University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and his right-hand man Robert Chernak have worked together as higher education administrators for 32 years across three universities.
“I’m Batman and he’s Robin,” said Trachtenberg, who announced his decision last month to retire in July 2007, ending more than three decades of the pair working side-by-side. “We just make a good team.”
Chernak, senior vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, said their relationship started in the mid-1970s at Boston University, where Trachtenberg had recently been promoted to a vice president of academic services. Chernak worked in that office and Trachtenberg became his boss.
“Our meeting was fate, a result of determinism,” Chernak said.
“I may have even spent more time with him than with my own wife,” he said. “I’ve been married for 34 years, so he’s almost like a second wife in terms of longevity.”
In 1977, Trachtenberg was offered the top administrative post at the University of Hartford and asked Chernak to join him at the Connecticut liberal arts university. Chernak said he and his wife weighed their options and decided to join Trachtenberg in West Hartford, Conn.
“We felt he was a winner and that he would be a good person to work with and hang around with for a while,” Chernak said.
About 11 years later, Trachtenberg was named president of GW and once again Chernak had to decide if he would tag along with his friend and colleague.
“Leaving Hartford was actually more emotionally difficult than leaving BU,” said Chernak, who received his undergraduate degree from Boston University. “The more I learned about GW, the more I realized that coming with we could make a dramatic difference in where GW was going.”
With Trachtenberg’s plans to step down as GW president in July 2007, it may end the 19 years the two have had together at GW.
“It’s going to be sad when he steps out of office into a faculty position,” Chernak said. Trachtenberg plans to become a University professor of public service following his retirement.
“I’ve gotten really lucky to tailgate his career and have in Steve a boss, a mentor and a friend,” Chernak said.
“He’s almost like my older brother in a lot of ways.”
Trachtenberg said he has valued the professional relationship he and Chernak have had in their more than 30 years together.
“I very quickly realized how smart he was and I found myself turning to him more and more frequently,” Trachtenberg said.
“He’s complementary to me,” he added. “Stuff I don’t know he knows and stuff he doesn’t know I know.”
Chernak, who is younger than 69-year-old Trachtenberg by a handful of years, said he intends to stay at GW even after Trachtenberg vacates the University’s top post.
Chernak said “If circumstances work out, I’m hoping to stay at GW for another number of years.”
-Brandon Butler contributed to this report
This article appeared in the May 15, 2006 issue of the Hatchet.