Saxa Politica: Gratuitous grad students

December 3, 2009

At one of the 2010 Campus Plan town halls for students and staff, the administrators attempted to minimize the side effects of expanding the graduate student body from its current 5,545 to 8,750 by 2020, an increase of almost 60 percent.

The presentation stressed that most graduate students will come to the main campus for only short periods during the day or attend Georgetown’s Clarendon location in Virginia. Administrators are correct that the average graduate student isn’t going to spend nearly as much time on campus as an undergraduate student, but the suggestion that the presence of 3,205 more graduate students won’t crowd campus is simply false.

As Georgetown’s enrollment has increased over the past 10 years, overcrowding has become most visible at Lauinger  Library, built in 1970 when Georgetown’s student body was significantly smaller than it is today. Now, on most weeknights the tables at Lau are all taken by 8:00 p.m. Study groups, finding no room on the second floor, spill onto floors meant only for quiet study. Some students who come to the library to study or work often end up returning to their dorms unable to find space.

This scarcity of study space calls into question why administrators are planning such an increase in the graduate population.  If the University expands the graduate student body as it plans, undergraduate students can expect competition for every empty table, even on Thursday nights.

In fairness, Georgetown has taken steps to solve the space shortage, but their efforts are quick fixes that suggest no long term thought. For several years,  the University has opened additional study areas in Maguire and Healy during “peak study times.” These halls can’t offer the resources the library does, and this measure is only marginally better than studying in a dorm room.

The University has outlined additions and renovations to the library in the 2010 Campus Plan, but University Librarian Artemis Kirk has said that, given the University’s other priorities and the resources that would be required to expand the library, any changes are unlikely to occur in the near future. An expansion to Lau was also proposed in the 2000 Campus Plan but wasn’t realized. Associate Vice President and Chief Benefits Officer Charles DeSantis, a representative of the Campus Plan Steering Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.

The shortage of study space at Georgetown will only be exacerbated by enlarging the student body.  The space crunch isn’t all the University’s fault—construction-phobic neighbors and our limited endowment certainly don’t help—but for Georgetown to greatly increase the graduate student population while claiming to be sympathetic to  undergraduates’ needs for space flies in the face of logic.

These decisions seem to be motivated mostly by a desire to increase revenue. In 2007, an outside analysis of the University’s Periodic Review Report by Barnett W. Hamberger, Assistant Provost of New York University, and Dr. Daniel Rich, Provost of the University of Delaware, noted that “increased fiscal demands may lead to pressure to create more master’s degree programs, which are often revenue generating.” It looks like administrators have caved to that pressure.


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