Parting Shot—A Farewell to George Mason University

George Mason University has a problem with my address. You see, on WebGMU—Mason’s online student information system—we have the ability to enter both our permanent and our local addresses. In theory, things meant for our parents or sent over the summer should probably go to the permanent address. Things sent during the school year should be sent to the local address.

I consider this a simple concept.

But my soon-to-be alma mater doesn’t get it. When I ordered a parking pass last year, they sent it to my parents. When they mailed out their graduation information packets, they sent that to my parents too. When I got put on academic warning back in spring 2002 (long story), they sent the notice to my parents, along with the notification that I couldn’t take a full 15 credit class load the next semester.

What good do these materials do me when they’re four hours away? None! In fact, if I hadn’t found out about these things they might have posed serious problems.

Sure, Parking Services graciously provided me with a temporary pass until my parents could mail my regular pass and correct their error. No big deal. But the graduation packet had all the information about getting my cap and gown in it! Even worse, the academic warning meant that one class I’d already signed up for would have to be dropped—and Mason would have kindly picked one at random to drop for me if I hadn’t found out about it from my parents.

What does it add up to? Well, at a glance it looks like incompetence. After all, this is the same school that periodically loses loan papers and is only now ready to implement an online registration system that they promised for fall 2001. But I think there’s a deeper force at work than mere incompetence: George Mason University and its non-teaching staff just don’t care about the students. All that matters is that the money keeps flowing into their six-figure paychecks.

It is as simple as that, and—worse—it’s an attitude that is endemic at the school and goes far beyond where they send their mailings.

Why would GMU officials have stubbornly refused to cancel classes after the 9/11 attacks? Because they don’t care about us.

Why would GMU officials attempt to force patriotic students to take down their American flags? Because they don’t care about us (although they quickly covered their asses when they started getting calls from the offices of prominent politicians).

Why would GMU officials have a student parking lot bulldozed to be turned into a parking garage that costs hundreds of dollars more to use? Because they don’t care about us.

Why would GMU officials create policies that are designed to set you even further back after you’ve had a bad semester (and then send notice of such policy to the wrong address)? Because they don’t care about us.

Why would GMU officials refuse to accept most transfer credits from other schools, including other state schools? Because they don’t care about us.

Why would GMU officials allow Ringling Bros. Barnum & Baily Circus to take over a giant swath of one of the biggest student parking lots in the middle of the spring semester without providing any reasonable parking alternatives? Why would they do it four years in a row while increasing the cost of an annual parking pass by nearly 60 percent? Hell, I’d call this one pure spitefulness, but at minimum I think I can say that they don’t care about us.

Why would GMU officials cut back on services, increase class sizes, and give Alan Merten—the university president—a $16,000 pay raise while simultaneously increasing tuition by 115 percent (in-state) over four years? I’ll say it again—the decision makers do not care about us.

Throughout my educational life, I have written farewells. When I left Fairfax County’s public schools, I wrote a farewell letter and emailed it to the school board. When I graduated from Liberty High School, I published a farewell column in the LHS Sentinel newspaper. Now I have come to the time for another educational farewell, and it is sad that it must come in form of a Front Page Rant.

At the end of college, a graduating student is supposed to feel accomplished. He is supposed to feel as if he has reached an important milestone. He is supposed to feel successful, happy, and excited about the future. To a certain extent, I do. I’m satisfied with the education that I received, happy with the quality of the teaching, and looking forward to a hopefully-successful future.

But all these positive feelings are overshadowed by feelings of resentment. I resent the circus in A-lot. I resent having to take 18-credit-hours a semester to compensate for the semester they limited me to 13. I resent the constantly increasing tuition, the hundreds of nickel-and-dime fees, the $120 textbooks, Merten’s pay raise, the lost paperwork, the misrouted mailings, and the unending attempts to screw us over and force us to attend longer, spend more, and receive less.

I have been a paying customer of George Mason University for four years, and I’ve come out feeling cheated and robbed. Is that what school is supposed to be about nowadays? Is this what’s best for the students? For society? Is this a step forward in higher education?

No. It is not.

We live in a country where a college education is more important than it has ever been before. As our society become more and more of an information society, the workforce requires more and more education. But while education becomes more important, it also becomes harder to attain. With skyrocketing tuition and fees, even the state institutions are now too expensive for many families to afford. Tuition will go up—fine—but 115 percent over a four year period? That’s unreasonable, and there’s no excuse for it. The greedy university administrations—like President $316,000 Merten—need to wake up and realize that we don’t all make six-figures, and we can’t all afford a 115 percent increase in fees.

Almost as importantly, greedy university administrations need to at least act like they care. We have to park out in the lot that President Reserved-Spot-Next-To-The-Office Merten sells to the circus. We have to live in the dorms that President Hot-Shower-Every-Morning Merten doesn’t provide consistent hot water for. We have to pay $6 per meal at the on-campus food courts that President Catered-Lobster-Platter Merten has probably never seen. We have to go to the classes that President Roomy-Office Merten just crammed 30 more people into.

It’s not the money that bothers me, it’s the discrepancy between what we pay for and what we get. If I pay for a $2,000 computer, I expect it to work well. If I buy a $35,000 car, I expect it to drive well. If I pay thousands in tuition and fees, then I damn well expect to be treated with respect. If my tution goes up 115 percent, I expect 115 percent better service. I am more than a dollar sign. I am more than a check-signer who contributes to President Please-Sir-I’d-Like-Some-More Merten’s personal lobster fund. I am a paying customer, and I should be treated as such.

When I put on my green robe and cardboard hat on May 14th, I’ll have a smile on my face. Part of that smile will be representative of my accomplishment, my success, and my future. Most of it will be a cynical good-riddance to a flawed, selfish institution that does not live up to its honorable name.

And I’ll bet they’ll mail my degree to my parents.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.