Encouraging discussion

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November 16, 2010

1:14 AM

Following Provost Michael Halleran’s well-attended forum on the prospects and implications of increasing the College of William and Mary’s student body size, there has been an extremely unfocused debate on this immensely important issue. Thursday’s campus forum centered on the plan — or rather, the “question being considered,” since all involved were adamant that no decision had yet been reached — of increasing the incoming freshman class by 50 students sometime in the not-immediate future.

What we learned from the resulting conversation, and more specifically what we didn’t, has given us cause for concern. The central question, whether or not adding 50 more students to the College would be a realistic decision, was based on such heavily hypothetical grounds that we were left wondering what exactly the impetus behind this desire really is. Halleran and other faculty members were quite explicit about what was not and should not motivate their considerations: concerns about increased revenue, budget calculation or mere growth for growth’s sake.

But, given that, there seemed to be significantly less discussion of the positive aspects of expansion, with many instead focusing on the logistical concerns that would arise. Perhaps this is only because the litany of problems even 50 more incoming freshmen would cause is glaringly obvious: potentially increased class sizes, more difficult class registration, strained on-campus parking, lack of available student resources and an ever-more overstretched housing system, to name a few.

That’s not to say that the idea deserves to be ignored, but that a great deal of tact and preparation must be used to address it. Halleran’s forum was as good a place as any to start the conversation, but it should not be taken to constitute the entirety of that discussion.

Instead, we call for a larger polling of the student body and faculty, with an eye to what goals they would set for the College: Does the campus see the College progressing toward the goal of a larger student body? And are they comfortable with means necessary to reach that goal?

In supplement and in reaction to that poll, administrators need to conduct a better survey of the feasibility of such a plan. Little besides tentative guesswork and “back of the envelope” figures were presented during last week’s forum regarding whether the College has or could create the infrastructure to sustain more students. Many of the College’s concerns of late — limited on campus parking, unavailability of off-campus housing, strain on the current housing lottery — seem to suggest that it currently cannot. Yet, there are still no explicit plans to improve these structures, along with the student body increase.

Obviously, many of these considerations, and more, were raised by the attendees of last week’s discussion, and they deserve to be addressed in a more thorough manner. That should be the College’s main objective moving forward: discerning the goals of the campus with concern to student body size, publicizing these goals, and delineating what means must be taken to reach them.

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