University communication on Rice Hall relocation needs improvement

It’s never ideal when your office needs to relocate, and it becomes even more frustrating when you don’t know where you’ll be going. That’s what several GW departments and offices are now experiencing.

Last month, the University announced its plan to relocate all occupants of Rice Hall by December 2018 to make way for the planned 2100 Pennsylvania Ave. complex that will feature retail and office space. Administrators vacating offices in Rice Hall will move to Old Main and Alumni House, displacing programs and offices currently housed in those buildings.

Cartoon by Grace Lee

Cartoon by Grace Lee

The move is forcing at least six offices and academic departments in those buildings to move into spaces that haven’t all been determined. Lack of information about the move and uncertainty regarding their new spaces has raised concerns among faculty. Even though they have time until they move out, the fact that some people still don’t know where they’re going shows poor communication on the part of the University. It would have been better for the University to wait until they had a plan for everyone before announcing the move. From the start, GW should have better communicated the move to the impacted offices and programs and should start incorporating affected faculty and students into the decision-making process by holding public dialog events to discuss moving plans.

The move will impact students and faculty, but it is hard to determine what the potential impacts will be to different departments or offices if we don’t know where they’ll be relocated. This is the case for the geography department, previously housed in Old Main, which does not know their new permanent location. Faculty who are being forced out of Old Main expressed concern about whether they would be left with smaller spaces and an inconvenient work environment after relocating. The Department of Theatre and Dance, which is currently housed in the Marvin Center, will be relocated to Building XX and is the only department housed in student space to be affected by the move. While displacing smaller programs causes fewer overall disruptions, this approach makes it look like the University is picking on the little guys who have a smaller voice on campus. Instead of targeting smaller programs, the University could have considered breaking up larger departments, like the political science department, which might not be as affected by relocation of some of their offices. Moving is a big undertaking for departments and programs, and it’s unfortunate that some offices not only have no clue where they’ll end up, but were also given only two weeks notice about the move before the public announcement.

Officials announced last month that offices and programs will be moved to different buildings on the Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon or even the Virginia Science and Technology campuses. If there are administrative offices that do not need to interact directly with students, then these programs can be relocated to VSTC. This can be a good way to utilize some of the space we have on the Virginia campus without affecting students who need those resources. But no academic department, administrator or office that interacts with students should move to Virginia because it will inconvenience students if they aren’t able to access offices that address their concerns on the main campus. Although moving to the Vern may not be ideal, it is the better option compared to moving to VSTC. Relocating academic or administrative departments to the Vern would be a way to bring more people to that campus. Relocating certain departments could better integrate the Vern and would be beneficial for students who already live out there. But unfortunately, it is still unknown who will be placed there.

The University can and should be better communicating to students and faculty throughout the relocation process. The affected faculty and students must be informed of the changes and how everything will work as logistics are established, instead of being alerted that they will have to move with little advance notice. Although it may be too late to handle what has already happened, there is still time to improve the situation and foster better communication.

Last September, Northwestern University announced student groups would have to move out of an on-campus building in fall 2018 and that students would get a say in the transition by participating in dialogue events with administrators. Even though it is too late for most decisions in this matter, GW can start holding open forums with administrators now to ask students and faculty in different programs about the kind of space they need. This can make those affected feel involved in the process as well as increase the chances of these departments being relocated to a space in which they will still be able to work effectively.

It would also be helpful if University President Thomas LeBlanc issued a statement about how this move can benefit students, or at the very least, how the University will try to make the best of the reshuffling. LeBlanc stated one of his priorities was to become more student-focused, but the lack of communication between GW and displaced academic and administrative departments affecting students conflicts with this priority. While physical student space is not being lost, this reshuffling still affects students. Although the decision to sell Rice Hall and move around departments was made before he arrived, LeBlanc can still play a role in making the move a smoother one that does not upset everyone involved.

By shutting out affected students and faculty and not keeping them updated, the University has so far failed to make this reshuffling of administrators, academic departments and offices as smooth as possible  But it’s not too late to make it better. It’s time for the University to actually include students’ and faculty’s needs in their decision-making.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.

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