Gabriel Okolski: Seek a better-connected president

Have you ever seen one of the bigwig’s offices over in Rice Hall? If you think that our dorm rooms are palaces, get ready to have your world turned upside-down. Extremely spacious, extravagantly finished and filled with memorabilia of all sorts – this is the type of space that President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has used for the past 18 years as his command central over the University.

It is likely that our fearless leader won’t have such luxurious quarters when he becomes a professor, but the legacy of his time here will remain a symbol of grandiosity and opulence. Not to say that’s necessarily a bad thing.

The George Washington University in its pre-Trachtenberg days was a lowly commuter school whose students and faculty could only dream of name recognition. GW is now a force to be reckoned with, and continues to experience a period of unprecedented growth.

Nearly all of this can be attributed to our beloved president, who has brought GW into the national spotlight as quickly as you can say buff and blue. But as we prepare to place our academic experience and parents’ money into the hands of another leader, we should be mindful of the new leadership needs of our school.

While Trachtenberg has used his business and political connections to build our institution from his extravagant Rice Hall office, he has also made himself somewhat of a stranger to the average student here. Most of my rare glimpses of our president roving the streets of campus revealed him socializing with University administrators or well-connected members of the student body, not that kid from your political science class with the pack of Skittles and the trendy Urban Outfitters shirt.

The person I would like to see as our next president is someone who is highly connected to the student body. Someone who takes the time to pop into random classes during the day and sit with students he or she doesn’t know while getting lunch every week in J Street. One of the most memorable moments of my freshman year was Late Night with the President, where Trachtenberg took time out of his busy schedule to spend an evening with us, the lowly peasants at this school. Perhaps this is a statement about the lack of excitement during my first year here, but I remember everyone coming to that gathering with more school spirit than most would consider healthy.

I sometimes get the sense that the University does not really listen to what students have had to say. This may sound like unsubstantiated whining, but as any institution grows in size, it becomes more and more difficult to listen to the concerns of its constituents. And at a university, where the movers and shakers are not elected, it is easy for them to shut students out as they plan for the future. As such, the new president should reach out to the undergraduate and graduate community to actively seek student opinions.

Our school has been set on an amazing track of growth, and I’m not going to forget that we still need a president to ensure that we continue to expand in name and in pocketbook. Despite some of my personal grievances with the University’s plan for development, we do need new facilities and the money to put buildings up. But the roles of a strong businessman and a well-connected leader are not mutually exclusive. The two should co-exist in the form of our next president, who should cast a much wider net to encompass all of GW’s interests.

A well-connected leader should also be increasingly sensitive to the needs of faculty members. Whoever is chosen to occupy our school’s top spot should deal with the adjunct union head-on and either accept defeat or fight against its formation, rather than stalling in court as Trachtenberg has done. Just as increased interaction with the student body is necessary, our new head honcho should make it a point to meet with professors and address their concerns. If my fellow students think that teachers here do not have grievances of their own, then they are sorely mistaken.

It is unlikely that the task force charged with filling Trachtenberg’s extremely large shoes will listen to what I have to say, but perhaps as a whole we can have some effect on the process. That’s why I urge all students to let administrators know what they would want to see in a president. I don’t know exactly what would be best for GW, but I have a feeling that getting our next president out of his Rice Hall office and out and about on campus is an attainable goal that could do us all a great deal of good.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet contributing editor.

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