level courses. The college’s student-faculty ratio is 9:1, while GW’s is 13:1.

“We all are very close to each other. As far as space goes, we’re a smaller building and just running into each other, you begin to develop these friendships,” Schiffer said.

The half-dozen Corcoran students also talked about their future campus experience – such as meal plans, housing, gallery space and building renovations – with hopes that Student Association leaders would relay their concerns to GW administrators.

Schiffer said concerns included whether students would be required to live on GW’s campus, what renovations would be made to their building and what would happen to their schools’ library.

Provost Steven Lerman will reveal more details about the acquisition April 7, after six weeks of talks with both schools’ leaders. Lerman and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences dean Ben Vinson will also hold town hall meetings at Corcoran this week at both the 17th Street and Georgetown locations.

Some Corcoran students said they have been frustrated by a lack of answers after GW made the unexpected announcement more than a month ago. When they announced the deal last month, administrators stressed that they wouldn’t make decisions in haste.

Media Credit: Jordan Leon | Staff Photographer
Michael Schiffer, a sophomore at the Corcoran College of Art + Design, was one of a half-dozen students who met with Student Association leaders last week. He also hopes to meet with GW administrators during two townhall meetings at his campus this week.

Amy Morales, a sophomore majoring in fine arts, said neither administration has communicated how the merger will impact their lives.

“I just wish they let us know beforehand, and give us more information,” she said. “I heard that we might be losing the library, so I hope that things like that don’t start happening, because that’s a main resource.”

Student Association president Julia Susuni, who met with about a half-dozen members of the Corcoran student council Thursday to plan collaboration, said it was still unclear how the students would fit into GW’s academic and campus life.

“I think my takeaway was that not everybody has the same opinion of what’s going on. I think people definitely see both sides of the positive things and then maybe the things that need to be ironed out a little more,” she said.

Susuni said she told Corcoran students that GW students were also still waiting on answers from administrators. She added that the two groups hadn’t started conversations about whether to merge the two governing groups.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
The University will absorb the Corcoran College of Art + Design after about six weeks of negotiations to hammer out details.

When the University announced it would acquire the Mount Vernon College in 1998, the SA senate voted to create a non-voting seat for the college after heavy debate about amending the body’s constitution.

Vinson has led conversations with Corcoran and GW administrators over the last month and a half, and the arts school’s programs will likely come under his purview in the Columbian College. Lerman has also met with long-serving fine arts professors, such as Frank Wright, to solicit feedback about integrating students and faculty.

University President Steven Knapp has said it would take the next year to finalize plans for Corcoran faculty, though GW will also honor the one-year contracts of Corcoran professors.

Peter Konwerski, dean of student affairs, said he had been in talks with Corcoran’s student life officials, but they had not discussed how they could merge offices.

The focus of his conversations have been on how the two schools can “best understand each other,” he said.

“There’s apprehension any time you go into a new relationship, and we’ve all been in relationships, but at the end of the day, I think people are excited about proximity and I think people are excited about opportunities,” he said.

– Mary Ellen McIntire contributed to this report.

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