Posted Tuesday, April 4, 11 p.m.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, the good-humored Brooklynite who has left his imprint on every facet of The George Washington University, announced Tuesday night his retirement effective July 2007, when his contract expires. By that time he will have been president for 19 years, making him the third longest-serving leader in the University’s history.
“I just felt like it was time,” Trachtenberg, who was contemplating retirement for the last year, told The Hatchet late Tuesday night.
During Trachtenberg’s tenure, the University raised its national and international profile; generated more than $500 million in donations; and embarked on an ambitious expansion plan that saw GW erect dozens of academic and residential buildings and alter the dynamics of D.C.
“After almost two decades at the helm, it is time for me to contribute to this great University in a different way and to work toward some personal goals that are impossible to achieve with the 24/7 demands of the presidency,” Trachtenberg said in a release sent to The Hatchet Tuesday night. “Serving as head of this special University has had my undivided attention for nearly 20 years. I’m now exchanging my first love for my second; it’s the American thing to do. I want to test the hypothesis that those who can do – can also teach.”
Upon his retirement, Trachtenberg will take the role of University professor of public service. In Tuesday night’s statement, he said he will be pursuing personal goals that were incompatible with the demands of being president. In the coming months, GW will begin its search for a new University president.
“I hope to develop new ways of thinking about higher education,” said Trachtenberg, who will be 69 when he leaves his current office. “I expect to study where American universities are headed in the 21st century and examine everything from a three-year B.A. and a year-round curriculum, to liberal arts degree requirements.”
“This is not the type of scholarship that can be undertaken while trying to actively lead a major university. I expect to write a book on the subject. Maybe two. With the restoration of my First Amendment rights, I plan to create some conversation and have some fun.”
Tuesday’s announcement puts an end to speculation about when Trachtenberg’s tenure as president -the longest of any current university presidency in D.C. – would come to an end. In the past, Trachtenberg has been vague about when he planned on retiring as president.
Several members of the University’s Board of Trustees contacted Tuesday night before the release was sent to The Hatchet said they had no knowledge of Trachtenberg’s pending retirement. The board will acknowledge the retirement at its May 19 meeting. Eugene Lambert, a member of the board, said the trustees learned about the upcoming retirement during a conference call conducted Tuesday afternoon. Charles Manatt, chairman of the board, declined to comment on Trachtenberg’s decision to leave the presidency during an interview conducted outside his home Tuesday night. But in the statement, Manatt highlighted the legacy Trachtenberg has left at GW.
Manatt said under Trachtenberg’s leadership, the University’s endowment has grown from $200 million to nearly $823 million. Also, under Trachtenberg’s presidency, the University Honors Program was created; athletic programs have grown; campuses have been established in Virginia and at Mount Vernon; and academic, residential and recreational facilities were upgraded and developed.
“Steve has not only firmly established the University as a premier institution of higher education, he has strategically charted the University’s course for the future,” Manatt said in the statement. “We are extremely indebted to Steve for all that he has accomplished, and we are also very fortunate to have him remain here as a vital part of both George Washington University life and as a continuing contributor to the greater Washington, D.C., community.”
-Brandon Butler and Katie Rooney contributed to this report.
Click here to read President Trachtenberg’s “Letter to the GW Community.”
This article appeared in the April 3, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.