Staff Editorial: Corcoran merger promises bright future for GW’s reputation

Media Credit: Cartoon by Sophie McTear | Design Editor

If you thought you were attending a school that prioritizes political science and international affairs, think again.

In recent years, GW has looked to expand its reputation beyond one rooted in location and politics. While a banner that reads “In the White House or at GW, four years can change the course of history” is still emblazoned on Gelman Library’s exterior, just across the street, a $275 million Science and Engineering Hall has risen out of the ground.

And now we’ve acquired an arts school.

In February, GW announced a merger with the Corcoran College of Art + Design. The parties inked a deal three months later, and this week, administrators dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the plans. We still must wait to see how a once-autonomous college will function as a part of the whole. But we’re starting to look forward to the day when the Corcoran is fully integrated with GW.

By all accounts, GW saved the Corcoran. The financially failing arts school had been operating on a deficit almost every year for the past 13 years, and it had little hope for survival unless a more stable institution intervened.

The agreement with GW was met with some resistance from Corcoran students, professors and alumni. Many are still concerned about what their place will be within GW and how the merger will change what it means to be a Corcoran graduate. But when you imagine GW with a Corcoran School of Art + Design five or ten years down the road, the picture isn’t so bad.

We will now be home to a prestigious art school, a state-of-the-art engineering and science research facility and the only public health school building in downtown D.C. – in addition to our already nationally recognized flagship programs.

But where does that leave Corcoran students? Officials have said the arts school will function much like the School of Media and Public Affairs, which is known for its exclusivity, distinguished faculty and classes that are restricted to students in the school’s majors. If the Corcoran functions in a similar way – with a separate application and courses restricted to majors – it can maintain its reputation and some autonomy.

Johns Hopkins University, where University President Steven Knapp once served as provost, can act as a model. The Peabody Institute became part of Johns Hopkins in 1986 and maintained its independence as a separate college.

Because of its affiliation with Johns Hopkins, “Peabody students are exposed to a liberal arts curriculum that is more expansive than those of other leading conservatories; likewise, Hopkins students have access to a world-class musical education and experience that they could not access at another university of such stature,” the Peabody website reads.

Corcoran and GW students will benefit from a comparable relationship, though the Corcoran will not be a separate arts conservatory like the Peabody. Corcoran students will now have access to everything our campus has to offer, from libraries and athletic facilities to academic and career services. For students at a school that was in the red for more than a decade, we hope it’s a relief to know their options have vastly expanded.

In turn, we will have exposure to a richer artistic community. It seemed uncharacteristic for GW, not known for its arts education, to build the $33 million GW Museum, and we know students mocked the move. With the acquisition of the Corcoran, future arts initiatives will make a little more sense: GW is obviously trying to boost its arts reputation, as administrators have confirmed.

It’s a win-win situation. Though the Corcoran would be able to function on its own in an ideal world, the merger allows the institution to survive and evolve. It envelops the school into the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which will be able to support it for years to come. And GW benefits because it can provide students with a more well-rounded education.

Some colleges pick two or three areas of expertise and devote their resources to them entirely. Eventually, one could argue, their reputations become centered around them. But there’s a reason we have general education requirements: You take several classes outside of your major so you can emerge from college with a breadth of knowledge.

By building a science and technology hub and taking over an arts school, GW is acting on that same principle. The University, which often gets pigeonholed by its geographic location, has decided it wants to diversify instead of just excelling at two or three things.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, sports editor Sean Hurd, culture editor Emily Holland, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and design editor Sophie McTear.

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