To shave or not to shave?
That was the question that University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg posed to the class of 2009 at Tuesday’s Freshman Convocation in the Smith Center. The president, who grew a beard during the summer months, decided to let it grow a little longer this year, leaving the responsibility of determining the beard’s fate to the incoming freshmen class.
Following a speech to freshmen in which he intertwined his usual humor with advice for success and thoughts on the future, Trachtenberg asked students to stand and applaud according to their opinion: shave the beard or not to shave the beard. Those wanting GW’s president to get rid of the beard outnumbered those who wanted him to keep it by approximately two to one.
When questioned about the source of inspiration for such an unorthodox idea, Trachtenberg to The Hatchet, “I though it would be fun … although my wife thinks I’d look better without (the beard).”
Robert Chernak, senior vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, has known Trachtenberg since 1977, when they were both administrators at Boston University. Chernak said that when he first met the then-vice president at BU, he had a beard, but shaved it when he became president of the University of Hartford in Connecticut.
“I think he likes (the beard), but he’s not sure how others view it,” Chernak said. “I think he’s looking for a collective young person’s view.”
“I’d vote to keep it,” Chernak said.
This, however, is not the first time Trachtenberg has undergone a change in facial hairstyle. By his own admission, his styles have varied due to mood and circumstance, and follow no true system.
In June 1988, gasoline was cheap, cellular phones were the size of cinder blocks, the bulk of the GW undergraduate population had yet to reach elementary school, and George Washington University President-elect Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was clean-shaven. This would not last for long, however.
Three years into his tenure as president of GW, Trachtenberg grew a mustache and embarked on a journey that would carry him through a variety of facial hair styles.
The mustache dressing Trachtenberg’s upper lip remained on and off until 1997. In June 1991, while receiving an award on behalf of the GW Residence Hall Association, Trachtenberg was seen sporting a more bushy mustache.
By September 1993, the mustache had begun to mature and took on a more tamed appearance than the wild facial hair from a few years earlier. In separate Marvin Center ceremonies with then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and former Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban, Trachtenberg’s mustache seemed to evoke a civilized and diplomatic tone.
In May 1997, Trachtenberg’s mustache appeared fit, full and relaxed as he joked with Bill Cosby at University Commencement ceremonies.
During the fall of 1997, in an apparent change of pace, the president proudly displayed a full and well-kept salt-and-pepper beard. Nevertheless, this dashing style would soon fall victim to the razor, and would not be reborn again until this fall.
In October 1999, Trachtenberg demonstrated that he is willing to try anything once. At the groundbreaking ceremony for the new University hospital, he wore a scholarly goatee that was all the rage at the time. Four years later, in October 2003, Trachtenberg’s facial hair had come full circle and he was once again clean-shaven.
Perhaps no one is better suited to comment on the evolution of Trachtenberg’s facial hair than Puglisi Haircut’s Joe Roons, his barber for the last 14 years. The president ventures to the shop on the 2100 block of Pennsylvania Avenue roughly once a month and has been known to discuss books, movies and current events, but never politics.
“Barbers aren’t supposed to talk politics,” Roons said.
When asked about Trachtenberg’s current bearded appearance, Roons said, “I think he looks better without it.”
After the ceremony, some students had their own recommendations for Trachtenberg’s face.
Freshman Tanner Vannett said, “I think Trachtenberg should only shave part of his beard and get huge ’70’s porno sideburns.”
Freshman Kaitlyn Funk said she was impressed that the University president would be so open and fun with students.
“(The vote) makes him seem available to us,” Funk said. “It proved to us that he cares about our opinions. I agree with his decision, because he went by his word. We took a vote and that was the decision.”
The fate of Trachtenberg’s beard is still unknown. While the vote was used by the president to gauge public opinion, the decision will ultimately lie in the president’s hands.
“The vote will not be definitive,” Trachtenberg said, “It will be influential.”
Following the freshmen’s vote, Trachtenberg addressed the students. “I’ll keep it through the first semester, and we’ll put it off until after New Year’s.”