Students sign petition calling for officials to reinstate pre-law adviser

A student launched a petition earlier this month calling on officials to reinstate Deborah Baker, the senior academic adviser for pre-law students in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, who was recently laid off.

Sophomore Karina Ochoa Berkley, a political science and philosophy major who started the petition, said the petition was signed by students, faculty and alumni who have responded to the situation with “outrage, disappointment and overall concern.” Provost Brian Blake said his office ran a study in June to determine the efficiency of many academic units including GW’s advising structure, which found that GW had about 193 students per undergraduate adviser compared to the national average of 250 students per undergraduate adviser.

He said he made the “hard decision” to change the ratio to 220 undergraduate students per adviser after seeing the results of the review, which he said is still better than the national average but “more in line with what we can afford.”

“I collaborated with a group of faculty senators and deans to evaluate the structure and assure that the University is appropriately sized, considering our need to mitigate budget challenges due to the pandemic,” Blake said in an email.

He said he subdivided the reduction in “certain” schools, colleges and units, and deans made decisions on how to manage the reductions.

Blake said there are still “several” advisers in the CCAS advising team who hold law degrees, and some have played “key roles” in pre-law advising before. He said these advisers will coordinate with the Elliott School of International Affairs to “coordinate the pre-law effort across schools.”

“They also have secured support for pre-law from the Writing Center, which has the capacity to review applications, and Career Services, which has alumni in legal fields who can offer advice and mentorship,” he said.

Berkley said students are worried about their “future prospects in law” without access to a pre-law adviser, alumni are upset that a “crucial asset” that helped some of them get into law school will be taken away and faculty are upset that students do not have the resources for the “quality education” that they signed up for.

She said officials are making decisions that are “adversely and directly” impacting students’ futures, and they need to understand that student resources are not “pawns” and their decisions have “serious consequences” on students’ livelihoods.

“We understand the financial implications of the pandemic and the uncomfortable situation it puts the administration in,” Berkley said in an email. “However, the administration has shown a clear disregard for mitigating the impact their decisions have on traditional academic values and the student experience.”

She said she sent the petition to Blake, University President Thomas LeBlanc, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Cissy Petty, Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Donna Arbide and Vice Provost of Enrollment and Student Success Jay Goff. She said more than 500 people have signed the petition, and “roughly” 300 chose to express their grievances with the decision.

Berkeley said she intends to send one of these messages to officials every day to show what Baker meant to the GW community and “what it has lost in her termination.”

“Her reinstatement is of paramount importance,” she said in an email to the officials. “We hope you will make the right decision.”

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