Staff Editorial: The picture-perfect provost

Correction appended

On Monday, the University kicked off its nationwide search for GW’s first chief academic officer and provost. The search comes three months after Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman announced his plans to officially retire in December of 2010. This search presents an opportunity to rejuvenate GW’s leadership and solve lingering issues.

The ideal candidate should be someone who has demonstrated effective leadership in an environment of higher education. This quality is made even more important by what we see as a recent lack of leadership from GW’s administration. Visibility has become a serious issue for this administration, as for many students University President Steven Knapp remains an abstract figure. Certainly, we expect the University’s top official has many job responsibilities beyond simply chatting with undergrads at J Street, but it is important that the University’s top leadership be actively engaged with the student body. The opening of a new position gives the administration the chance to fill this leadership deficit with a person more willing to connect the administration, student body and faculty.

As a result of the lack of leadership at the top, the University similarly lacks a clear and concise vision for its future. Knapp focuses on a few select goals for GW, but one criterion of the new provost should be the ability to publicly convey a big picture.

In addition to these leadership qualities, the new administrative changes highlight academic affairs as the University’s premier department. Once the position has been filled, there are a few issues that should top his or her agenda.

Academic advising has been a significant and constant issue at GW. For years, promises have been made concerning an overhaul of advising, specifically for the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Currently, a task force is working to select a degree audit system. This is a major step forward compared to the limbo in which academic advising reform has been caught for the past few years. Still, the new provost needs to ensure that we see tangible results soon.

At the same time that GW’s School of Medicine and Health Services was facing probationary status, a controversy arose over current provost John “Skip” Williams’ membership on the Board of Directors of the company that manages GW Hospital. These events highlighted a serious concern over the direction of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences. With GW being one of the few medical schools ever put on probationary status, it is very important the incoming provost be aware of the challenges ahead. In the period following October’s probationary review, the provost will be responsible for ensuring the future success of the recently troubled school.

Every semester, students are asked to give feedback about the quality of academics through class evaluations. Many students have expressed concern that this feedback falls on deaf ears. One of the solutions is to put these evaluations on a public database, which increases accountability in the classroom as well as the ability of students to make informed decisions about registration.

Once chosen, the new provost will face many challenges. We believe that if the selected candidate can meet these criteria and tackle these issues, his or her selection will mark a distinct step forward for this administration.

This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction: (Sept. 17, 2009)

The Hatchet’s editorial board incorrectly stated that Executive Vice President Donald Lehman plans to retire at the end of this year. He plans to retire at the end of 2010.

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