GW’s scandals and controversies

As a nearly 200-year-old institution, The George Washington University’s history encompasses both numerous successes and some controversial events and juicy gossip that the “reality TV” part of our brains love looking at. Though not a complete list, this article includes some of our most well-documented scandals.

GW losing records of at least 50 cadavers

Just like people donate their bodies to scientific research, some donate them to medical schools, so that future doctors can train on and study real human bodies. The Department of Anatomy and Regenerative Biology has operated what is called “a willed body donor program” where individuals donate their body to the university.

GW discovered in the fall of 2015 that there was poor management of the program, which resulted in the loss of the identification records of at least 50 cadavers. Numerous cadavers were either not labeled or labeled incorrectly; the individual managing the program is no longer employed by GW. The program was suspended beginning in early 2016, but they are now accepting donations again.

As a result of this mismanagement, the bodies are unable to be returned to their families for cremation or burial. The university announced it would attempt to re-identify the remains using DNA.

Three people, who believe the bodies of their loved ones have been given to another family or cremated without their permission (which is illegal in Maryland, where the cremations took place), are suing GW in D.C. Superior Court. They seek $10 million each.

The case has been in court since the filing on Sept. 13, 2016. The next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 20, 2017.

Hiring of a former Islamic extremist

GW made headlines in 2016 for hiring Jesse Morton, a former radicalized extremist, as a research fellow on GW’s Program on Extremism. Morton was a former recruiter for al-Qaeda and holds a master’s degree in international affairs with a concentration in the Middle East from Columbia University. Morton is known for using his website to promote violence in the name of Islam, which included threats against “South Park”.

These threats and incitement of violence landed him 11-and-a-half years in prison. However, after only serving less than one-third of his sentence he was released from prison as an FBI informant. One year later, Morton was hired by GW in a research capacity, with the Program on Extremism believing his extremist past would offer unique insights.

Morton is the first known former extremist to be hired to work in academia. Morton was hired to work at an off-campus think tank, which would limit his interaction with students. The program is also externally funded and his specific position funded by an private, anonymous foundation.

On Dec. 28, 2016, Morton was arrested for allegedly being in possession of illegal drugs while meeting a prostitute during a “sting operation by Fairfax police.” When asked for comment, a spokesperson for GW stated that Morton was no longer employed as a research fellow.

President Cloyd Heck Marvin

In Feb. 15, 1971, our campus hub center was named in commemoration of former GW President Cloyd Heck Marvin whose tenure lasted 1927 to 1959, the longest sitting president. During his tenure, Marvin oversaw the building of 13 buildings including Monroe Hall of Government, Strong, and Lisner Auditorium, and the faculty was tripled while doubling enrollment and increasing the endowment by eightfold.

However, Marvin supported a segregated campus, and minority students were restricted to night courses. In 1946, he attempted to expel student Don Rothenberg, who led a group of students in protesting Lisner’s whites-only policy on its opening night. The Hatchet published a piece in favor of the students; the following year, Marvin backed the SA opening an investigation into the paper’s supposed “communist leanings.”

In 1956, he fired an atheist because “as a matter of policy, we do not have anyone teaching who does not have faith in God.” In turn, the Freethinkers of America said they would pursue legal action on behalf of the fired atheist, saying their group was devoted to “maintenance of the fundamental principle of separation of church and state and to advancement of intellectual progress free from authority of dogma.”

According to The Hatchet article linked above, an Alumni Committee reported that Marvin restricted academic freedom, restricted the rights of faculty, encouraged racial intolerance, and hindered student self-governance.

Faulty data costing U.S. News ranking

In 2012, U.S. News removed GW from the rankings on its best colleges list after discovering that the university had been submitting faulty data about its students. In 2011, the school reported that 78 percent of its students were in the top 10 percent of their graduating classes, though actually only 58 percent were. GW was removed from the list after learning that the school had submitted faulty information for over a decade. GW returned to the ranking list for the 2014 edition.

While these controversies have impacted GW’s reputation over the years, fortunately, our university seems to have weathered them fairly well. Here’s to hoping that we’ve learned from our mistakes.

Shanni Alon contributed to the reporting of this article.

Originally published at by Emily Milakovic on 9.28.17.
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