Rumor has it GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will leave the University’s top office any day now. Rumor has it he’s waiting to be appointed secretary of education. Rumor has it he wants to be president of an Ivy League school.
Trachtenberg says people shouldn’t believe everything they hear.
“I don’t know where these rumors come from,” he said. Trachtenberg said he has no desire to dabble in politics or leave his post in Foggy Bottom.
Trachtenberg said he was bored after a decade as president of the University of Hartford. But said his affairs at GW still keep his attention after 10 years at the helm.
“This is a bigger venue with more daunting challenges and opportunities,” he said. “It keeps me on my toes.”
Trachtenberg’s office seems to reveal a love for politics – photos of him with U.S. presidents from Carter to Clinton and other dignitaries adorn the walls.
But Trachtenberg said he likes politicians, not politics.
“I prefer to be on a campus where there are actual professors and actual students who keep you mindful of the business you’re in,” he said. He said his love of the campus atmosphere has kept him out of state educational systems, where he would be away from the front lines, running schools from an office.
Trachtenberg said his experiences in academia and the Department of Education give him a unique perspective on the U.S. educational system.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that change is more likely to come from the bottom-up than from the top-down,” he said. “It’s important not to overestimate what can be done in Washington.”
So Trachtenberg said he is not waiting by the phone for a presidential job offer. And he’s not waiting for another university to call.
He said two runs as a university president are enough for him, and though his mother told him to never say never, he comes very close when he discusses his future in university administration.
“I can’t imagine doing a third university presidency,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s highly improbable.”
His feet firmly planted in his luxurious eighth-floor Rice Hall office, Trachtenberg has a vision for GW’s next 10 years.
“GW now has all sorts of physical attributes that market us as a university that it didn’t have a decade ago.” Trachtenberg said.
And he said he expects GW to grow physically in the next several years.
“There’s a lot of brick and mortar this institution desperately needs,” Trachtenberg said. His face lights up as he lists projects in different stages of development in Foggy Bottom – a new hospital, a building for the School of Media and Public Affairs, renovations to the Marvin Center and a health and wellness center.
“Space is a constraint in most urban universities,” Trachtenberg said. But he said it is a bigger problem for schools like GW that are ambitious in their long-term planning.
However, that doesn’t stop Trachtenberg from saying he expects to add 500 to 1,000 residence hall beds and that GW will have all the buildings it wants within the next decade – if not sooner.
But some of Trachtenberg’s goals for the school can not be measured in bricks.
His prospects for the University’s future mirror the goals he had in mind when he took over at GW – to see the University move into the highest echelon of national and international education.
“It’s becoming the University I think it can become,” Trachtenberg said.
Trachtenberg said he wants to return to his roots in teaching when he completes his tenure as GW president. He has thought about the future – teaching, writing and travel are at the fore of his post-retirement plans.
“I think there’s surely enough (at GW) to keep me entertained and challenged for a little while longer,” Trachtenberg said.
Trachtenberg said 10 years ago he would stay at GW until his work is done. Ten years later, facilities have sprung up like hotels in a Monopoly game. Educational opportunities have diversified. National attention has increased by leaps and bounds.
But Trachtenberg still is sticking with his project – GW – until it’s just the way he wants it.
“I’d like to hand the University over to the next president with the feeling I’m turning over a place happier and stronger than the place I received.”