Let’s face it, University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is an exhausting figure. While his presence excited me at Colonial Inauguration, he has done nothing since then to impress me. What I have read about SJT and what I have experienced from this man in the two and a half years since my CI experience has left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
When I recently read in The Hatchet that SJT is one of the highest paid university presidents in the nation, with a salary that has consistently risen on a yearly basis, I can sincerely say that I was absolutely floored with disbelief. While many students believe SJT should not receive such a large paycheck because we are not a “Top 50” university, according to US News & World Report, I believe that he should not receive such a high salary because he fails to live up to University goals.
If, as the chairman of GW’s Board of Trustees claims, Trachtenberg’s salary is at least partially based on “his relationship with students, faculty, administrators and the community,” perhaps he is more suited to be one of the J Street workers whom he recently demeaned as “burger-flippers.” But I doubt they would welcome him with open arms.
While I cannot speak to Trachtenberg’s relationship with administrators and faculty, I can easily state that he does not have a glowing relationship with GW students and the surrounding university community. On numerous occasions, whether in The Hatchet, in conversation with me or in The Washington Post, Trachtenberg has made numerous comments that I have found demeaning to the students and the community at large.
When it comes to the community, it is clear that Trachtenberg is a loathed figure. Rather than reaching out to make amends with community leaders, Trachtenberg has consistently demeaned them. In responding to the University’s neighbors who disagree with GW’s somewhat excessive expansion into their community, Trachtenberg stated in an April 2002 Post article, “A small handful of neighbors who are extreme in their views have seized the moment and have gotten hold of the process.” Rather than diplomatically working to calmly resolve disputes with GW’s neighbors, Trachtenberg responded the way he often does to those who disagree with him and his vision for the University. Rather than treat those that disagree with him with respect, he demeans them.
My ill feelings toward the Trachtenberg presidency are not just based on anecdotal evidence demonstrating what some may see as his incompetence; it is also based on personal interactions I have had with him as a student of GW. Last year, when I attended a meeting with SJT, administrators and other student leaders to discuss a rise in tuition, I presented Trachtenberg with petitions signed by students who were anxious that they would no longer be able to afford a GW education without an increase in financial aid to match the tuition increase. Rather than treat these petitions with respect, SJT simply showed indifference to them and to me. In essence, he blew the petitions off as meaningless. He also showed little remorse for his condescending comments toward the petition when I reminded him that he might want to show respect for the student body that he should be working to empower.
From what I hear, though, my experience with Trachtenberg is not unique. Perhaps this is due to the fact that students simply get in the way of what SJT views as the “GW Industry.” Maybe if we were all major donors to the GW industry, instead of lowly students, Trachtenberg would treat us all with respect. That might just be a pipe dream, though – the same Post article mentioned above notes that SJT once stated that he views GW as a “conglomerate that offered housing, food services, athletics, bookstores and health facilities.” As he pointed out, “On the side, (GW does) a little education.”
What is most ironic about SJT is that he actually jokes that he deserves a larger salary because of GW’s low endowment. Perhaps he needs to realize that GW would have a larger endowment if he actually made an attempt to watch his words and tried not to drive a wedge between his GW and the student body and the community. What SJT needs to learn is that if he does not revise his image and overcome his reputation, GW will never reach the heights to which it is meant to soar or gain the funds from the students and the community with which it needs to soar. If anything, Trachtenberg deserves a lower salary until GW gets the higher endowment he is charged with bringing in, and until he does better at reaching out to students and the community.
-The writer, a junior majoring in human services, is a Hatchet columnist.
This article appeared in the November 24, 2003 issue of the Hatchet.