As bright-eyed and inspired freshmen, we were enraptured by the ideals of academic accomplishment and humanitarianism lauded at every Georgetown University function. Both of us came to the Carroll Fellows Initiative program at different times and from different places, caught by the allure of the motto “the life of the mind for the life of the world,” but ultimately, our final impression of the experience has been overwhelmingly disheartening.

We add our voices to those of our colleagues who sat next to us every Friday in class and yet managed to come away with a very different perspective from our own (“Carroll Fellows Aid Rigorous Education,” THE HOYA, Nov. 2, 2007, A2; “CFI Teaches More Than Good Research Skills,” THE HOYA, Nov. 2, 2007, A3). Each of us seemed ideally suited to the program, touting academic ambition, individualized research and an emphasis on global responsibility. Though interested in different fields – one of us was a liberal arts student, the other a pre-medical science major – we had conducted considerable independent research in our respective areas of study.

We enrolled in the CFI in order to challenge ourselves intellectually for the furtherance of academic discourse. Neither of us harbored unrealistic expectations about the program, nor did we shy from its supposed rigors. Despite our intentions and high expectations, as we reflect on our undergraduate educations, the CFI stands out as our only regret. We write not to discourage the values that the CFI espouses but only to caution talented individuals against uninformed involvement and the resulting dissatisfaction.

The program is plagued by its own vague and arbitrary nature, which breeds either discontent or silent submission. Assignments in the Carroll Forum class, which is required for students wanting to apply as a fellow, are not well defined, requiring draft after draft of revision and reconsideration without any foreseeable conclusion and little offered guidance. Students in the introductory class or classes (as it is now) commit themselves to a one-credit hodgepodge of activities with questionable application to the ultimate goal of research and leadership development. From the performance of choreographed dances to the composition of unread daily reflection papers to the completion of a day-long mandatory team-building activity on a university holiday, the class requires far more than applicants could have reasonably foreseen. And after all that work, completion of the class may or may not result in acceptance as a Carroll Fellow.

The Fellowship program also falls victim to the same lack of unifying vision. Fellows are met with a morass of additional expectations that parallel the inconsistent and arbitrary characteristic of the class. They are notified of program changes by e-mail and are expected to comply without a second thought to pre-existing obligations or engagements. The mandatory clusters of groups of like-minded CFI students foster both isolation and arrogance, while reinforcing overwhelming apathy toward the program’s requirements. While group members are expected to produce a “public outcome,” many spend their scheduled cluster time airing grievances.

Though the CFI prides itself on research, its misunderstanding of interdisciplinary research fundamentally diminishes its value; rhetoric on the necessity of intellectual curiosity abounds, but the logistics of conducting original research across fields are largely ignored. Program leaders, though well-versed in their own disciplines, are woefully unaware of the standards of research in other subject areas. The independent research required by the class and subsequent program misrepresents the normal standards of timely research among graduate students in the varying fields of humanities and science. For those interested in original scientific experiment, institutional review boards and inaccessible laboratory space place limitations on the feasibility of their intentions. The program has come to be a blemish upon well-executed Gervase Programs supporting research, such as GUROP.

CFI as a whole, conducted under the auspices of the university’s fellowship secretary, intentionally blurs the line between succeeding in the Carroll program and receiving prestigious fellowships like Rhodes, Marshall, or Mitchell. By entrusting two central functions of the university in the hands of a single person, the university significantly diminishes the potential of its own students to achieve.

We were both mesmerized by the ideals of the CFI, but in retrospect, we have found that our own desire to achieve and contribute to the world far outweighed any benefit we acquired through the Carroll Forum Initiative. Our experiences, CFI excluded, have reinforced the importance of independent thought and intrinsic motivation. We sincerely hope that other students may realize that honor is earned not through a titular accomplishment but through genuine determination and intellectual drive.

Tessa Baker is a senior in the College, and Ashley Bartell is a junior in the College.

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