Staff Editorial: Don’t abandon hope for GW’s long-term plans

Just a few years ago, GW was moving full speed ahead. Between 2011 and 2013, the University broke ground on the Science and Engineering Hall, started building District House, finished renovations to the second floor of Gelman Library and finalized the 10-year strategic plan.

Back then, GW’s priorities were focused on growth and innovation, and it’s clear officials had high hopes that their plans would fall into place.

It’s hard to believe, given that enthusiasm, that we’d be where we are now, just a few years later. The University might still be in a forward-thinking mindset, but recent news of staff layoffs and a campus-wide budget crunch – caused by a dip in graduate enrollment – tell a different story.

The admission rate just soared to the highest it’s been in a decade – about 45 percent – in an attempt to bring in more revenue. This week, the University announced that it had eliminated 46 employee positions. And the music department is still reeling from the announcement that it would be cut nearly in half.

A lot of the conversation surrounding GW’s financial woes has been focused on these day-to-day impacts on student, faculty and staff. Those stories may make it seem like the world is crashing down around us, since they feel more tangible in the context of our own lives. Couple that with the somewhat uncertain future of the strategic plan, and it feels hard to bet on GW right now.

In December, the strategic plan was cut by $8.2 million. Then the University announced in March that specific parts would be delayed, making it one of the most prominent items on the chopping block when it came time to address the budget crunch.

But in the long term, there’s no need to panic. Students, faculty and staff should keep in mind that the headlines don’t always give the full picture of the state of GW – one that’s actually more stable than scary.

The strategic plan has only been in place for two years, and though it has suffered some temporary damage, there’s still plenty of time to implement it. In fact, officials have accomplished a fair number of the goals laid out in the plan already.

For example, the University removed some academic requirements to make it easier for students to apply to GW and transfer between schools once they get here. It has developed several programs to boost international student enrollment, loosen GW’s ban on classified research and develop interdisciplinary programs like those dealing with big data analytics.

And in the past academic year, the University has hired new deans in its three biggest schools who can play a major part in implementing other aspects of the strategic plan. All of these hires come with good track records, clean slates and fresh ideas that can boost programs that have been suffering.

Perhaps the college that’s been hit the hardest is the GW School of Business: The school will feel the effects of the budget crunch, but in addition, former dean Doug Guthrie was fired in 2013 after the school overspent by $13 million during his tenure. Until now, the school hasn’t had a plan to pay back the deficit, leaving its new dean, Linda Livingstone, in a uniquely scary position.

But GW revealed just last week what sounds like the best plan for paying back that deficit – it will be split, right down the middle, between the business school and the provost’s office. If anything, that shows that one of the biggest problems that plagued her predecessor’s tenure – miscommunication with administrators – could perhaps be avoided in the future.

Although the business school is in a tepid spot, it now has a measured action plan to pay back the deficit. This plan can serve as a clean slate, leaving Livingstone with an opportunity to turn the worst situation into one of the best by pushing her school into the future and serving as a confident leader.

If Livingstone helps the business school to bounce back, she has the chance to set an example for her fellow deans and for the rest of GW.

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 Nora Princiotti, design editor Sophie McTear, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and design assistant Samantha LaFrance.

Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.

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