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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Crime log: Subject barred after shoplifting at bookstore
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 26, 2024

Op-ed: What time is it, GW?

Jonathan R. Siegel is a professor of law and the F. Elwood and Eleanor Davis Research Professor of Law at GW Law.

At GW Law, where I teach, every classroom has a clock. The clocks are synchronized so that they all show the same time. But it is not necessarily the correct time. The clocks in our main building are correct, but our clocks in the secondary Law Learning Center building are all about three minutes fast.

When we “spring forward” or “fall back” to go on or off daylight saving time, the clocks are adjusted, frequently to an incorrect time. The difference between the clock time and the correct time can vary from slightly annoying to grimly comical.

I recently asked the Law Dean’s office to adjust the clocks in the Law Learning Center to the correct time. My hard-working colleagues in that office did their best, but it turns out the Law School doesn’t control the clocks in its own classrooms. Controlling those clocks is a University function. So the most my colleagues could do was ask the University to take care of it. They’ve asked, I’ve been waiting, and the clocks remain relentlessly wrong.

The variance between the clock time and the actual time has been an issue since I began teaching here, but it’s recently become a more serious problem. When I started teaching, the internet was in its infancy. Hardly anyone had a cell phone in those days. Everyone’s watch showed a slightly different time. It required special effort to know the actual time. The classroom clocks, though typically wrong, provided common ground that we could all accept.

Things are different now. Today, most faculty and students at GW have a device in their pocket or on their wrist that shows the actual time, as continually synced to a mobile network. People — at least, my students — want to run their days on that actual time, not on incorrect classroom clock time.

As a result, starting and ending my classes based on the classroom clocks has become impossible. If I try to run my class until the classroom clocks say it’s time to stop, but the classroom clocks are slow, the students get distinctly restless. Therefore, I am now starting and ending my classes based on actual time, not on the classroom clock time. This is not all that terrible, but it does raise the question: What is the point of maintaining a system of centrally synchronized clocks if they are all synchronized to the wrong time and everyone is compelled to ignore them? We’d be better off with no classroom clocks at all than with clocks synchronized to the wrong time.

It shouldn’t be that hard for the University to get the classroom clocks to show the correct time. After all, we are living in the 21st century — indeed, we’re nearly a quarter of the way through it. My cell phone continually and automatically syncs itself to the mobile network, so it always shows the correct time without my needing to adjust it at all. Surely it should be possible for the classroom clocks to do the same thing.

Even if the classroom clocks have to be manually set, it should be possible to set them to the correct time. I don’t know how they get set, but it seems that they are not set with sufficient care judging from how wrong they often are. It’s one thing to set your own watch; it’s another thing to set clocks that will be seen and used by more than a thousand people. The latter task demands care and precision.

I wish the University would fix all the classroom clocks so that they are always, automatically synced to the correct time. A university is supposed to engage in a search for truth. GW should tell the truth when answering the simple question, “What time is it?”

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