Of all the current job openings and unfilled positions in higher education, the GW presidency is likely the most coveted, the most competitive and the most highly sought.
The Presidential Search Committee is tasked with finding a new leader for a school that has been on the rise for more than a decade. GW’s academics and name recognition have improved consistently, and the University’s campus now has a modern infrastructure to accommodate students well into the future. With all these positive characteristics, the committee has the potential to recruit and present a talented and able leader who will fit the needs of this institution.
Given the prestigious nature of the presidential vacancy, the Presidential Search Committee should look to recommend a candidate with national recognition as well as first-hand experience at the top of a large organization. Ideally, the figure should be an individual who understands the major issues facing our nation and has a clear understanding of how higher education fits into our society – a former secretary of education, for example, would be a prime candidate for this position.
A nationally recognized figure with extensive connections in government or business would help expedite fundraising initiatives while also attracting top faculty at the forefront of their respective fields. Accomplishing these objectives would help improve the University’s lackluster fundraising efforts and fill our campus infrastructure with professors who can turn GW into a true academic powerhouse.
The search committee must be careful, however, not to become blinded by a candidate’s prestige. Instead, a preferable candidate will hold a record of achievement in advancing the organization(s) they previously led. A famous individual who was little more than a figurehead in his or her previous post, no matter how important, may be beneficial to fundraising and publicity efforts in the short term, but will likely lack to ability to effectively engage in the long-term improvement of the University.
Whoever is chosen for the position should not be a maverick known for completely revolutionizing an organization or bureaucracy. GW, in most respects, is on a generally upward trend, which includes the quality of the student body, facilities and prestige. More than anything, the school requires focused adjustments, especially in academics. An individual seeking to radically alter GW risks derailing this institution from its current track toward success.
Though our outgoing president came from a long career in higher education, our next president need not possess the same background. While previous experience in academic administration may be beneficial to the post, it is not an essential factor for a successful candidate.
White males have filled GW’s presidency since the University’s founding. Certainly, it might be time to break that trend. High tuition and generous amenities often engender the perception of GW as a wealthy, elitist institution. A president from a different background, including a female president, may help shed some of that perception and begin a more frank discussion about diversity issues at the University.
Finally, the future president must feel comfortable looking outside GW and being an active participant in the D.C. community. The University has a strong influence in the District, and whoever is chosen must be comfortable cultivating strong partnerships with city leaders.
The search committee has a great deal of power in choosing a candidate. A prestigious figure will surely help boost funding and attract talented faculty. Most importantly, however, committee members must look for someone with the track record, background and experience needed to continue GW’s path to excellence.