Although you’ll rarely catch any students saying it, every now and again President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg goes off and does the right thing in exactly the right way. While he’s certainly made his share of ill-fated and often bizarre missteps, Trachtenberg took the high road when he announced his plan to retire at the end of the next academic year and make way for fresh blood at the top of the University food chain.
A few days after his announcement, he even silenced potential critics – including yours truly – when he announced plans to return as a professor of public policy. In hinting at his intentions to spend time writing elsewhere and to perhaps teach a course or two at Boston University or New York University, Trachtenberg seemed conscious of the epic shadow his presence will cast on a successor.
Now that President Trachtenberg has done the right thing in setting a clear timetable for finding his replacement and ensuring that he will lay low for a while to let a new president secure his or her position, our campus community is faced with some large questions. Mainly, how do we go about selecting a new president and, perhaps more importantly, who should participate?
The first question is most likely the easiest of the two – the process and procedure of selecting a president is more or less set in stone by the University’s governing documents and real holders of power, the Board of Trustees. The second, depending on whom you talk to, is open to interpretation and should quickly become a topic of interest for students, particularly seniors, who, as soon-to-be alumni, will have a vested interest in ensuring the value of their alma mater’s name on their degrees.
The presidential search committee is tentatively slated to include nine trustees, three faculty members, a possible emeritus trustee, and a single student representative. While a small, experienced group may be best for expediting what needs to be a somewhat speedy selection process, the limited student presence and potential total absence of young alumni is disheartening and should be corrected.
Although the Board of Trustees’ immense importance in running the University cannot be denied, the fact remains that students and young alumni are essential GW stakeholders. We are the ones most closely connected to all facets of life at school and thus intimately concerned with the directions in which our 16th president will take the University. More importantly, students and more recent graduates are the ones, when they themselves begin taking positions on the Board of Trustees, who will reckon with the legacy of GW’s next chief administrator.
In a perfect world, the desire to include young, concerned voices in the process would mean bringing one or two fresh faces, in addition to Student Association President-elect Lamar Thorpe, to the committee’s upcoming year of meetings and interviews. However, this is not the only solution. If ushering new participants into the process would be too costly or prohibitively time-consuming, the Board of Trustees could also make it a point to include its two most recently graduated members, Tony E. Sayegh Jr. (B.A. 1999, M.P.A. 2000) and Kristy McDonnell (B.S. 2000, M.S. 2001), in the committee and trust them with accurately representing the interests of the University’s most recent graduates.
In the end, regardless of how the search committee is configured, the important thing is that GW students and young alumni can feel as if they have a voice in the process. While President Trachtenberg has made the right decisions thus far surrounding his departure from the presidency and transition to a professor, it’s our job, as students and future alumni, to make sure that the Board of Trustees does the same.
-The writer, a senior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.
This article appeared in the May 1, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.