Gerald Kauvar has been working with University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg for so long that sometimes he can anticipate what the witty, at times outrageous and always unpredictable president is thinking.
“He backs me up,” Trachtenberg said of his special assistant of the last five years and friend of 30 years. “We’ve known each long enough that he can anticipate what I’m going to think about a certain piece of information.”
Kauvar said his job is easy: just help out the president.
“I do my best to make life easier for Steve,” he said. “I try to make sure that things are getting done, but I’m not a decision-maker. My role is to help the president make decisions.”
Their friendship began when Kauvar was an English professor at the City College of New York. Neither one recalls when and where their first meeting took place, but Kauvar believes that it was at an academic conference. The two stayed in touch over the years, and in 2002 Trachtenberg lured Kauvar away from his job as a senior policy analyst at RAND Corporation.
“One day (Trachtenberg) called me and asked me to come to GW as his special assistant,” recalled Kauvar, whose son attended GW and graduated from the Elliott School in 1998. “I told him that I was having a lot of fun at my current job, and he said, ‘Well, you’ll have more fun here.'”
“He was right,” Kauvar said.
In addition to his work in the president’s office, Kauvar also teaches an honors class called “Why we like what we like.” The class uses Freudian psychoanalysis to better understand why some people like a piece of literature, while others do not.
“If you read ‘Macbeth’ and you do not have any personal superstitions, you might not be able to relate to ‘Macbeth’ and his superstitions,” Kauvar said. “You might not like the play, even if you understand why it’s considered a great work.”
Outside of the University, Kauvar has worked with Trachtenberg to oversee the accreditation process at New School and establish a task force on a national service program for college students. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the United Way of the D.C. area, having been recommended for a spot by Trachtenberg five years ago.
University officials are quick to praise Kauvar’s work at GW and his character.
“Gerry is a person of high intellect, integrity and discretion,” said University Marshal Jill Kasle, with whom Kauvar has worked on issues regarding the Honors Program and general University events. “He’s completely devoted to the interests of GW, both the community as a whole and everybody in it.”
Kauvar first moved to D.C. in 1978 when he was invited to join the Presidential Executive Exchange, a program in which people from industry would go into government for a year, and vice versa. He didn’t know much about the inner workings of the federal government and asked an old friend where he could work in priority decision-making. Trachtenberg recommended that Kauvar work for the Department of Defense, which was in need of someone with academic experience.
After his year was over, Kauvar returned to academia, serving as the special assistant to the president at Boston University. He was soon lured back to the Pentagon, where he would spend 20 years working primarily for the Secretary of Defense and later the Secretary of the Air Force.
With Trachtenberg leaving office this summer, Kauvar has already made plans to follow his boss to his new office in the School of Media and Public Affairs. Kauvar plans to teach a class on Homeland Security next spring and said he hopes to work with Trachtenberg on a book about the state of higher education in the U.S.
“Next year we’ll be two recently liberated guys trying to figure out what to do next,” Trachtenberg said of the duo’s future plans. “We’re both going to be looking for a new way to make trouble.”