Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

GU Must Teach to Students, Not at Them

Despite being thousands of miles away here in England, we Hoyas abroad have been discussing the recent criticism of GU’s intellectual spirit. I’ve always tended to overanalyze criticism ever since my first-grade teacher told me I wasn’t looking tree-like enough in our production of “Same Street” the touching story of a street where everyone is the same; trust me, hilarity ensued, though apparently not due to my ability to capture arboreal leafiness.

Ironically, I think that this sameness is in many ways what’s wrong with the intellectual environment at Georgetown. After two and a half years on the Hilltop, I feel as though I’ve seen a wide variety of classes. I’ve had different types of teachers, class sizes, class schedules and been taught many different things, ranging from how to ask politely for another piece of goat in Arabic to how to find the right price to charge for goats in economics. By far and away, I agree with the report that there are definitely many areas in which Georgetown is floundering intellectually. But I think that the real root of the problem has to do with the sameness.

I have had teachers who I have learned nothing from, classes that I have sat bored to death in, all because I felt totally unengaged, treated like a number and not like an individual. The classes that I looked forward to, that I sat on the edge of my seat for, that I did all of the work for, were where I at the very least felt as if was an actual person with a name and a face. That I was being taught, not taught at.

Now one might say, this kid should have gone to a small liberal arts school where they have small class sizes, and small classes are the difference between being engaged and being bored. That argument is just wrong. I have taken several classes such as Professor Arend’s International Law class in which there were 60 plus people in lectures and I still felt engaged as an individual. On the other hand I have also taken smaller classes in which I felt completely insignificant. Why is this? Part of it is because Professor Arend is an amazing teacher, but I think it is also due to the fact that people in that class felt as though they were individuals. When you were called on, if he didn’t know your name, he asked you and tried to learn it. I have had so many professors at Georgetown who didn’t ask a single person’s name the entire semester, and some of them don’t even introduce themselves at the beginning of the semester.

According to the Committee on Intellectual Life at Georgetown, the relationship between faculty and students is of paramount importance. Thus it is not surprising to me that such an impersonal attitude has failed to motivate many students to intellectual seriousness. The widest criticism of teachers in the report is that there is a serious lack of effort on their part to engage students on an individual level through office hours, for example.

Now it is important to also criticize students, who are also to blame for our school’s problems. It is difficult for professors to engage students if they don’t show up to class or if they show up having not done the reading for the day’s lecture. If they don’t have the background knowledge, how can they understand the lecture or possibly feel engaged? My advice on this goes out to both teachers and students.

Professors: It is fantastic to read about a topic from a variety of different sources and perspectives, but many times it is taken too far. I had a class sophomore year that at times required over 600 pages of reading from as many as 25 different sources that changed almost every week. The mere act of putting the reading together in order to sit down with it in the first place was overwhelming.

Supplemental sources are great, but when figuring out what you are even supposed to be

reading is an arduous process that takes hours, then something is wrong. Even in classes where similar amounts of reading are due in a week, it is infinitely more manageable to read large amounts from one or two sources in a week than to deal with tracking down multiple books, printing out scores of pages from different sources and then reading them all. In short, you don’t have to change how much you expect students to read if that’s really how much is necessary, but at the very least make it easier for them to do so.

Students: I am certainly not free from this criticism myself, but you also need to do your reading more diligently and much more thoughtfully. Not for the grade, but for your self-improvement.

Despite the many problems at Georgetown, I honestly believe that intellectualism has not died out, but perhaps it has merely moved. This may be telling, but I think that the majority of things I have learned in college, and I don’t mean corny stuff like “friendship,” but actual facts, theories and ideas, I have learned outside of the classroom and from my peers. The cries of anti-intellectualism may sound from the administration, but learning is still very much alive at Georgetown. If you walk around campus some nights you might not realize it’s there, but take a look at the events student groups put together, such as the recent Shah’s visit or the weekly debates at the Philodemic Society. Or stop and listen to what students are talking about in Leo’s or at parties. I saw one student almost dump a peppershaker into another student’s eye over a debate about moral relativism next to the chicken fingers. I must say it’s almost embarrassing at times that many Georgetown students seem to be unable to have any conversation that is not intellectual in nature. The students who go to school here are smart and intellectually curious.

We can fix the real problem at Georgetown. And it is not a problem that is unique to Georgetown; friends at other top-tier universities say there is a similar problem, even more so here in England. To fix it, students and teachers, as well as the administration, must work together to do their part. This is everybody’s problem.

Nick Greenough is junior in the School of Foreign Service and a former opinion editor of THE HOYA; he can be reached at greenoughthehoya.com. He is currently attending King’s College in London, England. NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND appears every other Friday.

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