Task Force on Advancement holds forums to debate GW’s mission

Members of GW’s highest oversight body solicited student, faculty and staff opinion in two forums in an effort to gain feedback about the University’s academic and strategic plans for the next two decades.

Discussions focused on the search for a new University President and what attracted students and faculty to Foggy Bottom. The Board of Trustees Task Force on Advancement is also creating a 10- to 20 -year vision statement for the University, which prompted much debate among the groups.

About 100 administrators, deans, professors and adjunct professors attended Wednesday’s forum in the Elliott School of International Affairs while about 20 students joined members of the Board of Trustees at a forum Tuesday in the Jack Morton Auditorium. Both graduate and undergraduate students attended Tuesday’s forum, including several Student Association members.

Jeanette Michael, a member of the Board of Trustees and a task force member, said the vision statement will act as a guide for the new president. University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg will be stepping down as GW’s top administrator in July 2007 and the board is in the process of searching for a new president.

“When the new president is selected, that president will have a clear idea of where we would like the University to go,” she said.

The part of the statement discussed at the forums reads, “GW seeks excellence in those disciplines that can best take advantage of its location in the nation’s capital and to be one of the preeminent research universities.”

Students and faculty were concerned that the vision statement focused too narrowly on the large traditional majors at GW that are able to take advantage of the city.

Some students said the board should encourage students across the University to become more involved in the District, for example, the need for more service learning programs that involve students with the city.

Student Association President Lamar Thorpe, a senior, said not only political science majors, for example, can take advantage of the University being located in the heart of D.C., but that math and science majors can also take advantage of the school’s location.

Faculty also remarked on what they considered to be the limited nature of the vision statement.

“My reaction was a gut feeling that didn’t inspire me,” said Carol Sigelman, the associate vice president for graduate studies and academic affairs. “Taking advantage of its D.C. location makes it seem like an opportunistic vision.”

“I don’t want the University to market itself as ‘come to GW to be in Washington,'” said Michael Moore, a professor of economics and international affairs. “I want them to come to GW to be at GW.”

Art History professor and Faculty Senate Chair Lilien Robinson said that in all the time she has been at GW, “I have never heard a discussion like this with such a diverse group.”

Other faculty members were more supportive of the vision statement and its focus on learning from the city.

“My hope is to continue the recognition that lots of learning happens outside of the classroom,” said Rebecca Sawyer, the assistant dean of GW Housing.

“A University needs to take on a niche, a following, or a brand . and then as the University grows it can broaden,” said Christopher Arterton, the dean of the Graduate School of Political Management.

Carbonell said similar forums will be held once the next president is chosen, and he would like to make them part of the culture of GW.

The next student forum is on Sept. 27 from 9:30 to 11 a.m. in the Jack Morton Auditorium, and a forum open to the entire University will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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