Staff Editorial: The future of GW, continued

This is the second in a two-part staff editorial series about the future of GW.

It’s a key interview question: Where do you see yourself in 20 years? Rather than ask ourselves that question, we decided to explore what GW will look like long after we’ve graduated. We talked to experts, researched higher education trends and compared peer schools. Of course, nobody can predict the future, but we gave it a shot. This week, we’re examining faculty, the administration, construction and athletics.

A growing population of adjuncts
If you’ve visited GW before committing, you’ve probably heard a tour guide raving about the quality of our adjunct faculty, who work at the World Bank or the Smithsonian when they aren’t teaching classes. For some, it’s a huge selling point: Many professors work in fields that students will eventually join. But in 20 years, GW probably won’t be alone in its large number of part-time faculty.

Over the last three decades, the number of tenured faculty across the country has fallen drastically – and that trend is expected to continue over the next 20 years. Since the majority of GW’s faculty are already adjuncts – about 70 percent in 2013 – the University may not notice this drop in tenure-track positions as much as other schools, especially since officials have begun to cut part-time positions in favor of adding more tenured ones.

But if in 20 years it’s normal for schools to have more adjuncts than tenured professors, then GW may feel pressure to stop adding more tenured positions and play up its adjunct population.

In fact, it would make more sense for GW to continue to advertise its large number of adjuncts by touting that, unlike other schools, it has a long history with a large adjunct population. Plus, GW’s location gives officials an advantage, as D.C. provides more opportunities to find skilled adjuncts in many fields. But in order to continue to attract adjunct faculty in 20 years, GW will have to incentivize them to come – and may need to consider housing stipends to make D.C. more affordable, something other schools have tried in the past.

However, universities should realize the benefits to tenure-track faculty, and we hope officials will continue to value their efforts 20 years from now: Tenured professors are able to dedicate more time to their students, contribute research, serve on committees and have job security that allows them to speak their minds – both in the classroom and in meetings with University officials.

A high-level focus on student life
College students, and especially GW students, understand the inconvenience of bureaucracy at their schools. We’ve all run into red tape – whether we were trying to remove a hold on an account or register for classes.

Administrative bloat, an increase in the number of administrators at a school, contributes to bureaucracy – and nationwide, more schools are growing their population of high-level administrators and midlevel staffers.

From 1975 to 2005, universities had an 85 percent increase in administrative staff. But at GW, the number of administrators has only increased 6.3 percent from 1987 to 2012. One possible reason why GW has hired comparatively fewer administrators is that many of them are highly compensated – meaning it could be too expensive to hire them in large numbers.

Reducing positions like vice presidents or vice provosts would allow universities to afford a larger amount of midlevel staffers who are hyperinvolved in student life. These administrators could be more in touch with student concerns because they wouldn’t have to worry as much about the business model of a school.

Marybeth Gasman, a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, agreed that over the next two decades, schools will likely expand their student-life-focused staff positions, while minimizing higher-level hiring. And given GW’s focus on student services, it’s likely the University would follow that pattern too.

Hiring midlevel staffers could also mean schools could afford to hire top-level administrators from the corporate world – something officials have considered in the past.

And unless there is a widespread student-led effort to lower officials’ compensation, we can probably expect that top-level officials will continue to be highly compensated. While University President Steven Knapp’s compensation did dip slightly last year, the trend across higher education has been for top officials to make top dollar – and we don’t expect that to change.

Taking a step back on construction
By 2018, the sounds of construction on some parts of campus will finally quiet down. The University is expected to complete its last major project outlined in the current campus plan: a new office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the next two years. And right now, GW has no more substantial construction planned.

When it comes to expansion, the University has pledged to “grow up, not out.” And considering the complete lack of space left for construction on Foggy Bottom, GW doesn’t really have much of a choice. Over the next 20 years, the University will only be able to build if they tear down existing buildings.

And even that could be complicated, since GW hopes to make many of its buildings or their facades historic. Giving a building historical significance means there are more hoops to jump through should GW want to change anything about them, adding time and bureaucracy to renovations.

Over the next two decades, the University’s construction options are limited – not only by space and by money, but also by D.C.’s building height limit. In order to keep its promise of expanding vertically rather than horizontally, GW officials will have to keep their fingers crossed that the height restriction will be lifted some time soon.

Ultimately, it’s beneficial for the University to contain its campus as much as possible. Students who choose GW don’t expect a sprawling campus. In fact, many may choose GW because they can walk to any building on the Foggy Bottom campus in fewer than 15 minutes, and students who live on the Mount Vernon Campus already complain about their commute.

GW’s current campus plan, created in 2007, only extends until 2025. This means the University is due for a new campus plan soon, which will lay out all of GW’s construction and renovation plans for the future. Since added construction seems unlikely, the University will probably spend the next 20 years on renovations. And there are some residence halls and academic buildings that are in desperate need of a facelift, like Fulbright and Thurston Halls, or Gelman Library.

But it’s OK that GW likely won’t be breaking ground on too many new projects in the near future. Last year, the University officials revealed they are having trouble paying for the $275 million Science and Engineering Hall, which doesn’t inspire confidence in its ability to pay for future projects. In fact, it’s probably best that GW take a step back on construction – at least for the next 20 years.

A new emphasis on athletics
Despite the prevailing sentiment on campus that GW isn’t a sports school, athletics are important – especially when they draw media attention and more prospective students. Over the last few years, we’ve seen people paying a lot more attention to men’s basketball.

The men’s basketball team made an NCAA tournament bid in 2014, and after its recent NIT tournament win, it makes sense that GW would continue to fund and support men’s basketball. More money for the program can – and probably will – create a better team, especially given its current momentum. And while it may sound superficial, a better men’s basketball team excites donors, elevates the University’s standing in the Atlantic 10 Conference and may draw some potential students.

If the men’s basketball team improves enough over the next 20 years, there’s a possibility that GW could move out of the A-10 and move into a better conference. This could even result in new varsity sports, perhaps even a football team.

Currently, GW is close to the end of its athletic strategic plan, and will have to develop a new one. The current plan, which ends in 2017, equitably distributed money to GW’s varsity teams and slowly converted some club teams into varsity programs.

Changing athletics could change the culture of the University. While few may think of GW as a big sports school, GW athletics has gained enough momentum to increase its fan base and compete nationally. It’s a little far-reaching to say that in 20 years we’ll be as sports-focused as many state schools. But it is reasonable to believe that the fight song might become more than just something we were all forced to learn at Colonial Inauguration.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Sarah Blugis and contributing opinions editor Melissa Holzberg, based on discussions with sports editor Nora Princiotti, design editor Samantha LaFrance, copy editor Brandon Lee, assistant sports editor Mark Eisenhauer, managing director Eva Palmer, culture editor Grace Gannon and research assistant Tyler Loveless.

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